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Title: Everyman's Land
Author: Williamson, A. M. (Alice Muriel), 1869-1933, Williamson, C. N. (Charles Norris), 1859-1920
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Everyman's Land" ***

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[Illustration:

  "I can't believe that the castle of Ham was as striking
  in its untouched magnificence, as now, in the rose-red
  splendour of its ruin!" -- pg. 248]



                EVERYMAN'S LAND

          BY C. N. & A. M. WILLIAMSON


                   AUTHOR OF

  "_The Lightning Conductor Discovers America_,"
        "_Lady Betty Across the Water_,"
         "_Set in Silver_," _Etc._

                _Frontispiece_

                A. L. BURT COMPANY

  Publishers                                    New York

  Published by arrangement with Doubleday, Page & Company


            COPYRIGHT, 1918, BY
          C. N. & A. M. WILLIAMSON
    ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THAT OF
      TRANSLATION INTO FOREIGN LANGUAGES,
          INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN

  COPYRIGHT, 1918, BY THE FRANK A. MUNSEY COMPANY



    TO ALL SOLDIERS WHO HAVE FOUGHT
    OR FIGHT FOR EVERYMAN'S LAND AND
    EVERYMAN'S RIGHT; AND TO THOSE
           WHO LOVE FRANCE



CHAPTER I


Padre, when you died, you left a message for me. You asked me to go on
writing, if I were in trouble, just as I used to write when you were on
earth. I used to "confess," and you used to advise. Also you used to
scold. _How_ you used to scold! I am going to do now what you asked, in
that message.

I shall never forget how you packed me off to school at Brighton, and
Brian to Westward Ho! the year father died and left us to you--the most
troublesome legacy a poor bachelor parson ever had! I'd made up my mind
to hate England. Brian couldn't hate anything or anybody: dreamers don't
know how to hate: and I wanted to hate you for sending us there. I
wanted to be hated and misunderstood. I disguised myself as a Leprechaun
and sulked; but it didn't work where you were concerned. You understood
me as no one else ever could--or will, I believe. You taught me
something about life, and to see that people are much the same all over
the world, if you "take them by the heart."

You took _me_ by the heart, and you held me by it, from the time I was
twelve till the time when you gave your life for your country. Ten
years! When I tell them over now, as a nun tells the beads of her
rosary, I realize what good years they were, and how their
goodness--with such goodness as I had in me to face them--came through
you.

Even after you died, you seemed to be near, with encouragement and
advice. Remembering how pleased you were, when I decided to train as a
nurse, added later to the sense of your nearness, because I felt you
would rejoice when I was able to be of real use. It was only after you
went that my work began to count, but I was sure you knew. I could hear
your voice say, "Good girl! Hurrah for you!" when I got the gold medal
for nursing the contagious cases; your dear old Irish voice, as it used
to say the same words when I brought you my school prizes.

Perhaps I _was_ "a good girl." Anyhow, I was a good nurse. Not that I
deserved much credit! Brian was fighting, and in danger day and night.
You were gone; and I was glad to be a soldier in my way, with never a
minute to think of myself. Besides, somehow I wasn't one bit afraid. I
_loved_ the work. But, _Padre mio_, I am not a good girl now. I'm a
wicked girl, wickeder than you or I ever dreamed it was in me to be, at
my worst. Yet if your spirit should appear as I write, to warn me that
I'm sinning an unpardonable sin, I should go on sinning it.

For one thing, it's for Brian, twin brother of my body, twin brother of
my heart. For another thing, it's too late to turn back. There's a door
that has slammed shut behind me.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, I'll begin and tell you everything exactly as it happened. Many a
"confession-letter" I've begun in just these words, but never one like
this. I don't deserve that it should bring me the heartease which used
to come. But the thought of you is my star in darkness. Brian is the
last person to whom I can speak, because above all things I want him to
be happy. On earth there is no one else. Beyond the earth there
is--_you_.

When Brian was wounded, they expected him to die, and he was asking for
me. The telegram came one day when we had all been rather overworked in
the hospital, and I was feeling ready to drop. I must only have imagined
my tiredness though, for when I heard about Brian I grew suddenly strong
as steel. I was given leave, and disinfected, and purified as thoroughly
as Esther when she was being made worthy of Ahasuerus. Then I dashed off
to catch the first train going north.

St. Raphael was our railway station, but I hadn't seen the place since I
took up work in the Hôpital des Épidémies. That was many months before;
and meanwhile a training-school for American aviators had been started
at St. Raphael. News of its progress had drifted to our ears, but of
course the men weren't allowed to come within a mile of us: we were too
contagious. They had sent presents, though--presents of money, and one
grand gift had burst upon us from a young millionaire whose father's
name is known everywhere. He sent a cheque for a sum so big that we
nurses were nearly knocked down by the size of it. With it was enclosed
a request that the money should be used to put wire-nettings in all
windows and doors, and to build a roofed loggia for convalescents. If
there were anything left over, we might buy deck-chairs and air-pillows.
Of course it was easy for any one to know that we needed all these
things. Our lack was notorious. We sent a much disinfected,
carbolic-smelling round robin of thanks to "James W. Beckett, Junior,"
son of the western railway king.

As I drove to the _gare_ of St. Raphael, I thought of the kind boys who
had helped our poor _poilus_, and especially of James Beckett. Whether
he were still at the aviation camp, or had finished his training and
gone to the front, I didn't know: but I wafted a blessing to our
benefactor. I little dreamed then of the unforgivable injury I was fated
to do him! You see, Padre, I use the word "_fated_." That's because I've
turned coward. I try to pretend that fate has been too strong for me.
But down deep I know you were right when you said, "Our characters carve
our fate."

It was a long journey from the south to the north, where Brian was, for
in war-days trains do what they like and what nobody else likes. I
travelled for three days and nights, and when I came to my journey's
end, instead of Brian being dead as I'd seen him in a hundred hideous
dreams, the doctors held out hope that he might live. They told me this
to give me courage, before they broke the news that he would be blind. I
suppose they thought I'd be so thankful to keep my brother at any price,
that I should hardly feel the shock. But I wasn't thankful. I wasn't!
The price seemed too big. I judged Brian by myself--Brian, who so
worshipped beauty that I used to call him "Phidias!" I was sure he would
rather have gone out of this world whose face he'd loved, than stay in
it without eyes for its radiant smile. But there I made a great mistake.
Brian was magnificent. Perhaps you would have known what to expect of
him better than I knew.

Where you are, you will understand why he did not despair. I couldn't
understand then, and I scarcely can now, though living with my blind
Brian is teaching me lessons I feel unworthy to learn. It was he who
comforted me, not I him. He said that all the beauty of earth was his
already, and nothing could take it away. He wouldn't _let_ it be taken
away! He said that sight was first given to all created creatures in the
form of a desire to see, desire so intense that with the developing
faculty of sight, animals developed eyes for its concentration. He
reminded me how in dreams, and even in thoughts--if they're vivid
enough--we see as distinctly with our brains as with our eyes. He said
he meant to make a wonderful world for himself with this vision of the
brain and soul. He intended to develop the power, so that he would gain
more than he had lost, and I must help him.

Of course I promised to help all I could; but there was death in my
heart. I remembered our gorgeous holiday together before the war,
tramping through France, Brian painting those lovely "impressions" of
his, which made him money and something like fame. And oh, I remembered
not only that such happy holidays were over, but that soon there would
be no more money for our bare living!

We were always so poor, that church mice were plutocrats compared to us.
At least they need pay no rent, and have to buy no clothes! I'm sure, if
the truth were known, the money Father left for our education and
bringing up was gone before we began to support ourselves, though you
never let us guess we were living on you. As I sat and listened to Brian
talk of our future, my very bones seemed to melt. The only thing I've
been trained to do well is to nurse. I wasn't a bad nurse when the war
began. I'm an excellent nurse now. But it's Brian's nurse I must be. I
saw that, in the first hour after the news was broken, and our two lives
broken with it. I saw that, with me unable to earn a penny, and Brian's
occupation gone with his sight, we were about as helpless as a pair of
sparrows with their wings clipped.

If Brian in his secret soul had any such thoughts, perhaps he had faith
to believe that not a sparrow can fall, unless its fall is appointed by
God. Anyhow, he said never a word about ways and means, except to
mention cheerfully that he had "heaps of pay saved up," nearly thirty
pounds. Of course I answered that I was rich, too. But I didn't go into
details. I was afraid even Brian's optimism might be dashed if I did.
Padre, my worldly wealth consisted of five French bank notes of a
hundred francs each, and a few horrible little extra scraps of war-paper
and copper.

The hospital where Brian lay was near the front, in the remains of a
town the British had won back from the Germans. I called the place
Crucifix Corner: but God knows we are all at Crucifix Corner now! I
lodged in a hotel that had been half knocked down by a bomb, and patched
up for occupation. As soon as Brian was able to be moved, the doctor
wanted him to go to Paris to an American brain specialist who had lately
come over and made astonishing cures. Brian's blindness was due to
paralysis of the optic nerve; but this American--Cuyler--had performed
spine and brain operations which had restored sight in two similar
cases. There might be a hundredth chance for my brother.

Of course I said it would be possible to take Brian to Paris. I'd have
made it possible if I'd had to sell my hair to do it; and you know my
curly black mop of hair was always my pet vanity. Brian being a soldier,
he could have the operation free, if Doctor Cuyler considered it wise to
operate; but--as our man warned me--there were ninety-nine chances to
one against success: and at all events there would be a lot of expenses
in the immediate future.

I sent in my resignation to the dear Hôpital des Épidémies, explaining
my reasons: and presently Brian and I set out for Paris by easy stages.
The cap was put on the climax for me by remembering how he and I had
walked over that very ground three years before, in the sunshine of life
and summer. Brian too thought of the past, but not in bitterness. I hid
my anguish from him, but it gnawed the heart of me with the teeth of a
rat. I couldn't see what Brian had ever done to deserve such a fate as
his, and I began to feel wicked, _wicked_. It seemed that destiny had
built up a high prison wall in front of my brother and me, and I had a
wild impulse to kick and claw at it, though I knew I couldn't pull it
down.

When we arrived in Paris, Doctor Cuyler saw us at once; but his opinion
added another pile of flinty black blocks to the prison wall. He thought
that there would be no hope from an operation. If there were any hope at
all (he couldn't say there was) it lay in waiting, resting, and
building up Brian's shattered health. After months of perfect peace, it
was just on the cards that sight might come back of itself, suddenly and
unexpectedly, in a moment. We were advised to live in the country, and
Doctor Cuyler suggested that it would be well for my brother to have
surroundings with agreeable occupation for the mind. If he were a
musician he must have a piano. There ought to be a garden for him to
walk in and even work in. Motoring, with the slight vibration of a good
car, would be particularly beneficial a little later on. I suppose we
must have looked to Doctor Cuyler like millionaires, for he didn't
appear to dream that there could be the slightest difficulty in carrying
out his programme.

I sat listening with the calm mien of one to whom money comes as air
comes to the lungs; but behind my face the wildest thoughts were raging.
You've sometimes seen a row of tall motionless pines, the calmest,
stateliest things on earth, screening with their branches the mad white
rush of a cataract. My brain felt like such a screened cataract.

Except for his blindness, by this time Brian was too well for a
hospital. We were at the small, cheap hotel on "_la rive gauche_" where
we'd stayed and been happy three years ago, before starting on our
holiday trip. When we came back after the interview with Doctor Cuyler,
Brian was looking done up, and I persuaded him to lie down and rest. No
one else could have slept, after so heavy a blow of disappointment,
without a drug, but Brian is a law unto himself. He said if I would sit
by him and read, he'd feel at peace, and would drop off into a doze. It
was three o'clock in the afternoon, and I hadn't glanced yet at the
newspaper we had bought in the morning. I took it up, to please Brian
with the rustling of the pages, not expecting to concentrate upon a line
but instantly my eyes were caught by a name I knew.

"Tragic Romance of Millionaire's Family," I read. "James W. Beckett
brings his wife to France and Reads Newspaper Notice of Only Son's
Death."

This was the double-line, big-lettered heading of a half column on the
front page; and it brought to my mind a picture. I saw a group of nurses
gazing over each other's shoulders at a blue cheque. It was a cheque for
six thousand francs, signed in a clear, strong hand, "James W. Beckett,
Junior."

So he was dead, that generous boy, to whom our hearts had gone out in
gratitude! It could not be very long since he had finished his training
at St. Raphael and begun work at the front. What a waste of splendid
material it seemed, that he should have been swept away so soon!

I read on, and from my own misery I had an extra pang to spare for James
Beckett, Senior, and his wife.

Someone had contrived to tear a fragmentary interview from the "bereaved
railway magnate," as he was called in the potted phrase of the
journalist. Apparently the poor, trapped man had been too soft-hearted
or too dazed with grief to put up a forceful resistance, and the
reporter had been quick to seize his advantage.

He had learned that Mr. and Mrs. James W. Beckett, Senior, had nearly
died of homesickness for their son. They had thought of "running across
to surprise Jimmy." And then a letter had come from him saying that in a
fortnight his training would be over. He was to be granted eight days'
leave, which he didn't particularly want, since he couldn't spend it
with them; and immediately after he would go to the front.

"We made up our minds that Jimmy _should_ spend that leave of his with
us," the old man had said. "We got our papers in a hurry and engaged
cabins on the first boat that was sailing. Unluckily there wasn't one
for nearly a week, but we did the best we could. When everything was
fixed up, I wired Jimmy to meet us at the Ritz, in Paris. We had a
little breeze with a U-boat, and we ran into some bad weather which made
my wife pretty sick, but nothing mattered to us except the delay, we
were so crazy to see the boy. At Bordeaux a letter from him was waiting.
It told how he was just as crazy to see _us_, but we'd only have
twenty-four hours together, as his leave and orders for the front had
both been advanced. The delay at sea had cost a day, and that seemed
like hard lines, as we should reach Paris with no more than time to wish
the lad God-speed. But in the train, when we came to look at the date,
we saw that we'd miscalculated. Unless Jimmy'd been able to get extra
leave we'd miss him altogether. His mother said that would be too bad to
be true. We hoped and prayed to find him at the Ritz. Instead, we found
news that he had fallen in his first battle."

The interviewer went on, upon his own account, to praise "Jimmy"
Beckett. He described him as a young man of twenty-seven, "of singularly
engaging manner and handsome appearance; a graduate with high honours
from Harvard, an all-round sportsman and popular with a large circle of
friends, but fortunately leaving neither a wife nor a fiancée behind him
in America." The newly qualified aviator had, indeed, fallen in his
first battle: but according to the writer it had been a battle of
astonishing glory for a beginner. Single-handed he had engaged four
enemy machines, manoeuvring his own little Nieuport in a way to excite
the highest admiration and even surprise in all spectators. Two out of
the four German 'planes he had brought down over the French lines; and
was in chase of the third, flying low above the German trenches, when
two new Fokkers appeared on the scene and attacked him. His plane
crashed to earth in flames, and a short time after, prisoners had
brought news of his death.

"Mr. and Mrs. James W. Beckett will have the sympathy of all Europe as
well as their native land, in these tragic circumstances," the
journalist ended his story with a final flourish. "If such grief could
be assuaged, pride in the gallant death of their gallant son might be a
panacea."

"As if you could make pride into a balm for broken hearts!" I said to
myself in scorn of this flowery eloquence. For a few minutes I forgot my
own plight to pity these people whom I had never seen. The Paris _Daily
Messenger_ slid off my lap on to the floor, and dropped with the back
page up. When I had glanced toward the bed, and seen that Brian still
slept, my eyes fell on the paper again. The top part of the last page is
always devoted to military snapshots, and a face smiled up at me from
it--a face I had seen once and never forgotten.

My heart gave a jump, Padre, because the one tiny, abbreviated
dream-romance of my life came from the original of that photograph.
Although the man I knew (if people can know each other in a day's
acquaintance) had been _en civile_, and this one was in aviator's
uniform, I was sure they were the same. And even before I'd snatched up
the paper to read what was printed under the picture, something--the
wonderful inner Something that's never wrong--told me I was looking at a
portrait of Jimmy Beckett.



CHAPTER II


I never mentioned my one-day romance to anybody. Only very silly,
sentimental girls would put such an episode into words, and flatter
themselves by calling it a romance. But now that you and Jimmy Beckett
have both given your lives for the great cause, and are in the same
mysterious Beyond while I'm still down here at Crucifix Corner, I can
tell you the story. If you and he meet, it may make it easier for him to
forgive me the thing I have done.

When Brian and I were having that great summer holiday of ours, the year
before the war--one day we were in a delicious village near a cathedral
town on the Belgian border. A piece of luck had fallen in our way, like
a ripe apple tumbling off a tree. A rich Parisian and his wife came
motoring along, and stopped out of sheer curiosity to look at a picture
Brian was painting, under a white umbrella near the roadside. I was not
with him. I think I must have been in the garden of our quaint old hotel
by the canal side, writing letters--probably one to you; but the couple
took such a fancy to Brian's "impression," that they offered to buy it.
The bargain was struck, there and then. Two days later arrived a
telegram from Paris asking for another picture to "match" the first at
the same price. I advised Brian to choose out two or three sketches for
the people to select from, and carry them to Paris himself, rather than
trust the post. He went; and it was on the one day of his absence that
my romance happened.

Ours was a friendly little hotel, with a darling landlady, who was
almost as much interested in Brian and me as if she'd been our
foster-mother. The morning after Brian left, she came waddling out to
the adorable, earwiggy, rose-covered summer-house that I'd annexed as a
private sitting room. "Mademoiselle," she breathlessly announced, "there
is a young millionaire of a monsieur Anglais or Américain just arrived.
What a pity he should be wasted because Monsieur your brother has gone!
I am sure if he could but see one of the exquisite pictures he would
wish to buy all!"

"How do you know that the monsieur is a millionaire, and what makes you
think he would care about pictures?" I enquired.

"I know he is a millionaire because he has come in one of those grand
automobiles which only millionaires ever have. And I think he cares for
pictures because the first thing he did when he came into the hall was
to stare at the old prints on the wall. He praised the two best which
the real artists always praise, and complimented me on owning them" the
dear creature explained. "Besides, he is in this neighbourhood expressly
to see the cathedral; and monsieur your brother has made a most
beautiful sketch of the cathedral. It is now in his portfolio. Is there
nothing we can do? I have already induced the monsieur to drink a glass
of milk while I have come to consult Mademoiselle."

I thought hard for a minute, because it would be grand if I could say
when Brian came back, "I have sold your cathedral for you." But I might
have saved myself brain fag. Madame Mounet had settled everything in her
head, and was merely playing me, like a foolish fish.

"What I have thought of is this," she said. "I told the monsieur that he
could see something better than my prints if he would give himself the
pain of waiting till I could fetch the key of a room where an
artist-client of ours has a marvellous exhibition. There is _no_ such
room yet, but there can be, and the exhibition can be, too, if
Mademoiselle will make haste to pin her brother's pictures to the walls
of the yellow _salon_. With a hammer and a few tacks--_voilà_ the thing
is done. What does Mademoiselle say?"

Mademoiselle said "Yes--yes!" to her part of the programme. But what of
the millionaire monsieur? Would he not balk? Would he not refuse to be
bothered?

Madame was absolutely confident that he would not do these disappointing
things. She was so confident that I vaguely suspected she had something
up her sleeve: but time pressed, and instead of Sherlock Holmesing I
darted to my work. Afterward she confessed, with pride rather than
repentance. She described graphically how the face of the monsieur had
fallen when she asked him to look at an exhibition of pictures; how he
had begun to make an excuse that he must be off at once to the
cathedral; and how she had ventured to cut him short by remarking,
"Mademoiselle the sister of the artist, she who will show the work, ah,
it is a _jeune fille_ of the most _romantic_ beauty!" On hearing this,
the monsieur had said no more about the cathedral, but had ordered the
glass of milk.

In fifteen minutes the exhibition (consisting of six sketches!) was
ready in the showroom of the hotel, the yellow salon which had been
occupied as a bedchamber one night by the Empress Eugénie, and was
always kept locked except on gala occasions. I, not knowing how I had
been over-praised to the audience, was also ready, quivering with the
haste I had made in pinning up the pictures and opening the musty, close
room to the air. Then came in a young man.

As I write, Padre, I am back again in that _salon jaune_, and he is
walking in at the door, pausing a second on the threshold at sight of
me. I will give you the little play in one act. We smile. The hero of
the comedy-drama has a rather big mouth, and such white teeth that his
smile, in his brown face, is a lightning-flash at dusk. It is a thin
face with two dimples that make lines when he laughs. His eyes are gray
and long, with the eagle-look that knows far spaces; deep-set eyes under
straight black brows, drawn low. His lashes are black, too, but his
short crinkly hair is brown. He has a good square forehead, and a high
nose like an Indian's. He is tall, and has one of those lean, lanky
loose-jointed figures that crack tennis-players and polo men have. I
like him at once, and I think he likes me, for his eyes light up; and
just for an instant there's a feeling as if we looked through clear
windows into each other's souls. It is almost frightening, that effect!

I begin to talk, to shake off an odd embarrassment.

"Madame Mounet tells me you want to see my brother's pictures," I say.
"Here are a few sketches. He has taken all the rest worth looking at to
Paris."

"It's good of you to let me come in," the hero of the play answers.
Instantly I know he's not English. He has one of those nice American
voices, with a slight drawl, that somehow sound extraordinarily frank. I
don't speculate about his name. I don't stop to wonder who he is. I
think only of _what_ he is. I forget that Madame has exploited him as a
millionaire. I don't care whether or not he buys a picture. I want
nothing, except the pleasure of talking with him, and seeing how he
looks at me.

I mumble some polite nonsense in return for his. He gazes at Brian's
water-colours and admires them. Then he turns from the pictures to me.
We discuss the sketches and the scenes they represent. "Oh, have you
been _there_?" "Why, I was at that place a week ago!" "How odd!" "We
must have missed each other by a day." And we drift into gossip about
ourselves. Still we don't come to the subject of names. Names seem to be
of no importance. They belong to the world of conventions.

We talk and talk--mostly of France, and our travels, and pictures and
books we love; but our eyes speak of other things. I feel that his are
saying, "You are beautiful!" Mine answer, "I'm glad you think that. Why
do you seem so different to me from other people?" Then suddenly,
there's a look too long between us. "I wish my brother were here to
explain his pictures!" I cry; though I don't wish it at all. It is only
that I must break the silence.

This brings us back to the business in hand. He says, "May I really buy
one of these sketches?"

"Are you sure you _want_ to?" I laugh.

"Sure!" he answers. And I never heard that word sound so nice, even in
my own dear Ireland.

He chooses the cathedral--which he hasn't visited yet. Do I know the
price my brother has decided on? With that question I discover that he
has Madame Mounet's version of our name. Brian and I have laughed dozens
of laughs at her way of pronouncing O'Malley. "_Ommalee_" we are for
her, and "Mees Ommal_ee_" she has made me for her millionaire. For fun,
I don't correct him. Let him find out for himself who we really are! I
say that my brother hasn't fixed a price; but would six hundred francs
seem _very_ high? The man considers it ridiculously low. He refuses to
pay less than twice that sum. Even so, he argues he will be cheating us,
and getting me into hot water when my brother comes. We almost quarrel,
and at last the hero has his way. He strikes me as one who is used to
that!

When the matter is settled, an odd look passes over his face. I wonder
if he has changed his mind, and doesn't know how to tell me his trouble.
Something is worrying him; that is clear. Just as I'm ready to make
things easy, with a question, he laughs.

"I'm going to take you into my confidence," he says, "and tell you a
story--about myself. In Paris, before I started on this tour, a friend
of mine gave a man's dinner for me. He and the other chaps were chaffing
because--oh, because of a silly argument we got into about--life in
general, and mine in particular. On the strength of it my chum bet me a
thing he knew I wanted, that I couldn't go through my trip under an
assumed name. I bet I could, and would. I bet a thing I want to keep.
That's the silly situation. I hate not telling you my real name, and
signing a cheque for your brother. But I've stuck it out for four weeks,
and the bet has only two more to run. I'm calling myself Jim Wyndham.
It's only my surname I've dropped for the bet. The rest is mine. May I
pay for the picture in cash--and may I come back here, or wherever you
are on the fifteenth day from now, and introduce myself properly?
Or--you've only to speak the word, and I'll throw over the whole
footling business this minute, and----"

I cut in, to say that I _won't_ speak the word, and he mustn't throw the
business over. It is quite amusing I tell him, and I hope he'll win his
bet. As for the picture--he may pay as he chooses. But about the proper
introduction--Heaven knows where I shall be in a fortnight. My brother
loves to make up his mind the night beforehand, _where_ to go next. We
are a pair of tramps.

"You don't do your tramping on foot?"

"Indeed we do! We haven't seen a railway station since our first day out
from Paris. We stop one day in a place we don't care for: three in a
place we like: a week or more in a place we _love_."

"Then at that rate you won't have got far in fifteen days. I know the
direction you've come from by what you've told me, and your brother's
sketches. You wouldn't be here on the border of Belgium if you didn't
mean to cross the frontier."

"Oh, we shall cross it, of course. But where we shall go when we get
across is another question."

"I'll find the answer, and I'll find you," he flings at me with a smile
of defiance.

"Why should you give yourself trouble?"

"To--see some more of your brother's pictures," he says gravely. I know
that he wishes to see me, not the pictures, and he knows that I know;
but I let it go at that.

When the sketch has been wrapped up between cardboards, and the twelve
hundred francs placed carelessly on a table, there seems no reason why
Mr. Jim Wyndham shouldn't start for the cathedral. But he suddenly
decides that the way of wisdom is to eat first, and begs me to lunch
with him. "Do, _please_," he begs, "just to show you're not offended
with my false pretences."

I yearn to say yes, and don't see why I shouldn't; so I do. We have
_déjeuner_ together in the summer-house where Brian and I always eat. We
chat about a million things. We linger over our coffee, and I smoke two
or three of his gold-tipped Egyptians. When we suppose an hour has gone
by, at most, behold, it is half-past four! I tell him he must start: he
will be too late for the cathedral at its best. He says, "Hang the
cathedral!" and refuses to stir unless I promise to dine with him when
he comes back.

"You mean in a fortnight?" I ask. "Probably we shan't be here."

"I mean this evening."

"But--you're not coming back! You're going another way. You told me----"

"Ah, that was before we were friends. Of course I'm coming back. I'd
like to stay to-morrow, and----"

"You certainly must not! I won't dine with you to-night if you do."

"Will you if I don't?"

"Perhaps."

"Then I'll order the dinner before I start for the cathedral. I want it
to be a perfect one."

"But--I've said only perhaps."

"Don't you want to pour a little honest gold into poor old Madame
Mounet's pocket?"

"Ye-es."

"If so, you mustn't chase away her customers."

"For her sake, the dinner is a bargain!"

"Not the least bit for my sake?"

"Oh, but yes! I've enjoyed our talk. And you've been so _nice_ about my
brother's pictures."

So it is settled. I put on my prettiest dress, white muslin, with some
fresh red roses Madame Mounet brings me; and the dinner-table in the
summer-house is a picture, with pink Chinese lanterns, pink-shaded
candles, and pink geraniums. Madame won't decorate with roses because
she explains, roses anywhere except on my _toilette_, "spoil the unique
effect of Mademoiselle."

The little inn on the canal-side buzzes with excitement. Not within the
memory of man or woman has there been so important a client as Mr. Jim
Wyndham. Most motoring millionaires dash by in a cloud of dust to the
cathedral town, where a smart modern hotel has been run up to cater for
tourists. This magnificent Monsieur Américain engages the "suite of the
Empress Eugénie," as it grandly advertises itself, for his own use and
that of his chauffeur, merely to bathe in, and rest in, though they are
not to stay the night. And the dinner ordered will enable Madame to show
what she can do, a chance she rarely gets from cheeseparing customers,
like Brian and me, and others of our ilk.

I am determined not to betray my childish eagerness by being first at
the rendezvous. I keep to my hot room, until I spy a tall young figure
of a man in evening dress striding toward the arbour. To see this sight,
I have to be at my window; but I hide behind a white curtain and a
screen of wistaria and roses. I count sixty before I go down. I walk
slowly. I stop and examine flowers in the garden. I could catch a
wonderful gold butterfly, but perhaps it is as happy as I am. I wouldn't
take its life for anything on earth! As I watch it flutter away, my host
comes out of the arbour to meet me.

We pass two exquisite hours in each other's company. I recall each
subject on which we touch and even the words we speak, as if all were
written in a journal. The air is so clear and still that we can hear the
famous chimes of the cathedral clock, far away, in the town that is a
bank of blue haze on the horizon. At half-past nine I begin to tell my
host that he must go, but he does not obey till after ten. Then at last
he takes my hand for good-bye--no, _au revoir_: he will not say
good-bye! "In two weeks," he repeats, "we shall meet again. I shall have
won my bet, and I shall bring _you_ the thing I win."

"I won't take it!" I laugh.

"Wait till you see it, before you make sure."

"I'm not even sure yet of seeing you," I remind him.

"You may be sure if I'm alive. I shall scour the country for miles
around to find you. I shall succeed--unless I'm dead."

All this time he had been holding my hand, while I have pretended to be
unconscious of the fact. Suddenly I seem to remember, and reluctantly he
lets my fingers slip through his.

We bid each other _adieu_ in the arbour. I do not go to "see him off,"
and I keep the picture of Jim Wyndham under the roof of roses, in the
moon-and candle-light.

Just so I have kept it for more than three years; for we never met
again. And now that I've seen the photograph of Jimmy Beckett, I know
that we never shall meet.

Why he did not find us when the fortnight of his bet was over I can't
imagine. It seems that, if he tried, he must have come upon our tracks,
for we travelled scarcely more than twenty miles in the two weeks.
Perhaps he changed his mind, and did not try. Perhaps he feared that my
"romantic beauty" might lose its romance, when seen for the second time.
Something like this must be the explanation; and I confess to you,
Padre, that the failure of the prince to keep our tryst was the biggest
disappointment and the sharpest humiliation of my life. It took most of
the conceit out of me, and since then I've never been vain of my alleged
"looks" or "charm" for more than two minutes on end. I've invariably
said to myself, "Remember Jim Wyndham, and how he didn't think you worth
the bother of coming back to see."

Now you know why I can't describe the effect upon my mind of learning
that Jim Wyndham, the hero of my one-day romance, and Jimmy Beckett, the
dead American aviator, were one.



CHAPTER III


There could be no chance of mistake. The photograph was a very good
likeness.

For a while I sat quite still with the newspaper in my hands, living
over the day in the shabby old garden. I felt like a mourner, bereaved
of a loved one, for in a way--a schoolgirl way, perhaps--I had loved my
prince of the arbour. And always since our day together, I'd compared
other men with him, to their disadvantage. No one else ever captured my
imagination as he captured it in those few hours.

For a moment that little bit of Long Ago pushed itself between me and
Now. I was grieving for my dead romance, instead of for Brian's broken
life: but quickly I woke up. Things were as bad as ever again, and even
worse, because of their contrast with the past I'd conjured up. Grief
for the death of Jimmy Beckett mingled with grief for Brian, and
anxieties about money, in the dull, sickly way that unconnected troubles
tangle themselves together in nightmare dreams.

I'm not telling you how I suffered, as an excuse for what I did, dear
Padre. I'm only explaining how one thing led to another.

It was in thinking of Jim Wyndham, and what might have happened between
us if he'd come back to me as he promised, that the awful idea developed
in my head. The thought wasn't born full-grown and armoured, like
Minerva when she sprang from the brain of Jupiter. It began like this:

"If I'd been engaged to him, I might have gone to his parents now. I
should have comforted them by talking about their son, and they could
have comforted me. Perhaps they would have adopted us as their children.
We need never have been lonely and poor. Jim would have wished us to
live with his father and mother, for all our sakes."

When the thought had gone as far as this, it suddenly leaped to an
enormous height, as if a devil in me had been doing the mango trick.

I _heard_ myself thinking, "Why don't you go to see Mr. and Mrs.
Beckett, and tell them you were engaged to marry their only son? The
paper said he left no fiancée or wife in America. You can easily make
them believe your story. Nobody can prove that it isn't true, and out of
evil good will come for everyone."

Flames seemed to rush through my head with a loud noise, like the
Tongues of Fire in the Upper Room. My whole body was in a blaze. Each
nerve was a separate red-hot wire.

I rose to my feet, but I made no sound. Instinct reminded me that I
mustn't wake Brian, but I could breathe better, think better standing, I
felt.

"They are millionaires, the Becketts--millionaires!" a voice was
repeating in my brain. "They wouldn't let Brian or you want for anything.
They'd be _glad_ if you went to them. You could make them happy. You
could tell them things they'd love to hear--and some would be true
things. You were in the hospital close to St. Raphael for months, while
Jimmy Beckett was in the training camp. Who's to say you didn't meet? If
you'd been engaged to him since that day years ago, you certainly would
have met. No rules could have kept you apart. Go to them--go to them--or
if you're afraid, write a note, and ask if they'll receive you. If they
refuse, no harm will have been done."

Maybe, even then, if I'd stopped to tell myself what a wicked, cruel
plan it was, I should have given it up. But it seemed a burning
inspiration, and I knew that I must act upon it at once or never.

I subsided into my chair again, and softly, very softly, hitched it
closer to the table which pretended to be a writing-desk. Inside a
blotting-pad were a few sheets of hotel stationery and envelopes. My
stylographic pen glided noiselessly over the paper. Now and then I
glanced over my shoulder at Brian, and he was still fast asleep, looking
more like an angel than a man. You know my nickname for him was always
"Saint" because of his beautiful pure face, and the far-away look in his
eyes. Being a soldier has merely bronzed him a little. It hasn't carved
any hard lines. Being blind has made the far-away things he used to see
come near, so that he walks in the midst of them.

I wrote quickly and with a dreadful kind of ease, not hesitating or
crossing out a single word.

  "Dear Mr. and Mrs. Beckett," I began (because I meant to
  address my letter to both). "I've just heard that you have
  come over from America, only in time to learn of your great loss.
  Is it an intrusion to tell you that your loss is mine too? I dearly
  loved your son. I met him nearly four years ago, when my
  brother and I were travelling in France and Belgium. Our
  meeting was the romance of my life. I hardly dare to think
  he told you about it. But a few months ago I took up nursing
  at the Hôpital des Épidemies, near St. Raphael. As you know,
  he was there training. He sent us a cheque for our sufferers; and
  what was fated to happen did happen. We met again. We
  loved each other. We were engaged. He may have written
  to you, or he may have waited till he could tell you by word of
  mouth.

  "I am in Paris, as you will see by this address. My soldier
  brother has lost his sight. I brought him here in the hope
  of a cure by your great American specialist Dr. Cuyler, but
  he tells me an operation would be useless. They say that one
  sorrow blunts another. I do not find it so. My heart is almost
  breaking. May I call upon you? To see _his_ father and mother
  would be a comfort to me. But if it would be otherwise for you,
  please say 'no.' I will try to understand.

  "Yours in deepest sympathy,

    "MARY O'MALLEY."

As I finished, Brian waked from his nap, so I was able to leave him and
run downstairs to send off the letter by hand.

When it had gone, I felt somewhat as I've felt when near a man to whom
an anæsthetic is being given. The fumes of ether have an odd effect on
me. They turn me into a "don't care" sort of person without conscience
and without fear. No wonder some nations give soldiers a dash of ether
in their drink, when they have to go "over the top!" I could go, and
feel no sense of danger, even though my reason knew that it existed.

So it was while I waited for the messenger from our mean little hotel
to come back from the magnificent Ritz. Would he suddenly dash my sinful
hopes by saying, "_Pas de réponse, Mademoiselle_"; or would he bring me
a letter from Father and Mother Beckett? If he brought such a letter,
would it invite me to call and be inspected, or would it suggest that I
kindly go to the devil?

I was tremendously keyed up; and yet--curiously I didn't care which of
these things happened. It was rather as if I were in a theatre, watching
an act of a play that might end in one of several ways, neither one of
which would really matter.

I read aloud to Brian. My voice sounded sweet and well modulated, I
thought; but quite like that of a stranger. I was reading some moving
details of a vast battle, which--ordinarily--would have stirred me to
the heart. But they made no impression on my brain. I forgot the words
as they left my lips. Dimly I wondered if there were a curse falling
upon me already: if I were doomed to lose all sense of grief or joy, as
the man in the old story lost his shadow when he sold it to Satan.

A long time passed. I stopped reading. Brian seemed inclined for the
first time since his misfortune to talk over ways and means, and how we
were to arrange our future. I shirked the discussion. Things would
adjust themselves, I said evasively. I had some vague plans. Perhaps
they would soon materialize. Even by to-morrow----

When I had got as far as that, tap, tap, came the long expected knock at
the door. I sprang up. Suddenly the ether-like carelessness was gone. My
life--my very soul--was at stake. I could hardly utter the little word
"_Entrez!_" my throat was so tight, so dry.

The very young youth who opened the door was not the one I had sent to
the Ritz. But I had no time to wonder why not, when he announced: "_Un
monsieur et une dame, en bas, demandent à voir Mademoiselle_."

My head whirled. Could it be?--but, surely no! They would not have come
to see me. Yet whom did I know in Paris? Who had learned that we were at
this hotel? Had the monsieur and the dame given their name? No, they had
not. They had said that Mademoiselle would understand. They were in the
_salon_.

I heard myself reply that I would descend _tout de suite_. I heard
myself tell Brian that I should not be long away. I saw my face in the
glass, deathly pale in its frame of dark hair, the eyes immense, with
the pupils dilating over the blue, as an inky pool might drown a border
of violets and blot out their colour. Even my lips were white. I was
glad I had on a black dress--glad in a bad, deceitful way; though for a
moment after learning who Jimmy Beckett was, I had felt a true thrill of
loyal satisfaction because I was in mourning for my lost romance.

I went slowly down the four flights of stairs. I could not have gone
fast without falling. I opened the door of the stuffy _salon_, and
saw--the dearest couple the wide world could hold.



CHAPTER IV


They sat together, an old-fashioned pair, on an old-fashioned sofa,
facing the door. The thing I'd thought impossible had happened. The
father and mother of Jim Beckett had come to me.

For some reason, they seemed as much surprised at sight of me as I at
sight of them. We gazed at each other for an instant, all three without
moving. Then the old man (he was old, not middle-aged, as most fathers
are nowadays) got to his feet. He took a step toward me, holding out his
hand. His eyes searched mine; and, dimmed by years and sorrow as they
were, there was in them still a reminder of the unforgotten, eagle-gaze.
From him the son had inherited his high nose and square forehead. Had he
lived, some day Jim's face might have been chopped by Time's hatchet
into just such a rugged brown mask of old-manliness. Some day, Jim's
thick and smooth brown hair might have turned into such a snow-covered
thatch, like the roof of a cottage on a Christmas card.

The old lady was thin and flat of line, like a bas-relief that had come
alive and lost its background. She had in her forget-me-not blue eyes
the look of a child who has never been allowed to grow up; and I knew at
once that she was one of those women kept by their menfolk on a high
shelf, like a fragile flower in a silver vase. She, too, rose as I
entered, but sank down again on the sofa with a little gesture at the
same time welcoming and helpless.

"My daughter, no wonder he loved you!" said the old man. "Now we see
you, we understand, don't we, Jenny?" Holding my hand, he turned and led
me toward his wife, looking at me first, then at her. "We _had_ to come.
We're going to love you, for yourself--and for him."

Speaking, his face had a faintly perceptible quiver of strained nerves
or old age, like a sigh of wind ruffling the calm surface of water. I
felt how he fought to hide his emotion, and the answering thrill of it
shot up through my arm, as our hands touched. My heart beat wildly, and
the queer thought came that, if we were in the dark, it would send out
pulsing lights from my body like the internal lamp of a firefly.

He called me his "daughter!" As I heard that word of love, which I had
stolen, I realized the full shame and abomination of the thing I had
done. My impulse was to cry out the truth. But it was only an impulse,
such an impulse as lures one to jump from a height. I caught myself back
from yielding, as I would have caught myself back from the precipice,
lest in another moment I should lie crushed in a dark gulf. I waved
before my eyes the flag of Brian's need, and my bad courage came back.

I let Mr. Beckett lead me to the sofa. I let his hand on my shoulder
gently press me to sit down by his wife, who had not spoken yet. Her
blue eyes, fixed with piteous earnestness on mine, were like those of a
timid animal, when it is making up its mind whether to trust and "take
to" a human stranger who offers advances. I seemed to _see_ her
thinking--thinking not so much with her brain as with her heart, as you
used to say Brian thought. I saw her ideas move as if they'd been the
works of a watch ticking under glass. I knew that she wasn't clever
enough to read my mind, but I felt that she was more dangerous, perhaps,
than a person of critical intelligence. Being one of those always-was,
always-will-be women--wife-women, mother-women she might by instinct see
the badness of my heart as I was reading the simple goodness of hers.

Her longing to know the soul of me pierced to it like a fine crystal
spear; and the pathos of this bereaved mother and father, who had so
generously answered my call, brought tears to my eyes. I had not winced
away from her blue searchlights, but tears gathered and suddenly poured
over my cheeks. Perhaps it was the tragedy of my own situation more than
hers which touched me, for I was pitying as much as hating myself. Still
the tears were true tears; and I suppose nothing I could have said or
done would have appealed to Jim Beckett's mother as they appealed.

"Oh! you _loved_ him!" she quavered, as if that were the one question
for which she had sought the answer. And the next thing I knew we were
crying in each other's arms, the little frail woman and the cruel girl
who was deceiving her. But, Padre, the cruel girl was suffering almost
as she deserved to suffer. She _had_ loved Jim Wyndham, and never will
she love another man.

"There, there!" Mr. Beckett was soothing us, patting our shoulders and
our heads. "That's right, cry together, but don't grudge Jim to the
cause, either of you. I don't! I'm proud he went the way he did. It was
a grand wayand a grand cause. We've got to remember how many other
hearts in the world are aching as ours ache. We're not alone. I guess
that helps a little. And Jenny, this poor child has a double sorrow to
bear. Think of what she wrote about her brother, who's lost his sight."

The little old lady sat up, and with a clean, lavender-scented
handkerchief wiped first my eyes and then her own.

"I know--I know," she said. "But the child will let us try to comfort
her--unless she has a father and mother of her own?"

"My father and mother died when I was a little girl," I answered. "I've
only my brother in the world."

"You have us," they both exclaimed in the same breath: and though they
bore as much physical likeness to one another as a delicate mountain-ash
tree bears to the rocky mountain on which it grows, suddenly the two
faces were so lit with the same beautiful inward light, that there was a
striking resemblance between them. It was the kind of resemblance to be
seen only on the faces of a pair who have loved each other, and thought
the same thoughts long year after long year. The light was so warm, so
pure and bright, that I felt as if a fire had been lit for me in the
cold dark room. I didn't deserve to warm my hands in its glow; but I
forgot my falseness for a moment, and let whatever was good in me flow
out in gratitude.

I couldn't speak. I could only look, and kiss the old lady's tiny
hand--ungloved to hold mine, and hung with loose rings of rich, ancient
fashion such as children love to be shown in mother's jewel-box. In
return, she kissed me on both cheeks, and the old man smoothed my hair,
heavily.

"Why yes, that's settled then, you belong to us," he said. "It's just as
if Jimmy'd left you to us in his will. In his last letter the boy told
his mother and me that when we met we'd get a pleasant surprise.
We--silly old folks!--never thought of a love story. We supposed Jim was
booked for promotion, or a new job with some sort of honour attached to
it. And yet we might have guessed, if we'd had our wits about us, for we
did know that Jimmy'd fallen in love at first sight with a girl in
France, before the war broke out."

"He told you that!" I almost gasped. Then he _had_ fallen in love, and
hadn't gone away forgetting, as I'd thought! Or was it some other girl
who had won him at first sight? This was what I said to myself: and
something that was not myself added, "Now, if you don't lose your head,
you will find out in a minute all you've been puzzling over for nearly
four years."

"He told his mother," Mr. Beckett said. "Afterwards she told me. Jim
wouldn't have minded. He knew well enough she always tells me
everything, and he didn't ask her to keep any secret."

"It was when I was sort of cross one night, because he didn't pay enough
attention to a nice girl I'd invited, hoping to please him," Mrs.
Beckett confessed. "He'd just come back from Europe, and I enquired if
the French girls were so handsome, they'd spoiled him for our home
beauties. I let him see that his father and I wanted him to marry young,
and give us a daughter we could love. Then he answered--I remember as if
'twas yesterday!--'Mother, you wouldn't want her unless I could love her
too, would you?' 'Why no,' I answered. 'But you _would_ love her!' He
didn't speak for a minute. He was holding my hand, counting my
rings--these ones you see--like he always loved to do from a child. When
he'd counted them all, he looked up and said, 'It wasn't a French girl
spoiled me for the others. I'm not sure, but I think she was Irish. I
lost her, like a fool, trying to win a silly bet.' Those were his very
words. I know, because they struck me so I teased him to explain. After
a while he did."

"Oh, do tell me what he said!" I begged.

At that minute Jim was alive for us all three. We were living with him
in the past. I think none of us saw the little stuffy room where we sat.
Only our bodies were there, like the empty, amber shells of locusts when
the locusts have freed themselves and vanished. I was in a rose arbour,
on a day of late June, in a garden by a canal that led to Belgium. The
Becketts were in their house across the sea.

"Why," his mother hesitated, "it was quite a story. But when he found
you again he must have told you it all."

"Ah, but do tell me what he told you!"

"Well, it began with a landlady in a hotel wanting him to see a picture.
The artist was away, but his sister was there. That was you, my dear."

"Yes, it was I. My poor Brian painted such beautiful things before----"

"We know they were beautiful, because we've seen the picture," Father
Beckett broke in. "But go on, Mother. We'll tell about the picture by
and by. She'll like to hear. But the rest first!"

The little old lady obeyed, and went on. "Jimmy said he was taken to a
room, and there stood the most wonderful girl he'd ever seen in his
life--his 'dream come alive.' That's how he described her. And there was
more. Father, I never told you this part. But maybe Miss--Miss----"

"Will you call me 'Mary'?" I asked.

"Maybe 'Mary' would like to hear. Of course I never forgot one word. No
mother could forget! And now I see he described you just right. When you
hear, you'll know it was love made his talk about you poetry-like. Jimmy
never talked that way to me of any one, before or since."

Padre, I am going to write down the things he said of me, because it is
exquisite to know that he thought them. He said, I had eyes "like
sapphires fallen among dark grasses." And my hair was so heavy and thick
that, if I pulled out the pins, it would fall around me "in a black
avalanche."

Ah, the joy and the pain of hearing these words like an echo of music I
had nearly missed! There's no language for what I felt. But you will
understand.

He had told his mother about our day together. He said, he kept falling
deeper in love every minute, and it was all he could do not to exclaim,
"Girl, I simply _must_ marry you!" He dared not say that lest I should
refuse, and there would be an end of everything. So he tried as hard as
he could to make me like him, and remember him till he should come back,
in two weeks. He thought that was the best way; and he would have let
his bet slide if he hadn't imagined that a little mystery might make him
more interesting in my eyes. Believing that we had met again, Mrs.
Beckett supposed that he had explained this to me. But of course it was
all new, and when she came to the reason why Jim Wyndham had never come
back, I thought for a moment I should faint. He was taken ill in Paris,
three days after we parted, with typhoid fever; and though it was never
a desperate case--owing to his strong constitution--he was delirious for
weeks. Two months passed before he was well enough to look for me, and
by that time all trace of us was lost. Brian and I had gone to England
long before. Jim's friend--the one with whom he had the bet--wired to
the Becketts that he was ill, but not dangerously, and they weren't to
come over to France. It was only when he reached home that they knew how
serious the trouble had been.

While I was listening, learning that Jim had really loved me, and
searched for me, it seemed that I had a right to him after all: that I
was an honest girl, hearing news of her own man, from his own people. It
was only when Mr. Beckett began to draw me out, with a quite pathetic
shyness, on the subject of our worldly resources that I was brought up
short again, against the dark wall of my deceit. It _should_ have been
exquisite, it _was_ heartbreaking, to see how he feared to hurt my
feelings with some offer of help from his abundance. "Hurt my feelings!"
And it was with the sole intention of "working" them for money that I'd
written to the Becketts.

That looks horrible in black and white, doesn't it, Padre? But I won't
try to hide my motives behind a dainty screen, from your eyes or mine. I
had wanted and meant to get as much as I could for Brian and myself out
of Jim Beckett's father and mother. And now, when I was on the way to
obtain my object, more easily than I had expected--now, when I saw the
kind of people they were--now, when I knew that to Jim Wyndham I had
been an ideal, "his dream come true." I saw my own face as in a mirror.
It was like the sly, mean face of a serpent disguised as a woman.

I remember once saying to you, Padre, when you had read aloud "The
Idylls of the King" to Brian and me as children, that Vivien was the
worst _cad_ I ever heard of since the beginning of the world! I haven't
changed my mind about her since, except that I give her second place. I
am in the first.

I suppose, when I first pictured the Becketts (if I stopped to picture
them at all) I imagined they would be an ordinary American millionaire
and millionairess, bow-fronted, self-important creatures; the old man
with a diamond stud like a headlight, the old lady afraid to take cold
if she left off an extra row of pearls. In our desperate state, anything
seemed fair in love or war with such hard, worth-their-weight-in-gold
people. But I ought to have known that a man like Jim Beckett couldn't
have such parents! I ought to have known they wouldn't be in the common
class of millionaires of any country; and that whatever their type they
would be unique.

Well, I _hadn't_ known. Their kindness, their dear humanness, their
simplicity, overwhelmed me as the gifts of shields and bracelets from
the Roman warriors overwhelmed treacherous Tarpeia. And when they began
delicately begging me to be their adopted daughter--the very thing I'd
prayed for to the devil!--I felt a hundred times wickeder than if Jim
hadn't set me on a high pedestal, where they wished to keep me with
their money, their love, as offerings.

Whether I should have broken down and confessed everything, or brazened
it out in spite of all if I'd been left alone to decide, I shall never
know. For just then the door opened, and Brian came into the room.



CHAPTER V


Why Brian's coming should make all the difference may puzzle you, Padre,
but I'll explain.

Ours is an amateurish hotel, especially since the war. Any one who
happens to have the time or inclination runs it: or if no one has time
it runs itself. Consequently mistakes are made. But what can you expect
for eight francs a day, with _pension_?

I said that a very young youth brought up the news of the Becketts'
arrival. He'd merely announced that "_un monsieur et une dame_" had
called. Apparently they had given no names, no cards. But in truth there
were cards, which had been mislaid, or in other words left upon the desk
in the _bureau_, with the numbers of both our rooms scrawled on them in
pencil. Nobody was there at the time, but when the concierge came back
(he is a sort of unofficial understudy for the mobilized manager) he saw
the cards and sent them upstairs. They were taken to Brian and the names
read aloud to him. He supposed, from vague information supplied by the
_garçon_ (it was a _garçon_ this time) that I wished him to come and
join me in the _salon_ with my guests. He hated the thought of meeting
strangers (the name "Beckett" meant nothing to him), but if he were
wanted by his sister, he never yet left her in the lurch.

He and I both knew the house with our eyes shut, before the war; and
now that Brian is blind, he practises in the most reckless way going
about by himself. He refused to be led to the _salon_: he came unaided
and unerring: and I thought when he appeared at the door, I'd never seen
him look so beautiful. He _is_ beautiful you know! Now that his physical
eyesight is gone, and he's developing that mysterious "inner sight" of
which he talks, there's no other adjective which truly expresses him. He
stood there for a minute with his hand on the door-knob, with all the
light in the room (there wasn't much) shining straight into his face. It
couldn't help doing that, as the one window is nearly opposite the door;
but really it does seem sometimes that light seeks Brian's face, as the
"spot light" in theatres follows the hero or heroine of a play.

There was an asking smile on his lips, and--by accident, of course--his
dear blind eyes looked straight at Mrs. Beckett. We are enough alike, we
twins, for any one to know at a glance that we're brother and sister, so
the Becketts would have known, of course, even if I hadn't cried out in
surprise, "Brian!"

They took it for granted that Brian would have heard all about their son
Jim; so, touched by the pathos of his blindness--the lonely pathos (for
a blind man is as lonely as a daylight moon!) Mrs. Beckett almost ran to
him and took his hand.

"We're the Becketts, with your sister," she said. "Jimmy's father and
mother. I expect you didn't meet him when they were getting engaged to
each other at St. Raphael. But he loved your picture that he bought just
before the war. He used to say, if only you'd signed it, his whole life
might have been different. That was when he'd lost Mary, you see--and
he'd got hold of her name quite wrong. He thought it was Ommalee, and we
never knew a word about the engagement, or her real name or anything,
till the letter came to us at our hotel to-day. Then we hurried around
here, as quick as we could; and she promised to be our adopted daughter.
That means you will have to be our adopted son!"

I think Mrs. Beckett is too shy to like talking much at ordinary times.
She would rather let her big husband talk, and listen admiringly to him.
But this _wasn't_ an ordinary time. To see Brian stand at the door,
wistful and alone, gave her a pain in her heart, so she rushed to him,
and poured out all these kind words, which left him dazed.

"You are very good to me," he answered, too thoughtful of others'
feelings, as always, to blurt out--as most people would--"I don't
understand. Who are you, please?" Instead, his sightless but beautiful
eyes seemed to search the room, and he said, "Molly, you're here, aren't
you?"

Now perhaps you begin to understand why his coming, and Mrs. Beckett's
greeting of him, stopped me from telling the truth--if I would have told
it. I'm not sure if I would, in any case, Padre; but as it was I _could_
not. The question seemed settled. To have told the Becketts that I was
an adventuress--a repentant adventuress--and let them go out of my life
without Brian ever knowing they'd come into it was one thing. To
explain, to accuse myself before Brian, to make him despise the only
person he had to depend on, and so to spoil the world for him, was
another thing.

I accepted the fate I'd summoned like the genie of a lamp. "Yes, Brian,
I'm here," I answered. And I went to him, and took possession of the
hand Mrs. Beckett had left free. "I never told you about my romance. It
was so short. And--and one doesn't put the most sacred things in
letters. I loved a man, and he loved me. We met in France before the
war, and lost each other.

"Afterward he came back to fight. A few days ago he fell--just at the
time when his parents had hurried over from America to see him. I--I
couldn't resist writing them a letter, though they were strangers to me.
I----"

"That's not a word I like to hear on your lips--'strangers'," Mr.
Beckett broke in, "even though you're speaking of the past. We're all
one family now. You don't mind my saying that, Brian, or taking it for
granted you'll consent--or calling you Brian, do you?"

