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Title: Simon Called Peter
Author: Keable, Robert, 1887-1927
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Simon Called Peter" ***

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                           SIMON CALLED PETER

                            BY ROBERT KEABLE

          AUTHOR OF "THE DRIFT OF PINIONS," "STANDING BY," ETC.

                                  1921



THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO JULIE

She never lived, maybe, but it is truer to say that she never dies. Nor
shall she ever die. One may believe in God, though He is hard to find,
and in Women, though such as Julie are far to seek.



THE AUTHOR TO THE READER


The glamour of no other evil thing is stronger than the glamour of war.
It would seem as if the cup of the world's sorrow as a result of war had
been filled to the brim again and again, but still a new generation has
always been found to forget. A new generation has always been found to
talk of the heroisms that the divine in us can manifest in the mouth of
hell and to forget that so great a miracle does not justify our creation
of the circumstance.

Yet if ever war came near to its final condemnation it was in 1914-1918.
Our comrades died bravely, and we had been willing to die, to put an end
to it once and for all. Indeed war-weary men heard the noise of conflict
die away on November 11, 1918, thinking that that end had been attained.
It is not yet three years ago; a little time, but long enough for
betrayal.

Long enough, too, for the making of many books about it all, wherein has
been recorded such heroisms as might make God proud and such horror as
might make the Devil weep. Yet has the truth been told, after all? Has
the world realized that in a modern war a nation but moves in uniform to
perform its ordinary tasks in a new intoxicating atmosphere? Now and
again a small percentage of the whole is flung into the pit, and, for
them, where one in ten was heavy slaughter, now one in ten is reasonable
escape. The rest, for the greater part of the time, live an unnatural
life, death near enough to make them reckless and far enough to make them
gay. Commonly men and women more or less restrain themselves because of
to-morrow; but what if there be no to-morrow? What if the dice are heavily
weighted against it? And what of their already jeoparded restraint when
the crisis has thrown the conventions to the winds and there is little
to lighten the end of the day?

Thus to lift the veil on life behind the lines in time of war is a
thankless task. The stay-at-homes will not believe, and particularly
they whose smug respectability and conventional religion has been put
to no such fiery trial. Moreover they will do more than disbelieve; they
will say that the story is not fit to be told. Nor is it. But then it
should never have been lived. That very respectability, that very
conventionality, that very contented backboneless religion made it
possible--all but made it necessary. For it was those things which
allowed the world to drift into the war, and what the war was nine days
out of ten ought to be thrust under the eyes of those who will not
believe. It is a small thing that men die in battle, for a man has but
one life to live and it is good to give it for one's friends; but it is
such an evil that it has no like, this drifting of a world into a hell to
which men's souls are driven like red maple leaves before the autumn
wind.

The old-fashioned pious books made hell stink of brimstone and painted
the Devil hideous. But Satan is not such a fool. Champagne and Martinis
do not taste like Gregory powder, nor was St. Anthony tempted by
shrivelled hags. Paganism can be gay, and passion look like love.
Moreover, still more truly, Christ could see the potentiality of virtue
in Mary Magdalene and of strength in Simon called Peter. The conventional
religious world does not.

A curious feature, too, of that strange life was its lack of
consecutiveness. It was like the pages of _La Vie Parisienne_. The friend
of to-day was gone for ever to-morrow. A man arrived, weary and dirty and
craving for excitement, in some unknown town; in half an hour he had
stepped into the gay glitter of wine and women's smiles; in half a dozen
he had been whirled away. The days lingered and yet flew; the pages were
twirled ever more dazzlingly; only at the end men saw in a blinding flash
whither they had been led.

These things, then, are set out in this book. This is its atmosphere.
They are truly set out. They are not white-washed; still less are they
pictured as men might have seen them in more sober moments, as the
Puritan world would see them now. Nor does the book set forth the
author's judgment, for that is not his idea of a novel. It sets out
what Peter and Julie saw and did, and what it appeared to them to be
while they did it. Very probably, then, the average reader had better
read no further than this....

But at any rate let him not read further than is written. The last page
has been left blank. It has been left blank for a reason, because the
curtain falls not on the conclusion of the lives of those who have
stepped upon the boards, but at a psychological moment in their story.
The Lord has turned to look upon Peter, and Julie has seen that He has
looked. It is enough; they were happy who, going down into the Valley of
the Shadow of Death, saw a vision of God's love even there. For the
Christ of Calvary moved to His Cross again but a few short years ago; and
it is enough in one book to tell how Simon failed to follow, but how
Jesus turned to look on Peter.

R.K.



PART I

        Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
        Ah! must--
        Designer infinite!--
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?

FRANCIS THOMPSON.



CHAPTER I


London lay as if washed with water-colour that Sunday morning, light blue
sky and pale dancing sunlight wooing the begrimed stones of Westminster
like a young girl with an old lover. The empty streets, clean-swept, were
bathed in the light, and appeared to be transformed from the streets of
week-day life. Yet the half of Londoners lay late abed, perhaps because
six mornings a week of reality made them care little for one of magic.

Peter, nevertheless, saw little of this beauty. He walked swiftly as
always, and he looked about him, but he noticed none of these things.
True, a fluttering sheet of newspaper headlines impaled on the railings
of St. Margaret's held him for a second, but that was because its message
was the one that rang continually in his head, and had nothing at all to
do with the beauty of things that he passed by.

He was a perfectly dressed young man, in a frock coat and silk hat of the
London clergyman, and he was on his way to preach at St. John's at the
morning service. Walking always helped him to prepare his sermons, and
this sermon would ordinarily have struck him as one well worth preparing.
The pulpit of St. John's marked a rung up in the ladder for him. That
great fashionable church of mid-Victorian faith and manners held a
congregation on Sunday mornings for which the Rector catered with care.
It said a good deal for Peter that he had been invited to preach. He
ought to have had his determined scheme plain before him, and a few
sentences, carefully polished, at hand for the beginning and the end. He
could trust himself in the middle, and was perfectly conscious of that.
He frankly liked preaching, liked it not merely as an actor loves to sway
his audience, but liked it because he always knew what to say, and was
really keen that people should see his argument. And yet this morning,
when he should have been prepared for the best he could do, he was not
prepared at all.

Strictly, that is not quite true, for he had a text, and the text
absolutely focused his thought. But it was too big for him. Like some at
least in England that day, he was conscious of staring down a lane of
tragedy that appalled him. Fragments and sentences came and went in his
head. He groped for words, mentally, as he walked. Over and over again
he repeated his text. It amazed him by its simplicity; it horrified him
by its depth.

Hilda was waiting at the pillar-box as she had said she would be, and
little as she could guess it, she irritated him. He did not want her just
then. He could hardly tell why, except that, somehow, she ran counter to
his thoughts altogether that morning. She seemed, even in her excellent
brown costume that fitted her fine figure so well, out of place, and out
of place for the first time.

They were not openly engaged, these two, but there was an understanding
between them, and an understanding that her family was slowly
recognising. Mr. Lessing, at first, would never have accepted an
engagement, for he had other ideas for his daughter of the big house in
Park Lane. The rich city merchant, church-warden at St. John's, important
in his party, and a person of distinction when at his club, would have
been seriously annoyed that his daughter should consider a marriage with
a curate whose gifts had not yet made him an income. But he recognised
that the young man might go far. "Young Graham?" he would say, "Yes, a
clever young fellow, with quite remarkable gifts, sir. Bishop thinks a
lot of him, I believe. Preaches extraordinarily well. The Rector said he
would ask him to St. John's one morning...."

Peter Graham's parish ran down to the river, and included slums in which
some of the ladies of St. John's (whose congregation had seen to it that
in their immediate neighbourhood there were no such things) were
interested. So the two had met. She had found him admirable and likeable;
he found her highly respectable and seemingly unapproachable. From which
cold elements much more may come than one might suppose.

At any rate, now, Mrs. Lessing said nothing when Hilda went to post a
letter in London on Sunday morning before breakfast. She would have
mildly remonstrated if the girl had gone to meet the young man. The which
was England once, and may, despite the Kaiser, be England yet once more.

"I was nearly going," she declared. "You're a bit late."

"I know," he replied; "I couldn't help it. The early service took longer
than usual. But I'm glad to see you before breakfast. Tell me, what does
your father think of it all?"

The girl gave a little shrug of the shoulders, "Oh, he says war is
impossible. The credit system makes it impossible. But if he really
thinks so, I don't see why he should say it so often and so violently.
Oh, Peter, what do you think?"

The young man unconsciously quickened his pace. "I think it is certain,"
he said. "We must come in. I should say, more likely, the credit system
makes it impossible for us to keep out. I mean, half Europe can't go to
war and we sit still. Not in these days. And if it comes--Good Lord,
Hilda, do you know what it means? I can't see the end, only it looks to
me like being a fearful smash.... Oh, we shall pull through, but nobody
seems to see that our ordinary life will come down like a pack of cards.
And what will the poor do? And can't you see the masses of poor souls
that will be thrown into the vortex like, like...." He broke off. "I
can't find words," he said, gesticulating nervously. "It's colossal."

"Peter, you're going to preach about it: I can see you are. But do take
care what you say. I should hate father to be upset. He's so--oh, I don't
know!--_British_, I think. He hates to be thrown out, you know, and he
won't think all that possible."

She glanced up (the least little bit that she had to) anxiously. Graham
smiled. "I know Mr. Lessing," he said. "But, Hilda, he's _got_ to be
moved. Why, he may be in khaki yet!"

"Oh, Peter, don't be silly. Why, father's fifty, and not exactly in
training," she laughed. Then, seriously: "But for goodness' sake don't
say such things--for my sake, anyway."

Peter regarded her gravely, and held open the gate. "I'll remember," he
said, "but more unlikely things may happen than that."

They went up the path together, and Hilda slipped a key into the door. As
it opened, a thought seemed to strike her for the first time. "What will
_you_ do?" she demanded suddenly.

Mrs. Lessing was just going into the dining-room, and Peter had no
need to reply. "Good-morning, Mr. Graham," she said, coming forward
graciously. "I wondered if Hilda would meet you: she wanted to post
a letter. Come in. You must be hungry after your walk."

A manservant held the door open, and they all went in. That magic sun
shone on the silver of the breakfast-table, and lit up the otherwise
heavy room. Mrs. Lessing swung the cover of a silver dish and the eggs
slipped in to boil. She touched a button on the table and sat down, just
as Mr. Lessing came rather ponderously forward with a folded newspaper in
his hand.

"Morning, Graham," he said. "Morning, Hilda. Been out, eh? Well, well,
lovely morning out; makes one feel ten years younger. But what do you
think of all this, Graham?" waving the paper as he spoke.

Peter just caught the portentous headline--

"GERMANY DECLARES WAR ON RUSSIA,"

as he pulled up to the table, but he did not need to see it. There was
really no news: only that. "It is certain, I think, sir," he said.

"Oh, certain, certain," said Lessing, seating himself. "The telegrams say
they are over the frontier of Luxembourg and massing against France. Grey
can't stop 'em now, but the world won't stand it--can't stand it. There
can't be a long war. Probably it's all a big bluff again; they know in
Berlin that business can't stand a war, or at any rate a long war. And we
needn't come in. In the City, yesterday, they said the Government could
do more by standing out. We're not pledged. Anderson told me Asquith said
so distinctly. And, thank God, the Fleet's ready! It's madness, madness,
and we must keep our heads. That's what I say, anyway."

Graham cracked an egg mechanically. His sermon was coming back to him.
He saw a congregation of Lessings, and more clearly than ever the other
things. "What about Belgium?" he queried. "Surely our honour is engaged
there?"

Mr. Lessing pulled up his napkin, visibly perturbed. "Yes, but what can
we do?" he demanded. "What is the good of flinging a handful of troops
overseas, even if we can? It's incredible--English troops in Flanders in
this century. In my opinion--in my opinion, I say--we should do better to
hold ourselves in readiness. Germany would never really dare antagonise
us. They know what it involves. Why, there's hundreds of millions of
pounds at stake. Grey has only to be firm, and things must come right.
Must--absolutely must."

"Annie said, this morning, that she heard everyone in the
streets last night say we must fight, father," put in Hilda.

"Pooh!" exclaimed the city personage, touched now on the raw. "What do
the fools know about it? I suppose the _Daily Mail_ will scream, but,
thank God, this country has not quite gone to the dogs yet. The people,
indeed! The mass of the country is solid for sense and business, and
trusts the Government. Of course, the Tory press will make the whole
question a party lever if it can, but it can't. What! Are we going to be
pushed into war by a mob and a few journalists? Why, Labour even will be
dead against it. Come, Graham, you ought to know something about that.
More in your line than mine--don't you think so?"

"You really ought not to let the maids talk so," said Mrs. Lessing
gently.

Peter glanced at her with a curiously hopeless feeling, and looked slowly
round the room until his eyes rested on Mr. Lessing's portrait over the
mantelshelf, presented by the congregation of St. John's on some occasion
two years before. From the portrait he turned to the gentleman, but it
was not necessary for him to speak. Mr. Lessing was saying something to
the man--probably ordering the car. He glanced across at Hilda, who had
made some reply to her mother and was toying with a spoon. He thought he
had never seen her look more handsome and.... He could not find the word:
thought of "solid," and then smiled at the thought. It did not fit in
with the sunlight on her hair.

"Well, well," said Mr. Lessing; "we ought to make a move. It won't do for
either of us to be late, Mr. Preacher."

The congregation of St. John's assembled on a Sunday morning as befitted
its importance and dignity. Families arrived, or arrived by two or three
representatives, and proceeded with due solemnity to their private pews.
No one, of course, exchanged greetings on the way up the church, but
every lady became aware, not only of the other ladies present, but of
what each wore. A sidesman, with an air of portentous gravity, as one
who, in opening doors, performed an office more on behalf of the Deity
than the worshippers, was usually at hand to usher the party in. Once
there, there was some stir of orderly bustle: kneelers were distributed
according to requirements, books sorted out after the solemn unlocking of
the little box that contained them, sticks and hats safely stowed away.
These duties performed, paterfamilias cast one penetrating glance round
the church, and leaned gracefully forward with a kind of circular motion.
Having suitably addressed Almighty God (it is to be supposed), he would
lean back, adjust his trousers, possibly place an elbow on the pew-door,
and contemplate with a fixed and determined gaze the distant altar.

Peter, of course, wound in to solemn music with the procession of choir
boys and men, and, accorded the honour of a beadle with a silver mace,
since he was to preach, was finally installed in a suitably cushioned
seat within the altar-rails. He knelt to pray, but it was an effort to
formulate anything. He was intensely conscious that morning that a
meaning hitherto unfelt and unguessed lay behind his world, and even
behind all this pomp and ceremony that he knew so well. Rising, of
course, when the senior curate began to intone the opening sentence in
a manner which one felt was worthy even of St. John's, he allowed himself
to study his surroundings as never before.

The church had, indeed, an air of great beauty in the morning sunlight.
The Renaissance galleries and woodwork, mellowed by time, were dusted
by that soft warm glow, and the somewhat sparse congregation, in its
magnificently isolated groups, was humanised by it too. The stone of the
chancel, flecked with colour, had a quiet dignity, and even the altar,
ecclesiastically ludicrous, had a grace of its own. There was to be a
celebration after Matins. The historic gold plate was therefore arranged
on the retable with something of the effect of show pieces at Mappin and
Webb's. Peter noticed three flagons, and between them two patens of great
size. A smaller pair for use stood on the credence-table. The gold
chalice and paten, veiled, stood on the altar-table itself, and above
them, behind, rose the cross and two vases of hot-house lilies.
Suggesting one of the great shields of beaten gold that King Solomon had
made for the Temple of Jerusalem, an alms-dish stood on edge, and leant
against the retable to the right of the veiled chalice. Peter found
himself marvelling at its size, but was recalled to his position when
it became necessary to kneel for the Confession.

The service followed its accustomed course, and throughout the whole of
it Peter was conscious of his chaotic sermon. He glanced at his notes
occasionally, and then put them resolutely away, well aware that they
would be all but useless to him. Either he would, at the last, be able to
formulate the thoughts that raced through his head, or else he could do
no more than occupy the pulpit for the conventional twenty minutes with a
conventional sermon. At times he half thought he would follow this easier
course, but then the great letters of the newspaper poster seemed to
frame themselves before him, and he knew he could not. And so, at last,
there was the bowing beadle with the silver mace, and he must set out on
the little dignified procession to the great Jacobean pulpit with its
velvet cushion at the top.

Hilda's mind was a curious study during that sermon. At first, as her
lover's rather close-cropped, dark-haired head appeared in sight, she had
studied him with an odd mixture of pride and apprehension. She held her
hymn-book, but she did not need it, and she watched surreptitiously while
he opened the Bible, arranged some papers, and, in accordance with
custom, knelt to pray. She began to think half-thoughts of the days that
might be, when perhaps she would be the wife of the Rector of some St.
John's, and later, possibly, of a Bishop. Peter had it in him to go far,
she knew. She half glanced round with a self-conscious feeling that
people might be guessing at her thoughts, and then back, wondering
suddenly if she really knew the man, or only the minister. And then there
came the rustle of shutting books and of people composing themselves to
listen, the few coughs, the vague suggestion of hassocks and cushions
being made comfortable. And then, in a moment, almost with the giving out
of the text, the sudden stillness and that tense sensation which told
that the young orator had gripped his congregation.

Thereafter she hardly heard him, as it were, and she certainly lost the
feeling of ownership that had been hers before. As he leaned over the
pulpit, and the words rang out almost harshly from their intensity, she
began to see, as the rest of the congregation began to see, the images
that the preacher conjured up before her. A sense of coming disaster
riveted her--the feeling that she was already watching the end of
an age.

"Jesus had compassion on the multitude"--that had been the short and
simple text. Simple words, the preacher had said, but how when one
realised Who had had compassion, and on what? Almighty God Himself, with
His incarnate Mind set on the working out of immense and agelong plans,
had, as it were, paused for a moment to have compassion on hungry women
and crying babies and folk whose petty confused affairs could have seemed
of no consequence to anyone in the drama of the world. And then, with a
few terse sentences, the preacher swung from that instance to the world
drama of to-day. Did they realise, he asked, that peaceful bright Sunday
morning, that millions of simple men were at that moment being hurled at
each other to maim and kill? At the bidding of powers that even they
could hardly visualise, at the behest of world politics that not one in
a thousand would understand and scarcely any justify, houses were being
broken up, women were weeping, and children playing in the sun before
cottage doors were even now being left fatherless. It was incredible,
colossal, unimaginable, but as one tried to picture it, Hell had opened
her mouth and Death gone forth to slay. It was terrible enough that
battlefields of stupendous size should soon be littered with the dying
and the dead, but the aftermath of such a war as this would be still more
terrible. No one could say how near it would come to them all. No one
could tell what revolution in morals and social order such a war as this
might not bring. That day God Himself looked down on the multitude as
sheep having no shepherd, abandoned to be butchered by the wolves, and
His heart beat with a divine compassion for the infinite sorrows of the
world.

There was little more to it. An exhortation to go home to fear and pray
and set the house in order against the Day of Wrath, and that was all.
"My brethren," said the young man--and the intensity of his thought lent
a certain unusual solemnity to the conventional title--"no one can tell
how the events of this week may affect us. Our feet may even now be going
down into the Valley of the Shadow of temptation, of conflict, of death,
and even now there may be preparing for us a chalice such as we shall
fear to drink. Let us pray that in that hour the compassion of Jesus may
be real to us, and we ourselves find a sure place in that sorrowful
Heart."

And he was gone from the pulpit without another word. It would have been
almost ridiculous if one had noted that the surprised beadle had had no
"And now to God the Father ..." in which to reach the pulpit, and had
been forced to meet his victim hurrying halfway up the chancel; but
perhaps no one but that dignitary, whom the fall of thrones would not
shake, had noticed it. The congregation paid the preacher the great
compliment of sitting on in absolute silence for a minute or two. For a
moment it still stared reality in the face. And then Mr. Lessing shifted
in his pew and coughed, and the Rector rose, pompously as usual, to
announce the hymn, and Hilda became conscious of unaccustomed tears in
her eyes.

The senior curate solemnly uncovered and removed the chalice. Taking
bread and wine, he deposited the sacred vessels at the north end of the
altar, returned to the centre, unfolded the corporal, received the alms,
and as solemnly set the great gold dish on the corporal itself, after the
unmeaning custom of the church. And then came the long prayer and the
solemn procession to the vestry, while a dozen or two stayed with the
senior curate for the Communion.

Graham found himself in the little inner vestry, with its green-cloth
table and massive inkstand and registers, and began to unvest
mechanically. He got his coat out of the beautiful carved wardrobe, and
was folding up his hood and surplice, when the Rector laid a patronising
hand on his shoulder. "A good sermon, Graham," he said--"a good sermon,
if a little emotional. It was a pity you forgot the doxology. But it is
a great occasion, I fear a greater occasion than we know, and you rose to
it very well. Last night I had half a mind to 'phone you not to come, and
to preach myself, but I am glad now I did not. I am sure we are very
grateful. Eh, Sir Robert?"

Sir Robert Doyle, the other warden, was making neat piles of sovereigns
on the green cloth, while Mr. Lessing counted the silver as to the manner
born. He was a pillar of the church, too, was Sir Robert, but a soldier
and a straight speaker. He turned genially to the young man.

"From the shoulder, Rector," he said. "Perhaps it will make a few of us
sit up a little. Coming down to church I met Arnold of the War Office,
and he said war was certain. Of course it is. Germany has been playing up
for it for years, and we fools have been blind and mad. But it'll come
now. Thank God, I can still do a bit, and maybe we shall meet out there
yet--eh, Mr. Graham?"

Somehow or another that aspect of the question had not struck Peter
forcibly till now. He had been so occupied with visualising the march
of world events that he had hardly thought of himself as one of the
multitude. But now the question struck home. What would he do? He was
at a loss for the moment.

The Rector saved him, however. "Well, well, of course, Sir Robert, apart
from the chaplains, the place of the clergy will be almost certainly at
home. Hospital visiting, and so on, will take a lot of time. I believe
the Chaplain-General's Department is fully staffed, but doubtless, if
there is any demand, the clergy will respond. It is, of course, against
Canon Law for them to fight, though doubtless our young friend would like
to do his share in that if he could. You were in the O.T.C. at Oxford,
weren't you, Graham?"

"Yes," said Graham shortly.

"The French priests are mobilising with the nation," said Sir Robert.

"Ah, yes, naturally," replied the Rector; "that is one result of the
recent anti-clerical legislation. Thank God, this country has been spared
that, and in any case we shall never have conscription. Probably the Army
will have to be enlarged--half a million will be required at least, I
should think. That will mean more chaplains, but I should suppose the
Bishops will select--oh, yes, surely their lordships will select. It
would be a pity for you to go, Graham; it's rough work with the Tommies,
and your gifts are wanted at home. The Vicar of St. Thomas's speaks very
highly of your gifts as an organiser, and doubtless some sphere will be
opened up for you. Well, well, these are stirring times. Good-morning,
Mr. Graham."

He held out his hand to the young man. Mr. Lessing, carefully smoothing
his silk hat, looked up. "Come in to luncheon with us, will you, Graham?"
he said.

Peter assented, and shook hands all round. Sir Robert and he moved out
together, and the baronet caught his eye in the porch. "This'll jog him
up a bit, I'm thinking," he said to himself. "There's stuff in that chap,
but he's got to feel his legs."

Outside the summer sun was now powerful, and the streets were dusty and
more busy. The crowd had thinned at the church door, but Hilda and Mrs.
Lessing were waiting for the car.

"Don't let's drive," said Hilda as they came up; "I'd much sooner walk
home to-day."

Her father smiled paternally. "Bit cramped after church, eh?" he said.
"Well, what do you say, dear?" he asked his wife.

"I think I shall drive," Mrs. Lessing replied; "but if Mr. Graham is
coming to luncheon, perhaps he will walk round with Hilda. Will you, Mr.
Graham?"

"With pleasure," said Peter. "I agree with Miss Lessing, and the walk
will be jolly. We'll go through the park. It's less than half an hour,
isn't it?"

It was arranged at that, and the elders drove off. Peter raised his hat
to Sir Robert, who turned up the street, and together he and Hilda
crossed over the wide thoroughfare and started down for the park.

There was silence for a little, and it was Peter who broke it.

"Just before breakfast," he said, "you asked me what I should do, and I
had no chance to reply. Well, they were talking of it in the vestry just
now, and I've made up my mind. I shall write to-night to the Bishop and
ask for a chaplaincy."

They walked on a hundred yards or so in silence again. Then Hilda broke
it. "Peter," she began, and stopped. He glanced at her quickly, and saw
in a minute that the one word had spoken truly to him.

"Oh, Hilda," he said, "do you really care all that? You can't possibly!
Oh, if we were not here, and I could tell you all I feel! But, dear, I
love you; I know now that I have loved you for months, and it is just
because I love you that I must go."

"Peter," began Hilda again, and again stopped. Then she took a grip of
herself, and spoke out bravely. "Oh, Peter," she said, "you've guessed
right. I never meant you to--at least, not yet, but it is terrible to
think of you going out there. I suppose I ought to be glad and proud, and
in a way I am, but you don't seem the right person for it. It's wasting
you. And I don't know what I shall do without you. You've become the
centre of my life. I count on seeing you, and on working with you. If
you go, you, you may ... Oh, I can't say it! I ought not to say all this.
But..." She broke off abruptly.

Graham glanced round him. They were in the park now, and no one in
particular was about in the quiet of the sidewalk. He put his hand out,
and drew her gently to a seat. Then, leaning forward and poking at the
ground with his stick, he began. "Hilda, darling," he said, "it's awful
to have to speak to you just now and just like this, but I must. First,
about ourselves. I love you with all my heart, only that's so little to
say; I love you so much that you fill my life. And I have planned my life
with you. I hardly knew it, but I had. I thought I should just go on and
get a living and marry you--perhaps, if you would (I can hardly speak of
it now I know you would)--and--and--oh, I don't know--make a name in the
Church, I suppose. Well, and I hope we shall one day, but now this has
come along. I really feel all I said this morning, awfully. I shall go
out--I must. The men must be helped; one can't sit still and imagine them
dying, wounded, tempted, and without a priest. It's a supreme chance. We
shall be fighting for honour and truth, and the Church must be there to
bear her witness and speak her message. There will be no end to do. And
it is a chance of a lifetime to get into touch with the men, and
understand them. You do see that, don't you? And, besides--forgive me,
but I must put it so--if _He_ had compassion on the multitude, ought we
not to have too? _He_ showed it by death; ought we to fear even that
too?"

The girl stole out a hand, and his gripped it hard. Then she remembered
the conventions and pulled it away, and sat a little more upright. She
was extraordinarily conscious of herself, and she felt as if she had two
selves that day. One was Hilda Lessing, a girl she knew quite well, a
well-trained person who understood life, and the business of society and
of getting married, quite correctly; and the other was somebody she did
not know at all, that could not reason, and who felt naked and ashamed.
It was inexplicable, but it was so. That second self was listening to
heroics and even talking them, and surely heroics were a little out of
date.

She looked across a wide green space, and saw, through the distant trees,
the procession of the church parade. She felt as if she ought to be
there, and half unconsciously glanced at her dress. A couple of terriers
ran scurrying across the grass, and a seat-ticket man came round the
corner. Behind them a taxi hooted, and some sparrows broke out into a
noisy chatter in a bush. And here was Peter talking of death, and the
Cross--and out of church, too.

She gave a little shudder, and glanced at a wrist-watch. "Peter," she
said, "we must go. Dear, for my sake, do think it over. Wait a little,
and see what happens. I quite understand your point of view, but you must
think of others--even your Vicar, my parents, and of me. And Peter, shall
we say anything about our--our love? What do you think?"

Peter Graham looked at her steadily, and as she spoke he, too, felt the
contrast between his thoughts and ordinary life. The London curate was
himself again. He got up. "Well, darling," he said, "just as you like,
but perhaps not--at any rate until I know what I have to do. I'll think
that over. Only, we shan't change, shall we, whatever happens? You _do_
love me, don't you? And I do love you."

Hilda met his gaze frankly and blushed a little. She held out a hand to
be helped up. "My dear boy," she said.

After luncheon Peter smoked a cigar in the study with Mr. Lessing before
departure. Every detail of that hour impressed itself upon him as had the
events of the day, for his mind was strung up to see the inner meaning of
things clearly.

They began with the usual ritual of the selection of chairs and cigars,
and Mr. Lessing had a glass of port with his coffee, because, as he
explained, his nerves were all on edge. Comfortably stretched out in an
armchair, blowing smoke thoughtfully towards the empty grate, his fat
face and body did not seem capable of nerves, still less to be suffering
from them, but then one can never tell from appearances. At any rate he
chose his words with care, and Graham, opposite but sitting rather
upright, could not but sense his meaning.

"Well, well, well," he said, "to think we should come to this! A European
war in this century, and we in it! Not that I'll believe it till I hear
it officially. While there's life there's hope, eh, Graham?"

Peter nodded, for he did not know what to say.

"The question is," went on the other, "that if we are carried into war,
what is the best policy? Some fools will lose their heads, of course, and
chuck everything to run into it. But I've no use for fools, Graham."

"No, sir," said Peter.

"No use for fools," repeated Mr. Lessing. "I shall carry on with business
as usual, and I hope other people will carry on with theirs. There are
plenty of men who can fight, and who ought to, without disorganising
everything. Hilda would see that too--she's such a sensible girl. Look at
that Boer affair, and all that foolery about the C.I.V. Why, I met a
South African at the club the other day who said we'd have done ten times
as well without 'em. You must have trained men these days, and, after
all, it's the men behind the armies that win the war. Men like you and I,
Graham, each doing his ordinary job without excitement. That's the type
that's made old England. You ought to preach about it, Graham. Come to
think, it fits in with what you said this morning, and a good sermon too,
young man. Every man's got to put his house in order and carry on. You
meant that, didn't you?"

"Something like that," said Peter; "but as far as the clergy are
concerned, I still think the Bishops ought to pick their men."

"Yes, yes, of course," said Mr. Lessing, stretching himself a bit. "But I
don't think the clergy could be much use over there. As the Canon said,
there will be plenty to do at home. In any case it would be no use
rushing the Bishops. Let them see what's needed, and then let them choose
their men, eh? A man like London's sure to be in the know. Good thing
he's your Bishop, Graham: you can leave it to him easily?"

"I should think so, sir," said Peter forlornly.

"Oh, well, glad to hear you say it, I'm sure, Graham, and so will Mrs.
Lessing be, and Hilda. We're old-fashioned folk, you know.... Well, well,
and I suppose I oughtn't to keep you. I'll come with you to the door, my
boy."

He walked ahead of the young man into the hall, and handed him his hat
himself. On the steps they shook hands to the fire of small sentences.
"Drop in some evening, won't you? Don't know if I really congratulated
you on the sermon; you spoke extraordinarily well, Graham. You've a great
gift. After all, this war will give you a bit of a chance, eh? We must
hear you again in St. John's.... Good-afternoon."

"Good-afternoon, Mr. Lessing," said Graham, "and thank you for all you've
said."

In the street he walked slowly, and he thought of all Mr. Lessing had not
said as well as all he had. After all, he had spoken sound sense, and
there was Hilda. He couldn't lose Hilda, and if the old man turned out
obstinate--well, it would be all but impossible to get her. Probably
things were not as bad as he had imagined. Very likely it would all be
over by Christmas. If so, it was not much use throwing everything up.
Perhaps he could word the letter to the Bishop a little differently. He
turned over phrases all the way home, and got them fairly pat. But it was
a busy evening, and he did not write that night.

Monday always began as a full day, what with staff meeting and so on, and
its being Bank Holiday did not make much difference to them. But in the
afternoon he was free to read carefully the Sunday papers, and was
appalled with the swiftness of the approach of the universal cataclysm.
After Evensong and supper, then, he got out paper and pen and wrote,
though it took much longer than he thought it would. In the end he begged
the Bishop to remember him if it was really necessary to find more
chaplains, and expressed his readiness to serve the Church and the
country when he was wanted. When it was written, he sat long over the
closed envelope and smoked a couple of pipes. He wondered if men were
killing each other, even now, just over the water. He pictured a battle
scene, drawing from imagination and what he remembered of field-days at
Aldershot. He shuddered a little as he conceived himself crawling through
heather to reach a man in the front line who had been hit, while the
enemies' guns on the crest opposite were firing as he had seen them fire
in play. He tried to imagine what it would be like to be hit.

Then he got up and stretched himself. He looked round curiously at the
bookcase, the Oxford group or two, the hockey cap that hung on the edge
of one. He turned to the mantelpiece and glanced over the photos.
Probably Bob Scarlett would be out at once; he was in some Irish
regiment or other. Old Howson was in India; he wouldn't hear or see much.
Jimmy--what would Jimmy do, now? He picked up the photograph and looked
at it--the clean-shaven, thoughtful, good-looking face of the best fellow
in the world, who had got his fellowship almost at once after his
brilliant degree, and was just now, he reflected, on holiday in the
South of France. Jimmy, the idealist, what would Jimmy do? He reached
for a hat and made for the door. He would post his letter that night
under the stars.

Once outside, he walked on farther down Westminster way. At the Bridge
he leaned for a while and watched the sullen, tireless river, and then
turned to walk up past the House. It was a clear, still night, and the
street was fairly empty. Big Ben boomed eleven, and as he crossed in
front of the gates to reach St. Margaret's he wondered what was doing in
there. He had the vaguest notion where people like the Prime Minister and
Sir Edward Grey would be that night. He thought possibly with the King,
or in Downing Street. And then he heard his name being called, and turned
to see Sir Robert Doyle coming towards him.

The other's face arrested him. "Is there any news, Sir Robert?" he asked.

Sir Robert glanced up in his turn at the great shining dial above them.
"Our ultimatum has gone or is just going to Germany, and in twenty-four
hours we shall be at war," he said tersely. "I'm just going home; I've
been promised a job."



CHAPTER II


At 7.10 on a foggy February morning Victoria Station looked a place of
mystery within which a mighty work was going forward. Electric lights
still shone in the gloom, and whereas innumerable units of life ran this
way and that like ants disturbed, an equal number stood about apparently
indifferent and unperturbed. Tommies who had found a place against a wall
or seat deposited rifle and pack close by, lit a pipe, and let the world
go by, content that when the officers' leave train had gone someone, or
some Providence, would round them up as well. But, for the rest, porters,
male and female, rushed up with baggage; trunks were pushed through the
crowd with the usual objurgations; subalterns, mostly loud and merry,
greeted each other or the officials, or, more subdued, moved purposefully
through the crowd with their women-folk, intent on finding a quieter
place farther up the platforms.

There was no mistaking the leave platform or the time of the train, for a
great notice drew one's attention to it. Once there, the Army took a man
in hand. Peter was entirely new to the process, but he speedily
discovered that his fear of not knowing what to do or where to go, which
had induced him (among other reasons) to say good-bye at home and come
alone to the station, was unfounded. Red-caps passed him on respectfully
but purposefully to officials, who looked at this paper and that, and
finally sent him up to an officer who sat at a little table with papers
before him to write down the name, rank, unit, and destination of each
individual destined that very morning to leave for the Army in France.

Peter at last, then, was free to walk up the platform, and seek the rest
of his luggage that had come on from the hotel with the porter. He was
free, that is, if one disregarded the kit hung about his person, or
which, despite King's Regulations, he carried in his hands. But free or
not, he could not find his luggage. At 7.30 it struck him that at least
he had better find his seat. He therefore entered a corridor and began
pilgrimage. It was seemingly hopeless. The seats were filled with coats
or sticks or papers; every type of officer was engaged in bestowing
himself and his goods; and the general atmosphere struck him as being
precisely that which one experiences as a fresher when one first enters
hall for dinner at the 'Varsity. The comparison was very close.
First-year men--that is to say, junior officers returning from their
first leave--were the most encumbered, self-possessed, and asserting;
those of the second year, so to say, usually got a corner-seat and looked
out of window; while here and there a senior officer, or a subaltern with
a senior's face, selected a place, arranged his few possessions, and got
out a paper, not in the Oxford manner, as if he owned the place, but in
the Cambridge, as if he didn't care a damn who did.

Peter made a horrible hash of it. He tried to find a seat with all his
goods in his hands, not realising that they might have been deposited
anywhere in the train, and found when it had started, since, owing to a
particular dispensation of the high gods, everything that passed the
barrier for France got there. He made a dive for one place and sat in it,
never noting a thin stick in the corner, and he cleared out with enormous
apologies when a perfectly groomed Major with an exceedingly pleasant
manner mentioned that it was his seat, and carefully put the stick
elsewhere as soon as Peter had gone. Finally, at the end of a carriage,
he descried a small door half open, and inside what looked like an empty
seat. He pulled it open, and discovered a small, select compartment with
a centre table and three men about it, all making themselves very
comfortable.

"I beg your pardon," said Peter, "but is there a place vacant for one?"

The three eyed him stonily, and he knew instinctively that he was again a
fresher calling on the second year. One, a Captain, raised his head to
look at him better. He was a man of light hair and blue, alert eyes,
wearing a cap that, while not looking dissipated, somehow conveyed the
impression that its owner knew all about things--a cap, too, that carried
the Springbok device. The lean face, with its humorous mouth, regarded
Peter and took him all in: his vast expanse of collar, the wide black
edging to his shoulder-straps, his brand-new badges, his black buttons
and stars. Then he lied remorselessly:

"Sorry, padre; we're full up."

Peter backed out and forgot to close the door, for at that moment a
shrill whistle was excruciatingly blown. He found himself in the very cab
of the Pullman with the glass door before him, through which could be
seen a sudden bustle. Subalterns hastened forward from the more or less
secluded spots that they had found, with a vision of skirts and hats
behind them; an inspector passed aggressively along; and--thanks to those
high gods--Peter observed the hurrying hotel porter at that moment. In
sixty seconds the door had been jerked open; a gladstone, a suit-case,
and a kit-bag shot at him; largesse had changed hands; the door had shut
again; the train had groaned and started; and Peter was off to France.

It was with mixed feelings that he groped for his luggage. He was
conscious of wanting a seat and a breakfast; he was also conscious of
wanting to look at the station he was leaving, which he dimly felt he
might never see again; and he was, above all, conscious that he looked a
fool and would like not to. In such a turmoil he lugged at the gladstone
and got it into a corner, and then turned to the window in the cleared
space with a determination. In turning he caught the Captain's face stuck
round the little door. It was withdrawn at once, but came out again, and
he heard for the second time the unfamiliar title:

"Say, padre; come in here. There's room after all."

Peter felt cheered. He staggered to the door, and found the others busy
making room. A subaltern of the A.S.C. gripped his small attaché case and
swung it up on to the rack. The South African pulled a British warm off
the vacant seat and reached out for the suit-case. And the third man, with
the rank of a Major and the badge of a bursting bomb, struck a match and
paused as he lit a cigarette to jerk out:

"Damned full train! We ought to have missed it, Donovan."

"It's a good stunt that, if too many blighters don't try it on," observed
the subaltern, reaching for Peter's warm. "But they did my last leave,
and I got the devil of a choking off from the brass-hat in charge. It's
the Staff train, and they only take Prime Ministers, journalists, and
trade-union officials in addition. How's that, padre?"

"Thanks," said Peter, subsiding. "It's jolly good of you to take me in. I
thought I'd got to stand from here to Folkestone."

H.P. Jenks, Second-Lieutenant A.S.C., regarded him seriously. "It
couldn't be done, padre," he said, "not at this hour of the morning. I
left Ealing about midnight more or less, got sandwiched in the Metro with
a Brigadier-General and his blooming wife and daughters, and had to wait
God knows how long for the R.T.O. If I couldn't get a seat and a break
after that, I'd be a casualty, sure thing."

"It's your own fault for going home last night," observed the Major
judiciously. (Peter noticed that he was little older than Jenks on
inspection.) "Gad, Donovan, you should have been with us at the Adelphi!
It was some do, I can tell you. And afterwards..."

"Shut up, Major!" cut in Jenks. "Remember the padre."

"Oh, he's broad-minded I know, aren't you, padre? By the way, did you
ever meet old Drennan who was up near Poperinghe with the Canadians? He
was a sport, I can tell you. Mind you, a real good chap at his job, but a
white man. Pluck! By jove! I don't think that chap had nerves. I saw him
one day when they were dropping heavy stuff on the station, and he was
getting some casualties out of a Red Cross train. A shell burst just down
the embankment, and his two orderlies ducked for it under the carriage,
but old Drennan never turned a hair. 'Better have a fag,' he said to the
Scottie he was helping. 'It's no use letting Fritz put one off one's
smoke.'"

Peter said he had not met him, but could not think of anything else to
say at the moment, except that he was just going out for the first time.

"You don't say?" said Donovan dryly.

"Wish I was!" ejaculated Jenks.

"Good chap," replied the Major. "Pity more of your sort don't come over.
When I was up at Loos, September last year, we didn't see a padre in
three months. Then they put on a little chap--forget his name--who used
to bike over when we were in rest billets. But he wasn't much use."

"I was in hospital seven weeks and never saw one," said Jenks.

"Good heavens!" said Graham. "But I've been trying to get out for
all these years, and I was always told that every billet was taken
and that there were hundreds on the waiting list. Last December the
Chaplain-General himself showed me a list of over two hundred names."

"Don't know where they get to, then, do you, Bevan?" asked Jenks.

"No," said the Major, "unless they keep 'em at the base."

"Plenty down at Rouen, anyway," said Donovan. "A sporting little blighter
I met at the Brasserie Opera told me he hadn't anything to do, anyway."

"I shall be a padre in the next war," said Jenks, stretching out his
legs. "A parade on Sunday, and you're finished for the week. No orderly
dog, no night work, and plenty of time for your meals. Padres can always
get leave too, and they always come and go by Paris."

Donovan laughed, and glanced sideways at Peter. "Stow it, Jenks," he
said. "Where you for, padre?" he asked.

"I've got to report at Rouen," said Peter. "I was wondering if you were
there."

"No such luck now," returned the other. "But it's a jolly place. Jenko's
there. Get him to take you out to Duclair. You can get roast duck at a
pub there that melts in your mouth. And what's that little hotel near the
statue of Joan of Arc, Jenks, where they still have decent wine?"

Peter was not to learn yet awhile, for at that moment the little door
opened and a waiter looked in. "Breakfast, gentlemen?" he asked.

"Oh, no," said Jenks. "Waiter, I always bring some rations with me; I'll
just take a cup of coffee."

The man grinned. "Right-o, sir," he said. "Porridge, gentlemen?"

He disappeared, leaving the door open and, Donovan opening a newspaper,
Graham stared out of window to wait. From the far corners came scraps of
conversation, from which he gathered that Jenks and the Major were going
over the doings of the night before. He caught a word or two, and stared
the harder out of window.

Outside the English country was rushing by. Little villas, with
back-gardens running down to the rail, would give way for a mile or two
to fields, and then start afresh. The fog was thin there, and England
looked extraordinarily homely and pleasant. It was the known; he was
conscious of rushing at fifty miles an hour into the unknown. He turned
over the scrappy conversation of the last few minutes, and found it
savoured of the unknown. It was curious the difference uniform made. He
felt that these men were treating him more like one of themselves than
men in a railway-carriage had ever treated him before; that somehow even
his badges made him welcome; and yet that, nevertheless, it was not he,
Peter Graham, that they welcomed, or at least not his type. He wondered
if padres in France were different from priests in England. He turned
over the unknown Drennan in his mind. Was it because he was a good priest
that the men liked him, or because they had discovered the man in the
parson?

The waiter brought in the breakfast--porridge, fish, toast, and the
rest--and they fell to, a running fire of comments going on all the time.
Donovan had had Japanese marmalade somewhere, and thought it better than
this. The Major wouldn't touch the beastly margarine, but Jenks thought
it quite as good as butter if taken with marmalade, and put it on nearly
as thickly as his toast. Peter expanded in the air of camaraderie, and
when he leaned back with a cigarette, tunic unbuttoned and cap tossed up
on the rack, he felt as if he had been in the Army for years. He
reflected how curious that was. The last two or three years or so of Boy
Scouts and hospitals and extra prayer-meetings, attended by the people
who attended everything else, seemed to have faded away. There was hardly
a gap between that first war evening which he remembered so clearly and
this. It was a common experience enough, and probably due to the fact
that, whereas everything else had made little impression, he had lived
for this moment and been extraordinarily impressed by that Sunday. But he
realised, also, that it was due as much to his present companions. They
had, seemingly, accepted him as he had never been accepted before. They
asked practically no questions. So far as he could see, he made no
difference to them. He felt as if he were at last part of a great
brotherhood, in which, chiefly, one worried about nothing more important
than Japanese marmalade and margarine.

"We're almost there, boys," said Bevan, peering out of window.

"Curse!" ejaculated Jenks. "I hate getting my traps together in a train,
and I loathe the mob on the boat."

"I don't see why you should," said Donovan. "I'm blest if I bother about
anything. The R.T.O. and the red-caps do everything, and you needn't even
worry about getting a Pullman ticket this way over. Hope it's not rough,
though." He let a window down and leaned out. "Looks all right," he
added.

Peter got up with the rest and began to hang things about him. His
staringly new Sam Browne irritated him, but he forgot it as the train
swung round the curve to the landing-stage.

"Get a porter and a truck, Donovan," said the Major, who was farthest
from the door.

They got out nonchalantly, and Peter lit a cigarette, while the others
threw remarks at the man as to luggage. Then they all trooped off
together in a crowd that consisted of every variety of rank and regiment
and section of the British Empire, plus some Waacs and nurses.

_The Pride of Folkestone_ lay alongside, and when they got there she
seemed already full. The four of them got jammed at the gangway and
shoved on board, handing in and receiving papers from the official at the
head as they passed him. Donovan was in front, and as he stepped on deck
he swung his kit-bag back to Peter, crying:

"Lay hold of that, padre, and edge across the deck. Get up ahead of the
funnel that side. I'll get chairs. Jenko, you rotter, get belts, and drop
eyeing the girl!"

"Jolly nice bit of fluff," said Jenks meditatively, staring fixedly
across the deck.

"Where?" queried the Major, fumbling for his eyeglass.

"Get on there, please, gentlemen," called a ship's official.

"Damn it! mind my leg!"

"Cheerio, old son, here we are again!"

"I say, Tommy, did you get to the Alhambra last night, after all? What?
Well, I couldn't see you, anyhow."

To which accompaniment, Peter pushed his way across the deck. "Sorry,
padre," said a V.A.D. who blocked the way, bending herself back to let
him pass, and smiling. "Catch hold," called out Donovan, swinging a
couple of chairs at him. "No, sir, it's not my chair"--to a Colonel
who was grabbing at one already set out against the rail.

The Colonel collected it and disappeared, Jenks appearing a moment later,
red-faced, through the crush. "You blamed fool," he whispered, "it's that
girl's. I saw her put one here and edged up on it, only some fool got in
my way. Still (hopefully), perhaps she'll come back."

Between them they got four chairs into a line and sat down, all, that is,
save Jenks, who stood up, in a bland and genial way, as if to survey the
crowd impartially. How impartially soon appeared. "Damn!" he exploded.
"She's met some other females, weird and woolly things, and she's sitting
down there. No, by Jove! she's looking this way."

He made a half-start forward, and the Major kicked his shins. "Blast!" he
exploded; "why did you do that, you fool?"

"Don't be an infant, Jenko, sit down. You can't start a flirtation across
the blooming deck. Here, padre, can't you keep him in order?"

Peter half raised himself from his chair at this, and glanced the way the
other was looking. Through the crush he saw, clearly enough for a minute,
a girl of medium height in a nurse's uniform, sideways on to him. The
next second she half-turned, obviously smiling some remark to her
neighbour, and he caught sight of clear brown eyes and a little fringe
of dark hair on the forehead of an almost childish face. The eyes met
his. And then a sailor blundered across his field of vision.

"Topping, isn't she?" demanded Jenks, who had apparently been pulled down
into his chair in the interval.

"Oh, I don't know," said Graham, and added deliberately: "Rather
ordinary, I thought."

Jenks stared at him. "Good Lord, padre," he said, "where are your eyes?"

Peter heard a little chuckle behind, and glanced round to see Donovan
staring at him with amusement written all across his face. "You'll do,
padre," he said, taking a pipe from his pocket and beginning to fill it.
Peter smiled and leant back. Probably for the first time in five years he
forgot for a moment what sort of a collar it was around his neck.

Sitting there, he began to enjoy himself. The sea glittered in the
sun and the Lees stretched out opposite him across the shining gulf.
Sea-birds dipped and screamed. On his left, Major Bevan was talking to
a flying man, and Peter glanced up with him to see an aeroplane that
came humming high up above the trees on the cliff and flew out to sea.

"Damned fine type!" said the boy, whose tunic, for all his youth, sported
wings. "Fritz can't touch it yet. Of course, he'll copy it soon enough,
or go one better, but just at present I think it's the best out. Wish
we'd got some in our circus. We've nothing but ..." and he trailed off
into technicalities.

Peter found himself studying Donovan, who lay back beyond Jenks turning
the pages of an illustrated magazine and smoking. The eyes interested
him; they looked extraordinarily clear, but as if their owner kept hidden
behind them a vast number of secrets as old as the universe. The face was
lined--good-looking, he thought, but the face of a man who was no novice
in the school of life. Peter felt he liked the Captain instinctively. He
carried breeding stamped on him, far more than, say, the Major with the
eyeglass. Peter wondered if they would meet again.

The siren sounded, and a bustle began as people put on their life-belts.
"All life-belts on, please," said a young officer continually, who, with
a brassard on his arm, was going up and down among the chairs. "Who's
that?" asked Peter, struggling with his belt.

"Some poor bloke who has been roped in for crossin' duty," said Jenks.
"Mind my chair, padre; Bevan and I are going below for a wet. Coming,
skipper?"

"Not yet," said Donovan; "the bar's too full at first for me. Padre and
I'll come later."

The others stepped off across the crowded deck, and Donovan pitched his
magazine into Bevan's chair to retain it.

"You're from South Africa?" queried Peter.

"Yes," replied the other. "I was in German West, and came over after on
my own. Joined up with the brigade here."

"What part of Africa?" asked Peter.

"Basutoland, padre. Not a bad place in a way--decent climate, topping
scenery, but rather a stodgy crowd in the camps. One or two decent
people, but the majority mid-Victorian, without a blessed notion except
the price of mealies, who quarrel about nothing half the time, and talk
tuppenny-ha'penny scandal the rest. Good Lord! I wish we had some of the
perishers out here. But they know which side of the bread the butter is.
Bad time for trade, they say, and every other trader has bought a car
since the war. Of course, there's something to be said for the other
side, but what gets my goat is their pettiness. I'm for British East
Africa after the war. There's a chap written a novel about Basutoland
called 'The Land of To-morrow,' but I'd call it 'The Land of the Day
before Yesterday.' I suppose some of them came over with an assortment of
ideas one time, but they've struck no new ones since. I don't advise you
to settle in a South African dorp if you can help it, padre."

"Don't suppose I shall," said Peter. "I've just got engaged, and my
girl's people wouldn't let her out of England."

"Engaged, are you? Thank your stars you aren't married. It's safer not to
be out here."

"Why?"

Donovan looked at him curiously. "Oh, you'll find out fast enough,
padre," he said. "Wonder what you'll make of it. Rum place just now,
France, I can tell you. There's the sweepings of half the world over
there, and everything's turned upside down. Fellows are out for a spree,
of course, and you can't be hard on a chap down from the line if he goes
on the bust a bit. It's human nature, and you must allow for it; don't
you think so?"

"Human nature can be controlled," said Peter primly.

"Can it?" retorted the other. "Even the cloth doesn't find it too easy,
apparently."

"What do you mean?" demanded Peter, and then added: "Don't mind telling
me; I really want to know."

Donovan knocked out his pipe, and evaded. "You've got to be broad-minded,
padre," he said.

"Well, I am," said Peter. "But ..."

"Come and have a drink then," interrupted the other. "Jenko and the Major
are coming back."

"Damned poor whisky!" said the latter, catching the rail as the boat
heaved a bit, "begging your pardon, padre. Better try brandy. If the war
lasts much longer there'll be no whisky worth drinking this side. I'm off
it till we get to the club at Boulogne."

Peter and Donovan went off together. It was a new experience for Peter,
but he wouldn't have owned it. They groped their way down the saloon
stairs, and through a crowd to the little bar. "What's yours?" demanded
Donovan.

"Oh, I'll take the Major's advice," said Peter. "Brandy-and-soda for me."

"Soda finished, sir," said the bar steward.

"All right: two brandies-and-water, steward," said Donovan, and swung a
revolving seat near round for Graham. As he took it, Peter noticed the
man opposite. His badge was a Maltese Cross, but he wore a flannel collar
and tie. Their eyes met, but the other stared a bit stonily. For the
second time, Peter wished he hadn't a clerical collar. The next he was
taking the glass from the South African. "Cheerio," said Donovan.

"Here's to you," said Peter, and leaned back with an assumption of ease.

He had a strange sense of unreality. No fool and no Puritan, he had
naturally, however, been little in such an atmosphere since ordination.
He would have had a drink in Park Lane with the utmost ease, and he would
have argued, over it, that the clergy were not nearly so out of touch
with men as the papers said. But down here, in the steamer's saloon,
surrounded by officers, in an atmosphere of indifference to him and his
office, he felt differently. He was aware, dimly, that for the past five
years situations in which he had been had been dominated by him, and that
he, as a clergyman, had been continually the centre of concern. Talk,
conduct, and company had been rearranged when he came in, and it had
happened so often that he had ceased to be aware of it. But now he was
a mere unit, of no particular importance whatever. No one dreamed of
modifying himself particularly because a clergyman was present. Peter
clung to the belief that it was not altogether so, but he was
sufficiently conscious of it. And he was conscious of liking it, of
wanting to sink back in it as a man sinks back in an easy-chair. He
felt he ought not to do so, and he made a kind of mental effort to
pull himself together.

Up on the deck the world was very fair. The French coast was now clearly
visible, and even the houses of the town, huddled together as it seemed,
but dominated by a church on the hill. Behind them, a sister ship
containing Tommies ploughed steadily along, serene and graceful in the
sunlight, and above an airship of silvery aluminum, bearing the
tricoloured circle of the Allies, kept pace with the swift ship without
an effort. Four destroyers were visible, their low, dark shapes ploughing
regularly along at stated intervals, and someone said a fifth was out of
sight behind. People were already beginning to take off their life-belts,
and the sailors were clearing a place for the gangway. Peter found that
Donovan had known what he was about, for his party would be close to the
gangway without moving. He began to wonder uneasily what would be done
on landing, and to hope that Donovan would be going his way. No one had
said a word about it. He looked round for Jenks' nurse, but couldn't see
her.

It was jolly entering the port. The French houses and fishing-boats
looked foreign, although one could hardly say why. On the quay was a big
notice: "All officers to report at once to the M.L.O." Farther on was a
board bearing the letters "R.T.O." ... But Peter hardly liked to ask.

In fact, everything went like clockwork. He presently found himself
in a queue, behind Donovan, of officers who were passing a small
window like a ticket office. Arriving, he handed in papers, and was
given them back with a brief "All right." Beyond, Donovan had secured
a broken-down-looking one-horse cab. "You'll be coming to the club,
padre?" he asked. "Chuck in your stuff. This chap'll take it down and
Bevan with it. Let's walk. It isn't far."

Jenks elected to go with his friend the Major, and Donovan and Peter
set off over the cobbles. They joined up with another small group, and
for the first time Peter had to give his name as he was introduced. He
forgot the others, as soon as he heard them, and they forgot his. A big
Dublin Fusilier officer with a tiny moustache, that seemed ludicrous
in his great face, exchanged a few sentences with him. They left the
quay and crossed a wide space where a bridge debouched towards the
railway-station. Donovan, who was walking ahead, passed on, but the
Fusilier suggested to Peter that they might as well see the R.T.O. at
once about trains. Entering the station gates, the now familiar initials
appearing on a row of offices before them to the left, Peter's companion
demanded the train to Albert.

"Two-thirty a.m., change at Amiens, sir," said a clerk in uniform within,
and the Fusilier passed on.

"What time is the Rouen train?" asked Peter in his turn, and was told
9.30 p.m.

"You're in luck, padre," said the other. "It's bally rotten getting in at
two-thirty, and probably the beastly thing won't go till five. Still, it
might be worse. You can get on board at midnight, and with luck get to
sleep. If I were you, I'd be down here early for yours--crowded always,
it is. Of course, you'll dine at the club?"

Peter supposed he would.

The club entrance was full up with officers, and more and more kept
pouring in. Donovan was just leaving the counter on the right with some
tickets in his hand as they pushed in. "See you later," he called out.
"I've got to sleep here, and I want to leave my traps."

Peter wondered where, but was too much occupied in keeping well behind
the Fusilier to think much. At a kind of counter a girl in a W.A.A.C.
uniform was serving out tickets of one sort and another, and presently
the two of them were before her. For a few francs one got tickets for
lunch, dinner, bed, a bath, and whatever else one wanted, but Peter
had no French money. The Fusilier bought him the first two, however,
and together they forced their way out into the great lounge. "Half
an hour before lunch," said his new companion, and then, catching sight
of someone: "Hullo, Jack, you back? Never saw you on the boat. Did
you ..." His voice trailed off as he crossed the room.

Peter looked around a little disconsolately. Then he made his way to a
huge lounge-chair and threw himself into it.

All about him was a subdued chatter. A big fire burned in the stove,
and round it was a wide semicircle of chairs. Against the wall were
more, and a small table or two stood about. Nearly every chair had its
occupant--all sorts and conditions of officers, mostly in undress, and he
noticed some fast asleep, with muddied boots. There was a look on their
faces, even in sleep, and Peter guessed that some at least were down
from the line on their way to a brief leave. More and more came in
continuously. Stewards with drinks passed quickly in and out about them.
The Fusilier and his friend were just ordering something. Peter opened
his case and took out a cigarette, tapping it carefully before lighting
it. He began to feel at home and lazy and comfortable, as if he had been
there before.

An orderly entered with envelopes in his hand. "Lieutenant Frazer?" he
called, and looked round inquiringly. There was no reply, and he turned
to the next. "Captain Saunders?" Still no reply. "Lieutenant Morcombe?"
Still no reply. "Lieutenant Morcombe," he called again. Nobody took any
interest, and he turned on his heel, pushed the swing-door open, and
departed.

Then Donovan came in, closely followed by Bevan. Peter got up and made
towards them. "Hullo!" said Bevan. "Have an appetiser, padre. Lunch will
be on in twenty minutes. What's yours, skipper?"

The three of them moved on to Peter's chair, and Bevan dragged up
another. Peter subsided, and Donovan sat on the edge. Peter pulled
out his cigarette-case again, and offered it. Bevan, after one or two
ineffectual attempts, got an orderly at last.

"Well, here's fun," he said.

"Cheerio," said Peter. He remembered Donovan had said that in the saloon.



CHAPTER III


Jenks being attached to the A.S.C. engaged in feeding daily more than
100,000 men in the Rouen area, Peter and he travelled together. By the
latter's advice they reached the railway-station soon after 8.30, but
even so the train seemed full. There were no lights in the siding, and
none whatever on the train, so that it was only by matches that one could
tell if a compartment was full or empty, except in the case of those from
which candle-light and much noise proclaimed the former indisputably. At
last, however, somewhere up near the engine, they found a second-class
carriage, apparently unoccupied, with a big ticket marked "Reserved" upon
it. Jenks struck a match and regarded this critically. "Well, padre," he
said, "as it doesn't say for whom it is reserved, I guess it may as
well be reserved for us. So here goes." He swung up and tugged at the
door, which for some time refused to give. Then it opened suddenly, and
Second-Lieutenant Jenks, A.S.C., subsided gracefully and luridly on the
ground outside. Peter struck another match and peered in. It was then
observed that the compartment was not empty, but that a dark-haired,
lanky youth, stretched completely along one seat, was regarding them
solemnly.

"This carriage is reserved," he said.

"Yes," said Jenks cheerfully, "for us, sir. May I ask what you are doing
in it?"

The awakened one sighed. "It's worked before, and if you chaps come in
and shut the door quickly, perhaps it will work again. Three's not too
bad, but I've seen six in these perishing cars. Come in quickly, for the
Lord's sake!"

Peter looked round him curiously. Two of the four windows were broken,
and the glory had departed from the upholstery. There was no light, and
it would appear that a heavier body than that designed for it had
travelled upon the rack. Jenks was swearing away to himself and trying
to light a candle-end. Peter laughed.

"Got any cards?" asked the original owner.

"Yes," said Jenks. "Got any grub?"

"Bath-olivers and chocolate and half a water-bottle of whisky," replied
the original owner. "And we shall need them."

"Good enough," said Jenks. "And the padre here has plenty of sandwiches,
for he ordered a double lot."

"Do you play auction, padre?" queried what turned out, in the
candle-light, to be a Canadian.

Peter assented; he was moderately good, he knew.

This fairly roused the Canadian. He swung his legs off the seat, and
groped for the door. "Hang on to this dug-out, you men," he said, "and
I'll get a fourth. I kidded some fellows of ours with that notice just
now, but I know them, and I can get a decent chap to come in."

He was gone a few minutes only; then voices sounded outside. "Been
looking for you, old dear," said their friend. "Only two sportsmen here
and a nice little show all to ourselves. Tumble in, and we'll get
cheerful. Not that seat, old dear. But wait a jiffy; let's sort things
out first."

       *       *       *       *       *

They snorted out of the dreary tunnel into Rouen in the first daylight of
the next morning. Peter looked eagerly at the great winding river and the
glory of the cathedral as it towered up above the mists that hung over
the houses. There was a fresh taste of spring in the air, and the smoke
curled clear and blue from the slow-moving barges on the water. The bare
trees on the island showed every twig and thin branch, as if they had
been pencilled against the leaden-coloured flood beneath. A tug puffed
fussily upstream, red and yellow markings on its grimy black.

Jenks was asleep in the corner, but he woke as they clattered across the
bridge. "Heigh-ho!" he sighed, stretching. "Back to the old graft again."

Yet once more Peter began to collect his belongings. It seemed ages since
he had got into the train at Victoria, and he felt particularly grubby
and unshaven.

"What's the next move?" he asked.

Jenks eyed him. "Going to take a taxi?" he queried.

"Where to?" said Peter.

"Well, if you ask me, padre," he replied, "I don't see what's against a
decent clean-up and breakfast at the club. It doesn't much matter when I
report, and the club's handy for your show. I know the A.C.G.'s office,
because it's in the same house as the Base Cashier, and the club's just
at the bottom of the street. But it's the deuce of a way from the
station. If we can get a taxi, I vote we take it."

"Right-o," agreed Peter. "You lead on."

They tumbled out on the platform, and produced the necessary papers at
the exit labelled "British Officers Only." A red-capped military
policeman wrote down particulars on a paper, and in a few minutes they
were out among the crowd of peasantry in the booking-hall. Jenks pushed
through, and had secured a cab by the time Peter arrived. "There isn't a
taxi to be got, padre," he said, "but this'll do."

They rolled off down an avenue of wintry trees, passed a wooden building
which Peter was informed was the English military church, and out on to
the stone-paved quay. To Peter the drive was an intense delight. A French
blue-coated regiment swung past them. "Going up the line," said Jenks. A
crowd of black troops marched by in the opposite direction. "Good Lord!"
said Jenks, "so the S.A. native labour has come." The river was full of
craft, but his mentor explained that the true docks stretched mile on
mile downstream. By a wide bridge lay a camouflaged steamer. "Hospital
ship," said Jenks. Up a narrow street could be seen the buttresses of the
cathedral; and if Peter craned his head to glance up, his companion was
more occupied in the great café at the corner a little farther on. But
it was, of course, deserted at that early hour. A flower-stall at the
corner was gay with flowers, and two French peasant women were arranging
the blooms. And then the fiacre swung into the Rue Joanne d'Arc, and
opposite a gloomy-looking entrance pulled up with a jerk. "Here we are,"
said Jenks. "It's up an infernal flight of steps."

The officers' club in Rouen was not monstrously attractive, but they got
a good wash in a little room that looked out over a tangle of picturesque
roofs, and finally some excellent coffee and bacon and eggs.

Jenks lit a cigarette and handed one to Peter. "Better leave your traps,"
he said. "I'll go up with you; I've nothing to do."

Outside the street was filling with the morning traffic, and the two
walked up the slight hill to the accompaniment of a running fire of
comments and explanations from Jenks, "That's Cox's--useful place for
the first half of a month, but not much use to me, anyway, for the
second.... You ought to go to I that shop and buy picture post-cards,
padre; there's a topping girl who sells 'em.... Rue de la Grosse
Horloge--you can see the clock hanging over the road. The street runs
up to the cathedral: rather jolly sometimes, but nothing doing
now.... What's that? I don't know. Yes, I do, Palais de Justice or
something of that sort. Pretty old, I believe.... In those gardens is the
picture gallery; not been in myself, but I believe they've got some good
stuff.... That's your show, over there. Don't be long; I'll hang about."

