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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tin Soldier - BOOK TWO _ THROUGH THE CRACK - Chapter XXII. JEAN PLAYS PROXY
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The Tin Soldier - BOOK TWO _ THROUGH THE CRACK - Chapter XXII. JEAN PLAYS PROXY Post by :pro-marketers Category :Long Stories Author :Temple Bailey Date :April 2012 Read :1539

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The Tin Soldier - BOOK TWO _ THROUGH THE CRACK - Chapter XXII. JEAN PLAYS PROXY

BOOK TWO THROUGH THE CRACK - CHAPTER XXII. JEAN PLAYS PROXY

Christmas morning found the General conscious. He was restless until Jean was brought to him. He had a feeling that she had saved him from Hilda. He wanted her where he could see her. "Don't leave me," he begged.

She slipped away to eat her Christmas dinner with Derry and Emily and Margaret. It was an early dinner on account of the children. They ate in the big dining room, and after dinner there was a tree, with Ulrich Stoelle playing Father Christmas. It had come about quite naturally that he should be asked. It had been unthinkable that Derry could enter into the spirit of it, so Emily had ventured to suggest Ulrich. "He will make an ideal Santa Claus."

But it developed that he was not to be Santa Claus at all. He was to be Father Christmas, with a wreath of mistletoe instead of a red cap.

Teddy was intensely curious about the change. "But why isn't he Santa Claus?" he asked.

"Well, Santa Claus was--made in Germany."

"Oh!"

"But now he has joined the Allies and changed his name."

"Oh!"

"And he wears mistletoe, because mistletoe is the Christmas bush, and red caps don't really mean anything, do they?"

"No, but Mother--"

"Yes?"

"If Santa Claus has joined the Allies what will the little German children do?"

_What indeed_?

Jean had trimmed a little tree for the General, and the children carried it up to him carefully and sang a carol--having first arranged on his table, under the lamp, the purple camels, to create an atmosphere.

"'We three kings of Orient are,
Bearing gifts we traverse far
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star--'"

"Yonner 'tar," piped Margaret-Mary.

"Yon-der-er ste-yar," trailed Teddy's falsetto.

"'Oh, star of wonder, star of might,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to the perfect light--'"


Twenty-four hours ago Hilda's book had lain where the purple camels now played their little part in the great Christmas drama. In the soul of the stricken old man on the bed entered something of the peace of the holy season.

"Oh, 'tar of wonner--"

"Ste-yar of wonder-er--" chimed the little voices.

When the song was finished, Margaret-Mary made a little curtsey and Teddy made a manly bow, and then they took their purple camels and left the tree on the table with its one small candle burning.

The General laid his left hand over Jean's--his right was useless--and said to Derry: "Your mother's jewels are my Christmas gift to her. No matter what happens, I want her to have them."

The evening waned, and the General still held Jean's hand. Every bone in her body ached. Never before had she grown weary in the service of others. She told herself as she sat there that she had always been a sort of sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice sort of person. It was only fair that she should have her share of hardness.

The nurse begged her in a whisper to leave the General. "He won't know." But when Jean moved, that poor left hand tightened on hers and she shook her head.

Then Derry came and sat with his arm about her.

"My darling, you must rest."

She laid her head against her husband's shoulder, as he sat beside her. After a while she slept, and the nurse unlocked the clinging old fingers, and Derry carried his little wife to bed.

And so Christmas passed, and the other days, wonderful days in spite of the shadow which hung over the big house. For youth and love laugh at forebodings and they pushed as far back into their minds as possible, the thought of the thing which had to be faced.

But at last Derry faced it. "It is my self-respect, Jean."

They were sitting in her room with Muffin, wistful and devoted, on the rug at Jean's feet. The old dog, having been banished at first by Bronson, had viewed his master's wife with distrust. Gradually she had won him over, so that now, when she was not in the room, he hunted up a shoe or a glove, and sat with it until she came back.

"It is my self-respect, Jean-Joan."

She admitted that. "But--?"

"I can't stay out of the fighting and call myself a man. It has come to that with me."

She knew that it had come to that. She had thought a great deal about it. She lay awake at night thinking about it. She thought of it as she sat by the General's bed, day after day, holding his hand.

The doctor's report had been cautious, but it had amounted to this--the General might live to a green old age, some men rallied remarkably after such a shock. He rather thought the General might rally, but then again he might not, and anyhow he would be tied for months, perhaps for years, to his chair.

The old man was giving to his daughter-in-law an affection compounded of that which he had given to his wife and to his son. It was as if in coming up the stairs in her white gown on her wedding day, Jean had brought a bit of Edith back to him. For deep in his heart he knew that without her, Derry would not have come.

So he clung pathetically to that little hand, which seemed the only anchor in his sea of loneliness. Pathetically his old eyes begged her to stay. "You won't leave me, Jean?" And she would promise, and sit day after day and late into the night, holding his hand.

And as she sat with him, there grew up gradually within her a conviction which strengthened as the days went by. She could tell the very moment when she had first thought of it. She had left the General with Bronson while she went to dress for dinner. Derry was waiting for her, and usually she would have flown to him, glad of the moment when they might be together. But something halted her at the head of the stairs. It was as if a hand had been put in front of her, barring the way.

The painted lady was looking at her with smiling eyes, but back of the eyes she seemed to discern a wistful appeal--"I want you to stay. No matter what happens I beg that you will stay."

But Jean didn't want to stay. All the youth in her rebelled against the thing that she saw ahead of her. She yearned to be free--to live and love as she pleased, not a prisoner in that shadowed room.

