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The Merle

BY HENRY C. ROWLAND

"DID you see any of the angels of Mons, Casey?" I asked of the new fishwarden whom I had employed at the Chain Lakes Club on the recommendation of Paul Revanche.

Casey's blue eyes twinkled and he shifted his short leg, which had been taken up five inches at the knee owing to loss of material torn away by shrapnel. An ingenious orthopedic device had corrected the universal joint and abbreviated length so that he had quite legs enough for a fish-warden, though he was nothing like as active as Paul Revanche, one of whose nether members was artificial.

"A Mons angel is it, Doctor?" Casey answered. "Did I see wan? Sure I did, and 'tis only for her I am here to-day. But the story is a long wan, sorr, and the hour is late."

"Never mind," I answered. "It's going to rain to-morrow and we can sleep late. Let me hear about it. I was under the impression, though, that angels had no sex."

"This wan has, sorr," said Casey, and his small, frosty eyes twinkled even more. I had taken a liking to Casey at first sight. He was a man of about thirty and had about him a sort of ferocious eagerness which reminded me of an Irish terrier. Sailoring and soldiering at different intervals appeared to have filled all of his past active life, and his jolly face had already acquired lines of experience and character.

"Well, sorr," he began, "as Paul may have told ye, I was wan o' those who also ran at Mons. Faith, and there was a scurry, sorr, particular for them like mesilf who was to bring up the rear, and mighty near we come to lavin' it behind in our haste. An envelopin' retreat it was, wit' every herrin' av the school scullin' his little best to wag his tail through the mout' av the purse before the gatherin'-string was pulled.

"Now there was thim amongst us who was cursin' their fate for carryin' thim away and stragglin' in the hope that they might save time and trouble gettin' to the front by lingerin' in the rear, and I was av their number, havin' twisted me ankle in a rut and all the busses flyin' their complet signal. There was Belgians galore, thim hampered wit' childer and other personal effects, and I mind passin' a big Highlander who was stalkin' along wit' the knotty calves of him bristlin' wit' hair and anger t'rough carryin' their owner to the rear and the weight av a family o' refugees which was hung from him permiscuous. Manny av the populace av that most populous country av its size in the wurruld was streamin' in be the small roads, and at the corner av wan o' these I sat me on a stone and waved farewell to the military.

"Thinks I to mesilf, the walkin' is poor and the runnin' is worse, especially wit' a sprained ankle. If the Proosians are that close in our wake that the motor-cars are breakin' the speed limit, small chance for a Tommy wit' an ankle the size and color av a blue balloon. I will get me breat' and thin be makin' a daytour from the broad highway and strike 'cross country for wan o' the many heads o' the column. It was raysonable to suppose that the first o' the pursuit would come in the form o' Uhlans be the big road, trimmin' up the fringes like.

"Pretty soon, judgin' from the increasin' haste o' the passers-by that it was time to be movin' on, I left the road and took a little lane which paralleled it in the swale, and 'twas well I did so, for presently, lookin' at a ridge to the westward, I saw against the settin' sun a troop o' Uhlans sweepin' along between the tall, slim poplars—a reconnoiterin' party belike, and well in advance o' the main column. Folk called out to me from the little houses I passed, though some were deserted; but, not understandin' their lingo, I shook me head and limped along. A little later there came the sound o' firin' ahead and, advancin' cautiously, I came on a little village, and it was in flames. I had seen the smoke and thought that maybe the people had set a torch to their homes rather than have thim shelter Proosians. But it was not so. The Uhlans had passed that way, and in ridin' through the village two lads had fired oh thim from the brush and rowled a sergeant from his saddle. The scoutin' party did not take trouble to hunt thim franc tiroors. They stood the ould mayor ag'in' his wall and shot him, and, the priest protestin', him they shot also, and a felly in a blouse they glimpsed slippin' round the corner like he was on mischief bent. Thin they fired some houses and rode away, pushin' on afther our flyin' column, though warily lest they run into a trap wit'in a trap.

"I did not linger in the village, there bein' no worse sound than the wailin' o' wimmen to a soldier that is runnin' away. Approachin' to the attack, it puts power in the elbow; but retreating it was awful, for how was I to know av the stand we were to make in the valley o' the Marne? At that moment it looked to all hands like the Proosians (we had not yet learned to call thim 'Boches' and 'Huns') would drive straight through to Paris. But with the speed we was makin' in that direction there was always the chance we might beat 'em to it, so I tightened up the puttee around me ankle and stepped out briskly on me bare heel and layin' a coorse for the steeple av a big church where I knew there must be a town. It must ha' been five miles away, but the goin' was good, and I raysoned that it was likely our rear-guard might rally and make a stand there.

