Fleurette

THE WOUNDED CANADIAN SPEAKS:
My leg? It’s off at the knee.
Do I miss it? Well, some. You see
I’ve had it since I was born;
And lately a devilish corn.
(I rather chuckle with glee
To think how I’ve fooled that corn.)

But I’ll hobble around all right.
It is n’t that, it’s my face.
Oh, I know I’m a hideous sight,
Hardly a thing in place.
Sort of gargoyle, you’d say.
Nurse won’t give me a glass,
But I see the folks as they pass
Shudder and turn away;
Turn away in distress…
Mirror enough, I guess.
I’m gay! You bet I am gay,
But I was n’t a while ago.
If you’d seen me even to-day,
The darnedest picture of woe,
With this Caliban mug of mine,
So ravaged and raw and red,
Turned to the wall—in fine
Wishing that I was dead….
What has happened since then,
Since I lay with my face to the wall,
The most despairing of men!
Listen! I’ll tell you all.

That poilu across the way,
With the shrapnel wound on his head,
Has a sister: she came to-day
To sit awhile by his bed.
All morning I heard him fret:
“Oh, when will she come, Fleurette?”

Then sudden, a joyous cry;
The tripping of little feet;
The softest, tenderest sigh;
A voice so fresh and sweet;
Clear as a silver bell,
Fresh as the morning dews:
“C’est toi, c’est toi, Marcel!
Mon frère, comme je suis heureuse!”

So over the blanket’s rim
I raised my terrible face,
And I saw–how I envied him!
A girl of such delicate grace;
Sixteen, all laughter and love;
As gay as a linnet, and yet
As tenderly sweet as a dove;
Half woman, half child–Fleurette.
Then I turned to the wall again.
(I was awfully blue, you see,)
And I thought with a bitter pain:
“Such visions are not for me.”
So there like a log I lay,
All hidden, I thought, from view,
When sudden I heard her say:
“Ah! Who is that malheureux?”
Then briefly I heard him tell
(However he came to know)
How I’d smothered a bomb that fell
Into the trench, and so
None of my men were hit,
Though it busted me up a bit.

Well, I did n’t quiver an eye,
And he chattered and there she sat;
And I fancied I heard her sigh–
But I would n’t just swear to that.
And maybe she was n’t so bright,
Though she talked in a merry strain,
And I closed my eyes ever so tight,
Yet I saw her ever so plain:
Her dear little tilted nose,
Her delicate, dimpled chin,
Her mouth like a budding rose,
And the glistening pearls within;
Her eyes like the violet:
Such a rare little queen–Fleurette.

And at last when she rose to go,
The light was a little dim,
And I ventured to peep, and so
I saw her, graceful and slim,
And she kissed him and kissed him, and oh
How I envied and envied him!

So when she was gone I said
In rather a dreary voice
To him of the opposite bed:
“Ah, friend, how you must rejoice!
But me, I’m a thing of dread.
For me nevermore the bliss,
The thrill of a woman’s kiss.”

Then I stopped, for lo! she was there,
And a great light shone in her eyes.
And me! I could only stare,
I was taken so by surprise,
When gently she bent her head:
“May I kiss you, sergeant?” she said.

Then she kissed my burning lips,
With her mouth like a scented flower,
And I thrilled to the finger-tips,
And I had n’t even the power
To say: “God bless you, dear!”
And I felt such a precious tear
Fall on my withered cheek,
And darn it! I could n’t speak.
And so she went sadly away,
And I know that my eyes were wet.
Ah, not to my dying day
Will I forget, forget!
Can you wonder now I am gay?
God bless her, that little Fleurette!

–Robert W. Service