The Minx Goes to the Front
A Story of the Reconquered Districts of France
C. N. A. M. Williamson
Joint Authors of “The Lightning Conductor,” “The Princess Passes,” etc.
FRANCIS THE FIRST built this town, and the Germans certainly would have destroyed it had they been given time. The very thougnt that here begins the Canal de Ia Marne au-Rhin, flowing towards Strassburg, must have made them feel that the place should be theirs to play with. Besides, they had bccupied it in 1870. But time pressed, and in 1914 they were obliged to do to the small surrounding villages, and to Sermaize-les-Bains, Revigny and Etrépy what they'd missed doing to Vitry. In Sermaize and all the district round, a certain Major Kurt von Asten became the villain of the place and Mother made an underlined note of him for a character in her book. He had not, in reality, got as far as Bar-le Due, being fonder doubtless of Chain agne than jam, and preferring country châteaux where he could live before ruining them, to the already ruined castle of the Dukes of Bar. Mother saw no reason, however, why she should not take poetical license with a person who had made a speciality of license. Besides, his death wound from a French 75 whif lying fully dressed in bed was irresist ible for drama: and when her novel ap pears I expect to find Kurt giving or taking orders to bombard Bar-le-Duc. Fortunately she won't dare let him des troy the two biggest elms in France, which are there, or blow up the jam factories, for they live still, to speak for themselves. - I noticed that, during our stop in Bar ie-Duc, the Minx was phenomenally silent. She did not even suggest buy ing confiture, as I saw by the cold gleam in Mother's eyes, was expected of her frivolity: and when we had passed out of the place on the way to Commercy and Toul, I seized a chance to whisper:
“A penny for your thoughts! Or I might run to a new banknote for 25 centimes which has come into my pos session.”
“Verdun!” was the word she flung at my face, like a ghostly obus.
“What do you mean?” I hissed. “Bar-le-Duc’s where we branch off for Verdun on our way back from Nancy. That’s what I was thinking,” she said. “We’ll not be allowed to go,” I croaked.
“Not even Mother-
“Were you speaking to me?” The lady mentioned looked up from a map spread on her knees and Kate's. But while I hesitated, Sidi B. created a diversion. He violently worried a corner of the map. One might have fancied that his mistress had magnetized him. “Playful pet!” she cooed. “Mischievous dog!” cried Mother. And the unanswered question went into limbo.
Once upon a time there lived a wonderful woman named Madeleine. She cooked for a rich family of ancient days —almost prehistoric days, since her fame has become legendary—and racking he:
SYNOPSIS OF FIRST INSTALMENT.Mrs. Henry Wayne, noted English writer, goes to France to secure material for a war novel, taking her niece, Kate, and her son who is unfit for military service. On thé journey they meet Miss Nancy Mix, an American girl who is going to France to engage in war service work. Mrs. Wagne disapproves of the girl and dubs her the Minx but it is only through the good offices of the latter that a permit is secured to visit the front and they leave as a party; in an automobile which the Minx has secured from an officer friend. They visit Chateau Thierry and Chalons and thus reach the picturesque town of Vitry-le-Franco-is.
brain on a certain fête for a new gâteau, she evolved a shell-shaped dainty destined to make Commercy famous. Lest she should be left out of the fame, she christened the cake after herself. And even travelling over tragic ground where invaders’ feet have hardly ceased to echo, who could pass her town without humming the tune of “Madeleines de Commercy?”
WHEN we reached Nancy, City of Golden Doors, Mother had to make Miss Mix face a Fact. That was her way of putting it. She did if quite politely but firmly, at dinner in a n;ce restaurant, in one of the most beautiful squares on earth. This square is called the Place Stanislas, after the man who preferred to be a Duke in Lorraine to being a King in Poland. It is so exquisite that German naval guns seventeen miles off tried vainly for months to ruin it, and German aviators fly over if night and day, dropping “iron eggs” always just missing the bronze duke on horseback, the gilded, winged lamps, and the carved vases and statues which decorate its grande porte and iow-roofed palaces. The Place Stanislas was so lovely that evening, with the late sun burnishing the gold of its gates and balconies, and (incidentally) the Minx’s hair, that I wondered even Mother did not melt. She considered it right, however. not to put off an explanaron.