"It was near dusk ava beautiful August evenin', and I was pushin' along at me best gait be a little road which was scarce more than a lane. It was lovely and quiet wit' the stillness that comes just after the sun has set, and I was reflectin' on the nerve av thim Proosians to spoil it all when there come from overhead the hum av a motor and here was a German aeroplane fly in' low like an owl in the dusk. Just for a second, sorr, I knew the feelin' av a field-mouse startin' too soon on his evenin' ramble, and at that moment, as if defyin' the whir av the machine, there rose loud and clear from a near-by thicket the whistle av a birrd. But that which fetched me up all standin' was the tune he piped, or the part of a tune, for the five notes he sent shrillin' up against the flyin' divil overhead was thim av the chorus av the 'Marseillaise': 'Aux armes, citoyens—' pipes he, and it acted on me like the pipe o' the bosun's mate, 'Commence firin'!'

"Like a flash I jumps from under me camouflage out into the open lane, unslings me rifle, and opens up on him. He was takin' a chance, that eye av the army, skimmin' not more than five hundred yards above the ground, and at my third shot he must have discovered the imprudence av his coorse, for he makes a sharp turn upward and to the left. There was two av thim, pilot and observer, and it seemed to me that this last lad flopped down over a part of the chassis, but av that I could not be sure. Maybe he was merely leanin' out to try to discover the source av thim wasps that was singin' past. Away he wint wit' no return av the compliment, and as he mounted there came again the same lilt av the birrd, 'Aux armes, citoyens—' and there stepped out into the lane a young girrl wit' a hatchet in wan hand and a big, square birrd-cage in the other.

"For a moment we stands lookin' at each other, and durin' me brief inspection I discovered two things: firrst, that she was fair wild wit' the horror av something that had just happened, for her face, though lovely, was the face av a mad woman; and second, that the hatchet in her hand was smeared wit' fresh blood. For a second she stares at me, thin asks in a stranglin' voice, 'Are you a British soldier?'

"'Yes, miss,' I answered, wonderin' to find her there, for she spoke English wit' the least trace av a furrin accent, and her dress was that of the town.

"She casts a look at me bandaged ankle. 'Where were you wounded,' she asks, 'and what are you doing here?'

"I told her that 'twas no wound I had, but only a wrench of the ankle got in leppin' out the way av a racin' car, and explained me raysons for thinkin' that a man so crippled stood a better chance of connectin' wit' the base be strikin' 'cross country off the main route. 'And you, miss?' says I. 'Where are ye from and where bound?'

"She stared at me dazed-like for a minute, and thin the story came pourin' out wit' tears and stranglin' sobs. She was of that country, a peasant girrl, but wit' a good convent education, and the year before she had taken a position as childer's nurse in an English family livin' in Kent. When the war brroke the master had j'ined the colors and the wife and childer gone to live wit' the ould folks, and she had lost her place, and, afther two weeks tryin' vainly to find another, had come back to her father's farrm. Thin father and brothers had gone to the front and were killed at the defince av Namur and Liège, the youngest brother, a lad av siventeen, stoppin' to look after the farrm. 'An hour ago the Alleboches' ('twas the first time I had heard the word, the 'Boche' bein' a terrm av contimpt which the Frinch put in the place av the last syllable av annything they scorn)—'the Alleboches came down on us like wolves,' said she. 'There were but a few av thim, Uhlans, belike, and had I not been there they might have plundered us and left us in peace. But a sergeant grabbed me in his arms, and at that me brother lost his head and attacked him wit' this hatchet. A big trooper wrenched it from his hand and buried it in his brains. That is his blood,' she cries, 'me brother's blood! Thin something alarmed thim and they set fire to the place and rode away. Now I am the only wan left of all our family, and I have saved only the hatchet and Tee-Tee, me merle—' says she, and sinks on a big stone rockin' to and fro wit' such cryin' as comes only from a broken hearrt.

"Let me tell ye, Doctor, there was tears in me own eyes as I tried to soothe her. But a poor job I made of it, and presintly her grief changed to rage and she sprang to her feet wit' flashin' eyes.

