THE MINX GOES to the FRONT
A Story of the Reconquered Districts of Prance
A. M. WILLIAMSON
Joint Authors of “The Lightning Conductor,” “The Princess Passes," etc.
I EXPLAINED our plight, and that we had come to beg “a loaf of bread, a jug of wine. If this were a hospital, perhaps the médécin major....” “But no, Monsieur,” answered the man in blue. “This is the château of the English and American newspaper correspondents for the French front. They live here, in the companionship of two French officers, and a few servants including myself. Alas, all are away to-day, at—but I must not mention the place! All, that is, except Monsieur Hood, who stays to entertain the visiting American officers when they arrive tomorrow'.” “Hood!” echoed Nancy—which was intelligent of her, as he had pronounced it “’Ood.” “There’s an American named Ellery Hood, who writes from France for the New York Universe. I’ve read his things.” “It is our Monsieur. He is Ellery ’Ood,” said the soldier. “And the American officers who’re coming to visit to-morrow’ must be the lot we sawgoing into the .Palace at Compiègne,” Nancy added to me. Then, in her best French: “Will you tell Monsieur Ellery Hood that his compatriot, Miss Nancy Mix of Kentucky, and the son of the world-wide Mrs. Henry Wayne aré calling upon him?” As I wondered what Mother would think of the description, we were ushered in and shown into a pretty little reception room decorated with spoils of the chase. A minute later, and a tall, thin, brown young man in khaki bounded into the room, as excited as if we had been a battle to be reported. But it was not the world-wideness of Mrs. Henry Wayne which roused his emotion. It was the Kentuckiness of Miss Mix, and (when he had seen her in broad electric light) her Nanciness, which heated his bloed. He shook hands with her in a way to break her rings, with me to crack my finger-joints, and told us in good American that he hadn’t been as pleased since he took mumps and had to miss school. Except from his brother correspondents, he hadn’t heard the English language for months, and he was tired of their way of talking it. After this, for a few moments, there was a sort of firework competition of American slang; and out of it, on Hood’s side, was forthcoming an invitation to dine and spend the night. “The boys won’t get back till day after to-morrow morning, even if they motor all to-morrow night, for
things are pretty hot where they are—good copy!” he explained. “There’s room and to spare here, and lots of food. By Jove, maybe the ladies’ll help me entertain our American chaps (half a dozen officers), who’re coming from Compiègne to dine to-morrow evening! That would be great for me—and for them! You see, the call for our boys to go didn’t come till the invitation had been accepted, so the only thing was to let the guests turn up, and me do my best. I got a bit of shrapnel in my leg the last time I had a stunt to do, and the doc. made me stay at home, so I w'as on hand all right as host, you see. And the château’s a show place. Everyone who blows along wants to have a look round, and we couldn’t let the Americans get away from us. They’ve gone to Roye and Nesle and Ham and Coucy-le-Château to-day. To-morrow they’ll be at Noyon till it’s time to come here; and the two nights they spend at Compiègne.” (No wonder we had not been able to find rooms in the hotel! But I didn’t grudge them to our new Allies). “They’ll go crazy to find ladies in the château to receive them,” he went on. And Nancy, far from appearing to think that result deplorable, promptly accepted the invitation in Mother’s name as well as her own. v_ “The boys” had taken the one big auto which the correspondents possessed, it seemed, but there was a little “sabot” that was used by the chef for marketing, and Mr. Hood would himself drive to the scene of the accident. He would rescue Mrs. Henry Wayne and Miss Whitley, and send later to Compiègne for the luggage. When the chauffeur had repaired our car, he could bring it to the château garage, and be ready to start out for our trip in the morning. But we must promise to return in time to grace the “party.” I rejoiced that there was no room for me in the “shoe.” I preferred that it should be the brave war correspondent, rather than her son, wrho broke to Mrs. Henry Wayne the news that Nancy Mix had accepted an important invitation in her name. There must have been something winning about the man, or something singularly tactful, for when Mother arrived, she was benign though moist. She had consented to “play hostess” for the officers, who would, she was convinced, prove to be members of her special American Public. Her Sixth Step—Roye; Nesle; Ham; Jussy; Coucyle-Chateau, Chauny; and the Castle of Dreams A S with Silverhair in the House of the Three Bears, everything was to our liking in the castle of the absent correspondents, from the dinner to the beds. We started early next morning, with a rejuvenated car, and the adjurations of Ellery Hood to be back by seven p.m. Our guide had to be picked up at Noyon once more, but we went by a different way, and saw more trenches, more devastated villages and more ruined châteaux. The lately repaired road was crowded with artillery, coming to the “back of the front” for repairs, and “camouflaged” camions crowded with soldiers bound for a few days’ repose. After Noyon, the way had a sadness for which all we had read and all we had heard could not prepare our minds: the sadness of murdered trees. Here and there we had seen them chopped down, brought to their knees, but not in legions; not wide orchards laid in waste, without the youngest sapling spared; not longlines of noble elms and poplars, which had shaded generations of travellers, hacked to pieces or blown to splinters with gunpowder. It was a