"Mind!" echoed Brian, with his sweet, young smile. "How could I mind?
It's like something in a story. It's a sad story--because the hero's
gone out of it--no, he _hasn't_ gone, really! It only seems so, before
you stop to think. I've learned enough about death to learn that. And I
can tell by both your voices you'll be friends worth having."

"Oh, you _are_ a dear boy!" exclaimed Mrs. Beckett. "God is good to give
you and your sister to us in our dark hour. I feel as if Jimmy were here
with us. I do believe he is! I know he'd like me to tell you what he did
with your picture, and what we've done with it since, his father and I."

Brian must have felt that it would be good for us all to talk of the
pictures, just then, not of this "Jimmy" who was still a mystery to
him. He caught up the subject and said that he didn't understand. What
picture was it of which they spoke? He generally signed his initials,
but they'd mentioned that this was unsigned----

"Don't you remember," I explained, "the sketch I sold for you to Mr.
Wyndham when we were tramping through France? You told me when you came
back from Paris that it wasn't quite finished. You'd meant to put on a
few more touches--and your signature. Well, 'Wyndham' was only the
middle name. I never told you much about that day. I was half ashamed,
because it was the day when my romance began and--broke. I hoped it
might begin again sometime, but--but--you shall hear the whole story
soon. Only--not now."

Even as I promised him, I promised myself to tell him nothing. I might
have to lie in deeds to Brian. I wouldn't lie in words. Mrs. Beckett
might give him her version of her son's romance--some day. Just at the
moment she was relating, almost happily, the story of the picture: and
it was for me, too.

Jim had had a beautiful frame made for Brian's cathedral sketch, and it
had been hung in the best place--over his desk--in the special sanctum
where the things he loved most were put. In starting for Europe his
father and mother had planned to stop only a short time in a Paris
hotel. They had meant to take a house, where Jim could join them
whenever he got a few days' leave: and as a surprise for him they had
brought over his favourite treasures from the "den." Among these was the
unsigned picture painted by the brother of _The Girl_. They had even
chosen the house, a small but charming old château to which Jim had
taken a fancy. It was rather close to the war zone in these days, but
that had not struck them as an obstacle. They were not afraid. They had
wired, before sailing, to a Paris agent, telling him to engage the
château if it was still to let furnished. On arriving the answer awaited
them: the place was theirs.

"We thought it would be such a joy to Jim," Mrs. Beckett said. "He fell
in love with that château before he came down with typhoid. I'll show
you a snapshot he took of it. He used to say he'd give anything to live
there. And crossing on the ship we talked every day of how we'd make a
'den' for him, full of his own things, and never breathe a word till he
opened the door of the room. We're in honour bound to take the house
now, whether or not we use it--without Jim. I don't know what we _shall_
do, I'm sure! All I know is, I feel as if it would kill me to turn round
and go home with our broken hearts."

"We've got new obligations right here, Jenny. You mustn't forget that,"
said Mr. Beckett. "Remember we've just adopted a daughter--and a son,
too. We must consult them about our movements."

"Oh, I hadn't forgotten!" the old lady cried. "They--they'll help us to
decide, of course. But just now I can't make myself feel as if one thing
was any better than another. If only we could think of something _Jim_
would have liked us to do! Something--patriotic--for France."

"Mary has seen Jim since we saw him, dear. Perhaps from talk they had
she'll have a suggestion to make."

"Oh no!" I cried. "I've no suggestion."

"And you, Brian?" the old man persisted.

Quickly I answered for my brother. "They never met! Brian couldn't know
what--Jim would have liked you to do."

"It's true, I can't know," said Brian. "But a thought has come into my
head. Shall I tell it to you?"

"Yes!" the Becketts answered in a breath. They gazed at him as if they
fancied him inspired by their son's spirit. No wonder, perhaps! Brian
_has_ an inspired look.

"Are you very rich?" he asked bluntly, as a child puts questions which
grown-ups veil.

"We're rich in money," answered the old man. "But I guess I never quite
realized till now, when we lost Jimmy, how poor you can be, when you're
only rich in what the world can give."

"I suppose you'll want to put up the finest monument for your son that
money can buy," Brian went on, as though he had wandered from his
subject. But I--knowing him, and his slow, dreamy way of getting to his
goal--knew that he was not astray. He was following some star which we
hadn't yet seen.

"We've had no time to think of a monument," said Mr. Beckett, with a
choke in his voice. "Of course we would wish it, if it could be done.
But Jim lies on German soil. We can't mark the place----"

"It doesn't much matter--to him--where his body lies," Brian went on.
"_He_ is not in German soil, or in No Man's Land. Wouldn't he like to
have a monument in _Everyman's Land_?"

"What do you mean?" breathed the little old lady. She realized now that
blind Brian wasn't speaking idly.

"Well, you see, France and Belgium together will be Everyman's Land
after the war, won't they?" Brian said.

"Every man who wants the world's true peace has fought in France and
Belgium, if he could fight. Every man who has fought, and every man who
wished to fight but couldn't, will want to see those lands that have
been martyred and burned, when they have risen like the Phoenix out of
their own ashes. That's why I call France and Belgium Everyman's Land.
You say your Jim spent some of his happiest days there, and now he's
given his life for the land he loved. Wouldn't you feel as if he went
with you, if you made a pilgrimage from town to town he knew in their
days of beauty--if you travelled and studied some scheme for helping to
make each one beautiful again after the war? If you did this in his name
and his honour, could he have a better memorial?"

"I guess God has let Jim speak through your lips, and tell us his wish,"
said Mr. Beckett. "What do you think, Jenny?"

"I think what you think," she echoed. "It's right the word should come
to us from the brother of Jim's love."



CHAPTER VI


That is the story, Padre, as far as it has gone. No sign from you, no
look in your eyes, could show me myself in a meaner light than shines
from the mirror of my conscience. If Jim hadn't loved me, it would be
less shameful to trade on the trust of these kind people. I see that
clearly! And I see how hateful it is to make Brian an innocent partner
in the fraud.

I'm taking advantage of one man who is dead, and another who is blind.
And it is as though I were "betting on a certainty," because there's
nobody alive who can come forward to tell the Becketts or Brian what I
am. I'm safe, _brutally_ safe!

You'll see from what I have written how Brian turned the scales. The
plan he proposed developed in the Becketts' minds with a quickness that
could happen only with Americans--and millionaires. Father Beckett sees
and does things on the grand scale. Perhaps that's the secret of his
success. He was a miner once, he has told Brian and me. Mrs. Beckett was
a district school teacher in the Far West, where his fortune began. They
married while he was still a poor man. But that's by the way! I want to
tell you now of his present, not of his past: and the working out of our
future from Brian's suggestion. Ten minutes after the planting of the
seed a tree had grown up, and was putting forth leaves and blossoms.
Soon there will be fruit. And it will come into existence _ripe_! I
suppose Americans are like that. They manage their affairs with mental
intensive culture.

The Becketts are prepared to love me for Jim's sake; but Brian they
worship as a supernatural being. Mr. Beckett says he's saved them from
themselves, and given them an incentive to live. It was only yesterday
that they answered my S. O. S. call. Now, the immediate future is
settled, for the four of us; settled for us _together_.

Father Beckett is asking leave to travel _en automobile_ through the
liberated lands. In each town and village Jim's parents will decide on
some work of charity or reconstruction in his memory, above all in
places he knew and loved. They can identify these by the letters he
wrote home from France before the war. His mother has kept every one.
Through a presentiment of his death, or because she couldn't part from
them, she has brought along a budget of Jim's letters from America. She
carries them about in a little morocco hand-bag, as other women carry
their jewels.

The thought of Brian's plan is for the two old people like an infusion
of blood in emptied veins. They say that they would never have thought
of it themselves, and if they had, they would not have ventured to
attempt it alone, ignorant of French as they are. But this is their
generous way of making us feel indispensable! They tell us we are needed
to "see them through"; that without our help and advice they would be
lost. Every word of kindness is a new stab for me. Shall I grow callous
as time goes on, and accept everything as though I really were what they
call me--their "daughter"? Or--I begin to think of another alternative.
I'll turn to it if I grow desperate.

The bright spot in my darkness is the joyful change in the Becketts.
They feel that they've regained their son; that Jim will be with them on
their journey, and that they've a rendezvous with him at "_his_
château," when they reach the journey's end. They owe this happiness not
to me, but to Brian. As for him, he has the air of calm content that
used to enfold him when he packed his easel and knapsack for a tramp.
Blindness isn't blindness for Brian. It's only another kind of sight.

"I shan't see the wreck and misery you others will have to see," he
says. "Horrors don't exist any more for my eyes. I shall see the country
in all its beauty as it was before the war. And who knows but I shall
find my dog?" (Brian lost the most wonderful dog in the world when he
was wounded.) He is always hoping to find it again!

He doesn't feel that he accepts charity from the Becketts. He believes,
with a kind of modest pride, that we're really indispensable.
Afterward--when the tour is over--he thinks that "some other scheme will
open." I think so too. The Becketts will propose it, to keep us with
them. They will urge and argue, little dreaming how I drew them, with a
grappling-hook resolve to become a barnacle on their ship!

To-morrow we move to the Ritz. The Becketts insist. They want us near
them for "consultations"! This morning the formal request was made to
the French authorities, and sent to headquarters. On the fourth day the
answer will come, and there's little doubt it will be "yes."

Can I bear to go on deceiving Jim Beckett's father and mother, or--shall
I take the other alternative? I must decide to-night.

       *       *       *       *       *

Since I wrote that last sentence I have been out, alone--to decide.
Padre, it was in my mind never to come back.

I walked a long, long way, to the Champs-Élysées. I was very tired, and
I sat down--almost dropped down--on a seat under the high canopy of
chestnut trees. I could not think, but I had a sense of expectation as
if I were waiting for somebody who would tell me what to do. Paris in
the autumn twilight was a dream of beauty. Suddenly the dream seemed to
open, and draw me in. Some one far away, whom I had known and loved, was
_dreaming me_! What I should decide about the future, depended no longer
on myself, but upon the dreamer. I didn't know who he was; but I knew I
should learn by and by. It was he who would come walking along the road
of his own dream, and take the vacant place by me on the seat.

Being in the dream, I didn't belong to the wonderful, war-time Paris
which was rushing and roaring around me. Military motors, and huge
_camions_ and ambulances were tearing up and down, over the gray-satin
surface of asphalt which used to be sacred to private autos and gay
little taxis bound for theatres and operas and balls. For every girl, or
woman, or child, who passed, there were at least ten soldiers: French
soldiers in _bleu horizon_, Serbians in gray, Britishers and a
sprinkling of Americans in khaki. There was an undertone of music--a
tune in the making--in the tramp, tramp, of the soldiers' feet, the
rumble and whirr of the cars-of-war, the voices of women, the laughing
cries of children.

I thought how simple it would be, to spring up and throw myself under
one of the huge, rushing _camions_: how easily the thing might be taken
for an accident if I stage-managed it well. The Becketts would be angels
to Brian when I was gone! But the dreamer of the dream would not let me
stir hand or foot. He put a spell of stillness upon me; he shut me up in
a transparent crystal box, while outside all the world moved about its
own affairs.

The mauve light of Paris nights filtered up from the gleaming asphalt,
as if through a roof of clouded glass over a subterranean ballroom lit
with blue and purple lanterns. Street lamps, darkly shaded for
air-raids, trailed their white lights downward, long and straight, like
first-communion veils. Distant trees and shrubs and statues began to
retreat into the dusk, as if withdrawing from the sight of fevered
human-folk to rest. Violet shadows rose in a tide, and poured through
the gold-green tunnel of chestnut trees, as sea-water pours into a cave.
And the shadow-sea had a voice like the whisper of waves. It said, "The
dream is Jim Wyndham's dream." I felt him near me--still in the dream.
The one I had waited for had come.

I was free to move. The transparent box was broken.

       *       *       *       *       *

What the meaning of my impression was I don't know. But it must have a
meaning, it was so strong and real. It has made me change my mind
about--the other alternative. I want to live, and find my way back into
that dream.



CHAPTER VII


Padre, you were right. My greatest comfort, as of old, is in turning to
you.

I think you had a glimpse of the future when you left me that last
message: "Write to me, in the old way, just as if I were alive and had
gone on a long journey."

When I lock my door, and get out this journal, it seems as if a second
door--a door in the wall--opened, to show you smiling the good smile
which made your face different from any other. I don't deserve the
smile. Did I ever deserve it? Yet you gave it even when I was at my
worst. Now it seems to say, "In spite of all, I won't turn my back on
you. I haven't given you up."

When I first began to write in this book (the purple-covered journal
which was your last present to me), I meant just to relieve my heart by
putting on paper, as if for you, the story of my wickedness. Now the
story is told, I can't stop. I can't shut the door in the wall! I shall
go on, and on. I shall tell you all that happens, all I feel, and see,
and think. That must have been what you meant me to do.

When Brian and I were away from home a million years ago, before the
war, we wrote you every day, if only a few paragraphs, and posted our
letters at the end of a week. You said those letters were your "magic
carpet," on which you travelled with us. Poor Padre, you'd no time nor
money for other travelling! You never saw France, till the war called
you. And after a few bleak months, that other great call came. I shall
write to you about France, and about myself, as I should have written if
you were back at home.

First--about myself! A few pages ago I said that there was no one alive
who could prove me a liar, to the Becketts or Brian: that I was
"safe--brutally safe." Well, I was mistaken. I am _not_ safe. But I will
go back to our start.

Everyone warned the Becketts that they would get no automobile, no
essence, and no chauffeur. Yet they got all three, as magically as
Cinderella got her coach and four. The French authorities played fairy
godmother, and waved a wand. Why not, when in return so much was to be
done for France?

The wand gave a permit for the whole front (counting in the American
front!) from Lorraine to Flanders. It produced a big gray car, and a
French soldier to drive it. The soldier has only one leg: but he can do
more with that one than most men with two. Thus we set forth on the
journey Brian planned, the Becketts so grateful--poor darlings--for our
company, that it was hard to realize that I didn't _belong_.

It was a queer thought that we should be taking the road to Germany--we,
of all people: yet every road that leads east from Paris leads to
Germany. And it was a wonderful thought, that we should be going to the
Marne.

Surely generations must pass before that name can be heard, even by
children, without a thrill! We said it over and over in the car: "The
Marne--the Marne! We shall see the Marne, this autumn of 1917."

Meanwhile the road was a dream-road. It had the unnatural quietness of
dreams. In days of peace it would have been choked with country carts
bringing food to fill the wide-open mouth of Paris. Now, the way to the
capital was silent and empty, save for gray military motors and
lumbering army _camions_. The cheap bowling alleys and jerry-built
restaurants of the suburbs seemed under a spell of sleep. There were no
men anywhere, except the very old, and boys of the "class" of next year.
Women swept out the gloomy shops: women drove omnibuses: women hawked
the morning papers. Outside Paris we were stopped by soldiers, appearing
from sentry-boxes: our papers were scanned; almost reluctantly we were
allowed to pass on, to the Secret Region of Crucifix Corner, which
spying eyes must not see--the region of aeroplane hangars, endless
hangars, lost among trees, and melting dimly into a dim horizon, their
low, rounded roofs "camouflaged" in a confusion of splodged colours.

There was so much to see--so much which was abnormal, and belonged to
war--that we might have passed without glancing at a line of blue water,
parallel with our road at a little distance, had not Brian said, "Have
we come in sight of the Ourcq? We ought to be near it now. Don't you
know, the men of the Marne say the men of the Ourcq did more than they
to save Paris?"

The Becketts had hardly heard of the Ourcq. As for me, I'd forgotten
that part in the drama of September, 1914. I knew that there was an
Ourcq--a canal, or a river, or both, with a bit of Paris sticking to its
banks: knew it vaguely, as one knows and forgets that one's friends'
faces have profiles. But Brian's words brought back the whole story to
my mind in a flash. I remembered how Von Kluck was trapped like a rat,
in the _couloir_ of the Ourcq, by the genius of Gallieni, and the
glorious coöperation of General Manoury and the dear British
"contemptibles" under General French.

It was a desperate adventure that--to try and take the Germans in the
flank; and Gallieni's advisers told him there were not soldiers enough
in his command to do it. "Then we'll do it with sailors!" he said.
"But," urged an admiral, "my sailors are not trained to march."

"They will march without being trained," said the defender of the
capital. "I've been in China and Madagascar, I know what sailors can do
on land."

"Even so, there will not be enough men," answered the pessimists.

"We'll fill the gaps with the police," said the general, inspired
perhaps by Sainte-Geneviève.

So the deed was dared; and in a panic at sight of the mysteriously
arriving troops, Von Kluck retreated from the Ourcq to the Aisne. It was
when he heard how the trick had been played and won by sheer bravado,
that he cried out in rage, "How could I count on such a _coup_? Not
another military governor in a hundred would have risked throwing his
whole force sixty kilometres from its base. How should I guess what a
dare-devil fool Gallieni would turn out? But if Trochu, in '70, had been
the same kind of a fool, we should never have got Paris!"

Half the ghosts in history seemed to haunt this Route de Strasbourg, and
to meet us as we passed. You know how you see the characters in a
moving-picture play, and behind them the "fade ins" that show their life
history, visions that change on the screen like patterns in a
kaleidoscope? So on this meadow-bordered road, peaceful in the autumn
sunlight, we saw with our minds' eyes the soldiers of 1914: behind them
the soldiers of 1870: farther in the background Napoleon the Great with
his men: and fading into the distance, processions of kings who had
marched along the Marne, since the day Sainte-Geneviève ordered the
gates of Paris to be shut in the face of Attila.

Such a gay, gold-sequined blue-green ribbon of a river it looked! Almost
impudent in gaiety, as if it wished to forget and be happy. But souls
and rivers never really forget. When they know what the Marne knows,
they are gay only on the surface!

It was at Meaux where we had our first close meeting with the Marne:
Meaux, the city nearest Paris "on the Marne front," where the Germans
came: and even after three years you can still see on the left bank of
the river traces of trench--shallow, pathetic holes dug in wild haste.
We might have missed them, we creatures with mere eyes, if Brian hadn't
asked, "Can't you see the trenches?" Then we saw them, of course, half
lost under rank grass, like dents in a green velvet cushion made by a
sleeper who has long ago waked and walked away.

From a distance the glistening gray roofs of Meaux were like a vast
crowd of dark-winged doves; but as we ran into the town it opened out
into dignified importance, able to live up to its thousand years of
history. There was no work for the Becketts there, we thought, for the
Germans had time to do little material harm to Meaux in 1914: and at
first sight there seemed to be no need of alms. But Jim had loved Meaux.
His mother took from her blue morocco bag his letter describing the
place, mentioning how he had met the bishop through a French friend.

"Do you think," she asked me timidly, "we might call on the bishop? Who
knows but he remembers our Jimmy?"

"He's a famous bishop," said Brian. "I've heard _poilus_ from Meaux tell
stories of how the Germans were forced to respect him, he was so brave
and fine. He took the children of the town under his protection, and no
harm came to one of them. There were postcard photographs going round
early in the war, of the bishop surrounded by boys and girls--like a
benevolent Pied Piper. It's kindness he's famous for, as well as
courage, so I'm sure we may call."

Near the beautiful old cathedral we passed a priest, and asked him where
to find the bishop's house. "You need not go so far; here he comes," was
the answer. We looked over our shoulders, almost guiltily, and there
indeed he was. He had been in the cathedral with two French officers,
and in another instant the trio would have turned a corner. Our look and
the priest's gesture told the bishop that we were speaking of him. He
paused, and Mr. Beckett jumped out of the stopped car, agile as a boy in
his excitement.

"Oh, I forgot, I can't talk French! Mary, you must see me through!" he
pleaded.

I hurried to the rescue, and together we walked up to the bishop. Off
came Mr. Beckett's hat; and both officers saluted us. One was a general,
the other a colonel.

If I'd had time to rehearse, I might have done myself some credit. As it
was, I stammered out some sort of explanation and introduced Jim's
father.

"I remember young Monsieur Beckett," the bishop said. "He was not one to
be forgotten! Besides, he was generous to Meaux. He left a noble present
for our poor. And now, you say, he has given his life for France? What
is there I can do to prove our gratitude? You have come to Meaux because
of his letters? Wait a few minutes, till these brave messieurs have
gone, and I myself will show you the cathedral. Oh, you need not fear!
It will be a pleasure."

He was as good as his word, and better. Not only did he show the
splendid Gothic cathedral, pride of the "fair Île-de-France," but the
bishop's house as well. Bossuet had lived there, the most famous bishop
Meaux had in the past. It was dramatic to enter his study, guided by the
most famous bishop of the present; to see in such company the room where
Bossuet penned his denunciation of the Protestants, and then the long
avenue of yews where he used to walk in search of inspiration. We saw
his tomb, too--in the cathedral (yes, I believe Brian saw it more
clearly than we!), one of those grand tombs they gave prelates in the
days of Louis XIV: and when the Becketts had followed Jim's example in
generosity, we bade adieu to the--oh, _ever_ so much kindlier heir of
the great controversialist. I'm afraid, to tell the truth, the little
old lady cared more to know that her Jim's favourite cheese--Brie--was
made in Meaux, than anything else in the town's history. Nevertheless,
she listened with a charmed air to Brian's story of Meaux's great
romance--as she listens to all Brian's stories. It was you, Padre, who
told it to Brian, and to me, one winter night when we'd been reading
about Gaston, de Foix, "Gaston le Bel." Our talk of his exploits
brought us to Meaux, at the time of the Jacquerie, in the twelfth
century. The common people had revolted against the nobles who oppressed
them, and all the Île-de-France--adorable name!--seethed with civil war.
In Meaux was the Duchess of Orleans, with three hundred great ladies,
most of them beautiful and young. The peasants besieged the Duchess
there, and she and her lovely companions were put to sore straits, when
suddenly arrived brave Gaston to save them. I don't quite know why he
took the trouble to come so far, from his hill-castle near the Spanish
frontier, but most likely he loved one of the shut-up ladies. Or perhaps
it was simply for love of all womanhood, since Gaston was so chivalrous
that Froissart said, "I never saw one like him of personage, nor of so
fair form, nor so well made."

From Meaux our road (we were going to make Nancy our centre and stopping
place) followed the windings of the green ribbon Marne to
Château-Thierry, on the river's right bank. There's a rather thrilling
ruin, that gave the town its name, and dominates it still--the ruin of a
castle which Charles Martel built for a young King Thierry. The legend
says that this boy differed from the wicked kings Thierry, sons and
grandsons of the Frankish Clovis; that he wanted to be good, but "Fate"
would not let him. Perhaps it's a judgment on those terrible Thierry
kings, who left to their enemies only the earth round their
habitations--"because it couldn't be carried away"--that the Germans
have left ruins in Château-Thierry more cruel than those of the
crumbling castle. In seven September days they added more _monuments
historiques_ than a thousand years had given the ancient Marne city.

Jim Beckett had written his mother all about the town, and sent postcard
pictures of its pride, the fortress-like, fifteenth-century church with
a vast tower set upon a height. He liked Château-Thierry because Jean de
la Fontaine was born there, and called it "a peaceful-looking place,
just right for the dear fable-maker, who was so child-like and
sweet-natured, that he deserved always to be happy, instead of for ever
in somebody's debt." A soldier having seen the wasted country at the
front, might still describe Château-Thierry as a "peaceful-looking
place." But it was the first glimpse the Becketts had had of war's
abominable destruction. I took up nursing in the south of France before
the Zeppelins made much visible impression on London; and as I
volunteered for a "contagious" hospital, I've lived an isolated life far
from all horrors save those in my own ward, and the few I saw when I
went to nurse Brian. Perhaps it was well for us to begin with
Château-Thierry, whose gaping wounds are not mortal, and to miss tragic
Varreddes. Had Sermaize-les-Bains, which burst upon us later, been our
first experience, the shock might have been too great for Mrs. Beckett.
As it was, we worked slowly to the climax. Yet even so, we travelled on
with a hideous mirage of broken homes, of intimacies brutally laid bare,
floating between the landscape and our eyes. We could not get rid of
this mirage, could not brush it away, though the country was friendly
and fair of face as a child playing in a waterside meadow. The crudely
new bridges that crossed the Marne were the only open confessions of
what the river had suffered. But the Marne spirit had known wars enough
to learn "how sweet it is to live, forgetting." With her bits of
villages scattered like strewn flowers on her green flood, she floats
in a dream of her adventurous past and the glorious future which she has
helped to win for France.

It was hard to realize that the tiny island villages and hamlets on the
level shores had seen the Germans come and go; that under the gray
roofs--furry-soft as the backs of Maltese cats--hearts had beaten in
agony of fear; that along the white road, with its double row of
straight trees like an endless army on parade, weeping fugitives had
fled.

We were not aiming to reach Nancy that night, so we paused at Épernay.
The enemy behaved better there than in most Marne towns, perhaps because
Wagner once lived in it, or, more likely, under the soothing influence
of Épernay's champagne, which has warmed the cockles of men's hearts
since a bishop of the ninth century made it famous by his praise.
Nevertheless, there are ruins to see, for the town was bombarded by the
Germans after they were turned out. All the quarter of the rich was laid
waste: and the vast "Fabrique de Champagne" of Mercier, with its
ornamental frieze of city names, is silent to this day, its proud façade
of windows broken. Not a big building of the town, not a neighbouring
château of a "Champagne baron" has a whole window-pane visible, though
three years have rolled on since the cannonading did its work! Nowadays
glass is as dear as diamonds in France, and harder to get.

Outside Champagnopolis, in the wide wooden village of hospital huts, a
doctor told us a war ghost story. One night the Germans made a great
haul of champagne, of a good year, in a castle near by. They had knocked
off the heads of many bottles, naming each for a French general of
yesterday or to-day, when some officer who knew more history than the
rest remembered that Henri IV had taken Épernay in 1592. He named his
bottle for Henri de Navarre, and harangued his comrades on the
superiority of Wilhelm von Hohenzollern. As the speechmaker cracked the
neck with his sword, the bottle burst in a thousand pieces, drenching
everyone with wine. A bit of glass struck the electric lamp over the
table, and out went the light. For an instant the room was black. Then a
white ray flickered on the wall, as if thrown through the window by a
searchlight. Out of its glimmer stepped a man, with a long, laughing
face and a pointed beard. Round his neck was a high ruff. He wore a
doublet of velvet, and shining silk hose. In his hand was a silver
goblet, frothing over the top with champagne. "He drinks best who drinks
last!" cried he in French, and flung the goblet at the face of him who
named the bottle. At the same second there was a great explosion, and
only one soldier escaped; he who told the story.

Think, Padre, it was near Châlons that Attila was defeated, and forced
to fly from France for ever! I ought to say, Attila the first, since the
self-named Attila II hasn't yet been beaten back beyond the Rhine.

We--you, and Brian and I--used to have excited arguments about
reincarnation. You know now which of us was right! But I cling to the
theory of the spiral, in evolution of the soul--the soul of a man or the
soul of the world. It satisfies my sense of justice and my reason both,
to believe that we must progress, being made for progression; but that
we evolve upward slowly, with a spiral motion which brings us at
certain periods, as we rise, directly above the last earth-phase in our
evolution. If it's true, here, after nearly thirteen centuries, are the
Huns overrunning Europe once more. Learned Huns, scientific Huns, but
always Huns, repeating history on a higher scale, barbarously bent on
pulling down the liberty of the world by the power of brute force. Again
they're destined to be conquered as before, at a far bigger price. What
will the next turn of their spiral bring, I wonder? A vast battle of
intellect, perhaps, when wars of blood have been forgotten. And I
wonder, too, where has Attila been, since he was beaten in this
Champagne country of the Marne, and died two years later at his
wedding-feast in Hungary!

Did he appear in our world again, in the form of some great, cruel
general or king, or did his soul rest until it was reincarnated in the
form that claims his name to-day?

I could scarcely concentrate upon Châlons, though it's a noble town,
crowded with grand old buildings. My mind was busily travelling back,
back into history, as Peter Ibbetson travelled in his prison-dreams. It
didn't stop on its way to see the city capitulate to the Allies in 1814,
just one hundred years before the great new meaning came into that word
"allies." I ran past the brave fifteenth-century days, when the English
used to attack Châlons-sur-Marne, hoping to keep their hold on France. I
didn't even pause for Saint-Bernard, preaching the Crusade in the
gorgeous presence of Louis VII and his knights. It was Attila who lured
me down, down into his century, buried deep under the sands of Time. I
heard the ring of George Meredith's words: "Attila, my Attila!" But I
saw the wild warrior Attila, fighting in Champagne, not the dead man
adjured by Ildico, his bride. I saw him "short, swarthy, broad-chested,"
in his crude armour, his large head, "early gray," lifted like a wolf's
at bay. I saw his fierce, ugly face with its snub nose and little,
deep-set eyes, flushed in the fury of defeat as he ordered the famous
screen of chariots to be piled up between him and the Romano-Gauls. I
saw him and his men profiting by the strange barrier, and the enemy's
exhaustion, to escape beyond the Rhine, with eyes yearning toward the
country they were to see no more.

History calls that battle "one of the decisive battles of the world,"
yet it lasted only a day, and engaged from a hundred and seventy-four
thousand to three hundred thousand men. Oh, the spiral of battles has
climbed high since then!

I think I should have had a presentiment of the war if I'd lived at
Châlons, proud city of twenty-two bridges and the Canal Rhine-Marne. The
water on stormy days must have whispered, "They are coming. Take care!"

At Vitry-le-François there is also that same sinister canal which leads
from the Marne to the Rhine, the Rhine to the Marne. The name has a
wicked sound in these days--Rhine-Marne; and at Vitry-le-François of all
places. The men from over the Rhine destroyed as much as they had time
to destroy of the charming old town planned by Francis I, and named for
him. All the villages round about the new Huns broke to pieces, like the
toy towns of children: Revigny, sprayed from hand pumps with petrol, and
burnt to the ground: Sermaize-les-Bains, loved by Romans and Saracens,
obliterated; women drowned in the river by laughing German soldiers,
deep down under yellow water-lilies, which mark their resting place
to-day: everywhere, through the fields and forests, low wooden crosses
in the midst of little votive gardens, telling their silent tale.

Ah, but it is good that Mother Beckett saw Château-Thierry first, or she
might have covered her eyes and begged to go back to Paris! Here all
speaks of death and desolation, save the busy little hut-villages of the
Quakers. The "Friends" quietly began their labour of love before the
Battle of the Marne was ended, and they're "carrying on" still. The
French translate them affectionately into "_les Amis_."

It was at Bar-le-Duc that I met disaster face to face in so strange a
way that it needs a whole letter to tell you what happened.



CHAPTER VIII


There were so many things to see by the way, and so many thoughts to
think about them, that Father Beckett and Brian decided on an all night
stop at Bar-le-Duc. The town hadn't had an air raid for weeks, and it
looked a port of peace. As well imagine enemy aeroplanes over the
barley-sugar house of the witch in the enchanted forest, as over this
comfortable home of jam-makers!

"Jim always asked for currant jam of Bar-le-Duc on his birthdays, ever
since he was a little, little boy," Mrs. Beckett remembered aloud. "And
even when he was grown up! But then, he wouldn't wait for birthdays. He
wanted it every day for breakfast; and for tea at those grand New York
hotels, where I wouldn't go without him, any sooner than in a lion's
den. Oh, it will be nice to stay at Bar-le-Duc! If there's been a jam
factory blown up, we'll help build it again, to please Jim."

Father Beckett was shrewdly of opinion that the jam factories could take
care of themselves, which rather disappointed his wife. She was vaguely
disappointed too, in Bar-le-Duc. I think she expected to smell a
ravishing fragrance of Jim's favourite _confiture_ as we entered the
town. It had been a tiring day for her, with all our stops and
sightseeing, and she had less appetite for history than for jam. We had
passed through lovely country since Châlons, decorated with beautiful
tall trees, high box hedges, and distant, rolling downs golden with
grain and sunlight. Also, whenever our road drew near the railway, we'd
caught exciting glimpses of long trains "camouflaged" in blurry greens
and blues, to hide themselves from aeroplanes. Nevertheless, Mother
Beckett had begun to droop. Her blue eyes hardly brightened to interest
when Brian said we were in the famous region of the Meuse, part of the
Austrian Empire in Charlemagne's day: that somewhere hereabout
Wittekind, the enslaved Saxon, used to work "on the land," not dreaming
of the kingly house of Capet he was to found for France, and that
Bar-le-Duc itself would be our starting-point for Verdun, after Nancy
and the "Lorraine Front."

For her Bar-le-Duc had always represented jam, endless jam, loved by
Jim, and talk of the dukes of Bar brought no thrill to Jim's mother. She
cared more to see the two largest elms in France of which Jim had
written, than any ruins of ducal dwellings or tombs of Lorraine princes,
or even the house where Charles-Edouard the Pretender lived for years.

Fortunately there was a decent hotel, vaguely open in the upper town on
the hill, with a view over the small tributary river Ornain, on which
the capital city of the Meuse is built. One saw the Rhine-Marne Canal,
too, and the picturesque roofs of old fifteenth-century houses, huddled
together in lower Bar-le-Duc, shut in among the vine-draped valleys of
Champagne.

As we left the car and went into the hotel (I lingering behind to help
Brian) I noticed another car behind us. It was more like a taxi-cab than
a brave, free-born automobile, but it had evidently come a long way, as
it was covered with dust, and from its rather ramshackle roof waved a
Red Cross flag.

In the good days before the war I should have thought it the most
natural thing on earth if a procession of twenty motors had trailed us.
But war has put an end to joy-rides. Besides, since the outskirts of
Paris, we had been in the _zone de guerre_, constantly stopped and
stared at by sentinels. The only cars we passed, going east or west,
were occupied by officers, or crowded with _poilus_, therefore the
shabby little taxi became of almost startling interest. I looked back,
and saw that it was slowing down close behind our imposing auto, from
which a few small pieces of luggage for the night were being removed.

The Red Cross travellers were evidently impatient. They did not wait for
our chauffeur to drive away. The conductor of the car jumped down and
opened the door of his nondescript vehicle. I made out, under a thick
coat of dust, that he wore khaki of some sort, and a cap of military
shape which might be anything from British to Belgian. He gave a hand to
a woman in the car--a woman in nurse's dress. A thick veil covered her
face, but her figure was girlish. I noticed that she was extremely small
and slim in her long, dust-dimmed blue cloak: a mere doll of a creature.

The man's back was turned toward me as he aided the nurse; but suddenly
he flung a glance over his shoulder, and stared straight at me, as if he
had expected to find me there.

He was rather short, and too squarely built for his age, which might be
twenty-eight or thirty at most; but his great dark eyes were splendid,
so gorgeously bright and significant that they held mine for a second or
two. This vexed me, and I turned away with as haughty an air as could be
put on at an instant's notice.

The hotel had no private sitting rooms, but the landlord offered Mr.
Beckett for our use a small _salle de lecture_, adjourning the _salon
public_. There were folding doors between, for a wonder with a lock that
worked. By the time we'd bathed, and dressed again, it was the hour for
dinner, and Mr. Beckett suggested dining in our own "parlour," as he
called it.

The landlord himself brought a menu, which Mother Beckett accepted
indifferently up to the entremets "_omelette au rhum_." This she wished
changed for something--anything--made with Jim's favourite jam. "He
would want us to eat it at Bar-le-Duc," she said, with her air of taking
Jim's nearness and interest in our smallest acts for granted.

So "_omelette à la confiture de groseilles_" was ordered; and just as we
had come to the end of it and our meal, some one began to play the piano
in the public drawing room next door. At the first touch, I recognized a
master hand. The air was from Puccini's "La Tosca"--third act, and a
moment later a man's voice caught it up--a voice of velvet, a voice of
the heart--an Italian voice.

We all stopped eating as if we'd been struck by a spell. We hardly
breathed. The music had in it the honey of a million flowers distilled
into a crystal cup. It was so sweet that it hurt--hurt horribly and
deliciously, as only Italian music can hurt. Other men sing with their
brains, with their souls, but Italians sing with their blood, their
veins, the core of their hearts. They _are_ their songs, as larks are.

The voice brought Jim to me, and snatched him away again. It set him far
off at a hopeless distance, across steep purple chasms of dreamland. It
dragged my heart out, and then poured it full, full of an unknown elixir
of life and love, which was mine, yet out of reach forever. It showed me
my past hopes and future sorrows floating on the current of my own blood
like ships of a secret argosy sailing through the night to some unknown
goal. So now, when I have told you what it did to me, you will know that
voice was like no voice I ever heard, except Caruso's. It _was_ like
his--astonishingly like; and hardly had the last note of "Mario's" song
of love and death dropped into silence when the singer began anew with
one of Caruso's own Neapolitan folk-songs, "Mama Mia."

I had forgotten Mother and Father Beckett--even Brian--everyone except
my lost Jim Wyndham and myself. But suddenly a touch on my hand made me
start. The little old lady's, small, cool fingers were on mine, "My
daughter, what do the words mean?" she asked. "What is that boy saying
to his mama?" Her eyes were blue lakes of unshed tears, for the thought
of her son knocked at her heart.

"It isn't a boy who sings, dear," I said. "It's supposed to be a young
man who tries to tell his mother all about his love, but it is too big
for any words he can find. He says she must remember how she felt
herself when she was in love, and then she will understand what's in his
heart."

"Oh, it's wonderful!" she whispered. "How _young_ it sounds! Can it be
a _man_ singing? It seems too beautiful for anything but a gramophone!"

We broke out laughing, and the little lady blushed in shame. "I mean,
it's like one of the great singers they make records of," she explained.
"There, he's stopped. Oh, James, don't let him go! We _must_ hear him
again. Couldn't you go next door and thank him? Couldn't you beg him to
sing some more?"

An Englishman would sooner have died a painful death then obey; but,
unabashed, the American husband flung wide open the folding doors.

At the piano sat the short, square-built young man of the Red Cross
taxi. Leaning with both elbows on the instrument stood the doll-like
figure of his companion, the girl in nurse's dress. His back and her
profile were turned our way, but at the sound of the opening door he
wheeled on the stool, and both stared at Mr. Beckett. Also they stared
past him at me. Why at me, and not the others, I could never have
guessed then.

Our little room was lit by red-shaded candles on the table, while the
_salon_ adjoining blazed with electricity. As the doors opened, it was
like the effect of a flashlight for a photograph. I saw that the man and
the girl resembled each other in feature; nevertheless, there was a
striking difference between the two. It wasn't only that he was squarely
built, with a short throat, and a head shaped like Caruso's, whereas she
was slight, with a small, high-held head on a slender neck. The chief
difference lay in expression. The man--who now looked younger than I had
thought--had a dark, laughing face, gay and defiant as a Neapolitan
street boy. It might be evil, it might be good. The girl, who could be
no more than twenty, was sullen in her beauty as a thundercloud.

The singer jumped up, and took a few steps forward, while the girl stood
still and gloomed.

"I hope I didn't disturb you?" The question was asked of Mr. Beckett,
and thrown lightly as a shuttlecock over the old man's head to us in the
next room. It was asked in English, with a curiously winning accent,
neither Italian nor Irish, but suggesting both.

"Disturbed!" Father Beckett explained that his errand was to beg for
more music. "It's like being at the opera!" was the best compliment he
had to give.

The young man smiled as if a light had been turned on behind his eyes
and his brilliant white teeth. "Delighted!" he said. "I can't sing
properly nowadays--shell shock. I suppose I never shall again. But I do
my best."

He sat down once more at the piano, and without asking his audience to
choose, began in a low voice an old, sweet, entirely banal and utterly
heartbreaking ballad of Tosti's, with words by Christina Rossetti:

    "When I am dead, my dearest,
    Sing no sad songs for me,
    Plant thou no roses at my head,
    Nor shady cypress tree.
    Be the green grass above me
    With showers and dewdrops wet,
    And if thou wilt, remember,
    And if thou wilt, forget.

    I shall not see the shadows,
    I shall not feel the rain;
    I shall not hear the nightingale
    Sing on as if in pain.
    And dreaming through the twilight
    That does not rise nor set,
    Haply I may remember,
    And haply may forget."

The words were of no great depth or worth, and the music was too
intentionally heart-wringing to be sincerely fine, yet sung by that
man's voice, the piano softly touched by his hands, the poor old song
took my self-control and shivered it like thin glass. Tears burst from
Mrs. Beckett's eyes, and she hid her face on my shoulder, sobbing
beneath her breath: "Oh, Jim--Jim!"

When the singer had finished he looked at her, not in surprise, but
thoughtfully. "Perhaps I oughtn't to have sung that stuff, Mr. Beckett,"
he said. "But your son liked it at St. Raphael. We knew each other
there, very well."

As he spoke his eyes turned to me, deliberately, with meaning. There was
a gentle, charming smile on his southern face, but I knew, as if he had
told me in so many words, that my secret was his.

Involuntarily I glanced at the girl. She had not moved. She stood as
before, her elbows on the piano, her small face propped between her
hands. But she, too, was looking at me. She had no expression whatever.
Her eyes told as little as two shut windows with blinds drawn down. The
fancy flashed through me that a judge might look thus waiting to hear
the verdict of the jury in a murder case.

"These two have followed us on purpose to denounce me," I thought. Yet
it seemed a stupidly melodramatic conclusion, like the climax of a
chapter in an old-fashioned, sentimental story. Besides, the
man--evidently the leader--had not at all the face of Nemesis. He looked
a merry, happy-go-lucky Italian, only a little subdued at the moment by
the pathos of his own nightingale voice and the memory of Jim Beckett. I
was bewildered. My reason did not know what to make of him. But my
instinct warned me of danger.

Mother Beckett dried her eyes with one of her dainty handkerchiefs which
always smell like lavender and grass pinks--her leitmotif in perfume.
"You knew our Jim?" she exclaimed, choking back tears. "Why, then,
perhaps you and Mary--Miss O'Malley----"

What would have happened if she had finished her sentence I shall never
know, for just then came a crash as if the house were falling.
Window-glass shivered. The hotel shook as though in an earthquake. Out
went the electric light, leaving only our candles aglow under red
shades.

Bar-le-Duc was in for an air raid.



CHAPTER IX


For a moment we thought the house had been struck by a bomb, and were
astonished that it stood. In the uproar of explosions and crashings and
jinglings, the small silence of our room--with its gay chrysanthemums
and shaded candles--was like that of a sheltered oasis in a desert
storm.

Not one of us uttered a sound. Father Beckett took his wife in his arms,
and held her tight, her face hidden in his coat. Brian had not even got
up from his chair by the table. He'd lighted a cigarette, and continued
to smoke calmly, a half-smile on his face, as if the bombardment carried
him back to life in the trenches. But the beautiful sightless eyes
searched for what they could not see: and I knew that I was in his
thoughts. I would have gone to him, after the first petrifying instant
of surprise, but the singing-man stopped me. "Are you afraid?" I heard
his voice close to my ear. Perhaps he shouted. But in the din it was as
if he whispered.

"No!" I flung back. "Had you not better go and take care of your
sister?"

He laughed. "My sister! Look at her! Does she need taking care of?"

The girl had come from the suddenly darkened _salon_ into our room. As
he spoke, she walked to the table, helped herself to a cigarette from
Brian's silver case which lay open, and asked its owner for a light. It
struck me that she did not realize his blindness.

Certainly the young woman did not "need taking care of." Nor did I!
Deliberately I turned my back upon the man; but he snatched at the end
of a scarf I wore. "No one's looking," he said. "Take this--for your own
sake." And he thrust into a little outside pocket of my dress a folded
bit of paper. Then he let me go, stepping back to prevent my returning
the note.

For a second I hesitated, not knowing which of two evils to choose; but
the woman who hesitates is inevitably lost. Before I could make up my
mind, the door opened and the landlord appeared, apologizing for the
raid as if it had been an accident of his kitchen. We must have no fear.
All danger was over. The avion--only one!--had been chased out of our
neighbourhood. The noise we heard now was merely shrapnel fired by
anti-aircraft guns. We would not be disturbed again, that he'd guarantee
from his experience!

Mrs. Beckett emerged from her husband's coat. Mr. Beckett laughed, and
patting his wife's shoulder, complimented her courage. "I'm not sure we
haven't behaved pretty well for our first air raid," he said. "The rest
of you were fine! But I suppose even you ladies have seen some of these
shows before? As for you, Brian, my boy, you're a soldier. What we've
been through must seem a summer shower to you. And you, sir"--he turned
to the singing-man--"I think you mentioned you'd had shell shock----"

"Yes," the other answered quickly. "It cost me my voice."

"Cost you your voice?" Father Beckett echoed. "If it was better than it
is now, why, it must have been a marvel! We're ignorant in the music
line, my wife and I, so if we ought to know who you are----"

The young man laughed. "Oh, don't be afraid of hurting my feelings! If
you were an Italian, or a Britisher--but an American! I sang in New York
only part of last winter, and then I--came over here, like everyone
else. My name is Julian O'Farrell, but my mother was an Italian of
Naples, once a prima donna. She wished me to make my professional début
as Giulio di Napoli."

The name appeared to mean nothing for the Becketts, but instantly I knew
who the man was, if little about him. I remembered reading of the
sensation he created in London the summer that Brian and I tramped
through France and Belgium. The next I heard was that he had "gone back"
to Italy. I had of course supposed him to be an Italian. But now he
boasted--or confessed--that he was an Irishman. Why, then, had he left
England for Italy when the war broke out? Why had he been singing in New
York after Italy joined the Allies? Above all, what had happened since,
to put him on my track, with a Red Cross flag and a taxi-cab?

These questions asked themselves in my head, while I could have counted
"One--two--three." Meantime, Brian had spoken to the girl, and she had
answered shortly, in words I could not hear, but with a sullen, doubtful
look, like a small trapped creature that snaps at a friendly hand. The
landlord was helping a white-faced waiter to clear a place on the table
for a tray of coffee and liqueurs; and outside the noise of shrapnel
had died in the distance. The air-raid incident was closed. What next?

"You'll both have coffee with us, won't you, Signor di Napoli--or Mr.
O'Farrell? Or should I say Lieutenant or Captain?" Father Beckett was
urging. "You were a friend of our son's, and my wife and I----"

"Plain Mister O'Farrell it is," the other broke in. "Thanks, it would be
a pleasure to stay, but it's best to refuse, I'm sure, for my sister's
sake. You see by her dress what her work has been, and she's on leave
because she's tired out. She faints easily--and what with the air
raid--maybe you'll let us pay our respects before you leave to-morrow?
Then we'll tell you all you want to know. Anyhow, we may be going on for
some time in your direction. I saw by a Paris paper a few days ago you
were making a tour of the Fronts, beginning at the Lorraine end."

His eyes were on me as he spoke, bright with imp-like malice. He looked
so like a mischievous schoolboy that it was hard to take him seriously.
Yet everything warned me to do so, and his allusion to the Paris
newspapers explained much. For the second time a reporter had caught
Father Beckett, and got out of him the statement that "My dead son's
fiancée, Miss Mary O'Malley, who's been nursing in a 'contagious'
hospital near St. Raphael, will be with us: and her brother."

So that was how the man had heard about me, and for some reason found it
worth while to follow, waving the sword of Damocles! His note burned my
pocket. And _I_ burned to know what it said. No doubt it would explain
why he did not cut off my head at once, and have it over!

"I think," he was going on, "that the sooner I can get this poor little
girl" (a tap on his sister's shoulder) "to her room and to bed the
better it will be."

Any one apparently less likely to faint, or less in need of rest, than
the "poor little girl" indicated, it would be difficult to find, I
thought: but the kindly Becketts were the last creatures to be critical.
They sympathized, and changed their invitation from after-dinner coffee
to breakfast at nine. This was accepted by O'Farrell for himself and his
sister, and taking the girl's arm, the ex-singer swept her off in a
dramatic exit.

When they had gone, it was Brian who asked me if I had known them in the
south; and because no incentive could make me lie to Brian, I promptly
answered "No." As I spoke, it occurred to me that now, if ever, was the
moment when I might still succeed in spoking the wheel of Mr. and Miss
O'Farrell before that wheel had time to crush me. I could throw doubt
upon their good faith. I could hint that, if they had really been doing
Red Cross or other work at St. Raphael, I should certainly have heard of
them. But I held my peace--partly through qualms of conscience, partly
through fear. Unless the man had proofs to bring of his _bona fides_
where Jim Beckett was concerned, he would scarcely have followed us to
claim acquaintance with the parents and confound the alleged fiancée.
That he had followed us on purpose I was sure. Not for a second did I
believe that the arrival of the taxi-cab in our wake was a coincidence!

We drank our coffee, talking of the raid and of the O'Farrells, and--as
always--of Jim. Then Father Beckett noticed that his wife was pale. "She
looks as if she needed bed a good sight more than that little girl
did," he said in the simple, homely way I've learned to love.

Presently we had all bidden each other good-night, even Brian and I.
Then--in my own room--I was free to take that folded bit of paper from
my pocket.



CHAPTER X


To my surprise, there were only three lines, scribbled in pencil.

"Come to the _salon_ for a talk when the rest of your party have gone to
bed. I'll be waiting, and won't keep you long."

"Impudent brute!" I said out aloud. But a moment later I had decided to
keep the appointment and learn the worst. Needs must, when the devil
drives!--if you're in the power of the devil. I was. And, alas! through
my fault, so was Brian. After going so far, I could not afford to be
thrown back without a struggle; and I went downstairs prepared to fight.

It was not yet late; only a few minutes after ten o'clock; and though
the Becketts and Brian were on the road to sleep, the hotel was awake,
and even lively in its wakefulness. The door of the public _salon_ stood
open, and the electric light had come on again. At the table, in the
centre of the room, sat Mr. Julian O'Farrell, _alias_ Giulio di Napoli,
conspicuously interested in an illustrated paper. He jumped up at sight
of me, and smiled a brilliant smile of welcome, but did not speak. A
sudden, obstinate determination seized me to thwart him, if he meant to
force the first move upon me. I bowed coolly, as one acknowledges the
existence of an hotel acquaintance, and passing to the other end of the
long table, picked up a _Je Sais Tout_ of a date two years before the
war.

I did not sit down, but assumed the air of hovering for a moment on my
way elsewhere. This manoeuvre kept the enemy on his feet; and as the
cheap but stately clock on the mantel ticked out second after second, I
felt nervously inclined to laugh, despite the seriousness of my
situation. I bit my lip hard to frighten away a smile that would have
spoilt everything. "If it goes on like this for an hour," I said to
myself, "I won't open my mouth!"

Into the midst of this vow broke an explosion of laughter that made me
start as if it announced a new bombardment. I looked up involuntarily,
and met the dark Italian eyes sparkling with fun. "I beg your pardon!"
the man gurgled. "I was wondering which is older, your _Je Sais Tout_ or
my _Illustration_? Mine's the Christmas number of 1909."

"Yours has the advantage in age," I replied, without a smile. "Mine goes
back only to 1912."

"Ah! I'm glad to score that one point," he said, still laughing. "Dear
Miss O'Malley, won't you please sit down? I'm a lazy fellow, and I'm so
tired of standing! Now, don't begin by being cross with me because I
call you 'dear.' If you realized what I've done for you, and what I'm
ready to do, you'd say I'd earned _that_ right, to begin with!"

"I don't understand you at all, or why you should claim any right," I
hedged. But I sat down, and he sank so heavily into an ancient,
plush-covered chair that a spray of dust flew up from the cushions.

"I'm afraid I'm rather too fat!" he apologized. "But I always lose flesh
motoring, so you'll see a change for the better, I hope--in a week or
two. I expect our lines will be cast in the same places for some time
to come--if you're as wise as--as you are pretty. If not, I'm afraid you
and Mr. O'Malley won't be long with our party. I say, you are gorgeous
when you're in a rage! But why fly into a fury? You told me you didn't
understand things. I'm doing my best to explain."

"Then your best is very bad," I said.

"Sorry! I'll begin another way. Listen! I'm going to be perfectly frank.
Why not? We're birds of a feather. And the pot can't call the kettle
black. Maybe my similes are a bit mixed, but you'll excuse that, as
we're both Irish. Why, my being Irish--and Italian--is an explanation of
me in itself, if you'd take the trouble to study it. But look here! I
don't _want_ you to take any trouble. I don't want to _give_ you any
trouble. Now do you begin to see light?"

"No!" I threw at him.

"I don't believe you, dear girl. You malign your own wits. You pay
yourself worse compliments than I'd let any one else do! But I promised
not to keep you long. And if I break my promise it will be your
fault--because you're not reasonable. You're the pot and I'm the kettle,
because we're both tarred with the same brush. By the way, _are_ pots
and kettles blacked with tar? They look it. But that's a detail. My
sister and I are just as dead broke and down and out as you and your
brother are. I mean, as you _were_, and as you may be again, if you make
mistakes."

"I'd rather not bring my brother into this discussion," I said. "He's
too far above it--and us. You can do as you choose about your sister."

"I can make _her_ do as _I_ choose," he amended. "That's where my
scheme came in, and where it still holds good. When I read the news of
Pa and Ma Beckett arriving in Paris, it jumped into my head like a--like
a----"

"Toad," I supplied the simile.

"I was leaving it to you," said he. "I thought you ought to know, for by
a wonderful coincidence which should draw us together, the same great
idea must have occurred to you--in the same way, and on the same day. I
bet you the first hundred francs I get out of old Beckett that it was
so!"

"Mr. O'Farrell, you're a Beast!" I cried.

"And you're a Beauty. So there we are, cast for opposite parts in the
same play. Queer how it works out! Looks like the hand of Providence.
Don't say what you want to say, or I shall be afraid you've been badly
brought up. North of Ireland, I understand. We're South. Dierdre's a
Sinn Feiner. You needn't expect mercy from her, unless I keep her down
with a strong hand--the Hidden Hand. She hates you Northerners about ten
times worse than she hates the Huns. Now you look as if you thought her
name _wasn't_ Dierdre! It is, because she took it. She takes a lot of
things, when I've showed her how. For instance, photographs. She has
several snapshots of Jim Beckett and me together. I have some of him and
her. They're pretty strong cards (I don't mean a pun!) if we decide to
use them. Don't you agree?"

"I neither agree nor disagree," I said, "for I understand you no better
now than when you began."