"'You are a soldier,' says she, 'and you must not stay here wit' me. You must get back to your regiment and fight. Take this,' says she, in a wild voice, and shoves the hatchet into me hand. 'Wear it in your belt,' says she, 'and the next time you are in battle leave it in the head of an Alleboche.' And at that moment there comes from the cage she had set down beside her the loud, clear whistle av the merle. 'Aux armes, citoyens—' he sings, and wit' the last note we hear the sudden scufflin' av hoofs and looks up to see four big divils av Uhlans bearin' down upon us.

"Now the firrst juty av a soldier may be to obey orrders, Doctor, but the second is surely to reload his piece the second he has emptied it at the enemy, wit'out he has nade av the bayonet to finish his worrk. Thank hivens, me own was fixed, and me practised in its use. Thim Uhlans was right atop av us, and—curses on that aeroplane!—here was I wit' an empty rifle and no time to reload. No prisoners for thim lads, ayven had I wished to surrender, which I did not. Out came their sabers and they was at me howlin' wit' glee.

"But fools they were and took too much for granted. A wounded Tommy, caught nappin' while talkin' to a girrl, looked like a trapped Irish hare to thim half-drunken divils. There was somethin' contemptshus in the slash the first took at me, and the look in his eyes was one av pure surprise to feel me bayonet in his bowils. He had not yet toppled from the saddle when I got the second just under the lower jaw, him stoopin' low after his cut, for I had dropped on me knee. I was ag'in' the turf hedge of this sunken road so that they could not ride me down, but hampered wan another.' The horse av the third lad would not lep in, so he slid from his saddle and made at me wit' the point, and got me arme blanche, as the Frinch call it, so hard that the muzzle must ha' broke his fourt' rib.

"And now, sorr, to make the story av me victory sound convincing I should tell you how the last Uhlan rode over me and in fallin' I turned and stabbed upward at the belly av his mount, which reared and t'rew him for me to finish at me leisure, or somethin' av the sort. But me luck ran in a different and unheardav groove. Wit' the others, and thim burstin' wit' overconfidence, it had been 'dilly, dilly, come and be killed'—pure, unraysonin' suicide. And wit' this last lad it was ayven more so and spoiled entirely me slight claim for the glory av havin' successfully defended mesilf against the attack av three blitherin' fools wit'out the sense to know that there is danger to be found in the point av a bayonet if you fling yourself against it, and in the butt av the piece placed fairly solid.

 
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"But this last felly is worse than that, for what does he do but fall off his horse, and the baste cuttin' no capers at all. Why? That, sorr, is wan o' the mysteries av the war. All I can tell you is that he did. Perhaps in tryin' to dismount, some trappin' caught and tripped him, perhaps the drrink in him wint suddenly to his head, or perhaps he was just plain cloomsy. Whatever the rayson, as I was tuggin' to free me bayonet, which was not aisy, the dyin' man havin' gripped the barrel wit' bot' hands, down comes his booby wit' a crrash. His helmet flew off whin he strruck, and I, bein' quick to see me chance, lets go the stock o' me piece and, whippin' up the girrl's hatchet which I had let fall whin charged, plants it accordin' to her previous directions. And that was the foolish end av a foolish fight.

"I turned to the girrl, feelin' more like a butcher than a hayro. She was crowded ag'in' the hedge, her hands to her cheeks. The birrd was flutterin' and twitterin' at wan av the horses, which, thinkin' the manoovers over, was snufflin' at the rice in the bottom av the cage.

"'Come, miss,' I says; 'we must be gettin' out o' this. There may be more not far away.' And then, a happy thought strikin' me, I asked her could she ride. She said she could, so I h'isted her aboord the sergeant's horse, which was the best and seemed a docile baste; thin, mountin' that from which me late lamented enemy had so kindly rowled off, we rode away toward the glow in the west. The horses were easy gaited and so we traveled fast and so came to the town where I found me company and turned over the girrl to the captain, who, as it chanced, was a friend av her late employer. A fine orficer, this, and I knew she would be safe wit' him, Heaven rest his sowl. For all his pressin' cares, he found means to send her on to Paris wit' a letter to an English lady av his acquaintance. Me he scolded for stragglin'—and thin mentioned in despatches, for all I explained 'twas but a fool's luck.

