Synopsis.—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 the journey they meet Miss Nancy Mix, an American girl who is going to France to engage in war service work. Mrs. Wayne 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. The engaging personality of Miss Mix wins the attention of French generals and officials. Mrs. Wayne begins to suspect that she has designs on her son, Henry.
THEN we reached the far corner of the rubble-heap which was once a town, and it was a shock to the eyes suddenly to come upon a dozen or two houses - a whole street, in fact - spared from destruction.
"Here is the Hospice," said Monsieur Dufael. "I sent no word to Soeur Julie. Why trouble her to prepare? If she was ready to receive the Germans, she will not be fluttered by an unexpected visit from us."
He knocked at the door of a plain house, large but no more pretentious than its neighbors. It opened at once, as if someone had been in the act of coming out, and lo, it was Sister Julie herself? I recognized her at once from portraits I had seen in French and English papers, (for Soeur Julie, Matron of the Hospice and heroine of Gerbevillers is one of the great women of the war) but in flesh she put all her photographs to shame. They gave no idea of her really, for even the best represented a stout, honest, hard-faced peasant woman in the garb of a nun. She did not, in her picture, look remarkable in any way. One felt almost surprised that she should have risen to such heights of magnificence. But the instant one met the smile her brilliant, brook-brown eyes and generous mouth, one saw that here was a woman made of courage and superb self-sacrifice. Her face is not hard, but strong. Into what class of life she chose to be born, I don't know. I know only that every unself-conscious gesture is that of a noblewoman. Her flaring white headdress framed her face finely, as the plain doorway, with a dim background of corridor, framed her capable, black-robed form.
It was evidently an excitement to her, this unexpected visit from the great man of the Department with his friends, one of whom was a General. But as Dufael had prophesied, she welcomed us without fuss, and I soon saw that her respect for him came as much from the fact that he was a man of Lorraine— her own dear, native Lorraine — as from his important position. She and a smiling youthful nun or two gave us chairs in the Hospice reception room, which had no other furniture save a table. “Would you have refreshment?” she asked. No? . . Was there nothing she could give us?
“Oh yes, Madame, if you want to refresh our hearts, you will give us your story of the night when the Germans came!” cried Miss Mix. She said it in ridiculous French, but she clasped her hands, and made gladder eyes and dimples than I had seen her trouble to make for any man. At the same time Sidi B. escaped as he always does on such occasions, and bounded to Sister Julie, waving his white feather-tail like a flag of truce.
Perhaps Sister Julie had never seen two such creatures as Nancy Mix of Kentucky and Sidi Bishr of Egypt. They fascinated her. She took them to her large heart and beamed at them. “But, of course, I will tell the story,” she replied, “though Monsieur Dufael knows it too well. It is not my story, Mademoiselle. It is the story of the soldiers. Only they are not here, and I am.”
SO she began the history of what happened on August 23rd, 1914, at Gerbevillers on the river Mortagne, began laconically to shorten the tale for those who had heard it before, but soon forgot her restraint, and forgot everything except the eager eyes of the Minx. She talked to them; and her own eyes turned to shining topaz as she relived the drama of which she had been the heroine. Her great part had not been in the first act, a stern and terrible act played by fifty young French Chasseurs à pied, who defended the bridge and built barricades. Ah, so young, Mademoiselle! They were but boys. Yet they kept the bridge for eleven hours, instead of the five they had been ordered to hold it. At the end of that time there were none left standing. The defence began before dawn. Before evening they were all wounded or dead. We had thirteen of them here to care for, the sisters and I. Not one but was desperately hurt. We had not beds enough for them in this place, which is no more than an almshouse. They lay on the floor in this room where you sit, and we cared for them as best we could, in those terrible hours after the Boche’s coming on from Luneville, had got into the town to burn the houses and murder the people.
You have heard from Monsieur Dufael of the fifteen hostages they shot, a d the women and children they killed? Ah, yes. it was a massacre; and all day as we worked news came to us of what was going on. We heard shots and cries, and smelt the smoke of the burning. They set fire to the houses and shops with petrol, and pastilles their learned chemists have invented for this industry. We could not tell when they would march up the hill, and our turn to suffer would come. But there was no time to think of that. We thought only of our wounded. Then, at last, our moment was upon us. There was a noise of shouting, and horses’ hoofs, and the trampling of men’s feet. We knew they were in the street—they would be at our door! We could not wait for that. We went to meet them, I at the head of the sisters. It was evening. The light from the burning town was redder than any sunset, with black, low-hung clouds of smoke; and in that light, Mademoiselle. I saw four officers on horseback heading a troop of soldiers—oh, but all our street full of soldiers, soldiers as far as eye could reach! They were big men in grey, and the officers, they were giants.
I stood before them in the doorway, and I felt a small thing. Yet they would have to stop and kill me, and the other sisters, before they could pass.
“You are hiding Frenchmen here—French soldiers, I am told,” the Captain said. The two tallest giants were a captain and a first lieutenant. They had their swords drawn. I thought they would run me through the body, but they did not. “We have thirteen soldiers here, wounded,” I answered. “You are lying!” said the Captain. “Come in and see that I am telling the truth!” And, oh, Mademoiselle, what it was for a woman of Lorraine to bid a German enter her door, you others cannot understand.
THEY tried to push past us, but we would not let them. We backed away from the door and down the hall to this roof. ‘You see all the men we are sheltering!’ I pointed to our brave wounded, and not one of these boys flinched nor uttered a cry. Non-commissioned officers led a band through the Hospice to examine every room, but I had no fear of what they might find. Only the two giant officers came in where the wounded lay. You might have thought their hearts would soften at the sight, but no.! The Captain drew out from his belt a queer knife like a dagger, and he rushed at one of our soldier boys who lay on a cot we had brought in. ‘Coward of a nation of cowards!’ he cried. ‘You have torn out the eyes and cut off the ears of our Germans. I’ll slit your throat to pay for some of that work!’
“Think of it, Mademoiselle, this to a man who could scarcely move, who had no longer a right arm to move.
“ ‘No!’ I said. And I put my two hands between the knife and the boy’s bare throat. Ah, I was proud of that boy! He did not wink. He looked straight into the German’s face.”