Peter crossed the street, and, following directions ascended some wooden
stairs. A door round the corner at the top was inscribed "A.C.G. (C. of
E.)," and he went up to it. There he cogitated: ought one to knock, or,
being in uniform, walk straight in? He could not think of any reason
why one should not knock being in uniform, so he knocked.

"Come in," said a voice.

He opened the door and entered. At a desk before him sat a rather elderly
man, clean-shaven, who eyed him keenly. On his left, with his back to
him, was a man in uniform pattering away busily on a typewriter, and, for
the rest, the room contained a few chairs, a coloured print of the Light
of the World over the fireplace, and a torn map. Peter again hesitated.
He wondered what was the rank of the officer in the chair, and if he
ought to salute. While he hesitated, the other said: "Good-morning. What
can I do for you?"

Peter, horribly nervous, made a half-effort at saluting, and stepped
forward. "My name's Graham, sir," he said. "I've just come over, and was
told in the C.G.'s office in London to report to Colonel Chichester,
A.C.G., at Rouen."

The other put him at his ease at once. He rose and held a hand out over
the littered desk. "How do you do, Mr. Graham?" he said. "We were
expecting you. I am the A.C.G. here, and we've plenty for you to do.
Take a seat, won't you? I believe I once heard you preach at my brother's
place down in Suffolk. You were at St. Thomas's, weren't you, down by the
river?"

Peter warmed to the welcome. It was strangely familiar, after the past
twenty-four hours, to hear himself called "Mr." and, despite the uniforms
and the surroundings, he felt he might be in the presence of a vicar in
England. Some of his old confidence began to return. He replied freely
to the questions.

Presently the other glanced at his watch. "Well," he said, "I've got to
go over to H.Q., and you had better be getting to your quarters. Where
did I place Captain Graham, Martin?"

The orderly at the desk leaned sideways and glanced at a paper pinned on
the desk. "No. 5 Rest Camp, sir," he said.

"Ah, yes, I remember now. You can get a tram at the bottom of the street
that will take you nearly all the way. It's a pretty place, on the edge
of the country. You'll find about one thousand men in camp, and the
O.C.'s name is--what is it, Martin?"

"Captain Harold, sir."

"Harold, that's it. A decent chap. The men are constantly coming and
going, but there's a good deal to do."

"Is there a chapel in the camp?" asked Peter.

"Oh, no, I don't think so. You'll use the canteen. There's a quiet room
there you can borrow for celebrations. There's a P.O.W. camp next door
one way and a South African Native Labour Corps lot the other. But they
have their own chaplains. We'll let you down easy at first, but you might
see if you can fix up a service or so for the men in the forest. There's
a Labour Company out there cutting wood. Maybe you'll be able to get a
lift out in a car, but get your O.C. to indent for a bicycle if there
isn't one. Drop in and see me some day and tell me how you are getting
on, I'll find you some more work later on."

Peter got up. The other held out his hand, which Peter took, and then,
remembering O.T.C. days at Oxford, firmly and, unblushingly saluted. The
Colonel made a little motion. "Good-bye," he said, and Peter found
himself outside the door.

"No. 5 Rest. Camp;" said Jenks a moment later: "you're in luck, padre.
It's a topping camp, and the skipper is an awfully good sort. Beast of a
long way out, though. You'll have to have a taxi now."

"The A.C.G. said a tram would do," said Peter.

"Then he talked through his blooming hat," replied the other. "He's
probably never been there in his little life. It's two miles beyond the
tram terminus if it's a yard. My place is just across the river, and
there's a ferry that pretty well drops you there. Tell you what I'll do.
I'll see you down and then skip over."

"What about your stuff, though?" queried Peter.

"Oh? bless you, I can get a lorry to collect that. That's one use in
being A.S.C., at any rate."

"It's jolly decent of you," said Peter.

"Not a bit, old dear," returned the other. "You're the right sort, padre,
and I'm at a loose end just now. Besides, I'd like to see old Harold.
He's one of the best. Come on."

They found a taxi this time, near the Gare du Vert, and ran quickly out,
first over cobbles, then down a wide avenue with a macadamised surface
which paralleled the river, downstream.

"Main road to Havre," volunteered Jenks. "I've been through once or twice
with our stuff. It's a jolly pretty run, and you can lunch in Candebec
with a bit of luck, which is one of the beauty-spots of the Seine, you
know."

The road gave on open country in a few miles, though there were camps
to be seen between it and the river, with wharves and buildings at
intervals, and ahead a biggish waterside village. Just short of that
they pulled up. A notice-board remarked "No. 5 Rest Camp," and Peter
saw he had arrived.

The sun was well up by this time, and his spirits with it. The country
smiled in the clear light. Behind the camp fields ran up to a thick wood
through which wound a road, and the river was just opposite them. A
sentry came to attention as they passed in, sloped arms, and saluted.
Peter stared at him. "You ought to take the salute, padre," said Jenks;
"you're senior to me, you know."

They passed down a regular street of huts, most of which had little
patches of garden before them in which the green of some early spring
flowers was already showing, and stopped before the orderly-room. Jenks
said he would look in and see if "the skipper" were inside, and in a
second or two came out with a red-faced, cheerful-looking man, whom
he introduced as Captain Harold. With them was a tall young Scots officer
in a kilt, whom Peter learned was Lieutenant Mackay of their mess.

"Glad to see you, padre," said Harold. "Our last man wasn't up to much,
and Jenks says you're a sport. I've finished in there, so come on to the
mess and let's have a spot for luck. Come on, Scottie. Eleven o'clock's
all right for you, isn't it?"

"Shan't say no," said the gentleman addressed, and they passed behind the
orderly-room and in at an open door.

Peter glanced curiously round. The place was very cheerful--a fire
burning and gay pictures on the wall. "Rather neat, isn't it, padre?"
queried Harold. "By the way, you've got to dub up a picture. Everyone in
the mess gives one. There's a blank space over there that'll do nicely
for a Kirschner, if you're sport enough for that, Jenko'll show you where
to get a topper. What's yours, old son?"

"Same as usual, skipper," said Jenks, throwing himself into a chair.

Harold walked across to a little shuttered window and tapped. A man's
face appeared in the opening, "Four whiskies, Hunter--that's all right,
padre?"

"Yes," said Peter, and walked to the fire, while the talk became general.

"First time over?" queried Mackay.

"Well, how's town?" asked Harold. "Good shows on? I ought to be due next
month, but I think I'll! wait a bit. Want to get over in the spring and
see a bit of the country too. What do they think of the war over there,
Jenko?"

"It's going to be over by summer. There's a big push coming off this
spring, and Fritz can't stand much more. He's starving, and has no
reserves worth talking of. The East does not matter, though the doings
at Salonika have depressed them no end. This show's going to be won on
the West, and that quickly. Got it, old bean?"

"Good old Blighty!" ejaculated Harold. "But they don't really believe all
that, do they, padre?"

"They do," said Peter. "And, to tell you the truth, I wondered if
I'd be over in time myself. Surely the Yanks must come in and make
a difference."

"This time next year, perhaps, though I doubt it. What do you think,
Scottie?"

"Oh, ask another! I'm sick of it. Say, skipper, what about that run out
into the forest you talked of?"

"Good enough. Would you care to go, padre? There's a wood-cuttin' crowd
out there, and I want to see 'em about firewood. There's a car possible
to-day, and we could all pack in."

"Count me out," said Jenks. "I'll have to toddle over and report. Sorry,
all the same."

"I'd love it," said Peter. "Besides, the A.C.G. said I was to look up
those people."

"Oh, well done. It isn't a joy-ride at all, then. Have another, padre,
and let's get off. No? Well, I will. How's yours, Scottie?"

Ten minutes later the three of them got into a big car and glided
smoothly off, first along the river, and then up a steep road into the
forest. Peter, fresh from London, lay back and enjoyed it immensely. He
had no idea Normandy boasted such woods, and the world looked very good
to him. It was all about as different from what he had imagined as it
could possibly have been. He just set himself to appreciate it.

The forest was largely fir and pine, and the sunlight glanced down the
straight trunks and patterned on the carpet beneath. Hollies gleamed
green against the brown background, and in an open space of bare beech
trees the littered ground was already pricked with the new green of the
wild hyacinth. Now and again the rounded hills gave glimpses of the far
Normandy plain across the serpentine river, then would as suddenly close
in on them again until the car seemed to dart between the advancing
battalions of the forest as though to escape capture. At length, in
one such place, they leaped forward up a short rise, then rushed
swiftly downhill, swung round a corner, and came out on what had
become all but a bare tableland, set high so that one could see
distant valleys--Boscherville, Duclair--and yet bare, for the timber
had been all but entirely cut down.

Five hundred yards along this road brought them to a small encampment.
There were some lines of Nysson huts, a canteen with an inverted triangle
for sign, some tents, great stacks of timber and of smaller wood, a few
lorries drawn up and silent, and, beyond, two or three buildings of wood
set down by themselves, with a garden in front, and a notice "Officers'
Quarters." Here, then, Captain Harold stopped the car, and they got out.
There were some jovial introductions, and presently the whole party set
off across the cleared space to where, in the distance, one could see
the edge of the forest.

Peter did not want to talk, and dropped a little behind. Harold and the
O.C. of the forestry were on in front, and Mackay, with a junior local
officer, were skirmishing about on the right, taking pot-shots with small
chunks of wood at the stumps of trees and behaving rather like two
school-boys.

The air was all heavy with resinous scent, and the carpet beneath soft
with moss and leaves and fragrant slips of pine. Here and there, on a
definite plan, a small tree had been spared, and when he joined the men
ahead, Peter learned how careful were the French in all this apparently
wholesale felling. In the forest, as they saw as they reached it, the
lines were numbered and lettered and in some distant office every
woodland group was known with its place and age. There are few foresters
like the French, and it was cheering to think that this great levelling
would, in a score of years, do more good than harm.

Slowly biting into the untouched regiments of trees were the men, helped
in their work by a small power engine. The great trunks were lopped and
roughly squared here, and then dragged by motor traction to a slide,
which they now went to view. It was a fascinating sight. The forest ended
abruptly on a high hill, and below, at their feet, wound the river. Far
down, working on a wharf that had been constructed of piles driven into
the mud, was a Belgian detachment with German prisoners, and near the
wharf rough sheds housed the cutting plant. Where they stood was the
head of a big slide, with back-up sides, and the forest giants, brought
to the top from the place where they were felled, were levered over, to
swish down in a cloud of dust to the waiting men beneath.

"Well, skipper, what about the firewood?" asked Harold as they stood
gazing.

"How much do you want?" asked the O.C. Forestry.

"Oh, well, what can you let me have? You've got stacks of odd stuff
about; surely you can spare a bit."

"It's clean agin regulations, but could you send for it?"

"Rather! There's an A.S.C. camp below us, and the men there promised me
a lorry if I'd share the spoils with them. Will that do?"

"All right. When will you send up?"

"What's to-day? Wednesday? How about Sunday? I could put some boys on to
load up who'd like the jaunt. How would Sunday do?"

"Capital. My chaps work on all day, of course, and I don't want to give
them extra, so send some of yours."

Peter listened, and now cut in.

"Excuse me, sir," he said, "but I was told I ought to try and get a
service of some sort out here. Could I come out on the lorry and hold
one?"

"Delighted, padre, of course. I'll see what I can do for you. About
eleven? Probably you won't get many men as there are usually inspection
parades and some extra fatigues on Sunday, but I'll put it in orders. We
haven't had a padre for a long time."

"Eleven would suit me," said Peter, "if Captain Harold thinks the lorry
can get up here by that time. Will it, sir?"

"Oh, I should think so, and, anyway, an hour or so won't make much
difference. If I can, I'll come with you myself. But, I say, we ought
to be getting back now. It will be infernally late for luncheon."

"Come and have a drink before you start, anyway," said the O.C.; and he
led the way back to the camp and into an enclosure made of bushes and
logs in the rear of the mess, where rustic seats and a table had been
constructed under the shade of a giant oak. "It's rattling here in
summer," he said, "and we have most of our meals out of doors. Sit
down, won't you? Orderly!"

"By Jove! you people are comfortable out here," said Harold. "Wish I had
a job of this sort."

"Oh, I don't know, skipper; it would feed you up after a while, I think.
It's bally lonely in the evening, and we can't always get a car to town.
It's a damned nuisance getting out again, too." Then, as the orderly
brought glasses and a bottle: "Have a spot. It's Haig and Haig, Mackay,
and the right, stuff."

"Jolly good, sir," said that worthy critically. "People think because
I don't talk broad Scots I'm no Highlander, but when it comes to the
whisky I've got a Scottish thirst. Say when, sir."

Peter had another because he was warm with the sense of good comradeship,
and was warmer still when he climbed into the car ten minutes later. Life
seemed so simple and easy; and he was struck with the cheeriness of his
new friends, and the ready welcome to himself and his duty. He waved to
the O.C. "See you Sunday, sir," he called, out, "'bout eleven. You won't
forget to put it in orders, will you? Cheerio."

"Let's go round by the lower road, skipper," said Mackay. "We can look
in at that toppin' little pub--what's its name, Croix something?--and
besides, the surface is capital down there."

"And see Marie, eh? But don't forget you've got a padre aboard."

"Oh, he's all right, and if he's going to be out here, it's time he knew
Marie."

Graham laughed. "Carry on," he said. "It's all one to me where we go,
skipper."

He lay back more comfortably than ever, and the big car leaped forward
through the forest, ever descending towards the river level. Soon the
trees thinned, and they were skirting ploughed fields. Presently they ran
through a little village, where a German prisoner straightened himself
from his work in a garden and saluted. Then through a wood which suddenly
gave a vista of an avenue to a stately house, turreted in the French
style, a quarter of a mile away; then over a little stream; then round a
couple of corners, past a dreamy old church, and a long immemorial wall,
and so out into the straight road along the river. The sun gleamed on the
water, and there were ships in view, a British and a couple of Norwegian
tramps, ploughing slowly down to the sea. On the far bank the level of
the land was low, but on this side only some narrow apple-orchards and
here and there lush water-meadows separated them from the hills.

The Croix de Guerre stood back from the road in a long garden just where
a forest bridle-path wound down through a tiny village to the main road.
Their chauffeur backed the car all but out of sight into this path after
they climbed out, and the three of them made for a sidedoor in a high
wall. Harold opened it and walked in. The pretty trim little garden had
a few flowers in bloom, so sheltered was it, and Mackay picked a red
rosebud as they walked up the path.

Harold led the way without ceremony into a parlour that opened off a
verandah, and, finding it empty, opened a door beyond. "Marie! Marie!"
he called.

"Ah, Monsieur le Capitaine, I come," came a girl's voice, and Marie
entered. Peter noticed how rapidly she took them all in, and how cold
were the eyes that nevertheless sparkled and greeted Harold and Mackay
with seeming gaiety. She was short and dark and not particularly
good-looking, but she had all the vivacity and charm of the French.

"Oh, monsieur, where have you been for so long? I thought you had
forgotten La Croix de Guerre altogether. It's the two weeks--no,
_three_--since you come here. The gentlemen will have déjeuner? And
perhaps a little aperitif before?"

"Bon jour, Marie," began the Captain in clumsy French, and then abandoned
the attempt. "I could not come, Marie, you know. C'est la guerre. Much
work each day."

"Ah, non, monsieur cannot cheat me. He had found another cafe and another
girl.... Non, non, monsieur, it is not correct;" and the girl drew
herself up with a curiously changed air as Harold clumsily reached out
towards her, protesting. "And you have a curé here--how do you say, a
chapelain?" and Marie beamed on Peter.

The two officers looked at him and laughed. "What can I bring you,
Monsieur le Capitaine le Curé?" demanded the girl. "Vermuth? Cognac?"

Mackay slipped from the edge of the table on which he had been sitting
and advanced towards her, speaking fluent French, with a curious
suggestion of a Scotch accent that never appeared in his English. Peter
watched with a smile on his face and a curious medley of feelings, while
the Lieutenant explained, that they could not stop to lunch, that they
would take three mixed vermuth, and that he would come and help her get
them. They went out together, Marie protesting, and Harold, lighting a
cigarette and offering one to Peter, said with a laugh: "He's the boy, is
Mackay. Wish I could sling the lingo like him. It's a great country,
padre."

In a minute or two the pair of them came back, Marie was wearing the rose
at the point of the little _décolleté_ of her black dress, and was all
over smiles. She carried a tray with glasses and a bottle. Mackay carried
the other. With a great show, he helped her pour out, and chatted away in
French while they drank.

Harold and Peter talked together, but the latter caught scraps of the
others' conversation. Mackay wanted to know, apparently, when she would
be next in town, and was urging a date on her. Peter caught "Rue Jeanne
d'Arc," but little more, and Harold was insistent on a move in a few
minutes. They skirmished at the door saying "Good-bye," but it was with
an increased feeling of the warmth and jollity of his new life that Peter
once more boarded the car. This time Mackay got in front and Harold
joined Graham behind. As they sped off, Peter said:

"By Jove, skipper, you do have a good time out here!"

Harold flicked off the ash of his cigarette. "So, so, padre," he said.
"But the devil's loose. It's all so easy; I've never met a girl yet who
was not out for a spree. Of course, we don't see anything of the real
French ladies, though, and this isn't the line. By God! when I think of
the boys up there, I feel a beast sometimes. But I can't help it; they
won't pass me to go up, and it's no use growling down here because of
it."

"I suppose not," said Peter, and leaned back reflecting for the rest of
the way. He felt as if he had known these men all his days, and as if his
London life had been lived on another planet.

After lunch he was given a cubicle, and spent an hour or two getting
unpacked. That done, just as he was about to sit down to a letter, there
came a knock at the door, and Mackay looked in.

"You there, padre?" he asked. "There's a lorry going up to town that has
just brought a batch of men in: would you care to come? I've got to do
some shopping, and we could dine at the club and come back afterwards."

Peter jumped up. "Topping," he said. "I want to get one or two things,
and I'd love it."

"Come on, then," said the other. "I'll meet you at the gate in five
minutes."

Peter got on his Sam Browne and went out, and after a bit Mackay joined
him. They jolted up to town, and went first to the Officers' Store at the
E.F.C. Mackay bought some cigarettes, and Peter some flannel collars and
a tie. Together the pair of them strolled round town, and put their heads
in at the cathedral at Peter's request. He had a vision of old grey stone
and coloured glass and wide soaring spaces, but his impatient companion
hauled him out. "Of course, you'll want to see round, padre," he said,
"but you can do it some other time and with somebody else. I've seen it
once, and that's enough for me. Let's get on to the club and book a
table; there's usually a fearful crowd."

Peter was immensely impressed with the crowd of men, the easy greetings
of acquaintances, and the way in which one was ignored by the rest. He
was introduced to several people, who were all very cheerful, and in the
long dining-room they eventually sat down to table with two more officers
whom the Scotsman knew. Peter was rather taken with a tall man, slightly
bald, of the rank of Captain, who was attached to a Labour Corps. He had
travelled a great deal, and been badly knocked about in Gallipoli. In a
way, he was more serious than the rest, and he told Peter a good deal
about the sights of the town--the old houses and churches, and where was
the best glass, and so on. Mackay and the fourth made merry, and Mackay,
who called the W.A.A.C. waitress by her Christian name, was plainly
getting over-excited. Peter's friend was obviously a little scornful.
"You'll meet a lot of fools here, padre," he said, "old and young. The
other day I was having tea here when two old buffers came in--dug-outs,
shoved into some job or another--and they sat down at the table next
mine. I couldn't help hearing what they said. The older and fatter, a
Colonel, looked out of window, and remarked ponderously:

"'By the way, wasn't Joan of Arc born about here?'

"'No,' said the second; 'down in Alsace-Lorraine, I believe. She was
burnt here, and they threw her ashes into the Grand Pont.'"

Peter laughed silently, and the other smiled at him. "Fact," he said.
"That's one type of ass, and the second is (dropping his voice) your
friend here and his like, if you don't mind my saying so. Look at him
with that girl now. Somebody'll spot it, and they'll keep an eye on him.
Next time he meets her on the sly he'll be caught out, and be up for it.
Damned silly fool, I think! The bally girl's only a waitress from Lyons."

Peter glanced at Mackay. He was leaning back holding the menu, which she,
with covert glances at the cashier's desk, was trying to take away from
him. "Isobel," he said, "I say, come here--no, I really want to see
it--tell me, when do you get out next?"

"We don't get no leave worth talking of, you know," she said. "Besides,
you don't mean it. You can't talk to me outside. Oh, shut up! I must go.
They'll see us," and she darted away.

"Damned pretty girl, eh?" said Mackay contentedly. "Don't mind me, padre.
It's only a bit of a joke. Come on, let's clear out."

The four went down the stairs together and stood in a little group at
the entrance-door. "Where you for now, Mac?" asked the second officer,
a subaltern of the West Hampshires.

"Don't know, old sport. I'm with the padre. What you for, padre?"

"I should think we had better be getting back," said Peter, glancing at
the watch on his wrist. "We've a long way to go."

"Oh, hang it all, not yet! It's a topping evenin'. Let's stroll up the
street."

Peter glanced at the Labour Corps Captain, who nodded, and they two
turned off together. "There's not much to do," he said. "One gets sick of
cinemas, and the music-hall is worse, except when one is really warmed up
for a razzle-dazzle. I don't wonder these chaps go after wine and women
more than they ought. After all, most of them are just loose from home.
You must make allowances, padre. It's human nature, you know."

Peter nodded abstractedly. It was the second time he had heard that.
"It's all so jolly different from what I expected," he said meditatively.

"I know," said the other. "Not much danger or poverty or suffering here,
seemingly. But you never can tell. Look at those girls: I bet you would
probably sum them up altogether wrongly if you tried."

Peter glanced at a couple of French women who were passing. The pair were
looking at them, and in the light of a brilliantly lit cinema they showed
up clearly. The paint was laid on shamelessly; their costumes, made in
one piece, were edged with fur and very gay. Each carried a handbag and
one a tasselled stick. "Good-night, chérie," said one, as they passed.

Peter gave a little shudder. "How ghastly!" he said. "How can anyone
speak to them? Are there many like that about?" He glanced back again:
"Why, good heavens," he cried, "one's Marie!"

"Hullo, padre," said his friend, the ghost of a smile beginning about his
lips. "Where have you been? Marie! By Jove! I shall have to report you to
the A.C.G."

Peter blushed furiously. "It was at an inn," he said, "this morning, as
we were coming back from the forest. But she seemed so much better then,
Mackay knew her; why, I heard him say...."

He glanced back at the sudden recollection. The two girls were speaking
to the two others, twenty paces or so behind. "Oh," he exclaimed, "look
here!..."

The tall Labour man slipped his arm in his and interrupted. "Come on,
padre," he said; "you can't do anything. Mackay's had a bit too much as
it is, and the other chap is looking for a night out. We'll stroll past
the cathedral, and I'll see you a bit of the way home."

"But how damnable, how beastly!" exclaimed Peter. "It makes one
sick!..." He broke off, and the two walked on in silence.

"Is there much of that?" Peter demanded suddenly.

The other glanced at him. "You'll find out without my telling you," he
said; "but don't be too vehement till you've got your eyes open. There
are worse things."

"There can't be," broke in Peter. "Women like that, and men who will go
with them, aren't fit to be called men and women. There's no excuse. It's
bestial, that's what it is."

"You wouldn't speak to one?" queried the other.

"Good heavens, no! Do you forget what I am?"

"No, I don't, padre, but look here, I'm not a Christian, and I take a
common-sense view of these things, but I'm bound to say I think you're on
the wrong tack, too. Didn't Christ have compassion on people like that?
Didn't He eat and drink with publicans and sinners?"

"Yes, to convert them. You can't name the two things in the same breath.
He had compassion on the multitude of hungry women and children and
misguided men, but He hated sin. You can't deny that." Peter recalled his
sermon; he was rather indignant, unreasonably, that the suggestion should
have been made.

"So?" said the other laconically. "Well, you know more about it than
I do, I suppose. Come on; we go down here."

They parted at the corner by the river again, and Peter set out for his
long walk home alone. It was a lovely evening of stars, cool, but not too
cold, and at first the streets were full of people. He kept to the curb
or walked in the road till he was out of the town, taking salutes
automatically, his thoughts far away. The little _cafés debits_ were
crowded, largely by Tommies. He was not accosted again, for he walked
fast, but he saw enough as he went.

More than an hour later he swung into camp, and went to his room, lit a
candle, and shut the door. Tunic off, he sat on the edge of the camp-bed
and stared at the light. He seemed to have lived a year in a day, and he
felt unclean. He thought of Hilda, and then actually smiled, for Hilda
and this life seemed so incredibly far apart. He could not conceive of
her even knowing of its existence. Yet, he supposed, she knew, as he had
done, that such things were. He had even preached about them.... It
suddenly struck him that he had talked rot in the pulpit, talked of
things of which he knew nothing. Yet, of course, his attitude had been
right.

He wondered if he should speak to Mackay, and, so wondering, fell forward
on his knees.



CHAPTER IV


Hilda's religion was, like the religion of a great many Englishwomen of
her class, of a very curious sort. She never, of course, analysed it
herself, and conceivably she would object very strongly to the
description set down here, but in practical fact there is no doubt about
the analysis. To begin with, this conventional and charming young lady of
Park Lane had in common with Napoleon Bonaparte that Christianity meant
more to them both as the secret of social order than as the mystery of
the Incarnation. Hilda was convinced that a decent and orderly life
rested on certain agreements and conclusions in respect to marriage and
class and conduct, and that these agreements and conclusions were
admirably stated in the Book of Common Prayer, and most ably and
decorously advocated from the pulpit of St. John's. She would have said
that she believed the agreements and conclusions because of the Prayer
Book, but in fact she had primarily given in her allegiance to a social
system, and supported the Prayer Book because of its support of that.
Once a month she repeated the Nicene Creed, but only because, in the
nature of things, the Nicene Creed was given her once a month to repeat,
and she never really conceived that people might worry strenuously about
it, any more than she did. Being an intelligent girl, she knew, of
course, that people did, and occasionally preachers occupied the pulpit
of St. John's who were apparently quite anxious that she and the rest
of the congregation should understand that it meant this and not that,
or that and not this, according to the particular enthusiasm of the
clergyman of the moment. Sentence by sentence she more or less understood
what these gentlemen keenly urged upon her; as a whole she understood
nothing. She was far too much the child of her environment and age not
to perceive that Mr. Lloyd George's experiments in class legislation were
vastly more important.

Peter, therefore, had always been a bit of an enigma to her. As a rule
he fitted in with the scheme of things perfectly well, for he was a
gentleman, he liked nice things, and he was splendidly keen on charity
organisation and the reform of abuses on right lines. But now and again
he said and did things which perturbed her. It was as if she had
gradually become complete mistress of a house, and then had suddenly
discovered a new room into which she peeped for a minute before it was
lost to her again and the door shut. It was no Bluebeard's chamber into
which she looked; it was much more that she had a suspicion that the room
contained a live mistress who might come out one day and dispute her own
title. She could tell how Peter would act nine times out of ten; she knew
by instinct, a great deal better than he did, the conceptions that ruled
his life; but now and again he would hesitate perplexedly as if at the
thought of something that she did not understand, or act suddenly in
response to an overwhelming flood of impulse whose spring was beyond her
control or even her surmise. Women mother all their men because men are
on the whole such big babies, but from a generation of babies is born
occasionally the master. Women get so used to the rule that they forget
the exception. When he comes, then, they are troubled.

But this was not all Hilda's religion. For some mysterious reason this
product of a highly civilised community had the elemental in her. Men and
women both have got to eliminate all trace of sex before they can
altogether escape that. In other words, because in her lay latent the
power of birth, in which moment she would be cloistered alone in a dark
and silent room with infinity, she clung unreasonably and all but
unconsciously to certain superstitions which she shared with primitive
savages and fetish-worshippers. All of which seems a far cry from the War
Intercession Services at wealthy and fashionable St. John's, but it was
nothing more or less than this which was causing her to kneel on a high
hassock, elbows comfortably on the prayer-rail, and her face in her
hands, on a certain Friday evening in the week after Peter's arrival in
France, while the senior curate (after suitable pauses, during which her
mind was uncontrollably busy with an infinite number of things, ranging
from the doings of Peter in France to the increasing difficulty of
obtaining silk stockings), intoned the excellent stately English of
the Prayers set forth by Authority in Time of War.

Two pews ahead of her knelt Sir Robert Doyle, in uniform. That simple
soldier was a bigger child than most men, and was, therefore, still
conscious of a number of unfathomable things about him, for the which
Hilda, his godchild, adored and loved him as a mother will adore her
child who sits in a field of buttercups and sees, not minted, nor
botanical, but heavenly gold. He was all the more lovable, because he
conceived that he was much bigger and stronger than she, and perfectly
capable of looking after her. In that, he was like a plucky boy who gets
up from his buttercups to tell his mother not to be frightened when a cow
comes into the field.

They went out together, and greeted each other in the porch.
"Good-evening, child," said the soldier, with a smile. "And how's Peter?"

Hilda smiled back, but after a rather wintry fashion, which the man was
quick to note. "I couldn't have told you fresh news yesterday," she said,
"but I had a letter this morning all about his first Sunday. He's at
Rouen at a rest camp for the present, though he thinks he's likely to be
moved almost at once; and he's quite well."

"And then?" queried the other affectionately.

"Oh, he doesn't know at all, but he says he doesn't think there's any
chance of his getting up the line. He'll be sent to another part where
there is likely to be a shortage of chaplains soon."

"Well, that's all right, isn't it? He's in no danger at Rouen, at any
rate. If we go on as we're going on now, they won't even hear the guns
down there soon. Come, little girl, what's worrying you? I can see
there's something."

They were in the street now, walking towards the park, and Hilda did not
immediately reply. Then she said: "What are you going to do? Can't you
come in for a little? Father and mother will be out till late, and you
can keep me company."

He glanced at his watch. "I've got to be at the War Office later," he
said, "but my man doesn't reach town till after ten, so I will. The
club's not over-attractive these days. What with the men who think one
knows everything and won't tell, and the men who think they know
everything and want to tell, it's a bit trying."

Hilda laughed merrily. "Poor Uncle Bob," she said, giving him her
childhood's name that had never been discontinued between them. "You
shall come home with me, and sit in father's chair, and have a still
decent whisky and a cigar, and if you're very good I'll read you part
of Peter's letter."

"What would Peter say?"

"Oh, he wouldn't mind the bits I'll read to you. Indeed, I think he'd
like it: he'd like to know what you think. You see, he's awfully
depressed; he feels he's not wanted out there, and--though I don't know
what he means--that things, religious things, you know, aren't real."

"Not wanted, eh?" queried the old soldier. "Now, I wonder why he resents
that. Is it because he feels snubbed? I shouldn't be surprised if he had
a bit of a swelled head, your young man, you know, Hilda."

"Sir Robert Doyle, if you're going to be beastly, you can go to your
horrid old club, and I only hope you'll be worried to death. Of course
it isn't that. Besides, he says everyone is very friendly and welcomes
him--only he feels that that makes it worse. He thinks they don't
want--well, what he has to give, I suppose."

"What he has to give? But what in the world has he to give? He has to
take parade services, and visit hospitals and" (he was just going to say
"bury the dead," but thought it hardly sounded pleasant), "make himself
generally decent and useful, I suppose. That's what chaplains did when I
was a subaltern, and jolly decent fellows they usually were."

"Well, I know. That's what I should feel, and that's what I don't quite
understand. I suppose he feels he's responsible for making the men
religious--it reads like that. But you shall hear the letter yourself."

Doyle digested this for a while in silence. Then he gave a sort of snort,
which is inimitable, but always accompanied his outbursts against things
slightly more recent than the sixties. It had the effect of rousing
Hilda, at any rate.

"Don't, you dear old thing," she said, clutching his arm. "I know
exactly what you're going to say. Young men of your day minded their
business and did their duty, and didn't theorise so much. Very likely.
But, you see, our young men had the misfortune to be born a little later
than you. And they can't help it." She sighed a little. "It _is_ trying
sometimes.... But they're all right really, and they'll come back to
things."

They were at the gate by now. Sir Robert stood aside to let her pass. "I
know, dear," he said, "I'm an old fogey. Besides, young Graham has good
stuff in him--I always said so. But if he's on the tack of trying to
stick his fingers into people's souls, he's made a mistake in going to
France. I know Tommy--or I did know him. (The Lord alone knows what's in
the Army these days.) He doesn't want that sort of thing. He swears and
he grouses and he drinks, but he respects God Almighty more than you'd
think, and he serves his Queen--I mean his King. A parade service is a
parade, and it's a bore at times, but it's discipline, and it helps in
the end. Like that little 'do' to-night, it helps. One comes away feelin'
one can stand a bit more for the sake of the decent, clean things of
life."

Hilda regarded the fine, straight old man for a second as they stood, on
the top of the steps. Then her eyes grew a little misty. "God bless you,
Uncle Bob," she said. "You _do_ understand." And the two went in
together.

Hilda opened the door of the study. "I'm going to make you comfortable
myself," she said. She pulled a big armchair round; placed a reading-lamp
on a small table and drew it close; and she made the old soldier sit in
the chair. Then she unlocked a little cupboard, and got out a decanter
and siphon and glass, and a box of cigars. She placed these by his side,
and stood back quizzically a second. Then she threw a big leather cushion
at his feet and walked to the switches, turning off the main light and
leaving only the shaded radiance of the reading-lamp. She turned the
shade of it so that the light would fall on the letter while she sat
on the cushion, and then she bent down, kissed her godfather, and went
to the door. "I won't be a moment, Uncle Bob," she said. "Help yourself,
and get comfortable."

Five minutes later the door opened and she came in. As she moved into
the circle of light, the man felt an absurd satisfaction, as if he were
partly responsible for the dignified figure with its beautifully waved
soft, fair hair, of which he was so proud. She smiled on him, and sat
down at his feet, leaning back against his chair and placing her left
elbow on his knees. He laid a caressing hand on her arm, and then looked
steadily in front of him lest he should see more than she wished.

Hilda rustled the sheets. "The first is all about me," she explained,
"and I'll skip that. Let me see--yes, here we are. Now listen. It's
rather long, but you mustn't say anything till I've finished."

"'Saturday' (Peter's letter ran) I gave up to getting ready for Sunday,
though Harold' (he's the O.C. of the camp, Peter says, a jolly decent
sort of man) 'wanted me to go up town with him. I had had a talk with him
about the services, and had fixed up to have a celebration in the morning
in the Y.M.C.A. in camp--they have a quiet room, and there is a table in
it that one puts against the wall and uses for an altar--and an evening
service in the canteen-hall part of the place. I couldn't have a morning
service, as I was to go out to the forest camp, as I have told you.' He
said in his first letter how he had been motored out to see a camp in the
forest where they are cutting wood for something, and he had fixed up a
parade," said Hilda, looking up. Doyle nodded gravely, and she went on
reading: "'Harold said he'd like to take Communion, and that I could put
up a notice in the anteroom of the Officers' Mess.

"'Well, I spent the morning preparing sermons. I thought I'd preach from
"The axe is laid to the root of the tree" in the forest, and make a sort
of little parable out of it for the men. I planned to say how Christ was
really watching and testing each one of us, especially out here, and to
begin by talking a bit about Germany, and how the axe was being laid to
that tree because it wouldn't bear good fruit. I couldn't get much for
the evening, so I thought I'd leave it, and perhaps say much the same as
the morning, only differently introduced. I went and saw the hut manager,
a very decent fellow who is a Baptist minister at home, and he said he'd
like to come in the morning. Well, I didn't know what to say to that; I
hated to hurt him, and, of course, he has no Baptist chapel out here; but
I didn't know what the regulations might be, and excused myself on those
grounds.

"'Then in the afternoon I went round the camp. Oh, Hilda, I was fearfully
nervous--I don't know why exactly, but I was. The men were playing "crown
and anchor," and sleeping, and cleaning kit (this is a rest camp you
know), and it seemed so cold-blooded somehow. I told them anyone could
come in the evening if he wanted to, but that in the morning the service
was for Church of England communicants. I must say I was very bucked up
over the result. I had no end of promises, and those who were going to be
out in the evening said so straight out. Quite thirty said they'd come in
the morning, and they were very respectful and decent. Then I wrote out
and put up my notices. The mess ragged a bit about it, but quite decently
("Here's the padre actually going to do a bit of work!" and the usual
"I shall be a chaplain in the next war!"); and I mentioned to one or two
whom I knew to be Church of England that Captain Harold had said he would
come to the early service. Someone had told me that if the O.C. of a camp
comes, the others often will. After dinner we settled down to bridge,
and about ten-thirty I was just going off to bed when Harold came in with
two or three other men. Well, I hate to tell you, dear, but I promised
I'd write, and, besides, I do want to talk to somebody. Anyway, he was
what they call "merry," and he and his friends were full of talk about
what they'd done up town. I don't know that it was anything very bad, but
it was awful to me to think that this chap was going to communicate next
day. I didn't know what to do, but I couldn't say anything then, and I
slipped off to bed as soon as I could. They made a huge row in the
anteroom for some time, but at last I got to sleep.

"'Next morning I was up early, and got things fixed up nicely. At eight
o'clock _one man_ came rather sheepishly--a young chap I'd seen the day
before--and I waited for some five minutes more. Then I began. About the
Creed, Harold came in, and so we finished the service. Neither of them
seemed to know the responses at all, and I don't think I have ever felt
more miserable. However, I had done all I could do, and I let it go at
that. I comforted myself that I would get on better in the forest, where
I thought there was to be a parade.

"'We got out about eleven o'clock, and I went to the O.C.'s hut. He
was sitting in a deck chair reading a novel. He jumped up when he saw
me, and was full of apologies. He'd absolutely forgotten I was coming,
and so no notice had been given, and, anyway, apparently it isn't the
custom in these camps to have ordered parade services. He sent for the
Sergeant-Major, who said the men were mostly cleaning camp, but he
thought he could get some together. So I sat and talked for about twenty
minutes, and then went over. The canteen had been opened, and there were
about twenty men there. They all looked as if they had been forced in,
except one, who turned out to be a Wesleyan, and chose the hymns out of
the Y.M.C.A. books in the place. They had mission hymns, and the only one
that went well was "Throw out the life-line," which is really a rather
ghastly thing. We had short Matins, and I preached as I had arranged. The
men sat stiffly and looked at me. I don't know why, but I couldn't work
up any enthusiasm and it all seemed futile. Afterwards I tried to talk to
this Wesleyan corporal. He was great on forming a choir to learn hymns,
and then I said straight out that I was new to this sort of work, and I
hoped what I had said was all right. He said: "Yes, sir, very nice, I'm
sure; but, if you'll excuse me, what the men need is converting."

"'Said I: "What exactly do you mean by that, corporal?"

"'"Well, sir," he said "they want to be led to put their trust in the
Lord and get right with God. There's many a rough lad in this camp, sir.
If you knew what went on, you'd see it."

"I said that I had told them God was watching them, and that we had to
ask His daily help to live clean, honest lives, and truly repent of our
sins.

"'"Yes, you did, sir," he said. "That's what I say, sir, it was very
nice; only somehow these chaps have heard that before. It don't grip,
sir. Now, we had a preacher in our chapel once...." And he went on to
tell me of some revival mission.

"'Well, I went back to the O.C. He wanted me to have a drink, and I did,
for, to tell you the truth, I felt like it. Then I got back to camp.

"'In the afternoon I went round the lines again. Hilda, I _wish_ I could
tell you what I felt. Everyone was decent enough, but the men would get
up and salute as I came up, and by the very sound of their voices you
could tell how their talk changed as soon as they saw me. Mind you, they
were much more friendly than men at home, but I felt all the time out of
touch. They didn't want me, and somehow Christ and the Gospel seemed a
long way off. However, we had the evening service. The hut was fairly
full, which pleased me, and I preached a much more "Gospel" address than
in the morning. Some officers came, and then afterwards two or three of
us went out for a stroll and a talk.

"'Among these officers was a tall chap I had met at the club, named
Langton. He had come down to see somebody in our mess, and had come on to
service. He is an extraordinarily nice person, different from most, a man
who thinks a lot and controls himself. He did most of the talking, and
began as we strolled up the hill.

"'"Padre," he said, "how _does_ Christ save us?"

"'I said He had died to obtain our forgiveness from God, and that, if we
trusted in Him, He would forgive and help us to live nobler and manlier
lives. (Of course, I said much more, but I see plainly that that is what
it all comes to.)

"'When I had done, he walked on for a bit in silence, and then he said,
"Do you think the men understand that?"

"'I said I thought and hoped they might. It was simple enough.

"'"Well," he said, "it's hopeless jargon to me. If I try to analyse it,
I am knocked out right and left by countless questions; but leave that.
It is when I try to take you practically at your word that I find you are
mumbling a fetish. Forgive me, but it is so."

"'I was a little annoyed and very troubled. "Do explain," I said.

"'"All right, only you mustn't mind if I hurt you," he said. "Take _Trust
in Christ_--well, that either means that a man gets intoxicated by an
idea which does control his life, just as it would if he were intoxicated
by the idea _Trust in Buddha_, or else it comes to nothing. I can't
really trust in a dead man, or a man on the right hand of the throne of
God. What Tommy wants is a pal to lean on in the canteen and the street.
He wants somebody more real and more lovable and more desirable than the
girl who tempts him into sin. And he can't be found. Was he in your
service to-night? Can he be emotionally conjured up by 'Yield not to
temptation' or 'Dare to be a Daniel'? Be honest, padre--the thing is a
spectre of the imagination."

"'I was absolutely silent. He went on:

"'"You make much talk of sin and forgiveness. Well, Tommy doesn't
understand what you mean by sin. He is confused to bits about it; but
the main thing that stands out is that a man may break all the Ten
Commandments theologically and yet be a rattling good pal, as brave as
a lion, as merry as a cricket, and the life and soul and _Christ_ of a
platoon. That's the fact, and it is the one thing that matters. But there
is another thing: if a man sins, how is he to get forgiveness? What sort
of a God is it Who will wipe the whole blessed thing out because in a
moment of enthusiasm the sinner says he is sorry? If that's all sin is,
it isn't worth worrying about, and if that is all God is, He's not got
the makings of a decent O.C."

"'"Good for you, skipper," said the other man.

"'Langton rounded on him. "It isn't good for me or for anyone," he said.
"And I'll tell you what, my boy: all that I've said doesn't justify a man
making a beast of himself, which is what the majority of us do. I can see
that a man may very wisely get drunk at times, but he's a ---- fool to
get himself sodden with drink." (And he went on to more, Hilda, that I
can't write to you.)

"'Well, I don't know what I said. I went back utterly miserable. Oh,
Hilda, I think I never ought to have come out here. Langton's right in a
way. We clergy have said the same thing so often that we forget how it
strikes a practical common-sense man. But there must be an answer
somewhere, if I only knew it. Meantime I'm like a doctor among the dying
who cannot diagnose the disease. I'm like a salesman with a shop full of
goods that nobody wants because they don't fulfil the advertisement. And
I never felt more utterly alone in my life.

"'These men talk a different language from mine; they belong to another
world. They are such jolly good fellows that they are prepared to accept
me as a comrade without question, but as for my message, I might as well
be trying to cure smallpox by mouthing sonorous Virgil--only it is worse
than that, for they no longer even believe that the diagnosis is what I
say. And what gets over me is that they are, on the whole, decent chaps.
There's Harold--he's probably immoral and he certainly drinks too much,
but he's as unselfish as possible, and I feel in my bones he'd do
anything to help a friend.

"'Of course, I hate their vices. The sights in the streets make me feel
positively sick. I wouldn't touch what they touch with a stick. When I
think of you, so honest and upright and clean....' Oh, but I needn't read
that, Uncle Bob." She turned over a page or so. "I think that's all.
No, just this:

"'I've been made mess secretary, and I serve out coffee in the canteen
for a couple of hours every other day. That's about all there is to do. I
wish to Heaven I had an ordinary commission!"

The girl's voice ceased with a suspicious suddenness, and the man's
hand tightened on her arm. For a minute they remained so, and then,
impulsively and unrestrained, she half-turned and sobbed out against his
knees:

"Oh, Uncle Bob, I'm so unhappy! I feel so sorry for him. And--and--the
worst is, I don't really understand.... I don't see what worries him. Our
religion is good enough, I'm sure. Oh, I _hate_ those beasts of men out
there! Peter's too good for them. I wish he'd never gone. I feel as if
he'd never come back!"

"There, there, my dear," said the old soldier, uncomfortably. "Don't take
on so. He'll find his feet, you know. It's not so bad as that. You can
trust him, can't you?"

She nodded vigorously. "But what do _you_ think of it all?" she demanded.

Sir Robert Doyle cleared his throat. "Well," he began, but stopped. To
him it was an extraordinarily hard thing to speak of religion, partly
because he cherished so whole-heartedly what he had got, and partly
because he had never formulated it, probably for that very reason. Sir
Robert could hardly have told his Maker what he believed about Him. When
he said the Creed he always said it with lowered voice and bowed head, as
one who considered very deeply of the matter, but in fact he practically
never considered at all....

"Well," he began again, "you see, dear, it's a strange time out there,
and it is a damned unpleasant age, if you'll excuse me. People can't take
anything these days without asking an infernal number of questions. Some
blessed Socialist'll begin to ask why a man should love his mother next,
and, not getting a scientific answer, argue that one shouldn't. As for
the men, they're all right, or they used to be. 'Love the Brotherhood.
Fear God. Honour the King'--that's about enough for you and me, I take
it, and Graham'll find it's enough for him. And he'll play the game, and
decent men will like him and get--er--helped, my dear. That's all there
is to it. But it's a pity," added the old Victorian Regular, "that these
blessed labour corps, and rest camps, and all the rest of it, don't have
parade services. The boy's bound to miss that. I'm hanged if I don't
speak about it!... And that reminds me.... Good Lord, it's ten o'clock!
I must go."

He started up, Hilda rose, smiling a little.

"That's better," said the old fellow; "must be a man, what? It's all a
bit of the war, you know."

"Oh, Uncle Bob, you _are_ a dear. You do cheer one up, somehow. I wish
men were more like you."

"No, you don't, my dear, don't you think it. I'm a back number, and you
know it, as well as any."

"You're not, Uncle Bob. I won't have you say it. Give me a kiss and say
you don't mean it."

"Well, well, Hilda, there is life in the old dog yet, and I must be off
and show it. No, I won't have another, not before duty. Good-night, dear,
and don't worry."

Hilda saw him off, and waved her hand from the door. Then she went back
slowly to the study and looked round. She stood a few moments and then
switched off the lights, and went out and slowly upstairs. The maid was
in the bedroom, and she dismissed her, keeping her face turned away. In
front of her glass, she held her letter irresolutely a moment, and then
folded it and slipped it into a drawer. She lifted a photo from the
dressing-table and looked at it for a few minutes earnestly. Then she
went to her window, threw it up, and leaned on the sill, staring hard
over the dark and empty park.

Outside, the General walked some distance before he found a taxi. He
walked fast for a man of his age, and ruminated as he went. It was his
way, and the way of his kind. Most of the modern sciences left him
unmoved, and although he would vehemently have denied it, he was the
most illogical of men. He held fast by a few good, sound, old-fashioned
principles, and the process of thought, to him, meant turning over a new
thing until he had got it into line with these principles. It was an
excellent method as far as it went, and it made him what he was--a
thoroughly sound and dependable servant of the State in any routine
business.

At the War Office he climbed more slowly up the steps and into the lobby.
An officer was just coming out, and they recognised each other under the
shaded lights. "Hullo, Chichester, what are you doing here?" demanded
Doyle heartily. "Thought you were in France."

"So I was, up to yesterday. I've just arrived. Orders."

"Where have you been?"

"Rouen. It's a big show now. Place full of new troops and mechanics in
uniform. To tell you the truth, Doyle, the Army's a different proposition
from what it was when you and I were in Egypt and India. But that's a
long time ago, old friend."

"Rouen, eh? Now, that's a coincidence. A young chap I know has just gone
there, in your department. Graham--Peter Graham. Remember him?"

"Oh, quite well. A very decent chap, I thought. Joined us ten days ago or
so. What about it? I forget for the moment where we put him."

"Oh, nothing, nothing. He'll find his feet all right. But what's this
about no parade services these days?"

"No parade services? We have 'em all right, when we can. Of course, it
depends a bit on the O.C., and in the Labour Corps especially it isn't
usually possible. It isn't like the line, old fellow, and even the line
isn't what we knew it. You can't have parade services in trenches, and
you can't have them much when the men are off-loading bully beef or
mending aeroplanes and that sort of thing. This war's a big proposition,
and it's got to go on. Why? Young Graham grousing?"

"No, no--oh, no," hastily asserted Doyle, the soul of honour. "No, not at
all. Only mentioned not getting a parade, and it seemed to me a pity.
There's a lot in the good old established religion."

"Is there?" said the other thoughtfully. "I'm not so sure to-day. The men
don't like being ordered to pray. They prefer to come voluntarily."

Doyle got fierce. "Don't like being ordered, don't they? Then what the
deuce are they there for? Good Lord, man! the Army isn't a debating
society or a mothers' meeting. You might as well have voluntary games
at a public school!"

The A.C.G. smiled. "That's it, old headstrong! No, my boy, the Army isn't
a mothers' meeting--at any rate, Fritz doesn't think so. But times have
changed, and in some ways they're better. I'd sooner have fifty men at a
voluntary service than two hundred on a parade."

"Well, I wouldn't," exploded Doyle. "I know your voluntary
services--Moody and Sankey hymns on a Sunday night. The men had better
be in a decent bar. But turn 'em out in the morning, clean and decent
on parade, and give 'em the old service, and it'll tighten 'em up and
do 'em good. Voluntary service! You'll have volunteer evangelists
instead of Army chaplains next!"

Colonel Chichester still smiled, but a little grimly. "We've got them,"
he said. "And no doubt there's something in what you say; but times
change, and the Church has got to keep abreast of the times. But, look
here, I must go. What about a luncheon? I've not got much leave."

"So must I; I've an appointment," said Doyle. "But all right, old friend,
to-morrow at the club. But you're younger than I, Chichester, or perhaps
you parsons don't get old as quickly!"

They shook hands and parted. Sir Robert was busy for an hour, and came
out again with his head full of the proposed plans for the aerial defence
of London. "Taxi, sir?" he was asked at the door. "No," he replied; "I'll
walk home."

"Best way to think, walking at night," he said to himself as he turned
down Whitehall, through the all but empty streets, darkened as they were.
The meaning of those great familiar spaces struck him as he walked.
Hardly formulating it, he became aware of a sense of pride and
responsibility as he passed scene after scene of England's past glory.
The old Abbey towered up in the moonlight, solemn and still, but almost
as if animate and looking at him. He felt small and old as he passed into
Victoria Street. There the Stores by night made him smile at the
contrast, but in Ashley Gardens Westminster Cathedral made him frown. If
he hated anything, it was that for which it stood. Romanism meant to him
something effeminate, sneaking, monstrous.... That there should be
Englishmen to build such a place positively angered him. He was not
exactly a bigot or a fanatic; he would not have repealed the Emancipation
Acts; and he would have said that if anyone wanted to be a Romanist,
he had better be one. But he would not have had time for anyone who did
so want, and if he should have had to have by any chance dealings with a
priest, he would have been so frigidly polite that the poor fellow would
probably have been frozen solid. Of course, Irishmen were different,
and he had known some capital fellows, Irish priests and chaplains....

And then he saw two men ahead of him. They were privates on leave and
drunk, but not hopelessly drunk. They were trying to negotiate the blank
of the entrance to the Catholic Soldiers' Hut in the protecting wall
which guarded the pavement just beyond the cathedral. As Sir Robert came
within earshot, one of them stumbled through it and collapsed profanely.
He halted for a second irresolutely, with the officer's hesitancy at
meddling with a drunken man.

The fellow on the ground tried to raise himself, and got one elbow on the
gravel. This brought him into such a position that he stared straight at
the illuminated crucifix across the path, and but little farther in.

"Lor', blimey, Joe," he said, "I'm blasted drunk, I am! Thought I was in
old Wipers, I did, and see one of them blessed cru-crushifixes!"

The other, rather less away, pulled at his arm. "So yer did, ole pal," he
said. "It's there now. This 'ere's some Cartholic place or other. Come
_hon_."

"Strike me dead, so it is, Joe, large as life! Christ! oo'd 'ave thought
it? A bloody cru-cru-chifix! Wat's old England comin' to, Joe?" And with
drunken solemnity he began to make a sign of the cross, as he had seen it
done in Belgium.

The other, in the half-light, plainly started. "Shut your bloody jaw,
'Enery," he said, "It's bad luck to swear near a cruchifix. I saw three
chaps blotted out clean next second for it, back behind Lar Basay. Come
on, will yer? We carn't stay 'ere all the blasted night."

"You are down on a chap, you are," said the other. "_Hi_ don't mean no
'arm. '_E_ ought to know that, any'ow." He got unsteadily to his feet.
"'E died to save us, 'E did. I 'eard a Y.M.C.A. bloke say them very
words, 'E died on the cru-cru-chifix to save us."

"'Ere, cheese it, you fool! We'll have somebody out next. Come away with
yer. I've got some Bass in my place, if we git there."

At this the other consented to come. Together they staggered out, not
seeing Sir Robert, and went off down the street, "'Enery" talking as they
went. The General stood and listened as the man's voice died down.

"Good for yer, old pal. But 'E died to save us _hall_, 'E did. Made a
bloomer of it, I reckon. Didn't save us from the bloody trenches--not as
I can see, any'ow. If that chap could 'ave told us 'ow to get saved from
the blasted rats an' bugs an'...."

Sir Robert pulled himself together and walked away sharply. By the
cathedral the carven Christ hung on in the wan yellow light, very still.



CHAPTER V


Peter lay on a home-made bed between the blankets and contemplated the
ceiling while he smoked his first cigarette. He had been a fortnight at
Rouen, and he was beginning to feel an old soldier--that is to say, he
was learning not to worry too much about outside things, and not to show
he worried particularly about the interior. He was learning to stand
around and smoke endless cigarettes; to stroll in to breakfast and out
again, look over a paper, sniff the air, write a letter, read another
paper, wander round the camp, talk a lot of rubbish and listen to more,
and so do a morning's work. Occasionally he took a service, but his real
job was, as mess secretary, to despatch the man to town for the shopping
and afterwards go and settle the bills. Just at present he was wondering
sleepily whether to continue ordering fish from the big merchants, Biais
Frères et Cie, or to go down to the market and choose it for himself. It
was a very knotty problem, because solving it in the latter way meant
getting up at once. And his batman had not yet brought his tea.

There came a knock at the door, and the tea came in. With it was a folded
note. "Came last night, sir, but you was out," said the man. He collected
his master's tunic and boots, and departed.

Peter opened the note and swore definitely and unclerically when he had
read it. It was from some unknown person, who signed himself as Acting
Assistant Chaplain-General, to the effect that he was to be moved to
another base, and that as the A.C.G. was temporarily on leave, he had
better apply to the Colonel of his own group for the necessary movement
order. On the whole this was unintelligible to Peter, but he was already
learning that there was no need to worry about that, for somebody would
be able to read the riddle. What annoyed him was the fact that he had got
to move just as he was settling down. It was certainly a matter for
another cigarette, and as he lit it he perceived one gleam of sunshine:
he need worry no more about the fish.

Peter waited till Harold had finished his breakfast before he imparted
the news to the world a couple of hours or so later. "I say, skipper," he
said, "I've got to quit."

"What, padre? Oh, hang it all, no, man! You've only just taken on the
mess secretary's job, and you aren't doing it any too badly either. You
can't go, old dear."

"I must. Some blighter's written from the A.C.G.'s office, and I've got
to get a movement order from the Colonel of the group, whatever that
means. But I suppose you can put me straight about that, anyway."

"Sure thing. Come up to the orderly-room 'bout eleven, and you can fill
up the chit and I'll fire it in for you. It's only a matter of form. It
goes through to Colonel Lear at La Croisset. Where to?"

Peter told him moodily.

"Eh?" said Harold. "Well, you can cheer up about that. Havre's not at all
a bad place. There are some decent shows about there and some very decent
people. What you got to do?"

"I don't know; I suppose I shall find out when I get there. But I don't
care what it's like. It's vile having to leave just now, when I'm getting
straight. And what'll you do for a four at bridge?"

Harold got up and fumbled in his pockets. As usual, there was nothing
there. "Why that damned batman of mine won't put my case in my pocket I
can't think," he said. "I'll have to fire the blighter, though he is T.T.
and used to be a P. and O. steward. Give me a fag, somebody. Thanks.
Well, padre, it's no use grousing. It's a beastly old war, and you're in
the blinkin' British Army, me lad. Drop in at eleven, then. Cheerio till
then."

At eleven Peter found Harold signing papers. He glanced up. "Oh,
sergeant," he said, "give Captain Graham a Movement Order Application
Form, will you? Sit down, padre; there's a pen there."

Peter wrestled with the form, which looked quite pretty when it was done.
Harold endorsed it. "Fire this through to the orderly-room, 10th Group,
sergeant," he said, and rose wearily. "Come along, padre," he said: "I've
got to go round the camp, and you can come too, if you've nothing better
to do."

"When'll I have to go, do you think?" asked Peter as they went out.

"Oh, I don't know. In a day or two. You'll have to hang about, for the
order may come any time, and I don't know how or when they'll send you."

Peter did hang about, for ten days, with his kit packed. His recently
acquired calm forsook him about the sixth day, and on the tenth he was
entirely mutinous. At lunch he voiced his grievances to the general mess.

"Look here, you men," he said, "I'm fed up to the back teeth. I've hung
round this blessed camp for more than a week waiting for that infernal
movement order, and I'm hanged if I'm going to stay in any more. It's a
topping afternoon. Who'll come down the river to La Bouille, or whatever
it is called?"

Harold volunteered. "That's a good line, padre. I want to go there
myself. Are the boats running now?"

"Saw 'em yesterday," volunteered somebody, and it was settled.

The two of them spent a decent afternoon on the river, and at Harold's
insistence went on back right up to town. They dined and went to a
cinema, and got back to camp about midnight. Graham struck a match and
looked at the board in the anteroom. "May as well see if there is
anything for me," he said. There was, of course. He tore the envelope
open. "Good Lord, skipper!" he said. "Here's my blessed movement order,
to report at the Gare du Vert at eight p.m. this very day. I'm only four
hours too late. What the dickens shall I do?"

Harold whistled. "Show it me," he said. "'The following personnel to
report at Gare du Vert ... at 8 p.m. 28th inst'" he read. "You're for it,
old bird," he continued cheerfully. "But what rot! Look here, it was
handed in to my orderly-room at six-thirty. You'd have hardly had time to
get there at any rate."

Graham looked over his shoulder. "That's so," he said. "But what'll I do
now?"

"Haven't a notion," said the other, "except that they'll let you know
quick enough. Don't worry--that's the main thing. If they choke you off,
tell 'em it came too late to get to the station."

Peter meditated this in silence, and in some dismay. He saw visions of
courts-martial, furious strafing, and unholy terrors. He was to be
forgiven, for he was new to comic opera; and besides, when a page of
_Punch_ falls to one in real life, one hardly realises it till too late.
But it was plain that nothing could be done that night, and he went to
bed with what consolation he could derive from the cheerful Harold.

Next morning his breakfast was hardly over when an orderly came in.
Harold had been earlier than usual, and had finished and gone out.
"Captain Graham, sir?" queried the man. "Captain Harold's compliments,
and a telephone message has just come in that you are to report to H.Q.
10th Group as quickly as possible."

Peter brushed himself up, and outwardly cheerful but inwardly quaking,
set off. Half an hour's walk brought him to the place, a little office
near a wharf is a tangle of trolley lines. He knocked, went in, came to
attention, and saluted.

Colonel Lear was a short, red-faced, boorish fellow, and his Adjutant sat
beside him at the desk, for the Colonel was not particularly well up in
his job. The Adjutant was tall, slightly bald, and fat-faced, and he
leaned back throughout the interview with an air of sneering boredom,
only vouchsafing laconic replies to his superior's occasional questions.
Peter didn't know which he hated the more; but he concluded that whereas
he would like to cut the Colonel in Regent Street, he would enjoy
shooting the Adjutant.

"Ah!" said the Colonel. "Are you Captain Graham? Well, sir, what's the
meaning of this? You applied for a movement order, and one was sent you,
and you did not report at the station. You damned padres think you can do
any bally thing you choose! Out here for a picnic, I suppose. What is the
meaning of it?"

"Well, sir," said Peter, "I waited ten days for the order and it did not
come. At last I went out for the afternoon, and got back too late to
execute it. I'm very sorry, but can't I go to-day instead?"

"Good God, sir! do you think the whole British Army is arranged for your
benefit? Do you think nobody has anything else to do except to arrange
things to suit your convenience? We haven't got troopers with Pullman
cars every day for the advantage of you chaplains, though I suppose you
think we ought to have. Supposing you did have to wait, what about it?
What else have you to do? You'd have waited fast enough if it was an
order to go on leave; that's about all you parsons think about. _I_ don't
know what you can do. What had he better do, Mallony?"

The Adjutant leaned forward leisurely, surveying Peter coolly.

"Probably he'd better report to the R.T.O., sir," he said.

"Oh, very well. It won't be any good, though. Go up to the R.T.O. and ask
him what you can do. Here's the order." (He threw it across the table,
and Peter picked it up, noting miserably the blue legend, "Failed to
Report--R.T.O., Gare du Vert.") "But don't apply to this office again.
Haven't you got a blessed department to do your own damned dirty work?"

"The A.C.G.'s away, sir," said Peter.

"On leave, I suppose. Wish to God I were a padre, eh, Mallony? Always on
leave or in Paris, and doin' nothing in between.... Got those returns,
sergeant?... What in hell are you waiting for, padre?"

For the first time in his life Peter had an idea of what seeing red
really means. But he mastered it by an effort, saluted without a word,
and passed out.

In a confused whirl he set off for the R.T.O., and with a sinking heart
reached the station, crowded with French peasantry, who had apparently
come for the day to wait for the train. Big notices made it impossible to
miss the Railway Transport Officer. He passed down a passage and into an
office. He loathe and hated the whole wide world as he went in.

A young man, smoking a cigarette and reading a magazine, glanced
up at him. Peter observed in time that he had two stars only on his
shoulder-strap. Before he could speak, the other said cheerily: "Well,
padre, and what can I do for you?"

Peter deprecatingly told him. He had waited ten days, etc., and had at
last gone out, and the movement order had come with...

The other cut him short: "Oh, you're the chap who failed to report, are
you? Blighted rotters they are at these Group H.Q.'s. Chuck us over the
chit."

Peter brightened up and obeyed. The other read it. "I know," ventured
Peter, "but I got the dickens of a strafe from the Colonel. He said he
had no idea when I could get away, and had better see you. What can I
do?"

"Silly old ass! You'd better go to-night. There are plenty of trains,
and you're all alone, aren't you? I might just alter the date, but I
suppose now you had better go to his nibs the Deputy Assistant Officer
controlling Transport. He's in the Rue de la Republique, No. 153; you can
find it easily enough. Tell him I sent you. He'll probably make you out
a new order."

Peter felt enormously relieved. He relaxed, smiled, and got out a
cigarette, offering the other one. "Beastly lot of fuss they make
over nothing, these chaps," he said.

"I know," said the R.T.O.; "but they're paid for it, my boy, and probably
your old dear had been strafed himself this morning. Well, cheerio; see
you again to-night. Come in time, and I'll get you a decent place."

The great man's office was up two flights of wooden stairs in what looked
like a deserted house. But Peter mounted them with an easy mind. He had
forgiven Lear, and the world smiled. He still didn't realise he was
acting in _Punch_.

Outside a suitably labelled door he stood a moment, listening to a
well-bred voice drawling out sarcastic orders to some unfortunate. Then,
with a smile he entered. A Major looked up at him, and heard his story
without a word. Peter got less buoyant as he proceeded, and towards the
end he was rather lame. A silence followed. The great man scrutinised
the order. "Where were you?" he demanded at last, abruptly.

It was an awkward question. Peter hedged. "The O.C. of my camp asked me
to go out with him," he said at last, feebly.

The other picked up a blue pencil and scrawled further on the order.
"We've had too much of this lately," he said icily. "Officers appear to
think they can travel when and how they please. You will report to the
D.A.Q.M.G. at Headquarters, 3rd Echelon." He handed the folded order
back, and the miserable Peter had a notion that he meant to add: "And
God have mercy on your soul."

