The York Hussars, who have just arrived in this part of the country, are admired wherever they go for their stunning uniforms, horses, and their “foreign air.” They have come to camp in the part of the countryside where Phyllis lives. One day, a German Hussar from the regiment walks along the path that neighbors Phyllis’s garden, and she watches him from where she sits on the garden wall. Phyllis is surprised by the soldier’s melancholic expression. Until now, she’d thought that military men were generally happy people. As the soldier passes by, he raises his glance and, unprepared to see a bare-shouldered woman wearing such a low-cut gown, he blushes and walks on without saying a word.
The difference between the soldier’s ornate uniform and his obvious sadness subverts Phyllis’s expectations of the army: what she sees up close is much less flashy and impressive than the reputation of the military has led her to believe. The soldier’s reaction to Phyllis—his blushing and silence—is very similar to the way her shy behavior towards others has been described, and this similarity creates an immediate, implicit link between the two.
Phyllis thinks about the soldier all day. She can’t get his face—“so striking, so handsome, and his eyes […] so blue”—out of her mind. So, the next day, she waits by the wall at the same time. This time, the soldier seems to expect her there. When he passes, Phyllis asks him what he’s reading, and he answers that he’s reading letters from his mother in Germany. He does not receive letters from her often, so he’s reading the old letters again.
This description of the soldier is rhythmic, repetitive, and lyrical—a stark contrast to the earlier description of Humphrey as having no particularly special features. Phyllis is clearly more attracted to the soldier than she was to Humphrey. The soldier’s revelation that he’s reading old letters from his mother suggests that he feels comfortable sharing intimate details with Phyllis, and that he has a close relationship with his mother, despite being separated from her by distance.
Phyllis and the soldier continue to converse over the garden wall in the following days. Though the German soldier is far from fluent in English, Phyllis understands him well, and when the subject becomes more tender or personal, she believes his eyes (and, later, his lips) help her to comprehend what he means. Phyllis learns that the soldier’s name is Matthäus Tina, he is 22, he holds the rank of corporal, and his hometown in Germany is Saarbrück, where his mother still lives. Phyllis also learns, to her surprise, that the soldier and his regiment are all deeply homesick—they hate living in England, and they want to go back to Germany. Though Phyllis is moved by what she learns, she keeps her distance from Matthäus Tina. They continue to interact only as friends, and only on opposite sides of the garden wall.
The garden wall is always between Phyllis and Matthäus Tina when they meet, suggesting there’s a substantial obstacle between the two becoming closer to each other (Phyllis’s engagement being an obvious one). Phyllis’s belief that she can understand Matthäus Tina despite his limited English is a sign that she feels a deep connection to him. It’s clear that Tina feels similarly. He trusts Phyllis enough to tell her not only the details of his life, but to share that he and his fellow soldiers hate serving in England—an idea that might be interpreted as disloyalty to his military office.