“Pauvre Jacques Canuck” helps to cement the Entente.
JACK ANSTRUTHER could never remember the beginning of his idyll. It began somewhere in France, where his men were with him in a tight hole next the French lines. Indeed the French and English were decidedly mixed now and then in the inferno of perpetual roar and screech of projectiles flying overhead, and in a short, sharp melee, swaying backwards and forwards, disaster laid him low.
Jack Anstruther was a jolly young lieutenant in the Nineteenth Battalion, who sawT everything through rose colored spectacles, and who had danced a vigorous pas seul when his time at the training camp was fulfilled and he was told to join his battalion at the front.
He lost his rosy spectacles in the mud-filied trenches of his first winter, but the gay smile that showed all his strong, white teeth was difficult to lose, an his cheery laugh and ready wit did more to keep the trench warm than the spluttering fires that refused to burn in the damp. The men were devoted to him and all eyes brightened as he went on his rounds. He appeared to bear a charmed life and professed annoyance because a scar on his wrist, where a bullet had ploughed through the flesh, was the only proof of his baptism of fire.
He exercised his limited French on his Gallic neighbors whenever they met, and plunged along regardless of grammar and the pitfalls of idiom, and always left an affectionate smile behind him, while they would look at each other and ejaculate “Ils sont épatants ces Anglais." “Epatant” has become the classic adjective to describe the Briton since the war began. Meanwhile the months crept on and stern lines carved themselves on young faces, and that curious look, born of grim memories, deepened eyes that hitherto had only looked at life on the surface.
Mud and water became a recollection, and weary months of trench life grew into a nightmare. The Russian collapse brought a hint of sinister changes, and now, at long last, the war hounds were baying at the throats of the French and English, standing taut to meet the shock. The tramp of the enemy’s millions shook the earth as the Huns surged forward, sure this time of rapid victory, hut the Gaul and the Briton stood shoulder to shoulder in grimmest tension and though the human chain swayed and gave, it held firm and the fiercest efforts cbuld not break it asunder.
JACK ANSTRUTHER received a nasty bayonet stab in the right arm, but he fought grimly on with set jaw, and his heart wañ hot within him as he saw his men falling under overwhelming odds. Suddenly there was a rush of fresh troops to strengthen their position and he found himself borne towards the French lines in the crush of the renewed struggle. A mad excitement followed. Heroic deeds were done by quiet men whose greatest prowess had hitherto been in a hockey game or on the football field, and a ragged hurrah went up as the enemy gave way before the impetuous onslaught.
“We have won,” thought Anstruther, charging a big German who blocked his way, and as he dropped his man he was conscious of a hideous shock of pain that brought him to the ground.
He roused from a long trance to find himself being carried on a stretcher through the starlit night, but the bearers stumbled on the uneven ground, and excruciating pain threw him once more into deep unconsciousness.
Days of delirium and a nightmare of pain followed, out of which he had vague recollection of torture in a tent with gory executioners round him and horrible jolting in a train, and he roused one day to a sense of blissful comfort to find himself tucked in a clean white bed. Someone was leaning over him, and he looked into lovely brown eyes that were a little misty. A tender voice was murmuring “Pauvre Jean Boule. Dors, mon petit Jean Boule," and he plunged straightway into profoundest sleep, dreamless and refreshing.
The brown eyes and the soft cooing voice became familiar as the days passed in much pain and long intervals of sleep, and slowly Anstruther grew alive to the fact that though his arm gave him the most pain, owing to a piece of cloth having been forced into the wound, the real mischief was in the leg and foot. That would take the deuce of a time to heal, he told himself ruefully.
He looked about the ward and realized that he was in a French hospital, staffed by the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul, and by ladies of the Croix Rouge. He spoke to the man in the next bed and found he was in a small hospital in a suburb of Paris, founded by the ladies of the quartier. He watched the nurses flitting by, and saw them prepare a table running down the middle of the room for a meal, and presently a long file of men variously bandaged, or with crutches, came to take their places for the midday meal. Anstruther felt hungry and smiled as his nurse came to his side with an appetising tray. He was much more wide awake to-day and remarked her youth and beauty, and he grinned jollily in appreciation of the facts.
