The Minx Goes to the Front
A Story of the Reconquered Districts of France
A. M. Williamson
Joint Authors of “The Lightning Conduc tor,” “The Princess Passes," etc.
HER FIRST STEP: SOUTHAMPTON TO PARIS
"HORRIBLE girl!" It was my mother who spoke. I’d been thinking the young person a delightful girl, even her life-belt was becoming. But I didn’t contradict mother. One doesn’t! She’s the type of Woman—and Mother—spelt with a capital, and I confess to having passed twenty-seven years in awe of her.
(Speaking of confessions, this will turn into one, I foresee, mixed with adventures at the front. I shan’t dare sign my name for fear of mother, but under borrowed plumes I shall be safe. Mother never reads “modern stuff”—except her
We and the girl were on the boat crossing from Southampton to Havre when we saw her first. She had a little white dog attached to her; also a large brown British officer. One reason why mother called her a “horrible girl” was because, quite clearly, she had “picked up the man” on board. I, for my part, should have said that he had probably picked her up, she being so pretty it was what a man would want to do. I even suggested that this might be the case, but mother and Kate (Kate Whitley is my second cousin), both sat upon the suggestion, if not upon me. They agreed that affairs of that sort are always started by the girl and are the girl’s fault.
The boat flirtation, however, was only one reason why mother pronounced the girl horrible. Another reason was the dog—a curly white fluff, with a feather tail, a black nose and bright-bead eyes, a creature like a toy come to life.
No young woman would dream of travelling with such an animal unless she deliberately desired to attract attention.
(Something that happened later gave mother and Kate a chance to say, “I told
you so!” But it isn’t time to tell about that yet.)
A third reason was the girl’s "general get up.” But I had better describe her. as she appeared to me, and you can decide whether I was right or mother.
SHE had — or why shouldn’t I say “has," when only a few weeks have passed and she hasn’t changed since?— she has orange-red hair (when I noticed her first, the officer was matching it with an orange before he ate it; the orange, I mean, not the hair, though apparently he yearned to eat that, too) and big, brilliant eyes some few shades darker, a gold-brown tobacco color, I might say. They slant very slightly towards the temples. Her face being of a long oval, this gives a faint hint of Japaneseyness now and then; or it would if she were not so fair, with that red-haired fairness which is dazzling as mothero’-pearl. As for her features, they hardly count in the effect. I daresay she takes an almost plain photograph. I’ve only to shut my eyes to produce her picture distinctly as if I kept it on mv retina for emergencies; but I can’t for the life of me be sure of her nose. It’s small, and I think tilts up a little. I know it has a freckle or two and goes into tiny engaging crinkles when she smiles.
That smile should have a paragraph to itself. But after all there are no words to make you see it. A sudden flash of yellow-brown eyes, letting out
a stream of radiance. Two deep-cut dimples (Kate says they’ll be wrinkles at fifty), a wide-laughing, red mouth, perfect teeth, and a glimpse of pink tongue rosily crisp as American watermelon.
There’s the smile’s paragraph, so now to the chin! It’s decidedly firm, with a childlike firmness, and a dimple that’s a mere shadow of a dimple. Her throat is long and slender; Kate says, thin; but if that’s true, it’s a delicate, attractive thinness; and her collar-bones are like a very young girl’s. She doesn’t mind showing them, and a good deal of milky skin besides between the turnover, soft collars of open blouses.
I have seen processions of these blouses since the first, for evidently she doesn’t fear washing bills: a clean blouse twice a day sometimes, and a handkerchief to use, a handkerchief to lose, every three or four hours. The blouse of that first dav was made of some sheer stuff
held together by embroidered medallions. It was pale grey, and so was the softlooking serge coat and skirt, both of which, anybody might see, were lined with pearl-grey silk, shot blue. There was a petticoat of the same grey-shotblue often in evidence; grey silk stockings and grey shoes with buckles. The dog worried one grey kid glove and the officer stole its mate, but the girl had a reserve pair in a grey suede bag. Out of this bag came also, on an average each fifteen minutes, a thing that pretended to be a silk handkerchief, but had a powder-puff grafted into its middle. Swish went this puff with a fine dusting of lily-white over a face and neck as white, while a pair of bright eyes criticized the effect in a miniature mirror.
At the same instant a perfume, faint as fragrance in dreams, blew along the deck.
That was the girl as I saw her, with the exception of her hat. It was a queer hat of pearl-grey velvet, a sort of supersailor shape, with a butterfly of the same grey bobbing like a loose flower in front over the tilting nose, for the hat was pulled low and tipped sidewise. One red-brown eyebrow was almost hidden and the red-brown lashes of the same or near eye almost brushed the brim every time they winked.
