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Remembered Today:

John and Marie

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An Episodic Love Story of the Great War

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Michael Johnson

Part 33 - Life on the Other Side

The transition from CEF Sergeant to civilian father of two boys was at first fairly smooth. Three years of soldiering had accustomed John to broken sleep, so rocking fretful babies back to sleep was easier for him than many other a new father. And it was some months before he ceased to look at Marie as she slept beside him and wonder in awe at how they had come together at last.

Very different he thought from the few British and Canadian soldiers he met who had married in France. Apart from a few men from Quebec regiments, they were still struggling with the language - and most of the locals had difficulty with the French-Canadian dialect and pronunciation.

Still, John was relieved when his mother asked if he could return to Canada for a week to tie up the loose ends of his father's estate, and sell the family home. Marie was included in Madame's offer, but now pregnant again she decided to stay behind.

Toronto had changed, John decided. Everything seemed to be moving much faster, and the ever-intrusive American culture delivered from radio, magazines and newspapers made John long for the pre-war days.

He visited his Captain, now back to civilian life, but still serving in the Militia, which had changed greatly since before the War. The old numbers and the scarlet uniforms had vanished.

John was relieved to return to France.

Michael Johnson

Update

I see that it has been over two years since I've added to the story of John and Marie. Life has been busy, and of course having got them married, and John reunited with her, it isn't as easy to think up new episodes.

However I do have a few ideas up me sleeve, and hopefully will return to this.

Michael

Michael Johnson

Part 32 - A New Beginning

A bright September sun shone on John's back as he trudged along the road, carrying, for the first time in three years, only a haversack. He had left the rest of his web equipment with the battalion. He carried no weapon.

Everything had happened so quickly, he thought to himself. A sudden summons from his Captain, who smiled wearily and said, "It's come through at last – your discharge." Then mounds of forms in the orderly room to be filled out. "We had to borrow some from the British Army; I'm not sure we even have half these forms." He acknowledged that he was requesting to be discharged in France, and that he waived the right to be returned to Canada. He filled out a "Protection Form" which warned that it was not valid as security for debt. Who was being protected, he wondered. The Captain must have read his thoughts. "Keep that safe", he cautioned. "It's your way of proving you're not a deserter. The Paymaster had him sign his accounts, and handed him his final pay. The Quartermaster checked off John's kit, and reluctantly let him keep his uniform and a haversack, but not his greatcoat and other equipment.

He'd been lucky to find an MT lorry going to Arras. From there he was sure he could find his way back to Marie's village. If the rain held off he should be alright.

He spent the first night in a barn, convincing the farmer's wife that he was a. not a deserter, and b. he would not start any fires. In the morning a few centimes got him a mug of coffee and a croissant; a few more, a couple of baguettes from the small bakery in town. He continued on his way west.

Soon his practised eye began picking out familiar buildings. He was getting close now. There was the hill that he had run up with Marie so many months ago. The hill where Marie had first kissed him. The little calvaire where he and Marie had prayed before he left.

He looked for Marie's family farmhouse. He couldn't see it.

Of course - Marie had told him that it had been rebuilt. A new, larger house stood in its place, almost finished. Beyond, the fields were green with ripening crops.

He walked towards the door.

And suddenly there was Marie, with a baby in her arms, bouncing it gently and singing a French lullaby that John vaguely remembered his mother singing when he was little and having trouble going to sleep. Her back was turned to him,

She heard his footstep, and turned slowly, so as not to disturb the drowsy infant.

"Jean!" It was a low, excited whisper.

"Come and meet your son Pierre; his brother Edouard is already asleep."

Michael Johnson

Note

Somehow Part 29 ended up at the beginning of the Blog - I thought it had been lost. I've renumbered the last two parts accordingly, but 29 is out of order.

Michael Johnson

Part 31 - Why are we waiting?

With the news of Marie's pregnancy, John's patience practically vanished. Despite his Captain's best efforts he was unable to get leave. Instead, he was forced to sit in camp as the battalion went through a daily grind of make-work. How easy it would be to desert, he thought. Once in France I could blend right in. The General could make sure they never got me back.

He checked daily orders. Sure enough, "1000 hours - lecture - Should higher education be compulsory?"

He took his seat in the hut that was to hold the lecture. 10:00 passed. 10:15. 10:30. The hut grew restless.

From the back a soft refrain swelled, in a dirge-like mutter:

WHY are we WAITing, repeated over and over. He looked around. There were no officers present.

Why were they waiting? Why were they still in Belgium instead of going home?

****** it - he wasn't going to stop them.

11:00

He'd had enough. He got up and headed for the door. Behind him he could hear a chorus of browned-off muttering and chairs being scraped back or knocked over, and boots on the floor behind him.

He stopped, turned around, and headed back into the hut.

"WHERE do you think you lot are going! SIT DOWN!"

Accustomed to obedience, especially where a popular NCO was involved, the men sat down. Shortly after, some officers arrived with the speaker. The men listened, but there were few questions or opinions.

Afterwards, the Captain took John aside.

"Thanks for doing that, John. I know they're fed up. I know you are too - with a whole lot more reason. But don't even think of going over the hill. I'd hate to have to put a Sergeant with the Military Medal under close arrest."

"But I don't have...."