"You're like Mr. Justice What's-his-name, who's so innocent he never
heard of the race course. Well, I must adapt myself to your child-like
intelligence! I'll go back a bit to an earlier chapter in my career,
the way novels and cinemas do, after they've given the public a good,
bright opening. It was true, what I said about my voice. I've lost
everything but my middle register. I had a fortune in my throat. At
present I've got nothing but a warble fit for a small drawing room--and
that, only by careful management. I knew months ago I could never sing
again in opera. I was coining money in New York, and would be now--if
they hadn't dug me out as a slacker--an _embusqué_--whatever you like to
call it. I was a conscientious objector: that is, my conviction was it
would be sinful to risk a bullet in a chest full of music, like mine--a
treasure-chest. But the fools didn't see it in that light. They made
America too hot to hold either Giulio di Napoli or Julian O'Farrell. I'm
no coward--I swear to you I'm not, my dear girl! You've only to look me
square in the face to see I'm not. I'm full of fire. But ever since I
was a boy I've lived for my voice, and you can't die for your voice,
like you can for your country. It goes--pop!--with you. I managed to
convince the doctors that my heart was too jumpy for the trenches. I see
digitalis in your eye, Miss Trained Nurse! It wasn't. It was
strophantis. But they _would_ set me to driving a motor
ambulance--cold-hearted brutes! I got too near the front line one
day--or rather the front line got too near me, and a shell hit my
ambulance. The next thing I knew I was in hospital, and the first thing
I thought of was my voice. A frog would have disowned it. I hoped for a
while it might come right; but they sent me to St. Raphael for a sun
cure, and--it didn't work. That was last spring. I'm as well as I ever
was, except in my throat, and there the specialists say I need never
expect to be better. I'd change with your brother, Miss O'Malley. My
God, I would. If I could lose my eyes and have my voice again--my
voice!"

His flippancy broke down on those words, with one sincere and tragic
note that touched me through my contempt. Watching, he saw this, and
catching at self-control, he caught also at the straw of sympathy within
his reach.

"I wanted to die for a while," he went on. "But youth is strong, even
when you're down on your luck--down at the deepest. My sister came to
St. Raphael to be with me. It may seem queer to you, but I'm her idol.
She's lost everything else--or rather she thinks she has, which is much
the same--everything that made her life worth living. She wanted to be a
singer. Her voice wasn't strong enough. She wanted to be an actress. She
knew how to act, but--she _couldn't_, Heaven knows why. She's got
temperament enough, but she couldn't let herself out. You see what she's
like! She failed in America, where she'd followed me against our
mother's will. Mother died while we were there. Another blow! And a man
Dierdre's been half engaged to was killed in Belgium. She didn't love
him, but he was made of money. It would have been a big match! She took
to nursing only after I was called up. You know in France a girl doesn't
need much experience to get into a hospital. But poor little Dare wasn't
more of a success at nursing than on the stage. Not enough
self-confidence--too sensitive. People think she's always in the
sulks--and so she is, these days. I'd been trying for six months' sick
leave, and just got it when I read that stuff in the paper about Beckett
being killed, and his parents hearing the news the day they arrived. It
struck me like drama: things do. I was born dramatic--took it from my
mother. The thought came to me, how dead easy 'twould be for some girl
to pretend she'd been engaged to Beckett, and win her wily way to the
hearts and pockets of the old birds. Next I thought: Why not Dierdre?
And there wasn't _any_ reason why not! I told her it would be good
practice in acting. (She hasn't quite given up hope of the stage yet.)
We started for Paris on the job; and then I read in a later copy of the
same paper about the smart young lady who'd stepped in ahead of us. If
old Beckett hadn't been bursting with pride in the heroic girl who'd got
a medal for nursing infectious cases in a hospital near St. Raphael, I'd
have given up the game for a bad job. I'd have taken it for granted that
Jim and the fiancée had met before we met him at St. Raphael. But when
the paper said they'd made acquaintance there, and gave your name and
all, I knew you were on the same trail with us. You'd walked in ahead,
that was the only difference. And _we_ had the snapshots. We could call
witnesses to swear that no nurse from your hospital had come near St.
Raphael, and to swear that none of the chaps in the aviation school had
ever come near them. Dierdre hadn't been keen at first, but once she was
in, she didn't want to fail again; especially for a North of Ireland
girl like you. She was ready to go on. But the newspaper gushed a good
deal over your looks, you remember. My curiosity was roused. I was--sort
of obsessed by the thought of you. I decided to see what your head was
like to look at before chopping it off. And anyhow, you'd already
started on your jaunt. Through a rich chap I knew in New York, who's
over here helping the Red Cross, I got leave to carry supplies to the
evacuated towns, provided I could find my own car. Well, I found
it--such as it is. All I ask of it is not to break down till the
Becketts have learned to love me as their dear, dead son's best friend.
As for Dare--what she was to the dear dead son depends on you."

"Depends on me?" I repeated.

"Depends on you. Dare's not a good Sunday-school girl, but she's good to
her brother--as good as you are to yours, in her way. She'll do what I
want. But the question is Will _you_?"

For a moment I did not speak. Then I asked, "What do you want?"

"Only a very little thing," he said. "To live and let live, that's all.
Don't you try to queer my pitch, and I won't queer yours."

"What is your pitch?" I asked.

He laughed. "You're very non-committal, aren't you? But I like your
pluck. You've never once admitted by word or look that you're caught.
All the same, you know you are. You can't hurt me, and I can hurt you.
Your word wouldn't stand against my proofs, if you put up a fight. You'd
go down--and your brother with you. Oh, I don't think he's in it! The
minute I saw his face I was sure he wasn't; and I guessed from yours
that what you'd done was mostly or all for him. Now, dear Miss O'Malley,
you know where you are with me. Isn't that enough for you? Can't you
just be wise and promise to let me alone on my 'pitch,' whatever it is?"

"I won't have Mr. and Mrs. Beckett made fools of in any way."

He burst out laughing. "That's good--from _you_! I give you leave to
watch over their interests, if you let me take care of mine. Is it a
bargain?"

I did not answer. I was thinking--thinking furiously, when the landlord
came to the door to put out the lights.

O'Farrell sprang to his feet. "We're ready to go. We can leave the room
free, can't we, Miss O'Malley?" he said in French.

Somehow, I found myself getting up, and fading out of the room as if I'd
been hypnotized. I walked straight to the foot of the stairs, then
turned at bay to deliver some ultimatum--I scarcely knew what. But
O'Farrell had cleverly accomplished a vanishing act, and there was
nothing left for me to do save go to my own room.



CHAPTER XI


Thinking things over in the night, I decided to wait until after
breakfast before making up my mind to anything irrevocable. Breakfast
being the appointed rendezvous, O'Farrell would then lay his cards on
the table. If he slipped some up his sleeve, I must make it my business
to spot the trick and its meaning for the Becketts.

As I offered this sop to my conscience, I could almost hear O'Farrell
saying, with one of his young laughs, "That's right. Set a thief to
catch a thief!"

At ten o'clock we were to start for Nancy via Commercy, so there would
be little time to reflect, and to act on top of reflection; but my
strait being desperate, I resolved to trust to luck; and to be first on
the field of battle, I knocked at Brian's door at half-past eight.

He was already dressed, and to look at his neat cravat and smoothly
brushed hair no one would have guessed that his toilet had been made by
a blind man. We had not yet exchanged opinions of the O'Farrell family,
and I had come early to get his impressions. They were always as
accurate and quickly built up as his sketches; but since he has been
blind, he seems almost clairvoyant.

"What do you think of those two?" I asked. "Or rather, what do you think
of the man? I know you have to judge by voices; and as the girl hardly
opened her mouth you can't----"

"Queer thing--and I don't quite understand it myself," said Brian; "but
I see Miss O'Farrell more clearly than her brother."

He generally speaks of "seeing people," quite as a matter of course. It
used to give me a sharp pain at my heart; but I begin to take his way
for granted now. "There's something about O'Farrell that eludes
me--slips away like quicksilver. One is charmed with his voice and his
good looks----"

"Brian! Who told you he was good-looking?" I broke in.

Brian laughed. "I told myself! His manner--so sure of his power to
please--belongs to good looks. Besides, I've never known a tenor with
any such quality of voice who hadn't magnificent eyes. Why they should
go together is a mystery--but they do. Am I right about this chap?"

"Yes, you're right," I admitted. "But go on. I'm more interested in him
than in his sister."

"Are you? I've imagined her the more interesting--the more repaying--of
the two. I see O'Farrell, not a bad fellow, but--not _sure_. I don't
believe he's even sure of himself, whether he wants to be straight or
crooked. How he turns out will depend--on circumstances, or perhaps on
some woman. If he travels with us, he'll be a pleasant companion,
there's no doubt. But----"

"But--what?"

"Well, we must always keep in mind that he's an actor. We mustn't take
too seriously anything he says or does. And you, Molly--you must be more
careful than the rest."

"I! But I told you I'd never met him at St. Raphael. I never set eyes on
him till last night."

"I know. Yet I felt, when he 'set eyes' on you--oh, I don't know how to
express what I felt! Only--if it had happened on the stage, there'd have
been music for it in the orchestra."

"Brian, how strange you are!" I almost gasped. "Ought we to let the man
and his sister go on with us, if that's their aim? Their Red Cross flag
may be camouflage, you know! Very likely they're adventurers, after the
Beckett's money. We could advise Father and Mother Beck----"

"Let's follow a famous example, and 'wait and see'--if only for the
girl's sake."

"Oh, you think so well of her!"

"Not well, exactly," Brian hesitated. "I don't know what to think of her
yet. But--I think _about_ her. I feel her, as I feel electricity before
a thunderstorm bursts."

"A thunderstorm expresses her!" I laughed. "I thought of that myself.
She's sullen--brooding, dark as a cloud. Yet the _tiniest_ thing! One
could almost break her in two."

"I held out my hand for good-night," Brian said. "She had to give hers,
though I'm sure for some reason she didn't want to. It was small
and--crushable, like a child's; and hot, as if she had fever."

"She didn't want to take yours, because we're North of Ireland and she's
a fierce Sinn Feiner," I explained. Luckily Brian did not ask how I'd
picked up this piece of information! He was delighted with it, and
chuckled. "So she's a Sinn Feiner! She's very pretty, isn't she?"

"In a cross-patch way. She looks ready to bite at a touch."

"Poor child! Life must have gone hard with her. She's probably got a
grouch, as the American boys over here say. We must try and do something
to soften her down, and make her see things through rosier spectacles,
if she and her brother join on to our party for a while."

"Ye-es."

"You don't like her, Molly?"

"Oh, I've hardly thought of her, dear. But you seem to have made up for
that."

"Thunderstorms _make_ you think about them. They electrify the
atmosphere. I see this girl so distinctly somehow: little, white thing;
big, gloomy eyes like storms in deep woods, and thin eyelids--you know,
that transparent, flower-petal kind, where you fancy you see the iris
looking through, like spirit eyes, always awake while the body's eyes
sleep; and--and lots of dark hair without much colour--hair like smoke.
I see her a suppressed volcano--but not extinct."

"The day may come when we'll wish she were extinct. But really you've
described her better than I could, though I stared quite a lot last
night. Come along, dear. It's six minutes to nine. Let's trot down to
breakfast."

We trotted; but early as I'd meant to be, and early as we were, the
O'Farrells and the Becketts were before us. How long they had been
together I don't know, but they must have finished their first
instalment of talk about Jim, for already they had got on to the subject
of plans.

"Well, it will be noble of you to help us with supplies. The promise
we've got from our American Red Cross man in Paris is limited,"
O'Farrell was saying in his voice to charm a statue off its pedestal, as
we came in. He sprang to shut the door for us, and gave me the look of
a cherubic fox, as much as to say, "You see where we've got to! But it's
all for the good cause. There's more than one person not as black as
he's painted!"

"Molly's watch must be slow," said Brian. "She thought it was only six
minutes to nine."

"She's right. But it seems the big clock in the hall outside our door is
fast," explained Father Beckett. "We heard it strike nine, so we hurried
down. The same thing happened with Mr. and Miss O'Farrell."

Another glance at me from the brilliant eyes! "Smart trick, eh?" they
telegraphed. I had to turn away, or I should have laughed. Surely never
before, on stage or in story--to say nothing of real life--was the
villain and blackmailer a mischievous, schoolboy imp, who made his
victims giggle at the very antics which caught them in his toils! But,
come to think of it, _I_ am a villain, and next door to a blackmailer!
Yet I always see myself (unless I stop to reflect on my sins) as a girl
like other girls, even better-natured and more agreeable and intelligent
than most. Perhaps, after all, villains don't run in types!

I soon learned that Father and Mother Beckett were rejoicing in the
acquisition of Jim's two friends as travelling companions. The
celebrated snapshots were among the cards O'Farrell had kept up his
sleeve. No doubt he'd waited to make sure of my attitude (though he
appeared to take it for granted) before deciding what use to make of his
best trumps. Seeing that I let slip my one and only chance of a
denunciation-scene, he flung away his also, with an air of dashing
chivalry which his sister and I alone were in a position to appreciate.
For me it had been a case of "speak now, or forever after hold your
peace." For him, a decision was not irrevocable, as he could denounce me
later, and plead that I had been spared at first, through kindness of
heart. But I did not stop to consider that detail. I saw the man and
myself as accomplices, on an equal footing, each having given quarter to
the other. As for the girl, I still thought of her hardly at all, in
spite of Brian's words. She was an unknown quantity, which I would waste
no time in studying, while the situation that opened bade me sharpen my
wits.

In the five or ten minutes before we joined them the Becketts had
consented--or offered--to help finance the Red Cross crusade. To achieve
this was worthy of the Irish-Italian's talents. But the little dining
room was littered with samples of the travellers' goods: clothing for
repatriated refugees, hospital supplies; papier-mâché splints, and even
legs; shoes, stockings, medicines; soup-tablets, and chocolates. The
O'Farrells might be doing evil, but good would apparently come from it
for many. I could hardly advise the Becketts against giving money, even
though I suspected that most of it would stick to O'Farrell's
fingers--even though I knew that the hope of it consoled Signor Giulio
di Napoli for leaving me in my safe niche. Yes, that was his
consolation, I realized. And--there might be something more which I did
not yet foresee. Still, being no better than he was, I was coward enough
to hold my peace.

This was the situation when we set out for Nancy, our big car running
slowly, in order not to outpace the rickety Red Cross cab. We were not
allowed by the military authorities to enter Toul, so our way took us
through delightful old Commercy, birthplace of Madeleines. Of course
the town had things to make it famous, long before the day of the
shell-shaped cakelets which all true sons and daughters of France adore.
Somebody founded it in the ninth century, when the bishops of Metz were
the great overlords of its lords. It was a serious little city then, and
Benedictine monks had a convent there in the Middle Ages. The fun began
only with the building of the château, and the coming of the Polish
Stanislas, the best loved and last Duke of Lorraine. He used to divide
his years between Nancy, Lunéville, and Commercy; and once upon a time,
in the third of these châteaux, the _chef_ had a _chère amie_ named
Madeleine. There was to be a fête, and the lover of Madeleine was
racking his tired brain to invent some new dainty for it. "_I_ have
thought of something which can make you famous," announced the young
woman, who was a budding genius as a cook. "But, _mon cher_, it is my
secret. Even to you I will not give it for nothing. I will sell it at a
price."

The _chef_ feigned indifference; but each moment counted. The Duke
always paid in praise and gold for a successful new dish, especially a
cake, for he was fond of sweets. When Madeleine boasted that her
"inspiration" took the form of a cake, the man could resist no longer.
The price asked was marriage--no less, and paid in advance! But it
turned out not excessive. The feather-light, shell-shaped cakes were the
success of the feast; and when Duke Stanislas heard their history, he
insisted that they should be named Madeleines--"after their mother."

Even in war days, "Madeleines de Commercy" is the first cry which greets
the traveller entering town. Jim, it seems, had a charming habit of
sending to his mother at home a specimen of the cake, or confiture, or
bonbon, for which each place he visited abroad was famed. These things
used to reach her in jars or boxes adorned with the coat-of-arms and
photographs of the city concerned--a procession of surprises: and I
think as she bought Madeleines of Commercy she moistened them with a few
tears.

       *       *       *       *       *

I expected to find Nancy beautiful, since for so long it was the capital
of proud Lorraine, but I hadn't guessed how beautiful or individual. Now
I shall always in future see the details of each splendid square and
park by shutting my eyes and calling the vision to come--as Brian does.

We drove straight to the door of a fascinating, old-fashioned hotel in
the most celebrated square of all, the Place Stanislas; but we didn't go
in. We couldn't stolidly turn our backs upon the magic picture, lit by a
sudden radiance of sunshine, for in another moment the fairy-like effect
might fade. Yes, "fairy-like" is the word; and as our two cars drew
up--like Dignity and Impudence--I had the feeling that we'd arrived in
the capital of fairyland to visit the king and queen.

It was I who described the scene to Brian: the eighteenth-century
perfection of the buildings, each one harmoniously proportioned to suit
the others; the town hall, with its wonderful clock; the palace; the
theatre, and the rest of the happy architectural family reared by Duke
Stanislas; each with its roof-decoration of carved stone vases, and
graceful statues miraculously missed so far by German bombs; the
lace-like filigree of wrought iron and gold on flag-hung balconies or
gates; the gilded Arch of Triumph leading into the garden of the Place
Carrière--a gorgeous glitter of decoration which won for Nancy her
_alias_, "City of Golden Doors," and now has to be "camouflaged" for
enemy aeroplanes. It was I who made the list of stage properties, but it
was Brian who filled the stage with actors and actresses, in their
proper parts.

He called upon the bronze statue of Stanislas to come down from its high
pedestal, and appear before us in flesh, happy to be Duke of Lorraine,
after all the dethronings and abdications in Poland; a most
respectable-looking monarch despite his adventures and disguises of the
past. We saw him in a powdered perruque, on his way to the ducal palace,
after some religious ceremony that had attracted crowds of loyal
Catholic Lorrainers: beside him, his good wife of bourgeoise soul but
romantic name, Catherine Opalinska, a comfortable woman, too large for
the fashionable _robe à paniers_; with the pair, their daughter Marie,
proud of the fate foretold by a fortune-teller, that she should be queen
of France; the Royal family, and the aristocrats of their northern
court; the smart Polish officers in uniform; the pretty, coquettish
women, and dark-faced musicians of Hungary; the Swedish philosophers,
the long-haired Italian artists; and above all, the beautiful Marquise
de Boufflers--rival of the Queen--with her little dogs and black pages;
all these "belonged" to the sunlit picture, where our modern figures
seemed out of place and time. The noble square, with its vast stretch of
gray stone pavement--worn satin-smooth--its carved gray façades of
palaces, picked out with gold, and its vista of copper beeches rose-red
against a sky of pearl, had been designed as a sober background for the
colour and fantastic fashion of the eighteenth century, whereas we and
others like us but added an extra sober note.

I noticed, as Brian sketched us his little picture of the past, that
Dierdre O'Farrell gazed at him, as if at some legendary knight in whose
reality she did not believe. It was the first time I had seen any change
in the sullen face, but it was a change to interest rather than
sympathy. She had the air of saying in her mind: "You look more like a
St. George, stepped down from a stained-glass window, than an ordinary
man of to-day. You seem to think about everyone else before yourself,
and to see a lot more with your blind eyes than we see. You pretend to
be happy, too, as if you wanted to set everybody a good example. But
it's all a pose--a pose! I shall study you till I find you out, a
trickster like the rest of us."

I felt a sudden stab of dislike for the girl, for daring to put Brian on
a level with herself--and me. I wanted to punish her somehow, wanted to
make the little wretch pay for her impertinent suspicions. I pushed past
her brusquely to stand between her and Brian. "Let's go into the hotel,"
I said. "It's more important just now to see what our rooms are like
than to play with the ghosts of dukes."

As if the slighted ghosts protested, there came a loud, reproachful wail
out of space. Everyone started, and stared in all directions. Then the
soberly clad, modern inhabitants of Nancy glanced skyward as they
crossed the square of Stanislas. Nobody hurried, yet nobody stopped.
Men, women, and children pursued their way at the same leisurely pace as
before, except that their chins were raised. I realized then that the
ghostly wail was the warning cry of a siren: "Take cover! Enemy
aeroplanes sighted!" But there was the monotony of boredom in the
voice, and in the air with which passers-by received the news.

"Oh, lord, here I go again!" the weary siren sighed.

"Third time to-day, _mon Dieu_!" grumbled a very old man to a very blasé
porter, who dutifully shot out of the hotel to rescue our luggage, if
not us, from possible though improbable danger. We let him haul in our
bags, but remained glued to the pavement, utterly absorbed and
fascinated, waiting for the show to begin.

We had not long to wait! For an instant the pearl-pale zenith shone
serenely void. Then, heralded by a droning noise as of giant bees, and a
vicious spitting of shrapnel, high overhead sailed a wide-winged black
bird, chased by four other birds bigger, because nearer earth. They
soared, circling closer, closer--two mounting high, two flying low, and
so passed westward, while the sky was spattered with shrapnel--long,
white streaks falling slow and straight, like tail-feathers of a shot
eagle.

There was scant time to speak, or even draw an excited breath after the
birds had disappeared, because they were back again, hovering so high
that they were changed to insects.

We ought to have scuttled into the hotel, but somehow we didn't move,
although people in the square seemed suddenly to realize the wisdom of
prudence. Some vanished into doorways, others walked faster--though not
one of those haughty Lorrainers would condescend to run. Forgetful of
ourselves, I was admiring their pride, when an angry voice made me jump.

"You pretend that everything you do, good or bad, is for your brother's
sake, yet you let him risk his life--a _blind_ man!--out here in the
street with bombs and shrapnel dropping every instant!"

It was Dierdre O'Farrell who spoke, and we glared into each other's eyes
like two Kilkenny cats--or a surprised Kilkenny cat and a spitfire
Kilkenny kitten.

A moment before, I had been longing to strike at her. Now it was she who
struck at me; and it was too much, that it should be in defence of my
own brother! The primitive fishwife within me rose to the surface. "Mind
your own business!" I rudely flung at her: and slipping my arm under
Brian's, in a voice of curdled cream begged him to come with me indoors.

The others followed, and about three seconds later a bomb fell in front
of the hotel. It was a "dud," and did not explode, but it made a hole in
the pavement and sent a jet of splintered stone into the air.

Perhaps the girl had saved us from death, or at least from disfiguring
wounds, but I was in no mood to thank her for that. I was _glad_ I had
been a fishwife, and I thought Brian lacked his usual discernment in
attributing hidden qualities to such a person as Dierdre O'Farrell.

"Something's bound to break, if we don't part soon!" I told myself.



CHAPTER XII


Nancy is one of "Jim's towns," as Mother and Father Beckett say. When,
with Brian's help, they began mapping out their route, they decided to
"give something worth while" to the place, and to all the ruined region
round about, when they had learned what form would be best for their
donation to take. Some friend in Paris gave them a letter to the Préfet,
and we had not been in Nancy an hour when he and his wife called.

I'd never met a real, live préfet. The word sounded stiff and official.
When Mother Beckett tremulously asked me to act as interpreter, I dimly
expected to meet two polite automata, as little human as creatures of
flesh and blood can be. Instead, I saw a perfectly delightful pair of
Parisians, with the warm, kind manner one thinks of as southern. They
were frankly pleased that a millionaire's purse promised to open for
Nancy. Monsieur le Préfet offered himself to the Becketts as guide on a
sightseeing expedition next day, and Madame, the Préfet's wife, proposed
to exhibit her two thousand children, old and young, refugees housed in
what once had been barracks. "The Germans pretend to believe they are
barracks still, full of soldiers, as an excuse for bombs," she said.
"But you shall see! And if you wish--if you have time--we will take you
to see also what the Boches have done to some of our other towns--ah,
but beautiful towns, of an importance! Lunéville, and Gerbévillers, and
more--many more. You should know what they are like before you go on to
the Grande Couronne, where Nancy was saved in 1914."

Of course the Becketts "wished." Of course they had time. "Molly, tell
Mr. and Mrs. Préfet we've got more time than anything else!" said the
old man eagerly. "Oh, and I guess we've got a little money, too, enough
to spread around among those other places, as well as here. This is
going to be something like what Jim would want at last!"

When the Préfet and his wife rose to go, they invited not only the
Becketts but Brian and me to dine at their house that night. Mother
Beckett, on the point of accepting for us all, hesitated. The hesitation
had to be explained: and the explanation was--the O'Farrells. I had
hoped we might be spared them, but it was not to be. Our host and
hostess, hearing of the travellers of the Red Cross, insisted that they
must come, too. Mrs. Beckett was sure they would both be charmed, but as
it turned out, she was only half right. Mr. O'Farrell was charmed. His
sister had a headache, and intended to spend the evening in her room.

Padre, if I wrote stories, I should like to write one with that préfet
and his whole family for the heroes and heroines of it!

There is a small son. There are five daughters, each prettier than the
others, the youngest a tiny _filette_, the eldest twenty at most; and
the mother in looks an elder sister. When the war broke out they were
living in Paris, the father in some high political post: but he was by
ancestry a man of Lorraine, and his first thought was to help defend the
home of his forbears. The Meurthe-et-Moselle, with Nancy as its centre
and capital, was a terrible danger zone, with the sword of the enemy
pointed at its heart, but the lover of Lorraine asked to become préfet
in place of a man about to leave, and his family rallied round him.
There at Nancy, they have been ever since those days, through all the
bombardments by Big Berthas and Taubes. When houses and hotels were
being blown to bits by naval guns, thirty-five kilometres away, the
daily life of the family went on as if in peace. As a man, the Préfet
longed to send his wife and children far away. As a servant of France he
thought best to let them stop, to "set an example of calmness." And if
they had been bidden to go, they would still have stayed.

The Préfet's house is one of the eighteenth-century palaces of the Place
Stanislas; and in the story I'd like to write, I should put a
description of their drawing room, and the scene after dinner that
night.

Imagine a background of decorative walls, adorned with magnificent
portraits (one of the best is Stanislas, and better still is Louis XVI,
a proud baby in the arms of a handsome mother); imagine beautiful Louis
XV chairs, tables, and sofas scattered about, with the light of
prism-hung chandeliers glinting on old brocades and tapestries: flowers
everywhere, in Chinese bowls and tall vases; against this background a
group of lovely girls multiplied by many mirrors into a large company;
be-medalled officers in pale blue uniforms, handing coffee to the
ladies, or taking from silver dishes carried by children the delicious
macaroons which are to Nancy what Madeleines are to Commercy. Imagine
long windows opening into a garden: rosy lamplight streaming out, silver
moonlight streaming in; music; the wonderful voice of a man (Julian
O'Farrell) singing the "Marseillaise," the "Star-Spangled Banner," and
"Tipperary." Then into the midst of this breaking the tiresome whine of
the siren.

"What? A fourth time to-day?" cries somebody. "These creatures will wear
out their welcome if they're not careful!"

A laugh follows, to drown the bark of shrapnel, and a general shrugging
of the shoulders. But suddenly comes a cry that _la petite_--the baby
daughter of the house, sitting up in our honour--has run into the
garden.

The elder girls are not afraid for themselves, the great bombardments
have given them a quiet contempt of mere Taubes. But for the little
sister!--that is different. Instantly it seems that all the bombs
Germany has ever made may be falling like iron rain on that curly head
out there among the autumn lilies. Everybody rushes to the rescue: and
there is the child, sweet as a cherub and cool as a cucumber, in the
din. She stands on the lawn, chin in air, baby thumb on baby nose for
the Taube caught in a silver web of searchlights.

"_Sale oiseau!_" her defiant cry shrills up. "Just like you, to come on
my grown-up evening! But you shan't spoil it. No, sister, I don't want
to go in. I came out to say good-night to the chickens and rabbits, and
tell them not to be afraid."

Behind the lilies and late roses and laurels is quite a menagerie of
domestic animals, housed among growing potatoes, beans, and tomatoes.
_C'est la guerre!_ But rabbits and chickens are robbed of their
consolation; the baby is bundled into the house; and, once she is
safe--safe as any one can be safe in bombarded Nancy!--nobody thinks
about the air raid. _Que voulez-vous?_ If one thought about these
things, smiles a blonde girl in white, they might really get upon one's
nerves, and that would never do!

"It is this moonlight," she explains. "They will be back again once or
twice to-night, perhaps. But the streets will be as full as ever of
_poilus en permission_, walking with their sweethearts, in spite of the
hateful things!"

       *       *       *       *       *

One makes one's adieux early in war times; but the moonlight was so
wonderful on that Taube-ridden night that Brian said he felt it like a
cool silver shower on his eyelids. "I believe I'm developing
night-eyes!" he laughed to me, as we walked ahead of the Becketts and
Julian O'Farrell, on our way across the gleaming square to our hotel.
"Surely there won't be another raid for an hour or two? Let's take a
walk. Let's go into the old town, and try to see some ghosts."

"Yes, let's!" I echoed.

I said good-night sweetly to the Becketts and stiffly to O'Farrell.
Brian was equally cordial to all three, and I feared that O'Farrell
might be encouraged to offer his company. But his self-assurance stopped
short of that. He went meekly into the darkened hotel with the old
couple, and I turned away triumphant, with my arm in Brian's.

The clock of the Town Hall struck ten, chimed, waited for the church
clock to approve and confirm, then repeated all that it had said and
sung a minute before.

We were going to look for ghosts of kings and dukes and queens; and like
ghosts ourselves, we stepped from moonlit shores into pools of shadow,
and back to moonlit shores again; past the golden Arch of Triumph, which
Stanislas built in honour of his daughter's marriage with Louis XV;
through the Carrière, where the tops of tall copper-beeches caught the
light with dull red gleams, like the glow of a carbuncle; past the
sleeping palace of Stanislas, into the old "nursery garden" of the
Pepinière, to the sombre Porte de la Craffe whose two huge, pointed
towers and great wall guard the old town of Duke René II.

There we stopped, because of all places this dark corner was the place
for Nancy's noblest ghost to walk, René the Romantic, friend of Americo
Vespucius when Americo needed friends; René the painter, whose pictures
still adorn old churches of Provence, where he was once a captive: René,
whose memory never dies in Nancy, though his body died 500 years ago.

What if he should rise from his tomb in the church of the Cordeliers, or
come down off his little bronze horse in the Place St. Epvre as ghosts
may by moonlight, to walk with his fair wife Isabella through the
huddled streets of the old town, gazing at the wreckage made by the
greatest war of history? What would he think of civilization, he who
held his dukedom against the star warrior of the century, Charles the
Bold? War was lawless enough in his day. When avenging a chancellor's
murder, the Nancians hanged 100 Burgundian officers on a church tower
for the besiegers outside the city wall to see. But the "noble Gauls"
whom Julius Cæsar called "knights of chivalry," would have drawn the
line then at showering bombs from the bay on women and children. We
fancied, Brian and I, that after a walk round Nancy René and Isabella
would retire, sadder and wiser ghosts, content to have finished their
lives in gentler times than ours. Back into the shadows might they fade,
to sleep again, and take up their old dream where the noise of
twentieth-century shrapnel had snapped its thread. Their best dream must
be, we thought, of their battle of Nancy: Charles the Bold on his black
war-horse, surrounded by Burgundian barons in armour, shouting, and
waving their banners with standards of ivory and gold; Charles of the
dark locks, and brilliant eyes which all men feared and some women
loved; Charles laughing with joy in the chance of open battle at last,
utterly confident of its end, because the young duke--once his
prisoner--had reinforced a small army with mercenaries, Swiss and
Alsatians. At most René had 15,000 soldiers, and Charles believed his
equal band of Burgundians worth ten times the paid northerners, as man
to man.

From the church tower where Charles's men had hung--where St. Epvre
stands now--René could see the enemy troops assembling, headed by the
Duke of Burgundy, in his glittering helmet adorned with its device of an
open-jawed lion. He could even see the gorgeous tent whose tapestried
magnificence spies had reported (a magnificence owned by Nancy's museum
in our day!), and there seemed to his eyes no end to the defile of
spears, of strange engines for scaling walls, and glittering
battle-axes. One last prayer, a blessing by the pale priest, and young
René's own turn to lead had come--a slight adversary for great Charles,
but with a heart as bold! The trumpet blast of La Rivière, sounding the
charge of Lorraine, went to his head like wine. He laughed when Herter's
mountain men began to sing "Le taureau d'Uri" and "La vache
d'Unterwald," to remind the proud Burgundian of his defeats at Granson
and Morat. Then came the crash of armour against armour, blade against
blade, and the day ended for Nancy according to René's prayers. The
southerners fled and died; and two days later, René was gazing down at
the drowned body of Charles the Bold, dragged out of a pond. Yes, a good
dream for ghosts of the chivalrous age to retire into, and shut the
door! But for us, in our throbbing flesh and blood, this present was
worth suffering in for the glory of the future.

There were other ghosts to meet in Nancy's old town of narrow streets
where moonlight trickled in a narrow rill. Old, old ghosts, far older
than the town as we saw it: Odebric of the eleventh century, who owned
the strongest castle in France and the most beautiful wife, and fought
the bishops of Metz and Treves together, because they did not approve of
the lady; Henri VI of England riding through the walled city with his
bride, Marguerite, by his side: ghostly funeral processions of dead
dukes, whose strange, Oriental obsequies were famed throughout the
world; younger and more splendid ghosts: Louis XIII and Richelieu
entering in triumph when France had fought and won Lorraine, only to
give it back by bargaining later; ghosts of stout German generals who,
in 1871, had "bled the town white"; but greater than all ghosts, the
noble reality of Foch and Castlenau, who saved Nancy in 1914, on the
heights of La Grande Couronne.

As we walked back to the new town, dazed a little by our deep plunge
into the centuries, I heard my name called from across the street. "Miss
O'Malley--wait, please! It's Julian O'Farrell. Have you seen my sister?"

Brian and I stopped short, and O'Farrell joined us, panting and out of
breath. "She's not with you?" he exclaimed. "I hoped she would be. I've
been searching everywhere--she wasn't in the hotel when I got home, and
it's close to midnight."



CHAPTER XIII


I felt unsympathetic, and wouldn't have cared if Miss Dierdre O'Farrell
had flown off on a broomstick, or been kidnapped by a German aviator. My
heart, however, was sure that nothing had happened and I suspected that
her brother had trumped up an excuse to join us. It vexed me that Brian
should show concern. If only he knew how the girl had looked at him a
few hours ago!

"Couldn't they tell you in the hotel at what time she went out?" he
enquired.

But no! According to O'Farrell, his sister had not been seen. He had
found her door unlocked, the room empty, and her hat and coat missing.
"She told me she was going to bed," he added. "But the bed hasn't been
disturbed."

"Nor need you be, I think," said I. "Perhaps your sister wants to
frighten you. Children love that sort of thing. It draws attention to
themselves. And sometimes they don't outgrow the fancy."

"Especially Suffragettes and Sinn Feiners," O'Farrell played up to me,
unoffended. "Still, as a brother of one, I'm bound to search, if it
takes all night. A sister's a sister. And mine is quite a valuable
asset." He tossed me this hint with a Puck-like air of a private
understanding established between us. Yes, "Puck-like" describes him: a
Puck at the same time merry and malicious, never to be counted upon!

"I feel that Miss O'Farrell went out to take a walk because she was
restless, and perhaps not very happy," Brian reproached us both.
"Something may have happened--remember we're in the war zone."

"No one in Nancy's likely to forget that!" said I, dully resenting his
defence of the enemy. "Brushing bombs out of their back hair every ten
minutes or so! And listen--don't you hear big guns booming now, along
the front? The German lines are only sixteen kilometres from here."

Brian didn't answer. His brain was pursuing Dierdre O'Farrell, groping
after her through the night. "If she went out before that air raid,
while we were at the Préfet's," he suggested, "she may have had to take
refuge somewhere--she may have been hurt----"

"By Jove!" Puck broke in. "It scares me when you say that. You're a--a
sort--of _prophet_, you know! I must find out what hospitals there
are----"

"We'll go with you to the hotel," Brian promised. "They'll know there
about the hospitals. And if the Préfet's still up, he'll phone for us
officially, I'm sure."

"It's you who are the practical one, after all!" cried O'Farrell. And I
guessed from a sudden uprush of Irish accent that his anxiety had grown
sincere.

We hurried home; Brian seeming almost to guide us, for without his
instinct for the right way we would twice have taken a wrong turning. As
we came into the Place Stanislas, still a pale oasis of moonlight, I saw
standing in front of the hotel two figures, black as if cut out of
velvet. One, that of a man, was singularly tall and thin, as a
Mephistopheles of the stage. The other was that of a woman in a long
cloak, small and slight as a child of fourteen. Dierdre O'Farrell, of
course! It could be no one else. But who was the man? A dim impression
that the figure was vaguely familiar, or had been familiar long ago,
teased my brain. But surely I could never have seen it before.

"Hurrah! There she is!" cried O'Farrell, "alive and on her pins!"

At the sound of his voice, the velvet silhouettes stirred. They had
turned to look at us, and a glint of moonlight made the two faces white
and blank as masks. O'Farrell waved his hand, and I was obliged to
quicken my steps to keep pace with Brian: "I suppose she got lost--serve
her right!--and the beanpole has escorted her home," grumbled Puck; but
as he spoke, the beanpole in question hurriedly made a gesture of
salute, and stalked away with enormous strides. In an instant he was
engulfed by a shadow-wave and his companion was left to meet us alone. I
thought it would be like her to whisk into the hotel and vanish before
we could arrive, but she did not. She stood still, with a fierce little
air of defiance; and as we came near I saw that under the thrown-back
cloak her left arm was in a white sling.

Her brother saw it also. "Hullo, what have you been up to?" he wanted to
know. "You've given us the scare of our lives!"

"Thank you," the girl said. "Please speak for yourself!"

"He may speak for us, too," Brian assured her. "We thought of the air
raid. And even now, I don't feel as if we'd been wrong. Your voice
sounds as if you were in pain. You've been hurt!"

"It's nothing at all," she answered shortly, but her tone softened
slightly for Brian. Even _she_ had her human side, it seemed. "A window
splintered near where I was, and I got a few bits of glass in my arm.
They're out now--every one. A doctor came, and looked after me. You see,
Jule!" and she nodded her head at the sling. "Now I'm going in to bed.
Good-night!"

"Wait, and let my sister help you," Brian proposed. "She's a splendid
nurse. I know she'll be delighted."

"Sweet of her!" sneered the girl. "But _I'm_ a trained nurse, too, and I
can take care of myself. It's only my left arm that's hurt, and a
scratch at that. I don't need any help from any one."

"Was that man we saw the doctor who put you in your sling?" asked
"Jule," in the blunt way brothers have of catching up their sisters.

"Yes, he was," she grudged.

"Why did he run away? Didn't he want to be thanked?"

"He did not. Besides----"

"Besides--what?"

"He particularly didn't wish to meet--one of our party. Now, I shan't
say a word more about him. So you needn't ask questions. I'm tired. I
want to go to bed."

With this ultimatum, she bolted into the hotel, leaving the three of us
speechless for a few seconds. I suppose each was wondering, "Am _I_ the
one the doctor didn't want to meet?" Then I remembered my impression of
having known that tall, thin figure long ago, and I was seized with
certainty that the mysterious person had fled from me. At all events, I
was sure Miss O'Farrell wished me to think so by way of being as
aggravating as she possibly could.

"Well, I'm _blessed_!" Puck exploded.

"Are you?" I doubted. And I couldn't resist adding, "I thought your
sister always did what you wanted?"

"In the end she does," he upheld his point. "But--just lately--she's
bewitched! Some saint is needed to remove the ban."

I thought the saint was only too near her hand! Whether that hand would
scratch or strike I couldn't guess; but one gesture was as dangerous as
the other.

What with thinking of my own horridness and other people's, wondering
about the shadow-man, and being roused by the usual early morning air
raid, bed didn't mother me with its wonted calming influence. Excitement
was a tonic for the next day, however; and a bath and coffee braced me
for an expedition with the Préfet's wife and daughters, and the
Becketts. They took us over the two huge _casernes_, turned into homes
of refuge for two thousand people from the invaded towns and villages of
Lorraine: old couples, young women (of course the young men are
fighting), and children. We saw the skilled embroiderers embroidering,
and the unskilled making sandbags for the trenches; we saw the schools;
and the big girls at work upon trousseaux for their future, or happily
cooking in the kitchens. We saw the gardens where the refugees tended
their own growing fruit and vegetables. We saw the church--once a
gymnasium--and an immense cinema theatre, decorated by the ladies of
Nancy, with the Préfet's wife and daughters at their head. On the way
home we dropped into the biggest of Nancy's beautiful shops, to behold
the work of last night's bombs. The whole skylight-roof had been smashed
at dawn; but the glass had been swept away, and pretty girls were
selling pretty hats and frocks as if nothing had happened--except that
the wind of heaven was blowing their hair across their smiling eyes.

After luncheon at which Dierdre O'Farrell didn't appear, the Préfet took
us to the streets which had suffered most from the big gun
bombardment--fine old houses destroyed with a completeness of which the
wickedest aeroplane bombs are incapable. "Any minute they may begin
again," the Préfet said. "But sufficient for the day! We suffered so
much in a few hours three years ago, that nothing which has happened to
us since has counted. Nancy was saved for us, to have and hold. Wounded
she might be, and we also. But she was saved. We could bear the rest."

We made him tell us about those "few hours" of suffering: and this was
the story. It was on the 7th of September, 1914, when the fate of Nancy
hung in the balance. An immense horde of Germans came pouring along the
Seille, crossing the river by four bridges: Chambley, Moncel, Brin, and
Bioncourt. Everyone knew that the order was to take Nancy at any price,
and open the town for the Kaiser to march in, triumphant, as did Louis
XIII of France centuries ago. William was said to be waiting with 10,000
men of the Prussian Guard, in the wood of Morel, ready for his moment.
Furiously the Germans worked to place their huge cannon on the hills of
Doncourt, Bourthecourt, and Rozebois. Villages burned like card houses.
Church bells tolled as their towers rocked and fell. Forests blazed, and
a rain of bombs poured over the country from clouds of flame and smoke.
Amance was lost, and with it hope also; for beyond, the road lay open
for a rush on Nancy, seemingly past the power of man to defend. Still,
man _did_ defend! If the French could hold out against ten times their
number for a few hours, there was one chance in a thousand that
reinforcements might arrive. After Velaine fell next day, and the defile
between the two mountain-hills of Amance swarmed with yelling Uhlans,
the French still held. They did not hope, but they fought. How they
fought! And at the breaking point, as if by miracle, appeared the
reinforcing _tirailleurs_.

"This," said the Préfet, "was only one episode in the greatest battle
ever fought for Nancy, but it was the episode in which the town was
saved.

"You know," he went on, "that Lorrainers have been ardent Catholics for
centuries. In the Church of Bon-Secours there's a virgin which the
people credit with miraculous power. Many soldiers in the worst of the
fighting were sure of victory, because the virgin had promised that
never should Nancy be taken again by any enemy whatever."

It was late when we came back to the hotel, and while I was translating
the Becketts' gratitude into French for the Préfet, the O'Farrells
arrived from another direction. The brother looked pleased to see us;
the sister looked distressed. I fancied that she had been forced or
persuaded to point out the scene of last night's adventure, and was
returning chastened from the visit. To introduce her to the Préfet was
like introducing a dog as it strains at the leash, but Puck performed
the rite, and explained her sling.

"Hurt in the air raid?" the Préfet echoed. "I hope, Mademoiselle, that
you went to a good doctor. That he----"

"The doctor came to her on the spot," replied Puck, in his perfect
French. "It seems you have doctors at Nancy who walk the streets, when
there's a raid, wandering about to pick up jobs, and refusing payment."

The Préfet laughed. "Can it be," he exclaimed, "that Mademoiselle has
been treated by the Wandering Jew? Oh, not the original character, but
an extraordinary fellow who has earned that name in our neighbourhood
since the war."

"Was that what he called himself?" O'Farrell turned to Dierdre. I
guessed that Puck's public revelations were vengeance upon her for
unanswered questions.

"He called himself nothing at all," the girl replied.

"Ah," said the Préfet, "then he _was_ the Wandering Jew! Let me see--I
think you are planning to go to Gerbéviller and Lunéville and Vitrimont
to-morrow. Most likely you'll meet him at one of those places. And when
you hear his story, you'll understand why he haunts the neighbourhood
like a beneficent spirit."

"But must we wait to hear the story? Please tell us now," I pleaded.
"I'm so curious!"

This was true. I burned with curiosity. Also, fatty degeneration of the
heart prompted me to annoy Dierdre O'Farrell. To spite _me_, she had
refused to talk of the doctor. I was determined to hear all about him to
spite _her_. You see to what a low level I have fallen, dear Padre!

The Préfet said that if we would go home with him and have tea in the
garden (German aeroplanes permitting) he would tell us the tale of the
Wandering Jew. We all accepted, save Dierdre, who began to stammer an
excuse; but a look from her brother nipped it in the bud. He certainly
has an influence over the girl, against which she struggles only at her
strongest. To-day she looked pale and weak, and he could do what he
liked with her.

He liked to make her take tea at the Préfet's, doubtless because he'd
have felt bound to escort the invalid to her room, had she insisted on
going there!

The story of the Wandering Jew would be a strange one, anywhere and
anyhow. But it's more than strange to me, because it is linked with my
past life. Still, I won't tell it from my point of view. I'll begin with
the Préfet's version.

The "Wandering Jew" really _is_ a Jew, of the best and most intellectual
type. His name is Paul Herter. His father was a man of Metz, who had
brought to German Lorraine a wife from Lunéville. Paul is thirty-five
now, so you see he wasn't born when the Metz part of Lorraine became
German. His parents--French at heart--taught him secretly to love
France, and hate German domination. As he grew up, Paul's ambition was
to be a great surgeon. He wished to study, not in Germany, but in Paris
and London. These hopes, however, were of the "stuff that dreams are
made of," for when the father died, the boy had to work at anything he
could get for a bare livelihood. It wasn't till he was over twenty-five
that he'd scraped together money for the first step toward his career.
He went to Paris: studied and starved; then to London. It was there I
met him, but that bit of the story fits in later. He was thought well
of at "Bart's," and everybody who knew him was surprised when suddenly
he married one of the younger nurses, an English girl, and vanished with
her from London. Presently the pair appeared in Metz, at the mother's
house. Herter seemed sad and discouraged, uncertain of his future, and
just at this time, through German Lorraine ran rumours of war "to begin
when the harvests should be over." Paul and his mother took counsel.
Both were French at heart. They determined to leave all they had in the
world at Metz, rather than Paul should be called up to serve Prussia.
The three contrived to cross the frontier. Paul offered himself to the
Foreign Legion; his wife volunteered to nurse in a military hospital at
Nancy; and Madame Herter, mère took refuge in her girlhood's home at
Lunéville, where her old father still lived.

Then came the rush of the Huns across the frontier. Paul's wife was
killed by a Zeppelin bomb which wrecked her hospital. At Lunéville the
mother and grandfather perished in their own house, burned to the ground
by order of the Bavarian colonel, Von Fosbender.

Paul Herter had not been in love with his wife. There was a mystery
about the marriage, but her fate filled him with rage and horror. His
mother he had adored, and the news of her martyrdom came near to driving
him insane. In the madness of grief he vowed vengeance against all
Bavarians who might fall into his hands.

He was fighting then in the Legion; but shortly after he was gravely
wounded. His left foot had to be amputated; and from serving France as a
soldier, he began to serve as a surgeon. He developed astonishing skill
in throat and chest operations, succeeding in some which older and more
experienced men refused to attempt. Months passed, and into his busy
life had never come the wished-for chance of vengeance; but all who knew
him knew that Herter's hatred of Bavarians was an obsession. He was not
one who would forget; and when a lot of seriously wounded Bavarians came
into the field-hospital where he was at work, the two young doctors
under him looked one another in the eyes. Even the stretcher-bearers had
heard of Herter's vow, but there was nothing to do save to bring in the
stream of wounded, and trust the calm instinct of the surgeon to control
the hot blood of the man. Still, the air was electric with suspense, and
heavy with dread of some vague tragedy: disgrace for the hospital, ruin
for Herter.

But the Jewish surgeon (he wasn't called "the Wandering Jew" in those
days) caught the telepathic message of fear, and laughed grimly at what
men were thinking of him. "You need not be afraid," he said to his
assistants. "These _canaille_ are sacred for me. They do not count as
Bavarians."

Nevertheless, the young doctors would have tended the wounded prisoners
themselves, leaving Herter to care for his countrymen alone. But one of
the Bavarians was beyond their skill: a young lieutenant. His wound was
precisely "Herter's specialty"--a bullet lodged in the heart, if he was
to be saved, Herter alone could save him. Would Herter operate? He had
only to say the case was hopeless, and refuse to waste upon it time
needed for others.

Perhaps he knew what suspicion would dog him through life if he gave
this verdict. At all events, he chose to operate. "Bring me the brute,"
he growled: and reluctantly the brute was brought--a very youthful
brute, with a face of such angelic charm that even Herter was struck by
it. He had steeled himself to get through a hateful job; but for
him--like most men of his race--beauty held a strong appeal. Suddenly he
wished to save the boy with the fair curly hair and arched dark brows.
Here was a German--a Bavarian--who could have no vileness in him yet!

The surgeon got ready his instruments for the operation, which must be
done quickly, if at all. The boy was unconscious, but every moment or
two he broke out in convulsive delirium, giving answers to questions
like a man talking in sleep. "Hilda! Hilda!" he cried again and again.
"My Hilda, do not ask me that. Thou wouldst not love me if I told thee!
Thou wouldst hate me forever!"

"What have you done that Hilda should hate you?" Paul enquired, as he
waited for the anæsthetic. Ether was running short. The wounded had to
take their turn that day.

"Lunéville! Lunéville!" shrieked the Bavarian.

Everyone heard the cry. The two young doctors, knowing Herter's history,
turned sick. This was worse than their worst fears! But they could do
nothing. To speak, to try to act, would be to insult the surgeon. They
saw that he was ghastly pale. "What happened at Lunéville?" he went on.

"Here is the ether," a voice spoke in haste. But Paul heard only the
Bavarian.

"Oh, God, the old woman! Her face at the window. I can't forget.
Hilda--she wouldn't come out. It wasn't my fault. The Colonel's orders.
An old man, too. We saw them in the fire. We had to pass on. Hilda,
forgive!"

"Was it a corner house of the Rue Princesse Marie?" asked Herter.

"Yes--yes, a corner house," groaned the boy of the beautiful face.

Herter gave a sign to the man who had brought the ether. A moment more,
and the ravings of the Bavarian were silenced. The operation began.

The others had their hands full of their own work, yet with a kind of
agonized clairvoyance they were conscious of all that Herter did. The
same thought was in the minds of both young doctors. They exchanged
impressions afterward. "He'll cut the boy's heart out and tread it
underfoot!"

But never had the Jewish surgeon from Metz performed a major operation
with more coolness or more perfect skill. Had he chosen to let his wrist
tremble at the critical second, revenge would easily have been his. But
awaiting the instant between one beat of the heart and another, he
seized the shred of shrapnel lodged there, and closed up the throbbing
breast. The boy would live. He had not only spared, but saved, the life
of one who was perhaps his mother's murderer.

During the whole day he worked on untiringly and--it seemed--unmoved.
Then, at the end of the last operation, he dropped as if he had been
shot through the brain.

This was the beginning of a long, peculiar illness which no doctor who
attended him could satisfactorily diagnose. He was constantly delirious,
repeating the words of the Bavarian: "Hilda--Hilda!--the corner
house--Rue Princesse Marie--Lunéville!" and it was feared that, if he
recovered, he would be insane. After many weeks, however, he came slowly
back to himself--a changed self, but a sane self. Always odd in his
appearance--very tall and dark and thin--he had wasted to a walking
skeleton, and his black hair had turned snow-white. He had lost his
self-confidence, and dreaded to take up work again lest he should fail
in some delicate operation. Long leave was granted, and he was advised
by doctors who were his friends to go south, to sunshine and peace. But
Herter insisted that the one hope for ultimate cure was to stay in
Lorraine. He took up his quarters in what was left of a house near the
ruin of his mother's old home, in Lunéville, but he was never there for
long at a time. He was provided with a pass to go and come as he liked,
being greatly respected and pitied at headquarters; and wherever there
was an air raid, there speedily and mysteriously appeared Paul Herter
among the victims.

His artificial foot did not prevent his riding a motor-bicycle, and on
this he arrived, no matter at what hour of night or day, at any town
within fifty miles of Lunéville, when enemy airmen had been at work. He
gave his services unpaid to poor and rich alike; and owing to the dearth
of doctors not mobilized, the towns concerned welcomed him thankfully.
All the surgeon's serene confidence in himself returned in these
emergencies, and he was doing invaluable work. People were grateful, but
the man's ways and looks were so strange, his restlessness so tragic,
that they dubbed him "le Juif Errant."

Now, Padre, I have come to the right place to bring in my part of this
story.

While I was training at "Bart's," I met a doctor named Paul Herter. Some
of the girls used to call him the "German Jew" but we all knew that his
Germanness was only an accident of fate, through a war before he was
born, and that he was passionately French at heart. He was clever--a
genius--but moody and queer, and striking to look at. He would have been
ugly but for a pair of beautiful brown eyes, wistful sometimes as a
dog's. One of our nurses was in love with him, but he used to keep out
of her way when he could. He was said not to care for women, and I was a
little flattered that a man so well thought of "at the top" should take
notice of me. When I look back on myself, I seem to have been very young
then!

Dr. Herter used to meet me, as if by accident, when I was off duty, and
we went for long walks, talking French together; I enjoyed that!
Besides, there was nothing the man didn't know. He was a kind of
encyclopædia of all the great musicians and artists of the world since
the Middle Ages; and was so much older than I, that I didn't think about
his falling in love. I knew I was pretty, and that beauty of all sorts
was a cult with him. I supposed that he liked looking at me--and that
his fancy would end there. But it didn't. There came a dreadful day when
he accused me of encouraging him purposely, of leading him on to believe
that I cared. This was a real shock. I was sorry--sorry! But he said
such horrid things that I was hurt and angry, too. I said horrid things
in my turn. This scene happened in the street. I asked him to leave me,
and he did at once, without looking back. I can see him now, striding
off in the twilight! No wonder the tall black silhouette in the Place
Stanislas looked familiar. But the man is thinner now, and walks with a
slight limp.

The next thing I heard of him after our break was that he'd married
Nurse Norman (the one who was in love with him) and that they'd left
England. Whether he'd married the girl in a rage against me, or because
he was sorry for her (she'd just then fallen into deep disgrace, through
giving a patient the wrong medicine), I didn't know. I can't say I
didn't care, for I often thought of the man and wondered what had become
of him, though I don't remember ever writing about him to you. He was
but indirectly concerned with my life, and maybe it was in the back of
my mind that I might get a scolding from you if I told you the tale.

The moment the name of "Paul Herter" was mentioned in that pleasant
garden at Nancy, the whole episode of those old days at "Bart's" came
back, and I guessed why the tall figure had darted away from Dierdre
O'Farrell as we came in sight. He must have offered to see the girl
safely home, after dressing her wound (probably at some chemist's), and
she had told him about her fellow-travellers. Naturally my name sent him
flying like a shot from a seventy-five! But I can't help hoping we may
meet by accident. There's a halo round the man's head for me since I've
heard that tragic story. Before, he was only a queer genius. Now, he's a
hero. Will he turn away, I wonder, if I walk up to him and hold out my
hand?

