It was a dirty trick that they played
Stent and Brown the three Mysterious Sisters,
Fate, Chance, and Destiny. But they’re always
billed for any performance, be it vaudeville or tragedy;
and there’s no use hissing them off: they’ll
dog you from the stage entrance if they take a fancy
They dogged Wayland from the dock
at Calais, where the mule transport landed, all the
way to Paris, then on a slow train to Quimperle, and
then, by stagecoach, to that little lost house on
the moors, where ties held him most closely where
all he cared for in this world was gathered under a
In spite of his lameness he went duck-shooting
the week after his arrival. It was rather forcing
his convalescence, but he believed it would accelerate
it to go about in the open air, as though there were
nothing the matter with his shattered leg.
So he hobbled down to the point he
knew so well. He had longed for the sea off Eryx.
It thundered at his feet.
And, now, all around him through clamorous
obscurity a watery light glimmered; it edged the low-driven
clouds hurrying in from the sea; it outlined the long
point of rocks thrust southward into the smoking smother.
The din of the surf filled his ears;
through flying patches of mist he caught glimpses
of rollers bursting white against the reef; heard duller
détonations along unseen sands, and shattering
reports where heavy waves exploded among basalt rocks.
His lean face of an invalid glistened
with spray; salt water dripped from cap and coat,
spangled the brown barrels of his fowling-piece, and
ran down the varnished supports of both crutches where
he leaned on them, braced forward against an ever-rising
At moments he seemed to catch glimpses
of darker specks dotting the heaving flank of some
huge wave. But it was not until the wild ducks
rose through the phantom light and came whirring in
from the sea that his gun, poked stiffly skyward,
flashed in the pallid void. And then, sometimes,
he hobbled back after the dead quarry while it still
drove headlong inland, slanting earthward before the
Once, amid the endless thundering,
in the turbulent desolation around him, through the
roar of wind in his ears, he seemed to catch deadened
sounds resembling distant seaward cannonading real
cannonading as though individual shots,
dully distinct, dominated for a few moments the unbroken
uproar of surf and gale.
He listened, straining his ears, alert,
intent upon the sounds he ought to recognize the
sounds he knew so well.
Only the ceaseless pounding of the sea assailed his
Three wild duck, widgeon, came speeding
through the fog; he breasted the wind, balanced heavily
on both crutches and one leg, and shoved his gun upward.
At the same instant the mist in front
and overhead became noisy with wild fowl, rising in
one great, panic-stricken, clamoring cloud. He
hesitated; a muffled, thudding sound came to him over
the unseen sea, growing louder, nearer, dominating
the gale, increasing to a rattling clatter.
Suddenly a great cloudy shape loomed
up through the whirling mist ahead an enormous
shadow in the fog a gigantic spectre rushing
inland on vast and ghostly pinions.
As the man shrank on his crutches,
looking up, the aeroplane swept past overhead a
wounded, wavering, unsteady, unbalanced thing, its
right aileron dangling, half stripped, and almost
mangled to a skeleton.
Already it was slanting lower toward
the forest like a hard-hit duck, wing-crippled, fighting
desperately for flight-power to the very end.
Then the inland mist engulfed it.
And after it hobbled Wayland, painfully,
two brace of dead ducks and his slung fowling piece
bobbing on his back, his rubber-shod crutches groping
and probing among drenched rocks and gullies full of
kelp, his left leg in splints hanging heavily.
He could not go fast; he could not
go very far. Further inland, foggy gorse gave
place to broom and blighted bracken, all wet, sagging
with rain. Then he crossed a swale of brown reeds
and tussock set with little pools of water, opaque
and grey in the rain.
Where the outer moors narrowed he
turned westward; then a strip of low, thorn-clad cliff
confronted him, up which he toiled along a V-shaped
cleft choked with ferns.
The spectral forest of Laeis lay just
beyond, its wind-tortured branches tossing under a
East and west lonely moors stretched
away into the depths of the mist; southward spread
the sea; to the north lay the wide woods of Laeis,
equally deserted now in this sad and empty land.
