UNTIL THAT DAY
WHEN he came from out of the fog into the wide shadowy room of the inn it was the girl he saw first. She sat by the fire, her narrow
face ruddily touched by the sputtering blaze of the peat. With one gloved hand he fumbled the note the United Seamen’s Service had given him. “Mrs. Cluachan?” he said. “I’m Frank Colby, sent up from the club in Glasgow.”
She smiled, half turning. “Mrs. Cluachan is in the front parlor.” She motioned. “Johannes will take you to her.”
The man who had been stretched out in his chair on the far side of the girl stood to his feet, and Colby noticed that he was tall and fair, wore the light-blue uniform of the Royal Air Force with the legend Netherlands upon the shoulder.
“Johannes Kliet is my name,” he said as he advanced.
Colby nodded. “My hands,” he said slowly, “my hands aren’t much good yet. They were hurt . gt;. I had to leave my suitcase down where the bus stops.” “I’ll get it,” Kliet said, and gave him a careful thoughtful glance in which there was understanding. “Go over to the fire and meet Beth Hendrick.”
Colby moved self-consciously toward the fire. The girl named Beth Hendrick sat motionless, her small body erect in the chair. "You’re American,” she said;
her voice was light, quick. “You’re one of the men of the Merchant Navy.”
“Merchant marine, we call it,” he said, and grinned. “But you’re not Scotch.”
“I’m English,” she said; “from London. There’s nothing, though, to keep an English lass from visiting Scotland. How do you like Loch Lomond?”
“Shucks,” Colby said, staring at her, “the fog’s so thick out there the bus driver could hardly keep on the road.”
Kliet was back in the room, Colby’s dripping suitcase in his hand. “Come with me,” he told Colby, “and I’ll take you now to Mrs. Cluachan.”
In the passageway to the front parlor Colby spoke hurriedly. “Say, I know you’re a pilot, and probably here for a rest, or to get over some wound. But what’s the matter with her, Miss Hendrick?”
“She had a little trouble,” the tall Netherlander said. He continued striding along the passageway. “Her section of London was quite badly bombed about two months ago. When they got her out from under, the doctors found that she had been made blind. Her sight is beginning to come back, but slowly. She was sent here, as you and I have been, to recover. Where have you been serving?”
“North Russia,” Colby said. He took time to answer, for there had been a sudden sharp constriction in his chest. Beth Hendrick was too small and slight a
The war was over for Frank — until the Nazis brought it back . . . and Beth brought love as well
girl to go around blind from a Nazi bomb. “I know what it means,” he went on to Kliet, “my ship was lost past the North Cape. I saw my shipmates knocked off, one and then another.”
“Sometimes,” Kliet said, in his grave way, “we talk too much about such things. That is Mrs. Cluachan near the books.”
Mrs. Cluachan had white hair and bright red cheeks; spoke such broad Scotch that Frank Colby could hardly understand her. “We’ll put ye in the wee bit room at the head of the stairs where the chimney passes by and ’tis warm,” she said. “Rory, the mon aboot the house, will tend to your bag. Dinna ye worry over it. Dinna ye worry over anything. Johannes Kliet, here, and the lass, Beth, are the ainly ones I have staying with me. Do as ye please, except that we must all eat at the same time as I’ve no help with the kitchen work.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Frank Colby said. The thought was swift in his brain: This is almost like
home, like Wisconsin. Hang on for just a bit more and you’ll be there. Sure enough, you’re homewardbound . . .
HE AND Kliet talked of the war. Kliet said simply that he had been in a Netherlands squadron of the Royal Air Force ever since he had escaped from his homeland. “Three of us did it,” he said, “in a sort of rubber dinghy. Not very strong, you know. But afterward we all became Spitfire pilots, and that is very good.”
“Where were you wounded?” Frank Colby asked him.
“Over Rotterdam,” Kliet said. He picked up a small ornament, and Colby saw that his blunt-tipped fingers were slightly shaking. “We were fighter escort for the Lancasters. There were many Jerries, and that day not so many of us. I got back, of course; I landed on my own field. The wounds were in my hip and shoulder, stf that I could still fly. Anyway, let’s go back.