sight, especially in the sweet summer time, to wring the heart. My eyes were wet. and I heard myself utter low cries of agony and rage. I had not known that I. loved trees so dearly, so intimately, but I felt as if I had been led past the bodies of fair young women and. little children, struck to death on some fête day, when, they had been dancing in gala dress. If the retreating Germans had cut down trees to block the roads behind them, and so delay the enemy, it would not have been so bad. But not a tree was found lying across the road, said our guide. Many had not even fallen when the French and English came, but were hacked so cruelly that they would have clashed down in the first storm. The one great consolation was that the older trees, which once had made long, shady avenues, were used to mend the roads; and so the Allied troops passed on in pursuit of the enemy with a dash that would have been impossible had not the trees helped in death, as they had pleased in life. BETWEEN the murdered orchards, surrounded by waste-land which had been meadows, lay vague traces of vanished farms and hamlets wiped out of existence. So we came to Rove, which was of immense impressiveness in ruin. Once it had been a rich littletown of four thousand souls, trading in sugar and grain, proud of its fine old church, St. Pierre, whose 16th century glass archaeologists came from afar to see. Now, it is one of those many Pompeiis which Germany has given France. The windows of St. p¡erre—the few'that are left—are eyeless sockets, that stare as from a gigantic skull. We got out of the car. and climbed a hill of stone, which once had been the church walls. Sliding and stumbling we crawled over masses of débris towards the high altar which alone remained untouched by fire anct bombs. Standing on that height, we could see the dismantled organ, which had been famous. All the brass and metal had been torn off when the treasures of the church were stolen. German mines had blown up half the streets. We saw old men and women wandering desolately, as if uncertain where their own houses had stood. Nesle. where next we arrived, was in the same tragic state. Germans had done particularly brilliant work in sapping and mining there ! The church of Nesle was built in the 12th century, and many years had gone to^ its furnishing and decoration. A few hours, a few Germans, a few pounds of dynamite had reduced it to a heap of shattered stones, in the enlightened 20th century. But the great drama of Nesle had been enacted in the burial ground.
In old days (all days before the war are old) it was a peaceful resting place for the earthly remains of peace-loving people. There were charming trees, and flowers, and some fine old family vaults, as well as many humbler graves carpeted with grass pinks and “pansies for thought.” But the Germans came, and opened the vaults. What was worth taking, they took. The bodies they flung on the ground. Other bodies they dug up, to make place for German dead; and at their leisure they carved elaborate yet unconsciously grotesque monuments for their fallen officers. Then, by and by, the British appeared, and drove the “Huns” out of Nesle. When they found the cemetery littered with skeletons of French men and women and children, the Tommies were enraged. They could not be content with respectfully re-burying the scattered bones. They avenged the desecration by smashing the pretentious German monuments. They chopped off stone and plaster heads of fiercely mustached colonels and majors, but they left the graves of simple soldiers intact. By and by a famous French statesman visited Nesle, and the cemetery whose tragic drama had set Paris talking. Seeing the havoc wrought upon German officers’ tombs, he shook his head, doubting the righteousness of such revenge.
“I am not sure that any wrong justified this,” he said, “and I do not think our soft-hearted poilus could have done it. After all, friend or enemy, the dead are the dead!”
Then he was taken to a neighboring town, where the unearthed and despoiled French bodies still layby their own grave-sides, or tumbled in heaps to make way for the Germans buried in their place. The blood of the statesman boiled in his veins at this sight. He saw red, and before the crimson cloud had time to fade, he had torn down thirty of the aggressors’ tombstones with his own hands.
