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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Red Cross Barge By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 6253

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


At twelve o'clock the Herr Doktor walked up to the Tournebride. He had thought it possible that he might meet Mademoiselle Rouannès in the town-but it was in vain that he lingered on the way, and glanced up each steep byway, and quiet, shady street.

While he was eating an excellent déjeuner at a table spread under the trees in the courtyard of the inn, he cleverly led Madame Blanc on to the subject of Dr. Rouannès. She, too, seemed quite another woman now that the Tournebride was her own again. To-day she was eager for a gossip.

Yes, 'ce bon docteur' was certainly seriously ill. He had looked so well, so vigorous, when he had started, a month ago, for the Frontier. It was there that a shell had exploded in the room where he was actually performing a small operation on a man wounded during the dash into Alsace. As he had been struck in the left leg, it was impossible for him to go on with his work, and he had managed to get home. At first it had been said that he would soon be all right again. But now it was rumoured that he was dying! If that were indeed true, Dr. Rouannès would be a great loss to Valoise, for he was an excellent doctor, much beloved in the town. His daughter was thought rather proud-very good to 'les pauvres,' but unwilling to frequent the more well-to-do townsfolk. This, no doubt, because her mother was 'une noble.' Madame Blanc smiled as she did not often smile now, as she recalled the marriage of Dr. Rouannès. He had refused such excellent 'occasions'-such rich marriages when he was young and good-looking! Then, when he was forty-six years of age, and a confirmed bachelor, he had suddenly married Mademoiselle Jeanne de Blignière, the younger of the two daughters of the Count de Blignière, a poor, proud old gentleman whom he, the doctor, had attended, out of charity no doubt. Curious to relate, this 'mariage étrange' had been a very happy one, and this though Madame Rouannès was very, very quiet, gentle, and pious too, in fact rather like 'une bonne S?ur.' She had been ill two years, and Dr. Rouannès had brought many physicians from Paris to see her. It was said that the chemist's bill alone had been a thousand francs! But the poor lady had died all the same, and she, Madame Blanc, would never forget Monsieur le Médecin's tragic, stricken face at the funeral.

It had been thought that he would surely marry again. But no, he had not done so. At first Madame Rouannès' sister had come to take care of the motherless little girl, but Mademoiselle de Blignière had never liked her brother-in-law, so she soon went back to Paris. Then for some time Mademoiselle Jeanne had had 'une anglaise.' It was only last winter, while visiting her aunt in Paris, that she had learnt the Red Cross work.

At last the Herr Doktor finished his delicious déjeuner under the yellowing chestnut trees in the great courtyard which now looked so peaceful and so solitary, and he wondered, a little ashamed of the materialism of the unspoken question, if Mademoiselle Rouannès knew anything of the practical side of French cookery. And after he had had his cup of coffee and smok

ed his pipe, he took his diary out of his pocket. He had not opened the book for nearly a week.

Quickly he turned over the blank pages-and then a sudden wave of emotion swept over him. To-day was the 2nd of September-Sedan Day! And he had not remembered it! He thought of last year's Sedan Day, spent with some dear old friends of his childhood, and his heart became irradiated with a peculiar, tender radiance. Beautiful, culture-filled Weimar! How he longed to show his dear homeland to his 'Geliebte'! Then a less noble feeling, one of fierce exultation filled him. He visioned the great hosts of the Fatherland, his brothers all, pressing forward through this splendid, opulent land of France. Those great hosts must now be close to the gates of Paris-nay, they were perchance in Paris already, celebrating the great anniversary while preparing to play the r?le of magnanimous conquerors....

Only yesterday had come news of wonderful doings-and he had scarcely cared to hear them! Tidings of the invading army brought by two officers in charge of an armoured motor-car. Tidings of victory of course; and of one especial victory which they had felt peculiarly pleasant and ermutigend, the defeat and complete encirclement, that is, of the small British Expeditionary Force. The English, so had run the tale, still turned now and again and fought, not without courage, small rearguard actions, but they were not causing any real trouble. Already Compiègne was evacuated, and Chantilly was ready for the Kaiser's occupation. It was from the magnificent home of 'Le Grand Condé' that the War Lord intended to start for the entry of his victorious army through the Arc de Triomphe, into Paris.

Of course the Herr Doktor had been quite pleased to hear all this glorious news, but though he realised how inspiriting it was to know that within a day and a half's march of Valoise pressed on the relentless march on Paris, he had not really cared. Valoise had suddenly become to him the one place in the world which mattered. The only place where he wished to be-to stay....

He knew that the city of Paris, as apart from the rest of France, was to pay a huge indemnity. Until that indemnity was paid, there was to be an army of occupation, not only in the city, but in the surrounding country. Of this army he, as a non-combatant, could easily obtain permission to form part....

And then as he walked restlessly up and down the courtyard, there suddenly rose on the still, warm air a long-drawn distant roar of sound.

Thunder? The Herr Doktor shook his head, and his heart began to beat a little quicker. He knew what that sound portended, and he also remembered enough to know that the action proceeding must be a long, long way off.

Madame Blanc came out of her kitchen. 'On commence à se battre là-bas.' There was an undertone of hope, of fierce joy-even of boastfulness-in her voice.

He bent his head gravely. The expression on her face irritated him. Till to-day he had thought her an excellent, homely woman. He could no longer think her so, for there was an awful look of vengeful longing in her eyes.

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