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."