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The Red Cross Barge By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 9804

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


There came a series of loud, excited rappings on the door. It burst open, and a little girl-a child to whom in the past, which now seemed ?ons away, she had been kind-stood breathless, smiling, 'Mamselle! Mamselle! Our soldiers are here! Come and see them. I ran away from mother to tell you! They said you were here.'

Jeanne Rouannès put a finger to her lips. She gave a swift look at the unconscious form stretched stiffly out on the narrow bed. If only she could get a surgeon now, at once-

Putting on her cap, she followed the child up the wooden steps leading to the deck of the barge, and even as she did so, she heard the steady, rhythmic sound of marching, broken across by confused, shrill cries of joy and welcome.

Her heart began to beat; she hastened across the sunlit deck of the barge, and ran swiftly down the narrow stone jetty, with the excited little girl clinging to her hand.

'Les voilà! Les voilà!'

And through a mist of tears Jeanne Rouannès gazed on a sight she will never forget.

They came swinging along, the familiar, active, red-trousered figures looking so slight, so short, so old-fashioned after the huge, splendidly-equipped Germans. But though war-worn, shabby as their predecessors had never been shabby even at their worst, these countrymen of hers wore their hot, short blue jackets, their wide poppy-coloured trousers with an air-that most inspiring air of all airs-the air of victory.

How ecstatically happy the sight would have made Jeanne Rouannès a month ago! Now, they simply seemed to her oppressed heart and brain a pageant which brought vague shadowy fears, and a need on her part for thought and action, for which she felt unfit, inadequate.

At last there rode up a regiment of Dragoons. Above their silver helmets-still silver, for these were the early days of war, and the French had not yet learnt the wise and cunning tricks of their enemies-black plumes nodded. Suddenly they were halted, and their commander turned his horse, and rode up under the trees to the spot where the Red Cross nurse was standing. He lifted his helmet off his head, and showed a young, brave, happy face.

'Madame?' he said courteously. 'Can you tell me when the Germans left Valoise? Have they had time to go far? Did they leave in order or in disorder? Is it true that the upper part of the town is in ruins?'

She answered his questions, and then put one of her own. 'Have you a Red Cross doctor here, M. le Capitaine?'

'Alas! no. The Red Cross attached to my brigade was sent for yesterday. There has been very fierce fighting, Madame-a series of great combats. But my troops are comparatively fresh-they still have to win their laurels.' He looked round, and lowered his voice. 'Have you any German wounded? I hope not. But though they run no real danger'-he had seen a look of-was it fear?-flash into her face-'our soldiers are terribly incensed, for we have come across awful things done by those brutes during the last few days.' His face contracted with reminiscent pain and horror. 'Such sights do not make one feel tender to even a wounded Boche.'

The Red Cross nurse gave him a long sad look. What beautiful, sincere, blue eyes she had-what a firm, finely drawn mouth! He wondered where her husband was fighting.

'I must tell you, mon capitaine, that there are, or perhaps I should say were, a number of dying Germans in the church. All that could be moved "they" took away. But down here, in the barge, I have a very special case--'

She moistened her lips and went desperately on, scarcely aware that he was listening to her with great respect and attention. 'The dying man on the barge is an Englishman, himself a surgeon of the Red Cross, who was wounded by a shell only yesterday. He was untiringly good to our wounded-to all the wounded. It is my great wish M. le Capitaine, that he should have a quiet death.'

'But certainly,' he said eagerly. 'What would not I do-what would we not all do-for any Englishman? I will put two of my own men to guard the approaches to your barge, Madame. As for the wounded in the church, I will at once go there myself, and see that everything is done for the poor devils.'

They bowed ceremoniously to one another, and 'mon capitaine' allowed himself the pleasure of gazing after the slight, graceful figure of the Red Cross nurse as long as it remained within his arc of vision. That was not long, for Jeanne Rouannès sped away swiftly-fearful of what she would find in the little cabin room. It seemed to her so long since she had left it, and she was nervously afraid lest he might have recovered consciousness, and missed her. 'I am coming,' she called out, breathlessly, in English, and then again as she came close to the door, 'I am here,' she said.

But the Herr Doktor went on staring sightlessly before him. He was busily talking, talking argumentatively, in hoarse, b

roken whispers to himself, and his fingers picked at the brown blanket.

Sinking down on her knees, she grasped his clammy hands in hers, and laid them to her cheek in a passion of desire to soothe, to comfort, to make easier the struggle she thought lay immediately before him.