He ventured a futile remonstrance. "The R.T.O. said you could perhaps
alter the date."

The Major leaned back and regarded him in silence as a remarkable
phenomenon such as had not previously come his way. Then he sighed,
and picked up a pen. "Good-morning," he said.

Peter, in the street, contemplated many things, including suicide. If
Colonel Chichester had been in Rouen he would have gone there; as it was,
he did not dare to face that unknown any more than this other. In the end
he set out slowly for H.Q., was saluted by the sentry under the flag,
climbed up to a corridor with many strangely labelled doors, and finally
entered the right one, to find himself in a big room in which half a
dozen men in uniform were engaged at as many desks with orderlies moving
between them. A kind of counter barred his farther passage. He stood at
it forlornly for a few minutes.

At last an orderly came to him, and he shortly explained his presence and
handed in the much-blued order. The man listened in silence, asked him to
wait a moment, and departed. Peter leaned on the counter and tried to
look indifferent. With a detached air he studied the Kirschner girls on
the walls. These added a certain air to the otherwise forlorn place, but
when, a little later, W.A.A.C.'s were installed, a paternal Government
ordered their removal. But that then mattered no longer to Peter.

At the last the orderly came back. "Will you please follow me, sir?" he
said.

Peter was led round the barrier like a sheep to execution, and in
at a small door. He espied a General Officer at a desk by the window,
telephone receiver in one hand, the fateful order in the other. He
saluted. The other nodded. Peter waited.

"Ah, yes! D.A.Q.M.G. speaking. That 10th Group Headquarters? Oh yes;
good-morning, Mallony. About Captain Graham's movement order. When was
this order applied for at your end?... What? Eighteenth? Humph! What time
did your office receive it?... Eh? Ten a.m.? Then, sir, I should like to
know what it was doing in your office till six p.m. This officer did not
receive it till six-thirty. What? He was out? Yes, very likely, but it
reached his mess at six-thirty: it is so endorsed.... Colonel Lear has
had the matter under consideration? Good. Kindly ask Colonel Lear to come
to the telephone."

He leaned back, and glanced up at Graham, taking him in with a grave
smile. "I understand you waited ten days for this, Captain Graham," he
said. "It's disgraceful that it should happen. I am glad to have had an
instance brought before me, as we have had too many cases of this sort of
thing lately...." He broke off. "Yes? Colonel Lear? Ah, good-morning,
Colonel Lear. This case of the movement order of Captain Graham has just
been brought to me. This officer was kept waiting ten days for his order,
and then given an impossibly short time to report. Well, it won't do,
Colonel. There must be something very wrong in your orderly-room; kindly
see to it. Chaplains have other things to do than sit around in camps
waiting the convenience of Group Headquarters. The application for this
order reached us on the 27th, and was sent off early next morning, in
ample time for the officer to travel. I am very displeased about it. You
will kindly apply at once for a fresh order, and see that it is in
Captain Graham's hands at least six hours before he must report. That
is all. Good-morning."

Peter could hardly believe his ears, but he could barely keep a straight
face either. The D.A.Q.M.G. hung up the receiver and repeated the latter
part of the message. Peter thanked him and departed, walking on air. A
day later an orderly from the group informed him at 11 a.m. that the
order had been applied for and might be expected that day, and at 1
o'clock he received it. Such is the humour of the high gods who control
the British Army. But he never saw Colonel Lear again, and was thankful.

Peter reached his new base, then, early in March in a drizzle of rain. He
was told his camp and set off to find it, and for an hour walked through
endless docks, over innumerable bridges, several of which, being open to
admit and let out ships, caused him pretty considerable delay. It was a
strange, new experience. The docks presented types of nearly every
conceivable nationality and of every sort of shipping. French marines and
seamen were, of course everywhere, but so were Chinese, South African
natives, Egyptians, Senegalese, types of all European nationalities,
a few of the first clean, efficient-looking Americans in tight-fitting
uniforms, and individual officers of a score of regiments.

The old town ended in a row of high, disreputable-looking houses that
were, however, picturesque enough, and across the _pavé_ in front of them
commenced the docks. One walked in and out of harbours and waterways, the
main stretch of harbour opening up more and more on the right hand, and
finally showing two great encircling arms that nearly met, and the grey
Channel beyond. Tossing at anchor outside were more than a dozen ships,
waiting for dark to attempt the crossing. As he went, a seaplane came
humming in from the mists, circled the old town, and took the harbour
water in a slither of foam. He had to wait while a big Argentine ship
ploughed slowly in up a narrow channel, and then, in the late afternoon,
crossed a narrow swing foot-bridge, and found himself on the main outer
sea-wall.

Following directions, he turned to the right and walked as if going out
to the harbour mouth a mile or so ahead. It seemed impossible that his
camp should be here, for on the one hand he was close to the harbour, and
on the other, over a high wall and some buildings, was plainly to be
espied the sea. A few hundred yards on, however, a crowd of Tommies were
lined up and passing embarkation officers for a big trooper, and Peter
concluded that this was the leave boat by which he was to mark his camp
across the road and more or less beyond it.

He crossed a railway-line, went in at a gate, and was there.

The officers' quarters had a certain fascination. You stepped out of
the anteroom and found yourself on a raised concrete platform at the
back of which washed the sea. Very extensive harbour works, half
completed, ran farther out in a great semicircle across a wide space of
leaden water, over which gulls were circling and crying; but the thin
black line of this wall hardly interrupted one's sense of looking
straight out to sea, and its wide mouth away on the right let in the
real invigorating, sea-smelling wind. The camp itself was a mere strip
between the railway-line and the water, a camp of R.E.'s to which he was
attached. He was also to work a hospital which was said to be close by.

It was pointed out to him later. The railway ran out all but to the
harbour mouth, and there ended in a great covered, wide station. Above
it, large and airy, with extensive verandahs parallel to the harbour,
was the old Customs, and it was this that had been transformed into a
hospital. It was an admirable place. The Red Cross trains ran in below,
and the men could be quickly swung up into the cool, clean wards above.
These, all on one level, had great glass doors giving access to the
verandahs, and from the verandahs broad gangways could be placed, running
men, at high tide, on to the hospital ship alongside. The nurses'
quarters were beyond, and their sitting-room was perched up, as it
were, sea on one side and harbour on the other.

At present, of course, Peter did not know all this. He was merely
conducted by an orderly in the dusk to the anteroom of the mess, and
welcomed by the orderly-officer, who led him into a comfortable room
already lit, in a corner of which, near a stove, four officers sat at
cards.

"Hearts three," said one as Peter came in.

"Pass me," said another, and it struck Peter that he knew the tone.

The four were fairly absorbed in their game, but the orderly officer led
Peter towards the table. At that they looked up, and next minute one had
jumped up and was greeting him.

"By all that's wonderful! It's you again," he said.

"Donovan!" exclaimed Peter, "What: are you doing here?"

The South African held out his hand. "I've got attached to one of our
nigger outfits," he said, "just up the dock from here. But what are you
doing?"

"Oh, I've been moved from Rouen," said Peter, "and told to join up here.
Got to look after the hospital and a few camps. And I was told," he
added, "I'd live in this camp."

"Good enough," said Donovan. "Let me introduce you. This is Lieutenant
Pennell, R.E.--Lieutenant Pennell, Captain Graham. This is a bird of your
kidney, mess secretary and a great man, Padre Arnold, and this is one
Ferrars, Australian Infantry. He tried to stop a shell," went on Donovan
easily, "and is now recovering. The shock left him a little insane, or so
his best friends think; hence, as you may have heard, he has just gone
three hearts. And that's all anyone can do at present, padre, so have a
cigarette and sit down. I hope you haven't changed your old habits, as
you are just in time for a sun-downer. Orderly!"

He pulled up a large easy-chair, and Peter subsided into it with a
pleasant feeling of welcome. He remembered, now, having heard that
Donovan was at Havre, but it was none the less a surprise to meet him.

Donovan played a good hand when he liked, but when he was not meeting
his mettle, or perhaps when the conditions were not serious enough, he
usually kept up a diverting, unorthodox run of talk the whole time. Peter
listened and took in his surroundings lazily. "Come on," said his friend,
playing a queen. "Shove on your king, Pennell; everyone knows you've got
him. What? Hiding the old gentleman, are you? Why, sure it's myself has
him all the time"--gathering up the trick and leading the king. "Perhaps
somebody's holding up the ace now...." and so on.

Pennell played well too, but very differently. He was usually bored with
his luck or the circumstances, and until you got to know him you were
inclined to think he was bored with you. He was a young-looking man of
thirty-five, rather good-looking, an engineer in peace-time who had
knocked about the world a good deal, but hardly gave you that impression.
The Australian played poorly. With curly dark hair and a perpetual pipe,
his face was almost sullen in repose, but it lit up eagerly enough at
any chance excitement. Arnold was easily the eldest, a short man with
iron-grey hair and very kindly eyes, a man master of himself and his
circumstances. Peter watched him eagerly. He was likely to see a good
deal of him, he thought, and he was glad there would be a padre as well
in camp.

Donovan and Ferrars won the game and so the rubber easily, and the former
pushed his chair back from the table. "That's enough for me, boys," he
said. "I must trek in a minute. Well, padre, and what do you think of the
Army now?"

"Mixed biscuits rather," Peter said. "But I had a rum experience getting
here. You wouldn't have thought it possible," and he related the story
of the movement order. At the close, Pennell nodded gloomily. "Pack of
fools they are!" he said. "Hardly one of them knows his job. You can
thank your lucky stars that the D.A.Q.M.G. had a down on that Colonel
What's-his-name, or it would have taken you another month to get here,
probably--eh, Donovan?"

"That's so, old dear," said that worthy, "But I'm hanged if I'd have
cared. Some place, Rouen. Better'n this hole."

"Well, at Rouen they said this was better," said Peter.

Arnold laughed. "That's the way of the Army," he said. "It's all much the
same, but you would have to go far to beat this camp."

Pennell agreed. "You're right there, padre," he said. "This is as neat a
hole as I've struck. If you know the road," he went on to Peter, "you can
slip into town in twenty-five minutes or so, and we're much better placed
than most camps. There's no mud and cinders here, is there, Donovan? His
camp's built on cinders," he added.

"There are not," said that worthy, rising. "And you're very convenient to
the hospital here, padre. You better get Arnold to show you round; he's a
dog with the nurses."

"What about the acting matron, No. 1 Base?" demanded Arnold. "He has tea
there every Sunday," he explained to Peter, "and he a married man, too."

"It's time I went," said Donovan, laughing; "all the same, there's a
concert on Tuesday in next week, a good one, I believe, and I've promised
to go and take some people. Who'll come? Pennell, will you?"

"Not this child, thanks. Too many nurses, too much tea, and too much talk
for me. Now, if you would pick me out a pretty one and fix up a little
dinner in town, I'm your man, old bean."

"Well, that might be managed. It's time we had a flutter of some sort.
I'll see. What about you, Graham? You game to try the hospital? You'll
have to get to know the ropes of them all, you know."

"Yes, I'll come," said Peter--"if I can, that is." He looked inquiringly
at Arnold.

"Oh, your time is more or less your own," he replied--"at least, it is
our side of the house. Are you C.G. or P.C.?"

"Good God, padre!" said the Australian, getting up too, "what in the
world do you mean?"

"Chaplain-General's Department or Principal Chaplain's Department, Church
of England or Nonconformist. And it's sixpence a swear in this mess."
Arnold held out a hand.

Donovan caught his friend by the arm. "Come on out of it," he said. "You
won't get back in time if you don't. The padre's a good sort; you needn't
mind him. So long everybody. Keep Tuesday clear, Graham. I'll call for
you."

"Well, I'd better fix you up, Graham," said Arnold. "For my sins I'm mess
secretary, and as the president's out and likely to be, I'll find a place
for you."

He led Peter into the passage, and consulted a board on the wall. "I'd
like to put you next me, but I can't," he said. "Both sides occupied.
Wait a minute. No. 10 Pennell, and No. 11's free. How would you like
that? Pennell," he called through the open door, "what's the next room to
yours like? Light all right?"

"Quite decent," said Pennell, coming to the door. "Going to put him
there, padre? Let's go and see." Then the three went off together down
the passage.

The little room was bare, except for a table under the window, Arnold
opened it, and Peter saw he looked out over the sea. Pennell switched on
the light and found it working correctly, and then sauntered across the
couple of yards or so of the cubicle's width to look at the remains of
some coloured pictures pasted on the wooden partition.

"Last man's made a little collection from _La Vie Parisienne_ for you,
padre," he said, "Not a very bright selection, either. You'll have to
cover them up, or it'll never do to bring your A.C.G. or A.P.C., or
whatever he is, in here. What a life!" he added, regarding them. "They
are a queer people, the French.... Well, is this going to do?"

Graham glanced at Arnold, "Very well," he said, "if it's all right for me
to have it."

"Quite all right," said Arnold. "Remember, Pennell is next door left, so
keep him in order. Next door right is the English Channel, more or less.
Now, what about your traps?"

"I left them outside the orderly-room," said Peter, "except for some
that a porter was to bring up. Perhaps they'll be here by now. I've got
a stretcher and so on."

"I'll go and see," said Pennell, "and I'll put my man on to get you
straight, as you haven't a batman yet." And he strolled off.

"Come to my room a minute," said Arnold, and Peter followed him.

Arnold's room was littered with stuff. The table was spread with mess
accounts, and the corners of the little place were stacked up with a
gramophone, hymn-books, lantern-slides, footballs, boxing-gloves, and
such-like. The chairs were both littered, but Arnold cleared one by the
simple expedient of piling all its contents on the other, and motioned
his visitor to sit down. "Have a pipe?" he asked, holding out his pouch.

Peter thanked him, filled and handed it back, then lit his pipe, and
glanced curiously round the room as he drew on it. "You're pretty full
up," he said.

"Fairly," said the other. "There's a Y.M.C.A. here, and I run it more or
less, and Tommy likes variety. He's a fine chap, Tommy; don't you think
so?"

Peter hesitated a second, and the other glanced at him shrewdly.

"Perhaps you haven't been out long enough," he said.

"Perhaps not," said Peter. "Not but what I do like him. He's a cheerful
creature for all his grousing, and has sterling good stuff in him. But
religiously I don't get on far. To tell you the truth, I'm awfully
worried about it."

The elder man nodded. "I guess I know, lad," he said. "See here. I'm
Presbyterian and I reckon you are Anglican, but I expect we're up against
much the same sort of thing. Don't worry too much. Do your job and talk
straight, and the men'll listen more than you think."

"But I don't think I know what to tell them," said Peter miserably, but
drawn out by the other.

Arnold smiled. "The Prayer Book's not much use here, eh? But forgive me;
I don't mean to be rude. I know what you mean. To tell you the truth, I
think this war is what we padres have been needing. It'll help us to find
our feet. Only--this is honest--if you don't take care you may lose them.
I have to keep a tight hold of that"--and he laid his hand on a big
Bible--"to mind my own."

Peter did not reply for a minute. He could not talk easily to a stranger.
But at last he said: "Yes; but it doesn't seem to me to fit the case. Men
are different. Times are different. The New Testament people took certain
things for granted, and even if they disagreed, they always had a common
basis with the Apostles. Men out here seem to me to talk a different
language: you don't know where to begin. It seems to me that they have
long ago ceased to believe in the authority of anyone or anything in
religion, and now to-day they actually deny our very commonplaces. But
I don't know how to put it," he added lamely.

Arnold puffed silently for a little. Then he took his pipe out of his
mouth and regarded it critically. "God's in the soul of every man still,"
he said. "They can still hear Him speak, and speak there. And so must we
too, Graham."

Peter said nothing. In a minute or so steps sounded in the passage, and
Arnold looked up quickly. "Maybe," he said, "our ordinary life prevented
us hearing God very plainly ourselves, Graham, and maybe He has sent us
here for that purpose. I hope so. I've wondered lately if we haven't come
to the kingdom for such a time as this."

Pennell pushed the door open, and looked in. "You there, Graham?" he
asked. "Oh, I thought I'd find him here, padre; his stuff's come."

Peter got up. "Excuse me, Arnold," he said; "I must shake in. But I'm
jolly glad you said what you did, and I hope you'll say it again, and
some more."

The older man smiled an answer, and the door closed. Then he sighed a
little, and stretched out his hand again for the Bible.



CHAPTER VI


The great central ward at No. 1 Base Hospital looked as gay as possible.
In the centre a Guard's band sat among palms and ferns, and an
extemporised stage, draped with flags, was behind, with wings constructed
of Japanese-figured material. Pretty well all round were the beds,
although many of them had been moved up into a central position, and
there was a space for chairs and forms. The green-room had to be outside
the ward, and the performers, therefore, came and went in the public
gaze. But it was not a critical public, and the men, with a plenitude
of cigarettes, did not object to pauses. On the whole, they were
extraordinarily quiet and passive. Modern science has made the
battlefield a hell, but it has also made the base hospital something
approaching a Paradise.

There were women in plenty. The staff had been augmented by visitors from
most of the other hospitals in the town, and there was a fair sprinkling
of W.A.A.C.'s, Y.M.C.A. workers, and so on, in addition. Jack Donovan
and Peter were a little late, and arrived at the time an exceedingly
popular subaltern was holding the stage amid roars of laughter. They
stood outside one of the many glass doors and peered in.

Once inside, one had to make one's way among beds and chairs, and the
nature of things brought one into rather more than the usual share of
late-comers' scrutiny, but nothing could abash Donovan. He spotted at
once a handsome woman in nurse's indoor staff uniform, and made for her.
She, with two others, was sitting on an empty bed, and she promptly made
room for Donovan. Graham was introduced, and a quiet girl moved up a bit
for him to sit down; but there was not much room, and the girl would not
talk, so that he sat uncomfortably and looked about him, listening with
one ear to the fire of chaff on his right. Donovan was irrepressible. His
laugh and voice, and the fact that he was talking to a hospital
personage, attracted a certain amount of attention. Peter tried to smile,
but he felt out of it and observed. He stared up towards the band, which
was just striking up again.

Suddenly he became conscious, as one will, that someone was particularly
looking at him. He glanced back over the chairs, and met a pair of eyes,
roguish, laughing, and unquestionably fixed upon him. The moment he saw
them, their owner nodded and telegraphed an obvious invitation. Peter
glanced at Donovan: he had not apparently seen. He looked back; the eyes
called him again. He felt himself getting hot, for, despite the fact that
he had a kind of feeling that he had seen those eyes before, he was
perfectly certain he did not know the girl. Perhaps she had made a
mistake. He turned resolutely to his companion.

"Jolly good band, isn't it?" he said.

"Yes," she replied.

"But I suppose at a hospital like this you're always hearing decent
music?" he ventured.

"Not so often," she said.

"This band is just back from touring the front, isn't it? My friend said
something to that effect."

"I believe so," she said.

Peter could have cursed her. It was impossible to get anything out of
her, though why he had not a notion. The answer was really simple, for
she wanted to be next Donovan, and wasn't, and she was all the while
scheming how to get there. But Peter did not tumble to that; he felt an
ass and very uncomfortable, and he broke into open revolt.

He looked steadily towards the chairs. The back of the girl who had
looked at him was towards him now, for she was talking sideways to
somebody; but he noted an empty chair just next her, and that her uniform
was not that of the nurses of this hospital. He felt confident that she
would look again, and he was not disappointed. Instantly he made up his
mind, nodded, and reached for his cap. "I see a girl I know over there,"
he said to his neighbour. "Excuse me, will you?" Then he got up and
walked boldly over to the vacant chair. He was fast acclimatising to war
conditions.

He sat down on that empty chair and met the girl's eyes fairly. She was
entirely at her ease and laughing merrily. "I've lost my bet," she said,
"and Tommy's won."

"And you've made me tell a thundering lie," he replied, laughing too,
"which you know is the first step towards losing one's soul. Therefore
you deserve your share in the loss."

"Why? What did you say?" she demanded.

"I said I saw a girl I knew," he replied. "But I haven't any idea who you
are, though I can't help feeling I've seen you before."

She chuckled with amusement, and turned to her companion. "He doesn't
remember, Tommy," she said.

The second girl looked past her to Peter. "I should think not," she said.
"Nobody would. But he'll probably say in two minutes that he does. You're
perfectly shameless, Julie."

Julie swung round to Peter. "You're a beast, Tommy," she said over her
shoulder, "and I shan't speak to you again. You see," she went on to
Peter, "I could see you had struck a footling girl, and as I don't know a
single decent boy here, I thought I'd presume on an acquaintance, and see
if it wasn't a lucky one. We've got to know each other, you know. The
girl with me on the boat--oh, damn, I've told you!--and I am swearing,
and you're a parson, but it can't be helped now--well, the girl told me
we should meet again, and that it was probably you who was mixed up with
my fate-line. What do you think of that?"

Peter had not an idea, really. He was going through the most amazing set
of sensations. He felt heavy and dull, and as if he were utterly at a
loss how to deal with a female of so obviously and totally different a
kind from any he had met before; but, with it all, he was very conscious
of being glad to be there. Underneath everything, too, he felt a bit of a
dare-devil, which was a delightful experience for a London curate; and
still deeper, much more mysteriously and almost a little terrifyingly,
something stranger still, that he had known this girl for ages, although
he had not seen her for a long time. "I'm highly privileged, I'm sure,"
he said, and could have kicked himself for a stupid ass.

"Oh Lord!" said Julie, with a mock expression of horror; "for goodness'
sake don't talk like that. That's the worst of a parson: he can't forget
the drawing-room. At any rate, I'm not sure that _I'm_ highly fortunate,
but I thought I ought to give Fate a chance. Do you smoke?"

"Yes," said Peter wonderingly.

"Then for goodness' sake smoke, and you'll feel better. No, I daren't
here, but I'm glad you are educated enough to ask me. Nurses aren't
supposed to smoke in public, you know, and I take it that even you have
observed that I'm a nurse."

She was quite right. Peter drew on his cigarette and felt more at
ease. "Well, to be absolutely honest, I had," he said. "And I observe,
moreover, that you are not wearing exactly an English nurse's uniform,
and that you have what I might venture to call a zoological badge. I
therefore conclude that, like my friend Donovan, you hail from South
Africa. What hospital are you in?"

"Quai de France," she said. "Know it?"

Peter repressed a start. "Quai de France?" he queried. "Where's that,
now?"

At this moment a song started, but his companion dropped her voice to
stage whisper and replied: "End of the harbour, near where the leave-boat
starts. Know it now?"

He nodded, but was saved a reply.

She looked away toward the platform, and he studied her face
surreptitiously. It seemed very young till you looked closely, especially
at the eyes, and then you perceived something lurking there. She was
twenty-seven or twenty-eight, he concluded. She looked as if she knew the
world inside out, and as if there were something hidden below the gaiety.
Peter felt curiously and intensely attracted. His shyness vanished. He
had, and had had, no intimations of the doings of Providence, and nobody
could possibly be more sceptical of fate-lines than he, but it dawned on
him as he stared at her that he would fathom that look somehow,
somewhere.

"I'm practically not made up at all," she whispered, without turning her
head, "so for Heaven's sake don't say there's too much powder on my
nose."

Peter shook silently. "No, but a faint trace on the right cheek," he
whispered back. She turned then and looked at him, and her eyes
challenged his. And yet it is to be supposed that Hilda knew nothing
whatever about it.

"'_Right on my mother's knee_....'" sang the platform.

"'_Without a shirt, without a shirt_,'" gagged Peter, _sotto voce_, and
marvelled at himself. But he felt that her smothered laughter amply
rewarded him.

The song ceased in time, and the encore, which they both rigorously
demanded. And immediately she began again.

"I hope to goodness tea isn't far off," she said. "By the way, you'll
have to take me to it, now, you know. We go out of that door, and up a
flight of steps, and there's the matron's room on the top and a visitor's
room next to it, and tea'll be there. It will be a fiendish squash, and I
wouldn't go if I hadn't you to get me tea and take me away afterwards as
soon as possible."

"I'm highly privileged, I'm sure," said Peter again, quite deliberately.
She laughed. "You are," she said. "Look how you're coming on! Ten minutes
ago you were a bored curate, and now you're--what are you?"

Peter hesitated perceptibly. He felt he might say many things. Then he
said "A trapped padre," and they both laughed.

"Thank goodness you're not sentimental, anyway," she said. "Nor's your
friend; but the matron is. I know her sort. Look at them."

Peter looked. Donovan appeared still entirely at his ease, but he was
watching Peter, who realised why he had been made to look. He brazened
it out, smiled back at him, and turned perfectly deliberately to his
companion.

"Julie," he said, "don't look over there any more, for goodness' sake, or
we'll have Donovan here. And if he comes he'll sail in and take you to
tea without a word. I know him. He's got an unfair advantage over me. I'm
just waking up, and he's been awake for years. Please give me a chance."

She leaned, back and regarded him humorously. "You're not doing so
badly," she said, "I don't know that a man has ever called me 'Julie'
before in the first quarter of an hour. Do you know that, Solomon?"

"It's your fault, I've never been introduced, and I must call you
something, so why not the name your friend called you? Julie's very
pretty and suits you. Somehow I couldn't call you 'Miss' anything, though
it may be convenient to know the rest. Do you think you could call me the
Rev. Peter Graham?"

"I couldn't," she confessed, slightly more solemnly. "Queer, isn't it?
But don't, talk about it: it isn't lucky. I shall call you Solomon for
ever now. And you can only call me Miss Gamelyn when you've got to. See?"

"But why in the world 'Solomon'? It doesn't fit me a bit."

"Oh," she said, "it does, but don't worry why. Perhaps because, as the
old man said to the vicar when he heard of Solomon's wives, you are a
highly privileged Christian. You can't deny that, since you've said it
twice. Praises be, here is tea. Come on; come on, Tommy. Oh, Tommy, this
is the Very Reverend Peter Graham. Mr. Graham, this is one Raynard,
commonly known as Tommy, my half-section, so try to be polite."

There was a general movement, and Peter shook hands as he got up. The
other girl struck him at once as a good sort.

"You're booked to take us to tea, I suppose?" she said. "Julie's far more
practical than you'd imagine, padre."

They left the row of chairs together, Julie well in front and apparently
forgetful of their existence. As they came abreast of the empty bed,
Peter noticed that the assistant matron had gone, and that Donovan was
drifting in the stream alongside her in front. But before they were out
of the great ward, Julie and he were laughing together. Peter felt
absurdly hurt, and hated himself for feeling it. The other girl was
talking at his elbow, but he made ridiculous and commonplace replies and
hardly noticed her. She broke off at last abruptly, and he roused himself
to carry on. He caught her expression, and somehow or other it landed him
deeper in the business. He made a deliberate move.

"Where are you going after this?" he asked.

"Down town to do some shopping; then I suppose home, unless a fit seizes
Julie and we run a risk once more of being summarily repatriated."

He laughed. "Does that often happen?"

"Quite often. You see ours is an English hospital, though we are South
Africans attached to it. I think they're much more strict than Colonial
hospitals. But they give us more latitude than the rest, at any rate.
Julie had a fearful row once, and simply declared she would do some
things, and since then they turn a blind eye occasionally. But there are
limits, and one day she'll step over them--I know she will."

"Let's hope not," said Peter; "but now let me get you some tea."

The little room was packed, but Peter got through somehow and made his
way to a series of tables spread with cakes and sandwiches. He got a cup
and seized a plate, and shouldered his way back. In the crush he saw only
the top of Miss Raynard's head, and made for that. "Here you are," he
said cheerfully, as he emerged. "Have a sandwich?"

"Thanks," she said as she took it; "but why didn't you bring two cups?"

"Why?" he asked.

She nodded towards a corner and there was Julie, wedged in between
people, and refusing tea from a subaltern. "She expects you to bring it,"
said Miss Raynard.

Peter looked puzzled, "Where's Donovan?" he said. "I thought she came in
with him."

The girl smiled. "She did, but she arranged for you to bring her tea,
whoever Donovan is, and she'll wait for it. She's that sort. Besides, if
Donovan was that officer with the matron, he's probably got other fish to
fry."

Peter waited for no more, but plunged into the press again. As he
emerged, he crossed the track of his friend, who was steering about with
cakes. "Hullo, padre," that individual said; "you're a smart one, you
are. Let's take those girls out to dinner. They'll come all right."

Peter mumbled something, and went on with his tea towards the corner. The
other's readiness and effrontery staggered him, but he wasn't going to
give himself away.

"You're a brute!" said Julie promptly. "Where have you been?"

"It's where have you been, you mean," retorted Peter. "I thought I was to
take you in to tea. When last I saw you, you had Donovan in tow."

"And you had Tommy. Don't you like her?"

"Awfully," said Peter; "I think she wants something now. But do come
across to our side. Aren't you going soon?"

"Yes, when we can get away. Remember, everyone is watching. You go on
out, and we can meet you below."

"Right," said Peter; "I'll collect Donovan."

He found him after a bit, and the two made their adieus and thanks.

As they went down the steps, Jack outlined the campaign. "I just joked to
her about dinner," he said, "but I think they'll rise. If they do, we'll
go to Travalini's, if they dare. That girl of yours is up to anything:
she knows a thing or two. You've some nerve, old thing."

"Nothing to yours," retorted Graham, still not at all sure of himself.
"But, look here, what about Travalini's? I don't know that I care to go
there."

"Oh, it's all right, old dear. You haven't a vast collar on now, and you
ought to see life. I've seen scores of chaplains there, even old Arnold.
I'll look after your morals. Come on; let's get out and across the road.
We shall see them coming down the steps."

The hospital fronted on to the sea and the promenade that once was so
fashionable. The sun was setting, blood red, over the Channel, the ships
at anchor looking dark by contrast. But there was still plenty of light,
and Peter was inwardly conscious of his badges. Still, he told himself
that he was an ass, and the two of them sauntered slowly townwards.

In a few minutes Jack glanced back. "They're coming," he said, and as the
girls crossed on to the pavement behind them, turned round. "Good for
you," he said. "You got out quicker than I thought you would. Shall we
tram or walk?"

"Walk, I think," said Julie; "it's topping here by the sea. I want to get
a pair of shoes, and the shop's not too far. Besides, you can buy shoes
by artificial light, which won't do for some things. Tommy bought a hat
the other night, and she nearly had a fit in the morning. She's keeping
it for the next fancy-dress stunt."

She ran on, and, despite Peter, Donovan annexed her. They set off gaily
ahead, Julie's clear laugh coming back now and again. Peter felt
depressed and angry. He told himself he was being let in for something he
did not want, and he had not much to say. To make conversation, he asked
about South Africa.

It appeared the girls came from Natal. Miss Raynard was enthusiastic, and
he gathered they had been trained together in Pietermaritzburg, but lived
somewhere on the coast, where there was tennis all the year and moonlight
bathing picnics in the season, and excellent river boating. He could not
catch the name, but it was not too far from Durban. He said, in the end,
that he had always wanted to visit South Africa, and should certainly
come to Natal....

They turned off the promenade into a boulevard lined with the usual
avenue of trees. It was dusk now, and looked darker by contrast with the
street lamps. Small tram-cars rushed by now and again, with clanging
bells and platforms crowded before and behind, and there were plenty of
people in the street, Julie turned abruptly.

"I say, Tommy," she said, "Captain Donovan wants us to go out to
dinner. What do you say? My shoes can wait, and we needn't be in till
eight-thirty. It's not more than six now. It will be a spree."

"I'm game; but where are we going?"

"I suggest Travalini's, padre," said Donovan.

"Not for me;" said Miss Raynard; "it's too public and you seem to forget,
Captain' Donovan, that we are forbidden to dine with officers."

"Nobody is likely to give us away, Tommy," said Miss Gamelyn.

"I'm not going to take the risk in uniform. Let's go to a quiet hotel, or
else to some very French place. That would be fun."

"A jolly good idea," cried Donovan, "and I know what will just fix us up.
Come on."

Tommy smiled. "Probably it _will_ fix us up. Tell us about it first."

"It's absolutely safe," Donovan protested. "It's quite French, and we
shall get one knife and fork each. There's a cinema on top, and billiards
underneath, and practically no officers go. A Belgian Captain I came out
with took me. He said you could 'eat well' there, and you can, for the
cooking is a treat. I swear it's all right."

"Lead on," said Julie; "we'll trust you," and she manoeuvred so that her
half-section was left with Donovan.

The four walked briskly through the dusk. "Don't you love France in the
evening?" demanded Julie.

"Yes," said Peter, but dubiously. "I don't know it much yet," he added.

"Oh, I do. Even a girl can almost do what she likes out here. I've had
some awful fun in Havre. I think one ought to take one's pleasure when
one has the chance, don't you? But some of these girls give me the hump;
they're so narrow. They can't see you with a man without imagining all
sorts of things, whereas I've had some rattling good pals among men out
here. Then they're so afraid of doing things--the girls, I mean. Do you
know I went to Paris when I came up here from Boulogne? Had absolutely
_the_ time. Of course, nobody knows, so don't speak of it--except Tommy,
of course."

"How did you do it?" demanded Peter, amused.

"Well, you see, I and another girl, English, were sent over by Boulogne,
as you know, because you saw us on the boat, and we were supposed to come
straight here. In the train we met a Canadian in the French Air Service,
and he put us wise about changing, and so on. But it appeared you have
to change at Amiens in the middle of the night, and he said the thing was
to sleep in the train and go right on to Paris. Then you got twenty-four
hours there, and left next day by the Havre express. The girl was
horribly scared, but I said we'd try it. Nothing happened at all. We had
a carriage to ourselves, and merely sat still at Amiens. When we got
to Paris we simply walked out, bold as brass. I showed our tickets at
Havre and told the French inspector we had overslept. He merely told us
the time to leave next day. We went to an hotel, and then strolled up the
Avenue d l'Opera. And what do you think? Who should I see but an old dear
of a General I knew out in South Africa who is in the French Red Cross.
He was simply delighted to see us. He motored us out to the Bois in the
afternoon, dined us, and took us to the theatre--only, by Jove! I did
curse that other girl. She was in a ferment all the time. Next morning he
had a job on, but he sent a car for us with a subaltern to put us on the
train, and we went to the R.T.O. this time. He couldn't do enough for us
when he heard the name of General de Villiers and saw his card. We got
into Havre at midday, and nobody was a penny the wiser."

Peter laughed. "You were lucky," he said; "perhaps you always are."

"No, I'm not," she said "but I usually do what I want and get through
with it. Hullo, is this the place?"

"I suppose so," said Peter. "Now for it. Look as if you'd been going to
such places all your life."

"I've probably been more often than you, anyhow, Solomon," said Julie,
and she ran lightly up the steps.

They passed through swing-doors into a larger hall brilliantly lit and
heavy with a mixed aroma of smoke and food. There was a sort of hum of
sound going on all the time and Peter looked round wonderingly. He
perceived immediately that there was an atmosphere about this French
restaurant unlike that of any he had been in before. He was, in truth,
utterly bewildered by what he saw, but he made an effort not to show it.
Julie, on the other hand, was fairly carried away. They seated themselves
at a table for four near the end of the partition, and she led the party
in gaiety. Donovan hardly took his eyes off her, and cut in with dry,
daring remarks with a natural case. Tommy played a good second to Julie,
and if she had had any fears they were not visible now.

"What about an appetiser?" demanded Donovan.

"Oh, rather! Mixed vermuth for me; but Tommy must have a very small one:
she gets drunk on nothing. Give me a cigarette now, padre; I'm dying to
smoke."

Peter produced his case. "Don't call him 'padre' here," said Donovan;
"you'll spoil his enjoyment."

"A cigarette, Solomon, then," whispered Julie, as the other turned to
beckon a _garçon_, flashing her eyes on him.

Peter resisted no longer. "Don't," he said. "Call me anything but that."
It seemed to him that there was something inevitable in it all. He did
not formulate his sensations, but it was the lure of the contrast that
won him. Ever since he had landed in France he had, as it were, hung on
to the old conventional position, and he had felt increasingly that it
was impossible to do so. True, there seemed little connection between a
dinner with a couple of madcap girls in a French restaurant and religion,
but there was one. He had felt out of touch with men and life, and now a
new phase of it was offered him. He reached out for it eagerly.

Julie leaned back and blew out a thin stream of smoke, her eyes daring
him, picking up the little glass as she did so.

_"Here's to the girl with the little grey shoes,"_ she chanted merrily.

"Don't Julie, for Heaven's sake!" pleaded Tommy. "He'll be shocked."

"Oh, go on," said Peter; "what is it?"

"Captain Donovan will finish," laughed Julie.

"'Deed I can't, for I don't know it," he said. "Let's have it, little
girl; I'm sure it's a sporting toast."

"_Who eats your grub and drinks your booze_," continued she.

"Shut up, Julie," said Tommy, leaning over as if to snatch her glass.

"_And then goes home to her mother to snooze_," called Julie
breathlessly, leaning back.

"_I don't think_," ejaculated Donovan.

Julie tipped down the drink. "You knew it all the time," she said. And
they all burst out laughing.

Peter drank, and called for another, his eyes on Julie. He knew that he
could not sum her up, but he refused to believe that this was the secret
behind the eyes. She was too gay, too insolent. What Donovan thought he
could not say, but he almost hated him for the ease with which he kept
pace with their companions.

They ordered dinner, and the great dish of _hors d'oeuvres_ was brought
round by a waiter who seemed to preside over it with a fatherly
solicitude. Julie picked up an olive in her fingers, and found it so good
that she grumbled at only having taken one.

"Have mine," said Donovan, shooting one on to her plate.

"Thanks," she said. "Oh, heavens! I forgot that patch on my left
cheek--or was it my right, Solomon? Let's see."

She dived into her pocket, and produced a tiny satin beaded box, "Isn't
it chic?" she demanded, leaning over to show Donovan. "I got it in the
Nouvelles Galleries the other day." She took off the lid, which revealed
its reverse as a tiny mirror, and scrutinised herself, patting back a
stray lock on her forehead.

"Oh, don't," said Donovan, and he slipped the hair out again with his
finger.

"Be quiet; but I'll concede that. This won't do, though." Out came a tiny
powder-puff. "How's that?" she demanded, smiling up at him.

"Perfect," he said. "But it's not fair to do that here."

"Wait for the taxi then," she said. "Besides, it won't matter so much
then."

"What won't matter?" demanded Peter.

"Solomon, dear, you're as innocent as a new-born babe. Isn't he?" she
demanded of his friend.

Donovan looked across at him. "Still waters run deep," he said. "I don't
know, but excuse me!"

He had been sitting next Julie and opposite Miss Raynard, but he was now
on his feet and begging her to change places with him. She consented,
laughing, and did so, but Julie pretended to be furious.

"I won't have it. You're a perfect beast, Tommy. Captain Donovan, I'll
never come out with you again. Solomon, come and sit here, and you,
Tommy, go over there."

Peter hadn't an idea why, but he too got up. Tommy protested. "Look
here," she said, "I came for dinner, not for a dance. Oh, look out,
Captain Graham; you'll upset the cutlets!" Peter avoided the waiter by an
effort, but came on round her to the other side.

"Get out of it, Tommy," said Julie, leaning over and pushing her. "I will
have a man beside me, anyhow."

"I'd sooner be opposite," said Donovan. "I can see you better, and you
can't make eyes at the Frenchman at the other table quite so well if I
get my head in the way."

"Oh, but he's such a dear," said Julie. "I'd love to flirt with him. Only
I must say his hair is a bit greasy."

"You'll make his lady furious if you don't take care," said Donovan, "and
it's a shame to spoil her trade."

Peter glanced across. A French officer, sitting opposite a painted girl,
was smiling at them. He looked at Julie; she was smiling back.

"Julie, don't for Heaven's sake," said her half-section. "We shall have
him over here next, and you remember once before how awkward it was."

Julie laughed. "Give me another drink, then, Captain Donovan," she said,
"and I'll be good."

Donovan filled up her glass. She raised it and challenged him. "_Here's
to we two in Blighty_," she began.

Miss Raynard rose determinedly and interrupted her. "Come on," she said;
"that's a bit too much, Julie. We must go, or we'll never get back, and
don't forget you've got to go on duty in the morning, my dear." She
pulled out a little watch. "Good heavens!" she cried. "Do you know the
time? It's eight-twenty now. We ought to have been in by eight, and
eighty-thirty is the latest time that's safe. For any sake, come on."

Julie for once agreed. "Good Lord, yes," she said. "We must have a taxi.
Can we get one easily?"

"Oh, I expect so," said Donovan. "Settle up, Graham, will you? while I
shepherd them out and get a car. Come on, and take care how you pass the
Frenchman."

In a few minutes Peter joined them on the steps outside. The restaurant
was in the corner of a square which contained a small public garden, and
the three of them were waiting for him on the curb. A taxi stood by them.
The broad streets ran away to left and right, gay with lights and
passers-by, and the dark trees stood out against a starry sky. A group of
British officers went laughing by, and one of them recognised Donovan and
hailed him. Two spahis crossed out of the shade into the light, their red
and gold a picturesque splash of colour. Behind them glared the staring
pictures of the cinema show on a great hoarding by the wall.

"Come on, Graham," called Donovan, "hop in."

The four packed in closely, Peter and Tommy opposite the other two, Julie
farthest from Peter. They started, and he caught her profile as the
street lights shone in and out with the speed of their passing. She was
smoking, puffing quickly at her cigarette, and hardly silent a moment.

"It's been a perfect treat," she said. "You're both dears, aren't they,
Tommy? You must come and have tea at the hospital any day: just walk in.
Mine's Ward 3. Come about four o'clock, and you'll find me any day this
week, Tommy's opposite. There's usually a crush at tea, but you must
come. By the way, where's your camp? Aren't you going heaps out of your
way? Solomon, where do you live? Tell me."

Peter grinned in the dark, and told her.

"Oh, you perfect beast!" she said, "Then you knew the Quai de France all
the time. Well, you're jolly near, anyway." "Oh, Lord!" she exclaimed
suddenly, "you aren't the new padre?"

"I am," said Peter.

"Good Lord! what a spree! Then you'll come in on duty. You can come in
any hour of the day or night. Tommy, do you hear that? Solomon's our
spiritual pastor. He's begun well, hasn't he?"

Peter was silent. It jarred him horribly. But just then the car slowed
down.

"What's up now?" demanded Donovan.

"Only the sentry at the swing bridge," said Tommy. "They stop all cars at
night. He's your side, dear; give him the glad eye."

The door opened, and a red-cap looked in. "Hospital, corporal; it's all
right," said Julie, beaming at him.

"Oh, all right, miss. Good-night," said the man, stepping back and
saluting in the light of the big electric standard at the bridgehead.
"Carry on, driver!"

"We're just there," said Julie; "I am sorry. It's been rippin'. Stop the
car, Solomon, somewhere near the leave-boat; it won't do to drive right
up to the hospital; we might be spotted."

Peter leaned out of the window on his side. The lights on the quay glowed
steadily across the dark water, and made golden flicking streaks upon it
as the tide swelled slowly in. In the distance a great red eye flashed in
and out solemnly, and on their side he could see the shaded lights of the
hospital ship, getting ready for her night crossing. He judged it was
time, and told the man to stop.

"Where's my powder-puff?" demanded Julie. "I believe you've bagged it,
Captain Donovan. No, it's here. Skip out, Tommy. Is anyone about?"

"No," said the girl from the step. "But don't wait all night. We'd best
run for it."

"Well, good-night," said Julie. "You have both been dears, but whether
I'm steady enough to get in safely I don't know. Still, Tommy's a rock.
See you again soon. Good-bye-ee!"

She leaned forward. "_Now_, if you're good," she said to Donovan. He
kissed her, laughing; and before he knew what she was doing, she reached
over to Peter, kissed him twice on the lips, and leaped lightly out. "Be
good," she said, "and if you can't, be careful."



CHAPTER VII


Following a delay of some days, there had been a fairly heavy mail, and
Peter took his letters to the little terrace by the sea outside the mess,
and sat in the sun to read them. While he was so occupied Arnold appeared
with a pipe, but, seeing him engaged, went back for a novel and a
deck-chair. It was all very peaceful and still, and beyond occasional
hammering from, the leisurely construction of the outer harbour wall and
once or twice the siren of a signalling steamer entering the docks, there
was nothing to disturb them at all. Perhaps half an hour passed, then
Peter folded up some sheets, put them in his pocket, and walked moodily
to the edge of the concrete, staring down, at the lazy slushing of the
tide against: the wall below him.

He kicked a pebble discontentedly into the water, and turned to look, at
Arnold. The older man was stretched out: in his chair smoking a pipe and
regarding him. A slow smile passed between them.

"No, hang it all," said Peter; "there's nothing to smile about, Arnold,
I've pretty well got to the end of my tether."

"Meaning what exactly?" queried the other.

"Oh, well, you know enough already to guess the rest.... Look here,
Arnold, you and. I are fairly good pals now, I'd just like to tell you
exactly what I feel."

"Sit down then, man, and get it out. There's a chair yonder, and you've
got the forenoon before ye. I'm a heretic and all that sort of thing, of
course, but perhaps that'll make it easier. I take it it's a kind of
heretic you're becoming yourself."

Peter pulled up a chair and got out his own pipe. "Arnold," he said, "I'm
too serious to joke, and I don't know that I'm even a Christian heretic.
I don't know what I am and where I stand. I wish I did; I wish I even
knew how much I disbelieved, for then I'd know what to do. But it's not
that my dogmas have been attacked and weakened. I've no new light on the
Apostles' Creed and no fresh doubts about it. I could still argue for the
Virgin Birth of Christ and the Trinity, and so on. But it's worse than
that. I feel ..." He broke off abruptly and pulled at his pipe. The other
said nothing. They were friends enough by now to understand each other.
In a little while the younger man found the words he wanted.

"Look here, it's like this. I remember once, on the East Coast, coming
across a stone breakwater high and dry in a field half a mile from the
sea. There was nothing the matter with the breakwater, and it served
admirably for certain purposes--a seat, for instance, or a shady place
for a picnic. But it was no longer of any vital use in the world, for the
sea had receded and left it there. Now, that's just what I feel. I had a
religion; I suppose it had its weaknesses and its faults; but most of it
was good sound stone, and it certainly had served. But it serves no
longer, not because it's damaged, but because the need for it has changed
its nature or is no longer there." He trailed off into silence and
stopped.

Arnold stirred to get out his pouch. "The sea is shifty, though," he
said. "If they keep the breakwater in decent repair, it'll come in handy
again."

"Yes," burst out Peter. "But, of course, that's where illustrations are
so little good: you can't press them. And in any case no engineer worth
his salt would sit down by his breakwater and smoke a pipe till the sea
came in handy again. His job is to go after it."

"True for ye, boy. But if the old plan was so good, why not go down to
the beach and get on with building operations of the same sort?"

"Arnold," said Peter, "you couldn't have put it better. That's exactly
what I came here to do. I knew in London that the sea was receding to
some extent, and I thought that there was a jolly good chance to get up
with it again out here. But that leads straight to my second problem:
I can't build on the old plan, and it doesn't seem any good. It's as
if our engineer found quicksands that wouldn't hold his stone, and
cross-currents that smashed up all his piles.... I mean, I thought I knew
what would save souls. But I find that I can't because my methods are--I
don't know, faulty perhaps, out of date maybe possibly worse; and, what
is more, the souls don't want my saving. The Lord knows they want
something; I can see that fast enough, but what it is I don't know.
Heavens! I remember preaching in the beginning of the war from the text
'Jesus had compassion on the multitude.' Well I don't feel that He has
changed, and I'm quite sure He still has compassion, but the multitude
doesn't want it. I was wrong about the crowd. It's nothing like what I
imagined. The crowd isn't interested in Jesus any more. It doesn't
believe in Him. It's a different sort of crowd altogether from the one He
led."

"I wonder," said Arnold.

Peter moved impatiently. "Well, I don't see how you can," he said. "Do
you think Tommy worries about his sins? Are the men in our mess
miserable? Does the girl the good books talked about, who flirts and
smokes and drinks and laughs, sit down by night on the edge of her little
white bed and feel a blank in her life? Does she, Arnold?"

"I'm blest if I know; I haven't been there! You seem to know a precious
lot about it," he added dryly.

"Oh, don't rag and don't be facetious. If you do, I shall clear. I'm
trying to talk sense, and at any rate it's what I feel. And I believe you
know I'm right too." Peter was plainly a bit annoyed.

The elder padre sat up straight at that, and his tone changed. He stared
thoughtfully out to sea and did not smoke. But he did not speak all at
once. Peter glanced at him, and then lay back in his chair and waited.

Arnold spoke at last: possibly the harbour works inspired him. "Look
here, boy," he said, "let's get back to your illustration, which is no
such a bad one. What do you suppose your engineer would do when he got
down to the new sea-beach and found the conditions you described? It
wouldn't do much good if he sat down and cursed the blessed sea and the
sands and the currents, would it? It would be mighty little use if he
blamed his good stone and sound timber, useless though they appeared.
I'm thinking he'd be no much of an engineer either if he chucked his
job. What would he do, d'you think?"

"Go on," said Peter, interested.

"Well," said the speaker in parables, "unless I'm mighty mistaken, he'd
get down first to studying the new conditions. He'd find they'd got laws
governing them, same as the old--different laws maybe, but things you
could perhaps reckon with if you knew them. And when he knew them, I
reckon he'd have a look at his timber and stone and iron, and get out
plans. Maybe, these days, he'd help out with a few tons of reinforced
concrete, and get in a bit o' work with some high explosive. I'm no
saying. But if he came from north of the Tweed, my lad," he added, with a
twinkle in his eye and a touch of accent, "I should be verra surprised
if that foreshore hadn't a breakwater that would do its duty in none so
long a while."

"And if he came from south of the Tweed, and found himself in France?"
queried Peter.

"I reckon he'd get down among the multitude and make a few inquiries,"
said Arnold, more gravely. "I reckon he wouldn't be in too great a hurry,
and he wouldn't believe all he saw and heard without chewing on it a bit,
as our Yankee friends say. And he'd know well enough that there was
nothing wrong with his Master, and no change in His compassion, only,
maybe, that he had perhaps misunderstood both a little."

A big steamer hooted as she came up the river, and the echoes of the
siren died out slowly among the houses that climbed up the hill behind
them.

Then Peter put his hand up and rested his head upon it, shading his face.

"That's difficult--and dangerous, Arnold" he said.

"It is that, laddie," the other answered quickly. "There was a time when
I would have thought it too difficult and too dangerous for a boy of
mine. But I've had a lesson or two to learn out here as well as other
folks. Up the line men have learnt not to hesitate at things because they
are difficult and dangerous. And I'll tell you something else we've
learnt--that it is better for half a million to fail in the trying than
for the thing not to be tried at all."

"Arnold," said Peter, "what about yourself? Do you mind my asking? Do you
feel this sort of thing at all, and, if so, what's your solution?"

The padre from north of the Tweed knocked the ashes out of his pipe and
got up, "Young man," he said, "I don't mind your asking, but I'm getting
old, and my answering wouldn't do either of us any good, if I have a
solution I don't suppose it would be yours. Besides, a man can't save his
brother, and not even a father can save his son .... I've nothing to tell
ye, except, maybe, this: don't fear and don't falter, and wherever you
get to, remember that God is there. David is out of date these days,
and very likely it wasn't David at all, but I don't know anything truer
in the auld book than yon verse where it says: 'Though I go down into
hell, Thou art there also.'"

"I beg your pardon, padre," said a drawling voice behind them. "I caught
a word just now which I understand no decent clergyman uses except in the
pulpit. If, therefore, you are preaching, I will at once and discreetly
withdraw, but if not, for his very morals' sake, I will withdraw your
congregation--that is, if he hasn't forgotten his engagement."

Graham jumped up. "Good Heavens, Pennell!" he exclaimed, "I'm blest if I
hadn't." He pushed his arm out and glanced at his watch. "Oh, there's
plenty of time, anyway. I'm lunching with this blighter down town, padre,
at some special restaurant of his," he explained, "and I take it the sum
and substance of his unseemly remarks are that he thinks we ought to get
a move on."

"Don't let me stand in the way of your youthful pleasures," said Arnold,
smiling; "but take care of yourself, Graham. Eat and drink, for to-morrow
you die; but don't eat and drink too much in case you live to the day
after."

"I'll remember," said Peter, "but I hope it won't be necessary. However,
you never know 'among the multitude,' do you?" he added.

Arnold caught up the light chair and lunged out at him. "Ye unseemly
creature," he shouted, "get out of it and leave me in peace."

Pennell and Peter left the camp and crossed the swing bridge into the
maze of docks. Threading their way along as men who knew it thoroughly
they came at length to the main roadway, with its small, rather smelly
shops, its narrow side-streets almost like Edinburgh closes, and its
succession of sheds and offices between which one glimpsed the water.
Just here, the war had made a difference. There was less pleasure traffic
up Seine and along Channel, though the Southampton packet ran as
regularly as if no submarine had ever been built. Peter liked Pennell.
He was an observant creature of considerable decencies, and a good
companion. He professed some religion, and although it was neither
profound nor apparently particularly vital, it helped to link the two
men. As they went on, the shops grew a little better, but no restaurant
was visible that offered much expectation.

"Where in the world are you taking me?" demanded Peter. "I don't mind
slums in the way of business, but I prefer not to go to lunch in them."

"Wait and see, my boy," returned his companion, "and don't protest till
it's called for. Even then wait a bit longer, and your sorrow shall be
turned into joy--and that's Scripture. Great Scott! see what comes of
fraternising with padres! _Now._"

So saying he dived in to the right down a dark passage, into which the
amazed Peter followed him. He had already opened a door at the end of it
by the time Peter got there, and was halfway up a flight of wood stairs
that curved up in front of them out of what was, obviously, a kitchen.
A huge man turned his head as Peter came in, and surveyed him silently,
his hands dexterously shaking a frying-pan over a fire as he did so.

"Bon jour, monsieur," said Peter politely.

Monsieur grunted, but not unpleasantly, and Peter gripped the banister
and commenced to ascend. Half-way up he was nearly sent flying down
again. A rosy-cheeked girl, short and dark, with sparkling eyes, had
thrust herself down between him and the rail from a little landing above,
and was shouting:

"Une omelette aux champignons. Jambon. Pommes sautes, s'il vous plait."

Peter recovered himself and smiled. "Bon jour, mademoiselle," he said,
this time. In point of fact, he could say very little else.

"Bon jour, monsieur," said, the girl, and something else that he could
not catch, but by this time he had reached the top in time to witness a
little 'business' there. A second girl, taller, older, slower, but
equally smiling, was taking Pennell's cap and stick and gloves, making
play with her eyes the while. "Merci, chérie," he heard his friend say
and then, in a totally different voice: "Ah! Bon jour Marie."

A third girl was before them. In her presence the other two withdrew. She
was tall, plain, shrewd of face, with reddish hair, but she smiled even
as the others. It was little more than a glance that Peter got, for she
called an order (at which the first girl again disappeared down the
stairs) greeted Pennell, replied to his question that there were two
places, and was out of sight again in the room, seemingly all at once. He
too, then, surrendered cap and stick, and followed his companion in.

There were no more than four tables in the little room--two for six, and
two for four or five. Most were filled, but he and Pennell secured two
seats with their backs to the wall opposite a couple of Australian
officers who had apparently just commenced. Peter's was by the window,
and he glanced out to see the sunlit street below, the wide sparkling
harbour, and right opposite the hospital he had now visited several times
and his own camp near it. There was the new green of spring shoots in the
window-boxes, snowy linen on the table, a cheerful hum of conversation
about him, and an oak-panelled wall behind that had seen the Revolution.

"Pennell," he said, "you're a marvel. The place is perfect."

By the time they had finished Peter was feeling warmed and friendly, the
Australians had been joined to their company, and the four spent an idle
afternoon cheerfully enough. There was nothing in strolling through the
busy streets, joking a little over very French picture post-cards,
quizzing the passing girls, standing in a queue at Cox's, and finally
drawing a fiver in mixed French notes, or in wandering through a huge
shop of many departments to buy some toilet necessities. But it was good
fun. There was a comradeship, a youthfulness, carelessness, about it all
that gripped Peter. He let himself go, and when he did so he was a good
companion.

One little incident in the Grand Magasin completed his abandonment to the
day and the hour. They were ostensibly buying a shaving-stick, but at the
moment were cheerily wandering through the department devoted to
_lingerie_. The attendant girls, entirely at ease, were trying to
persuade the taller of the two Australians, whom his friend addressed
as "Alex," to buy a flimsy lace nightdress "for his fiancée," readily
pointing out that he would find no difficulty in getting rid of it
elsewhere if he had not got such a desirable possession, when Peter heard
an exclamation behind him.

"Hullo!" said a girl's voice; "fancy finding you here!" He turned quickly
and blushed. Julie laughed merrily.

"Caught out," she said, "Tell me what you're buying, and for whom. A
blouse, a camisole, or worse?"

"I'm not buying," said Peter, recovering his ease. "We're just strolling
round, and that girl insists that my friend the Australian yonder should
buy a nightie for his fiancée. He says he hasn't one, so she is
persuading him that he can easily pick one up. What do you think?"

She glanced over at the little group. "Easier than some people I know,
I should think," she said, smiling, taking in his six feet of bronzed
manhood. "But it's no use your buying it. I wear pyjamas, silk, and I
prefer Venns'."

"I'll remember," said Peter. "By the way, I'm coming to tea again
to-morrow."

"That will make three times this week," she said. "But I suppose you
will go round the ward first." Then quickly, for Peter looked slightly
unhappy: "Next week I've a whole day off."

"No?" he said eagerly "Oh, do let's fix something up. Will you come out
somewhere?"

Her eyes roved across to Pennell, who was bearing down upon them. "We'll
fix it up to-morrow," she said. "Bring Donovan, and I'll get Tommy. And
now introduce me nicely."

He did so, and she talked for a few minutes, and then went off to join
some friends, who had moved on to another department. "By Jove," said
Pennell, "that's some girl! I see now why you are so keen on the
hospital, old dear. Wish I were a padre."

"I shall be padre in ..." began Alex, but Peter cut him short.

"Oh, Lord," he said, "I'm tired of that! Come on out of it, and let's get
a refresher somewhere. What's the club like here?"

"Club's no good," said Pennell. "Let's go to Travalini's and introduce
the padre. He's not been there yet."

"I thought everyone knew it," said the other Australian--rather
contemptuously, Peter thought. What with one thing and another, he felt
suddenly that he'd like to go. He remembered how nearly he had gone there
in other company. "Come on, then," he said, and led the way out.

There was nothing in Travalini's to distinguish it from many other such
places--indeed, to distinguish it from the restaurant in which Peter,
Donovan, and the girls had dined ten days or so before, except that it
was bigger, more garish, more expensive, and, consequently, more British
in patronage. The restaurant was, however, separated more completely
from the drinking-lounge, in which, among palms, a string-band played.
There was an hotel above besides, and that helped business, but one could
come and go innocently enough, for all that there was "anything a
gentleman wants," as the headwaiter, who talked English, called himself a
Belgian, and had probably migrated from over the Rhine, said. Everybody,
indeed, visited the place now and again. Peter and his friends went in
between the evergreen shrubs in their pots, and through the great glass
swing-door, with every assurance. The place seemed fairly full. There was
a subdued hum of talk and clink of glasses; waiters hurried to and fro;
the band was tuning up. British uniforms predominated, but there were
many foreign officers and a few civilians. There were perhaps a couple of
dozen girls scattered about the place besides.

The friends found a corner with a big plush couch which took three of
them, and a chair for Alex. A waiter bustled up and they ordered drinks,
which came on little saucers marked with the price. Peter lay back
luxuriously.

"Chin-chin," said the other Australian, and the others responded.

"That's good," said Pennell.

"Not so many girls here this afternoon," remarked Alex carelessly. "See,
Dick, there's that little Levantine with the thick dark hair. She's
caught somebody."

Peter looked across in the direction indicated. The girl, in a cerise
costume with a big black hat, short skirt, and dainty bag, was sitting in
a chair halfway on to them and leaning over the table before her. As he
watched, she threw her head back and laughed softly. He caught the gleam
of a white throat and of dark sloe eyes.

"She's a pretty one," said Pennell. "God! but they're queer little bits
of fluff, these girls. It beats me how they're always gay, and always
easy to get and to leave. And they get rottenly treated sometimes."

"Yes I'm damned if I understand them," said Alex. "Now, padre, I'll tell
you something that's more in your way than mine, and you can see what you
make of it. I was in a maison tolerée the other day--you know the sort
of thing--and there were half a dozen of us in the sitting-room with the
girls, drinking fizz. I had a little bit of a thing with fair hair--she
couldn't have been more than seventeen at most, I reckon--with a laugh
that did you good to hear, and, by gum! we wanted to be cheered just
then, for we had had a bit of a gruelling on the Ancre and had been
pulled out of the line to refit. She sat there with an angel's face, a
chemise transparent except where it was embroidered, and not much else,
and some of the women were fair beasts. Well, she moved on my knee, and I
spilt some champagne and swore--'Jesus Christ!' I said. Do you know, she
pushed back from me as if I had hit her! 'Oh, don't say His Name!' she
said. 'Promise me you won't say it again. Do you not know how He loved
us?' I was so taken aback that I promised, and to tell you the truth,
padre, I haven't said it since. What do you think of that?"

Peter shook his head and drained his glass. He couldn't have spoken at
once; the little story, told in such a place, struck him so much. Then he
asked: "But is that all? How did she come to be there?"

"Well," Alex said, "that's just as strange. Father was in a French
cavalry regiment, and got knocked out on the Marne. They lived in Arras
before the war, and you can guess that there wasn't much left of the
home. One much older sister was a widow with a big family; the other was
a kid of ten or eleven, so this one went into the business to keep the
family going. Fact. The mother used to come and see her, and I got to
know her. She didn't seem to mind: said the doctors looked after them
well, and the girl was making good money. Hullo!" he broke off, "there's
Louise," and to Peter's horror he half-rose and smiled across at a girl
some few tables away.

She got up and came over, beamed on them all, and took the seat Alex
vacated. "Good-evening," she said, in fair English, scrutinising them.
"What is it you say, 'How's things'?"

Alex pressed a drink on her and beckoned the waiter. She took a syrup,
the rest martinis. Peter sipped his, and watched her talking to Alex and
Pennell. The other Australian got up and crossed the room, and sat down
with some other men.

The stories he had heard moved him profoundly. He wondered if they were
true, but he seemed to see confirmation in the girl before him. Despite
some making up, it was a clean face, if one could say so. She was
laughing and talking with all the ease in the world, though Peter noticed
that her eyes kept straying round the room. Apparently his friends had
all her attention, but he could see it was not so. She was on the watch
for clients, old or new. He thought how such a girl would have disgusted
him a few short weeks ago, but he did not feel disgusted now. He could
not. He did not know what he felt. He wondered, as he looked, if she were
one of "the multitude," and then the fragment of a text slipped through
his brain: "The Friend of publicans and sinners." "_The_ Friend": the
little adjective struck him as never before. Had they ever had another?
He frowned to himself at the thought, and could not help wondering
vaguely what his Vicar or the Canon would have done in Travalini's. Then
he wondered instantly what that Other would have done, and he found no
answer at all.

"Yes, but I do not know your friend yet," he heard the girl say, and saw
she was being introduced to Pennell. She held out a decently gloved hand
with a gesture that startled him--it was so like Hilda's. Hilda! The
comparison dazed him. He fancied he could see her utter disgust, and then
he involuntarily shook his head; it would be too great for him to
imagine. What would she have made of the story he had just heard? He
concluded she would flatly disbelieve it....

But Julie? He smiled to himself, and then, for the first time, suddenly
asked himself what he really felt towards Julie. He remembered that first
night and the kiss, and how he had half hated it, half liked it. He felt
now, chiefly, anger that Donovan had had one too. One? But he, Peter,
had had two.... Then he called himself a damned fool; it was all of a
piece with her extravagant and utterly unconventional madness. But what,
then, would she say to this? Had she anything in common with it?

He played with that awhile, blowing out thoughtful rings of smoke. It
struck him that she had, but he was fully aware that that did not
disgust him in the least. It almost fascinated him, just as--that _was_
it--Hilda's disgust would repel him. Why? He hadn't an idea.

"Monsieur le Capitaine is very dull," said a girl's voice at his elbow.
He started: Louise had moved to the sofa and was smiling at him. He
glanced towards his companions, Alex was standing, finishing a last
drink; Pennell staring at Louise.

He looked back at the girl, straight into her eyes, and could not read
them in the least. The darkened eyebrows and the glitter in them baffled
him. But he must speak, "Am I?" he said. "Forgive me, mademoiselle; I was
thinking."

"Of your fiancée--is it not so? Ah! The Capitaine has his fiancée, then?
In England? Ah, well, the girls in England do not suffer like we girls in
France.... They are proud, too, the English misses. I know, for I have
been there, to--how do you call it?--Folkestone. They walk with the head
in the air," and she tilted up her chin so comically that Peter smiled
involuntarily.