“You see, I don’t like to leave Beth Hendrick much alone. It is good for somebody to be with her, to talk or read. Reading of the English is not yet easy for me. You’ll do it, should she ask?”
“Sure,” Colby said.
Beth Hendrick sat in her same erect position. “I know,” she said, as she heard them enter the room, “Johannes has been asking you to read to me, Mr. Colby.”
“My first name’s Frank,” Colby said; “and he didn’t. He never even mentioned it.”
She smiled, attempting, out of deep habit, to see this stranger whose voice, whose step were so much different from Johannes Kliet’s.
They had supper there, near the fire, on a long and scarred table that the man of all work, limping old Rory, pulled forward. Supper was meat pie with some very small shreds of lamb in the bottom of it, oatmeal bread and a dab of margarine, custard, and tea that was black and scalding hot.
When Rory had taken the table away again they sat by the fire, watching the patterns made by the flames.
Beth leaned forward a bit, the firelight catching up glints in her soft, light-brown hair. “Tell us about yourself, Frank Colby. I mean about your home in America, and what you’ve done in the war. Truth said, the British people—and the Dutch too—have learned most about you from the films, and it can’t be all gangsters and tall, blond girls with beautiful legs and bubble baths.”
Frank Colby sat gazing at her and then at the fire for a long moment before he answered. He was oppressed, nearly overcome to the point of tears, by a nostalgia that was greater than any he had experienced since leaving home. He said, in a slow, low voice, “I come from Langston. That’s in Wisconsin, near Green Bay. Green Bay’s the town where they have the crackerjack football team.”
His voice stopped. He was seeing Wisconsin in the fall, with the ducks coming over, high, fine dark points in a sky that seemed to sparkle like an immense
gem. Then he saw the Lakes as he knew them, Huron and Superior and Michigan and Erie, and the rivers, the Soo River, and the St. Clair and the Detroit, the great long and red ore boats piling along, almost stem to stern, the lookouts waving to each other, and, oftentimes, the skippers shouting to each other by their front names out the pilothouse doors.
That was living; that was home. It wasn’t here, or the cold furious madness of the North Cape on the way to Russia, with the planes screaming and diving over and over at you until their scream was in your brain and never left you, and the icebergs close there, the poor guys from the sunken ships floating along face down, already turned to scummy chunks of ice.
“I’m going back,” he said to Beth Hendrick and to the flier, “out on the Lakes, where I belong. I work around my Dad’s farm at Langston. That is, I help him. I mean I go hunting and fishing, and I do a little trapping too. He’s got pigs and chickens on the farm, some sheep and cows.”
“There’s pigs and chickens, sheep and cows here too,” Beth said. “Mrs. Cluachan has told me about them, and out my window I can hear them, in the sheds and in the byre.”
“What’s a byre?” Colby said.
“Perhaps,” Kliet said, his face expressionless, “you would call that a barn. Now tell us about North Russia.”
Colby looked down at his gloved hands; they were beginning to throb. He laughed, and there was a hysterical ring in the sound.
“My ship didn’t get it from the planes,” he said. “A U-boat put two torpedoes into us . . . Well, I was in the water, and then I was on a raft and then in a lifeboat. The doctors told me—they said that if my hands had been exposed a couple of hours more, I’d have got gangrene. Then, off at the wrists . . .
“So I’m going home, back to Wisconsin.”
“Why?” Beth said. “Aren’t you going to stay in the war?” Her wide and softly vacant brown eyes were directed toward him, and Colby felt frightened, then made strangely angry by their gaze.
“No, I’m not getting out of the war,” he said. “Only out of this part of it. After all, sailing the ore boats on the Lakes is just as important as running to Murmansk or the Mediterranean. If we didn’t bring the iron ore
out of the mines there wouldn’t be any planes, or tanks, or guns—any of that sort of stuff.”
“You don’t hate your enemies?” Kliet said, so softly that it was almost a whisper.