As she spoke. Sister Julie looked into the face of Nancy Mix with that same brave look. It did not occur to her to be proud because she had offered her hands to the German knife blade. In describing the scene, she had made a beautiful gesture ; and we could all see the beauty of these work-worn hands. They were large, like the hands given by Old Masters to their Madonnas, nobly shaped, singularly capable, and expressive of the woman herself. I thought that they had about them a spiritual motherliness; and instantly I understood how that “No!” and that gesture of protection had stopped the Bavarian captain. Even, long afterwards, in the bare room lit from one high window, the black-robed figure seemed suddenly to be wreathed in holy fire, and her “No!” rang out like a deep-toned bell. I saw how the wounded soldier on his cot must have been as safe behind those two hands as if a thick glass wall had been raised round him by magic.
“They touched none of our men,” Sister Julie’s beautiful voice went on, after a slight pause, “and they promised to spare the Hospice, if we would nurse their wounded with ours. I gave that promise, and kept it. Mademoiselle, cur sisters had to sweep the blood out into the street—French and German blood together-— before that night was at an end. And with those German men among ours, it was easier to win favor for the whole quarter. If the houses round us had been fired, we should have burned too. So they spared us. And that is all my story.”
She did not add the sequel: how she had been made a Chevalier cf the Legion of Honor for that night’s work; but “Mademoiselle” and the rest of us knew already.
Big German guns were again bombarding the town; and Monsieur Dufael’s thought was to get home as soon as possible. For a moment after the news was given him by a military motorcyclist, he forgot even Mademoiselle Mix, to say nothing of the other ladies. Both cars had stopped, and suddenly Dufael remembered that the ladies might be frightened. There was indeed some excuse for the stoutest hearts to beat the faster. These giant guns did far more damage than the aeroplanes. Whereas the latter could demolish a roof and an upper story, the naval guns could knock any house, or any hotel, into a cocked hat: and you never knew where the bombs might not fall.
“What will you do, Mesdames?” he asked the three ladies and looked at Miss Mix. “It is not necessary for you to go to Nancy at all. If you wish, you can turn and motor back to Luneville. You can spend the night there. I will have all your belongings packed and sent to you from your hotel. I do not disguise from you that there is no safety anywhere in Nancy during a bombardment except in a cellar, and only comparative safety there.”
“But you are not afraid, are you?” said the Minx. “And the General; he won’t give up the rest of his leave and go away from Nancy because it is being bombarded, I guess?”
Both men smiled. “General Rayières is so used to bombardments, he sleeps best while they’re going on,” replied Dufael. “Even I have ceased to have what you call the ‘jumps’.”
“I don’t call them the ‘jumps’,” said Miss Mix, “but I ’spect I shall have them. I want to feel what they’re like. I need to, for my paper, you know. Besides, I haven’t face powder enough left to camouflage myself with for more than another hour, so I must go to Nancy and get the rest. Once I’m there, I’ll be too lazy to move away.”
As she spoke, she showed her depleted store of beauty ammunition (that mysterious bit of lace-bordered silk, with a puff in the middle) and everybody laughed, except Mother. To her, there was no humor in the thought of risking the loss of one’s head, to assure a supply of rice powder for one’s nose: there was only an appalling flippancy. I think, in unselfish fear of bereaving her million admirers, Mother might have considered it her duty to accept Monsieur Dufael’s suggestion : but the British Public, with the American on top of it—like Osso piled on Pelion—formed too great a contrast with Nancy Mix’s nose to . be mentioned in the same breath.
Mother announced therefore that our facing the bombardment went without saying. In these days, what men risked, women risked also. She looked very heroic when she said this, and beside her the Minx was a mere kitten at the feet of the Statue of Liberty.
OUR entrance into the town was simultaneous with the loudest noise I ever heard in my life. It sounded loud enough to blow up the world. But to my great surprise it didn’t blow us up, or anything in sight. The beautiful Place Stanislas looked just as it had looked before, a strange thing, because I felt suddenly as if a hundred years had passed over my head since we left it in the morning. I knew now why Monsieur Dufael and General Rayières thought as little of enemy avions as of evil black birds. It was a weird sensation to hurry mechanically for shelter into the hotel, and yet to' realize that its walls offered no more protection than an eggshell. I should have enjoyed being a girl, so that I could be comfortably frightened without shame; but Miss Mix took no advantage of her sex in this way, indeed had an air of happy excitement, as if she were going to her first ball. I saw Kate glance at her furtively, from anxious eyes bluer than ever in an ash-pale face, and stiffen up for the honor of England. As for Mother, her indignation against the horrible girl’s frivolity grew into a still passion of rage which would have overmastered fear if she had felt it: so altogether our behaviour was creditable. And secretly I believed that as a family we owed something in this emergency, as in others, to the Minx.
Dufael and Rayières parted from us at the hotel door as they wished to learn what damage had been done and where. Half an hour later, however, a hastily scrawled invitation came for us all not only to dine at the house of Monsieur Dufael, but to spend the night. “I have a magnificent cellar,” he explained, “and if the bombardment goes on you will be a large party there.” He said “you” not “we,” so it was clear that his duty, if not inclination, would call him elsewhere. This was not the first occasion. I remembered that Monsieur Raoul Dufael, the great man of Lorraine, had experienced a bombardment but more likely the hundred and first. Often there had been many victims as well as material damage: and I understood more and more why the dark, Latin eyes were tragic—when those of the Minx were not laughing into them.
WE accepted the invitation, and I shall never forget that dinner. It was as delightfully served as if war had never been heard of ; and we talked. Sometimes we talked well. After dinner other people dropped in, husbands and wives, and children of various ages. We drank coffee, or tea, and for the first time I made acquaintance with Camomille: those who liked tisanes had only to choose. The bombardment went on, at the Germans’ pleasure, and we were aware that it was a toss up whether the next house struck were ours or another. Yet somehow the moment never came to descend to the cellar. Several of the ladies took turns in playing patriotic airs on the piano, national hymns of the allied nations, but it was Nancy who made the hit, with negro melodies, the Star Spangled Banner, and Yankee Doodle.
At one o’clock precisely the Germans felt the need of sleep, and took it. The big guns ceased firing; and the town rested. Presently, when the inhabitants judged from experience that there would be peace for the remainder of the night, they prepared to depart for their cellarless homes in the neighborhood. We followed their example, and as we were the last to go. Monsieur Dufael, General Rayières and his aide-decamp walked with us, in clear moonlight, to our hotel.
“Look,” said the Minx to me on the way upstairs (we had dropped behind Mother and Kate for a moment)—“look at the reward of a naughty girl." She drew from under her evening cloak a bundle of beautiful lace, like that I had seen the women refugees from towns of Lorraine making in the barracks. “Isn’t it lovely? There are yards and yards of it. That’s what I get for being awkward and silly, and tearing my petticoat. Monsieur Dufael gave it to me to-night.”
