"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."
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.