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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tin Soldier - BOOK THREE _ THE BUGLE CALLS - Chapter XXVIII. SIX DAYS
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The Tin Soldier - BOOK THREE _ THE BUGLE CALLS - Chapter XXVIII. SIX DAYS Post by :darryl11 Category :Long Stories Author :Temple Bailey Date :April 2012 Read :2665

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The Tin Soldier - BOOK THREE _ THE BUGLE CALLS - Chapter XXVIII. SIX DAYS

BOOK THREE THE BUGLE CALLS - CHAPTER XXVIII. SIX DAYS

Four days of Derry's furlough had passed, four palpitating days, and now the hours that the lovers spent together began to take on the poignant quality of coming separation. Every moment counted, nothing must be lost, nothing must be left unsaid, nothing must be left undone which should emphasize their oneness of thought and purpose.

They read together, they walked together, they rode together, they went to church together. If they included the General in their plans it was because they felt his need of them, not theirs of him. They lived in a world created to survive for ten days and then to collapse like a pricked bubble--

And it was because of the dread of collapse that Jean began to plan a structure of remembrance which should endure after Derry's departure.

"Darling," she said, "there are only six days--What shall we do with them?"

THE FIFTH DAY

It was Sunday, and in the morning they went dutifully to church. They ate their luncheon dutifully with the whole family, and motored dutifully afterwards with the General. Then at twilight they sought the Toy Shop.

They had it all to themselves, and they had told Bronson that they would not be home for dinner. So Jean made chocolate for Derry as she had made it on that first night for his father. They toasted war bread on the electric grill, and there were strawberries.

They were charmed with their housekeeping. "It would have been like this," Derry said--all eyes for her loveliness, "if you had been the girl in the Toy Shop and I had been the shabby boy--"

Jean pondered. "I wonder if a big house is ever really a home?"

"Not ours. Mother tried to make it--but it has always been a sort of museum with Dad's collections."

"Do you think that some day we could have a little house?"

"We can have whatever you want." His smile warmed her.

"Wouldn't you want it, Derry?"

"If you were in it."

"Let's talk about it, and plan it, and put dream furniture in it, and dream friends--"

"More Lovely Dreams?"

"Well, something like that--a House o' Dreams, Derry, without any gold dragons or marble balls or queer porcelain things; just our own bits of furniture and china, and a garden, and Muffin and Polly Ann--" Her eyes were wistful.

"You shall have it now if you wish."

"Not until you can share it with me--"

And that was the beginning of their fantastic pilgrimage. In the time that was left to them they were to find a house of dreams, and as Jean said, expansively, "all the rest."

"We will start tonight," Derry declared. "There's such a moon."

It was the kind of moon that whitened the world; one swam in a sea of light. Derry's runabout was a fairy car. Jean's hair was molten gold, her lover's pale silver--as with bare heads, having passed the city limits, they took the open road.

It was as warm as summer, and there were fragrances which seemed to wash over them in waves as they passed old gardens and old orchards. There was bridal-wreath billowing above stone fences, snow-balls, pale globes among the green, beds of iris, purple-black beneath the moon.

They forded a stream--more silver, and a silver road after that.

"Where are we going?" Jean breathed.

"I know a house--"

It was a little house set on top of a hill, where indeed no little house should be set, for little houses should nestle, protected by the slopes back of them. But this little house was set up there for the view--the Monument a spectral shaft, miles away, the Potomac broadening out beyond it, the old trees of the Park sleeping between. This was what the little house saw by night; it saw more than that by day.

It was not an empty house. One window was lighted, a square of gold in a lower room.

They did not know who lived in the house. They did not care. For the moment it was theirs. Leaving the car, they sat on the grass and surveyed their property.

"Of course it is ours," Jean said, "and when you are over there, you can think of it with the moon shining on it."

"I like the sloping roof," her lover took up the refrain, "and the big chimney and the wide windows."

"I can sit on the window seat and watch for you, Derry, and there will be smoke coming out of the chimney on cold days, and a fire roaring on the hearth when you open the door--"

They decided that there ought to be eight rooms--, and they named them. The Log-Fire Room; The Room of Little Feasts; the Place of Pots and Pans--

"That's the first floor," said Jean.

"Yes."