“To-night!” I echoed. “When did he find the chance to give you a bundle of lace without all the world witnessing the presentation?”
“To a brave man all is possible,” answered the Minx. And I was not sure whether this were a covert cut at me, or a compliment for our host.
That was the sequel to the episode of our morning start, when it seemed that we had been young and happy!
When Mother stopped half-way upstairs to learn why we had lingered, nothing was visible under the Minx’s cloak save the head of Sidi Rishr. I wondered what my parent would have said to a girl who accepted presents of lace for her petticoat from a man she had known for two days—introduced to him by her own dog. Naturally I was discreet in my answers to questions: but the next thing I heard about this same lace, was that it had been divided into three parts. Mother and Kate each receiving a third. I do not suppose that the name of Monsieur Dufael was mentioned in connection with it; but they “could not refuse, as it would be awkward to hurt the young woman’s feelings while we travel in her friend’s automobile.” Some explanations made by women seem far-fetched to men. But the lace was lovely.
HER FOURTH STEP: VIA BAR-LE-LUC TO VERDUN
I FORGOT to say that General Rayières found an answer to his telegram when we returned to Nancy. The bombardment, though, leaving my head intact, knocked out of it many ideas.
We were able to start for Verdun next day, bidding adieu to a Nancy as calm as if cellars'had not been her inhabitants’ most popular bedrooms. Monsieur Dufael and General Rayières were on the spot to bid us Godspeed, and they seemed to say no more to Miss Mix than to Mother and Kate. Yet I had my doubts. I could not forget that warning, “All is possible to a brave man.” Afterwards I saw how, even then—but I have not nearly come to that part yet.
At Bar-le-Duc we were met. by a polite lieutenant sent to us by the General in Command at Verdun; and soon our car whirled us into a vast hive of war bees such as we had not seen before—such as we should never have seen were it not for the Minx. There were great parks of artillery, and of aviation. The road was inches thick in dust, stirred into white clouds by motor camions crowded with soldiers or ammunition, huge vehicles with thick canvas roofs skilfully “camoufled*" purple, green and red, to hide them from the sharp eyes of enemy aviators. Here and there was a village, with troops en repos: tired yet happy soldiers smoking or playing cards on wooden benches in front of little wine-draped houses where they were quartered for a few days rest “behind the lines.”
Motor cyclists rushed past, white as plaster statues; officers in grey automobiles flashed by, staring at the unexpected vision of women in our ear, and nearly twisting their necks off to catch a second glimpse of the Minx. We saw no civilians save in the villages, or working in the fields. On the road we were the only persons not in uniform. It was well, said our lieutenant, that we possessed a khaki ear. Nothing else, save military grey, would be permitted on this road, or at Verdun itself, where we would soon arrive.
“Verdun itself, where we would seen arrive!" It seemed incredible. I had to pinch myself. I should have felt it no more wonderful to be told that we should soon arrive before the gates of Troy, and see the Wooden Horse. To me—as to all the world in these days—there could be no name more thrilling, no name more classic than Verdun.
Headquarters was at a distance—I won’t say where; but thence, after a few formalities, a few politenesses, we were passed on as quickly as possible. “You are expected to lunch in the citadel,” we were told.
Lunch—in the citadel at Verdun ! I most be dreaming, I thought. Yet if so, Ï had somehow stumbled into a dream that belonged not to me but to Nancy Mix. Everything in it began to centre round her, from the moment we passed through the gate that the Germans will never pass. She was a bright blossom, blooming more vividly in contrast to the grey desolation of her background, a golden rose on the breast of a skeleton.
ANOTHER officer—a Captain this time—met us inside the gates where history has been made and unmade, and made again, ever since the year 843 when Charlemagne divided his empire between his three sons, in the Treaty of Verdun. He too, (not Charlemagne but the Captain) got into the khaki-colored car, and was visibly thrilled by the khaki-clad girl. We drove slowly through the ruined streets, which had ceased to be streets, save that the military authorities kept them cleared for thoroughfares. Nothing that I had seen yet of devastation struck me such a blow over the heart as the wreck of Verdun. The traces of vanished life were more intimate and personal, more dramatic. In the towns we had visited before Nancy and after, the Germans had pillaged and burned the houses. Here, they had never come: they had only bombarded, and the inhabitants had deserted their homes, leaving all they had, except such small treasures as could be carried off in haste. Fronts of houses had been smashed in, showing pitiful interiors like the setting for stage scenes: bedrooms, abandoned in the night, with coverlets thrown back, clothing hung over chairs, or fallen on the floors; dining-rooms with tables laid for a meal never to be eaten: libraries with books on the shelves and desks wide open; ladies’ boudoirs with vases of withered flowers on the chimney pieces; daintily framed pictures and mirrors askew on satin-papered walls, and workbaskets with scattered embroidery on the plaster-littered carpets. Long, long ago the owners of these books, and dishes, and pictures had been ordered out of Verdun, to save themselves. Where now were the faces which had smiled into these mirrors, the hands that had stitched the mildewed embroideries, where the babies snatched from tumbled cradles? They were far away, in the homes of others, and before their longing eyes must float always the vision of these rooms, sacred and private, before German bombs hared them to the eyes of all who passed.
On a terrace, which must once have been a beloved promenade, we got out of the car and gazed over the river Meuse. It seemed, as I stood there, as if my mental eyes re-read a hundred “communiques” of the past: “Desperate Battle on the Meuse”: “Slight German Advance on the Meuse”: “French Counter Attack and Victory on the Meuse.” Our two officers pointed out spots famous for their fierce fighting, and told us how a few months earlier or perhaps a few weeks later a fiery furnace would have been as safe a viewpoint as our present one. But I hardly listened. Thoughts like ghosts crowded round me, whispering. I saw the Bishops of olden days who reigned at Verdun as Kings. I saw men of the 12th century building the Cathedral, and laying the steps that still led up to its ruin, at the top of the hill. I saw pale English prisoners taken by Napoleon, and kept in the citadel for eleven weary years. I saw the fourteen fair ladies sent to the guillotine by the Tribunal of the Revolution, because they had dared beg the King of Prussia to respect the town. I saw the French soldiers of 1870 repulsing the enemy and spiking their guns, till irresistible German reinforcements came; and above all I saw the soldiers of to-day driving the Crown Prince back again and again, and forever.