An old man walked with us •hrough the graveyard, a veryold man of Nesle. So long had he lived there, that when the houses of his native town were blown up or burnt down, still he could not tear himself away.
He hid in the ruins. He dodged death a dozen times an hour during the days of destruction; he contrived to hide a gun and ammunition,
“in case of the worst,” when he would make the Boches pay high for his life if it came to the selling. Now, he haunts the ghost-town ; a ghost among ghosts, the keys of his vanished house in his ragged pocket, waiting for “un de ces nobles américains” to adopt Nesle as they have adopted Noyon.
Then the fallen stones will be removed from his cellar, and he will find the little bag of money he buried there—ah, no need yet to tell just where!
Meanwhile I saw Nancy Mix give him “something to go on with.”
IN the historic little town of Ham, we lunched hastily in a hotel which the Germans had made their headquarters for months. The old landlady who had been forced to serve them served us, and poured out stories as she poured out wine. Oh yes, the Boches had made themselves comfortable at Ham ! It was a pleasant place to stay, with the canal for their traffic, and the river Somme for their fishing. They boasted that when they chose to go, they would destroy the historic castle. At last the day came. If they were not precisely “anxious to . go, the Allied armies were readyto make them.” Notice was therefore given to the unfortunate towndwellers: “Take two days’
food and your families into the church. Stop there, on peril of your lives, till your ■monument historique has been
blown up and ceased to exist. When the moment comes for you to leave your houses, the signal will be given. Be ready!”
So the people were ready, having learned the horrible lesson that it was wise to obey without argument, without even a sign of grief. They were ready for days and nights, never daring to take oft' their clothes lest the summons should be given w-hile they slept, according to German humor. But their masters had thought of something even funnier than rousing them in the small hours for a march to the church. This was, to forget the signal. At two o’clock one night the great château cf Ham was blown up, with an explosion which seemed to rend the world. Houses of the town cracked like eggshells, and many fell, burying whole families in this collapse.
IUHEN we had listened for an hour to the landlady’s ' ' tales, we were burning with interest to see what the Germans had left of the stout old castle, which centuries ago defied British onslaughts.
Never, at its best, could it have been more picturesque than now, and I told myself that more pilgrims will travel over land and sea to worship at the ruined shrine than ever came in the prime of its magnificence. Still the round tower or donjon, one hundred feet high and one hundred feet round, rears its majestic, pale rose bulk against the blue. The thick walls of the square built château (walls which, if they spoke, could tell tales of romantic or princely prisoners, from Jeanne d’Are to Louis Napoleon) have fallen into astonishing picturesqueness of shape, as bits of broken glass in a kaleidoscope take new forms of surprising beauty. It seemed worth while to have journeyed
from England to France just to see how the proud old Château of Ham bears itself in adversity; and I wondered if Louis Napoleon (who escaped from its dungeons, dressed as a mason) would feel now that he had got poetical justice for his six years of imprisonment.
On from Ham we spun to Jussy, only three or four miles behind the first line of the front. It was what our lieutenant called a “quiet day,” but now and then, the roar of cannons from one side or the other shook the earth, and the low horizon was dull grey, with a brooding cloud of smoke. There was nothing left of Jussy but vague heaps of stone where streets had existed, and the astonishing remains of what a few weeks before had been a huge sugar distillery, among the most important of France. The evil magician of war had touched it with his fiery wand, and left a wild whirlpool of twisted girders rising high against the sky in iron waves, or writhing like rust-red snakes over a pile of blackened bricks and nameless rubbish. But, though Jussy the town had been blotted out with all its industries, an extraordinary armed camp had sprung up on the outskirts of its ruin. This was indeed “the Front!” Even the German trenches on the other side of Noyon, with their dugouts and cupolas, had not given me the thrill of war that this place gave. Wherever there were not piles of cannon balls, there were cannon. I longed to caress their backs as if they had been a pack of hounds gathered round me. There were queer little mushroom buildings, with high board walks leading to them—to avoid the hideous white mud only just dried by the summer sun. Overhead floated two or three giant saucisses, observing the enemylines; and when Miss Mix inadvertently called them saucissins, our guide laughed as if there were no war, and she had uttered the record witticism of the world. 1
JUSSY, he warned us, was under bombardment when the Germans turned their thoughts that way, but no obus had come for some days. Coucyle-Château was another affair; and even Chauny was somewhat dangerous. We must choose -whether or no we cared to risk a shell on the road to Coucy, and to be chased out of Chauny by the Taubes that flew over each afternoon to “catch”the military automobiles. As for him, it was all in the day’s work. Shell-shock had kept him at the “back of the front” for months, but he was himself again, and would soon be taking his regiment over the top on the Chemin des Donnes. Yesterday' he had brought the American officers — splendid fellows, gentils garçons!— Uvithin fifty yards of Coucy-leIchâteau. Perhaps he would oring someone else to-morrow. AVhat, then, was our decision? If we preferred safety, he’d take us at once up to the observation summer house, built by Prince Eitel Fritz to gaze at St. Quentin and at Soissons. Then we could run back to Noyon on our way home.
