The older man smiled an answer, and the door closed. Then he sighed a little, and stretched out his hand again for the Bible.
The great central ward at No. 1 Base Hospital looked as gay as possible. In the centre a Guard’s band sat among palms and ferns, and an extemporised stage, draped with flags, was behind, with wings constructed of Japanese-figured material. Pretty well all round were the beds, although many of them had been moved up into a central position, and there was a space for chairs and forms. The green-room had to be outside the ward, and the performers, therefore, came and went in the public gaze. But it was not a critical public, and the men, with a plenitude of cigarettes, did not object to pauses. On the whole, they were extraordinarily quiet and passive. Modern science has made the battlefield a hell, but it has also made the base hospital something approaching a Paradise.
There were women in plenty. The staff had been augmented by visitors from most of the other hospitals in the town, and there was a fair sprinkling of W.A.A.C.’s, Y.M.C.A. workers, and so on, in addition. Jack Donovan and Peter were a little late, and arrived at the time an exceedingly popular subaltern was holding the stage amid roars of laughter. They stood outside one of the many glass doors and peered in.
Once inside, one had to make one’s way among beds and chairs, and the nature of things brought one into rather more than the usual share of late-comers’ scrutiny, but nothing could abash Donovan. He spotted at once a handsome woman in nurse’s indoor staff uniform, and made for her. She, with two others, was sitting on an empty bed, and she promptly made room for Donovan. Graham was introduced, and a quiet girl moved up a bit for him to sit down; but there was not much room, and the girl would not talk, so that he sat uncomfortably and looked about him, listening with one ear to the fire of chaff on his right. Donovan was irrepressible. His laugh and voice, and the fact that he was talking to a hospital personage, attracted a certain amount of attention. Peter tried to smile, but he felt out of it and observed. He stared up towards the band, which was just striking up again.
Suddenly he became conscious, as one will, that someone was particularly looking at him. He glanced back over the chairs, and met a pair of eyes, roguish, laughing, and unquestionably fixed upon him. The moment he saw them, their owner nodded and telegraphed an obvious invitation. Peter glanced at Donovan: he had not apparently seen. He looked back; the eyes called him again. He felt himself getting hot, for, despite the fact that he had a kind of feeling that he had seen those eyes before, he was perfectly certain he did not know the girl. Perhaps she had made a mistake. He turned resolutely to his companion.
“Jolly good band, isn’t it?” he said.