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"Told the absurdest soldier stories while she changed into a dream of an evening dress"
accomplished the run on schedule-time and did not spoil its record by lingering unduly outside the terminus.
The taxi, however, was disappointing, and more than once he had occasion to abuse the driver for overcaution. Certainly with a little more dash they might have slipped by that motor-bus and have avoided being held up in the traffic block by Albemarle Street.
When at last they drew up before the little house every stone of which was dear to him, much dearer than he ever knew before the war came to teach us the value of our possessions, he was up the front steps with a single bound, and hammering at the door as though he would break it down.
Of course she knew the knock, and although she was n't expecting him, she knew at once who it was and why he had come, and she was out of the room and opening the door quicker even than his dash up the steps had been.
What does it matter if the taxi-driver did see their meeting? Nobody thought anything about him. He was forgotten
and unpaid, and being a strictly business man, he kept his engine ticking over for fully an hour before ringing the bell and inquiring at the door if he would be wanted again.
In the little drawing-room a thousand questions and answers were hurled backward and forward. How lucky he was to be going to France, when it might have been Mesopotamia or one of those other unfriendly places! He had known for certain that it was to be France only that morning. They always keep you in the dark as long as possible. Of course there were no submarines in the channel; besides, his sleeping-bag was of a variety which guaranteed to keep a man afloat for eight hours.
How adorable she looked in her new frock! His khaki suited him uncommonly well. Perhaps his Sam Brown belt was a shade new-looking, but that would soon wear off. She was so proud of him, so glad he was doing his bit, so very glad it was France!
Then there was the baby to see-the baby who had grown so amazingly in the
last seven weeks, whose coming was not so distant an affair but the memory of it still awoke the added tenderness these little beings bring into the hearts of their
They mounted the stairs to the nursery with arms about each other's waists, and the baby had the grace to greet his father with an expansive smile and to show further proof of enthusiasm by flinging a rubber duck out of the window into the garden, where it was promptly devoured by the puppy.
Then they rushed off to see one or two friends who were deserving of such an honor, and these friends, too, said how glad they were it was going to be France. France was so getatable, and leave so frequent and so sure. Altogether it was an astonishing piece of luck, enough to make any one happy in any circumstances. Both he and she never tired of expressing their own unmitigated delight.
There followed a dash home, and he sat on the bed and told the absurdest soldier stories while she changed into a dream of an evening dress.
The taxi, having waited so long, had been instructed to wait a bit longer, and eventually took them to the selfsame res
taurant where they had dined on their wedding-day, six years before. And he ordered all the same dishes, and they drank the same vintage of champagne, and even persuaded the orchestra to play the same tunes. Everything was the same except the waiter, who at that moment was cruising the North Sea in a Zeppelin.
When the last delicious course had vanished, and a glass retort with a blue flame beneath it was preparing coffee, she produced a box of tiny cigarettes that he had given her on that famous night, and which, out of ridiculous sentiment, they dipped into only on the "very specialest" occasions.
There followed a box at the theater, the most expensive procurable. Never once during the entr'acts did he go out for a lonely smoke, but they prattled away more like an engaged couple than married. folk with a rising family.
It was a wonderful evening, with not a vestige of a shadow discernible. They might have been setting forth for their honeymoon on the morrow. No one in the world could have guessed they were on the verge of separation, on the crumbling. edge of the saddest moment of their two lives. There would be things to say about
that later, sometime before he went away, but not yet, not now. Now everything was bright and cheery. They could laugh, talk nonsense, behave like children at a picnic. It was a picnic, a night out; their spirits outran the tragedy; masked, disguised, and screened it. Camouflage!
Even in the taxi on the way home there was not a vestige of seriousness in the things they said. Perhaps they talked a Perhaps they talked a shade less, perhaps her laughter was a little strained, his jokes a trifle forced; but nevertheless the spirit of the evening survived.