"No, I do not like them," went on the girl deliberately. "They are
only half alive, I think. I almost wish the Boche had been in your
land.... They are cold, la! And not so very nice to kiss, eh?"

"They're not all like that," said Pennell.

"Ah, non? But you like the girls of France the best, mon ami; is it not
so?" She leaned across towards him significantly.

Pennell laughed. "_Now_, yes, perhaps," he said deliberately; "but after
the war ..." and he shrugged his shoulders, like a Frenchman.

A shade passed over the girl's face, and she got up. "It is so," she
said lightly. "Monsieur speaks very true--oh, very true! The girls of
France now--they are gay, they are alive, they smile, and it is war, and
you men want these things. But after--oh, I know you English--you'll go
home and be--how do you say?--'respectable,' and marry an English miss,
and have--oh! many, many bébés, and wear the top-hat, and go to church.
There is no country like England...." She made a little gesture. "What do
you believe, you English? In le bon Dieu? Non. In love? Ah, non! In what,
then? Je ne sais!" She laughed again. "What 'ave I said? Forgive me,
monsieur, and you also, Monsieur le Capitaine. But I do see a friend of
mine. See, I go! Bon soir."

She looked deliberately at Peter a moment, then smiled comprehensively
and left them. Peter saw that Alex had gone already; he asked no
questions, but looked at Pennell inquiringly.

"I think so, padre; I've had enough of it to-night. Let's clear. We can
get back in time for mess."

They went out into the darkening streets, crossed an open square, and
turned down a busy road to the docks. They walked quickly, but Peter
seemed to himself conscious of everyone that passed. He scanned faces,
as if to read a riddle in them. There were men who lounged by, gay,
reckless, out for fun plainly, but without any other sinister thought,
apparently. There were Tommies who saluted and trudged on heavily. There
were a couple of Yorkshire boys who did not notice them, flushed, animal,
making determinedly for a destination down the street. There was one man
at least who passed walking alone, with a tense, greedy, hard face, and
Peter all but shuddered.

The lit shops gave way to a railed space, dark by contrast, and a tall
building of old blackened stone, here and there chipped white, loomed up.
Moved by an impulse, Peter paused, "Let's see if it's open, Pennell," he
said. "Do you mind? I won't be a second."

"Not a scrap, old man," said Pennell, "I'll come in too."

Peter walked up to a padded leather-covered door and pushed. It swung
open. They stepped in, into a faintly broken silence, and stood still.

Objects loomed up indistinctly--great columns, altars, pews. Far away a
light flickered and twinkled, and from the top of the aisle across the
church from the door by which they had entered a radiance glowed and lost
itself in the black spaces of the high roof and wide nave. Peter crossed
towards that side, and his companion followed. They trod softly, like
good Englishmen in church, and they moved up the aisle a little to see
more clearly; and so, having reached a place from which much was visible,
remained standing for a few seconds.

The light streamed from an altar, and from candles above it set around
a figure of the Mother of God. In front knelt a priest, and behind him,
straggling back in the pews, a score or so of women, some children, and
a blue-coated French soldier or two. The priest's voice sounded thin
and low: neither could hear what he said; the congregation made rapid
responses regularly, but eliding the, to them, familiar words. There was,
then, the murmur of repeated prayer, like muffled knocking on a door, and
nothing more.

"Let's go," whispered Pennell at last.

They went out, and shut the door softly behind them. As they did so, some
other door was opened noisily and banged, while footsteps began to drag
slowly across the stone floor and up the aisle they had come down. The
new-comer subsided into a pew with a clatter on the boards, but the
murmured prayers went on unbroken.

Outside the street engulfed them. The same faces passed by. A street-car
banged and clattered up towards the centre of the town, packed with
jovial people. Pennell looked towards it half longingly. "Great Scott,
Graham! I wish, now, we hadn't come away so soon," he said.



CHAPTER VIII


The lower valley of the Seine is one of the most beautiful and
interesting river-stretches in Northern Europe. It was the High Street of
old Normandy, and feuda, barons and medieval monks have left their mark
upon it. From the castle of Tancarville to the abbey of Jumièges
you can read the story of their doings; or when you stand in the Roman
circus at Lillebonne, or enter the ancient cloister of M. Maeterlinck's
modern residence at St. Wandrille, see plainly enough the writing of a
still older legend, such as appeared, once, on the wall of a palace in
Babylon. On the left bank steep hills, originally wholly clothed with
forest and still thickly wooded, run down to the river with few breaks
in them, each break, however, being garrisoned by an ancient town. Of
these, Caudebec stands unrivalled. On the right bank the flat plain of
Normandy stretches to the sky-line, pink-and-white in spring with miles
of apple-orchards. The white clouds chase across its fair blue sky,
driven by the winds from the sea, and tall poplars rise in their uniform
rows along the river as if to guard a Paradise.

Caudebec can be reached from Le Havre in a few hours, and although cars
for hire and petrol were not abundant in France at the time, one could
find a chauffeur to make the journey if one was prepared to pay. Given
fine weather, it was an ideal place for a day off in the spring. And
Peter knew it.

In the Grand Magasin Julie had talked of a day off, and a party of four
had been mooted, but when he had leisure to think of it, Peter found
himself averse to four, and particularly if one of the four were to be
Donovan. He admitted it freely to himself. Donovan was the kind of a
man, he thought, that Julie must like, and he was the kind of man, too,
to put him, Peter, into the shade. Ordinarily he asked for no better
companion, but he hated to see Julie and Jack together. He could not make
the girl out, and he wanted to do so. He wanted to know what she thought
about many things, and--incidentally, of course--what she thought about
him.

He had argued all this over next morning while shaving, and had ended
by cutting himself. It was a slight matter, but it argued a certain
absent-mindedness, and it brought him back to decency. He perceived that
he was scheming to leave his friend out, and he fought resolutely against
the idea. Therefore, that afternoon, he went to the hospital, spent a
couple of hours chatting with the men, and finally wound up in the
nurses' mess-room for tea as usual. It was a little room, long and
narrow, at the end of the biggest ward, but its windows looked over the
sea and it was convenient to the kitchen. Coloured illustrations cut from
magazines and neatly mounted on brown paper decorated the walls, but
there was little else by way of furniture or ornament except a long table
and chairs. One could get but little talk except of a scrappy kind, for
nurses came continually in and out for tea, and, indeed, Julie had only a
quarter of an hour to spare. But he got things fixed up for the following
Thursday, and he left the place to settle with Donovan.

That gentleman's company of native labour was lodged a mile or so through
the docks from Peter's camp, on the banks of the Tancarville Canal. It
was enlivened at frequent intervals, day and night, by the sirens of
tugs bringing strings of barges to the docks, whence their cargo was
borne overseas in the sea-going tramps, or, of course, taking equally
long strings to the Seine for Rouen and Paris. It was mud and cinders
underfoot, and it was walled off with corrugated-iron sheeting and
barbed wire from the attentions of some hundreds of Belgian refugees who
lived along the canal and parallel roads in every conceivable kind of
resting-place, from ancient bathing-vans to broken-down railway-trucks.
But there were trees along the canal and reeds and grass, so that there
were worse places than Donovan's camp in Le Havre.

Peter found his friend surveying the endeavours of a gang of boys to
construct a raised causeway from the officers' mess to the orderly-room,
and he promptly broached his object. Donovan was entranced with the
proposal, but he could not go. He was adamant upon it. He could possibly
have got off, but it meant leaving his something camp for a whole day,
and just at present he couldn't. Peter could get Pennell or anyone.
Another time, perhaps, but not now. For thus can the devil trap his
victims.

Peter pushed back for home on his bicycle, but stopped at the docks on
his way to look up Pennell. That gentleman was bored, weary, and inclined
to be blasphemous. It appeared that for the whole, infernal day he had
had to watch the off-loading of motor-spares, that he had had no lunch,
and that he could not get away for a day next week if he tried. "It isn't
everyone can get a day off whenever he wants to, padre," he said. "In the
next war I shall be ..." Peter turned hard on his heel, and left him
complaining to the derricks.

He was now all but cornered. There was nobody else he particularly cared
to ask unless it were Arnold, and he could not imagine Arnold and Julie
together. It appeared to him that fate was on his side; it only remained
to persuade Julie to come alone. He pedalled back to mess and dinner, and
then, about half-past eight, strolled round to the hospital again. It was
late, of course, but he was a padre, and the hospital padre, and
privileged. He knew exactly what to do, and that he was really as safe as
houses in doing it, and yet this intriguing by night made him
uncomfortable still. He told himself he was an ass to think so, but he
could not get rid of the sensation.

Julie would be on duty till 9.30, and he could easily have a couple
of minutes' conversation with her in the ward. He followed the
railway-track, then, along the harbour, and went in under the great roof
of the empty station. On the far platform a hospital train was being made
ready for its return run, but, except for a few cleaners and orderlies,
the place was empty.

An iron stairway led up from the platform to the wards above. He
ascended, and found himself on a landing with the door of the theatre
open before him. There was a light in it, and he caught the sound of
water; some pro. was cleaning up. He moved down the passage and
cautiously opened the door of the ward.

It was shaded and still. Somewhere a man breathed heavily, and another
turned in his sleep. Just beyond the red glow of the stove, with the
empty armchairs in a circle before it, were screens from which came a
subdued light. He walked softly between the beds towards them, and looked
over the top.

Inside was a little sanctum: a desk with a shaded reading-lamp, a chair,
a couch, a little table with flowers upon it and a glass and jug, and on
the floor by the couch a work-basket. Julie was at the desk writing in a
big official book, and he watched her for a moment unobserved. It was
almost as if he saw a different person from the girl he knew. She was at
work, and a certain hidden sadness showed clearly in her face. But the
little brown fringe of hair on her forehead and the dimpled chin were the
same....

"Good-evening," he whispered.

She looked up quickly, with a start, and he noticed curiously how rapidly
the laughter came back to her face. "You did startle me, Solomon," she
said. "What is it?"

"I want to speak to you a minute about Thursday," he said. "Can I come
in?"

She got up and came round the screens. "Follow me," she said, "and don't
make a noise."

She led him across the ward to the wide verandah, opening the door
carefully and leaving it open behind her, and then walked to the
balustrade and glanced down. The hospital ship had gone, and there was
no one visible on the wharf. The stars were hidden, and there was a
suggestion of mist on the harbour, through which the distant lights
seemed to flicker.

"You're coming on, Solomon," she said mockingly. "Never tell me you'd
have dared to call on the hospital to see a nurse by night a few weeks
ago! Suppose matron came round? There is no dangerous case in my ward."

"Not among the men, perhaps," said Peter mischievously. "But, look here,
about Thursday; Donovan can't go, nor Pennell, and I don't know anyone
else I want to ask."

"Well, I'll see if I can raise a man. One or two of the doctors are
fairly decent, or I can get a convalescent out of the officers'
hospital."

She had the lights behind her, and he could not see her face, but he knew
she was laughing at him, and it spurred him on. "Don't rag, Julie," he
said, "You know I want you to come alone."

There was a perceptible pause. Then: "I can't cut Tommy," she said.

"Not for once?" he urged. She turned away from him and looked down at the
water. It is curious how there come moments of apprehension in all our
lives when we want a thing, but know quite well we are mad to want it.
Julie looked into the future for a few seconds, and saw plainly, but
would not believe what she saw.

When she turned back she had her old manner completely. "You're a dear
old thing," she said, "and I'll do it. But if it gets out that I gadded
about for a day with an officer, even though he is a padre, and that we
went miles out of town, there'll be some row, my boy. Quick now! I must
get back. What's the plan?"

"Thanks awfully," said Peter. "It will be a rag. What time can you get
off?"

"Oh, after breakfast easily--say eight-thirty."

"Right. Well, take the tram-car to Harfleur--you know?--as far as it
goes. I'll be at the terminus with a car. What time must you be in?"

"I can get late leave till ten, I think," she said.

"Good! That gives us heaps of time. We'll lunch and tea in Caudebec, and
have some sandwiches for the road home."

"And if the car breaks down?"

"It won't," said Peter. "You're lucky in love, aren't you?"

She did not laugh. "I don't know," she said. "Good-night."

And then Peter had walked home, thinking of Hilda. And he had sat by the
sea, and come to the conclusion that he was a rotter, but in the web of
Fate and much to be pitied, which is like a man. And then he had played
auction till midnight and lost ten francs, and gone to bed concluding
that he was certainly unlucky--at cards.

As Peter sat in his car at the Harfleur terminus that Thursday it must be
confessed that he was largely indifferent to the beauties of the Seine
Valley that he had professedly come to see. He was nervous, to begin
with, lest he should be recognised by anyone, and he was in one of his
troubled moods. But he had not long to wait. The tram came out, and he
threw away his cigarette and walked to meet the passengers.

Julie looked very smart in the grey with its touch of scarlet, but she
was discontented with it. "If only I could put on a few glad rags," she
said as she climbed into the car, "this would be perfect. You men can't
know how a girl comes to hate uniform. It's not bad occasionally, but if
you have to wear it always it spoils chances. But I've got my new shoes
and silk stockings on," she added, sticking out a neat ankle, "and my
skirt is not vastly long, is it? Besides, underneath, if it's any
consolation to you, I've really pretty things. Uniform or not, I see no
reason why one should not feel joyful next the skin. What do you think?"

Peter agreed heartily, and tucked a rug round her. "There's the more need
for this, then," he said.

"Oh, I don't know: silk always makes me feel so comfortable that I can't
be cold. Isn't it a heavenly day? We are lucky, you know; it might have
been beastly. Lor', but I'm going to enjoy myself to-day, my dear! I warn
you. I've got to forget how Tommy looked when I put her off with excuses.
I felt positively mean."

"What did she say?" asked Peter.

"That she didn't mind at all, as she had got to write letters," said
Julie, "Solomon, Tommy's a damned good sort!... Give us a cigarette, and
don't look blue. We're right out of town."

Peter got out his case. "Don't call me Solomon to-day," he said.

Julie threw herself back in her corner and shrieked with laughter. The
French chauffeur glanced round and grimaced appreciatively, and Peter
felt a fool. "What am I to call you, then?" she demanded. "You are a
funny old thing, and now you look more of a Solomon than ever."

"Call me Peter," he said.

She looked at him, her eyes sparkling with amusement. "I'm really
beginning to enjoy myself," she said. "But, look here, you mustn't begin
like this. How in the world do you think we shall end up if you do?
You'll have nothing left to say, and I shall be worn to a rag and a
temper warding off your sentimentality."

"Julie," said Peter, "are you ever serious? I can't help it, you know, I
suppose because I am a parson, though I am such a rotten one."

"Who says you're a rotten one?"

"Everybody who tells the truth, and, besides, I know it. I feel an
absolute stummer when I go around the wards. I never can say a word to
the men."

"They like you awfully. You know little Jimmy, that kiddie who came in
the other day who's always such a brick? Well, last night I went and sat
with him a bit because he was in such pain. I told him where I was going
to-day as a secret. What do you think he said about you?"

"I don't want to know," said Peter hastily.

"Well, you shall. He said if more parsons were like you, more men would
go to church. What do you make of that, old Solomon?"

"It isn't true to start with. A few might come for a little, but they
would soon fall off. And if they didn't, they'd get no good. I don't know
what to say to them."

Julie threw away her cigarette-stump. "One sees a lot of human nature in
hospitals, my boy," she said, "and it doesn't leave one with many
illusions. But from what I've seen, I should say nobody does much good by
talking."

"You don't understand," said Peter. "Look here, I shouldn't call you
religious in a way at all Don't be angry. I don't _know_, but I don't
think so, and I don't think you can possibly know what I mean."

"I used to do the flowers in church regularly at home," she said. "I
believe in God, though you think I don't."

Peter sighed. "Let's change the subject," he said. "Have you seen any
more of that Australian chap lately?"

"Rather! He's engaged to a girl I know, and I reckon I'm doing her a good
turn by sticking to him. He's a bit of a devil, you know, but I think I
can keep him off the French girls a bit."

Peter looked at her curiously. "You know what he is, and you don't mind
then?" he said.

"Good Lord, no!" she replied. "My dear boy, I know what men are. It isn't
in their nature to stick to one girl only. He loves Edie all right, and
he'll make her a good husband one day, if she isn't too particular and
inquisitive. If I were married, I'd give my husband absolute liberty--and
I'd expect it in return. But I shall never marry. There isn't a man who
can play fair. They'll take their own pleasures, but they are all as
jealous as possible. I've seen it hundreds of times."

"You amaze me," said Peter. "Let's talk straight. Do you mean to say that
if you were married and your husband ran up to Paris for a fortnight, and
you knew exactly what he'd gone for, you wouldn't mind?"

"No," she declared roundly. "I wouldn't. He'd come back all the more fond
of me, I'd know I'd be a fool to expect anything else."

Peter stared at her. She was unlike anything he had ever seen. Her moral
standards, if she had any, he added mentally, were so different from his
own that he was absolutely floored. He thought grimly that alone in a
motor-car he had got among the multitude with a vengeance. "Have you
ever been in love?" he demanded.

She laughed. "Solomon, you're the quaintest creature. Do you think I'd
tell you if I had been? You never ought to ask anyone that. But if you
want to know, I've been in love hundreds of times. It's a queer disease,
but not serious--at least, not if you don't take it too seriously."

"You don't know what love is at all," he said.

She faced him fairly and unashamed. "I do," she said, "It's an animal
passion for the purpose of populating the earth. And if you ask me, I
think it is rather a dirty trick on the part of God."

"You don't mean that," he said, distressed.

She laughed again merrily, and slipped her hand into his under the rug.
"Peter," she said--"there, am I not good? You aren't made to worry about
these things. I don't know that anyone is. We can't help ourselves, and
the best thing is to take our pleasures when we can find them. I suppose
you'll be shocked at me, but I'm not going to pretend. I wasn't built
that way. If this were a closed car I'd give you a kiss."

"I don't want that sort of a kiss," he said. "That was what you gave me
the other night. I want...."

"You don't know what you want, my dear, though you think you do. You
shouldn't be so serious. I'm sure I kiss very nicely--plenty of men think
so? anyway, and if there is nothing in that sort of kiss, why not kiss?
Is there a Commandment against it? I suppose our grandmothers thought so,
but we don't. Besides, I've been east of Suez, where there ain't no ten
Commandments. There's only one real rule left in life for most of us,
Peter, and that's this: 'Be a good pal, and don't worry.'"

Peter sighed. "You and I were turned out differently, Julie," he said.
"But I like you awfully. You attract me so much that I don't know how to
express it. There's nothing mean about you, and nothing sham. And I
admire your pluck beyond words. It seems to me that you've looked life in
the face and laughed. Anybody can laugh at death, but very few of us at
life. I think I'm terrified of it. And that's the awful part about it
all, for I ought to know the secret, and I don't. I feel an absolute
hypocrite at times--when I take a service, for example. I talk about
things I don't understand in the least, even about God, and I begin
to think I know nothing about Him...." He broke off, utterly miserable.

"Poor old boy," she said softly; "is it as bad as that?"

He turned to her fiercely. "You darling!" he said, carried away by her
tone. "I believe I'd rather have you than--than God!"

She did not move in her corner, nor did she smile now. "I wonder," she
said slowly. "Peter, it's you that hate shams, not I. It's you that are
brave, not I. I play with shams because I know they're shams, but I like
playing with them. But you are greater than I. You are not content with
playing. One of these days--oh, I don't know...." She broke off and
looked away.

Peter gripped her hand tightly. "Don't, little girl," he said. "Let's
forget for to-day. Look at those primroses; they're the first I've seen.
Aren't they heavenly?"

They ran into Caudebec in good time, and lunched at an hotel overlooking
the river, with great enthusiasm. To Peter it was utterly delicious to
have her by him. She was as gay as she could possibly be, and made fun
over everything. Sitting daintily before him, her daring, unconventional
talk carried him away. She chose the wine, and after _dèjeuner_ sat with
her elbows on the table, puffing at a cigarette, her brown eyes alight
with mischief, apparently without a thought for to-morrow.

"Oh, I say," she said, "do look at that party in the corner. The old
Major's well away, and the girl'll have a job to keep him in hand, I
wonder where they're from? Rouen, perhaps; there was a car at the door.
What do you think of the girl?"

Peter glanced back. "No better than she ought to be," he said.

"No, I don't suppose so, but they are gay, these French girls. I don't
wonder men like them. And they have a hard time. I'd give them a leg up
any day if I could. I can't, though, so if ever you get a chance do it
for me, will you?"

Peter assented. "Come on," he said. "Finish that glass if you think you
can, and let's get out."

"Here's the best, then, I've done. What are we going to see?"

For a couple of hours they wandered round the old town, with its narrow
streets and even fifteenth-century houses, whose backs actually leaned
over the swift little river that ran all but under the place to the
Seine. They penetrated through an old mill to its back premises, and
climbed precariously round the water-wheel to reach a little moss-grown
platform from which the few remaining massive stones of the Norman wall
and castle could still be seen. The old abbey kept them a good while,
Julie interested Peter enormously as they walked about its cool aisles,
and tried to make out the legends of its ancient glass. She had nothing
of that curious kind of shyness most people have in a church, and that he
would certainly have expected of her. She joked and laughed a little in
it--at a queer row of mutilated statues packed into a kind of chapel to
keep quiet out of the way till wanted, at the vivid red of the Red Sea
engulfing Pharaoh and all his host--but not in the least irreverently. He
recalled a saying of a book he had once read in which a Roman Catholic
priest had defended the homeliness of an Italian congregation by saying
that it was right for them to be at home in their Father's House. It
was almost as if Julie were at home, yet he shrank from the inference.

She was entirely ignorant of everything, except perhaps, of a little
biblical history, but she made a most interested audience. Once he
thought she was perhaps egging him on for his own pleasure, but when he
grew more silent she urged him to explain. "It's ripping going round with
somebody who knows something," she said. "Most of the men one meets know
absolutely nothing. They're very jolly, but one gets tired. I could
listen to you for ages."

Peter assured her that he was almost as ignorant as they, but she was
shrewdly insistent. "You read more, and you understand what you read,"
she said. "Most people don't. I know."

They bought picture post-cards off a queer old woman in a peasant
head-dress, and then came back to the river and sat under the shade of
a line of great trees to wait for the tea the hotel had guaranteed them.
Julie now did all the talking--of South Africa, of gay adventures in
France and on the voyage, and of the men she had met. She was as frank
as possible, but Peter wondered how far he was getting to know the real
girl.

Tea was an unusual success for France. It was real tea, but then there
was reason for that, for Julie had insisted on going into the big
kitchen, to madame's amusement and monsieur's open admiration, and making
it herself. But the chocolate cakes, the white bread and proper butter,
and the cream, were a miracle. Peter wondered if you could get such
things in England now, and Julie gaily told him that the French made laws
only to break them, with several instances thereof. She declared that if
a food-ration officer existed in Caudebec he must be in love with the
landlady's daughter and that she only wished she could get to know such
an official in Havre. The daughter in question waited on them, and Julie
and she chummed up immensely. Finally she was despatched to produce a
collection of Army badges and buttons--scalps Julie called them. When
they came they turned them over. All ranks were represented, or nearly
so, and most regiments that either could remember. There were Canadian,
Australian, and South African badges, and at last Julie declared that
only one was wanting.

"What will you give for this officer's badge?" she demanded, seizing hold
of one of Peter's Maltese crosses.

The girl looked at it curiously. "What is it?" she said.

"It's the badge of the Sacred Legion," said Julie gravely. "You know
Malta? Well, that's part of the British Empire, of course, and the
English used to have a regiment there to defend it from the Turks. It was
a great honour to join, and so it was called the Sacred Legion. This
officer is a Captain in it."

"Shut up Julie," said Peter, _sotto voce_.

But nothing would stop her. "Come now," she said. "What will you give?
You'll give her one for a kiss, won't you, Solomon?"

The girl laughed and blushed "Not before mademoiselle," she said, looking
at Peter.

"Oh, I'm off," cried Julie, "I'll spare you one, but only one, remember."
and she deliberately got up and left them.

Mademoiselle was "tres jolie," said the girl, collecting her badges.
Peter detached a cross and gave it her, and she demurely put up her
mouth. He kissed her lightly, and walked leisurely out to settle the bill
and call the car. He had entirety forgotten his depression, and the world
seemed good to him. He hummed a little song by the water's edge as he
waited, and thought over the day. He could never remember having had such
a one in his life. Then he recollected that one badge was gone, and he
abstracted the other. Without his badges he would not be known as a
chaplain.

When Julie appeared, she made no remark, as he had half-expected. They
got in, and started off back in the cooling evening. Near Tancarville
they stopped the car to have the hood put up, and strolled up into the
grounds of the old castle while they waited.

"Extraordinary it must have been to have lived in a place like this,"
said Peter.

"Rather," said Julie, "and beyond words awful to the women. I cannot
imagine what they must have been like, but I think they must have been
something like native African women."

"Why?" queried Peter.

"Oh, because a native woman never reads and hardly goes five miles from
her village. She is a human animal, who bears children and keeps the
house of her master, that's all. That's what these women must have done."

"The Church produced some different types," said Peter; "but they had no
chance elsewhere, perhaps. Still, I expect they were as happy as we,
perhaps happier."

"And their cows were happier still, I should think," laughed Julie. "No,
you can't persuade me. I wouldn't have been a woman in those days for the
world."

"And now?" asked Peter.

"Rather! We have much the best time on the whole. We can do what we like
pretty well. If we want to be men, we can. We can put on riding-breeches,
even, and run a farm. But if we like, we can wear glad rags and nice
undies, and be more women than ever."

"And in the end thereof?" Peter couldn't help asking.

"Oh," said Julie lightly, "one can settle down and have babies if one
wants to. And sit in a drawing-room and talk scandal as much as one
likes. Not that I shall do either, thank you. I shall--oh, I don't know
what I shall do. Solomon, you are at your worst. Pick me some of those
primroses, and let's be going. You never can tell: we may have to walk
home yet."

Peter plucked a few of the early blooms, and she pushed them into her
waist-belt. Then they went back to the car, and got in again.

"Cold?" he asked, after a little.

"A bit," she said. "Tuck me up, and don't sit in that far corner all the
time. You make me feel chilly to look at you. I hate sentimental people,
but if you tried hard and were nice I could work up quite a lot of
sentiment just now."

He laughed, and tucked her up as required. Then he lit a cigarette and
slipped his arm round her waist. "Is that better?" he said.

"Much. But you can't have had much practice. Now tell me stories."

Peter had a mind to tell her several, but he refrained, and they grew
silent, "Do you think we shall have another day like this?" he demanded,
after a little.

"I don't see why not," she said. "But one never knows, does one? The
chances are we shan't. It's a queer old world."

"Let's try, anyway; I've loved it," he said.

"So have I," said Julie. "It's the best day I've had for a long time,
Peter. You're a nice person to go out with, you know, though I mustn't
flatter you too much. You should develop the gift; it's not everyone that
has it."

"I've no wish to," he said.

"You are an old bear," she laughed; "but you don't mean all you say, or
rather you do, for you will say what you mean. You shouldn't, Peter. It's
not done nowadays, and it gives one away. If you were like me, now, you
could say and do anything and nobody would mind. They'd never know what
you meant, and of course all the time you'd mean nothing."

"So you mean nothing all the time?" he queried.

"Of course," she said merrily. "What do you think?"

That jarred Peter a little, so he said nothing and silence fell on them,
and at the Hôtel de Ville in the city he asked if she would mind
finishing alone.

"Not a bit, old thing, if you want to go anywhere," she said.

He apologised. "Arnold--he's our padre--is likely to be at the club, and
I promised I'd walk home with him," he lied remorselessly. "It's beastly
rude, I know, but I thought you'd understand."

She looked at him, and laughed. "I believe I do," she said.

He stopped the car and got out, settling with the man, and glancing up at
a clock. "You'll be in at nine-forty-five," he said, "as proper as
possible. And thank you so much for coming."

"Thank you, Solomon," she replied. "It's been just topping. Thanks
awfully for taking me. And come in to tea soon, won't you?" He promised
and held out his hand. She pressed it, and waved out of the window as the
car drove off. And no sooner was it in motion than he cursed himself for
a fool. Yet he knew why he had done as he had, there, in the middle of
the town. He knew that he feared she would kiss him again--as before.

Not noticing where he went, he set off through the streets, making,
unconsciously almost, for the sea, and the dark boulevards that led from
the gaily lit centre of the city towards it. He walked slowly, his mind a
chaos of thoughts, and so ran into a curious adventure.

As he passed a side-street he heard a man's uneven steps on the pavement,
a girl's voice, a curse, and the sound of a fall. Then followed an
exclamation in another woman's voice, and a quick sentence in French.

Peter hesitated a minute, and then turned down the road to where a small
group was faintly visible. As he reached it, he saw that a couple of
street girls were bending over a man who lay sprawling on the ground, and
he quickened his steps to a run. His boots were rubber-soled, and all but
noiseless. "Here, I say," he said as he came up. "Let that man alone.
What are you doing?" he added in halting French. One of the two girls
gave a little scream, but the other straightened herself, and Peter
perceived that he knew her. It was Louise, of Travalini's.

"What are you doing?" he demanded again in English. "Is he hurt?"

"Non, non, monsieur," said Louise. "He is but 'zig-zag.' We found him a
little way down the street, and he cannot walk easily. So we help him. If
the gendarme--how do you call him?--the red-cap, see him, maybe he will
get into trouble. But now you come. You will doubtless help him.
Vraiment, he is in luck. We go now, monsieur."

Peter bent over the fallen man. He did not know him, but saw he was a
subaltern, though a middle-aged man. The fellow was very drunk, and did
little else than stutter curses in which the name of our Lord was
frequent.

Peter pulled at his arm, and Louise stooped to help him. Once up, he got
his arm round him, and demanded where he lived.

The man stared at them foolishly. Peter gave him a bit of a shake, and
demanded the address again, "Come on," he said. "Pull yourself together,
for the Lord's sake. We shall end before the A.P.M. if you don't. What's
your camp, you fool?"

At that the man told him, stammeringly, and Peter sighed his relief.
"I know," he said to Louise. "It's not far. I'll maybe get a taxi at the
corner." She pushed him towards a doorway: "Wait a minute," she said.
"I live here; it's all right. I will get a fiacre. I know where to find
one."

She darted away. It seemed long to Peter, but in a few minutes a horn
tooted and a cab came round the corner. Between them, they got the
subaltern in, and Peter gave the address. Then he pulled out his purse
before stepping in himself, opened it, found a ten-franc note, and
offered it to Louise.

The girl of the street and the tavern pushed it away. "La!" she
exclaimed. "Vite! Get in. Bon Dieu! Should I be paid for a kindness? Poor
boy! he does not know what he does. He will 'ave a head--ah! terrible--in
the morning. And see, he has fought for la patrie." She pointed to a gold
wound-stripe on his arm. "Bon soir, monsieur."

She stepped back and spoke quickly to the driver, who was watching
sardonically. He nodded. "Bon soir, monsieur," she said again, and
disappeared in the doorway.



CHAPTER IX


A few weeks later the War Office--if it was the War Office, but one gets
into the habit of attributing these things to the War Office--had one of
its regular spasms. It woke up suddenly with a touch of nightmare, and it
got fearfully busy for a few weeks before going to sleep again. All
manner of innocent people were dragged into the vortex of its activities,
and blameless lives were disturbed and terrorised. This particular
enthusiasm involved even such placid and contented souls as the
Chaplain-General, the Principal Chaplain, their entire staffs and a great
many of their rank and file. It created a new department, acquired many
additional offices for the B.E.F., dragged from their comfortable billets
a certain number of high-principled base officers, and then (by the mercy
of Providence) flickered out almost as soon as the said officers bad made
themselves a little more comfortable than before in their new posts.

It was so widespread a disturbance that even Peter Graham, most harmless
of men, with plenty of his own fish to fry, was dragged into it, as some
leaf, floating placidly downstream, may be caught and whirled away in an
excited eddy. More definitely, it removed him from Havre and Julie just
when he was beginning to want most definitely to stay there, and of
course, when it happened, he could hardly know that it was to be but a
temporary separation.

He was summoned, then, one fine morning, to his A.C.G.'s office in town,
and he departed on a bicycle, turning over in his mind such indiscretions
of which he had been guilty and wondering which of them was about to trip
him. Pennell had been confident, indeed, and particular.

"You're for it, old bean," he had said. "There's a limit to the patience
even of the Church. They are going to say that there is no need for you
to visit hospitals after dark, and that their padres mustn't be seen out
with nurses who smoke in public. And all power to their elbow, I say."

Peter's reply was certainly not in the Prayer-Book, and would probably
have scandalised its compilers, but he thought, secretly, that there
might be something in what his friend said. Consequently he rode his
bicycle carelessly, and was indifferent to tram-lines and some six inches
of nice sticky mud on parts of the _pavé_. In the ordinary course,
therefore, these things revenged themselves upon him. He came off neatly
and conveniently opposite a small _café debit_ at a turn in the dock
road, and the mud prevented the _pavé_ from seriously hurting him.

A Frenchman, minding the cross-lines, picked him up, and he, madame,
her assistant, and a customer, carried him into the kitchen off the
bar and washed and dried him. The least he could do was a glass of
French beer all round, with a franc to the dock labourer who straightened
his handle-bars and tucked in a loose spoke, and for all this the War
Office--if it was the War Office, for it may, quite possibly, have been
Lord Northcliffe or Mr. Bottomley, or some other controller of our
national life--was directly responsible. When one thinks that in a
hundred places just such disturbances were in progress in ten times as
many innocent lives, one is appalled at their effrontery. They ought to
eat and drink more carefully, or take liver pills.

However, in due time Peter sailed up to the office of his immediate chief
but little the worse for wear, and was ushered in. He was prepared for a
solitary interview, but he found a council of some two dozen persons, who
included an itinerant Bishop, an Oxford Professor, a few Y.M.C.A. ladies,
and--triumph of the A.C.G.--a Labour member. Peter could not conceive
that so great a weight of intellect could be involved in his affairs, and
took comfort. He seated himself on a wooden chair, and put on his most
intelligent appearance; and if it was slightly marred by a mud streak
at the back of his ear, overlooked by madame's kindly assistant who had
attended to that side of him, he was not really to blame. Again, it was
the fault of Lord Northcliffe or--or any of the rest of them.

It transpired that he was slightly late: the Bishop had been speaking. He
was a good Bishop and eloquent, and, as the A.C.G. who now rose to take
the matter in hand remarked, he had struck the right note. In all
probability it was due to Peter's having missed that note that he was so
critical of the scheme. The note would have toned him up. He would have
felt a more generous sympathy for the lads in the field, and would have
been more definitely convinced that something must be done. If not
plainly stated in the Holy Scriptures, his lordship had at least found it
indicated there, but Peter was not aware of this. He only observed that
the note had made everyone solemn and intense except the Labour member.
That gentleman, indeed, interrupted the A.C.G. before he was fairly on
his legs with the remark: "Beggin' your pardon, sir, but as this is an
informal conference, does anyone mind if I smoke?"...

Peter's A.C.G. was anything but a fool, and the nightmare from
Headquarters had genuinely communicated itself to him. He felt all he
said, and he said it ably. He lacked only in one regard: he had never
been down among the multitude. He knew exactly what would have to have
been in his own mind for him to act as he believed some of them were
acting, and he knew exactly how he would, in so deplorable a condition of
affairs, have set about remedying it. These things, then, he stated
boldly and clearly. As he proceeded, the Y.M.C.A. ladies got out
notebooks, the Professor allowed himself occasional applause, and the
Labour member lit another pipe.

It appeared that there was extreme unrest and agitation among the troops,
or at least a section of the troops, for no one could say that the armies
in the field were not magnificent. They had got to remember that the
Tommy of to-day was not as the Tommy of yesterday--not that he suffered
by comparison, but that he was far better educated and far more inclined
to think for himself. They were well aware that a little knowledge was a
dangerous thing, or, again, as his friend the Bishop would have doubtless
put it, how great a matter a little fire kindleth. There was no escaping
it: foreign propaganda, certain undesirable books and papers--books and
papers, he need hardly say, outside the control of the reputable
Press--and even Socialistic agitators, were abroad in the Army. He did
not wish to say too much; it was enough to remind them of what, possibly,
they already knew, that certain depots on certain occasions had refused
to sing the National Anthem, and were not content with their wages.
Insignificant as these things might be in detail, G.H.Q. had felt there
was justifiable cause for alarm. This meeting had gathered to consider
plans for a remedy.

Now he thanked God that they were not Prussians. There must be no attempt
at coercion. A war for liberty must be won by free people. One had, of
course, to have discipline in the Army, but theirs was to-day a citizen
Army. His friend who had left his parliamentary duties to visit France
might rest assured that the organizations represented there that morning
would not forget that. In a word, Tommy had a vote, and he was entitled
to it, and should keep it. One day he should even use it; and although no
one could wish to change horses crossing a stream, still, they hoped that
day would speedily come--the day of peace and victory.

But meantime, what was to be done? As the Bishop had rightly said,
something must be done. Resolute on this point, H.Q. had called in the
C.G. and the P.C. and, he believed, expert opinion on both sides the
House of Commons; and the general opinion agreed upon was that Tommy
should be educated to vote correctly when the time came, and to wait
peacefully for that time. The Professor could tell them of schemes even
now in process of formation at home in order that the land they loved
might be cleaner, sweeter, better and happier, in the days to come. But
Tommy, meantime, did not know of these things. He was apparently under
the delusion that he must work out his own salvation, whereas, in point
of fact, it was being worked out for him scientifically and religiously.
If these things were clearly laid before him, H.Q. was convinced that
agitation, dissatisfaction, and even revolution--for there were those who
thought they were actually trending in that direction--would be nipped in
the bud.

The scheme was simple and far-reaching. Lectures would be given all over
the areas occupied by British troops. Every base would be organised in
such a way that such lectures and even detailed courses of study should
be available for everyone. Every chaplain, hutworker, and social
entertainer must do his or her bit. They must know how to speak wisely
and well--not all in public, but, everyone as the occasion offered,
privately, in hut or camp, to inquiring and dissatisfied Tommies. They
would doubtless feel themselves insufficient for these things, but
study-circles were to be formed and literature obtained which would
completely furnish them with information. He would conclude by merely
laying on the table a bundle of the splendid papers and tracts already
prepared for this work. The Professor would now outline what was being
attempted at home, and then the meeting would be open for discussion.

The Professor was given half an hour, and he made an excellent speech for
a cornered and academic theorist. The first ten minutes he devoted to
explaining that he could not explain in the time; in the second,
tempering the wind to the shorn lamb, he pointed out that it was no use
his outlining schemes not yet completed, or that they could read for
themselves, or that, possibly, without some groundwork, they could not
understand; and in the third ten minutes he outlined the committees
dealing with the work and containing such well-known names as Robert
Smiley, Mr. Button, and Clydens. He sat down. Everyone applauded--the
M.P., and possibly the A.C.G., because they honestly knew and respected
these gentlemen, and the rest because they felt they ought to do so. The
meeting was then opened for discussion.

Peter took no part in what followed, and, indeed, nothing
over-illuminating was said save one remark, cast upon the waters by the
Labour member, which was destined to be found after many days. They were
talking of the lectures, and one of the ladies (Peter understood a Girton
lecturer) was apparently eager to begin without delay. The M.P. begged to
ask a question: Were there to be questions and a discussion?

The A.C.G. glanced at a paper before him, and rose. He apologised for
omitting to mention it before, but H.Q. thought it would be subverse of
all discipline if, let us say, privates should be allowed to get up and
argue with the officers who might have addressed them. They all knew
what might be said in the heat of argument. Also, if he might venture to
say so, some of their lecturers, though primed with the right lecture,
might not be such experts that they could answer every question, and
plainly failure to satisfy a questioner might be disastrous. But
questions could be written and replies given at the next lecture. He
thought, smiling, that some of them would perhaps find that convenient.

The M.P. leaned back in his chair. "Well, sir," he said, "I'm sorry to be
a wet-blanket, but if that is so, the scheme is wrecked from the start.
You don't know the men; I do. They're not going to line up, like the
pupils of Dotheboys Academy, for a spoonful of brimstone and treacle."

The meeting was slightly scandalised. The chairman, however, rose to the
occasion. That, he said, was a matter for H.Q. They were there to do
their duty. And, being an able person, he did his. In ten minutes they
were formed into study-bands and were pledged to study, with which
conclusion the meeting adjourned.

Peter was almost out of the door when he heard his name called, and
turning, saw the A.C.G. beckoning him. He went up to the table and shook
hands.

"Do you know the Professor?" asked his superior. "Professor, this is Mr.
Graham."

"How do you do?" said the man of science. "You are Graham of Balliol,
aren't you? You read Political Science and Economics a little at Oxford,
I think? You ought to be the very man for us, especially as you know how
to speak."

Peter was confused, but, being human, a little flattered. He confessed to
the sins enumerated, and waited for more.

"Well," said the A.C.G., "I've sent in your name already, Graham, and
they want you to go to Abbeville for a few weeks. A gathering is to be
made there of the more promising material, and you are to get down to the
work of making a syllabus, and so on. You will meet other officers from
all branches of the Service, and it should be interesting and useful. I
presume you will be willing to go? Of course it is entirely optional, but
I may say that the men who volunteer will not be forgotten."

"Quite so," said the Professor. "They will render extremely valuable
service. I shall hope to be there part of the time myself."

Peter thought quickly of a number of things, as one does at such a
moment. Some of them were serious things, and some quite frivolous--like
Julie. But he could hardly do otherwise than consent. He asked when he
should have to go.

"In a few days. You'll have plenty of time to get ready. I should advise
you to write for some books, and begin to read up a little, for I expect
you are a bit rusty, like the rest of us. And I shall hope to have you
back lecturing in this Army area before long."

So to speak, bowed out, Peter made his way home. In the Rue de Paris
Julie passed him, sitting with a couple of other nurses in an ambulance
motor-lorry, and she waved her hand to him. The incident served to
depress him still more, and he was a bit petulant as he entered the mess.
He flung his cap on the table, and threw himself into a chair.

"Well," said Pennell, who was there, "on the peg all right?"

"Don't be a fool!" said Peter sarcastically. "I'm wanted on the Staff.
Haig can't manage without me. I've got to leave this perishing suburb and
skip up to H.Q., and don't you forget it, old dear. I shall probably be a
Major-General before you get your third pip. Got that?"

Pennell took his pipe from his mouth. "What's in the wind now?" he
demanded.

"Well, you might not have noticed it, but I'm a political and economic
expert, and Haig's fed up that you boys don't tumble to the wisdom of the
centuries as you ought. Consequently I've got to instruct you. I'm going
to waltz around in a motor-car, probably with tabs up, and lecture. And
there aren't to be any questions asked, for that's subversive of
discipline."

"Good Lord, man, do talk sense! What in the world do you mean?"

"I mean jolly well what I say, if you want to know, or something precious
like it. The blinking Army's got dry-rot and revolutionary fever, and we
may all be murdered in our little beds unless I put a shoulder to the
wheel. That's a bit mixed, but it'll stand. I shall be churning out this
thing by the yard in a little."

"Any extra pay?" demanded Pennell anxiously. "I can lecture on
engineering, and would do for an extra sixpence. Whisky's going up, and
I haven't paid my last mess bill."

"You haven't, old son," said Arnold, coming in, "and you've jolly well
got to. Here's a letter for you, Graham."

Peter glanced at the envelope and tore it open. Pennell knocked his pipe
out with feigned dejection. "The fellow makes me sick, padre," he said.
"He gets billets-doux every hour of the blessed day."

Peter jumped up excitedly. "This is better," he said. "It's a letter from
Langton at Rouen, a chap I met there who writes occasionally. He's been
hauled in for this stunt himself, and is to go to Abbeville as well. By
Jove, I'll go up with him if I can. Give me some paper, somebody. I'll
have to write to him at once, or we'll boss it."

"And make a will, and write to a dozen girls, I should think," said
Pennell. "I don't know what the blooming Army's coming to. Might as well
chuck it and have peace, I think. But meantime I've got to leave you
blighted slackers to gad about the place, and go and do an honest day's
work. _I_ don't get Staff jobs and red tabs. No; I help win the ruddy
war, that's all. See you before you go, Graham, I suppose? They'll likely
run the show for a day or two more without you. There'll be time for you
to stand a dinner on the strength of it yet."

A week later Peter met Langton by appointment in the Rouen club, the two
of them being booked to travel that evening via Amiens to Abbeville. His
tall friend was drinking a whisky-and-soda in the smoke-room and talking
with a somewhat bored expression to no less a person than Jenks of the
A.S.C.

Peter greeted them. "Hullo!" he said to the latter. "Fancy meeting you
here again. Don't say you're going to lecture as well?"

"The good God preserve us!" exclaimed Jenks blasphemously. "But I am off
in your train to Boulogne. Been transferred to our show there, and
between ourselves, I'm not sorry to go. It's a decent hole in some ways,
Boulogne, and it's time I got out of Rouen. You're a lucky man, padre,
not to be led into temptation by every damned girl you meet. I don't know
what they see in me," he continued mournfully, "and, at this hour of the
afternoon, I don't know what I see in them."

"Nor do I," said Langton. "Have a drink, Graham? There'll be no getting
anything on the ruddy train. We leave at six-thirty, and get in somewhere
about four a.m. next morning, so far as I can make out."

"You don't sound over-cheerful," said Graham.

"I'm not. I'm fed up over this damned lecture stunt! The thing's
condemned to failure from the start, and at any rate it's no time for it.
Fritz means more by this push than the idiots about here allow. He may
not get through; but, on the other hand, he may. If he does, it's UP with
us all. And here we are to go lecturing on economics and industrial
problems while the damned house is on fire!"

Peter took his drink and sat down. "What's your particular subject?" he
asked.

"The Empire. Colonies. South Africa. Canada. And why? Because I took a
degree in History in Cambridge, and have done surveying on the C.P.R.
Lor'! Finish that drink and have another."

They went together to the station, and got a first to themselves, in
which they were fortunate. They spread their kit about the place,
suborned an official to warn everyone else off, and then Peter and
Langton strolled up and down the platform for half an hour, as the
train was not now to start till seven. Somebody told them there was
a row on up the line, though it was not plain how that would affect
them. Jenks departed on business of his own. A girl lived somewhere
in the neighbourhood.

"How're you getting on now, padre?" asked Langton.

"I'm not getting on," said Peter. "I'm doing my job as best I can, and
I'm seeing all there is to see, but I'm more in a fog than ever. I've got
a hospital at Havre, and I distribute cigarettes and the news of the day.
That's about all. I get on all right with the men socially, and now and
again I meet a keen Nonconformist who wants me to pray with him, or an
Anglican who wants Holy Communion, but not many. When I preach I rebuke
vice, as the Apostle says, but I'm hanged if I really know why."

Langton laughed. "That's a little humorous, padre," he said. "What about
the Ten Commandments?"

Peter thought of Julie. He kicked a stone viciously. "Commandments are no
use," he said--"not out here."

"Nor anywhere," said Langton, "nor ever, I think, too. Why do you suppose
I keep moderately moral? Chiefly because I fear natural consequences and
have a wife and kiddies that I love. Why does Jenks do the opposite?
Because he's more of a fool or less of a coward, and chiefly loves
himself. That's all, and that's all there is in it for most of us."

"You don't fear God at all, then?" demanded Peter.

"Oh that I knew where I might find him!" quoted Langton. "I don't believe
He thundered on Sinai, at any rate."

"Nor spoke in the Sermon on the Mount?"

"Ah, I'm not so sure but it seems to me that He said too much or He
said too little there, Graham. One can't help 'looking on' a woman
occasionally. And in any case it doesn't seem to me that the Sermon is
anything like the Commandments. Brotherly love is behind the first, fear
of a tribal God behind the second. So far as I can see, Christ's creed
was to love and to go on loving and never to despair of love. Love,
according to Him, was stronger than hate, or commandments or preaching,
or the devil himself. If He saved souls at all, He saved them by loving
them whatever they were, and I reckon He meant us to do the same. What do
you make of the woman taken in adultery, and the woman who wiped His feet
with her hair? Or of Peter? or of Judas? He saved Peter by loving him
when he thought he ought to have the Ten Commandments and hell fire
thrown at his head and I reckon He'd have saved Judas by giving him that
sop-token of love if he hadn't had a soul that could love nothing but
himself."

"What is love, Langton?" asked Peter, after a pause.

The other looked at him curiously, and laughed. "Ask the Bishops," he
said. "Don't ask me. I don't know. Living with the woman to whom you're
married because you fear to leave her, or because you get on all right,
is not love at any rate. I can't see that marriage has got much to do
with it. It's a decent convention of society at this stage of development
perhaps, and it may sign and seal love for some people. But I reckon
love's love--a big positive thing that's bigger than sin, and bigger than
the devil. I reckon that if God sees that anywhere, He's satisfied. I
don't think Cranmer's marriage service affects Him much, nor the laws
of the State. If a man cares to do without either, he runs a risk, of
course. Society's hard on a woman, and man's meant to be a gregarious
creature. But that's all there is in it."

"But how can you tell lust from love?" demanded Peter.

"You can't, I think," said Langton. "Most men can't, anyway. Women may
do, but I don't know. I reckon that what they lust after mostly is babies
and a home. I don't think they know it any more than men know that what
they're after is the gratification of a passion; but there it is. We're
sewer rats crawling up a damned long drain, if you ask me, padre! I don't
know who said it, but it's true."

They turned in their walk, and Peter looked out over the old town. In the
glow of sunset the thin iron modern spire of the cathedral had a grace
not its own, and the roofs below it showed strong and almost sentient.
One could imagine that the distant cathedral brooding over the city
heard, saw, and spoke, if in another language than the language of men.

"If that were all, Langton," said Peter suddenly, "I'd shoot myself."

"You're a queer fellow, Graham," said Langton. "I almost think you might.
I'd like to know what becomes of you, anyway. Forgive me--I don't mean to
be rude--but you may make a parson yet. But don't found a new religion
for Heaven's sake, and don't muddle up man-made laws and God-made
instincts--if they are God-made," he added.

Peter said nothing, until they were waiting at the carriage-door for
Jenks. Then he said: "Then you think out here men have simply abandoned
conventions, and because there is no authority or fear or faith left to
them, they do as they please?"

Langton settled himself in a corner. "Yes," he said, "that's right in a
way. But that's negatively. I'd go farther than that. Of course, there
are a lot of Judas Iscariots about for whom I shouldn't imagine the devil
himself has much time, though I suppose we ought not to judge 'em, but
there are also a lot of fine fellows--and fine women. They are men and
women, if I understand it, who have sloughed off the conventions, that
are conventions simply for convention's sake, and who are reaching out
towards the realities. Most of them haven't an idea what those are, but
dumbly they know. Tommy knows, for instance, who is a good chum and who
isn't; that is, he knows that sincerity and unselfishness and pluck are
realities. He doesn't care a damn if a chap drinks and swears and commits
what the Statute-Book and the Prayer-Book call fornication. And he
certainly doesn't think there is an ascending scale of sins, or at
any rate that you parsons have got the scale right."

"I shouldn't be surprised if we haven't," said Peter. "The Bible lumps
liars and drunkards and murderers and adulterers and dogs--whatever that
may mean--into hell altogether."

"That's so," said Langton, sticking a candle on the window-sill; "but I
reckon that's not so much because they lie or drink or murder or lust
or--or grin about the city like our friend Jenks, who'll likely miss the
boat for that very reason, but because of something else they all have in
common."

"What's that?" demanded Peter.

"I haven't the faintest idea," said Langton.

At this moment the French guard, an R.T.O., and Jenks appeared in sight
simultaneously, the two former urging the latter along. He caught sight
of them, and waved.

"Help him in," said the R.T.O., a jovial-looking subaltern,
genially--"and keep him there," he added under his voice.
"He's had all he can carry, and if he gets loose again he'll
be for the high jump. The wonder is he ever got back in
time."

Peter helped him up. The subaltern glanced at his badges and smiled.
"He's in good company anyway, padre," he said. "If you're leaving the
ninety-and-nine in the wilderness, here's one to bring home rejoicing."
He slammed the door. "Right-o!" he said to the guard; "they're all aboard
now." The man comprehended the action, and waved a flag. The train
started after the manner of French trains told off for the use of British
soldiers, and Jenks collapsed on the seat.

"Damned near thing that!" he said unsteadily; "might have missed the
bloody boat! I saw my little bit, though. She's a jolly good sort, she
is. Blasted strong stuff that French brandy, though! Whiskies at the club
first, yer know. Give us a hand, padre; I reckon I'll just lie down
a bit.... Jolly good sort of padre, eh, skipper? What?"

Peter helped him into his place, and then came and sat at his feet,
opposite Langton, who smiled askance at him. "I'll read a bit," he said.
"Jenks won't trouble us further; he'll sleep it off. I know his sort. Got
a book, padre?"

Peter said he had, but that he wouldn't read for a little, and he sat
still looking at the country as they jolted past in the dusk. After a
while Langton lit his candle, and contrived a wind-screen, for the centre
window was broken, of a newspaper. Peter watched him drowsily. He had
been up early and travelled already that day. The motion helped, too, and
in half an hour or so he was asleep.

He dreamt that he was preaching Langton's views on the Sermon on the
Mount in the pulpit of St. John's, and that the Canon, from his place
beside the credence-table within the altar-rails, was shouting at him to
stop. In his dream he persisted, however, until that irate dignitary
seized the famous and massive offertory-dish by his side and hurled it
in the direction of the pulpit. The clatter that it made on the stone
floor awoke him.

He was first aware that the train was no longer in motion, and next that
Langton's tall form was leaning half out of the window. Then confused
noises penetrated his consciousness, and he perceived that light
flickered in the otherwise darkened compartment. "Where are we?" he
demanded, now fully awake. "What's up?"

Langton answered over his shoulder. "Some where outside of a biggish
town," he said; "and there's the devil of a strafe on. The whole
sky-line's lit up, but that may be twenty miles off. However, Fritz
must have advanced some."

He was interrupted by a series of much louder explosions and the rattle
of machine-gun fire. "That's near," he said. "Over the town, I should
say--an air-raid, though it may be long-distance firing. Come and see for
yourself."

He pulled himself back into the carriage, and Peter leaned out of the
window in his turn. It was as the other had said. Flares and sudden
flashes, that came and went more like summer-lightning than anything
else, lit up the whole sky-line, but nearer at hand a steady glow from
one or two places showed in the sky. One could distinguish flights of
illuminated tracer bullets, and now and again what he took to be Very
lights exposed the countryside. Peter saw that they were in a siding, the
banks of which reached just above the top of the compartments. It was
only by craning that he could see fields and what looked like a house
beyond. Men were leaning out of all the windows, mostly in silence. In
the compartment next them a man cursed the Huns for spoiling his beauty
sleep. It was slightly overdone, Peter thought.

"Good God!" said, his companion behind him. "Listen!"

It was difficult, but between the louder explosions Peter concentrated
his senses on listening. In a minute he heard something new, a faint buzz
in the air.

"Aeroplanes," said Langton coolly. "I hope they don't spot us. Let me
see. Maybe it's our planes." He craned out in Peter's place. "I can't see
anything," he said, "and you can hear they're flying high."

Down the train everyone was staring upwards now. "Christ!" exclaimed
Langton suddenly, "some fool's lighting a pipe! Put that match out
there," he called.

Other voices took him up. "That's better," he said in a minute. "Forgive
my swearing, padre, but a match might give us away."

Peter was silent, and, truth to tell, terrified. He tried hard not to
feel it, and glanced at Jenks. He was still asleep, and breathing
heavily. He pressed his face against the pane, and tried to stare up too.

"They're coming," said Langton suddenly and quickly. "There they are,
too--Hun planes. They may not see us, of course, but they may...." He
brought his head in again and sat down.

"Is there anything we can do?" said Peter.

"Nothing," said Langton, "unless you like to get under the seat. But
that's no real good. It's on the knees of the gods, padre, whatever gods
there be."

Just then Peter saw one. Sailing obliquely towards them and lit by the
light of a flare, the plane looked serene and beautiful. He watched it,
fascinated.

"It's very low--two hundred feet, I should say," said Langton behind him.
"Hope he's no pills left. I wonder whether there's another. Let's have a
look the other side."

He had scarcely got up to cross the compartment when the rattle of a
machine-gun very near broke out. "Our fellows, likely," he exclaimed
excitedly, struggling with the sash, but they knew the truth almost as he
spoke.

Langton ducked back. A plane on the other side was deliberately flying up
the train, machine-gunning. "Down, padre, for God's sake!" he exclaimed,
and threw himself on the floor.

Peter couldn't move. He heard the splintering of glass and a rending of
woodwork, some oaths, and a sudden cry. The whirr of an engine filled his
ears and seemed, as it were, on top of them. Then there was a crash all
but at his side, and next instant a half-smothered groan and a dreadful
gasp for breath.

He couldn't speak. He heard Langton say, "Hit, anyone?" and then Jenks'
"They've got me, skipper," in a muffled whisper, and he noticed that the
hard breathing had ceased. At that he found strength and voice and jumped
up. He bent over Jenks. "Where have you got it, old man?" he said, and
hardly realised that it was himself speaking.

The other was lying just as before, on his back, but he had pulled his
knees up convulsively and a rug had slipped off. In a flare Peter saw
beads of sweat on his forehead and a white, twisted face.

He choked back panic and knelt down. He had imagined it all before, and
yet not quite like this. He knew what he ought to say, but for a minute
he could not formulate it. "Where are you hit, Jenks?" was all he said.

The other turned his head a little and looked at him. "Body--lungs, I
think," he whispered. "I'm done, padre; I've seen chaps before."

The words trailed off. Peter gripped himself mentally, and steadied his
voice. "Jenks, old man," he said. "Just a minute. Think about God--you
are going to Him, you know. Trust Him, will you? 'The blood of Jesus
Christ, God's Son, saveth us from all sin.'"

The dying man, moved his hand convulsively. "Don't you worry, padre," he
said faintly; "I've been--confirmed." The lips tightened a second with
pain, and then: "Reckon I won't--shirk. Have you--got--a cigarette?"

Peter felt quickly for his case, fumbled and dropped one, then got
another into his fingers. He hesitated a second, and then, put it to his
own lips, struck a match, and puffed at it. He was in the act of holding
it to the other when Langton spoke behind him:

"It's no good now, padre," he said quietly; "it's all over."

And Peter saw that it was.

The planes did not come back. The officer in charge of the train came
down it with a lantern, and looked in. "That makes three," he said. "We
can do nothing now, but we'll be in the station in a bit. Don't show any
lights; they may come back. Where the hell were our machines, I'd like to
know?"

He went on, and Peter sat down in his corner. Langton picked up the rug,
and covered up the body. Then he glanced at Peter. "Here," he said,
holding out a flask, "have some of this."

Peter shook his head. Langton came over to him. "You must," he said;
"it'll pull you together. Don't go under now, Graham. You kept your nerve
just now--come on."

At that Peter took it, and drained the little cup the other poured out
for him. Then he handed it back, without a word.

"Feel better?" queried the other, a trifle curiously, staring at him.

"Yes, thanks," said Peter--"a damned sight better! Poor old Jenks! What
blasted luck that he should have got it!... Langton, I wish to God it had
been me!"



PART II

"And the Lord turned and looked upon Peter."

ST. LUKE'S GOSPEL.



CHAPTER I


The charm of the little towns of Northern France is very difficult to
imprison on paper. It is not exactly that they are old, although there is
scarcely one which has not a church or a château or a quaint medieval
street worth coming far to see; nor that they are particularly
picturesque, for the ground is fairly flat, and they are all but always
set among the fields, since it is by agriculture far more than by
manufacture that they live. But they are clean and cheerful; one thinks
of them under the sun; and they are very homely. In them the folk smile
simply at you, but not inquisitively as in England, for each bustles
gaily about his own affairs, and will let you do what you please, with a
shrug of the shoulders. Abbeville is very typical of all this. It has its
church, and from the bridge over the Somme the backs of ancient houses
can be seen leaning half over the river, which has sung beneath them for
five hundred years; and it is set in the midst of memories of stirring
days. Yet it is not for these that one would revisit the little town, but
rather that one might walk by the still canal under the high trees in
spring, or loiter in the market-place round what the Hun has left of the
statue of the famous Admiral with his attendant nymphs, or wander down
the winding streets that skirt the ancient church and give glimpses of
its unfinished tower.

Peter found it very good to be there in the days that followed the death
of Jenks. True, it was now nearer to the seat of war than it had been for
years, and air-raids began to be common, but in a sense the sound of the
guns fitted in with his mood. So great a battle was being fought within
him that the world could not in any case have seemed wholly at peace, and
yet in the quiet fields, or sauntering of an afternoon by the river, he
found it easier than at Havre to think. Langton was almost his sole
companion, and a considerable intimacy had grown up between them. Peter
found that his friend seemed to understand a great deal of his thoughts
without explanation. He neither condoled nor exhorted; rather he watched
with an almost shy interest the other's inward battle.

They lodged at the Hôtel de l'Angleterre, that hostelry in the street
that leads up and out of the town towards Saint Riquier, which you
enter from a courtyard that opens on the road and has rooms that you
reach by means of narrow, rickety flights of stairs and balconies
overhanging the court. The big dining-room wore an air of gloomy
festivity. Its chandeliers swathed in brown paper, its faded paint, and
its covered upholstery, suggested that it awaited a day yet to be when it
should blossom forth once more in glory as in the days of old. Till then
it was as merry as it could be. Its little tables filled up of an evening
with the new cosmopolitan population of the town, and old Jacques bustled
round with the good wine, and dropped no hint that the choice brands were
nearly at an end in the cellar.

Peter and Langton would have their war-time apology for _petit déjeuner_
in bed or alone. Peter, as a rule, was up early, and used to wander out a
little and sometimes into church, coming back to coffee as good as ever,
but war-time bread instead of rolls on a small table under a low balcony
in the courtyard if it were fine. He would linger over it, and have
chance conversation with passing strangers of all sorts, from clerical
personages belonging to the Church Army or the Y.M.C.A. to officers who
came and went usually on unrevealed affairs. Then Langton would come
down, and they would stroll round to the newly-fitted-up office which had
been prepared for the lecture campaign and glance at maps of districts,
and exchange news with the officer in charge, who, having done all he
could, had now nothing to do but stand by and wait for the next move from
a War Office that had either forgotten his existence or discovered some
hitch in its plans. They had a couple of lectures from people who were
alleged to know all about such topics as the food shortage at home or the
new plans for housing, but who invariably turned out to be waiting
themselves for the precise information that was necessary for successful
lectures. After such they would stroll out through the town into the
fields, and Langton would criticise the thing in lurid but humorous
language, and they would come back to the club and sit or read till
lunch.

The club was one of the best in France, it was an old house with lovely
furniture, and not too much of it, which stood well back from the street
and boasted an old-fashioned garden of shady trees and spring flowers and
green lawns. Peter could both read and write in its rooms, and it was
there that he finally wrote to Hilda, but not until after much thought.

After his day with Julie at Caudebec one might have supposed that there
was nothing left for him to do but break off his engagement to Hilda. But
it did not strike him so. For one thing, he was not engaged to Julie or
anything like it, and he could not imagine such a situation, even if
Julie had not positively repudiated any desire to be either engaged or
married. He had certainly declared, in a fit of enthusiasm, that he loved
her, but he had not asked if she loved him. He had seen her since, but
although they were very good friends, nothing more exciting had passed
between them. Peter was conscious that when he was with Julie she
fascinated him, but that when he was away--ah! that was it, when he was
away? It certainly was not that Hilda came back and took her place; it
was rather that the other things in his mind dominated him. It was a
curious state of affairs. He was less like an orthodox parson than he had
ever been, and yet he had never thought so much about religion. He
agonised over it now. At times his thoughts were almost more than he
could bear.

It came, then, to this, that he had not so much changed towards Hilda as
changed towards life. Whether he had really fundamentally changed in such
a way that a break with the old was inevitable he did not know. Till then
Hilda was part of the old, and if he went back to it she naturally took
her old place in it. If he did not--well, there he invariably came to the
end of thought. Curiously enough, it was when faced with a mental blank
that Julie's image began to rise in his mind. If he admitted her, he
found himself abandoning himself to her. He felt sometimes that if he
could but take her in his arms he could let the world go by, and God with
it. Her kisses were at least a reality. There was neither convention nor
subterfuge nor divided allegiance there. She was passion, naked and
unashamed, and at least real.

And then he would remember that much of this was problematical after all,
for they had never kissed as that passion demanded, or at least that he
had never so kissed her. He was not sure of the first. He knew that he
did not understand Julie, but he felt, if he did kiss her, it would be a
kiss of surrender, of finality. He feared to look beyond that, and he
could not if he would.