From the terrace up to the top of the piled town we walked, along the shattered streets up to the height of the citadel, and looked down over the hazy landscape where for months the Germans fought in vain to conquer Verdun. Through a gauzelike white mist a red fire seemed to glow, like a flame running low along the earth between the French and German lines.
“Coquelicots!” said one of our guides. “Poppies, I think you call them in English. They are no redder than the blood which has flowed where they grow. It is as if that blood gave the flowers their color, is it not? Can you guess what they hide. Thousands of bodies that neither we nor our enemies have ever been able to bury. When the poppies are gone we shall see them again as we have seen them before, the flat, crumpled bodies huddled in the shell-holes and maybe there will be many more. We have seen worse sights, but—the view is more cheerful for us while the poppies bloom.”
OF that dream of Verdun, our lunch in the subterranean dining-hall belonged most of all to the Minx. She was queen of it, and no wonder. It was I months since some of our splendid hosts had seen a woman. They had almost forgotten that the Creature existed. The news that three ladies were to be their guests had upset their nerves as no bombardment had ever done. Perhaps they, had fancied that all three would be young and beautiful; but if Mrs. Henry Wayne and Miss Whitley were a disappointment, Miss Mix generously made up for that.
It seemed that the officers had been preparing since the arrival of General Rayières telegram requesting hospitality for us. An underground “cell” belonging to a Major had been “touched up” as a dressing-room for the divine trio. Flower-vases and a rug had been borrowed from a quite newly bombarded house (only borrowed, as the property of the refugees is sacredly guarded) ; a few flags decorated the wall, and the lieutenant who met us at Bar-le-Duc had been commissioned to buy every kind of first aid to beauty. He had returned with packets of pins and hairpins of all | sorts, powder and rouge, haresfeet and powder-puffs. He had even remembered a fashionable make of soap, a sponge soft enough for a baby’s skin, an ivory¡ backed brush, several sorts of scout, and a vaporizer. The Minx it was who told me the tale, with tears in her eyes; and to show that these delicate attentions ; were appreciated, she issued from the cell pink and white as a doll, smelling of perfumes imported from Araby the Blest.
Even more pains had been taken in decorating the vaulted banqueting hall, where we had two principal hosts and many minor ones. The walls and the motto “They shall not pass” were draped with bunting and banners. The long table was adorned with flowers, not poppies, thank heaven, though brought from heaven knows where. The most conspicuous of the big electric lamps which lit the big, low room were covered with thin yellow paper, to give a gayer light. And the menu was marvellous.
“Oh, we have never suffered for food here, even at the worst,” laughed one of the two great men who were our hosts. “You see, it was like this. Before the civil population of Verdun was evacuated, they had a scare of a long siege, and conceived the brilliant idea of hoarding food. They sent to Paris for everything of the best, and a great deal of it. All the shops displayed food. The jewellers showed hams in their windows where collars of pearls and diamonds used to glitter. The perfumers piled up glass jars of preserved fruit or vegetables instead of the latest eccentric fashion in scent bottles, and the wine cellars were filled with the good wine of France. Then, clap came the order for evacuation. The food hoarders were glad to sell out their stores to the army at cost price; so, while the German papers, and even Italian ones (Italy was neutral then) printed the news that we at Verdun could not hold out long because we had no meat save rats, we were eating the fat of the land—when we had time to eat at all !”
“But,” I said, “the food-hoarders of 1915-16 hadn’t got in their larders the Ostend oysters and wild boar I see on our menu this day of 1917. Even on ice, they couldn’t last till-”
Our host laughed again from across the long table, where Mother sat at his right hand and Nancy Mix on the side nearest his heart. “Have no fear!” he cheered me, “Les huitres d’Ostende are a bluff; but you will find them a good bluff, I hope. As for the sanglier, two of our young madmen went out and shot him. They missed getting shot themselves! But they wanted to give you something original for your déjeuner.”
“Ah, if they had not come back!” gasped Nancy.
“In that case, Mademoiselle, they would have missed the happiest occasion of their lives!”
After luncheon we were taken through a network of passages and vaulted rooms, all lit with electricity. We saw the hospital, the operating theatre, and store places for ammunition. Then, last of all, we descended from the Citadel into the old trenches which had once defended Thiaumont. There was no danger there now, because the Germans had been pushed back—far back; but we saw the dugout and shelters where the heroes of Verdun had lived through long months; and when in the later afternoon we bade the place good-bye (with a car-full of souvenirs) we understood well why the Germans could not pass, why they will never pass.
HER FIFTH STEP: PARIS TO SENLIS; COMPÏEGNE AND NOYON.'
I HAVE made up my mind to one thing,” said Mother to me the day after we returned to Paris, “and that is, not to be burdened again with Miss Mix when we go to the Noyon Front.”
“Burdened” was good, after all that had happened at Nancy—and especially Verdun. But when I was tempted to remind Mother of these circumstances, I bit my tongue and refrained.
“I realize that you are not to be trusted where the Minx is concerned,” she went on, “therefore I myself have been to a garage this morning and ascertained that we can hire a car. It will be costly, but, thank heaven, my earnings have increased rather than diminished since this terrible war.” (Mother invariably uses this adjective in mentioning the war) “So I am justified in incurring the expense, particularly as it is to gain material for a book. All you have to do, Henry, is to go to the Rue Frédéric Premier and remind the authorities of their promise to give us permits for the Noyon Front — the last favor we need ask of them, since the bombardment at Soissons and Rheims is too severe for civilian visits. The bombardment at Nancy will fortunately supply me with copy, and it would be tempting Providence to risk a worse one, even if permitted. I hope you will start at once and interview our kind friends at the Bureau.”
I wasn’t sure if they were so much our kind friends as Nancy Mix's, but I obeyed Mother as usual. A deep depression weighed me down in my with difficulty-obtained taxi. I was so accustomed now to seeing Fronts with the Minx, that I could not imagine what they would be like without her—and with Mother and Kate. After what she had done for us, to go off and leave her in the lurch would be vile ingratitude. Serpents’ teeth would be nothing compared to us! All the way to the Rue Frédéric Premier I racked my brain for some excuse, no matter how lame, to save our faces in the eyes of the dear Minx. But, though there was an interval before they ushered me into the Presence, my mind remained a vacuum.
“I am pleased to hear that your party had an interesting glimpse of Verdun,” said the Authority, when we had bowed and touched fingers.
“You have heard already!” I exclaimed.
