She, too, had been reconnoitering. She had discovered the empty farmhouse and was trying to get her party there for the night. How did they come here? Oh, they were refugees. They had been staying with people thirty kilometers from here. They were trying to get back to their own village. Her mother was very sick, presque morte and she wanted to go home to die. They had heard people were still living there; an old aunt was living in their own cellar,--and so could they if they once got there. The point was, and she made it over and over, that her mother wished to die chez elle, comprenez-vous? They had no papers, and the French soldiers would never let them pass, but now that the Americans were here they hoped to get through; the Americans were said to be toujours gentils.
While she talked in her shrill, clicking voice, the baby began to howl, dissatisfied with its nourishment. The little girl shrugged. ''Il est toujours en colere," she muttered. The woman turned it around with difficulty--it seemed a big, heavy baby, but white and sickly--and gave it the other breast. It began sucking her noisily, rooting and sputtering as if it were famished. It was too painful, it was almost indecent, to see this exhausted woman trying to feed her baby. Claude beckoned his men away to one side, and taking the little girl by the hand drew her after them.
"Il faut que votre mere--se reposer," he told her, with the grave caesural pause which he always made in the middle of a French sentence. She understood him. No distortion of her native tongue surprised or perplexed her. She was accustomed to being addressed in all persons, numbers, genders, tenses; by Germans, English, Americans. She only listened to hear whether the voice was kind, and with men in this uniform it usually was kind.
Had they anything to eat? "Vous avez quelque chose a manger? "
Wasn't her mother "trop malade a marcher? "
She shrugged; Monsieur could see for himself.
He was dead; "mort à la Marne, en quatorze".
"At the Marne?" Claude repeated, glancing in perplexity at the nursing baby. Her sharp eyes followed his, and she instantly divined his doubt. "The baby?" she said quickly. "Oh, the baby is not my brother, he is a Boche."