"Now you do. It just came through. You've earned it a dozen times over, from that time you saved my life on. Have patience, John. We're working on your discharge, but since yours is an unusual case they have to invent the procedures as they go along."

Michael Johnson

Part 30 - Another letter

"It will be understood that few events of interest occur from day to day when a Battalion remains billeted in the same area for a long space of time. There is a regular routine, embracing drill, physical training and educational classes, which is varied occasionally by a special lecture. Dances and concerts are frequent. As the month wore on to the middle Demobilization naturally figured largely in all matters pertaining to the Battalion."

War Diary 102nd Battalion April 1, 1919

His week's leave long over, John was back with the 102nd at Boitsfort. He was itching to get his discharge. Despite the make work nature of the daily routine, he had been unable to get another leave.

Each day he looked for a letter from Marie, who was never a prolific writer.

And so once again he listened attentitively for his name at mail call. At last:

"Sergeant Johnson! Your wife, Sarge?"

He hurriedly tore the letter open. He scanned it quickly, started, then grinned broadly.

Other men were discussing their letters from home, good news and bad.

John thought to himself: "They don't know."

Marie had written to tell him that the General's Médecin-Major (a gynocologist before the war) had confirmed her suspicions. She was pregnant, and possibly carrying twins.

Michael Johnson

Part 28 - Noces en depeche mode

The exhilaration of crossing the Rhine was past. The 102nd were now sitting on their duffs in Boitsfort Belgium, and growing impatient.

For the umpteenth time, John went to see his Captain.

"Sir, I need to find a way to take my discharge here. Not in Canada."

"John, I understand. But it's too early to start talking discharges. We're still an occupying army; there's no peace treaty signed - or even negotiated."

Then an idea came to John.

"I understand, Sir, but what about a short leave? If I could have a few days - a week would be better - I could get back to see Marie. We could even get married. Then I'll come back and we'll sort the rest out."

"John, that might be possible. I'll talk to the Colonel."

"Thank you, Sir."

The Captain was persuasive. He reminded the Colonel that John had stayed with the Battalion instead of pursuing the Staff appointment the General had created. He pointed out that John's mother, recently widowed, was even now in France.

He walked out with a week's leave for John.

There followed a slew of highly unauthorized signals. John's friends in the Signals platoon raised Lieutenant Drouin. Drouin alerted the General and Dominique. Dominique visited the Maire and Curé, and a date for the wedding was set. Marie was whisked off to Paris, to a salon of haute couture, where within 48 hours the midinettes had created a fairy tale wedding dress. The General had his chateau prepared for the couple, and arranged for a guard of honour from his own command.

John asked his Captain to stand up for him, which he accepted with pleasure.

And so it was that John and his Captain arrived at the church in their best uniforms. They were met by Dominique and the General. Monsieur Drolet gave Marie away. Young Matthieu was the ringbearer.

That evening, as they lay together in the General's baroque master bedroom, John said, "I feel like this isn't the first time I've been in bed with you. Even your perfume is familiar." Marie looked impishly at John, and asked innocently "What time is it?" John looked at his watch. "It's eleven..."

"No, silly, it's après la guerre!" And she reached for him.

Michael Johnson

Part 27 - How Long?

The news of the Armistice brought some relief to Marie. She no longer had to worry about John being killed or wounded. The next week passed in an air of euphoria. Surely John would soon be able to come back to her. She had had a letter, written the morning of the 12th, which talked of his hopes, but which was lamentably short on concrete plans.

The General was on convalescent leave, and came to visit frequently with Dominique. He had found some discharged soldiers, and work was already underway on the new Drolet farmhouse.

The General counselled patience. "Voyez-vous, petite, the Army has its ways of doing things. We have won, but it is necessary that the Boche understand it - so the Allies will have to go into Germany. When the peace is signed, then it will be time to discharge men."

"But mon General, what if they send him back to Canada? I cannot - I will not wait for him to cross the Atlantic twice!" Even now, a tiny part of Marie feared that John would not come back.

The General smiled. "I do not think it will come to that. Remember, his mother is French; that is a good reason for him to take his discharge here. If not here, then in England, and he can be here in days." He knew from talking to Canadian officers that many of the CEF were British-born, and suspected that some of them would elect to be discharged there to return to their families.

Michael Johnson

Part 2A - Billets

It happened while we were in billets in Marie's village.

As I've told, Marie and I got very friendly, and I was a frequent visitor in the Drollet home.

It was about the fourth day there, my Captain calls me over. "John," he said, with a strange look in his eye, "I've had a request from Monsieur Drollet. It seems he has an extra bedroom, and would like you billeted with the family. Any objections?"

It didn't take me long - apart from the thought of being near Marie, there was also the thought of a bed, rather than hay, and getting away from the snoring and smell of a platoon of men.

"None at all, Sir. Happy to oblige. Would you like me to take the answer personally?"

"See to it, Sergeant." And I thought I heard "You lucky blighter!" added under his breath.

I spent a very pleasant evening with the Drolets. I sat up with Monsieur Drollet over some excellent cognac. Then I made my way up the stairs to what had been Pierre's room, and fell fast asleep.

My dreams were at first mixed up with the stories M. Drollet told of the Franco-Prussian War. Then I settled, and it seemed to me that I wasn't alone in the bed. That there was a soft warm body next to mine. I could feel kisses, and smell perfume.