“Yes, of all your adventures. If Mademoiselle Mix writes as well as she talks, it is not strange they value her on that grand journal of hers. She is wonderful !”
I agreed. “She has been here this morning?”
“No. Last night. She telephoned. I-er happened to be working late in my office. You were fortunate — Madame your Mother, Mademoiselle your cousin and you—to have shared the acquaintance of General Rayières with this beautiful and intelligent American, who has so little the air of a journalist, yet is it apparently to perfection.”
I agreed again, but was pricked by my conscience to find a change of subject, and jumped to Noyon.
'"THE Man of Authority looked politely sad. “Ah, Monsieur, I regret that you are too late in making this request,” he replied. “No new applications to visit that Front can be granted at present. We have just received notice from Headquarters that only those already approved can be considered for some time.”
“But,” I argued, knowing that Mother would blame me for a weakling if I yielded without a struggle, “ours is not a new application. We made it before starting for Nancy.”
“Pardon, Monsieur, you did not make it. You mentioned your intention of making it on your return. No date was fixed. If it had been-”
“How could it be, when we didn’t know surely when we should get back to Paris?”
“You might have telegraphed from Nancy, before leaving for Verdun.”
“In the midst of a bombardment? Who would think of such a thing at such a time?”
“Good heavens! She telegraphed?”
“She did, Monsieur, one of those long telegrams regardless of expense which are so American—and so delightful. She confirmed her request to visit the Noyon Front, asking leave to go to-morrow if convenient to the authorities, and send me the personal regards of General Rayières and Monsieur Dufael, who are friends of mine. There was barely time to hurry the application to General Headquarters and have the trip arranged for Mademoiselle. As the telegram specified ‘friends’ I imagined that your party was referred to. Last night again, in our conversation, I took this for granted. But now, as you come to me separately, to ask permission for yourself and your family, I see that I was mistaken. This is rather awkward, as I gave Headquarters to understand— but there is still time to clear up the ‘muddle,’ as you English say.”
It was already clear to me. That warm-hearted Minx had been scheming for us, while we schemed against her. I felt my face turning the latest fashionable couleur de tomate, as I stammered my conjecture. Possibly Miss Mix had meant us, when she mentioned friends. We had not liked to take this for granted. My Mother was not used —etc., etc. The upshot was that the question must be settled at once between Miss Mix and my “party,” otherwise the affair would become too complicated, and none of us would go to Noyon.
“Please let me know by telephone,” the Authority finished with polite severity, rising; and I bowed myself out of the Presence trailing a weight of guilt. It was mostly my' Mother’s guilt, but none the less heavy,
I went home and explained things, not without a secret, sullen triumph. “So there it is, you see,” I said. “History' repeats itself. To go with Miss Mix— if she chooses to take us—or not to go. Which is nobler to the mind of Mrs. Henry Wayne?”
Mother looked baited. “Forever dogged by this Minx!” was the cry wrung from her soul.
“That doesn’t sound right zoologically,” said I. “And anyhow, perhaps she isn’t dogging us. Why should she want to cart us about from front to front-”
“Of course, she wants to,” said Mother. “Because we are Who we Are, foolish boy. With us, she shines in reflected glory.”
“I see,” said I. “It’s fair exchange. Her car for our glory!”
“The favor is on the right side. Car or no car, how could she travel all over France unchaperoned? I suppose there are some things which even a Minx cannot do.”
I, FOR my part, supposed that to a brave Minx all things were possible. But, the burning question was not so much what a Minx could do, as what we were to do. There was no time to lose before settling it, and seeking the telephone. For once, however, Mother hesitated. “I feel,” she said, “that we are in a vicious circle. There is no way out. It is all that girl’s fault! I hope never to meet her like again!”
“You never will!” I muttered.
“I have half a mind to put dignity in my pocket and go myself to the Rue Frédéric Premier,” said Mother.
“To do any good, you would have to go to headquarters,” suggested Kate.
Mother groaned. The circle was growing more vicious every minute, when tinkle, tinkle went the bell of the telephone. Kate flew to it. “I’ll speak to my cousin,” she replied after an instant of worried attention. Holding the receiver, she turned to us. “It’s that Girl,” she announced. “They’ve called her up from the Rue Frédéric Premier. She wants to let Mrs. Wayne know that of course she meant us when she telegraphed about Noy'on. She forgot to speak. The bombardment and Verdun made her head feel like a ‘prize package,” in her refined expression. She hopes that to-morrow is all right for us. What shall I answer?”
Mother swallowed heavily. Pride and many other emotions passed down with that gulp. “Answer that we can make it convenient,” she said. And then to me, as Kate obeyed: “What did I tell you? She depends upon us.”
Dear, generous Minx ! She was not born to be understood by women like Mother. She was born to be loved—by men like me. And others.
OUR headquarters during the trip of the next three days was to be—the General Headquarters of the French army; or, less grandiloquently, we were to leave our luggage and spend our nights at Compiègne. Our actual headquarters would be a hotel precisely opposite Army Headquarters, in the Château famed in history-, and beloved by monarchs from Clovis to Napoleon III. We had plenty of sight-seeing mapped out for the first day, and planned an early start. Mother fixed the hour, hoping, I felt, that the Minx would be late, and give her a grievance. But the Minx, though she looks of the type to keep people waiting, is generally on the spot before any'one else: and this was no exception. When I followed the luggage to see that it fitted into the right places, there was the Minx in her smart khaki clothes, standing in the hotel lounge, her hands in her loose, side-pockets—the fashion of to-morrow. With her was a man—also in khaki; and my heart flapped like a fish as I recognized the British officer of the boat—Lord John Hatte. They didn’t notice me—they didn’t notice anything except each other. Nancy’s back was turned to me, but through a glass partition I saw Lord John’s face and knew that he was proposing.
I had never (then) proposed to anyone; but should I do so, I would wear that expression during the act. Especially if I proposed to Nancy Mix.
“It’s all up with the trip,” I thought. “If she accepts him, she won't want to go. If not, she won’t feel like accepting the car and refusing him.” Suddenly I realized how eagerly I had been picturing these days of wonderful sight-seeing with her, perhaps the last days I should ever have in her society, unless But, of course, in spite of what Kate and Mother foolishly thought, there couldn’t possibly be an “unless”!
I hated Lord John, as I walked out to his automobile just drawing up before the hotel. What use ordering the porter to stow away our luggage, since whatever happened, it seemed certain that we should not go?