Into the off eye she had a trick of sticking a monocle like a man’s. This made everyone stare, and the'dog bark. She had another trick, too, I soon observed. When she said something impish
(this happened often) she would look up and pull at her little smooth chin, as an old man pulls at a short goatee. This I found absurdly attractive. But mother’s point of view was different. Her word was “disgusting!” Altogether a most unsuitable girl in a most unsuitable costume, with an unsuitable dog and a set of unsuitable tricks for a boat crossing to France in war time.
OW about ourselves.
Nearly everyone who matters must have been reading mother’s books for the last quarter of a century, as her publishers on both sides of the Atlantic advertise sales by the hundred thousand. Her latest portrait appears in each new volume therefore Mrs.
Henry Wayne’s millions of readers, serious, earnest per-
sons, know her at her best. She isn’t, perhaps, quite at her best in travelling. Being essentially British, British soil is to her what a pedestal is to a weighty statue. Without such support she feels, I think, that she loses something of her virtue, something of her importance, one being inseparable from the other. She has not the serene confidence that everyone knows who she is, which answers to an ornamental frieze on the said pedestal. Besides she considers that a woman’s worst clothes are the ones best adapted for a Journey. Their color hardly matters if they’re old enough, and unbecoming. She was dressed in purnle for this voyage to France as a kind of half mourning. Not that she’s lost a relative, blit purple betokened respect
for those who had and the parlous situation of Europe. This was praiseworthy as an idea, but the dress and coat, having been dyed from a cinnamon brown, had rather the effect of badly cooked plums. Still, it’s a fine example from those who are well off to set those who are not, this dyeing of garments; and Kate had had her travelling dress done too, in deference to mother’s advice. Kate’s had been grey and had become a cold bottle-green which wouldn’t enhance the complexion of an angel. It made her sallow, contradicted the nice blue of her eyes and caused her brownhair to look dust color. She and mother felt pride in their plain appearance, and betrayed this in their manner. They were travelling to France on a high, mission. Mother meant to write a book concerned with the war, and wished to study conditions on the spot. T-he scenes she would treat were on the French front, or rather, several French fronts, the British not allowing their fronts to be seen by the eyes of women.
Mother, when writing one of her great books (this was to be the greatest) never thought of her sex; but it seemed that the British authorities
obstinately refused to disregard it. To punish them, therefore, she had decided to ignore their old fronts.
The French were said to be less narrow-minded. She expected permission to go where she pleased for purposes of her work and Kate’s work (Kate is mother’s secretary, and writes weekly articles of her own for a syndicate) but it was considered wise to take me to break the ice. You see now why plain, unprepossessing garb was indicated for ladies wishing not to emphasize their sex.
As for me, Harry Wayne (I was named after my dead father, but mother calls me Henry in moments of storm), I have been refused three times by the Army Medical Board, otherwise any journey of
mine to France would have been made in khaki. Mother explains me practically in these words whenever she introduces me as her son, and makes my ears tingle. But p.s you will have realized already, under her thumb my assertive faculty, if not my sense of humor, has become almost extinct.
A T Havre the officer shook hands with A* t.he ¡¡.¡ri for good-bye, and kissed the dog. There was some murmur about a telegram to send, and a motor car; but we thought nothing of this at the time. It was a real blow for mother to find that our places in the train were in the same compartment with the objectionable female and her pet. I was bidden to seek other seats, but there were none unoccupied.
I pass over that journey in silence, because it was passed mostly in silence: sleep, reading, note-taking, and glaring at the girl—so far as the ladies were concerned. While they slept, I could have talked to her if I had dared. Her eyes told me that; bright, friendly eyes, gay and kind as the eyes of a very nice child who has never been scolded or had dyspepsia. She was, I thought, like a charming puppy, begging me to throw a ball and give it a chance to play. But literally I dared not. I hoped that my cowardice was partly for her sake, knowing the things that mother would say —and look. But, honestly, I’m not sure. Anyhow, when at length the tiresome train crawled into the St. Lazare station at Paris there had been no intercourse between the girl and me except a smile —well, a few smiles—when the cat was asleep and the mice would play. I won’t say to whom I refer as the cat, but the girl and her dog were the mice. They played occasionally and looked at me for approval. I gave it with grins.
A,fOTHER, Kate and I hadn’t been abroad before since the war began. We had talked and heard a lot of talk about “war conditions,” and it seemed natural that there should be a dearth of conveyances for the civil population. If the girl had been unable to get a taxi, for instance, mother would have judged that it served the frivolous creature right for wandering about a war-stricken world with her ridiculous dog. That we shouldn’t get one, however, was a blow. It appeared incredible. It was like an awful dream that Mrs. Henry Wayne and her party should be stranded in a Paris station with their luggage and no visible means of escape.
