An occupation only varied by a fire in the town one windy night, and much passing of water-buckets from hand to hand (in which the Englishman rendered good service), and much beating of drums,--when all of a sudden the Corporal disappeared.
Next, all of a sudden, Bebelle disappeared.
She had been visible a few days later than the Corporal,--sadly deteriorated as to washing and brushing,--but she had not spoken when addressed by Mr. The Englishman, and had looked scared and had run away. And now it would seem that she had run away for good. And there lay the Great Place under the windows, bare and barren.
In his shamefaced and constrained way, Mr. The Englishman asked no question of any one, but watched from his front windows and watched from his back windows, and lingered about the Place, and peeped in at the Barber's shop, and did all this and much more with a whistling and tune-humming pretence of not missing anything, until one afternoon when Monsieur Mutuel's patch of sunlight was in shadow, and when, according to all rule and precedent, he had no right whatever to bring his red ribbon out of doors, behold here he was, advancing with his cap already in his hand twelve paces off!
Mr. The Englishman had got as far into his usual objurgation as, "What bu-si- " when he checked himself.
"Ah, it is sad, it is sad! Helas, it is unhappy, it is sad!" Thus old Monsieur Mutuel, shaking his gray head.
"What busin- at least, I would say, what do you mean, Monsieur Mutuel?"
"Our Corporal. Helas, our dear Corporal!"
"What has happened to him?"
"You have not heard?"
"At the fire. But he was so brave, so ready. Ah, too brave, too ready!"
"May the Devil carry you away!" the Englishman broke in impatiently; "I beg your pardon,--I mean me,--I am not accustomed to speak French,--go on, will you?"
"And a falling beam--"
"Good God!" exclaimed the Englishman. "It was a private soldier who was killed?"
"No. A Corporal, the same Corporal, our dear Corporal. Beloved by all his comrades. The funeral ceremony was touching,--penetrating. Monsieur The Englishman, your eyes fill with tears."
"What bu-si- "
"Monsieur The Englishman, I honour those emotions. I salute you with profound respect. I will not obtrude myself upon your noble heart."
Monsieur Mutuel,--a gentleman in every thread of his cloudy linen, under whose wrinkled hand every grain in the quarter of an ounce of poor snuff in his poor little tin box became a gentleman's property,--Monsieur Mutuel passed on, with his cap in his hand.
"I little thought," said the Englishman, after walking for several minutes, and more than once blowing his nose, "when I was looking round that cemetery--I'll go there!"
Straight he went there, and when he came within the gate he paused, considering whether he should ask at the lodge for some direction to the grave. But he was less than ever in a mood for asking questions, and he thought, "I shall see something on it to know it by."
In search of the Corporal's grave he went softly on, up this walk and down that, peering in, among the crosses and hearts and columns and obelisks and tombstones, for a recently disturbed spot. It troubled him now to think how many dead there were in the cemetery,- -he had not thought them a tenth part so numerous before,--and after he had walked and sought for some time, he said to himself, as he struck down a new vista of tombs, "I might suppose that every one was dead but I."
Not every one. A live child was lying on the ground asleep. Truly he had found something on the Corporal's grave to know it by, and the something was Bebelle.
With such a loving will had the dead soldier's comrades worked at his resting-place, that it was already a neat garden. On the green turf of the garden Bebelle lay sleeping, with her cheek touching it. A plain, unpainted little wooden Cross was planted in the turf, and her short arm embraced this little Cross, as it had many a time embraced the Corporal's neck. They had put a tiny flag (the flag of France) at his head, and a laurel garland.