He hobbled to the edge of the forest
and stood knee deep in discoloured ferns, listening.
The sombre beech-woods spread thick on either hand,
a wilderness of crossed limbs and meshed branches
to which still clung great clots of dull brown leaves.
He listened, peering into sinister,
grey depths. In the uncertain light nothing stirred
except the clashing branches overhead; there was no
sound except the wind’s flowing roar and the
ghostly noise of his own voice, hallooing through
the solitude a voice in the misty void that
seemed to carry less sound than the straining cry
of a sleeper in his dreams.
If the aeroplane had landed, there
was no sign here. How far had it struggled on,
sheering the tree-tops, before it fell? if
indeed it had fallen somewhere in the wood’s
As long as he had sufficient strength
he prowled along the forest, entering it here and
there, calling, listening, searching the foggy corridors
of trees. The rotting brake crackled underfoot;
the tree tops clashed and creaked above him.
At last, having only enough strength
left to take him home, he turned away, limping through
the blotched and broken ferns, his crippled leg hanging
stiffly in its splints, his gun and the dead ducks
bobbing on his back.
The trodden way was soggy with little
pools full of drenched grasses and dead leaves; but
at length came rising ground, and the blue-green,
glimmering wastes of gorse stretching away before him
through the curtained fog.
A sheep path ran through; and after
a little while a few trees loomed shadowy in the mist,
and a low stone house took shape, whitewashed, flanked
by barn, pigpen, and a stack of rotting seaweed.
A few wet hens wandered aimlessly
by the doorstep; a tiny bed of white clove-pinks and
tall white phlox exhaled a homely welcome as the lame
man hobbled up the steps, pulled the leather latchstring,
In the kitchen an old Breton woman,
chopping herbs, looked up at him out of aged eyes,
shaking her head under its white coiffe.
“It is nearly noon,” she
said. “You have been out since dawn.
Was it wise, for a convalescent, Monsieur Jacques?”
“Very wise, Marie-Josephine.
Because the more exercise I take the sooner I shall
be able to go back.”
“It is too soon to go out in such weather.”
“Ducks fly inland only in such
weather,” he retorted, smiling. “And
we like roast widgeon, you and I, Marie-Josephine.”
And all the while her aged blue eyes
were fixed on him, and over her withered cheeks the
soft bloom came and faded that pretty colour
which Breton women usually retain until the end.
“Thou knowest, Monsieur Jacques,”
she said, with a curiously quaint mingling of familiarity
and respect, “that I do not counsel caution
because I love thee and dread for thee again the trenches.
But with thy leg hanging there like the broken wing
of a vanneau ”
He replied good humouredly:
“Thou dost not know the Legion,
Marie-Josephine. Every day in our trenches we
break a comrade into pieces and glue him together again,
just to make him tougher. Broken bones, once
mended, are stronger than before.”
He was looking down at her where she
sat by the hearth, slicing vegetables and herbs, but
watching him all the while out of her lovely, faded
“I understand, Monsieur Jacques,
that you are like your father God knows
he was hardy and without fear to the last” she
dropped her head “Mary, glorious intercede ”
she muttered over her bowl of herbs.
Wayland, resting on his crutches,
unslung his ducks, laid them on the table, smoothed
their beautiful heads and breasts, then slipped the
soaking bandoulière of his gun from his shoulder
and placed the dripping piece against the chimney
“After I have scrubbed myself,”
he said, “and have put on dry clothes, I shall
come to luncheon; and I shall have something very strange
to tell you, Marie-Josephine.”
He limped away into one of the two
remaining rooms the other was hers and
closed his door.
Marie-Josephine continued to prepare
the soup. There was an egg for him, too; and
a slice of cold pork and a brioche and a jug
In his room Wayland was whistling “Tipperary.”