For that was the fact to be faced. There were no vehicles whatever, neither taxi-motors nor taxi-anythings, or things without taxis. That is, those there were and the gloomy black omnibuses were engaged beforehand by passengers whose foresight was better than ours.
“I must say, Henry, you might have realized what it would be like and suggested wiring!” was the plaint drawn from mother at sight of drenching rain.
She snapped the words sonorously, if such a feat is possible.
Anyhow, they reached the ears of the girl, who stood at a short distance from us, waiting for someone or something. Beside her was a porteuse, one of those human miracles of the war who look as if you could break them in two with a touch, yet who smilingly shoulder weights at which men once grumbled. The strength of this one was tested only 'vith a chinchilla-lined fur coat, an um-
brella, a parasol, and a purple dressingbag whose interior, if pierced by X-rays, would certainly reveal gold fittings. The traveller herself had charge of the dog; but at the sound of our sorrow’ she looked at us and let the leash go.
rpHE fluffy white shape flew as straight for me as a well-aimed snowball. Instinctively I stooped to snatch it up lest it should pounce away under the wheels of a smart khaki-colored automobile at that moment apapproaching. My move was followed by the approach of the girl. (And this is the place, previously referred to, where mother and Kate got their chance to say, “I told you so!” Their theory was that the dog’s mistress had trained him to make advances where she wished to strike up an acquaintance.) What with the rain and no vehicular protection, and now this thing happening, mother’s face was a study. She could have sat for a portrait of Clytemnestra.
“Sidi Bishr, you bad child!” exclaimed the obnoxious one, w’ith a smile for us all round, as if the surest thing in the world was our kind love for her and her dog.
“Thank you heaps!” she went on, with a special smile for me, which made me feel I was a man in spite of all, and hang everything! She had a dear little drawling voice which reminded me of “coon songs” I’d heard crooned on a music hall stage by a popular southern singer. As she spoke she made as if to receive the said Sidi Bishr from my outstretched arms; then seemed to forget, and let me hold him, her hands clasping his face.
“I was just wondering,” she said, with a bright glance that introduced her to mother, “if I couldn’t take you in my auto? At least, it isn’t my auto, but a friend’s, such a kind boy I met on the boat. He sort of saved Sidi B. from jumping overboard, so we talked and he was awfully interesting. I reckon you’re English, so maybe you know him? He’s Lord John Hatte. It does seem funny to call anyone by his first name like that when you’ve just met him! But he’s a captain, too. He’s on a staff or something, and he’s generally in Paris, but he has to stop at Havre for awhile and when he found I was a stranger in Paris he just insisted I should use his car. He would telegraph for it to meet me; and here it is. So please come with me or I shall feel frightful in this rain, when we’ve been fellow travellers such a long
If I hadn’t suspected it before I should have known then that the girl had the disposition of a sunbeam and the nature of an up-to-date angel. But mother gazed into the middle of that cherubic smile with what, when I was a boy I used to call, (in my mind) her rocking horse expression. You know what I mean? Unwinking, large-nostriled, wooden.
I READ her thoughts as if printed in one of her own books. She wasn’t thinking the girl angelic. She thought her pushing, and was asking herself if those bright eyes had seen on some bag a label with the name of Mrs. Henry Wayne, whom everybody wishes to
I expected a firm refusal, and prepared to temper ungraciousness to a shorn lamb; but not so! Any port in a storm was the next expression on mother’s face.
“I thank you,” she said, with proper stiffness. “I suppose we can—er—send someone to get us something. But Lord Raille, the father of Lord John Hatte (the name is pronounced ‘Hett,’ not ‘Hat’) is an old friend of mine. Therefore, perhaps we may be justified in accepting your tactful” (she swallowed the ‘tactful’ as if it had been a cud) “suggestion. That is, if our hotel is not out of your way.”
“It won’t be out of my way, wherever it is!” cried the girl. “Just tell the chauffeur its name, please, for I ’speet you speak French lots better than I do.”
The khaki-colored car which had drawn up near by was, it appeared, that of Lord John, who had described it to his friend.
“The Wellesley, Rue de la Paix, please mention to the man, Harry,” said mother.
“Oh!” chirped our hostess, “how lovely—the Rue de la Paix! It’s always been a sort of dream of mine to see it. I believe I’ll stay at that hotel instead of the one I was going to.”
IF, at this moment we had not already been in the car, a luxurious limousine, mother might have preferred waiting indefinitely, or marching miles to the Metro, rather than be “saddled” with the girl. She couldn’t pile the whole party out, however. And if any cat may look at any king, any girl can go to any hotel even if patronized by Mrs. Henry Wayne. There w’as still a hope that all the rooms might be taken, we having wired for ours; but though the Wellesley was almost complet, there remained a suite; double bedroom, bath and private salon on the first floor.