But they were frightened at turning out the light that night. In the dark it is harder to make a show of gaiety. In the dark one can see more easily the white road shining through the twigs of the false hedge, or the glint of the barrel beneath the fisherman's net, with its sprinkling of dead leaves.
They knew this and were afraid, and being afraid, both pretended they were very sleepy and could n't keep awake a second longer. So he knocked up the electric switch, as he had always done, with the golf-club that stood beside the bed, and after a most perfunctory good night they closed their eyes and made belief of being asleep.
Hour after hour they lay there without the courage to say the hundred loving, pitiful things their souls cried out to express. He really believed she was asleep when he got out of the bed and stole over to peep into the baby's crib.
"Funny, funny little pink thing, good luck to you!" he said.
He stood some moments looking down and thinking of the price he had nearly paid for that life among the pillows, and of how he had prayed almost like a madman on that awful, awful night. He did n't know she was watching him with the coverlet pressed tightly over her mouth.
Next morning there were such heaps of things to do and so little time to do them in that breakfast passed in an atmosphere. of commonplace hustle. Waterloo Station had to be rung up to find out whether
the obsolete railway time-table spoke the truth in regard to the 10:45 to Wilminster.
It was getting very near now. Already the housemaid had been sent out to make sure of a taxi, always rare when needed. Already she had gone up-stairs to put on her hat. He did n't follow her, but mooned about in the dining-room for five precious minutes, wondering. He heard the nurse come down with the baby, and he stood well back lest he should be seen. From the shelter of the curtains he watched the princely infant placed in its pram and presently trundled away toward Kensington Gardens.
He had made no effort to go out and bid au revoir to the heir of his kingdom; he was afraid, a coward pure and simple. It was the same cowardice which kept him chained where he was instead of up-stairs with her. He looked nervously at the clock, then made a great resolve, squared his shoulders, and went down to the kitchen to say good-by to the cook.
"I am sure, sir, I hope you will come back," she said.
The inflection suggesting that she thought it unlikely did him a world of good. So much good, in fact, that he lit a cigarette and, whistling an air from a popular revue, sauntered up-stairs to the bedroom.
Her back was toward him. She was looking into the glass and seemed in trouble with a knot of ribbon on her hat. "Everything 's ready," he said. "That's right," she answered. "Foggetty 's gone for a cab. Just as well to be in time."
"Yes, they're awfully difficult to get these days. I was trying for ages the other morning."
"Um. Rotten job!"
He fidgeted over to the mantelpiece and moved the little ornaments about.
"Did you like baby's bonnet?" she asked.
"Don't think I noticed it."
"Thought you might have when you said good-by."
"As a matter of fact, I did n't say
"He had made no effort to go out and bid au revoir to the heir of his kingdom; he was afraid, a coward pure and simple"
good-by-not really, I mean. Had to ring up Waterloo Station."
"Oh, yes. I believe he 'll have his first tooth in a week or so. It seems a chame you won't be here."
It was a deliberate effort to make him unmask. He reflected that it was a shame. It is a wonderful thing for a baby to have a first tooth, very wonderful. But all he said was "Yes."
A pause followed, and he gravitated toward the window, and looked out until the glass was blurred by his breath. She still seemed troubled with the knot of ribbon on her hat. Her back was' still toward him.
At last he said:
"That's what 's so jolly about France, getting letters regularly."
"I should have hated you to go anywhere else."
"It's a great piece of luck, the whole thing."
"I'm tremendously pleased about it." "So am I."
He was at the door now, swinging it backward and forward in his hand. "Splendid; and I 'm awfully, awfully happy, really."
From the street came the sound of a whistle, followed by a responding honkhonk from a willing taxi.
They both heard it, and suddenly his
"I'm awfully glad you' 'll be all right head pitched against the panel of the door, about money."
"Oh, I shall be splendid."
"You'll let me know at once if there is anything you want?"
"There won't be. Are you-shall you be able to write every day?"
"I shall try. Dare say they keep you pretty hard at it over there. So, if I miss sometimes, you must n't worry." "No; I shall understand."
and he broke out with: