Jimmie nodded; and the young lord of Leesville looked at him uneasily, looked away, and then looked back. “I’ve got something I want to ask you,” he said.
“Don’t give me away.”
“How do you mean?”
“Don’t tell who I am: There’s no reason why anybody should know. I’m trying to get away from it.”
“I see,” said Jimmie. “I won’t tell.”
Then was a silence. Then suddenly, with no reason that Jimmie could see, the other exclaimed: “You’ll tell!”
“But I won’t!” protested Jimmie. “What makes you say so?”
“You hate me!”
Jimmie hesitated, as if investigating his own mind. “No,” he said, “I don’t hate you—not any more.”
“God!” exclaimed the other. “You don’t need to—I’ve paid all I owe!”
Jimmie studied his face. Yes, you could see that was true. Not merely was Lacey haggard, his features drawn with the pain he was enduring; there were lines in his face that had not been put there by a few days of battle, nor even by a couple of years of war. He looked twenty years older than the insolent young aristocrat whom Jimmie had seen hurling defiance at the Empire strikers.
His eyes were searching Jimmie’s anxiously, pleadingly. “I had to get away,” he said. “I couldn’t face it—everybody staring at me, grinning at me behind my back! I tried to enlist in the American army, but they wouldn’t have me—not to do any sort of work. So I came to France, where they need men badly—they let me carry a stretcher. I’ve been through it all now—more than a year. I’ve been wounded twice before, but I can’t seem to get killed, no matter where I go. It’s the fellows that want to live that get killed—damn it!”
The speaker paused, as if seeing visions of the men whom he had seen die when they wanted to live. When he went on, it was in a voice of humble entreaty. “I’ve tried to pay for my blunders. All I ask now is to be let alone, and not have everybody gossiping about me. That’s fair, isn’t it!”
Jimmie answered: “I give you my word—I won’t tell a soul about it.”
“Thank you,” said Lacey; and then, after a moment’s pause, “My name is Peterson. Herbert Peterson.”
A truck came along and gave them a lift to the nearest dressing-station: a couple of tents with big red crosses on them, and a couple more being put up, and motor-cars bringing nurses and supplies, and others with loads of wounded, French and American. Jimmie was so weak now that he hardly cared about anything; he took his place in a row of wounded men, waiting patiently, trying not to make a fuss, because this was war, and the Hun had to be licked, and everybody was doing his best. He lay down on the ground, and shut his eyes; and gradually there came to him a familiar odour. At first he thought it was