I am longing, for a double reason, to see Vitrimont and Gerbéviller and
Lunéville, since I've learned that at one of those places Paul Herter
may appear.



CHAPTER XIV


We were three automobiles strong when we went out of Nancy, along what
they call the "Lunéville road." That was yesterday, as I write, and
already it seems long ago! The third and biggest car belonged to the
Préfet; gray and military looking, driven by a soldier in uniform; and
this time Dierdre O'Farrell was with us. I was wondering if she went
"under orders," or if she wished to see the sights we were to see--among
them, perhaps, her elusive doctor!

We turned south, leaving town, and presently passed--at
Dombasle--astonishingly huge salt-works, with rubble-heaps tall as minor
pyramids. On each apex stood a thing like the form of a giant black
woman in a waggling gas-mask and a helmet. I could have found out what
these weird engines were, no doubt, but I preferred to remember them as
mysterious monsters.

At a great, strange church of St. Nicolas, in the old town of St.
Nicolas-du-Port, we stopped, because the Préfet's daughters had told us
of a magic stone in the pavement which gives good fortune to those who
set foot on it. Only when several of us were huddled together, with a
foot each on the sacred spot, were we told that it meant marriage before
the new year. If the spell works, Dierdre O'Farrell, Brian, and I will
all be married in less than four months. But St. Nicolas is a false
prophet where we are concerned. Brian and I will never marry. Even if
poor Brian should fall head over ears in love, he wouldn't ask a girl to
share his broken life: he has told me this. As for me, I can never love
any man after Jim Beckett. The least penance I owe is to be faithful
forever to his memory and my own falsehood!

St. Nicolas is the patron saint of the neighbourhood, so it's right that
from his little town and his big church all the country round should
open out to the eye, as if to do him homage.

From the hill of Léomont we could see to the south the far-off, famous
Forest of Parroy; away to the north, the blue heights of La Grande
Couronne, where the fate of Nancy was decided in 1914; to the west, a
purple haze like a mourning wreath of violets hung over the valley of
the Meurthe, and the tragic little tributary river Mortagne; beyond, we
could picture with our mind's eyes the Moselle and the Meuse.

But Léomont was not a place where one could stand coldly thinking of
horizons. It drew all thoughts to itself, and to the drama played out
upon its miniature mountain. There was fought one of the fiercest and
most heroic single battles of the war.

We had to desert the cars, and walk up a rough track to the ruined
farmhouse which crowned the hill; a noble, fortified farmhouse that must
have had the dignity of a château before the great fight which shattered
its ancient walls. Now it has the dignity of a mausoleum. Long ago, in
Roman days when Diana, Goddess of the Moon, was patron of Lunéville and
the country round, a temple of stone and marble in her honour and a
soaring fountain crowned the high summit of Léomont, for all the world
to see. Her influence is said to reign over the whole of Lorraine, from
that day to this, St. Nicholas being her sole rival: and a prophecy has
come down through the centuries that no evil may befall Diana's
citadels, save in the "dark o' the moon," when the protectress is
absent. Lunéville was overrun in the "dark o' the moon"; and it was then
also that the battle of Léomont was fought, ending in the vast cellars,
where no man was left alive.

In these days of ours, it's a wonderful and romantic mountain, sacred as
a monument forever, to the glory of the French soldiers who did not die
in vain. The scarred face of the ruined house--its stones pitted by
shrapnel as if by smallpox--gazes over Lorraine as the Sphinx gazes over
the desert: calm, majestic, sad, yet triumphant. And under the shattered
walls, among fallen buttresses and blackened stumps of oaks, are the
graves of Léomont's heroes; graves everywhere, over the hillside; graves
in the open; graves in sheltered corners where wild flowers have begun
to grow; their tricolour cockades and wooden crosses mirrored in the
blue of water-filled shell-holes; graves in the historic cellars,
covered with a pall of darkness; graves along the slope of the hill,
where old trenches have left ruts in the rank grass.

An unseen choir of bird-voices was singing the sweetest requiem ever
sung for the dead; yet Léomont in its majestic loneliness saddened us,
even the irrepressible Puck. We were sad and rather silent all the way
to Vitrimont; and Vitrimont, at first glance, was a sight to make us
sadder than any we had seen. There had been a Vitrimont, a happy little
place, built of gray and rose-red stones; now, of those stones hardly
one lies upon another, except in rubble heaps. And yet, Vitrimont isn't
sad as others of the ruined towns are sad. It even cheered us, after
Léomont, because a star of hope shines over the field of desolation--a
star that has come out of the west. Some wonderful women of San
Francisco decided to "adopt" Vitrimont, as one of the little places of
France which had suffered most in the war. Two of them, Miss Polk and
Miss Crocker--girls rather than women--gave themselves as well as their
money to the work. In what remains of Vitrimont--what they are making of
Vitrimont--they live like two fresh roses that have taken root in a pile
of ashes. With a few books, a few bowls of flowers, pictures, and bits
of bright chintz they have given charm to their poor rooms in the
half-ruined house of a peasant. This has been their home for many
months, from the time when they were the only creatures who shared
Vitrimont with its ghosts: but now other homes are growing under their
eyes and through their charity; thanks to them, the people of the
destroyed village are trooping back, happy and hopeful. The church has
been repaired (that was done first, "because it is God's house") with
warm-coloured pink walls and neat decoration; and plans for the
restoring of the whole village are being carried out, while the waiting
inhabitants camp in a village of toy-like bungalows given by the French
Government. I never saw such looks of worshipping love cast upon human
beings as those of the people of Vitrimont for these two American girls.
I'm sure they believe that Miss Crocker and Miss Polk are saints
incarnated for their sakes by "_la Sainte Vierge_." One old man said as
much!

He was so old that it seemed as if he could never have been young, yet
he was whistling a toothless but patriotic whistle, over some bit of
amateur-carpenter work, in front of a one-room bungalow. Inside, visible
through the open door, was the paralyzed wife he had lately wheeled
"home" to Vitrimont, in some kind of a cart. "Oh, yes, we are happy!" he
stopped whistling to say. "We are fortunate, too. We think we have found
the place where our _street_ used to be, and these Angels--we do not
call them Demoiselles, but Angels--from America are going to build us a
new home in it. We have seen the plan. It is more beautiful than the
old!"

Wherever we passed a house on the road to Lunéville, and in town itself,
as we came in, we saw notices--printed and written--to remind us that we
were in the war-zone, if we forgot for an instant. "_Logement
militaire_," or "_Cave voûtée, 200 places--400 places_." Those
hospitable cellars advertising their existence in air raids and
bombardments must be a comforting sight for passers-by, now and then;
but no siren wailed us a warning. We drove on in peace; and
I--disappointed at Vitrimont--quietly kept watch for a tall, thin figure
of a man with a slight limp. At any moment, I thought, I might see him,
for at Lunéville he lives--if he lives anywhere!

I was so eager and excited that I could hardly turn my mind to other
things; but Brian, not knowing why I should be absent-minded, constantly
asked questions about what we passed. Julian O'Farrell had exchanged his
sister for Mr. and Mrs. Beckett, whom he had persuaded to take the short
trip in his ramshackle taxi. His excuse was that Mother Beckett would
deal out more wisely than Dierdre his Red Cross supplies to the returned
refugees; so we had the girl with us; and I caught reproachful glances
if I was slow in answering my blind brother. She herself suspects him as
a _poseur_, yet she judges me careless of his needs--which I should find
funny, if it didn't make me furious! Just to see what Dierdre would do,
and perhaps to provoke her, sometimes I didn't answer at all, but left
her to explain our surroundings to Brian. I hardly thought she would
respond to the silent challenge, but almost ostentatiously she did.

She cried, "There's a castle!" when we came to the fine and rather staid
château which Duke Stanislas loved, and where he died. She even tried to
describe it for Brian, with faltering self-consciousness, and the old
streets which once had been "brilliant as Versailles, full of Queen
Marie's beautiful ladies." Now, they are gray and sad, even those
streets which show no scars from the three weeks' martyrdom of German
rule. Soldiers pass, on foot and in motors, yet it's hard to realize
that before the war Lunéville was one of the gayest, grandest garrison
towns of France, rich and industrious, under Diana's special protection.
Just because she was away in her moon-chariot, one dark and dreadful
night, all has changed since then. But she'll come back, and bless her
ancient place of Lunæ Villa, in good time!

It was here, Brian reminded me, that they drew up the treaty which gave
the Rhine frontier to France, after Napoleon won the Battle of Marengo.
I wonder if the Germans remembered this in 1914 when they came?

We lunched at an hotel, in a restaurant crowded with French officers;
and not a civilian there except ourselves. I was hoping that Paul Herter
might come in, for the tragic Rue Princesse Marie is not far away--and
even a Wandering Jew must eat! He did not come; but I almost forgot my
new disappointment in hearing the French officers talk about Lorraine.

They were in the midst of a discussion when we came in, and when they
had all bowed politely to us, they took up its thread where it had
broken off. A colonel--a Lorrainer--was saying that out of the wealth of
Lorraine (stolen wealth, he called it!) Germany had built up her fortune
as a united nation, in a few years far exceeding the indemnity received
in 1871. Germany had known that there were vast stores of iron; but the
amazing riches in phosphorus ores had come to her as a surprise. If she
had guessed, never would she have agreed to leave more than half the
deposit on the French side of the frontier! Well enough for Prussian
boasters to say that Germany's success was due to her own industry and
supervirtue, or that her tariff schemes had worked wonders. But take
away the provinces she tore from France, and she will be a Samson shorn!
Take away Lorraine and the world will be rid once and for all of the
German menace!

When we left Lunéville there was still hope from Gerbéviller. Herter is
often there, it seems. Besides, Gerbéviller was the principal end and
aim of our day's excursion. Once no more than a pleasant town of quiet
beauty on a pretty river, now it is a _monument historique_, the Pompeii
of Lorraine.

As we arrived the sun clouded over suddenly, and the effect was almost
theatrical. From gold the light had dimmed to silver. In the midst of
the afternoon, we saw Gerbéviller as if by moonlight in the still
silence of night. On the outskirts we forsook our three cars, and
walked slowly through the dead town, awestruck and deeply thoughtful as
if in a church where the body of some great man lay in state.

There was not a sound except, as at Léomont, the unseen choir of
bird-voices; but their song emphasized the silence. In the pale light
the shells of wrecked houses glimmered white, like things seen deep down
under clear water. They were mysterious as daytime ghosts; and already a
heartbreaking picturesqueness had taken possession of the streets, as an
artist-decorator comes into an ugly room and mellows all its crudeness
with his loving touch.

Gerbéviller's tragic little river Mortagne gleamed silver-bright beneath
a torn lace of delicate white flowers that was like a veil flung off by
a fugitive bride. It ran sparkling under the motionless wheel of a
burned mill, and twinkled on--the one living thing the Germans left--to
flow through the park of a ruined château.

When it was alive, that small château must have been gay and delightful
as a castle in a fairy tale, pink and friendly among its pleasant trees;
but even in its prime, rich with tapestries and splendid old paintings,
which were its treasures, never could the place have been so beautiful
as in death!

At a first glance--seen straight in front--the face of the house seems
to live still, rosy with colour, gazing with immense blue eyes through a
light green veil. But a second glance brings a shock to the heart. The
face is a mask held up to hide a skull; the blue of the eyes is the open
sky framed by glassless windows; the rosy colour is stained with dark
streaks of smoke and flame; the château among its trees, and the chapel
with its stopped clock and broken saints are skeletons.

Not even O'Farrell could talk. We were a silent procession in the midst
of silence until we came at last to the one quarter of the town whose
few houses had been spared to the courage of Gerbéviller's heroine,
Soeur Julie.

Her street (but for her it would not exist) has perhaps a dozen houses
intact, looking strangely _bourgeois_, almost out of place, so smugly
whole where all else has perished. Yet it was a comfort to see them, and
wonderful to see Soeur Julie.

We knocked at the door of the hospice, the cottage hospital which is
famous because of her, its head and heart; and she herself let us in,
for at that instant she had been in the act of starting out. I
recognized her at once from the photographs which were in every
illustrated paper at the time when, for her magnificent bravery and
presence of mind, she was named Chevalière of the Legion of Honour.

But with her first smile I saw that the pictures had done her crude
injustice. They made of Soeur Julie an elderly woman in the dress of a
nun; somewhat stout, rather large of feature. But the figure which met
us in the narrow corridor had dignity and a noble strength. The smile of
greeting lit deep eyes whose colour was that of brown topaz, and showed
the kindly, humorous curves of a generous mouth. The flaring white
headdress of the Order of Saint-Charles of Nancy framed a face so strong
that I ceased to wonder how this woman had cowed a German horde; and it
thrilled me to think that in this very doorway she had stood at bay,
offering her black-robed body as a shield for the wounded soldiers and
poor people she meant to save.

Even if we had not come from the Préfet, and with some of his family who
were her admiring friends, I'm sure Soeur Julie would have welcomed
the strangers. As it was she beamed with pleasure at the visit, and
called a young nun to help place chairs for us all in the clean, bare
reception room. By this time she must know that she is the heroine of
Lorraine--her own Lorraine!--and that those who came to Gerbéviller come
to see her; but she talked to us with the unself-consciousness of a
child. It was only when she was begged to tell the tale of August 23,
1914, that she showed a faint sign of embarrassment. The blood flushed
her brown face, and she hesitated how to begin, as if she would rather
not begin at all, but once launched on the tide, she forgot everything
except her story: she lived that time over again, and we lived it with
her.

"What a day it was!" she sighed. "We knew what must happen, unless God
willed to spare Gerbéviller by some miracle. Our town was in the
German's way. Yet we prayed--we hoped. We hoped even after our army's
defeat at Morhange. Then Lunéville was taken. Our turn was near. We
heard how terrible were the Bavarians under their general, Clauss. Our
soldiers--poor, brave boys!--fought every step of the way to hold them
back. They fought like lions. But they were so few! The Germans came in
a gray wave of men. Our wounded were brought here to the hospice, as
many as we could take--and more! Often there were three hundred. But
when there was no hope to save the town, quick, with haste at night,
they got the wounded away--ambulance after ambulance, cart after cart:
all but a few; nineteen _grands blessés_, who could not be moved. They
were here in this room where we sit. But ah, if you had seen us--we
sisters--helping the commandant as best we could! We made ourselves
carpenters. We took wooden shutters and doors from their hinges for
stretchers. We split the wood with axes. We did not remember to be
tired. We tore up our linen, and linen which others brought us. We tied
the wounded boys on to the shutters. They never groaned. Sometimes they
smiled. Ah, it was we who wept, to see them jolting off in rough country
wagons, going we knew not where, or to what fate! All night we worked,
and at dawn there were none left--except those nineteen I told you of.
And that was the morning of the 23rd of August, hot and heavy--a weight
upon our hearts and heads.

"Not only the wounded, but our defenders had gone. The army was in
retreat. We had fifty-seven chasseurs left, ordered to keep the enemy
back for five hours. They did it for _eleven_! From dawn till twilight
they held the bridge outside the town, and fought behind barriers they
had flung up in haste. Boys they were, but of a courage! They knew they
were to die to save their comrades. They asked no better than to die
hard. And they fought so well, the Germans believed there were
thousands. Not till our boys had nearly all fallen did the enemy break
through and swarm into the town. That was down at the other end from us,
below the hill, but soon we heard fearful sounds--screams and shoutings,
shots and loud explosions. They were burning the place street by street
with that method of theirs! They fired the houses with pastilles their
chemists have invented, and with petrol. The air was thick with smoke.
We shut our windows to save the wounded from coughing. Soon we might all
die together, but we would keep our boys from new sufferings while we
could!

"Then at last the hour struck for us. One of our sisters, who had run to
look at the red sky to see how near the fire came, cried out that
Germans were pouring up the hill--four officers on horseback heading a
troop of soldiers. I knew what that meant. I went quickly to the door to
meet them. My knees felt as if they had broken under my weight. My heart
was a great, cold, dead thing within me. My mouth was dry as if I had
lost myself for days in the desert. I am not a small woman, yet it
seemed that I was no bigger than a mouse under the stare of those big
men who leaped off their horses, and made as if to pass me at the door.
But I did not let them pass. I knew I could stop them long enough at
least to kill me and then the sisters, one by one, before they reached
our wounded! We backed slowly before them into the hall, the sisters and
I, to stand guard before this room.

"'You are hiding Frenchmen here--French soldiers!' a giant of a captain
bawled at me. Beside him was a lieutenant even more tall. They had
swords in their hands, and they both pointed their weapons at me.

"'We have nineteen soldiers desperately wounded,' I said. 'There are no
other men here.'

"'You are lying!' shouted the captain. He thought he could frighten me
with his roar like a lion: but he did not seem to me so noble a beast.

"'You may come in and see for yourselves that I speak the truth,' I
said. And think what it was for me, a woman of Lorraine, to bid a
_German_ enter her house! I did not let those two pass by me into this
room. I came in first. While the lieutenant stood threatening our boys
in their beds that he would shoot if they moved, the captain went round,
tearing off the sheets, looking for firearms. In his hand was a strange
knife, like a dagger which he had worn in his belt. One of our soldiers,
too weak to open his lips, looked at the German, with a pair of great
dark eyes that spoke scorn; and that look maddened the man with a sudden
fury.

"'Coward, of a country of cowards! You and cattle like you have cut off
the ears and torn out the eyes of our glorious Bavarians. I'll slit your
throat to pay for that!'

"Ah, but this was too much--more than I could bear! I said 'No!' and I
put my two hands--so--between the throat of that boy and the German
knife."

When Soeur Julie came to this part of the tale, she made a beautiful,
unconscious gesture, re-enacting the part she had played. I knew then
how she had looked when she faced the Bavarian officer, and why he had
not hacked those two work-worn but nobly shaped hands of hers, to get at
the French chasseur's throat. She seemed the incarnate spirit of the
mother-woman, whose selfless courage no brute who had known a mother
could resist. And her "No!" rang out deep and clear as a warning tocsin.
I felt that the wounded boy must have been as safe behind those hands
and that "No!" as if a thick though transparent wall of glass had
magically risen to protect him.

"All this time," Soeur Julie went on, gathering herself together after
a moment. "All this time Germans led by non-commissioned officers were
searching the hospice. But they found no hiding soldiers, because there
were none such to find. And somehow that captain and his lieutenant did
not touch our wounded ones. They had a look of shame and sullenness on
their faces, as if they were angry with themselves for yielding their
wicked will to an old woman. Yet they _did_ yield, thank God! And then I
got the captain's promise to spare the hospice--got it by saying we
would care for his wounded as faithfully as we tended our own. I said,
'If you leave this house standing to take in your men, you must leave
the whole street. If the buildings round us burn, we shall burn,
too--and with us your German wounded. Will you give me your word that
this whole quarter shall be safe?'

"The man did not answer. But he looked down at his boots. And I have
always noticed that, when men of any nation look at their boots, it is
that they are undecided. It was so with him. A few more arguments from
me, and he said: 'It shall be as you ask.'

"Soon he must have been glad of his promise, for there were many German
wounded, and we took them all in. Ah, this room, which you see so clean
and white now, ran blood. We had to sweep blood into the hall, and so
out at the front door, where at least it washed away the German
footprints from our floor! For days we worked and did our best, even
when we knew of the murders committed: innocent women with their little
children. And the fifteen old men they shot for hostages. Oh, we did our
best, though it was like acid eating our hearts. But our reward came the
day the Germans had to gather up their wounded in wild haste, as the
French commandant had gathered ours before the retreat. They fled, and
our Frenchmen marched back--too late to save the town, but not too late
to redeem its honour. And that is all my story."

As she finished with a smile half sad, half sweet, Soeur Julie looked
over our heads at some one who had just come in--some one who had stood
listening in silence, unheard and unseen by us. I turned mechanically,
and my eyes met the eyes of Paul Herter, the "Wandering Jew."



CHAPTER XV


Dierdre O'Farrell and I were sitting side by side, our backs to the
door, so it was only as we turned that Herter could have recognized us.
He had no scruple in showing that I was the last person he wished to
meet. One look was enough for him! His pale face--changed and aged since
London--flushed a dark and violent red. Backing out into the hall he
banged the door.

My ears tingled as if they had been boxed. I suppose I've been rather
spoiled by men. Anyhow, not one ever before ran away at sight of me, as
if I were Medusa. I'd been hoping that Doctor Paul and I might meet and
make friends, so this was a blow: and it hurt a little that Dierdre
O'Farrell should see me thus snubbed. I glanced at her; and her faint
smile told that she understood.

Soeur Julie was bewildered for a second, but recovered herself to
explain that Doctor Herter was eccentric and shy of strangers. He came
often from Lunéville to Gerbéviller to tend the poor, refusing payment,
and was so good at heart that we must forgive his odd ways.

"_Spurlos versnubt!_" I heard Puck chuckling to himself; so he, too, was
in the secret of the situation. I half expected him to pretend
ingenuousness, and spring the tale of Dierdre's adventure with Herter on
the company. But he preserved a discreet reticence, more for his own
sake than mine or his sister's, of course. He's as lazy as he is impish,
except when there's some special object to gain, and probably he wished
to avoid the bother of explanations. As for Brian, his extreme
sensitiveness is better than studied tact. I'm sure he felt magnetically
that Dierdre O'Farrell shrank from a reference to her part in the night
air raid. But his silence puzzled her, and I saw her studying him--more
curiously than gratefully, I thought.

We had heard the end of Soeur Julie's story, and had no further excuse
to keep her tied to the duties of hostess. When the Becketts had left
something for the poor of the hospice, we bade the heroine of
Gerbéviller farewell, and started out to regain our automobiles, Julian
O'Farrell suddenly appearing at my side.

"Don't make an excuse that you must walk with your brother," he said.
"He's all right with Dierdre; perhaps just as happy as with you! One
_does_ want a change from the best of sisters now and then."

"Mrs. Beckett----" I began.

"Mrs. Beckett is discussing with Mr. Beckett what they can do for
Gerbéviller, and they'll ask your advice when they want it. No use
worrying. They've boodle enough for all their charities, and for the
shorn lambs, too."

"Do you call yourself a shorn lamb?" I sniffed.

"Certainly. Don't I look it? Good heavens, girl, you needn't basilisk me
so, to see if I do! You glare as if I were some kind of abnormal beast
eating with its eyes, or winking with its mouth."

"You do wink with your mouth," I said.

"You mean I lie? All romantic natures embroider truth. I have a romantic
nature. It's growing more romantic every minute since I met you. I
started this adventure for what I could get out of it. I'm going on to
the end, bitter or sweet, for _les beaux yeux_ of Mary O'Malley. I don't
grudge you the Becketts' blessing, but I don't know why it shouldn't be
bestowed on us both, with Dierdre and Brian in the background throwing
flowers. You didn't love Jim Beckett, for the very good reason that you
never met him: so, if you owe no more debts than those you owe his
memory, you're luckier than----"

It was not I who cut his words short, though I was on the point of
breaking in. Perhaps I should have flung at him the truth about Jim
Beckett if something had not happened to snatch my thoughts from
O'Farrell and his impudence. We had just passed the quarter of the town
saved by Soeur Julie, when out from the gaping doorway of a ruined
house stepped Paul Herter.

He came straight to me, ignoring my companion.

"I was waiting for you," he said. "Will you walk on a little way with
me? There are things I should like to speak about."

All the hurt anger I had felt was gone like the shadow of a flitting
cloud. "Oh, yes!" I exclaimed. "I shall be very, very glad."

Whether O'Farrell had the grace to drop behind, or whether I pushed
ahead I don't know, but next moment Doctor Herter and I were pacing
along, side by side, keeping well ahead of the others, in spite of his
limp.

"I thought I never wanted to see you again, Mary O'Malley," he said;
"but that glimpse I had, in the hospice, showed me my mistake. I
couldn't stand it to be so near and let you go out of my life without a
word--not after seeing your face."

"It makes me happy to hear that," I answered. "I was disappointed when
you avoided me the other night, and--hurt to-day when you slammed the
door."

"How did you know I avoided you? The girl promised to hold her tongue."

"She kept her promise. She was pleased to keep it, because she dislikes
me. But I heard your name next day and understood. I--I heard other
things, too. If you wouldn't be angry, I should like to tell you how
I----"

"Don't tell me."

"I won't then. But I feel very strongly. And you will let me tell you
how grieved I should have been, if--if that slammed door had been the
end between us."

"The end between us was long ago."

"Not in my thoughts, for I never meant to hurt you. I never stopped
being your friend, in spite of all the unkind, unjust things you said to
me. I'm proud now that I had your friendship once, even if I haven't it
now."

"You had everything there was in me--_except_ friendship. Now, of that
everything, only ashes are left. The fires have burnt out. You've heard
what I suppose they call my story, so you know why. If those fires
weren't dead, I shouldn't have dared trust myself to risk this talk with
you. As it is--I let your eyes call me back. Not that they called
consciously. It was the past that called----"

"They _would_ have called consciously if you'd given them time!" I
ventured to smile at him, with a look that asked for kindness. He did
not smile back, but he did not frown. His deep-set eyes, in their hollow
sockets, gazed at me as if they were memorizing each feature.

"You're lovelier than ever, Mary," he said. "There's something different
about your face. You've suffered."

"My brother is blind."

"Ah! There's more than that."

"Yes."

"You loved the son of these rich people the girl told me about? She says
you didn't love him, but she's wrong--isn't she?"

"She's wrong. She knows about things I've done, but nothing about what I
think or feel. I did love Jim Beckett, Doctor Paul. You don't mind being
called by the old name? I've learned how it hurts to love."

"That will do you no harm, Mary. I can speak with you about such things
now, for the spirit of a dead woman stands between us. I didn't love her
when she was alive. But if I hadn't married her and brought her to
France she'd be living now. She died through me--and for me. I think of
her with immense tenderness and--a kind of loyalty; a fierce loyalty. I
don't know if you understand."

"Indeed I do! I almost envy her that brave death."

"We won't talk of her any more now," Herter said with a sigh. "I've a
feeling she wouldn't like us to discuss her, together. She used to
be--jealous of you, poor girl! There are other things I wanted to say.
The first--but you've guessed it already!--is this: the minute I looked
into your face, there in the hospice, I forgave you the pain you made me
suffer. In the first shock of meeting your eyes, I didn't realize that
I'd forgiven. It wasn't till I'd slammed the door that I knew."

I didn't repeat that I had not purposely done anything which needed
forgiveness. I only looked at him with all the kindness and pity in my
heart, and waited until he should go on.

"The second thing I wanted to say is, that just the one look told me you
weren't happy and gay as you used to be. When I'd shut the door, I could
still see you clearly, as if I had the power to look through the wood. I
said to myself, that girl's eyes have got the sadness of the whole world
in them. They seem as if they were begging for help, and didn't know
where on earth it was coming from. Was that a true impression? I waited
to ask you this, even more than to see you again."

"It is true," I confessed. "There's only this difference between my
feelings and your impression of them. I _know_ there's no help on earth
for me. Such help as there is, I get from another place. Do you remember
how I used to talk about the dear Padre who was our guardian--my
brother's and mine--and how I told him nearly everything good and bad
that I thought or did? Well, he went to the front as a chaplain and he
has been killed. But I go on writing him letters, exactly as if he could
give me advice and comfort, or scold me in the old way."

"What about your brother? The girl--Miss O'Farrell she called herself, I
think--said he was with you on this journey. And to-day I recognized him
at Soeur Julie's, from his likeness to you. I shouldn't have guessed
he was blind. He has a beautiful face. Do you get no comfort from him?"

"Much comfort from his presence and love," I said. "But I try to keep
him happy. I don't bother him with my troubles. I won't even let him
talk of them. They're taboo."

"I wish _I_ could help you!" Herter exclaimed.

"Your wish is a help."

"Ah, but I'd like to give more than that! I'm going away--that's the
third thing I wanted to tell you. A little while ago I was glad to be
going (so far as it's in me, nowadays, to be glad of anything) because
I--I've been given a sort of--mission. Since we've had this talk, I'd
put off going if I could. But I can't. Is your brother's case past
cure?"

"It's not absolutely hopeless. Doctor Paul, this is a confidence! It's
to try and cure him that I'm with the Becketts. He doesn't know--and I
can't explain more to you. But a specialist in Paris ordered Brian a
life in the open air, and as much pleasure and interest as possible. You
see, it's the optic nerve that was paralyzed in a strange way by shell
shock. Some day Brian's sight may--just _possibly_ may--come back all of
a sudden."

"Ah, that's interesting. I'm not an oculist, but I know one or two of
the best men, who have made great reputations since this war. Who was
your specialist in Paris?"

I told him.

"A good man," he pronounced, "but I have a friend who is better. I'll
write you a letter to him. You can send it if you choose. That's one
service I can do for you, Mary. It may prove a big one. But I wish there
were something else--something for _you_, yourself. Maybe there will be
one day. Who can tell? If that day comes, I shan't be found wanting or
forgetful."

"It's worth a lot to have met you and had this talk," I said. "It's been
like a warm fire to cold hands. I do hope, dear Doctor Paul, that you're
not going on a dangerous mission?"

He laughed--the quaint laugh I remembered, like a crackling of dry
brushwood. "No more danger for me in it than there is for a bit of
toasted cheese in a rat-trap."

"What a queer comparison!" I said. "It sounds as if you were going to be
a bait to deceive a rat."

"Multiply the singular into the plural, and your quick wit has
deciphered my parable."

"I'm afraid my wit doesn't deserve the compliment. I can't imagine what
your mission really is. Unless----"

"Unless--what? No! Don't let us go any further. Because I mustn't tell
you more, even if you should happen to guess. I've told you almost too
much already. But confidence for confidence. You gave me one. Consider
that I've confided something to you in return. There's just a millionth
chance that my mission--whatever it is--may make me of use to you. Give
me an address that will find you always, and then--I must be going. I
have to return to the hospice and see some patients. No need to write
the directions. Better not, in fact. I shall have no difficulty in
remembering anything that concerns you, even the most complicated
address."

"It's not complicated," I laughed; and gave him the name of the Paris
bankers in whose care the Becketts allow Brian and me to have letters
sent--Morgan Harjes.

He repeated the address after me, and then stopped, holding out his
hand. "That's all," he said abruptly. "I shall be glad, whatever
happens, that I waited, and had this talk with you. Good-bye."

"Good-bye--and good luck in the mission," I echoed.

He pressed my hand so hard that it hurt, and with one last look turned
away. He did not go far, however, but stopped on his way back to ask
Dierdre O'Farrell about her arm. She and Brian (Puck had joined the
Becketts) were only a few paces behind me, and pausing involuntarily I
heard what was said. It was easy to see that Dierdre wished me to hear
her part.

"My arm is going on very well," she informed her benefactor. "I thank
you again for your kindness in attending to it. But I don't think it was
kind to order me to keep a secret, and then give it away yourself. You
made me seem an--ungracious pig and a fool. I shouldn't mind that, if it
did you good, in return for the good you've done me. But since it was
for nothing----"

"I apologize," Herter broke in. "I meant what I said then. But a power
outside myself was too strong for me. Maybe it will be the same for you
some day. Meanwhile, don't make the mistake I made: don't do other
people an injustice."

Leaving Dierdre at bay between anger and amazement, he stared with
professional eagerness into Brian's sightless eyes, and stalked off
toward the hospice.



CHAPTER XVI


Since I wrote you last, Padre, I have been in the trenches--real, live
trenches, not the faded, half-filled-up ghosts of trenches where men
fought long ago. I had to give my word not to tell or write any one just
where these trenches are, so I won't put details in black and white,
even in pages which are only for you and me. I keep this book that you
gave me in my hand-bag, and no eyes but mine see it--unless, dear Padre,
you come and look over my shoulder while I scribble, as I often feel you
do! Still--something might happen: an automobile accident; or the bag
might be lost or stolen, though it's not a gorgeously attractive one,
like that in which Mother Beckett carries Jim's letters.

It was the day after Lunéville and Gerbéviller. We started out once
again from Nancy, no matter in which direction, but along a wonderful
road. Not that the scenery was beautiful. We didn't so much as think of
scenery. The thrill was in the passing show, and later in the
"camouflage." We were going to be given a glimpse of the Front which the
communiqués (when they mention it at all nowadays) speak of as calm. Its
alleged "calmness" gave us non-combatants our chance to pay it a visit;
but many wires had been pulled to get us there, and we had dwindled to a
trio, consisting of Father Beckett, Brian, and me. Mother Beckett is not
made for trenches, even the calmest, and there was no permission for
the occupants of the Red Cross taxi, who are not officially of our
party. They have their own police pass for the war-zone, but all special
plums are for the Becketts, shared by the O'Malleys; and this visit to
the trenches was an extra-special superplum.

All along the way, coming and going, tearing to meet us, or leaving us
behind, splashed with gray mud after a night of rain, motor-lorries
sped. They carried munitions or food to the front, or brought back tired
soldiers bound for a place of rest, and their roofs were marvellously
"camouflaged" in a blend of blue and green paint splotched with red. For
aeroplanes they must have looked, in their processions, like drifting
mist over meadowland. Shooting in and out among them, like slim gray
swordfish in a school of porpoise, were military cars crowded with smart
officers who saluted the lieutenant escorting us, and stared in surprise
at sight of a woman. A sprinkling of these officers were Americans, and
they would have astonished us more than we astonished them had we not
known that we should see Americans. They were to be, indeed, the
"feature" of the great show; and though Mr. Beckett was calm in manner
to match the Front, I knew from his face that he was deeply moved by the
thought of seeing "boys from home" fighting for France as his dead son
had fought.

At each small village we saw soldiers who had been sent to the "back of
the Front" for a few days' change from the trenches. They lounged on
long wooden benches before humble houses where they had _logement_; they
sat at tables borrowed from kitchens, earnestly engaged at dominoes or
_manille_, or they played _boules_ in narrow grass alleys beside the
muddy road. For them we had packed all vacant space in the auto with a
cargo of cigarettes; and white teeth flashed and blue arms waved in
gratitude as we went by. I think Father Beckett was happier than he had
been since we left Paris.

At last we came to a part of the road that was "camouflaged" with a
screen of branches fixed into wire. There was no great need of it in
these days, our lieutenant explained, but Heaven knew when it might be
urgently wanted again: perhaps to-morrow! And this was where we said
"_au revoir_" to our car. She was wheeled out of the way on to a strip
of damp grass, under a convenient group of trees where no prowling enemy
plane might "spot" her; and we set out to walk for a short distance to
what had once been a farmhouse. Now, what was left of it had another
use. A board walk (well above the mud), which led to the new, unpainted
door, was guarded by sentinels, and explanations were given and papers
shown before a rather elderly French captain appeared to greet us.
Arrangements had been made for our reception, but we had to be
identified; and when all was done we were given a good welcome. Also we
were given helmets, and I was vain enough to fancy I had never worn a
more becoming hat.

Besides our own escort--the lieutenant who had brought us from Nancy--we
had a captain and a lieutenant to guide us into the "calmness" of the
trenches (the captain and a lieutenant for Mr. Beckett and Brian, the
other lieutenant for me) and one would have thought that they had never
before seen a woman in or out of a helmet! Down in a deep cellar-like
hole, which they called "_l'anti-chambre_," all three officers coached
Father Beckett and me in trench manners. As for Brian, it was clear to
them that he was no stranger to trench life, and their treatment of him
was perfect. They made no fuss, as tactless folk do over blind men; but,
while feigning to regard him as one of themselves, they slily watched
and protected his movements as a proud mother might the first steps of a
child.

On we went from the _antichambre_ into a long mouldy passage dug deep
into the earth. It was the link between trenches; and now and then a
sentinel popped out from behind a queer barrier built up as a protection
against "_les éclats d'obus_." "This is the way the wounded come back,"
said one of the lieutenants, "when there _are_ any wounded. Just now (or
you would not be here, Mademoiselle) there is"--he finished in
English--"nothing doing."

I laughed. "Who taught you that?"

"You will see," he replied, making a nice little mystery. "You will see
who taught it to me--and _then_ some!"

That was a beautiful ending for the sentence, and his American accent
was perfect, even if the meaning of the poor man's quotation was a
little uncertain!

We turned several times, and I had begun to think of the Minotaur's
labyrinth, when the passage knotted itself into a low-roofed room, open
at both ends, save for bomb screens, with a trench leading dismally off
from an opposite doorway. "When is a door not a door?" was a conundrum
of my childhood, and I think the answer was: "When it's ajar." But
nowadays there is a better _réplique_: A door is not a door when it's a
dug-out. It is then a hole, kept from falling in upon itself by a log
of wood or anything handy. This time, the "anything handy" seemed to be
part of an old wheelbarrow, and on top were some sandbags. In the room,
which was four times as long as it was broad, and twelve times longer
than high, a few vague soldier-forms crouched over a meal on the floor,
their tablecloth being a Paris newspaper. They scrambled to their feet,
but could not stand upright, and to see their stooping salute to
stooping officers in the smoky twilight, was like a vision in a dark,
convex mirror.

As we wound our way past the screen at the far end of the cellar
dining-room, my lieutenant explained the method in placing each
_pare-éclat_, as he called the screen. "You see, Mademoiselle, if a bomb
happened to break through and kill us, the screen would save the men
beyond," he said; then, remembering with a start that he was talking to
a woman, he hurried to add: "Oh, but we shall not be killed. Have no
fear. There's nothing of that sort on our programme to-day--at least,
not where we shall take _you_."

"Do I look as if I were afraid?" I asked.

"No, you look very brave, Mademoiselle," he flattered me. "I'm sure it
is more than the helmet which gives you that look. I believe, if you
were allowed you would go on past the safety zone."

"Where does the safety zone end?" I curiously questioned.

"It is different on different days. If you had come yesterday, you could
have had a good long promenade. Indeed that was what we hoped, when we
arranged to entertain your party. But unfortunately the gentlemen in
the opposing trenches discovered that _Les Sammies_ had arrived on our
_secteur_. They wanted to give them a reception, and so--your walk has
to be shortened, Mademoiselle."

Suddenly I felt sick. I had the sensation Soeur Julie described
herself as feeling when she met the giant German officers. But it was
not fear. "Do you mean--while we're here, safe--like tourists on a
pleasure jaunt," I stammered, "that American soldiers are being
_killed_--in the trenches close by? It's horrible! I can't----"

"_Il ne faut pas se faire de la bile_, as our _poilus_ say, when they
mean 'Don't worry,' Mademoiselle," the lieutenant soothed me. "If there
were any killing along this _secteur_ you would hear the guns boom,
_n'est-ce-pas_? You had not stopped to think of that. There was a little
affair at dawn, I don't conceal it from you. A surprise--a _coup de
main_ against the Americans the Boches intended. They thought, as all
has been quiet on our Front for so long, we should expect nothing. But
the surprise didn't work. They got as good as they sent, and no one on
our side was killed. That I swear to you, Mademoiselle! There were a few
wounded, yes, but no fatalities. The trouble is that now things have
begun to move, they may not sit still for long, and we cannot take risks
with our visitors. The mountain must come to Mahomet. That is, _les
Sammies_ must call upon you, instead of you upon them. The reception
room is _chez nous Français_. It is ready, and you will see it in a
moment."

Almost as he spoke we came to a dug-out of far more imposing
architecture than the hole between trenches which we had seen. We had to
stoop to go in, but once in we could stand upright, even Brian, who
towered several inches above the other men. The place was lighted with
many guttering candles, and tears sprang to my eyes at the pathos of the
decorations. Needless to explain that the French and American flags
which draped the dark walls were there in our honour! Also there were a
Colonel, a table, benches, chairs, some glasses, and one precious bottle
of champagne, enough for a large company to sip, if not to drink, each
other's health. Hardly had we been introduced to the decorations,
including the Colonel, when the Americans began to arrive, three young
officers and two who had hardened into warlike middle age. It was
heart-warming to see them meet Mr. Beckett, and their chivalric niceness
to Brian and me was somehow different from any other niceness I
remember--except Jim's.

Not that one of the men looked like Jim, or had a voice like his: yet,
when they spoke, and smiled, and shook hands, I seemed to see Jim
standing behind them, smiling as he had smiled at me on our one day
together. I seemed to hear his voice in an undertone, as if it mingled
with theirs, and I wondered if Jim's father had the same almost
supernatural impression that his son had come into the dug-out room with
that little band of his countrymen.

It is strange how a woman can be homesick for a man she has known only
one day; but she can--she _can_--for a Jim Beckett! He was so vital, so
central in life, known even for a day, that after his going the world is
a background from which his figure has been cut out, leaving a blank
place. These jolly, brave American soldier-men made me want so
desperately to see Jim that I wished a bomb would drop in--just a
_small_ bomb, touching only me, and whisking me away to the place where
he is. In body he could not forgive me, of course, for what I've done;
but in spirit he might forgive my spirit if it travelled a long way to
see his!

I am almost sure that the Americans did bring Jim back to Father
Beckett, as to me, for though he was cheerful, and even made jokes to
show that he mustn't be treated as a mourner, there was one piteous sign
of emotion which no self-control could hide. I saw his throat work--the
throat of an old man--his "Adam's apple" going convulsively up and down
like a tossed ball in a fountain jet. Then, lest I should sob while his
eyes were dry, I looked away.

We all had champagne out of the marvellous bottle which had been hoarded
during long months in case of "a great occasion," and we economized sips
but not healths. We drank to each one of the Allies in turn, and to a
victorious peace. Then the officers--French and American--began telling
us trench tales--no grim stories, only those at which we could laugh.
One was what an American captain called a "peach"; but it was a
Frenchman who told it: the American contingent have had no such
adventures yet.

The thing happened some time ago, before the "liveliness" died down
along this _secteur_. One spring day, in a rainy fog like a gray
curtain, a strange pair of legs appeared, prowling alongside a French
trench. They were not French legs; but instantly two pairs of French
arms darted out under the stage-drop of fog to jerk them in. Down came a
_feldwebel_ on top of them, squealing desolately "Kamerad!" He squealed
many more guttural utterances, but not one of the soldiers in blue
helmets, who soon swarmed round him, could understand a word he said.
"Why the crowd?" wondered the Captain of the company, appearing from a
near-by dug-out. The queer quarry was dragged to the officer's feet, and
fortunately the Captain, an Alsatian, had enough German for a catechism.

"What were you doing close to our lines?" he demanded.

"Oh, Herr Captain, I did not know they were your lines. I thought they
were ours. In our trench we are hungry, very hungry. I thought in the
mist I could safely go a little way and seek for some potatoes. Where we
are they say there was once a fine potato field. Not long ago, one of
our men came back with half a dozen beauties. Ah, they were good! I was
empty enough to risk anything, Herr Captain. But I had no luck. And,
worse still, the fog led me astray. Spare my life, sir!"

"We will spare you what is worth more than a little thing like your
life," said the Captain. "We'll spare you some of our good food, to show
you that we French do not have to gnaw our finger-nails, like you
miserable Boches. Men, take this animal away and feed it!"

The men obeyed, enjoying the joke. The dazed Kamerad was stuffed with
sardines, meat, bread, and butter (of which he had forgotten the
existence), delicious cheese, and chocolates. At last the magic meal was
topped off with smoking hot black coffee, a thimbleful of brandy, and--a
_cigar_! Tobacco and cognac may have been cheap, but they made the
_feldwebel_ feel as if he had died and gone to heaven.

When he had eaten till his belt was tight for the first time in many
moons, back he was hustled to the Captain.

"Well--you have had something better than potatoes? _Bon!_ Now, out of
this, quicker than you came! Your mother may admire your face, but we
others, we have seen enough of it."

"But, Herr Captain," pleaded the poor wretch, loth to be banished from
Paradise, "I am your prisoner."

"Not at all," coolly replied the officer. "We can't be bothered with a
single prisoner. What is one flea on a blanket? Another time, if we come
across you again with enough of your comrades to make the game worth
while, why then, perhaps we may give ourselves the pain of keeping you.
You've seen that we have enough food to feed your whole trench, and
never miss it."

Away flew the German over the top, head over heels, not unassisted: and
after they had laughed awhile, his hosts and foes forgot him. But not so
could he forget them. That night, after dark, he came trotting back with
fifteen friends, all crying "Kamerad!" eager to deliver themselves up to
captivity for the flesh-pots of Egypt.

"But--we're not to go without a glimpse of the Sammies, are we?" I
asked, when stories and champagne were finished.

The "Sammies'" officers laughed. "The boys don't love that name, you
know! But it sticks like a burr. It's harder to get rid of than the
Boches. As for seeing them--(the boys, not the Boches!) _well_----" And
a consultation followed.

The trenches beyond our dug-out drawing room could not be guaranteed
"safe as the Bank of England" for non-combatants that day, and no one
wanted to be responsible for our venturing farther. Still, if we
couldn't go to the boys, a "bunch" of the boys could come to us. A
lieutenant dashed away, and presently returned with six of the tallest,
brownest, best-looking young men I ever saw. Their khaki and their
beautiful new helmets were so like British khaki and helmets that I
shouldn't have been expert enough to recognize them as American. But
somehow the merest amateur would never have mistaken those boys for
their British brothers. I can't tell where the difference lay. All I can
say is that it was there. Were their jaws squarer? No, it couldn't have
been that, for British jaws are firm enough, and have need to be, Heaven
knows! Were their chins more prominent? But millions of British chins
are prominent. My brain collapsed in the strain after comparisons,
abandoned the effort and drank in a draught of rich, ripe American slang
as a glorious pick-me-up. No wonder the French officers in _liaison_
have caught the new "code." The coming of those brown boys with their
bright and glittering teeth and witty words made up to us for miles of
trenches we hadn't seen. Gee, but they were bully! Oh, _boy_! Get hep to
that!



CHAPTER XVII


Father Beckett must have suffered dark hours of reaction after seeing
those soldier-sons of American fathers, if there had been time to think.
But we flashed back to Nancy in haste, for a late dinner and adieux to
our friends. Brian and I snatched the story of our day's adventure from
his mouth for Mother Beckett; and luckily he was too tired to give her a
new version. I heard in the morning that he had slept through an air
raid!

I, too, was tired, and for the same reason: but I could not sleep.
Waking dreams marched through my mind--dreams of Jim as he must have
looked in khaki, dreams which made an air raid more or less seem
unimportant. As the clocks of Nancy told the hours, I was in a mood for
the first time since Gerbéviller to puzzle out the meaning of Paul
Herter's parable.

What had he meant by saying that his mission would be no more dangerous
than a rat-trap for a bit of toasted cheese?

I had exclaimed, "That sounds as if you were to bait the trap!" but he
had not encouraged me to guess. And there had been so much else to think
of, just then! His offer of introductions to specialists for Brian had
appealed to me more than a vague suggestion of service to myself "some
day."

But now, through the darkness of night, a ray like a searchlight struck
clear upon his cryptic hint.

Somehow, Herter hoped to get across the frontier into Germany! His
question, whether I had loved Jim Beckett, was not an idle one. He had
not asked it through mere curiosity, or because he was jealous of the
dead. His idea was that, if I had deeply cared for Jim, I should be glad
to know how he had died, and where his body lay. Germany was the one
place where the mystery could be solved. I realized suddenly that Doctor
Paul expected "some day" to be in a position to solve it.

"He's going into Germany as a spy," I said to myself. "He's a man of
German Lorraine. German is his native language. Legally he's a German
subject. He'll only have to pretend that he was caught by accident in
France when the war broke out--and that at last he has escaped. All that
may be easy if there are no spies to give him away--to tell what he's
been doing in France since 1914. The trouble will be when he wants to
come back."

I wished that I could have seen the man again, to have bidden him a
better farewell, to have told him I'd pray for his success. But now it
was too late. Already he must have set off on his "mission," and we were
to start in the morning for Verdun.

The thought of Verdun alone was enough to keep me awake for the rest of
the night, to say nothing of air raids and speculations about Doctor
Paul. It seemed almost too strange to be true that we were to see
Verdun--Verdun, where month after month beat the heart of the world.

The O'Farrells had not got permission for Verdun, nor for Rheims, where
we of the great gray car were going next. Still more than our glimpse
of the trenches were these two places "extra special." The brother and
sister were to start with us from Nancy, but we (the Becketts, Brian,
and I) were to part from them at Bar-le-Duc, where we would be met by an
officer from Verdun. Two days later, we were to meet again at Paris, and
continue--as Puck impudently put it--"_our_ rôle of ministering angels,"
along the Noyon front and beyond.

This programme was settled when--through influence at Nancy--Father
Beckett's passes for four had been extended to Verdun and Rheims. I
breathed a sigh of relief at the prospect of two more days without the
O'Farrells; and all that's Irish in me trusted to luck that "something
might happen" to part us forever. Why not? The Red Cross taxi might
break down (it looked ready to shake to pieces any minute!). Dierdre
might be taken ill (no marble statue could be paler!). Or the pair might
be arrested by the military police as dangerous spies. (Really, I
wouldn't "put it past" them!). But my secret hopes were rudely jangled
with my first sight of Brian on the Verdun morning.

"Molly, I hope you won't mind," he said, "but I've promised O'Farrell to
go with them and meet you in Paris to-morrow night. I've already spoken
to Mr. Beckett and he approves."

"This comes of my being ten minutes late!" I almost--not quite--cried
aloud. I'd hardly closed my eyes all night, but had fallen into a doze
at dawn and overslept myself. Meanwhile the O'Farrell faction had got in
its deadly work!

I was angry and disgusted, yet--as usual where that devil of a Puck was
concerned--I had the impulse to laugh. It was as if he'd put his finger
to his nose and chuckled in impish glee: "You hope to get rid of us, do
you, you minx? Well, I'll _show_ you!" But I should be playing his game
if I lost my temper.

"Why do the O'Farrells want you to go with them?" I "camouflaged" my
rage.

"It's Julian who wants me," explained the dear boy. (Oh, it had come to
Christian names!) "It seems Miss O'Farrell has taken it into her head
that none of us likes her, and that we've arranged this way to get rid
of them both--letting them down easily and making some excuse not to
start again together from Paris. O'Farrell thought if I'd offer to go
with them and sit in the back of the car while he drove I could persuade
her----"

"Well, I don't envy any one the task of persuading that girl to believe
a thing she doesn't wish to believe," I exploded. "My private opinion
is, though, that her brother's sister needs no persuading. The two of
them want to show me that they have power----"

Brian broke in with a laugh. "My child, you see things through a
magnifying glass! Is your blind brother a prize worth squabbling over? I
can be of use to the Becketts, it's true, when we travel without a
military escort, or with one young officer who knows more about
seventy-fives than about the romance of history. I can tell them what
I've read and what I've seen. But at Verdun you'll be in the society of
generals; and at Rheims of as many dignitaries as haven't been bombarded
out of town. The Becketts don't need me. Perhaps Miss O'Farrell does."

"Perhaps!" I repeated.

Brian can see twice as much as those who have eyes, but he would not see
my sarcasm. Just then, however, Mrs. Beckett joined us in the hall of
the hotel, where we stood ready to start--all having breakfasted in our
own rooms. She guessed from my face that I was not pleased with Brian's
plan.

"My dear, I'd go myself with poor little Dierdre O'Farrell instead of
Brian!" she said. "Verdun isn't one of Jim's towns. Rheims is--but I'd
have sacrificed it. There can't be much left there to see. Only--_two
whole days_! Father and I haven't been parted so long in our lives since
we were married. I thought yesterday, when you were away in those
trenches, what a coward I'd been not to insist on going, and what if I
never saw Father again! I hope you don't think I'm too selfish!"

Poor darling, _selfish_ to travel in her own car with her own husband! I
just gave her a look to show what I felt; but after that I could no
longer object to parting with Brian. Puck had got his way, and I could
see by the light in his annoyingly beautiful eyes how exquisitely he
enjoyed the situation. Brian and Brian's kitbag were transferred to the
Red Cross taxi, there and then, to save delay for us and the officer who
would meet us, in case the wretched car should get a _panne_, en route
to Bar-le-Duc. As a matter of fact, that is what happened; or at all
events when our big, reliable motor purred with us into Bar-le-Duc, the
O'Farrells were nowhere to be seen.

Our officer--another lieutenant--had arrived in a little Ford; and as we
were invited to lunch in the citadel of Verdun we could not wait. I felt
sure the demon Puck had managed to be late on purpose, so that my
Verdun day might be spoiled by anxiety for Brian. Thus he would kill two
birds with one stone: show how little I gained by the enemy's absence,
and punish me for not letting him make love!

The road to Verdun was a wonderful prelude. After three years' Titanic
battling, how could there be a road at all? I had had vague visions of
an earthly turmoil, a wilderness of shell-holes where once had gleamed
rich meadows and vineyards, with little villages set jewel-like among
them, and the visions were true. But through the war-worn desert always
the road unrolled--the brave white road. Heaven alone could tell the
deeds of valour which had achieved the impossible, making and remaking
that road! It should have some great poem all to itself, I thought; a
poem called "The Road to Verdun." And the poem should be set to music. I
could almost hear the lilt of the verses as our car slipped through the
tangle of motor _camions_ and gun-carriages on the way thither. As for
the music, I could really hear that without flight of fancy: a deep,
rolling undertone of heavy wheels, of jolting guns, of pulsing engines,
like a million beating hearts; and out of its muffled bass rising the
lighter music of men's voices: soldiers singing; soldiers going to the
front, who shouted gaily to soldiers going to repose; soldiers laughing;
soldier-music that no hardship or suffering could subdue.

We had seen such processions before, but none so endless as this, going
both ways, as far as the eye could reach. We had seen no such tremendous
parks of artillery and aviation by the roadside, no such store of shells
for big guns and little guns, no such pyramids of grenades for trenches
and aeroplanes. We were engulfed in war, swallowed up in war. It was
thrilling beyond words.

But all the road flashed bright with thrills. There was a thrill at "le
Bois de Regrets," forest of dark regret for the Prussians of 1792, where
the French turned them back--the forest which Goethe saw: a thrill more
keen for the pointing sign, "Metz, 47 kilomètres," which reminded us
that less than thirty miles separated us from the great German
stronghold, yet--"_on ne passera pas_!" And the deepest thrill of all at
the words of our guide: "_Voilà la porte de Verdun! Nous y sommes_."

Turning off the road, we stopped our car and the little Ford to look up
and worship. There it rose before us, ancient pile of gray stones, altar
of history and triumph, Verodunum of Rome, city of warlike, almost royal
bishops and rich burghers: town of treaties, sacked by Barbarians; owned
and given up by Germans; seized by Prussians when the French had spiked
their guns in 1870; and now forever a monument to the immortal manhood
of France!

Perhaps it was the mist in my eyes, but at first sight Verdun did not
look ruined, as I saw it towering up to its citadel in massive strength
and stern dignity. The old houses on the slope stood shoulder to
shoulder and back to back, like massed men fighting their last stand. It
was only when we had started on again, and passing through the gate had
slipped into the sorrowful intimacy of the streets, that Verdun let us
see her glorious rags and scars.

