No, that coudn´ t be true. How could that happened? Marguerite was staring at the small bed, where a young man was lying. He was still alive, but…
When she looked lower, she could see, that the blanket is flat in the space, where his legs were supposed to be. His eyes were half opened, from pale lips strange sounds could be heard. He couldn´t breath. She should help him. She should turn him onto his hip and then call the doctor. But she didn´t make a move, didn´t say a word. She just kept staring to the man´s face.
Marguerite has already seen many people dying, especially here on the western front. Yes, even younger people than she was. Almost children. But this was something different. Because she knew this face. They were people without names, only unknown faces. She had known it woudn´t be pretty, but she volunteered as a nurse nontheless. She felt duty. She had to tu something in this terrible war. They had laughed to her. Her companions from the night-club where she had worked. Oh! How did they laugh when she told them about her plan and packed her things so she could go here. Yes, that image was in fact quite silly. One of the most desired women in France, gifted the finest jewels by so many men - nurse in a lazaret. But she didn´t mind at all. She just did it. Who would ever believe that? Instead of beutiful gowns she wore hospital uniform, her hands no longer bathed in rose water, but in blood, long raven hair, which she had always been so proud of, were tightly braided. She quickly got used to the terrors of war.
But this was something different. This face wasn´t anonymous. It had it´s own voice, name, story.
„You´re beautiful," she heard him again. And then her own laughter.
„I know that!"
„But I didn´t. Until now."
His hazel eyes were full of adoration and devotion. Only two months ago in Paris. How handsome he was! She remembered his bright blue eyes, the way he was lovingly touching the instrument as he was playing the piano. And the night she gave herself to him after that. Now…
Body without legs twitched and another moan escaped from the throat. How old did he say he was? Nineteen? Yes, she knew he was younger than she. She was twenty-three.
„What are you staring at? Help him!" she heard the angry voice of the main nurse. Without hesitation the older woman turned the injured man to his side. Marguerite closed her eyes. The sounds told her, her one-night lover was vomitting. After a while a strong arm of the other nurse grasped her shoulder and shook with her.
„Put yourself together! You hear me? Nothing happened this time, but there may not be anybody with you next time. He could have died! Why didn´t you do anything?"
Marguerite opened her eyes again and looked at the older woman, who was moved by the terror in her look.
„Okay, it´s alright now," she said to calm her. „I understand. You´re not the first one and certainly not the last. This butchery is nothing pretty. Are you alright?"
Marguerite nodded, althought she didn´t feel alright at all.
„Maybe you should rest for a while. You know what? Go get some slep," added old nurse and went to check on the other patients.
Marguerite slowly made her way out of the tent. It was night and freezing wind was blowing unmercifuly. It was the mid of January. She was wearing only thin nurse-uniform, but that wasn´t the reason why she was shaking so uncontrolably. She wrapped her arms around herself to calm down. She breathed deeply the cold, but clear air. Inside of the tent she smelled only blood, sweat and desinfection. She made several steps, but then she remembered again that lovely evening in Paris and after that the desperate human existence. Darkness engulfed her. In another moment she was kneeling in the snow-drift, vomitting. She had no idea how long it lasted, but it seemed to be the eternity. Absolutely exhausted she fell on her face to the snow. It was scratching, but was also pleasantly cooling her burning cheeks. It felt so good, that she didn´t want to get up. Ever.
But suddenly she felt someone pulling her on her feet.
„That should just do it. Is it better now? Well come on! Get up. I cannot let you freeze to death."
Marguerite didn´t say a word. She gave the man before her an unapprehensive look. She couldn´t see his face, because it was utterly dark all around them. Her knees buckled. He caught her before she could fall again and took her in his arms.
„Are you here for the first time? The girl like you should be at home, learning to play piano or write letters to the secret love, not taking care of those poor men," he said. Girl? Yes, she knew she looked younger than she really was. The unknown man had the most charming and soothing voice. She pressed her face to his chest and closed her eyes. Oh, how comfortable she felt in his embrace.
„You should get some slep. And when did you ate something better than that mush served in local kitchen? Would you like to tell me something?" he asked her. But she still didn´t respond. It felt good to be with him somehow. And she felt safe and happy in a sort of way. As happy as she had felt while running the green fields and meadows in distant Avebury. Avebury…yes, the man reminded her of it. Avebury. And standing stones. And running water. And buttterflies with lustrous wings...
„I suppose you don´t speak English, do you?" he assumed, when he still didn´t get any answer. „Where are you from? France perhaps? It´s a pity your not English. I´m pretty sure we could talk about certain things. To figure them out," he sighed. He didn´t release her from his grasp but started walking, and still carrying her he raised his eyes to the starry sky above them.
„It´s almost unbelievable how beautiful it is up there, considering how much darkness dwell down here. I mean the darkness in the human hearts. But I don´t want to think about it, not when I´m healthy and have a beautiful woman in my arms," he smiled and his look returned to her face pressed against his shoulder. Her eyes were closed.
„Asleep, my princess?" he whispered gently . No answer. He headed to one of the officer´s felt she was laid down on the bed and she also felt gentle touch of his fingers, as he pulled off her wet clothes and tucked her into his warm coat. Then he spread a blanket over her as well. She didn´t move. Not even when his lips descended lightly upon her forehead.
„It´s really shame I cannot see your face in full light," he whispered more for himself. „I have no doubt you´re absolutely breathtaking. If only we would have met somewhere else, my angel. You could have helped me to improve my French."
That was the last thing she remembered, before she fell into a deep sleep.
When she woke up in the morning, she was still safely wrapped in the coat. On the facings she could see the rank of major. But she was alone. She slipped out of the bed and shivered, then she quickly got dressed. Much later that day she discovered a small piece of paper in her pocket. The message was written in a really bad French: Forgive me for taking your handkerchief. I don´t want to forget you. You were sleeping, but I was talking to you all night. You have no idea how much that helped me. I´m sorry but I had to leave this morning. Thanks for everything.
Yes, she had noticek her handkerchief was missing. She smiled. In spite of what happened yesterday, or what will happen today or tommorow, now she felt in peace and refreshed. He promised not to forget her. She also didn´t mean to forget.
Marguerite´s eyes widened in amazement as Roxton pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his sweaty forehead.
„What?" he asked, when he saw her expression.
„Where…where did you get this?" she managed to say.
„The handkerchief, you mean?" he smiled. „I hope it will not make you jealous to know it once belonged to a young nurse, who was sleeping in my tent."
There was absolute silence for a while.
„No. I think it won´t ," said Marguerite. Roxton couldn´t believe his eyes, when Marguerite showed him a piece of paper she´d been carrying in her pocket. The message was written in a bad Frech and it began with these words: Forgive me for taking your handkerchief…