So she pushed it away from her, and so there came one morning a letter from her father.

"Drusilla went over on the same boat. It was a surprising thing to find her there. Since I landed, I haven't seen her. But I met Captain Hewes in Paris, and he was looking for her.

"I had never known how fine she was until those days on the boat. It was wonderful on the nights when everything was darkened and we were feeling our way through the danger zone, to have her sing for us. I believe we should all have gone to the bottom singing with her if a submarine had sunk us.

"I am finding myself busier than I have ever been before, finding myself, indeed, facing the most stupendous thing in the world. It isn't the wounded men or the dead men or the heart-breaking aspect of the refugees that gets me, it is the sight of the devastated country--made barren and blackened into hell not by devils, but by those who have called themselves men. When I think of our own country, ready soon to bud and bloom with the spring, and of this country where spring will come and go, oh, many springs, before there will be bud and bloom, I am overwhelmed by the tragic contrast. How can we laugh over there when they are crying here? Perhaps more than anything else, the difference in conditions was brought home to me as I motored the other day through a country where there was absolutely no sign of life, not a tree or a bird--except those war birds, the aeroplanes, hovering above the horizon.

"Well, as we stopped our car for some slight repairs, there rose up from a deserted trench, a lean cat with a kitten in her mouth. Oh, such a starved old cat, Jean, gray and war-worn. And her kitten was little and blind, and when she had laid it at our feet, she went back and got another. Then she stood over them, mewing, her eyes big and hungry. But she was not afraid of us, or if she was afraid, she stood her ground, asking help for those helpless babies.

"Jean, I thought of Polly Ann. Of all the petted Polly Anns in America, and then of this starved old thing, and they seemed so typical. You are playing the glad game over there, and it is easy to play it with enough to eat and plenty to wear, and away from the horror of it all. But how could that old pussy-cat be glad, how could she be anything but frightened and hungry and begging my help?

"Well, we took her in. We had some food with us, and we gave her all she could eat, and then she curled up on a pile of bags in the bottom of the car, and lay there with her kittens, as happy as if we were not going lickety-split over the shell-torn spaces.

"And that your tender heart may be at rest, I may as well tell you that she and the kittens are living in great content in a country house where one of the officers who was in the car with us is installed. We have named her Dolores, but it is ceasing to be appropriate. She is no longer sad, and while she is on somewhat slim fare like the rest of us, she is a great hunter and catches mice in the barn, so that she is growing strong and smooth, and she is not, perhaps, to be pitied as much as Polly Ann on her pink cushion.

"And here I am writing about cats, while the only thing that is really in my heart is--You.

"Ever since the moment I left you, I have carried with me the vision of you in your wedding gown--my dear, my dear. Perhaps it is just as well that I left when I did, for I am most inordinately jealous of Derry, not only because he has you, but because he has love and life before him, while I, already, am looking back.

"My work here is, as you would say, 'wonderful.' How I should like to hear you say it! There are things which in all my years of practice, I have never met before. How could I meet them? It has taken this generation of doctors to wrestle with the problem of treating men tortured by gas, and with nerves shaken by sights and sounds without parallel in the history of the world.

"But I am not going to tell you of it. I would rather tell you how much I love you and miss you, and how glad I am that you are not here to see it all. Yet I would have all Americans think of those who are here, and I would have you help until it--hurts. You must know, my Jean, how moved I am by it, when I ask you, whom I have always shielded, to give help until it hurts--

"I have had a letter from Hilda. She wants to come over. I haven't answered the letter. But when I do, I shall tell her that there may be something that she can do, but it will not be with me. I need women who can see the pathos of such things as that starved cat and kittens out there among the shell-holes, and Hilda would never have seen it. She would have left the cat to starve."

Jean found herself crying over the letter. "I am not helping at all, Derry."

"My dear, you are."

"I am not. I am just sitting on a pink cushion, like Polly Ann---"

It was the first flash he had seen for days of her girlish petulance. He smiled. "That sounds like the Jean of yesterday."

"Did you like the Jean of yesterday better than the Jean of to-day?"

"There is only one Jean for me--yesterday, today and forever."

* * * * * *

She stood a little away from him. "Derry, I've been thinking and thinking--"

He put a finger under her chin and turned her face up to him. "What have you been thinking, Jean-Joan?"

"That you must go--and I will take care of your father."

"You?"

"Yes. Why not, Derry?"

"I won't have you sacrificed."

"But you want me to be brave."

"Yes. But not burdened. I won't have it, my dear."

"But--you promised your mother. I am sure she would be glad to let me keep your promise."

She was brave now. Braver than he knew.

"I can't see it," he said, fiercely. "I can see myself leaving you with Emily, in your own house--to live your own life. But not to sit in Dad's room, day after day, sacrificing your youth as I sacrificed my childhood and boyhood--my manhood--. I am over thirty, Jean, and I have always been treated like a boy. It isn't right, Jean; our lives are our own, not his."

"It is right. Nobody's life seems to be his own in these days. And you must go--and I can't leave him. He is so old, and helpless, Derry, like the poor pussy-cat over there in France. His eyes are like that--hungry, and they beg--. And oh, Derry, I mustn't be like Polly Ann, on a pink cushion--."

She tried to laugh and broke down. He caught her up in his arms. Light as thistledown, young and lovely!

She sobbed on his heart, but she held to her high resolve. He must go--and she would stay. And at last he gave in.

He had loved her dearly, but he had not looked for this, that she would give herself to hardness for the sake of another. For the first time he saw in his little wife something of the heroic quality which had seemed to set his mother apart and above, as it were, all other women.

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