He wrote, then, to Hilda, and he told of the death of Jenks, and of their
arrival in Abbeville, "You must understand, dear," he said, "that all
this has had a tremendous effect upon me. In that train all that I had
begun to feel about the uselessness of my old religion came to a head. I
could do no more for that soul than light a cigarette.... Possibly no one
could have done any more, but I cannot, I will not believe it. Jenks was
not fundamentally evil, or at least I don't think so. He was rather a
selfish fool who had no control, that is all. He did not serve the devil;
it was much more that he had never seen any master to serve. And I could
do nothing. I had no master to show him.

"You may say that that is absurd: that Christ is my Master, and I could
have shown Him. Hilda, so He is: I cling passionately to that. But
listen: I can't express Him, I don't understand Him. I no longer feel
that He was animating and ordering the form of religion I administered.
It is not that I feel Anglicanism to be untrue, and something else--say
Wesleyanism--to be true; it is much more that I feel them all to be out
of touch with reality. _That's_ it. I don't think you can possibly see
it, but that is the main trouble.

"That, too, brings me to my next point, and this I find harder still to
express. I want you to realise that I feel as if I had never seen life
before. I feel as if I had been shown all my days a certain number of
pictures and told that they were the real thing, or given certain
descriptions and told that they were true. I had always accepted that
they were. But, Hilda, they are not. Wickedness is not wicked in the way
that I was told it was wicked, and what I was told was salvation is not
the salvation men and women want. I have been playing in a fool's
paradise all these years, and I've got outside the gate. I am distressed
and terrified, I think, but underneath it all I am very glad....

"You will say, 'What are you going to do?' and I can only reply, I don't
know. I'm not going to make any vast change, if you mean that. A padre I
am, and a padre I shall stay for the war at least, and none of us can see
beyond that at present. But what I do mean to do is just this: I mean to
try and get down to reality myself and try to weigh it up. I am going to
eat and drink with publicans and sinners; maybe I shall find my Master
still there."

Peter stopped and looked up. Langton was stretched out in a chair beside
him, reading a novel, a pipe in his mouth. Moved by an impulse, he
interrupted him.

"Old man," he said, "I want you to let me read you a bit of this letter.
It's to my girl, but there's nothing rotten in reading it. May I?"

Langton did not move. "Carry on," he said shortly.

Peter finished and put down the sheet. The other smoked placidly and said
nothing. "Well?" demanded Peter impatiently.

"I should cut out that last sentence," pronounced the judge.

"Why? It's true."

"Maybe, but it isn't pretty."

"Langton," burst out Peter, "I'm sick of prettinesses! I've been stuffed
up with them all my life, and so has she. I want to break with them."

"Very likely, and I don't say that it won't be the best thing for you to
try for a little to do so, but she hasn't been where you've been or seen
what you've seen. You can't expect her wholly to understand. And more
than that, maybe she is meant for prettinesses. After all, they're
pretty."

Peter stabbed the blotting-paper with his pen. "Then she isn't meant for
me," he said.

"I'm not so sure," said Langton. "I don't know that you've stuff enough
in you to get on without those same prettinesses yourself. Most of us
haven't. And at any rate I wouldn't burn my boats yet awhile. You may
want to escape yet."

Peter considered this in silence. Then he drew the sheets to him and
added a few more words, folded the paper, put it in the envelope, and
stuck it down. "Come on," he said, "let's go and post this and have a
walk."

Langton got up and looked at him curiously, as he sometimes did. "Peter,"
he said, "you're a weird blighter, but there's something damned gritty in
you. You take life too strenuously. Why can't you saunter through it like
I do?"

Peter reached for this cap. "Come on," he said again, "and don't talk
rot."

Out in the street, they strolled aimlessly on, more or less in silence.
The big book-shop at the corner detained them for a little, and they
regarded its variegated contents through the glass. It contained a few
good prints, and many more poorly executed coloured pictures of ruined
places in France and Belgium, of which a few, however, were not bad.
Cheek by jowl with some religious works, a statue of Notre Dame d'Albert,
and some more of Jeanne d'Arc, were a line of pornographic novels and
beyond packets of picture post-cards entitled _Théâtreuses, Le Bain de la
Parisienne, Les Seins des Marbre_, and so on. Then Langton drew Graham's
attention to one or two other books, one of which had a gaudy cover
representing a mistress with a birch-rod in her hands and a number of
canes hung up beside her, while a girl of fifteen or so, with very red
cheeks, was apparently about to be whipped. "Good Lord," said Langton,
"the French are beyond me. This window is a study for you, Graham, in
itself. I should take it that it means that there is nothing real in
life. It is utterly cynical.

"'And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in what All begins and ends in--Yes;
Think then you are To-day what Yesterday
You were--To-morrow you shall not be less,'"

he quoted.

"Yes," said Peter. "Or else it means that there are only two realities,
and that the excellent person who keeps this establishment regards both
in a detached way, and conceives it her business to cater for each. Let's
go on."

They turned the corner, and presently found themselves outside the famous
carven door of the church. "Have you ever been round?" asked Peter.

"No," said Langton; "let's go in."

They passed through the door into the old church, which, in contrast to
that at Le Havre, was bathed in the daylight that streamed through many
clear windows. Together they wandered round it, saying little. They
inspected an eighteenth-century statue of St. Roch, who was pulling up
his robe to expose a wound and looking upwards at the same time
seraphically--or, at least, after the manner that the artist of that age
had regarded as seraphic. A number of white ribbons and some wax figures
of feet and hands and other parts of the body were tied to him. They
stood before a wonderful coloured alabaster reredos of the fourteenth
century, in which shepherds and kings and beasts came to worship at the
manger. They had a little conversation as to the architectural periods of
the nave, choir, and transepts, and Langton was enthusiastic over a noble
pillar and arch. Beyond they gazed in silence at a statue of Our Lady
Immaculate in modern coloured plaster, so arranged that the daylight
fell through an unseen opening upon her. Among the objects in front were
a pair of Renaissance candlesticks of great beauty. A French officer came
up and arranged and lit a votive candle as they watched, and then went
back to stand in silence by a pillar. The church door banged and two
peasants came in, one obviously from the market, with a huge basket of
carrots and cabbages and some long, thin French loaves. She deposited
this just inside the door, took holy water, clattered up towards the high
altar, dropped a curtsy, and made her way to an altar of the Sacred
Heart, at which she knelt. Peter sighed. "Come on," he said; "let's
get out."

Langton marched on before him, and held the door back as they stepped
into the street. "Well, philosopher," he demanded, "what do you make of
that?"

Peter smiled. "What do you?" he said.

"Well," said Langton, "it leaves me unmoved, except when I'm annoyed by
the way their wretched images spoil the church, but it is plain that they
like it. I should say one of your two realities is there. But I find it
hard to forgive the bad art."

"Do you?" said Peter, "I don't. It reminds me of those appalling
enlargements of family groups that you see, for example, in any Yorkshire
cottage. They are unutterably hideous, but they stand for a real thing
that is honest and beautiful--the love of home and family. And by the
same token, when the photographs got exchanged, as they do in Mayfair,
for modern French pictures of nude women, or some incredible Futurist
extravagance, that love has usually flown out of the window."

"Humph!" said Langton--"not always. Besides, why can't a family group be
made artistically, and so keep both art and love? I should think we ought
to aim at that."

"I suppose we ought," said Peter, "but in our age the two don't seem to
go together. Goodness alone knows why. Why, hullo!" he broke off.

"What's up now?" demanded Langton.

"Why, there, across the street, if that isn't a nurse I know from Havre,
I don't know who it is. Wait a tick."

He crossed the road, and saw, as he got near, that it was indeed Julie.
He came up behind her as she examined a shop-window. "By all that's
wonderful, what are you doing here?" he asked.

She turned quickly, her eyes dancing. "I wondered if I should meet you,"
she said. "You see, your letter told me you were coming here, but I
haven't heard from you since you came, and I didn't know if you had
started your tour or not. _I_ came simply enough. There's a big South
African hospital here, and we had to send up a batch of men by motor.
As they knew I was from South Africa, they gave me the chance to come
with them."

"Well, I _am_ glad," said Peter, devouring the sight of her. "Wait a
minute; I must introduce you to Langton. He and I are together, and he's
a jolly good chap."

He turned and beckoned Langton, who came over and was introduced. They
walked up the street a little way together. "Where are you going now?"
asked Peter.

"Back to the hospital," said Julie. "A car starts from the square at
twelve-forty-five, and I have to be in for lunch."

"Have you much to do up there?" asked Peter.

"Oh no," she said, "my job's done. I clear off the day after to-morrow.
We only got in last night, so I get a couple of days' holiday. What are
you doing? You don't look any too busy."

Peter glanced across at Langton and laughed. "We aren't," he said. "The
whole stunt's a wash-out, if you ask me, and we're really expecting to be
sent back any day. There's too much doing now for lectures. Is the
hospital full?"

"Packed," said Julie gravely. "The papers say we're falling back steadily
so as not to lose men, but the facts don't bear it out. We're crammed
out. It's ghastly; I've never known it so bad."

Peter had hardly ever seen her grave before, and her face showed a new
aspect of her. He felt a glow of warmth steal over him. "I say," he said,
"couldn't you dine with us to-night? We're at the Angleterre, and its
tremendously respectable."

She laughed, her gravity vanishing in a minute. "I must say," she said,
"that I'd love to see you anywhere really respectable. He's a terrible
person for a padre--don't you think so, Captain Langton?"

"Terrible," said Langton. "But really the Angleterre is quite proper. You
don't get any too bad a dinner, either. Do come, Miss Gamelyn."

She appeared to consider. "I might manage it," she said at last, stopping
just short of entering the square; "but I haven't the nerve to burst in
and ask for you. Nor will it do for you to see me all the way to that
car, or we shall have a dozen girls talking. If you will meet me
somewhere," she added, looking at Peter, "I'll risk it. I'll have a
headache and not go to first dinner; then the first will think I'm at the
second, and the second at the first. Besides, I've no duty, and the
hospital's not like Havre. It's all spread out in huts and tents, and
it's easy enough to get in. Last, but not least, it's Colonial, and the
matron is a brick. Yes, I'll come."

"Hurrah!" said Peter. "I tell you what: I'll meet you at the
cross-roads below the hospital and bring you on. Will that do? What
time? Five-thirty?"

"Heavens! do you dine at five-thirty?" demanded Julie.

"Well, not quite, but we've got to get down," said Peter, laughing.

"All right," said Julie, "five-thirty, and the saints preserve us. Look
here, I shall chance it and come in mufti if possible. No one knows me
here."

"Splendid!" said Peter. "Good-bye, five-thirty."

"Good-bye," said Langton; "we'll go and arrange our menu."

"There must be champagne," called Julie merrily over her shoulder, and
catching his eye.

The two men watched her make for the car across the sunlit square, then
they strolled round it towards a café. "Come on," said Langton; "let's
have an appetiser."

From the little marble-topped table Peter watched the car drive away.
Julie was laughing over something with another girl. It seemed to
conclude the morning, somehow. He raised his glass and looked at Langton.
"Well," he said, "here's to reality, wherever it is."

"And here's to getting along without too much of it," said Langton,
smiling at him.

       *       *       *       *       *

The dinner was a great success--at least, in the beginning. Julie wore a
frock of some soft brown stuff, and Peter could hardly keep his eyes off
her. He had never seen her out of uniform before, and although she was
gay enough, she said and did nothing very exciting. If Hilda had been
there she need hardly have behaved differently, and for a while Peter was
wholly delighted. Then it began to dawn on him that she was playing up to
Langton, and that set in train irritating thoughts. He watched the other
jealously, and noticed how the girl drew him out to speak of his travels,
and how excellently he did it, leaning back at coffee with his cigarette,
polite, pleasant, attractive. Julie, who usually smoked cigarette after
cigarette furiously, only, however, getting through about half of each,
now refused a second, and glanced at the clock about 8.30.

"Oh," she said, "I must go."

Peter remonstrated. "If you can stay out later at Havre," he said, "why
not here?"

She laughed lightly. "I'm reforming," she said, "in the absence of bad
companions. Besides, they are used to my being later at Havre, but here I
might be spotted, and then there would be trouble. Would you fetch my
coat, Captain Graham?"

Peter went obediently, and they all three moved out into the court.

"Come along and see her home, Langton," he said, though he hardly knew
why he included the other.

"Thanks," said his friend; "but if Miss Gamelyn will excuse me, I ought
not. I've got some reading I must do for to-morrow, and I want to write a
letter or two as well. You'll be an admirable escort, Graham."

"Good-night," said Julie, holding out her hand; "perhaps we shall meet
again some time. One is always running up against people in France. And
thank you so much for your share of the entertainment."

In a few seconds Peter and she were outside. The street was much
darkened, and there was no moon. They walked in silence for a little.
Suddenly he stopped. "Wouldn't you like a cab?" he said; "we might be
able to get one."

Julie laughed mischievously, and Peter gave a little start in the dark.
It struck him that this was the old laugh and that he had not heard it
that night before. "It's convenient, of course," she said mockingly. "Do
get one by all means. But last time I came home with you in a cab, you
let me finish alone. I thought that was to be an invariable rule."

"Oh, don't Julie," said Peter.

Her tone changed. "Why not?" she demanded. "Solomon, what's made you so
glum to-night? You were cheerful enough when you met me, and when we
began; then you got silent. What's the matter?"

"Nothing," he said.

She slipped her hand in his arm. "There is something," she said. "Do tell
me."

"Do you like Langton?" he asked.

"Oh, immensely--why? Oh, Lord, Solomon, what do you mean?"

"You were different in his presence, Julie, from anything you've been
before."

They took a few paces in silence; then Peter had an idea, and glanced at
her. She was laughing silently to herself. He let her hand fall from his
arm, and looked away. He knew he was behaving like an ass, but he could
not help it.

She stopped suddenly. "Peter," she said, "I want to talk to you. Take me
somewhere where it's possible."

"At this hour of the evening? What about being late?"

She gave a little stamp with her foot, then laughed again. "What a boy it
is!" she said. "Don't you know anywhere to go?"

Peter hesitated; then he made up his mind. There was an hotel he knew of,
out of the main street, of none too good a reputation. Some men had taken
Langton and him there, once, in the afternoon, between the hours in which
drinks were legally sold, and they had gone through the hall into a
little back-room that was apparently partly a sitting-room, partly part
of the private rooms of the landlord, and had been served there. He
recalled the description of one of the men: "It's a place to know. You
can always get a drink, and take in anyone you please."

"Come on, then," he said, and turned down a back-street.

"Where in the world are you taking me?" demanded Julie. "I shall have no
reputation left if this gets out."

"Nor shall I," said Peter.

"Nor you will; what a spree! Do you think it's worth it, Peter?"

Under a shaded lamp they were passing at the moment, he glanced at her,
and his pulses raced! "Good God, Julie!" he said, "you could do anything
with me."

She chuckled with laughter, her brown eyes dancing. "Maybe," she said,
"but I'm out to talk to you for your good now."

They turned another corner, into an old street, and under an arch. Peter
walked forward to the hotel entrance, and entered. There was a woman in
the office, who glanced up, and looked, first at Peter, then at Julie. On
seeing her behind him, she came forward. "What can I do for monsieur?"
she asked.

"Good-evening, madame," said Peter. "I was here the other day. Give us a
bottle of wine in that little room at the back, will you?"

"Why, certainly, monsieur," said she. "Will madame follow me? It is this
way."

She opened, the door, and switched on the light, "Shall I light the fire,
madame?" she demanded.

Julie beamed on her. "Ah, yes; that would be jolly," she said. "And the
wine, madame--Beaune."

The woman smiled and bowed. "Let madame but seat herself and it shall
come," she said, and went out.

Julie took off her hat, and walked to the glass, patting her hair. "Give
me a cigarette, my dear," she said. "It was jolly hard only to smoke one
to-night."

Peter opened and handed her his case in silence, then pulled up a big
chair. There was a knock at the door, and a girl came in with the wine
and glasses, which she set on the table, and, then knelt down to light
the fire. She withdrew and shut the door. They were alone.

Peter was still standing. Julie glanced at him, and pointed to a chair
opposite. "Give me a drink, and then go and sit there," she said.

He obeyed. She pulled her skirts up high to the blaze and pushed one foot
out to the logs, and sat there, provocative, sipping her wine and puffing
little puffs of smoke from her cigarette. "Now, then," she said, "what
did I do wrong to-night?"

Peter was horribly uncomfortable. He felt how little he knew this girl,
and he felt also how much he loved her.

"Nothing, dear," he said; "I was a beast."

"Well," she said, "if you won't tell me, I'll tell you. I was quite
proper to-night, immensely and intensely proper, and you didn't like it.
You had never seen me so. You thought, too, that I was making up to your
friend. Isn't that so?"

Peter nodded. He marvelled that she should know so well, and he wondered
what was coming.

"I wonder what you really think of me, Peter," she went on. "I suppose
you think I never can be serious--no, I won't say serious--conventional.
But you're very stupid; we all of us can be, and must be sometimes. You
asked me just now what I thought of your friend--well, I'll tell you.
He is as different from you as possible. He has his thoughts, no doubt,
but he prefers to be very tidy. He takes refuge in the things you throw
overboard. He's not at all my sort, and he's not yours either, in a way.
Goodness knows what will happen to either of us, but he'll be Captain
Langton to the end of his days. I envy that sort of person intensely,
and when I meet him I put on armour. See?"

Peter stared at her. "How is he different from Donovan?" he asked.

"Donovan! Oh, Lord, Peter, how dull you are! Donovan has hardly a thought
in his head about anything except Donovan. He was born a jolly good sort,
and he's sampled pretty well everything. He's cool as a cucumber, though
he has his passions like everyone else. If you keep your head, you can
say or do anything with Donovan. But Langton is deliberate. He knows
about things, and he refuses and chooses. I didn't want ..." She broke
off. "Peter," she said savagely, "in two minutes that man would know more
about me than you do, if I let him."

He had never seen her so. The childish brown eyes had a look in them that
reminded him of an animal caught in a trap. He sprang up and dropped on
his knees by her side, catching her hand.

"Oh, Julie, don't," he said. "What do you mean? What is there about you
that I don't know? How are you different from either of them?"

She threw her cigarette away, and ran her fingers through his hair, then
made a gesture, almost as if pushing something away, Peter thought, and
laughed her old ringing trill of laughter.

"Lor', Peter, was I tragic? I didn't mean to be, my dear. There's a lot
about me that you don't know, but something that you've guessed. I can't
abide shams and conventions really. Let's have life, I say, whatever it
is. Heavens! I've seen street girls with more in them than I pretended to
your friend to have in me to-night. They at least deal with human nature
in the raw. But that's why I love you; there's no need to pretend to you,
partly because, at bottom, you like real things as much as I, and partly
because--oh, never mind."

"Julie, I do mind--tell me," he insisted.

Her face changed again. "Not now, Peter," she said. "Perhaps one day--who
can say? Meantime, go on liking me, will you?"

"Like you!" he exclaimed, springing up, "Why, I adore you! I love you!
Oh, Julie, I love you! Kiss me, darling, now, quick!"

She pushed him off. "Not now," she cried; "I've got to have my revenge.
I know why you wouldn't come home in the cab! Come! we'll clink glasses,
but that's all there is to be done to-night!" She sprang up, flushed and
glowing, and held out an empty glass.

Peter filled hers and his, and they stood opposite to each other. She
looked across the wine at him, and it seemed to him that he read a
longing and a passion in her eyes, deep down below the merriness that was
there now. "Cheerio, old boy," she said, raising hers. "And 'here's to
the day when your big boots and my little shoes lie outside the same
closed door!'"

"Julie!" he said, "you don't mean it!"

"Don't I? How do you know, old sober-sides. Come, buck up, Solomon; we've
been sentimental long enough. I'd like to go to a music-hall now or do a
skirt-dance. But neither's really possible; certainly not the first, and
you'd be shocked at the second. I'm half a mind to shock you, though,
only my skirt's not long and wide enough, and I've not enough lace
underneath. I'll spare you. Come on!"

She seized her hat and put it on. They went out into the hall. There
was a man in uniform there, at the office, and a girl, French and
unmistakable, who glanced at Julie, and then turned away. Julie nodded to
madame, and did not glance at the man, but as she passed the girl she
said distinctly, "Bon soir, mademoiselle." The girl started and turned
towards her. Julie smiled sweetly and passed on.

Peter took her arm in the street, for it was quite dark and deserted.

"Why did you do that?" he said.

"What?" she demanded.

"Speak to that girl. You know what she is?"

"I do--a poor devil that's playing with Fate for the sake of a laugh and
a bit of ribbon. I'm jolly sorry for her, for they are both worth a great
deal, and it's hard to be cheated into thinking you've got them when Fate
is really winning the deal. And I saw her face before she turned away.
Why do you think she turned away, Peter? Not because she was ashamed, but
because she is beginning to know that Fate wins. Oh, la! la! what a
world! Let's be more cheerful. _'There's a long, long trail a-winding.'_"
she hummed.

Peter laughed. "Oh, my dear," he said, "was there ever anyone like you?"

Langton was reading in his room when Peter looked in to say good-night.

"Hullo!" he said. "See her home?"

"Yes," said Peter. "What did you think of her?"

"She's fathoms deep, I should say. But I should take care if I were you,
my boy. It's all very well to eat and drink with publicans and sinners,
though, as I told you, it's better no one should know. But they are
dangerous company."

"Why especially?" demanded Peter.

Langton stretched himself. "Oh, I don't know," he said. "Perhaps because
society's agin 'em."

"Look here, Langton," said Peter. "Do you hear what I say? _Damn_
society! Besides, do you think your description applies to that girl?"

Langton smiled. "No," he said, "I shouldn't think so, but she's not your
sort, Peter. When you take that tunic off, you've got to put on a black
coat. Whatever conclusions you come to, don't forget that."

"Have I?" said Peter; "I wonder."

Langton got up. "Of course you have," he said. "Life's a bit of a farce,
but one's got to play it. See here, I believe in facing facts and getting
one's eyes open, but not in making oneself a fool. Nothing's worth that."

"Isn't it?" said Peter; and again, "I wonder."

"Well, I don't, and at any rate I'm for bed. Good-night."

"Good-night," said Peter; "I'm off too. But I don't agree with you. I'm
inclined to think exactly the opposite--that anything worth having is
worth making oneself a fool over. What is a fool, anyway? Good-night."

He closed the door, and Langton walked over to the window to open it. He
stood there a few minutes listening to the silence. Then a cock crew
somewhere, and was answered far away by another. "Yes," said Langton to
himself, "what is a fool, anyway?"



CHAPTER II


The Lessing family sat at dinner, and it was to be observed that some of
those incredible wonders at which Peter Graham had once hinted to Hilda
had come about. There were only three courses, and Mr. Lessing had but
one glass of wine, for one thing; for another he was actually in uniform,
and was far more proud of his corporal's stripes than he had previously
been of his churchwarden's staff of office. Nor was he only in the
Volunteers; he was actually in training to some extent, and the war had
at any rate done him good. His wife was not dressed for dinner either;
she had just come in from a war committee of some sort. A solitary maid
waited on them, and they had already given up fires in the dining-room.
Not that Mr. Lessing's income had appreciably diminished, but, quite
honestly, he and his were out to win the war. He had come to the
conclusion at last that business could not go on as usual, but, routed
out of that stronghold, he had made for himself another. The war was
now to him a business. He viewed it in that light.

"We must stop them," he was saying. "Mark my words, they'll never get to
Amiens. Did you see Haig's last order to the troops? Not another inch was
to be given at any cost. We shan't give either. We've _got_ to win this
war; there's too much at stake for us to lose. Whoever has to foot the
bill for this business is ruined, and it's not going to be Great Britain.
They were saying in the Hall to-night that the Army is as cheerful as
possible: that's the best sign. I doubt the German Army is. Doesn't
Graham say anything about it, Hilda?"

"No, father," said Hilda shortly, and bent over her plate.

"'Xtraordinary thing. He's a smart chap, and I should have thought he'd
have been full of it. Perhaps he's too far back."

"He was in a big town he doesn't name the other day, in an air-raid, and
a man was killed in his carriage."

"Good Lord! you don't say so? When did you hear that? I thought we had
command of the air."

"I got a letter to-night, father. He just mentioned that, but he doesn't
say much else about it. He's at Abbeville now, on the Somme, and he says
the Germans come over fairly often by night."

"Impossible!" snorted the old man, "I have it on the best possible
authority that our air service is completely up to date now, and far
better than the German. He must be exaggerating. They would never allow
the enemy to out-distance us in so important a department. What else does
he say?"

"Oh, nothing;" said Hilda, "or at least nothing about the war in a way.
It's full of--of his work." She stopped abruptly.

"Well, well," said Mr. Lessing, "I was against his going at first; but
it's all shoulders to the wheel now, and it was plain he ought to see a
little life out there. A young man who doesn't won't have much of a look
in afterwards--that's how _I_ reasoned it. And he works hard, does
Graham; I've always said that for him, I expect he's of great service to
them. Eh, Hilda?"

"I don't know," said the girl; "he doesn't say. But he's been chosen for
some special work, lecturing or something, and that's why he's at
Abbeville."

"Ah! Good! Special work, eh? He'll go far yet, that fellow. I don't know
that I'd have chosen him for you, Hilda, at first, but this business has
shaken us all up, and I shouldn't be surprised if Graham comes to the
front over it." He stopped as the maid came in, "I think I'll have my
coffee in the study, my dear," he said to Mrs. Lessing; "I have some
reading to do."

When the two women were once more alone Mrs. Lessing put her cup down,
and spoke. "What is it, dear?" she questioned.

Hilda did not look at her. The two, indeed, understood each other very
well. "I can't tell you here, mother," she said.

"Come, then, dear," said Mrs. Lessing, rising. "Let's go to my room. Your
father will be busy for some time, and we shall not be disturbed there."

She led the way, and lit a small gas fire. "I can't be cold in my
bedroom," she said; "and though I hate these things, they are better
than nothing. Now, dear, what is it?"

Hilda seated herself on a footstool on the other side of the fire, and
stared into it. The light shone on her fair skin and hair, and Mrs.
Lessing contemplated her with satisfaction from several points of view.
For one thing, Hilda was so sensible....

"What is it?" she asked again. "Your father saw nothing--men don't; but
you can't hide from me, dear, that your letter has troubled you. Is Peter
in trouble?"

Hilda shook her head. Then she said: "Well, at least, mother, not that
sort of trouble. I told father truly; he's been picked for special
service."

"Well, then, what is it?" Mrs. Lessing was a trifle impatient.

"Mother," said Hilda, "I've known that he has not been happy ever since
his arrival in France, but I've never properly understood why. Peter is
queer in some ways, you know. You remember that sermon of his? He won't
be content with things; he's always worrying. And now he writes
dreadfully. He says..." She hesitated. Then, suddenly, she pulled out the
letter. "Listen, mother," she said, and read what Peter had written in
the club until the end. "'I am going to eat and drink with publicans and
sinners; maybe I shall find my Master still there.'"

If Langton could have seen Mrs. Lessing he would have smiled that cynical
smile of his with much satisfaction. She was frankly horrified--rendered,
in fact, almost speechless.

"Hilda!" she exclaimed. "What a thing to write to you! But what does he
mean? Has he forgotten that he is a clergyman? Why, it's positively
blasphemous! He is speaking of Christ, I suppose. My poor girl, he must
be mad. Surely you see that, dear."

Hilda stared on into the fire, and made no reply. Her mother hardly
needed one, "Has he met another woman, Hilda?" she demanded.

"I don't know; he doesn't say so," said Hilda miserably. "But anyhow, I
don't see that that matters."

"Not matter, girl! Are you mad too? He is your fiancé, isn't he? Really,
I think I must speak to your father."

Hilda turned her head slowly, and mother and daughter looked at each
other. Mrs. Lessing was a woman of the world, but she was a good mother,
and she read in her daughter's eyes what every mother has to read sooner
or later. It was as one woman to another, and not as mother to daughter,
that she continued lamely: "Well, Hilda, what do you make of it all? What
are you going to do?"

The girl looked away again, and a silence fell between them. Then she
said, speaking in short, slow sentences:

"I will tell you what I make of it, mother. Peter's gone beyond me, I
think, now, that I have always feared a little that he might. Of course,
he's impetuous and headstrong, but it is more than that. He feels
differently from me, from all of us. I can see that, though I don't
understand him a bit. I thought" (her voice faltered) "he loved me more.
He knows how I wanted him to get on in the Church, and how I would have
helped him. But that's nothing to him, or next to nothing. I think he
doesn't love me at all, mother, and never really did."

Mrs. Lessing threw her head back. "Then he's a fool, my dear," she said
emphatically. "You're worth loving; you know it. I should think no more
about him, Hilda."

Hilda's hands tightened round her knees. "I can't do that," she said.

Mrs. Lessing was impatient again. "Do you mean, Hilda, that if he
persists in this--this madness, if he gives up the Church, for example,
you will not break off the engagement? Mind you, that is the point. Every
young man must have a bit of a fling, possibly even clergymen, I suppose,
and they get over it. A sensible girl knows that. But if he ruins his
prospects--surely, Hilda, you are not going to be a fool?"

The word had been spoken again. Peter had had something to say on it, and
now the gods gave Hilda her chance. She stretched her fine hands out to
the fire, and a new note came into her voice.

"A fool, mother? Oh no, I shan't be a fool. A fool would follow him to
the end of the world. A fool of a woman would give him all he wants for
the sake of giving, and be content with nothing in return. I see that.
But I'm not made for that sort of foolery.... No, I shan't be a fool."

Mrs. Lessing could not conceal her satisfaction. "Well, I am sure I am
very glad to hear you say it, and so would your father be. We have not
brought you up carefully for nothing, Hilda. You are a woman now, and I
don't believe in trying to force a woman against her will, but I am
heartily glad, my dear, that you are so sensible. When you are as old as
I am and have a daughter of your own, you will be glad that you have
behaved so to-night."

Hilda got up, and put her hands behind her head, which was a favourite
posture of hers. She stood looking down at her mother with a curious
expression on her face. Mrs. Lessing could make nothing of it; she merely
thought Hilda "queer"; she had travelled farther than she knew from
youth.

"Shall I, mother?" said Hilda. "Yes, I expect I shall. I have been
carefully brought up, as you say, so carefully that even now I can only
just see what a fool might do, and I know quite well that I can't do it.
After a while I shall no more see it than you do. I shall even probably
forget that I ever did. So that is all. And because I love him, really,
I don't think I can even say 'poor Peter!' That's curious, isn't it,
mother?... Well, I think I'll go to my room for a little. I won't come in
again. Good-night."

She bent and kissed Mrs. Lessing. Her mother held her arms a moment more.
"Then, what are you going to do?" she demanded.

Hilda freed herself, "Write and try to persuade him not to be a fool
either, I think. Not that it's any good. And then--wait and see." She
walked to the floor, "Of course, this is just between us two, isn't it,
dear?" she said, playing with the handle.

"Of course," said her mother. "But do be sensible, dear, and don't wait
too long. It is much better not to play with these things--much better.
And do tell me how things go, darling, won't you?"

"Oh yes," said Hilda slowly, "Oh yes I'll tell you.... Good-night."

She passed out and closed the door gently "I wonder why I can't cry
to-night?" she asked herself as she went to her room, and quite honestly
she did not know.

Across the water Peter's affairs were speeding up. If Hilda could have
seen him that night she would probably have wept without difficulty, but
for a much more superficial reason than the reason why she could not weep
in London. And it came about in this way.

On the morning after the dinner Peter was moody, and declared lie would
not go down to the office, but would take a novel out to the canal. He
was in half a mind to go up and call at the hospital, but something held
him back. Reflection showed him how near he had been to the fatal kiss
the night before, and he did not wish, or, with the morning, he thought
he did not wish, to see Julie so soon again. So he got his novel and went
out to the canal, finding a place where last year's leaves still lay
thick, and one could lie at ease and read. We do these things all our
days, and never learn the lesson.

Half-way through the morning he looked up to see Langton striding along
towards him. He was walking quickly, with the air of one who brings news,
and he delivered his message as soon as they were within earshot of each
other. "Good news, Graham," he called out. "This tomfoolery is over.
They've heard from H.Q. that the whole stunt is postponed, and we've all
to go back to our bases. Isn't it like 'em?" he demanded, as he came up.
"Old Jackson in the office is swearing like blazes. He's had all his maps
made and plans drawn up, etcetera and etcetera, and now they're so much
waste-paper. Jolly fortunate, any road." He sat down and got out a pipe.

Peter shut his book. "I'm glad," he said. "I'm sick of foolin' round
here. Not but what it isn't a decent enough place, but I prefer the
other. There's more doing. When do we go?"

"To-morrow. They're getting our movement orders, yours to Havre, mine to
Rouen. I put in a spoke for you, to get one via Rouen, but I don't know
if you will. It's a vile journey otherwise."

"By Jove!" cried Peter. "I've an idea! Miss Gamelyn's troop of
motor-buses goes back to Havre to-morrow empty. Why shouldn't I travel
on them? Think I could work it?"

Langton puffed solemnly. "Sure, I should think," he said, "being a padre,
anyway."

"What had I best do?"

"Oh, I should go and see Jackson and get him to 'phone the hospital for
you--that is, if you really want to go that way."

"It's far better than that vile train," said Peter. "Besides, one can see
the country, which I love. And I've never been in Dieppe, and they're to
go through there and pick up some casualties."

"Just so," said Langton, still smoking.

"Well," said Peter, "reckon I'll go and see about it. Jackson's a decent
old stick, but I'd best do it before he tackles the R.T.O. Coming?"

"No," said Langton. "Leave that novel, and come back for me. You won't be
long."

"Right-o," said Peter, and set off.

It was easily done. Jackson had no objections, and rang up the hospital
while Peter waited. Oh yes, certainly they could do it. What was the
name? Captain. Graham, C.F. certainly. He must be at the hospital
early--eight-thirty the next morning. That all right? Thank you.

"Thank you," said Peter. "Motoring's a long sight better than the train
these days, and I'll get in quicker, too, as a matter of fact, or at any
rate just as quickly." He turned to go, but a thought struck him. "Have
you an orderly to spare?" he asked.

"Any quantity," said the other bitterly. "They've been detailed for
weeks, and done nothing. You can have one with pleasure. It'll give the
perisher something to do."

"Thanks," said Peter; "I want to send a note, that's all. May I write it
here?"

He was given pen and paper, and scribbled a little note to Julie. He did
not know who else might be on the lorry, or if she would want to appear
to know him. The orderly was called and despatched and he left the place
for the last time.

Langton and he walked out to St. Riquier in the afternoon, had tea there,
and got back to dinner. A note was waiting for Peter, a characteristic
one.

"DEAREST SOLOMON (it ran),

"You are really waking up! There will be three of us nurses in one lorry,
and they're sure to start you off in another. We lunch at Eu, and I'll be
delighted to see you. Then you can go on in our car. Dieppe's on the
knees of the gods, as you say, but probably we can pull off something.

"JULIE."

He smiled and put it in his pocket. Langton said nothing till the coffee
and liqueurs came in. Then he lit a cigarette and held the match out to
Peter. "Wonder if we shall meet again?" he said.

"Oh, I expect so," said Peter. "Write, anyway, won't you? I'll likely get
a chance to come to Rouen."

"And I likely won't be there. I'm putting in again for another job.
They're short of men now, and want equipment officers for the R.A.F. It's
a stunt for which engineering's useful, and I may get in. I don't suppose
I'll see much of the fun, but it's better than bossing up a labour
company, any road."

"Sportsman," said Peter. "I envy you. Why didn't you tell me? I've half a
mind to put in too. Do you think I'd have a chance?"

"No," said Langton brutally. "Besides, it's not your line. You know what
yours is; stick to it."

"And you know that I'm not so sure that I can," said Peter.

"Rot!" said the other. "You can if you like. You won't gain by running
away. Only I give you this bit of advice, old son: go slow. You're so
damned hot-headed! You can't remake the world to order in five minutes;
and if you could, I bet it wouldn't be a much better old world. We've
worried along for some time moderately well. Don't be too ready to turn
down the things that have worked with some success, at any rate, for the
things that have never been tried."

Peter smoked in silence. Then he said: "Langton you're a bit different
from what you were. In a way, it's you who have set me out on this
racket, and it's you who encouraged me to try and get down to
rock-bottom. You've always been a cautious old rotter, but you're more
than cautious now. Why?"

Langton leaned over and touched the other's tunic pocket in which lay
Julie's note. Then he leaned back and went on with his cigarette.

Peter flushed. "It's too late," he said judicially, flicking off his ash.

"So? Well, I'm sorry, frankly--sorry for her and sorry for you. But if it
is, I'll remember my own wisdom: it's no use meddling with such things.
For all that, you're a fool, Peter, as I told you last night."

"Just so. And I asked what was a fool."

"And I didn't answer. I reckon fools can be of many sorts. Your sort of
fool chucks the world over for the quest of an ideal."

"Thank you," said Peter quietly.

"You needn't. That fool is a real fool, and bigger than most. Ideals are
ideals, and one can't realise them. It's waste of time to try."

"Is it?" said Peter. "Well, at any rate, I don't know that I'm out after
them much. I don't see any. All I know is that I've looked in the likely
places, and now I'll look in the unlikely."

Langton ground his cigarette-end in his coffee-cup. "You will," he said,
"whatever I say.... Have another drink? After all, there's no need to
'turn down the empty glass' yet."

They did not see each other in the morning, and Peter made his way early
to the hospital as arranged. The P.M.O. met him, and he was put in
nominal charge of the three Red-Cross ambulance-cars. While he was
talking to the doctor the three nurses came out and got in, Julie not
looking in his direction; then he climbed up next the driver of the
first car. "Cheerio," said the P.M.O., and they were off.

It was a dull day, and mists hung over the water-meadows by the Somme.
For all that Peter enjoyed himself immensely. They ran swiftly through
the little villages, under the sweeping trees all new-budded into green,
and soon had vistas of the distant sea. The driver of Peter's car was an
observant fellow, and he knew something of gardening. It was he who
pointed out that the fruit-trees had been indifferently pruned or not
pruned at all, and that there were fields no longer under the plough that
had been plainly so not long before. In a word, the country bore its war
scars, although it needed a clever eye to see them.

But Peter had little thought for this. Now and again, at a corner, he
would glance back, his mind on Julie in the following car, while every
church tower gave him pause for thought. He tried to draw the man beside
him on religion, but without any success, though he talked freely enough
of other things. He was for the Colonies after the war, he said. He'd
knocked about a good deal in France, and the taste for travel had come to
him. Canada appeared a land of promise; one could get a farm easily, and
his motor knowledge would be useful on a farm these days. Yes, he had a
pal out there, a Canadian who had done his bit and been invalided out of
it. They corresponded, and he expected to get in with him, the one's
local knowledge eking out the other's technical. No, he wasn't for
marrying yet awhile; he'd wait till he'd got a place for the wife and
kiddies. Then he would. The thought made him expand a bit, and Peter
smiled to himself as he thought of his conversation with Langton over the
family group. It struck him to test the man, and as they passed a wayside
Calvary, rudely painted, he drew his attention to it. "What do you think
of that?" he asked.

The man glanced at it, and then away. "It's all right for them as like
it," he said. "Religion's best in a church, it seems to me. I've seen
chaps mock at them crucifixes, sir, same as they wouldn't if they'd only
been in church."

"Yes," said Peter; "but I suppose some men have been helped by them who
never would have been if they had only been in church. But don't you
think they're rather gaudy?"

"Gaudy, sir? Meanin' 'ighly painted? No, not as I knows on. They're more
like what happened, I reckon, than them brass crosses we have in our
churches."

They ran into Eu for lunch, and drew up in the market-square. Peter
went round to the girls' car, greeted Julie, and was introduced. He
led them to an old inn in the square, and they sat down to luncheon
in very good humour. The other girls were ordinary enough, and Julie
rather subdued for her. Afterwards they spent an hour in the church and
a picture-postcard shop, and it was there that Julie whispered: "Go on
in your own car. At Dieppe, go to the Hôtel Trois Poissons and wait for
me. I found out yesterday that a woman I know is a doctor in Dieppe, and
she lives there. I'll get leave easily to call. Then I can see you. If
we travel together these girls'll talk; they're just the sort."

Peter nodded understanding, and they drifted apart. He went out to see if
the cars were ready and returned to call the nurses, and in a few minutes
they were off again.

The road now ran through forests nearly all the way, except where
villages had cleared a space around them, as was plain to see. They
crossed little streams, and finally came downhill through the forest into
the river valley that leads to Dieppe. It was still early, and Peter
stopped the cars to suggest that they might have a look at the castle of
Arques-le-Bataille. The grand old pile kept them nearly an hour, and they
wandered about the ruins to their hearts' content. Julie would climb a
buttress of the ancient keep when their guide had gone on with the
others, and Peter went up after her. She was as lissom as a boy and
seemingly as strong, swinging up by roots of ivy and the branches of a
near tree, in no wise impeded by her short skirts. From the top one had,
indeed, a glorious view. The weather had cleared somewhat, and one could
see every bit of the old castle below, the village at its feet, and the
forest across the little stream out of which the Duke of Mayenne's
infantry had debouched that day of battle from which the village took
its name.

"They had some of the first guns in the castle, which was held for Henry
of Navarre," explained Peter, "and they did great execution. I suppose
they fired one stone shot in about every five minutes, and killed a man
about every half-hour. The enemy were more frightened than hurt, I should
think. Anyway, Henry won."

"Wasn't he the King who thought Paris worth more than a Mass?" she
demanded.

"Yes," said Peter, watching her brown eyes as she stared out over the
plain.

"I wonder what he thinks now," she said.

He laughed. "You're likely to wonder," he said.

"Funny old days," said Julie. "I suppose there were girls in this castle
watching the fight. I expect they cared more for the one man each
half-hour the cannon hit than for either Paris or the Mass. That's the
way of women, Peter, and a damned silly way it is! Come on, let's go.
I'll get down first, if you please."

On the short road remaining Peter asked his chauffeur if he knew the
Trois Poissons, and, finding that he did, had the direction pointed out.
They ran through the town to the hospital, and Peter handed his cars
over. "I'll sleep in town," he said. "What time ought we to start in the
morning?" He was told, and walked away. Julie had disappeared.

He found the Trois Poissons without difficulty, and made his way to the
sitting-room, a queer room opening from the pavement direct on the one
side, and from the hall of the hotel on the other. It had a table down
the middle, a weird selection of chairs, and a piano. A small woman was
sitting in a chair reading the _Tatler_ and smoking. An empty glass
stood beside her.

She looked up as he came in, and he noticed R.A.M.C. badges.
"Good-evening," he said cheerily.

"Good-evening, padre," she replied, plainly willing to talk. "Where have
you sprung from?"

"Abbeville via Eu in a convoy of Red Cross cars," he said, "and I feel
like a sun-downer. Won't you have another with me?"

"Sure thing," she said, and he ordered a couple from the French maid who
came in answer to his ring. "Do you live here?" he asked.

"For my sins I do," she said. "I doctor Waac's, and I don't think much of
it. A finer, heartier lot of women I never saw. Epsom salts is all they
want. A child could do it."

Peter laughed. "Well, I don't see why you should grumble," he said.

"Don't you? Where's the practice? This business out here is the best
chance for doctors in a lifetime, and I have to strip strapping girls
hopelessly and endlessly."

"You do, do you?" said a voice in the doorway, and there stood Julie.
"Well, at any rate you oughtn't to talk about it like that to my
gentleman friends, especially padres. How do you do, my dear?"

"Julie, by all that's holy! Where have you sprung from?"

She glanced from one to the other. "From Abbeville via Eu in a convoy of
Red Cross cars, I dare bet," she said.

"Julie, you're beyond me. If you weren't so strong I'd smack you, but as
it is, give me another kiss. _And_ introduce us. There may as well be
propriety somewhere."

They sorted themselves out and sat down. "What do you think of my rig?"
demanded Dr. Melville (as Julie had introduced her).

"Toppin'," said Julie critically. "But what in the world is it? Chiefly
Waac, with three pukka stars and an R.A.M.C. badge. Teanie, how dare you
do it?"

"I dare do all that doth become a woman," she answered complacently. "And
it doth, doth it not? Skirt's a trifle short, perhaps," she added,
sticking out a leg and examining the effect critically, "but upper's
eminently satisfactory."

Julie leaned over and prodded her. "No corsets?" she inquired innocently.

"Julie, you're positively indecent. You must have tamed your padre
completely. You're not married by any chance?" she added suddenly.

Julie screamed with laughter. "Oh, Teanie, you'll be the death of me,"
she said at last. "Solomon, are we married? I don't think so, Teanie.
There's never no telling these days, but I can't recollect it."

"Well, it strikes me you ought to be if you're jogging round the country
together," said the other, her eyes twinkling. "But if you're not, take
warning, padre. A girl that talks about corsets in public isn't
respectable, especially as she doesn't wear them herself, except in the
evening, for the sake of other things. Or she used not to. But perhaps
you know?"

Peter tried to look comfortable, but he was completely out of his depth.
He finished his drink with a happy inspiration, and ordered another. That
down, he began to feel more capable of entering into the spirit of these
two. They were the sort he wanted to know, both of them, women about as
different from those he had met as they could possibly be.

Another man dropped in after a while, so the talk became general. The
atmosphere was very free and easy, bantering, careless, jolly, and Peter
expanded in it. Julie led them all. She was never at a loss, and
apparently had no care in the world.

The two girls and Peter went together to dinner and sat at the same
table. They talked a good deal together, and Peter gathered they had come
to know each other at a hospital in England. They were full of
reminiscences.

"Do you remember ducking Pockett?" Teanie asked Julie.

"Lor', I should think I do! Tell Peter. He won't be horrified unless you
go into details. If I cough, Solomon, you're to change the subject. Carry
on, Teanie."

"Well, Pockett was a nurse of about the last limit. She was fearfully
snobby, which nobody of that name ought to be, and she ruled her pros.
with a rod of iron. I expect that was good for them, and I say nothing
as to that, but she was a beast to the boys. We had some poor chaps in
who were damnably knocked about, and one could do a lot for them in
roundabout ways. Regulations are made to be broken in some cases, I
think. But she was a holy terror. Sooner than call her, the boys would
endure anything, but some of us knew, and once she caught Julie here..."

"It wasn't--it was you, Teanie."

"Oh, well, one of us, anyway, in her ward when she was on night duty,
sitting with a poor chap who pegged out a few days after. It soothed him
to sit and hold her hand. Well, anyway, she was furious and reported it.
There was a bit of a row--had to be, I suppose, as it was against
regulations--but thank God the P.M.O. knew his job, so there was only a
strafe with the tongue in the cheek. However, we swore revenge, and we
had it--eh, Julie?"

"We did. Go on. It was you who thought of it."

"Well, we filled a bath with tepid water and then went to her room one
night. She was asleep, and never heard us. We had a towel round her head
in two twinks, and carried her by the legs and arms to the bathroom.
Julie had her legs, and held 'em well up, so that down went her head
under water. She couldn't yell then. When we let her up, I douched her
with cold water, and then we bolted. We saw to it that there wasn't a
towel in the bathroom, and we locked her bedroom door. Oh, lor', poor
soul, but it was funny! She met an orderly in the corridor, and he nearly
had a fit, and I don't wonder, for her wet nightie clung to her figure
like a skin. She had to try half a dozen rooms before she got anyone to
help her, and then, when she got back, we'd ragged her room to blazes.
She never said a word, and left soon after. Ever hear of her again,
Julie?"

"No," said she, looking more innocent than ever, Peter thought; "but I
expect she's made good somewhere. She must have had something in her or
she'd have kicked up a row."

Miss Melville was laughing silently. "You innocent babe unborn," she
said; "never shall I forget how you held...."

"Come on, Captain Graham," said Julie, getting up; "you've got to see me
home, and I want a nice walk by the sea-front."

They went out together, and stood at the hotel door in the little street.
There was a bit of a moon, with clouds scurrying by, and when it shone
the road was damp and glistening in the moonlight. "What a heavenly
night!" said Julie. "Come on with us along the sea-front, Teanie--do!"

Miss Melville smiled up at them. "I reckon you'd prefer to be alone," she
said.

Peter glanced at Julie, and then protested. "No," he said; "do come on,"
and Julie rewarded him with a smile.

So they set out together. On the front the wind was higher, lashing the
waves, and the moonlight shone fitfully on the distant cliffs, the
harbour mouth, and the sea. The two girls clung together, and as Peter
walked by Julie she took his arm. Conversation was difficult as they
battled their way along the promenade. There was hardly a soul about, and
Peter felt the night to fit his mood.

They went up once and down again, and at the Casino grounds Teanie
stopped them. "'Nough," she said; "I'm for home and bed. You two dears
can finish up without me."

"Oh, we must see you home," said Peter.

The doctor laughed. "Think I shall get stolen?" she demanded. "Someone
would have to get up pretty early for that. No, padre, I'm past the need
of being escorted, thanks. Good-night. Be good, Julie. We'll meet again
sometime, I hope. If not, keep smiling. Cheerio."

She waved her hand and was gone in the night. "If there was ever a
plucky, unselfish, rattling good woman, there she goes," said Julie.
"I've known her sit up night after night with wounded men when she was
working like a horse all day. I've known her to help a drunken Tommy
into a cab and get him home, and quiet his wife into the bargain. I saw
her once walk off out of the Monico with a boy of a subaltern, who didn't
know what he was doing, and take him to her own flat, and put him to bed,
and get him on to the leave-train in time in the morning. She'd give away
her last penny, and you wouldn't know she'd done it. And yet she's not
the sort of woman you'd choose to run a mother's meeting, would you,
Solomon?"

"Sure thing I wouldn't," said Peter, "not in my old parish, but I'm not
so sure I wouldn't in my new one."

"What's your new one?" asked Julie curiously.

"Oh, it hasn't a name," said Peter, "but it's pretty big. Something after
the style of John Wesley's parish, I reckon. And I'm gradually getting it
sized up."

"Where do I come in, Solomon?" demanded Julie.

They were passing by the big Calvary at the harbour gates, and there was
a light there. He stopped and turned so that the light fell on her. She
looked up at him, and so they stood a minute. He could hear the lash of
the waves, and the wind drumming in the rigging of the flagstaff near
them. Then, deliberately, he bent down, and kissed her on the lips. "I
don't know, Julie," he said, "but I believe you have the biggest part,
somehow."



CHAPTER III


All that it is necessary to know of Hilda's return letter to Peter ran as
follows:

"My Dear Boy,

"Your letter from Abbeville reached me the day before yesterday, and I
have thought about nothing else since. It is plain to me that it is no
use arguing with you and no good reproaching you, for once you get an
idea into your head nothing but bitter experience will drive it out. But,
Peter, you must see that so far as I am concerned you are asking me to
choose between you and your strange ideas and all that is familiar and
dear in my life. You can't honestly expect me to believe that my Church
and my parents and my teachers are all wrong, and that, to put it mildly,
the very strange people you appear to be meeting in France are all right.
My dear Peter, do try and look at it sensibly. The story you told me of
the death of Lieutenant Jenks was terrible--terrible; it brings the war
home in all its ghastly reality; but really, you know, it was his fault
and not yours, and still less the fault of the Church of England, that he
did not want you when he came to die. If a man lives without God, he can
hardly expect to find Him at the point of sudden death. What you say
about Christ, too, utterly bewilders me. Surely our Church's teachings in
the Catechism and the Prayer-Book is Christian teaching, isn't it?
Nothing is perfect on earth, and the Church is human, but our Church
is certainly the best I know of. It is liberal, active, moderate, and--I
don't like the word, but after all it is a good one--respectable. I don't
know much about these things, but surely you of all people don't want to
go shouting in the street like a Salvation Army Captain. I can't see that
that is more 'in touch with reality.' Peter, what do you mean? Are not
St. John's, and the Canon, and my people, and myself, real? Surely,
Peter, our love is real, isn't it? Oh, how can you doubt that?

"Darling boy, don't you think you are over-strained and over-worried? You
are in a strange country, among strange people, at a very peculiar time.
War always upsets everything and makes things abnormal. London, even,
isn't normal, but, as the Canon said the other day, a great many of the
things people do just now are due to reaction against strain and anxiety.
Can't you see this? Isn't there any clergyman you can go and talk to?
Your Presbyterian and other new friends and your visits to Roman Catholic
churches can't be any real help.

"Peter, dear, for my sake, do, _do_ try to see things like this. I _hate_
that bit in your letter about publicans and sinners. How can a clergyman
expect _them_ to help _him_? Surely you ought to avoid such people, not
seek their company. It is so like you to get hold of a text or two and
run it to death. It's not that I don't _trust_ you, but you are so easily
influenced, and you may equally easily go and do something that will
separate us and ruin your life. Peter, I hate to write like this, but I
can't help it...."

Peter let the sheets fall from his hands and stared out of the little
window. The gulls were screaming and fighting over some refuse in the
harbour, and he watched the beat of their wings, fascinated. If only he,
too, could catch the wind and be up and away like that!

He jumped up and paced up and down the floor restlessly, and he told
himself that Hilda was right and he was a cad and worse. Julie's kiss on
his lips burned there yet. That at any rate was wrong; by any standards
he had no right to behave so. How could he kiss her when he was pledged
to Hilda--Hilda to whom everyone had looked up, the capable, lady-like,
irreproachable Hilda, the Hilda to whom Park Lane and St. John's were
such admirable setting. And who was he, after all, to set aside all that
for which both those things stood?

And yet.... He sat down by the little table and groaned.

"What the dickens is the matter with you, padre?"

Peter started and looked round. In the doorway stood Pennell, regarding
him with amusement. "Here am I trying to read, and you pacing up and down
like a wild beast. What the devil's up?"

"The devil himself, that's what's up," said Peter savagely. "Look here,
Pen, come on down town and let's have a spree. I hate this place and this
infernal camp. It gets on my nerves. I must have a change. Will you come?
It's my do."

"I'm with you, old thing. I know what you feel like; I get like that
myself sometimes. It's a pleasure to see that you're so human. We'll go
down town and razzle-dazzle for once. I'm off duty till to-night. I ought
to sleep, I suppose, but I can't, so come away with you. I won't be a
second."

He disappeared. Peter stood for a moment, then slipped his tunic off and
put on another less distinctive of his office. He crossed to the desk,
unlocked it, and reached for a roll of notes, shoving them into his
pocket. Then he put on his cap, took a stick from the corner, and went
out into the passage. But there he remembered, and came quickly back.
He folded Hilda's letter and put it away in a drawer; then he went out
again. "Are you ready, Pennell?" he called.

The two of them left camp and set out across the docks. As they crossed a
bridge a one-horse cab came into the road from a side-street and turned
in their direction. "Come on," said Peter. "Anything is better than this
infernal walk over this _pavé_ always. Let's hop in."

They stopped the man, who asked where to drive to.

"Let's go to the Bretagne first and get a drink," said Pennell.

"Right," said Peter--"any old thing. Hôtel de la Bretagne," he called to
the driver.

They set off at some sort of a pace, and Pennell leaned back with a
laugh. "It's a funny old world, Graham," he said. "One does get fed-up at
times. Why sitting in a funeral show like this cab and having a drink in
a second-rate pub should be any amusement, I don't know. But it is.
You're infectious, my boy. I begin to feel like a rag myself. What shall
we do?"

"The great thing," said Peter judiciously, "is not to know what one is
going to do, but just to take anything that comes along. I remember at
the 'Varsity one never set out to rag anything definitely. You went out
and you saw a bobby and you took his hat, let us say. You cleared, and he
after you. Anything might happen then."

"I should think so," said Pennell.

"I remember once walking home with a couple of men, and one of them
suggested dousing all the street lamps in the road, which was a
residential one leading into town. There wasn't anything in it, but we
did it. One man put his back against a post, while the second went on to
the next post. Then the third man mounted the first man's back, shoved
out the light, jumped clear, and ran on past the next lamp-post to the
third. The first man jumped on No. 2's back and doused his lamp, and so
on. We did the street in a few minutes, and then a constable came into it
at the top. He probably thought he was drunk, then he spotted lights
going out, and like an ass he blew his whistle. We were round a corner in
no time, and then turned and ran back to see if we could offer
assistance!"

"Some gag!" chuckled Pennell; "but I hope you won't go on that sort
of racket to-night. It would be a little more serious if we were
caught.... Also, these blighted gendarmes would probably start firing,
or some other damned thing."

"They would," said Peter; "besides, that doesn't appeal to me now. I'm
getting too old, or else my tastes have become depraved."

The one-horse cab stopped with a jerk. "Hop out," said Peter. He settled
the score, and the two of them entered the hotel and passed through into
the private bar.

"What is it to be?" demanded Pennell.

"Cocktails to-day, old son," said Peter; "I want bucking up. What do you
say to martinis?"

The other agreed, and they moved over to the bar. A monstrously fat woman
stood behind it, like some bloated spider, and a thin, weedy-looking girl
assisted her. A couple of men were already there. It was too early for
official drinks, but the Bretagne knew no law.

They ordered their drinks, and stood there while madame compounded them
and put in the cherries. Another man came in, and Peter recognised the
Australian Ferrars, whom he had met before. He introduced Pennell and
called for another martini.

"So you frequent this poison-shop, do you?" said Ferrars.

"Not much," laughed Peter, "but it's convenient."

"It is, and it's a good sign when a man like you wants a drink. I'd
sooner listen to your sermons any day than some chaps' I know."

"Subject barred here," said Pennell. "But here's the very best to you,
Graham, for all that."

"Same here," said Ferrars, and put down his empty glass.

The talk became general. There was nothing whatever in it--mild chaffing,
a yarn or two, a guarded description by Peter of his motor drive from
Abbeville, and then more drinks. And so on. The atmosphere was warm and
genial, but Peter wondered inwardly why he liked it, and he did not like
it so much that Pennell's "Well, what about it? Let's go on, Graham,
shall we?" found him unready. The two said a general good-bye, promised
madame to look in again, and sauntered out.

They crossed the square in front of Travalini's, lingered at the
flower-stalls, refused the girls' pressure to buy, and strolled on.
"I'm sick of Travalini's," said Pennell. "Don't let's go in there."

"So am I," said Peter. "Let's stroll down towards the sea."

They turned down a side-street, and stood for a few minutes looking into
a picture and book shop. At that moment quick footsteps sounded on the
pavement, and Pennell glanced round.

Two girls passed them, obviously sisters. They were not flashily dressed
exactly, but there was something in their furs and their high-heeled,
high-laced boots that told its own story. "By Jove, that's a pretty
girl!" exclaimed Pennell; "let's follow them."

Peter laughed; he was reckless, but not utterly so. "If you like," he
said. "I'm on for any rag. We'll take them for a drink, but I stop at
that, mind, Pen."

"Sure thing," said Pennell. "But come on; we'll miss them."

They set out after the girls, who, after one glance back, walked on as if
they did not know they were being followed. But they walked slowly, and
it was easy for the two men to catch them up.

Peter slackened a few paces behind. "Look here, Pen," he said, "what the
deuce are we going to do? They'll expect more than a drink, you know."

"Oh no, they won't, not so early as this. It's all in the way of business
to them, too. Let's pass them first," he suggested, "and then slacken
down and wait for them to speak."

Peter acquiesced, feeling rather more than an ass, but the drinks had
gone slightly to his head. They executed their share of the maneuver,
Pennell looking at the girls and smiling as he did so. But the two
quickened their pace and passed the officers without a word.

"If you ask me, this is damned silly," said Peter. "Let's chuck it."

"No, no; wait a bit," said Pennell excitedly. "You'll see what they'll
do. It's really an amusing study in human nature. Look! I told you so.
They live there."

The girls had crossed the street, and were entering a house. One of them
unlocked the door, and they both disappeared. "There," said Peter, "that
finishes it. We've lost them."

"Have we?" said his companion. "Come on over."

They crossed the street and walked up to the door. It was open and
perhaps a foot ajar. Pennell pushed it wide and walked in. "Come on," he
said again. Peter followed reluctantly, but curious. He was seeing a new
side of life, he thought grimly.

Before them a flight of stairs led straight up to a landing, but there
was no sign of the girls. "What's next?" demanded Peter. "We'll be fired
out in two twos if nothing worse happens. Suppose they're decent girls
after all; what would you say?"

"I'd ask if Mlle. Lucienne lived here," said Pennell, "and apologise
profusely when I found she didn't. But you can't make a mistake in this
street, Graham. I'm going up. It's the obvious thing, and probably what
they wanted. Coming?"

He set off to mount the stairs, and Peter, reassured, followed him, at a
few paces. When he reached the top, Pennell was already entering an open
door.

"How do you do, ma chérie?" said one of the girls, smiling, and holding
out a hand.

Peter looked round curiously. The room was fairly decently furnished in a
foreign middle-class fashion, half bedroom, half sitting-room. One of the
girls sat on the arm of a big chair, the other was greeting his friend.
She was the one he had fancied, but a quick glance attracted Peter
to the other and elder. He was in for it now, and he was determined to
play up. He crossed the floor, and smiled down at the girl on the arm of
the chair.

"So you 'ave come," she said in broken English. "I told Lucienne that you
would not."

"Lucienne!" exclaimed Peter, and looked back at Pennell.

That traitor laughed, and seated himself on the edge of the bed, drawing
the other girl to him. "I'm awfully sorry, Graham," he said; "but I
couldn't help it. You wanted to see life, and you'd have shied off if I
hadn't played a game. I do just know this little girl, and jolly nice she
is too. Give me a kiss, Lulu."

The girl obeyed, her eyes sparkling. "It's not proper before monsieur,"
she said. "'E is--how do you say?--shocked?"

She seated herself on Pennell's knee, and, putting an arm round his neck,
kissed him again, looking across at Peter mischievously. "We show 'im
French kiss," she added to Pennell, and pouted out her lips to his.

"Well, now you 'ave come, what do you want?" demanded the girl on the arm
of Peter's chair. "Sit down," she said imperiously, patting the seat,
"and talk to me."

Peter laughed more lightly than he felt. "Well, I want a drink," he said,
at random. "Pen," he called across the room, "what about that drink?" The
girl by him reached over and touched a bell. As she did so, Peter saw the
curls that clustered on her neck and caught the perfume of her hair. It
was penetrating and peculiar, but not distasteful, and it did all that it
was meant to do. He bent, and kissed the back of her neck, still
marvelling at himself.

She straightened herself, smiling. "That is better. You aren't so cold as
you pretended, chérie. Now kiss me properly," and she held up her face.

Peter kissed her lips. Before he knew it, a pair of arms were thrown
about his neck, and he was being half-suffocated with kisses. He tore
himself away, disgusted and ashamed.

"No!" he cried sharply, but knowing that it was too late.

The girl threw herself back, laughing merrily, "Oh, you are funny!" she
said. "Lucienne, take your boy away; I want to talk to mine."

Before he could think of a remonstrance, it was done. Pennell and the
other girl got up from the bed where they had been whispering together,
and left the room. "Pennell!" called Peter, too late again, jumping up.
The girl ran round him, pushed the door to, locked it, and dropped the
key down the neck of her dress. "Voila!" she said gaily.

There came a knock on the door. "Non, non!" she cried in French. "Take
the wine to Mlle. Lucienne; I am busy."

Peter walked across the room to her. "Give me the key," he said, holding
out his hand, and changing his tactics. "Please do. I won't go till my
friend comes back. I promise."

The girl looked at him. "You promise? But you will 'ave to find it."

He smiled and nodded, and she walked deliberately to the bed, undid the
front of her costume, and slipped it off. Bare necked and armed, she
turned to him, holding open the front of her chemise. "Down there," she
said.

It was a strange moment and a strange thing, but a curious courage came
back to Peter in that second. Without hesitation, he put his hand down
and sought for the key against her warm body. He found it, and help it
up, smiling. Then he moved to the door, pushed the key in the keyhole,
and turned again to the girl. "There!" he said simply.

With a gesture of abandon, she threw herself on the bed, propping her
cheek on her hand and staring at him. He sat down where Pennell had sat,
but made no attempt to touch her, leaning, instead, back and away against
the iron bed-post. She pulled up her knees, flung her arms back, and
laughed. "And now, monsieur?" she said.

Peter had never felt so cool in his life. His thoughts raced, but
steadily, as if he had dived into cold, clear water. He smiled again,
unhesitatingly, but sadly. "Dear," he said deliberately, "listen to me. I
have cheated you by coming here to-day, though you shan't suffer for it.
I did not want anything, and I don't now. But I'm glad I've come, even
though you do not understand. I don't want to do a bit what my friend is
doing. I don't know why, but I don't. I'm engaged to a girl in England,
but it's not because of that. I'm a chaplain too--a curé, you know--in
the English Army; but it's not because of that."

"Protestant?" demanded the girl on the bed.