"Two hours' rest and it was ' fall-in' again, still retreatin', but me ridin' this time and me ankle mendin' fast. Not until we was some miles from the place did it come to me that I had not so much as learned the girrl's name, and the captain bein' elsewhere I had not the chance to ask him, and whin it came me mind was on other things. Across the rowlin' plains o' Picardy we streaked wit' the army o' the Crown-Prince on wan side and Von Kluck's try in' to outstrip him on the other, all av us racin' hot-fut for Paris, though not in the shortest distance betwane two points. And all this time me mind was dwellin' constant on the girrl wit' her wild; lovely face and heavy golden hair and the sweet mout' av her and the blue-black eyes that burrned. Was I ivir to see her again, I wondered, and why was I such a fool as not to learn her name and where he had sint her from our captain befure he was relieved, to be attached to the gineral staff be rayson av his knowledge av the country and its language.

"Thin came the battle av the Marne, and that was the end o' me active service, for 'twas on the second day av the heavy fightin' that I got me disablin' wound be rayson av a piece o' shrapnel that came soarin' out o' the sky wit' nivir an Alleboche in sight, thus demonstratin' what I afterwards preached to scores o' rookies that the safest place for the rale soldier that loved his bayonet was at close quarters wit' the enemy and not half-way to the rear, sittin' under a shower o' scrap-iron wit' his head stuck in a hole, like an ostritch. Back to England I was sint, the natur' av me wound makin' it unlikely that there would be anny more fightin' for Mike Casey. But me wound healed kindly, t'anks to me irregular life, and in spite o' the loss o' me knee-cap I could still hop around wit' the aid o' this brace which kep' me from kickin' mesilf in the mug. So, bein' known for a bit av an artist wit' the bayonet, I was not discharged, but set to drillin' rookies in the handlin' o' that finest av soldiers' tools av craft.

"But wit' all me good luck I was not happy, sorr. If a man has the wan thing in all the wurruld he wants, he can do nicely wit'out thim manny other things; but if he has not that, thin the divil take all the rest. 'Twas so now wit' me. I no longer cared for work nor play, nor for readin', av which I had always been very fond. I took no pleasure in struttin' down the Strand as cocky as me fished knee would permit, and seein' the admirin' eyes av the populace shift from me medal to me limp and thin to me powder-marked Irish mug. Nor did I care for the attintion av the girrls, they proud to walk out wit' a wounded hayro. On the contrary, that which would ha' tickled me to deat' six mont's befure was now bad-tastin' in me mout'. Says I to mesilf, 'What the divil is the good av all this rot to a man who wants but wan thing—a girrl wit' a merle?'

"The worrst av it was I soon lost all hope av findin' her. I did not know her name, nor that av the English lady to whom me captain had sent her, and he was dead—the holy angels wait on him—killed almost the same time I was wounded. While in hospital I had put a notice in the Paris Herald and the Daily Mail askin' would the Belgian young lady wit' the merle kindly write a line to the British soldier who had killed the four Uhlans in the retreat from Mons, but all I got in answer was the chaff av some av me ould chums and a score av letters from other young ladies who were not Belgian and had no merles, but seemed wishful to console me for the loss av me frind.

 
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"Yet, try as I might, I could not get the girrl from me mind, sorr, and at night I dreamed av her and the brave birrd wit' the clear, loud, rallyin' pipe av him. Worse it got instead av better wit' the passin' months. It was like a possession, sorr, but what troubled me the most was that as time wore on me dreams av her was no longer happy and hopeful, but sad. I seemed to see her lovely face grown worn and weary wit' sufferin' and the big eyes tormented, while the body av her, which I remembered as trim and round and shapely as an August pheasant, had grown thin and worn as if from worry and want. 'Tis odd, Doctor, the different ways a man will t'ink av a woman. There are some he may want for himsilf alone, his own happiness, and there will be another whom he wants to make happy for hersilf alone, himsilf rankin' small in importance.

"And so a year passed, and nearly two years, and me still at me 'right high parry—left high parry—at the head, thrust—' and the reputation av a drrill-sergeant whose timper was not always av the best. 'Tis tryin' to the disposition av a strong man to give all wimmen the go-by and smoother the longin's av his natur', sorr; and such had become my case. For wit' the image av me lovely refugee wit' her pale face and wild, passionate eyes burrnin' at the core av me like a charcoal briquette which will nayther flame out nor ixpire, the enticin' ways av strange wimmen t'rew me in a sort av smolderin' rage.