Now, as you know, men have that kind of dream all the time, and especially when they've been deprived of female companionship.

When I woke, I was alone.

Was it a dream? I've often wondered. I've asked Marie, but she just smiles. Even now, when we've been married ten years, I can't decide whether it was a dream or not.

Michael Johnson

Part 26 - Dawn

John awoke from long habit at 5:30 a.m. He made his way to the firing step and found the Captain.

"Good morning, Sir. Stand-to as usual?"

The Captain looked at him. "Let's live dangerously for once, John. We'll take a chance. One platoon only, just in case."

John routed out the unlucky platoon, and shepherded them complaining under their breath to take up their stand-to position on the firing step.

In his pocket was a letter from Marie. He much preferred its tone to her last.

My dearest Jean,

Please, please forgive me for that last letter. I was so heartsick over Maman's death, Papa, the loss of our home,, that I didn't know what I was saying. And I was wrong about your mother. Now that I know her better, I like her, and she has been very kind. I am so happy for her and the General.

Our home is to be rebuilt as soon as we can find labourers. Your mother and the General are helping us.

Please write me and let me know that you still love me, as I love you so much.

Marie

In the east, the sky was turning pink with the first rays of dawn. For once the only sound was the waking birds.

He was ready to start his reply. He took his pencil and pad, and began:

November 12, 1918

Dearest Marie

Michael Johnson

Part 25

"NOOOOOON!!!"

General Matthieu awoke to find himself, as always, on his cot. He had had his recurring nightmare, one that had come again and again since August 1914.

Long lines of poilus, clad in the red trousers and blue capotes of the pre-war era advanced in straight lines against les Boches, bugles blowing and bayonets shining. And they tumbled to the ground, cut down like wheat by the German machine guns. In vain he ordered them - pleaded with them, to take cover. Robot-like they ignored him and marched to their deaths.

But now there was a new twist to the dream. As each man fell, he saw that each face was the face of the Canadian Sergeant he had met but once - Jean, Dominque's son.

Back in September 1914 he had lived that dream, and had lain there wounded as his men fell around him. It had taught him a lesson, one he had never forgotten. Privately he regarded his superiors - Nivelle, Petain, Joffe - as butchers. He remembered the words of an American Marine observor during the British war in South Africa: "Say, General, wasn't there a way around?" He always looked for the weak spot. He remembered an occasion when he had had a Colonel of Chasseurs à Cheval prepared to challenge him to a duel when he had ordered him to forget about charges and get ahead of the army to scout.

His men referred to him as "Père Matthieu" - "Daddy", because of his care for them. At the Chemin des Dames in 1917 they had remained faithful when units around them mutinied. They trusted him.

His pulse raced and his chest was painful. He wondered how much longer he could continue. How ironic it would be to die of a heart attack now, just when he had regained his lost love. He hoped that Dominique had been able to straghten out the misunderstanding with Marie. He didn't blame Marie in the least, but a daughter-in-law who would stick up for her rights was definitely something Dominique needed. He no longer felt strong enough to do the job alone.

Michael Johnson

Part 15A - Canal du Nord

The reckless exhilaration of breaking the Drocourt-Queant Line was past. As the battalion bound its wounds and paused for breath, the Captain summoned D Company's N.C.O.s together.

"Men, we've broken the Drocourt-Queant Line. Ahead lies the Canal du Nord. D Company has been detailed to reconnoitre ahead and see whether the Germans have retreated across the Canal, or whether they're trying to hold on this side. The going is bad - swampy land, and forest. Be careful and get word back as soon as possible."

John summoned his platoon. Briefly he outlined their task. He wished that he had Charlie Lickers with him, but his scout was now Fred Rose. Fred was an oddity - a Newfoundlander in a battalion of Ontarians and British Columbians. John had asked him how he had ended up in the 102nd. Fred had been a butcher before he enlisted, and D Company had fared well when it came to meat.

"Well, b'y, I wis in North Ontario, and I'se decided to jine up. Too far t'go down home."

Moving through the darkness, John and his men felt their way forward. The land was raked periodically by machine gun fire. Where it was coming from was impossible to say. They took casualties, but kept going.

As they skirted a wood they were fired upon. Some Germans evidently were west of the Canal.

Finally they reached the Canal. John sent men crawling just back of the bank. Their report was not encouraging. The Canal was dry, but all the bridges were down. There would be no easy way across. They made their way back to report.

He called the roll. Shaw, Duguld, Carnie, Broadford, Speyer were missing. So was Fred Rose. One of the men volunteered, "I saw Fred take a machine gun bullet to the throat."

"I guess we'll have to do our own butchering, now", John said. "And I'll need to find another scout."

(All the names are real members of the 102nd who were killed September 3, 1918. Fred Rose was my wife's great uncle. He is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial. It is unknown whether he was a scout or not, but if he was, he is buried in Dury Mill Cemetery as an unknown member of the 102nd.)

Michael Johnson

Part 24 - Madame Leads Low

"But Georges," said Dominique, dismayed, "How do I do that?"

The General considered a minute.