“Do you not think,” suggested mother, “as you are alone, without even a maid, you would be committing an extravagance in these sad war times taking a large expensive suite when many are starving ? There are other hotels, in the same street.”
The girl shook her head. Apparently she had no notion that mother considered aught save her purse.
“I’d have to have a bath anyhow,” she announced, “and a salon’s awfully convenient for Sidi B. "He gets so tired of just a bedroom, when I leave him in. Besides, I know you, and it’s nice to be near friends. I’m here, and I’ll stay. Didn’t some general say that once?”
I confirmed this impression and named the general. Afterwards mother scolded because I’d “encouraged the creature.” “If you had been reserved, as I and Kate were,” she reproached me, “there might have been some hope. As it is, she evidently intends to live in our pockets.”
Our first meal in the hotel was dinner, and whether by accident or design the girl’s table was within talking distance of ours. Mother and Kate had put on their travelling frocks and hats again after bathing, because it was the “worst of form to dress in Paris during the war.” The girl was ignorant of this maxim, however, or chose to disregard it. She had on a thin, black dress which merely veiled her youthful neck and arms. Round her throat were gold béads, and gold beads to match girdled the crown of her large, tilted black hat. This matching of beads for some reason appeared criminal to mother. We had learned ffom her own lips that the name of the girl was Nancy Mix, and, quivering at sight of the beads as a bull quiv-
ers at a red rag, mother muttered, “Mix indeed! Minx is the proner name for her!” And this was a private christening behind the culprit’s back.
She called to us gaily once or twice during dinner, and later when we were having coffee in the lounge Miss Mix approached to reclaim the too friendly “Sidi B.”
“I hope you don’t mind him?” she beamed to mother, whose royal mourning he pawed. “I’m afraid he’s rather spoiled. Everybody makes so much of Sidi! I haven’t had the darling long, though I don’t see now how I lived without him. It was too funny the way he was given to me. I must tell you.” (:She drew up a chair.) “Coffee here, please, waiter! A dear fellow, an officer, of course, brought him to France, coming from Egypt, Sidi B.’s native land. Well, he came to England on leave (the boy, jiot the dog) and met me. I’d just arrived, and was so homesick! He was the same, being Australian. He told me how Sidi was named after a camp near Cairo where he was born, Sidi Bishr. But I call him that only when I’m cross. The poor boy had left his dog in France because of the rules in England, and didn't know what to do with the pet in the trenches. I said I’d love to have him, so the boy vowed to get him to me somehow. What do you think he did ? Sent Sidi B. over to “Blighty” with a flying man in an aeroplane! And then, after all, I decided I could do better war work in France than England, as American troops are landing, and all that
So I got my passport fixed up, and here I am. I don’t know yet what I shall do, but I’ll begin looking around. I suppose you’ve come to do war work, you look so—so business-like.”
The last words were intended for mother. Mother made no reply, but gazed into her empty coffee cup. Miss Mix tried again. She raised her voice, thinking that mother, at her age, might be deaf; and that was more than mother could stand from a minx.
She said in a remote tone, addressed to space, “We have come to France, not with any speculative idea of ‘picking up’ work, but with the intention of going to the front and seeing the liberated cities.” Had mother received an invitation to spend a week-end in Heaven, and been forced to mention the honor to a dweller in the pit, her manner would have been perfect.
The Minx was impressed. “My goodness!” she gasped. “Going to the front? I didn’t know one could.”
“Ordinary persons cannot,” mother deigned to explain. “We go for writing purposes.”
“Writing purposes!” repeated Miss Mix. “Do you all write?”
“Not all,” said mother faintly. She
HER SECOND STEP: PARIS TO NANCY
flushed in a way she has when irritated: red veining on cheekbones and tip of noble Roman matron nose. I wickedly surmised that she was more vexed with the Minx for ignorance of who Mrs. Henry Wayne was than for curiosity. It seemed impossible that anyone should live, no matter how paltry or provincial, to whom that name meant nothing. “My books you may never have read, as they sell only a few hundred thousand yearly in America. You are unlikely to know Miss Whitley’s journalistic work as it appears in serious papers, not in magazines devoted to—er—fashion and fiction. My son does not write.”
The Minx gave me a look. It seemed to adopt me as a human ally. Also it had a strange, dreamy wistfulness, a yearning which made me wonder.
“I wish I could go to the front!” she sighed.
Kate laughed shortly. Even mother smiled. But it was not a smile in which you could bask.
“Fronts are not for frivolous folk,” she said, with effective alliteration.
