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BEFORE going to bed Martin had seen the lighthouses winking at the mouth of the Gironde, and had filled his lungs with the new, indefinably scented wind coming off the land. The sound of screaming whistles of tugboats awoke him. Feet were tramping on the deck above his head. The shrill whine of a crane sounded in his ears and the throaty cry of men lifting something in unison.
Through his port-hole in the yet colourless dawn he saw the reddish water of a river with black-hulled sailing-boats on it and a few lanky little steamers of a pattern he had never seen before. Again he breathed deep of the new indefinable smell off the land.
Once on deck in the cold air, he saw through the faint light a row of houses beyond the low wharf buildings, grey mellow houses of four storeys with tiled roofs and intricate ironwork balconies, with balconies in which the ironwork had been carefully twisted by artisans long ago dead into gracefully modulated curves and spirals.
Some in uniform, some not, the ambulance men marched to the station, through the grey streets of Bordeaux. Once a woman opened a window and crying, "Vive l'Amérique," threw out a bunch of roses and daisies. As they were rounding a corner, a man with a frockcoat on ran up and put his own hat on the head of one of the Americans who had none. In front of the station, waiting for the train, they sat at the little tables of cafés, lolling comfortably in the early morning sunlight, and drank beer and cognac.
Small railway carriages into which they were crowded so that their knees were pressed tight together--and outside, slipping by, blue-green fields, and poplars stalking out of the morning mist, and long drifts of poppies. Scarlet poppies, and cornflowers, and white daisies, and the red-tiled roofs and white walls of cottages, all against a background of glaucous green fields and hedges. Tours, Poitiers, Orléans. In the names of the stations rose old wars, until the floods of scarlet poppies seemed the blood of fighting men slaughtered through all time. At last, in the gloaming, Paris, and, in crossing a bridge over the Seine, a glimpse of the two linked towers of Notre Dame, rosy grey in the grey mist up the river.
"Say, these women here get my goat."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, I was at the Olympia with Johnson and that crowd. They just pester the life out of you there. I'd heard that Paris was immoral, but nothing like this."
"It's the war."
"But the Jane I went with . . ."
"Gee, these Frenchwomen are immoral. They say the war does it."
"Can't be that. Nothing is more purifying than sacrifice."
"A feller has to be mighty careful, they say."
"Looks like every woman you saw walking on the street was a whore. They certainly are good-lookers though."
"King and his gang are all being sent back to the States."
"I'll be darned! They sure have been drunk ever since they got off the steamer."
"Raised hell in Maxim's last night. They tried to clean up the place and the police came. They were all soused to the gills and tried to make everybody there sing the 'Star Spangled Banner.'"
"Damn fool business."
Martin Howe sat at a table on the sidewalk under the brown awning of a restaurant. Opposite in the last topaz-clear rays of the sun, the foliage of the Jardin du Luxembourg shone bright green above deep alleys of bluish shadow. From the pavements in front of the mauve-coloured houses rose little kiosks with advertisements in bright orange and vermilion and blue. In the middle of the triangle formed by the streets and the garden was a round pool of jade water. Martin leaned back in his chair looking dreamily out through half-closed eyes, breathing deep now and then of the musty scent of Paris, that mingled with the melting freshness of the wild strawberries on the plate before him.
As he stared in front of him two figures crossed his field of vision. A woman swathed in black crepe veils was helping a soldier to a seat at the next table. He found himself staring in a face, a face that still had some of the chubbiness of boyhood. Between the pale-brown frightened eyes, where the nose should have been, was a triangular black patch that ended in some mechanical contrivance with shiny little black metal rods that took the place of the jaw. He could not take his eyes from the soldier's eyes, that were like those of a hurt animal, full of meek dismay. Someone plucked at Martin's arm, and he turned suddenly, fearfully.
A bent old woman was offering him flowers with a jerky curtsey.
"Just a rose, for good luck?"
"No, thank you."
"It will bring you happiness."
He took a couple of the reddest of the roses.
"Do you understand the language of flowers?"
"I shall teach you. . . . Thank you so much. . . . Thank you so much."
She added a few large daisies to the red roses in his hand.
"These will bring you love. . . . But another time I shall teach you the language of flowers, the language of love."
She curtseyed again, and began making her way jerkily down the sidewalk, jingling his silver in her hand.
He stuck the roses and daisies in the belt of his uniform and sat with the green flame of Chartreuse in a little glass before him, staring into the gardens, where the foliage was becoming blue and lavender with evening, and the shadows darkened to grey-purple and black. Now and then he glanced furtively, with shame, at the man at the next table. When the restaurant closed he wandered through the unlighted streets towards the river, listening to the laughs and conversations that bubbled like the sparkle in Burgundy through the purple summer night.
But wherever he looked in the comradely faces of young men, in the beckoning eyes of women, he saw the brown hurt eyes of the soldier, and the triangular black patch where the nose should have been.