"It isn't going to be easy. You will have to go to her. Take Drouin and a Staff car - it will be better than arriving in your own car with chauffeur, and the fact that the village is in the Canadian military zone is a good excuse. As to what you are to say, I can't tell you that. It will be up to you to read Marie, and respond in whatever way will touch her."

And so it was that a week later Marie found herself knocking at the door of the house of Marie's cousins. She felt very vulnerable. Drouin had driven off, promising to return within the hour.

It was Marie who answered the door.

Dominique screwed up her courage.

"Mademoiselle Drollet? May I come in?

Marie's back straightened at the sight of Dominique, but she bade Dominique come into the sitting room.

"Mademoiselle Drollet - Marie? I've come to apologize."

"Yes?" replied Marie.

"I should have introduced myself back at the hospital. And I should have thanked you for helping me nurse the General. I am Madame Johnson - well, Veuve Johnson to be correct. The General tells me that you are the Marie that Jean wrote to tell me he would marry. But I understand that you have dismissed him. Would you tell me why? Do you not love him anymore? Or do you feel that his family would not approve?

Marie stammered her reasons, ending with "And of course you and the General would not want a farm girl for a daughter-in-law."

Dominique looked at her. "Georges has had nothing but good things to say about you. He says you love Jean very much, and I know he loves you. And above all other things, I want Jean to be happy."

"Marie, let me tell you a story. Years ago there was a young girl. She was attractive, but had little money, and truth be told not a whole lot of intelligence. But because she was attractive, she had many admirers. There was one she liked better than the others. He was a young army officer, just starting his career. But he was due to be posted to Algeria, and this girl did not want to leave France, so she did not encourage him. And the night before he left it seemed there was something he wanted to say, but it was left unsaid because he received no encouragement. Shortly after, the girl met a wealthy lawyer who was visiting France, married him, and went to live in Canada. They had one son - that was all. He was good to her in his own way, but he was not the right man."

"As you will have guessed, Marie, that girl was me. I spent over twenty years in a foreign country. Years that I could have spent with a man I truly loved. But God was good. Edward died, and the young officer, now a General had not married. And I found him again, but gravely wounded. I was selfish back then, and I fear I've never quite lost it. I should have payed more attention to you, whether or not I knew you were my son's fiancee."

"Marie, please do not make the same mistake that I did. If you love Jean, as I believe you do, please let him know. You might not be as fortunate as I was."

Marie threw herself into Dominique's arms, and burst into tears. Dominique held her and cried as well.

"I love him!" cried Marie. "It's just this war, and my father, and maman. I can't stand the waiting, the fear that I will lose another dear one."

"You must be brave, as I must be. This war will not last forever, but we must finish it. And then there will be time to rebuild, to marry. Please, let John know that you love him. It will give him something to help him through to the end."

"Can't you do that for me, Madame?" asked Marie. "I'm too ashamed of my behaviour."

"No. my dear. It must come from you. Otherwise it will just be 'Maman interfering again' and John won't trust it."

Michael Johnson

Part 23 - Madame Takes Her Turn

Madame Johnson was not in a happy state of mind. Although she had long known that her son had a mind of his own, clearly two years as an N.C.O. had fostered an independence she would not have believed.

Her mood had not improved when during a conversation with some of her friends the topic of conversation had turned to General Georges Matthieu. There were some things Dominique should know; after all, the two of you had been so close - we wondered why you didn't get engaged. But I suppose he had an eye for the ladies back then as well. Well my dear, he's still chasing them, so they say. Sopranos from the Comedie Francaise, and that Englishwoman, Dianne some name starting with D.

And so it was, that when she received an invitation to join him for dinner, he became the target of her pent-up frustration.

When Dominique had reduced herself to tears, Georges looked at her. "Dominique, obviously I haven't been chasing anything since that air raid. The only women I've visited were young Marie and her mother. The Comedie Francaise? That would be Angelique. Her father died saving my life in Algeria. I've kept an eye on her and opened a few doors where I could. She's an excellent soprano, you must go hear her some day. As for Dianne, she was chasing me, and without any success. I've heard she's given up and is engaged to an English Colonel. I admit I have had women friends, but remember, until a couple of weeks ago, the only woman I have ever cared about was married and in Canada. The first thing I did when I saw her again was to propose."

"But Georges, what am I to do? Jean thinks that I'm responsible for Marie breaking off the engagement. He's forbiddden me to go see her to try to straighten things out. And he's not one bit pleased about our engagement."

"Dominique, you must try to understand that Jean is no longer a boy. He is a man, a soldier, and a very good one. He makes decisions not only for himself, but for his men. And he is a Canadian, for all that he is half French. You can return to France - you have never really left it. He must make his own choices. He chose to join the Canadian Army. He may choose to return to Canada. If he decides to stay in France, it will be for Marie, and only for her. So you must go see Marie, but you will have to change your approach.

Remember, that girl has lost a mother, brother, and fiance in this war. Her home has been destroyed and her father was wounded. She has been engaged to a soldier who could be killed at any time. She comes from humble roots, and fears being snubbed. So you must put aside your steamroller approach to people. Accept that you cannot control - you are seeing that with your son. Instead you must persuade. You may be able to charm, but that will be less effective on Marie. You must win her over. And you only have two things in common. You are both women, and you both love the same boy.

