‘I dinna think he can be o’ the airmy. His skin’s as pale as a lassie in love.’
’In the army, Jock? Don’t hinsult ’im. ’E’s one of the ’eroes of the ’ome front—hindispensibles, they calls ’em.’
‘Weel, weel, noo,’ expostulated the Scot, ‘dinna tak’ ower muckle for granted. We canna a’ gang tae the war, or wha wud bide at hame an’ mak the whusky?’
‘By Gar!’ said a third patient opposite, sitting up suddenly and speaking in the disjointed but strangely musical dialect of the French-Canadian, ‘she is a wise feller, dis Scoachie.’
‘Bonn swoir, Frenchy,’ said the Cockney graciously. ’’Ow alley you mantenongs?’
‘Verra good, Tommee. How is de godam bow bells?’
’Well, the last toime I sees me old side-kick the Lord Mayor, ’e says as ‘ow they was took by a Canadian for a soovenir.’
‘Na,’ said the Scotsman reprovingly; ‘I’m thinkin’ yon’s exaggerated.’
‘By Gar!’ said the French-Canadian. ’See, the orderly come now with water for shav’. Back in de bush or on de long portage I shav’ once, twice, perhaps tree time a month. Always before I meet my leetle girl I shav’. But when I say good-bye and go to war—by gollies! de army make me for do it every day. My officier, he say, “What for you no shav’ dis morning?” “Sair,” I say, “I no kees de Boche—I keel him.” He say noding to dat excep’, “Look at you. I shav’ every day. Do you preten’ I doan’ fight?” “Well,” I say, “if de cap feets you, smoke it.” And for no reason he give me tree time extra for carry de godam ration.’
At this stage the arrival of wash-basins interrupted further anecdote and philosophy, and the entire ward became animated with soldiers performing their ablutions, some sitting up in bed, others on the edge of their beds, and a few so weak that they could just turn painfully on their side and wait for other hands to help.
A burst of hearty greetings told Selwyn that some one must have entered the ward, and a few minutes later he felt the presence of a nurse beside him.
‘Good-morning,’ she said, gently touching him on the shoulder. ’How is your head feeling?’
He opened his eyes and looked into the face bending over his. ’I think it’s all right,’ he said weakly. ’But, nurse, won’t you tell me how I got here?’
She dipped a cloth into a basin and bathed his hands and face.
’You were hit by a piece of shrapnel in last night’s air-raid. I wasn’t on duty when you came in, but the night-sister said you were quite delirious—though you seem ever so much better this morning, don’t you? I’ll take your temperature, and after you’ve had some breakfast I’ll put a new dressing on your wound.’
She was just going to insert the thermometer between his lips, when he stopped her with his hand. ‘Nurse,’ he said, ’why was I brought here—among soldiers?’
’Because every hospital is filled to overflowing. The casualties are so heavy just now.’ Her voice was still kind, but there was a look of resentment in her eyes at his question.