As he climbed toward the top of the hill he noticed that the ground had been cleaned up a bit. The path was clear, the bricks and hewn stones had been piled in neat heaps, the broken hedges had been trimmed and the dead parts cut away. Emerging at last into the garden, he stood still for wonder; even though it was in ruins, it seemed so beautiful after the disorder of the world below.
The gravel walks were clean and shining. A wall of very old boxwoods stood green against a row of dead Lombardy poplars. Along the shattered side of the main building, a pear tree, trained on wires like a vine, still flourished,--full of little red pears. Around the stone well was a shaven grass plot, and everywhere there were little trees and shrubs, which had been too low for the shells to hit,--or for the fire, which had seared the poplars, to catch. The hill must have been wrapped in flames at one time, and all the tall trees had been burned.
The barrack was built against the walls of the cloister,--three arches of which remained, like a stone wing to the shed of planks. On a ladder stood a one-armed young man, driving nails very skillfully with his single hand. He seemed to be making a frame projection from the sloping roof, to support an awning. He carried his nails in his mouth. When he wanted one, he hung his hammer to the belt of his trousers, took a nail from between his teeth, stuck it into the wood, and then deftly rapped it on the head. Claude watched him for a moment, then went to the foot of the ladder and held out his two hands. "Laissez-moi," he exclaimed.
The one aloft spat his nails out into his palm, looked down, and laughed. He was about Claude's age, with very yellow hair and moustache and blue eyes. A charming looking fellow.
"Willingly," he said. "This is no great affair, but I do it to amuse myself, and it will be pleasant for the ladies." He descended and gave his hammer to the visitor. Claude set to work on the frame, while the other went under the stone arches and brought back a roll of canvas,--part of an old tent, by the look of it.
"Un heritage des Boches," he explained unrolling it upon the grass. "I found it among their filth in the cellar, and had the idea to make a pavilion for the ladies, as our trees are destroyed." He stood up suddenly. "Perhaps you have come to see the ladies?"
Very well, the boy said, they would get the pavilion done for a surprise for Mlle. Olive when she returned. She was down in the town now, visiting the sick people. He bent over his canvas again, measuring and cutting with a pair of garden shears, moving round the green plot on his knees, and all the time singing. Claude wished he could understand the words of his song.
While they were working together, tying the cloth up to the frame, Claude, from his elevation, saw a tall girl coming slowly up the path by which he had ascended. She paused at the top, by the boxwood hedge, as if she were very tired, and stood looking at them. Presently she approached the ladder and said in slow, careful English, "Good morning. Louis has found help, I see."