A Girl, sits crouched over her knees on a stile close to a river. A MAN with a silver badge stands beside her, clutching the worn top plank. THE GIRL'S level brows are drawn together; her eyes see her memories. THE MAN's eyes see THE GIRL; he has a dark, twisted face. The bright sun shines; the quiet river flows; the Cuckoo is calling; the mayflower is in bloom along the hedge that ends in the stile on the towing-path.
THE GIRL. God knows what 'e'll say, Jim.
THE MAN. Let 'im. 'E's come too late, that's all.
THE GIRL. He couldn't come before. I'm frightened. 'E was fond o' me.
THE MAN. And aren't I fond of you?
THE GIRL. I ought to 'a waited, Jim; with 'im in the fightin'.
THE MAN. [Passionately] And what about me? Aren't I been in the fightin'--earned all I could get?
THE GIRL. [Touching him] Ah!
THE MAN. Did you--? [He cannot speak the words.]
THE GIRL. Not like you, Jim--not like you.
THE MAN. Have a spirit, then.
THE GIRL. I promised him.
THE MAN. One man's luck's another's poison.
THE GIRL. I ought to 'a waited. I never thought he'd come back from the fightin'.
THE MAN. [Grimly] Maybe 'e'd better not 'ave.
THE GIRL. [Looking back along the tow-path] What'll he be like, I wonder?
THE MAN. [Gripping her shoulder] Daisy, don't you never go back on me, or I should kill you, and 'im too.
[THE GIRL looks at him, shivers, and puts her lips to his.]
THE GIRL. I never could.
THE MAN. Will you run for it? 'E'd never find us!
[THE GIRL shakes her head.]
THE MAN [Dully] What's the good o' stayin'? The world's wide.
THE GIRL. I'd rather have it off me mind, with him home.
THE MAN. [Clenching his hands] It's temptin' Providence.
THE GIRL. What's the time, Jim?
THE MAN. [Glancing at the sun] 'Alf past four.
THE GIRL. [Looking along the towing-path] He said four o'clock. Jim, you better go.
THE MAN. Not I. I've not got the wind up. I've seen as much of hell as he has, any day. What like is he?
THE GIRL. [Dully] I dunno, just. I've not seen him these three years. I dunno no more, since I've known you.
THE MAN. Big or little chap?
THE GIRL. 'Bout your size. Oh! Jim, go along!
THE MAN. No fear! What's a blighter like that to old Fritz's shells? We didn't shift when they was comin'. If you'll go, I'll go; not else.
[Again she shakes her head.]
THE GIRL. Jim, do you love me true?
[For answer THE MAN takes her avidly in his arms.]
I ain't ashamed--I ain't ashamed. If 'e could see me 'eart.
THE MAN. Daisy! If I'd known you out there, I never could 'a stuck it. They'd 'a got me for a deserter. That's how I love you!
THE GIRL. Jim, don't lift your hand to 'im! Promise!
THE MAN. That's according.
THE GIRL. Promise!
THE MAN. If 'e keeps quiet, I won't. But I'm not accountable--not always, I tell you straight--not since I've been through that.
THE GIRL. [With a shiver] Nor p'raps he isn't.
THE MAN. Like as not. It takes the lynch pins out, I tell you.
THE GIRL. God 'elp us!
THE MAN. [Grimly] Ah! We said that a bit too often. What we want we take, now; there's no one else to give it us, and there's no fear'll stop us; we seen the bottom of things.
THE GIRL. P'raps he'll say that too.
THE MAN. Then it'll be 'im or me.
THE GIRL. I'm frightened:
THE MAN. [Tenderly] No, Daisy, no! The river's handy. One more or less. 'E shan't 'arm you; nor me neither. [He takes out a knife.]
THE GIRL. [Seizing his hand] Oh, no! Give it to me, Jim!
THE MAN. [Smiling] No fear! [He puts it away] Shan't 'ave no need for it like as not. All right, little Daisy; you can't be expected to see things like what we do. What's life, anyway? I've seen a thousand lives taken in five minutes. I've seen dead men on the wires like flies on a flypaper. I've been as good as dead meself a hundred times. I've killed a dozen men. It's nothin'. He's safe, if 'e don't get my blood up. If he does, nobody's safe; not 'im, nor anybody else; not even you. I'm speakin' sober.
THE GIRL. [Softly] Jim, you won't go fightin' in the sun, with the birds all callin'?
THE MAN. That depends on 'im. I'm not lookin' for it. Daisy, I love you. I love your hair. I love your eyes. I love you.
THE GIRL. And I love you, Jim. I don't want nothin' more than you in all the world.
THE MAN. Amen to that, my dear. Kiss me close!