Miss Mix had placed her (borrowed) car at our disposal, and for that Mother thanked her. In return she would gladly, were it possible, make Miss Mix’s stay in Nancy pleasant as wed as profitable. But she could not use her letter of introduction to so highly-placed a public man as Monsieu*Dufael, for anyone save those expressly mentioned. Unfortunately, therefore. Miss Mix must lookafter herself for the days and nights during which Nancy would be our
My ears burned as if they’d hoen boxed, but the Minx seemed undismayed.
She kissed her dog’s head, and announced that she ’spected Sidi B. would take care of her. He generally did!
HER THIRD STEP: NANCY TO
I WOULD gladly have taken a walk with the pair after dinner, in the park they call the Pépinière, whose acacia-fragrance was wafted to us through open windows; but mother requisitioned me before I could put up a creeping barrage of excuses, for a council of war. We had this in her bedroom, she having turned our souls to the solemn thought that at any instant we might be bombed through the roof, by a German aeroplane.
“We are now,” she reminded Kate and me, “in a most important city, the chief one of the department of Meurthe et Moselle. It was once the capital of the Duchy of Lorraine. It is a great favor to be allowed to come here during the war, a favor given to few people. Miss Mix has obtained it by Fraud. We owe her nothing—less than nothing! I do not intend to be identified with her, in any way. I have sent my letter of introduction to Monsieur Dufael, and he will probably call this evening to arrange a programme of sight-seeing. As for Miss Mix”—she paused and fixed an accusing eye upon me.
“As for Miss Mix?” I echoed. My own eye—not an accusing one—had roved through the window near which I sat to light upon the person in question.
“To whom are you nodding and grinning?” mother demanded.
“To her—Miss Mix,” I confessed.
“She is out there—in the Square?” “Yes.”
“What is she doing?”
“She seems to be—er—talking to a man. Oh, a most respectable-looking man—almost middle-aged. He has Sidi B. in his arms. They’re standing by an open door.
I shouldn't wonder-”
“What shouldn’t you wonder?”
“If the dog hadn’t run into the man’s house, or garden.”
“It would! It’s capable of anything. But what that absurd animal and its equally absurd mistress choose to do in strange towns with strange men, does not concern us. Kindly give me your attention, Henry, while I talk of Monsieur Dufael.”
SPEAKÍNG of angels, one is warned to expect the rustling of their wings. On this principle, we were not surprised when the dignitary’s card was brought in. Promptly we descended to the drawingroom to meet him. He had magnificent, sad eyes, haunted with tragedies. Monsieur Raoul Dufael had smooth dark hair, a beautifully trimmed naval officer sort of beard, and in his neat black button-hole was the ribbon of the Legion of Honor. His manner was perfect, almost, plu-perfect, as French manners are: but —instinct told me that he was bored,
bored to the flood-gate of tears. He would, he said, take us round the town in an automobile, and show us the fearsome destruction wrought by the German 380s —the long distance naval guns. The car being a military one it could not be spared for long, otherwise he would with pleasure (he choked on the word) escort us also to the late barracks, the Caserne Asile Molitor et Druout, where two thousand refugees from the ruined towns of the department were housed. We could, however, make these visits by ourselves. He would give us a card which would open all doors; and he hoped that this plan for our stay at Nancy might meet with Madame Wayne’s distinguished approval.
It was, I saw by the fall of her upper lip, more of an extinguished approval ! Poor mother had expected Nancy to be painted with a livelier iris for her benefit. She had even looked forward to being motored by Monsieur Dufael himself to the ruined towns aforesaid, instead of merely seeing the refugees therefrom. But as she had deliberately severed all links for the present between us and Miss Mix, she could not requisition Lord John Hatte’s car. While she was thanking Monsieur Dufael for his kindness as drily as he had offered it, the door of the public reception room burst open (it had been ajar) and Sidi B. shot in, pursued by an immense cat. After the cat came the Minx. She had an eye for nothing else; but before the tragedy could take place (tragedy it must have been) the great man of the Department of Meurthe-etMoselle dived like a boy for the dog, and at the same time kicked the cat into the hall.
