“Read it,” said Betty, in a strange, hard voice. “This is to tell me that my husband was killed yesterday in France. Go on your knees and thank God that you have a brave husband still alive and pray that you may be worthy of him.”
She went into the house and in a moment reappeared like a ghost of steel, carrying the disputed canvas kit-bag over her shoulder. The woman stared open-mouthed and said nothing. Marigold came forward to relieve Betty of her burden, but she waved him imperiously away, passed him and, opening the car-door, threw the bag at my feet. Not one of the rough crowd moved a foot or uttered a sound, save a baby in arms two doors off, who cut the silence with a sickly wail and was immediately hushed by its mother. Betty turned to the attendant Marigold.
“You can drive me home.”
She sat by my side. Marigold took the wheel in front and drove on. She sought for my hand, held it in an iron grip, and said not a word. It was but a five minutes’ run at the pace to which Marigold, time-worn master of crises of life and death, put the car. Betty held herself rigid, staring straight in front of her, and striving in vain to stifle horrible little sounds that would break through her tightly closed lips.
When we pulled up at her door she said queerly: “Forgive me. I’m a damned little coward.”
And she bolted from the car into the house.
Thus over the sequestered vale of Wellingsford, far away from the sound of shells, even off the track of marauding Zeppelins, rode the fiery planet. Mars. There is not a homestead in Great Britain that in one form or another has not caught a reflection of its blood-red ray. No matter how we may seek distraction in work or amusement, the angry glow is ever before our eyes, colouring our vision, colouring our thoughts, colouring our emotions for good or for ill. We cannot escape it. Our personal destinies are inextricably interwoven with the fate directing the death grapple of the thousand miles or so of battle line, and arbitrating on the doom of colossal battleships.
Our local newspaper prints week by week its ever-lengthening Roll of Honour. The shells that burst and slew these brave fellows spread their devastation into our little sheltered town; in a thundering crash tearing off from the very trunk of life here a friend, there a son, there a father, there a husband. And I repeat, at the risk of wearisome insistence, that our sheltered homeland shares the calm, awful fatalism of the battlefield; we have to share it because every rood of our country is, spiritually, as much a battlefield as the narrow, blood-sodden wastes of Flanders and France.
Willie Connor, fine brave gentleman, was dead. My beloved Betty was a widow. No Victoria Cross for Betty. Even if there had been one, no children to be bred from birth on its glorious legend. The German shell left Betty stripped and maimed. With her passionate generosity she had given her all; even as his all had been nobly given by her husband. And then all of both had been swept ruthlessly away down the gory draught of sacrifice.