The sound of a voice singing breaks in on their embrace. THE GIRL starts from his arms, and looks behind her along the towing-path. THE MAN draws back against, the hedge, fingering his side, where the knife is hidden. The song comes nearer.
"I'll be right there to-night,
Where the fields are snowy white;
Banjos ringing, darkies singing,
All the world seems bright."
THE GIRL. It's him!
THE MAN. Don't get the wind up, Daisy. I'm here!
[The singing stops. A man's voice says "Christ! It's Daisy; it's little Daisy 'erself!" THE GIRL stands rigid. The figure of a soldier appears on the other side of the stile. His cap is tucked into his belt, his hair is bright in the sunshine; he is lean, wasted, brown, and laughing.]
SOLDIER. Daisy! Daisy! Hallo, old pretty girl!
[THE GIRL does not move, barring the way, as it were.]
THE GIRL. Hallo, Jack! [Softly] I got things to tell you!
SOLDIER. What sort o' things, this lovely day? Why, I got things that'd take me years to tell. Have you missed me, Daisy?
THE GIRL. You been so long.
SOLDIER. So I 'ave. My Gawd! It's a way they 'ave in the Army. I said when I got out of it I'd laugh. Like as the sun itself I used to think of you, Daisy, when the trumps was comin' over, and the wind was up. D'you remember that last night in the wood? "Come back and marry me quick, Jack." Well, here I am--got me pass to heaven. No more fightin', no more drillin', no more sleepin' rough. We can get married now, Daisy. We can live soft an' 'appy. Give us a kiss, my dear.
THE GIRL. [Drawing back] No.
SOLDIER. [Blankly] Why not?
[THE MAN, with a swift movement steps along the hedge to THE GIRL'S side.]
THE MAN. That's why, soldier.
SOLDIER. [Leaping over the stile] 'Oo are you, Pompey? The sun don't shine in your inside, do it? 'Oo is he, Daisy?
THE GIRL. My man.
SOLDIER. Your-man! Lummy! "Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief!" Well, mate! So you've been through it, too. I'm laughin' this mornin' as luck will 'ave it. Ah! I can see your knife.
THE MAN. [Who has half drawn his knife] Don't laugh at me, I tell you.
SOLDIER. Not at you, not at you. [He looks from one to the other] I'm laughin' at things in general. Where did you get it, mate?
THE MAN. [Watchfully] Through the lung.
SOLDIER. Think o' that! An' I never was touched. Four years an' never was touched. An' so you've come an' took my girl! Nothin' doin'! Ha! [Again he looks from one to the other-then away] Well! The world's before me! [He laughs] I'll give you Daisy for a lung protector.
THE MAN. [Fiercely] You won't. I've took her.
SOLDIER. That's all right, then. You keep 'er. I've got a laugh in me you can't put out, black as you look! Good-bye, little Daisy!
[THE GIRL makes a movement towards him.]
THE MAN. Don't touch 'im!
[THE GIRL stands hesitating, and suddenly bursts into tears.]
SOLDIER. Look 'ere, mate; shake 'ands! I don't want to see a girl cry, this day of all, with the sun shinin'. I seen too much of sorrer. You and me've been at the back of it. We've 'ad our whack. Shake!
THE MAN. Who are you kiddin'? You never loved 'er!
SOLDIER. [After a long moment's pause] Oh! I thought I did.
THE MAN. I'll fight you for her.
[He drops his knife. ]
SOLDIER. [Slowly] Mate, you done your bit, an' I done mine. It's took us two ways, seemin'ly.
THE GIRL. [Pleading] Jim!
THE MAN. [With clenched fists] I don't want 'is charity. I only want what I can take.
SOLDIER. Daisy, which of us will you 'ave?
THE GIRL. [Covering her face] Oh! Him!
SOLDIER. You see, mate! Put your 'ands down. There's nothin' for it but a laugh. You an' me know that. Laugh, mate!
THE MAN. You blarsted----!
[THE GIRL springs to him and stops his mouth.]
SOLDIER. It's no use, mate. I can't do it. I said I'd laugh to-day, and laugh I will. I've come through that, an' all the stink of it; I've come through sorrer. Never again! Cheerio, mate! The sun's a-shinin'! He turns away.
THE GIRL. Jack, don't think too 'ard of me!
SOLDIER. [Looking back] No fear, my dear! Enjoy your fancy! So long! Gawd bless you both!
He sings, and goes along the path, and the song fades away.
"I'll be right there to-night
Where the fields are snowy white;
Banjos ringing, darkies singing
All the world seems bright!"
THE MAN. 'E's mad!
THE GIRL. [Looking down the path with her hands clasped] The sun has touched 'im, Jim!