It was a fine feat, a deft impromptu. No one who had seen the weary chief a moment before would have believed him capable of it. He was rejuvenated by ten years, as he smiled and handed the rescued bit of fluff to Miss Mix.
SHE is not supposed to speak French.
But she bubbled into a bewitching polyglot which no man under eighty could have failed to understand, and then turned to us: “Isn’t it strange? This is the second time to-night this gentleman has rescued Sidi B.? The first time, the Duckie-Doodums ran into Monsieur’s front yard, and a big police dog would have made one bite of him before I could get through the gate, if Monsieur hadn’t intervened. And now again ! Why, I do believe, sir, Providence must have brought you here for my sake!”
“Monsieur Dufael has come to call on me,” said mother.
“You mean, he thinks he has,” beamed and dimpled the Minx, straight into the great man’s eyes. “We don’t always know what Fate is doing with us, do we, Monsieur?”
There was no more tragedy in the dark, Latin eyes. He beamed back. “I am sure,” he returned in English (we had been talking to him in labored French) “that I was not only sent here but created for the purpose of saving your dog, Mademoiselle.”
“That’s a perfectly sweet speech, and I just love you for it!” cried the Minx. “But now I’ll take Sidi B. upstairs to bed, and not disturb your call on Mrs. Wayne.” “Do not go, Mademoiselle,” he pleaded, with a certain wild earnestness. “You are a friend to Mrs. Wayne and her party? I did not know that, when we met in my gateway—when your little dog made our introduction. You but said you have arrived in your automobile. Is it that
you brought with you these ladies and this monsieur?”
“It is that I brought them,” mocked the Minx. “I adore your English. Talk it to me, et moi, I parlerai avec vous dans mon francais un peu special. How’s that?”
“C’est parfait!” he flattered her shamelessly. They grinned at each other as perhaps Cophetua and his Beggar Maid grinned, if the fact had not been suppressed by the Court Censor. I think he’d thrown off the dull load of remembering our existence, when mother coughed that outraged cough she gives w'hen people chatter in church. The great man started, but recovered himself at once—all but his melancholy, which had vanished like a cloud dispelled by the sun.
“The work of Providence again!” he exclaimed. “If Mademoiselle permits the use of her automobile, my difficulties can end. That is, I shall be at the disposal of the party to visit the evacuated cities of our neighborhood. It was but the lack of a car which prevented me--”
He did not finish the sentence. Perhaps his conscience cut it short, or a twinkle he interrupted in my eye. In any case, Miss Mix helped him out by protesting that this was what the car was for. “I feel,” she said, turning to mother, “it’s as much yours as mine. You’re British, and so’s Lord John. I ’speet he’d have lent it to you if he’d met you first.”
Mother looked as if she ’spected so, too ; but I fear the promised excursion was spoilt for her, as, in a way (only a small way, she consoled herself) we owed it to the Minx. Before Monsieur Dufael left, we owed something more to the Minx; but I’m not sure mother realized the debt. It was monstrous, incredible to her that the Great Man of the Department should prefer a pert little person of no importance and no intellect to a Mrs. Henry Wayne. When he asked us to “honor his bachelor establishment” by lunching in it after a visit to the refugees next day, I’m convinced that mother, took the compliment for herself. She said afterwards that he’d probably hesitated at first about offering us entertainment, as there was no hostess, but on second thoughts had decided to risk it.
“Very good-natured to include that girl, after her childish exhibition,” mother added. “But as he has no private car, he was forced to make the best of a bad bargain.”
Kate’s eyes questioned me. The thought that such a man could not command a motor for a private trip if he wished struck her as peculiar. But I gave mother the last word, and she went to rest with restored serenity.
AT nine o’clock a.m. we set forth in a grey car with Monsieur Dufael and a military chauffeur, Miss Mix’s motor being reserved for the long excursion next day. The Minx was a guest, however, and in a pale blue summer frock delighted the eyes of our dignitary. She presented a striking contrast to mother and Kate, hot and red in their thick tweeds; and when we had visited the refugees, poor Kate made a piteous concession. She endeavored to cope with the Minx’s morning costume by wearing for luncheon a gown she had brought as an evening dress.