"Now all av this was very wrong, sorr, and a better man would ha' put aside such triflin' t'oughts av silf and t'rown himsilf body and sowl into his worrk, and this I tried me best to do, wit' indifferent success. But me hearrt was not in the worrk av moldin' these raw lads into fightin'-men to fling across the water whilst I sat on me hunkers at home. Twice I tried to get thim to sind me back to the front, but the doctor looked at me flail j'int and shook his head. 'Ye can be av more use where y'are, Sergeant,' says he. 'Ye know yoursilf that 'tis no place for a lame duck over there,' or words to that efFect. And thin wan day when I had been worrkin' mesilf and me squad a bit harrder thin me orrders called for—it was the annivarsery av the day I had got me wound—she opened up on me as they say wounds will at periods like this, and back I wint to hospital, and 'twas six weeks befure ivir I set fut to ground.

"At the ind av me sojurn in hospital I was mustered out, there bein' be that time lashin's av crips like me better able to do me worrk, and I got a job openin' the doors av motor-cars in front o' Garrod's, and holdin' umbrelleys over the ladies goin' in and out. The last operation was a clane job and done the business, for nivir a twinge av pain have I felt since. The standin' did not bother me, for me left leg was like an oak post, and I could stand for hours on ind like a stork in the Zoo wit'out inconvaynience. And me little prisints amounted to more than me full pay as a drrill-sergeant. Ye will say I was a lucky dog, sorr, and y'are right, sorr. A soft billet compared to that av manny in my fix, but such is the rank ingratitood av me natur' that ayven thin I was not contint.

"Thin why did I stick? For this, sorr. There is a proverb that ivirything comes to him that waits, and I could think av no better place to wait than there in front av Garrod's. 'Y'are still young, Mike Casey,' says I to mesilf, 'and some day she will surely come. Yer chances are better here than if ye crossed the Channel, for was she in service on the Continent somebody knowin' her story would surely ha' seen the notice in the paper and showed it to her whin she would ha' sint ye a line.'

"So there I stopped, and belike there was somethin' quare in the way I scanned each face that passed, for manny questionin' stares I got in return—and some that were very kindly. Thin wan day a lady noticed the intintness av me gaze, for in a way she resimbled the girrl wit' the merle, and mintioned it to the head doorman. He was an invalided sergeant like mesilf wit' bot' lungs badly damaged from gas, so when he asked me dacintly enough why was I oglin' the ladies I towld him me story.

"'Y'have come to the right shop, Mike,' says he, and clapped me on the back. 'Stick on, me lad. All the wurruld sooner or later walks in and out o' Garrod's.'

"Now this was encouragin', but it had its drawbacks, for he towld the lady all about it, and a day or two later her big car drew up at the curb and when I stepped forward to open the door she dropped her hand on the latch.

"'Nivir mind, Sergeant,' says she. 'I am not goin' in. I only stopped to say that I know your story and wish to help you. I have manny frinds in France and Italy and Switzerland. I have a Red Cross meeting to-night which will keep me out until ten, but if you will call at my house a little later and tell me all about this girl that you are trying to find we will see what we can do. This is my address. Such fidelity as yours deserves reward.' And wit' a friendly smile she hands me a slip av paper and tells the driver to go on.

'"Now there is a rale lady,' I says to mesilf as the taxi spun away. 'Fancy her botherin' wit' the troubles av a lame duck like mesilf.' I looked at the address and saw that it was out Highgate way. 'Belike she may start wan o' thim indless-chain letters amongst her frinds over there.' And it seemed to me like the cowld drizzle and leaden sky grew warrm and rosy all at wance. 'Ye look as if ye had got some good news, Sergeant,' says some of the regular clients that day, and I towld thim wit' thanks that I had.

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"All the rist o' the afternoon I was goin' hot and cold as nivir I had when waitin' in the trinch for the worrd to go. 'How ivir can I descrribe her?' I asks mesilf a hunder' times. To the best av me recollection she had eyes and ears and a mout' and a nose wit' the regulation number av arrms and legs and fingers and toes and tathe and hair and all thim accessories. But what were the qualifyin' adjectives, as the felly says? 'Lovely' and 'swate' and 'tinder' and 'trrue' was accurate, but indefinite, and greatly a matter av personal opinion. I misdoubted thim Uhlans would ha' recognized her from such a ratin'. So I turned me eyes back over two years av longin', tryin' to study the faytures av the photograph that was printed in me hearrt.

