The Red Scarf

Lucy clenched and twisted her hands against each other as she walked. When she could not endure sitting still any longer, she had thrown the red scarf over her shoulders and left the house alone, not caring what her mother would say later. Now she was walking quickly and blindly through the snowy fields just outside the city, thinking about the soldiers who were just then—and not so far away but that she could hear the faintest noise of the big guns—fighting and dying to defend their country. Almost to the capital city the army had been forced back by the invaders, and if this battle was lost, everything would be lost with it. And there was nothing, nothing, nothing, she could do for the country she loved or for the soldiers who were giving even their lives to protect it and her. She dropped down beside a small brook at the roadside, put her hands over her face, and wept.

As her tears finished and her hands slipped away from her eyes, Lucy saw a bit of blue nearby. She slowly put out her hand, reached through some plants, and found a little wooden toy soldier wearing the blue uniform of her country. At the sight of his mud-covered face and arm bent crookedly out, her tears began again, but without noticing them she carried the soldier to the brook and gently washed the mud from him. His right arm was twisted and broken at the shoulder, and she tenderly pushed it back into its place. “Oh, poor soldier,” she said, “poor, brave little soldier!” She took off the red scarf her father had given her, tore a strip from it, and with the bright bandage bound the little soldier’s arm to his body. Then she cradled the soldier in her hands and looked at his painted wooden face. “Now why did I do that?” she asked aloud. “Well, I suppose I can just trim and hem the scarf all along that edge.” Somehow, she wasn’t sorry. It had seemed she was doing at least some good.

A horse thundered along the road toward her, and Lucy looked up to see a blue-coated soldier riding it, his face grimy but jubilant. “Victory!” he shouted as he passed her, “Victory!”

“Oh!” Lucy cried. Her head light, she pressed the little wooden soldier to her breast, then scrambled up and, still carrying him, ran as quickly as she could back to her home.

***

On the battlefield, a soldier walked slowly among his fallen colleagues. At last he found the face he sought, and fell on his knees beside the young captain whose victorious charge had won the day for his country. The captain’s eyes opened, and he saw his sergeant looking down at him. “Hello, Paul,” the captain murmured.

“Thank God you’re alive!” Paul said. “That was some thing you did, Captain. They’ll be singing about it for years. But who fixed you up like this, then left you here in the cold?”

Turning his head carefully, Captain Frank Spencer looked at his right shoulder. It was bandaged, and the arm had been put in a red sling. “Later, Paul,” he said. “Do you have any water?”

***

When Lucy set the little red-bandaged soldier on her mantlepiece, she realized that she didn’t have her red scarf—hadn’t had it, in fact, since she came home, even since she left the brook. She wrinkled her nose at herself: a girl who could drop a scarf from her father and cradle a battered toy soldier like a precious thing. Well, people did queer things when they were very happy. But she sighed ruefully when the footman came back and said the scarf was no longer where she had left it.

***

Captain Spencer rode into the city the next day, summoned to receive high honors for his service, along streets full of jubilantly shouting men, women, and children. From the balconies of the high houses, more people leaned out, calling to him and waving their handkerchiefs. The captain was pale, and his arm was still in the red sling, but he sat very straight in the saddle and smiled a little as he looked around.

“Paul,” the captain said, “do you know that lady on the balcony, wearing white?”

“No,” Paul said.

“Yes,” the captain whispered, “she is the one—” Then he said aloud, “Well, I suppose she’ll be at the dance tonight.”

“Are you still sure you should go?” Paul asked. “You don’t look good. You should be in bed, not at a party.”

“I’ll be all right,” the captain said, “and it will make them happy.”

“I’m awfully glad he isn’t letting this go to his head,” Paul told his horse.

“Paul, Paul, be quiet!” the captain said, shaking his head but smiling.

