Moonshine could not cool the hot town, and it seemed sleeping badly—the seven million sleepers in their million homes. Sound lingered on, never quite ceased; the stale odours clung in the narrow street below, though a little wind was creeping about to sweeten the air. ‘Curse the war!’ he thought. ’What wouldn’t I give to be sleeping out, instead of in this damned city!’ They who slept in the open, neglecting morality, would certainly have the best of it tonight, for no more dew was falling than fell into Jimmy Fort’s heart to cool the fret of that ceaseless thought: ‘The war! The cursed war!’ In the unending rows of little grey houses, in huge caravanserais, and the mansions of the great, in villas, and high slum tenements; in the government offices, and factories, and railway stations where they worked all night; in the long hospitals where they lay in rows; in the camp prisons of the interned; in bar racks, work-houses, palaces—no head, sleeping or waking, would be free of that thought: ‘The, cursed war!’ A spire caught his eye, rising ghostly over the roofs. Ah! churches alone, void of the human soul, would be unconscious! But for the rest, even sleep would not free them! Here a mother would be whispering the name of her boy; there a merchant would snore and dream he was drowning, weighted with gold; and a wife would be turning to stretch out her arms to-no one; and a wounded soldier wake out of a dream trench with sweat on his brow; and a newsvendor in his garret mutter hoarsely. By thousands the bereaved would be tossing, stifling their moans; by thousands the ruined would be gazing into the dark future; and housewives struggling with sums; and soldiers sleeping like logs—for to morrow they died; and children dreaming of them; and prostitutes lying in stale wonder at the busyness of their lives; and journalists sleeping the sleep of the just. And over them all, in the moonlight that thought ‘The cursed war!’ flapped its black wings, like an old crow! “If Christ were real,” he mused, “He’d reach that moon down, and go chalking ‘Peace’ with it on every door of every house, all over Europe. But Christ’s not real, and Hindenburg and Harmsworth are!” As real they were as two great bulls he had once seen in South Africa, fighting. He seemed to hear again the stamp and snort and crash of those thick skulls, to see the beasts recoiling and driving at each other, and the little red eyes of them. And pulling a letter out of his pocket, he read it again by the light of the moon:
“15, Camelot Mansions, “St. John’s Wood.
“Dear Mr. Fort, “I came across your Club address to-night, looking at some old letters. Did you know that I was in London? I left Steenbok when my husband died, five years ago. I’ve had a simply terrific time since. While the German South West campaign was on I was nursing out there, but came back about a year ago to lend a hand here. It would be awfully nice to meet you again, if by any chance you are in England. I’m working in a V. A. D. hospital in these parts, but my evenings are usually free. Do you remember that moonlit night at grape harvest? The nights here aren’t scented quite like that. Listerine! Oh! This war! “With all good remembrances, “Leila Lynch.”