Before that change, and before that luncheon, however, the Minx had become the idol of Nancy. To begin, she made play with the coincidence of her name. She wished, said she, to do “something special” for her namesake town. What should it be? She asked Monsieur Dufael’s advice. He suggested a small
gift which might give pleasure to the refugee children, to whom America had already been gloriously generous. But first she must see them, and judge. She did see them, and in her train we saw them too. We spent hours in the process, for there were two thousand refugees in the huge barrack buildings which the Germans still bomb from the skies now and then. We saw the neat rooms where the old people lead their family life; we saw the church, the gymnasium, the cinema theatre of the “Asile Molitor” decorated by the ladies of the town: we saw the classrooms for boys and girls, the cooking school, and the workrooms where women old and young make everything from rough bags to the most delicate embroidery. Mother asked a thousand questions, and wrote the answers in a book, while Miss Mix and Sidi B. (oh yes, he also was an honored guest of this too good-natured Monsieur Dufael!) dashed here and there, distributing smiles, sweets and furtive francs. Then it appeared that the “small gift” Nancy’s namesake wished to give was five thousand francs. It was to be used as Monsieur Dufael thought best, and the cheque (written with his fountain pen which he begged her to accept as a souvenir) was handed to him on the spot. He told the superintending teachers and Sisters of Charity, who in turn told the refugees of the windfall, and an impromptu ovation was hastily organized. Hurrahs rent the air for Mademoiselle Nancy, “la belle marriane américaine,” which mother privately considered premature, as Monsieur Dufael had not cashed the cheque. Also she considered the sum ostentatious. She herself had bought passementeries and embroideries, tablecloths and napkins ornamented with the superb double cross of Lorraine, and had expended five pounds.
T UNCHEON at the beautiful Louis XV. •L' palace (not yet bombarded) which Monsieur Dufael called his bachelor establishment, was to be more of an event than we had expected. We were not the only guests. A general of division and his aide-de-camp, passing a few days near Nancy, had been invited and had accepted before Monsieur Dufael knew of our existence. Mother was placed on the right hand of her host, and at her other side sat the General. But it was a round table, and the Minx, though on the left of Dufael, was within glad-eye distance of General Rayières. He was a handsome man, of rather more than Dufael’s age, forty-two perhaps, and magnificent in his uniform of “bleu horizon” plastered with medals. I sat beside Nancy (next to me was the aide-de-camp, with Kate between him and the General) but even mother could not have wished for me less intercourse with Miss Mix than I had. All her attention was for Dufael and Rayières. The latter had not a word of English and Nancy no more than a baker’s dozen of French. Her come-hither eye-work determined him to talk with her, however; and while mother pinned our host to earnest war discussion, fireworks from the Minx and the General blazed brilliantly. Dufael’s struggle between politeness and absence of mind became painful to see. He would endure as long as he could, and then put mother up to ask some question of Rayières. Having thus snatched Nancy for himself, he held her until a manoeuvre of equal skill on the soldier’s part tossed the civilian back to the celebrated authoress. As for the rest of us—Kate, the aide-de-camp and me—we covered our observation of the principal characters
with a desultory barrage of conversation. “Is it that Monsieur 1’ aide-de-camp will soon accompany Monsieur le General back to the Front?” “But yes, almost immediately,” etc., etc.
SOMEHOW, with kaleidoscopic arrangement of her few French words, Nancy contrived to tell General Rayières that she wished to go to Verdun.
“But in that case, you will of course go, is it not?” he returned in his own language.
Miss Mix shook her head: and when she does this, many little red ringlets at her temples and over her ears move back and forth like a chime of tiny copper bells. It was not so sure as all that, she explained. In Paris there had been a half proirpse—no more. Did the General think he could do anything? He would be, she added, a dear if he did.
Then it appeared that General Petain was a friend both of Rayières and Dufael. They snatched him from each other’s mouths in their generous eagerness to bestow him upon Mees Mix. She should have letters which would assure her permission to visit Verdun—a letter from each. And as they pursued the theme, I divined that Dufael regretted asking Nancy to meet Rayières, and that Rayières regretted he was not meeting her somewhere else. Nancy alone was serene. Over the bodies of the two men she had secured Verdun.