“I’m not frivolous!” exclaimed Miss Mix, opening her eyes wide.
“Aren’t you?” asked mother. She then rose. “Kate and Harry, we are all tired. Shall we go to bed?”
“I’m feeling rather fresh,” said I.
“You may think you do, but you look worn out,” mother corrected me kindly. “However, if you are not too weary you will perhaps write two or three telegrams from my dictation.”
That settled it! No cigarette for me in an easy chair by the side of the Minx.
T CAME down early next morning with the telegrams which I was bidden to give the concierge, while mother and Kate breakfasted in their rooms. Also, I was ordered to put certain questions to that wiseacre. Then I was to take a taxi and do an important errand. Mother had put the same questions to persons in England and had received replies, but I was to “make sure.” As for the errand, she would have done it rather than send a messenger so ill representing her august self; but it was beneath the dignity of Mrs. Henry Wayne, the famous novelist, to besiege the office of any bureaucrat. If she had been Mohammed she would have sat still and let the mountain crawl to her feet. If it didn’t crawl, the loss was its. But in the war and in a foreign country one had to make concessions. One sent one’s son.
Having learned from the concierge that my list of official names was right, also the number of the street, I went to the restaurant to snatch a hasty breakfast. It must be a hasty one, because the time was a quarter to nine, and I was to burst upon the Bureau when it was opened. We hadn’t come to Paris to waste time!
To my surprise, Miss Mix sat at the table where she had dined, Sidi B. lapping the remains of a poached egg from her plate.
“How d’y do?” she asked. “Sit by me, won’t you ? I’ve got wild strawberries, and they say they’re the last. There’s
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Continued from page 16
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“It’s not exactly an honor. Maybe it’ll be a bore. I felt you’d start early, without your people. And, you know, from this glass partition by my table I can see everyone who passes through the lounge. I bolted my coffee and toast, ready to pounce in case you didn’t come in here. I’ve a great favor to ask. Can you guess?”
“I can never guess conundrums on an empty—fasting.”
“War bread does sort of sharpen one’s wits,” said the girl. “Well, I want you please, please, to introduce me to HIM.”
“The man who fixes things up about going to the front. Or if your mother wouldn’t like you to introduce me, let me walk in under your wing. I’ll do the rest! The concierge says it’s hard to get taxis early in the morning these days, and you have to wait an age. So I 'phoned for Lord John’s car to come round (the kind boy has lent it to me all the time he’s in Havre, days and days!) and I ’speet it’s here by this time. Your mother would rather I gave you a lift than you have to wait till the office is full, wouldn’t she? That lovely auto will spin us to the Rue Frederic Premier in five minutes, judging by the map the dear old concierge showed me. And Sidi B. can sit with the chauffeur.”
“You seem to have X-rayed my plans, and provided for all emergencies, like Mrs. Swiss Family Robinson, who, in seventeen minutes, while the ship was being wrecked, packed a bag with everything her family could need in seventeen years,” I laughed to hide embarrassment.
“I can be like that when it’s useful,” admitted the girl, “though I love being lazy, don’t I, Sidi B? When your mother talked about the front I made up my mind I must go.”
“I’m afraid, dear Miss Mix, you’ll find that impossible. Still, as you’ve taken the trouble to study the preliminaries, there’s no harm trying.” I discouraged her with one hand, and encouraged her with the other. “America being popular just now, if you were a writer for an American newspaper -”
“I am,” she said, with a slight gasp.
“Oh! May I ask what-”
“I’ll tell the man in the office, and you will hear, because you’ll take me in,” she promised. “There’s no good going over the same ground twice.”
“Have you a card with the name of the newspaper on it, to show as your credentials ?”
“No, because I didn’t come to Europe on business. I came—well, my dad's made quite a little pile since the war, in some funny stuff that leaves a nasty taste in your mouth; ‘tungsten,’ I think it is. My stepmother and I have different ways of enjoying ourselves. So when I felt as though I’d die if I didn’t come over to this side and do something real to help, instead of being smeared with pearls and dining in roof gardens, dad gave me his blessing. He gave me a few dollars, too. I stayed in England awhile, and saw two air raids. But after that it seemed as if there was nothing else left as real as I might find in France. So here I am, on the loose. I haven’t any newspaper card, and there’s no time to get one engraved or even printed. But from the way Mrs. Wayne talked last night. I realized that her name must be well known. If I walk in
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with her son it will be all right. I feel it will.”