The upper floor was harder--The Royal Suite; The Friendly Boom, for the dream maid of all work; The Spare Chamber--

"My grandmother had a spare chamber," Jean explained, "and I always liked the sound of it, as if she kept her hospitality pressed down and running over--"

Derry, who had written it all by the light of the moon, held his pencil poised. "There is one more," he said, "the little room towards the West--"

Jean hesitated for the breadth of a second. "Well, we may need another," she said, and left it nameless.

The door opened and a man came out. If he saw them, they meant nothing to him--a pair of lovers by the wayside; there were many such.

He paced back and forth on the gravel walk. They could hear the crunch of it under his feet. They saw the shining tip of his cigar--smelt its fragrance--.

Again the door opened, to frame a woman. She called and her voice was young.

"Dearest, it is late. Are you coming in?"

His young voice answered. His far-flung cigar-end trailed across the darkness, his eager steps gave quick response--the door was shut--.

"Oh, Derry, I'd call you like that---"

"And I should come."

The light went out on the lower floor, and presently in a room above a window was illumined.

THE SIXTH DAY

A dream house must have dream furniture. There are old shops in Alexandria, where, less often than in earlier years, one may find treasures, bow-legged chairs and gate-legged tables, yellowed letters written by famous pens, steel engravings which have hung in historic halls, pewter and plate, Luster and Sevres, Wedgwood and Willow, Chippendale and Hepplewhite, Adams and Empire, everything linked with some distinguished name, everything with a story, real or invented. One may buy an ancestor for a song, or at least the portrait of one, and silver with armorial bearings, and no one will know if you do not tell them that your heirlooms have come from a shop.

And Alexandria, as all the world knows, is reached from Washington by motor and trolley, train or ferry.

It was by ferry that the lovers preferred to go in the glory of this May morning, feeling the breeze fresh in their faces as with a motley crowd they stood on the lower deck and looked towards the old town.

Thus they came to the wharves, flanked by ancient warehouses in a straggly row along the water line. The windows of these ancient edifices had looked down on Revolutionary heroes, the old brick walls had echoed to the sound of fife and drum--the old streets had once been thronged by men in blue and buff. Since those days the quaint little city had basked in the pride of her traditions. She had tolerated nothing modern until within this very year she had waked to find that her red-coat enemy was now her friend, that the roads which George Washington had travelled were being trod once more by marching men; that in the church where he had worshipped prayers were being said once more for men in battle.

And into the shops, with their storied antiques, drifted now men in olive-drab and men in blue, and men in forester's green, who laughed at the flint locks and powder horns, saluted the Father of his Country whenever they passed his picture, gazed with reverence on ancient swords and uniforms, dickered for such small articles as might be bought out of their limited allowances, and paid in the end, cheerfully, prices which would have been scorned by any discriminating buyer.

"There must be a table for the Log-Fire Room," Jean told her husband, "and a fire-bench, not too high, and a big chair for you, and another chair for me--"

"And a stool for your little feet--."

"And a desk for you, Derry."

"And an oval mirror with a gold frame, for me to see your face in, Jean-Joan--"

Then there was a four-poster bed with pineapples, and an Adams screen, an old brass-bound chest, the most adorable things in Sheffield and crystal, and to crown it all, a picture of George Washington--a print, faintly colored, with the country's coat of arms carved on the frame.

Yet not one thing did they buy except a quite sumptuous and splendid marriage coffer which suggested itself at once as the only wedding present for Emily.

The price took Jean's breath away. "But, dearest--"

"Nothing is too good for Emily, Jean-Joan."

* * * * * *

That night Derry drew a picture of the house in Jean's memory book.

"I'll put a garden in front--"

"How can you put in a garden, Derry, when there isn't one?"

She wore a lace robe and a lace cap, and there were pink ribbons threaded in, and her cheeks were pink. "You can't put in a garden until there is one, Derry. When we find it, it must be a lovesome garden, with the old-fashioned flowers, and a fountain with a cupid--and a fish-pond."

With this settled, he proceeded, with facile pen, to furnish the house. There was the Log-Fire Room, with the print of George Washington over the mantel, with Jean's knitting on the table; Muffin on one side of the fire, and Polly Ann on the other. He even started to put Jean in one of the big chairs, but she made him rub it out. "Not yet, Derry. You see, I am not living in it yet. I am living here, with you alive and loving--"

He caught her to him. "When you are away from me," she whispered, "I'll live in it--and you'll be there--and I shall never feel alone--"

Yet later, Derry coming in unexpectedly after a talk with his father, found her sobbing with her head on the fat old book.