While Rayières explained that she need not return to Paris, he would telegraph to Verdun and have everything made
right, mother sat still as a frozen Niobe, mingled with certain attributes of Medusa. Now, it seems to me that any girl, treated as Miss Mix had been treated by Mrs. Henry Wayne, might have been excused for enjoying the latter’s discomfiture, for looking upon it, indeed, as poetical justice. But Nancy Mix is not “any girl.” She is uniquely herself. She glanced at mother and Kate, a'nd then at me, out of the corner of her slanting brown eyes which laughed a little, then warmed with kindness.
“Of course if I go, we all go, don’t we?” she appealed, with a gesture including the Wayne trio. “We’re just the same as a family."
I BELIEVE at this moment, and with this word, was born mother’s fear that the Minx had designs upon me—designs to which I was in danger of falling victim. When we had finished a long afternoon of sight-seeing among the town of Nancy’s ruined houses, Kate and I were called into her room to talk things over. Never, she said, had it been her ill-fortune to meet so badly brought-up a person as this American girl. Her idiotic ways with those two men of high position, either one old enough to be her father, and distinguished enough to be respected, even by her—were almost beneath contempt. “The creature has cleverly cramped herself onto us,” mother went on, “so that we cannot for the present dissociate ourselves from her. Without us, she could never have got as far as Nancy, to say nothing of Verdun, or the Noyon front which we hope to see
later. Yet you notice how she tries by thrusting herself forward to make it seem as if our movements depended upon hers I Monsieur Dufael and General Rayières must have been disgusted; and I trust that you too, Harry, see her in the same light.”
“I begin to, in much the same light as they do,” I returned solemnly. Mother was satisfied, but Kate gave me an odd glance. As I have said, she has nice blue eyes, and there was a more human look in them and about her at that moment than I could recall since mother took her education thoroughly in hand.
THE next day was a day of excitement.
It began strikingly at 4.30 a.m. with an air raid. We heard the tocsin in our dreams, which were further broken by a loud pounding on the doors. Two enemy ’planes were “laying eggs” in the Place Stanislas. As one might fall on the hotel roof at any instant, we were begged to descend. Isn’t it “The Rape of the Lock” which begins: “Uprose the sun and up
rose Emilie?” In our case the rising of the orb and our own was also simultaneous. Yet I hardly think Pope would have celebrated the coincidence for any of our number save Miss Mix. Mother was a formidable figure in a high-necked, longsleeved nightdress made, I fear, of some woollen material. Kate had apparently not found her dressing-gown. She had wrapped herself in a waterproof instead, and her one thin braid would not have dishonored a Chinaman. But the Minx! You can guess how she looked! As Kate
said later, she looked as a Minx would look. I had seen such a—(I heard her name it “nighty”) in a Paris shopwindow the other day, displayed on a wax model ; but never before had I met one on a human being. Perhaps—alas—I never shall again! An orange-red dressing gown of soft silk hung over the vision’s arm (there had been no time, or else, as mother said, no wish, to don it) and a mass of orange-red hair hung over her shoulders. She was like fire rushing down the dark stairway to light us following shadows: but her haste was not due to fear. Someone had flung open the front door, and a flame of sunrise poured through the dusk to meet the flame of Nancy Mix. For an instant her eyes were dazzled. Then, as the roar of exploding bombs and the bark of anti-aircraft shrapnel came louder to our ears, the girl dashed out into the street. “I must see it, if it kills me!” she cried. And mechanically I plunged after, when mother caught me back by the tassel of my bathrobe. The tassel broke, and I should have been at the Minx’s side, had I not caught sight of two men hurrying towards her from across the square.
These men were Monsieur Dufael and General Rayières. They came from the direction of the Louis XV. palace where we had lunched, and where General Rayières had passed the night. As they came, they buttoned their coats and turned up their collars. The black head and the grey-brown head offered themselves as tempting targets for the two layers of eggs, one of which soared visibly above the Place, pursued by shrapnel. But these heads contained no thought for their own danger. The Minx’s golden halo was the treasure which must "be saved at any cost, and seeing that it would be saved, I stopped indoors with the tassel and mother. Nevertheless a picture was photographed on my retina—a picture I shall not forget: a creature of
white-and-orange flame ablaze in the pearly dawn, a thing like a black hawk sailing in silver mist, high, high above; white feathers of shrapnel-smoke falling as if struck from the wings of a giant bird; and two men risking their lives in order not to be out of the said picture.