"To begin wit', her hair was thick and wavy and curried up from the wide forehead av her like the bow wave av the sea when cut by the sharp stem av a destroyer at full speed. Its color was bafflin', and all I could seem to t'ink of in tryin' to liken it to something was the sunshine on the well-groomed coat av a sorrel race-horse, and this did not sound quite right. Her eyes I could not swear to. I had taken thim for black, but it did not seem that this could be wit' red-gold hair, so I would not take me oat'. Perhaps they may have been hazel-brown, wit' wide pupils. No trouble was there about her little nose, which started straight, thin changed its coorse to the north'ard and came to a sudden stop. Her mout' was wide, wit' strong teet' which was strangers to the dentist, and her chin was the sort needed by much av the nobility and r'yalty.

Maybe if the Crown-Prince had been borrn wit' a chin like hers he might have shoved it over the fortifications av Paris about the time I was lookin' for me knee-cap.

'We were nearly av a height, which is the right height for a woman if nor for a man, though handy in this war, as could be sworn to by anny sawed-off Tommy wit' a bullet-hole in the crown av his cap. And in form she looked slinder while bein' yet a solid girrl, as I had found when puttin' her upon the Uhlan sergeant's horse. Much more than that I could not say, but I was cheered at t'ought av the merle. If she had hung onto that bowld, defiant birrd when blood was flowin' round her it was not likely that she would be aisy parrted from him, ayven wit' the cramped conditions av transportation.

"So, wit' the best picture I could paint av her neatly framed on me lips, I left me lodgin's at half after nine and took the tube for Golder's Green. It was a darrk night wit' a high, thick haze, and I misdoubted I would have trouble findin' the place. But a frindly special constable put me right, and for wance I admitted they had their uses. It was a small, detached villa wit' a bit av garden around, all very nate and pretty so far as I could see, which was little enough owin' to the blackness av the night and the few street lights bein' doused or thickly hooded. 'A fine night for Zeps,' says I to mesilf as I rang the bell.

"A pretty Frinch maid let me in, and from her smile I fancied her mistress had told her me irrand. She showed me up the stairs and into what ye might call a little boudoir which smilt av perfume and Turkish cigarettes. I cannot say I was pleased wit' this apartment, findin' it too luxurious for me simple tastes. The girrl said that her mistress would be in prisintly, and drew me up a chair before the fire. We talked about the war, but I had not much to say, tellin' her that I had seen but little av it t'rough havin' been disabled in the battle av the Marne.

"For some rayson I could not explain, sorr, me spirits had sunk on goin' into that boudoir. Perhaps it was the silly chatter av the maid which got on me nerves, but annyhow me bright hopes was already tarnished when there came the whir av a motor which stopped in front the door, and a minute later me lady enterred. If 'twas a Red Cross meetin' she had been to, thin 'twas wan which believed in defyin' the croolties and miseries av war, for she was in full evenin' dress, very décolletée, and her jewels, if rale, would ha' fed a hundred Belgian families for a year. She offered me her hand wit' a smile which was meant to put me at me aise, but did not, and the maid took her rich fur wrap and wint out, closin'the door behind her.

"I will not waste your time and patience. Doctor, be tryin' to descrribe our interview. Perhaps I may be doin' her wrong and it may be that she wished to befrind me. But anny man, be he high or low, can sinse the feelin's av anny woman when she wills it, and I was not long in discoverin' that her interrest was far more in the ranker, who for two long years had been true to the memory av a girrl he had seen but a couple av hours and nivir heard from since, than in the problem of how she might best help him find her again. And as this conviction grew stronger and stronger inside me I got colder and colder, and she the reverse. I had heard av wimmen like her, but she was the firrst I had had the ill luck to meet, and at last, wit' me hearrt in me boots, I rose and stood at attention wit' a salute.

"'Thank you kindly for your interest, ma'am,' says I. 'In comin' here I was hopin' not to interest you in me humble silf, but in findin' an unfortunate girrl who saw her brother murrdered before her eyes and her home in flames. Wit' your kind permission, me lady, I will now wit'draw and continue me search alone,' and, turnin' on me heel, I walked t'rough the doorway, down the stairs, and out into the black, soggy night.