“Where those American boys went we must go, or be cowards!” decided Nancy. “I’m not afraid! Are you?”
The challenge was to Mother. Even with the whole British and American Public urging her to live for them and future generations, Mrs. Henry Wayne could not confess herself less brave than a Miss Mix of Kentucky'.
“We will go,” she said. "That is, if Lord John’s chauffeur consents to risk himself and his master’s car.” Fawcett asked nothing better. It made him feel, he said» MS if he’d his two feet again. So we dashed on, to meet anyr adventurc that might be waiting.
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yX/’HEN we came to the road labelled » » Coucy-le-Château, I confess that I had a queer feeling in my breast, as if my heart were pretending to be a bird— a lame bird. Suddenly we looked up from the plain to a chalky headland at a distance, and there loomed the grand ruin of a château, a long line of ramparts and the stump of a keep. The lame bird hopped in his cage, for this had been—only a few weeks ago—perhaps the finest feudal castle in the whole of Europe.
“Roi ne suys,
Ne prince, ne duc, ne comte aussy.
Je suis le Sire de Coucy” had been the proud motto over the entrance gates. Now the gates were gone, and the motto was gone. Mazarin’s picked engineers had striven to destroy this Castle of Coucy, and had failed. But the Germans had succeeded. Little was left of the old magnificence save memories; memories of the last Sire de Coucy, son-in-law to Edward III of England: memories of Henry IV of
France, and his love for Gabrielle d’Estrées: memories of lesser loves, and births and deaths of princes, and fierce fighting. Fawcett had stopped the car by order of our guide. Further we must not go, but all seemed quiet, so we might stop and look. The lieutenant had begun to tell us something about concealed French batteries, and we were listening rather tensely, when suddenly there was a queer sound as if someone said “Whee” in a loud, thick, hoarse voice. This“whee” was followed by “crump!—woof!” and about fifty yards ahead of us something black, and brown, and full of smoke, exploded.
“Turn quick! We may get one any instant!” commanded our lieutenant. Fawcett obeyed, without the slightest change of countenance. Mother looked like a badly modelled statue of herself, in damp clay. Kate looked a pale Nile green, and might have been fashionable some years ago. Nancy’s cheeks looked as if they had been struck light blows with a rouged haresfoot. As I met her eyes she smiled.
“I’m so pleased with myself because I didn’t squeak, and because I’m not afraid,” she said.
“Sh!” said Mother.
“Do you still wish to go to Chauny?” asked our guide. “There will be no bombs there, only Taubes. But there may be several.”
“Why, we’re only just warming up to it!” cried Nancy.
NTEITH ER Mother nor Kate spoke. But ' silence giving consent, we turned out of the road which had taken us towards Coucy-le-Château, and made for Chauny. On the way, the lieutenant cheered us by explaining that this was the safest time in the afternoon. For some reason the Germans fancied six o’clock as a raiding hour. “It may have to do with the time for their meals,” he said gravely. “They think very much of their meals.’