***

Lucy went to the hastily organized victory ball with no expectation of really meeting Captain Spencer, and was thus much surprised when the currents of the party deposited her just behind the shoulder of a tall man in a blue uniform, his right arm in a red sling. Glancing at the sling, she involuntarily leaned a little closer. For she had not thought there could be two scarves of that color and pattern in the country—was there really another scarf here so exactly like the one which had been handwoven in a far country, and which her father had brought her from his travels, telling her it was unique in all the world?

The shoulder turned, and a light-haired, tired-faced soldier looked down at her. Lucy stepped back a pace, blushing and hoping he had not noticed her staring.

“Good evening, madam,” he said. “I am Captain Spencer. May I ask the honor of a few words with you?”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Lucy said. “As much as you like. I’m Lucy Elliot.”

“I am delighted to meet you, Miss Elliot,” Captain Spencer said. “Do you mind if we sit down?”

“Oh, no, of course not,” Lucy said.

“Thank you,” the captain said. “By the way, this is my friend, Sergeant Josephs.”

Lucy noticed that as they walked toward some of the seats on the edge of the hall, Sergeant Josephs took the elbow of his officer’s good arm protectingly, as if to support him.

“Miss Elliot,” the captain said when they were seated, “with your permission, there is something curious which I would like to tell you about.” He leaned forward a little as he spoke, and his eyes never left her face. “In the battle yesterday, I was wounded in the right shoulder. Shortly after, my horse threw me and I fell to the ground and fainted. While I was unconscious, I dreamed that a woman was bending over me. She had brown hair and blue eyes, and she was weeping. I dreamed that she bathed my face and bandaged my shoulder with strips of my shirt. ‘Oh, poor soldier,’ she said, ‘poor, brave little soldier.’ Then she took off her own red scarf and put it on me for a sling. After that she disappeared, and I lay where I was until Paul here found me.”

“I must admit that those bandages probably saved his life,” Paul said gruffly. “They’d been on a while when I found him, and without them he’d probably have bled to death. But I can’t make out the sling—or how stuck he’s been on wearing it since then.”

“Yes,” the captain said, “when I woke, my shoulder and arm were bandaged and put in a sling just as I had dreamed. We thought it was very strange; and I thought it even more strange when, coming into the city today, I saw your face; and it was the same as the face of the woman in my dream.”

“I don’t understand,” Lucy gasped.

“Neither do I,” Paul said. “I suppose someone bandaged his shoulder and did what they could for him, and somehow he put it into a dream—odd things happen to one’s head between chill and pain—but I don’t see why the someone then abandoned him, and I don’t understand the scarf, and it’s certainly strange that he identified you as the woman from his dream.”

“Not identified, Paul,” the captain said quietly. “Recognized.”

“It’s a queer story all around,” Paul continued, “and I’m sorry you should have been troubled with it.”

“I don’t mind,” Lucy said. “And—you don’t think it half so queer now as you will when I’ve told my story.”

“Well, yes, that would explain the ‘little soldier’ part,” Paul grunted when Lucy recounted what she had told the wooden soldier the day before.

“What did you say, Paul?” the captain asked, glancing away from Lucy.

“I—I said the stories can’t possibly be connected,” Paul said.

The captain smiled. “Please continue, Miss Elliot.”

“I still do not understand,” Captain Spencer said at the end of Lucy’s story, “but I am not sure that understanding is what is important. Whatever has happened, I am glad of it and gladder that it has brought me your acquaintance.”

Lucy nodded. “I think you are right, Captain. And I am very glad too.”

***

The war was not finished with one battle, and before his sergeant would admit that he was ready, Captain Spencer went back to his troops; and the glory of his action in the battle near the city was nearly eclipsed by the worth of what he later did for his country’s defense. But before he went back to war, he promised Lucy that if he lived, he would return to her. And as the enemy was thrust further and further away, Lucy heard and rejoiced in all the news—looked at the little wooden soldier who stood on her mantlepiece, his arm bound with a strip of red cloth—waited—hoped—and wondered.

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