The Walnut Tree

The Walnut Tree by Charles Todd Read Free Book Online

Book: The Walnut Tree by Charles Todd Read Free Book Online
Authors: Charles Todd
to sitting in the front with the sergeant.
    Without a word we drove away.
    I found myself wishing I could have said good-bye to Peter Gilchrist. But the Major was right about one thing, he was too busy to play at nursemaid, and if I stayed, I could get him killed as he tried to juggle my safety and that of his men.
    For the guns had opened up again, first the Germans and then the nearer salvos as the English answered. Peter Gilchrist’s night was not over.

Chapter Three
    A s we left Ypres behind and drove through the flat land south of it, dawn broke, clouds on the horizon lingering but still promising another hot day ahead.
    The Major began to quiz me.
    Who was I? Where had I been? Why had I come to France? How had I got separated from my party? On and on the questions. I was short of sleep and short of patience, but I answered them with courtesy.
    â€œThere is a valise in an hotel in Calais. Mine, if it is still there. I should like to see if it is, and make myself presentable before boarding a ship.”
    But the Major shook his head. “You aren’t crossing at Calais. No. I’ll send someone to find your valise if I can.”
    â€œI shouldn’t stay in France,” I reminded him.
    â€œI’m well aware of that, Lady Elspeth.”
    At that moment the lieutenant, in the front, said something in Gaelic. I caught it but said nothing.
    â€œShe’s related to the Major, sir. Must be.”
    That put a different light on the matter, apparently.
    My Major said, “Thank you,” to his lieutenant, then gave the matter some thought. Finally he said, “There’s a convoy of lorries on their way to Rouen, or there should be. We’re bringing in supplies through the port, and you’re more likely to find a space for England there. I’ll send a pass with you.”
    And then, as if he’d disposed of this thorny problem, he turned to his lieutenant and began making lists of what was needed in the north and what he had arranged to be done. The lieutenant, a notebook on his knee, was writing quickly, trying to keep up with the spate of orders and comments as we bounced and slid on the war-torn road.
    I settled into a corner, tried to sleep, but found myself feeling bereft. Alone in a strange, cold world.
    C alais was no better, possibly even worse. The Major sent his sergeant into the hotel I pointed out, and the man came back a quarter of an hour later with my valise. By this time the Major had gone on, leaving me with the young lieutenant.
    They flagged down one of the convoy of lorries forming up for the journey to Rouen, and I was put aboard, in the front with the driver, my valise stowed. From his notebook, the lieutenant took three sheets of paper, passed one to the driver, one to me, and the third he held.
    â€œThose are your instructions, Corporal. She is not to leave the lorry before you reach the port at Rouen. Understood?”
    â€œSir, yes.”
    To me he said, “That’s your pass for Rouen. You mustn’t lose it. And this”—he handed the third sheet to the driver—“this is her passage chit. Don’t let her have it until you’ve handed her over to the port authorities.”
    He hesitated, then took off his cap, his fair hair already dark with sweat. “I’m so sorry, Lady Elspeth, but your room had been given over to others, and there was no place for you to freshen up. I apologize as well for the Major, but he has a great deal on his mind just now, as you’ll understand. He has your best interests at heart, but we’re at war, and he can’t take needless risks with civilian lives.”
    It was so kind of him. I felt a rush of sympathy for him, having to endure the Major’s bad nature. “Thank you, Lieutenant, for your concern. I know how trying I’ve been. I won’t give you or the Major any more cause for concern. And if you should see Captain Gilchrist again, will you give him my

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