The Aspirant came in with the second detachment the night before last—the eighth. The regiment was in and all quartered before he appeared.
We had begun to fear something had happened to him, when he turned up, freshly shaved and clean, but with a tattered overcoat on his arm, and a battered helmet in his hand.
Amelie greeted him with: “Well, young man, we thought you were lost!”
He laughed, as he explained that he had been to make a toilet, see the regimental tailor, and order a new topcoat.
“I would not, for anything in the world, have had madame see me in the state I was in an hour ago. She has to see my rags, but I spared her the dirt,” and he held up the coat to show its rudely sewed-up rents, and turned over his helmet to show the hole in the top.
“And here is what hit me,” and he took out of his pocket a rough piece of a shell, and held it up, as if it were very precious. Indeed, he had it wrapped in a clean envelope, all ready to take up to Paris and show his mother, as he is to have his leave of a week while he is here.
I felt like saying “Don’t,” but I didn’t. I suppose it is hard for an ambitious soldier of twenty to realize that the mother of an only son, and that son such a boy as this, must have some feeling besides pride in her heart as she looks at him.
So now we are settled again, and used to the trotting of horses, the banging of grenades and splitting of mitrailleuses. From the window as I write—I am up in the attic, which Amelie calls the “atelier,” because it is in the top of the house and has a tiny north light in the roof—that being the only place where I am sure of being undisturbed— I can see horses being trained in the wide field on the side of the hill between here and Quincy. They are manoeuvring with all sorts of noises about them—even racing in a circle while grenades and guns are fired.
In spite of all that, there came near being a lovely accident right in front of the gate half an hour ago.
The threshing-machine is at work in front of the old grange on the other side of the road, just above my house. The men had come back from breakfast, and were starting the machine up just as two mounted soldiers, each leading two horses, rode out of the grange at Amelie’s, and started down the hill at a trot. The very moment the horses were turning out to pass the machine,—and the space was barely sufficient between the machine and the bank—a heedless man blew three awful blasts on his steam whistle to call his aids. The cavalry horses were used to guns, and the shrill mouth whistles of the officers, but that did not make them immune to a steam siren, and in a moment there was the most dangerous mix-up I ever saw. I expected to see both riders killed, and I don’t know now why they were not, but neither man was thrown, even in spite of having three frightened horses to master.
It was a stupid thing for the man on the machine to do. He would have only had to wait one minute and the horses would have been by with a clear road before them if they shied. But he “didn’t think.” The odd thing was that the soldiers did not say an ugly word. I suppose they are used to worse.