‘‘Ah,’’ she said, smiling, as she passed her arm under his head to raise him to a more comfortable position for eating, “mon petit Jean Boule va mieux."
The idea of a man six foot in his socks being called a petit Jean Boule seemed deliciously funny, and Jack chuckled riotously. Instantly two fascinating dimples responded to his mirth, and the brown eyes twinkled mischievously at the blue.
He had no idea of the maternal petting conveyed by the word petit, but the petting he quite understood and revelled in, like the very spoilt person he was. The bayonet point had touched the elbow, and for the present his right arm was useless, so he had to be fed, and he made outrageous use of his helplessness. “Pauv' John Bull," he would say, looking pathetic, and “Pauvre JeanBoule,"
she would echo mockingly, but he noticed the words never failed to make her tenderer and more sympathetic.
Jack Anstruther and silence were things incompatible, so he plunged into his limited French without shame or misgiving, and to his joy she knew a little, a very little, English, and presently conversation flowed. He learnt that her name was Marie-Louise de la Haye, and she that he had been baptized John Archibald Marmaduke Anstruther, at which she opened big eyes.
He proceeded without loss of time to call her Marie-Louise, and remained unmoved by her “non, non; Mademoiselle.”
“Trop long," he insisted sadly, shaking his head, and she laughed till she cried at the idea that Marie-Louise was shorter. He loved the helpless laughter to which she succumbed and did all he could to provoke it, with, it must be avowed, great success. Marie-Louise became quite boneless when she laughed and was obliged to deposit the tray or whatever it was she was holding, to have her laugh out, and the silver bubble of her merriment was something his English ears had never heard. No Canadian girl could laugh like that, he mused, it was like a kid. of six, and the intrinsic difference between Latin and Saxon struck him for the first time. He pondered over this when she had retired to a tiny room, built into the ward with wooden partitions that did not reach the ceiling. Thence, after her hurried retirement, would issue more peals of subdued mirth and he shrewdly guessed she was relating their conversation.
“What’s that little cubby hole?” he asked her one day.
“Cobbee ’ole?” she repeated, mystified, and it was bis turn to laugh. Her h’lessness he found comic to the last degree.
“Cette petite chambre,” he insisted.
"Ah, l'office," she cried, but office conveyed nothing to him until she brought her dictionary, and he found it meant a pantry where they kept the clean crockery and the knives and forks.
His fingers being temporarily paralyzed from the injury to the elbow, she wrote a letter to his dictation and slow spelling, and informed his mother of his whereabouts, telling her also (unconscious of what she was writing) that he was very slightly wounded and would soon be up again. He was genuinely fond of his mother but she was an ultramodern woman of the world, and he felt Marie-Louise was the only female problem he could tackle at present.
The arm was getting better, but not for worlds would he have admitted it. Slops had given place to delicious stews, and Marie-Louise would feed him as gravely as she could, though his absurdities tried her fortitude.
“Do give me some gravy,” he urged one day. “That is the best part.”
"Quoi? Quoi? Quoi?" she cried smiling. “You speak too queek.”
“Qua, qua, qua,” he mocked. “ YOM needn’t talk about
speaking quickly. It sounds like a little duck quacking. I want some gravy.”
“Gre-vi. What is it?” she asked.
“Doojoo," he cried triumphantly, and to his astounded amaze Marie-Louise let him slip back on his pillow while she went into fits of uncontrollable laughter. His grieved amazement only made it worse.
“Mais, sapristi, qu'est ce qu'il y a donc?" cried the men at the table.
“Il veut de la sauce et il demande ‘doo joo'," she said when she could speak, and ‘doo joo’ became the joke of the ward.
BUT if his French made them laugh, her French kept him in endless puzzlement. He spoke of the grizzled old surgeon in warm and grateful praise one day and she cried sparkling, “Moi aussi, je l'aime beaucoup. C'est un pays," and he wondered for hours how the old boy could be a country till explanation enlightened him. When she laughingly called him a blagueur, he thought it sounded uncommonly like a blackguard until he consulted the little dictionary that was the hyphen between them. But the verbs were the greatest difficulty, and if Marie-Louise could have understood the big bad words he muttered when he was bogged in the subjunctive mood, she would have opened scandalized eyes instead of laughing merrily at his floundering efforts.