After our experience, I felt slightly self-conscious and exposed, like a snail seated on the outside of its shell, as the car bounced us over the newly repaired white road into the dead town of Chauny. But so utterly sad, so terribly beautiful was the place, that I forgot danger. Of all the corpse-cities we had seen, this was the saddest. At Gerbevillers, I had thought the limit of tragedy reached. But this transcended limits; and, searching my mind for the reason, I found it in the lost beauty, the dignity of architecture which had once been Chauny’s. The place had owned two or three charming, miniature châteaux. The Mairie and Town Hall had boasted a certain grandeur. There had been many delightful villas in gardens, and large shops with imposing façades. The wrecks of these buildipgs remained, like propped-up sketdtdns, appealing to the eye, and the imagi îation behind the eye, as no other ruins had yet appealed. They were not full of piteous intimacies as at Verdun, but they were like half-burned pictures by a dead artist, pictures showing traces
of past loveliness, yet past all hope of restoration.
The silence of the place was complete. Nothing lived but ourselves. Instinctively we talked in whispers, standing before a blackened travesty of a house . whose garden blazed with roses. Then we became conscious of another whisper.
Or was it the buzzing of bees among the roses? Or was it the humming of a distant aeroplane?
We gazed into each other’s eyes.
“Into the car, please!” said our guide. “There’s no time to run out of town. We can’t race them. But there’s a place of refuge close by. I think we can get there.”
Without a word we did as we were told. The lieutenant sat beside Fawcett, showing him whei-e to go. We whirled out of the forlorn wreck of street and turned into a narrow road or lane, arched over thickly with trees. “Stop!” said the officer. “We must hide here till the beasts give up the game. They will before long, if they think the place is empty. They only come in the hope of getting some distinguished visitors, such as yourselves,”—he bowed to Mother and Nancy. “They expect to bag our Poincaré or your Lloyd George, or General Pershing some time. They did nearly bag the Americans yesterday. I didn’t tell you that. But you may as well know it now. You see, they fly low, and a grey or khaki car in a street or new white road makes a good mark. They may drop ' a few bombs, but twenty to one they won’t come near us. And you’ll have the fun of hearing the anti-aircraft gun we’ve got under camouflage near by give them as good as they send.”
He talked to distract our attention from the noise overhead, which, from a faint humming, had become a ravenous roar of engines. So thick were the trees overhead that we could see nothing, but the sound betrayed that the Taubes were two at least, and flying close to earth. As he spoke, the hidden cannon began to speak, but the enemy planes defied it. They seemed to know that there was prey, and could not decide to give up the chase.
“The beggars fly back and forth sometimes for half an hour,” said our lieutenant, shrugging his shoulders. “We must have patience. But without being seen we can get into a convent the Germans burnt when they were tired of using it as their headquarters. There’s a pretty garden they hadn’t time to spoil, and you can walk under J the trees there, if you like.”
MOTHER did not like. She preferred sitting in the car, and perishing within its shelter, if need be. Kate had no heart for wandering, but Nancy slipped off in the direction of the French officer’s pointing finger. I followed. The eyes of our guide were wistful, but he stuck to his post.
In three minutes we had found our way into the ruined chapel of the convent, and into a world which had no connection with the world we knew. The Germans had hacked and burned ruthlessly, hut through glassless windows, through gaping holes in the walls, and through a bower of leaves, like an emerald screen beyond, sunshine streamed. Overhead was the blue sky, instead of a roof, azure darkly barred by a few blackened beams. And a ray of light fell directly upon the one sacred thing the vandals had left untouched: a life-size’ painted statue of the Virgin.
Whether she were really beautiful or not, I can’t say; but in that strange gold-green radiance she looked like a lovely, living woman who prayed that God would pardon the despoilers. Someone had made a wreath of white marguerites for her head, and at her feet lay a long-stemmed moss rose.
All the flowers were fresh, and could not have been gathered many hours ago.
“I believe one of the Americans must
have had that beautiful thought,” said Nancy.
“But it’s not likely there would bo Catholics among them,” I argued.
“Would you need to be a Catholic to give this dear, kind woman who prays a few flowers?”
“No. Especially—” I paused and gazed at the girl—“as she has—-yes, she certainly has!—a look of you.” “Me—look like a saint? Why, youi Mother calls me a minx! Oh, you needn’t deny it, Mr. Harry. I don’t mind. I’m almost complimented. Minxes have such bright eyes and such prettv fur—as well as sharp ears to hear what people say about them. And when they scratch, it’s half in play.”