As to his disapproval of our engagement, does it occur to you that Jean loved his father as well as loving you? I proposed because I wanted to be sure this time, and not miss a second chance that Heaven afforded me. And I didn't know how badly I was wounded. You know as well as I that there can be no wedding until your mourning is finished, and hopefully this war as well. Jean has lost a father, believes he has lost his fiancee, and is in the middle of a war you cannot comprehend. Do you wonder that he is out of sorts?"

Michael Johnson

Part 22 - John in the Middle

One of the dilemmas of war is the fact that life continues, but the ability of the participants to deal with anything but their military duties is extremely limited.

John felt this keenly. He felt reasonably sure that his mother had not deliberately snubbed Marie, but the result was the same in any case. If he could see Marie for even ten minutes he was sure that he could straighten things out. But his battalion was moving back into action, and leave was out of the question. He could not even summon the General to act as fairy godmother.

The Captain called John over. "Take this message back to the Colonel. Get back as soon as you can."

John reached battalion headquarters, and delivered his message. There was no reply, so he turned to leave.

A car pulled up ahead of him, and John heard his mother's voice calling him.

John had had enough. "Well Maman, you've really messed it up this time! I don't know what you said to Marie, or what you didn't say, but you've blown that to Hell! Why didn't you stay at home? And getting engaged just after Dad died. It's disgusting! You're not a girl."

It was as well that all of this was delivered in French, for a crowd of soldiers had gathered, and was listening to the quarrel.

"But Jean," his mother tried to interject. "You don't understand!"

"Certainly I do! You've got your old flame, and Dad's money - and the rest of the world can take care of itself!"

"I'll go see her. I'll explain. I've got nothing against her - I thought that she was just one of the hospital staff. I wish I'd known. And they left so quickly, and the General was so sick."

"Maman, you think that you can arrange everything. You think that you can manipulate everyone. You may scare Drouin, but you don't scare me! Keep away from Marie! She's got enough to deal with, without your meddling! This is my life, and you stay out of it!"

And he turned on his heel and strode off toward his unit.

Madame watched him go, for once feeling powerless. This time, she thought, maybe she'd gone too far.

Michael Johnson

Part 21 - Marie Again

Marie rose early. She had arranged to borrow her cousins' wagon to return to her village and see what she could salvage from the remains of the farmhouse.

Her first stop was the cemetery, where the sight of the new grave where her mother was buried brought tears to her eyes. After a brief prayer she moved on.

Little Mathieu ran to meet her.

"Marie! Here's another letter for you!"

Marie put it into her pocket after thanking him. She had work to do. John's letter could wait.

It was heartbreaking work retrieving the family's possessions. Although most of the house was intact, she did not want to leave anything of value. She found her father's medal, and the Croix de guerre the General had presented to her father for her brother. There were the few photographs; her parents' wedding, her father in uniform. Some dressses and her father's suit. From the wreckage of the kitchen she retrieved some sacks of food. She would take it back so that they wouldn't be totally dependent on their cousins.

Finally the wagon was loaded. She sat down and took out John's letter.

John began by giving his condolences on her mother's death. He understood, he said, he had recently lost his father. The next paragraph caught her eye:

I understand that your father and General Matthieu were taken to the hospital together, and that you were joined by a lady. Cherie, that was my mother. She came over to visit family. The General is an old friend of hers. The shocker is that they are now engaged. I don't know how much you talked with each other - my mother didn't say anything in her letter - but I hope that you got along together. She is now all the family I have.

Marie felt a sudden surge of anger. Obviously she had not existed as far as Madame Johnson was concerned. And a woman who was going to marry a General would not care for a daughter-in-law who was a farmer's daughter.

The more she thought, the angrier she became. Men! She hated them. They caused the war that had cost her everything. And despite his fine words John was probably no different than Jean; he was just more subtle and patient about getting what he wanted. She remembered Sister Therese at the hospital. She had been kind. She did useful work. She should go and see her.

Several days later, John received Marie's letter. It was short.

Don't write me. Don't try to see me. I won't marry you.

Michael Johnson

Part 20 - John Again

John came away from mail call with a handful of letters and a very confused mind.

He recognized his mother's handwriting on the first letter, but it bore a French stamp. The second letter was a French Military letter. The third was from Marie. This was the one he chose to open first.

Marie's handwriting was worse than usual, but John quickly grasped the extent of the tragedy that had befallen the Drolet family. Monsieur Drolet was recovering, but still in shock at his wife's death. Until such time as the farmhouse could be rebuilt Marie and her father were staying with cousins in a nearby village.

Next he opened his mother's.

Yes, my son, I am here in France. After your father's death I felt the need to come home. I went to thank General Matthieu for his kindness, only to hear from his aide that he had been wounded in an air raid. I hurried to see him, and ended up nursing him for several days, as the hospital staff were overworked.

You know that many years ago we were in love, but he went away to Algeria, and I met your father. Georges proposed to me as he lay there wounded, and I have accepted, although it will be a long while before we can be married. I trust that you can accept this, and wish us well.

The letter was from Lieutenant Drouin, and it helped make sense of the other two letters. Drouin recounted the trip to visit the Drolets, and the air raid that had killed Madame Drolet and wounded Marie's father and the General. He mentioned how John's mother had arrived at the General's headquarters, and on learning where he was had insisted on being driven there immediately. The General would recover, but obviously there would not be any present need for John's transfer. It was clear that Dominique's whirlwind personality had petrified Drouin.

