Before Claude was out of bed after his first long sleep, a runner arrived from Colonel Scott, notifying him that he was in charge of the Company until further orders. The German prisoners had buried their own dead and dug graves for the Americans before they were sent off to the rear. Claude and David were billeted at the edge of the town, with the woman who had given Captain Maxey his first information, when they marched in yesterday morning. Their hostess told them, at their mid-day breakfast, that the old dame who was shot in the square, and the little girl, were to be buried this afternoon. Claude decided that the Americans might as well have their funeral at the same time. He thought he would ask the priest to say a prayer at the graves, and he and David set off through the brilliant, rustling autumn sunshine to find the Cure's house. It was next the church, with a high-walled garden behind it. Over the bell-pull in the outer wall was a card on which was written, "Tirez fort."
The priest himself came out to them, an old man who seemed weak like his doorbell. He stood in his black cap, holding his hands against his breast to keep them from shaking, and looked very old indeed,--broken, hopeless, as if he were sick of this world and done with it. Nowhere in France had Claude seen a face so sad as his. Yes, he would say a prayer. It was better to have Christian burial, and they were far from home, poor fellows! David asked him whether the German rule had been very oppressive, but the old man did not answer clearly, and his hands began to shake so uncontrollably over his cassock that they went away to spare him embarrassment.
"He seems a little gone in the head, don't you think?" Claude remarked.
"I suppose the war has used him up. How can he celebrate mass when his hands quiver so?" As they crossed the church steps, David touched Claude's arm and pointed into the square. "Look, every doughboy has a girl already! Some of them have trotted out fatigue caps! I supposed they'd thrown them all away!"
Those who had no caps stood with their helmets under their arms, in attitudes of exaggerated gallantry, talking to the women,--who seemed all to have errands abroad. Some of them let the boys carry their baskets. One soldier was giving a delighted little girl a ride on his back.
After the funeral every man in the Company found some sympathetic woman to talk to about his fallen comrades. All the garden flowers and bead wreaths in Beaufort had been carried out and put on the American graves. When the squad fired over them and the bugle sounded, the girls and their mothers wept. Poor Willy Katz, for instance, could never have had such a funeral in South Omaha.
The next night the soldiers began teaching the girls to dance the "Pas Seul" and the "Fausse Trot." They had found an old violin in the town; and Oscar, the Swede, scraped away on it. They danced every evening. Claude saw that a good deal was going on, and he lectured his men at parade. But he realized that he might as well scold at the sparrows. Here was a village with several hundred women, and only the grandmothers had husbands. All the men were in the army; hadn't even been home on leave since the Germans first took the place. The girls had been shut up for four years with young men who incessantly coveted them, and whom they must constantly outwit. The situation had been intolerable--and prolonged. The Americans found themselves in the position of Adam in the garden.
"Did you know, sir," said Bert Fuller breathlessly as he overtook Claude in the street after parade, "that these lovely girls had to go out in the fields and work, raising things for those dirty pigs to eat? Yes, sir, had to work in the fields, under German sentinels; marched out in the morning and back at night like convicts! It's sure up to us to give them a good time now."