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XII

 

Troy, burning with fever, lay on a hospital bed.

He was not very clear where the hospital was, nor how he had got there; and he did not greatly care. All that was left of clearness in his brain was filled with the bitter sense of his failure. He had abandoned his job to plunge into battle, and before he had seen a German or fired a shot he found himself ignominiously laid by the heels in a strange place full of benevolent-looking hypocrites whose least touch hurt him a million times more than the German bullet.

It was all a stupid agitating muddle, in the midst of which he tried in vain to discover what had become of Jacks, what had happened to the ambulance, and whether the old people and the wounded territorial had been heard of. He insisted particularly on the latter point to the cruel shaved faces that were always stooping over him, but they seemed unable to give him a clear answer—or else their cruelty prompted them to withhold what they knew. He groaned and tossed and got no comfort, till, suddenly opening his eyes, he found Jacks sitting by his bed.

He poured out his story to Jacks in floods and torrents: there was no time to listen to what his friend had to say. He went in and out of the whole business with him, explaining, arguing, and answering his own arguments. Jacks, passive and bewildered, sat by the bed and murmured: "All right—all right" at intervals. Then he too disappeared, giving way to other unknown faces.

The third night (some one said it was the third night) the fever dropped a little. Troy felt more quiet, and Jacks, who had turned up again, sat beside him, and told him all the things he had not been able to listen to the first day—all the great things in which he had played an unconscious part.

"Battle of the Marne? Sure you were in it—in it up to the hilt, you lucky kid!"

And what a battle it had been! The Americans had taken Vaux and driven the Germans back across the bridge at Château-Thierry, the French were pressing hard on their left flank, the advance on Paris had been checked and the poor old couple and the territorial in the ambulance had not fallen into enemy hands, but had been discovered by Jacks where Troy had left them, and hurried off to places of safety the same night.

As Troy lay and listened, tears of weakness and joy ran down his face. The Germans were back across the Marne, and he had really been in the action that had sent them there! The road to Paris was barred—and Sophy Wicks was somewhere in France. . . . He felt as light as a feather, and if it had not been for his deathly weakness he would have jumped out of bed and insisted on rejoining the ambulance. But as it was he could only lie flat and feebly return Jacks's grin. . . .

 

There was just one thing he had not told Jacks: a little thing that Jacks would not have understood. Out in the wheat, when he had felt that tap on the shoulder, he had turned round quickly, thinking that a friend had touched him. At the same instant he had stumbled and fallen, and his eyes had grown dark; but through the darkness he still felt confusedly that a friend was near, if only he could lift his lids and look.

He did lift them at last; and there in the dawn he saw a French soldier, haggard and battle-worn, looking down at him. The soldier wore the uniform of the chasseurs à pied, and his face was the face of Paul Gantier, bending low and whispering: "Mon petit—mon pauvre petit gars. . . ." Troy heard the words distinctly, he knew the voice as well as he knew his mother's. His eyes shut again, but he felt Gantier's arms under his body, felt himself lifted, lifted, till he seemed to float in the arms of his friend.

He said nothing of that to Jacks or any one, and now that the fever had dropped he was glad he had held his tongue. Some one told him that a sergeant of the chasseurs à pied had found him and brought him in to the nearest poste de secours, where Jacks, providentially, had run across him and carried him back to the base. They told him that his rescue had been wonderful, but that nobody knew what the sergeant's name was, or where he had gone to. . . . ("If ever a man ought to have had the Croix de Guerre—!" one of the nurses interjected emotionally.)

Troy listened and shut his lips. It was really none of his business to tell these people where the sergeant had gone to; but he smiled a little when the doctor said: "Chances are a man like that hasn't got much use for decorations . . ." and when the emotional nurse added: "Well, you must just devote the rest of your life to trying to find him."

Ah, yes, he would do that, Troy swore—he would do it on the battlefields of France.

 

THE END

 

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