He nodded. "Ah, well," she said, "the Protestant ministers have wives.
They are men; it is different with priests. If your fiancée is wise, she
wouldn't mind if you love me a little. She is in England; I am here--is
it not so? You love me now; again, perhaps, once or twice. Then it is
finished. You do not tell your fiancée and she does not know. It is
no matter. Come on, chérie!"

She held out her hands and threw her head back on the pillow.

Peter smiled again. "You do not understand," he said. "And nor do I, but
I must be different from some men. I do not want to."

"Ah, well," she exclaimed brightly, sitting up, "another time! Give me my
dress, monsieur le curé."

He got up and handed it to her. "Tell me," he said, "do you like this
sort of life?"

She shrugged her white shoulders indifferently. "Sometimes," she
said--"sometimes not. There are good boys and bad boys. Some are rough,
cruel, mean; some are kind, and remember that it costs much to live
these days, and one must dress nicely. See," she said deliberately,
showing him, "it is lace, fine lace; I pay fifty francs in Paris!"

"I will give you that," said Peter, and he placed the note on the bed.

She stared at it and at him. "Oh, I love you!" she cried. "You are kind!
Ah, now, if I could but love you always!"

"Always?" he demanded.

"Yes, always, always, while you are here, in Le Havre. I would have no
other boy but you. Ah, if you would! You do not know how one tires of the
music-hall, the drinks, the smiles! I would do just all you please--be
gay, be solemn, talk, be silent, just as you please! Oh, if you would!"

Half in and half out of her dress, she stood there, pleading. Peter
looked closely at the little face with its rouge and powder.

"You hate that!" she exclaimed, with quick intuition. "See, it is gone. I
use it no more, only a leetle, leetle, for the night." And she ran across
to the basin, dipped a little sponge in water, passed it over her face,
and turned to him triumphantly.

Peter sighed. "Little girl," he said sadly, hardly knowing that he spoke.
"I cannot save myself: how can I save you?"

"Pouf!" she cried. "Save! What do you mean?" She drew herself up with an
absurd gesture. "You think me a bad girl? No, I am not bad; I go to
church. Le bon Dieu made us as we are; it is nécessaire."

They stood before each other, a strange pair, the product of a strange
age. God knows what the angels made of it. But at any rate Peter was
honest. He thought of Julie, and he would not cast a stone.

There came a light knock at the door. The girl disregarded it, and ran to
him. "You will come again?" she said in low tones. "Promise me that you
will! I will not ask you for anything; you can do as you please; but come
again! Do come again!"

Peter passed his hand over her hair. "I will come if I can," he said;
"but the Lord knows why."

The knock came again, a little louder. The girl smiled and held her face
up. "Kiss me," she demanded.

He complied, and she darted away, fumbling with her dress. "I come," she
called, and opened the door. Lucienne and Pennell came in, and the two
men exchanged glances. Then Pennell looked away. Lucienne glanced at them
and shrugged her shoulders. "Come, Graham," said Pennell; "let's get out!
Good-bye, you two."

The pair of them went down and out in silence. No one had seen them come,
and there was no one to see them go. Peter glanced at the number and made
a mental note of it, and they set off down the street.

Presently Pennell laughed, "I played you a dirty trick, Graham," he said,
"I'm sorry."

"You needn't be," said Peter; "I'm very glad I went."

"Why?" said Pennell curiously, glancing sideways at him. "You _are_ a
queer fellow, Graham." But there was a note of relief in his tone.

Peter said nothing, but walked on. "Where next?" demanded Pennell.

"It looks as if you are directing this outfit," said Peter; "I'm in your
hands."

"All right," said Pennell; "I know."

They took a street running parallel to the docks, and entered an American
bar. Peter glanced round curiously. "I've never been here before," he
said.

"Probably not," said Pennell. "It's not much at this time of the year,
but jolly cool in the summer. And you can get first-class cocktails. I
want something now; what's yours?"

"I'll leave it to you," said Peter.

He sat down at a little table rather in the corner and lit a cigarette.
The place was well lighted, and by means of mirrors, coloured-glass
ornaments, paper decorations, and a few palms, it looked in its own way
smart. Two or three officers were drinking at the bar, sitting on high
stools, and Pennell went up to give his order. He brought two glasses
to Peter's table and sat down. "What fools we are, padre!" he said. "I
sometimes think that the man who gets simply and definitely tight when he
feels he wants a breather is wiser than most of us. We drink till we're
excited, and then we drink to get over it. And I suppose the devil sits
and grins. Well, it's a weary world, and there isn't any good road out of
it. I sometimes wish I'd stopped a bullet earlier on in the day. And yet
I don't know. We do get some excitement. Let's go to a music-hall
to-night."

"What about dinner?"

"Oh, get a quiet one in a decent hotel. I'll have to clear out at
half-time if you don't mind."

"Not a bit," said Peter. "Half will be enough for me, I think. But let's
have dinner before we've had more of these things."

The bar was filling up. A few girls came and went. Pennell nodded to a
man or two, and finished his glass. And they went off to dinner.

The music-hall was not much of a show, but it glittered, and people
obviously enjoyed it. Peter watched the audience as much as the stage.
Quite respectable French families were there, and there was nothing done
that might not have been done on an English stage--perhaps less, but the
words were different. The women as well as the men screamed with
laughter, flushed of face, but an old fellow, with his wife and daughter,
obviously from the country, sat as stiffly as an English farmer through
it all. The daughter glanced once at the two officers, but then looked
away; she was well brought up. A half-caste Algerian, probably, came
on and danced really extraordinarily well, and a negro from the States,
equally ready in French and English, sang songs which the audience
demanded. He was entirely master, however, and, conscious of his power,
used it. No one in the place seemed to have heard of the colour-bar,
except a couple of Americans, who got up and walked out when the comedian
clasped a white girl round the waist in one of his songs. The negro made
some remark that Peter couldn't catch, and the place shook with laughter.

At half-time everyone flocked into a queer kind of semi-underground hall
whose walls were painted to represent a cave, dingy cork festoons and
"rocks" adding to the illusion. Here, at long tables, everyone drank
innocuous French beer, that was really quite cool and good. It was rather
like part of an English bank holiday. Everybody spoke to everybody else,
and there were no classes and distinctions. You could only get one glass
of beer, for the simple reason that there were too many drinking and too
few supplying the drinks for more in the time.

"I must go," said Pennell, "but don't you bother to come."

"Oh yes, I will," said Peter, and they got up together.

In the entrance-hall, however, a girl was apparently waiting for someone,
and as they passed Peter recognised her. "Louise!" he exclaimed.

She smiled and held out her hand. Peter took it, and Pennell after him.

"Do you go now?" she asked them. "The concert is not half finished."

"I've got to get back to work," said Pennell, "worse luck. It is la
guerre, you know!"

"Poor boy!" said she gaily. "And you?" turning to Peter.

Moved by an impulse, he shook his head. "No," he said, "I was only seeing
him home."

"Bien! See me home instead, then," said Louise.

"Nothing doing," said Peter, using a familiar phrase.

She laughed. "Bah! cannot a girl have friends without that, eh? You have
a fiancée, 'ave you not? Oh yes, I remember--I remember very well. Come!
I have done for to-day; I am tired. I will make you some coffee, and we
shall talk. Is it not so?"

Peter looked at Pennell. "Do you mind, Pen?" he asked. "I'd rather like
to."

"Not a scrap," said the other cheerfully; "wish I could come too. Ask me
another day, Louise, will you?"

She regarded him with her head a little on one side. "I do not know," she
said. "I do not think you would talk with me as he will. You like what
you can get from the girls of France now; but after, no more. Monsieur,
'e is different. He want not quite the same. Oh, I know! Allons."

Pennell shrugged his shoulders. "One for me," he said. "Well, good-night.
I hope you both enjoy yourselves."

In five minutes Peter and Louise were walking together down the street. A
few passers-by glanced at them, or especially at her, but she took no
notice, and Peter, in a little, felt the strangeness of it all much less.
He deliberately crossed once or twice to get between her and the road, as
he would have done with a lady, and moved slightly in front of her when
they encountered two drunken men. She chatted about nothing in
particular, and Peter thought to himself that he might almost have been
escorting Hilda home. But if Hilda had seen him!

She ushered him into her flat. It was cosy and nicely furnished, very
different from that of the afternoon. A photograph or two stood about in
silver frames, a few easy-chairs, a little table, a bookshelf, and a
cupboard. A fire was alight in the grate; Louise knelt down and poked it
into a flame.

"You shall have French coffee," she said. "And I have even lait for you."
She put a copper kettle on the fire, and busied herself with cups and
saucers. These she arranged on the little table, and drew it near the
fire. Then she offered him a cigarette from a gold case, and took one
herself. "Ah!" she said, sinking back into a chair. "Now we are, as you
say, comfy, is it not so? We can talk. Tell me how you like la France,
and what you do."

Peter tried, but failed rather miserably, and the shrewd French girl
noticed it easily enough. She all but interrupted him as he talked of
Abbeville and the raid. "Mon ami," she said, "you have something on your
mind. You do not want to talk of these things. Tell me."

Peter looked into the kindly keen eyes. "You are right, Louise," he said.
"This is a day of trouble for me."

She nodded. "Tell me," she said again. "But first, what is your name, mon
ami? It is hard to talk if one does not know even the name."

He hardly hesitated. It seemed natural to say it. "Peter," he said.

She smiled, rolling the "r." "Peterr. Well, Peterr, go on."

"I'll tell you about to-day first," he said, and, once launched, did so
easily. He told the little story well, and presently forgot the strange
surroundings. It was all but a confession, and surely one was never more
strangely made. And from the story he spoke of Julie, but concealed her
identity, and then he spoke of God. Louise hardly said a word. She poured
out coffee in the middle, but that was all. At last he finished.

"Louise," he said, "it comes to this: I've nothing left but Julie. It was
she restrained me this afternoon, I think. I'm mad for her; I want her
and nothing else. But with her, somehow, I lose everything else I possess
or ever thought I possessed." And he stopped abruptly, for she did not
know his business in life, and he had almost given it away.

When he had finished she slipped a hand into his, and said no word.
Suddenly she looked up. "Peterr, mon ami," she said, "listen to me. I
will tell you the story of Louise, of me. My father, he lived--oh, it
matters not; but he had some money, he was not poor. I went to a good
school, and I came home for the holidays. I had one sister older than
me. Presently I grew up; I learnt much; I noticed. I saw there were
terrible things, chez nous. My mother did not care, but I--I cared. I was
mad. I spoke to my sister: it was no good. I spoke to my father, and,
truly, I thought he would kill me. He beat me--ah, terrible--and I ran
from the house. I wept under the hedges: I said I would no more go 'ome.
I come to a big city. I found work in a big shop--much work, little
money--ah, how little! Then I met a friend: he persuade me, at last he
keep me--two months, three, or more; then comes the war. He is an
officer, and he goes. We kiss, we part--oui, he love me, that officer. I
pray for him: I think I nevair leave the church; but it is no good. He is
dead. Then I curse le bon Dieu. They know me in that place: I can do
nothing unless I will go to an 'otel--to be for the officers, you
understand? I say, Non. I sell my things and I come here. Here I do
well--you understand? I am careful; I have now my home. But this is what
I tell you, Peterr: one does wrong to curse le bon Dieu. He is wise--ah,
how wise!--it is not for me to say. And good--ah, Jesu! how good! You
think I do not know; I, how should I know? But I know. I do not
understand. For me, I am caught; I am like the bird in the cage. I cannot
get out. So I smile, I laugh--and I wait."

She ceased. Peter was strangely moved, and he pressed the hand he held
almost fiercely. The tragedy of her life seemed so great that he hardly
dare speak of his own. But: "What has it to do with me?" he demanded.

She gave a little laugh. "'Ow should I say?" she said. "But you think God
not remember you, and, Peterr, He remember all the time."

"And Julie?" quizzed Peter after a moment.

Louise shrugged her shoulders. "This love," she said, "it is one great
thing. For us women it is perhaps the only great thing, though your
English women are blind, are dead, they do not see. Julie, she is as us,
I think. She is French inside. La pauvre petite, she is French in the
heart."

"Well?" demanded Peter again.

"C'est tout, mon ami. But I am sorry for Julie."

"Louise," said Peter impulsively, "you're better than I--a thousand
times. I don't know how to thank you." And he lifted her hand to his
lips.

He hardly touched it. She sprang up, withdrawing it. "Ah, non, non,"
she cried. "You must not. You forget. It is easy for you, for you are
good--yes, so good. You think I did not notice in the street, but I see.
You treat me like a lady, and now you kiss my hand, the hand of the girl
of the street.... Non, non!" she protested vehemently, her eyes alight.
"I would kiss your feet!"

Outside, in the darkened street, Peter walked slowly home. At the gate of
the camp he met Arnold, returning from a visit to another mess. "Hullo!"
he called to Peter, "and where have you been?"

Peter looked at him for a moment without replying. "_I'm_ not sure, but
seeing for the first time a little of what Christ saw, Arnold, I think,"
he said at last, with a catch in his voice.



CHAPTER IV


Looking back on them afterwards, Peter saw the months that followed as a
time of waiting between two periods of stress. Not, of course, that
anyone can ever stand still, for even if one does but sit by a fire and
warm one's hands, things happen, and one is imperceptibly led forward. It
was so in this case, but, not unnaturally, Graham hardly noticed in what
way his mind was moving. He had been through a period of storm, and he
had to a certain extent emerged from it. The men he had met, and above
all Julie, had been responsible for the opening of his eyes to facts that
he had before passed over, and it was entirely to his credit that he
would not refuse to accept them and act upon them. But once he had
resolved to do so things, as it were, slowed down. He went about his work
in a new spirit, the spirit not of the teacher, but of the learner, and
ever since his talk with Louise he thought--or tried to think--more of
what love might mean to Julie than to himself. The result was a curious
change in their relations, of which the girl was more immediately and
continually conscious than Peter. She puzzled over it, but could not get
the clue, and her quest irritated her. Peter had always been the least
little bit nervous in her presence. She had known that he never knew what
she would do or say next, and her knowledge had amused and carried her
away. But now he was so self-possessed. Very friendly they were, and they
met often--in the ward for a few sentences that meant much to each of
them; down town by arrangement in a cafe, or once or twice for dinner;
and once for a day in the country, though not alone; and he was always
the same. Sometimes, on night duty, she would grope for an adjective to
fit him, and could only think of "tender." He was that. And she hated it,
or all but hated it. She did not want tenderness from him, for it seemed
to her that tenderness meant that he was, as it were, standing aloof from
her, considering, helping when he could. She demanded the fierce rush of
passion with which he would seize and shrine her in the centre of his
heart, deaf to her entreaties, careless of her pain. She would love then,
she thought, and sometimes, going to the window of the ward and staring
out over the harbour at the twinkling lights, she would bite her lip with
the pain of it. He had thought she dismissed love lightly when she called
it animal passion. Good God, if he only knew!...

Peter, for his part, did not realise so completely the change that had
come over him. For one thing, he saw himself all the time, and she did
not. She did not see him when he lay on his bed in a tense agony of
desire for her. She did not see him when life looked like a tumbled heap
of ruins to him and she smiled beyond. She all but only saw him when he
was staring at the images that had been presented to him during the past
months, or hearing in imagination Louise's quaintly accepted English and
her quick and vivid "La pauvre petite!"

For it was Louise, curiously enough, who affected him most in these days.
A friendship sprang up between them of which no one knew. Pennell and
Donovan, with whom he went everywhere, did not speak of it either to him
or to one another, with that real chivalry that is in most men, but if
they had they would have blundered, misunderstanding. Arnold, of whom
Peter saw a good deal, did not know, or, if he knew, Peter never knew
that he knew. Julie, who was well aware of his friendship with the two
first men, knew that he saw French girls, and, indeed, openly chaffed
him about it. But under her chaff was an anxiety, typical of her. She did
not know how far he went in their company, and she would have given
anything to know. She guessed that, despite everything, he had had no
physical relationship with any one of them, and she almost wished it
might be otherwise. She knew well that if he fell to them, he would the
more readily turn to her. There was a strength about him now that she
dreaded.

Whatever Louise thought she kept wonderfully hidden. He took her out to
dinner in quiet places, and she would take him home to coffee, and they
would chat, and there was an end. She was seemingly well content. She did
her business, and they would even speak of it. "I cannot come to-night,
mon ami," she would say; "I am busy." She would nod to him as she passed
out of the restaurant with someone else, and he would smile back at her.
Nor did he ever remonstrate or urge her to change her ways. And she
knew why. He had no key with which to open her cage.

Once, truly, he attempted it, and it was she who refused the glittering
thing. He rarely came uninvited to her flat, for obvious reasons; but one
night she heard him on the stairs as she got ready for bed. He was
walking unsteadily, and she thought at first that he had been drinking.
She opened to him with the carelessness her life had taught her, her
costume off, and her black hair all about her shoulders. "Go in and wait,
Peterr," she said; "I come."

She had slipped on a coloured silk wrap, and gone in to the sitting-room
to find him pacing up and down. She smiled. "Sit down, mon ami," she
said; "I will make the coffee. See, it is ready. Mais vraiment, you shall
drink café noir to-night. And one leetle glass of this--is it not so?"
and she took a green bottle of peppermint liqueur from the cupboard.

"Coffee, Louise," he said, "but not the other. I don't want it."

She turned and looked more closely at him then. "Non," she said, "pardon.
But sit you down. Am I to have the wild beast prowling up and down in my
place?"

"That's just it, Louise," he cried; "I am a wild beast to-night. I can't
stand it any longer. Kiss me."

He put his arms round her, and bent her head back, studying her French
and rather inscrutable eyes, her dark lashes, her mobile mouth, her long
white throat. He put his hand caressingly upon it, and slid his fingers
beneath the loose lace that the open wrap exposed. "Dear," he said, "I
want you to-night."

"To-night, chérie?" she questioned.

"Yes, now," he said hotly. "And why not? You give to other men--why not
to me, Louise?"

She freed herself with a quick gesture, and, brave heart, she laughed
merrily. The devil must have started at that laugh, and the angels of God
sung for joy. "Ah, non," she cried, "It is the mistake you make. I _sell_
myself to other men. But you--you are my friend; I cannot sell myself to
you."

He did not understand altogether why she quibbled; how should he have
done? But lie was ashamed. He slid into the familiar chair and ran his
fingers through his hair. "Forgive me, dear," he muttered. "I think I am
mad to-night, but I am not drunk, as you thought, except with worrying.
I feel lost, unclean, body and soul, and I thought you would help me to
forget--no, more than that, help me to feel a man. Can't you, won't you?"
he demanded, looking up. "I am tired of play-acting. I've a body, like
other men. Let me plunge down deep to-night, Louise. It will do me good,
and it doesn't matter. That girl was right after all. Oh, what a fool I
am!"

Then did the girl of the streets set out to play her chosen part. She did
not preach at all--how could she? Besides, neither had she any use for
the Ten Commandments. But if ever Magdalene broke an alabaster-box of
very precious ointment, Louise did so that night. She was worldly wise,
and she did not disdain to use her wisdom. And when he had gone she got
calmly into bed, and slept--not all at once, it is true, but as
resolutely as she had laughed and talked. It was only when she woke in
the morning that she found her pillow wet with tears.

It was a few days later that Louise took Peter to church. His ignorance
of her religion greatly amused her, or so at least she pretended, and
when he asked her to come out of town to lunch one morning, and she
refused because it was Corpus Christi, and she wanted to go to the sung
Mass, it was he who suggested that he should go with her. She looked at
him queerly a moment, and then agreed. They met outside the church and
went in together, as strange a pair as ever the meshes of that ancient
net which gathers of all kinds had ever drawn towards the shore.

Louise led him to a central seat, and found the place for him in her
Prayer-Book. The building was full, and Peter glanced about him
curiously. The detachment of the worshippers impressed him immensely.
There did not appear to be any proscribed procedure among them, and even
when the Mass began he was one of the few who stood and knelt as the
rubrics of the service directed. Louise made no attempt to do so. For the
most part she knelt, and her beads trickled ceaselessly through her
fingers.

Peter was, if anything, bored by the Mass, though he would not admit it
to himself. It struck him as being a ratherly poorly played performance.
True, the officiating ministers moved and spoke with a calm regularity
which impressed him, familiar as he was with clergymen who gave out hymns
and notices, and with his own solicitude at home that the singing should
go well or that the choirboys should not fidget. But there was a terrible
confusion with chairs, and a hideous kind of clapper that was used,
apparently, to warn the boys to sit and rise. The service, moreover, as a
reverential congregational act of worship such as he was used to hope
for, was marred by innumerable collections, and especially by the old
woman who came round even during the _Sanctus_ to collect the rent of the
chairs they occupied, and changed money or announced prices with all the
zest of the market-place.

But at the close there was a procession which is worth considerable
description. Six men with censers of silver lined up before the high
altar, and stood there, slowly swinging the fragrant bowls at the end of
their long chains. The music died down. One could hear the rhythmical,
faint clangour of the metal. And then, intensely sudden, away in the west
gallery, but almost as if from the battlements of heaven, pealed out
silver trumpets in a fanfare. The censers flew high in time with it, and
the sweet clouds of smoke, caught by the coloured sunlight of the rich
painted windows, unfolded in the air of the sanctuary. Lights moved and
danced, and the space before the altar filled with the white of the men
and boys who should move in the procession. Again and again those
trumpets rang out, and hardly had the last echoes died away than the
organ thundered the _Pange Lingua_, as a priest in cloth of gold turned
from the altar with the glittering monstrance in his hand. Even from
where he stood Peter could see the white centre of the Host for Whom
all this was enacted. Then the canopy, borne by four French laymen in
frock-coats and white gloves, hid It from his sight; and the high gold
cross, and its attendant tapers, swung round a great buttress into view.

Peter had never heard a hymn sung so before. First the organ would peal
alone; then the men's voices unaided would take up the refrain; then the
organ again; then the clear treble of the boys; then, like waves breaking
on immemorial cliffs, organ, trumpets, boys, men, and congregation would
thunder out together till the blood raced in his veins and his eyes were
too dim to see.

Down the central aisle at last they came, and Peter knelt with the rest.
He saw how the boys went before throwing flowers; how in pairs, as the
censers were recharged, the thurifers walked backward before the three
beneath the canopy, of whom one, white-haired and old, bore That in
the monstrance which all adored. In music and light and colour and scent
the Host went by, as It had gone for centuries in that ancient place, and
Peter knew, all bewildered as he was, there, by the side of the girl,
that a new vista was opening before his eyes.

It was not that he understood as yet, or scarcely so. In a few minutes
all had passed them, and he rose and turned to see the end. He watched
while, amid the splendour of that court, with singers and ministers and
thurifers arranged before, the priest ascended to enthrone the Sacrament
in the place prepared for It. With banks of flowers behind, and the
glitter of electric as well as of candle light, the jewelled rays of the
monstrance gleaming and the organ pealing note on note in a triumphant
ecstasy, the old, bent priest placed That he carried there, and sank down
before It. Then all sound of singing and of movement died away, and from
that kneeling crowd one lone, thin voice, but all unshaken, cried to
Heaven of the need of men. It was a short prayer and he could not
understand it, but it seemed to Peter to voice his every need, and to go
on and on till it reached the Throne. The "Amen" beat gently about him,
and he sank his face in his hands.

But only for a second. The next he was lifted to his feet. All that had
gone before was as nothing to this volume of praise that shook, it seemed
to him, the very carven roof above and swept the ancient walls in waves
of sound.

_Adoremus in aeternum Sanctissimum Sacramentum_, cried men on earth, and,
as it seemed to him, the very angels of God.

But outside he collected his thoughts. "Well," he said. "I'm glad I've
been, but I shan't go again."

"Why not?" demanded Louise. "It was most beautiful. I have never 'eard it
better."

"Oh yes, it was," said Peter; "the music and singing were wonderful,
but--forgive me if I hurt you, but I can't help saying it--I see now what
our people mean when they say it is nothing less than idolatry."

"Idolatry?" queried Louise, stumblingly and bewildered. "But what do you
mean?"

"Well," said Peter, "the Sacrament is, of course, a holy thing, a very
holy thing, the sign and symbol of Christ Himself, but in that church
sign and symbol were forgotten; the Sacrament was worshipped as if it
were very God."

"Oui, oui," protested Louise vehemently, "It is. It is le bon Jesu. It is
He who is there. He passed by us among them all, as we read He went
through the crowds of Jerusalem in the holy Gospel. And there was not one
He did not see, either," she added, with a little break in her voice.

Peter all but stopped in the road. It was absurd that so simple a thing
should have seemed to him new, but it is so with us all. We know in a
way, but we do not understand, and then there comes the moment of
illumination--sometimes.

"Jesus Himself!" he exclaimed, and broke off abruptly. He recalled a
fragment of speech: "Not a dead man, not a man on the right hand of the
throne of God." But "He can't be found," Langton had said. Was it so? He
walked on in silence. What if Louise, with her pitiful story and her
caged, earthy life, had after all found what the other had missed? He
pulled himself together; it was too good to be true.

One day Louise asked him abruptly if he had been to see the girl in
the house which he had visited with Pennell. He told her no, and she
said--they had met by chance in the town--"Well, go you immediately,
then, or you will not see her."

"What do you mean?" he asked. "Is she ill--dying?"

"Ah, non, not dying, but she is ill. They will take her to a 'ospital
to-morrow. But this afternoon she will be in bed. She like to see you,
I think."

Peter left her and made for the house. On his way he thought of
something, and took a turning which led to the market-place of flowers.
There, at a stall, he bought a big bunch of roses and some sprays of
asparagus fern, and set off again. Arriving, he found the door shut. It
was a dilemma, for he did not even know the girl's name, but he knocked.

A grim-faced woman opened the door and stared at him and his flowers. "I
think there is a girl sick here," said Peter. "May I see her?"

The woman stared still harder, and he thought she was going to refuse him
admission, but at length she gave way. "Entrez," she said. "Je pense que
vous savez le chambre. Mais, le bouquet--c'est incroyable."

Peter went up the stairs and knocked at the door. A voice asked who was
there, and he smiled because he could not say. The girl did not know his
name, either. "A friend," he said: "May I come in?"

A note of curiosity sounded in her voice. "Oui, certainement. Entrez,"
she called. Peter turned the handle and entered the remembered room.

The girl was sitting up in bed in her nightdress, her hair in disorder,
and the room felt hot and stuffy and looked more tawdry than ever. She
exclaimed at the sight of his flowers. He deposited the big bunch by the
side of her, and seated himself on the edge of the bed. She had been
reading a book, and he noticed it was the sort of book that Langton and
he had seen so prominently in the book-shop at Abbeville.

If he had expected to find her depressed or ashamed, he was entirely
mistaken. "Oh, you darling," she cried in clipped English. "Kiss me,
quick, or I will forget the orders of the doctor and jump out of bed and
catch you. Oh, that you should bring me the rose so beautiful! Hélas! I
may not wear one this night in the café! See, are they not beautiful
here?"

She pulled her nightdress open considerably more than the average evening
dress is cut away and put two or three of the blooms on her white bosom,
putting her head on one side to see the result. "Oui," she exclaimed, "je
suis exquise! To-night I 'ave so many boys I do not know what to do! But
I forget: I cannot go. Je suis malade, très malade. You knew? You are
angry with me--is it not so?"

He laughed; there was nothing else to do. "No," he said; "why should I
be? But I am very sorry."

She shrugged her shoulders. "It is nothing," she said. "C'est la guerre
for me. I shall not be long, and when I come out you will come to see me
again, will you not? And bring me more flowers? And you shall not let me
'ave the danger any more, and if I do wrong you shall smack me 'ard.
Per'aps you will like that. In the books men like it much. Would you like
to whip me?" she demanded, her eyes sparkling as she threw herself over
in the bed and looked up at him.

Peter got up and moved away to the window. "No," he said shortly, staring
out. He had a sensation of physical nausea, and it was as much as he
could do to restrain himself. He realised, suddenly, that he was in the
presence of the world, the flesh, and the devil's final handiwork. Only
his new knowledge kept him quiet. Even she might be little to blame. He
remembered all that she had said to him before, and suddenly his disgust
was turned into overwhelming pity. This child before him--for she was
little more than a child--had bottomed degradation. For the temporary
protection and favour of a man that she guessed to be kind there was
nothing in earth or in hell that she would not do. And in her already
were the seeds of the disease that was all but certain to slay her.

He turned again to the bed, and knelt beside it. "Poor little girl," he
said, and lightly brushed her hair. He certainly never expected the
result.

She pushed him from her. "Oh, go, go!" she cried. "Quick go! You pretend,
but you do not love me. Why you give me money, the flowers, if you do not
want me? Go quick. Come never to see me again!"

Peter did the only thing he could do; he went. "Good-bye," he said
cheerfully at the door. "I hope you will be better soon. I didn't mean to
be a beast to you. Give the flowers to Lucienne if you don't want them;
she will be able to wear them to-night. Cheerio. Good-bye-ee!"

"Good-bye-ee!" she echoed after him. And he closed the door on her life.

In front of the Hôtel de Ville he met Arnold, returning from the club,
and the two men walked off together. In a moment of impulse he related
the whole story to him. "Now," he said, "what do you make of all that?"

Arnold was very moved. It was not his way to say much, but he walked on
silently for a long time. Then he said: "The Potter makes many vessels,
but never one needlessly. I hold on to that. And He can remake the broken
clay."

"Are you sure?" asked Peter.

"I am," said Arnold. "It's not in the Westminster Confession, nor in the
Book of Common Prayer, nor, for all I know, in the Penny Catechism, but I
believe it. God Almighty must be stronger than the devil, Graham."

Peter considered this. Then he shook his head. "That won't wash, Arnold,"
he said. "If God is stronger than the devil, so that the devil is never
ultimately going to succeed, I can see no use in letting him have his
fling at all. And I've more respect for the devil than to think he'd take
it. It's childish to suppose the existence of two such forces at a
perpetual game of cheat. Either there is no devil and there is no
hell--in which case I reckon that there is no heaven either, for a heaven
would not be a heaven if it were not attained, and there would be no true
attainment if there were no possibility of failure--or else there are all
three. And if there are all three, the devil wins out, sometimes, in the
end."

"Then, God is not almighty?"

Peter shrugged his shoulders. "If I breed white mice, I don't lessen my
potential power if I choose to let some loose in the garden to see if the
cat will get them. Besides, in the end I could annihilate the cat if I
wanted to."

"You can't think of God so," cried Arnold sharply.

"Can't I?" demanded Peter. "Well, maybe not, Arnold; I don't know that I
can think of Him at all. But I can face the facts of life, and if I'm not
a coward, I shan't run away from them. That's what I've been doing these
days, and that's what I do not think even a man like yourself does
fairly. You think, I take it, that a girl like that is damned utterly by
all the canons of theology, and then, forced on by pity and tenderness,
you cry out against them all that she is God's making and He will not
throw her away. Is that it?"

Arnold slightly evaded an answer. "How can you save her, Graham?" he
asked.

"I can't. I don't pretend I can. I've nothing to say or do. I see only
one flicker of hope, and that lies in the fact that she doesn't
understand what love is. No shadow of the truth has ever come her way.
If now, by any chance, she could see for one instant--in _fact_, mind
you--the face of God.... If God is Love," he added. They walked a dozen
paces. "And even then she might refuse," he said.

"Whose fault would that be?" demanded the older man.

Peter answered quickly, "Whose fault? Why, all our faults--yours and
mine, and the fault of men like Pennell and Donovan, as well as her own,
too, as like as not. We've all helped build up the scheme of things as
they are, and we are all responsible. We curse the Germans for making
this damned war, and it is the war that has done most to make that girl;
but they didn't make it. No Kaiser made it, and no Nietzsche. The only
person who had no hand in it that I know of was Jesus Christ."

"And those who have left all and followed Him," said Arnold softly.

"Precious few," retorted Peter.

The other had nothing to say.

       *       *       *       *       *

During these months Peter wrote often to Hilda, and with increasing
frankness. Her replies grew shorter as his letters grew longer. It was
strange, perhaps, that he should continue to write, but the explanation
was not far to seek. It was by her that he gauged the extent of his
separation from the old outlook, and in her that he still clung,
desperately, as it were, to the past. Against reason he elevated her
into a kind of test position, and if her replies gave him no
encouragement, they at least served to make him feel the inevitableness
and the reality of his present position. It would have been easy to get
into the swim and let it carry him carelessly on--moderately easy, at any
rate. But with Hilda to refer to he was forced to take notice, and it was
she, therefore, that hastened the end. Just after Christmas, in a fit of
temporary boldness, he told her about Louise, so that it was Louise again
who was the responsible person during these months. Hilda's reply was
delayed, nor had she written immediately. When he got it, it was brief
but to the point. She did not doubt, she said, but that what he had
written was strictly true, and she did not doubt his honour. But he must
see that their relationship was impossible. She couldn't marry the man
who appeared actually to like the company of such a woman, nor could she
do other than feel that the end would seem to him as plain as it did to
her, and that he would leave the Church, or at any rate such a ministry
in it as she could share. She had told her people that she was no longer
engaged in order that he should feel free, but she would ever remember
the man as she had known him, whom she had loved, and whom she loved
still.

It was in the afternoon that Peter got the letter, and he was just
setting off for the hospital. When he had read it, he put on his cap and
set off in the opposite direction. There was a walk along the sea-wall a
few feet wide, where the wind blew strongly laden with the Channel
breezes, and on the other side was a waste of sand and stone. In some
places water was on both sides of the wall, and here one could feel more
alone than anywhere else in the town.

Peter set off, his head in a mad whirl. He had felt that such a letter
would come for weeks, but that did not, in a way, lessen the blow when it
came. He had known, too, that Hilda was not to him what she had been, but
he had not altogether felt that she never could be so again. Now he knew
that he had gone too far to turn back. He felt, he could not help it,
released in a sense, with almost a sense of exhilaration behind it, for
the unknown lay before. And yet, since we are all so human, he was
intensely unhappy below all this. He called to mind little scenes and
bits of scenes: their first meeting; the sight of her in church as he
preached; how she had looked at the dining-table in Park Lane; her walk
as she came to meet him in the park. And he knew well enough how he had
hurt her, and the thought maddened him. He told himself that God was a
devil to treat him so; that he had tried to follow the right; and that
the way had led him down towards nothing but despair. He was no nearer
answering the problems that beset him. He might have been in a fool's
paradise before, but what was the use of coming out to see the devil as
he was and men and women as they were if he could see no more than that?
The throne of his heart was empty, and there was none to fill it.

Julie?



CHAPTER V


The sea-wall ended not far from Donovan's camp of mud and cinders, and
having got there, Peter thought he would go on and get a cup of tea. He
crossed the railway-lines, steered through a great American rest camp,
crossed the canal, and entered the camp. It was a cheerless place in
winter, and the day was drawing in early with a damp fog. A great French
airship was cruising around overhead and dropping down towards her
resting-place in the great hangar near by. She looked cold and ghostly up
aloft, the more so when her engines were shut off, and Peter thought how
chilly her crew must be. He had a hankering after Donovan's cheery
humour, especially as he had not seen him for some time. He crossed the
camp and made for the mess-room.

It was lit and the curtains were drawn, and, at the door, he stopped dead
at the sound of laughter. Then he walked quickly in. "Caught out, by
Jove!" said Donovan's voice. "You're for it, Julie."

A merry party sat round the stove, taking tea. Julie and Miss Raynard
were both there, with Pennell and another man from Donovan's camp. Julie
wore furs and had plainly just come in, for her cheeks were glowing with
exercise. Pennell was sitting next Miss Raynard, but Donovan, on a
wooden camp-seat, just beyond where Julie sat in a big cushioned chair,
looked out at him from almost under Julie's arm, as he bent forward. The
other man was standing by the table, teapot in hand.

One thinks quickly at such a time, and Peter's mind raced. Something of
the old envy and almost fear of Donovan that he had had first that day in
the hospital came back to him. He had not seen the two together for so
long that it struck him like a blow to hear Donovan call her by her
Christian name. It flashed across his mind also that she knew that it
was his day at the hospital, and that she had deliberately gone out; but
it dawned on him equally quickly that he must hide all that.

"I should jolly well think so," he said, laughing. "How do you do, Miss
Raynard? Donovan, can you give me some tea? I've come along the sea-wall,
and picked up a regular appetite. Are you in the habit of taking tea
here, Julie? I thought nurses were not allowed in camps."

She looked at him quickly, but he missed the meaning of her glance.
"Rather," she said; "I come here for tea about once a week, don't I,
Jack? No, nurses are not allowed in camps, but I always do what's not
allowed as far as possible. And this is so snug and out of the way. Mr.
Pennell, you can give me a cigarette now."

The other man offered Peter tea, which he took. "And how did the
festivities go off at Christmas?" he asked.

"Oh, topping," said Julie. "Let me see, you were at the play, so I
needn't talk about that; but you thought it good, didn't you?"

"Rippin'" said Peter.

"Well," said Julie, "then there was the dance on Boxing Night. We had
glorious fun. Jack, here, behaved perfectly abominably. He sat out about
half the dances, and I should think he kissed every pretty girl in the
room. Then we went down to the nurses' quarters of the officers' hospital
and made cocoa of all things, and had a few more dances on our own. They
made me dance a skirt dance on the table, and as I had enough laces on
this time, I did. After that--but I don't think I'll tell you what we did
after that. Why didn't you come?"

Peter had been at a big Boxing Night entertainment for the troops in the
Y.M.C.A. Central Hall, but he did not say so. "Oh," he said, "I had to go
to another stunt, but I must say I wish I'd been at yours. May I have
another cup of tea?"

The third man gave it to him again, and then, apologizing, left the room.
Donovan exchanged glances with Julie, and she nodded.

"I say, Graham," said Donovan, "I'll tell you what we've really met here
for to-day. We were going to fix it up and then ask you; but as you've
dropped in, we'll take it as a dispensation of Providence and let you
into the know. What do you say to a really sporting dinner at the New
Year?"

"Who's to be asked?" queried Peter, looking round. "Fives into a dinner
won't go."

"I should think not," cried Julie gaily. "Jack, here, is taking me,
aren't you?" Donovan said "I am" with great emphasis, and made as if he
would kiss her, and she pushed him off, laughing, holding her muff to his
face. Then she went on: "You're to take Tommy. It is Tommy's own
particular desire, and you ought to feel flattered. She says your auras
blend, whatever that may be; and as to Mr. Pennell, he's got a girl
elsewhere whom he will ask. Three and three make six; what do you think
of that?"

"Julie," said Tommy Raynard composedly, "you're the most fearful liar
I've ever met. But I trust Captain Graham knows you well enough by now."

"I do," said Peter, but a trifle grimly, though he tried not to show
it--"I do. I must say I'm jolly glad Donovan will be responsible for you.
It's going to be 'some' evening, I can see, and what you'll do if you get
excited I don't know. Flirt with the proprietor and have his wife down on
us, as like as not. In which event it's Donovan who'll have to make the
explanations. But come on, what are the details?"

"Tell him, Jack," said Julie. "He's a perfect beast, and I shan't speak
to him again."

Peter laughed. "Pas possible," he said. "But come on, Donovan; do as
you're told."

"Well, old bird," said Donovan, "first we meet here. Got that? It's safer
than any other camp, and we don't want to meet in town. We'll have tea
and a chat and then clear off. We'll order dinner in a private room at
the Grand, and it'll be a dinner fit for the occasion. They've got some
priceless sherry there, and some old white port. Cognac fine champagne
for the liqueur, and what date do you think?--1835 as I'm alive. I saw
some the other day, and spoke about it. That gave me the idea of the
dinner really, and I put it to the old horse that that brandy was worthy
of a dinner to introduce it. He tumbled at once. Veuve Cliquot as the
main wine. What about it?"

Peter balanced himself on the back of his chair and blew out
cigarette-smoke.

"What time are you ordering the ambulances?" he demanded.

"The beds, you mean," cried Julie, entirely forgetting her last words.
"That's what I say. _I_ shall never be able to walk to a taxi even."

"I'll carry you," said Donovan.

"You won't be able, not after such a night; besides, I don't believe you
could, anyhow. You're getting flabby from lack of exercise."

"Am I?" cried Donovan. "Let's see, anyway."

He darted at her, slipped an arm under her skirts and another under her
arms, and lifted her bodily from the chair.

"Jack," she shrieked, "put me down! Oh, you beast! Tommy, help, help!
Peter, make him put me down and I'll forgive you all you've said."

Tommy Raynard sprang up, laughing, and ran after Donovan, who could not
escape her. She threw an arm round his neck and bent his head backwards.
"I shall drop her," he shouted. Peter leaped forward, and Julie landed in
his arms.

For a second she lay still, and Peter stared down at her. With her quick
intuition she read something new in his eyes, and instantly looked away,
scrambling out and standing there flushed and breathing hard, her hands
at her hair. "You perfect brute!" she said to Donovan, laughing. "I'll
pay you out, see if I don't. All my hair's coming down."

"Capital!" said Donovan. "I've never seen it down, and I'd love to. Here,
let me help."

He darted at her; she dodged behind Peter; he adroitly put out a foot,
and Donovan collapsed into the big chair.

Julie clapped her hands and rushed at him, seizing a cushion, and the two
struggled there till Tommy Raynard pulled Julie forcibly away.

"Julie," she said, "this is a positive bear-garden. You must behave."

"And I," said Pennell, who had not moved, "would like to know a little
more about the dinner." He spoke so dryly that they all laughed, and
order was restored. Donovan, however, refused to get out of the big
chair, and Julie deliberately sat on his knee, smiling provocatively at
him.

Peter felt savage and bitter. Like a man, he was easily deceived, and he
had been taken by surprise at a bad moment. But he did his best to hide
it, and merely threw any remnants of caution he had left at all to the
winds.

"I suppose this is the best we can hope for, Captain Graham," said Miss
Raynard placidly. "Perhaps now you'll give us your views. Captain Donovan
never gets beyond the drinks, but I agree with Mr. Pennell we want
something substantial."

"I'm blest if I don't think you all confoundedly ungrateful," said
Donovan. "I worked that fine champagne for you beautifully. Anyone would
think you could walk in and order it any day. If we get it at all, it'll
be due to me and my blarney. Not but what it does deserve a good
introduction," he added. "I don't suppose there's another bottle in the
town."

Tommy sighed. "He's off again, or he will be," she said. "Do be quick,
Captain Graham."

"Well," said Peter. "I suggest, first, that you leave the ordering of the
room to me, and the decorations. I've most time, and I'd like to choose
the flowers. And the smokes and crackers. And I'll worry round and get
some menu-cards, and have 'em printed in style. And, if you like, I'll
interview the chef and see what he can give us. It's not much use our
discussing details without him."

"'A Daniel come to judgment,'" said Pennell. "Padre, I didn't know you
had it in you."

"A Solomon," said Julie mischievously.

"A Peter Graham," said Miss Raynard. "I always knew he had more sense in
his little finger than all the rest of you in your heads."

Donovan sighed from the depths of the chair. "Graham," he said, "for
Heaven's sake remember those..."

Julie clapped her hand over his mouth. He kissed it. She withdrew it with
a scream.

"...Drinks," finished Donovan. "The chef must suggest accordin'."

"Well," said Pennell, "I reckon that's settled satisfactorily. I'll get
out my invitation. In fact, I think, if I may be excused, I'll go and do
it now." He got up and reached for his cap.

They all laughed. "We'll see to it that there's mistletoe," cried Julie.

"Ah, thanks!" said Pennell; "that will be jolly, though some people I
know seem to get on well enough without it. So long. See you later,
padre."

He avoided Julie's flung cushion and stepped through the door. Miss
Raynard got up. "We ought to get a move on too, my dear," she said to
Julie.

"Oh, not yet," protested Donovan. "Let's have some bridge. There are just
four of us."

"You can never have played bridge with Julie, Captain Donovan," said Miss
Raynard. "She usually flings the cards at you half way through the
rubber. And she never counts. The other night she played a diamond
instead of a heart, when hearts were trumps, and she had the last and
all the rest of the tricks in her hand."

"Ah, well," said Donovan, "women are like that. They often mistake
diamonds for hearts."

"Jack," said Julie, "you're really clever. How do you do it? I had no
idea. Does it hurt? But don't do it again; you might break something.
Peter, you've been praised this evening, but you'd never think of that."

"He would not," said Miss Raynard.... "Come on, Julie."

Peter hesitated a second. Then he said: "You're going my way. May I see
you home?"

"Thanks," said Miss Raynard, and they all made a move.

"It's deuced dark," said Donovan. "Here, let me. I'll go first with a
candle so that you shan't miss the duck-boards."

He passed out, Tommy Raynard after him. Peter stood back to let Julie
pass, and as she did so she said: "You're very glum and very polite
to-night, Solomon. What's the matter?"

"Am I?" said Peter; "I didn't know it. And in any case Donovan is all
right, isn't he?"

He could have bitten his tongue out the next minute. She looked at him
and then began to laugh silently, and, still laughing, went out before
him. Peter followed miserably. At the gate Donovan said good-bye, and the
three set out for the hospital. Miss Raynard walked between Peter and
Julie, and did most of the talking, but the ground was rough and the path
narrow, and it was not until they got on to the dock road that much could
be said.

"This is the best Christmas I've ever had," declared Miss Raynard. "I'm
feeling positively done up. There was something on every afternoon and
evening last week, and then Julie sits on my bed till daybreak, more or
less, and smokes cigarettes. We've a bottle of benedictine, too, and it
always goes to her head. The other night she did a Salome dance on the
strength of it."

"It was really fine," said Julie. "You ought to have seen me."

"Till the towel slipped off: not then, I hope," said Tommy dryly.

"I don't suppose he'd have minded--would you, Peter?"

"Not a bit," said Peter cheerfully--"on the contrary."

"I don't know if you two are aware that you are positively indecent,"
said Tommy. "Let's change the subject. What's your news, Captain Graham?"

Peter smiled in the dark to himself. "Well," he said, "not much, but I'm
hoping for leave soon. I've pushed in for it, and our Adjutant told me
this morning he thought it would go through."

"Lucky man! I've got to wait three months. But yours ought to be about
now, Julie."

"I think it ought," said Julie shortly. Then: "What about the menu-cards,
Peter? Would you like me to help you choose them?"

"Would you?" said he eagerly. "To-morrow?"

"I'm on duty at five o'clock, but I can get off for an hour in the
afternoon. Could you come, Tommy?"

"No. Sorry; but I must write letters. I haven't written one for ages."

"Nor have I," said Julie, "but I don't mean to. I hate letters. Well,
what about it, Peter?"

"I should think we had better try that stationer's in the Rue Thiers," he
said. "If that won't do, the Nouvelles Galleries might. What do you
think?"

"Let's try the Galleries first. We could meet there. Say at three, eh? I
want to get some baby-ribbon, too."

Tommy sighed audibly. "She's off again," she said.

"Thank God, here's the hospital! Good-night, Captain Graham. You mustn't
cross the Rubicon to-night."

"You oughtn't to swear before him," said Julie in mock severity. "And
what in the world is the Rubicon?"

"Materially, to-night, it's the railway-line between his camp and the
hospital," said Tommy Raynard. "What else it is I'll leave him to
decide."

She held out her hand, and Peter saw a quizzical look on her face. He
turned rather hopelessly to Julie. "I say," he said, "didn't you _know_
it was my afternoon at the hospital?"

"Yes," said Julie, "and I knew you didn't come. At least, I couldn't see
you in any of the wards."

"Oh," he exclaimed, "I thought you'd been out all the afternoon. I'm
sorry. I am a damned fool, Julie!"

She laughed in the darkness. "I've known worse, Peter," she said, and was
gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

Next day Julie was in her most provocative of moods. Peter, eminently
respectable in his best tunic, waited ten minutes for her outside the
Nouvelles Galleries, and, like most men in his condition, considered that
she was never coming, and that he was the cynosure of neighbouring eyes.
When she did come, she was not apparently aware that she was late. She
ran her eyes over him, and gave a pretended gasp of surprise. "You're
looking wonderful, Padre Graham," she said. "Really, you're hard to live
up to. I never know what to expect or how to behave. Those black buttons
terrorise me. Come on."

She insisted on getting her ribbon first, and turned over everything
there was to be seen at that counter. The French girl who served them was
highly amused.

"Isn't that chic?" Julie demanded of Peter, holding up a lacy camisole
and deliberately putting it to her shoulders. "Wouldn't you love to see
me in it?"

"I would," he said, without the ghost of a smile.

"Well, you never will, of course," she said. "I shall never marry or be
given in marriage, and in any case, in that uniform, you've nothing
whatever to hope for.... Yes, I'll take that ribbon, thank you,
ma'm'selle. Peter, I suppose you can't carry it for me. Your pocket? Not
a bad idea; but let me put it in."

Peter stood while she undid his breast-pocket and stuffed it inside.

"Anything more?" demanded the French saleswoman interrogatively.

"Not to-day, merci," said Julie. "You see, Peter, you couldn't carry
undies for me, even in your pocket; it wouldn't be respectable. _Do_ come
on. You will keep us here the entire day."

They passed the smoking department, and she stopped suddenly. "Peter,"
she said, "I'm going to give you a pipe. Those chocolates you gave me at
Christmas were too delicious for anything. What sort do you like? A
briar? Let me see if it blows nicely." She put it to her lips. "I swear
I shall start a pipe soon, in my old age. By the way, I don't believe you
have any idea how old I am--have you, Peter? Guess."

She was quick to note the return to his old manner. He was nervous with
her, not sure of himself, and so not sure of her either. And she traded
on it. At the stationery department she made eyes at a couple of
officers, and insisted on examining Kirschner picture-postcards, some of
which she would not show him. "You can't possibly be seen looking at them
with those badges up," she whispered. "Dear me, if only Donovan were
here! He wouldn't mind, and I don't know which packet I like best. These
have got very little on, Peter--_very_ little, but I'm not sure that they
are not more decent than those. It's _much_ worse than a camisole,
you know...."

Peter was horribly conscious that the men were smiling at her. "Julie,"
he said desperately, "_do_ be sensible, just for a minute. We must get
those menu-cards."

"Well, you go and find the books," she said merrily. "I told you you
ought not to watch me buy these. I'll take the best care of myself," and
she looked past him towards the men.

Peter gave it up. "Julie," he said savagely, "if you make eyes any more,
I'll kiss you here and now--I swear I will."

Julie laughed her little nearly silent chuckle, and looked at him. "I
believe you would, Peter," she said, "and I certainly mustn't risk that.
I'll be good. Are those the books? Fetch me a chair, then, and I'll look
through them."

He bent over her as she turned the leaves. She wore a little toque that
had some relation to a nurse's uniform, but was distinctive of Julie. Her
fringe of brown hair lay along her forehead, and the thick masses of the
rest of it tempted him almost beyond endurance. "How will that do?" she
demanded, her eyes dancing. "Oh, do look at the cards and not at me!
You're a terrible person to bring shopping, Peter!"

The card selected, she had a bright idea. "What about candle-shades?" she
queried. "We can't trust the hotel. I want some with violets on them: I
love violets."

"Do you?" he said eagerly. "That's just what I wanted to know. Yes, it's
a fine idea; let's go and get them."

Outside, she gave a sigh of relief, and looked at the little gold
wrist-watch on her arm. "We've time," she said. "Take me to tea."

"You must know it's not possible," he said. "They're enforcing the order,
and one can't get tea anywhere."

She shook her head at him. "I think, Peter," she said, "you'll never
learn the ropes. Follow me."

Not literally, but metaphorically, he followed her. She led him to a big
confectioner's with two doors and several windows, in each of which was a
big notice of the new law forbidding teas or the purchase of chocolates.
Inside, she walked up to a girl who was standing by a counter, and who
greeted her with a smile. "It is cold outside," she said. "May I have a
warm by the fire?"

"Certainly, mademoiselle," said the girl. "And monsieur also. Will it
please you to come round here?"

They went behind the counter and in at a little door. There was a fire in
the grate of the small kitchen, and a kettle singing on the hob. Julie
sat down on a chair at the wooden table and looked round with
satisfaction.

"Why, it's all ready for us!" she exclaimed. "Chocolate cakes, Suzanne,
please, _and_ hot buttered scones. I'll butter them, if you bring the
scones."

They came, and she went to the fire, splitting them open and spreading
the butter lavishly. "I love France," she said. "All laws are made to be
broken, which is all that laws are good for, don't you think?"

"Yes," he said deliberately, glancing at the closed door, and bent and
kissed her neck. She looked up imperiously. "Again," she said; and he
kissed her on the lips. At that she jumped up with a quick return to the
old manner: "Peter! For a parson you are the outside edge. Go and sit
down over there and recollect yourself. To begin with, if we're found,
here, there'll be a row, and if you're caught kissing me, who knows what
will happen?"

He obeyed gaily. "Chaff away, Julie," he said, "but I shan't wear black
buttons at the dinner. You'll have to look out that night."

She put the scones on the table, and sat down. "And if I don't?" she
queried. Peter said nothing. He had suddenly thought of something. He
looked at her, and for the first time she would not meet his eyes.

It was thought better on New Year's Eve that they should go separately to
Donovan's camp, so Peter and Pennell set out for it alone. By the canal
Pennell left his friend to go and meet Elsie Harding, the third girl.
Peter went on alone, and found Donovan, giving some orders in the camp.
He stood with him till they saw the other four, who had met on the
tow-path, coming in together.

"He's a dark horse," called Julie, almost before they had come up, "and
so's she. Fancy Elsie being the third! I didn't know they knew each
other. We're a Colonial party to-night, Jack--all except Peter, that is,
for Mr. Pennell is more Canadian than English. We'll teach them. By the
way, I can't go on saying 'Mr. Pennell' all night. What shall I call him,
Elsie?"

Peter saw that the new-comer wore an Australian brooch, and caught the
unmistakable but charming accent in her reply. "He's 'Trevor' to me, and
he can be to you, if you like, Julie," she said.

Tommy sighed audibly. "They're beginning early," she said; "but I suppose
the rest of us had better follow the general example--eh, Peter?"

In the anteroom, where tea was ready, Peter saw that Elsie was likely to
play Julie a good second. She was tall, taller than Pennell himself, and
dark skinned, with black hair and full red lips, and rather bigly built.
It appeared that her great gift was a set of double joints that allowed
her to play the contortionist with great effect. "You should just see her
in tights," said Julie. "Trevor, why didn't you say whom you were
bringing, and I'd have made her put them on. Then we could have had an
exhibition, but, as it is, I suppose we can't."

"I didn't know you knew her," he said.

"You never have time to talk of other people when you're together, I
suppose," she retorted. "Well, I've no doubt you make the most of your
opportunities, and you're very wise. But to-night you've got to behave,
more or less--at least, till after the coffee. Otherwise all our
preparations will be wasted--won't they, Peter?"

After tea they set off together for the tram-car that ran into town. It
was Julie who had decided this. She said she liked to see the people, and
the cars were so perfectly absurd, which was true. Also, that it would be
too early to enjoy taxis, the which was very like her. So they walked in
a body to the terminus, where a crowd of Tommies and French workmen and
factory girls were waiting. The night was cloudy and a little damp, but
it had the effect of adding mystery to the otherwise ugly street, and to
the great ships under repair in the dockyards close by. The lights of the
tram appeared at length round the corner, an engine-car and two trailers.
There was a bolt for them. They were packed on the steps, and the men had
to use elbows freely to get the whole party in, but the soldiers and the
workmen were in excellent humour, and the French girls openly admiring of
Julie. In the result, then, they were all hunched up in the end of a
"first" compartment, and Peter found himself with his back to the glass
door, Julie on his right, Elsie on his left.

"Every rib I have is broken," said the former.

"The natural or the artificial?" demanded Elsie. "Personally, I think I
broke a few of other people's."

They started, and the rattling of the ramshackle cars stopped
conversation. Julie drew Peter's attention to a little scene on the
platform outside, and he looked through the glass to see a big French
linesman with his girl. The man had got her into a corner, and then,
coolly putting his arms out on either side to the hand-rail and to the
knob of their door, he was facing his amorata, indifferent to the
world. Peter looked at the girl's coarse face. She was a factory hand,
bareheaded, and her sleeves were rolled up at her elbows. For all that,
she was neat, as a Frenchwoman invariably is. The girl caught his gaze,
and smiled. The linesman followed the direction of her eyes and glanced
friendly at Peter too. Then he saw Julie. A look of admiration came over
his face, and he put one hand comically to his heart. The girl slapped it
in a pretended fury, and Julie doubled up with laughter in her corner.
Peter bent over her. "_'Everybody's doing it, doing it, doing it,'_" he
quoted merrily.

The tram stopped, in the square before the Hôtel de Ville. There was a
great air of festivity and bustle about as they stepped out, for the New
Year is a great time in France. Lights twinkled in the misty dark; taxis
sprinted across the open spaces; and people greeted each other gaily by
the brightly-lit shops. Somehow or another the whole thing went to
Peter's head like wine. The world was good and merry, he thought
exultantly, and he, after all, a citizen of it. He caught Julie's arm,
"Come on," he called to the others. "I know the way," And to her: "Isn't
it topping? Do you feel gloriously exhilarated? I don't know why, Julie,
but I could do anything to-night."

She slipped her fingers down into his hand. "I'm so glad," she said. "So
could I."

They whirled across the road, the others after them, round the little
park in the centre of the square, and down an empty side-street. Peter
had reconnoitred all approaches, he said, and this was the best way.
Begging him to give her time to breathe, Tommy came along with Donovan,
and it suddenly struck Peter that the latter seemed happy enough. He
pressed Julie's hand: "Donovan's dropped into step with Tommy very
easily," he said. "Do you mind?"

She laughed happily and glanced back. "You're as blind as a bat, Peter,
when all's said and done," she said; "but oh, my dear, I can't play with
you to-night. There's only one person I want to walk with Peter."

Peter all but shouted. He drew her to him, and for once Julie was
honestly alarmed.

"Not now, you mad boy!" she exclaimed, but her eyes were enough for him.

"All right," he laughed at her; "wait a bit. There's time yet."

In the little entrance-hail the _maître d'hôtel_ greeted them. They were
the party of importance that night. He ushered them upstairs and opened a
door. The mademoiselles might make the toilette there. Another door: they
would eat here.

The men deposited their caps and sticks and coats on pegs outside, and
the girls, who had had to come in uniform also, were ready as soon as
they. They went in together. Elsie gave a little whistle of surprise.

Peter had certainly done well. Holly and mistletoe were round the walls,
and a big bunch of the latter was placed in such a way that it would hang
over the party as they sat afterwards by the fire. In the centre a silver
bowl held glorious roses, white and red, and at each girl's place was
a bunch of Parma violets and a few sprigs of flowering mimosa. Bon-bons
were spread over the white cloth. Julie's candle-shades looked perfect,
and so did the menu-cards.

"I trust that monsieur is satisfied," said the _maître d'hôtel_, bowing
towards the man who had had the dealings with him. He got his answer, but
not from Peter, and, being a Frenchman, smiled, bowed again, and
discreetly left the room; for Elsie, turning to Peter cried: "Did you do
it--even the wattle?" and kissed him heartily. He kissed her back, and
caught hold of Julie. "Tit for tat," he said to her under his breath,
holding her arms; "do you remember our first taxi?" Then, louder: "Julie
Is responsible for most of it," and he kissed her too.

They sorted themselves out at last, and the dinner, that two of them at
least who were there that night were never to forget, began. They were
uproariously merry, and the two girls who waited came and went wreathed
in smiles.

With the champagne came a discussion over the cork. "Give It to me" cried
Julie; "I want to wear it for luck."

"So do I," said Elsie; "we must toss for it."

Julie agreed, and they spun a coin solemnly.

"It's mine," cried Elsie, and pounced for it.

Julie snatched it away, "No, you don't," she said. "A man must put it in,
or there's no luck in it. Here you are, Trevor."

Pennell took it, laughing, and pushed back his chair. The others stood up
and craned over to see. Elsie drew up her skirt and Trevor pushed it
down her stocking amid screams of laughter, and the rattle of chaff.

"No higher or I faint," said Tommy.

Trevor stood up, a little flushed. "Here," said Peter, filling his glass
with what was left in the bottle, "drink this, Pen. You sure want it."

"It's your turn next," said Trevor, "and, by Jove, the bottle's empty!
Encore le vin," he called.

"Good idea. It's Julie's next cork, and Graham's the man to do it." said
Jack Donovan. "And then it'll be your turn, Tommy."

"And yours," she said, glancing at him.

"Bet you won't dare," said Elsie.

"Who won't?" retorted Julie.

"Peter, of course."

"My dear, you don't know Peter. Here you are, Peter; let's show them."

She tossed the cork to him and stood up coolly, put up her foot on the
edge of the table, and lifted her skirt. Peter pushed the cork into its
traditional place amid cheers, but he hardly heard. His fingers had
touched her skin, and he had seen the look in her eyes. No wine could
have intoxicated him so. He raised his glass. "Toasts!" he shouted.

They took him up and everyone rose to their feet.

"'Here's to all those that I love;
Here's to all those that love me;
Here's to all those that love them that love those
That love those that love them that love me!'"

he chanted.

"Julie's turn," cried Elsie.

"No," she said; "they know all my toasts."

"Not all," said Donovan; "there was one you never finished--something
about Blighty."

"Rhymes with nighty," put in Tommy coolly; "don't you remember, Julie?"

It seemed to Peter that he and Julie stood there looking at each other
for seconds, but probably no one but Tommy noticed. "Take it as read,"
cried Peter boisterously, and emptied his glass. His example was
infectious, and they all followed suit, but Donovan remarked across the
table to him:

"You spoiled a humorous situation, old dear."

Dinner over, they pushed the table against the wall, and pulled chairs
round the fire. Dessert, crackers, chocolates and cigarettes were piled
on a small table, and the famous liqueur came in with the coffee. They
filled the little glasses. "This is a great occasion," said Donovan;
"let's celebrate it properly. Julie, give us a dance first."

She sprang up at once. "Right-o," she said. "Clear the table."

They pushed everything to one side, and Peter held out his hand. Just
touching his fingers, she leaped up, and next minute circled there in a
whirl of skirts. A piano stood in a corner of the room, and Elsie ran to
it. Looking over her shoulder, she caught the pace, and the notes rang
out merrily.

Julie was the very spirit of devilment and fun. So light that she seemed
hardly to touch the table, she danced as if born to it. It was such an
incarnation of grace and music that a little silence fell on them all. To
Peter she appeared to dance to him. He could not take his eyes off her;
he cared nothing what others thought or saw. There was a mist before him
and thunder in his ears. He saw only her flushed, childlike face and
sparkling brown eyes, and a wave of her loosened hair that slipped across
them....

The music ceased. Panting for breath, she leaped down amid a chorus of
"Bravo's!" and held out her hand for the liqueur-glass. Peter put it in
her fingers, and he was trembling more than she, and spilt a little of
it. "Well, here's the best," she cried, and raised the glass. Then, with
a gay laugh, she put her moistened fingers to his mouth and he kissed
them, the spirit on his lips.

And now Elsie must show herself off. They sat down to watch her, and a
more insidious feeling crept over Peter as he did so. The girl bent her
body this way and that; arched herself over and looked at them between
her feet; twisted herself awry and made faces at them. They laughed, but
there was a new note in the laughter. An intense look had come into
Pennell's face, and Donovan was lolling back, his head on one side,
smiling evilly.

She finished and straightened herself, and they had more of the liqueur.
Then Tommy, as usual, remembered herself. "Girls," she said, "we must go.
It's fearfully late."

Donovan sat up. "What about taxis?" he demanded.

Peter went to the door. "They'll fetch them," he said. "I've made an
arrangement."

He went a little unsteadily to find the _maître d'hôtel_, and a boy was
despatched, while he settled the bill. They were tramping down the stairs
as he came out of the little office. Julie leading and laughing
uproariously at some joke. Donovan and Tommy were the steadiest, and they
came down together. It seemed to Peter that it was natural for them to do
so.

Pennell and Elsie got into one taxi. She leaned out of the window and
waved her hand. "We're the luckiest," she called; "we've the farthest to
go. Good-night everyone, and thanks ever so much."

A second taxi came up. "Jump in, Julie," said Tommy.

She got in, and Peter put his hand on the door. "I've settled everything,
Donovan," he said. "See you to-morrow. Good-night, Tommy."

"Good-night," she called back, and he got in. And next minute he was
alone with Julie.

In the closed and darkened taxi he put his arm round her and drew her to
him. "Oh, my darling," he murmured. "Julie, do you love me as I love you?
I can't live without you." He covered her face with hot kisses, and she
kissed him back.

"Julie," he said at length, breathlessly, "listen. My leave's come. I
knew this morning. Couldn't you possibly be in England when I am? I saw
you first on the boat coming over--remember? And you're due again."

"When do you go?" she queried.

"Fourteenth," he answered.