You would think that one devastated town would be much like another to
look at save for size. But no! I am learning that each has some
arresting claim of its own to sacred remembrance. Nancy has had big
buildings knocked down like card houses by occasional bombardment of
great guns. Sermaize, Gerbéviller, Vitrimont and twenty other places we
have seen were thoroughly looted by the Germans and then burned, street
by street. But Verdun has been bombarded every day for weeks and months
and years. The town is a royal skeleton, erect and on its feet, its
jewelled sceptre damaged, but still grasped in a fleshless hand. The
Germans have never got near enough to steal!

"You see," said the smart young captain who had come out to meet us at
the gate and take us to the citadel, "you see, nothing has been touched
in these houses since the owners had to go. When they return from their
places of refuge far away, they will find everything as they left
it--that is, as the Boche guns have left it."

Only too easy was it to see! In some of the streets whole rows of houses
had had their fronts torn off. The rooms within were like stage-settings
for some tragic play. Sheets and blankets trailed from beds where
sleepers had waked in fright. Doors of wardrobes gaped to show dresses
dangling forlornly, like Bluebeard's murdered brides. Dinner-tables were
set out for meals never to be finished, save by rats. Family portraits
of comfortable old faces smiling under broken glass hung awry on pink or
blue papered walls. Half-made shirts and petticoats were still caught by
the needle in broken sewing-machines. Dropped books and baskets of
knitting lay on bright carpets snowed under by fallen plaster. Vases of
dead flowers stood on mantelpieces, ghostly stems and shrivelled brown
leaves reflected in gilt-framed mirrors. I could hardly bear to look! It
was like being shown by a hard-hearted surgeon the beating of a brain
through the sawed hole in a man's skull. If one could have crawled
through the crust of lava at Pompeii, a year after the eruption, one
might have felt somewhat as at Verdun now!

On a broken terrace, once a beloved evening promenade, our two cars
paused. We got out and gazed down, down over the River Meuse, from a
high vantage-point where a few months ago, we should have been blown to
bits, in five minutes. Our two officers pointed out in the misty autumn
landscape spots where some of the fiercest and most famous fights had
been. How the names they rattled off brought back anxious nights and
mornings when our first and only thoughts had been the _communiqués_!
"Desperate battle on the Meuse." "Splendid stand at Douaumont." "New
attack on Morthomme." But nothing we saw helped out our imaginings.
There was just a vast stretch of desolation where vinelands once had
poured their perfume to the sun. The forts protecting Verdun were as
invisible as fairyland, I said. "As invisible as hell!" one of our
guides amended. And then to me, in a low voice unheard by pale and
trembling Mother Beckett, he added, "If Nature did not work to make ugly
things invisible, we could not let you come here, Mademoiselle. See how
high the grass has grown in the plain down there! In summer it is full
of poppies, red as the blood that feeds their roots. And it is only the
grasses and the poppies that hide the bones of men we've never yet put
underground. Nature has been one of our chief sextons, here at Verdun. I
wish you could have seen the poppies a few months ago, mixed with blue
marguerites and cornflowers--that we call 'bluets.' We used to say that
our dead were lying in state under the tricolour flag of France. But I
have made you sad, Mademoiselle. _Je regrette!_ We must take you quickly
to the citadel. Our general will not let you be sad there."

We turned from the view over the Meuse and walked away in silence. I
thought I had never heard so loud, so thunderously echoing, a silence in
my life.

Oh, no, it was not sad in the citadel! It was, on the contrary, very
gay, of a gaiety so gallant and so pathetic that it brought a lump to
the throat when there should have been a laugh on the lips. But the lump
had to be swallowed, or our hosts' feelings would be hurt. They didn't
want watery-eyed, full-throated guests at a luncheon worthy of bright
smiles and keen appetites!

       *       *       *       *       *

The first thing that happened to Mother Beckett and me in the famous
fortress was to be shown into a room decorated as a ladies' boudoir. All
had been done, we were told almost timidly, in our honour, even the
frescoes on the walls, painted in record time by a young lieutenant, who
was an artist; and the officers hoped that they had forgotten nothing we
might need. We could both have cried, if we hadn't feared to spoil our
eyes and redden our noses! But even if we'd not been strong enough to
stifle our tears, there was everything at hand to repair their ravages.
And all this in a place where the Revolution had sent fourteen lovely
ladies to the guillotine for servilely begging the King of Prussia to
spare Verdun.

The lieutenant who met us at Bar-le-Duc had rushed there in
advance of us, in order to shop with frantic haste. A long list must
have been compiled after "mature deliberation"--as they say in
courts-martial--otherwise any normal young man would have missed out
something. In the tiny, subterranean room (not much larger than a cell)
a stick of incense burned. The cot-bed of some hospitable captain or
major disguised itself as a couch, under a brand-new silk table-cover
with the price-mark still attached, and several small sofa cushions,
also ticketed. A deal table had been painted green and spread with a
lace-edged tea-cloth, on which were proudly displayed a galaxy of
fittings from a dressing-bag, the best, no doubt, that poor bombarded
Bar-le-Duc could produce in war time. There were ivory-backed hair and
clothes brushes; a comb; bottles filled with white face-wash and
perfume; a manicure-set, with pink salve and nail-powder; a tray decked
out with every size of hairpin; a cushion bristling with pins of
many-coloured heads; boxes of rouge, a hare's-foot to put it on with;
face-powder in several tints; swan's-down puffs; black pencils for the
eyebrows and blue for the eyelids; sweet-smelling soap--a dazzling and
heavily fragrant collection.

"Oh, my dear, what _did_ they think of us?" gasped Mother Beckett. "What
a shame the poor lambs should have wasted all their money and trouble!"

"It _mustn't_ be wasted!" said I. "Think how disappointed they'd be if
they came in here afterward and found we hadn't touched a thing!"

"But----" she protested.

"You wouldn't hurt the feelings of the saviours of France? I'm going to
make us both up! And there's no time to waste. They've given us fifteen
minutes' grace before lunch. For the honour of womanhood we mustn't be
late!"

I sat her down in the only chair. I dusted her pure little face with
pearl-powder and the faintest _soupçon_ of rouge. I rubbed on her sweet
lips just the suspicion of pink, liked by an elderly _grande dame
française_, who has not yet "abdicated." I then made myself up more
seriously: a blue shadow on the lids, a raven touch on the lashes; a
flick of the hare's-foot under my eyes and on my ear-tips: an extra coat
of pink and a brilliant (most injurious!) varnish on the nails. Then,
with a dash of _Rose Ambrée_ for my companion's blouse and _Nuits
d'Orient_ for mine, we sallied forth scented like a harem, to do honour
to our hosts.

Luncheon was in a vast cavern of a vaulted banqueting-hall, in the
deepest heart of that citadel, where for eleven years Napoleon kept his
weary English prisoners. Electric lights showed us a table adorned with
fresh flowers (where they'd come from was a miracle, but soon we were to
see other miracles still more miraculous), French, British, and American
flags, and pyramids of fruit. The _Rose Ambrée_ and _Nuits d'Orient_
filled the whole vast _salle_, and pleased the officers, I was sure.
They bowed and smiled and paid us compliments, their many medals
glittered in the light, and their uniforms were resplendent against the
cold background of the walls. I wished that, instead of one girl, I had
been a dozen! But I did my best and so did Mother Beckett, who
brightened into a charming second youth, the youth of a happy mother
surrounded by a band of sons.

The lumps that had been in our throats had to be choked sternly down,
for not to do justice to that meal would be worse than leaving the rouge
and powder boxes unopened! The menu need not have put a palace to shame.
In the citadel of Verdun it seemed as if it must have been evolved by
rubbing Aladdin's lamp, and I said so as I read it over:

    Huîtres d'Ostende
    Bisque d'Écrevisses
    Sanglier rôti
    Purée de Pommes de Terre
    Soufflée de Chocolat
        Fruits
        Bonbons

"Oh, we've never been hungry at Verdun, even when things were at their
liveliest," said the officer sitting next to me. "Providence provided
for us in a strange way. I will tell you how. Before the civil
population went away, or expected to go, there was talk of a long siege.
The shopkeepers thought they would be intelligent and sent to Paris for
all sorts of food. Oh, not only the grocers and butchers! Everyone. You
would have laughed to see the jewellers showing hams in their windows
instead of diamonds and pearls and gold purses, and the piles of
preserved meat and fruit tins at the perfumers! The confectioners
ordered stores of sugar and the wine merchants restocked their cellars.
Then things began to happen. Houses were bombed, and people hustled out
in a hurry. You have seen some of those houses! The place was getting
too hot; and the order came for evacuation. Not much could be taken
away. Transport was difficult in those days! All the good food had to
be left behind, and we thought it would be a pity to waste it. Our chief
bought the lot at a reasonable price--merchants were thankful to sell.
So you see we did not need Aladdin's lamp."

"I don't _quite_ see!" I confessed. "Because, that's a long time ago,
and these oysters of Ostende----"

"Never saw Ostende!" he laughed. "They are a big bluff! We always have
them when"--he bowed--"we entertain distinguished guests. The Germans
used to print in their papers that we at Verdun could not hold out long,
because we were eating rats. So we took to cutting a dash with our
menus. We do not go into particulars and say that our oysters have kept
themselves fresh in tins!"

"But the wild boar?" I persisted. "Does one tin wild boar?"

"One does not! One goes out and shoots it. _Ma foi_, it's a good
adventure when the German guns are not asleep! The fruit? Ah, that is
easy! It comes as the air we breathe. And for our bonbons, the famous
sugared almonds of Verdun were not all destroyed when the factory blew
up."

With this he handed me a dish of the delicious things. "The story is,"
he said, "that a certain Abbess brought the secret of making these
almonds to Verdun. We have to thank Henry of Navarre for her. He had a
pleasant way, when he wished to be rid of an old love with a compliment,
of turning her into an Abbess. That time he made a lucky stroke for us."

At the end of luncheon we all drank healths, and nearly everyone made a
speech except Mrs. Beckett. She only nodded and smiled, looking so ideal
a little mother that she must have made even the highest officers
homesick for their _mamans_.

Then we were led through a mysterious network of narrow passages and
vaulted rooms, all lit with electric lamps, and striking cold and
cellary. We saw the big hospital, not very busy just then, and the
clean, empty operating theatre, and gnome-caverns where munitions were
stored in vast, black pyramids. When there was nothing left to see in
the citadel, our hosts asked if we would like to pay a visit to the
trenches--old trenches which had once defended Thiaumont.

"I don't think my wife had better----" Mr. Beckett began; but the little
old lady cut him short. "Yes, Father, I just _had_ better! To-day, being
among all these splendid brave soldiers has shown me that I'm weak--a
spoiled child. I felt yesterday I'd been a coward. Now I _know_ it! And
I'm _going_ to see those trenches."

I believe it was partly the powder and lip salve that made her so
desperate!

Her husband yielded, meek as a lamb. Big men like Mr. Beckett always do
to little women like Mrs. Beckett. But she bore it well. And when at
last we bade good-bye to our glorious hosts, she said to me, "Molly, you
tell them in French, that now I've met _them_ I understand why the
Germans could never pass!"



CHAPTER XVIII


Almost any place on earth would be an anti-climax the day after
Verdun--but not Rheims!

Just at this moment (it mayn't be much more) Rheims is resting, like a
brave victim on the rack who has tired his torturers by an obstinate
silence. Only a few people are allowed to enter the town, save those who
have lived there all along, and learned to think no more of German bombs
than German sausages; and those favoured few must slip in and out almost
between breaths. Any instant the torturing may begin again, when the
Boches have bombs to spare for what they call "target practice"; for
think, how near is Laon!--and we'd been warned that, even at the portals
of the town, we might be turned back.

We had still another new French officer to take us to Rheims. (I am
getting their faces a little mixed, like a composite picture, but I keep
sacredly all their dear visiting-cards!) He was a captain, with a
scarred but handsome face, and he complimented Mother Beckett and me on
our "courage." This made Father Beckett visibly regret that he had
brought us, though he had been assured that it was a "safe time."
However, his was not the kind of regret which tempts a man to turn back:
it only makes his upper lip look long.

I never saw Rheims in palmy days of peace. Now I wish I had seen it!
But there was that lithograph of the cathedral by Gustave Simonau, the
great Belgian artist, hanging above your desk, in the den, Padre. I used
to study it when I should have been studying my lessons, fascinated by
the splendid façade, the twin towers, the three "portals of the
Trinity," the rose-window, the gallery of kings, the angels, the saints,
the gargoyles and all the carved stone lace-work which the picture so
wonderfully shows.

On the opposite side of the room was Simonau's Cathedral of Chartres, in
a dark frame to match, and I remember your saying that Chartres was
considered by some critics even finer than Rheims. The Cathedral of
Chartres seemed a romantic monument of history to me, because it was
built as a shrine for the "tunic of the Virgin"; but the Gothic
Notre-Dame of Rheims appealed to my--perhaps prophetic--soul. Maybe I
had a latent presentiment of how I should see the real cathedral, as _la
grande blessée_ of the greatest war of the world.

Anyhow, I always took a deep interest in Rheims from the day I first
gaped, an open-mouthed child, at that beautiful drawing, and I was glad
I'd forgotten none of its details, as we motored toward the martyr town.
Usually there's Brian, who can tell the dear Becketts all they don't
know and want to know, but this time they'd only me to depend upon. And
when I think what a cruel fraud I am at heart, there's some consolation
in serving them, even in small ways.

There's a wide plain that knows desolately what German bombardment
means: there are gentle hills rising out of it, south and west (will
grapes ever be sweet on those sad hillsides again?) and there's the
little river Vesle that runs into the Aisne. There's the Canal of the
Aisne and the Marne, too--oh, many wide waters and little streams, to
breathe out mist, for Rheims is on the pleasant Île-de-France. There was
so much mist this autumn day that it hid from our eyes for a long time
the tall form of the Cathedral which should dominate the plain for many
miles; a thick, white mist like the sheet with which a sculptor veils
his masterpiece until it's ready to face the world. As we drove on, and
still saw no looming bulk, frozen fear pinched my heart, like horrid,
ice-cold fingers. What if there'd been some new bombardment we hadn't
had time to hear of, and the Cathedral were _gone_?

But I didn't speak my fear. I tried to cover it up by chattering about
Rheims. Goodness knows there's a lot to chatter about! All that
wonderful history, since Clovis was baptized by Saint Remi; and
Charlemagne crowned, and Charles the VII, with Jeanne d'Arc looking on
in bright armour, and various Capets, and enough other kings to name
Notre-Dame of Rheims the "Cathedral of Coronations." I remembered
something about the Gate of Mars, too--the oldest thing of all--which
the Remi people put up in praise of Augustus Cæsar when Agrippa brought
his great new roads close to their capital. I think it had been called
Durocoroturum up to that time--or some equally awful name, which you
remember only because you expect to forget! I hardly dared tell the
Becketts about the celebrated archiepiscopal palace where the kings used
to be entertained by the archbishops (successors of Saint Remi) while
the coronation ceremonies were going on: and the _Salle du Tau_ with its
wonderful hangings, its velvet-cushioned stone seats and carved,
upright furniture, where the royal guests--in robes stiff with jewelled
embroidery--had their banquets from plates of solid silver and gold. It
seemed cruel to speak of splendours vanished forever, vanished like the
holy oil of the sacred phial brought from heaven by a dove for the
baptism of Clovis, and kept for the anointing of all those dead kings!

But it was just the time and place to talk about Attila--Attila the
First, I mean, of whom, as I told you, I firmly believe the present
"incumbent" to be the reincarnation. As Attila I. thought fit to put
Rheims to the sword, Atilla II. is naturally impelled by the "spiral" to
do his best from a distance, by destroying the Cathedral which wasn't
begun in his predecessor's day. But what does he think, I wonder, about
the prophecy? That in Rheims--scene of the first German defeat on the
soil of Gaul--Germany's last defeat will be celebrated, with great
rejoicing in the Cathedral she has tried to ruin?

Those words, "tried to ruin," I uttered rather feebly, holding forth to
the Becketts, because we had passed a long dark line of trees before
which--we'd been told--we ought to see the Cathedral rise triumphant
against an empty background of sky. And still there was nothing!

Of course, I told myself, it must be the mist. But could mist be thick
enough entirely to hide a great mountain of a cathedral from eyes
drawing nearer every minute? Then, suddenly, my question was answered by
the mist itself. I must have hypnotized it! A light wind, which we had
thought was made by the motor, cut like the shears of Lachesis through
the woolly white web. A gash of blue appeared and in the midst,
floating as if it had died and gone to heaven, the Cathedral.

Yes, "died and gone to heaven!" That is just what has happened to
Notre-Dame of Rheims. The body has been martyred, but the soul is left
alive--beautiful, brave soul of the old stones of France!

"Oh!" went up from three voices in the motor-car. I think even our
one-legged soldier-chauffeur emitted a grunt of joy; and Mother Beckett
clasped her hands on her little thin breast, as if she were praying,
such a wonderful sight it was, with the golden coronation of the
noon-day sun on the towers. Our officer-guide, in his car ahead, looked
back as if to say, "I told you so! They can't kill France, and Rheims is
the very spirit and youth of France."

Not one of us spoke another word until we drove into the town, and began
exclaiming with horror and rage at what Attila II has done to the
streets.

The mist had fallen again, not white in the town, but a pale, sad gray,
like a mantle of half-mourning. It hung over the spacious avenues and
the once fine, now desolate, streets, which had been the pride of
Rheims; it slipped serpent-like through what remained of old arcades: it
draped the ancient Gate of Mars in the Place de la République as if to
hide the cruel scars of the bombardment; it lay like soiled snow on the
mountain of tumbled stone which had been the Rue St. Jacques; it
curtained the "show street" of Rheims, the Rue de la Grue, almost as old
as the Cathedral itself, which a Sieur de Coucy began in 1212; trickling
gray as glacier waters over the fallen walls which artists had loved. It
marbled with pale streaks the burned, black corpse of the once famous
Maison des Laines; it clouded the marvellous old church of St. Remi, and
when we came to the Cathedral--kept for the climax--it floated past the
wounded statues on the great western façade like an army of
spirits--spirits of all those watching saints whom the statues honoured.

The crowns of the broken towers we could not see, but at that height the
mist was gilded by the sun which sifted through so that each tower
seemed to have its own faint golden halo.

"This effect comes often on these foggy autumn days, when the sun is
high, about noontime," said our guide. "It's rather wonderful, isn't it?
We have a priest-soldier invalided here now, who used to be of the
service in the Cathedral, before he volunteered to fight. He has written
some verses, which it seems came to him in a dream one night. Whether
the world would think them fine I do not know, but at Rheims we like
them. The idea is that Jeanne d'Arc has mobilized the souls of the
saints who protect Rheims, to bless and console the Cathedral, which
they were not permitted to save from outward ruin. It is she who gilds
the mist on the towers with a prophecy of hope. As for the mist itself,
according to the poet, it is no common fog. It is but the cloak worn by
this army of saints to visit their cathedral, and bathe its wounds with
their cool white hands, so that at last, when peace dawns, there shall
be a spiritual beauty found in the old marred stones--a beauty they
never had in their prime."

"I should like to see that soldier-priest!" said Father Beckett, when I
had translated for him the officer's description of the poem. "Couldn't
we meet him? What's his name?"

I passed on the questions to our captain of the scarred face. "The man's
name is St. Pol," he told us. "You can see from that he comes of an old
family. If it had been this day last week you could have met him. He
would have been pleased. But--since then--alas! Mademoiselle, it is
impossible that he should be seen. It would be too sad for you and your
friends."

"He has been wounded in some bombardment?" I exclaimed.

"Not wounded--no. We don't think much of wounds. What has happened is
sadder than wounds. Some day the man may recover. We hope so. But at
present he--is out of everything, dead in life."

"What happened?" I gasped.

"Oh, it is quite a history!" said the Captain. "But it begins a long
time ago, when the Germans came to Rheims in 1914. Perhaps it would
fatigue you? Besides, you have to translate, which takes double the
time. I might write out the story and send it, Mademoiselle, if you
like. You and your friends are not as safe here as in your own houses, I
do not disguise that from you! The Germans have let us rest these last
few days. Yet who can tell when they may choose to wake us up with a
bomb or two?"

"I don't think we're afraid," I said, and consulted the Becketts. The
little old lady answered for both. She was stoutly sure they were not
afraid! "We shouldn't deserve to be Jim's parents if we were--of a thing
like _that_! You tell the Captain, Molly, we're getting used to bombs,
and we want the story right here, on the spot!"

"_C'est très chic, ça!_" remarked the Captain, eyeing the mite of a
woman. He stood for a minute, his scarred face pale in the mist, his
eyes fixed thoughtfully on a headless stone king. Then he began his
story of the soldier-priest.

Monsieur le Curé de St. Pol was very young when the war began--almost as
young as a _curé_ can be. He did not think, at first, to become a
soldier, for he hated war. But, indeed, in those early days he had no
time to think at all. He only worked--worked, to help care for the
wounded who were pouring into Rheims, toward the last of August, 1914.
Many were brought into the Cathedral, where they lay on the floor, on
beds of straw. The Curé's duty was among these. He had relations in
Rheims--a family of cousins of the same name as his. They lived in a
beautiful old house, one of the best in Rheims, with an ancient chapel
in the garden. There was an invalid father, whose wife devoted her life
to him, and a daughter--a very beautiful young girl just home from a
convent-school the spring before the war broke out. There was a son,
too--but naturally, he was away fighting.

This young girl, Liane de St. Pol, was one of many in Rheims who
volunteered to help nurse the wounded. All girls brought up in convents
have some skill in nursing, you know!

While she and the Curé were at work in the Cathedral, among the wounded
men who came in were her own brother, a lieutenant, and his best friend,
a captain of his regiment. Both were badly hurt--the St. Pol boy worse
than his friend. Yet even for him there was hope--if he could have had
the best of care--if he could have been taken home and lovingly nursed
there. That was not possible. The surgeons had no time for
house-to-house visits. He was operated on in the Cathedral, and as he
lay between life and death, news came that the Germans were close to
Rheims.

In haste the wounded were sent to Épernay--to save them from being made
prisoners. But some could not go: Louis de St. Pol and his friend
Captain Jean de Visgnes. De Visgnes might have been hidden in the St.
Pol house but he would not leave the boy, who could not be moved so far.
The Curé vowed to hide both, and he did hide them in a chapel of the
Cathedral itself. On September 3, at evening, the first Germans rode
into the town and took up their quarters in the Municipal Palace, where
they forced the Mayor, a very old man, to live with them. It was a
changed Rheims since the day before. The troops of the garrison had gone
in the direction of Épernay, since there was no hope of defence. Many
rich people had fled, taking what they could carry in automobiles or
cabs. The poor feared a siege--or worse: they knew not what. The St. Pol
family received into their house a number of women whose husbands were
at the Front, and their babies. No one ventured out who could stay
indoors. The city filled up with German soldiers, with the Kaiser's son,
Prince August Wilhelm, at their head. They, too, had wounded. The
Cathedral was put to use for them, and the Curé cared for the Boches as
he had cared for the French. This gave him a chance, at night, to nurse
his two friends. So dragged on seven days, which seemed seven years; and
then rumours drifted in of a great German retreat, a mysterious failure
in the midst of seeming victory. The Battle of the Marne was making
itself felt. In rage and bewilderment the Germans poured out of Rheims,
leaving only their wounded behind. The townspeople praised God, and
thought their trial was over. But it was only just begun! On the 16th
the bombardment opened. The Germans knew that their wounded still lay in
the Cathedral, but they did not seem to care for men out of the fighting
line. A rain of bombs fell in the town--one of the first wrecked the Red
Cross ambulance--and many struck the Cathedral. Then came the night when
the straw bedding blazed, and fire poured through the long naves, rising
to the roof.

The Curé told afterward how wonderful the sight was with the jewelled
windows lighting up for the last time, before the old glass burst with
the shrill tinkle of a million crystal bells. He and Jean de Visgnes
carried Louis de St. Pol out into the street, but the boy died before
they reached his father's house, and De Visgnes had a dangerous relapse.
It was on this night that the Curé made up his mind to volunteer, and
soon he was at the Front. Nearly three years passed before he and De
Visgnes met again, both _en permission_, travelling back to Rheims to
pass their "perm." Jean was now engaged to Liane de St. Pol who, with
her parents, had remained in the bombarded town, refusing to desert
their poor protegées. The two planned to marry, after the war; but Liane
had been struck by a flying fragment of shell, and wounded in the head.
De Visgnes could bear the separation no longer. He made the girl promise
to marry him at once--in the chapel of the old house, as she was still
suffering, and forbidden to go out. His leave had been granted for the
wedding, and the moment Liane was strong enough she and the old people
would leave Rheims. Jean was to take them himself to his own home in
Provence. The Curé was to marry his cousin to the man whose life he had
saved.

Many children of the poor whom Liane had helped decorated the chapel
with flowers, and though the wedding-day was one of fierce bombardment,
no one dreamed of putting off the ceremony. No fine shops for women's
dress were open in Rheims, but the bride wore her mother's wedding-gown
and veil of old lace. None save the family were asked to the marriage,
because it was dangerous to go from house to house; yet all Rheims loved
Liane, and meant to wish happiness for bride and bridegroom as the
chapel-bells chimed for their union. But the bells began and never
finished. At the instant when Liane de St. Pol and Jean de Visgnes
became man and wife a bomb fell on the chapel roof. The tiles collapsed
like cards, and all the bridal party was killed as by a lightning
stroke. Only the soldier-priest was spared. Strangely, he was not even
touched. But horror had driven him mad. Since then he spoke only to rave
of Liane and Jean; how beautiful they had looked, lying dead before the
wrecked altar.

"The doctors say it is like a case of shell-shock," the Captain
finished. "They think he'll recover. But at present, as I said--it is a
sad affair. Sad for _him_--not for those who died together, suffering no
pain. One of the Curé's favourite sayings used to be, they tell me,
'Death is not an end, but a beginning.'"

"You know him well?" I asked.

"Yes. I was stationed in Rheims before the war. I used to dance with
Liane when she came home from school."

"Ah, if only her family hadn't stayed here till too late!" I cried.

The captain with the scarred face shrugged his shoulders. "Destiny!" he
said. "Besides, the best people do not run away easily from the homes
they love. Perhaps they have the feeling that, in a home which has
always meant peace, nothing terrible can happen. Yet there's more in it
than that--something more subtle which keeps them in the place where
they have always lived: something, I think, that binds the spirits of us
Frenchmen and women to the spirit of their own hearths--their own soil.
Haven't you found that already, in other places you have visited in this
journey of yours?"

"Yes," I answered, thinking of the old people I had seen at Vitrimont
living in the granaries of their ruined houses, and strangely,
unbelievably happy because they were "at home." "Yes, we have seen that
in little villages of Lorraine."

"Then how much more at Rheims, under the shadow of Notre-Dame!" The
scarred captain still gazed at the headless king, and faintly smiled.



CHAPTER XIX


Of course nothing did happen in Paris to break up the party. I might
have known that nothing would. Nothing happened at all, except that I
received a letter from Doctor Herter with the promised introduction to
an oculist just now at the Front, and that I realized, after three days'
absence, how Brian is improving. He has less the air of a beautiful
soul, whose incarnation in a body is a mere accident, and more the look
of a happy, handsome young man, with a certain spiritual radiance which
makes him remarkable and somehow "disturbing," as the French say. If
anything could stop the rats gnawing my conscience, it would be this
blessed change. Brian is getting back health and strength. When I think
what a short time ago it is that his life hung in the balance, this
seems a miracle. I'm afraid I am glad--glad that I did the thing which
has given him his chance. Besides, I love the Becketts. So does Brian.
And they love us. It's difficult to remember that I've stolen their
love. Surely, they're happier with us than they could have been without
us? Brian's scheme for their visits to the liberated towns is doing good
to them and to hundreds--even thousands--of people whom they intend to
help.

All this is sophistry, no doubt, but oh, it's beguiling sophistry! It's
so perfectly disguised that I seldom recognize it except at night when
I lie awake, and it sits on my bed, without its becoming mask.

Being the Becketts' adviser-in-chief, and having his lungs full of ozone
every day should be enough to account for Brian's improvement.
Yet--well, I can't help thinking that he takes a lot more trouble than
he need for Dierdre O'Farrell. Oh, not that he's _in love_! Such an idea
is ridiculous, but he's interested and sorry for the girl, because she
goes about with a chip on her shoulder, defying the world to knock it
off. He won't admit that it's the fault of her outlook on the world, and
that the poor old world isn't to blame at all.

What if he knew the truth about that brother and sister? Naturally I
can't tell him, of all people on earth, and they take advantage of my
handicap. They've used their time well, in my absence, when they had
Brian to themselves. He had his doubts of Julian, but the creature has
sung himself into my blind brother's heart. From what I hear, the three
have spent most of their time at the piano in the private _salon_ which
the Becketts invited the O'Farrells to engage.

Now, as I write, we are making our headquarters in Compiègne, sleeping
there, and sightseeing by day on what they call the "Noyon Front."

After Rheims and before Noyon we stopped three days in Paris instead of
one, as we'd planned, for Mother Beckett was tired. She wouldn't confess
it, but "Father" thought she looked pale. Strange if she had not, after
such experiences and emotions! Sometimes, when I study the delicate old
face, with blue hollows under kind, sweet eyes, I ask myself: "Will she
be able to get through the task she's set herself?" But she is so
quietly brave, not only in fatigue, but in danger, that I answer my own
question: "Yes, she will do it somehow, on the reserve force that kept
her up when Jim died."

The road from Paris, past Senlis, to Compiègne, was even more thrilling
than the road to Nancy and beyond, for this was the way the Germans took
in September, 1914, when they thought the capital was theirs to have and
hold: "_la route de l'Allemagne_" it used to be called, but never will
French lips give it that name again.

Just at first, running out of the city in early morning, things looked
much the same as when starting for Nancy: the unnatural quiet of streets
once crammed with busy traffic for feeding gay Paris; military motors of
all sorts and sizes, instead of milk wagons and cartloads of colourful
fruits; women working instead of men; children on their way to school,
sedately talking of "_papa au Front_," instead of playing games. But
outside the suburbs the real thrills began.

There were the toy-like fortifications of which Paris was proud in the
'fifties; there was the black tangle of barbed wire, and the trace of
trenches (a mere depression on the earth's surface, as if a serpent had
laid its heavy length on a great, green velvet cushion) with which Paris
had hoped to delay the German wave. Only a little way on, we shot
through the sleepy-looking village of Bourget where Napoleon stopped a
few hours after Waterloo, rather than enter Paris by daylight; and Brian
had a story of the place. A French soldier, a friend of his (nearly
everyone he meets is Brian's friend!) who was born there, told him that
on each anniversary the ghost of the "Little Corporal" appears,
travel-stained and worn, on the road leading to Bourget. For many years
his custom was to show himself for a second to some seeing eye, then
vanish like a mirage of the desert. But since 1914 his way is different.
He does not confine his visit to the hamlet of sad memories. He walks
the country side, his hands behind him, his head bent as of old; or he
rides a horse that is slightly lame, inspecting with thoughtful gaze the
frenzied industries of war, war such as he--the war-genius--never saw in
his visions of the future: the immense aerodromes, the bomb sheds, the
wireless stations and observation towers, the giant "_saucisses_"
resting under green canvas, ready to rise at dawn; and all the other
astounding features of the landscape so peaceful in his day.

Even now parts of it are peaceful, often the very spots marked by
history, where it seems as if each tree should be decorated by a Croix
de Guerre. For instance, there was the place--a junction of roads--where
the Uhlans with a glitter of helmets came proudly galloping toward
Paris, and to their blank amazement and rage had to turn back. As we
halted to take in the scene, it was mysterious as dreamland in the
morning mist. Nothing moved save two teams of cream-coloured oxen, their
moon-white sides dazzling behind a silver veil. The pale road stretched
before us so straight and far that it seemed to descend from the sky
like a waterfall. Only the trees had a martial look, like tall, dark
soldiers drawn up in line for parade.

It was not till we plunged into forest depths that I said to myself: "We
must be coming near Senlis!" For the very name "Senlis" fills the mind
with forest pictures. No wonder, since it lies walled away from the
outer world--like the Sleeping Beauty--by woods, and woods, and woods:
the forests of Hallette, Chantilly, and Ermenonville, each as full of
history as it is now of aromatic scents, and used to be of wild boars
for kings to kill!

I think the best of the forest pictures has Henri de Navarre for its
principal figure. Brian and I turned over the pages of our memory for
the Becketts, who listened like children to fairy tales--or as we
listened when you used to embroider history for us in those evening
_causeries_ in the dear old "den," Padre.

I dug up the story about Henri at twenty-one, married more than a year
to beautiful, lively Marguerite de Valois, and enduring lazily the
despotism of his mother-in-law. There in the old palace of the Louvre,
he loitered the time away, practically a prisoner until the only friend
he had with courage to speak out (Agrippa d'Aubigny) gave him a lecture.
Agrippa lashed his master with the words "coward" and "sluggard,"
letting his faithful servants work for his interests while he remained
the slave of a "wicked old witch." The Béarnais had been biding his
time--"crouching to spring": but that slap in the face set him on fire.
He could no longer wait for the right moment. He decided to make the
_first_ moment the right one. His quick brain mapped out a plan of
escape in which the sole flaw was that he must leave behind his
brilliant bride. With eight or ten of his greatest, most loyal
gentlemen, he arranged to hunt in the forest of Senlis; and he had shown
himself so biddable, so boyish, that at first even Catherine de Medicis
did not suspect him. It was only when the party had set forth that the
plot burst like a bomb, in Catherine's own boudoir, where she sat with
her favourite son, vile Henri III of France.

Fervacques, one of the plotters, had stopped in Paris, feigning illness.
The plan had been concocted in his rooms, and he but waited for
Navarre's back to be turned to betray him. Marguerite laughed when she
heard (perhaps she was in the secret), but Catherine said evil words, of
which she knew a great many--especially in Italian. Orders were given
for the gates of Paris to be shut (gates that in those days barred the
road along which we now motored), but they were too late. Navarre and
his hunters had passed through. Agrippa d'Aubigny was not among them.
His part had been to watch the happenings of the Court, and join Navarre
later in his own kingdom, but that hope was broken. Disguised as a
_mignon_ of Henri III, he slipped out of Paris on a fast horse, tore
after the Béarnais and his equerries, and caught the cavalcade in the
forest. "Thou art betrayed!" he cried.

"But not captured!" laughed Navarre.

In haste they substituted a new plot for the old. The young king was to
pretend ignorance of the betrayal. He installed himself accordingly in
the best lodgings of Senlis, talking loudly about hunting prospects,
arranged to see a performance by travelling actors, and sent such a
message back to Catherine and Henri that they believed Fervacques had
fooled them.

By the time they'd waked to the truth, Navarre had ridden safely out of
Senlis with his friends, bound for the kingdom on the Spanish border.
Even then he was a man of big ambitions; so maybe he said to himself,
looking back at Senlis: "I shall travel this road again, as king of
France, to enter Paris in triumph." Anyhow, he was grateful to Senlis
for saving him, and stayed there often, as Henri Quatre, flirting with
pretty ladies, and inviting them to become abbesses when he tired of
them.

Lots of things have happened in Senlis, because it's on the road to
Paris, and for centuries has been getting into someone's way. Why, if it
hadn't been for Senlis, William the Conqueror might never have
conquered! You see, before William's day, Count Bernard of Senlis (who
boasted himself a forty-second grandson or something of Charlemagne)
quarrelled with King Louis IV of France. To spite him, Bernard adopted
the baby son of William Longsword, Duke of Normandy, killed in battle;
for Normandy was a "thorn in the eye" of France. Thanks to Bernard's
help Normandy gained in riches and importance. By the time William, son
of Robert the Devil and Arlette of Falaise, appeared on the scene, the
dukedom was a power in the world, and William was able to dare his great
enterprise.

But that was only one incident. Senlis was already an old, old town, and
as much entitled to call itself a capital of France as was Paris. Not
for nothing had the Gallo-Romans given it walls twenty feet high and
thirteen feet thick! They could not have builded better had they meant
to attract posterity's attention, and win for their strong city the
admiration of kings. Clovis was the first king who fancied it, and
settled there. But not a king who followed, till after the day of Henri
Quatre, failed to live in the castle which Clovis began. Henry V of
England married Bonny Kate in the château; Charles VIII of France and
Maximilian of Austria signed a treaty within its walls; Francis I
finished Notre-Dame of Senlis. The Duke of Bedford fought Joan of Arc
there, and she was helped by the Maréchal Rais, no other than Bluebeard;
so "Sister Anne" must have gazed out from some neighbouring tower for
the "cloud of dust in the distance." Somewhere in the vast encircling
forests the Babes in the Wood were buried by the birds, while the wicked
uncle reigned in their father's place at Senlis. In 1814 Prussian,
Russian, and British soldiers marched through the town on their tramp to
Paris. Cossacks and Highlanders were the "strangest sight" Senlis had
ever seen, though it had seen many; but a hundred years later it was to
see a stranger one yet.

If ever a place looked made for peace, that place is Senlis, on its
bright little river Nonette--child of the Oise--and in its lovely
valley. That was what I said as we slowed down on the outskirts: but ah,
how the thought of peace broke as we drove along the "kings'
highway"--the broad Rue de la République! In an instant the drama of
September 2nd--eve of the Marne battle--sprang to our eyes and knocked
at our hearts. We could smell the smoke, and see the flames, and hear
the shots, the cries of grief and rage, the far-off thunder of bridges
blown up by the retreating French army. Suddenly we knew how the people
of Senlis had suffered that day, and--strangely, horribly--how the
Germans had felt.

Senlis hadn't realized--wouldn't let itself realize--even during
bombardment, what its fate might be. It had been spared, as an open
town, in 1870; and since then, through long, prosperous years of peace a
comfortable conviction had grown that only pleasant things could
happen. Why, it was the place of pleasure, reaping a harvest of fame and
money from its adventurous past! Tourists came from all the world over
to put up at the Hôtel du Grand Cerf, once the hunting lodge of kings.
They came to loiter in narrow old streets whose very names were echoes
of history; to study the ruins of the Roman arena and the ancient walls;
to hunt in the forest, as royal men and ladies had hunted when stags and
wild boar had been plentiful as foxes and rabbits; or to motor from one
neighbouring château to another. Surely even Germans could not doom such
a town to destruction. To be sure, some people did fly when a rabble of
refugees from Compiègne poured past, hurrying south; and others fled
from the bombardment when big guns, fired from Lucien Bonaparte's old
village of Chamant, struck the cathedral. But many stayed for duty's
sake, or because they believed obstinately that to _their_ bit of the
Île-de-France no tragedy could come.

They didn't know yet that Von Kluck and his men were drunk with victory,
and that flaming towns were for the German army bonfires of triumph.
They didn't know that the Kaiser's dinner was ordered in Paris for a
certain date, and that at all costs Paris must be cowed to a speedy
peace, lest the dinner be delayed. "Frightfulness" was the word of
command, and famous old Senlis was to serve as a lesson to Paris.

But somehow the German master of Senlis's heart weakened when the
crucial moment came. He was at the Hôtel du Grand Cerf, where a dinner
was being prepared by scared servants for thirty German officers. The
order was about to be signed when suddenly a _curé_, small and pale,
but lion-brave, entered the room. How he got in no one knew! Surprise
held the general tongue-tied for three seconds; and a French _curé_ is
capable of much eloquence in three seconds.

He gambled--if a _curé_ may gamble!--on the chance of his man being
Catholic--and he won. That is why (so they told us in the same room
three years later) Senlis was struck with many sore wounds, but not
exterminated; that is why only the Maire and a few citizens were
murdered instead of all; that is why in some quarters of Senlis the
people who have come back can still dream that nothing happened to their
dear haunt of peace on September 2, 1914.

Even if Senlis had fallen utterly, before the Germans turned in their
tracks, Paris would not have been "cowed." As it was, Paris and all
France were roused to a redoubled fury of resistance by the fate of the
Senlis "hostages." So these men did not die in vain.

The scars of Senlis are still unhealed. Whole streets are blackened
heaps of ruin, and there are things that "make you see red," as Father
Beckett growled. But the thing which left the clearest picture in my
brain was a sight sweet as well as sad: a charming little château,
ruined by fire, yet pathetically lovely in martyrdom; the green trellis
still ornamenting its stained façade, a few autumn roses peeping with
child-like curiosity into gaping window-eyes; a silent old gardener
raking the one patch of lawn buried under blackened tiles and tumbled
bricks. The man's figure was bent, yet I felt that there was hope as
well as loyalty in his work. "They will come back home some day," was
the expression of that faithful back.

In the exquisite beauty of the forest beyond Senlis there was still--for
me--this note of hope. "Where beauty is, sadness cannot dwell for ever!"
As we rushed along in the big car, the delicate gray trunks of
clustering trees seemed to whirl round and round before our eyes, as in
a votive dance of young priestesses. We saw bands of German prisoners
toiling gnome-like in dim glades, but they didn't make us sad again. _Au
contraire!_ We found poetical justice in the thought that they, the
cruel destroyers of trees, must chop wood and pile faggots from dawn to
dusk.

So we came to Compiègne, where the French army has its headquarters in
one of the most famous châteaux in the world.



CHAPTER XX


It took a mere glance (even if we hadn't known beforehand) to see that
noble Compiègne craved no Beckett charity, no American adoption.

True, German officers lived for twelve riotous days in the palace, in
1914, selecting for home use many of its treasures, and German
"non-coms." filled vans with rare antiques from the richest mansions;
still, they had no time, or else no inclination, to disfigure the town.
The most sensational souvenir of those days before the Marne battle is a
couple of broken bridges across the Oise and Aisne, blown up by the
French in the hour of their retreat. But that strange sight didn't break
on our eyes as we entered Compiègne. We seemed to have been transported
by white magic from mystic forest depths to be plumped down suddenly in
a city square, in front of a large, classical palace. It's only the
genie of motoring who can arrange these startling contrasts!

If we took Brian's advice, and "played" that our autos were
old-fashioned coaches; if we looked through, instead of at, the dozen
military cars lined up at the palace gates; if we changed a few details
of the soldiers' uniforms, the gray château need not have been Army
Headquarters in our fancy. For us, the Germans might cease from
troubling and the war-weary be at rest, while we skipped back to any
century we fancied.

Of course, Louis XV, son-in-law of our old friend Stanislas of Lorraine,
built the château; and Napoleon the Great added a wing in honour of his
second bride, Marie Louise. But why be hampered by details like that?
Charles V built a castle at this old Roman Compendium, on the very spot
where all those centuries later Louis XV erected his Grecian façades;
and Henri of Navarre often came there, in his day. One of Henri's best
romances he owed to Compiègne; and while we were having what was meant
to be a hurried luncheon, Mother Beckett made Brian tell the story. You
know Brian came to Compiègne before the war and painted in the palace
park, where Napoleon I and Napoleon III used to give their
_fêtes-champêtres_; and he says that the picture is clear as ever
"behind his eyes."

Once upon a time, Henri was staying in the château, very bored because
weather had spoiled the hunting. Suddenly appeared the "handsomest young
man of Prance," the Duc de Bellegarde, Henri's equerry, who had been
away on an adventure of love. Somehow, he'd contrived to meet Gabrielle
d'Estrées, almost a child, but of dazzling beauty. She hid him for three
days, and then, alas, a treacherous maid threatened to tell Gabrielle's
father. Bellegarde had to be smuggled out of the family castle--a rope
and a high window. The tale amused Henri; and the girl's portrait fired
him. He couldn't forget; and later, having finished some business at
Senlis (part of which concerned a lady) he laid a plan to cut Bellegarde
out. When the Equerry begged leave from Compiègne to visit Gabrielle
again, Henri consented, on condition that he might be the duke's
companion.

Bellegarde had to agree; and Henri fell in love at sight with the golden
hair, blue eyes, and rose-and-white skin of "Gaby." She preferred
Bellegarde to the long-nosed king; but the Béarnais was never one to
take "no" for an answer. He went from Compiègne again and again to the
forbidden castle, in peril of his life from Guise and the League. After
a wild adventure, in disguise as a peasant with a bundle of straw on his
head, his daring captured the girl's fancy. She was his; and he was
hers, writing sonnets to "Charmante Gabrielle," making Marguerite
furious by giving to the new love his wife's own Abbey of St. Corneille,
at Compiègne. (One can still see its ruins!)

I said we meant to eat quickly and go for an afternoon of
sightseeing--for early to-morrow (I'm writing late at night) we're due
at Noyon. But Brian remembered so many bits about Compiègne, that by
tacit consent we lingered and listened. When he was here last, he did a
sketch of Henri and Gabrielle hunting in the forest; "Gaby" pearl-fair
in green satin, embroidered with silver; on her head the famous hat of
velvet-like red taffetas, which cost Henri two hundred crowns. Perhaps
she carried in her hand one of the handkerchiefs for which she paid what
other women pay for dresses; but Brian's sketches are too
"impressionist" to show handkerchiefs! Anyhow, her hand was in the
king's, for that was her way of riding with her gray-clad lover; though
when she went alone she rode boldly astride. Poor Henri couldn't say nay
to the becoming green satin and red hat, though he was hard up in those
days. After paying a bill of Gaby's, he asked his valet how many shirts
and handkerchiefs he had. "A dozen shirts, torn," was the answer.
"Handkerchiefs, five."

On the walls of the room where we ate hung beautiful old engravings of
Napoleon I in his daily life at the Château of Compiègne. Napoleon
receiving honoured guests in the vast Galerie des Fêtes, with its
polished floor and long line of immense windows; Napoleon and his bride
in the Salon des Dames d'Honneur, among the ladies of Marie Louise;
Napoleon listening wistfully--thinking maybe of lost Joséphine--to a
damsel at the harp, in the Salon de Musique; Marie Louise smirking
against a background of _teinture chinoise_; Napoleon observing a
tapestry battle of stags in the Salle des Cerfs; Napoleon on the
magnificent _terrasse_ giving a garden party; Napoleon walking with his
generals along the Avenue des Beaux Monts, in the park. But these
pictures rather teased than pleased us, because in war days only the
army enters palace or park.

Brian was luckier than the rest of us! He had been through the château
and forgotten nothing. Best of all he had liked the bedchamber of Marie
Antoinette, said to be haunted by her ghost, in hunting dress with a
large hat and drooping plume. The Empress Eugénie, it seemed, had loved
this room, and often entered it alone to dream of the past. Little could
she have guessed then how near she would come to some such end as that
fatal queen, second in beauty only to herself.

Even if Julian O'Farrell's significant glance hadn't called my attention
to his sister, I should have noticed how Dierdre lost her sulky look in
listening to Brian.

"He has something to say to me about those two when he gets a chance,
and he wants me to know it now," I thought. But I pretended to be
absorbed in stories of the Second Empire. For we sat on and on at the
table, putting off our visit to the ancient timbered houses and the
monument of Jeanne d'Arc, and all the other things which called us away
from those hotel windows. It seemed as if the heart of Compiègne, past
and present, were hidden just behind that gray façade of the palace
across the square!

Of course, Jeanne was the "star" heroine of Compiègne, where she fought
so bravely and was taken prisoner, and sold to the English by John of
Luxembourg at a very cheap price. But, you know, she is the heroine of
such lots of other places we have seen or will see, that we let her
image fade for us behind the brilliant visions of Compiègne's pleasures.

As a rule, old history has the lure of romance in it, and makes modern
history seem dull in contrast. But such a gorgeous novel could be
written about Second Empire days of Compiègne (if only there were a
Dumas to write it) that I do think this town is an exception.

Even "The Queen's Necklace" couldn't be more exciting than a story of
Eugénie, with that "divinest beauty of all ages," the Castiglione, as
her rival! I don't know how Dumas would begin it, but I would have the
first scene at a house party of Louis Napoleon's, in the palace at
Compiègne, after he had revived the old custom of the Royal Hunt:
Napoleon, already falling in love, but hesitating, anxious to see how
the Spanish girl would bear herself among the aristocratic charmers of
the Court, whether she could hold her own as a huntress, as in a
ballroom. I'd show her making a sensation by her horsemanship and
beauty. Then I'd take her through the years, till the dazzling
Florentine came to trouble her peace, the adored, yet disappointed
divinity who cried, "If my mother had brought me to France instead of
marrying me to Castiglione, an Italian, not a Spaniard, would have
shared the throne with Napoleon, and there would have been no
Franco-Prussian War!"

What a brilliant background Compiègne of those days would make for that
pair, the beautiful young Empress and the more beautiful
Countess!--Compiègne when the palace was crowded with the flower of
Europe, when great princes and brave soldiers romped through children's
games with lovely ladies, if rain spoiled the hunting; when Highland
nobles brought their pipers, and everyone danced the wildest reels, if
there were time to spare from private theatricals and _tableaux
vivants_! I think I would make my story end, though, not there, but far
away; the Castiglione lying dead, with youth and beauty gone, dressed by
her last request in a certain gown she had worn on a certain night at
Compiègne, never to be forgotten.

When at last we did go out to walk and see the wonderful timbered houses
and the blown-up bridges, what I had expected to happen did happen:
Julian O'Farrell contrived to separate me from the others.

"Haven't I been clever?" he asked, with his smile of a naughty child.

"So far as I know of you," I answered, "you are always clever."

"That's the first compliment you've ever paid me! Thanks all the same,
though I'd be the opposite of clever if I thought you wanted me to be
flattered. You're clever, too, so of course you know what I mean as well
as I know myself. Perhaps you thought I was being clever on the sly. But
I'm above that. Haven't I always showed you my cards, trumps and joker
and all?"

"You've shown me how the knave can take a trick!"

He laughed. "History repeating itself! The Queen of Hearts, you
remember--and the Knave of--Spades, wasn't it? I wish it were diamonds
instead: but maybe his spade will dig up a few sparklers in the end.
I've got a splendid plan brewing. But that isn't what I want to talk
about just now. In fact, I _don't_ want to talk about it--yet! You're
not going to admit that you see the results of my cleverness, or that
you'd understand them if you did see. So I'll just wave them under your
darling nose."

It would have been absurd to say: "How dare you call my nose a darling?"
so I said nothing at all.

"You saw it was a plot, getting Brian to go to Paris with us," he went
on. "I saw that you saw it. But I wasn't sure and I'm not sure now, if
you realized its design, as the villain of the piece would remark."

"_You_ ought to know what he'd remark."

"I do, dear villainess! I was going to say, '_Sister_ Villainess,' but I
wouldn't have you for a sister at any price. I've cast you for a
different part. You may have imagined that Dare and I were just grabbing
your brother to spite you, and show what we could do with him."

"I did imagine that!"

"Wrong! Guess again. Or no--you needn't. We may be interrupted any
minute. To save time I'll explain my bag of tricks. Dare wasn't in on
that hand of mine."

"Indeed?"

"You don't believe me? That shows you're no judge of character. Dare
adores her Jule, and what he wants her to do she does; but I told you
she was no actress. She can't act much better off the stage than on. I
wouldn't trust her to create the part of the White Cat, let alone that
of Wily Vivien. She gets along all right if she can just keep still and
sulk and act the Stormy Petrel. I should have pulled her through on
those lines if she'd been obliged to play Jim Beckett's broken-hearted
fiancée. But to do the siren with your brother--no, she wouldn't be
equal to that, even to please me: couldn't get it across the footlights.
I had to win her to Brian as well as win Brian to me. I hope you don't
mind my calling him by his Christian name? He says I may."

"Why did you want to win Miss O'Farrell to my brother?"

"You don't know? You'll have to go down a place lower in this class! She
couldn't make Brian really like her, unless she liked him. At
first--though I knew better--she stuck it out that Brian was only a kind
of decoy duck for you with the Becketts----"

"Oh!"

"Please don't look at me as if you were biting a lemon. _I_ didn't think
so. And Dare doesn't now."

"How sweet of her!"

"She's turning sweet. That's partly what I was after. I wormed myself
into your brother's affections, to entice him to Paris. I wanted Dare to
learn that her _instinct_ about him was right; her instinct was always
defending him against what she thought was her reason and common sense.
Now, she sees that he's genuine, and she's secretly letting herself
go--admiring him and wondering at him to make up for her injustice."

"Are you telling all this to disarm me?"

"Not exactly. I'm telling you because I was sure you'd find out soon
what's going on, and because I thought an open policy best. As it is,
you can't say I haven't played fair from the word go."

"I wish," I cried out, "that the word _was_ 'go'!"

"You're not very kind, my dear."

"Why should I be kind?"

"Because I'm the stick of your rocket. You can't soar without me. And
because I love you such a lot."

"You!"

"Yes, I, me, Julian O'Farrell: Giulio di Napoli. Haven't I sacrificed my
prospects and my sister's prospects rather than throw you to the lions?
Didn't I waste those perfectly good snapshots? Didn't I sit tight,
protecting you silently, letting you have all I'd expected to have for
myself and Dare?"

I gasped. To speak was beyond my powers just then.

"I know what you'd like to say," Julian explained me to myself. "You'd
love to say: 'The d--d cheek of the man! It's _rich_!' Well, it is rich.
And _I_ mean to be rich to match. That's in my plan. And so are you in
it. Practically you _are_ the plan. To carry it out calmly, without
ructions and feathers flying, I put your brother and my sister in the
way of falling in love. Dare didn't want to join the Beckett party and
didn't want to stay with it. Now, she does want to stay. Brian
distrusted me and was intrigued by Dare. Now, he gives me the benefit of
the doubt. And he has _no_ doubts of her---- That's a beautiful timbered
house, isn't it, Mr. Beckett? Yes, I was just telling Miss O'Malley that
this place seems to me the best one we've visited yet. I shall never
forget it, or the circumstances of seeing it, shall you, Miss O'Malley?
Don't you think, sir, she might let me call her 'Mary,' now we all know
each other so well? I'm 'Julian' to her brother and he's 'Brian' to me."

"I certainly do think she might," said Father Beckett, with that slow,
pleasant smile which Jim inherited from him.



CHAPTER XXI


It's late at night again--no, early to-morrow morning, just about the
hour when to-morrow's war-bread is being baked by to-night's war-bakers.
But it's good to burn the midnight electricity, because my body and
brain are feeling electric.

We have had the most astonishing day!

Of course, I expected that, because we were going to Noyon, and I
evacuated all unneeded thoughts and impressions (for instance, those
concerning the O'Farrells) to make room for a crowd of new ones, as we
did at the Hôpital des Épidémies with convalescents, for an incoming
batch of patients. But I didn't count on private, personal
emotions--unless we blundered into an air raid somewhere!

You remember those authors we met once, who write together--the
Sandersons--and how they said if they ever dared put a real incident in
a book, people picked out that one as impossible? Well, this evening
just past reminded me of the Sandersons. We spent it at the War
Correspondents' Château, not far out of Compiègne: that is, we spent it
there if it was _real_, and not a dream.

