He stopped. He said, “Give me your handkerchief to keep, Nona. Something of your own to keep. There will be strength in it for me—to help me hold on to the rest—to believe it—’If Winter comes—Can Spring be far behind?’”
She touched her handkerchief to her lips and gave it to him.
After October, especially, he spent never less than two evenings a week with old Mrs. Perch. In October Young Perch went to France and on his draft-leave took from Sabre the easy promise to “keep an eye on my mother.” Military training, which to most gave robustness, gave to Young Perch, Sabre thought, a striking enhancement of the fine-drawn expression that always had been his. About his eyes and forehead Sabre apprehended something suggestive of the mystic, spiritually-occupied look that paintings of the Huguenots and the old Crusaders had; and looking at him when he came to say good-by, and while he spoke solely and only of his mother, Sabre remembered that long-ago thought of Young Perch’s aspect,—of his spirit being alighted in his body as a bird on a twig, not engrossed in his body; a thing death would need no more than to pluck off between finger and thumb.
But unthinkable, that. Not Young Perch....
Old Mrs. Perch was very broken and very querulous. She blamed Sabre and she blamed Effie that Freddie had gone to the war. She said they had leagued with him to send him off. “Freddie I could have managed,” she used to say; “but you I cannot manage, Mr. Sabre; and as for Effie, you might think I was a child and she was mistress the way she treats me.”
Bright Effie used to laugh and say, “Now, you know, Mrs. Perch, you will insist on coming and tucking me up at night. Now does that look as if she’s the child, Mr. Sabre?”
Mrs. Perch in her dogged way, “If Mr. Sabre doesn’t know that you only permit me to tuck you up one night because I permit you to tuck me up the next night, the sooner he does know how I’m treated in my own establishment the better for me.”
Thus the initial cause of querulousness would bump off into something else; and in an astonishing short number of moves Bright Effie would lead Mrs. Perch to some happy subject and the querulousness would give place to little rays of animation; and presently Mrs. Perch would doze comfortably in her chair while Sabre talked to Effie in whispers; and when she woke Sabre would be ready with some reminiscence of Freddie carefully chosen and carefully carried along to keep it hedged with smiles. But all the roads where Freddie was to be found were sunken roads, the smiling hedges very low about them, the ditches overcharged with water, and tears soon would come.
She used to doze and murmur to herself, “My boy’s gone to fight for his country. I’m very proud of my boy gone to fight for his country.”
Effie said Young Perch had taught her that before he went away.