M. Joubert must have been ten years older than his wife. There was a great contentment in his manner and a pleasant sparkle in his eye. He liked the young officers. Gerhardt had been there more than two weeks, and somewhat relieved the stillness that had settled over the house since the second son died in hospital. The Jouberts had dropped out of things. They had done all they could do, given all they had, and now they had nothing to look forward to,--except the event to which all France looked forward. The father was talking to Gerhardt about the great sea-port the Americans were making of Bordeaux; he said he meant to go there after the war, to see it all for himself.
Madame Joubert was pleased to hear that they had been walking in the wood. And was the heather in bloom? She wished they had brought her some. Next time they went, perhaps. She used to walk there often. Her eyes seemed to come nearer to them, Claude thought, when she spoke of it, and she evidently cared a great deal more about what was blooming in the wood than about what the Americans were doing on the Garonne. He wished he could talk to her as Gerhardt did. He admired the way she roused herself and tried to interest them, speaking her difficult language with such spirit and precision. It was a language that couldn't be mumbled; that had to be spoken with energy and fire, or not spoken at all. Merely speaking that exacting tongue would help to rally a broken spirit, he thought.
The little maid who served them moved about noiselessly. Her dull eyes never seemed to look; yet she saw when it was time to bring the heavy soup tureen, and when it was time to take it away. Madame Joubert lad found that Claude liked his potatoes with his meat--when there was meat--and not in a course by themselves. She had each time to tell the little girl to go and fetch them. This the child did with manifest reluctance,--sullenly, as if she were being forced to do something wrong. She was a very strange little creature, altogether. As the two soldiers left the table and started for the camp, Claude reached down into the tool house and took up one of the kittens, holding it out in the light to see it blink its eyes. The little girl, just coming out of the kitchen, uttered a shrill scream, a really terrible scream, and squatted down, covering her face with her hands. Madame Joubert came out to chide her.
"What is the matter with that child?" Claude asked as they hurried out of the gate. "Do you suppose she was hurt, or abused in some way?"
"Terrorized. She often screams like that at night. Haven't you heard her? They have to go and wake her, to stop it. She doesn't speak any French; only Walloon. And she can't or won't learn, so they can't tell what goes on in her poor little head."
In the two weeks of intensive training that followed, Claude marvelled at Gerhardt's spirit and endurance. The muscular strain of mimic trench operations was more of a tax on him than on any of the other officers. He was as tall as Claude, but he weighed only a hundred and forty-six pounds, and he had not been roughly bred like most of the others. When his fellow officers learned that he was a violinist by profession, that he could have had a soft job as interpreter or as an organizer of camp entertainments, they no longer resented his reserve or his occasional superciliousness. They respected a man who could have wriggled out and didn't.
On the march at last; through a brilliant August day Colonel Scott's battalion was streaming along one of the dusty, well-worn roads east of the Somme, their railway base well behind them. The way led through rolling country; fields, hills, woods, little villages shattered but still habitable, where the people came out to watch the soldiers go by.
The Americans went through every village m march step, colours flying, the band playing, "to show that the morale was high," as the officers said. Claude trudged on the outside of the column,--now at the front of his company, now at the rear,--wearing a stoical countenance, afraid of betraying his satisfaction in the men, the weather, the country.