NANCY’S suitcase was already in the place (a modest one) it had occupied before. But that meant nothing. It had doubtless been put into the car before Hatte’s bombshell arrival. What to do, I did not know, and I still didn’t know when Mother’s voice sounded behind me.
“Two minutes past eight,” she said, “and Miss Mix not here!”
“Didn’t you see her in the lounge?” I asked.
“I had no occasion to glance towards the lounge. You know my principle never to look at people in whom I am not interested, when it can be avoided. It is so bourgeois !’
“I looked,” Kate admitted. “She’s talking to Lord John Hatte.”
“Ah!” said Mother. I met her eye. It was unusually bright. She appeared pleased that he had come! I tried not to hate her, as I hated Hatte.
“Hadn’t we better wait before letting our things be put in?” I asked, with repressed spite.
“No. We must go. It is certain that Lord John, a British officer, cannot accompany us to a French Front. He will lend us his car. if Miss Mix chooses to stop behind and flirt with him. She will lose her time if she does, I think. His father wishes him to marry Lady Lydia Lamb.”
As if any man who had a chance of winning a Minx would let a Lamb be throw-n at his head ! I did not make this fatuous remark to Mother, but I roared it mentally, as she gave orders where to stow our handbags.
They were all three in, and coats were following, when Miss Mix and Lord John appeared together. Hastily I searched his face, but could read nothing in its bronzed sangfroid which might mean stolid British satisfaction, or brave resignation.
Nancy introduced us, and volunteered the information that her friend had arrived, not at this unearthly hour of the morning, but last night. “It was too bad,” she said, “but I’d gone to bed, so as to be fresh for our early start. If they’d told me, I’d have dressed, but he wouldn’t let them wake me. Isn’t it good of him, he’s going to lend us his car just the same?”
“Rath-er!” Lord John backed her up. And with a smile which might mean happy triumph or the calmness of despair, saw us off.
“Those are very pretty flowers you have pinned onto your dress,” said Mother, adding, with sarcasm, “I suppose they are wild flowers from Havre?” (They were orchids, of the most sophisticated sort.)
“From the provinces.” Nancy replied, “but not from Havre.”
Somebody had sent them. But whobody? Was it Rayières or Dufael, or another, in the background? Was she engaged to Lord John, or had she offered to be his sister? I would have given much for an answer even to one of these questions. Yet despite my doubts I felt a restricted happiness. The Minx and I were side by side, if for the last time, our backs to Mother and Kate, and our faces turned—when not towards each other—towards that river-girdled haunt of romance, “L’Ile de France.”
THEY were turned also towards Germany as when we set out for Nancy; and this time the road would be of still more poignant interest, for it was that by which the Germans had marched gaily in September, 1914, to take Paris. A little later they had marched back faster than they had come, and Paris found the gaiety the Germans lost en route.
We gazed at the toy-like fortifications of which Paris was proud sixty years ago. We saw the grass-grown trenches, and spider-web remains of barbed wire with which Paris desperately prepared to keep back the enemy in those dark days of danger. We passed close to the basin of the Canal of the Ourcq, where the Capital was once before desperately defended, a century ago. We slipped through Bourget, the village where Napoleon stayed for a few hours, after Waterloo, not to enter Paris by daylight; and found it dwarfed in interest as in size by its immense new neighbors, green-roofed aerodromes big as circus tents for Titans. We flashed by bomb-sheds, wireless stations and observation posts. We slowed down for a few seconds; to stare at a gigantic “saucisse” reposing on the ground, under a disguising green cover; and so before long we reached the cross-road which marked the end of the German advance. Uhlans had ridden along the road from Senlis, as far as this junction, and had been turned back by French fire. We thrilled as we thought of it, all the more because of the exquisite peace which blessed the scene. Just as it looked to us, so it must have looked to greedy German eyes that September day, with silver scarfs of mist, dew-sequinned, sparkling over meadows of grain, and fragrant clover, and the long lines of poplars, tall and straight, like Nature’s sentinels guarding France. Those galloping Uhlans had come to break the peace, but instead, they had themselves been broken; and the tree-sentinels had quietly watched them turn back defeated.
Before we came to Senlis, girdled with three forests, soldiers stopped us and cautiously examined our new pass. Then they gave the word to go on, but we went no further than Senlis itself, for not only is Senlis a centre of beauty and a jewel of historic souvenirs, but it has now become in its ruin more than ever a monument historique. We had started early from Paris on purpose to spare time for Senlis; and when we had left the car in front of the old hotel du Grand Cerf, once a hunting lodge for kings, Mother was armed with a new notebook and a freshly filled fountain pen. Nancy Mix had a book also, which she showed ostentatiously, with one of her side glances for me. I had given it to her, in derision, the day I had learned of her connection with that much-circulated paper Home Talk. It was like everything of the Minx's, most frivolous in appearance; indeed, I had chosen it for that. The cover was of gold brocade, and the pencil attached by a coquettish gold cord and tassel was gilded. I was certain that she had never written a line in the tiny volume, and never would write one; still, it was a neat bravado to flourish the dainty trifle under Mother’s nose. Had Mother known that I was the giver, no explanation as to a sarcastic motive would have appealed to her as an excuse.
THE Minx, however, noted everything with her eyes. I fancy she missed little during the couple of hours we spent in the beautiful old town whose walls were built by Roman hands. Mother generally interrupted têtes-à-têtes between Miss Mix and me; but while she and Kate listened spell-bound to an amateur guide, who had remained in Senlis during the two days' occupation (September 2nd and 3rd) Nancy and I escaped. We almost ran out of the highway (the Rue de la République, first bombarded and then burned) through strange, tortuous old streets whose names recalled kings and centuries long dead; and to my surprise the frivolous one knew more about the beginnings of Senlis than I knew'. Of course, she must have “read the place up.” to order, but she could have given points to me—perhaps even to Mother. I remembered that nearly every king of France since Clovis, up to Henry of : Navarre, had lived in the old Château the Romans began, and hunted wild boar and stags in the. three encircling forests of Chantilly, Ermenonville and Hallate. l knew vaguely, too. that Jeanne d’Arc. “dear daughter of Lorraine,” had had something to do with saving Senlis. But it was Miss Mix who gravely drew details from her inner stores of knowledge, without a hint that she had lately filled them up. “Why, it w'as in the old Château here that your Henry Fifth married ‘bonny Kate’ of France,” she said. “That was what made the English masters of Senlis. and it was the Duke of Bedford whose army fought against Jeanne d’Arc when she helped the king of France to get the town back. But I bet you don’t know who helped her—Bluebeard! (Wasn’t he the Maréchal Rais?) They say that even now, thev show a path, lost in the forest, that Jeanne took, leading her men, when she came.”
