Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
DefectiveByDesign.org

Title: The Mark of Honor
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1202441.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: June 2012
Date most recently updated: June 2012

Produced by: Maurie Mulcahy

Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Mark of Honor
Author: Arthur Gask

*

Published in The Mail, Adelaide, S.A., Saturday 3 June, 1944.

*



IN the year after the end of the Much Greater War, Dr. Julius Revire was
upon a visit to his compatriot, Count Bornski. One of the few members of
the Polish aristocracy to have survived the war with any means at all,
the count was living in Devonshire. He was married to a beautiful young
girl still in her teens, and they had been blessed with as lovely a
little son as ever gladdened any parents' hearts.

Yet, after only a few hours with them, the doctor realised there was a
shadow over the house. Certainly it was obvious the count worshipped his
young wife and that she was devoted to him. Also, the wife's mother, who
lived with them, was held in affectionate regard. Still, they were not a
happy family, they seldom smiled, and in repose their faces were grave
and solemn. The glorious little son, too, seemed to have brought them no
happiness, and they received the doctor's praises of the child's beauty
with no pride or enthusiasm.

One night at dinner the count opened a bottle of fine old French
Burgundy, and, as it were, forced himself into an appearance of gaiety.
He related to his wife and her mother how the doctor had once saved his
life.

"It was in a jungle in the heart of the Belgian Congo," he said, "and I
was literally sick unto death. Two days before I had trodden on a
scorpion and it had bitten me in the sole of the foot. I had no one by
me except an incapable native bearer. I was in agony and could do
nothing to the wound, because of its position and my leg being
enormously swollen right up to the hip. I am sure I was about to shoot
myself, for I had my loaded revolver in my hand--when lo and behold! out
into the clearing marched the doctor, with a whole army of bearers,
carrying stores." He shuddered. "Oh, he was cruel, this doctor here! He
lanced me every five minutes with his wicked little knife."

"But I had to," laughed the doctor, "or you wouldn't have been here
now." He made a grimace. "Never have I seen such a dreadful foot, before
or since. It was swollen as big as a bison's head, and in the night it
used to haunt me in my dreams. For months I couldn't get it out of my
mind, and I have always thought since that it was one of the best
remembered objects of that long journey of mine."

The air of gloom over the house continuing to be so depressing, the
doctor taxed his friend about it. "What's the matter with you all,
Edmond?" he asked sharply. "You all seem as if you were in some great
trouble. What is it?"

The Count started. "You've noticed it?" he asked.

"Noticed it!" exclaimed the doctor. "Why, you are all going about as if
you were under sentence of death. Tell me what it means? Don't forget
I'm a medical man as well as your friend."

"Ah, so you are!" exclaimed the count. "I had forgotten that." He
hesitated a moment and then burst out, "Listen, Julius. I'll tell you as
terrible a story as any husband could ever tell."

He went on slowly: "Now, you know something of the part I played in that
army raised among us prisoners by the Soviet Union. Well, I had been
given my regiment, and, about two months before the war ended, was in
the advance, as part of a battalion driving back the Huns. One evening
we arrived at a little town which had been evacuated by the enemy a few
days previously. They had not gone far away, but, with a broad river
running between us and all the bridges blown up, were considering
themselves safe, at any rate for the moment. The wretches had left the
usual trail of blood and torture behind them, with women and children
butchered and a score or so of old men hanged in the market-place.

"Darkness had fallen, and I had just finished my last meal in the ruined
house I was occupying, when an orderly came in to tell me a peasant
woman wanted to speak to me. She wouldn't state her business, but said
it was private and important. I had her brought in, and she stood before
me. Though she was roughly dressed, I was impressed by her bearing.

"'Monsieur,' she said, 'will you do a very unhappy woman a favor? In the
chivalry of your great country will you help me?'

"I asked her what she wanted, and she told me a harrowing story. It
appeared that when in possession of the town some German officers had
taken her daughter away and subjected her to horrible ill-treatment. The
girl, however, had managed to escape from them and hidden herself in the
forest until she had seen them drive away. Then she had returned home.

"'But she will not believe they are gone for good, Monsieur.' choked the
woman, 'and is terrified they will come for her again. She will not eat
or sleep, and she will go mad unless we can convince her she is safe. If
you will come and speak to her and let her see you, as the colonel in
your uniform, she will realise everything is all right.'"

