“Yes, thanks,” said Peter—“a damned sight better! Poor old Jenks! What blasted luck that he should have got it!... Langton, I wish to God it had been me!”
“And the Lord turned and looked upon Peter.”
ST. LUKE’S GOSPEL.
The charm of the little towns of Northern France is very difficult to imprison on paper. It is not exactly that they are old, although there is scarcely one which has not a church or a chateau or a quaint medieval street worth coming far to see; nor that they are particularly picturesque, for the ground is fairly flat, and they are all but always set among the fields, since it is by agriculture far more than by manufacture that they live. But they are clean and cheerful; one thinks of them under the sun; and they are very homely. In them the folk smile simply at you, but not inquisitively as in England, for each bustles gaily about his own affairs, and will let you do what you please, with a shrug of the shoulders. Abbeville is very typical of all this. It has its church, and from the bridge over the Somme the backs of ancient houses can be seen leaning half over the river, which has sung beneath them for five hundred years; and it is set in the midst of memories of stirring days. Yet it is not for these that one would revisit the little town, but rather that one might walk by the still canal under the high trees in spring, or loiter in the market-place round what the Hun has left of the statue of the famous Admiral with his attendant nymphs, or wander down the winding streets that skirt the ancient church and give glimpses of its unfinished tower.
Peter found it very good to be there in the days that followed the death of Jenks. True, it was now nearer to the seat of war than it had been for years, and air-raids began to be common, but in a sense the sound of the guns fitted in with his mood. So great a battle was being fought within him that the world could not in any case have seemed wholly at peace, and yet in the quiet fields, or sauntering of an afternoon by the river, he found it easier than at Havre to think. Langton was almost his sole companion, and a considerable intimacy had grown up between them. Peter found that his friend seemed to understand a great deal of his thoughts without explanation. He neither condoled nor exhorted; rather he watched with an almost shy interest the other’s inward battle.
They lodged at the Hotel de l’Angleterre, that hostelry in the street that leads up and out of the town towards Saint Riquier, which you enter from a courtyard that opens on the road and has rooms that you reach by means of narrow, rickety flights of stairs and balconies overhanging the court. The big dining-room wore an air of gloomy festivity. Its chandeliers swathed in brown paper, its faded paint, and its covered upholstery, suggested that it awaited a day yet to be when it should blossom forth once more in glory as in the days of old. Till then it was as merry as it could be. Its little tables filled up of an evening with the new cosmopolitan population of the town, and old Jacques bustled round with the good wine, and dropped no hint that the choice brands were nearly at an end in the cellar.