“No.” Colby looked at him in surprise, and then in gradual comprehension, “I’m not like you folks—not like you and her. My country’s all right and always will be. Nobody’s going to invade us, and if they tried we’d beat their ears off. You and the Russians are different; all you talk is hate, and kill, kill, kill. Well, I got no use for the Nazis, or for the Japs either, but if you folks hate them so much you can do the job on them. I’m no coward or I wouldn’t have gone to North Russia. I’ve had my share of danger. Now somebody else can have it, all that’s left.”
“You—” Johannes Kliet began. Then he stood up. He brought his heels together and bowed to Beth Hendrick. When he did that Colby saw that his face was colorless, the eyes terrible and dark pools of rage. “Good night,” Kliet said.
BETH HENDRICK waited until she heard Kliet’s tread on the top step of the stairs. She said then, “I guess we’d best all go to bed. If you’d help me with the stairs, I’d be obliged.”
“What did I do wrong?” Frank Colby asked her. He was trembling with rage and a sick interior sensation of doubt. “Does Kliet think I’m yellow or something?”
“No,” Beth said, and, groping out, she found Colby’s hands, held them loosely in her own. “It’s just that people over here are a bit different. We’ve had more of the war, lost more in it. Me, when it came my time there in London . . .”
“Say it,” he urged her. “You can’t hurt me or my feelings. I’ve been through enough to take anything anybody has got to give.”
She looked at him with her soft and sightless glance and then at the fire, whose radiance for her was a lighter shadow in the darkness. “For just about four years,” she said, “I used to get up in the morning to go to work at the shop, and it was dark. It was dark when I got through at the shop and came home. Then the night Jerry came over, of course, we all went down in the shelter when we heard the alert and the ack-ack guns. It struck all of a sudden, but you could hear it coming, nearer and nearer, whining—”
“I know,” he muttered, and for a desperate instant he wanted to scream and release the terrible horror of memory within him.
But her grip was tightening on his hands. She held him silent. In her memory, so clear that she could recall every instant of it, was the span of hours she had lain there in the wrecked shelter. A number of other people had been there with her, and for a time afterward she had tried to talk to them. Then she realized that she was alone, that the others, all of them, were dead.
It was completely distinct to her, sitting here before this fire, holding this strange and sad lad’s hands. First she had heard the picks, very far away, a thin clicking and clacking sound. But it had become stronger, sharper, and then more of the brick and the wall had slid down, stopping just above her head. She hadn’t fainted; she was sure of that. She could tell when each brick was removed, each timber and piece of stone and concrete.
“When they talked to me, I talked back,” she said. “I told them I was all right, but that I was alone, and not to take any chances, just for one person. They got down a tube, and they passed tea and mediciney-kind of stuff to me. I kept waiting for the light, to see the hole they made.
“But it didn’t come. It just didn’t, although I knew they were awful blooming close from the sounds and the way the brick dust dropped on me. Then they got down to me, a couple of the wardens and a doctor. The doctor had an electric torch. He put it on, in my face, up against my eyes . . .”
“But you’re going to see again,” Frank Colby said, his hands about her hands.
“Yes,” she said; “of course I am.” She got to her feet and moved in the direction which she knew to be the stairs, “When I do I’m going back, to London and the shop—all of it. That’s where I belong.”
Frank Colby guided her with a stumbling kind of stride. “Aren’t you scared?” he said. “About going back?”
They were climbing the stairs, were nearly at the top. “I lie in bed all night long dreaming about it,” she said. “What can happen once can happen twice, my mother always said. But there’s no use thinking such thoughts, because the second time for me would be the end for sure . . . Good night, and thanks.”
“Good night,” he said, wanting to say, “good night, Beth,” but now afraid to say that.
Continued on page 37
Continued from page 9
HE AWOKE to see the fog pressing thick against the window and that his wrist watch read a quarter of ten. It was too late, he decided, to try for breakfast. He did not tell himself that at breakfast he would have to meet Beth Hendrick and the big, hard-faced flier.