Suddenly there floated in the sound of men's voices singing-a vast, magnificent roaring volume of sound-'Allons, enfants de la Patrie-ie-ie-ie ...'

There came a gleam across the dying man's face. 'Das ist sch?n' ('That is beautiful'), he whispered.

'... le jour de gloire est arrivé!'

The Herr Doktor murmured 'Das genügt mir!' ('That is enough!') and his head fell back, sinking deep into the soft pillow.

Jeanne Rouannès went on holding his dead hand for a few moments. Then she got up from her knees, and made the sign of the Cross on his damp forehead. As she did so, there burst on her ears the closing lines of the great battle hymn of freedom-

Liberté Liberté, chérie,

Combats avec tes defenseurs!

Sous nos drapeaux que la victoire

Accoure à tes males accents!

Que tes ennemis expirants

Voient ton triomphe et notre gloire!

and the terrible, inspiring refrain-

Aux armes, citoyens! formez vos bataillons

Marchons;-qu'un sang impur

Abreuve nos sillons!

* * *

PRINTED BY

SPOTTISWOODE AND CO. LTD., COLCHESTER

LONDON AND ETON

* * *

CONAN DOYLE'S NEW 'SHERLOCK HOLMES' STORY.

The Valley Of Fear.

By the Author of 'The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,' 'The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes,' 'The Lost World,' &c.

Punch.-'As rousing a sensation as the greediest of us could want. I can only praise the skill with which a most complete surprise is prepared.'

Pall Mall Gazette.-'My Dear Watson! All good "Sherlockians" will welcome Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's new story with enthusiasm ... it is all very thrilling and very fine reading.'

* * *

Journeys with Jerry the Jarvey.

By the Hon. ALEXIS ROCHE.

Scotsman.-'The stories are so good and the epigrams so quaint that one is loath to lay it down. A book that can call forth a hearty laugh on nearly every page.'

Field.-'The stories are really irresistible, and there is not a dull page in the whole book.'

* * *

Oliver.

By B. PAUL NEUMAN.

Author of 'The Greatness of Josiah Porlick,' 'Chignett Street,' &c.

Westminster Gazette.-'The first hundred pages contain as fine a piece of restrained realistic writing as our recent literature has put forth. We laid down this very individual book with a wholesome respect for Mr. Neuman's literary art.'

Punch.-'The thing is remarkably well done, a close and unsparing treatment of a subject by no means easy ... an original and successful story.'

* * *

Two Who Declined.

By HERBERT TREMAINE.

Evening Standard.-'A striking, even absorbing novel. Its author will certainly "count" before long.'

Pall Mall Gazette.-'A very clever story, and a work of great promise.'

* * *

Some Elderly People and their Young Friends.

By S. MACNAUGHTAN.

Author of 'The Fortune of Christina McNab,' 'A Lame Dog's Diary,' &c.

Globe.-'Miss Macnaughtan at her best. All her characters are charming. Her books are a sovereign remedy for depression and misanthropy.

Daily Telegraph.-'One of the most engaging stories that we have read for a goodly while-a story full of lively wit and mellow wisdom. Delightful is indeed the word which best sums up the whole book.'

* * *

In Brief Authority.

By F. Anstey,

Author of 'Vice Versa,' 'The Brass Bottle,' &c.

Punch.-'In these days a fairy fantasy by Mr. F. Anstey comes like a breath from the old happiness ... compelling our laughter with that delightful jumble of magic and modernity of which he owns the secret. "In Brief Authority" shows what I may call the Anstey formula as potent as ever. It is all excellent fooling.'

Athen?um.-'At any time this book would be welcome; it is doubly so to-day when a "short breathing-space from the battle" is a recurring necessity.'

* * *

'K.'

By Mary Roberts Rinehart,

Author of 'The After House,' 'The Street of Seven Stars,' &c.

Sunday Times.-'A book of whose unfailing charm, firmness of handling, and pervading atmosphere of understanding and sympathy, almost any living writer might be proud.'

Morning Post.-'One of those books that have all the elements of a sudden and overwhelming popularity. Let us recommend it with what authority we can.'

* * *

For this I had borne Him.

By G. F. Bradby,

Author of 'Dick: a Story without a Plot,' 'When every Tree was Green,' 'The Lanchester Tradition,' &c.

Punch.-'In my opinion the present Dick is not only entirely worthy of the earlier, but marks by far the highest level that Mr. Bradby has yet reached. It is not too much to think that this little book will live long as a witness to the spirit of England in her dark hour.'

* * *

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