“Lor’, blimey, Joe,” he said, “I’m blasted drunk, I am! Thought I was in old Wipers, I did, and see one of them blessed cru-crushifixes!”
The other, rather less away, pulled at his arm. “So yer did, ole pal,” he said. “It’s there now. This ’ere’s some Cartholic place or other. Come hon.”
“Strike me dead, so it is, Joe, large as life! Christ! oo’d ’ave thought it? A bloody cru-cru-chifix! Wat’s old England comin’ to, Joe?” And with drunken solemnity he began to make a sign of the cross, as he had seen it done in Belgium.
The other, in the half-light, plainly started. “Shut your bloody jaw, ’Enery,” he said, “It’s bad luck to swear near a cruchifix. I saw three chaps blotted out clean next second for it, back behind Lar Basay. Come on, will yer? We carn’t stay ’ere all the blasted night.”
“You are down on a chap, you are,” said the other. “Hi don’t mean no ’arm. ’E ought to know that, any’ow.” He got unsteadily to his feet. “’E died to save us, ’E did. I ’eard a Y.M.C.A. bloke say them very words, ’E died on the cru-cru-chifix to save us.”
“’Ere, cheese it, you fool! We’ll have somebody out next. Come away with yer. I’ve got some Bass in my place, if we git there.”
At this the other consented to come. Together they staggered out, not seeing Sir Robert, and went off down the street, “’Enery” talking as they went. The General stood and listened as the man’s voice died down.
“Good for yer, old pal. But ’E died to save us hall, ’E did. Made a bloomer of it, I reckon. Didn’t save us from the bloody trenches—not as I can see, any’ow. If that chap could ’ave told us ’ow to get saved from the blasted rats an’ bugs an’....”
Sir Robert pulled himself together and walked away sharply. By the cathedral the carven Christ hung on in the wan yellow light, very still.
Peter lay on a home-made bed between the blankets and contemplated the ceiling while he smoked his first cigarette. He had been a fortnight at Rouen, and he was beginning to feel an old soldier—that is to say, he was learning not to worry too much about outside things, and not to show he worried particularly about the interior. He was learning to stand around and smoke endless cigarettes; to stroll in to breakfast and out again, look over a paper, sniff the air, write a letter, read another paper, wander round the camp, talk a lot of rubbish and listen to more, and so do a morning’s work. Occasionally he took a service, but his real job was, as mess secretary, to despatch the man to town for the shopping and afterwards go and settle the bills. Just at present he was wondering sleepily whether to continue ordering fish from the big merchants, Biais Freres et Cie, or to go down to the market and choose it for himself. It was a very knotty problem, because solving it in the latter way meant getting up at once. And his batman had not yet brought his tea.