“You don’t scratch at all,” I said. “You’re the kindest, sweetest-natured girl—”
“Minx, then, on earth. But if you ever had any, you’ve shed your minxhood these last days. You’ve changed. That’s why I catch a likeness to the praying statue. Queer it should exist, hut it does. Don’t you see it. yourself?”
“I wonder! The shape of the face, maybe. But the eyes are sad—-no, not exactly: wistful.”
“That’s the word in my mimi for your eyes, lately. I’m afraid my mother—”
“It has nothing to do with her.”
“Is it the horror of war pressing on you. now we’ve come so close?”
“Oh, I feel it! I shouldn’t be human if I didn’t. It keeps me awake nights. But it isn’t only that.”
“No-o. I left home and came over to try and help some way, and I haven’t helped much yet. Mr. Harry, would you think I was silly if I asked your advice?”
“If I were conceited, I should think you wise.”
“Don’t joke, or I can’t speak; But I am sort of miserable. Even Sidi B. can’t comfort nie. I don’t know what I ought to do. If I did know, perhaps I’d be happier. It’s been wearing on mo for a day or two. Besides, I suppose that shell bursting so near, ami these Taubes we’re playing hide and seek with, have set my nerves jumping. I feel worked up, as if I had to have some help.”
“There’s nothing could make me so happy as helping you,” I said, and I caught her hands. “Nancy—dear Nancy —darling Nancy, you must have known since our first day, that I love you.
“Don’t! There’s no ‘if.’ You help me if you talk like that.”
“HpHEN I won’t!”
A 1 pulled myself up short, ashamed of the outburst, because I knew that Nancy could never care for me as Ï cared for her. I felt the magic of the moment, in that ruined church, with the garden-sweetness blowing in to us through the broken windows, and the Taubes searching for us overhead. I must not break the spell in vain. “Tell me your trouble, dear girl.” “There’s more than one. There are three.”
“Three separate troubles?”
“Yes. There’s Lord John—”
“Ah, I expected him to come in!” “And Monsieur Dufael—”
“I’m not surprised.”
“And General Rayières.”
“Heavens! He, too?”
“He three. And I don’t know which I ought to marry.”
“If you don’t know, isn’t that a sign you oughtn’t to marry any of them?” “No. Because I’m not marrying to please myself. I cared a—a whole lot for a boy once—an American boy, from my own state. But he didn’t think our country ought to come into a European war. and I did. He was a lieutenant in the army, and that made it seen: worse. I called him a bad name. I called him a coward. I reckon a man never forgives that, does he? Not that 1 wanted to be forgiven, I didn’t! I’m telling about him only to prove that being ‘in love’ is over for me. Besides —I couldn’t help thinking of him since ail our American boys have been pour-
ing into France. And to-day”—she printed to the moss-rose which someone had gathered in the garden, and laid at the feet of the Virgin—the Virgin who had Nancy’s face—“to-day that Drought him to my mind, just as if I’d seen his photograph. He loved moss-roses better than any flower. He used to sa.c they were like me, ‘sweet and prickly aí the same time.’ And boxes of them would come—boxes half full of moss, with the roses lying on top. His name was Rose—Dick Rose Roses were his visiting cards. But I'm not going to think of him any more! I’m going to thing of—which one shall 1 think of, Mr. Harry?”
“The one you like best.”
“J like each one best in certain ways. When I came over my first idea was to marry the British army—marry into it, I mean. It seemed a good way to begin Red Cross work. You see, I’ve lots and lots of money, I never told you how much. I do so want to do good with it—good for the wounded, and—oh, everyone who suffers. I thought Lord John might put me in the right way. so I encouraged him a little. Then 1 met Monsieur Dufael, and he opened a vista of work among those poor refugees! I wasn’t sure I couldn’t do more good for them than anybody else. But General Rayières told me such stories about the brave poilus, and the awful time the mutilated ones will have after the war, unless something big is done for them! That would he just my job, wouldn’t it? The British army doesn’t really need me. The American Duchesses and Countesses are helping it like mad. I told Lord John I’d give him an answer when I got back to Paris. And it’s very awkward saying no—what with the car, and all. But I’ve about made up my mind it had better be Monsieur Dufael—or General Rayières.”
“Are thev waiting for their answers, too?”
