Then, quite suddenly, the Germans got the range. The tree in which Chet was hidden came down with a crash, and Chet lay there, more than ever indiscernible among its tender foliage.
Which brings us back to the English garden, the yellow chicken, Miss Kate, and the letter.
His shattered leg was mended by one of those miracles of modern war surgery, though he never again would dig his spurred heels into the pine of a G.L. & P. Company pole. But the other thing—they put it down under the broad general head of shell shock. In the lovely English garden they set him to weaving and painting, as a means of soothing the shattered nerves. He had made everything from pottery jars to bead chains; from baskets to rugs. Slowly the tortured nerves healed. But the doctors, when they stopped at Chet’s cot or chair, talked always of “the memory centre.” Chet seemed satisfied to go on placidly painting toys or weaving chains with his great, square-tipped fingers—the fingers that had wielded the pliers so cleverly in his pole-climbing days.
“It’s just something that only luck or an accident can mend,” said the nerve specialist. “Time may do it—but I doubt it. Sometimes just a word—the right word—will set the thing in motion again. Does he get any letters?”
“His girl writes to him. Fine letters. But she doesn’t know yet about—about this. I’ve written his letters for him. She knows now that his leg is healed and she wonders—”
That had been a month ago. To-day Miss Kate slit the envelope postmarked Chicago. Chet was fingering the yellow wooden chicken, pride in his eyes. In Miss Kate’s eyes there was a troubled, baffled look as she began to read:
Chet, dear, it’s raining in Chicago. And you know when it rains in Chicago, it’s wetter, and muddier, and rainier than any place in the world. Except maybe this Flanders we’re reading so much about. They say for rain and mud that place takes the prize.
I don’t know what I’m going on about rain and mud for, Chet darling, when it’s you I’m thinking of. Nothing else and nobody else. Chet, I got a funny feeling there’s something you’re keeping back from me. You’re hurt worse than just the leg. Boy, dear, don’t you know it won’t make any difference with me how you look, or feel, or anything? I don’t care how bad you’re smashed up. I’d rather have you without any features at all than any other man with two sets. Whatever’s happened to the outside of you, they can’t change your insides. And you’re the same man that called out to me, that day, “Hoo-hoo! Hello, sweetheart!” and when I gave you a piece of my mind climbed down off the pole, and put your face up to be slapped, God bless the boy in you—
A sharp little sound from him. Miss Kate looked up, quickly. Chet Ball was staring at the beady-eyed yellow chicken in his hand.
“What’s this thing?” he demanded in a strange voice.