“To the big room—the Louis-Quinze,” said one of the girls, excitedly, as the men came to my help.
The fat butler went puffing upstairs, and they followed, on each side of me.
“Go for a doctor, quick,” said one of them to the gardener, who was coming behind—a Frenchman who prayed to a saint as he saw my blood.
They led me across a great green rug in a large hall above-stairs to a chamber of which I saw little then save its size and the wealth of its appointments. The young ladies set me down, bidding one to take off my boots, and sending another for hot water. They asked me where I was hurt. Then they took off my blouse and waistcoat.
“Mon Dieu!” said one to the other. “What can we do? Shall we cut the shirt?”
“Certainly. Cut the shirt,” said the other. “We must help him. We cannot let him die.”
“God forbid!” was the answer. “See the blood. Poor fellow! It is terrible!”
They spoke very tenderly as they cut my shirt with scissors, and bared my back, and washed my wound with warm water. I never felt a touch so caressing as that of their light fingers, but, gods of war! it did hurt me. The bathing done, they bound me big with bandages and left the room until the butler had helped me into bed. They came soon with spirits and bathed my face and hands. One leaned over me, whispering, and asking what I would like to eat. Directly a team of horses came prancing to the door.
“The colonel!” one of them whispered, listening.
“The colonel, upon my soul!” said the other, that sprightly Louison, as she tiptoed to the window. They used to call her “Tiptoes” at the Hermitage.
The colonel! I remembered she was none other than the Baroness de Ferre; and thinking of her and of the grateful feeling of the sheets of soft linen, I fell asleep.
The doctor came that night, and took out of my back a piece of flattened lead. It had gone under the flesh, quite half round my body, next to the ribs, without doing worse than to rake the bone here and there and weaken me with a loss of blood. I woke awhile before he came. The baroness and the fat butler were sitting beside me. She was a big, stout woman of some forty years, with dark hair and gray eyes, and teeth of remarkable whiteness and symmetry. That evening, I remember, she was in full dress.
“My poor boy!” said she, in English and in a sympathetic tone, as she bent over me.
Indeed, my own mother could not have been kinder than that good woman. She was one that had a heart and a hand for the sick-room. I told her how I had been hurt and of my ride. She heard me through with a glow in her eyes.
“What a story!” said she. “What a daredevil! I do not see how it has been possible for you to live.”
She spoke to me always in English of quaint wording and quainter accent. She seemed not to know that I could speak French.