"Doctor, ye may or may not believe me, but as I wint down the street I could ha' wept wit' shame and disappointment—shame for her womanhood and that I should betaken be anny human bein' for such a man o' mud, and disappointment because I had hoped for such far-reachin' help. I limped along t'rough the murk, not heedin' where I wint. 'Twas darrk as the pit, and, not knowin' the district nor how I had been headin', I was fair lost, but much I cared. Sooty and dank as was the air, it tasted sweet in me t'roat after the reek o' that scinted boudoir. Little be little me shame and disgust give way to anger. All the mulishness av me natur' came to the rescue av me discouragement and hurted pride.

"Thin I discovered that me aimless ramblin' had carried me away from that reservation av dove-cotes into what seemed to be a poor and shabby quarrter where the houses were old and dingy and seemed clusterin' together like as if for gineral support. There was black alleys and coorts wit' blind passages endin' in a wall. As I stood lookin' round and wonderin' where the divil I was at, a black cat run over me fut. 'There is luck,' says I to mesilf. 'Nivir mind, sweetheart. I'll find you yet, wherever your pretty head may lie this night,' and as the last worrd left me lips there came from the gloom above the loud, clear whistle av the merle! 'Aux armes, citoyens—' rang the bold, true notes through that heavy, soggy stillness, and me hearrt seemed to stop.

"But only for a moment, sorr. The next brought a different sound, and one that I had heard before. Pulsin' faint and distant and deep in the black gloom overhead came the muffled roar and crrash av a tremenjus motor, and I knew the heavy bark av her for a Zeppelin. 'Twas that had roused me brave merle, and agin, as though trryin' his plucky best to raise thim unconscious sleepy-heads, his stirrin' notes rang out, 'Aux amies, citoyens!'

"But me little black bosun's mate wit' the yellow pipe might well have spared his breat', for at the silfsame second the heavy silence was torn to shreds. There come a thunderin' explosion close at hand; another to the rright, and flames lepped fort'. A fallin' star forninst me, and be force of ould habit I dropped on me face. There was the roar av a volcano up the street and a second after it the crash av fallin' glass. I had lepped to the middle av the street, knowin' that windows are sucked outwards, and well I did so, for just where I had been standin' at the first alarrm down comes the front wall av an ould house. And shrillin' through all this din and risin' high above the shrieks and yells av pain and frright rose the piercin' and defyin' challenge av me gallant birrd. 'Aux armes, citoyens!' he screeched, and this time his warnin' did not go unheeded, for from all about the Archibalds began to barrk.

"And I, too, was up and doin'. Half-dressed folk was pourin' into the streets wit' wails and cries. A moanin' woman in her shift staggered past me holdin' to her bosom a torn and bleedin' babe. I stooped to haul a little boy from under a heap av fallen brricks, but he was dead. And thin, wakin' suddenly to me juty as a soldier av the king, I tuk charge and set such as had not lost their head to quenchin' the fires that had bruk out. Then come the fire brrigade, and, seein' that I could be spared, I rripped a piece from me shirt for a gas-mask and rushed into the house from the top story av which had come the pipin' av the merle.

"The place was full o' smoke, but flame could not have stopped me, and up I wint, prayin' that I be not too late, and cursin' that the bomb had not landed on the gilded nest from which I had just flown. But such appears to be the way o' bombs and other catastrophes. 'Tis always the wretched gets it in the neck, be rayson av their offerin' a bigger target. Y'are not to think, sorr, that it was thim reflections fillin' me mind at that moment. I was prayin' only that I might not be too late, for the house o' the merle was the wan had been shattered be the bomb and had the front av it burst out. Was she killed, I wondered in agony av hearrt. Was the Huns to get her after all me weary months av waitin'? Was the vingeance she had prayed for and got so quick now come home to roost?

"Up I struggled, gaspin' for breat', clawin' at the shattered wall and bringin' down the plaster in avalanches, and wance fallin' t'rough a gap where the stairs was gone. In wan front room I heard the wailin' o' childer and it struck into me like a bayonet t'rust in the bowils, but I did not stop. 'I will get ye on me way down, me little dears,' I hollered, and kept on me coorse comforted be the fact that the childer could be reached from below or from the street. Ye may wonder, sorr, that I had not dashed into the house and up-stairs at the very firrst? Well, sorr, maybe that was the soldier av it. Me juty for the moment was below, to organize the helpers, for ayther me little girrl was killed or I yet had time to fetch her. Not for wan second did I doubt but that she was there. 'Twas not alone the merle, though I did not believe there was another such birrd which piped the wan tune at sound av danger in all av Europe; 'twas me feelin' the nearness av her.