The Count shrugged his shoulders. "I was good-natured and I went. She
led me to a little house and took me into a room where her daughter was
in bed." The Count heaved a big sigh. "My friend, I was astounded. Never
had I seen such a beautiful young creature before! Certainly she looked
ill, and her expression was of one haunted by a great fear. Nothing
however, could hide the loveliness which was hers, the perfect features,
the glorious eyes, the exquisitely moulded lips, and the beautifully
poised little head. I knew she could be only about seventeen.

"I sat down and talked to her. I stroked her hair and I patted her
hands. I told her she had nothing to be afraid of now, for never would
the vile Hun pollute that sacred soil again, except as a slave. She was
very brave and choked back her tears, thanking me so prettily for having
come to reassure her. She said she would be able to sleep, now she knew
I was near her. I bade her good-bye, and her mother led me outside. Then
I got another surprise.

"'Monsieur, le Conte,' said the mother, and her voice was hard as steel,
'will you do me another favor? Will you avenge my daughter's shame?'

"She went on fiercely, 'I want those men killed. There are five of them,
and they lie tonight not seven miles from here. They are in a house by
themselves on the outskirts of a village. I have a man ready who will
guide you across the river by a secret ford. Oh, go and kill them!' she
pleaded. 'You are brave and I know adventure will not frighten you.'

"I liked the idea, and, after a few moments' consideration, asked, 'But
this guide of yours, how do you know he can be trusted?'

"'Trusted!' she scoffed. Her eyes blazed. 'Why, he would as soon betray
his God as be false to me! He has served my family all his life.'

"Well, to make a long story short, I did as she asked me. We took the
five German officers prisoners without arousing the village. One by one,
bound and gagged, I had them led out behind the house. I whispered a few
words into the ear of each, so that he should know for what he was being
killed, and then butchered him with my dagger like a sheep. The next
morning I sent the girl's mother five blood-fouled swastikas cut from
the wretches' uniforms, so that she should know that her daughter's
shame had been avenged."

The Count went on with a frown: "The next night the mother came to me
again. 'Monsieur,' she said, 'you have done me two favors and I want you
to do me a third, a greater one this time,' and then, to my amazement,
she asked me to marry her daughter.

"'I know you are not married or even affianced,' she said quickly,
seeing I was too dumbfounded to speak, 'for I have ways of learning many
things in this unhappy country, and I have made inquiries. So, if you
are heart-whole, Monsieur, take pity, for it is probably a matter of
life or death for my child.'

"'But she is in no danger now!' I exclaimed in bewilderment. Then what
is she afraid of?'

"'She is afraid, Monsieur'--she hesitated--'she is afraid that, as a
girl unwed, she may become----"

"'Good God!' I exclaimed, 'it is most improbable.'

"'Improbable, but not impossible,' said the mother, 'and it has become
the only thought in her mind. She does not eat, she does not sleep, and
I hear her sobbing in the night. Remember, she is convent-reared,
Monsieur, and is fearing Heaven will be denied her if what she so dreads
should happen, when her motherhood has not been sanctified by the rites
of the Church.'

"'But Madame,' I remonstrated, 'however beautiful your daughter may be,
and I admit I cannot conceive anyone more lovely, I could not bring into
a proud family such as mine a bride of whom I know so little.'

"Instantly she smiled, and bending over to me whispered who she was. It
is not necessary for me to give you her name, but I assure you, Julius,
she was not very far from the steps of a throne. She went on quickly,
'With you, Monsieur, I know it will make no difference, but another
might be influenced by learning that her dowry will be a hundred
thousand crowns. We have property in England and it cannot be taken from
us.'

"I still hesitated, and she urged pleadingly, 'Oh, do have pity on the
child! If you do not wish it you can leave her at the church door and
never see her again.' She raised her hand warningly. 'And don't forget,
Monsieur, a soldier's life is never sure. You may be killed in the next
battle, even in the next few hours, and then at the Day of Judgment you
will stand blessed by this crowning act of pity.'"

The Count nodded. "She had touched the right chord. Any hour we might be
hurled against the Hun again and my good fortune might not always hold.
Yes, I would bring comfort to this child, and one man should, in part,
at all events, atone for the wrong done by others. I told the mother I
would do as she wished, and, thanking me tearfully, she said Anna would
be at the church in twenty minutes."

"Anna!" exclaimed the doctor. "The Countess! But I thought it must be
she!"

The Count nodded and went on: "It was a strange wedding in that ruined
church, and the only lights were the candles on the altar." He smiled.
"I would not swear the priest was not our guide of the previous night,
as both in figure and voice they were very similar. Well, the service
over, I reverently kissed my bride. 'Good-bye, little one,' I whispered,
'and the best of fortune to you.'