She considered. "I couldn't get off by then," she said, "but I might the
twenty-first or thereabouts. I'm due, as you say, and I think it could be
managed."

"Would you?" he demanded, and hung on her words.

She turned her face up to him, and even in the dark he could see her
glowing eyes. "It would be heaven, Peter," she whispered.

He kissed her passionately.

"I could meet you in town easily," he said.

"Not the leave-boat train," she replied; "it's not safe. Anyone might be
there. But I'll run down for a day or two to some friends in Sussex, and
then come up to visit more in town. I know very few people, of course,
and all my relations are in South Africa. No one would know to whom I
went, and if I didn't go to them, Peter, why nobody would know either."

"Splendid!" he answered, the blood pounding in his temples. "I'll make
all the arrangements. Shall I take a flat, or shall we go to an hotel? An
hotel's more fun, perhaps, and we can have a suite."

She leaned over against him and caught his hand to her breast, with a
little intake of breath.

"I'll leave it all to you, my darling," she whispered.

The taxi swung into the clearing before the hospital. "Peter," said
Julie, "Tommy's so sharp; I believe she'll suspect something."

"I don't care a damn for anyone!" said Peter fiercely; "let her. I only
want you."



CHAPTER VI


Peter secured his leave for Monday the 21st from Boulogne, which
necessitated his leaving Le Havre at least twenty-four hours before that
day. There were two ways of travelling--across country in a troop-train,
or by French expresses via Paris. He had heard so much of the latter plan
that he determined to try it. It had appeared to belong to the reputation
of the Church.

His movement order was simply from the one port to the other, and was
probably good enough either way round with French officials; but there
was a paper attached to it indicating that the personnel in question
would report at such a time to the R.T.O. at such a station, and the time
and the station spelt troop-train unmistakably. Now, the troop-train
set out on its devious journey an hour later than the Paris express from
the same station, and the hour of the Paris express corresponded with the
time that all decent officers go to dinner. Peter therefore removed the
first paper, folded it up thoughtfully, and put it in his pocket. He then
reported to the R.T.O. a quarter of an hour before the Paris train
started, and found, as he expected, a N.C.O. in sole charge. The man took
his paper and read it. He turned it over; there was no indication of
route anywhere. "Which train are you going by, sir?" he asked.

"Paris mail," said Peter coolly. "Will you please put my stuff in a
first?"

"Certainly, sir," said the man, endorsed the order to that effect, and
shouldered a suit-case. Peter followed him. He was given a first to
himself, and the Deputy R.T.O. saw the French inspector and showed him
the paper. Peter strolled off and collected a bottle of wine, some
sandwiches, and some newspapers; then he made himself comfortable.
The train left punctually. Peter lay back in his corner and watched the
country slip by contentedly. He had grown up, had this young man.

He arrived in Paris with the dawn of Sunday morning, and looked out
cautiously. There was no English official visible. However, his papers
were entirely correct, and he climbed up the stairs and wandered along a
corridor in which hands and letters from time to time indicated the lair
of the R.T.O. Arriving, he found another officer waiting, but no R.T.O.
The other was "bored stiff," he said; he had sat there an hour, but had
seen no sign of the Transport Officer. Peter smiled, and replied that he
had no intention whatever of waiting; he only wanted to know the times of
the Boulogne trains. These he discovered by the aid of a railway guide on
the table, and selected the midnight train, which would land him in
Boulogne in time for the first leave-boat, if the train were punctual and
the leave-boat not too early. In any case, he could take the second,
which would only mean Victoria a few hours later that same day. And these
details settled, he left his luggage in a corner and strolled off into
the city.

A big city, seen for the first time by oneself alone when one does not
know a soul in it, may be intensely boring or intensely interesting. It
depends on oneself. Peter was in the mood to be interested. He was
introspective. It pleased him to watch the early morning stir; to see the
women come out in shawls and slipshod slippers and swill down their bit
of pavement; to see sleepy shopkeepers take down their shutters and
street-vendors set up their stalls; to try to gauge the thoughts and
doings of the place from the shop-windows and the advertisements. His
first need was a wash and a shave, and he got both at a little barber's
in which monsieur attended to him, while madame, in considerable
_négligée_, made her toilette before the next glass. His second was
breakfast, and he got it, _à l'anglaise_, with an omelette and jam, in a
just-stirring hotel; and then, set up, he strolled off for the centre of
things. Many Masses were in progress at the Madeleine, and he heard one
or two with a curious contentment, but they had no lesson for him,
probably because of the foreign element in the atmosphere, and he did
not pray. Still, he sat, chiefly, and watched, until he felt how entirely
he was a stranger here, and went out into the sun.

He made his way to the river, and lingered there long. The great
cathedral, with its bare January trees silhouetted to the last twig
against the clear sky, its massive buttresses, and its cluster of smaller
buildings, held his imagination. He went in, but they were beginning to
sing Mass, and he soon came out. He crossed to the farther bank and found
a seat and lit a pipe. Sitting there, his imagination awoke. He conceived
the pageant of faith that had raised those walls. Kings and lords and
knights, all the glitter and gold of the Middle Ages, had come there--and
gone; Bishops and Archbishops, and even Popes, had had their day of
splendour there--and gone; the humbler sort, in the peasant dress of
the period, speaking quaint tongues, had brought their sorrows there and
their joys--and gone; yet it seemed to him that they had not so surely
gone. The great have their individual day and disappear, but the poor, in
their corporate indistinguishableness remain. The multitude, petty in
their trivial wants and griefs, find no historian and leave no monument.
Yet, ultimately, it was because of the Christian faith in the compassion
of God for such that Notre-Dame lifted her towers to the sky. The stage
for the mighty doings of Kings, it was the home of the people. As he had
seen them just now, creeping about the aisles, lighting little tapers,
crouched in a corner, so had they always been. Kings and Bishops figured
for a moment in pomp before the altar, and then monuments must be erected
to their memory. But it was not so with the poor. Peter, in a glow of
warmth, considered that he was in truth one of them. And Jesus had
had compassion on the multitude, he remembered. The text recalled him,
and he frowned to himself.

He knocked out his pipe, and set out leisurely to find luncheon. The
famous book-boxes held him, and he bought a print or two. In a restaurant
near the Châtelet he got _déjeuner_, and then, remembering Julie, bought
and wrote a picture-postcard, and took a taxi for the Bois. He was
driven about for an hour or more, and watched the people lured out by the
sun, watched the troops of all the armies, watched an aeroplane swing
high over the trees and soar off towards Versailles. He discharged his
car at the Arc de Triomphe, and set about deciphering the carven
pictures. Then, he walked up the great Avenue, made his way to the
Place de la République, wandered through the gardens of the Louvre, and,
as dusk fell, found himself in the Avenue de l'Opéra. It was very gay. He
had a bock at a little marble table, and courteously declined the
invitations of a lady of considerable age painted to look young. He at
first simply refused, and finally cursed into silence, a weedy, flash
youth who offered to show him the sights of the city in an apparently
ascending scale till he reached the final lure of a _cancan_, and he
dined greatly at a palace of a restaurant. Then, tired, he did not know
what to do.

A girl passing, smiled at him, and he smiled back. She came and sat down.
He looked bored, she told him, which was a thing one should not be in
Paris, and she offered to assist him to get rid of the plague.

"What do you suggest?" he demanded.

She shrugged her shoulders--anything that he pleased.

"But I don't know what I want," he objected.

"Ah, well, I have a flat near," she said--"a charming flat. We need not
be bored there."

Peter demurred. He had to catch the midnight train. She made a little
gesture; there was plenty of time.

He regarded her attentively. "See, mademoiselle," he said, "I do not want
that. But I am alone and I want company. Will you not stroll about Paris
with me for an hour or two, and talk?"

She smiled. Monsieur was unreasonable. She had her time to consider; she
could not waste it.

Peter took his case from his pocket and selected a note, folded it, and
handed it to her, without a word. She slipped it into her bag. "Give me a
cigarette," she said. "Let us have one little glass here, and then we
will go on to an 'otel I know, and hear the band and see the dresses, and
talk--is it not so?"

He could not have found a better companion. In the great lounge, later
on, leaning back by his side, she chatted shrewdly and with merriment.
She described dresses and laughed at his ignorance. She acclaimed certain
pieces, and showed a real knowledge of music. She told him of life in
Paris when the Hun had all but knocked at the gates, of the gaiety of
relief, of things big and little, of the flowers in the Bois in the
spring. He said little, but enjoyed himself. Much later she went with him
to the station, and they stood outside to say good-bye.

"Well, little girl," he said, "you have given me a good evening, and I am
very grateful. But I do not even know your name. Tell it me, that I may
remember."

"Mariette," she said. "And will monsieur not take my card? He may be in
Paris again. He is très agréable; I should like much to content him. One
meets many, but there are few one would care to see again."

Peter smiled sadly. For the first time a wistful note had crept into her
voice. He thought of others like her that he knew, and he spoke very
tenderly. "No, Mariette," he said. "If I came back I might spoil a
memory. Good-bye. God bless you!" and he held out his hand. She hesitated
a second. Then she turned back to the taxi.

"Where would you like to go?" he demanded.

She leaned out and glanced up at the clock. "L'Avenue de l'Opéra," she
said, "s'il vous plait."

The man thrust in the clutch with his foot, and Mariette was lost to
Peter for ever in the multitude.

In Boulogne he heard that he was late for the first boat, but caught the
second easily. Remembering Donovan's advice, he got his ticket for the
Pullman at once, and was soon rolling luxuriously to town. The station
was bustling as it had done what seemed to him an age before, but he
stepped out with the feeling that he was no longer a fresher in the
world's or any other university. Declining assistance, he walked over to
the Grosvenor and engaged a room, dined, and then strolled out into
Victoria Street.

It was all so familiar and it was all so different. He stood aloof and
looked at himself, and played with the thought. It was incredible that he
was the Peter Graham of less than a year before, and that he walked where
he had walked a score of times. He went up Whitehall, and across the
Square, and hesitated whether or not he should take the Strand. Deciding
against it, he made his way to Piccadilly Circus and chose a music-hall
that advertised a world-famous comedian. He heard him and came out, still
laughing to himself, and then he walked down Piccadilly to Hyde Park
Corner, and stood for a minute looking up Park Lane. Hilda ought to come
down, he said to himself amusedly. Then, marvelling that he could be
amused at all at the thought, he turned off for his hotel.

It is nothing to write down, but to Peter it was very much. Everything
was old, but everything was new to him. At his hotel he smoked a
cigarette in the lounge just to watch the men and women who came and
went, and then he declined the lift and ascended the big staircase to his
room. As he went, it struck him why it was that he felt so much wiser
than he had been; that he looked on London from the inside, whereas he
had used to look from the outside only; that he looked with a charity of
which he had never dreamed, and that he was amazingly content. And as he
got into bed he thought that when next he slept in town he would not be
alone. He would have crossed Tommy's Rubicon.

Next morning he went down into the country to relations who did not
interest him at all; but he walked and rode and enjoyed the English
countryside with zest. He went to the little country church on the Sunday
twice, to Matins and Evensong, and he came home and read that chapter of
Mr. Wells' book in which Mr. Britling expounds the domestication of God.
And he had some fierce moments in which he thought of Louise, and of
Lucienne's sister, and of Mariette, and of Pennell, and, last of all, of
Jenks, and asked himself of what use a domesticated God could be to any
of them. And then on the Thursday he came up to meet Julie.

It thrilled him that she was in England somewhere and preparing to come
to him. His pulses beat so as he thought of it that every other
consideration was temporarily driven from his mind; but presently he
caught himself thinking what ought to be done, and of what she would be
like. He turned it over in his mind. He had known her in France,
in uniform, when he was not sure of her; but now, what would she be like?
He could not conceive, and he banished the idea. It would be more
splendid when it occurred if he had made no imaginary construction of it.

His station was King's Cross, and he took a taxi to a big central hotel
in the neighbourhood of Regent Street. And as he passed its doors they
closed irrevocably on his past.

The girl at the bureau looked up and smiled. "Good-morning," she said.
"What can I do for you? We are very full."

"Good-morning," he replied. "I expect you are, but my wife is coming up
to town this afternoon, and we have only a few days together. We want to
be as central as possible. Have you a small suite over the week-end?"

"I don't know," she said, and pulled the big book toward her. She
ran a finger down the page. "Four-twenty," she said--"double bedroom,
sitting-room, and bathroom, how would that do?"

"It sounds capital," said Peter. "May I go and see it?"

She turned in her seat, reached for a key, and touched a button. A man
appeared, soundlessly on the thick, rich carpet. "Show this officer
four-twenty, will you?" she said, and turned to someone else. What means
so much to some of us is everyday business to others.

Peter followed across the hall and into a lift. They went up high, got
out in a corridor, took a turn to the right, and stopped before a door
numbered 420. The man opened it. Peter was led into a little hall, with
two doors leading from it. The first room was the sitting-room. It was
charmingly furnished and very cosy, a couple of good prints on the
walls, wide fireplace, a tall standard lamp, some delightfully easy
chairs--all this he took in at a glance. He walked to the window and
looked out. Far below was the great thoroughfare, and beyond a wilderness
of roofs and spires. He stood and gazed at it. London seemed a different,
place up there. He felt remote, and looked again into the street. Its
business rolled on indifferent to him, and unaware. He glanced back into
the snug pretty little room. How easy it all was, how secure! "This is
excellent," he said, "Show me the bedroom."

"This way, sir," said, the man.

The bedroom was large and airy. A pretty light paper covered the walls,
and two beds stood against one of them, side by side. The sun shone in at
the big double windows and fell on the white paint of the woodwork, the
plate-glass tops of the toilet-tables, and the thick cream-coloured
carpet. A door was open on his right. He walked across, and looked in
there too. A tiled bathroom, he saw it was, the clean towels on the
highly polished brass rail heated by steam, the cork-mat against the
wall, the shower, douche, and spray all complete, even the big cake of
delicious-looking soap on its sliding rack across the bath. He looked as
a man in a fairy-story might look. It was as if an enchanted palace, with
the princess just round the corner, had been offered him. Smiling at the
conceit, he turned to the man. "I didn't notice the telephone," he said;
"I suppose it is installed?"

"In each room, sir," said the man.

"That will do," said Peter. "It will suit me admirably. Have my baggage
sent up, will you, and say that I engage the suite. I will be down
presently."

"Yes, sir," said the man, and departed.

Peter went back to the sitting-room, and threw himself into a chair. Then
he had an idea, got up, went to the telephone, ordered a bottle of whisky
to be sent up, and a siphon, and went back to his seat. Presently he was
pouring himself out a drink and smoking a cigarette on his own
(temporary) hearth-rug. The little incident increased his satisfaction.
He was reassuring himself. Here he was really safe and remote and master,
with a thousand servants and a huge palace at his beck and call, and all
for a few pounds! It was absurd, but he thought to himself that he was
feeling civilised for the first time, perhaps.

He looked round, and considered Julie. What would she want? Flowers to
begin with, heaps of them; she liked violets for one thing, and by hook
or by crook he would get a little wattle or mimosa to remind her of
Africa. Then chocolates and cigarettes, both must never be lacking, and
a few books--no, not books, magazines; and he would have some wine sent
up. What else? Biscuits; after the theatre they might be jolly. Ah, the
theatre! he must book seats. Well, a box would be better; they did not
want to run too great a risk of being seen. Donovan was quite possibly in
town, to say nothing of--older friends. Possibly, considering the run on
the theatres, he had better book up fairly completely for the days they
had together. But what would she like? Julie would never want to go if
she did not spontaneously fancy a play. It was a portentous question, and
he considered it long. Finally he decided on half-and-half measures,
leaving some time free.... Time! how did it go? By Jove! he ought to make
a move. Luncheon first; his last meal alone for some time; then order the
things; and Victoria at 5.30. He poured himself another short drink and
went out.

He lunched in a big public grill-room, and chatted with a naval officer
at his table who was engaged in mine-sweeping with a steam-tramp. The
latter was not vastly enthusiastic over things, but was chiefly depressed
because he had to report at a naval base that night, and his short London
leave was all but run out.

"Tell you what," he said, "I've seen a good many cities one way and
another, from San Francisco to Singapore, and I know Paris and Brussels
and Berlin, but you can take my word for it, there's no better place for
ten days' leave than this same old blessed London. You can have some
spree out East if you want it, but you can get much the same, if not
better, here. If a fellow wants a bit of a skirt, he can get as good a
pick in London as anywhere. If you want a good show, there isn't another
spot in the universe that can beat it, whatever it is you feel like. If
you want to slip out of sight for a bit, give me a big hotel like this
in London. They don't damn-well worry about identification papers much
here--too little, p'raps, these days. Did you hear of those German
submarine officers who lived in an hotel in Southampton?"

Peter had; there were few people who hadn't, seeing that the same
officers lived in most of the coast towns in England that year; but it is
a pity to damp enthusiasm. He said he had heard a little.

"Walked in and out cool as you please. When they were drowned and picked
up at sea, they had bills and theatre tickets in their pockets, and a
letter acknowledging the booking of rooms for the next week! Fact. Had it
from the fellow who got 'em. And I ask you, what is there to prevent
it? You come here: 'Will you write your name and regiment, please.' You
write the damned thing--any old thing, in fact--and what happens?
Nothing. They don't refer to them. In France the lists go to a central
bureau every day, but here--Lord bless you, the Kaiser himself might put
up anywhere if he shaved his moustache!"

Peter heard him, well content. He offered a cigarette, feeling warmly
disposed towards the world at large. The naval officer took it. "Thanks,"
he said. "You in town for long?"

"No," said Peter--"a week end. I've only just happened. What's worth
seeing?"

"First and last all the way, _Carminetta_. It's a dream. Wonderful. By
Gad, I don't know how that girl does it! Then I'd try _Zigzag_--oh! and
go to _You Never Know, You Know_, at the Cri. Absolutely toppin'. A
perfect scream all through. The thing at Daly's' good too; but all the
shows are good, though, I reckon. Lumme, you wouldn't think the war was
on, 'cept they all touch it a bit! _The Better 'Ole_ I like, but you
mightn't, knowing the real thing. But don't miss _Carminetta_ if you have
to stand all day for a seat in the gods. Well, I must be going. Damned
rough luck, but no help for it. Let's have a last spot, eh?"

Peter agreed, and the drinks were ordered. "Chin-chin," said his
acquaintance. "And here's to old London town, and the Good Lord let me
see it again. It's less than even chances," he added reflectively.

"Here's luck," said Peter; then, for he couldn't help it: "It's you
chaps, by God, that are winning this war!"

"Oh, I don't know," said the other, rising. "We get more leave than you
fellows, and I'd sooner be on my tramp than in the trenches. The sea's
good and clean to die in, anyway. Cheerio."

Peter followed him out in a few minutes, and set about his shopping. He
found a florist's in Regent Street and bought lavishly. The girl smiled
at him, and suggested this and that. "Having a dinner somewhere
to-night?" she queried. "But I have no violets."

"Got my girl comin' up," said Peter expansively; "that's why there must
be violets. See if you can get me some and send them over, will you?" he
asked, naming his hotel. She promised to do her best, and he departed.

He went into a chocolate shop. "Got some really decent chocolates?" he
demanded.

The girl smiled and dived under the counter. "These are the best," she
said, holding out a shovelful for Peter to taste. He tried one. "They'll
do," he said. "Give me a couple of pounds, in a pretty box if you've got
one."

"Two pounds!" she exclaimed. "What are you thinking of? We can only sell
a quarter."

"Only a quarter!" said Peter. "That's no good. Come on, make up the two
pounds."

"If my boss comes in or finds out I'll be fired," said the girl; "can't
be done."

"Well, that doesn't matter," said Peter innocently, "You'll easily get a
job--something better and easier, I expect."

"It's easy enough, perhaps," said the girl, "but you never can tell.
_And_ it's dangerous, _and_ uncertain."

Peter stared at her. When he bought chocolates as a parson, he never had
talks like this. He wondered if London had changed since he knew it. Then
he played up: "You're pretty enough to knock that last out, anyway?" he
said.

"Am I?" she demanded. "Do you mean you'd like to keep me?"

"I've got one week-end left of leave," said Peter. "What about the
chocolates?"

"Poor boy!" she said. "Well, I'll risk it." And she made up the two
pounds.

He wandered into a tobacconist's, and bought cigarettes which Julie's
soul loved, and then he made for a theatre booking-office.

Outside and his business done, he looked at his watch, and found he had a
bit of time to spare. He walked down Shaftesbury Avenue, and thought he
would get himself spruced up at a hairdresser's. He saw a little place
with a foreigner at the door, and he went in. It was a tiny room with
three seats all empty. The man seated him in one and began.

Peter discovered that his hair needed this and that, and being in a good
temper and an idle mood acquiesced. Presently a girl came in. Peter smelt
her enter, and then saw her in the glass. She was short and dark and
foreign, too, and she wore a blouse that appeared to have remarkably
little beneath it, and to be about to slip off her shoulders. She came
forward and stood between him and the glass, smiling. "Wouldn't you like
your nails manicured?" she demanded.

"Oh, I don't know," said Peter; "I had not meant to ..." and was lost.

"Second thoughts are best," she said; "but let me look at your hands.
Oh, I should think you did need it! Whatever will your girl say to you
to-night if you have hands like this?"

Peter, humiliated, looked at his hands. They did not appear to him to
differ much from the hands Julie and others had seen without visible
consternation before, but he had no time to say so. The young lady was
now seated by his side with a basin of hot water, and was dabbling his
hand in it. "Nice? Not too hot?" she inquired brightly.

Peter watched her as she bent over her work and kept up a running fire of
talk. He gathered that many officers habitually were manicured by her,
many of them in their own rooms. It was lucky for him that she was not
out. Possibly he would like to make an appointment; she could come early
or late. No? Then she thought his own manicure-set must be a poor one,
judging from these hands, and perhaps she could sell him another. No?
Well, a little cream. Not to-day? He would look in to-morrow? He
hadn't a chance? She would tell him what: where was he staying? (Peter,
for the fun of it, told her he had a private suite in the hotel.) Well,
that was splendid. She would call in with a new set at any time, before
breakfast, after the theatre, as he pleased; bring the cream and do his
hands once with it to show him how. How would that suit him?

Peter was not required to say, for at that minute the shop-bell rang and
a priest came in, a little old man, tired-looking, in a black cassock. He
was apparently known, though he seemed to take no notice of anyone. The
man was all civility, but put on an expression meant to indicate
amusement, to Peter, behind the clerical back. The girl put one of
Peter's fingers on her own lips by way of directing caution, and
continued more or less in silence. The room became all but silent save
for the sound of scissors and the noise of the traffic outside, and Peter
reflected again on many things. When he had had his hair cut previously,
for instance, had people made faces behind his back? Had young ladies
ceased from tempting offers that seemed to include more than manicuring?

He got up to pay. "Well," she demanded, _sotto voce_, "what of the
arrangement? She could do him easily at any..."

He cut her short. No; it was really impossible. His wife was coming up
that afternoon. It was plain that she now regarded it as impossible also.
He paid an enormous sum wonderingly, and departed.

Outside it struck him that he had forgotten one thing. He walked briskly
to the hotel, and went up to his rooms. In the sitting-room was the big
bunch of flowers and a maid unwrapping it. She turned and smiled at him.
"These have just come for you, sir," she said. "Shall I arrange them for
you?"

"No, thank you," said Peter. "I'd rather do them myself. I love arranging
flowers, and I know just what my wife likes. I expect you'd do them
better, but I'll have a shot, if you don't mind. Would you fill the
glasses and get me a few more? We haven't enough here."

"Certainly, sir. There was a gentleman here once who did flowers
beautifully, he did. But most likes us to do it for them."

She departed for the glasses. Peter saw that the florist had secured his
violets, and took them first and filled a bowl. Then he walked into the
bedroom and contemplated for a minute. Then he put the violets critically
on the little table by the bed nearest the window, and stood back to see
the result. Finding it good, he departed. When next he came in, it was to
place a great bunch of roses on the mantelshelf, and a few sprays of the
soft yellow and green mimosa on the dressing-table. For the sitting-room
he had carnations and delphiniums, and he placed a high towering cluster
of the latter on the writing-table, and a vase of the former on the
mantelpiece. A few roses, left over, went on the small table that carried
the reading-lamp, and he and the chambermaid surveyed the results.

"Lovely, I do think," she said; "any lady would love them. I likes
flowers myself, I do. I come from the country, sir, where there's a many,
and the wild flowers that Jack and I liked best of all. Specially
primroses, sir." There was a sound in her voice as she turned away, and
Peter heard it.

"Jack?" he queried softly.

"'E's been missing since last July, sir," she said, stopping by the door.

"Has he?" said Peter. "Well, you must not give up hope, you know; he may
be a prisoner."

She shook her head. "He's dead," she said, with an air of finality. "I
oughtn't to have spoke a word, but them flowers reminded me. I'm glad as
how I have to do these rooms, sir. Most of them don't bother with
flowers. Is there anything else you might be wanting, sir?"

"Light fires in both the grates, please," he said. "I'm so sorry about
Jack," he added.

She gave him a look, and passed out.

Peter wandered about touching this and that. Suddenly he remembered the
magazines. He ran out and caught a lift about to descend, and was once
more in the street. Near Leicester Square was a big foreign shop, and he
entered it, and gathered of all kinds. As he went to pay, he saw _La Vie
Parisienne_, and added that also to the bundle; Julie used to say she
loved it. Back in the hotel, he sent them to his room, and glanced at his
watch. He had time for tea. He went out into the lounge and ordered it,
sitting back under the palms. It came, and he was in the act of pouring
out a cup when he saw Donovan.

Donovan was with a girl, but so were most men; Peter could not be sure
of her. It was only a glimpse he had, for the two had finished and were
passing out. Donovan stood back to let her first through the great
swing-doors, and then, pulling on his gloves, followed. They both
disappeared.

Peter sat on, in a tumult. He had been too busy all day to reflect much,
but now just what he was about to do began to overwhelm him. If Donovan
met him with Julie? Well, they could pretend they had just met, they
could even part, and meet again. Could they? Would Donovan be deceived
for a minute? It seemed to him impossible. And he might be staying there.
Suppose he met someone else. Langton? Sir Robert Doyle? His late Vicar?
Hilda? Mr. Lessing? And Julie would have acquaintances too. He shook
himself mentally, and lit a cigarette. Well, suppose they did; he was
finished with them. Finished? Then, what lay ahead--what, after this, if
he were discovered? And if he were not discovered? God knew....

His mind took a new train of thought: he was now just such a one as
Donovan. Or as Pennell. As Langton? He wasn't sure; no, he thought not;
Langton kept straight because he had a wife and kids. He had a centre.
Donovan and Pennell had not, apparently. Well, he, Peter Graham, would
have a centre; he would marry Julie. It would be heavenly. They had not
spoken of it, of course, that night of the dinner, but surely Julie
would. There could be no doubt after the week-end.... "I shan't marry or
be given in marriage," she had said. It was like her to speak so, but
of course she didn't mean it. No, he would marry; and then?

He blew out smoke. The Colonies, South Africa; he would get a job
schoolmastering? He hated the idea; it didn't interest him. A farm? He
knew nothing about it--besides, one wanted capital. What would he do?
What did he want to do? _Want_--that was it; how did he want to spend his
life? Well, he wanted Julie; everything else would fit round her,
everything else would be secondary beside her. Of course. And as he got
old it would still be the same, though he could not imagine either of
them old. But still, when they did get old, his work would seem more
important, and what was it to be? Probably it would have to be
schoolmastering. Teaching Latin to little boys--History, Geography,
Mathematics. He smiled ruefully; even factors worried him. They would
hardly want Latin and Greek much in the Colonies, either. Perhaps at
home; but would Julie stop at home? What _would_ Julie do? He must
ask her, sometime before Monday. Not that night--no, not _that_ night....

He ground his cigarette into his cup, and pushed his hands into his
pockets, his feet out before him. That night! He saw the sitting-room
upstairs; they would go there first. Then he would suggest a dinner to
her, in Soho; he knew a place that Pennell had told him of, Bohemian, but
one could take anyone--at least, take Julie. It would be jolly watching
the people, and watching Julie. He saw her, mentally, opposite him, and
her eyes sparkling and alluring. And afterwards, warmed and fed--why,
back to the hotel, to the sitting-room, by the fire. They would have a
little supper, and then....

He pictured the bedroom. He would let Julie go first. He remembered
reading in a novel how some newly married wife said to the fellow:
"You'll come up in half an hour or so, won't you, dear?" He could all but
see the words in print. And so, in half an hour or so, he would go in,
and Julie would be in bed, by the violets, and he--he would know what men
talked about, sometimes, in the anteroom.... He recalled a red-faced,
coarse Colonel: "No man's a man till he's been all the way, I say...."

And he was a chaplain, a priest. Was he? The past months spun before him,
his sermons, his talks to the wounded at the hospital, the things he had
seen, the stories he had heard. He sighed. It was all a dream, a sham.
There was no reality in it all. Where and what was Christ? An ideal, yes,
but no more than an ideal, and unrealisable--a vision of the beautiful.
He thought he had seen that once, but not now. The beautiful! Ah! What
place had His Beauty in Travalini's, in the shattered railway-carriage,
in the dinner at the Grand in Havre with Julie?

Julie. He dwelt on her, eyes, hair, face, skin, and lithe figure. He felt
her kisses again on his lips, those last burning kisses of New Year's
Night, and they were all to be his, as never before.... Julie. What,
then, was she? She was his bride, his wife, coming to him consecrate--not
by any State convention, not by any ceremony of man-made religion, but by
the pure passion of human love, virginal, clean. It was human passion,
perhaps, but where was higher love or greater sacrifice? Was this not
worthy of all his careful preparation, worthy of the one centre of his
being? Donovan, indeed! He wished he had stopped and told him the whole
story, and that he expected Julie that night.

He jumped up, and walked out in the steps of Donovan, but with never
another thought of him. A boy in uniform questioned him: "Taxi, sir?" He
nodded, and the commissionaire pushed back the great swing-door. He stood
on the steps, and watched the passers-by, and the lights all shaded as
they were, that began to usher in a night of mystery. His taxi rolled up,
and the man held the door open. "Victoria!" cried Peter, and to himself,
as he sank back on the seat, "Julie!"



CHAPTER VII


"Julie!" exclaimed Peter, "I should hardly have known you; you do look
topping!"

"Glad rags make all that difference, old boy? Well, I am glad you did
know me, anyhow. How are you? Had long to wait?"

"Only ten minutes or so, and I'm very fit, and just dying for you,
Julie."

She smiled up at him and blushed a little. "Are you, Peter? It's much the
same here, my dear. But don't you think we had better get a move on, and
not stop here talking all night?"

Peter laughed excitedly. "Rather," he said. "But I'm so excited at seeing
you that I hardly know if I'm on my head or my heels. What about your
luggage? What have you? Have you any idea where it is? There's a taxi
waiting."

"I haven't much: a big suit-case, most important because it holds an
evening dress--it's marked with my initials; a small leather trunk,
borrowed, with a big star on it; and my dressing-case, which is here. And
I _think_ they're behind, but I wouldn't swear, because we've seemed to
turn round three times in the course of the journey, but it may have
been four!"

Peter chuckled. She was just the old Julie, but yet with a touch of
something more shining in her eyes, and underlying even the simplest
words.

"Well, you stand aside just a moment and I'll go and see," he said, and
he hurried off in the crowd.

Julie stood waiting patiently by a lamp-stand while the world bustled
about her. She wore a little hat with a gay pheasant's wing in it, a dark
green travelling dress and neat brown shoes, and brown silk stockings.
Most people looked at her as they passed, including several officers, but
there was a different look in her brown eyes from that usually there, and
they all passed on unhesitatingly.

It seemed to her a good while before Peter came up again, in his wake a
railway Amazon with the trunk on her shoulder and the suit-case in her
hand. "Sorry to keep you, dear," he said. "But there was a huge crush and
next to no porters, if these _are_ porters. It feels rotten to have a
woman carrying one's luggage, but I suppose it can't be helped. Come on.
Aren't you tired? Don't you want tea?"

"I am a little," she said "And I do a bit. Where are we going to get it?
Do they sell teas in London, Peter, or have you taken a leaf out of my
book?"

They laughed at the reminiscence. "Julie," said Peter, "this is my
outfit, and you shall see what you think of it. Give me your ticket, will
you? I want to see you through myself."

She handed him a little purse without a word, and they set off together.
She was indulging in the feeling of surrender as if it were not a victory
she had won, and he was glowing with the sense of acquisition, as if he
had really acquired something.

Julie got into the taxi while Peter settled the luggage, gave directions,
and paid the Amazon. Then he climbed in and pulled the door to, and they
slipped out of the crowded station-yard into the roar of London. Julie
put her hand in his. "Peter," she said, "do tell me where we're going.
I'm dying to know. What arrangements have you made? Is it safe?"

He leaned over her, his eyes sparkling. "A kiss, first, Julie: no one
will see and it doesn't matter a damn if they do. That's the best of
London. My dear, I can hardly believe we're both here at last, and that
I've really got you." Their lips met.

Julie flung herself back with a laugh. "Oh, Peter," she said, "I shall
never forget that first taxi. If you could have seen your own face!
Really it was too comic, but I must say you've changed since then."

"I was a fool and a beast," he said, more gravely; "I'm only just
beginning to realise how much of a fool. But don't rub it in, Julie, or
not just now. I'm starting to live at last, and I don't want to be
reminded of the past."

She pressed his hand and looked out of window. "Where are we, Peter?
Whitehall? Where are we off to?"

"I've got the snuggest little suite in all London, darling," he said,
"with a fairy palace at our beck and call. I've been revelling in it all
day--not exactly in it, you know, but in the thought of it. I've been too
busy shopping to be in much; and Julie, I hope you notice my hands: I've
had a special manicure in preparation for you. And the girl is coming
round to-morrow before breakfast to do me again--or at least she wanted
to."

"What are you talking about? Peter, what have you been doing to-day?" She
sighed a mock sigh. "Really, you're getting beyond me; it's rather
trying."

Peter launched out into the story to fill up time. He really did not want
to speak of the rooms, that they might give her the greater surprise. So
he kept going till the taxi stopped before the hotel. He jumped out gaily
as the commissionaire opened the door.

"Come on," he said, "as quick as ever you can." Then, to the man: "Have
these sent up to No. 420, will you, please?" And he took Julie's arm.

They went in at the great door, and crossed the wide entrance-hall.
Everyone glanced at Julie, Peter noted proudly, even the girls behind the
sweet-counter, and the people waiting about as always. Julie held her
head high and walked more sedately than usual. She _was_ a bit different,
thought Peter, but even nicer. He glowed at the thought.

He led her to the lift and gave his landing number. They walked down the
corridor in silence and in at their door. Peter opened the door on the
left and stood back. Julie went in. He followed and shut the door behind
them.

The maid had lit a fire, which blazed merrily. Julie took it all in--the
flowers, the pile of magazines, even the open box of cigarettes, and she
turned enthusiastically to him and flung her arms round his neck, kissing
him again and again. "Oh, Peter darling," she cried, "I can't tell you
how I love you! I could hardly sit still in the railway carriage, and the
train seemed worse than a French one. But now I have you at last, and all
to myself. Oh, Peter, my darling Peter!"

There came a knock at the door. Julie disengaged her arms from his neck,
but slipped her hand in his, and he said, "Come in."

The maid entered, carrying tea. She smiled at them. "I thought madame
might like tea at once, sir," she said, and placed the tray on the little
table.

"Thank you ever so much," said Julie impulsively; "that is good of you.
I'm longing for it. One gets so tired in the train." Then she walked to
the glass. "I'll take off my hat, Peter," she said, "and my coat, and
then well have tea comfortably. I do want it, and a cigarette. You're an
angel to have thought of my own De Reszke."

She threw herself into a big basket chair, and leaned over to the table.
"Milk and sugar for you, Peter? By the way, I ought to know these things;
not that it much matters; ours was a war marriage, and I've hardly seen
you at all!"

Peter sat opposite, and watched her pour out. She leaned back with a
piece of toast in her hands, her eyes on him, and they smiled across at
each other. Suddenly he could bear it no longer. He put his cup down and
knelt forward at her feet, his arms on her knees, devouring her. "Oh,
Julie," he said, "I want to worship you--I do indeed. I can't believe
my luck. I can't think that _you_ love _me_."

Her white teeth bit into the toast. "You old silly," she said. "But I
don't want to be worshipped; I _won't_ be worshipped; I want to be loved,
Peter."

He put his arms up, and pulled her head down to his, kissing her again
and again, stroking her arm, murmuring foolish words that meant nothing
and meant everything. It was she who stopped him. "Go and sit down," she
said, "and tell me all the plans."

"Well," he said, "I do hope you'll like them. First, I've not booked up
anything for to-night. I thought we'd go out to dinner to a place I know
and sit over it, and enjoy ourselves. It's a place in Soho, and quite
humorous, I think. Then we might walk back: London's so perfect at night,
isn't it? To-morrow I've got seats for the Coliseum matinee. You know it,
of course; it's a jolly place where one can talk if one wants to, and
smoke; and then I've seats in the evening for _Zigzag_. Saturday night
we're going to see _Carminetta_, which they say is the best show in town,
and Saturday morning we can go anywhere you please, or do anything. And
we can cut out any of them if you like," he added.

She let her arms lie along the chair, and drew a breath of delight.
"You're truly wonderful," she said. "What a blessing not having to worry
what's to be done! It's a perfect programme. I only wish we could be in
Paris for Sunday; it's so slow here."

He smiled. "You're sure you're not bored about to-night?" he asked. She
looked him full in the eyes and said nothing. He sprang up and rushed
towards her. She laughed her old gay laugh, and avoided him, jumping up
and getting round the table. "No," she warned; "no more now. Come and
show me the rest of the establishment."

Arm in arm they made the tour of inspection. In the bathroom Julie's eyes
danced. "Thank the Lord for that bath, Peter," she said. "I shall revel
in it. That's one thing I loathe about France, that one can't get decent
baths, and in the country here it's no better. I had two inches of water
in a foot-bath down in Sussex, and when you sit in the beastly thing only
about three inches of yourself get wet and those the least important
inches. I shall lie in this for hours and smoke, and you shall feed me
with chocolates and read to me. How will you like that?"

Peter made the only possible answer, and they went back to the bedroom.
The man was bringing up her luggage, and he deposited it on the
luggage-stool. "Heavens!" said Julie, "where are my keys? Oh, I know, in
my purse. I hope you haven't lost it. Do give it to me. The suit-case is
beautifully packed, but the trunk is in an appalling mess. I had to throw
my things in anyhow. By the way, I wonder what they'll make of different
initials on all our luggage? Not that it matters a scrap, especially
these days. Besides, I don't suppose they noticed."

She was on her knees by the trunk, and had undone it. She lifted the lid,
and Peter saw the confusion inside, and caught sight of the unfamiliar
clothes, Julie was rummaging everywhere. "I know I've left them behind!"
she exclaimed. "Whatever shall I do? My scent and powder-puff! Peter,
it's terrible! I can't go to Soho to dinner without them."

"Let's go and get some," he suggested; "there's time."

"No, I can't," she said. "You go. Don't be long. I want to sit in front
of the fire and be cosy."

Peter set off on the unfamiliar errand, smiling grimly to himself. He got
the scent easily enough, and then inquired for a powder-puff. In the old
days he would scarcely have dared; but he had been in France. He selected
a little French box with a mirror in the lid and a pretty rosebud
pattern, and paid for it unblushingly. Then he returned.

He opened the door of their sitting-room, and stood transfixed for a
minute. The shaded reading-lamp was on, the other lights off. The fire
glowed red, and Julie lay stretched out in a big chair, smoking a
cigarette. She turned and looked up at him over her shoulder. She had
taken off her dress and slipped on a silk kimono, letting her hair down,
which fell in thick tumbled masses about her. The arm that held the
cigarette was stretched up above her, and the wide, loose sleeve of the
kimono had slipped back, leaving it bare to her shoulder. Her white
frilled petticoat showed beneath, as she had pushed her feet out before
her to the warmth of the fire. Peter's blood pounded in his temples.

"Good boy," she said; "you haven't been long. Come and show me. I had to
get comfortable: I hope you don't mind."

He came slowly forward without a word and bent over her. The scent of her
rose intoxicatingly around him as he bent down for a kiss. Their lips
clung together, and the wide world stood still.

Julie made room for him beside her. "You dear old thing," she exclaimed
at the sight of the powder-puff. "It's a gem. You couldn't have bettered
it in Paris." She opened it, took out the little puff, and dabbed her
open throat. Then, laughing, she dabbed at him: "Don't look so solemn,"
she said, "Solomon!"

Peter slipped one arm round her beneath the kimono, and felt her warm
relaxed waist. Then he pushed his other hand, unresisted, in where her
white throat gleamed bare and open to him, and laid his lips on her hair.
"Oh, Julie," he said, "I had no idea one could love so. It is almost more
than I can bear."

The clock on the mantelpiece struck a half-hour, and Julie stirred in his
arms and glanced up. "Good Lord, Peter!" she exclaimed, "do you know what
the time is? Half-past seven! I shall never be dressed, and we shall get
no dinner. Let me up, for goodness sake, and give me a drink if you've
got such a thing. If not, ring for it. I shall never have energy enough
to get into my things otherwise."

Peter opened the little door of the sideboard and got out decanter,
siphon, and glasses. Julie, sitting up and arranging herself, smiled at
him. "Is there a single thing you haven't thought of, you old dear?" she
said.

"Say when," said Peter, coming towards her. Then he poured himself out a
tumbler and stood by the fire, looking at her.

"It's a pity we have to go out at all," he said, "for I suppose you can't
go like that."

"A pity? It's a jolly good thing. You wait till you've seen my frock, my
dear. But, Peter, do you think there's likely to be anyone there that we
know?"

He shook his head. "Not there, at any rate," he said.

"Here?"

"More likely, but it's such a big place we're not likely to meet them,
even so. But if you feel nervous, do you know the best cure? Come down
into the lounge, and see the crowd of people. You sit there and people
stream by, and you don't know a face. It's the most comfortable, feeling
in the world. One's more alone than on a desert island. You might be a
ghost that no one sees."

Julie shuddered. "Peter don't! You make me feel creepy." She got up "Go
and find that maid, will you? I want her to help me dress."

Peter walked to the bell and rang it, "Where do I come in?" he asked.

"Well, you can go and wash in the bathroom, and if you're frightened of
her you can dress there!" And she walked to the door laughing.

"I'll just finish my drink," he said. "You will be heaps longer than I."

Five minutes later, having had no answer to his ring, he switched off the
light, and walked out into the hall He hesitated at Julie's door, then he
tapped. "Come in," she said.

She was standing half-dressed in front of the glass doing her hair, "Oh,
it's you, is it?" she said. "Wherever is that maid? I can't wait all
night for her; you'll have to help."

Peter sat down and began to change. Half-surreptitiously he watched Julie
moving about, and envied her careless abandon. He was much the more
nervous of the two.

Presently she called him from the bathroom to fasten her dress. When it
was done, she stood back for him to examine her.

"That all right?" she demanded, putting a touch here and there.

Not every woman could have worn her gown. It was a rose pink with some
rich flame-coloured material in front, and was held by two of the
narrowest bands on her shoulders. In the deep _décolleté_ she pushed
two rosebuds from the big bunch, and hung round her neck a pendant of
mother-of-pearl and silver. She wore no other jewellery, and she needed
none. She faced him, a vision of loveliness.

They went down the stairs together and out into the crush of people, some
of the women in evening dress, but few of the men. The many uniforms
looked better, Peter thought, despite the drab khaki. They had to stand
for awhile while a taxi was found, Julie laughing and chatting
vivaciously. She had a wrap for her shoulders that she had bought in Port
Said, set with small metallic points, and it sparkled about her in the
blaze of light. She flattered him by seeming unconscious of anyone else,
and put her hand on his arm as they went out.

They drove swiftly through back-streets to the restaurant that Peter had
selected, and stopped in a quiet, dark, narrow road off Greek Street.
Julie got out and looked around with pretended fear. "Where in the world
have you brought me?" she demanded. "However did you find the place?
It's worse than some of your favourite places in Havre."

Inside, however, she looked round appreciatively. "Really, Peter, it's
splendid," she said under her breath--"just the place," and smiled
sweetly on the padrone who came forward, bowing. Peter had engaged a
table, and they were led to it.

"I had almost given you up, sir," said the man, "but by good fortune,
some of our patrons are late too."

They sat down opposite to each other, and studied the menu held out to
them by a waiter. "I don't know the meaning of half the dishes," laughed
Julie. "You order. It'll be more fun if I don't know what's coming."

"We must drink Chianti," said Peter, and ordered a bottle. "You can think
you are in Italy."

Elbows on the table as she waited, Julie looked round. In the far corner
a gay party of four were halfway through dinner. Two officers, an elderly
lady and a young one, she found rather hard to place, but Julie decided
the girl was the fiancée of one who had brought his friend to meet her.
At other tables were mostly couples, and across the room from her, with
an elderly officer, sat a well-made-up woman, very plainly _demimonde_.
Immediately before her were four men, two of them foreigners, in morning
dress, talking and eating hare. It was evidently a professional party,
and one of the four now and again hummed out a little air to the
rest, and once jotted down some notes on the back of a programme. They
took no notice of anyone, but the eyes of the woman with the officer, who
hardly spoke to her, searched Julie unblushingly.

Julie, gave a little sigh of happiness. "This is lovely, Peter," she
said. "We'll be ages over dinner. It's such fun to be in nice clothes
just for dinner sometimes and not to have to worry about the time, and
going on elsewhere. But I do wish my friends could see me, I must say.
They'd be horrified. They thought I was going to a stodgy place in West
Kensington. I was must careful to be vague, but that was the idea. Peter,
how would you like to live in a suburb and have heaps of children, and
dine out with city men and their wives once or twice a month for a
treat?"

Peter grimaced. Then he looked thoughtful. "It wouldn't have been any so
remarkable for me at one time, Julie," he said.

She shook her head. "It would, my dear. You're not made for it."

"What am I made for, then?"

She regarded him solemnly, and then relaxed into a smile. "I haven't a
notion, but not that. The thing is never to worry. You get what you're
made for in the end, I think."

"I wonder," said Peter. "Perhaps, but not always. The world's full of
square pegs in round holes."

"Then they're stodgy pegs, without anything in them. If I was a square
peg I'd never go into a round hole."

"Suppose there was no other hole to go into," demanded Peter.

"Then I'd fall out, or I wouldn't go into any hole at all. I'd sooner be
anything in the world than stodgy, Peter. I'd sooner be like that woman
over there who is staring at me so!"

Peter glanced to one side, and then back at Julie. He was rather grave.
"Would you really?" he questioned.

The waiter brought the Chianti and poured out glasses. Julie waited till
he had gone, and then lifted hers and looked at Peter across it. "I
would," she said. "I couldn't live without wine and excitement and song.
I'm made that way. Cheerio, Solomon!"

They drank to each other. Then: "And love?" queried Peter softly.

Julie did not reply for a minute. She set her wine-glass down and toyed
with the stem. Then she looked up at him under her eyelashes with that
old daring look of hers, and repeated: "And love, Peter. But real love,
not stodgy humdrum liking, Peter. I want the love that's like the hot
sun, and the wide, tossing blue sea east of Suez, and the nights under
the moon where the real world wakes up and doesn't go to sleep, like it
does in the country in the cold, hard North. Do you know," she went on,
"though I love the cities, and bands, and restaurants, and theatres, and
taxis, and nice clothes, I love best of all the places where one has none
of these things. I once went with a shooting-party to East Africa, Peter,
and that's what I love. I shall never forget the nights at Kilindini,
with the fireflies dancing among the bushes, and the moon glistening on
the palms as if they were wet, and the insects shrilling in the grass,
and the hot, damp air. Or by day, up in the forest, camped under the
great trees, with the strange few flowers and the silence, while the sun
trickled through the leaves and made pools of light on the ground. Do you
know, I saw the most beautiful thing I've ever seen or, I think, shall
see in that forest."

"What was that?" asked Peter, under her spell, for she was speaking like
a woman in a dream.

"It was one day when we were marching. We came on a glade among the
trees, and at the end of it, a little depression of damp green grass,
only the grass was quite hidden beneath a sheet of blue--such blue, I
can't describe it--that quivered and moved in the sun. We stood quite
still, and then a boy threw a little stone. And the blue all rose in the
air, silently, like magic. It was a swarm of hundreds and hundreds of
blue butterflies, Peter. Do you know what I did? I cried--I couldn't help
it. It was too beautiful to see, Peter."

A little silence fell between them. She broke it in another tone.

"And the natives--I love the natives. I just love the all but naked girls
carrying the water up to the village in the evening, tall and straight,
like Greek statues; and the men, in a string of beads and a spear. I
wanted to go naked myself there--at least, I did till one day I tried it,
and the sun skinned me in no time. But at least one needn't wear
much--cool loose things, and it doesn't matter what one does or says."

Peter laughed. "Who was with you when you tried the experiment?" he
demanded.

Julie threw her head back, and even the professional four glanced up and
looked at her. "Ah, wouldn't you like to know?" she laughed. "Well, I
won't tease you--two native girls if you want to know, that was all. The
rest of the party were having a midday sleep. But I never can sleep
at midday. I don't mind lying in a hammock or a deck-chair, and reading,
but I can't sleep. One feels so beastly when one wakes up, doesn't one?"

Peter nodded, but steered her back. "Tell me more," he said. "You wake
something up in me; I feel as if I was born to be there."

"Well," she said reflectively, "I don't know that anything can beat the
great range that runs along our border in Natal. It's different, of
course, but it's very wonderful. There's one pass I know--see here, you
go up a wide valley with a stream that runs in and out, and that you have
to cross again and again until it narrows and narrows to a small footpath
between great kranzes. At first there are queer stunted trees and bushes
about, with the stream, that's now a tiny thing of clear water, singing
among them, and there the trees stop, and you climb up and up among the
boulders, until you think you can do no more, and at the last you come
out on the top."

"And then?"

"You're in wonderland. Before you lies peak on peak, grass-grown and
rocky, so clear in the rare, still air. There is nothing there but
mountain and rock and grass, and the blue sky, with perhaps little clouds
being blown across it, and a wind that's cool and vast--you feel it fills
everything. And you look down the way you've come, and there's all Natal
spread out at your feet like a tiny picture, lands and woods and rivers,
till it's lost in the mist of the distance."

She ceased, staring at her wine-glass. At last the chatter of the place
broke in on Peter. "My dear," he exclaimed, "one can see it. But what do
you do there?"

She laughed and broke the spell. "What would one do?" she demanded. "Eat
and drink and sleep, and make love, Peter, if there's anybody to make
love to."

"But you couldn't do that all your life," he objected.

"Why not? Why do anything else? I never can see. And when you're
tired--for you _do_ get tired at last--back to Durban for a
razzle-dazzle, or back farther still, to London or Paris for a bit.
That's the life for me, Peter!"

He smiled: "Provided somebody is there with the necessary, I suppose?" he
said.

"Solomon," she mocked, "Solomon, Solomon! Why do you spoil it all? But
you're right, of course, Peter, though I hate to think of that."

"I see how we're like, and how we're unlike, Julie," said Peter suddenly,
"You like real things, and so do I. You hate to feel stuffy and tied up
in conventions, and so do I. But you're content with just that, and I'm
not."

"Am I?" she queried, looking at him a little strangely.

Peter did not notice; he was bent on pursuing his argument. "Yes, you
are," he said. "When you're in the grip of real vital things--nature
naked and unashamed--you have all you want. You don't stop to think of
to-morrow. You live. But I, I feel that there is something round the
corner all the time. I feel as if there must be something bigger than
just that. I'd love your forest and your range and your natives, I think,
but only because one is nearer something else with them than here. I
don't know how to put it, but when you think of those things you feel
_full_, and I still feel _empty_."

"Peter," said Julie softly, "do you remember Caudebec?"

He looked up at her then. "I shall never forget it, dear," he said.

"Then you'll remember our talk in the car?"

He nodded. "When you talked about marriage and human nature and men, and
so on," he said.

"No, I don't mean that. I did talk of those things, and I gave you a
little rather bitter philosophy that is more true than you think; but I
don't mean that. Afterwards, when we spoke about shams and playing. Do
you remember, I hinted that a big thing might come along--do you
remember?"

He nodded again, but he did not speak.

"Well," she said, "it's come--that's all."

"Another bottle of Chianti, sir?" queried the padrone at his elbow.

Peter started. "What? Oh, yes, please," he said. "We can manage another
bottle, Julie? And bring on the dessert now, will you? Julie, have a
cigarette."

"If we have another bottle you must drink most of it," she laughed,
almost as if they had not been interrupted, but with a little vivid
colour in her cheeks. "Otherwise, my dear, you'll have to carry me
upstairs, which won't look any too well. But I want another glass. Oh,
Peter, do look at that woman now!"

Peter looked. The elderly officer had dined to repletion and drank well
too. The woman had roused herself; she was plainly urging him to come on
out; and as Peter glanced over, she made an all but imperceptible sign to
a waiter, who bustled forward with the man's cap and stick. He took them
stupidly, and the woman helped him up, but not too noticeably. Together
they made for the door, which the waiter held wide open. The woman tipped
him, and he bowed. The door closed, and the pair disappeared into the
street.

"A damned plucky sort," said Julie; "I don't care what anyone says."

"I didn't think so once, Julie," said Peter, "but I believe you're right
now. It's a topsy-turvy world, little girl, and one never knows where one
is in it."

"Men often don't," said Julie, "but women make fewer mistakes. Come,
Peter, let's get back. I want the walk, and I want that cosy little
room."

He drained his glass and got up. Suddenly the thought of the physical
Julie ran through him like fire. "Rather!" he said gaily. "So do I,
little girl."

The waiter pulled back the chairs. The padrone came up all bows and
smiles. He hoped the Captain would come again--any time. It was better to
ring up, as they were often very full. A taxi? No? Well, the walk through
the streets was enjoyable after dinner, even now, when the lights were so
few. Good-evening, madame; he hoped everything had been to her liking.

Julie sauntered across the now half-empty little room, and took Peter's
arm in the street. "Do you know the way?" she demanded.

"We can't miss it," he said. "Up here will lead us to Shaftesbury Avenue
somewhere, and then we go down. Sure you want to walk, darling?"

"Yes, and see the people, Peter, I love seeing them. Somehow by night
they're more natural than they are by day. I hate seeing people going to
work in droves, and men rushing about the city with dollars written all
across their faces. At night that's mostly finished with. One can see
ugly things, but some rather beautiful ones as well. Let's cross over.
There are more people that side."

They passed together down the big street. Even the theatres were darkened
to some extent, but taxis were about, and kept depositing their loads of
men and smiling women. The street-walks held Tommies, often plainly with
a sweet-heart from down east; men who sauntered along and scanned the
faces of the women; a newsboy or two; a few loungers waiting to pick up
odd coppers; and here and there a woman by herself. It was the usual
crowd, but they were in the mood to see the unusual in usual things.

In the Circus they lingered a little. Shrouded as it was, an atmosphere
of mystery hung over everything. Little groups that talked for a while
at the corners or made appointments, or met and broke up again, had the
air of conspirators in some great affair. The rush of cars down Regent
Street, and then this way and that, lent colour to the thought, and
it affected both of them. "What's brooding over it all, Julie?" Peter
half-whispered. "Can't you feel that there is something?"

She shrugged her shoulders, and then gave a little shiver. "Love, or what
men take for love," she said.

He clasped the hand that lay along his arm passionately. "Come along," he
said.

"Oh, this _is_ good, Peter," said Julie a few minutes later. She had
thrown off her wrap, and was standing by the fire while he arranged the
cigarettes, the biscuits, and a couple of drinks on the little table with
its shaded light. "Did you lock the door? Are we quite alone, we two, at
last, with all the world shut out?"

He came swiftly over to her, and took her in his arms for answer. He
pressed kisses on her hair, her lips, her neck, and she responded to
them.

"Oh, love, love," he said, "let's sit down and forget that there is
anything but you and I."

She broke from him with a little laugh of excitement. "We will, Peter,"
she said; "but I'm going to take off this dress and one or two other
things, and let my hair down. Then I'll come back."

"Take them off here," he said; "you needn't go away."

She looked at him and laughed again. "Help me, then," she said, and
turned her back for him to loosen her dress.

Clumsily he obeyed. He helped her off with the shimmering beautiful
thing, and put it carefully over a chair. With deft fingers she loosened
her hair, and he ran his fingers through it, and buried his face in the
thick growth of it. She untied a ribbon at her waist, and threw from
her one or two of her mysterious woman's things. Then, with a sigh of
utter abandonment, she threw herself into his arms.

They sat long over the fire. Outside the dull roar of the sleepless city
came faintly up to them, and now and again a coal fell in the grate. At
long last Peter pushed her back a little from him. "Little girl," he
said, "I must ask one thing. Will you forgive me? That night at
Abbeville, after we left Langton, what was it you wouldn't tell me?
What was it you thought he would have known about you, but not I? Julie,
I thought, to-night--was it anything to do with East Africa--those
tropical nights under the moon? Oh, tell me, Julie!"

The girl raised her eyes to his. That look of pain and knowledge that he
had seen from the beginning was in them again. Her hand clasped the
lappet of his tunic convulsively, and she seemed to him indeed but a
little girl.

"Peter! could you not have asked? But no, you couldn't, not you.... But
you guess now, don't you? Oh, Peter, I was so young, and I thought--oh,
I thought: the big thing had come, and since then life's been all one
big mockery. I've laughed at it, Peter: it was the only way. And then
you came along. I haven't dared to think, but there's something about
you--oh, I don't know what! But you don't play tricks, do you, Peter?
And you've given me all, at last, without a question.... Oh, Peter, tell
me you love me still! It's your love, Peter, that can make me clean and
save my soul--if I've any soul to save," she added brokenly.

Peter caught her to him. He crushed he so that she caught her breath with
the pain of it, and he wound his hand all but savagely in her hair. He
got up--and she never guessed he had the strength--and carried her out in
his arms, and into the other room.

And hours later, staring into the blackness while she slept as softly as
a child by his side, he could not help smiling a little to himself. It
was all so different from what he had imagined.



CHAPTER VIII


Peter awoke, and wondered where he was. Then his eye fell on a half-shut,
unfamiliar trunk across the room, and he heard splashing through the open
door of the bathroom. "Julie!" he called.

A gurgle of laughter came from the same direction and the splashing
ceased. Almost the next second Julie appeared in the doorway. She was
still half-wet from the water, and her sole dress was a rosebud which she
had just tucked into her hair. She stood there, laughing, a perfect
vision of unblushing natural loveliness, splendidly made from her little
head poised lightly on her white shoulders to her slim feet. "You lazy
creature!" she exclaimed; "you're awake at last, are you? Get up at
once," and she ran over to him just as she was, seizing the bed-clothes
and attempting to strip them off. Peter protested vehemently. "You're a
shameless baggage," he said, "and I don't want to get up yet. I want some
tea and a cigarette in bed. Go away!"

"You won't get up, won't you?" she said. "All right; I'll get into bed,
then," and she made as if to do so.

"Get away!" he shouted. "You're streaming wet! You'll soak everything."

"I don't care," she retorted, laughing and struggling at the same time,
and she succeeded in getting a foot between the sheets. Peter slipped out
on the other side, and she ran round to him. "Come on," she said; "now
for your bath. Not another moment. My water's steaming hot, and it's
quite good enough for you. You can smoke in your bath or after it. Come
on!"

She dragged him into the bathroom and into that bath, and then she filled
a sponge with cold water and trickled it on him, until he threatened to
jump out and give her a cold douche. Then, panting with her exertions and
dry now, she collapsed on the chair and began to fumble with her hair
and its solitary rose. It was exactly Julie who sat there unashamed in
her nakedness, Peter thought. She had kept the soul of a child through
everything, and it could burst through the outer covering of the woman
who had tasted of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and laugh in the
sun.

"Peter," she said, "wouldn't you love to live in the Fiji--no, not the
Fiji, because I expect that's civilised these days, but on an almost
desert island?--though not desert, of course. Why does one call Robinson
Crusoe sort of islands _desert_? Oh, I know, because it means deserted, I
suppose. But I don't want it quite deserted, for I want you, and three
or four huts of nice savages to cut up wood for the fire and that sort of
thing. And I should wear a rose--no, a hibiscus--in my hair all day long,
and nothing else at all. And you should wear--well, I don't know what you
should wear, but something picturesque that covered you up a bit, because
you're by no means so good-looking as I am, Peter." She jumped up and
stretched out her arms, "Am I not good-looking, Peter? Why isn't there a
good mirror in this horrid old bathroom? It's more necessary in a
bathroom than anywhere, I think."

"Well, I can see you without it," said Peter. "And I quite agree, Julie,
you're divine. You are like Aphrodite, sprung from the foam."

She laughed. "Well, spring from the foam yourself, old dear, and come and
dress. I'm getting cold. I'm going to put on the most thrilling set of
undies this morning that you ever saw. The cami-... "

Peter put his fingers in his ears. "Julie," he said, "in one minute I
shall blush for shame. Go and put on something, if you must, but don't
talk about it. You're like a Greek goddess just now, but if you begin to
quote advertisements you'll be like--well, I don't know what you'll be
like, but I won't have it, anyway. Go on; get away with you. I shall
throw the sponge at you if you don't."

She departed merrily, singing to herself, and Peter lay a little longer
in the soft warm water. He dwelt lovingly on the girl in the other room;
he told himself he was the happiest man alive; and yet he got out of the
bath, without apparent rhyme or reason, with a little sigh. But he was
only a little quicker than most men in that. Julie had attained and was
radiant; Peter had attained--and sighed.

She was entirely respectable by contrast when he rejoined her, shaven and
half-dressed, a little later, but just as delectable, as she stood in
soft white things putting up her hair with her bare arms. He went over
and kissed her. "You never said good-morning at all, you wretch," he
said.

She flung her arms round his neck and kissed him again many times.
"Purposely," she said. "I shall never say good-morning to you while
you're horribly unshaven--never. You can't help waking up like it, I
know, but it's your duty to get clean and decent as quickly as possible.
See?"

"I'll try _always_ to remember," said Peter, and stressed the word.

She held him for an appreciable second at that; then loosed him with a
quick movement. "Go, now," she said, "and order breakfast to be brought
up to our sitting-room. It must be a very nice breakfast. There must be
kippers and an omelette. Go quick; I'll be ready in half a minute."

"I believe that girl is sweeping the room," said Peter. "Am I to appear
like this? You must remember that we're not in France."

"Put on a dressing-gown then. You haven't got one here? Then put on my
kimono; you'll look exceedingly beautiful.... Really, Peter, you do. Our
island will have to be Japan, because kimonos suit you. But I shall never
live to reach it if you don't order that breakfast."

Peter departed, and had a satisfactory interview with the telephone in
the presence of the maid. He returned with a cigarette between his lips,
smiling, and Julie turned to survey him.

"Peter, come here. Have you kissed that girl? I believe you have! How
dare you? Talk about being shameless, with me here in the next room!"

"I thought you never minded such things, Julie. You've told me to kiss
girls before now. _And_ you said that you'd always allow your husband
complete liberty--now, didn't you?"

Julie sat down on the bed and heaved a mock sigh. "What incredible
creatures are men!" she exclaimed. "Must I mean everything I say,
Solomon? Is there no difference between this flat and that miserable old
hotel in Caudebec? And last, but not least, have you promised to forsake
all other and cleave unto me as long as we both shall live? If you had
promised it, I'd know you couldn't possibly keep it; but as it is, I have
hopes."

This was too much for Peter. He dropped into the position that she had
grown to love to see him in, and he put his arms round her waist, looking
up at her laughingly. "But you will marry me, Julie, won't you?" he
demanded.

Before his eyes, a lingering trace of that old look crept back into her
face. She put her hands beneath his chin, and said no word, till he could
stand it no longer.

"Julie, Julie, my darling," he said, "you must."

"Must, Peter?" she queried, a little wistfully he thought.

"Yes, must; but say you want to, say you will, Julie!"

"I want to, Peter," she said--"oh, my dear, you don't know, you can't
know, how much. The form is nothing to me, but I want _you_--if I can
keep you."

"If you can keep me!" echoed Peter, and it was as if an ice-cold finger
had suddenly been laid on his heart. For one second he saw what might be.
But he banished it. "What!" he exclaimed. "Cannot you trust me, Julie?
Don't you know I love you? Don't you know I want to make you the very
centre of my being, Julie?"

"I know, dearest," she whispered, and he had never heard her speak so
before. "You want, that is one thing; you can, that is another."

Peter stared up at her. He felt like a little child who kneels at the
feet of a mother whom it sees as infinitely loving, infinitely wise,
infinitely old. And, like a child, he buried his head in her lap. "Oh,
Julie," he said, "you must marry me. I want you so that I can't tell you
how much. I don't know what you mean. Say," he said, looking up again and
clasping her tightly--"say you'll marry me, Julie!"

