The Return of the Soldier

The Return of the Soldier, de Rebecca West, fue publicada en 1918 y cuenta el retorno del capitán Chris Baldry de las trincheras de la primera guerra mundial, desde la perspectiva de su prima Jenny. Al final cock-and-bull story

… I was sorry the next morning that the post comes too late… for under Kitty's fixed gaze I had to open a letter which bore the Boulogne postmark and was addressed in the writing of Frank Baldry, Chris's cousin, who is in the church. He wrote:

You will have to break it to Kitty and try to make her take it as quietly as possible. This sentence will sound ominous as a start, but I'm so full of the extraordinary thing that has happened to Chris that I feel as if every living creature was in possession of the facts. I don't know how much you know about it, so I'd better begin at the beginning. Last Thursday I got a wire from Chris, saying that he had had concussion, though not seriously, and was in a hospital about a mile from Boulogne, where he would be glad to see me. It struck me as odd that it had been sent to Ollenshaws, where I was curate fifteen years ago. Fortunately, I have always kept in touch with Sumpter, whom I regard as a specimen of the very best type of country clergymen, and he forwarded it without unnecessary delay. I started that evening, and looked hard for you and Kitty on the boat; but came to the conclusion I should probably find you at the hospital.

After having breakfasted in the town,—how superior French cooking is! I would have looked in vain for such coffee, such an omelet, in my own parish,—I went off to look for the hospital. It is a girls' school, which has been taken over by the Red Cross, with fair-sized grounds and plenty of nice dry paths under the tilleuls. I could not see Chris for an hour, so I sat down on a bench by a funny, little round pond, with a stone coping, very French. Some wounded soldiers who came out to sit in the sun were rather rude because I was not in khaki, even when I explained that I was a priest of God and that the feeling of the bishops was strongly against the enlistment of the clergy. I do feel that the church has lost its grip on the masses.
Then a nurse came out and took me in to see Chris. He is in a nice room, with a southern exposure, with three other officers, who seemed very decent (not the "new army," I am glad to say). He was better than I had expected, but did not look quite himself. For one thing, he was oddly animated. He seemed glad to see me, and told me he could remember nothing about his concussion, but that he wanted to get back to Harrowweald. He talked a lot about the wood and the upper pond and wanted to know if the daffies were out yet, and when he would be allowed to travel, because he felt that he would get well at once if only he could get home. And then he was silent for a minute, as though he was holding something back. It will perhaps help you to realize the difficulty of my position when you understand that all this happened before I had been in the room five minutes!
Without flickering an eyelid, quite easily and naturally, he gave me the surprising information that he was in love with a girl called Margaret Allington, who is the daughter of a man who keeps the inn on Monkey Island, at Bray on the Thames. He uttered some appreciations of this woman which I was too upset to note. I gasped, "How long has this been going on?" He laughed at my surprise, and said, "Ever since I went down to stay with Uncle Ambrose at Dorney after I'd got my B.Sc." Fifteen years ago! I was still staring at him, unable to believe this barefaced admission of a deception carried on for years, when he went on to say that, though he had wired to her and she had wired a message in return, she hadn't said anything about coming over to see him. "Now," he said quite coolly, "I know old Allington's had a bad season,—oh, I'm quite well up in the innkeeping business these days,—and I think it may quite possibly be a lack of funds that is keeping her away. I've lost my check-book somewhere in the scrim, and so I wonder if you'd send her some money. Or, better still, for she's a shy country thing, you might fetch her."
I stared. "Chris," I said, "I know the war is making some of us very lax, and I can only ascribe to that the shamelessness with which you admit the existence of a long-standing intrigue; but when it comes to asking me to go over to England and fetch the woman—" He interrupted me with a sneer that we parsons are inveterately eighteenth century and have our minds perpetually inflamed by visions of squires' sons seducing country wenches, and declared that he meant to marry this Margaret Allington. "Oh, indeed!" I said. "And may I ask what Kitty says to this arrangement?" "Who the devil is Kitty?" he asked blankly. "Kitty is your wife," I said quietly, but firmly. He sat up and shouted: "I haven't got a wife! Has some woman been turning up with a cock-and-bull story of being my wife? Because it's the damnedest lie!"
I determined to settle the matter by sharp, common-sense handling. "Chris," I said, "you have evidently lost your memory. You were married to Kitty Ellis at St. George's, Hanover Square, on the third, or it may have been the fourth"—you know my wretched memory for dates—"of February, in 1906." He turned very pale and asked what year this was. "1916," I told him. He fell back in a fainting condition. The nurse came, and said I had done it all right this time, so she at least seemed to have known that he required a rude awakening, although the doctor, a very nice man, Winchester and New, told me he had known nothing of Chris's delusions.
An hour later I was called back into the room. Chris was looking at himself in a hand-mirror, which he threw on the floor as I entered. "You are right," he said; "I'm not twenty-one, but thirty-six." He said he felt lonely and afraid, and that I must bring Margaret Allington to him at once or he would die. Suddenly he stopped being mad and asked, "Is father all right?" I prayed for guidance, and answered, "Your father passed away twelve years ago." He said, "Good God! can't you say he died," and he turned over and lay with his back to me. I have never before seen a strong man weep, and it is indeed a terrible sight. He moaned a lot, and began to call for this Margaret. Then he turned over again and said, "Now tell us all about this Kitty that I've married." I told him she was a beautiful little woman, and mentioned that she had a charming and cultivated soprano voice. He said angrily: "I don't like little women… (Párrafos de The Return of the Soldier, de Rebecca West)

Boulogne: ciudad al norte de Francia. Durante la primera guerra mundial fue el puerto de desembarco para las fuerzas británicas.
Monkey Island: pequeña isla en el río Támesis, en Inglaterra, cerca de la villa de Bray, en Berkshire.
Cock-and-bull story: una historia poco creíble.
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