The start of chapter 39 of A Rebel for Her Time

Marie Mossman

Del, from rural Nova Scotia, is thrust into the action as a battlefield nurse in World War I

I slept fitfully. Nova Scotia Highlanders were scheduled for Dangle Parade the next morning. How could I suss out information on Charlie with the men commanded not to speak to me, except to say, “Yes, Sister,” when I directed them to do something? Another awkward aspect was the probability of inspection of a man I recognized!

   A company of Highlanders marched into camp early in the morning, and a sergeant approached us. “Dr. Ernst, I’m relaying an order to dismantle this CCS for transportation.”

   “From whom? I’ve not been informed of a move.”

   “Perhaps you’ll receive the order momentarily, sir.”

   A runner appeared as the sergeant spoke. Dr. Ernst scanned the order, then turned to me. “Sister Della, pack our supplies. Transportation’ll arrive shortly for our new site. No, I don’t know where the hell it’ll be!”

   He ordered Henri to line up our patients for transport to our hospital at Quéant.

   I sang to myself. “Jingle jangle, no dangle.”

   I packed our precious surgical gloves, Dakin’s drip kits, bottles of antiseptic, morphine, bandages, the items important to a nurse for surgical procedures, or fragile for transportation. Dr. Ernst assembled the tools most useful to him.

   “I don’t like leaving the rest of the packing to soldiers.”

   “Leave it, Sister, ’cause we’re ordered out before them. We’re to set up closer to new action.”

   Soldiers loaded the most important crates into our ambulance, and Dr. Ernst drove us away from our Cambrai site.

   “We aren’t the first to run away from Cambrai’s ruins. Armies have taken what they wanted and marched out of here since Roman times. Will it ever change?”

   “Can you tell me where we’re going?”

   “No. Let’s be cheerful, Sister Della”

   We drove on in silence for a few kilometres, until he cleared his throat and said. “Sister, I continue to appreciate how you joined me when the order to evacuate was, uh, unclear, back in Cambrai. Why did you do it?”

   “Loyalty, I suppose,” I said. “I agree with your determination to give the best possible treatment to our soldiers, and I admire your skill, so I like assisting you in surgery. I’m here to nurse anywhere care is needed.”

   I didn’t add that I enjoyed being around him. He was vibrant, and physically attractive.

   “Explanation accepted, but only if you let me return it double. You’re one solid woman, Della.”

   I blushed and could think of no suitable response.

   Later I saw a road sign for Rumilley-Cambrésis. “Are we retreating?”

   “Not exactly. I rushed us out of there because I want to take a detour. There’s a decent restaurant off this road. We may as well have a good lunch before we’re back in the fray,” he said.

   My body leaned left as he turned onto a curvy side road. I saw a group of bushes in front of a stand of spruce. The last swerve revealed a shabby building with a damaged sign ‘**staurant’ hanging slantwise above the entrance.

   He opened his door. “Come on. It’s on me.”

   I remembered my weekend with Charlie and put myself on guard.

   The scent of fresh baking and clatter of pots met us at the door. The dining room invited us with its tablecloths and service plates waiting. The host greeted us, chatted in French with me a bit about the cold, foggy weather, and then led us to a table by the hearth where he recited the menu choices.

   “Madame, you will take?”

   “Could you possibly tell me what zander is?”

   “It’s fish, a kind of perch that we catch in rivers. We serve it with fig sauce.”

   “That is tempting, but I’ll have your white bean soup, Picardy style crêpes, and a macaroon with coffee, please.”

   “Sir?”

   “The duck pâté, leek pie, and do you have a cake? You didn’t mention one.”

   “I regret we don’t have enough eggs for our special cake”

   “Then, I’ll have a macaroon with coffee, and bring a glass of white wine with the pie, please.“

   “Certainly, sir.”

   The soup warmed me and soothed my stomach.

   Ernst invited me to try his pâté, but I didn’t want to share food, so refused.

   “Good, I was hoping you’d let me have it all. Della, if I may drop the Sister when we’re off duty, where did you learn French?”

   “We had reading and writing it in the higher grades, and then I taught French myself for ten years when I was a teacher. I understand restaurant language, anyway.”

   “You speak enough to impress me. And I didn’t know you were a teacher.”

   My eyebrows raised themselves slightly and a tiny smile played at the corners of my mouth. “Matron didn’t tell you everything?”

   My rolled crêpes arrived. They were topped with melted cheese and tasted divine. “How’s your pie?” I asked between mouthfuls.

   “Beats rations by a mile. I want to take French cooks home after the war and settle them in restaurants around Philly.”

   “I notice you keep a lamp on in the evenings. Is it to ward off evil spirits?” I asked.

   “After my whisky, which I’m still hoping you’ll share with me, reading calms my mind and brings on sleep. Cheaper than opiates.”

   The host came to our table. “Do you wish your coffee after your macaroon?”

   “At the same time, please. The Sister and I must continue our trip shortly.”

   Dr. Ernst repeated his escaping eel performance as we sped away from the restaurant, in the direction of Cambrai. “After a bit, we’ll turn on the road to our new site.”

   “Can you tell me now where we’re going?”

   “You’ll know when we arrive. If we’re captured en route, and you’re interrogated, you have no information useful to the enemy.”