“Yes. Isn’t it worrying?”
“It certainly is—for them.”
“I was saying to myself this afternoon how easv it would make every thing if I blew up. Then they’d mourn me, for awhile, and each could believe, if I’d lived, I would have accepted him. But I didn’t blow up. And I don’t hear those Taubes now. The chances are we shall get back safe and sound, at the château to-night—in time for dinner. I wish I could decide before I meet those Americans! The sight of boys from home might make me weaken.” “Why not toss a coin?” I suggested. “But no. I forgot. You have three to decide between. Heads and tails aien’t, enough.”
»X—almost—think Lord John is off, said she. “People might say I married him for his title.'
I WORE a spade guinea in my waistcoat pocket, despite Mother’s protests against hoarding gold. This I displayed under Nancy’s eyes.
“My luckv coin,” I said. “Maybe it’ll bring* luck to you. Dufael ‘heads,’ because you met him first; Rapières, ‘tails,’ because he’s last, though not least. Shall I toss ?” _
“Ye-es!” she gasped. “Oh, whicnever comes, I shall wish it were the other!”
“We can’t toss here.” I said. i or one thing, it’s a church, and for another, there’s no floor—only piles of rubble. Come into the garden.”
We stumbled out of the chapel and took shelter under a large tree, untouched by fire. I tossed the spade guinea, and it spun out of sight, behind a tuft of grass. “Shall I look, or wih you?” I asked.
“You, please. I couldn’t!”
But the spade guinea had vanished. There was nothing behind the tuft of grass. Where it had gone I shall never know.
We were still searching when the lieutenant appeared in the chapei. “We’d best be off,” he announced. “The Taubes have turned their tails.”
“Come!” I said to Nancy. “You have the sign you wanted. Tails!”
“But your lucky coin?”
“Let it go! It couldn’t give me—
anything I wanted. So it’s to be Rayières?”
“Oh, I don’t know! I must try some other sign. Anyhow, I’m glad I told you. I feel better.”
We rejoined Mother and Kate in the car. They received us in silence. I did not cai-e. We started. Vaguely 1 was conscious of our guide’s regrets that the Taubes had made us miss the great sight of Chauny—the ruined glass works. What did it matter? Nancy was going to.marry Rayières or Dufael.
XX fE bounced over roughly repaired » ' roads at a speed which bumped our heads against the roof. I don’t know whether it hurt or not. We «lashed through a country of crippled trees to the foot of a hill circled by an ancient moat. The Taubes were outwitted. We were safe. What was the good of being safe ?
We walked up the hill and entered an imitation shooting lodge, which transported us instantly to Germany. Tt had been built from young, murdered birch trees, and ornamented with plaster toad-stool seats, to please the taste of Prince Eitel Fritz. Thence he had gazed at St. Quentin, and through field-glasses had seen the Cathedral of Soissons. We did as he had done, with «Efferent fellings. But I had lost the thrill—with my lucky coin. And something else, which I knew I could never find again.
Then we aimed straight for Noyor., where we dropped our guide, as a homing ship drops her pilot, and arrived at the correspondents’ chateau with half an hour to dress for dinner.
TVRESSING for dinner after what we had seen and lived through, symbolized for me the unescapable conventionalities, the monotony of life to which I was going back now that I had lost the thrill, and was losing Nancy.
“This,” I said to myself, “is the Castle of Dreams. It is on the borderland of adventure. When I leave, I wake—to things as they used to be: to Mother and to Kate.”
Meanwhile, the dream was still going on, to slower music. Its central figure, though out of reaèh, was not yet out of sight, and I had still one colorful moment ahead. Nancy had whispered, as we entered the chateau:
“Hurry up and dress, and meet me in the salon where we sat after dinner last night. We’ll finish our talk. And I'11 decide something.”
I was ready in fifteen minutes, and went to keep the tryst. I thought that Nancy could not have got down yet, "but there she was, in a white dress. She stood by a window, her back to me, and she was not alone. Deep in ■conversation with her—so deep that he neither saw nor heard me come in— was an American officer. As I paused at. the door, I could stare straight into ’his face; and it was all in the dream that he should be gazing down at Nancy Mix, unconscious of the dreamer’s unimportant presence.