I, in my turn, told Nancy how Prussians and Cossacks rushed triumphantly into Senlis in 1814. and how it was again invaded in 1870. Despite the little rest it had had during centuries, the few streets w'here the bombardment and burning of 1914 had left no trace, looked as peaceful as the castle town in the enchanted forest of the Sleeping Beauty. It was good to see them first, before rejoining Mother and Kate (luckily they hadn’t noticed our absence) to visit the ruined regions.
The Germans pretended that they had been fired upon from the shop of a tobacconist after the bombardment and their entrance into the town. Thereupon they proceeded to “punish” Senlis in their usual fashion, shooting the inhabitants and burning as -many beloved monuments of history as possible before their : army was suddenly and mysteriously called away. They did much and important damage, which Mother had been noting in her black book; but the saddest thing to' my eyes was a fairylike little Château, all destroyed save the facade, still decorated by a trellis, on which roses once more bloomed. Within the closed gates of beautiful wrought iron we could see (as we passed out of Senlis in the car) a bent old gardener at work on a patch of lawn which fallen stones had not buried. This made me hate the Germans so fiercely that I rejoiced at the sight of prisoners in grey, piling up faggots of wood under guard ; of French soldiers, in the dim green reaches of the forest — the forest of Compiègne.
MOTHER had thought it unnecessary to wire news of our coming to the hotel at Compiègne. As it was so hard to get permission for the war zone (said I she) why should anyone be asking for looms save ourselves? As a matter of fact no one else was asking; but that may have been because all the rooms were already taken. The place was a dépot for the Women’s Emergency Fund, a humming hive of industry. We could only be accommodated if we chose to sleep on sofas and tables in the drawing-room. The Minx laughed and clapped her hands, welcoming the suggestion as “a grand adventure”; but Mother, looking from her to me, from me to Kate, vetoed the idea sternly.
“We will walk around Compiègne and find lodgings,” she said.
We did walk around Compiègne—ancient Compendium, where the Romans stored their arms. We saw quaint timbered houses four centuries old. We saw the two great bridges blown up by the French to stop the Germans from crossing the Oise, a little below its junction with the Aisne. We saw the modern looking monument to Jeanne d’Arc, who was dramatically taken prisoner at a gatehouse not far off, and then sent to John of Luxembourg, who sold her to the English. We saw all we might see of the Royal Palace built by Louis Fifteenth, added to by Napoleon First, for bis bride, Marie Louise, and made more interesting than ever before by its conversion into General Headquarters for the World War. On this our day many grey, military ears were drawn up in front of the long, classical façade; and among the things we saw (the best things, said Nancy) were uniforms of visiting American officers. But—we saw no possible lodgings; and our fate for the two nights to come were still unsettled when we started for Noyon.
Yet what mattered it where we slept, or whether we slept at all, when we had this adventure before us for to-day— going to Noyon— When we had other adventures, more thrilling, perhaps even a little dangerous, for to-morrow? I thought that Nancy owed it to herself and me to be happy, but she was absentminded for the first time, and wore an expression, of wistfulness which turned her into a new type of girl, more dangerous than the one I knew—the one I loved. What could be the reason for this abrupt transformation? Was it Lord John? Was it Dufael? Was it Rayières? Or had those distant American uniforms made her homesick? I determined sooner or later to find out. For to tell the truth I could not stand the suspense. We were going to see Noyon, beloved Noyon, where the French joyously tell each other the Germans no longér are. That was for to-day; and to-morrow we were promised Roye. Nesle, Jussv, Ham, Chauny, and even Coucy le Château if the German cannons happened to give it a rest. The mysterious preoccupation of a mere Minx should have been a trifle light as air to me, in the face of such an amazing prospect; but those troubled brown eyes kept floating between me and the most newly evacuated towns of France.
If the way from Paris to Compiègne had been exciting, the road from Compiègne to Noyon blazed with interest. Here the road was warm still from the flying feet of routed Germans. The ruins they had left behind them had scarcely ceased to smoke; the graves of the dead soldiers were not yet green. It seemed but yesterday that we had read with joy the news of Lassigny’s liberation. Now, we were free to pass through Lassigny, or what the Germans had left of it: a few crumbling walls which showed that once a village had lined the road—a new, white road, remade by the French in magic haste for their pursuing army to pass. There was St. Dives. We remembered that, too— a mere mention in the papers; yet here was a Château with a turret almost as old as history, and a charming façade of early Renaissance art, of pale pink brick—where it had not been burnt black by the fire Vandals. Here were fresh shell holes, by the sides of the new road, full of water, like blind eyes brimmed with tears. Here were the French trenches; third line, second line, and first line, with their black patterning of barbed wire, stretching as far as we could see, yet ending always at the road, to leave it free for traffic. It was only when we reached the German lines that the road had been broken and interrupted by trenches.. We got out of the car and * went into them, penetrating into great dugouts. Here was the German trench furniture, which they had left behind in the “Hindenburg Strategic Retreat,” and the French had stacked up according to category: tables, chairs, stoves, iron pots, tin utensils and rolls of new barbed wire never used. Here, by the roadside, were piles of aeroplane bombs, lining the way, covered for protection; and here were formidable ammunition dumps. Oh, this was no place for a spy to come prying! We wondered less that permission for Noyon was given but to a few, and many questions asked !
THE wattle-screens, with “camouflage” of green branches, which had hidden passing cannons and military cars from enemy guns, still rose certain parts of the route, like queer, high fences: for this road until lately had been exposed to fire from vast forests which clothed the commanding heights to our right, where the German line had run—where it ran, even now though further away and out of range. At cursory glance, these forests looked like green haunts of peace; but fix your eyes on any given spot, and they could never fail to find a black and riven tree-trunk, where the living made a brave show, and tried to hide the dead by spreading out their new, green skirts. In the orchards between ruined villages, young apple and cherry trees had been stricken down, and lay with their heads on the ground, some not yet corpses, but dying slowly, their spring garlands blooming and fading on the earth ; others making a brave fight for life, in thankfulness to rescuers who had bound gaping wounds with bandages. In the villages, on the broken walls of houses, notices and orders in German were not yet effaced. Frenchmen had contented themselves with rival writing, wittily profane, or withering in scorn. In Carleport—birthplace of Charlemagne—they had let the grapevines or roses trail long branches over the hated signs of German arrogance and German occupation.
