The Paris part came earlier and he was not frightened of it except when she had gone off with someone else and the fear that they might take the same driver twice. That was what frightened about that. Never about the front. He never dreamed about the front now any more but what frightened him so that he could not get rid of it was that long yellow house and the different width of the river. Now he was back here at the river, he had gone through the same town, and there was no house. Nor was the river that way. Then where did he go each night and what was the peril, and why would he wake, soaking wet, more frightened than he had ever been in a bombardment, because of a house and a long stable and a canal?
He sat up, swung his legs carefully down; they stiffened any time they were out straight for long; returned the stares of the adjutant, the signallers and the two runners by the door and put on his cloth-covered trench helmet.
“I regret the absence of the chocolate, the postal cards and cigarettes,” he said. “I am, however, wearing the uniform.”
“The major is coming back at once,” the adjutant said. In that army an adjutant is not a commissioned officer.
“The uniform is not very correct,” Nick told them. “But it gives you the idea. There will be several millions of Americans here shortly.”
“Do you think they will send Americans down here?” asked the adjutant.
“Oh, absolutely. Americans twice as large as myself, healthy, with clean hearts, sleep at night, never been wounded, never been blown up, never had their heads caved in, never been scared, don’t drink, faithful to the girls they left behind them, many of them never had crabs, wonderful chaps. You’ll see.”
“Are you an Italian?” asked the adjutant.
“No, American. Look at the uniform. Spagnolini made it but it’s not quite correct.”
“A North or South American?”
“North,” said Nick. He felt it coming on now. He would quiet down.
“But you speak Italian.”
“Why not? Do you mind if I speak Italian? Haven’t I a right to speak Italian?”
“You have Italian medals.”
“Just the ribbons and the papers. The medals come later. Or you give them to people to keep and the people go away, or they are lost with your baggage. You can purchase others in Milan. It is the papers that are of importance. You must not feel badly about them. You will have some yourself if you stay at the front long enough.”
“I am a veteran of the Eritrea campaign,” said the adjutant stiffly. “I fought in Tripoli.”
“It’s quite something to have met you,” Nick put out his hand. “Those must have been trying days. I noticed the ribbons. Were you, by any chance, on the Carso?”
“I have just been called up for this war. My class was too old.”
“At one time I was under the age limit,” Nick said. “But now I am reformed out of the war.”
“But why are you here now?”
“I am demonstrating the American uniform,” Nick said. “Don’t you think it is very significant? It is a little tight in the collar but soon you will see untold millions wearing this uniform swarming like locusts. The grasshopper, you know, what we call the grasshopper in America, is really a locust. The true grasshopper is small and green and comparatively feeble. You must not, however, make a confusion with the seven-year locust or cicada which emits a peculiar sustained sound which at the moment I cannot recall. I try to recall it but I cannot. I can almost hear it and then it is quite gone. You will pardon me if I break off our conversation?”
“See if you can find the major,” the adjutant said to one of the two runners. “I can see you have been wounded,” he said to Nick.
“In various places,” Nick said. “If you are interested in scars I can show you some very interesting ones but I would rather talk about grasshoppers. What we call grasshoppers, that is, and what are, really, locusts. These insects at one time played a very important part in my life. It might interest you and you can look at the uniform while I am talking.”