She sprang up with a laugh. "Peter," she said, "you're Mid-Victorian. You
are actually proposing to me upon your knees. If I could curtsy or faint
I would, but I can't. Every scrap of me is modern, down to Venns'
cami-knickers that you wouldn't let me talk about. Let's go and eat
kippers; I'm dying for them. Come on, old Solomon."

He got up more slowly, half-smiling, for who could resist Julie in that
mood? But he made one more effort. He caught her hand. "But just say
'Yes' Julie," he said--"just 'Yes.'"

She snatched her hand away. "Maybe I will tell you on Monday morning,"
she said, and ran out of the room.

As he finished dressing, he heard her singing in the next room, and then
talking to the maid. When he entered the sitting-room the girl came out,
and he saw that there were tears in her eyes. He went in and looked
sharply at Julie; there was a suspicion of moisture in hers also. "Oh,
Peter," she said, and took him by the arm as the door closed, "why didn't
you tell me about Jack? I'm going out immediately after breakfast to buy
her the best silver photo-frame I can find, see? And now come and eat
your kippers. They're half-cold, I expect. I thought you were never
coming."

So began a dream-like day to Peter. Julie was the centre of it. He
followed her into shops, and paid for her purchases and carried her
parcels: he climbed with her on to buses, which she said she preferred to
taxis in the day-time; he listened to her talk, and he did his best to
find out what she wanted and get just that for her. They lunched, at her
request, at an old-fashioned, sober restaurant in Regent Street, that
gave one the impression of eating luncheon in a Georgian dining-room, in
some private house of great stolidity and decorum. When Julie had said
that she wanted such a place Peter had been tickled to think how she
would behave in it. But she speedily enlightened him. She drew off her
gloves with an air. She did not laugh once. She did not chat to the
waiter. She did not hurry in, nor demand the wine-list, nor call him
Solomon. She did not commit one single Colonial solecism at table, as
Peter had hated himself for half thinking that she might. Yet she never
had looked prettier, he thought, and even there he caught glances which
suggested that others might think so too. And if she talked less than
usual, so did he, for his mind was very busy. In the old days it was
almost just such a wife as Julie now that he would have wanted. But did
he want the old days? Could he go back to them? Could he don the clerical
frock coat and with it the clerical system and outlook of St. John's? He
knew, as he sat there, that not only he could not, but that he would not.
What, then? It was almost as if Julie suggested that the alternative was
madcap days, such as that little scene in the bathroom suggested. He
looked at her, and thought of it again, and smiled at the incongruity of
it, there. But even as he smiled the cold whisper of dread insinuated
itself again, small and slight as it was. Would such days fill his life?
Could they offer that which should seize on his heart, and hold it?

He roused himself with an effort of will, poured himself another glass of
wine, and drank it down. The generous, full-bodied stuff warmed him, and
he glanced at his wrist-watch. "I say," he said, "we shall be late,
Julie, and I don't want to miss one scrap of this show. Have you
finished? A little more wine?"

Julie was watching him, he thought, as he spoke, and she, too, seemed to
him to make a little effort. "I will, Peter," she said, not at all as she
had spoken there before--"a full glass too. One wants to be in a good
mood for the Coliseum. Well, dear old thing, cheerio!"

Outside he demanded a taxi. "I must have it, Julie," he said. "I want to
drive up, and have the old buffer in gold braid open the door for me.
Have a cigarette?"

She took one, and laughed as they settled into the car. "I know the
feeling, my dear," she said. "And you want to stroll languidly up the red
carpet, and pass by the pictures of chorus-girls as if you were so
accustomed to the real thing that really the pictures were rather borin',
don't you know. And you want to make eyes at the programme-girl, and give
a half-crown tip when they open the box, and take off your British warm
in full view of the audience, and...."

"Kiss you," said Peter uproariously, suiting the action to the word.
"Good Lord, Julie, you're a marvel! No more of those old restaurants for
me. We dine at our hotel to-night, in the big public room near the band,
and we drink champagne."

"And you put the cork in my stocking?" she queried, stretching out her
foot.

He pushed his hand up her skirt and down to the warm place beneath the
gay garter that she indicated, and he kissed her passionately again. "It
doesn't matter now," he said. "I have more of you than that. Why, that's
nothing to me now, Julie. Oh, how I love you!"

She pushed him off, and snatched her foot away also, laughing gaily. "I'm
getting cheap, am I?" she said. "We'll see. You're going to have a damned
rotten time in the theatre, my dear. Not another kiss, and I shall be as
prim as a Quaker."

The car stopped. "You couldn't," he laughed, helping her out. "And what
is more, I shan't let you be. I've got you, old darling, and I propose to
keep you, what's more." He took her arm resolutely. "Come along. We're
going to be confoundedly late."

Theirs was a snug little box, one of the new ones, placed as in a
French theatre. The great place was nearly dark as they entered, except
for the blaze of light that shone through the curtain. The odour of
cigarette-smoke and scent greeted them, with the rustle of dresses and
the subdued sound of gay talk. The band struck up. Then, after the
rolling overture, the curtain ran swiftly up, and a smart young person
tripped on the stage in the limelight and made great play of swinging
petticoats.

Julie had no remembrance of her promised severity at any rate. She hummed
airs, and sang choruses, and laughed, and was thrilled, exactly as she
should have been, while the music and the panorama went on and wrapped
them round with glamour, as it was meant to do. She cheered the patriotic
pictures and Peter with her, till he felt no end of a fellow to be in
uniform. The people in front of them glanced round amusedly now and
again, and as like as not Julie would be discovered sitting there
demurely, her child's face all innocence, and a big chocolate held
between her fingers at her mouth. Peter would lean back in his corner
convulsed at her, and without moving a muscle of her face she would put
her leg tip on his seat and push him. One scene they watched well back
in their dark box, his arm round her waist. It was a little pathetic
love-play and well done, and in the gloom he played with the curls at
her ears and neck with his lips, and held her hand.

When it was over they went out with the crowd. The January day was done,
but it was bewildering for all that to come out into real life. There was
no romance for the moment on the stained street, and in the passing
traffic. The gold braid of the hall commissionaire looked tawdry, and
the pictures of ballet-girls but vulgar. It is the common experience, but
each time one feels it there is a new surprise. Julie had her own remedy:

"The liveliest tea-room you can find, Peter," she demanded.

"It will be hard to beat our own," said Peter.

"Well, away there, then; let's get back to a band again, anyhow."

The great palm-lounge was full of people, and for a few minutes it did
not seem as if they would find seats; but then Julie espied a half-empty
table, and they made for it. It stood away back in a corner, with two
wicker armchairs before it, and, behind, a stationary lounge against the
wall overhung by a huge palm. The lounge was occupied. "We'll get in
there presently," whispered Peter, and they took the chairs, thankful in
the crowded place to get seated at all.

"Oh, it was topping, Peter," said Julie. "I love a great place like that.
I almost wish we had had dress-circle seats or stalls out amongst the
people. But I don't know; that box was delicious. Did you see how that
old fossil in front kept looking round? I made eyes at him once,
deliberately--you know, like this," and she looked sideways at Peter
with subtle invitation just hinted in her eyes. "I thought he would have
apoplexy--I did, really."

"It's a good thing I didn't notice, Julie. Even now I should hate to see
you look like that, say, at Donovan. You do it too well. Oh, here's the
tea. Praise the Lord! I'm dying for a cup. You can have all the cakes;
I've smoked too much."

"Wouldn't you prefer a whisky?"

"No, not now--afterwards. What's that they're playing?"

They listened, Julie seemingly intent, and Peter, who soon gave up the
attempt to recognise the piece, glanced sideways at the couple on the
lounge. They did not notice him. He took them both in and caught--he
could not help it--a few words.

She was thirty-five, he guessed, slightly made-up, but handsome and full
figured, a woman of whom any man might have been proud. He was an
officer, in Major's uniform, and he was smoking a cigarette impatiently
and staring down the lounge. She, on the other hand, had her eyes fixed
on him as if to read every expression on his face, which was heavy and
sullen and mutinous.

"Is that final, then, George?" she said.

"I tell you I can't help it; I promised I'd dine with Carstairs
to-night."

A look swept across her face. Peter could not altogether read it. It was
not merely anger, or pique, or disappointment; it certainly was not
merely grief. There was all that in it, but there was more. And she
said--he only just caught the sentence of any of their words, but there
was the world of bitter meaning in it:

"Quite alone, I suppose? And there will be no necessity for me to sit
up?"

"Peter," said Julie suddenly, "the tea's cold. Take me upstairs, will
you? we can have better sent up."

He turned to her in surprise, and then saw that she too had heard and
seen.

"Right, dear," he said, "It is beastly stuff. I think, after all, I'd
prefer a spot, and I believe you would too."

He rose carefully, not looking towards the lounge, like a man; and Julie
got up too, glancing at that other couple with such an ordinary merely
interested look that Peter smiled to himself to see it. They threaded
their way in necessary silence through the tables and chairs to the
doors, and said hardly a word in the lift. But in their sitting-room,
cosy as ever, Julie turned to him in a passion of emotion such as he had
scarcely dreamed could exist even in her.

"Oh, you darling," she said, "pick me up, and sit me in that chair on
your knee. Love me, Peter, love me as you've never loved me before. Hold
me tight, tight, Peter hurt me, kiss me, love me, say you love me..." and
she choked her own utterance, and buried her face on his shoulder,
straining her body to his, twining her slim foot and leg round his ankle.
In a moment she was up again, however, and glanced at the clock. "Peter,
we must dress early and dine early, mustn't we? The thing begins at
seven-forty-five. Now I know what we'll do. First, give me a drink,
a long one, Solomon, and take one yourself. Thanks. That'll do. Here's
the best.... Oh, that's good, Peter. Can't you feel it running through
you and electrifying you? Now, come"--she seized him by the arm--"come
on! I'll tell you what you've got to do."

Smiling, though a little astonished at this outburst, Peter allowed
himself to be pulled into the bedroom. She sat down on the bed and pushed
out a foot. "Take it off, you darling, while I take down my hair," she
said.

He knelt and undid the laces and took off the brown shoes one by one,
feeling her little foot through the silk as he did so. Then he looked up.
She had pulled out a comb or two, and her hair was hanging down. With
swift fingers she finished her work, and was waiting for him. He caught
her in his arms, and she buried her face again. "Oh, Peter, love me, love
me! Undress me, will you? I want you to. Play with me, own me, Peter.
See, I am yours, yours, Peter, all yours. Am I worth having, Peter? Do
you want more than me?" And she flung herself back on the bed in her
disorder, the little ribbons heaving at her breast, her eyes afire, her
cheeks aflame.

"Well," said Peter, an hour or two later, "we've got to get this dinner
through as quickly as we've ever eaten anything. You'll have to digest
like one of your South African ostriches. I say," he said to the waitress
in a confidential tone and with a smile, "do you think you can get us
stuff in ten minutes all told? We're late as it is, and we'll miss half
the theatre else."

"It depends what you order," said the girl, rather sharply. Then, after a
glance at them both: "See, if you'll have what I say, I'll get you
through quick. I know what's on easiest. Do you mind?"

"The very thing," said Peter; "and send the wine-man over on your way,
will you? How will that do?" he added to Julie.

"I'll risk everything to-night, Peter, except your smiling at the
waitress," she said. "But I must have that champagne. There's something
about champagne that inspires confidence. When a man gives you the gold
bottle you know that he is really serious, or as serious as he can be,
which isn't saying much for most men. And not half a bottle; I've had
half-bottles heaps of times at tête-à-tête dinners. It always means
indecision, which is a beastly thing in anyone, and especially in a man.
It's insulting, for one thing.... Oh, Peter, do look at that girl over
there. Do you suppose she has anything on underneath? I suppose I
couldn't ask her, but you might, you know, if you put on that smile of
yours. Do walk over, beg her pardon, and say very nicely: 'Excuse me, but
I'm a chaplain, and it's my business to know these things. I see you've
no stays on, but have you a bathing costume?'"

"Julie, do be quiet; someone will hear you. You must remember we're in
England, and that you're talking English."

"I don't care a damn if they do, Peter! Oh, here's the champagne, at any
rate. Oh, and some soup. Well, that's something."

"I've got the fish coming," said the girl, "if you can be ready at once."

Julie seized her spoon. "I suppose I mustn't drink it?" she said. "I
don't see why I shouldn't, as a matter of fact, but it might reflect on
you, Peter, and you're looking so immaculate to-night. By the way, you've
never had that manicure. Do send a note for the girl. I'd hide in the
bathroom. I'd love to hear you. Peter, if I only thought you would do it,
I'd like it better than the play. What is the play, by the way? _Zigzag?_
Oh, _Zigzag_" (She mimicked in a French accent.) "Well, it will be all
too sadly true if I leave you to that bottle of fizz all by yourself.
Give me another glass, please."

"What about you?" demanded Peter. "If you're like this now, Heaven knows
what you'll be by the time you've had half of this."

"Peter, you're an ignoramus. Girls like me never take too much. We began
early for one thing, and we're used to it. For another, the more a girl
talks, the soberer she is. She talks because she's thinking, and because
she doesn't want the man to talk. Now, if you talked to-night, I don't
know what you might not say. You'd probably be enormously sentimental,
and I hate sentimental people. I do, really. Sentiment is wishy-washy,
isn't it? I always associate it with comedians on the stage. Look over
there. Do you see that girl in the big droopy hat and the thin hands?
And the boy--one must say 'boy,' I suppose? He's a little fat and
slightly bald, and he's got three pips up, and has had them for a long
time. Well, look at them. He's searching her eyes, he is, Peter, really.
That's how it's done: you just watch. And he doesn't know if he's eating
pea-soup or oyster-sauce. And she's hoping her hat is drooping just
right, and that he'll notice her ring is on the wrong finger, and how
nice one would look in the right place. To do her justice, she isn't
thinking much about dinner, either; but that's sinful waste, Peter, in
the first place, and bad for one's tummy in the second. However, they're
sentimental, they are, and there's a fortune in it. If they could only
bring themselves to do just that for fifteen minutes at the Alhambra
every night, they'd be the most popular turn in London."

"That's all very well," said he; "but if you eat so fast and talk at the
same time, you'll pay for it very much as you think they will. Have you
finished?"

"No, I haven't. I want cheese-straws, and I shall sit here till I get
them or till the whole of London zigzags round me."

"I say," said Peter to their waitress, "if you possibly can, fetch us
cheese-straws now. Not too many, but quickly. Can you? The lady won't go
without them, and something must be done."

"Wouldn't the management wait if you telephoned, Peter dear?" inquired
Julie sarcastically. "Just say who you are, and they sure will. If the
chorus only knew, they'd go on strike against appearing before you came,
or tear their tights or something dreadful like that, so that they
couldn't come on. Yes, now I am ready. One wee last little drop of the
bubbly--I see it there--and I'll sacrifice coffee for your sake. Give me
a cigarette, though. Thanks. And now my wrap."

She rose, the cigarette in her fingers, smiling at him. Peter hastily
followed, walking on air. He was beginning to realise how often he failed
to understand Julie, and to see how completely she controlled her
apparently more frivolous moods; but he loved her in them. He little
knew, as he followed her out, the tumult of thoughts that raced through
that little head with its wealth of brown hair. He little guessed how
bravely she was already counting the fleeting minutes, how resolutely
keeping grip of herself in the flood which threatened to sweep her--how
gladly!--away.

A good revue must be a pageant of music, colour, scenery, song, dance,
humour, and the impossible. There must be good songs in it, but one does
not go for the songs, any more than one goes to see the working out of a
plot. Strung-up men, forty-eight hours out of the trenches, with every
nerve on edge, must come away with a smile of satisfaction on their
faces, to have a last drink at home and sleep like babies. Women who have
been on nervous tension for months must be able to go there, and allow
their tired senses to drink in the feast of it all, so that they too may
go home and sleep. And in a sense their evening meant all this to Peter
and Julie; but only in a sense.

They both of them bathed in the performance. The possible and impossible
scenes came and went in a bewildering variety, till one had the feeling
that one was asleep and dreaming the incomprehensible jumble of a dream,
and, as in a nice dream, one knew it was absurd, but did not care. The
magnificent, brilliant staging dazzled till one lay back in one's chair
and refused to name the colours to oneself or admire their blending any
more. The chorus-girls trooped on and off till they seemed countless, and
one abandoned any wish to pick the prettiest and follow her through. And
the gay palace of luxury, with its hundreds of splendidly dressed women,
its men in uniform, its height and width and gold and painting, and its
great arching roof, where, high above, the stirring of human hearts still
went on, took to itself an atmosphere and became sentient with humanity.

Julie and Peter were both emotional and imaginative, and they were
spellbound till the notes of the National Anthem roused them. Then, with
the commonplaces of departure, they left the place. "It's so near," said
Julie in the crowd outside; "let's walk again."

"The other pavement, then," said Peter, and they crossed. It was cold,
and Julie clung to him, and they walked swiftly.

At the entrance Peter suggested an hour under the palms, but Julie
pleaded against it. "Why, dear?" she said. "It's so cosy upstairs, and we
have all we want. Besides, the lounge would be an anti-climax; let's go
up."

They went up, and Julie dropped into her chair while Peter knelt to poke
the fire. Then he lit a cigarette, and she refused one for once, and he
stood there looking into the flame.

Julie drew a deep sigh. "Wasn't it gorgeous, Peter?" she said. "I can't
help it, but I always feel I want it to go on for ever and ever. Did you
ever see _Kismet?_ That was worse even than this. I wanted to get up and
walk into the play. These modern things are too clever; you know they're
unreal, and yet they seem to be real. You know you're dreaming, but you
hate to wake up. I could let all that music and dancing and colour go on
round me till I floated away and away, for ever."

Peter said nothing. He continued to stare into the fire.

"What do you feel?" demanded Julie.

Peter drew hard on his cigarette, and then he blew out the smoke. "I
don't know," he said. "Yes, I do," he added quickly; "I feel I want to
get up and preach a sermon."

"Good Lord, Peter! what a dreadful sensation that must be! Don't begin
now, will you? I'm beginning to wish we'd gone into the lounge after all;
you surely couldn't have preached there."

Peter did not smile. He went on as if she had not spoken, "Or write a
great novel, or, better still, a great play," he said.

"What would be the subject, then, you Solomon, or the title, anyway?"

"I don't know," said Peter dreamily. "_All Men are Grass_, _The Way of
all Flesh_--no, neither of those is good, and besides, one at least is
taken. I know," he added suddenly, "I would call it _Exchange_, that's
all. My word, Julie, I believe I could do it." He straightened himself,
and walked across the room and back again, once or twice. "I believe I
could: I feel it tingling in me; but it's all formless, if you
understand; I've no plot. It's just what I feel as I sit there in a
theatre, as we did just now."

Julie leaned forward and took the cigarette she had just refused. She lit
it herself with a half-burnt match, and Peter stood and watched her, but
hardly saw what she was doing. She was as conscious of his preoccupation
as if it were something physical about him.

"Explain, my dear," she said, leaning back and staring into the fire.

"I don't know that I can," he replied, and she felt as if he did not
speak to her. "It's the bigness of it all, the beauty, the triumphant
success. It's drawn that great house full, lured them in, the thousands
of them, and it does so night after night. Tired people go there to be
refreshed, and sad people to be made gay, and people sick of life to
laugh and forget it. It's the world's big anodyne. It offers a great
exchange. And all for a few shillings, Julie, and for a few hours. The
sensation lingers, but one has to go again and again. It tricks one into
thinking, almost, that it's the real thing, that one can dance like
mayflies in the sun. Only, Julie, there comes an hour when down sinks the
sun, and what of the mayflies then?"

Julie shifted her head ever so little. "Go on," she said, looking up
intently at him.

He did not notice her, but her words roused him. He began to pace up and
down again, and her eyes followed him. "Why," he said excitedly, "don't
you see that it's a fraudulent exchange? It's a fraudulent exchange that
it offers, and it itself is an exchange as fraudulent as that which our
modern world is making. No, not our modern world only. We talk so big of
our modernity, when it's all less than the dust--this year's leaves, no
better than last year's, and fallen to-morrow. Rome offered the same
exchange, and even a better one, I think--the blood and lust and conflict
of the amphitheatre. But they're both exchanges, offered instead of the
great thing, the only great thing."

"Which is, Peter?"

"God, of course--Almighty God; Jesus, if you will, but I'm not in a mood
for the tenderness of that. It's God Himself Who offers tired and sad
people, and people sick of life, no anodyne, no mere rest, but stir and
fight and the thrill of things nobly done--nobly tried, Julie, even if
nobly failed. Can't you see it? And you and I to-night have been looking
at what the world offers--in exchange."

He ceased and dropped into a chair the other side of the fire. A silence
fell on them. Then Julie gave a little shiver. "Peter, dear," she said
tenderly, "I'm a little tired and cold."

He was up at once and bending over her. "My darling, what a beast I am!
I clean forgot you for a minute. What will you have? What about a hot
toddy? Shall I make one?" he demanded, smiling. "Donovan taught me how,
and I'm really rather good at it."

She smiled back at him, and put her hand up to smooth his hair. "That
would be another exchange, Peter," she said, "and I don't want it. Only
one thing can warm me to-night and give me rest."

He read what she meant in her eyes, and knelt beside the chair to put his
arms around her. She leaned her face on his shoulder, and returned the
kisses that he showered upon her. "Poor mayflies," she said to herself,
"how they love to dance in the sun!"



CHAPTER IX


Ever after that next day, the Saturday, will remain in Peter's memory as
a time by itself, of special significance, but a significance, except for
one incident, very hard to place. It began, indeed, very quietly, and
very happily. They breakfasted again in their own room, and Julie was
in one of her subdued moods, if one ever could say she was subdued.
Afterwards Peter lit a cigarette and strolled over to the window. "It's a
beastly day," he said, "cloudy, cold, windy, and going to rain, I think.
What shall we do? Snow up in the hotel all the time?"

"No," said Julie emphatically, "something quite different. You shall show
me some of the real London sights, Westminster Abbey to begin with. Then
we'll drive along the Embankment and you shall tell me what everything
is, and we'll go and see anything else you suggest. I don't suppose
you realise, Peter, that I'm all but absolutely ignorant of London."

He turned and smiled on her. "And you really _want_ to see these things?"
he said.

"Yes, of course I do. You don't think I suggested it for your benefit?
But if it will make you any happier, I'll flatter you a bit. I want to
see those things now, with you, partly because I'm never likely to find
anyone who can show me them better. Now then. Aren't you pleased?"

At that, then, they started. Westminster came first, and they wandered
all over it and saw as much as the conditions of war had left for the
public to see. It amused Peter to show Julie the things that seemed to
him to have a particular interest--the Chapter House, St. Faith's Chapel,
the tomb of the Confessor, and so on. She made odd comments. In St.
Faith's she said: "I don't say many prayers, Peter, but here I couldn't
say one."

"Why not?" he demanded.

"Because it's too private," she said quaintly. "I should think I was
pretending to be a saint if I went past everybody else and the vergers
and things into a little place like this all by myself. Everyone would
know that I was doing something which most people don't do. See? Why
don't people pray all over the church, as they do in France in a
cathedral, Peter?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "Come on," he said; "your notions are all
topsy-turvy, Julie. Come and look at the monuments."

They wandered down the transept, and observed the majesty of England in
stone, robed in togas, declaiming to the Almighty, and obviously
convinced that He would be intensely interested; or perhaps dying in the
arms of a semi-dressed female, with funeral urns or ships or cannon
In the background; or, at least in one case, crouching hopelessly, before
the dart of a triumphant death. Julie was certainly impressed, "They are
all like ancient Romans, Peter," she said, "and much more striking than
those Cardinals and Bishops and Kings, kneeling at prayer, in Rouen
Cathedral. But, still, they were _not_ ancient Romans, were they? They
were all Christains, I suppose. Is there a Christian monument anywhere
about?"

"I don't know," said Peter, "but we'll walk round and see."

They made a lengthy pilgrimage, and finally Peter arrested her. "Here's
one," he said.

A Georgian Bishop in bas-relief looked down on them, fat and comfortable.
In front of him was a monstrous cup, and a plate piled with biggish
squares of stone. Julie did not realise what it was. "What's he doing
with all that lump-sugar?" she demanded.

Peter was really a bit horrified. "You're an appalling pagan," he said.
"Come away!" And they came.

They roamed along the Embankment. Julie was as curious as a child, and
wanted to know all about everything, from Boadicea, Cleopatra's Needle,
and the Temple Church, to Dewar's Whisky Works and the Hotel Cecil.
Thereabouts, Julie asked the name of the squat tower and old red-brick
buildings opposite, and when she heard it was Lambeth Palace instantly
demanded to visit it. Peter was doubtful if they could, but they crossed
to see, and they were shown a good deal by the courtesy of the
authorities. The Archbishop was away, to Peter's great relief, for as
likely as not Julie would have insisted on an introduction, but they
saw the chapel and the dining-hall amongst other things. The long line
of portraits fascinated her, but not as it fascinated Peter. The
significance of the change in the costumes of the portraits struck
him for the first time--first the cope and mitre and cross, then the
skull-cap and the tippet, then the balloon-sleeves and the wig, then the
coat and breeches and white cravat, then the academic robes, and then a
purple cassock. Its interest to Julie was other, however. "Peter," she
whispered, "perhaps you'll be there one day."

He looked at her sharply, but she was not mocking him, and, marvelling at
her simplicity and honest innocence, he relaxed into a smile. "Not very
likely, my dear," he said. "In other days a pleasant underground cell in
the Lollards' Tower would have been more likely."

Then, of course, Julie must see the famous tower, and see a little of it
they did. She wanted to know what Lollardy was; their guide attempted an
explanation. Julie was soon bored. "I can't see why people make such a
bother about such things," she said. "A man's religion is his own
business, surely, and he must settle it for himself. Don't you think so,
Peter?"

"Is it his own business only?" he asked gravely.

"Whose else should it be?" she demanded.

"God's," said Peter simply.

Julie stared at him and sighed. "You're very odd, Peter," she said, "but
you do say things that strike one as being true. Go on."

"Oh, there's no more to say," said Peter, "except, perhaps, this: if
anyone or any Church honestly believed that God had committed His share
in the business to them--well, then he might justifiably feel that he or
it had a good deal to do with the settling of another man's religion.
Hence this tower, Julie, and as a matter of fact, my dear, hence me, past
and present. But come on."

She took his arm with a little shiver which he was beginning to notice
from time to time in her. "It's a horrible idea, Peter," she said. "Yes,
let's go."

So their taxi took them to Buckingham Palace and thereabouts, and by
chance they saw the King and Queen. Their Majesties drove by smartly in
morning dress with a couple of policemen ahead, and a few women waved
handkerchiefs, and Peter came to the salute, and Julie cheered. The Queen
turned towards where she was standing, and bowed, and Peter noticed,
amazed, that the eyes of the Colonial girl were wet, and that she did not
attempt to hide it.

He had to question her. "I shouldn't have thought you'd have felt about
royalty like that, Julie," he said.

"Well, I do," she said, "and I don't care what you say. Only I wish
they'd go about with the Life Guards. The King's a King to me. I suppose
he is only a man, but I don't want to think of him so. He stands for the
Empire and for the Flag, and he stands for England too. I'd obey that man
almost in anything, right or wrong, but I don't know that I'd obey anyone
else."

"Then you're a survival of the Dark Ages," he said.

"Don't be a beast!" said Julie.

"All right, you're not, and indeed I don't know if I am right. Very
likely you're the very embodiment of the spirit of the Present Day.
Having lost every authority, you crave for one."

Julie considered this. "There may be something in that," she said. "But I
don't like you when you're clever. It was the King, and that's enough for
me. And I don't want to see anything more. I'm hungry; take me to lunch."

Peter laughed. "That's it," he said--"like the follower of Prince Charlie
who shook hands once with his Prince and then vowed he would never shake
hands with anyone again. So you've seen the King, and you won't see
anything else, only your impression won't last twelve hours,
fortunately."

"I don't suppose the other man kept his vow," said Julie. "For one thing,
no man ever does. Come on!"

And so they drifted down the hours until the evening theatre and
_Carminetta_. They said and did nothing in particular, but they just
enjoyed themselves. In point of fact, they were emotionally tired, and,
besides, they wanted to forget how the time sped by. The quiet day was,
in its own way too, a preparation for the evening feast, and they were
both in the mood to enjoy the piece intensely when it came. The
magnificence of the new theatre in which it was staged all helped. Its
wide, easy stairways, its many conveniences, its stupendous auditorium,
its packed house, ushered it well in. Even the audience seemed different
from that of last night.

Julie settled herself with a sigh of satisfaction to listen and watch.
And they both grew silent as the opera proceeded. At first Julie could
not contain her delight. "Oh, she's perfect, Peter," she exclaimed--"a
little bit of life! Look how she shakes her hair back and how impudent
she is--just like one of those French girls you know too much about! And
she's boiling passion too. And a regular devil. I love her, Peter!"

"She's very like you, Julie," said Peter.

Julie flashed a look at him. "Rubbish!" she said, but was silent.

They watched while Carminetta set herself to win her bet and steal the
heart of the hero from the Governor's daughter. They watched her force
the palace ballroom, and forgot the obvious foolishness of a great deal
of it in the sense of the drama that was being worked out. The whole
house grew still. The English girl, with her beauty, her civilisation,
her rank and place, made her appeal to her fiancé; and the Spanish
bastard dancer, with her daring, her passion, her naked humanity, so
coarse and so intensely human, made her appeal also. And they watched
while the young conventionally-bred officer hesitated; they watched till
Carminetta won.

Julie, leaning forward, held her breath and gazed at the beautiful
fashionable room on the stage, gazed through the open French windows to
the moonlit garden and the night beyond, and gazed, though at last she
could hardly see, at the Spanish girl. That great renunciation held them
both entranced. So bitter-sweet, so humanly divine, the passionate,
heart-broken, heroic song of farewell, swelled and thrilled about them.
And with the last notes the child of the gutter reached up and up till
she made the supreme self-sacrifice, and stepped out of the gay room into
the dark night for the sake of the man she loved too much to love.

Then Julie bowed her head into her hands, and in the silence and darkness
of their box burst into tears. And so, for the first and last time, Peter
heard her really weep.

He said foolish man-things to comfort her. She looked up at last,
smiling, her brown eyes challengingly brave through her tears, "Peter,
forgive me," she said. "I shouldn't be such a damned fool! You never
thought I could be like that, did you? But it was so superbly done,
I couldn't help it. It's all over now--all over, Peter," she added
soberly. "I want to sit in the lounge to-night for a little, if you don't
mind. Could you possibly get a taxi? I don't want to walk."

It was difficult to find one. Finally Peter and another officer
made a bolt simultaneously and each got hold of a door of a car that
was just coming up. Both claimed it, and the chauffeur looked round
good-humouredly at the disputants. "Settle it which-hever way you like,
gents," he said. "Hi don't care, but settle it soon."

"Let's toss," said Peter.

"Right-o," said the other man, and produced a coin.

"Tails," whispered Julie behind Peter, and "Tails!" he called.

The coin spun while the little crowd looked on in amusement, and tails it
was. "Damn!" said the other, and turned away.

"A bad loser, Peter," said Julie; "and he's just been seeing
_Carminetta_, too! But am I not lucky! I almost always win."

In the palm lounge Julie was very cheerful. "Coffee, Peter," she said,
"and liqueurs."

"No drinks after nine-thirty," said the waiter. "Sorry, sir."

Julie laughed. "I nearly swore, Peter," she said, "but I remembered in
time. If one can't get what one wants, one has to go without singing. But
I'll have a cigarette, not to say two, before we've finished. And I'm in
no hurry; I want to sit on here and pretend it's not Saturday night. And
I want to go very slowly to bed, and I don't want to sleep."

"Is that the effect of the theatre?" asked Peter. "And why so different
from last night?"

Julie evaded. "Don't you feel really different?" she demanded.

"Yes," he said.

"How?"

"Well, I don't want to preach any sermon to-night. It's been preached."

Julie drew hard on her cigarette, and blew out a cloud of smoke. "It has,
Peter," she said merrily, "and thank the Lord I am therefore spared
another."

"You're very gay about it now, Julie, but you weren't at first. That play
made me feel rather miserable too. No, I think it made me feel small.
Carminetta was great, wasn't she? I don't know that there is anything
greater than that sort of sacrifice. And it's far beyond me," said Peter.

Julie leaned back and hummed a bar or two that Peter recognised from the
last great song of the dancer. "Well, my dear, I was sad, wasn't I?" she
said. "But it's over. There's no use in sadness, is there?"

Peter did not reply, and started as Julie suddenly laughed. "Oh, good
Lord, Peter!" she exclaimed, "to what _are_ you bringing me? Do you know
that I'm about to quote Scripture? And I damn-well shall if we sit on
here! Let's walk up Regent Street; I can't sit still. Come on." She
jumped up.

"Just now," he said, "you wanted to sit still for ages, and now you want
to walk. What is the matter with you, Julie? And what was the text?"

"That would be telling!" she laughed. "But can't I do anything I like,
Peter?" she demanded. "Can't I go and get drunk if I like, Peter, or sit
still, or dance down Regent Street, or send you off to bed and pick up a
nice boy? It would be easy enough here. Can't I, Peter?"

Her mood bewildered him, and, without in the least understanding why,
he resented her levity. But he tried to hide it. "Of course you can,"
he said lightly; "but you don't really want to do those things, do
you--especially the last, Julie?"

She stood there looking at him, and then, in a moment, the excitement
died out of her voice and eyes. She dropped into a chair again. "No,
Peter," she said, "I don't. That's the marvel of it. I expect I shall,
one of these days, do most of those things, and the last as well, but I
don't think I'll ever _want_ to do them again. And that's what you've
done to me, my dear."

Peter was very moved. He slipped his hand out and took hers under cover
of her dress. "My darling," he whispered, "I owe you everything. You
have given me all, and I won't hold back all from you. Do you remember,
Julie, that once I said I thought I loved you more than God? Well, I know
now--oh yes, I believe I do know now. But I choose you, Julie."

Her eyes shone up at him very brightly, and he could not read them
altogether. But her lips whispered, and he thought he understood.

"Oh, Peter, my dearest," she said, "thank God I have at least heard you
say that. I wouldn't have missed you saying those words for anything,
Peter."

So might the serving-girl in Pilate's courtyard have been glad, had she
been in love.



CHAPTER X


Part at least of Julie's programme was fulfilled to the letter, for they
lay long in bed talking--desultory, reminiscent talk, which sent Peter's
mind back over the months and the last few days, even after Julie was
asleep in the bed next his. Like a pageant, he passed, in review scene
after scene, turning it over, and wondering at significances that he had
not before, imagined. He recalled their first meeting, that instantaneous
attraction, and he asked himself what had caused it. Her spontaneity,
freshness, and utter lack of conventionality, he supposed, but that did
not seem to explain all. He wondered at the change that had even then
come about in himself that he should have been so entranced by her, He
went over his early hopes and fears; he thought again of conversations
with Langton; and he realised afresh how true it was that the old
authorities had dwindled away; that no allegiance had been left; that his
had been a citadel without a master. And then Julie moved through his
days again--Julie at Caudebec, daring, iconoclastic, free; Julie at
Abbeville, mysterious, passionate, dominant; Julie at Dieppe--ah, Julie
at Dieppe! He marvelled that he had held out so long after Dieppe, and
then Louise rose before him. He understood Louise less than Julie,
perhaps, and with all the threads in his hand he failed to see the
pattern. He turned over restlessly. It was easy to see how they had come
to be in London; it would have been more remarkable if they had not so
come together; but now, what now? He could not sum up Julie amid the
shifting scenes of the last few days. She had been so loving, and yet,
in a way, their love had reached no climax. It had, indeed, reached what
he would once have thought a complete and ultimate climax, but plainly
Julie did not think so. And nor did he--now. The things of the spirit
were, after all, so much greater than the things of the flesh. The Julie
of Friday night had been his, but of this night...? He rolled over again.
What had she meant at the play? He told himself her tears were simple
emotion, her laughter simple reaction, but he knew it was not true....

And for himself? Well, Julie was Julie. He loved her intensely. She could
stir him to anything almost. He loved to be with her, to see her, to hear
her, but he did not feel satisfied. He knew that. He told himself that he
was an introspective fool; that nothing ever would seem to satisfy
him; that the centre of his life _was_ and would be Julie; that she was
real, tinglingly, intensely real; but he knew that that was not the last
word. And then and there he resolved that the last word should be spoken
on the morrow, that had, indeed, already come by the clock: she should
promise to marry him.

He slept, perhaps, for an hour or two, but he awoke with the dawn. The
grey light was stealing in at the windows, and Julie slept beside him in
the bed between. He tried to sleep again, but could not, and, on a
sudden, had an idea. He got quietly out of bed.

"What is it, Peter?" said Julie sleepily.

He went round and leaned over her. "I can't sleep any more, dearest," he
said. "I think I'll dress and go for a bit of a walk. Do you mind? I'll
be in to breakfast."

"No," she said. "Go if you want to. You are a restless old thing!"

He dressed silently, and kept the bathroom door closed as he bathed and
shaved. She was asleep again as he stole out, one arm flung loosely on
the counterpane, her hair untidy on the pillow. He kissed a lock of it,
and let himself quietly out of their suite.

It was still very early, and the Circus looked empty and strange. He
walked down Piccadilly, and wondered at the clean, soft touch of the
dawning day, and recalled another memorable Sunday morning walk. He
passed very familiar places, and was conscious of feeling an exile, an
inevitable one, but none the less an exile, for all that. And so he came
into St. James's Park, still as aimlessly as he had left the hotel.

Before him, clear as a pointing finger in the morning sky, was the
campanile of that stranger among the great cathedrals of England. It
attracted him for the first time, and he made all but unconsciously
towards it, Peter was not even in the spiritual street that leads to the
gates of the Catholic Church, and it was no incipient Romanism that moved
him. He was completely ignorant of the greater part of that faith, and,
still more, had no idea of the gulf that separates it from all other
religions. He would have supposed, if he had stopped to think, that, as
with other sects, one considered its tenets, made up one's mind as to
their truth or falsehood one by one, and if one believed a sufficient
majority of them joined the Church. It was only, then, the mood of the
moment, and when, he found himself really moving towards that finger-post
he excused himself by thinking that as he was, by his own act, exiled,
from, more familiar temples, he would visit this that would have about it
a suggestion of France.

He wondered if it would be open as he turned into Ashley Gardens. He
glanced at his watch; it was only just after seven. Perhaps an early Mass
might be beginning. He went to the central doors and found them fast;
then he saw little groups of people and individuals like himself making
for the door in the great tower, and these he followed within.

He stood amazed for a few minutes. The vast soaring space, so austere in
its bare brick, gripped his imagination. The white and red and gold of
the painted Christ that hung so high and monstrous before the entrance to
the marbles of the sanctuary almost troubled him. It dominated everything
so completely that he felt he could not escape it. He sought one of the
many chairs and knelt down.

A little bell tinkled, Peter glanced sideways towards the sound, and
saw that a Mass was in progress in a side-chapel of gleaming mosaics,
and that a soldier in uniform served. Hardly had he taken the details
in, when another bell claimed his attention. It came from across the
wide nave, and he perceived that another chapel had its Mass, and a
considerable congregation. And then, his attention aroused, he began to
spy about and to take in the thing.

The whole vast cathedral was, as it were, alive. Seven or eight Masses
were in progress. One would scarcely finish before another priest,
preceded by soldier in uniform or server in cassock and cotta, would
appear from beyond the great pulpit and make his way to yet another
altar. The small handbells rang out again and again and again, and still
priest after priest was there to take his place. Peter began cautiously
to move about. He became amazed at the size of the congregation. They had
been lost in that great place, but every chapel had its people, and there
were, in reality, hundreds scattered about in the nave alone.

He knelt for awhile and watched the giving of Communion in the guarded
chapel to the north of the high altar. Its gold and emblazoned gates were
not for him, but he could at least kneel and watch those who passed in
and out. They were of all sorts and classes, of all ranks and ages; men,
women, children, old and young, rich and poor, soldier and civilian,
streamed in and out again. Peter sighed and left them. He found an altar
at which Mass was about to begin, and he knelt at the back on a mosaic
pavement in which fishes and strange beasts were set in a marble stream,
and watched. And it was not one Mass that he watched, but two or three,
and it was there that a vision grew on his inner understanding, as he
knelt and could not pray.

It is hard and deceptive to write of those subconscious imaginings that
convict the souls of most men some time or another. In that condition
things are largely what we fashion them to be, and one may be thought to
be asserting their ultimate truth in speaking of their influence. But
there is no escaping from the fact that Peter Graham of a lost allegiance
began that Sunday morning to be aware of another claimant. And this is
what dawned upon him, and how.

A French memory gave him a starting-point. Here, at these Low Masses, it
was more abundantly plain than ever that these priests did not conceive
themselves to be serving a congregation, but an altar. One after the
other they moved through a ritual, and spoke low sentences that hardly
reached him, with their eyes holden by that which they did. At first he
was only conscious of this, but then he perceived the essential change
that came over each in his turn. The posturing and speaking was but
introductory to the moment when they raised the Host and knelt before it.
It was as if they were but functionaries ushering in a King, and then
effacing themselves before Him.

Here, then, the Old Testament of Peter's past became to him a
schoolmaster. He heard himself repeating again the comfortable words of
the Prayer-Book service: "Come unto Me...." "God so loved...." "If any
man sin...." Louise's hot declaration forced itself upon him: "It is He
Who is there." And it was then that the eyes of his mind were enlightened
and he saw a vision--not, indeed, of the truth of the Roman Mass (if it
be true), and not of the place of the Sacrament in the Divine scheme of
things, but the conception of a love so great that it shook him as if
it were a storm, and bowed him before it as if he were a reed.

The silent, waiting Jesus.... All these centuries, in every land.... How
He had been mocked, forgotten, spurned, derided, denied, cast out; and
still He waited. Prostitutes of the streets, pardoned in a word, advanced
towards Him, and He knew that so shortly again, within the secret place
of their hearts, He would be crucified; but still He waited. Careless
men, doubtless passion-mastered, came up to Him, and He knew the sort
that came; but still He waited. He, Peter, who had not known He was here
at all, and who had gone wandering off in search of any mistress, spent
many days, turned in by chance, and found Him here. What did He wait for?
Nothing; there was nothing that anyone could give, nothing but a load of
shame, the offering of a body spent by passionate days, the kiss of
traitor-lips; but still He waited. He did more than wait. He offered
Himself to it all. He had bound Himself by an oath to be kissed if Judas
planned to kiss Him, and He came through the trees to that bridal with
the dawn of every day. He had foreseen the chalice, foreseen that it
would be filled at every moon and every sun by the bitter gall of
ingratitude and wantonness and hate, but He had pledged Himself--"Even
so, Father"--and He was here to drink it. Small wonder, then, that the
paving on which Peter Graham knelt seemed to swim before his eyes until
it was in truth a moving ocean of love that streamed from the altar and
enclosed of every kind, and even him.

The movement of chairs and the gathering of a bigger congregation than
usual near a chapel that Peter perceived to be for the dead aroused him.
He got up to go. He walked quickly up Victoria Street, and marvelled over
the scene he had left. In sight of Big Ben he glanced up--twenty to nine!
He had been, then, an hour and a half in the cathedral. He recalled
having read that a Mass took half an hour, and he began to reckon how
many persons had heard Mass even while he had been there. Not less than
five hundred at every half-hour, and most probably more. Fifteen hundred
to two thousand souls, of every sort and kind, then, had been drawn in to
that all but silent ceremony, to that showing of Jesus crucified. A
multitude--and what compassion!

Thus he walked home, thinking of many things, but the vision he had seen
was uppermost and would not be displaced. It was still in his eyes as he
entered their bedroom and found Julie looking at a magazine as she lay in
bed, smoking a cigarette.

"Lor', Peter, are you back? I suppose I ought to be up, but I was so
sleepy. What's the time? Why, what's the matter? Where have you been?"

Peter did not go over to her at once as she had expected. It was not that
he felt he could not, or anything like that, but simply that he was only
thinking of her in a secondary way. He walked to the dressing-table and
lifted the flowers she had worn the night before and put there in a
little glass.

"Where have you been, old Solomon?" demanded Julie again.

"Seeing wonders, Julie," said Peter, looking dreamily at the blossoms.

"No? Really? What? Do tell me. If it was anything I might have seen, you
were a beast not to come back for me, d'you hear?"

Peter turned and stared at her, but she knew as he looked that he hardly
saw her. Her tone changed, and she made a little movement with her hand,
"Tell me, Peter," she said again.

"I've seen," said Peter slowly, "a bigger thing than I thought the world
could hold, I've seen something so wonderful, Julie, that it hurt--oh,
more than I can say. I've seen Love, Julie."

She could not help it. It was a foolish thing to say just then, she knew,
but it came out. "Oh, Peter," she said, "did you have to leave me to see
that?"

"Leave you?" he questioned, and for a moment so lost in his thought was
he that he did not understand what she meant. Then it dawned on him, and
he smiled. He did not see as he stood there, the clumsy Peter, how the
two were related. So he smiled, and he came over to her, and took her
hand, and sat on the bed, his eyes still full of light. "Oh, you've
nothing to do with it," he said. "It's far bigger than you or I, Julie.
Our love is like a candle held up to the sun beside it. Our love wants
something, doesn't it? It burns, it--it intoxicates, Julie. But this love
waits, _waits_, do you understand? It asks nothing; it gives, it suffices
all. Year after year it just waits, Julie, waits for anyone, waits for
everyone. And you can spurn it, spit on it, crucify it, and it is still
there when you--need, Julie." And Peter leaned forward, and buried his
face in her little hand.

Julie heard him through, and it was well that before the end he did not
see her eyes. Then she moved her other hand which held the half-burnt
cigarette and dropped the smoking end (so that it made a little hiss)
into her teacup on the glass-topped table, and brought her hand back, and
caressed his hair as he lay bent forward there. "Dear old Peter," she
said tenderly, "how he thinks things! And when you saw this--this love,
Peter, how did you feel?"

He did not answer for a minute, and when he did he did not raise his
head. "Oh, I don't know, Julie," he said. "It went through and through
me. It was like a big sea, and it flooded me away. It filled me. I seemed
to drink it in at every pore. I felt satisfied just to be there."

"And then you came back to Julie, eh, Peter?" she questioned.

"Why, of course," he said, sitting up with a smile. "Why not?" He gave a
little laugh. "Why, Julie," he said, "I never thought of that before. I
suppose I ought to have been--oh, I don't know, but our days together
didn't seem to make any difference. That Love was too big. It seemed
to me to be too big to be--well, jealous, I suppose."

She nodded. "That would be just it, Peter. That's how it would seem
to you. You see, I know. It's strange, my dear, but I don't feel
either--jealous."

He frowned. "What do you mean?" he said. "Don't you understand? It was
God's Love that I saw."

She hesitated a second, and then her face relaxed into a smile. "You're
as blind as a bat, my dear, but I suppose all men are, and so you can't
help it. Now go and ring for breakfast and smoke a cigarette in the
sitting-room while I dress." And Peter, because he hated to be called a
bat and did not feel in the least like one, went.

He rang the bell, and the maid answered it. She did not wait for him to
give his order, but advanced towards him, her eyes sparkling. "Oh, sir,"
she said, "is madame up? I don't know how to thank her, and you too. I've
wanted a frame for Jack's picture, but I couldn't get a real good one,
I couldn't. When I sees this parcel I couldn't think _what_ it was. I
forgot even as how I'd give the lady my name. Oh, she's the real good
one, she is. You'll forgive me, sir, but I know a real lady when I see
one. They haven't got no airs, and they know what a girl feels like,
right away. I put Jack in it, sir, on me table, and if there's anything
I can do for you or your lady, now or ever, I'll do it, sir."

Peter smiled at the little outburst, but his heart warmed within him. How
just like Julie it was! "Well," he said, "it's the lady you've really to
thank. Knock, if you like; I expect she'll let you in. And then order
breakfast, will you? Bacon and eggs and some fish. Thanks." And he turned
away.

She made for the door, but stopped, "I near forgot, sir," she said. "A
gentleman left this for you last night, and they give it to me at the
office--this morning. There was no answer, he said. He went by this
morning's train." She handed Peter an unstamped envelope bearing the
hotel's name, and left the room as he opened it. He did not recognise
the handwriting, but he tore it open and glanced at once at the
signature, and got a very considerable surprise, not to say a shock.
It was signed "Jack Donovan."

"MY DEAR GRAHAM, [the letter ran],

"Forgive me for writing, but I must tell you that I've seen you twice
with Julie (and each time neither of you saw anyone else but
yourselves!). It seems mean to see you and not say so, but for the Lord's
sake don't think it'll go further, or that I reproach you. I've been
there myself, old bird, and in any case I don't worry about other
people's shows. But I want to tell you a bit of news--Tommy Raynard and I
have fixed it up. I know you'll congratulate me. She's topping, and just
the girl for me--no end wiser than I, and as jolly as anyone, really. I
don't know how you and Julie are coming out of it, and I won't guess, for
it's a dreadful war; but maybe you'll be able to sympathise with me at
having to leave _my_ girl in France! However, I'm off back to-morrow, a
day before you. If you hadn't run off to Paris, you'd have known. My
leave order was from Havre.

"Well, cheerio. See you before long. And just one word, my boy, from a
fellow who has seen a bit more than you (if you'll forgive me): remember,
_Julie'll know best_.

"Yours, ever,
"JACK DONOVAN."

Peter frowned over his letter, and then smiled, and then frowned again.
He was still at it when he heard Julie's footstep outside, and he thrust
the envelope quickly into his pocket, thinking rapidly. He did not in the
least understand what the other meant, especially by the last sentence,
and he wanted to consider it before showing Julie. Also, he wondered
if it was meant to be shown to Julie at all. He thought not; probably
Donovan was absolutely as good as his word, and would not even mention
anything to Tommy. But he thought no more, for Julie was on him.

"Peter, it's started to rain! I knew it would. Why does it always rain on
Sundays in London? Probably the heavens themselves weep at the sight of
so gloomy a city. However, I don't care a damn! I've made up my mind what
we're going to do. We shall sit in front of the fire all the morning,
and you shall read to me. Will you?"

"Anything you like, my darling," he said; "and we couldn't spend a better
morning. But bacon and eggs first, eh? No, fish first, I mean. But pour
out a cup of tea at once, for Heaven's sake. _I_ haven't had a drop this
morning."

"Poor old thing! No wonder you're a bit off colour. No early tea after
that champagne last night! But, oh, Peter, wasn't _Carminetta_ a dream?"

Breakfast over, Peter sat in a chair and bent over her. "What do you want
me to read, Julie darling?" he demanded.

She considered. "_Not_ a magazine, _not La Vie Parisienne_, though we
might perhaps look at the pictures part of the time. I know! Stop! I'll
get it," She ran out and returned with a little leather-covered book.
"Read it right through, Peter," she said. "I've read it heaps of times,
but I want to hear it again to-day. Do you mind?"

"Omar Khayyám!" exclaimed Peter. "Good idea! He's a blasphemous old
pagan, but the verse is glorious and it fits in at times. Do you want me
to start at once?"

"Give me a cigarette! no, put the box there. Stir up the fire. Come and
sit on the floor with your back to me. That's right. Now fire away."

She leaned back and he began. He read for the rhythm; she listened for
the meaning. He read to the end; she hardly heard more than a stanza:

"Oh, threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain--_this_ Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the rest is lies--
The flower that once has blown for ever dies."

They lunched in the hotel, and at the table Peter put the first necessary
questions that they both dreaded. "I'm going to tell them to make out my
bill, Julie," he said. "I've to be at Victoria at seven-thirty a.m.
to-morrow, you know. You've still got some leave, haven't you, dear; what
are you going to do? How long will you stay on here?"

"Not after you've gone, Peter," she said. "Let them make it out for me
till after breakfast to-morrow."

"But what are we going to do?" he demanded.

"Oh, don't ask. It spoils to-day to think of to-morrow. Go to my friends,
perhaps--yes, I think that. It's only for a few days now."

"Oh, Julie, I wish I could stay."

"So do I, but you can't, so don't worry. What about this afternoon?"

"If it's stopped raining, let's go for a walk, shall we?"

They settled on that, and it was Julie who took him again to St. James's
Park. As they walked: "Where did you go to church this morning, Peter?"
she asked.

He pointed to the campanile. "Over there," he said.

"Then let's go together to-night," she said.

"Do you mean it, Julie?"

"Of course I do. I'm curious. Besides, it's Sunday, and I want to go to
church."

"But you'll miss dinner," objected Peter. "It begins at six-thirty."

"Well, let's get some food out--Victoria Station, for instance. Won't
that do? We can have some supper sent up afterwards in the hotel."

Peter agreed, but they did not go to the station. In a little cafe
outside Julie saw a South African private eating eggs and bacon, and
nothing would do but that they must do the same. So they went in. They
ate off thick plates, and Julie dropped the china pepper-pot on her eggs
and generally behaved as if she were at a school-treat. But it was a
novelty, and it kept their thoughts off the fact that it was the last
night. And finally they went to church.

The service did not impress Peter, and every time he looked at Julie's
face he wanted to laugh; but the atmosphere of the place did, though he
could not catch the impression of the morning. For the sermon, a
stoutish, foreign-looking ecclesiastic mounted the pulpit, and they both
prepared to be bored. However, he gave out his text, and Peter sat bolt
upright at once. It would have delighted the ears of his Wesleyan
corporal of the Forestry; and more than that it was the text he had
quoted in the ears of the dying Jenks. He prepared keenly to listen. As
for Julie, she was regarding the altar with a far-away look in her eyes,
and she scarcely moved the whole time.

Outside, as soon as they were out of the crowd, Peter began at once.

"Julie," he said, "whatever did you think of that sermon?"

"What did you?" she said. "Tell me first."

"I don't believe you listened at all, but I can't help talking of it. It
was amazing. He began by speaking about Adam and Eve and original sin and
the Garden of Eden as if he'd been there. There might never have been a
Higher Critic in existence. Then he said what sin did, and that sin was
only truly sin if it did do that. _That_ was to hide the face of God, to
put Him and a human being absolutely out of communication, so to speak.
And then he came to Christ, to the Cross. Did you hear him, Julie? Christ
comes in between--He got in between God and man. All the anger that
darted out of God against sin hit Him; all the blows that man struck back
against God hit Him. Do you see that, Julie? That was wonderfully put,
but the end was more wonderful. Both, ultimately, cannot kill the Heart
of Jesus. There's no sin there to merit or to feel the anger, and we can
hurt, but we can't destroy His love."

Peter stopped, "That's what I saw a little this morning," he said after a
minute.

"Well?" said Julie.

"Oh, it's all so plain! If there was a way to that Heart, one would be
safe. I mean, a way that is not an emotional idea, not a subjective
experience, but something practical. Some way that a Tommy could travel,
as easily as anyone, and get to a real thing. And he said there was a
way, and just sketched it, the Sacraments--more than ours, of course,
their seven, all of them more or less, I suppose. He meant that the
Sacraments were not signs of salvation, but salvation itself. Julie, I
never saw the idea before. It's colossal. It's a thing to which one might
dedicate one's life. It's a thing to live and die gladly for. It fills
one. Don't you think so, Julie?" He spoke exultantly.

"Peter, to be honest," said Julie, "I think you're talking fanatical
rubbish."

"Do you really, Julie? You can't, _surely_ you can't."

"But I do, Peter," she said sadly; "it makes no appeal to me. I can only
see one great thing in life, and it's not that. 'The rest is lies,' But,
oh! surely that great thing might not be false too. But why do you see
one thing, and I another, my dear?"

"I don't know," said Peter, "unless--well, perhaps it's a kind of gift,
Julie, 'If thou knewest the gift of God...' Not that I know, only I can
just see a great wonderful vision, and it fills my sight."

"I, too," she said; "but it's not your vision."

"What is it, then?" said he, carried away by his own ideas and hardly
thinking of her.

Her voice brought him back. "Oh, Peter, don't you know even yet?"

He took her arm very tenderly at that. "My darling," he said, "the two
aren't incompatible. Julie, don't be sad. I love you; you know I love
you. I wish we'd never gone to the place if you think I don't, but I
haven't changed towards you a bit, Julie. I love you far, far more than
anyone else. I won't give you up, even to God!"

It was dark where they were. Julie lifted her face to him just there. He
thought he had never heard her speak as she spoke now, there, in a London
street, under the night sky. "Peter, my darling," she said, "my brave
boy. How I love you, Peter! I know _you_ won't give me up, Peter, and I
adore you for it. Peter, hell will be heaven with the memory of that!"
There, then, he sealed her with his kiss.

       *       *       *       *       *

Julie stirred in his arms, but the movement did not wake him any more
than the knock of the door had done. "All right," she called. "Thank
you," and, leaning over, she switched on the light. It was 5.30, and
necessary. In its radiance she bent over him, and none of her friends had
ever seen her look as she did then. She kissed him, and he opened his
eyes.

"Half-past five, Peter," she said, as gaily as she could. "You've got to
get a move on, my dear. Two hours to dress and pack and breakfast--no, I
suppose you can do that on the train. But you've got to get there. Oh,
Lord, how it brings the war home, doesn't it? Jump up!"

Peter sighed. "Blast the war!" he said lazily. "I shan't move. Kiss me
again, you darling, and let your hair fall over my face."

She did so, and its glossy curtain hid them. Beneath the veil she
whispered; "Come, darling, for my sake. The longer you stay here now,
the harder it will be."

He threw his arms round her, and then jumped out of bed yawning.

"That's it," she said. "Now go and shave and bath while I pack for you.
Hurry up; then we'll get more time."

While he splashed about she sought for his things, and packed for him as
she never packed for herself. As she gathered them she thought of the
night before, when, overwhelmed in a tempest of love, it had all been
left for the morning. She filled the suit-case, but she could not fasten
it.

"Come and help, Peter," she called.

He came out. She was kneeling on it in her loose kimono, her hair all
about her, her nightdress open at the throat. He drank her beauty in, and
then mastered himself for a minute and shut the case. "That all?" she
queried.

"Yes," he said. "You get back into bed, my darling, or you'll catch cold.
I'll be ready in a second, and then we can have a few minutes together."

At the glass he marshalled his arguments, and then he came over to her.
He dropped by the bedside and wound his arms about her. "Julie," he
whispered, "my darling, say you'll marry me--please, _please_!"

She made no reply. He kissed her, unresisting, again and again.

"Julie," he said, "you know how I love you. You do know it. You know
I'm not begging you to marry me because I've got something out of
you, perhaps when you were carried away, and now I feel I must make
reparation. My darling, it isn't that. I love you so much that I can't
live without you. I'll give up everything for you. I want to start a new
life with you. I can't go back to the old, anyhow; I don't want to: it's
a sham to me now, and I hate shams--you know I do. But you're not a sham;
our love isn't a sham. I'd die for you, Julie, my own Julie; I'd die for
the least little bit of this hair of yours, I think! But I want to live
for you. I want to put you right in the centre of everything, and live
for you, Julie. Say 'Yes,' my love, my own. You must say 'Yes,' Why don't
you, Julie?"

And still she made no reply.

A kind of despair seized him. "Oh, Julie," he cried, "what can I say or
what can I do? You're cruel, Julie; you're killing me! You _must_ say
'Yes' before I go. We'll meet in Havre, I know; but that will be so
different. I must have my answer now. Oh, my darling, please, please,
speak! You love me, Julie, don't you?"

"Peter," said Julie slowly, "I love you so much that I hardly dare speak,
lest my love should carry me away. But listen, my dear, listen. Peter,
I've watched you these days; I've watched you in France. I've watched you
from the moment when I called you over to me because I was interested
and felt my fate, I suppose. I've watched you struggling along, Peter,
and I understand why you've struggled. You're built for great things, my
dear--how great I can't see and I can't even understand. No, Peter, I
can't even understand--that's part of the tragedy of it. Peter, I love
you so that my love for you _is_ my centre, it's my all in all, it's my
hope of salvation, Peter. Do you hear, my darling?--my love, it's my one
hope! If I can't keep that pure and clean, Peter, I ruin both of us. I
love you so, Peter, that I won't marry you!"

He gave a little cry, but swiftly she put a hand over his mouth. She
smiled at him as she did so, a daring little smile. "Be quiet, you
Solomon, you," she said; "I haven't finished. There! Now listen again,
Peter: you can't help it, but you can't love me as I love you. I see it.
I--I hate it, I think; but I know it, and there's an end. You, my dear,
you _would put me_ in the centre, but you can't. I can't put _you_ out of
_my_ centre, Peter. You _would_ give up God for me, Peter, but you can't,
or if you did, you'd lose us both. But I, Peter--oh, my darling, I have
no god but you. And that's why I'll worship you, Peter, and sacrifice to
you, Peter, sacrifice to your only ultimate happiness, Peter, and
sacrifice my all."

He tried to speak, but he could not. The past days lay before him in a
clear light at last. Her love shone on them, and shone too plainly for
mistake. He tried to deny, but he couldn't; contradict, but his heart
cried the truth, and his eyes could not hide it. But he could and did
vent his passion. "Damn God! Curse Him!" he cried. "I hate Him! Why
should He master me? I want you, Julie; I will have you; I will worship
_you_, Julie!"

She let him speak; and, being Julie, his words only brought a more tender
light into her face. "Peter," she said, "one minute. Do you remember
where you first kissed me, my darling?--the first real kiss, I mean," and
her eyes sparkled with fun even then. "You know--ah, I see you do! You
will never forget that, will you? Perhaps you thought I didn't notice,
but I did. Neither you nor I chose it; it was Fate; perhaps it was your
God, Peter. But, anyway, look at me now as you looked then. What do you
see?"

He stared at her, and he saw--how clearly he saw! Her sweet back-bent
head, her shining eyes, the lamp-light falling on her hair out of the
night. He even heard the sea as it beat on the stones of the quay--or
thought he did--and felt the whip of the wind. And behind her,
dominating, arms outspread, the harbour crucifix. And she saw that he
saw, and she whispered: "_Do_ you hate Him, Peter?" And he sank his head
into her hands and sobbed great dry sobs.

"Ah, don't, don't," he heard her say--"don't Peter! It's not so bad as
that. Your life is going to be full, my beloved, with a great and burning
love; and you were right this morning, Peter, more right than you knew.
When that is there you will have place even for me--yes, even for me, the
love of what you will call your sin. And I, my dear, dear boy, I have
something even now which no devil, Peter, and no god can take away."

He looked up. "Then there's a chance, Julie. You won't say 'Yes,' but
don't say 'No.' Let us see. I shall take no vows, Julie. I haven't an
idea what I shall do, and maybe it won't be quite as you think, and there
will be a little room for you one day. Oh, say you'll wait a while,
Julie, just to see!"

It was the supreme moment. She saw no crucifix to sustain her, but she
did see the bastard Spanish dancing-girl. And she did not hesitate. "No,
Peter," she said, "I would not take that, and you never could give it. I
did not mean such place as that. It never can be, Peter; you are not
made for me."

And thus did Julie, who knew no God, but Julie of the brave, clean,
steadfast heart, give Peter to Him.

       *       *       *       *       *

The maid came in answer to her ring. "Will you light a fire, please?"
said Julie. "I suppose Captain Graham has gone?"

"Yes, mam, he's gone, and he felt it terrible, I could see. But don't you
fear, mam, he'll be kept, I know he will. You're that good, he'll come
back to you, never fear. But it's 'ard on those they leave, ain't it,
mam?--their wives an' all."

"Yes," said Julie, and she never spoke more bravely. "But it's got to be,
hasn't it? Would you pull the blind up? Ah, thanks; why, it's sunny! I'm
so glad. It will be good for the crossing."

"It will be that, 'm. We gets the sun first up here. Shall I bring up the
tea, madame?"

"I'll ring," said Julie, "when I want it. It won't be for a few minutes
yet."

The girl went out, and the door shut behind her. Julie lay on still for a
little, and then she got up. She walked to the window and looked out, and
she threw her arms wide with a gesture, and shut her eyes, and let the
sun fall on her. Then she walked to her little trunk, and rummaged in it.
From somewhere far down she drew out a leather case, and with it in her
hand she went over and sat by the fire. She held it without moving for a
minute, and then she slowly opened it. One by one she drew out a few
worthless things--a withered bunch of primroses, a couple of little
scribbled notes, a paper cap from a cracker, a menu card, a handkerchief
of her own that she had lent to him, and that he (just like Peter) had
given back. She held them all in her hand a minute, and then she bent
forward and dropped them in the open fire.

And the sun rose a little higher, and fell on the tumbled brown hair that
Peter had kissed and that now hid her eyes.





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