"'Good-bye!' she laughed, 'but it is not going to be good-bye yet.
There's our wedding supper to be eaten and a bottle of rare wine to
toast ourselves with. No, my husband, you are coming home with me. The
good things are all laid out and ready.'"

The Count shrugged his shoulders and smiled. "What could I do? Of
course, I went and--stayed. We had a week's honeymoon before my regiment
was sent forward again, and during those few days I came to love my
child-wife devotedly. Every hour I seemed to find more endearing
qualities in her. She reciprocated my affection, too, and hated me to be
out of her sight. When we parted she was heartbroken, but we had the
hope the war would end soon and that then I should join them in England,
to which they were expecting to escape any day. They had great
influence.

"You know most of the rest. Shortly afterwards I was wounded, and lay in
hospital for nearly two months. Then one day I received a letter from my
wife, written from here, and imploring me to come to her as soon as I
possibly could. Her mother enclosed a short note, explaining everything.

"A fortnight later I arrived, and then, notwithstanding all the
happiness of reunion, began an anxious time for us all. We never dared
to speak our thoughts, but you can realise what was always in our minds.
Oh, how we prayed the child would be like me! It was agony to think----"

"I know, I know, my poor friend," broke in the doctor. "You need not put
it into words."

The Count heaved a big sigh. "And you see what has happened--a perfect
child, a most beautiful baby, but exactly like his mother, all his
mother and with no features of mine. We all want to love him, to snatch
him up and cover him with caresses. We long to give him the fondness
which every little child should have, and yet every time I take him in
my arms I have to repress a shudder. And I can see it is the same with
my poor wife and her mother. They dare not let their feelings go." He
gripped the doctor by the arm. "And the tragedy is it will go on for
ever. We shall never be certain. We shall never know. We are a stricken
family and our unhappiness is without end."

The doctor was most grieved at his friends distress, but, seeing he
could give no consolation, privately determined to make his visit as
short as possible. The following afternoon the child was lying on a rug,
stretched out upon the lawn, gurgling and cooing and kicking out his
little legs as all babies do. The Count was kneeling on the rug, by his
side. The mother, the grandmother, and the doctor were seated near,
watching all that was going on. The expressions upon the faces of the
two women were inscrutable.

Suddenly the doctor started, he frowned heavily, and then, rising
quickly to his feet, moved over and picked up the baby. "Now that's
funny!" he exclaimed, and his voice rose in excitement as he held out
one little pink foot for them all to inspect. "You've all noticed that
haven't you?" he went on, pointing to a small, star-shaped mole on the
outer edge of the sole, just in front of the heel.

"I should say we have," commented the grandmother, rather irritably.
"One doesn't bath a baby every day for nearly six months and not notice
every mark he's got."

"Well," smiled the doctor, "it's exactly the same shape as the mole his
father has on the sole of HIS foot, and, funnily enough it's exactly in
the same place." He chuckled gleefully. "There's a wonderful case of
heredity, if you like, the child being stamped with his father's seal!
Really, I've never seen anything so exactly similar before!"

A stunned silence followed. The two women were pale as death and stared
saucer-eyed, first at the doctor and then at the baby's foot.

The Count stammered incredulously: "Have I a mole there, too? I've never
seen it."

"I don't suppose you have," laughed the doctor, "for you couldn't
without a looking-glass. But I've seen it hundreds of times. It was part
of those dreadful dreams your awful foot gave me after you had been
bitten by that scorpion." He thrust the baby into his mother's arms.
"Here, Edmond, off with that left shoe and sock. I'll show everybody
I've not forgotten those dreadful nightmares."

Pushing the Count down on to his back upon the lawn, in a trice Dr.
Revire was holding up his friend's naked foot. "There it is, as plain as
a pikestaff!" he exclaimed triumphantly, "and exactly where the baby's
got his. I knew my recollection was good, even after all these years.
See, too, where I was, as he says, so cruel with my wicked little
knife?"

The Countess and her mother had darted forward, for a few seconds to
stare down open-mouthed at the upturned sole of the Count's foot. Then,
with a loud cry, the young wife clutched the baby tightly to her and
began covering him with fierce and passionate kisses. The grandmother
tottered back, half-fainting, and sank into her chair.

"Here, Edmond," called out the doctor, laughingly, "if you want your
shoe you'll have to come and catch me for it," and he ran across the
lawn and pretended to hide among the trees. He thought it kindest to
leave the family to recover their composure by themselves.



THE END


This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia