“Glad to get out of your uniform?” the Major asked.
“I believe I am. Perhaps if I’d been an officer, I shouldn’t.”
“Everybody couldn’t be. I’ve no doubt you deserved it.”
“I could have pulled wires, of course, before I went over, but I wouldn’t.”
From somewhere within the big house came the reverberation of a Japanese gong.
Randy rose. “I’m going over to lunch. I’d rather face guns, but Mother will like it. You can have yours here.”
“Not if I know it,” the Major rose, “I’m going to share the fatted calf.”
It was late that night when the Major went to bed. The feast in Randy’s honor had lasted until ten. There had been the shine of candles, and the laughter of the women, the old Judge’s genial humor. Through the windows had come the fragrance of honeysuckle and of late roses. Becky had sung for them, standing between two straight white candles.
“In the beauty of the
lilies, Christ was born across the sea,
With the glory in his bosom which transfigures you and me.
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free
While God is marching on——”
The last time the Major had heard a woman sing that song had been in a little French town just after the United States had gone into the war. She was of his own country, red-haired and in uniform. She had stood on the steps of a stone house and weary men had clustered about her—French, English, Scotch, a few Americans. Tired and spent, they had gazed up at her as if they drank her in. To them she was more than a singing woman. She was the daughter of a nation of dreamers, the daughter of a nation which made its dreams come true! Behind her stood a steadfast people, and—God was marching on——!
He had had his leg then, and after that there had been dreadful fighting, and sometimes in the midst of it the voice of the singing woman had come back to him, stiffening him to his task.
And here, miles away from that war-swept land, another woman sang. And there was honeysuckle outside, and late roses—and poppies, and there was Peace. And the world which had not fought would forget. But the men who had fought would remember.
He heard Randy’s voice, sharp with nerves. “Sing something else, Becky. We’ve had enough of war——”
The Major leaned across the table. “When did you last hear that song, Paine?”
“On the other side, a red-haired woman—whose lover had been killed. I never want to hear it again——”
It was as if they were alone at the table, seeing the things which they had left behind. What did these people know who had stayed at home? The words were sacred—not to be sung; to be whispered—over the graves of—France.