"As for the members of Dr. Clark's staff who are going home with him, there are no nurses who will not remain except a Miss Thompson. Bianca Zoli, Mrs. Clark's ward, is leaving with her of course. Then I suppose you know that the little Luxemburg Countess Charlotta Scherin and her governess are to accompany us, I believe with the consent of her father."
As the little group moved away in the direction of the river bank, Mildred smiled.
"See, Colonel, there are the three girls we have been discussing! The little Countess Charlotta and your pet officer, Major Hersey, are probably saying farewell. Further on is Theodosia Thompson and Dr. Hugh Raymond. Dr. Raymond is to be in charge of our American Red Cross hospital in Coblenz after Dr. Clark's departure. It is a good deal of responsibility for so young a physician, but Dr. Clark seems to think he is equal to it. And there perched up in the branches of that old tree is Bianca Zoli. How pretty she looks in her delicate blue dress against such a background!"
"And who is that romantic young soldier standing beneath her?" the Colonel demanded.
"Oh, yes, I remember now, he is the soldier-singer, who I believe is also going back to the States, as I secured an honorable discharge for him a short time ago. Odd name his for an American, what is it?"
"Carlo Navara," Nona replied, "and an old friend of ours."
Then they continued on their walk.
At the same moment Theodosia Thompson and Dr. Raymond were slipping out of sight of the guests along a little path which ended in a group of shrubs a few yards down the hill.
"I can't see why you wish to renew what we were discussing a few days ago, Dr. Raymond," Thea argued a little plaintively, her red hair shining in the warm light, her pale cheeks showing two spots of bright color. "I think I said to you then all I could say. I do appreciate the honor of your believing that you care for me, although I think you will soon find out your mistake. You will see then as plainly as I do now that we are not suited to each other. I told you I did not wish to marry any one. I know it seems ridiculous and perhaps wicked to you that I should prefer to learn folk dancing as a profession rather than to continue as a nurse. But people cannot always understand each other's dreams and desires and I only undertook the Red Cross nursing because I wanted to help nurse our soldiers, not because I wanted to be a nurse always. But Ruth Carroll believes as you do and never intends giving up her work, not unless she marries which I hope she may some day. She is so splendid and restful, just the kind of girl I should think an ambitious man would care for. She would be such a pillar of strength.
Alas, that I shall never be to any one, not even to myself I am afraid!" Thea ended. Then she put out her hand.
"Don't let us argue on this lovely day, Dr. Raymond, just shake hands with me, and let us wish each other good luck."
Under the circ.u.mstances, since there was nothing else to do and also because he was partly convinced of the truth of Thea's speech, Dr.
Raymond agreed with her request. A few moments later, climbing up the hill, they rejoined the other guests.
From the ground, smiling up at her in a teasing fashion usual in their relation to each other, Carlo at the same time was saying to Bianca Zoli:
"Sure you are not especially glad to be going home, Bianca, chiefly because I am so soon to follow you? I've an idea you would be very unhappy if we were parting for any length of time. Nicht war?"
Bianca shook her head, smiling and at the same time frowning.
"Under those circ.u.mstances, I should simply have tried to bear my departure bravely, Carlo, as one who has been through a good many experiences as a Red Cross girl in time of war. But don't speak German even in fun. Some day I may learn to dislike the language less, but not at present. Moreover, I do not look forward to seeing a great deal of Mr. Carlo Navara even if we are both again to be in the United States.
You will be very busy with your career and will probably soon be a more famous person than you were before you entered the United States army, while I, well I shall work hard in my way, although I shall continue to remain an obscure person."
"I don't know, Bianca, suppose some day you condescended to marry me.
Wouldn't you like to share my fame?"
Bianca shook her head.
"I think not, Carlo. Besides, you must not say things of that kind to me. You know Sonya would be angry."
Carlo looked a little annoyed, then laughed.
Since her illness it seemed to him that Bianca had changed in some subtle fashion. One was no longer so sure of getting the best of her in an argument.
Besides, after all, would it be so unpleasant to share one's future with Bianca? She looked oddly pretty and ethereal high up in the branches of the tree where he had lifted her a few moments before.
But at this moment there could be no further discussion between them, a message arriving from Sonya saying that she wished Bianca to come and a.s.sist her in pouring tea.
After he helped her down to the ground, Carlo made Bianca pause for a moment while he pointed across the river.
"See that curious effect, Bianca! There is a rainbow over the Rhine. It comes sometimes in the late afternoon light even when there has been no storm. Let us hope the world will find peace at the end of the rainbow, and more especially Germany. I won't come with you now, as I hate having to serve tea. Ask some of your soldier friends who are cleverer at it than I. I want to watch the sunset on the Rhine."
And Carlo and Bianca parted for a short time, yet thereafter many experiences and a number of years were to roll between them before Carlo and Bianca at last found happiness in each other.
At the same time Major Hersey and Charlotta were observing the curious effect of light over the river.
They had gone together to the edge of one of the cliffs and were gazing across at the great fortress of Ehrenbreitstein from whose tower the stars and stripes were floating. To them the rainbow seemed to dip down into the depth of this ancient fortress and lose itself in the shadows.
"Whenever I am homesick to return to my own country, Countess Charlotta, I simply stare across at the flag on that old German fortress and think what it represents," Major Hersey declared. "Then I am content to remain in Germany for as long as I am needed. A little thing, isn't it, to give a few months, or a few years, or whatever length of time may be necessary to teach Germany her lesson, when so many other men have given their lives that our flag be the flag of victory and a just peace!"
The young girl's face softened.
"I think you are a good soldier, Major Hersey. There is something I want to confide to you. I did write my father as you suggested and told him I would come home if he wished, only he must allow me to keep my freedom.
His answer was what I expected. He does not desire to see me at present and says I am free to travel in the United States if I like. Only he adds that when I have seen more of the world perhaps I shall be more content to do my duty to my father. Not very clear, but I think I understand. My father really wishes to become reconciled with me, only not to seem to give in too readily. So I shall return home in a few months perhaps. Then if you are still in Coblenz and I write you, won't you come to Luxemburg? We have been such good friends and I hate saying goodby forever to people I like."
Major Jimmie Hersey shook his head, his brown eyes were steady and although the old boyish color had diffused his face, there was the firm line about his mouth and chin which his soldiers knew and respected.
"No, Countess Charlotta, I shall not come to see you in Luxemburg or elsewhere and this must be our goodby. I have no idea of leaving the United States army so long as I am allowed to remain in it. This means I will have nothing to offer you in the future, save what I have now, I believe you understand."
The Countess Charlotta nodded.
"Yes, I understand. Goodby, yet nevertheless I shall look forward to our meeting again."