"That very nearness I had felt on reachin' this poor district av the city, and it was at its height when I had sworn aloud to find her, no matter where her head might lie. And so it was wit' no surprise but a hearrt burstin' wit' joy whin I reached the top av the house and heard the rich voice which had so long been rringin' in the ears av mimory cryin' out from the other side av a door which was jammed be the bucklin' av the wall and blocked wit' brricks and plaster. Short work I made av this barricade, and when I flung me showlder 'gainst the door and smashed it in and saw her standin' there like a holy angel in her long, white gown wit' the flickerin' candle-light cuttin' deep shadows in her lovely face, the shout av joy and thankfulness which burrst from me lips must ha' reached to the street.

P104, Harper's Magazine 1918--The Merle.jpg

"'Oh, me own darlin'!' I cried. 'So I have found ye at last! Y'are not hurt?'

"And here was a quare t'ing, Doctor. So much had this girrl been in me t'oughts that I had clean forgot that I was scarce more than a stranger to her, nor could she be expected to remimber the face av the limpin' Tommy she had met that day. More than that, I had grown thicker since me job at Garrod's and wore a toot'brush mustache. Yet here t'rough the swirlin' smoke and be the light av a flickerin' penny dip she gave me but wan look and cried:

"'Tis me soldier boy! Oh, I knew that you would come. I knew that you would come!'

"And there in the attic av that rockin' ould ruin, wit' the clamor from the street below and the cracklin' av flames and from all over big London the roarin' av the Archie guns, I gathered her in me arms and drrank the sweetness av her lips, and as I held her close I heard as in a dream the blithe whistle av the birrd, 'Aux armes, citoyens!'

"Then down we stole, she holdin' tight to me hand, as I could not carry her be rayson av me knee and the brroken stairs, and for all me joy I did not forget the childer, t'ree in number and the youngest a baby clingin' to the breast av its murrdered mother. I got thim all down safely, me sweetheart carryin' the da'ntless birrd, and scarce had we got clear av the house than the roof caved in and a minute later the rear wall. Be this time there was smart order in the street and a major av artillery steps up to me. 'Well done, me man,' says he. 'I saw you go in and nivir expected to see you come out again. Who are you?'

"I loosed me grip av the girrl's wrist like a drownin' sailor might loose the spar to which he clung and came to attention. 'Sergeant Mike Casey, sorr,' says I, 'doorman at Garrod's and late corp'ral av the ——shire Rifles as was.'

"'Ah, a soldier. I thought so,' says he. 'Good for you, Sergeant. Take your people to the ambulance beyant. Some av you men pick up the childer,' says he.


"So that is how I found her, Doctor, be the grace av God and His swate instrument, me brave merle wit' his yellow eye and beak and inspirin' call. The lady to whom the captain had sent her was not needin' a maid, but received her kindly and sent her wit' a letter to her sister in London. But this ould party provin' impossible to please and wan o' thim female slackers that made the war an excuse for cuttin' wages and thin not payin' thim, me little sweetheart decided she would rayther die av starvation in her own service, so she gave notice (and between you and me it was owin' to the ould cat's not approvin' the birrd), and took her little attic and set to makin' lace, which, as ye know, sorr, is a Belgian peasant industry. But the marrket was poor, owin' to the war, and she had been sick and under-nourished and was makin' her last stand when me brave merle called me to her arms.

"So av coorse we was married immejiate, as I would not be put off, nor had she the stren'th to gainsay me, and thin, as I was fair sick av bein' on the rim av the war and no chance av gettin' into it, we came here to Canada, for it was in me mind that wit' the lads all enlistin' me swivel leg might not be a bar to the Mounted Police for a man wit' me record. But it was, and so I am here, thanks to Paul Revanche that come up and shook me hand in Halifax, and the kindness av your honor. Me missis will be payin' her respicts to-morrow. And would anny be disturbed if you was to fire a pistol from the porch, sorr? No? Thin fire a shot and listen, sorr....

"There! Do you hear, Doctor? 'Aux armes, citoyens.' Tis me brave-hearrted merle."


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1933, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.