John tried to put all of this together. The sequence of events he could grasp, but there were disturbing elements. His mother and Marie had met, had worked together, and yet neither mentioned the other. What had gone on in that hospital room? And then there was his mother's engagement to the General, so soon after his father's death. Impulsiveness had not seemed to be one of his mother's qualities. Thoughts of Hamlet came to mind, except that obviously the General could have had nothing to do with the death of John's father. And where did his mother intend to live - Canada or France?

There was no way he could help Marie, who obviously was the one in the most need. But having just lost a parent himself, he knew only too well the grief she would be feeling. At least Marie had been able to attend her mother's funeral.

He was almost relieved when the Captain called him to take out a patrol. Compared to his personal life, fighting Germans seemed almost a relief.

Michael Johnson

Part 19 - Madame Misses a Trick

Madam and Marie worked together for the next two days. The little conversation that was possible revolved around their patients' needs. Marie was dying to question the mysterious lady, but did not dare. For her part Madame seemed oblivious to who her helper might be.

Monsieur Drolet broke the impasse. With tears in her eyes, Marie told him of his wife's death. "We must get back for her funeral," Monsieur Drolet kept repeating.

And then, seemingly by a miracle, but in actual fact due to a timely word by Lieutenant Drouin, a car pulled up at the hospital, and the Maire and Curé came in to take Marie and her father back to the village. His injuries were less serious than the General's, and the doctor made no objection.

Madame turned to Marie. "Goodbye, and thank you for your help."

When the General awoke, he was much improved and more alert. He saw that his vision of Madame was no part of his delirium, and that she was really in the room with him.

"Dominique, will you marry me? I should have asked you then, but I'm asking you now."

"Georges, silly boy, of course I will, as soon as my mourning is over."

The General looked over to the other bed. "Where did Marie and her father go?"

"Oh, they left a couple of hours ago, a car came to take them home."

The General looked at her. "And did you and Marie talk together? What did you think of her?"

"We didn't have a lot to say, taking care of two patients. She seemed pleasant enough. A farm girl, I'd say. Why do you ask?"

The General smiled. "Dominique, that was the girl your son is going to marry!"

Michael Johnson

Part 18 - The General in Check

"Drouin!"

"Oui, mon Général?"

"Get my car, we're going to visit the 102nd Canadians again. I want an answer to my request."

As the General and his staff wound their way towards the Canadian lines, the General made a snap decision.

"Stop at Izel-le-Hameaux. I want to visit that old comrade of my grandfather's."

As they drew near, the General noted an ammunition dump that had not been there last trip. But soon they were at Monsieur Drolet's house, and talking with him and Marie, while Madame Drolet busied herself in the kitchen. No, he told Marie, he had not had an answer from John about his offer of a Staff job.

Marie sat on the other side of the room from the General. There had been an occasion on the ride back from meeting John that she had politely but firmly moved his hand from her thigh. There was certainly a lot of life left in the old boy, she thought.

Suddenly there was a droning in the air, followed by explosions. Drouin rushed in: "Get down! It's an air raid!" But before anyone could move, there was a flash, and darkness.

Drouin was the first to recover. The blast had hurled him back out the door, and so he had escaped the collapse of the farmhouse. He rushed back in. The General and Monsieur Drolet were unconscious on the floor, bleeding from their wounds. Marie appeared unhurt, and was already getting up to help him. She stopped. "Maman!" and she turned to the kitchen.

The bomb had burst on the kitchen side, and the wall had collapsed. Marie dug feverishly at the rubble, and uncovered her mother. Madame Drolet was in a bad way. A beam had fallen onto her chest, and her breathing was laboured. Drouin took one look and said to Marie "If there is a curé in the village, you'd better send for him. She hasn't got long to live." Marie dashed out. Young Mathieu was running towards her.

"Mathieu! Fetch Monsieur le Curé! Maman is dying." Mathieu was gone like a shot. He loved Marie, with a young boy's love, and would do anything for her. A minute later he was back, with the priest behind him. After one look he administered the Last Rites to Madame and Monsieur Drolet, and to the General. The substance of the General's confession was inaudible to all except the priest, but it took some time. "You'll recover," said the priest, "But mind you change your ways!"

Madame Drolet was dead before he finished.

Drouin took charge. "We've got to get him to a hospital! Your father too, as I don't suppose there's a doctor in the village."

"Most certainly him too," wheezed the General, opening his eyes briefly.

Between Marie and Drouin, they got the two men into the back seat of the car. A supply of bandages from the trunk stopped the worst of the bleeding. Drouin took the wheel. "Stay back there with them," he told Marie, "And hang on tight!" And he took off like the Grand Prix driver he had longed to be before the war.

There might be a Canadian hospital ahead, he thought, but he didn't know where, and besides, it would be dealing with the casualties from the bombing raid. There was a French hospital not too much further back.

Marie never knew how they managed to reach the hospital without killing themselves and their patients. Drouin disappeared and returned with two stretcher teams. He brushed aside an objection to a civilian being admitted with an imperious "The General's orders!" The two men were placed together in a small room. Marie remained with them. A nun came in and asked "Do you know anything about nursing? If so, you can stay with these two. You can sponge their foreheads if they become feverish. Call me if they seem worse. I am Sister Thérese."