He was tall, and thin, and young, with strong, dark features, tanned red brown as an Indian’s. I should have admired him as a magnificent type of an American soldier—at any other time. At this time I did not think at all. I only—wondered. My hand slipped from the door, and the breeze from the window blew it shut. The man looked up. Nancy turned, with a start, and almost dropped Sidi B.
“Oh, Mr. Harry!” she cried. “It’s too wonderful. This is Captain Rose, Dick Rose. And he’s changed his mind. He knows that Americans •ought to he in the war, and he’s in it himself, over head and ears, for all he’s worth. It was he who found that moss rose and laid it at the Virgin's feet, and crowned her with marguerites, because—she was like me. So everything is decided, without tossing any more coins, and I’m so happy!”
“Then I am to congratulate Captain Rose?” I said.
“You are!” he assured me, and smiled a brilliant smile of boyish blue eyes in
a dark face, flashing white teeth, strong young manhood, and joy supreme.
He held out his brown hand and, grasping mine, nearly broke it.
“I do congratulate you,” I heard myself murmur.
“And me?” Nancy questioned.
“I wish you happiness, with all my heart. You’re sure to have it.”
“Oh, sure! And because I’m happy I shall know how to help others as I couldn’t have known without. I see that now. I shall help refugees, and poilus, and Tommies and Sammies—• all, all! Dick will help me help. It will be heaven. Dear Mr. Harry, your spade guinea knew how to bring me luck. It rolled away and made me wait for this.”
“I’m glad,” I said.
And I really felt glad. One finds new sides of one’s nature in a Castle of Dreams.
IXrE are back in England now, and » » everything seems to go on as if we had never been to the front, or met the dear Minx, except that Kate has some newdresses, vaguely—and pathetically— resembling Nancy Mix’s “style.” Also she powders her nose when it shines, and manicures her nails with pink powder that means well, but gets under the skin.
I should have liked to stay on for Nancy’s wedding in Paris, but Mother wouldn’t hear of stopping. She was anxious to begin her hook without delay. Her feelings towards our late travelling companion thawed slightly, however, when she found that Miss Mix had no designs on me. Also, it was impossible not to see in a somewhat more becoming light a person whose father could cable her a million dollar wedding present.
With considerable graciousness Mother accepted from Nancy a souvenir of our trip in the form of a gold box, for the pocket or handbag, made (in the Rue de la Paix) to carry two lumps of sugar when one went out to a war-time tea.
“A very characteristic conception of economy!” she commented to me later, but without bitterness. “If I had known what large means Miss Mix possessed I might have tried to influence her towards good works. As it is, I don’t suppose the future will change her much. Once a minx, always a minx!”
“I hope so,” I murmured under my breath.
I, too, was given a souvenir: the
note-book which, in joke, I had presented to the “journalist.”
“I shall be too busy to write that article for ‘Home Talk’ after all, Nancy said. “It’s too bad, for I’ve made heaps of notes. 1 thought maybe you could use them in some way, so that kind man in the Rue Frédéric Premier needn’t be disappointed.’
Nancy’s notes! I fancied that she was repaying me with a joke for a joke. But no, to my intense surprise she had indeed “made heaps of notes.” Not only that, they were of a charm and originality which would have startled me—if I could have been startled by anything that Nancy did. lc seemed a waste of magnificent material not to use them. On an impulse, I showed the book to Mother, without explanation.
“Your notes?” she asked. “Yet the handwriting isn't like yours. I suppose you wrote in haste—motoring and so on.”
She read to the end of the volume, and then said, kindly, “These jottings are very creditable, very creditable indeed. I shall not mind incorporating them in my book.”
A stab sharp as a tooth of Sidi B’s bit at my heart. No, no, poetical justice it might be, but I couldn’t bear to see the girl’s little handful of fancies swallowed up in the maw of Mrs. Henry Wayne’s greatness.
“Thanks, Mother.” I answered, “hut this is the note-book of Miss Mix, soon tc be Mrs. Richard Rose, and I’m going
to try and edit it for her, as a—a sort of wedding present.”
Mother came as near snorting as a lady can.
“I wish you joy to the task!” she said.
And it will be a joy. In it I shall live over again the days I spent with
the Minx—the darling Minx; days I can never forget, even if I end up by marrying Kate.