He went with care, quite soundlessly, down the stairs and out the back door into the stone-walled yard at the rear of the inn. It was his intention to go for a walk somewhere along the loch, certainly get away from the inn and the people here.
But chickens were in the yard, pigs made a grunting rumble in the outbuildings; there were pigeons on the roofs, across the wall in the sloping fields were sheep and cows. He slowed to look at them, for this was a lot like home, and then at the corner of the wall he came upon Johannes Kliet.
Kliet wore a tattered raincoat obviously borrowed from old Rory. He was working at building an extension of the wall. A wheelbarrowful of field stones was beside him; he used a pick and shovel. The man’s strong, Frank Colby thought, swiftly studying him, but he doesn’t know how to go about his job. Then remembrance of last night came to him in a keen rush, and he experienced resentment and anger, a definite sense of determination. He walked over to Kliet, halted in front of him, his stocky body poised, tensed.
“I want to get something straight with you,” he said to Kliet. “Last night, from the way you acted, I got the idea you figure me for some kind of yellowbelly—a coward.”
Kliet put down the earth-clotted pick. He glanced steadily into Colby’s face, red and resolute. “No, you’re wrong,” he said, “I don’t. I’d be a fool if I did, because what you are, or do, is truly none of my business. But, as long as you’ve asked me, let me ask you a question. Why is it, if you don’t hate the enemy, that you ever left those lakes of yours at all?”
“By gosh!” Colby said. Then he started to laugh, and what might have been rage went out of him. He didn’t know the answer, he was aware. It was something he’d failed to find out about himself. But Kliet was honest about it; just looking at the man he could sense that the other wasn’t mocking him or trying to make trouble.
“I don’t know, Kliet,” he said, searching far down in his thoughts and memories as he spoke, “but I guess the real thing, as far as I can figure it, was that back home I was pushed around by all I read in the papers. And people were always talking about the men out at the fighting fronts, and holding bond rallies or Red Cross drives, and some wounded veteran would show up for all the applause and all the credit.” Kliet nodded, although he did not understand. He thought, this man’s all right. Whatever’s wrong with him is not his fault. But you can’t tell him; there’s a great difference between him
and you. That’s the hate you’ve got, for the family you’ve lost, the country you’ve lost, the pals and squadron mates. In his own way he’ll have to find his own hate . . .
“When I go home now,” Colby said, “I’ll be a veteran too. I’ll have campaign bars to wear. When the other guys start to talk on a Saturday night they’ll listen to me.”
“You wanted,” Kliet said, without emotion or particular interest in the thought, “you wanted to prove yourself. So now you have and you’re going home.”
Colby said, rapidly, “That’s right. But don’t get the idea that I’m not needed at home. The draft board and all the other responsible folks figure sailing the Lake boats is real important work.”
“For a veteran?” Kliet said. He was raising the pick, swinging it for a new stroke. “For a man who’s been out against the enemy and really knows them?”
“Sure,” Colby said. “Absolutely.” But he spoke defensively and was conscious of it. An irritation that was a resurgence of rage rose in him as he swung away, and walked off stifflegged toward the loch. '
HFI WAS sure of just two things, Colby resolved when he came back from plodding through the soggy fields. He wasn’t going to talk to Beth Hendrick or the flier any more than necessary and he was going to get out of here and onto a ship bound home as soon as he possibly could.
He kept to his decision through dinner, quickly and silently ate his food, then retired to doze in his room, went to supper in the same mood. After supper Beth Hendrick asked in an uneasy, almost beseeching, voice, “Please, one of you read to me. There’s Punch and several papers Mrs. Cluachan brought in.”
“Kliet’s your man,” Frank Colby said harshly. He took quite a bit of time in getting up from the table and going out of the room and up the stairs. But at the top of the stairs he had an abrupt sensation of shame and loneliness. “One way or another,” he told himself, “you’re acting like a damn fool.”
Sunshine awoke him. He peered through the window and there was the loch, the islands, and beyond, the violet-grey mountains. He could do without breakfast again, he thought, as he dressed and hurried forth into the sunshine.