They explained, when they had whisked the girl back into shelter, that a servant had told them the hotel was being bombarded. Naturally they had wished to save its inhabitants, men, women, children, dogs and cats; so there they were! But even when the two black raiders had been chased far away by French ’planes, perhaps shot down—and it was proved that little damage had been done in the Place Stanislas, the distinguished gentlemen remained. They stayed to talk, as calmly as if we had all been in correct morning dress: and steaming hot coffee arrived on the scene, as if made by magic, that being, it seemed, the fashion at Nancy after an early disturbance in the air. The sane course would have been to hustle out of sight and say our prayers in our rooms, but that would not have appealed to Minxes. Miss Mix remained in the hall, between her two “life preservers,” as she pertly named the distinguished pair, drinking their health, and France’s health, and any other health she could think of, down to mine and mother’s. I could not bear to leave her in such clothes and company. In their turn, mother and Kate would not leave me with her: but they accepted the hot, black draught with the air of Socrates accepting his hemlock.
The next thing that happened was our
start, in auto, to see what above all things we had taken the road towards Germany to see: the towns martyred in their defence of French Lorraine, and all that region peopled with heroes who did their distant part in saving Paris while they saved Nancy—the region of “la Grande Couronne,” which is more than ever Nancy’s glorious crown.
Of course, the Minx being of our party, we did not start without incident—her incident. There was a little confusion at the last minute, because General Rayières had suddenly decided to join us, bringing his aide-de-camp and his grey military motor. Who should go in his car, who in ours, became the burning question. Much to mother’s disapproval, the two distinguished men drew lots for the ladies, and the General got Miss Mix and Kate, as far as Luneville, where we would lunch. Monsieur Dufael began at once to show the effects of his disturbed night, but brightened temporarily on helping Mademoiselle Nancy (both were bidden to address her thus) into his friend’s (I’d almost said his “rival’s”) auto. What with smiling at him, and preventing the escape of Sidi B. as she stepped into the car, the Minx caught her foot in her petticoat—of course an unsuitable petticoat— and our departure was delayed by the pinning up of yards of lace, a process in which the lady was aided by all the civil and military forces at her command. We got off, not more than ten minutes behind programme time, and the incident as well as the rift in the petticoat seemed closed. It was to have a sequel; but that came later on.
Abandoned to mother and me, in the car of poor, forgotten Lord John, Monsieur Dufael wore again that air of melancholy which had characterized him at our first meeting. He excused his visible tristesse by saying that this excursion brought back to him vividly the black days of September, 1914. Despite his political eminence, and the fact that he was over forty, he had by his own wish been mobilized when the war broke out. But his health had failed, and he had been forced to return to diplomatic duty. I ventured to pay him a compliment on the importance of his work, but he shrugged his shoulders. “Merci, Monsieur, you are kind,” he thanked me sadly. “But I realize each day I live, and never more than when in the society of soldiers, how insignificant I am.” As he spoke, he stared gloomily ahead through a cloud of dust at the car where “Mademoiselle Nancy’s” khaki coat nestled against the “bleu horizon” of the General’s uniform.
I pitied Dufael, and sympathized as man to man. Oh yes, mother had spoken truth ! I was in danger, only it was a different danger from what she thought. She dreaded my “getting into an entanglement.” I dreaded that two bigger fellows would get into it first, and leave no room for me !
Running out of Nancy, we came to
huge salt works, surrounded with heaps of rubble, like untidy pyramids, and surmounted by strange objects like black women in helmets and gasmasks. Just as we were pausing for a look and an explanation, two enemy aeroplanes appeared, apparently overhead, and there was a curious sensation of becoming the most painfully conspicuous object in the landscape, far larger than the towering factories. Monsieur Dufael looked up as calmly as at a pair of hovering crows; and mother, seeing that he intended to continue the conversation concerning salt, expressed the desire to start on again. She had, she said, no fear for herself, but if the Germans planned to bomb the salt works, we had no right to add to the bag if we could help it. Monsieur Dufael belonged to France, and she to the British public, who would not wish her to run ■'.ore than ordinary risks in visiting the front for their sakes.