       *       *       *       *       *

I am the only one in Mother Beckett's confidence--I mean, about her
health. Even her husband doesn't know how this trip strains her
endurance, physical and mental. Indeed, he's the very one who _mustn't_
know. It's agreed between us that, if she feels hopelessly unfit for
any excursion, _I_ shall put on invalid airs and she will stop at home
to keep me company. Thus will be avoided all danger of Father Beckett
suspecting the weakness she hides. But you can imagine, Padre, knowing
me as you do, how frightened I was to-day--our morning for Noyon--lest
she should give the signal. I felt I simply couldn't _bear_ to miss
Noyon. No use telling myself I shall feel exactly the same about
Soissons to-morrow, and Roye and Ham and Chauny and various others the
day after. My reason couldn't detach itself at that instant from Noyon.

Our daily programme as now arranged is: Me to knock at Mother Beckett's
door half an hour before starting-time. If she's fearing a collapse, she
is to exclaim: "My child, how pale you are!" or some other criticism of
my complexion. Then I'm to play up, replying: "I do feel under the
weather." Whereupon it's easy for her to say: "You must stop in the
hotel and rest. I'll stay with you."

To my joy, the greeting this morning was: "My dear, you look fresh as a
rose!"

I didn't feel it; for you know I wrote late to you. And at last in bed,
I disobeyed your advice about never worrying: I worried quite a lot over
Brian and Dierdre O'Farrell; my having led him into a trap, when above
all things I wanted his happiness and health. I could well have passed
as pale: but I was so pleased with the secret signal that I braced up
and bloomed again.

We had to start early, because there was a good deal to do in the day;
and we were supposed to return early, too, for a rest, as there's the
great adventure of Soissons before us to-morrow. The Correspondents'
Château wasn't on our list: that was an accident, though now it seems as
if the whole trip would have been worth while if only to lead up to that
"accident!"

There were several ways we could have taken to Noyon, but we took the
way by Dives and Lassigny. We shall have chances for other roads,
because, to see various places we mean to visit, we shall go through
Noyon again.

Once upon a time, before the Germans came, Dives had a lovely château,
part of it very old, with a round turret under a tall pointed hat; the
other part comparatively young--as young as the Renaissance--and all
built of that pale, rose-pink colour which most châteaux of this
forestland, and this Île-de-France used to wear in happy days before
they put on smoke-stained mourning.

Now, instead of its proud château, Dives has a ruin even more lovely,
though infinitely sad.

As for Lassigny, it was battered to death: yet I think it was glad to
die, because the Germans had turned it into a fortress, and they had to
be shelled out by the French. Poor little Lassigny! It must have had
what the French call "_une beauté coquette_," and the Germans, it
seemed, were loth to leave. When they found that they must go, and in
haste, they boiled with rage. Not only did they blow up all that was
left in the village, but they blew up the trees of the surrounding
orchards. They had not the excuse for this that they needed the trees to
bar the way of the pursuing French army. Such trees as they felled
across the road were the big trees of the forest. Their destruction of
the young fruit trees was just a slaughter of innocents; and I've never
hated war, Padre, as I hated it to-day--above all, German methods of
making war. Even the countless graves on the battlefields do not look so
sad as those acres of murdered trees: blown-up trees, chopped-down
trees, trees gashed to death with axes, trees that strove with all the
strength of Nature to live, putting forth leaves and blossoms as their
life blood emptied from their veins.

The graves of dead soldiers do not, somehow, look utterly sad. Their
little flags stir triumphantly in the breeze, as if waved by unseen
hands. The caps that mark the mounds seem to be on the heads of men
invisible, under the earth, standing at the salute, saying to those who
pass: "There is no death! Keep up your hearts, and follow the example we
have set." The souls of those who left their bodies on these
battlefields march on, bearing torches that have lit the courage of the
world, with a light that can never fail. But the poor trees, so dear to
France, giving life as a mother gives milk to her child!--they died to
serve no end save cruelty.

The sight of them made me furious, and I glared like a basilisk at any
German prisoners we saw working along the good, newly made white road.
On their green trousers were large letters, "P. G." for "Prisonnier de
Guerre"; and I snapped out as we passed a group, "It needs only an I
between the P and the G to make it _perfect!_"

One man must have heard, and understood English, for he glanced up with
a start. I was sorry then, for it was like hitting a fallen enemy. As he
had what would have seemed a good face if he'd been British or French,
perhaps he was one of those who wrote home that the killing of trees in
France "will be a shame to Germany till the end of time."

Only a few days ago Brian learned by heart a poem I read aloud, a poem
called "Les Arbres Coupés," by Edmond Rostand. Teaching Brian, I found I
had learned it myself.

    Chacun de nos soldats eut son cri de souffrance
    Devant ces arbres morts qui jonchaient les terrains:
    "Les pêchers!" criaient ceux de l'Île-de-France;
    "Et les mirabelliers!" crièrent les Lorrains.

    Soldats bleus demeures paysans sous vos casques,
    Quels poings noueux et noirs vers le nord vous tendiez!
    "Les cerisiers!" criaient avec fureur les Basques;
    Et ceux du Rousillon criaient: "Les amandiers!"

    Devant les arbres morts de l'Aisne ou de la Somme,
    Chacun se retrouva Breton ou Limousin.
    "Les pommiers!" criaient ceux du pays de la pomme;
    "Les vignes!" criaient ceux du pays raisin.

    Ainsi vous disiez tous le climat dont vous êtes,
    Devant ces arbres morts que vous consideriez,
    --Et moi, voyant tomber tant de jeunes poètes,
    Hélas, combien de fois j'ai crié: "Les lauriers!"

I love it. Yet I don't quite agree with the beautiful turning at the
end, because the laurels of the soldier-poets aren't really dead, nor
can they ever die. Even some of the trees which the Boches meant to kill
would not be conquered by Germans or death. Many of them, cut almost
level with the ground, continued to live, spouting leaves close to
earth as a fountain spouts water when its jet has been turned low. All
the victims that could be saved have been saved by the French,
carefully, scientifically bandaged like wounded soldiers: and the
Becketts talked eagerly of giving money--much money--to American
societies that, with the British, are aiding France to make her fair
land bloom again. Mother Beckett became quite inventive and excited,
planning to start "instruction farms," with a fund in honour of Jim.
Seeds and slips and tools and teachers should all be imported from
California. Oh, it would be wonderful! And how thankful she and Father
were that they had Brian and Molly to help make the plan come true! I
shouldn't have liked to catch Julian O'Farrell's eye just then.

All the way was haunted by the tragedy of trees, not only the tragedy of
orchards, and of the roadside giants that once had shaded the straight
avenues, but the martyrdom of trees in the great dark forests--oaks and
elms and beeches. At first glance these woods, France's shield against
her enemies--rose still and beautiful, like mystic abodes of peace,
against the pale horizon. But a searching gaze showed how they had
suffered. For every trio of living trees there seemed to be one corpse,
shattered by bombs, or blasted by evil gas. The sight of them struck at
the heart: yet they were heroes, as well as martyrs, I said to myself.
They had truly died for France, to save France. And as I thought this, I
knew that if I were a poet, beautiful words would come at my call, to
clothe my fancy about the forests.

I wanted the right words so much that it was pain when they wouldn't
answer my wish, for I seemed to hear only a faint, far-off echo of some
fine strain of music, whose real notes I failed to catch.

Always forests have fascinated me; sweet, fairy-peopled groves of my
native island, and emerald-lit beech woods of England. But I never felt
the grand meaning of forests as I felt them to-day, in this ravaged and
tortured land. I could have cried out to them: "Oh, you forests of
France, what a part you've played in the history of wars! How wise and
brave of you to stand in unbroken line, a rampart protecting your
country's frontiers, through the ages. Forests, you are bands of
soldiers, in armour of wood, and you, too, like your human brothers,
have hearts that beat and veins that bleed for France! You are soldiers,
and you are fortresses--Nature's fortresses stronger than all modern
inventions. You are fortresses to fight in; you are shelters from
air-pirates, you hide cannon; you give shelter to your fighting
countrymen from rain and heat. You delay the enemy; you mislead him, you
drive him back. When you die, deserted by the birds and all your hidden
furred and feathered children, you give yourselves--give, give to the
last! Your wood strengthens the trenches, or burns to warm the freezing
_poilus_. Brave forests, pathetic forests! I hear you defy the enemy in
your hour of death: Strike us, kill us. Still you shall never pass!"

We had felt that we knew something of the war-zone after Lorraine; but
there the great battles had all been fought in 1914, when the world was
young. Here, it seemed as if the earth must still be hot from the feet
of retreating Germans.

The whole landscape was pitted with shell-holes, and spider-webbed with
barbed wire. The three lines of French trenches we passed might, from
their look, have been manned yesterday. Piled along the neat new road
were bombs for aviators to drop; queer, fish-shaped things, and still
queerer cages they had been in. There were long, low sheds for fodder.
At each turn was the warning word, "_Convois_." The poor houses of such
villages as continued to exist were numbered, for the first time in
their humble lives, because they were needed for military lodgings.
Notices in the German language were hardly effaced from walls of
half-ruined buildings. They had been partly rubbed out, one could see,
but the ugly German words survived, strong and black as a stain on one's
past. Huge rounds of barbed wire which had been brought, and never used,
were stacked by the roadside, and there were long lines of
trench-furniture the enemy had had to abandon in flight, or leave in
dug-outs: rough tables, chairs, rusty cooking-stoves, pots, pans, petrol
tins, and broken dishes: even lamps, torn books, and a few particularly
ugly blue vases for flowers. _They_ must have been made in Germany, I
knew!

Wattled screens against enemy fire still protected the road, and here
and there was a "camouflage" canopy for a big gun. The roofs of
beautiful old farmhouses were crushed in, as if tons of rock had fallen
on them: and the moss which once had decked their ancient tiles with
velvet had withered, turning a curious rust colour, like dried blood.
Young trees with their throats cut were bandaged up with torn linen and
bagging on which German printed words were dimly legible. It would have
been a scene of unmitigated grimness, save for last summer's
enterprising grass and flowers, which autumn, kinder than war, had not
killed.

Late roses and early chrysanthemums grew in the gardens of broken,
deserted cottages, as if the flowers yearned to comfort the wounded
walls with soft caresses, innocent as the touch of children. On the
burned façades of houses, trellised fruit-trees clung, some dead--mere
black pencillings sketched on brick or plaster--but now and then one was
living still, like a beautiful young Mazeppa, bound to a dead steed.

So we arrived at Noyon, less than two hours by car from Compiègne. The
nearness of it to the heart of France struck me suddenly. I could hear
the echo of sad voices curbing the optimists: "The Germans are still at
Noyon!"

Well--they are not at Noyon now. They've been gone for many moons. Yet
there's a look on the faces of the people in the town--a look when they
come to the windows or doors of their houses, or when they hear a sudden
noise in the street--which makes those moons seem never to have waned.

Washington has adopted Noyon, so the Becketts could not offer any great
public charity, but they could sprinkle about a few private good deeds,
in remembrance of Jim, who loved the place, as he loved all the
Île-de-France. One of Mother Beckett's most valued letters from
"Jim-on-his-travels" (as she always says) is from Noyon, and she was so
bent on reading it aloud to us, as we drove slowly--almost
reverently--into the town, that she wouldn't look (I believe she even
grudged our looking!) at the façade of the far-famed Hôtel de Ville,
until she'd come to the end of the last page. She seemed to think that
to look up prematurely would be like wanting to see the stage before the
curtain rose on the play!

I loved her for it--we all loved her--and obeyed as far as possible. But
one couldn't shut one's eyes to the Stars and Stripes that flapped on
the marvellously ornate front of the old building--flapped like the
wings of the American Eagle that has flown across the Atlantic to help
save France.

Jim--a son of the Eagle--who gave his life for this land and for
liberty, would have felt proud of that flag, I think, if he could have
seen it to-day: for because she is the adopted child of Washington,
Noyon "stars" the emblem of her American mother. She hangs out no other
flag--not even that of France--on the Hôtel de Ville. Maybe she'll give
her own colours a place there later, but at this moment the Star
Spangled Banner floats alone in its glory.

No nice, normal-minded person could remember, or morbidly want to
remember, the name unkindly given by Julius Cæsar to Noyon, when he had
besieged it. I can imagine even Charlemagne waving that cumbrous label
impatiently aside, though Noyon mixed with Laon was his first capital.
"Noviodunum Belgarum it may have been" (I dare say he said). "But _I'm_
going to call it Noyon!"

He was crowned king of Austria in Noyon cathedral--an even older one
than the cathedral of to-day, which the Germans have generously omitted
to destroy, merely stealing all its treasures! But I feel sure he
doesn't feel Austrian in these days, if he is looking down over the
"Blessed Damosel's" shoulder, to see what's going on here below. He
belonged really to the whole world. Why, didn't that fairy-story king,
Haroun al Raschid, send him from Bagdad the "keys of the tomb of
Christ," as Chief of the Christian World? They say his ghost haunts
Noyon, and was always there whenever a king was crowned, or elected--as
Hugh Capet was. Perhaps it may have been Charlemagne in the spirit who
persuaded the Germans to their great retreat from the Noyon front this
last spring of 1917!

Coming into the _Place_, and stopping in front of the Hôtel de Ville,
gave me the oddest sense of unreality, because, when we were in Paris
the other day, I saw the scene in a moving picture: the first joyful
entry of the French soldiers into the town, when the Germans had cleared
out. I could hardly believe that I wasn't just a figure flickering
across a screen, and that the film wouldn't hurry me along somewhere
else, whether I wanted to go or not.

There were the venerable houses with the steep slate roofs, and
singularly intelligent-looking windows, whose bright panes seemed to
twinkle with knowledge of what they had seen during these dreadful
eighteen months of German occupation. There were the odd, unfinished
towers of the cruciform cathedral--quaint towers, topped with wood and
pointed spirelets--soaring into the sky above the gray colony of
clustered roofs. There was the cobbled pavement, glittering like masses
of broken glass, after a shower of rain just past; and even more
interesting than any of these was the fantastically carved façade of the
Hôtel de Ville, which has lured thousands of tourists to Noyon in days
of peace. Who knows but they have been coming ever since 1532, when it
was finished?

At first sight, we should never have guessed what Noyon had suffered
from the Germans. It was only after wandering through the splendid old
cathedral of Notre-Dame, stripped of everything worth stealing, and
going from street to street (we paused a long time in the one where
Calvin was born, a disagreeable, but I suppose useful, man!) that we
began to realize the slow torture inflicted by the Germans. Of course,
"lessons" had to be taught. Rebellious persons had to be "punished."
Nothing but justice had been done upon the unjust by their just
conquerors. And oh, how thorough and painstaking they were in its
execution!

As they'd destroyed all surrounding cities and villages, they had to put
the "evacuated" inhabitants somewhere (those they couldn't use as slaves
to work in Germany), so they herded the people by the thousand into
Noyon. That place had to be spared for the Germans themselves to live
in, being bigger and more comfortable than others in the neighbourhood;
so it was well to have as many of the conquered as possible interned
under their own sharp eyes. Noyon was "home" to six thousand souls
before the war. After the Germans marched in, it had to hold ten
thousand. But a little more room in the houses was thriftily obtained by
annexing all the furniture, even beds. Tables and chairs they took, too,
and stoves, and cooking utensils, which left the houses conveniently
empty, to be shared by families from Roye, and Nesle, and Ham, and
Chauny--oh, so many other towns and hamlets, that one loses count in
trying to remember!

How the people lived, they hardly know now, in looking back, some of
them told us, as we walked about with a French officer who was our
guide. Eighteen months of it! Summer wasn't quite so bad. One can always
bear hardships when weather, at least, is kind. But the winters! It is
those winters that scarcely bear thinking of, even now.

No lights were allowed after dark. All doors must be left open, for the
German military police to walk in at any hour of the night, to see what
mischief was brewing in the happy families caged together. There was no
heating, and often no fire for cooking, consequently such food as there
was had to be eaten cold. No nose must be shown out of doors unless with
a special permit, so to speak, displayed on the end of it. Not that
there was much incentive to go out, as all business was stopped, and all
shops closed. Without "_le Comité Américain_," thousands would have
starved, so it was lucky for Noyon that the United States was neutral
then!

We spent hours seeing things, and talking to people--old people, and
children, and soldiers--each one with a new side of the great story to
tell, as if each had been weaving a few inches of some wonderful,
historic piece of tapestry, small in itself, but essential to the
pattern. Then we started for home--I mean Compiègne--by a different way;
the way of Carlepont, named after Charlemagne, because it is supposed
that he was born there.

The forest was even more lovable than before, a younger forest:
fairy-like in beauty as a rainbow, in its splashed gold and red, and
green and violet and orange of autumn. The violet was "atmosphere," but
it was as much a part of the forest as the leaves, or the delicate
trunks dim as ghosts in shadow, bright as organ-pipes where sun touched
them. Out from the depths came sweet, mysterious breaths, and whispers
like prophecies of peace. But to this region of romance there were sharp
contrasts. Not even dreams have sharper ones! German trenches, chopped
into blackened wastes that once were farmlands, and barbed wire
wriggling like snake-skeletons across dreary fields.

We got out of our cars, and went into the trenches, thinking thoughts
unspeakable. Long ago as the Germans had vanished, and every corner had
been searched, our officer warned us not to pick up "souvenirs." Some
infernal machine might have been missed in the search and nothing was to
be trusted--no, not even a bit of innocent-looking lead pencil.

They were trenches made to live in, these! They had been walled with
stones from ruined farmhouses. The "dug-outs" were super-dug-outs. We
saw concealed cupolas for machine-guns, and "_les officiers boches_" had
had a neat system of douches.

There was no need to worry that Brian might stumble or fall in the
slippery labyrinths we travelled, for he had Dierdre O'Farrell as guide.
I'm afraid I knew what it was to be jealous: and this new gnawing pain
is perhaps meant to be one of my punishments. Of course it's no more
than I deserve. But that Brian should be chosen as the instrument, all
unknowingly, and happily--that _hurts_!

It was just as we were close to Compiègne, not twenty minutes (in motor
talk) outside the town, that the "accident" happened.



CHAPTER XXII


At first it seemed an ordinary, commonplace accident. A loud report like
a pistol shot: a flat tire down on our car: that was all.

We stopped, and the little taxi-cab, tagging on behind like a small dog
after a big one, halted in sympathy. Julian O'Farrell jumped out to help
Morel, our one-legged chauffeur, as he always does if anything happens,
just to remind the Becketts how kind and indispensable he is. We knew
that we should be hung up for a good twenty minutes, so the whole party,
with the exception of Mother Beckett and me, deserted the cars. Brian
was with Dierdre. He had no need of his sister; so I was free to stop
with the little old lady, who whispered in my ear that she was tired.

Father Beckett and Julian watched Morel, giving him a word or a hand now
and then. Dierdre and Brian sauntered away, deep in argument over Irish
politics (it's come to that between them: and Dierdre actually _listens_
to Brian!). Mother Beckett drifted into talk of Jim, as she loves to do
with me, and I wandered, hand in hand with her, back into his childhood.
Blue dusk was falling like a rain of dead violets--just that peculiar,
faded blue; and as I was absorbed in the tale of a nursery fire (Jim, at
six, playing the hero) I had no eyes for scenery. I was but vaguely
aware that not far off loomed a gateway, adorned with a figure of the
Virgin. A curving avenue led to shadowy, neglected lawns, dimly
suggesting some faded romance of history.

Presently, from between the open gates came a man in khaki, accompanied
by a tall, slim, and graceful dog. It was he, not the man, that caught
my eye and for an instant snatched my thought from Little Boy Jim
rescuing a rocking-horse at the risk of his life. He was a police dog
with the dignity of a prince and the lightness of a plume.

"Lovely creature!" I said to myself, as he and the khaki man swung
toward us down the road. And I wished that Brian could see him, for the
dog Brian loved and lost at the Front was a Belgian police dog.

Perhaps, Padre, Brian wrote you about his wonderful pet, that he thought
worthy to name after the dog-star Sirius. I've forgotten to ask if he
did write; but I seldom had a letter from him from the trenches that
didn't mention Sirius. Everyone seemed to adore the dog, which developed
into a regimental mascot. What his early history was can never be known:
but Brian rescued him from a burning château in Belgium, just as Jim
rescued the rocking-horse of Mother Beckett's nursery story, though with
rather more risk! It was a château where some hidden tragedy must have
been enacted, because the Germans took possession of it with the family
still there--such of the family as wasn't fighting: two young married
women, sisters, wives of brothers. But when the Germans ran before the
British, and fired the château as they went, not a creature living or
dead was left in the house--except the dog--and nothing has ever been
heard of the sisters.

The fire was raging so fiercely when Brian's regiment arrived that no
one would have ventured into the house if a dog hadn't been heard to
howl. You know how Brian loves dogs. When he found that the sound came
from a certain room on the ground floor, he determined to get in
somehow. Masses of ivy cloaked that side of the château. It was
beginning to crackle with fire that flamed out from other windows, but
Brian climbed the thick, rope-like stems, hundreds of years old, and
smashed his way through the window. The room was filling with smoke. The
dog's voice was choked. Brian's eyes streamed, but he wouldn't give up.
Only by crawling along the floor under the smoke curtain could he get at
the dog. Somebody had meant to murder the animal, for he had been
chained to the leg of a table.

Brian wrote that the dog realized his danger, and was grateful as a
human being to his rescuer. His worship of Brian was pathetic. He seemed
to care for no one else, though he was too fine a gentleman not to be
polite to all--all, that is, except Germans. They never dared let him
loose when prisoners were about. The sight of a gray-green uniform was
to that dog what a red rag is to a bull. For him some horror was
associated with it--a horror which must remain a mystery for us.

The day Brian lost his eyesight he lost Sirius. When he came back to
consciousness, only to learn that he was blind, his first thought was of
his friend. No one knew what had happened to the dog. The chances seemed
to be that the shell which had buried Brian had buried Sirius, too; but
Brian wouldn't believe this. Somehow the dog would have contrived to
escape. I had to promise that, whenever I happened to see a dark gray,
almost black Belgian police dog of beautiful shape, I would call
"Sirius" to see if he answered.

More than once since this trip began I've called "Sirius!" to police
dogs, not knowing whether they were Belgian, German, or Dutch, and they
have answered only with glances of superb scorn. This time I hesitated.
The mental picture I saw of myself--a vague young woman, seated in an
automobile stranded by the roadside, trying to lure away the dog of a
strange man--was disconcerting. While I debated whether to break my
promise or behave like a wild school girl, the animal paused in his
listless trot. He stopped, as if he'd been struck by an unseen bullet,
quivered all over, and shot past us like a torpedo. A minute later I
heard a tumultuous barking--a barking as if the gates of a dog's heaven
had suddenly opened.

I sprang up in the car, and turning round, knelt on the seat to see what
was going on behind us. Far away were Brian and Dierdre. And oh, Padre,
I can never dislike that girl again! I apologize for everything I ever
said against her. She saw that great police dog making for blind Brian.
And you know, a police dog can look formidable as a panther. She took no
time to think, though the idea might have sprung to her mind that the
creature was mad. She simply threw herself in front of Brian. It was an
offer of her life for his.

I could do nothing, of course. I was too far off. I'm not a screaming
girl, but I'm afraid I did give a shriek, for Mother Beckett started up,
and cried out: "What's the matter?"

I didn't answer her. I hardly heard. I forgot everyone except Brian and
that girl. It was only when the thing was over, and we were all talking
at once, that I realized how the others had shared my fright.

Perhaps Brian recognized the dog's bark at a distance, for he says a
dog's voice is individual as a man's. Or his instinct--made magically
keen by his blindness--told him in a flash of inspiration what his eyes
couldn't see. Anyhow, he knew that Dierdre was in danger, and almost
flung her behind him. He was just in time to save her from being thrown
down by the dog, who hurled himself like a young avalanche at Brian. To
those who had no clue to the truth, it must have seemed that the animal
was mad. Julian, and Father Beckett, and the khaki man rushed to the
rescue, only to see the dog and Brian in each other's arms, the creature
licking Brian's face, laughing and crying at the same time--which you
know, Padre, a dog frantic with joy at sight of a long-lost master can
do perfectly well! It seems too melodramatic to be true, but it _is_
true: the dog was Sirius.

You'll think now that this is the "astonishing thing" which would--I
said--have made this whole trip worth while. But no: the thing I meant
has little or nothing to do with the finding of Sirius.

Even Mother Beckett could sit still no longer. She had to be helped out
of the car by me to join the group round Brian and the dog. She took my
arm, and I matched my steps to her tiny trot, though I pined to sprint!
We met Father Beckett coming back with apologies for his one minute of
forgetfulness. The first time in years, I should think, that he had
forgotten his wife for sixty whole seconds!

"It's like something in a story or a play," he panted, out of breath.
"This is Brian's lost dog. You've heard him talk of Sirius, my dear.
There can be no doubt it's the same animal! The man who thought he was
its master admits that. And _guess_ who he is--the man, not the dog."

Mother Beckett reminded her husband that never had she succeeded in a
guess. But she was saved trying by the arrival of the man in khaki who,
having abandoned his dog--or being abandoned by it--had followed Mr.
Beckett.

"Why, Jack _Curtis_!" gasped the little old lady. "It can't be you!"

"I guess it's nobody else," laughed a soldierly fellow, with the
blackest eyes and whitest teeth imaginable. "I'm doing the war for the
New York _Record_--staying here at the château of Royalieu with the
British correspondents for the French front."

I longed to get to Brian and be introduced to Sirius, but Mother Beckett
caught my arm. "Mary, dear," she cooed, "I'd like you and Mr. Curtis to
meet. Jack, this is Miss O'Malley, who would have been our Jim's wife if
he'd lived. And Mary, this is one of Jim's classmates at college; a very
good friend."

The khaki young man (American khaki) held out his hand and I put mine
into it. He stared at me--a pleasant, sympathetic, and not unadmiring
stare--peering nearsightedly through the twilight.

"So Jim found you again, after all?" he asked, in a quiet, low voice,
not utterly unlike Jim's own. Men of the same university do speak alike
all over the world.

"I--don't quite understand," I stammered. When any sudden question about
Jim is flung at me before his parents, I'm always a little scared!

"Jim and I had a bet," Mr. Curtis explained, "that he couldn't travel
_incog._, through Europe for a given length of time, in a big auto,
doing himself well everywhere, without his real name coming out. He won
the bet, but he told me--after he got over a bad dose of typhoid--that
he'd lost the only girl he'd ever loved or could love--lost her through
that da--that stupid bet. He described the girl. I guess there aren't
two of her on earth!"

"That's a mighty fine compliment, Molly!" said Father Beckett.

Just then Brian called, and I wasn't sorry, for I couldn't find the
right answer for the man who had separated Jim Beckett from me. It was
all I could do to get my breath.

"Why, of course, that's your brother! I might have known by the
likeness. Gee, but it's great about the dog! No wonder it despised the
name of 'Sherlock.' Rather a come-down from a star! There's a big story
in this. Your party will have to dine with us correspondents, and talk
things over. The crowd will be delighted. Say yes, Mrs. Beckett!"

I heard no more, for I was on my way to Brian. But by the time I'd
thanked Dierdre, been slightly snubbed by her, and successfully
presented to Sirius, it was settled that we should spend our evening at
Royalieu with the correspondents. The Beckett auto was ready, but the
dog's joy was too big for the biggest car, so Brian and I walked to the
château, and Jack Curtis with us, to exchange stories of _le grand chien
policier_, late "Sherlock."

Matching the new history on to the early mystery was like fitting in the
lost bits of a jigsaw puzzle--bits which, when missing, left the picture
void. Between Brian and the war correspondent the pattern came to life:
but there's one piece in the middle which can never be restored. Only
one person could supply that: a German officer, and he is no longer in
this world.

Jack Curtis found the police dog, badly wounded, at a place near
Paschendaele, where the Germans had temporary headquarters and had been
driven out after a fierce struggle. One of the dog's legs was broken,
and blood had dried on his glossy coat, but he "registered delight" (as
moving picture people say) when he limped out of a half-ruined house to
welcome the rush of British khaki. The few inhabitants who had lived in
the village through the German occupation, knew the dog as "Siegfried,"
to which name he had obstinately refused to answer. His German master, a
captain, whom he obeyed sullenly, always dragged him about in leash, as
he never willingly kept at heel. Everyone wondered why the officer, who
was far from lenient with his men, showed patience with the dog. But his
orderly explained that Captain von Busche had picked up the starving
animal weeks before, wandering about No Man's Land. The creature was
valuable, and his dislike of the gray-green uniform had puzzled Von
Busche. His failure to win the dog's affection piqued him, and in his
blundering way he persevered. The people of the village were more
successful. They made friends with "Siegfried," to Von Busche's
annoyance; and a day or two before the hurried German retreat under
bombardment, the dog was beaten for deserting his master to follow a
little boy. The boy, too, was punished for his "impudence" in calling
the dog. People were indignant, and there were secret murmurings about
revenge.

That night, however, Fate took the matter in hand. Precisely what
happened is the bit that must remain missing in the puzzle. The dog
slept in the room with his master, in a house where several young
officers lived close to headquarters. All of them had been out playing
cards at a tavern. Von Busche returned earlier than the rest. He was
seen in the street the worse for drink. He went into the house, and must
have gone to his room, where the police dog had been shut up for hours
in disgrace. A moment later there was a yell, then a gurgling shriek.
The neighbours listened--and shrugged their shoulders. The parents of
the child who had been beaten by Von Busche lived next door. They heard
sounds of a scuffle; furniture falling; faint groans and deep growls.
Lips dared not speak, but eyes met and said: "The dog's done what we
couldn't do."

Silence had fallen long before Von Busche's fellow officers came home;
such silence as that town knew, where bombardment ceased not by day or
night. Before dawn, a bomb fell on the roof of the house, which till
then had never been touched, and the officers all scuttled out to save
themselves; all but Von Busche. Whether in the confusion he was
forgotten, or whether it was thought he had not come home, no one could
tell. He was not seen again till after the Germans had packed up in
haste and decamped, which they did a few hours later, leaving the
townsfolk to shelter in cellars. It was only when the British arrived,
and Siegfried limped out from the battered house, that the dog's
existence was recalled--and the sounds in the night. Then the house was
searched, and Von Busche's body found, half buried under fallen tiles
and plaster. There were wounds in his throat, however, not to be
accounted for by the accident. The dog's broken leg was also a mystery.
"I had the poor boy mended up by a jolly good surgeon," Jack Curtis
finished his story. "He's as sound as ever now. He attached himself to
me from the first, as if he knew he had to thank me for his cure, but he
wasn't enthusiastic. I couldn't flatter myself that I was loved! I had
the idea I wasn't what he wanted--that he'd like to tell me what he
_did_ want, and politely bid me good-bye forever."

"You don't know where Von Busche got hold of the dog, do you?" Brian
asked.

"Only what his orderly told people, that it was in Flanders, close to
some ruined, burnt-up château that he could hardly be forced to leave,
though he was starving."

"I thought he'd get back there!" Brian said. "As for Von Busche--I
wonder--but no! If it had been he the first time, would the dog have
waited all those weeks for his revenge?"

"I don't understand," said the war correspondent.

"I don't myself," answered Brian. "But maybe the dog will manage to make
me, some day. I was thinking--how I found him, tied to a table in a
burning room. If Von Busche---- But anyhow, Sirius, you're no assassin!
At worst, you're an avenger."

The dog leaped upon Brian at sound of the remembered name. Odd that
three of his names, chosen by different men, should begin with "S"!

He's going to be an exciting passenger for the Becketts' car I foresee.
But Brian can make him do anything, even to keeping quiet. And the trip
can't go on a step without him now!

I felt that Jack Curtis had been hoping for a chance to speak with me
alone--about Jim. But there was no such chance then. We were met by two
of the British correspondents, and a French officer with a very high and
ancient title, who was playing host (for France) to the newspaper men in
this old château, once a convent. You see, the two cars had shot past as
we walked; and by the time we reached the door preparations were being
made for an impromptu party.

Never was a dinner so good, it seemed, and never was talk so absorbing.
Some of it concerned an arch of honour or a statue to be placed over the
spot where the first men of the American army fell in France: at
Bethelmont; some concerned a road whose construction is being planned--a
sacred road through Belgium and France, from the North Sea to Alsace; a
road to lead pilgrims past villages and towns destroyed by Germany.
This, according to the correspondents who were full of the idea, doesn't
mean that the devastation isn't ultimately to be repaired. The proposal
is, to leave in each martyred place a memorial for the eyes of coming
generations: a ruined church; a burned château; the skeleton of an
_hôtel de ville_, or a wrecked factory; a mute appeal to all the world:
"This was war, as the Germans made it. In the midst of peace,
Remember!"

Beneath my interest in the talk ran an undercurrent of my own private
thought, which was not of the future, but of the past. I'd begun to
wonder why I had been afraid of Jack Curtis. Instead of dreading words
with him alone, I wished for them now.

After dinner I had but a few minutes to wait. When I'd refused coffee,
he, too, refused, and made an excuse to show me a room of which the
correspondents were fond--a room full of old trophies of the forest
hunt.

"Did you notice at dinner how I kept trying to get a good look at your
left hand?" Curtis asked.

"No," I answered, "I didn't notice that."

"I'm glad. I was scared you'd think me cheeky. Yet I couldn't resist. I
wanted to see whether Jim had given you _the_ ring."

"The ring?" I echoed.

"The ring of our bet, the year before the war: the bet you knew about,
that kept you two apart till Jim came over to France this second time."

"Yes--I knew about the bet," I said, "but not the ring. I--I haven't an
engagement ring."

"Queer!" Jack Curtis puzzled out aloud. "It was a race between Jim and
me which should get that ring at an antique shop, when we both heard of
its history. He could afford to bid higher, so he secured it. Not that
he was selfish! But he said he wanted the ring in case he met his ideal
and got engaged to her. If he'd lost the bet the ring would have been
mine. If he didn't give it to you, I wonder what's become of the thing?
Perhaps his mother knows. Did she ever speak to you about Jim bringing
home a quaint old ring from France, that time after his fever--a ring
supposed to have belonged to the most beautiful woman of her day, the
Italian Countess Castiglione, whom Louis Napoleon loved?"

"No," I said. "He can't have given the ring to his mother, or she would
have told me about it, I'm sure. She's always talking of him."

"Perhaps it was stolen or lost," Curtis reflected. "Yet I don't feel as
if that had happened, somehow! I trust my feelings a good
deal--especially since this war, that's made us all a bit psychic--don't
you?"

"I have too many feelings to trust half of them!" I tried to laugh.

"Have you ever had one, I wonder, like mine, about Jim? Dare I speak to
you of this?"

"Why not?"

"Well--I wouldn't dare to his mother. Or even to the old man."

"You _must_ speak now, please, Mr. Curtis, to me!"

"It's this; have you ever had the feeling that Jim may be alive?"

We were standing. I caught at the back of a chair. Things whirled for an
instant. Then I gathered my wits together. "I haven't let myself feel
it," I said. "And yet, in a way, I _always_ feel it. I mean, I seem to
feel--his thoughts round us. But that's because we speak and think of
him almost every moment of the day, his father and mother and I. There
can be no doubt--can there?"

"Others have come back from the dead since this war. Why not Jim
Beckett?"

"They said they had--found his body."

"Oh, they _said_! Germans say a lot of things. But for the Lord's sake,
Miss O'Malley, don't let's upset those poor old people with any such
hope. I've only my feeling--and other people's stories of escape--to go
upon. I spoke to you, because I guess you've got a strong soul, and can
stand shocks. Besides, you told me I must speak. I had to obey."

"Thank you for obeying," I said. And just then someone came into the
room.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, Padre, I have told you the _great thing_. What does it matter what
happens to me, if only Jack Curtis's "feeling" comes true?



CHAPTER XXIII


It is two days since I wrote, Padre; and I have come back to Compiègne
from a world of unnatural silence and desolation. Day before yesterday
it was Roye and Nesle; the Château of Ham; Jussy, Chauny and Prince
Eitel Friedrich's pavilion. To-morrow we hope to start for Soissons.

Yesterday we rested, because Mother Beckett had a shocking headache.
(Oh, it was pathetic and funny, too, what she said when we slipped back
into Compiègne at night! "Isn't it a comfort, Molly, to see a place
again where there are _whole_ houses?") After Soissons we shall return
to Compiègne and then go to Amiens with several of the war
correspondents, who have their own car. Women aren't allowed, as a rule,
to see anything of the British front, but it's just possible that Father
Beckett can get permission for his wife to venture within gazing
distance. Of course, she can't--or thinks she can't--stir without me!

We took still another road to Noyon (one must pass through Noyon going
toward the front, if one keeps Compiègne for one's headquarters) and the
slaughter of trees was the wickedest we'd seen: a long avenue of kind
giants murdered, and orchards on both sides of it. The Germans, it
seems, had circular saws, worked by motors, on purpose to destroy the
large trees in a hurry. They didn't protect their retreat by barring
the road with the felled trunks. They left most of the martyrs standing,
their trunks so nearly sawed through that a wind would have blown them
down. The pursuing armies had to finish the destruction to protect
themselves. Farms were exterminated all along the way; and little
hamlets--nameless for us--were heaps of blackened brick and stone,
mercifully strewn with flowers like old altars to an unforgotten god.

Roye was the first big place on our road. It used to be rich, and its
4,000 inhabitants traded in grain and sugar. How the very name brought
back our last spring joy in reading news of the recapture! "Important
Victory. Roye Retaken." It was grandly impressive in ruin, especially
the old church of St. Pierre, whose immense, graceful windows used to be
jewelled with ancient glass that people came from far away to see.

Jim had written his mother about that glass, consequently she _would_
get out of the car to climb (with my help and her husband's) over a pile
of fallen stones like a petrified cataract, which leads painfully up to
the desecrated and pillaged high altar. I nearly sprained my ankle in
getting to one of the windows, under which my eyes had caught the glint
of a small, sparkling thing: but I had my reward, for the sparkling
thing was a lovely bit of sapphire-blue glass from the robe of some
saint, and the little lady was grateful for the gift as if it had been a
real jewel--indeed, more grateful. "I'll keep it with my souvenirs of
Jim," she said, "for his eyes have looked on it: and it's just the
colour of yours which he loved. He'd be pleased that you found it for
me." (Ah, if she knew! I can't help praying that she never may know,
though such prayers from me are almost sacrilege.)

A little farther on--as the motor, not the crow, flies--we came to
Nesle, or what once was Nesle. The ghost of the twelfth-century church
looms in skeleton form above one more Pompeii among the many forced by
the Germans upon France: but save for that towering relic of the past
there's little left of this brave town of the Somme, which was historic
before the thirteenth century. It gave its name to a famous fighting
family of feudal days: and through the last heiress of the line--a
beauty and a "catch"--a certain Seigneur de Nesle became Regent of
France, in the second Crusade of Louis XII--"Saint Louis." Later ladies
of the line became dear friends of another Louis, fifteenth of the name,
who was never called saint. Not far from Nesle, Henry V of England
crossed the Somme and won the Battle of Agincourt. But now, the greatest
dramatic interest is concentrated in the cemetery!

We had heard of it at Compiègne and the wild things that had happened
there: so after a look at the ruined church, and the once charming
_Place_, we went straight to the town burial-place, and our unofficial
guide was the oldest man I ever saw. He had lurked rather than lived,
through months of German barbarity at Nesle, guarding a bag of money
he'd hidden underground. An officer from Noyon was with us; but he had
knowledge of the ancient man--a great character--and bade him tell us
the tale of the graveyard. He obeyed with unction and with gestures like
lightning as it flashes across a night sky. The looks his old eyes
darted forth as he talked might have struck a live German dead.

"The animals! What do you think they did when they were masters here?"
he snarled. "Ah, you do not know the Boches as we learned to know them,
so you would never guess. They opened our tombs, the vaults of
distinguished families of France. They broke the coffins and stole the
rings from skeleton fingers. They left the bones of our ancestors, and
of our friends whose living faces we could remember, scattered over the
ground, as if to feed the dogs. In our empty coffins they placed their
own dead. On the stone or marble of monuments they cut away the names of
those whose sacred sleep they had disturbed. Instead, they inscribed the
disgusting names of their Boche generals and colonels. Where they could
not change the inscriptions they destroyed the tombstones and set up
others. You will see them now. But wait--you have not heard all yet. Far
from that! When the Tommies came to Nesle--your English Tommies--they
did not like what the Boches had done to our cemetery. They said
things--strong things! And while they were hot with anger they knocked
the hideous new monuments about. They could not bear to see them mark
the stolen graves. The little crosses that showed where simple soldiers
lay, those they did not touch. It was only the officers' tombs they
spoiled. I will show you what they did."

We let him hobble ahead of us into the graveyard. He led us past the
long rows of low wooden crosses with German names on them, the crosses
with British names--(good, sturdy British names: "Hardy," "Kemp,"
"Logan," "Wilding," planted among flowers of France)--and paused in the
aristocratic corner of the city of the dead. Once, this had been the
last earthly resting-place of old French families, or of the rich whose
relatives could afford expensive monuments. But the war had changed all
that. German names had replaced the ancient French ones on the vaults,
as German corpses had replaced French bodies in the coffins. Stone and
marble monuments had been recarved, or new ones raised. There were
roughly cut figures of German colonels and majors and captains. This
rearrangement was what the "Tommies" had "not liked." They liked it so
little that they chopped off stone noses and faces; they threw red ink,
brighter than blood, over carved German uniforms, and neatly chipped
away the counterfeit presentment of iron crosses. In some cases, also,
they purified the vaults of German bones and gave back in exchange such
French ones as they found scattered. They wrote in large letters on
tombstones, "_Boch no bon_," and other illiterate comments unflattering
to the dead usurpers; all of which, our old man explained, mightily
endeared the Atkinses to the returning inhabitants of Nesle.

"Those brave Tommies are gone now," he sighed, "but they left their dead
in our care. You see those flowers on their graves? It is we who put
them there, and the children tend them every day. If you come back next
year, it will be the same. We shall not forget."

"A great statesman paid us a visit not long after Nesle was liberated,"
our officer guide took up the story. "He had heard what the Tommies did,
and he was not quite sure if they were justified. 'After all, German or
not German, a tomb is a tomb, and the dead are dead,' he argued. But
when he saw the cemetery of another place not far away, where the bodies
of Frenchmen--yes, and women and little babies!--still lay where Germans
had thrown them in stealing their graves, the grand old man's blood
rushed to his head. He was no longer uncertain if the Tommies were
right. He was certain they had done well; and in his red rage he, with
his own hands, tore down thirty of the lying tombstones."

Oh, the silence of these dead towns that the Germans have killed with
bombs and burning! _You_ know what it is like, Padre, because you have
passed behind the veil and have knowledge beyond our dreaming: but to me
it is a _triste révélation_. I never realized before what the words
"dead silence" could mean. It is a silence you _hear_. It cries out as
the loudest voice could not cry. It makes you listen--listen for the
pleasant, homely sounds you've always associated with human habitations:
the laughter of girls, the shouts of schoolboys, the friendly barking of
dogs. But you listen in vain. You wonder if you are deaf--if other
people are hearing what you cannot hear: and then you see on each face
the same blank, listening look that must be on your own. I think a night
at Chauny, or Jussy, might drive a weak woman mad. But--I haven't come
to Chauny or Jussy yet! After Nesle we arrived at Ham, with its canal
and its green, surrounding marshes.

Ham has ceased to be silent. There are some houses left, and to those
houses people have come back. Shops have reopened, as at Noyon, where
the French Government has advanced money to the business men. We drove
into the town of Ham (what is left of it!) just as we were hating
ourselves for being hungry. It is sordid and dreadful to be hungry in
the midst of one's rage and grief and pity--to want to eat in a place
like Ham, where one should wish to absorb nothing but history; yet our
officer guide, who has helped make a good deal of history since 1914,
seemed to think lunching quite as important as sightseeing. In a
somewhat battered square, busy with reopening shops (some of them most
_quaint_ shops, with false hair as a favourite display!) was a hotel.
The Germans had lived in it for months. They had bullied the very old,
very vital landlady who welcomed us. Their boots had worn holes in the
stair carpet, going up and down in a goose-step. Their elbows had
polished the long table in the dining room, and--oh, horror!--their
mouths had drunk beer from glasses in which the good wine of France was
offered to us!

"Ah, but I have scrubbed the goblets since with a fortune's worth of
soda," the woman volubly explained. "They are purified. If I could wash
away as easily the memories behind my eyes and in my ears! Of them I
cannot get rid. Whenever I see an automobile, yes, even the most
innocent automobile, I live again through a certain scene! We had here
at Ham an invalid woman, whose husband the Boches took out and shot.
When she heard the news, she threw herself under one of their military
cars and was killed. If a young girl passes my windows (alas, it is
seldom! the Germans know why) I see once more a procession of girls
lined up to send into slavery. God knows where they are now, those
children! All we know is, that in this country there is not a girl left
of an age between twelve and twenty, unless she was hidden or disguised
when the Boches took their toll. If I hear a sound of bells, I see our
people being herded into church--our old, old church, with its proud
monuments!--so their houses might be burned before the Germans had to
run. They stayed in the church for days and nights, waiting for the
château to be blown up. What a suspense! No one knew if the great shock,
when it came, might not kill everyone!"

As she exploded reminiscences, the old lady fed us with ham and omelette
salted with tears. We had to eat, or hurt her feelings, but it was as if
we swallowed the poor creature's emotion with our food, and the effect
within was dynamic. I never had such a volcanic meal! Our French officer
was the only calm one among us, but--he had been stationed in this
liberated region for months. It's an old story for him.

After luncheon we staggered away to see the great sight of Ham, the
fortress-château which has given it history and fame for centuries. The
Germans blew up the citadel out of sheer spite, as the vast pink pile
long ago ceased to be of military value. They wished to show their power
by ruining the future of the town, which lived on its _monument
historique_: but (as often happens with their "frightfulness") that
object was just the one they failed in. I can't believe that the castle
of Ham was as striking in its untouched magnificence as now in the
rose-red splendour of its ruin!

To be sure, the guardians can never again show precisely where Joan of
Arc was imprisoned, or the rooms where Louis Napoleon lived through his
six years of captivity, or the little garden he used to cultivate, or
the way he passed to escape over the drawbridge, dressed as a mason,
with a plank on his shoulder. But the glorious old tower or donjon still
stands, one hundred feet high and one hundred feet wide. German
gunpowder was too weak to bring it down, and so perhaps the prophecy of
the Comte de St. Pol, builder of the fortress, may be fulfilled--that
while France stands, the tower of Ham's citadel will stand. Thousands
more pilgrims will come in a year, after the war, to see what the
Germans did and what they failed to do, than ever came in the mild,
prosperous days before 1914, when Ham's best history was old. They will
come and gaze at the massive bulk--red always as if reflecting sunset
light--looming against the blue; they will peer down into dusky dungeons
underground: and the new guardian (a mutilated soldier he'll be,
perhaps, decorated with the _croix de guerre_) will tell them about the
girl of Ham who lured a German officer to a death-trap in a secret
_oubliette_, "where 'tis said his body lies to-day." Then they will
stand under the celebrated old tree in the courtyard, unhurt by the
explosion, and take photographs of the château the Germans have
unwittingly made more beautiful than before.

"_Mon mieux_" was the motto St. Pol carved over the gateway; "Our worst"
is the taunt the Germans have flung. But the combination of that best
and worst is glorious to the eye.

From Ham we spun on to Jussy, along the new white road which is so
amazing when one thinks that every yard of it had to be created out of
chaos a few months ago. (They say that some sort of surface was given
for the army to pass over in three days' work!) At Jussy we came close
to the _real_ front--closer than we've been yet, except when we went to
the American trenches. The first line was only three miles away, and the
place is under bombardment, but this was what our guide called a "quiet
day," so there was only an occasional mumble and boom. The town was
destroyed, wiped almost out of existence, save for heaps of rubble which
might have been houses or hills. But there were things to be seen which
would have made Jussy worth a long journey. It had been a prosperous
place, with one of the biggest sugar refineries in France, and the
wrecked _usine_ was as terrible and thrilling as the moon seen through
the biggest telescope in the world.

Not that it looked like the moon. It looked more like a futurist sketch,
in red and brown, of the heart of a cyclone; or of the inside of a
submarine that has rammed a skeleton ship on the stocks. But the sight
gave me the same kind of icy shock I had when I first saw the moon's
ravaged face through a huge telescope. _You_ took me, Padre, so you'll
remember.

If you came to Jussy, and didn't know about the war, you'd think you had
stumbled into hell--or else that you were having a nightmare and
couldn't wake up. I shall never forget a brobdingnagian boiler as big as
a battle tank, that had reared itself on its hind-legs to peer through a
_cheval de frise_ of writhing girders--tortured girders like a vast
wilderness of immense thorn bushes in a hopeless tangle, or a pit of
bloodstained snakes. The walls of the _usine_ have simply melted, and
it's hard to realize that it as a building, put up by human hands for
human uses, ever existed. There is a new Jussy, though, created since
the German retreat; and seeing it, you couldn't _help_ knowing that
there was a war! The whole landscape is full of cannon, big and little
and middle-sized. Queer mushroom buildings have sprung up, for officers'
and soldiers' barracks and canteens. Narrow plank walks built high above
mud-level--"duck boards," I think they're called--lead to the corrugated
iron, tin, and wooden huts. There are aerodromes and aerodromes like a
vast circus encampment, where there are not cannon; and the greenish
canvas roofs give the only bit of colour, as far as the eye can
see--unless one counts the soldiers' uniforms. All the rest is gray as
the desert before a dust-storm. Even the sky, which had been blue and
bright, was gray over Jussy, and the grayest of gray things were the
immense "_saucisses_"--three or four of them--hanging low under the
clouds like advertisements of titanic potatoes, haughtiest of war-time
vegetables.

Dierdre O'Farrell inadvertently called the big bulks "_saucissons_,"
which amused our officer guide so much that he laughed to tears. The
rest of us were able to raise only a faint smile, and we felt his
disappointment at our lack of humour.

"Ah, but it is most _funny!_" he said. "I will tell everyone. In future
they shall for us be '_saucissons_' forever. I suppose it is not so
funny for you, because the sight of these dead towns has made you sad. I
am almost afraid to take you on to Chauny. You will be much sadder
there. Chauny is the sight most pitiful of all. Would you perhaps wish
to avoid it?"

"What about you, Mother?" Father Beckett wanted to know.

But Mother had no wish to avoid Chauny. She was not able to believe that
anything could be sadder than Roye, or Nesle, or Ham, or more grim than
Jussy.

"He doesn't want to take us to Chauny," Brian whispered to me. We were
all grouped together near the cars, with Sirius, a quiet, happy dog.
"He's trying to think up a new excuse to get out of it."

I glanced at our guide. It was _like_ Brian to have guessed what we
hadn't seen! Now I was on the alert, the clear-cut French face _did_
look nonplussed; and a nervous brown hand was tugging at a smart black
moustache.

"Is there any reason why you think it would be better for us not to go
there?" I decided to ask frankly.

"It's getting rather late," he suggested, in his precise English. "You
have also the Pavilion of Prince Eitel Fritz before you. If it grows too
dark, you cannot see St. Quentin well, in the distance, and the glasses
will be of no use for Soissons."

"But we're _going_ to Soissons day after to-morrow!" said Father
Beckett.

"And there'll be a moon presently," added Dierdre. She had heard of the
ruined convent at Chauny and was determined not to miss it.

"Yes, there'll be a moon," reluctantly admitted Monsieur le Lieutenant.

"Is there still another reason?" I tried to help him.

"Well, yes, there is one, Mademoiselle," he blurted out. "I had meant
not to mention it. But perhaps it is best to tell, and then you may all
choose whether you go to Chauny or not. There is a certain risk at this
time of day, or a little later. You know we are close to the front here,
and enemy aeroplanes fly nearly every afternoon over Chauny toward dusk.
They hope to catch some important personage, and they come expressly to
'spot' automobiles. The road through the ruined town is white and new,
and the gray military cars in which we bring visitors to the front stand
out clearly, especially as twilight falls. I'm afraid we have lingered
too long in some of these places. If we were a party of men, I should
say nothing, but with three ladies----"

"I can answer for all three, Monsieur," said Mother Beckett, with a
pathetically defiant tilt of her small chin.

"My son, you know, was a soldier. We have come to this part of the world
to see what we can do for the people in honour of his memory. So we
mustn't leave Chauny out."

"Madame, there are no people there, for there are no houses. There are
but a few soldiers with an anti-aircraft gun."

"We must see what can be done about building up some of the houses so
the people can come back," persisted the old lady, with that gentle
obstinacy of hers.

The French officer made no more objections; and knowing his wife, I
suppose Father Beckett felt it useless to offer any. We started at once
for Chauny: in fact, we flew along the road almost as fast--it
seemed--as enemy aeroplanes could fly along the sky if they pursued. But
we had a long respite still before twilight.



CHAPTER XXIV


Our guide was right. Chauny was sadder than the rest, because there had
been more of beauty to ruin. And it was ruined cruelly, completely! Even
Gerbéviller, in Lorraine, had been less sad than this--less sad because
of Soeur Julie, and the quarter on the hill which her devotion saved;
less sad, because of the American Red Cross reconstruction centre, for
the fruit trees. Here there had been no Soeur Julie, no reconstruction
centre yet. The Germans, when they knew they had to go, gave three weeks
to their wrecking work. They sent off, neatly packed, all that was worth
sending to Germany. They measured the cellars to see what quantity of
explosives would be needed to blow up the houses. Then they blew them
up, making their quarters meanwhile at a safe distance, in the convent.
As for that convent--you will see what happened there when the Boches
had no further use for it!

In happy days before the war, whose joys we took comfortably for
granted, Chauny had several châteaux of beauty and charm. It had pretty
houses and lots of fine shops and a park. It was proud of its _mairie_
and church and great _usine_ (now a sight of horror), and the newer
parts of the town did honour to their architects. But--Chauny was on the
direct road between Cologne and Paris. Nobody thought much about this
fact then, except that it helped travel and so was good for the
country. It is only now that one knows what a price Chauny paid for the
advantage. Instead of a beautiful town there remains a heap of cinders,
with here and there a wrecked façade of pitiful grace or broken dignity
to tell where stood the proudest buildings.