He went to the fields to get a better look at the cattle and found Rory pulling a tarpaulin into place over a haystack. “Yon’s Ben Nevis, the grandest of them all,” Rory told him, indicating the rugged scarps of the snow-crested mountain to the north. “ ’Tis there the Hielands begin, wi’ the Grampians, and a grand spectacle it is. ’Tis vurra fine on a morning like this. But take a wee bit walk along the loch, why don’t you, lad?”
“I will,” Colby said. “I’ll want to tell them about this when I get home.” The ground was soft under his feet,
and springy, had a smell about it that was intoxicating in its strong freshness. He saw birds he knew to he plover, and rooks, crows, an eagle that kept far up and solitary over the fir-clad islands of the loch.
This was the heather, the famous heather of Scotland about him, he understood. One bush had small tender white blossoms and those he stooped to pluck. Then down among the bronze of the bracken he found flowers whose names his mother had taught him: bluebells and ragged
robin, tiny yellow asphodel that grew at the side of a peat bog, purple orchis.
He was going to take them back and givethem to Beth, hedecided. They were for her; the smell and the touch of them alone would mean plenty. No matter how he disliked or resented Kliet, she was all right.
He began to whistle as he walked hack to the inn. He was very happy, he suddenly realized. That was why he’d picked the flowers for Beth. It was so much like home here that for a time he’d had the thought, he was in Langston, and all he had to do was turn around and see his father’s square white house. The red barn and the silo behind him.
Coming up the last slope he heard the bus. It had just stopped in front of the inn. He was able to make out Beth and Mrs. Cluachan and Johannes Kliet beside it. Kliet was wearing a kit bag and gas mask over his shoulder, Frank Colby noticed with a feeling of shock and relief.
Kliet bowed to Mrs. Cluachan; he took her hand. Then he turned to Beth Hendrick. She was much shorter; she had to stand on her tiptoes to kiss him. But her hands went up his shoulders to his throat and cheeks. She kissed him hard before she let him go and he climbed into the bus.
“There, sport,” Colby whispered, “is your answer. Now you know for sure about her too.” He looked down at the flowers he held and laughed, dropped them to the ground.
Hunger drove him into the inner parlor for dinner, and as soon as he turned the corner of the room Beth Hendrick raised her head where she sat by the fire. “Oh,” she said, “we were wondering about you. Did you have a good walk?”
“Okay,” he said, and nervously repeated it, “okay.” He sat down beside her and poked the peat chunks for a while, but he was aware that she was getting ready to speak to him.
She said finally, “Night before last a wrong thing happened, I think. We got to talking too much about ourselves and the war. I’m a silly one when it comes to talk; I’m much better off behind my lathe in the shop.”
“But Kliet’s gone away,” he persisted in saying; “back to the duty.”
“Yes,” she said. “He knew that night he had to go. It might have made him a hit on the surly side, knowing his leave was just about up and then, you see, he lost his whole family in the big raid on Amsterdam. He—”
“Here we go again,” Frank Colby said. He was standing, and his body shook with rage.
Beth Hendrick reached out. She touched his sleeve, then his gloved hand, gently brought him close to her. “Frank, I’m sorry,” she said. “Mrs. Cluachan has told me about your poor hands. Any man who’s been through what you have can only be proud. Don’t ever think I’ve thought other of you, or that Johannes did. Believe me, will you?”
Frank Colby bent down. It was his temptation to take her in his arms and kiss her. Then he backed away from her, slowly, toward the door. “Wait a
minute,” he muttered, “I won’t be
She sat very still in the chair while he was gone. She said to herself, with a steady kind of cold reasoning, this lad’s worse off than Johannes. He needs more help. Inside, somewhere, he’s strong. But he’s puzzled and worried, afraid of himself and doesn’t know why. Take care of him, Beth. Give him what little that you can, for he’ll be going soon too . . .
“I found these out by the loch/’ Frank Colby said, closing her fingers around the flowers. “You’ve got white heather there, and bluebells, ragged robins, and a couple more. I thought —” He halted, because he felt too much like crying.
