“Sister Elizabeth—Sister Elizabeth ... and I.”
“Sister Gabrielle, ... Sister Gabrielle, then that little room and those two little beds where we slept, were yours?”
“Hush! Please come to breakfast at once.”
And, light as a bird, she disappeared down the staircase, so quickly that her black veil floated high above her, as though to hide her confusion.
* * * * *
And we saw no more of Sister Gabrielle. It was a very old woman—one of the inmates—who brought us our hot milk and coffee, our brown bread and fresh butter, in the dining-room with the high cupboards of polished wood. She explained that at this hour the nuns were busy attending to their old folk. It was of no use begging to see our little hostess again. We were told it would be against the rules, and we felt that the curtain had now indeed fallen upon this charming act of the weary tragedy.
Only, just as we were passing out of the convent gate for the last time, the old lady put into our hands a big packet of provisions wrapped up in a napkin. She had brought it hidden under her apron.
“Here, she told me to give you this, and ... to say that she will pray for you.”
Our hearts swelled as we heard the heavy door close behind us. And whilst we went away silently along the broken, muddy road, we thought of the sterling hearts that are hidden under the humble habits of a convent.
Sister Gabrielle! I shall never forget you. Never will your delicate features fade from my memory. And I seem to see you still, going up the great wooden staircase, lit up by the flickering flame of the candle, when you and Sister Elizabeth gave up your beds so simply and unostentatiously to the two unknown soldiers.
VIII. CHRISTMAS NIGHT
“Mon Lieutenant mon Lieutenant, it’s two o’clock.”
My faithful Wattrelot held the flickering candle just in front of my eyes to rouse me. What torture it is to be snatched from sleep at such an early hour! It would not be anything in summer; but it was the 24th of December, and it was my turn to go on duty in the trenches. A nice way of keeping Christmas!... I turned over in my bed, trying to avoid that light that tormented me; I collected my thoughts, which had wandered far away whilst I was asleep, and had been replaced by exquisite dreams, dreams of times of peace, of welfare, of good cheer, and of gentle warmth.
Then I remembered: I had to take command of a detachment of a hundred troopers of the regiment, who were to replace the hundred now in the trenches. It was nearly a month since we had joined our Army Corps near R., and every other day the regiment had to furnish the same number of men to occupy a sector of the trenches. It was my turn, on the 24th of December, to replace my brother-officer and good friend Lieutenant de la G., who had occupied the post since the 22nd.