"My darling--"

"It isn't that I am unhappy, Derry--. It is just for that one little minute, I wanted it to be real--"

THE SEVENTH DAY

It was on the morning of the seventh day that a letter came from Drusilla.

"_Dear Babes in the Wood_:

"I am writing this to tell you that the next time I see Captain Hewes, I am going to marry him. That sounds a little like a hold-up, doesn't it? But it is the way we are doing things over here. He has wanted it for so long, and I am beginning to know that I want it, too. It has been hard to tell just what was really best in the face of all that is happening. It has seemed sometimes as if it were a sacrilege to think of love and life in the midst of death and destruction.

"I shan't have any trousseau; I shan't have a wedding journey. He will just blow in some day, and the chaplain will marry us, and the little old cure of this village will give us his blessing.

"I never expected to be married like this. You know the kind of mind I have. I must always see the picture of myself doing things, and there had always been a sort of dream of some great church with a blur of gold light at the far end, and myself floating up the aisle in a cloud of white veil, and a hushed crowd and the organ playing.

"And it won't be a bit like that. I shall wear a uniform and a flannel shirt, and I'll be lucky if my boots are not splashed with mud. It will seem queer to be married with my boots on, as men died in old romances.

"Perhaps by the time this reaches you, Drusilla Gray will be Drusilla Hewes, and so I ask your blessing, and your prayers.

"I should never have asked for your prayers a year ago. I should have been thanking you for your wedding present of glass and silver, and asking you to dine with me on Tuesday or Thursday as the case might be. But now, the only thought that holds me is whether God will give my Captain back to me, and the hope that if not, I may have the strength to bear it--.

"I am sure that Derry will feel the sublimity of it all when he comes--death is so near, yet so little feared; the men know that tonight or tomorrow they may be beyond the shadows, and it holds them to something bigger than themselves.

"But be sure of this, my dears, that when Derry goes the seas will not part you--. Spirit touches spirit, space has nothing to do with it. Often when I am alone, the Captain comes to me, speaks to me, cheers me; I think if he should die in battle, he would still come.

"If ever I have a home of my own, I shall build an altar not to the Unknown God but to the God whom I had lost and have found again. I go into old churches here to pray, and it is no longer a matter of feeling, no longer a matter of form, it is something more than that.

"And now I can't ask you to dance at my wedding, but I can ask you to wish me happiness and a long life with my lover, or failing that, the strength to give him up--"

She signed herself, "Always loving you both, DRUSILLA."

"Such a dear letter," said Jean.

"And such a different Drusilla. Do you think that the Drusilla of the old days would have built an altar?"

And it was because of Drusilla's letter that Derry took Jean that afternoon to the great Library with the gold dome and guided her to a corridor made beautiful by the brush of an artist who had painted "The Occupations of the Day"; in one lunette a primitive man and woman knelt before a pile of stones on which burned a sacred flame. Above them was blue sky--flowers grew within reach of their hands--the fields stretched beyond.

"We must build an altar, dearest."

"In our hearts--"

"And in our House of Dreams--"

THE EIGHTH DAY

There was no getting out of the Witherspoon dinner, and it was when Ralph greeted Jean that he said to her, "You are lovelier than ever."

She smiled at him. "It is because my heart is singing--"

"Do you feel like that?"

She nodded. "In three days the song will cease--the lights will go out, and the curtain will fall--the end of the world will come."

"Drake goes in three days?"

"He goes back to camp. I don't expect to see him again before he sails."

"Lucky fellow."

"To go?"

"To have you."

"Please don't."

"Let me say this--that I acted like a cad; I'd like to feel that you've forgiven me."

"I have forgotten, which is better, isn't it?"

"How sweet you are--and all the sweetness is Derry's. Well, when I go over, will you pray for me, my dear?"

He was in dead earnest. "There are so few women--who pray--but I rather fancy that you must--"

All around them was surging talk. "How strange it seems," Jean said, "that we should be speaking of such things, here--"

"No," Ralph said, "it is not strange. I have a feeling that I shan't come back."