The sky was empty of enemy 'planes; but our guide hurried us through the
town, where the new road shone white in contrast with our cars; and
having hidden the autos under a group of trees outside, led us on foot
toward the convent. The approach was exquisite: a long, long avenue of
architectural elms, arbour-like in shade, once the favourite evening
promenade of Chauny. That tunnel of emerald and gold would have been an
interlude of peace between two tragedies--tragedy of the town, tragedy
of the convent--if the ground hadn't been strewn with torn papers, like
leaves scattered by the wind: official records flung out of strong boxes
by ruthless German hands, poor remnants no longer of value, and saved
from destruction only by the kindly trees, friends of happy memories.
"The Boches didn't take time to spoil this avenue," said our officer.
"They liked it while they lived in the convent; and they left in a
hurry."

Just beyond the avenue lies the convent garden; and though it is autumn,
when we stepped into that garden we stepped into an oasis of
old-fashioned, fragrant flowers, guarded by delicate trees, gentle as
the vanished Sisters and their flock of young girl pupils; sweet, small
trees, bending low as if to shield the garden's breast from harm.

I wish when Chauny is rebuilt this convent might be left as a _monument
historique_, for, ringed by its perfumed pleasance, it is a glimpse of
"fairylands forlorn."

One half believes there must have been some fairy charm at work which
kept the fire-breathing German dragon from laying this garden waste when
he was forced out of his stolen lair in the convent! Little remains of
the house, and in the rubbish heap of fallen walls and beams and
plaster, narrow iron bedsteads, where nuns slept or young girls dreamed,
perch timidly among stones and blackened bricks. But in the garden all
is flowery peace: and the chapel, though ruined, is a strange vision of
beauty framed in horror.

Not that the Germans were merciful there. They burned and blew up all
that would burn or blow up. The roof fell, and heaped the floor with
wreckage; but out of that wreckage, as out of a troubled sea, rise two
figures: St. Joseph, and an almost life-size, painted statue of the
Virgin. There the two stand firmly on their pedestals, their faces
raised to God's roof of blue, which never fails. Because their eyes are
lifted, they do not see the flotsam and jetsam of shattered stained
glass, burnt woodwork, smashed benches, broken picture-frames and torn,
rain-blurred portraits of lesser saints. They seem to think only of
heaven.

Though I'm not a Catholic, the chapel gave me such a sense of sacredness
and benediction that I felt I must be there alone, if only for a moment.
So when our officer led the others out I stayed behind. A clear ray of
late sunshine slanted through a broken window set high in a side wall,
to stream full upon the face of the Virgin. Someone had crowned her with
a wreath of fresh flowers, and had thrust a few white roses under the
folded hands which seemed to clasp them lovingly, with a prayer for the
peace of the world. The dazzling radiance brought face and figure to
life; and it was as if a living woman had taken the statue's place on
the pedestal. The effect was so startling that, if I were a Catholic, I
might have believed in a miracle. Protestant as I am, I had the impulse
to pray: but--(I don't know, Padre, if I have ever told you this)--I've
not dared to pray properly since I first stole the Becketts' love for
Brian and me. I've not dared, though never in my life have I so needed
and longed for prayer.

This time I couldn't resist, unworthy as I am. The smile of peace and
pardon on the statue's illumined face seemed to make all sin forgivable
in this haunt of holy dreams. "God forgive me, and show me how to
atone," I sent my plea skyward. Suddenly the conviction came that I
_should_ be shown a way of atonement, though it might be hard. I felt
lighter of heart, and went on to pray that Jack Curtis's hope might be
justified: that, no matter what happened to me, or even to Brian, Jim
Beckett might be alive, in this world, and come back safely to his
parents.

While I prayed, a sound disturbed the deep silence. It was a far-away
sound, but quickly it grew louder and drew nearer: at first a buzzing as
of all the bees in France mobilized in a bee-barrage. Then the buzzing
became a roar. I knew directly what it was: enemy aeroplanes.

I could not see them yet, but they must be close. If they were flying
very low, to search Chauny for visitors, I might be seen if I moved.
Those in the garden were better off than I, for they were screened by
the trees, but trying to join them I might attract attention to myself.

As I thought this, I wondered why I didn't decide upon the thing most
likely to solve all my problems at once. If I were killed, Brian would
grieve: but he had the Becketts to love and care for him, and--he had
Dierdre: no use disguising that fact from my intelligence, after the
episode of the dog! What a chance for me to disappear, having done for
Brian all I could do! Oh, why didn't I add another prayer to my last,
and beg God to let me die that minute?

I'll tell you why I did not pray this, Padre, and why, instead of trying
to expose my life, I wished--almost unconsciously--to save it. I hardly
realized why then, but I do realize now. It is different in these days
from that night in Paris, when I wished I might be run over by a
motor-car. At that time I should have been glad to die. Now I cling to
life--not just because I'm young and strong, and people call me
beautiful, but because I feel I _must_ stay in the world to see what
happens next.

I kept as still as a frightened mouse. I didn't move. I scarcely
breathed. Presently an aeroplane sailed into sight directly overhead,
and flying so low that I could make out its iron cross, exactly like
photographs I'd seen. Whether the men in it could see me or not I can't
tell; but if they could, perhaps they mistook me for one of the statues
they knew existed in the ruined chapel, and thought I wasn't worth
bombing.

In that case it was St. Joseph and the Virgin who protected me!

In a second the big bird of prey had swept on. I was sick with fear for
a moment lest it should drop an "egg" on to the garden, and kill Brian
or the Becketts, or the lieutenant who had wished to spare us this
danger. Even the O'Farrells I didn't want hurt; and I was pleased to
find out that about myself, because they are a far more constant danger
for me than all the aeroplanes along the German front; and when I came
face to face with realities in my own soul, I might have discovered a
wicked desire for them to be out of the way at any price. But since
Dierdre proved herself ready to die for Brian, I do admire if I don't
like her. As for Julian--would it be possible, Padre, to miss a person
you almost hate? Anyhow, when I tried to imagine how I should feel if I
went back to the garden and saw him dead, I grew quite giddy and ill.
How queer we are, we human things!

But no one was hurt. The whole party hid under the trees; and as the
cars were also hidden at a distance, the German fliers turned tail,
disappointed; besides, the anti-aircraft gun which we'd been told about,
and had seen on our way to the convent, was potting away like mad, so it
wasn't healthful for aeroplanes to linger merely "on spec."

Mother Beckett was pale and trembling a little, but she said that she
had been too anxious about me, in my absence, to think of herself, which
was perhaps a good thing. I noticed, when I joined them in the garden,
after the roar had changed again to a buzz, that Dierdre stood close to
Brian, and that his hand was on her shoulder, her hand on Sirius's
beautiful head. Yet I felt too strangely happy to be jealous. I suppose
it must have been through my prayer--or the answer to it.

       *       *       *       *       *

When all was clear and the danger over (our guide said that the "birds"
never made more than one tour of inspection in an afternoon) we started
off again. Father Beckett suggested that his wife had better go home and
rest, but she wouldn't hear of it. And when we reached a turning of the
road which would lead us to Coucy-le Château, it was she who begged our
lieutenant to let us run along that way, "just far enough for a glimpse,
a _tiny_ glimpse."

"My son wrote me it was the most wonderful old château in France," she
pleaded. "I've got in my pocket now a snapshot he sent me."

The Frenchman couldn't resist. You know how charming the French are to
old ladies. "It isn't as safe as--as the Bank of England!" he laughed.
"Sometimes they keep this road rather hot. But to-day, I have told you,
things are quiet all along. We will take what Madame calls a tiny
glimpse."

Orders were given to our chauffeur. Brian was with the O'Farrells,
coming on behind, and of course the Red Cross taxi followed at our heels
like a faithful dachshund. Our big car flew swiftly, and the little one
did its jolting best to keep up the pace, for time wouldn't wait for
us--and these autumn days are cutting themselves short.

Presently we saw a thing which proved that the road was indeed "hot"
sometimes: a neat, round shell-hole, which looked ominously new! We
swung past it with a bump, and flashed into sight of a ruin which
dwarfed all others we had seen--yes, dwarfed even cathedrals! A long
line of ramparts rising from a high headland of gray-white
chalk-ramparts crowned with broken, round towers, which the sun was
painting with heraldic gold: the stump of a tremendous keep that reared
its bulk like a giant in his death struggle, for a last look over his
shield of shattered walls. This was what German malice had made of
Coucy, pride of France, architectural masterpiece of feudal times!

"This is as far as I dare go!" our lieutenant said, with a brusque
gesture which bade the chauffeur stop. But before the car turned, he
gave us a moment to take in the picture of grandeur and unforgivable
cruelty. Yes, unforgivable! for you know, Padre, there was no military
motive in the destruction. The only object was to deprive France forever
of the noblest of her castles, which has helped in the making of her
history since a bishop of Rheims began to build it in 920.

    "Roi ne suis
    Ne prince, ne duc, ne comte aussy.
    Je suys le Sire de Coucy."

The beautiful old boast in beautiful old French sang in my head as I
gazed through tears at the new ruin of ancient grandeur.

Some of those haughty Sires de Coucy may have deserved to have their
stronghold destroyed, for they seem--most of them--to have been as bad
as they were vain. I remember there was one, in the days of Louis XII,
who punished three little boys for killing a few rabbits in his park, by
ordering the children to be hanged on the spot; and St. Louis was so
angry on hearing of the crime that he wished to hang the Sire de Coucy
on the same tree. There were others I've read of, just as wicked and
high-handed: but their castle was not to blame for its master's crimes!
Besides, the last of the proud Enguerrands and Thomases and Raouls,
Seigneurs of the line, was son-in-law to Edward III of England; so all
their sins were expiated long ago.

"The Boches were jealous of our Coucy," said the Frenchman, with a sigh.
"They have nothing to compare with it on their side of the Rhine. If
they could have packed up the château and carted it across the frontier
they would--if it had taken three years. As they couldn't do that, they
did what Cardinal Mazarin wasn't able to do with his picked engineers;
they blew it up with high explosives. But all they could steal they
stole: carvings and historic furniture. You know there was a room the
guardian used to show before the war--the room where César de Bourbon
was born, the son of Henri Quatre of Navarre and Gabrielle d'Estrées?
That room the Boches emptied when they first came in August, 1914. Not a
piece of rich tapestry, not a suit of armour, not even a chair, or a
table, or lamp did they leave. Everything was sent to Germany. But we
believe we shall get it all again some day. And now we must go, for the
Boches shell this road whenever they think of it, or have nothing better
to do!"

The signal was given. We turned and tore along the road by which we'd
come, our backs feeling rather sensitive and exposed to chance German
bombs, until we'd got round the corner to a "safe section." Our way led
through a pitiful country of crippled trees to a curious round hill. A
little castle or miniature fortress must have crowned it once, for the
height was entirely circled by an ancient moat. On top of this green
mound Prince Eitel Fritz built for himself the imitation shooting-lodge
which was our goal and viewpoint. And, Padre, there can't be another
such German-looking spot in martyred France as he has made of the
insulted hillock!

I don't know how many fair young birch trees he sacrificed to build a
summer-house for himself and his staff to drink beer in, and gaze over
the country, at St. Quentin, at Soissons and a hundred conquered towns
and villages! Now he's obliged to look from St. Quentin at the
summer-house--and how we pray that it may not be for long!

Over one door of the building a pair of crossed swords carved heavily in
wood form a stolid German decoration; and still more maddeningly German
are the seats outside the house, made of cement and shaped like
toadstools. In the sitting room are rough chairs, and a big table so
stained with wine and beer that I could almost see the fat figures of
the prince and his friends grouped round it, with cheers for "_Wein,
Weib, und Gesang_."

Close down below us, in sloping green meadows, a lot of war-worn horses
_en permission_ were grazing peacefully. Our guide said that some were
"Americans," and I fancied them dreaming of Kentucky grasslands, or the
desert herbs of the Far West, which they will never taste again. Also I
yearned sorrowfully over the weary creatures that had done their "bit"
without any incentive, without much praise or glory, and that would
presently go back to do it all over again, until they died or were
finally disabled. I remembered a cavalry-man I nursed in our _Hôpital
des Épidémies_ telling me how brave horses are. "The only trouble with
them in battle," he said, "is when their riders are killed, to make
them fall out of line. They _will_ keep their places!"

Both Father Beckett and the French officer had field-glasses, but we
hardly needed them for St. Quentin. Far away across a plain slowly
turning from bright blue-green to dim green-blue in the twilight, we saw
a dream town built of violet shadows--Marie Stuart's dowry town. Its
purple roofs and the dominating towers of its great collegiate church
were ethereal as a mirage, yet delicately clear, and so beautiful,
rising from the river-bank, that I shuddered to think of the French
guns, forced to break the heart of Faidherbe's brave city.

It was a time of day to call back the past, for in the falling dusk
modern things and old things blended lovingly together. For all one
could see of detail, nothing had changed much since the plain of Picardy
was the great Merovingian centre of France, the gateway through which
the English marched, and went away never to return until they came as
friends. Still less had the scene changed since the brave days when
Marguerite de Valois rode through Picardy with her band of lovely ladies
and gallant gentlemen. It was summer when she travelled; but on just
such an evening of blue twilight and silver moonshine might she have had
her pretended carriage accident at Catelet, as an excuse to disappoint
the Bishop of Cambrai, and meet the man best loved of all her lovers,
Duc Henri de Guise. It was just then he had got the wound which gave him
his scar and his nickname of "_Le Balafré_"; and she would have been all
the more anxious not to miss her hero.

I thought of that adventure, because of the picture Brian painted of the
Queen on her journey, the only one of his which has been hung in the
Academy, you know, Padre; and _I_ sat for Marguerite. Not that I'm her
type at all, judging from portraits! However, I fancied myself intensely
in the finished picture, and used to hope I should be recognized when I
strolled into the Academy. But I never was.

Looking down over the plain of Picardy, I pretended to myself that I
could see the Queen's procession: Marguerite (looking as much as
possible like me!) in her gold and crystal coach, lined with
rose-coloured Spanish velvet, jewel-broidered: the gentlemen outriders
trying to stare through the thick panes obscured with designs and
mottoes concerning the sun and its influence upon human fate; the
high-born girls chattering to each other from their embroidered Spanish
saddles, as they rode on white palfreys, trailing after the glittering
coach; and the dust rising like smoke from wheels of jolting chariots
which held the elder women of the Court.

Oh, those were great days, the days of Henry of Navarre and his naughty
wife! But, after all, there wasn't as much chivalry and real romance in
Picardy then, or in the time of St. Quentin himself, as war has brought
back to it now. No deeds we can find in history equal the deeds of
to-day!

       *       *       *       *       *

We got lost going home, somehow taking the wrong road, straying into a
wood, plunging and bumping down and down over fearful roads, and
landing--by what might have been a bad accident--in a deep ravine almost
too strange to be true.

Even our French officer couldn't make out what had happened to us, or
whither we'd wandered, until we'd stopped, and our blaze of acetylene
had lighted up a series of fantastic caverns in the rock (caverns
improved up to date by German cement) and in front of that honeycombed
gray wall a flat, grassy lawn that was a graveyard.

"_Mon Dieu, c'est le Ravin de Bitry!_" he cried. "Let us get out of it!
I would never have brought you here of my own free will."

"But why--why?" I insisted. "It isn't the only graveyard we have seen,
alas! and there are only French names on the little crosses."

"I know," he said. "After we chased the Germans out of this hole, we
lived here ourselves, in their caves--and died here, as you see,
Mademoiselle. But the place is haunted, and not by spirits of the
dead--worse! Put on your hats again, Messieurs! The dead will forgive
you. And, ladies, wrap veils over your faces. If it were not so late,
you would already know why. But the noise of our autos, and the lights
may stir up those ghosts!"

Then, in an instant, before the cars could turn, we _did_ know why.
Flies!... such flies as I had never seen ...nightmare flies. They rose
from everywhere, in a thick black cloud, like the plague of Egypt. They
were in thousands. They were big as bees. They dropped on us like a
black jelly falling out of a mould. They sat all over us. It was only
when our cars had swayed and stumbled up again, over that awful road,
out of the haunted hole in the deep woods, and risen into fresh, moving
air, that the horde deserted us. Julian O'Farrell had his hands bitten,
and dear Mother Beckett was badly stung on the throat. Horrible!... I
don't think I could have slept at night for thinking of the Ravin de
Bitry, if we hadn't had such a refreshing run home that the impression
of the lost, dark place was purified away.

Forest fragrance sprayed into our faces like perfume from a vaporizer.
We seemed to pass through endless halls supported by white marble
pillars, which were really spaces between trees, magically transformed
by our blazing headlight. Always in front of us hovered an archway of
frosted silver, moving as we moved, like a pale, elusive rainbow; and
when we put on extra speed for a long, straight stretch, poplars
carelessly spared by the Boches spouted up on either side of us like
geysers. Then, suddenly, across a stretch of blackness palely shone
Compiègne, as Venice shines across the dark lagoon.



CHAPTER XXV


Little did I think, Padre, to write you from Soissons! When last I spoke
to you about it, we were gazing through field-glasses at the single
tower of the cathedral, pointing out of purple shadows toward the
evening star of hope. Then we lost ourselves in the Ravin de Bitry, and
arrived thankfully at Compiègne two hours later than we had planned. We
expected to have part of a day at Soissons, but--I told you of the
dreadful flies in that ravine of death, and how Mother Beckett was stung
on the throat. The next day she had a headache, but took aspirin, and
pronounced herself well enough for the trip to Soissons. Father Beckett
let her go, because he's in the habit of letting her do whatever she
wants to do, fancying (and she fancies it, too) that he is master. You
see, we thought it was only a fatigue-headache. Foolishly, we didn't
connect it with the sting, for Julian O'Farrell was bitten, too, and
didn't complain at all.

Well, we set out for Soissons yesterday morning (I write again at night)
leaving all our luggage at the hotel in Compiègne. It was quite a safe
and uneventful run, for the Germans stopped shelling Soissons
temporarily some time ago, when they were obliged to devote their whole
attention to other places. The road was good, and the day a dream of
Indian summer, when war seemed more than ever out of place in such a
world. If Mother Beckett looked ill, we didn't notice, because she wore
her dust-veil. The same officer was with us who'd been our guide last
time, and we felt like friends, as he explained, with those vivid
gestures Frenchmen have, just how the Germans in September, 1914,
marched from Laon upon Soissons--marched fast, singing, yelling, wild to
take a city so important that the world would be impressed. Why, it
would be--they thought--as if the whole Île-de-France were in their
grasp! The next step would be to Paris, goal of all Germanic invasions
since Attila.

It's an engaging habit of Mother Beckett's to punctuate exciting stories
like this with little soft sighs of sympathy: but the graphic war
descriptions given by our lieutenant left her cold. Even when we came
into the town, and began to go round it in the car, she was heavily
silent, not an exclamation! And we ought to have realized that this was
strange, because Soissons nowadays is a sight to strike the heart a
hammer-blow.

Of course the place isn't older than Rheims. It's of the same time and
the same significance. But its face looks older in ruin--such features
as haven't been battered out of shape. There's the wonderful St.
Jean-des-Vignes, which should have interested the little lady, because
the great namesake of her family St. Thomas à Beckett, lived there, when
it was one of Soissons' four famous abbeys. There's the church of St.
Léger, and the grand old gates of St. Médard, to say nothing of the
cathedral itself. And then there's the history, which goes back to the
Suessiones who owned twelve towns, and had a king whose power carried
across the sea, all the way to Britain. If Mother Beckett doesn't know
much about history, she loves being in the midst of it, and hearing talk
of it. But when our Frenchman told us a story of her latest favourite,
King Clovis, she had the air of being asleep behind her thick blue veil.
It was quite a good story, too, about a gold vase and a bishop. The gold
vase had been stolen in the sack of the churches, after the battle of
Soissons, when Roman rule was ended in France. St. Remi begged Clovis to
give the vase back. But the booty was being divided, and the soldier who
had the vase refused to surrender it to a mere monarch. "You'll get what
your luck brings you, like the rest of us!" said he, striking the vase
so hard with his battle-axe that it was dented, and its beauty spoiled.
Clovis swallowed the insult, that being the day of soldiers, not of
kings: but he didn't forget; and he kept watch upon the man. A year
later, to the day, the excuse he'd waited for came. The soldier's armour
was dirty, on review; Clovis had the right as a general to reproach and
punish him, so snatching the man's battle-axe, the king crushed in the
soldier's head. "I do to you with the same weapon what you did to the
gold vase at Soissons!" he said.

It wasn't until we had seen everything, and had spent over an hour
looking at the martyred cathedral, from every point of view, inside and
out, that Mother Beckett confessed her suffering. "Oh, Molly!" she
gasped, leaning on my arm, "I'm so glad there's only _one_ tower, and
not two! That is, I'm glad, as it was always like that."

"Why," I exclaimed, "how odd of you, dearest! I know it's considered one
of the best cathedrals in France, though it isn't a museum of sculpture,
like Rheims. But the single tower worries me, it looks so unfinished.
_I'm_ not glad there's only one!"

"You would be if you felt like I do," she moaned. "If there was another
tower, we'd have to spend double time looking at it, and in five minutes
more I should have to faint! Oh no, I've stood everything so far, not to
disappoint any one, but I _couldn't_ see another tower!"

With that, she did faint, or nearly, then came to herself, and
apologized for bothering us! Father Beckett hardly spoke, but his face
was gray-white with fear, and he held the fragile creature in his arms
as if she were his last link with the life of this world.

We got her back into the car; and the man who had shown us the cathedral
said that there was an hotel within five minutes' motoring distance. It
was not first rate, he explained, but officers messed there and
occasionally wives and mothers of officers stayed there. He thought we
might be taken in and made fairly comfortable; and to be sure we didn't
miss the house, he rode on the step of the car, to show us the way.

It was a sad way, for we had to pass hillocks of plaster and stone which
had once been streets, but we had eyes only for Mother Beckett's face,
Father Beckett and I: and even Brian seemed to look at her. Sirius, too,
for he would not go into the Red Cross taxi with the others! Brian, whom
in most things the dog obeys with a pathetic eagerness, couldn't get him
to do that: and when I said, "Oh, his eyes are tragic. He thinks you're
going to send him away, never to see you again!" Brian didn't insist. So
the dog sat squeezed in among us, knowing perfectly well that we were
anxious about the little lady who patted him so often, and
unpatriotically saved him lumps of sugar. He licked her small fingers,
clasped by her husband, and attracting Mother Beckett's attention
perhaps kept her from fainting again.

Well, we got to the hotel, which was really more of a _pension_ than an
hotel, and Madame Bornier, the elderly woman in deep mourning who was
_la patronne_, was kind and helpful. Her best room had been made ready
for the wife of an officer just coming out of hospital, but there would
be time to prepare another. Our dear invalid was carried upstairs in her
husband's arms, and I put her to bed while a doctor was sent for. Of
course, we had no permission to spend a night at Soissons, but I began
to foresee that we should have to stay unless we were turned out by the
military authorities.

When the doctor came--a _médecin major_ fetched from a hospital by our
officer-guide--he said that Madame was suffering from malarial symptoms;
she must have been poisoned. So then of course we remembered the sting
on her throat. He examined it, looked rather grave, and warned Father
Beckett that _Madame sa femme_ would not be able to travel that day. She
had a high temperature, and at best must have a day or two of repose,
with no food save a little boiled milk.

Soissons seemed the last place in France to hope for milk of any
description, but the doctor promised it from the hospital if it couldn't
be got elsewhere, and added with pride that Soissons was not without
resources. "When the Germans came three years ago," he said, "most of
the inhabitants had fled, taking what they could carry. Only seven
hundred souls were left, out of fifteen thousand, but many have come
back: we have more than two thousand now, and some of them behaved like
heroes and heroines. Oh yes, we may almost say that life goes on
normally! You shall have all the milk you need for Madame."

When she had taken some medicine, and smiled at him, Father Beckett left
his wife in my care, and rushed off to arrange about permission to stop.
The _médecin major_ and our officer-guide were useful. After telephoning
from the military hospital to headquarters, everything was arranged; and
we were authorized to remain in Soissons, at our own risk and peril.
Madame Bornier prepared rooms for us all; but there weren't enough to go
round, so Brian and Julian O'Farrell were put together, and Dierdre and
I! She, by the way, is in bed at this moment, whether asleep or not I
don't know; but if not she is pretending. Her lashes are very long, and
she looks prettier than I ever saw her look before. But that may be
because I like her better. I told you, that after what she did for Brian
I could never dislike that girl again: but there has been another
incident since then, about which I will tell you to-morrow. You know,
I'm not easily tired, but this is our second night at Soissons. I sat up
all last night with Mother Beckett, and oh, how glad I was, Padre, that
Fate had forced me to train as a nurse! I've been glad--thankful--ever
since the war: but this is the first time my gladness has been so
personal. Brian's illness was in hospital. I could do nothing for him.
But you can hardly think what it has meant to me, to know that I've been
of real use to this dear woman, that I've been able to spare her
suffering. Before, I had no right to her love. I'd stolen it. Now,
maybe I am beginning to earn a little of the affection which she and
Father Beckett give me.

I was all "keyed up" when I began to write to you to-night, Padre; but I
was supposed to spend my three hours "off" in sleep. One hour is gone.
Even if I can't sleep, I shall pass the other two trying to rest, in my
narrow bed, which is close to Dierdre's.



CHAPTER XXVI


This is the next day. Mother Beckett is better, and I've been praised by
the _médecin major_ for my nursing. We've got our luggage from
Compiègne, and may be here for days. We shall miss the pleasure of
travelling to Amiens with the war correspondents, who must go without
us, and we women will get no glimpse of the British front!

Now I'm going to tell you about the incident which has made me almost
love Dierdre O'Farrell--a miracle, it would have seemed two weeks ago,
when my best mental pet name for her was "little cat!"

When I wrote last night, I mentioned that the room Mother Beckett has in
this little hotel had been intended for the wife of a French officer
coming out of hospital. Another room was prepared for that lady, and it
happened to be the one next door to Mother Beckett's. Through the thin
partition wall I heard voices, a man's and a woman's, talking in French.
I couldn't make out the words--in fact, I tried not to!--but the woman's
tones were soft and sweet as the coo of a dove. I pictured her beautiful
and young, and I was sure from her way of speaking that she adored her
husband. The two come into my story presently, but I think it should
begin with a walk that Brian and Dierdre (and Sirius, of course) took
together.

With me shut up in Mother Beckett's room, my blind brother and Julian
O'Farrell's sister were thrown more closely together even than before.
I'm sure Julian saw to that, eliminating himself as he couldn't do when
travelling all three in the Red Cross taxi! Perhaps Dierdre and Brian
had never been alone in each other's company so long; and Brian found
the chance he'd wished for, to get at the _real_ girl, behind her sulky
"camouflage."

He has repeated the whole conversation to me, because he wanted me to
know Dierdre as he has learned to know her; and I shall write everything
down as I remember it, though the words mayn't be precisely right. Never
was there any one like Brian for drawing out confidences from shut-up
souls (except _you_, Padre!) if he chooses to open his own soul, for
that end; and apparently he thought it worth while in the case of
Dierdre. He began by telling her things about himself--his old hopes and
ambitions and the change in them since his blindness. He confessed to
the girl (as he confessed to me long ago) how at first he wished
desperately to die, because life without eyesight wasn't life. He has so
loved colour, and beauty, and success in his work had been so close,
that he felt he couldn't endure blindness.

"I came near being a coward," he said. "A man who puts an end to his
life because he's afraid to face it is a coward. So I tried to see if I
could readjust the balance. I fell back on my imagination--and it saved
me. Imagination was always my best friend! It took me by the hand and
led me into a garden--a secret sort of garden that belongs to the blind,
and to no one else. It's the place where the spirits of colour and the
spirits of flowers live--the spirit of music, too--and all sorts of
beautiful strange things which people who've never been blind can't
see--or even hear. They're not '_things_,' exactly. They're more like
the reality behind the things: God's thoughts of things as they should
be, before He created them; artists' thoughts of their pictures;
musicians' thoughts of their compositions--all better than the things
resulting from the thoughts. Nothing in the outside world is as
wonderful as what grows in that garden! I couldn't go on being unhappy
there. Nobody could--once he'd found the way in."

"It must be hard finding the way in!" Dierdre said.

"It is at first--alone, without help. That's why, if I can, I want to
help my fellow blind men to get there."

"Only men? Not women, too?"

"I've never met a blind woman. Probably I never shall."

"You're talking to one this minute! When I'm with you, I always feel as
if I were blind, and you could see."

"You're unjust to yourself."

"No, but I'm unjust to you--I mean, I have been. I must tell you before
we go on, because you're too kind, too generous. I'm blind about lots of
things, but I do see that, now. I see how good you are. I used to think
you were too good to be true--that you must be a _poseur_. I was always
waiting for the time when you'd give yourself away--when you'd show
yourself on the same level with my brother and me."

"But I am on the same level."

"Don't say it! I don't feel that horrid, bitter wish now. I'm glad
you're higher than we are. It makes me better to look up to the place
where you are. But I wish I could get nearer."

"You are very near. We're friends, aren't we? You don't really mind
because I'm from the North and you from the South, and because we don't
quite agree about politics?"

"I'd forgotten about politics between you and me! But there are other
distances. Do take me into your garden. You say it belongs only to blind
people; but if I am blind--with a different kind of blindness, and
worse--can't I get there with you? I need such a garden, dreadfully. I'm
so disappointed in life."

"Tell me how you're unhappy, and how you've been disappointed," said
Brian. "Then perhaps we can find the right flowers to cure you, in the
garden."

So she told him what Julian had told me: about trying to get on the
stage, and not succeeding, and realizing that she couldn't act; feeling
that there was no vocation, no place for her anywhere. To comfort the
girl, Brian opened the gate of his garden of the blind, and gave her its
secrets, as he has given them to me. He explained to her his trick of
"seeing across far spaces," with the eyes of his mind, and heart: saying
aloud, to himself, names of glorious places--"Athens--Rome--Venice," and
going there in the airship of imagination; calling up visions of
rose-sunset light on the yellowing marble of the Acropolis, or moonlight
in the Pincian gardens, with great umbrella-pines like blots of ink on
steel, or the opal colours shimmering deep down, under the surface of
the Grand Canal. He made Dierdre understand his way of "listening to a
landscape," knowing by the voice of the wind what trees it touched; the
buzz of olive leaves bunched like hives of silver bees against the blue;
the sea-murmur of pines; the skeleton swish of palms; the gay, dancing
rustle of poplars. And he showed her how he gathered beauty and colour
from words, which made pictures in his brain.

"I never thought of all these things when I could see pictures with my
_eyes_--and paint them with my hands," he said. And perhaps he gave a
sigh for the past, which touched Dierdre's heart as the wind, in his
fancy, touched the trees. "Couldn't you use your old knowledge, and
learn to paint without seeing?" she asked. "You might have a line for
the horizon, and with someone to mix your colours under your
directions--someone who'd tell you where to find the reds, where the
greens, and so on, someone to warn you if you went wrong. You might make
wonderful effects."

"I've thought of that," said Brian. "I've hoped--it might be. Sometime,
when this trip is over, I may ask my sister's help----"

"Oh, your sister's!" Dierdre broke in. "But she may marry. Or she may go
back to nursing again. I wish I could help you. It would make me happy.
It would be helping myself, more than you! And we could begin soon. I
could buy you paints from a list you'd give me. If we succeeded, you
could surprise your sister and the Becketts. It would be splendid."

Brian agreed that it would be splendid, but he said that his sister must
be "in" it, too. He wouldn't have secrets from her, even for the
pleasure of a surprise.

"She won't let me help you," Dierdre said. "She'll want to do everything
for you herself."

Brian assured the girl that she was mistaken about his sister. "She's
mistaken about you, too," he added. "You'll see! Molly'll be grateful
to you for inventing such a plan for me. She'll want you to be the one
to carry it out."

No argument of his could convince the girl, however. They came back to
the hotel at last, after a walk by the river, closer friends than
before, but Dierdre depressed, if no longer sulky. She seemed in a
strange, tense mood, as though there were more she wished to say--if she
dared.

Dusk was falling (this was evening of the day we arrived, you must
realize, Padre) and Brian admitted that he was tired. He'd taken no such
walk since he came out of hospital, weeks and weeks ago.

"Let's go and sit in the _salon_, to rest a few minutes and finish our
talk," he proposed. "We're almost sure to have the room to ourselves."

But for once Brian's intuition was at fault. There were two persons in
the little _salon_, a lady writing letters at a desk by the window, and
a French officer who had drawn the one easy chair in the room in front
of a small wood fire. This fire had evidently not existed long, as the
room was cold, with the grim, damp chill of a place seldom occupied or
opened to the air.

As Dierdre led Brian in, the lady at the desk glanced up at the
newcomers, and the officer in the big chair turned his head. The woman
was young and very remarkable looking, with the pearl-pale skin of a
true Parisian, large dark eyes under clearly sketched black brows, and
masses of prematurely white hair.

For a second, Dierdre thought this beautiful hair must be blonde, as the
woman could not be more than twenty-eight; but the light from the
window fell full upon the silver ripples, blanching them to dazzling
whiteness.

"What a lovely creature," the girl thought. "What can have happened to
turn her hair white?"

As for the man, Dierdre took an instant dislike to him, for his
selfishness. His face was burned a deep, ruddy brown, and his eyes, lit
by the red glow of the fire, were bright with a black, bead-like
brightness. They stared so directly, so unblinkingly at Brian, that
Dierdre was vexed. She was his chosen friend, his confidante, his
champion now! Not even Sirius could be more fiercely devoted than she,
who had to atone for her past injustice. She was angry that blind Brian
should be thus coldly stared at, and that a man in better health than he
should calmly sprawl in the best chair, screening the fire.

By this time, Padre, you will have learned enough about Dierdre
O'Farrell to know what her temper is! She forgot that a stranger might
not realize Brian's blindness at first sight in a room where the dusk
was creeping in, and she spoke sharply, in her almost perfect French.

"There's quite a nice fire," she said, "and I should have thought there
was room for everybody to enjoy it, but it seems there's only enough for
_one_! We'd better try the _salle à manger_, instead, I suppose."

Brian, puzzled, paused at the door, his hand on Sirius's head, Dierdre
standing in front of them both like a ruffled sparrow.

The French officer straightened up in his chair with an astonished look,
but did not rise. It was the woman by the window (Dierdre had not
connected her with the man by the fire) who sprang to her feet.
"Mademoiselle," she said quietly, in a voice of exquisite sweetness,
"my husband would be the first one in the world to move, and give his
place to others, if he had known that he was monopolizing the fire. But
he did not know. It was I who placed him there. Those eyes of his which
look so bright are made of crystal. He lost his sight at the Chemin des
Dames."

As she spoke, choking on the last words, the woman with white hair
crossed the room swiftly, and caught the hand of her husband, which was
stretched out as if groping for hers. He stumbled to his feet, and she
stood defending him like a gentle creature of the woods at bay.

Perhaps at no other moment of her life would Dierdre O'Farrell have been
struck with such poignant repentance. That she, who had just been shown
the secret, inner heart of one blind man, should deliberately wound
another, seemed more than she could bear, and live.

Brian remained silent, partly because he was still confused, and partly
to give Dierdre the chance to speak, which he felt instinctively she
would wish to seize.

She took a step forward, then stopped, with a sob, shamed tears stinging
her eyes. "Will you forgive me?" she begged. "I would rather have died
than hurt a blind man, or--or any one who loves a blind man. Lately I've
been finding out how sacred blindness is. I ought to have guessed,
Madame, that you were with him--that you were his wife. I ought to have
known that only a great grief could have turned your wonderful hair
white--you, so young----"

"Her hair white!" cried the blind officer. "No, I'll not believe it.
Suzanne, tell this lady she's mistaken. I remember, in some lights, it
was the palest gold, almost silver--your beautiful hair that I fell in
love with----"

His voice broke. No one answered. There fell a dead silence, and Dierdre
had time to realize what she had done. She had been cruel as the grave!
She had accused a helpless blind man of selfishness; and not content
with that, on top of all she had given away the secret that a brave
woman's love had hidden.

"Suzanne--you don't speak!"

"Oh!" the trembling woman tried to laugh. "Of course, Mademoiselle is
mistaken. That goes without saying."

"Yes--I--of _course_," Dierdre echoed. "It was the light--deceived me."

"And now," said the blind man slowly, "you are trying to deceive
_me_--you are both trying! Suzanne, why did you keep it from me that
your hair had turned white with grief? Didn't you know I'd love you
more, for such a proof of love for me?"

"Indeed, I--oh, you mustn't think----" she began to stammer. "I loved
your dear eyes as you loved my hair. But I love it twice as much now.
I----"

He cut her short. "I don't think. I _know_. _Chérie_, you need have had
no fear. I shall worship you after this."

"She could never have been so lovely before. Her hair is like spun
glass," Dierdre tried to atone. "People would turn to look at her in the
street. Monsieur le Capitaine, you should be proud of such a beautiful
wife."

"I am," the man answered, "proud of her beauty, more proud of her
heart."

"But it is I who am proud!" the woman caught him up. "He has lost his
dear eyes that all women admired, yet he has won honours such as few men
have. What does it matter about my poor hair? You can see by the ribbons
on his breast, Mademoiselle, what he is--what he has done for his
country. You also, Monsieur, you see----"

"I don't see, Madame, because I, too, am blind," said Brian. "But I
feel--I feel that your husband has won something which means more than
his eyes, more than all his honours and decorations: a great love."

"You are _blind_!" exclaimed the Frenchwoman. "I should never have
guessed. Ah, Madame, it is I who must now ask your pardon! I called you
'Mademoiselle.' Already I had forgiven you what you said in error. But I
did not understand, or the forgiveness would have been easier. Your
first thought was for your husband--your blind husband--just as my
thought always is and will be for mine! You wanted him to have a place
by the fire. Your temper was in arms, not for yourself, but for him--his
comfort. How well I understand now! Madame, you and I have the same
cross laid upon us. But it's a cross of honour. It is _le croix de
guerre_!"

"I wish I had a right to it!" Dierdre broke out. "I haven't, because he
is not my husband. He doesn't care for me--except maybe, as a friend.
But to atone to him for injustice, to punish myself for hurting _you_,
I'll confess something. I'd marry him to-morrow, blind as he is--perhaps
_because_ he is blind!--and be happy and proud all my life--if he would
have me. Only,--_I know he won't_."

"My child! I care too much for you," Brian answered, after an instant of
astonished silence, "far too much to take you at your word. Some men
might--but not I! Monsieur le Capitaine here, and Madame, were husband
and wife before their trouble came. That is different----"

"No!" cried the woman whose name was Suzanne. "It is not different. My
husband's the one man on earth for me. If we were not married--if he had
lost his legs and arms as well as his eyes, I'd still want to be his
wife--want it more than a kingdom."

"You hear, Monsieur," her husband said, laughing a little, and holding
her close, with that perfect independence of onlookers which the French
have when they're thoroughly in love.

"I hear, Madame," said Brian. "But you, Monsieur le Capitaine--you would
not have accepted the sacrifice----"

"I'm not sure I could have resisted," the Frenchman smiled.

"You love her!--that is why," Dierdre said. "My friend--doesn't love me.
He never could. I'm not worthy. No one good could love me. If he knew
the worst of me, he'd not even be my friend. And I suppose, after this,
he won't be. If, by and by, I'm not ashamed of myself for what I've
said, he'll be ashamed for me, because----"

"Don't!" Brian stopped her. "You know I mustn't let myself love you,
Dierdre. And you don't really love me. It's only pity and some kind of
repentance--for nothing at all--that you feel. But we'll be greater
friends than ever. I understand just why you spoke, and it's going to
help me a lot--like a strong tonic. You must have known it would. And if
Monsieur and Madame have forgiven us----"

"Us? What have _you_ done? If they've forgiven me----"

"They have, indeed, forgiven," said the blind Frenchman. "They even
thank you. If possible you've drawn them closer together than before."

Brian searched for Dierdre's hand, and found it. "Let us go now, and
leave them," he whispered.

So they went away, and Brian softly shut the door of the little _salon_.

"I _did_ mean every word I said!" the girl blurted out, turning upon him
in the hall. "But--I shouldn't have dared say it if I hadn't been sure
you didn't care. And even if you did care--or could--your sister
wouldn't let you. She knows me exactly as I am."

"She _shall_ know you as you are--my true and brave little friend!"
Brian said.

He can find his way about wonderfully, even in a house with which he is
merely making acquaintance: besides, Sirius was with him. But he felt an
immense tenderness for Dierdre after that desperate confession. He
didn't wish the girl to fancy that he could get on without her just
then, or that he thought she had any reason for running away from him.
He asked if she would take him to his room, so that he might rest there,
alone, remembering an exquisite moment of his life.

"It's wonderful to feel that for a beautiful girl like you--blind as I
am, I am a _man_!" he said. "Thank you with all my heart--for
everything."

"Who told you I was beautiful?" Dierdre flung the question at him.

"My sister Mary told me," Brian answered. "Besides--I felt it. A man
does feel such things--perhaps all the more if he is blind."

"Your sister Mary?" the girl echoed. "She doesn't think I'm beautiful.
Or if she does, it's against her will."

"It won't be, after this."

"Why not? You won't tell her----"

"I'll tell her to love you, and--to help me not to!"

It was just then they came to Brian's door, and Dierdre fled, Sirius
staring after her in dignified surprise.

But Dierdre herself came to me at once, and told me everything, with a
kind of proud defiance.

"I _do_ love your brother," she boasted. "I _would_ marry him if he'd
have me. I don't care what you think of me, or what you say!"

"Why, I love you for loving him," I threw back at her. "That's what I
think of you--and that's what I say."

I was sincere, Padre. Yet I don't see how they can ever marry, even if
Brian should learn to love the girl enough. Neither one has a
penny--and--_Brian is blind_. Who can tell if he will ever get his sight
again? I wish Dierdre hadn't come into our lives in just the way she did
come! I wish she weren't Julian O'Farrell's sister! I hope she won't be
pricked by that queer conscience of hers to tell Brian any secrets which
concern me as well as Julian and herself. And I hope--whatever
happens!--that I shan't be mean enough to be jealous. But--with such a
new, exciting "friendship" for Brian's prop, it seems as if, for
me--Othello's occupation would be gone!



CHAPTER XXVII


We're at Amiens, where we came by way of Montdidier and Moreuil; and
nearly two weeks have dragged or slipped away since I wrote last.
Meanwhile a thousand things have happened. But I'll begin at the
beginning and write on till I am called by Mother Beckett.

We stopped at Soissons three more days after I told you about Dierdre
and Brian, and Captain Devot and his wife. Not only did they forgive
Dierdre--those two--but they took her to their hearts, perhaps more for
Brian's sake than her own. I was introduced to them, and they were kind
to me, too. Of the blind man I have a beautiful souvenir. I must tell
you about it, Padre!

The evening before we left Soissons (when the doctor had pronounced
Mother Beckett well enough for a short journey) I had an hour in the
stuffy little _salon_ with Dierdre and Brian and the Devots. We sat
round the fire--plenty of room for us all, in a close circle--and
Captain Devot began to talk about his last battle on the Chemin des
Dames. Suddenly he realized that the story was more than his wife could
bear--for it was in that battle he lost his eyes! How he realized what
she was enduring, I don't know, for she didn't speak, or even sigh, and
Brian sat between them; so he couldn't have known she was trembling. It
must have been some electric current of sympathy between the husband
and wife, I suppose--a magnetic flash to which a blind man would be more
sensitive than others. Anyhow, he suddenly stopped speaking of the
fight, and told us instead about a dream he had the night before the
battle--a dream where he saw the ladies for whom "The Ladies' Way" was
made, go riding by, along the "Chemin des Dames."

    "In silks and satins the ladies went
    Where the breezes sighed and the poplars bent,
    Taking the air of a Sunday morn
    Midst the red of poppies and gold of corn--
    Flowery ladies in gold brocades,
    With negro pages and serving maids,
    In scarlet coach or in gilt sedan,
    With brooch and buckle and flounce and fan,
    Patch and powder and trailing scent,
    Under the trees the ladies went,
    Lovely ladies that gleamed and glowed,
    As they took the air of the Ladies' Road."

That verse came from _Punch_, not from Captain Devot. I happen to
remember it because it struck my fancy when I read it, and added to the
romance of the road made for Louis XV's daughters--daughters of France,
where now so many sons of France have died for France! But the ladies of
Captain Devot's dream were like that, travelling with a gorgeous
cavalcade, and as they rode, they were listening to a song about the old
Abbey of Vauclair on the plateau of the Craonne. When they came to a
place where the poppies clustered thickest, the three princesses
insisted on stopping--Princess Adelaide, Princess Sophia, Princess
Victoire. They wished to gather the flowers to take with them to the
Château de Bove, where they were going to visit their _dame d'honneur_,
Madame de Narbonne, but their guards argued that already it was growing
late: they had better hurry on. At this the girls laughed silvery
laughter. What did time matter to them? This was _their_ road, made and
paved for their pleasure! They would not be hurried along it. No indeed;
to show that time as well as the road was theirs, to do with as they
liked, they would get down and make a chain of poppies long enough to
stretch across the whole plateau before it dipped to the valley of the
Aillette!

So, in Captain Devot's dream, the princesses descended, and they and all
their pretty ladies began weaving a chain of poppies. As they wove, the
flower-chain fell from their little white fingers and trailed along the
ground in a crimson line. The sun dropped toward the west, and thunder
began to roll: still they worked on! Their gentlemen-in-charge begged
them to start again, and at last they rose up petulantly to go; but they
had stayed too late. The storm burst. Lightning flashed; thunder roared;
rain fell in torrents; and--strange to see--the poppy petals melted, so
that the long chain of flowers turned to a liquid stream, red as a river
of blood. The princesses were frightened and began to cry. Their tears
fell into the crimson flood. Captain Devot, who seemed in his dream to
be one of the ladies' attendants, jumped from his horse to pick up the
princesses' tears, which turned into little, rattling stones as they
fell. With that, he waked. The princesses were gone--"all but
_Victoire_," he said, smiling, "she shall stay with us! The thunder was
the thunder of German guns. The poppies were there--and the blood was
there. So also were the stones that had been the princesses' tears. They
lie all along the Chemin des Dames to this day. I gathered some for my
wife, and if you like she will give a few to you, ladies--souvenirs of
the Ladies' Way!"

Of course we did like; so Dierdre and I each have a small, glistening
gray stone, with a faint splash of red upon it. I would not sell mine
for a pearl!

       *       *       *       *       *

Father Beckett proposed to take his wife back to Paris; but while she
rested after the fever, industriously she built up another plan. You
remember, Padre, my telling you that the Becketts were negotiating for a
château, before they arrived in France to visit their son? When they
heard that Jim had fallen, they no longer cared to live in this château
(which was to let, furnished), nevertheless, they felt bound in honour
to stick to their bargain. Well, at Soissons, Mother Beckett had it
"borne in upon her" that Jim would wish his father and mother to stay at
the old house he had loved and coveted for himself.

"I can't go back across the sea and settle down at home while this war
goes on!" she said. "Home just wouldn't be _home_. It's too far away
from Jim. I don't mean from his _body_," she went on. "His body isn't
_Jim_, I know! I've thought that out, and made myself realize the truth
of it. But it's Jim's spirit I'm talking about, Father. I guess his
soul--Jim himself--won't care to be flitting back and forth, crossing
the ocean to visit us, while his friends are fighting in France and
Belgium, to save the world. I know my boy well enough to be sure he's
too strong to change much just because he is what some folks call
'dead'; and he'd like us to be near. Paris won't do for me. No city
would. I'd be too restless there. Do, _do_ let's go and live till the
end of the war in Jim's château! That's what he's wanting. I feel it
every minute."

I was in the room when she made this appeal to her husband, and I longed
to put into their hearts the thought Jack Curtis had put into mine. But,
of course, I dared not. It would have been cruel. Jack Curtis had
nothing to go upon except his impression--the same impression I myself
have at times, of Jim's vital presence in the midst of life. I have it
often, though never quite so strongly as that night in Paris, when he
would not let me kill myself.

It wasn't difficult to make Father Beckett consent to the new plan. He
told me afterward that his own great wish was to find Jim's grave, when
the end of the war would make search possible. Beckett interests were
being safeguarded in America. They would not suffer much from his
absence. Besides, business no longer seemed vitally important to him as
of old. Money mattered little now that Jim was gone.

He would have abandoned his visit to the British front, since Mother
Beckett could not have the glimpse half promised by the authorities. But
she would not let him give it up. "Molly" would take good care of her.
When she could move, we would all go to Amiens. There she and I could be
safely left for a few days, while Brian and Father Beckett were at the
front. As for Julian O'Farrell and Dierdre, at first it appeared as if
the little lady had left them out of her calculations. But I might have
known--knowing her--that she wouldn't do that for long.

She believed implicitly in their Red Cross mission, which, ever since
the little car joined the big one, has been constantly aided with
Beckett money and Beckett influence. Julian would, she supposed, wish to
"carry on his good work," when our trip came to an end. But as he had no
permission for the British front (he hadn't cared to make himself
conspicuous to the British authorities by asking for it!) he and Dierdre
might like to keep us two women company at Amiens. By the time we wanted
to leave, Mother Beckett confidently expected "Jim's château" to be
ready for occupation, and Dierdre must visit "us" there indefinitely,
while her brother dutifully continued distributing supplies to hospitals
and refugees. ("Us," according to Mother Beckett, meant Brian and me,
Father Beckett and herself, for we now constituted the "family"!)
Telegrams had given the Paris house-letting agency _carte blanche_ for
hasty preparations at the Château d'Andelle, where several old servants
had been kept on as caretakers: and being a spoiled American
millionairess, the little lady was confident that a week would see the
house aired, warmed, staffed, and altogether habitable.

"You wouldn't object to having that poor little girl stay with us, would
you, dear?" Mother Beckett asked me, patting my hand when she had
revealed her ideas concerning the O'Farrells.

"Oh, no," I answered, looking straight into her inquiring eyes, and
trying not to change colour. "But you shouldn't speak as if I had any
right----"

"You have every right!" she cut me short. "Aren't you our daughter?"

"I love you and Father Beckett enough to be your daughter," I said. "But
that gives me no right----"

"It does. Your love for us, and ours for you. I don't believe we could
have lived through our sorrow if it hadn't been for you and Brian. He
saved our reason by showing us what Jim would want us to do for the good
of others. And he taught us what we couldn't seem to realize fully,
through religion, that death doesn't count. Now, since I've been ill, I
guess you've saved my life. And much as I want to see Jim, I want even
more to live for Father. He needs me--and we both need you and Brian.
You two belong to us, just as if you'd been given to us by Jim. We want
to do what's best for you both. I thought, for Brian, it would be good
perhaps to have Dierdre----"

"Perhaps," I murmured, when she paused.

"You're not sure? I wasn't at first. I mean, I wasn't sure she was good
enough. But since the night when she threw herself in front of him to
keep off the dog, I saw she cared. Maybe she didn't know it herself till
then. But she's known ever since. You've only to see the way she looks
at him. And she's growing more and more of a woman--Brian's influence,
and the influence of her love--such a great influence, dear! It might be
for his happiness, if----"

"I don't think Brian would marry Dierdre or any girl, unless his sight
came back," I said. "He's often told me he wouldn't marry."

"Was that before he went to Paris with the O'Farrells? Things have been
rather different since then--and a good _deal_ different since the
night we met Jack Curtis with Sirius."

"I know," I admitted. "But if Brian wanted to change his mind about
marrying, he couldn't. Neither he nor Dierdre O'Farrell have a
penny----"

"Brian's got as much as we have," the dear woman assured me.

"Do you think he'd take your money to marry on? No, dearest! Brian's
very unworldly. So far, he hasn't worried about finances for the
present. The future is different. If he doesn't get back his sight----"

"But he will--he must!" she urged. "That great specialist you saw in
Paris gave him hope. And then there's the other one that your doctor
friend recommended----."

"He's somewhere at the front. We can't get at him now."

"We'll get at him later," Mother Beckett persisted. "In the
meantime--let's give those two hearts the chance to draw together, if
it's best for them."

I could not go on objecting. One can't, for long, when that little angel
of a woman wants a thing--she who never wants anything for herself, only
for others! But I thought Fate might step between Brian and
Dierdre--Fate, in the shape of Puck. I wasn't at all sure that Julian
O'Farrell could be contented to leave his sister and continue his own
wanderings. The Red Cross taxi had in truth been only a means to an end.
I didn't fancy that his devotion to duty would carry him far from the
Château d'Andelle while Dierdre was comfortably installed in it. Unless
he were invited to _embusquer_ himself there, in our society, I
expected a crash. Which shows how little I knew my Julian!

When the plan was officially suggested to him, he agreed as if with
enthusiasm. It was only when he'd consented to Dierdre's visit at the
château on the other side of the Somme, and promised to drop in now and
then himself on his way somewhere else, that he allowed himself a second
thought. To attract attention to it, he started, ran his hand through
his hair, and stopped in the middle of a sentence. "I am heaven's own
fool!" he exclaimed.

Of course Father Beckett wanted to know why. (This was two days before
we started for Amiens.) Julian "registered reluctance." Father Beckett
persisted, and drew forth the information that Julian _might_ have to
cut short his career as a ministering Red Cross angel. "If it hadn't
been for you," he said, "my funds and my supplies would have run short
before this. You've helped me carry on. But I'm getting pretty close to
the bone again now, I'm afraid. A bit closer and I shall have to settle
down and give music lessons. That's all I'm fit for in future! And
Dierdre wouldn't want me to set up housekeeping alone. While I'm on this
Red Cross job it's all right, but----"

Of course Father Beckett broke in to say that there was no question of
not carrying on. Money should be forthcoming for supplies as long as
Julian felt inclined to drive the Red Cross taxi from one scene of
desolation and distress to another. Holidays must be frequent, and all
spent at the Château d'Andelle. Let the future decide itself!

So matters were settled--on the surface. Julian was ready to pose
before an admiring audience as the self-sacrificing hero, giving all his
time and energy to a noble cause. Only his sister and I knew that he was
the villain of the piece, and for different reasons neither of us could
explain the mistake about his rôle. He was sure of us both; impudently,
aggravatingly, yet (I can't _help_ it, Padre!) amusingly sure of me. He
tried to "isolate" me, as if I'd been a microbe while we were still at
Soissons, and again just after Father Beckett and Brian went away from
Amiens in the big gray car. There was something, something very special
that he wished to say to me, I could tell by his eyes. But I contrived
to thwart him. I never left Mother Beckett for a moment!

The first day at Amiens it was easy to keep out of his way altogether,
for I was nurse as well as friend, and my dear little invalid was worn
out after the journey from Soissons. She asked nothing better than to
stop in her room. The next day, however, exciting news acted upon her
like a tonic. The Amiens address had been wired to Paris, and in
addition to a mass of letters (mostly for Father Beckett) there was a
telegram from the Château d'Andelle, despatched by an agency messenger,
who had been sent to Normandy. All was going well. The house would be
ready on the date named. Two large boxes from the Ritz had safely
arrived by _grande vitesse_.