Monsieur Dufael apologized for his forgetfulness of our safety. He was so used to enemy ’planes, that he thought of them no more than of carrion birds. We were speeding on again as we talked, and the air-pirates, ignorant of the prizes they had missed, sailed on towards the town, dropping a few bombs. We had lost enough time, however, for the car ahead to have reached the village of Varangeville, and stop. There was no romance of ruin to see there, for the German forces had not got as near as this to Nancy. La Grande Couronne and the heroes of la Mortagne—little river historic forever!— had held them back in their rush. But there was the church of St. Nicolas, a church of the 16th century, famous for many things. It was before the door of St. Nicolas that the General’s car had stopped, and in at that door the occupants of the car had gone.
“Is there something worth seeing?” asked mother of Monsieur Dufael.
He shrugged his shoulders once moi-e. “There are things worth seeing,” he echoed, “and there is a thing some people consider worth doing. I think it is that thing to which General Rayières gives his
“Indeed? What is that?” Accordingto the answer, mother would remain in the car or enter the church.
“In the pavement is a magic stone. If one steps on it, one marries before the year is out.”
“And if two step on it?” I ventured.
For the first time a light of malice sparkled in the melancholy Latin eyes. “Rayières is a large man, and his feet are of a size! There will not be room on that stone for his feet with those of a second person.”
Mother decided not to see the inside of St. Nicolas, though it was said to be curiously shaped, like a ship’s prow. We went on, and this time gave the General's car our dust.
\\?E had set out to see three spots of ''supreme and definite interest: the Farm of Leomont, heroically defended bv the French in a dramatic battle; the ruined town of Vitrimont adopted by ladies of San Francisco; Luneville, occupied for three weeks of devastation; and Gerbevillers, utterly destroyed save for the quarter saved by brave Soeur Julie of the Hospice. Besides these places, we were to have a run which would give us a general idea of Nancy’s guard, La Grande Couronne.
L'omont was our first official halt; and at the foot of the miniature mountain where
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we stopped, the fol'owing car caught us. 1 had some hope of walking tin the rough cart-track to the ruined farmhouse, by Miss Mix's side; but instead, I found myself with Kate, while the aide-de-camp escorted mother. Nevertheless I was not unhappy. Lèomont appealed to all the romance I had in my soul, and Kate wasn’t talkative.
The old fortified farmhouse must have been imposing as any hill château before that September fighting, and its stone foundations, 1 heard Dufael telling, had once formed a Roman temple to Diana. Perhaps that legend, and the majesty of the towering ruin, gave fuel to the fire of romance; but I think the effect came more from the strange, haunted look of the place, the traces of battle which made it seem that the tragedy was being played by ghostly actors before our eyes in the summer sunshine. Stones pitted thickly by shrapnel, as the sallow face of an old man by smallpox; immense shell holes, full of water, mirroring the broken walls and empty eye-sockets of the deep-set windows—clear pools ringed with forget-menots—myosotis which had somehow heard of the place and come to grow there; black stains of fire in rooms roofless and floorless; graves in sheltered corners, with crosses and tri-color cockades, marking the spot where French soldiers fell and died.
I saw Nancy hastily gathering forgetme-nots during a moment when mother was catechizing both her men. The girl laid a blue bouquet on each grave within sight, and then, with a furtive look of guilt which puzzled me, she made off with the rest of the flowers. Where could she be going? I sneaked away from Kate in time to see her tottering, high-heeled and helpless, down the broken stairway of a vast, dark cellar. I was not in time to give her aid, however. It was Dufael who did that, breaking abruptly away from mother.
He wished to hold the girl back, but she insisted on going down.
“I want to leave some flowers,” she said.
“You know about the cellar?” He was disappointed because she had had the story from another.
“Yes, the General told me. They made their last stand there, the splendid French soldiers, when the farmhouse had been blown to pieces, and the Germans attacked. But they killed more Germans down in that dark hole than the Germans had left of them to kill.