Alma Drew on the other side of him claimed his attention. "War is the great sensational opportunity. And there are people who like patriotism of the sound-the-trumpet-beat-the-drum variety--"

"You said that rather cleverly, Alma," Ralph told her, "but you mustn't forget that was the kind of patriotism our forefathers had, and it seemed rather effective."

"Men aren't machines," Jean said hotly. "They are flesh and blood, and so are women--a fife and drum or a bag-pipe means more to them than just crude music; the blood of their ancestors thrilled to the sound."

"As savages thrill to a tom-tom."

They stared at her.

"It is all savage," Alma said, crisply and coolly, "We are all murderers. We are teaching our men to run Germans through with bayonets, and trying to make ourselves think that they aren't breaking the sixth commandment. Yet in times of peace, when a man kills he goes to the electric chair--"

It was Derry who answered that. "If in times of peace I heard you scream and saw you set upon by thieves and murderers, and stood with my hands in my pockets while you were tortured and killed, would you call my non-interference laudable?"

"That's different."

"It is the same thing. The only difference lies in the fact that thousands of defenceless women and little children are calling. Would you have the nation stand with its hands in its pockets?"

Alma, cold as ice, challenged him: "Why should they call to us? We'll be sorry some day that we went into it."

Out of a dead silence, a man said: "Not long ago, I went into a sweet shop in England. A woman came in with two children. They were rosy children and round. They carried muffs.

"She bought candy for them--and when she gave it to them, I saw that they had--no hands--"

A gasp went round the table.

"They were Belgian children."

That night Jean said to Derry with a sternness which set strangely upon her, "We must have friends in our House of Dreams. The latchstrings will always be out for people like Emily and Marion, and Drusilla, and Ulrich and Ralph--"

"Yes--"

"But not for Hilda and Alma."

THE NINTH DAY

It was on the ninth day that Derry waked his wife at dawn. "I've ordered the car. It rained in the night, and now--oh, there was never such a morning; there may never be such a morning for us again."

"What time is it, Derry?"

"Sunrise time--come and see."

Her window faced the east, and she saw all the pearl of it, and the faint rose and the amethyst and gold.

"We shall eat our breakfast ten miles from town," Derry said, as their car carried him out into the country, "and there's a lovesome garden--"

"With old-fashioned flowers and a fountain and a Cupid?"

"With all that--and more--"

The garden belonged to an old woman. For years and years she had planted flowers---tulips and hyacinths and poppies and lilies and gladiolus and larkspur and phlox and ladyslipper--there had always been a riot of color.

She had an old gardener, and she would stand over him, leaning on her silver-topped ebony cane, with a lace scarf covering her hair, and would point out the places to plant things.

But now in her garden she had strawberries and Swiss chard and sweet herbs, and rows and rows of peas and young onions and potatoes, with a place left for corn at the back, and tomatoes in every spare space.

And there was lettuce, and an asparagus bed, and everything on this May morning was shouting to the sun.

"I had always thought," said the old lady to Derry, when he presented Jean, "that a vegetable garden was uninteresting. But it is a little world--with class distinctions of its own, if you please. All the really useful vegetables we call common; it is the ones we can do without which are the aristocrats. The potatoes and cabbages and onions are really important, but I am proudest of my young peas and my peppers and cucumbers and tomatoes, and that's the way of the world, isn't it? If there was only an aristocracy things would stop, but the common folk could go on alone until the end of time."

She gave Jean a blue bowl to pick strawberries in; and Derry dug asparagus--the creamy shoots were tipped with pale purple and pink, deepening into green where they had stood too long in the sun.

"Aren't there any flowers?" Jean was anxious.

"Come and see." The old woman went ahead of them, her cane tap-tapping on the stone flags.

She opened a gate which was flanked by brick walls. "These," she said, whimsically, "are my jewels."

(Illustration: "These are my jewels.")

All the sweetness which had once spread over her domain was concentrated here, fragrance and flame--roses, iris, peonies--honeysuckle--ruby and emerald, amethyst and gold; a Cupid riding a swan, with water pouring from his quiver into a shallow marble basin.

"I should not have dared keep this, if it had not been for the other--" the old woman told them. "I am very sure that in these days God walks in vegetable gardens--"

For breakfast they had strawberries and radishes, thin little corn cakes--and two fresh eggs from the chickens which most triumphantly occupied the conservatory.