Coming into the ancient town of Noyon was like coming into a place one has seen in a dream. Just before leaving London I had taken Kate to a moving picture theatre where the first entrance of the French, after the German retreat, was shown. It was almost ghostly to motor into the street I recognized at a glance, and come out into a quaintly beautiful Place I seemed to know as well as the close of my College at Oxford!
Yes, rising far above the steep, slate roofs of old, old houses were the strange, unfinished towers of the cruciform cathedral I recognized, with their wooden tops and picturesque spirelets! There, in the Place itself was the famous Hotel de Ville of the fifteenth century, with its marvellously decorated front ; and waving over it the folds of an immense flag; just one flag, without a rival, not even the tricolor. The wind billowing out its graceful folds, it showed the stars and stripes of “Old Glory,” as Nancy called it: the flag of the land which has “adopted” Noyon, and will make her reconstruction its own.
“What a beautiful compliment to America, not to have even the French flag!” said Nancy, that curious change in her becoming more apparent than ever—almost alarming.
Mother said nothing. She considered her book sales in America of importance; but “new countries,” like children or servants, ought, she thinks, to know their place. They should not send flags and Minxes flying all over France.
At first sight, we hardly realized the devastation of Noyon. Like the war-stricken forests, she wore a brave face, and tried to hide her scars; but when we’d picked up the lieutenant officially appointed as our guide, we began to see how Noyon had suffered.
LITTLE cared the Catholic Germans that Charlemagne was crowned king of Austria in some early beginning of the Cathedral. Little cared the Protestants among them, that Calvin was born in one of the narrow old streets whose houses they sacked and burned, taking away stones and time-seasoned timbers to reinforce trenches outside the town. Many houses had been destroyed as punishment for some fancied crime of the inhabitants of certain quarters, and not one, rich or poor, in the whole city had escaped pillage. Into street after street the Germans had come “by order, with big army wagons, and had emptied the houses of everything worth taking, even to dishes, and pots and pans in the kitchens. “How the people lived, heaven knows!” said our guide. “Noyon was crowded and overcrowded with the populations of small towns and villages which the Boches destroyed utterly, during their eighteen months’ occupation. These poor creatures—those they left in France—had to live somewhere, so they drove them into Noyon. Instead of of six thousand inhabitants, Noyon had ten: four thousand refugees who were housed anyhow. Nobody had furniture, not even beds to lie on, much less forks and knives to eat with. The Germans had taken all — all — even towels and blankets. There was no coal or wood to cook with, or oil for lamps. Night and day, summer and winter, all doors had to be open. No man. woman or child could stir outside without special permission, and it was hard to get. Do you wonder that when the French came riding into the town at last—ah, yes, you will have seen it in the moving pictures!—the poor people were stupid, unable to realize their freedom? For days we could not persuade them that they might walk in the street without danger, that they might shut their doors if they chose, that they could expect to sleep through the night without being roused by a surprise visit from a Boche sargeant with his men? Even now it is not safe to clap an elderly man of Noyon on the back, if you do not want to risk his falling in a fit!”
It was twilight when we finished exploring the oldest city of the Ile de France, and rain still marched across the landscape, with a million crystal spears. Somehow, running back to Compiègne, we lost ourselves. The driver took a wrong turn, and we could find no sign-posts. Darkness had fallen and our acetylene would not work. The lamps were “a little queer, ’ too, as Lord John’s chauffeur cheerily announced, explaining that, as we never travelled after dark, he had neglected them.
We were not quite so cheery, for we had still to seek shelter for the night at Compiègne, and the outlook for getting there was not brilliant. True, we couldn’t be far from the town, as we bad left Noyon a good hour and a half behind us. But, having various roads to choose from, and no lights to see them with, we might spend more hours in finding the right one.
“If we could enquire at some house!” said Nancy.
“Some house!” echoed Mother, whose scorn of suggestions from that quarter was embittered by hunger. “As if the Germans had left any houses standing for us to enquire at!” She spoke as though the enemy had levelled villages out of sheer spite against the powerful propaganda of Mrs. Henry Wayne.
“Well, anyhow, I see a light,” mildly persisted Miss Mix. “It may be a witch light, or a will o’ the wisp, but its something—over there, behind that clump of trees.” “Fawcett,” she added, addressing the chauffeur, who still hopefully tinkered at a lamp, “suppose we go and see what there is.”
Fawcett left the lamp, and made as if to start the motor, but the motor would not start.
“We was goin’ a bit queer before I stopped ’er, to ’ave a look at the lights," he remarked; and having rummaged an electric torch from among his stores, he proceeded to poke his head under the car’s bonnet. Nothing out of order there! Further searchings in all sorts of places, nameless to non-motorists like me. Shrugs and snorts on the part of Fawcett, and then an inspiration—apparently a gloomy one—which necessitated the whole party descending in the rain.
“Would you mind ’elpin’ me to give er a push, sir?” he asked.
I PUT my shoulder, figuratively, to the wheel. The big car refused to budge. Nancy, Kate, and even Mother, joined the rescue party, but with the same result. “Ah, I thought as much!” pronounced Fawcett, after another exploration of various parts. “Ball broken in the ball race. That means we shall be 'ere till midnight, at best. Well, it s worse in the trenches!”
(He knew that better than we. He had been there, and lost a leg. He was very proud of his “American artificial.”) Nancy proposed to go on foot and look for the light, while Fawcett worked at the car. Short of fainting, Mother could not detain me; and a Mrs. Henry Wayne never faints. The Minx and I set forth together. I believe Mother thought the girl capable of having broken that ball in the ball race, to obtain a tête-à-tête with Harry Wayne, and there’s little doubt that she expected the worst on our return: the announcement that we were engaged. Well, it wasn’t my fault that she expected wrong!
It was so dark that we held hands to keep together in the road, but Nancy’s hand was friendly and unflirtatious as that of a child. When I squeezed hers, she squeezed mine. We "swung arms.” To have made love to her would have been like making love to a merry little schoolboy. Ah, what a different Nancy I could imagine her being, at the right moment, to the right man!
When we drew nearer the light, we saw that it shone from the windows of a very large house, or a very small Château, in a grove of trees. There was a big, open gateway, with the image of the Virgin above it. Ah, not a Château, then, but a convent!
Having fixed upon this idea, we were astonished when we had found our way along the grass-grown avenue, and rung an old-fashioned bell at the front door, to have this door opened by a soldier in French uniform.
(To be Continued.)