I felt this in a less degree, but— mother was upstair in that dressing gown, and it would be pleasant to whirl through early morning Paris in a car alone with Nancy Mix. After that, the deluge! And it would be brutal to re-
N the Rue Frederic Premier (this isn’t * the real name of the street) is situated an important bureau. Its business is
to see Personages (they must be personages with a large capital P) who have reasons for wishing to visit any of the French fronts. The bureau probes these reasons, and decides whether they justify the desired visit. If no, the bureau invents polite excuses for refusing. If yes, the bureau facilitates the visit and makes it possible. These were the particulars mother had spent days in ascertaining and the Minx had annexed in five minutes.
The bureau was in a large, elaborate
building with military motors ranged outside its doorway, and men in uniform keeping guard inside. What constitutes a suspicious-looking character I am not sure. Anyhow, these men gazed with indifference at me in my blue serge suit, and with admiration at Miss Mix in white silk stockinette. We were allowed to pass, to mount in a very tight-fitting lift to a floor where a one-armed soldier, seated at a table in a hall, requested our names. I had a visiting card. The Minx scrawled on a piece of paper, “Miss Nancy Mix, Dexter, Kentucky,” She then hesitated a few seconds, pencil in hand, gave one of her little gasps, and dashed down an addition underneath, “cousin of the American General Benjamin F. Mix.”
“There!” she breathed, as the soldier moved towards a distant door. “If they’re in doubt about seeing me, that may be a trump! You were saying yourself, Americans are popular, and a gen-
“Does he exist?” I couldn’t help enquiring. (Perhaps this avenged mother).
“He did. He’s dead now. But he’s in history. They can look him up.”
“And he’s your cousin?”
“I’ve heard dad scold my stepmother for boasting that he is. Dad’s not here to scold me. And she’s as likely to be as right as he is.”
The soldier returned, without gendarmes to arrest one of us. We were ushered into a room with a table and a trio of chairs, which suggested a council of three. We waited. Our hearts thumped—at least, mine did. We talked of indifferent things, then fell into silence, and watched the door. It opened, and a man entered.
“Mees Mix!” he greeted my companion. He advanced, and when she charmingly held out her hand, he bowed over it. This with scarce a glance at my mother’s son. His cordiality paid tribute to a valued ally, with army connections who were already landing on the shores of France, in transports escorted by destroyers. Then, somehow—I hardly knew how—it was Miss Nancy Mix who introduced Mr. Henry Wayne to Monsieur Dariot. By a gracious concession she encouraged me to speak, to explain my business and mention hers, which I found myself doing as if hypnotized.
A jONSIEUR DARIOT, who spoke English, assured me that madame, my mother’s, work was known in France. He had heard of the papers for whicn mademoiselle my cousin wrote. Naturally I would be permitted to escort them if they visited the front. But—it was easier to send men than women. Men could join any party being made up, whereas ladies must have one arrangée! for them. Besides, motor cars were needed and difficult to obtain, to sa> nothing of essence.
“But,” broke in Miss Mix, “I have a British staff car at my service, and essence, and the English chauffeur of an English lord. If I go to the front—to fronts, I mean—I could take the Waynes.”
Monsieur Dariot pricked his ears. “Ah, Mademoiselle, you too wish to go to the front? Your car would be useful. But I must, 1 fear, ask your qualifications, your -”
“I’m a writer,” she said, “for an American paper with the largest circulation in the world. It’s the most in-
fluential. It simply makes fashions—l mean opinions.”
“Indeed?” She was becoming more and more marvellous in the eyes of the official. This exquisite creature who looked like a hothouse flower, had generals for cousins, could produce staff cars at will like manna in the wilderness, and was a valued contributor to the most powerful paper on earth!
“Do I know the name of this great journal?” he ventured.
“You surely must? It’s Home Talk.”
I was seized with a fit of coughing. Even Monsieur Dariot started.
“Home Talk,” he echoed. “That— ah, I am ignorant unfortunately of America. But it sounds like a woman’s journal.”
“Oh, it is,” the Minx cut him short. “That’s why it’s so influential. It sells by millions. There’s lots more women than men in America. It’s we who are IT—I mean it’s we who decide things. If we didn’t want the men to go to war and fight with the Allies they wouldn’t. They couldn’t, you see. Why, they'd have to fight for the Germans if we insisted. If you want a thing done, put it in a woman’s paper. Politicians do. Authors do. And—everyone who is anyone. Home Talk rings right round the world. It’s—it’s like a propaganda (I
think she said “probogando,” but Monsieur Dariot didn’t notice) in neutral countries. If Home Talk published an article on these liberated cities Mrs. Wayne speaks about, goodness knows how many dollars will pour in from subscribers.”
“I see!” said Mr. Dariot. If more than eloquence had been needed, flushed cheeks and beaming eyes would have done the trick. “Where do you wish to go?” he added.
“Verdun!” she flung at his head.