But despite his gay courage there were black hours in the night when he was haunted by the suspicious mystery that shrouded the painful consultations that took place over his damaged foot. There had been gatherings of learned men from other hospitals, and he frowned in the darkness as he thought of those clever, absorbed faces and their impenetrable eyes.
“Mong pied;" he said resolutely to Marie-Louise one morning after an especially trying vigil, “j'aime savwor." “What do they think about it?” But MarieLouise shirked the subject and would not discuss it, and this mercifully prepared him for the shock of their ultimate decision that no more time could be lost, and the foot must be amputated. He took the news with a white face and set lips, and nodded grimly at the old surgeon, not daring to use his voice, and after they had gone Marie-Louise came swiftly and noiselessly to the bedside and looked with tear dimmed eyes at the rumpled, ruddy brown hair that was all she could see in a little gap of the bedclothes. With a woman’s intuition she left him to his fight with the sternest enemy he had yet encountered: but later, when the ward was quiet and all the walking cases were out n the grounds, she stole back again, and still he was lying huddled there with hidden face.
Tenderly she leant over him and smoothed the tousled hair. “Mon pauvre petit Jean Boule," she whispered. “Ah, cher Jesus, aye pitié de lui."
He straightened his shoulders and pulled himself together, and slowly turned to her. “I’m all right,” he said a little gruffly. “It’s got to be faced and there’s no use grousing.”
But at the sight of that stricken young face in the heyday of its youth Marie-Louise cried quite frankly, and he forgot his own sorrow in trying to comfort her.
“I don’t care,” he said, doggedly.
“I’m not knocked out of the showyet.
I’ll drive a lorry or an ambulance when I’m fit again. There’s not much they can teach me about a car.”
The words, spoken fiercely, were Greek to her, but she saw the stern resolution in his white face and heard the defiance to Fate with a dim sense of its meaning.
“Bravo, Jean Bouleshe cried softly, and ran away to get him a cup of tea, and incidentally to bathe her eyes.
But though he heroically suppressed all further show of feeling before her, the night watches brought poignant recollection and stern facing of the grim decree; yet through, all his anguish the memory of that1* soothing touch upon his hair brought consolation. Her murmured words came back to him. Where among the girls he knew, waámere one of the slangy, modem breed who would
have breathed a prayer for him? The tender maternal note found an echo in his heart. The true womanhood of which men dream lived still in France, though it seemed lost in his own country, and the sporting, sexless comradeship of his “pals” in the old social life had never touched the chord that stirred so sweetly in his heart despite his pain.
To her surprise, in the morning Marie-Louise found him gayer and more whimsical than ever, and his courage took heroic proportions in her eyes. The British were truly astounding, and the national coldness was but the cloak of deepest feeling. Dimly, across long prejudice and ignorance, which together foster misunderstanding, a new comprehension of the British character is beginning "to take root in the French mind, and one benefit of the war, despite all the mischief-making of the politicians, will be greater amity and unity among the races who have fought shoulder to shoulder against the enemy.
Two days later the operation was successfully performed, and once more Anstruther was plunged into the furnace of pain, but his strong constitution put him rapidly on the mend, and as there were no complications the wound healed quickly, and in a fortnight he-could be carried out on a stretcher and laid on a spinal lounge in the sunny garden, and there he passed long afternoons reading and watching the glass doors for a glimpse of Marie-Louise. Her duties at this time seemed to lead her constantly to those same glass doors, and a pathetic shout from Anstruther would bring her with very pink cheeks to know if he wanted anything.
Of course he wanted something. He was desperately thirsty.
Marie-Louise looked incredulous. “But you ’ave drinked a glass of milk before you come out, is it not? Hein?”
His grimace made her laugh. “Beastly stuff. Yes, I
had some milk. Well, can’t I have some biscuits? Those nice little snappy ones.”
“For your thirst?” Her helpless laughter followed her into the corridor in search of the snappy biscuits.
The old surgeon hurrying past, stopped aghast at the sight of Anstruther upside down, making frantic grabs at a little handkerchief lying on the gravel, his bandaged stump waving in the air as he nearly overbalanced himself. Followed an explosion of medical wrath at the sacre fou of an Englishman, and Marie-Louise coming out with a plate of the snappy biscuits, was swept into the tornado. She picked up the handkerchief and joined in the scolding.
