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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Wisdom of Father Brown By G. K. Chesterton Characters: 5383

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:03


There is little time in the war zones to meet and talk, but even nurses must rest and take the air, and during the month before the frightful rush of wounded after the British offensive on the Somme began, the four girls, all in different hospitals, maneuvered to obtain leave of absence at the same hour, early in the evening. They promenaded the desolate streets arm in arm, their heads together, relieving their burdened souls. There was no idea of treason in any one of those rebellious minds, for they still believed their Fatherland to have been on the defensive from the first, the victim of a conspiracy, and they knew from the expression of the officers' faces, to say nothing of their tempers, that the danger was by no means past.

But being women, and women who had thought for themselves for many years, they must talk it out, and when too overcharged to trust their comments to the narrow streets, they retired to a hillock outside the city which no spy could approach unseen. However, nothing was farther from the minds of the German men of war than that the women cogs of their supremely organized land should presume to criticize methods which had, to their best belief, terrorized the world.

"But we are not the only ones," said Heloise grimly, as they sat on their refuge one dusky evening. "All but the sheep have a word to say now and then. Of course there always will be women who will grovel at the feet of men merely because they are men; but look out for the others when this accursed war is over. God! How I hate men! To think that once I dreamed and hoped like the silly romantic girl I was that some day some man would marry me in spite of my poverty. Now I would not marry one of the Kaiser's sons. Sick or well, German, English, French, I loathe them all alike. Obscene beasts every one of them; but I hate the Germans most, for they are the most disgusting invalids. And I am a German girl, too. France has never had any call for me. It is Marie who would be all French if she could. Poor little Marie, with her drab face and hair, her poverty, her dynamic body, mad to marry, and climbing out of the window when mother is asleep, to go to Socialists' meetings and scream off her pent-up passions. What a hideous world!"

She sprang to her feet and flung her arms above her head and glared at the unresponsive stars.

"O God!" she prayed. "Deliver us! Deliver us from war and deliver us from men! Deliver us from Kings and deliver us from criminal jealousies and ambitions and greeds that the innocent millions expiate in blood and tears! Deliver us from cowards-" She whirled suddenly upon Gisela. "You-you-why don't you lead us out? You have more min

d than any woman in Germany. You have more influence. I have always placed my hopes on you. But now-now-you are doing nothing but nurse disgusting men like the rest of us."

"Hush! You are talking too loud. And you are carrying your revolt too far. These poor deluded men you nurse are only to be pitied, and if they merely revolt you, you have no vocation-"

"When did I ever pretend to have a vocation for nursing? Like all the rest I felt I must do my part, and heaven knows it is better than sitting at home making bandages and watching my mother slowly starve. If I had rolled one more bandage I should have gone mad."

"Well, dear Heloise, as far as I am concerned, the time for women to battle for their rights is when their country is safe, not in mortal danger. Be sure that when this war is over-"

She fell silent. A little flame had leapt in her brain. She extinguished it hurriedly, but it burnt the fingers of her will, always enthroned and always on guard. As she stared at Heloise, lovely in her Red Cross uniform, a white torch against the dark horizon, her tragic eyes once more searching the heavens, it struggled for life again and again. She loved Heloise and she felt a sudden inclusive love of her sex, an overpowering desire to deliver it from the sadness and horror of war; a profounder emotion than anything it had inspired in those far off days of peace. After all, however serious she had believed herself to be, it had been a game, a career; for in times of peace one must invent the vital interests of life, and one's success or failure depends upon one's powers of creating and sustaining the delusion. Only two things in life were real, love and war.

Gisela, like many women of dominating intellect and personality, had exhausted her power of sex-love with her first unfortunate but prolonged passion, and although she had no hatred of men, and indeed liked many and craved their society, she gave her real sympathies and affections to her women friends. She had no intimates, and this, perhaps, was one secret of her power. A certain aloofness is essential in intellectual leadership. But if she had no talent for intimacy she had much for friendship, and the friends of her inner circle were all women, partly because there was no waste of time fending off love-making, partly because there were more interests in common, consequently a deeper bond. To-night she was filled with an irresistible pity and a longing to set them free. But her hands were tied. She dared not even go to Great Headquarters and protest against the terrible fate of the young girls of Lille. She would have accomplished no good and become an instant object of suspicion.

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