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- Red Fleece - 1/34 -
WILL LEVINGTON COMFORT Author of "Midstream," "Down Among Men," "Fate Knocks At the Door," "Routledge Rides Alone," Etc., Etc.
TO THE HOUR--WHEN TROOPS TURN HOME
I. THE WOMAN AND THE EXILE
II. THE COURT OF EXECUTION
III. THE HOUSE OF AMPUTATIONS
IV. IN THE BOMB-PROOF PIT
V. THE SKYLIGHT PRISON
VI. THE FIELD OF HELMETS
VII. THE GREEN OF CEDARS
THE WOMAN AND THE EXILE
Peter Mowbray first saw her at the corner of Palace Square nearest the river. He was not in the least the kind of young man who appraises passing women, very far from a starer. At the instant their eyes met, his thoughts had been occupied with work matters and the trickery of events. In fact, there was so much to do that he resented the intrusion, found himself hoping in the first flash that she would show some flaw to break the attraction.
It may have been that her eyes were called to the passer-by just as his had been, without warning or volition. In any event their eyes met full, leisurely in that stirring silence before the consciousness of self, time, place and convention rushes in. ... Though she seemed very poor, there was something about her beyond reach in nobility. He was left with the impression of the whitest skin, the blackest hair and the reddest lips, but mainly of a gray-eyed girl--eyes that had become wider and wider, and had filled with sudden amazement (doubtless at her own answering look) before they turned away.
Desolation was abroad in Warsaw after this encounter. Mowbray thought of New York with loneliness, the zest gone from all present activity. Presently with curious grip his thoughts returned to a certain luncheon in New York with a tired literary man who had talked about women with the air of a connoisseur. The pith of the writer's observations was restored to his mind in this form:
"If I were to marry again it would be to a Latin woman--French, Italian, even Spanish--a close-to-nature woman born and bred in one of the Mediterranean countries. Not a blue-blood, for that has to do with decadence, but a woman of the people. They are passionate but pure, as Poe would say. If they find a man of any value, he becomes their world. They are strong natural mothers--mothering their children and their husband, too,--and immune to common sicknesses. Given a little food, they know enough to prepare it with art. If a man has a bit of a dream left, such a woman will either make him forget it painlessly, or she will make it come true."
There was no apparent relation, and none that proved afterward. What he had seen at the corner of Palace Square nearest the Vistula was not the face of a Latin woman, nor was any looseness of common birth evident in it. The key might have had to do with the little hat she wore, just a hat for wearing on the head, a protection against sun and rain, and with the austerely simple black dress; but these weathered exteriors again were effective in contrast to the vivid freshness of her natural coloring. As for what remained of the literary man's picture of the ideal woman to marry, it was the last word of decadence--the eminent selfishness of a man willing to accept the luxury of a woman who asks little to be happy. ... The next day at the same time and place Mowbray was there, and saw her coming from afar.
She seemed both afraid and angry, stopped abruptly and asked in Polish what he wanted. He was startled. It was a hard moment. He explained with difficulty that her language was as yet an inconvenient vehicle for him.
"You are not Russian?" she said in French.
He shook his head. She seemed to be relieved and he wondered why.
"What do you want?" she asked, though not quite with the original asperity.
"It did not occur to me you would notice," he said in the language she had ventured. "I saw you yesterday. You made me think of New York. As I was near to-day, I hoped to see you again---" "You are American?" She spoke now in English, and with a still softer intonation.
"Yes,--you speak English, too?"
"I like it. It is---" she checked herself and asked with just a shade of coldness, "Is there anything I can do for you?"
It might be construed as a courtesy to a stranger from one who lived in Warsaw. Peter liked it, a certain vista opening. However, there was no answer within reach except the truth, and he plunged:
"I should like to know you better."
The red lower lip disappeared beneath the other. Her gray eyes grew very wide; something intrepid and exquisite in her manner as she searched his face. Whatever she knew of the world, she dared still to trust her intuition--this was something of the revelation he drew.
Many people were passing. He looked toward the quieter center of the Square.
"Will you walk with me there?" he asked. "It is not easy to explain this sort of thing---"
"No. I must go on. You may walk a little way."
"You are very good.... You see, I cannot tell just _why_--as you asked. If I knew you well, I could tell you. Yesterday I was quite unromantic---"
She made it hard for him and did not let him see her smile. "You mean you are romantic to-day?"
Peter laughed. "What a trap--and I was trying so hard to tell you."
"You _were_ trying---"
"I don't need to tell you. All there is to say is that I want you to be my friend."
"I should have to think," she answered.
"Of course. ... Do you pass here every day?"
"I should have to think," she said.
It was the third day afterward that she passed again.
The first time that Boylan of the _Rhodes News Agency_ of New York saw Peter Mowbray was in the office of Lonegan of _The States_, Mowbray's chief in Warsaw. Lonegan had known Peter in New York and had wanted him for his second many months before the fact was brought about. This was the Boylan of the Schmedding Polar Failure, of various wars and expeditions, a huge spectacle of a man, an old-timer, and very fond of Lonegan, though as representative of _Rhodes'_ he was structurally the competitor of _The States_ in this territory.
"Young Mowbray may be all right," Boylan observed, "but the curse of the student is on him. I should say that he isn't gusty enough for hard work--vest buttons too safe--"
"You can't measure health by the pound," Lonegan observed, regarding the other's bulk with one eye shut. "I never heard of Mowbray spending much time in bed outside of the small hours." "How old is he?" "Twenty-six or seven."
"I suppose he put on his gear all in a year or two?"
"There is that look about him, but he's safely over it. Some people never stop, but I've had to look up at him from the same angle now and then during the last five years.... It was just a little before that he happened into--his route like mine--his cub-year in London, then assistant in Antwerp, then in Dresden. He had Dresden alone for a year. I've been angling for him some time----"
"Yes," Boylan remarked, "you need the right kind of help to stand up with _Rhodes_ from this end----"
"You do make it wildly exciting," Lonegan answered gently. "We'll rock Peter yet."
This chat took place in June. Ten weeks afterward Boylan came in with the big news, and found Lonegan bending over the following cablegram,
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