Three years later I saw him again, in France. Our own country had gotten into the fight by that time, and I was caught in the first draft. I had heard now and then from Randolph. He had worked for nearly three years with the Ambulance Corps, and was now fighting for democracy with his fellows.
We had been shivering in the rain for a week in one of the recaptured French towns when a group of seasoned officers were sent to lick us into shape. Among the other officers was Randolph, and when he came upon me he gave a shout of welcome.
“Good old MacDonald—at last!”
I’ll confess that his “at last” carried a sting, and I remember feeling the injustice of our equal rank, as I set his years of privation and hardship against my few weeks in a training camp.
He was very glad to see me, and the very first night he made me a Brunswick stew. This time there were no squirrels, but he begged young rabbits from the old couple who had once been servants in the chateau where we were billeted. They had trudged back at once on the retirement of the Boches, and were making the best of the changed conditions.
There was, of course, no chafing-dish, and the stew was cooked in an iron pot which hung over an open fire in the ancient kitchen. Before they sold the rabbits the old people had made one condition:
“If we may have a bit for mademoiselle—?”
“She is here with us, monsieur. She had not been well. We have been saving the rabbits for her.”
Randolph made the grand gesture that I so well remembered.
“My good people—if she would dine with us—?”
The old woman shook her head. She was not sure. She would see.
Perhaps she said pleasant things of us, perhaps mademoiselle was lonely. But whatever the reason, mademoiselle consented to dine, coming out of her seclusion, very thin and dark and small, but self-possessed.
I have often wondered what she thought, in those first moments of meeting, of Randolph, as with a spoon for a sceptre, the manner of a king, he presided over the feast. She spoke very good English, but needed to have many things explained.
“Do gentlemen cook in your country?”
Randolph sketched life as he had known it on his grandfather’s plantation—negroes to do it all, except when gentlemen pleased.
She drew the mantle of her distaste about her. “Black men? I shouldn’t like it.”
Well, I saw before the evening ended that Randolph had met his peer. For every one of his aristocratic prejudices she matched him with a dozen. And he loved her for it! At last here was a lady who would buckle on his armor, watch his shield, tie her token on his sleeve!
He sat on the edge of the table in his favorite attitude—hunched-up shoulders, folded arms. His hair was cut too short now for the dark lock, but even without it I saw her glance at him now and then in a puzzled fashion, as if she weighed some familiar memory.