She was holding the flowers close to her face, brushing them across her cheeks and brow. She smiled as she did it, and she said, “Just think, Frank! In a few months now I’ll be able to see them all again. Everything will come back, every little thing.”
“Sure,” Colby said. Rory had
entered to set the table for dinner. “But come and eat. After dinner I’m going to read to you.”
THEIR habit became from that time forward for him to read to her for an hour or so after dinner and longer period in the evening. The rest of the daylight hours he spent outdoors, wandering around the loch or helping Rory and the great-shouldered shepherd dog, Jeanie, bring in the sheep. When he was with Beth he was as impersonal as he knew how, on guard against her and against himself. He never repeated the gesture of bringing her flowers.
His conviction increased every day that he stayed at the inn that he must get home to Wisconsin. His hands were healing faster than the doctors had said they would; he no longer had to massage them with ointment at night, several times slept without the protection of the gloves.
Back home his own folks were waiting for him, he told himself. Falling in love with little Beth Hendrick wouldn’t help anything, and would only make a bad situation worse. Sure, she was nice to him, but it was Kliet she’d kissed good-by. A letter or two had come for her in the last few days, and he was quite certain they were from the flier. He hoped, he thought bitterly, that Kliet would come back on another leave, take Beth away and marry her. After all, she wasn’t going to be blind for good, and in her way she was pretty, would make a nice wife . .
THE night the air raid alert came was one of high wind and gusty, rattling rain squalls. Mrs. Cluachan got the news over the telephone: the Firth of Forth and the port of Leith were being attacked by heavy bomber formations.
They sat around in the inner parlor after Mrs. Cluachan got the warning, for at intervals, as the wind increased, they could sense the dull, distant thud of gunfire, the shudder and shock of bomb concussions.
Frank Colby could not stay still for long. He rose and paced the room. The Firth and Leith were miles away, he knew, and yet over there people were being killed; ships and houses were crushed, smashed and destroyed. By one glance at Beth he had learned that the awful fear of the bombs gripped her. She was white-faced and rigid, crouched low in her chair.
He went out into the night and stood staring toward the source of the faint sound. You thought you were all through with that, he pondered. But here it is again. You’re a fool to have waited. You should’ve gone home
weeks ago, no matter what shape your hands are in.
Then he heard the plane, and the planes that followed it. His fear was so great that he gasped with a choking cry. But Rory had also heard the motor roaring; the old man was out of the house and beside him. “Ye ken them, lad?” he hoarsely asked. “Ye can make oot what they’re doin’, so far awa’ as to the loch?”
“Yes,” he said, “I think I can.” He pointed upward into the wind-driven cloud rack, pale in the light of the just risen moon. There were three black shapes there, the first lower than the other two, and that two marked by a steady, swift pricking of greenish gun flame. “That’s a Jerry bomber the interceptor boys picked up over the Firth. They’re on his tail and they’re giving him hell. He’s running for it, trying to get away. He must be in trouble, because they’re closing on him all the time.”
“They’re cornin’,” Rory said, the words rough and rapid, “this way all the time. They would be seemin’—Och, look the noo!”
A ripple, a sheeting flare of flame sprang along the German plane’s wing. The plane faltered, rolled, spun in the air. Now the sound of the motors was so pulsant and so vast that Colby was unable to hear Beth Hendrick when she called to him. But he somehow recognized her presence behind him, swung and took her in his arms, braced her up against him, his body on the outside while he pressed her back against the wall. “Stand still,” he told her. “Don’t move. We’re going to be okay.” Then he gazed up, transfixed, where out of the night the bomber dropped in a guttering, fiery spiral.
“ ’Twill be close!” Rory shouted with all his strength. “Vurra close!” He started to run around to the rear of the building, his hand down to his limping leg.
The German bomber hit in the field right behind the inn. Its impact was a crashing, grinding wrench of explosion. Even where Colby and Beth stood, they were nearly knocked to the'ground. That was a bomb the Jerries were still carrying, he slowly thought. Lucky the Spitfires didn’t chase it smack down through the roof. Then above the building he saw the broad swift sheen of flame.