\ TITRIMONT the little town adopted by the Californians (the first of the
“adopted” towns), was the Lazarus dead
Continued on page 114
Continued from page 109
and resuscitated. Two young girls from far away San Francisco had waked the corpse to life, and to see them there, and what they were doing, was to see a fairystory come true. They were the fairy godmothers; but because, after all, they were living in this world and not in a fairy book, it took more than the wave of a wand to create the miracle. It took (and is still taking) all their time, most of their thoughts and a great deal of their money. Many a fairy godmother would draw the line at deserting her comfortable palaces and living in a tiny house, almost a hut, passing month after month in a desert of ruin and death. But when American fairy godmothers put their hands to the plough, they keep them there! And now these two are having their reward. Street by street they have waked the murdered town to life. They have rebuilt the church (“that was God’s house, so it had to come first”) ; they are building new homes for old; in the dead streets
wreckage is cleared away and there is a pound of living feet—exiles returning, full of hope and gratitude, to gaze with adoring eyes at the pair whom they call “Maids of Honor to the Blessed Virgin.” At Luneville the Germans lived for three weeks, conscientiously burning quarter after quarter of the old town where good King Stanislas died. Maybe they owed it a special grudge because in 1810 the Treaty was signed there which gave the Rhine frontier to France after Napoleon’s victory of Marengo. We found the place was an amazing jumble of life and death. Some parts seem to have forgotten the existence of Germans, whereas others will help to keep France in mind of German crimes till young men are old, and old men’s graves are green. It was to me like a queer dream to lunch at a busy hotel, full of cheerful officers and talkative civilians, in a town half knocked to pieces, with every second house advertising a safe vaulted cellar to pro-
tect two, three, or four hundred people from bombardment or air-raids. However, nobody but myself seemed to brood over the contrast. The lunch was quite a good lunch, finished olT with macaroons of Nancyemdash;famous as Commercy’s Madeleines, and there was wine which the landlord had contrived to hide during the German occupation.
Dazedemdash;with the dark wine of thought, not of the grapeemdash;I went on with the others to Gerbevillers, while the afternoon was yet young. And it was well that Gerbevillers should be the last of the three towns, for it was the best, the most memorable.
There has been a certain cheeriness at Vitrimont. There the American girls gave new hope each day to the homecoming refugees. There, on the outskirts, the French government had got well ahead with a colony of unpretentious bungalows, round which the peasants had planted “war gardens.” But Gerbevillers, that shell of a place, I shall see always pathetic, mysterious, in its grey sleep of death, mystic as one of those lost cities of legend, engulfed by the sea, and magically visible when the changing tide sets the drowned church bells faintly ringing.
THE sun was clouded with silver when we arrived, and pale light floated above the scene of incredible ruin, like a veil of moonshine. The one quarter of the village not razed to the ground was distant from the entrance point. To our eyes, at first sight, all was desolation, to our ears all was silence. But it was a lovely desolation, like the tragic beauty of an innocent girl struck down in her springtime, and the silence had an undertone of bird-voices.
We had come to a stand near a little river, whose shining surface was laced over with delicate white flowers like foam tossed up in a billow. This river ran beneath a ruined mill, and on into the deserted park of a châteauemdash;poor, pretty, once gay château, with its front almost intact, and its unglazed windows like sad, wide open eyes, absent-minded, forgetting the present, dwelling ever on the past! And even more pathetic was the château’s chapel, with its towers and its old clock, stopped at the hour when the first bomb struck. There were broken statues of saints in the niches. They seemed waiting; and I got the feeling that I was a statue too, that I should stand there by the river until a bomb or something violent hurled me away. Presently an arm slipped through mine, and made me start. It was the arm of the Minx. “I know just how you feel,” she said. “I feel like it too. But we mustn’t turn into pillars of salt. I told thememdash;the others I meanemdash;that I wanted to fetch you. They’re going to call on the heroine of Gerbevillers, Sister Julie, and the quarter of the town she saved. Monsieur Dufael says it’s hard to make her talk about herself, or tell what she did; but I shall do itemdash;you see! I shall do it because I really
Again I told myself that the Minx, for all her frivolity, her high heels, her perfumed powder, her Sidi B., had as many sparkling facets as a diamond. On the way to the Hospice we saw the wrecked church, so beautiful in its ruin that I hope it may be left, unrestored, as a “monument historique;” and the tall crucifix standing at a crossway, untouched by fire or cannonade, where all else is obliter-
To be continued.