He winced under the impact. “Ah, Verdun! Few ladies are allowed there. (I knew this, and even mother feared to ask for Verdun.) “I am not quite sure of that place—even for you, Miss Mix. But Nancy, with the evacuated cities in the direction of the eastern front, certainly! As you have a car, you can start as soon as we apply to Headquarters and get a response. You can fill a form which I will give you, with particulars about yourself, and the name of your great paper. Your chauffeur must fill one. Monsieur Wayne can take home forms for his ladies and return them quickly. In four days I shall give you your pass.”
When I had staggered out of the office and had subsided weakly into the car, something within me blurted out the question, “Do you write, Miss Mix?”
“You think I’d fib?” she reproached me, large-eyed. “I ought to set Sidi B. at you! Why, I once wrote a lovely article for Home Talk. I sent it in, and won a prize. It was on ‘How to Break an Engagement Without Breaking a
COWARDICE caused me to put off telling mother of the Minx’s application for the front. I thought it would be refused at Headquarters; and as by untiring effort mother managed meanwhile to avoid Miss Mix she might ¡.ever know of my guilt. We were constantly out for meals, at restaurants or at the houses of such Paris dwellers as we knew. Mother was excited and earnest. Ruthlessly she “worked” our acquaintances for introductions, and
secured one to a high official at Nancy, another to a General at Verdun, in case we were allowed there, which everyone warned her was doubtful. It was ou the day when these letters were obtained that the blow fell.
In her satisfaction. Mother had forgotten the Minx, who had made friends in the hotel, especially among British officers on leave, and had soared to a pinnacle of popularity with a newiy aí rived lot of American aviators. The appalling young person had, it seemed, been suppressed as a family nuisance; and on returning from a visit to the War Museum on the day I mention, Mother condescended to rest in the lounge, instead of going out to tea, or having it in our rooms, as thus far she had doomed us to do. We settled down where we were. It was a non-cake day; but we’d smeared our war-bread with English jam, when Sidi B. burst upon us. He was followed by two brand new American lieutenants, and a brace of battle-worn Highlanders who annexed a table near ours and stood at attention until joined by their liege lady.
I half rose and bowed. Mother and Kate sat tight, with a broad backed effect, ignoring the irruption. Laughing and chaffing, the party had seated itself, when the concierge advanced with an official-looking envelope. So official was it that Mother held out a hand. “It will be our permit," she said. But the concierge went on to the next table; and a moment later there was a silvery squeak from the Minx. She jumped up. The officers jumped up too, and retrieved one bead bag, one fan, one handkerchief, one parasol, and a few other things that fell.
“Oh, Mrs. Wayne!” she exclaimed, as sweetly as if we had indeed been “living in each other’s pockets,” “Here are our permits. They’re only for Nancy and the eastern front. But there’s a separate letter from that Lamb of a Monsieur Dariot. He says, as we have our own car and gas, and “Home Talk” has such an immense circulation even among neutrals, there may be hope for Verdun. Isn’t it splendid?”
MOTHER doesn’t often lose her tongue, but now she’d the air of having swallowed it. She gazed at the blue Daper as at an order for our execution. Then slowly, power of speech came back. “Miss Nancy Mix accompanied by”— and she read our names aloud. “What is the meaning of this farce? I fail to understand.”
But I understood. This was my coward’s punishment! The Minx was dashed. Doubtless she had expected praise—even thanks! No soldier going “over the top” in icy dawn, in the face of asphyxiating gas, machine guns, liquid fire, and under an enemy barrage, not to speak of aeroplanes, can have felt what I felt. I stammered explana-
“You see. I couldn’t get a taxi, so she took me in her car. It was the car that made the difference. They couldn’t have sent us without. We owe
everything to Miss Mix-”
“I refuse to owe anything to Miss Mix,” said Mother. “This is monstrous.” I hadn’t seen her so moved since the war broke out, after she’d prophesied peace. Her hand trembled. She mistook her plate for her saucer. She set her tea-cup in the jam. Poor Mother! I realized that the lion had doubtless
refused at first to stir out of the net, because a mouse had gnawed the hoie. Pm sure Mother longed to run upstairs and have hysterics in her bedroom: but Mrs. Henry Wayne occupies a position 3 among women which the Matterhorn occupies among mountains. She waved the Minx back to her officers, and held her own ground at her table. Not untii a decent interval had elapsed did she arise and stalk to the ascenseur. Kate followed, I followed, though if I’d had a trained astral body I’d gladly have sent it instead.
I draw a veil over the scene upstairs; but half an hour later I crawled down again and ordered a go of brandy. I needed it after what I’d been through. But I had made Mother see that to go to the Front with a Minx was nobler than not to go at all.