The next forty-eight hours were the longest Marie had ever known. Her father rested quietly, but the General's sleep was fitful. Towards morning the second day he was awake, but in and out of delirium.

"Dominique! Dominique! Where are you? Please, a drink - it's hotter than Sidi bel Abbes!"

"It's Marie, General, not Dominique. Try to suck some of this water."

"Dominique!"

Behind her a voice said: "I'm here, Georges." A woman dressed in black, whom Marie had never seen before said, "Get some rest, my child, I will take care of them." And she bent over and kissed the General's cheek.

Michael Johnson

Part 17 - Madame Makes a Move

Madame Johnson sat in her drawing room. On the table before her was General Matthieu's letter. She read it again, then crossed to her desk and retrieved his previous letter concerning John and Marie. Then she pressed a piece of moulding, releasing a hidden drawer. From the drawer she pulled a batch of letters, tied with a ribbon. His handwriting really hadn't changed in nearly twenty years, she thought, as she added the General's letters to those he had written as a young Lieutenant.

What was she to do now, she wondered? She did not want for security - Edward had seen to that. She felt no strong ties to Canada, and certainly not to dull, English, Orange Order Toronto. As Edward's wife, she had entrée to Toronto society, and she spoke good English with no more than a trace of a French accent. But she spent more of her time with French emigrés like Emile Darte, whose return from the French Army to his steel plant in Welland had kept Edward busy for the better part of a year. No, there was nothing that tied her to Canada.

She felt an intense longing for France, although in the midst of war it would not be the France she had left. She wanted to see her son again, knowing that he could be lost at any time. She wanted to meet Marie, whom she was certain would be her daughter-in-law, if Le Bon Dieu spared John. And there was Georges...

A call to the French consulate to renew her French passport. Surely she could book a passage out of New York for Havre, even in wartime. She could be in France in two weeks.

She looked across the room to the mirror. She looked younger than her 45 years.

It was time to begin living again.

Michael Johnson

Part 16 - The General Considers

General Matthieu looked at the pile of correspondence before him. It sat in separate piles, sorted by his secretary. The official correspondence was opened and sorted in order of priority, from the highest echelon of command down to the lowest. Personal letters remained in their envelopes.

He flipped through the latter. Where he recognized the handwriting, he would put them aside to consider at his leisure, and reply when he could.

He paused when he came upon a faire-part. These were nothing new, especially during the war, but it bore a Canadian stamp, and he had seen the handwriting very recently. It was that of Madame Johnson. He hurriedly tore it open. Unlike John, the General's eye first fell on the faire-part, and only then on the letter. It was brief, and merely asked him to give John any assistance that he might ask for. It was signed "Jeanne".

Pushing aside the other mail, the General reached for pen and paper.

Chère Madame,

Permit me to convey my deepest condolences on your loss. If there is any way I may be of service to you, I am yours to command.

I have not yet heard from your son's commander, as to his transfer. It may well be , as you said, that he has his own ideas.

May I hope that when this war is over you will be visiting your family again?

His mind, however, raced with the possibilities. Maybe one did get another chance.

Michael Johnson

Part 15 - A Time for Dying

The attack had been a failure. John led what was left of his platoon back to reform. He passed the stretcherbearers moving back to find their wounded and recover their dead. John knew that at least five of his men were dead.

He heard a voice call from a stretcher being carried back. "Sarge! Come on over so I can say goodbye." It was Charlie Lickers, with a serious chest wound.

John tried to hide his concern. "You did a great job out there, Charlie. I'm going to see if the Captain will put you in for the Military Medal. You earned it."

"Well, " Charlie grimaced, "That would be nice, but right now I'd settle for not being wounded."

"You'll be okay," John said smiling, "They can't kill a Mohawk. Write to me when you get to hospital. Let me know how you're making out."

There was mail waiting for him. Among the others was the black-bordered envelope that he knew meant a death in the family - known in French as a faire-part. The handwriting was his mother's. He opened it and drew out the faire-part, along with a letter. Doubtless Maman was going to tell him that the War had claimed another cousin. Or perhaps one of his elderly great-uncles had died.

Instead, he read:

Mon cher fils,

I am sorry to have to tell you that your father has died, very suddenly. No, it was not la grippe, but a heart attack. He had been working very hard because of the shortage of lawyers, and then he felt very keenly that he was not doing anything for the War, so he joined the Militia. He was taking his weekly turn at guard duty when he collapsed.

His funeral was held yesterday, with military honours. The church was filled, and it was a beautiful service.

Do not worry about me. Everything is taken care of. Edward has made excellent plans for this eventuality.

My dear friend General Matthieu wrote me to tell me that he had seen you, and that you are well. He also says that your Marie is très charmante. I trust his judgment. If you ever need anything, do not hesitate to ask him.

May God keep you well, and may I see you soon.

John sat down, and tried to grasp what his mother had said. He thought of his father. Poor Father, who had always seemed to be in the background of John's life, put in the shade by his vivacious French wife. John felt that he had never really gotten to know his father, and now it was too late.

The next time he was able to get to a church, he would have a Mass said for him.