Breathless and contrite, Anstruther lay still while she tucked him in once more.
“I say, the old chap got his shirt out, didn’t he?” he remarked genially.
“Comment?" cried Marie-Louise scandalized. “Sa chemise dehors? Jamais de la vie. Oh, shockeen Jean Boule!"
“Pas vraimong," he cried, and explained with difficulty the extraordinary humor of Canadian slang.
Marie-Louise finally comprehended but she had the last word, for, “That does not arrive in a salon, n'est ce pas?" she cried laughing as she vanished in the corridor.
When, a few days later, she did not appear for fortyeight hours, he realized with a jerk that he was violently in love, and importuned the Sister in charge to explain her absence. Poor Marie-Louise had developed a septic finger, and later she came to him in the garden with her left arm in a sling and explained ruefully that she was off duty for the present.
“It won’t hurt your arm to sit and talk to me,” said the soldier man, masterfully. “Now you can keep me company, and that’ll be good for both of us. Your arm will get better much quicker in the sun.”
WITH blushes and laughter she owned that fresh air and sunshine had been recommended, and their friendship made giant strides in the days that followed.
One afternoon an orderly brought in the letters for the ward, and a batch was handed to Anstruther. A little later Marie-Louise, busy helping to prepare the goûter in the office, heard her name softly called. She looked into the garden and saw Anstruther-waving a big envelope. “Venny vite," he cried, and having finished laying the plates and glasses, which was all she could do, curiosity brought Eve to his side.
He showed her the photograph of a lovely old rambling house lying on a sunny terrace against a background of maple trees.
She gazed enraptured. “Quel joli, joli chateau? Mais c'est superbe.” She looked at him with questioning eyes.
“It’s my home,” he explained. “Isn’t it corking?”
A faint, clear color crept into the warm pallor of her face “Mais—
mais," she questioned dubiously, “c'est a vous? It is yours?”
He laughed. “Not yet, but it will be some day.”
The men came pouring in 'or the goûter and she fled to thé office.
A few evenings later the old surgeon who was a pays found MarieLouise at last amenable to a plan he had been vainly urging.
“I am of your advice/’ she said, “that I should repose myself in my family, but—but—it will be dull. It must be that I have some society.”
He stared at her downcast, facé which had no pallor at all, and stood confounded. He had cured her childish ailments since she was six, and she could twist him round her little finger. He was dimly aware that the finger was waiting, and halted par tiently for enlightenment. “Mais, mon enfant—”
“The cases are coming in,” said Marie-Louise, “and the beds are wanted. To-day I have received this from maman.". She handed him a letter in which Madame la Marquise said she would be delighted to receive the English officer for his convalescence if Marie-Louise thought he could bear the journey, and, .she would do her best for ce ;clw> alfie. She was looking forward to seeing h.çf
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beloved child the letter rambled on.
“A-a-a-ah!” said the surgeon, his . wrinkled face alight with full comprehen| sion. “The beds are indeed urgently wanted, and it is time he began to use crutches.”
Far away in the woods of Brittany is an old feudal stronghold, but behind its grim grey walls is a fairy pleasaunce of green grass and rose covered arbours, and in one of these an Englishman was sitting, a crutch by his side. His ruddy brown hair was pressed against the misty black aureole of Marie-Louise, and they were both absorbed in the glancing rays of the diamonds that flashed upôn her hand.
“It is quite well now,” she murmured, pointing to the jewelled finger, “and I must go back to my work.”
He sighed and drew her closer. “Yes,
and I must go back to old Blighty and wait till they give me the new foot, and then Fll be on the job again too, and you can think of me driving a lorry and still doing my bit. Thank God, I wasn’t knocked out altogether.”
“We will both do our bits,” said MarieLouise, “and—”
“And the minute the war is over, you’ve promised to marry me.”
The blushing face hid itself upon his breast.
Two days later the drawbridge féll to give exit to the car that conveyed him to the station, and tearing herself from her mother’s embrace, Marie-Louise fled to the little chapel on the western ramparts, there to implore her ‘‘cher Jesus" and His dear Mother carefully to guard her petit Jean Route—whom she gradually learning to call her petit Jacques Canuck.