Next morning early we set out for Nancy. There was a short scene starting which could be described as comedy or tragedy, according to the point of view; Mother offering to sit on a “strapontin” because the car was “one of the things we owed to Miss Mix:” Miss Mix insisting that Mrs. Wayne and Miss Whitley should take the best places; their chill yielding, to “save a squabble.” Presently when Nancy, Sidi B. and I had disposed ourselves on the two “strapontins” aforesaid, the ladies' knees coldly avoiding our backs (if they had touched, our spines would have been frostbitten!) I caught the girl giggling. Telepathy told me she pictured Mother on one of these small folding chairs, and I too suppressed a gurgle.
ALL roads leading out from Paris eastward are roads to Germany, and so towards Germany our big British car turned her nose in defiance. She liad six cylinders and the power of sixty super-horses. She drank distance like petrol (here 1 might pun, seeing that she soon plunged us into Champagne) and she made better time than the fastest train of war days. As for an adventure, it wouldn’t be her fault if we had one! Our only “hold ups” were to show Miss Mix’s blue pass, crossed with red, to soldiers stationed along the way after we ran into the war zone. The sight of women going to the “Front,” not dressed as nurses, surprised these dusty men. and the Minx more than surprised them. Dressed, hatted and booted in khaki color, with her red hair and white skin dazzling in the sunshine, it would have been safer to stare at her through smoked glasses.
Meaux marked the place nearest Paris “on the front of the Marne” where Germans came in that million-years-ago autumn of 1914. Even now we could see on the left bank of the river—half Hidden in green grass, grain or buttercups the form of trenches—shallow holes made in a hurry. Meaux we saw as a sweet old town of dove-grey roofs, and the Minx would stop to buy postcards of the Bishop whose bravery even the Germans respected.
At Chateau-Thierry, on the right bank, we came upon our first trace of German destruction. Once its only ruin was the Castle built by Charles Martel for a sort of fairytale monarch, young King Thierry. Travellers came to see the fortresslike church of the 15th century with its vast tower set upon a height, or to gaze at the birthplace of Jean de la Fontaine, the beloved fable-maker. Nowadays there are ruins more thrilling
than Thierry’s crumbled palace. The Tour de Balhan and the Church of St. Crispin are neglected for a few grim trophies on the river’s edge—-“monuments historiques” which the Germans added, in seven September days, to those already possessed by Chateau-Thierry.
Mother’s stylo became frantically busy amid the fluttering leaves of a cheap black notebook, marked “No. 1,” as we spun away from the picturesque hilltown by the Marne, past little villages like islands in a flood of green, past martyred chateaux, past Montmirail where a fierce battle was fought without ever getting into the papers: and so towards Epernay. Her jolted jottings resembled nothing so much as a tango danced by ink-stained insects, but no bump or swerve discouraged her. Kate read an antiquated guide-book (are not all things antiquated that date before 1914?) but the correspondent of “Home Talk” was idle, save for eyes and tongue. She asked me many questions, but I confess that I thought at the time they were put for the pleasure of hearing herself talk, rather than with the object of gathering information. Why should she care that Epernay had manufactured the best “Vins de la Rivière,” and that vast wine-cellars were cut in the chalk rocks? Yet suddenly she surprised me with a quaint word-picture of the German ambitions concerning these storehouses of a million bottles. She had apparently read something about the very church with its very old painted glass windows: and added, when Kate read aloud that Henry IV. had laid siege to Epernay, “Oh yes, wasn’t Marshal Biron killed in it?” Doubtless, minx-like, the girl had slily bolted a few undigested facts to fling at us: but I began dimly to discern that there might be Something yet to be discerned under her dimples and rice-powder.
Epernay was cruelly bombed after the Germans had been hustled out by the victory of the Marne, the gay “quartier Abelé,” where lived the rich, being marked down for destruction.
/"'HALONS, chief town of the Marne,
city of twenty-two bridges, was important before Attila brought his Huns and St. Bernard preached the Crusade there in the 12th century. Mother had thought of laying a brief scene in Chalons, because of its ancient churches (a great forte of hers is describing churches) but she lost the calmness requisite for architecture at sight of the German prisoners, working along the road in gangs. “After all, Nancy is my goal, in this direction!” she reminded herself; and instead of notetaking, she scattered as we drove leaflets she’d had translated into German and printed for such emergencies. These were strong quotations from a lecture of hers in which Germany was compare 1 with the fallen archangel Lucifer, and she believed that, if picked up and read, they would be a nourishing mental ration for the prisoners. She suggested stopping the car at a distance, to see if the men in the queer flat caps, with P. G. on their backs, profited by the unique opportunity offered: but I argued that watched pots never boil, and the chauffeur was allowed to go on past the fair town of three rivers, towards Vitry-leFrançois.
To be continued