He lifted Beth in his arms. He carried her back into the parlor and set her down in her chair. “Beth,” he said to her, “stay right here, will you?”
“I will,” she said. His calmness had made her calm. “But what’s going on?”
“Might be a fire,” he said. “I’m not sure. If there’s any danger I’ll be back for you.”
Then he ran through the house. He came out into the yard beside the long line of one-story outbuildings and the sheep byre. They were afire, he saw at once. Burning gasoline and fragments pitched from the wrecked plane had caught them. Old Rory was close in there near the byre, trying to fight the flames.
Frank Colby stood still for what seemed to him to be a very long time. The two interceptor Spitfires were gone from the sky. The night, after their violence and the violence of explosion, held no sound except the frenzied bleating of the sheep and the calls, the cries, of the other animals.
Old Rory was trying to get the sheep out of the byre. He was hopping back and forth from the well in the centre of the yard and in his hands he carried wooden buckets that slopped with water. The shegherd dog, Jeanie, was in there too; her thick coat was smoking with sparks, and now a little
rim of flame marked her ruff. There were sparks on Rory also, on his shoulders and the back of his jacket, his thin white hair.
Frank Colby cursed. He was thinking of Langston. This was just like Langston to him now, he knew. If it ever came at home, it would be no more terrible. Suffering and destruction were the same anywhere, and a man had to do what he could against them. The hate was in him, he realized. It filled him as he saw the sparks on Rory, the smoking back and ruff of the dog. Seeing them, his hate was greater than his fear . . .
Sweat was down his face into his eyes. His hands were going to hurt him, he knew; they’d hurt him plenty. Well, he thought, going forward into the yard, those sparks couldn’t feel so good on the top of Rory’s skull.
He beat out the sparks on the old man, got him to leave the yard. “Go into the house and get the stirrup pump by the kitchen!” he yelled at him. Then he took off his coat and with it smothered the ruby twists of fire along Jeanie’s back and sides.
How many times he had filled the buckets at the well and gone running with them to the sheep byre he didn’t know. It was simply that Rory and Mrs. Cluachan were there beside him, and between them they had the stirrup pump. “Now we’ll go places!” he shouted to them in a voice of triumph. “Get that end down in the well, Rory, and let me have the nozzle.”
WHEN it was over, the last embers out, he went staggering from the yard, leaving the others behind him. He carried Rory’s axe and he sought any Nazis who might have escaped from the bomber. He found them in the field past the great deep gash of the explosion. They were the huddled, almost unrecognizable remnants of men who had jumped much too low for their parachutes to open.
He walked back, feeling sick at his stomach and a bit ridiculous. An axe, he recalled, wouldn’t have fcjeen much good if any of those Jerries were still alive.
Beth met him past where Mrs. Cluachan and Rory worked over the injured sheep. “Your hands,” she said, standing in the door to the kitchen, “your hands, Frank.”
“They’re all right,” he said. “I’ll make a sailor or a farmer yet, or both.” Then he grasped her up against him, kissed her fully on the mouth. “Maybe you love Kliet,” he told her, “but tonight I’m taking this.”
“Come inside,” she said, “where we can be alone.”
They stood body to body in the inner parlor, he with his arm still close about her. She said, “To tell you before wouldn’t have made any sense. But I don’t and never did love Johannes. I kissed him good-by because the war is difficult for all of us, and to kiss him made it easier a bit. He’s dead now; he was killed last week in a flight over Lorient. I got a letter from his commanding officer three days ago and he said—”
“Beth, will you marry a sailor?” Colby said, his mouth down against hers. “One bound for the Mediterranean as soon as he can get a ship?” “Yes,” she said with a little laugh, “most gladly, Frank.”
“Then,” he said, “we’ll get Mrs. Cluachan to fix it up for us, with the law and with the preacher. Would you ! like being married right here, and staying on for a day or so afterward?” She just kissed him. But he persisted, “Okay?”
“Perfectly—” she was trying hard to get the inflection right—“okay.”