"This is the only way I can do my bit," the old lady explained, "by helping with the world's food supply. My eyes are bad and I cannot sew, my fingers are twisted and I cannot knit, and Dennis is old--but we plan the garden and plant--"

And that night Jean said to Derry, "I am glad there were flowers to make it lovesome--and I am glad there were vegetables to make it right."

So he drew a waving field of corn back of the dream cottage, and tomatoes and peas to the right and left--with onions in a stiff row along the border, and potatoes storming the hillside. But the gate which led to the Lovesome Garden was open wide, so that one might see the Cupid as he rode his swan.

THE LAST DAY

It was on the tenth day that Derry said, "We have our house and the furniture for it, and we have built an altar, and found our friends, and we have planted a garden--what shall we do on the last day?"

And Jean said, rather unexpectedly, "We will go to the circus."

"To the circus?"

"Yes. And take the children--they are dying to go, and Margaret can't. It is up to you and me, Derry."

Even Nurse was to stay behind. "We'll have them all to ourselves."

Derry was dubious, a little hurt. "It seems rather queer, doesn't it, on our last day?"

"I--I think I should like it better than anything else, Derry."

And so they went.

It was warm with a hint of showers in the air, and both of the children were in white. Jean was also in white. They rode in the General's limousine to where the big tent with all its flags flying covered a vast space.

"Cousin Derry, Mother said I might have some peanuts."

"All right, old man."

"And Margaret-Mary mustn't. But there are some crackers in a bag."

It was all most entrancing, the gilded wagons, the restless beasts behind their bars, the spotted ponies, the swaying elephants, the bands playing, the crowds streaming--.

Teddy held tight to Jean's hand. Margaret-Mary was carried high on Derry's shoulder. All of her curls were bobbing, and her eyes were shining. Now and then she dropped a light kiss on the silver blond hair of her cavalier.

"Tousin Dee," she murmured, affectionately.

"She's an adorable kiddie," Derry told Jean as they found their seats.

"Cousin Derry," Teddy reminded him, "don't forget the peanuts."

And now the trumpets blared and the drums boomed, and the great parade writhed like a glittering serpent around the huge circle, then broke up into various groups as the performance began in the rings.

After that one needed all of one's eyes. Teddy sat spellbound for a while, but found time at last to draw a long breath. "Cousin Derry, that is the funniest clown--"

"The little one?"

"The big one; oh, well, the little one, too."

Silence again while the elephants did amazing things in one ring, with Japanese tumblers in another, with piebald ponies beyond, and things being done on trapezes everywhere.

Teddy slipped his hand into Derry's. "It's--it's almost like having Daddy," he confided. "I know he's glad I'm here."

Derry's big hand closed over the small one. "I'm glad, too, old chap."

Margaret-Mary having gazed her fill, slept comfortably in Jean's arms.

"Let me hold her," Derry said.

Jean shook her head. "I love to have her here."

She had taken off her hat, and as she bent above the child her hair made a halo of gold. In the midst of all the tawdriness she was a still and sacred figure--a Madonna with a child.

Teddy, when he reached home, told the General all about it.

"It was be-yeutiful--but Cousin Jean cwied---"

"Cried?"

"I saw a tear rwunning down her cheek, and it splashed on Margaret-Mary's nose--"

And that night Derry said, "My darling, what shall I draw in our book?"

"The thing that you want most to remember, Derry."

So he drew her all in white, bending over a child of dreams.

* * * * * *

The next morning, she told him "Good-bye." They had come along to the Toy Shop for their farewell, so that there was only the old white elephant to see her tears, and the Lovely Dreams to be sorry for her.

Yet her head was held high at the very last, and she was not sorry for herself. "I am glad and proud to have you go, dearest. I am glad and proud--"

And after he had gone, she worked until lunch time on the bandages and wipes, and rode with the General in the afternoon, with her hand in his, knowing that it comforted him.

But very late that night, when every one else is the big house was fast asleep, she crept out into the hall in her lace robe and lace cap and pink slippers and stood beneath the picture of the painted lady. "He will come back," she said. "He must come back--and--oh, oh, Derry's mother in Heaven--you must tell me how to live--without him--."

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