Now and again, pausing in her work,
she turned her eyes to his closed door wonderful
eyes that became miracles of tenderness as she listened.
He came out, presently, dressed in
his odd, ill-fitting uniform of the Legion, tunic
unbuttoned, collarless of shirt, his bright, thick
hair, now of decent length, in boyish disorder.
Delicious odours of soup and of Breton
cider greeted him; he seated himself; Marie-Josephine
waited on him, hovered over him, tucked a sack of
feathers under his maimed leg, placed his crutches
in the corner beside the gun.
Still eating, leisurely, he began:
strange thing has happened on Quesnel Moors which
troubles me.... Listen attentively. It was
while waiting for ducks on the Eryx Rocks, that once
I thought I heard through the roar of wind and sea
the sound of a far cannonading. But I said to
myself that it was only the imagination of a haunted
mind; that in my ears still thundered the cannonade
“Was it nevertheless true?”
She had turned around from the fire where her own
soup simmered in the kettle. As she spoke again
she rose and came to the table.
He said: “It must have
been cannon that I heard. Because, not long afterward,
out of the fog came a great aeroplane rushing inland
from the sea flying swiftly above me right
over me! and staggering like a wounded
duck it had one aileron broken and
sheered away into the fog, northward, Marie-Josephine.”
Her work-worn hands, tightly clenched,
rested now on the table and she leaned there, looking
down at him.
“Was it an enemy this airship, Jacques?”
“In the mist flying and the
ragged clouds I could not tell. It might have
been English. It must have been, I think coming
as it came from the sea. But I am troubled, Marie-Josephine.
Were the guns at sea an enemy’s guns? Did
the aeroplane come to earth in safety? Where?
In the Forest of Lais? I found no trace of it.”
She said, tremulous perhaps from standing
too long motionless and intent:
“Is it possible that the Boches
would come into these solitary moors, where there
are no people any more, only the creatures of the Lais
woods, and the curlew and the lapwings which pass
He ate thoughtfully and in silence for a while; then:
“They go, usually the
Boches where there is plunder murder
to be done.... Spying to be done.... God
knows what purpose animates the Huns.... After
all, Lorient is not so far away.... Yet it surely
must have been an English aeroplane, beaten off by
some enemy ship a submarine perhaps.
God send that the rocks of the Isle des Chouans
take care of her with their teeth!”
He drank his cider a sip
or two only then, setting aside the glass:
“I went from the Rocks of Eryx
to Lais Woods. I called as loudly as I could;
the wind whirled my voice back into my throat....
I am not yet very strong....
“Then I went into the wood as
far as my strength permitted. I heard and saw
“Would they be dead?” she asked.
“They were planing to earth.
I don’t know how much control they had, whether
they could steer choose a landing place.
There are plenty of safe places on these moors.”
“If their airship is crippled,
what can they do, these English flying men, out there
on the moors in the rain and wind? When the coast
guard passes we must tell him.”
“After lunch I shall go out
again as far as my strength allows.... If the
rain would cease and the mist lift, one might see something be
of some use, perhaps ”
“Ought you to go, Monsieur Jacques?”
“Could I fail to try to find
them Englishmen and perhaps injured?
Surely I should go, Marie-Josephine.”
“The coast guard ”
“He passed the Eryx Rocks at
daylight. He is at Sainte-Ylva now. Tonight,
when I see his comrade’s lantern, I shall stop
him and report. But in the meanwhile I must go
out and search.”
“Spare thyself for
the trenches, Jacques. Remain indoors today.”
She began to unpin the coiffe which she always
wore ceremoniously at meals when he was present.
He smiled: “Thou knowest I must go, Marie-Josephine.”
“And if thou come upon them in the forest and
they are Huns?”
He laughed: “They are English, I tell thee,
She nodded; under her breath, staring
at the rain-lashed window: “Like thy father,
thou must go forth,” she muttered; “go
always where thy spirit calls. And once he
went. And came no more. And God help us all
in Finistère, where all are born to grief.”