Next day we saw the mother and the wife set out down the lane for the village post-office, and thereafter daily they went to await the arrival of letters, returning each day silent and hopeless. At last, in reply to inquiries which had been made at the War Office, there came the official statement that David had been reported “wounded and missing.” We learned that this usually meant that the man was dead, but the women did not know this.
And, curiously enough, David’s mother, who had been the most despairing of women, and seemed to regard David as dead even before he started, now discovered a genius for hopefulness. She had heard of a case from a neighbouring village of a man who had been reported dead, and who afterwards wrote from a prison camp in Germany, and she clung to this precedent with a confident tenacity that we did not try to weaken. It was foolish, of course, we said. She was pinning her faith to a case in a thousand; but the hope gave the women something to live for, and the wound would heal the better for the illusion.
And, after all, she was right. This morning we saw the postman call at the cottage. He handed a post card to the wife, and it was evident that something wonderful and radiant had happened. The women fell on each other “laughing happy.” No more going into the house to shut the door on the world. They came out to share the great tidings with their neighbours. “David is alive! David is a prisoner in Germany.... He’s wounded.... But he’s going on all right.... He can’t write yet.... But he will.”
Yes, there was the post card all right. The English was not very good and the script was German, but the fact that David was alive in hospital shone clear and indisputable.
“It’s as though he’s raised from the dead,” cried the wife through her tears.
The joy of the old mother was touched with solemnity. She is a great chapel-goer, and her utterance is naturally coloured by the Book with which she is most familiar.
“My son was dead, and is alive again,” she said simply; “he was lost and is found.”
When I went out into the orchard and saw the red-cheeked apples still clinging to the topmost branches I thought, “Perhaps David will be able to lend me a hand with those trees next autumn after all.”
In one of those charming articles which he writes in The New Statesman, Mr. J. Arthur Thomson tells of the wonderful world of odours to which we are largely strangers. No doubt in an earlier existence we relied much more upon our noses for our food, our safety, and all that concerned us, and had a highly developed faculty of smell which has become more or less atrophied.
Fee, fie, fo, fum,
I smell the blood of an Englishman,