He thought of his men who had died that day, of his father, who died trying to be a soldier. He thought of Charlie Lickers, who might even now be dead, and who certainly never would be able to work the high steel.

John buried his face in his hands, and felt the hot tears begin to well up.

Michael Johnson

Part 1A - The Letter

John was surprised to see a letter from Peggy. She hadn't written since seeing him off. He tore it open.

Toronto

August 21, 1916

Dear John

By the time you receive this, I will be Mrs. Peggy Short. Yes, my dear, I'm marrying someone else. He's a brush salesman that I've been seeing since you left for France. George is in love with me, and will take care of me. I'm afraid I had no desire to be a widow before I had a chance to enjoy marriage. You charged off and enlisted without even talking to me - that was how much you loved me. Don't talk to me about duty and patriotism. Duty and patriotism won't feed you, clothe you, and keep you warm.

Still, I wish you well, and hope you return safely.

Yours truly,

Peggy

John crumpled it up and tossed it away.

Conflicting feelings whirled inside his head. He was hurt, but not surprised. He was relieved. This last puzzled him at first, but as he thought about it, he realized that much of their relationship was Peggy's idea, driving inexorably towards the altar.

At last he was free, free to get on with fighting a war. There would be other girls, back in Canada. John had no great hopes for here in France. Despite his comrades' insistence that French girls were beautiful and available, his own experience from trips over to meet his cousins was very different. But that wasn't why he was here, in any case.

So it was that John left mail call with a light heart.

Michael Johnson

Part 14 - Choices

"Sarge, the Captain wants to see you. Right now."

"I'm coming."

The Captain looked perplexed. "John, the Colonel wants to see you."

"Yes, Sir? Any idea what it's about?"

"Well, it's not every day we get a letter from a French General."

John groaned inwardly. Maman's fingerprints were all over this.

He entered the battalion HQ with the Captain. The Colonel looked up. "Sergeant, what do you know about this?" And he handed over a letter.

It was a request that Sergeant Johnson of the 102nd Battalion be loaned to the Staff of General Matthieu of the 4th French Army, to serve as interpreter and assistant to Captain Wilson, liaison officer.

"Nothing, Sir."

"You didn't request this? He's the General who came here with a girl about two weeks ago."

"No Sir. That was as much a surprise to me as it was to you." John thought it better not to mention his mother's ties to senior French officers.

"You understand that this puts us in a difficult situation. Much as we'd like to help our French allies, we are desperately short of experienced NCOs. So if you have no objection, we'd like to keep you if we can." The Colonel had not shown John the Brigadier's covering letter, which was simply endorsed "Concur."

And it seemed to John that he was back at his office and old Mr. Thomson was asking him not to enlist. "Why am I always trying to accommodate someone else?" he thought. "Why can't I do what I want?" He'd done his share. Let others take their turn while he had a soft billet, and a chance to see Marie regularly.

"May I give you an answer in two days, Sir?"

"Certainly, my boy," replied the Colonel, relieved that John hadn't immediately insisted on being posted.

As they returned to the company, the Captain said: "And while you're pondering joining the fleshpots of the Staff - and I don't blame you - I need you to take a small party and run a reconnaisance."

"I'll take Lickers, if you don't mind, Sir. The fewer the better."

Two hours later John and Charlie set out.

"Are you going to take that French job?" asked Charlie.

It seemed there were no secrets in the battalion.

"I don't know Charlie. By the way, I've been meaning to ask you what you did before you enlisted, since you weren't trapping in the woods."

"High iron work. You know the bridge at Quebec? That was one job, then office towers in New York City. Some of them twenty stories or more. Most of the boys are Mohawks from Caughnawauga Quebec, and when I first started I had no French and they had no English, so we talked in Mohawk."

Now John got dizzy looking out third-story windows.

"I could never do that. You Indians must have a special knack for it."

Charlie looked at him with amusement. "The first time I went up I wanted to crawl along the girder. And I'm still not comfortable on the really high work. But I'm a Mohawk, and my pride won't let me show any fear. That's what it is - pride."

John knew that he had the answer for the Colonel. He would stay with his men. Not because the Colonel wanted him to, but because he himself wanted to.

Maman would be disappointed, he thought to himself.

Unfortunately so would Marie.

Michael Johnson

Part 13 The Plot Thickens

Even the most ardent of young lovers cannot hold a kiss for ten minutes.

Marie grabbed John's arm. "I have a plan. This General, he is très gentil, and I think he perhaps likes me a little, too. I could ask him to take you as an Aide. You speak much better French than le Capitaine Wilson."

Général Matthieu to Madame Johnson:

You need have no concern, cherie. The girl Marie is charmante, but also a hard worker and gentille. Her teacher spoke well of her as a pupil. If there had been money she would have been a candidate for college. And she is very much in love with your son.

Jean is definitely in love with her as well. From all reports he is an excellent soldier, and should have been commissioned long ago. As a favour both to you and to myself, I could see him as a liason officer on my Staff. It would be the least I could do for an old and dear friend...

Madame Johnson to Général Matthieu:

I cannot express my thanks for all you have done, which was more than I dared ask. As for a position on your Staff for my boy, Jean may well have his own ideas on the subject. He can be very stubborn...

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