"Darling Jimmy's own things!" Mother Beckett explained to me. "Do you
remember my telling you we'd brought over to France the treasures out of
his den at home?"

I did remember. (Do I ever forget anything she says about Jim?)

"They were to be a surprise for him when he came to see us," his mother
went on, tears misting the blueness of her eyes. "Not furniture, you
know, but just the little things he loved best in his rooms: some he had
when he was a child, and others when he was growing up--and the picture
your brother painted. When we heard--the news--and knew we shouldn't see
our boy again in this world, I couldn't bear to open the boxes--though I
was longing to cry over his dear treasures. They've been stored at the
Ritz ever since. But the first thing I asked Father to do when we
decided the other day to live in Jim's château, after all--was to wire
for the boxes to be sent there. I didn't suppose they'd arrive so
soon--in war time. Dear me, I can hardly wait to start, now! I feel as
strong as a girl."

To prove this--or because she was restless--she begged to be taken out
in a cab to see the town, especially the cathedral, which Brian had told
her was the largest in Europe except St. Peter's in Rome, St. Sophia in
Constantinople, and something in Cologne which she didn't _want_ to
remember! Julian O'Farrell and his sister must go with us, of course. It
wouldn't be kind to leave them to do their sightseeing alone. Besides,
Julian was so good-natured, and said such funny things it would be
pleasant to have his society.

This arrangement made it difficult for me to glue myself to Mother
Beckett's side. Now and then she insisted upon getting out of the cab to
try her strength, and Dierdre would obediently have taken her in tow, in
order to hand me over to "Jule," if I hadn't been mulishly obstinate. I
quite enjoyed manoeuvring to use my dear little invalid as a sort of
standing barrage against enemy attacks, and even though Brian and I were
parted for the first time since his blindness, I felt almost absurdly
cheerful. It was so good to know that Mother Beckett was out of danger,
and that it was I who had helped to drag her out! Besides, after all the
stricken towns that have saddened our eyes, it was enlivening to be in
one (as Mother Beckett said at Compiègne) with "whole houses." In
contrast, good St. Firmin's ancient city looks almost as gay as Paris.
Our hotel with its pleasant garden and the fine shops--(where it seems
you can still buy every fascinating thing from newest jewellery and
oldest curiosities, to Amiens' special "_roc_" chocolates)--the long,
arboured boulevards, the cobbled streets, the quaint blue and pink
houses of the suburbs, and the poplar-lined walk by the Somme, all, all
have the friendliest air! Despite the crowds of soldiers in khaki and
horizon blue who fill the streets and cafés, the place seems outside
war. Even the stacked sandbags walling the west front and the side
portals of the grandest cathedral in France suggest comfortable security
rather than fear. The jackdaws and pigeons that used to be at home in
the carvings, camp contentedly among the bags, or walk in the neglected
grass where sleep the dead of long ago. I didn't want to remember just
then, or let any one else remember, that twenty miles away were the
trenches and thousands of the dead of to-day!

Never can Amiens have been such a kaleidoscope of colourful animation
since Henri II of France and Edward VI of England signed the treaty of
peace here, with trains of diplomatists and soldiers of church and state
and dignified rejoicings!

It wasn't until we were inside the cathedral that I forgot my
manoeuverings. The soft, rich light gave such a bizarre effect to the
sandbags protecting the famous choir carvings, that I was all eyes for a
moment: and during that moment Julian must have signed to his sister to
decoy Mother Beckett away from me. When I hauled my soul down from the
soaring arches as one strikes a flag, there was Puck at my side and
there were Mother Beckett and Dierdre disappearing behind
sandbag-hillocks, in the direction of the celebrated Cherub.

"I suppose you want me jolly well to understand," said Puck, smiling,
"that even if your brother Brian and my sister Dare are fools over each
other, you won't be fooled into forgiving a poor, broken-voiced
Pierrot?"

"I've nothing to forgive you for, personally," I said. "Only----"

"Only, you don't want to be friends?"

"No, I don't want to be friends," I echoed. "Why can't you be content
with being treated decently before people, instead of following me
about, trying always to bring upon yourself----"

"A lamp might ask that question of a moth."

I laughed. "You're less like a moth than any creature I ever met!"

"You don't believe I'm sincere."

"Do moths specialize in sincerity in the insect world?"

"Yes," Puck said, more gravely than usual. "Come to think of it, that's
just what they _do_. They risk their lives for the light they love. I
'follow you about,' as you put it, because I love you and want to
persuade you that we're birds of a feather, made for each other by
nature and fate and our mutual behaviour. We belong together in life."

"Do you really believe you can blackmail me into a partnership?" I
turned at bay. "You must have seen that I wanted to keep out of your
way----"

"Oh, I saw all right. _You_ thought that I thought Amiens would be my
great chance, and you made up your mind it shouldn't be if you could
help it. Well, you won't be able to help it much longer, because I've
got something you want, and you can't get it except through me."

"I doubt very much that I could want anything you have," I said.

"Give your imagination wings."

"You are always teasing me to guess things I don't care to guess!"

"Here comes Dierdre back with Mrs. Beckett so I won't worry you to
guess. I've got a message from the Wandering Jew. Do you want it, or
don't you?"



CHAPTER XXVIII


If Julian had suddenly popped down an apple on the top of my head, _à
la_ Gessler and the son of William Tell, and thereupon proceeded to
shoot it off, I could have been no more amazed. For once he outflanked
me, caught me completely off my guard! I saw by the impish gleam in his
eye how delighted he was with himself.

"Yes or no, please; quick!" he fired the next volley as I stood
speechless.

"Yes!" I gasped. "I do want the message--if it's for me. But why should
he send word through you?"

"He didn't. I caught it as I might catch a homing carrier-pigeon. You
know, my motto is 'All's fair in love and war.' In my case, both
exist--your fault! Besides, what I did was for your good."

"What did you do--what did you _dare_ to do?"

"Dare!" Puck mimicked my foolish fury. "'Dare' is such a melodramatic
word from you to me. I can't tell you now what I did, or the message--no
time. But I'm in as much of a hurry as you are. When can I see you
alone?"

I hesitated, because it would be like him to cheat me with some trick,
and chuckle at my rage. I couldn't see how a message from Paul Herter
for me had reached Julian O'Farrell, unless he'd intercepted a letter.
It seemed far more likely that Puck was romancing, yet I felt in my
bones and heart and solar plexus that he wasn't! I simply _had_ to
know--and in a flurry, before Mother Beckett and Dierdre were upon us, I
said, "This afternoon, at three, when Mrs. Beckett is having her nap.
I'll meet you in the garden of the hotel."

Though I dash along with this story of mine, Padre, as if I went
straight on describing the scene between Julian and me from beginning to
end, without a break, it isn't really so. I've been interrupted more
than once, and may be again; but I shall tell you everything that's
happened since we came to Amiens, as if I wrote consecutively. You can
understand better in that way, and help me with your strength and love,
through your understanding, as I feel you do help, whenever I make you
my confessions. Since I've begun to write you, as in old days when you
were in the flesh, I've felt your advice come to me in electric flashes.
I'm sure I don't just imagine this. It's real, dear Padre, and makes all
the difference to me that a rope flung out over dark waters would make
to a drowning man.

At three o'clock I was in the garden. It was cold, but I didn't care.
Besides, I was too excited to feel the chill. I wanted to be out of
doors because there would be people about, and no chance for Julian to
try and kiss my hand--no vulgar temptation for me to box his ears!

He was already waiting, strolling up and down, smoking a cigarette which
he threw away at sight of me. Evidently he'd decided on this occasion
not to be frivolous!

I selected a seat safely commanded by many windows. "Now!" I said,
sitting down close to one end of the bench.

Julian took the other end, but sat gazing straight at me without a word.
There was an odd expression on his face. I didn't know how to read it,
or to guess what was to come. But there was nothing Puckish about the
enemy at that moment. He looked nervous--almost as if he were afraid. I
thought of something you told me when I was quite small, Padre: how the
Romans of old used to send packets of good news bound with laurel, or of
bad news, tied with the plumes of ravens. I stared into Julian
O'Farrell's stare, and wished that he'd stuck a green leaf or a black
feather in his buttonhole to prepare my mind.

"Yes--now!" he echoed at last, as if he'd suddenly waked up to my
challenge. "Well, a man blew into this hotel last night--a lame
Frenchman with a face like a boiled ghost. I was writing an important
telegram (I'll tell you about that later), when I heard this person ask
the concierge if a Miss Mary O'Malley was staying in the house. That
made me open my eyes--because he was of the lower _bourgeois_ class, and
hadn't the air of being--so to speak--in your set. It seemed as if 'twas
up to me to tackle him; so I did. I introduced myself as a friend of
Miss O'Malley's, travelling with her party. I explained that Miss
O'Malley was taking care of an old lady who'd been ill and was tired
after a long journey. I asked if he'd like to give a message. He said he
would. But first he began to explain who he was: an Alsatian by birth,
named Muller, corporal in an infantry regiment; been a prisoner in
Germany, I forget how long--taken wounded; leg amputated; and fitted
with artificial limb in a Boche hospital; just exchanged for a _grand
blessé_ Boche, and repatriated; been in Paris on important business,
apparently with the War Office--sounded more exciting than he looked!
After I'd prodded the chap tactfully, he came back to the subject of
the message: asked me if I knew Doctor Paul Herter. I said I did know
him. Herter mended up my sister after an air raid. I inquired politely
where Herter was, but Muller evaded that question. He led me to suppose
he'd seen Herter in Paris; but putting two and two together, I got a
different idea--_altogether_ different."

Julian paused on those words, and tried piercingly to read my thoughts.
But I made my face expressionless as the front of a shut-up house, with
"to let unfurnished" over the door.

"I expect you've guessed what my idea was, and I bet you know for a fact
whether I was on the right track," he ventured.

"The only thing so far which I know for a fact," I said, "is that you
had no right to talk to the man at all. You should have sent for me at
once."

"You couldn't have come if I had. Dierdre had told me about five minutes
before that you were putting Mrs. Beckett to bed, and giving her a
massage treatment with a rub-down of alcohol."

"Why didn't you ask the man to wait?"

"I did ask him if he _could_ wait, and he said he couldn't. He'd stopped
at Amiens on purpose to deliver his message, and he had to catch a train
on to Allonville, to where it seems his people have migrated."

"You asked him that because you hoped he couldn't wait--and if he could,
you'd have found some reason for not letting me meet him. You thought
you saw a way of getting a new hold over me!"

"Some such dramatic idea may have flitted through my head. I've often
warned you, I _am_ dramatic! I enjoy dramatizing life for myself and
others! But honestly, he couldn't wait for you to finish with Mrs.
Beckett. I know too well how devoted you are to think you'd have left
the old lady before you'd soothed her off to sleep."

"Where is the message?" I snatched Julian back to the point.

"In my brain at present."

"You destroyed the letter?"

"There wasn't a letter. Oh, make grappling hooks of your lovely eyes if
you like! You can't drag anything out of me that doesn't exist. Herter's
message to you was verbal for safety. That was one thing set me thinking
the men hadn't met in Paris. Muller admitted going to a bank to get your
address. The people there didn't want to give it, but when he explained
that it was important, and mentioned where he was going, they saw that
he might have time to meet you at Amiens on his way home. So they told
him where you were. Now, there's no good your being cross with _me_.
What's done is done, and can't be undone. I acted for the best--_my_
best; and in my opinion for your best. Listen! Here's the message, word
for word. You'll see that a few hours' delay for me to think it over
could make no difference to any one concerned. Paul Herter, from
somewhere--but maybe not 'somewhere in France'--sends you a verbal
greeting, because it was more sure of reaching you--not coming to grief
_en route_. He reminds you that he asked for an address in case he had
something of interest to communicate. He hoped to find the grave of a
man you loved. Instead, he thinks he has found that there is no
grave--that the man is above ground and well. He isn't sure yet whether
he may be deceived by a likeness of names. But he's sure enough to say:
'Hope.' If he's right about the man, you may get further news almost any
minute by way of Switzerland or somewhere neutral. That's all. Yet it's
enough to show you what danger you're in. If Herter hadn't been
practically certain, he wouldn't have sent any message. He'd have
waited. Evidently you made him believe that you loved Jim Beckett, so he
wanted to prepare your mind by degrees. I suppose he imagined a shock of
joy might be dangerous. Well, you ought to thank Herter just the same
for sparing you a worse sort of shock. And I thank him, too, for it
gives me a great chance--the chance to save you. Mary, the time's come
for you and me to fade off the Beckett scene--together."

I listened without interrupting him once: at first, because I was
stunned, and a thousand thoughts beat dully against my brain without
finding their way in, as gulls beat their wings against the lamp of a
lighthouse; at last, because I wished to hear Julian O'Farrell to the
very end before I answered. I fancied that in answering I could better
marshal my own thoughts.

He misunderstood my silence--I expected him to do that, but I cared not
at all--so, when he had paused and still I said nothing, he went on: "Of
course I--for the best of reasons--know you didn't love Jim Beckett, and
couldn't love him."

Hearing those words of his, suddenly I knew just what I wanted to say.
I'd been like an amateur actress wild with stage fright, who'd forgotten
her part till the right cue came. "There you're mistaken," I
contradicted him. "I did love Jim Beckett."

Julian gave an excited, brutal laugh. "Tell that to the Marines, my
child, not to yours truly! You never set eyes on Jim Beckett. He never
went near your hospital. You never came near the training-camp. You seem
to have forgotten that I was on the spot."

"I met him before the war," I said.

"What's that?" Julian didn't know whether to believe me or not, but his
forehead flushed to the black line of his low-growing hair.

"I never told you, because there was no need to tell," I went on. "But
it's true. I fell in love with Jim Beckett then, and--_he cared for
me_."

For the first time I realized that Julian O'Farrell's "love" wasn't all
pretence. His flush died, and left him pale with that sick,
greenish-olive pallor which men of Latin blood have when they're near
fainting. He opened his lips, but did not speak, because, I think, he
could not. If I'd wanted revenge for what he made me suffer when he
first thrust himself into my life, I had it then; but to my own surprise
I felt no pleasure in striking him. Instead I felt vaguely sorry, though
very distant from his plans and interests.

"You--you weren't engaged to Beckett, anyhow. I'm sure you weren't, or
you'd have had nothing to worry about when Dierdre and I turned up," he
faced me down.

"No, we weren't engaged," I admitted. "I--was just as much of a fraud as
you meant Dierdre to be with Father and Mother Beckett. I've no
excuse--except that it was for Brian's sake. But that's no excuse
really, and Brian would despise me if he knew."

"There you are!" Julian burst out, with a relieved sigh, a more natural
colour creeping back to his face. "If Jim Beckett let you go before the
war without asking you to marry him, I'm afraid his love couldn't have
been very deep--not deep enough to make him forgive you after all this
time for deceiving his old father and mother the way you have. My God,
no! In spite of your beauty, he'd have no mercy on you!"

"That's what I think," I said. "My having met him, and his loving me a
little, makes what I've done more shameful than if I'd never met him at
all."

"Then you see why you must get away as quick as you can!" urged Julian,
his eyes lighting as he drew nearer to me on the garden bench. "Oh,
wait, don't speak yet! Let me explain my plan. There's time still.
You're thinking of Brian before yourself, maybe. But he's safe. The
Becketts adore him. They say he 'saved their reason.' He makes the
mysticism they're always groping for seem real as their daily bread. He
puts local colour into the fourth dimension for them! They can never do
without Brian again. All that's needed is for him to propose to Dierdre.
I know--you think he won't, no matter how he feels. But he'll have
missed her while he's away. She's a missable little thing to any one who
likes her, and she can tempt him to speak out in spite of himself when
he gets back. I'll see to it that she does. The Becketts will be
enchanted. The old lady's a born match-maker. We can announce our
engagement at the same time. While they think Jim's dead, they won't
grudge your being happy with another man, especially with me. They're
fond of me! And you're young. Your life's before you. They're too
generous to stand in your way. They look on you as a daughter, and Brian
as a son. They'll give each of you a handsome wedding present, and I
don't doubt they'll ask Brian to live with them, or near them, if he's
to be blind all his life. He'll have everything you wanted to win for
him. Even when they get into communication with Jim, and find out the
truth about you, why I bet anything they'll hide it from Brian to keep
him happy! Meanwhile you and I will be in Paris, safely married. An
offer came to me yesterday from Jean De Letzski--forwarded on. He's
getting old. He wants me to take on some of his pupils, under his
direction. I telegraphed back my acceptance. That's the wire I was
sending when Herter's man turned up last night. There was a question
last summer of my getting this chance with De Letzski, but I hardly
dared hope. It's a great stroke of luck! In the end I shall stand in De
Letzski's shoes, and be a rich man--almost as rich as if I'd kept my
place as star tenor in opera. Even at the beginning you and I won't be
poor. I count on a wedding gift from the Becketts to you of ten thousand
dollars at least. The one way to save our reputations is to marry or die
brilliantly. We choose the former. We can take a fine apartment. We'll
entertain the most interesting set in Paris. With your looks and charm,
and what's left of my voice, we----"

"Oh, _stop_!" I plunged into the torrent of his talk. "You are making
me--_sick_. Do you really believe I'd accept money from Jim Beckett's
parents, and--marry you?"

He stared, round-eyed and hurt, like a misunderstood child. "But," he
blundered on, "don't you see it's the only thing you can do--anyhow, to
marry me? If you won't accept money, why it's a pity and a waste, but I
want you enough to snap you up without a franc. You must marry me, dear.
Think what I gave up for you!"

I burst out laughing. "What you gave up for me!"

"Yes. Have you forgotten already? If I hadn't fallen in love with you at
first sight, and sacrificed myself and Dierdre for your good, wouldn't
my sister have been in your place now, and you and your brother Lord
knows where--in prison as impostors, perhaps?"

"According to you, my place isn't a very enviable one at present," I
said. "But I'd rather be in prison for life than married to you. What a
vision--what a couple!"

"Oh, I know having you for my wife would be a good deal like going to
heaven in a strong mustard plaster; but I'd stand the smart for the sake
of the bliss. If you won't marry me and if you won't take money from the
Becketts, what will become of you? That's what I want to know! You can't
stay on with them. You daren't risk going to their Château d'Andelle, as
things are turning out. Herter's certainly in Germany--ideal man for a
spy! If he runs across Jim Beckett, as he's trying to do, he'll move
heaven and earth to help him escape. He must have influence, and secret
ways of working things. He may have got at Jim before this for all we
can tell. Muller let it leak out that he left Herter--somewhere--a week
ago. A lot can happen in a week--to a Wandering Jew. The ground's
trembling under your feet. You'll have to skip without Brian, without
money, without----"

"I shall not stir," I said. "I can't leave Mrs. Beckett, I won't leave
her! The only way I can atone even a little bit, is to stop and take
care of her while she needs me, no matter what happens. When she finds
out, she won't want me any longer. Then I'll go. But not before."

We glared at each other like two fencers through the veil of falling
dusk. Suddenly I sprang up from the bench, remembering that, at least, I
could escape from Julian, if not from the sword of Damocles. But he
caught my dress, and held me fast.

"What if I tell the old birds the whole story up to date?" he blustered.
"I can, you know."

"You can. Please give me fair warning if you're going to--that's all I
ask. I'll try to prepare Mrs. Beckett's mind to bear the shock. She's
not very strong, but----"

"If I don't tell, it won't be because of her. It will be for
you--always, everything, for you! But I haven't decided yet. I don't
know what I shall do yet. I must think. You'll have to make the best of
that compromise unless you change your mind."

"I shall not change my mind," I said.



CHAPTER XXIX


Later, Padre, when I'd broken away from Julian, I wondered if he had
made up the whole story. The cruel trick would be impishly
characteristic! But I went straight to the concierge to ask about
Muller. He said that a man of that name had called the night before,
inquiring for me, and had talked with "the Monsieur who looked like an
Italian." This practically convinced me that Julian hadn't lied.

If only I could get direct advice from you! Do try to send me an
inspiration of what to do for the best.

My first impulse was to give Mother Beckett a faint hint of hope. But I
dared not run the risk. If Paul Herter proved to be mistaken, it would
be for her like losing her son a second time, and the dear one's
strength might not be equal to the strain. After thinking and unthinking
all night, I decided to keep silent until our two men returned from the
British front. Then, perhaps, I might tell Brian of the message from
Doctor Paul, and ask his opinion about speaking to Father Beckett. As
for myself, I resolved not to make any confession, unless it were
certain that Jim lived. And I'm not sure, Padre, whether that decision
was based on sheer, selfish cowardice, or whether I founded it partly on
the arguments I presented to myself. I said in my mind: "If it's true
that everything you did in the beginning was for Brian's good, why undo
it all at the most critical hour of his life, when perhaps there may
never be any reason to speak?" Also I said: "Why make it impossible for
yourself to give Mother Beckett the care she needs, and can hardly do
without yet? Every day counts with her now. Why not wait unless you hear
again more definitely?"

The annoying part of a specious argument is that there's always some
truth in it, and it seems like kind advice from wise friends!

Anyhow, I _did_ wait. Julian made no further appeal to me, and I felt
sure that he said nothing to Dierdre. If he had taken her into his
confidence, I should have known by her manner; because, from the
shut-up, night-flower of a girl that she was, she has rather
pathetically opened out for me into a daylight flower. All this since
she came of her own free will and told me of the scene in the chill
boarding house _salon_ at Soissons. I used to think her as secret as the
grave--and deeper. She used to make me "creep" as if a mouse ran over
_mine_, by the way her eyes watched me: still as a cat's looking into
the fire. If we had to shake hands, she used to present me with a limp
little bunch of cold fingers, which made me long to ask what the deuce
she wanted me to do with them? Now, because I'm Brian's sister, and
because I'm human enough to love her love of him, the flower-part of her
nature sheds perfume and distils honey for me: the cat-part purrs; the
girl-part warms. The creature actually deigns to like me! It could not
now conceal its anxiety for Brian and Brian's kith and kin, if it knew
what Julian knows.

I waited until our last day at Amiens, and Father Beckett, Brian, and
Sirius are back from the British front. Perhaps I forgot to tell you
that Sirius went. He wasn't on the programme, but he knew somehow that
his master was planning a separation, and refused to fall in with the
scheme. He was discovered in the motor-car when it was ready to start,
looking his best, his dear face parted in the middle with an
irresistible, ingratiating smile. When Brian tried to put him out he
flattened himself, and clung like a limpet. By Father Beckett's
intercession, he was eventually taken, trusting to luck for toleration
by the British Army. Of course he continued to smile upon all possible
arbiters of his fate; and the drama of his history, combined with the
pathos of his blind master who fought on these battlefields of Flanders,
which now he cannot see, made Brian's Sirius and Sirius's Brian _personæ
gratæ_ everywhere.

"I should have been nobody and nothing without them!" modestly insisted
the millionaire philanthropist for whom all the privileges of the trip
had been granted.

To me, with the one thought, the one word "Jim--Jim--_Jim_!" repeating
in my head it was strange, even irrelevant to hear Jim's unsuspecting
father and my blind brother discoursing of their adventures.

We all assembled in Mother Beckett's sitting room to listen to the
recital, she on a sofa, a rug over her feet, and on her transparent face
an utterly absorbed, tense expression rather like a French spaniel
trying to learn an English trick.

Father Beckett appointed Brian as spokesman, and then in his excitement
broke in every instant with: "Don't forget this! Be sure to remember
that! But so-and-so was the best!" Or he jumped up from his chair by
the sofa, and dropped his wife's hand to point out something on the
map, spread like a cloth over the whole top of a bridge-table.

It was his finger that sketched for our eyes the sharp triangle which
the road-journey had formed: Amiens to Albert: Albert to Péronne:
Péronne to Bapaume: Bapaume to Arras: Arras to Bethune, and so on to
Ypres: his finger that reminded Brian of the first forest on the road--a
forest full of working German prisoners.

At Pont-Noyelles, between Amiens and Albert, they were met by an officer
who was to be their guide for that part of the British front which they
were to visit. He was sent from headquarters, but hadn't been able to
afford time for Amiens. However, Pont-Noyelles was the most interesting
place between there and Albert. A tremendous battle was fought on that
spot in '70, between the French under famous General Faidherbe and the
Germans under Manteuffel--a _perfect_ name for a German general of these
days, if not of those! There were two monuments to commemorate the
battle--one high on a hill above the village; and the officer guide
(with the face of a boy and the grim experience of an Old Contemptible)
was well up in their history. He turned out to be a friend of friends of
Brian and knew the history of Sirius as well as that of all the
war-wasted land. He and Brian, though they'd never met, had fought near
each other it seemed, and he could describe for the blind eyes all the
changes that had come upon the Somme country since Brian's "day." The
roads which had been remade by the British over the shell-scarred and
honeycombed surface of the land; the aerodromes; the training-camps; the
tanks; the wonderful new railways for troops and ammunition: the bands
of German prisoners docilely at work.

When the great gray car stopped, throbbing, at special view-points here
and there, it was Brian who could listen for a lark's message of hope
among the billowing downs, or draw in the tea-rose scent of earth from
some brown field tilled by a woman. It was Father Beckett who saw the
horrors of desolation--desolation more hideous even than on the French
front; because, since the beginning, here had burned the hottest furnace
of war: here had fallen a black, never-ceasing rain of bombardment,
night and day, day and night, year after year.

It was the cherubic Old Contemptible who could tell each detail of
war-history, when the car reached Albert. It was Brian who knew the
ancient legend of the place, and the modern story of the spy, which,
together, double the dramatic interest of the Bending Virgin. In the
eleventh century a shepherd boy discovered, in a miraculous way, a
statue of the Virgin. There was a far-off sound of music at night, when
he was out in search of strayed sheep, and being young he forgot his
errand in curiosity to learn whence came the mysterious chanting,
accompanied by the silver notes of a flute. The boy wandered in the
direction of the delicate sounds, and to his amazement found all the
lost flock grazing round a statue which appeared to have risen from the
earth. On that spot was built the basilica of Notre-Dame de Brébières,
which became a place of pilgrimage. The Virgin of the Shepherds was
supposed to send her blessings far, far over the countryside, and her
gilded image, with the baby Christ in her arms, was a flaming beacon at
sunrise and sunset. Thus on her high tower the golden Lady stood when
the war began. Albert was pitilessly bombarded, and with a startling
accuracy which none could understand: yet the church itself, with its
temptingly high tower, remained intact. Through October, 1914, the
shining figure blazed against the sky, while houses fell in all quarters
of the town: but on November 1st, three bombs struck the church. They
were the first heavy drops of rain in a thunderstorm. The roof crashed
in: and presently the pedestal of the Virgin received a shattering blow.
This was on the very day when Albert discovered why for so long the
church had been immune. A spy had been safely signalling from the tower,
telling German gunners how and where to strike with the most damage to
the town. When all the factories which gave wealth to Albert, and the
best houses, had been methodically destroyed, the spy silently stole
away: and the Virgin of the Shepherds then bent over, face down, to
search for this black sheep of the fold. Ever since she with the sacred
Child in her arms has hung thus suspended in pity and blessing over
mountainous piles of wreckage which once composed the market-place. She
will not crash to earth, Albert believes, till the war is over. But so
loved is she in her posture of protection that the citizens propose to
keep her in it for ever to commemorate the war-history of Albert, when
Albert is rebuilt for future generations.

From there the gray car ran on almost due east to Péronne, out of the
country of Surrey-like, Chiltern-like downs, into a strange marshy
waste, where the river Somme expands into vast meres, swarming with many
fish. It looked, Father Beckett said, "Like a bit of the world when God
had just begun to create life out of chaos."

Poor Péronne! In its glorious days of feudal youth its fortress-castle
was invincible. The walls were so thick that in days before gunpowder no
assaults could hope to break through them. Down in its underground
depths was a dungeon, where trapped enemy princes lay rotting and
starving through weary years, never released save by death, unless
tortured into signing shameful treaties. The very sound of the name,
"Péronne," is an echo of history, as Brian says. Hardly a year-date in
the Middle Ages could be pricked by a pin without touching some
sensational event going on at that time at Péronne. I remember this from
my schooldays; and more clearly still from "Quentin Durward," which I
have promised to read aloud to Mother Beckett. I remember the Scottish
monks who were established at Péronne in the reign of Clovis. I remember
how Charles the Bold of Burgundy (who died outside Nancy's gates)
imprisoned wicked Louis XI in a strong tower of the château, one of the
four towers with conical roofs, like extinguishers of giant candles and
kingly reputations! I remember best of all the heroine of Péronne,
Catherine de Poix, "la belle Péronnaise," who broke with her own hand
the standard of Charles's royal flag, in the siege of 1536, threw the
bearer into the fosse, and saved the city.

When Wellington took the fortress in 1814, he did not desecrate or
despoil the place: it was left for the Germans to do that, just a
century later in the progress of civilization! My blood grew hot as I
heard from our two men the story of what the new Vandals had done. Just
for a moment I almost forgot the secret burning in my heart. The proud
pile of historic stone brought to earth at last, like a soldier-king,
felled by an axe in his old age: the statue of Catherine thrown from its
pedestal, and replaced in mockery by a foolish manikin--this as a mean
revenge for what she did to the standard-bearer, most of Charles's men
in the siege being Germans, under Henry of Nassau.

    "Toujours Francs-Péronnais
    Auront bon jour,
    Toujours et en tout temps
    Francs-Péronnais auront bon temps,"

the girls used to sing in old days as they wove the wonderful linens and
tissues of Péronne, or embroidered banners of gorgeous colours to
commemorate the saving of the Picard city by Catherine: as Brian
repeated to Father Beckett wandering through the ruins redeemed last
spring for France by the British. And though Brian's eyes could not see
the rubbish-heap where once had soared the citadel he saw through the
mystic veil of his blindness many things which others did not see.

It seems that above these marshy flats of the Somme, where the river has
wandered away from the hills and disguised itself in shining lakes,
gauzy mists always hover. Brian had seen them with bodily eyes, while he
was a soldier. Now, with the eyes of his spirit he saw them again,
gleaming with the delicate, indescribable colours which only blind eyes
can call up to lighten darkness. He saw the fleecy clouds streaming over
Péronne like a vast, transparent ghost-banner. He saw on their filmy
folds, as if traced in blue and gold and royal purple, the ever famous
scene on the walls when Catherine and her following beat back Nassau's
men from the one breach where they might have captured the town. And
this mystic banner of the spirit Germans can never capture or desecrate.
It will wave over Péronne--what was Péronne, and what will again be
Péronne--while the world goes on making history for free men.

After Péronne, Bapaume: the battered corpse of Bapaume, murdered in
flame that reddened all the skies of Picardy before the British came to
chase the Germans out!

In old times, when a place was destroyed the saying was, "Not one stone
is left upon another." But in this war, destruction means an avalanche
of stones upon each other. Bapaume as Father Beckett saw it, is a
Herculaneum unexcavated. Beneath lie buried countless precious things,
and still more precious memories; the feudal grandeur of the old château
where Philippe-Auguste married proud Isabelle de Hainaut, with splendid
ceremony as long ago as 1180: the broken glory of ancient ramparts,
where modern lovers walked till the bugles of August 2, 1914, parted
them for ever; the arcaded Town Hall, old as the domination of the
Spaniards in Picardy; the sixteenth-century church of St. Nicolas with
its quaint Byzantine Virgin of miracles: the statue of Faidherbe who
beat back the German wave from Bapaume in 1871: all, all burned and
battered, and mingled inextricably with débris of pitiful little homes,
nobles' houses, rich shops and tiny _boutiques_, so that, when Bapaume
rises from the dead, she will rise as one--even as France has risen.

Of the halting places on this pilgrimage along the British front, I
should best have liked to be with Brian and Father Beckett at Arras.
Brian and I were there together you know, Padre, on that happy-go-lucky
tramping tour of ours--not long before I met Jim. We both loved Arras,
Brian and I, and spent a week there in the most fascinating of ancient
hotels. It had been a palace; and I had a huge room, big enough for the
bedchamber of a princess (princesses should always have bedchambers,
never mere bedrooms!) with long windows draped like the walls and stiff
old furniture, in yellow satin. I was frightened when an aged servant
with the air of a pontiff ushered me in; for Brian and I were travelling
"on the cheap." But Arras, though delicious in its quaint charm, never
attracted hordes of ordinary tourists. Consequently one could have
yellow satin hangings without being beggared.

Oh, how happy we were in that hotel, and in the adorable old town! While
Brian painted in the Grande Place and the Petite Place, and sketched the
Abbey of St. Waast (who brought Christianity to that part of the world)
I wandered alone. I used to stand every evening till my neck ached,
staring up at the beautiful belfry, to watch the swallows chase each
other back and forth among the bells, whose peal was music of fairyland.
And I never tired of wandering through the arcades under the tall old
Flemish houses with their overhanging upper storeys, or peeping into the
arcades' cool shadows, from the middle of the sunlit squares.

There were some delightful shops in those arcades, where they sold
antique Flemish furniture, queer old pictures showing Arras in her
proud, treaty-making days (you know what a great place she was for
treaty-making!) and lovely faded tapestries said to be "genuinely" of
the time when no one mentioned a piece of tapestry save as an "arras."
But the shop I haunted was a cake-shop. It was called "_Au Coeur
d'Arras_," because the famous speciality of Arras was a heart-shaped
cake; but I wasn't lured there so much by the charm of _les coeurs_ as
by that of the person who sold them.

I dare say I described her to you in letters, or when I got back to
England after that trip. The most wonderful old lady who ever lived! She
didn't welcome her customers at all. She just sat and knitted. She had
an architectural sort of face, framed with a crust of snow--I mean, a
frilled cap! And if one furtively stared, she looked at one down her
nose, and made one feel cheap and small as if one had snored, or
hiccupped out aloud in a cathedral! But it seems I won her esteem by
enquiring if "_les coeurs d'Arras_" had a history. Nobody else had
ever shown enough intelligence to care! So she gave me the history of
the cakes, and of everything else in Arras; also, before we went away,
she escorted Brian and me into a marvellous cellar beneath her shop. It
went down three storeys and had fireplaces and a well! The earth under
La Grande Place was honeycombed with such _souterrains_, she said.
They'd once been quarries, in days so old as to be forgotten--quarries
of "tender stone" (what a nice expression!), and the people of Arras had
cemented and made them habitable in case of bombardment. They must have
been useful in 1914!

As for the cakes, they were invented by an abbess who was sent to Spain.
Before reluctantly departing, she gave the recipe to her successor,
saying she "left her heart in Arras." According to the legend (the old
shop-lady assured me) a girl who had never loved was certain to fall in
love within a month after first eating a Heart of Arras. Well, Padre, I
ate almost a hundred hearts, and less than a month after I met Jim!

You may believe that I asked Brian and Father Beckett a dozen questions
at once about dear Arras. But alas, alas! all the answers were sad.

The beautiful belfry? Only a phantom remaining. The Hôtel de Ville?
Smashed. La Grande Place--La Petite Place? Stone quarries above ground
as well as below, the old Flemish façades crumbled like sheets of barley
sugar. The arcades? Ruined. The charming old shops? Vanished. The seller
of Hearts? Dead. But the Hearts--_they_ still existed! The children of
Arras who have come back "since the worst was over" (that is their way
of putting it!) would not feel that life was life without the Arras
Hearts. Besides, Arras without the Hearts would be like the Altar of the
Vestal Virgins without the ever-burning lamp. So they are still baked,
and still eaten, those brave little Hearts of Arras--and Brian asked
Father Beckett to bring me a box.

They bought it of a cousin of my old woman, an ancient man who had
lurked in a cellar during the whole of the bombardment. He said that all
Arras knew, in September, 1914, how the Kaiser had vowed to march into
the town in triumph, and how, when he found the place as hard to take
"as quicksilver is to grasp," he revenged himself by destroying its
best-beloved treasures. He must have rejoiced that July day of 1915,
when Wolff's Agency was able to announce at last, that the Abbey of St.
Waast and its museum were in flames!

As the gray car bumped on to Bethune, Vimy Ridge floated blue in the far
distance, to the right of the road, and Father Beckett and Brian took
off their hats to it. Still farther away, and out of sight lay Lens, in
German possession, but practically encircled by the British. The Old
Contemptible had been there, and described the town as having scarcely a
roof left, but being an "ant heap" of Boches, who swarm in underground
shelters bristling with machine guns. Between Lens and the road stood
the celebrated Colonne de Condé, showing where the prince won his great
victory over Spain; and farther on, within gun-sound distance though out
of sight, lay Loos, on the Canal de l'Haute Deule. Who thinks nowadays
of its powerful Cistercian Abbey, that dominated the country round? Who
thinks twice, when travelling this Appian Way which Germany has given
France, of any history which began or ended before the year 1914?

Bethune they found still existing as a town. It has been bombarded often
but not utterly destroyed, and from there they ran out four miles to
Festubert, because the little that the Germans have left of the
thirteenth-century church and village, burns with an eternal flame of
interest.

Bethune itself was a famous fortress once, full of history and legend:
but isn't the whole country in its waste and ruin, like a torn historic
banner, crusted with jewels--magic jewels, which cannot be stolen by
enemy hands?

On the way to Ypres--crown and climax of the tour--the car passed
Lillers and Hazebrouck, places never to be forgotten by hearts that beat
in the battles of Flanders. Then came the frontier at Steenwoorde; and
they were actually in Belgium, passing Poperinghe to Ypres, the most
famous British battleground of the war.

When Brian was fighting, and when you were on earth, Padre, everyone
talked about the "Ypres Salient." Now, though for soldiers Ypres will
always be the "salient" since the battle of Wytschaete Ridge, the
_material_ salient has vanished. Yet the same trenches exist, in the
same gray waste which Brian used to paint in those haunting,
impressionist war sketches of his that all London talked about, after
the Regent Street exhibition that he didn't even try for leave to see!
The critics spoke of the mysterious, spiritual quality of his work,
which gave "without sentimentality" picturesqueness to the shell-holes
and mud, the shattered trees and wooden crosses, under eternally
dreaming skies.

Well, Brian tells me that going back as a blind man to the old scenes,
he had a strange, thrilling sense of _seeing_ them--seeing more clearly
than before those effects of mysterious beauty, hovering with prophecy
above the squalor of mud and blood, hovering and mingling as the faint
light of dawn mingles, at a certain hour, with the shadows of night.
People used to call his talent a "blend of vision with reality." Now,
all that is left him is "vision"--vision of the spirit. But with help--I
used to think it would be _my_ help: now I realize it will be
Dierdre's--who knows what extraordinary things my blind Brian may
accomplish? His hope is so beautiful, and so strong, that it has lit an
answering flame of hope in me.

He and I were in Ypres for a few days, just about the time I was
wondering why "Jim Wyndham" didn't keep his promise to find me again.
It was in Ypres, I remember, that I came across the box of "_Coeurs
d'Arras_" I'd brought with me. Opening it, I recalled the legend about a
girl who has never loved, falling in love within a month after first
eating an Arras Heart. It was then I said to myself, "Why, it has _come
true_! I have fallen in love with Jim Wyndham--and _he has forgotten
me_!"

Oh, Padre, how that pain comes back to me now, in the midst of the new
pain, like the "core of the brilliance within the brilliance!" Which
hurt is worse, to love a man, and believe oneself forgotten, or to love
and know one has been loved, and then become unworthy? I can't be sure.
I can't even be sure that, if I could, I would go back to being the old
self before I committed the one big sin of my life, which gave me Jim's
father and mother, and the assurance that _he had cared_. For a while,
after Mother Beckett told me about Jim's love for "The Girl," in spite
of my wickedness I glowed with a kind of happiness. I felt that, through
all the years of my life--even when I grew old--Jim would be _mine_,
young, handsome, gay, just as I had seen him on the Wonderful Day: that
I could always run away from outside things and shut the gate of the
garden on myself and Jim--that rose-garden on the border of Belgium.
Now, when I know--or almost know--that he will come back in the flesh to
despise me, and that the gate of the garden will be forever shut--why, I
shall be punished as perhaps no woman has ever been punished before.
Still--_still_ I can't be sure that I would escape, if I could, by going
back to my old self!

It is writing of Belgium, and my days there with Brian while I still
hoped to see Jim, that brings all these thoughts crowding so thickly to
my mind, they seem to drip off my pen!

But what a different Ypres Father Beckett has now seen, and Brian
_felt_, from that dear, pleasant Ypres into which we two drove in a
cart, along a cobbled causeway as straight as a tight-drawn string!
Tourists who loved the blue, and yellow, and red bath-houses on the
golden beach of Ostend, didn't worry to motor over the bumpy road,
through the Flemish plain to Ypres. The war was needed to bring its sad
fame to "Wipers!" But Brian and I interrupted our walking tour with that
cart, because we knew that the interminable causeway would take us deep
into the inner quaintness of Flanders. We adored it all: and at every
stopping-place on the twenty-mile road, I had the secret joy of
whispering; "Perhaps it is _here_ that He will suddenly appear, and meet
us!"

There was one farmhouse on the way, where I longed to have him come. I
wanted him so much that I almost _created_ him! I was listening every
moment, and through every sound, for his car. It never came. But because
I so wished the place to be a background for our meeting I can see the
two large living-rooms of the old house, with the black-beamed ceilings,
the Flemish stoves, the tall, carved sideboards and chests with armorial
bearings, the deep window-seats that were flower-stands and work-tables
combined, and the shelves of ancient pottery and gleaming, antique
brass. There was a comfortable fragrance of new-baked bread, mingling
with the spicy scent of grass-pinks, in that house: and the hostess who
gave us luncheon--a young married woman--had a mild, sweet face,
strongly resembling that of St. Geneviève of Brabant, as pictured in a
coloured lithograph on the wall.

St. Geneviève's story is surely the most romantic, the most pathetic of
any saint who ever deigned to tread on earth!--and her life and death
might serve as an allegory of Belgium's martyrdom, poor Belgium, the
little country whose patron she is. Since that day at the farmhouse on
the road to Ypres, I've thought often of the gentle face with its
forget-me-not eyes and golden hair; and of Golo the dark persecutor
who--they say now--was a _real_ person and an ancestor of the
Hohenzollerns through the first Duc de Bavière.

At Ypres, Brian painted for me a funny "imagination picture" imitating
earliest Flemish work. It showed Ypres when there was no town save a few
tiny houses and a triangular stronghold, with a turret at each corner,
built on a little island in the river Yperlee. He named the picture "The
Castle of the Three Strong Towers," and dated it in the year 900. A
thousand years have passed since then. Slowly, after much fighting (the
British fought as hard to take Ypres once, as they fight to save it
now), the town grew great and powerful, and became the capital of
Flanders. The days of the rough earthen stockades and sharp thorn-bush
defences of "Our Lady of the Enclosures" passed on to the days of
casemates and moats; and still on, to the days when the old
fortifications could be turned into ornamental walks--days of quaintly
beautiful architecture, such as Brian and I saw before the war, when we
spent hours in the Grand' Place, admiring the wonderful Cloth Hall and
the Spanish-looking Nieuwerck. The people of Ypres told us proudly that
nothing in Bruges itself, or anywhere in Flanders, could compare with
those noble buildings massed together at the west end of the Grand'
Place, each stone of which represented so much wealth of the richest
merchant kings of Europe.

And now, the work of those thousand busy years has crumbled in a few
monstrous months, like the sand-houses of children when the tide comes
in! What Father Beckett saw of Ypres after three years' bombardment, was
not much more than that shown in Brian's picture, dated 900! A blackened
wall or two and a heap of rubble where stood the _Halle des
Drapiers_--pride of Ypres since the thirteenth century--its belfry, its
statues, its carvings, its paintings, all vanished like the contours and
colours of a sunset cloud. The cathedral is a skeleton. Hardly a pointed
gable is left to tell where the quaint and prosperous houses once
grouped cosily together. Ypres the town is a mourner draped in black
with the stains of fire which killed its beauty and joy. But there is a
glory that can never be killed, a glory above mere beauty, as a living
soul is above the dead body whence it has risen. That glory is Ypres.
She is a ghost, but she is an inspiration, a name of names, a jewel
worth dying for--"worth giving a man's eyes for," Brian says!

"Has your brother told you about the man we met at the Visitors'
Château?" asked Father Beckett, when between the two men--and my
reminiscences--the story of the tour was finished with those last words
of Brian's.

"No, I haven't told her yet," Brian answered for me.

My nerves jumped. I scarcely knew what I expected to hear. "Not Doctor
Paul Herter?" I exclaimed--and was surprised to hear on my own lips the
name so constantly in my mind.

"Well, that's queer she should speak of _him_, isn't it, Brian? How did
you come to think of Herter?" Father Beckett wanted to know.

"_Was_ it he?" I insisted.

"No. But--you'd better tell her, Brian. I guess you'll have to."

"There isn't much to tell, really," Brian said. "It was only that
oculist chap Herter told you about--Dr. Henri Chrevreuil. He's been
working at the front, as you know: lately it's been the British front;
and they'd taken him in at the château for a few days' rest. We met him
there and talked of his friend--your friend, Molly--Doctor Paul."

"What did he say about your eyes?" Dierdre almost gasped. (I should not
have ventured to put the question suddenly, and before people. I should
have been too afraid of the answer. But her nickname is "_Dare!_") "He
must have said something, or Mr. Beckett wouldn't have spoken so. He
_did_ look at your eyes--didn't he? He would, for Herter's sake."

"Yes, he did look at them," Brian admitted. "He didn't say much."

"But what--_what_?"

"He said: 'Wait, and--see.'"

"And see!" Dierdre echoed.

The same thought was in all our minds. As I gazed mutely at Brian, he
gave me the most beautiful smile of his life. He must have felt that I
was looking at him, or he would not so have smiled. Let Jim hate
and--punish me when he comes back, and drive me out of Paradise!
Wherever I may go, there will be the reflection of that smile and the
thought behind it. How can I be unhappy, if Brian need only wait, to
see?



CHAPTER XXX


Padre, my mind is like a thermometer exposed every minute to a different
temperature, but always high or low--never normal.

To tell, or not to tell, Father Beckett what the man I didn't see said
about Jim--or rather, what Julian O'Farrell said that he said! This has
been the constant question; but the thermometer invariably flies up or
down, far from the answer-point.

When our men came back to Amiens, I almost hoped that Puck would do his
worst--carry out his threat and "give me away" to Father Beckett. In
that case I should at least have been relieved from responsibility. But
Puck didn't. In my heart I had known all along that he would not.

If I could have felt for a whole minute at a time that it would be fair
to wake hopes which mightn't be fulfilled, out would have burst the
secret. But whenever I'd screwed up my courage to speak, Something would
remind me: "Herter sent word that there might be a message from
Switzerland. Better wait till it comes, for he wasn't sure of his facts.
He may have been misled." Or, when I'd decided _not_ to speak, another
Something would say: "Jim is alive. You _know_ he is alive! Herter is
helping him to escape. Don't let these dear old people suffer a minute
longer than they need."

But--well--so far I have waited. A week has passed since I wrote at
Amiens. We have arrived at Jim's château--the little, quaint, old
Château d'Andelle, with thick stone walls, black-beamed ceilings, and
amusing towers, set in the midst of an enchanted forest of Normandy. No
wonder he fell in love with the place before the war, and wanted to live
there! It must have seemed an impossible dream at the time, for the
owners (the château has been in the same family for generations) had
money in those days, and wouldn't have let their home to strangers. The
war has made all the difference. They couldn't afford to keep up the
place, and were eager to let. Beckett money is a boon to them, so
everyone is satisfied. The agents in Paris secured two or three extra
servants to help the old pair left in the house as caretakers; and there
is a jewel of a maid for Mother Beckett--a Belgian refugette. I shall
give her some training as a nurse, and by and by I shall be able to fade
away in peace. Already I'm beginning to prepare my dear lady's mind for
a parting. I talk of my hospital work, and drop hints that I'm only on
leave--that Brian's hopes and Father Beckett's splendid new-born plan
for him, will permit me to take up duty again soon.

The plan developed on the trip: but I'm sure the first inspiration came
from Mother Beckett. While she was ill, she did nothing but lie and
think of things to do for other people. And she was determined to make
it possible for Brian to have a love story of his own, provided he
wanted one. It only needed Father Beckett's practical brain and
unlimited purse to turn her vague suggestion into a full-grown plan. A
whole block of buildings on the outskirts of Paris, let as apartment
houses, is to be bought by Mr. Beckett, for the use of blinded soldiers.
Already his agents have got the refusal of the property for him; and
with a few changes such as knocking down inner walls and putting in
doors where doors don't exist, the houses will become one big mansion,
to accommodate five or six hundred men. Each will have his own bedroom
or cubicle. There'll be a gymnasium, with a Swedish instructor, and
every trade or profession in which a blind man could possibly engage
will be taught by experts. There will be a big dining hall with a
musicians' gallery, and a theatre. The library will be supplied with
quantities of books for the blind. There'll be a garden where the men
will be taught to grow flowers and vegetables. They will have a resident
doctor, and two superintendents. One of these two will himself be a
blind man taught by his own experience how to teach others. Of course,
Padre, you know that this blind teacher is already chosen, and that the
whole scheme centers round him!

In a way Brian realizes that, if it were not for him, it would never
have been thought of. In a way. But--it is _his_ way. He doesn't torture
himself, as I probably should in his place, by thinking: "All these
immense sums of money being spent as an excuse to provide for me in
life! Ought I to let it be done? Ought I to accept?"

Brian's way is not that. He says: "Now I understand why I lost my
eyesight, and it's worth it a thousand times. This wonderful chance is
to be given me to help others, as I never could have helped if I hadn't
been blind. If sight comes back, I shall know what it is to be blind,
and I can give counsel and courage to others. I am glad, glad to be
blind. It's a privilege and a mission. Even if I never see again, except
with my spirit's eyes, I shall still be glad!"

He doesn't worry at all because carrying out the plan will cost Father
Beckett one or more of his millions. What is money for, except to be
spent? What pleasure is like spending to do good? He finds it quite
natural that Father Beckett wants to do this thing; and though he's
immensely grateful, he takes it blithely for granted that the benefactor
should be happy and proud.

Travelling back from Ypres to Amiens they seem to have settled all the
details between them, though they told us their adventures before even
mentioning the Plan. Brian is to be guide, philosopher, and friend to
the inmates and students of the James Wyndham Beckett College for the
Blind. Also he is to give lectures on art and various other subjects. If
he can learn to paint his blind impressions (as he believes he can, with
Dierdre's promised help) he will be able to teach other blind artists to
follow his example. And he is to have a salary for his services--not the
big one Father Beckett wished: Brian wouldn't hear of that--but enough
to live on. And Dierdre and Julian are offered official positions and
salaries too. It's suggested that they should take a flat near by the
College, within easy walking distance. Dierdre is to entertain the blind
men with recitations, and teach the art of reciting to those who wish to
learn. Julian is to sing and play for the men in the house-theatre, once
or twice a week, as he can spare time from his work with De Letzski.
Also he will give one lesson a week in singing and voice production.

Both the O'Farrells are to be well paid (no trouble in persuading
Julian to accept generous proposals for himself and his sister; for him
the labourer is indeed worthy of his hire): and with American dash and
money the scheme is expected to be in working order by next June. It's
now well into November. But after seeing how other schemes have worked,
and how this Château d'Andelle business has been rushed through, I have
the most sublime faith in Beckett miracles.

They are astonishing, these Becketts! Father, the simplest, kindest man,
with the air of liking his fireside better than any adventure: Mother, a
slip of a creature--"a flower in a vase to be kept by her menfolk on a
high shelf," as I told myself when I first saw her. Yet what adventures
they have had, and what they have accomplished since the day Brian
proposed this pilgrimage, two months ago! Not a town on our route that,
after the war won't have cause to bless them and the son in whose name
their good works have been done--cause to bless Beckett kindness,
Beckett money for generations in the future! Yet now they have added
this most ambitious plan of all to the list, and I know it will be
carried out to perfection.

You see now, Padre, from what I've told you, how easy it is being made
for me to slip out of this circle. Brian, beaming with happiness, and on
the point of opening his heart to Dierdre's almost worshipping love:
Mother Beckett slowly getting back a measure of frail, flower-like
health, in this lovely place which she calls Jim's: Father Beckett more
at ease about her, and intensely interested in his scheme: the small,
neat Belgian refugette likely to prove at least a ministering mouse if
not a ministering angel: above all, hope if not certainty that Jim will
one day return--not only in spirit but in body--to his château and his
family. If I am needed anywhere on earth, it isn't here, but down in the
south at my poor Hôpital des Épidémies. Would it be cowardly in me to
fly, as soon as I've persuaded the Becketts to spare me, and throw the
responsibility I haven't dared decide to take, upon my brave, blind
Brian?

Ah, I don't mean telling him about myself and my sins. I shouldn't have
the courage for that, I fear! I mean, shall I tell him about Doctor
Paul's message--or _supposed_ message? It has just occurred to me that I
might do this, and let Brian decide whether Father Beckett ought to
know, even if no further news comes through Switzerland. You see, if I
were gone, and Jim came, I could trust the new Dierdre to do her best
for me with Brian. He could never respect me, never love me in the old
way--but he might forgive, because of Dierdre herself--and because of
the great Plan. Hasn't my wickedness given them both to him?

Writing all this to you has done me good, Padre. I see more clearly
ahead. I shall decide before morning what to do. I feel I _shall_ this
time! And I think it a good idea to speak to Brian. He will agree,
though he doesn't know my secret need to escape, that it's right for me
to take up hospital work again. But, Padre, I can't go--I _won't_
go--until I've helped Mother Beckett arrange Jim's treasures in the room
to be called his "den." She has been living for that, striving to grow
strong enough for that. And I--oh, Padre!--I want to be the one to
unpack his things and to touch each one with my hands. I want to leave
something of myself in that room where, if he's dead, his spirit will
surely come: where, if he lives, his body will come. If I leave behind
me thoughts of love, won't they linger between those walls like the
scent of roses in a vase? Mayn't those thoughts influence Jim Beckett
not to detest me as I deserve?



CHAPTER XXXI


Five days later.

I did talk to Brian, Padre, and he said, better wait and give the letter
from Switzerland a fair chance to arrive, before telling Father Beckett
about Doctor Paul's messenger at Amiens.

Now I have had a letter, but not from Switzerland. I shall fold it up
between the pages of this book of my confessions. I believe you will
read it, Padre.

It came to-day. It explains itself. The envelope, postmarked Paris, was
addressed to me in typewriting. If Mother Beckett had not had a slight
relapse from working too hard in the den, I might perhaps have been gone
before the letter came. Then it would have had to be forwarded. It's
better that I stayed. You will see why. But--oh, Padre, Padre!

  THE LETTER


  "MISS O'MALLEY,

  "Once I met a lady whose name, as I understood it, was not
  unlike yours now, given me by Doctor Paul Herter. I cannot
  think that you and she are one. That lady, I'd swear, would be
  incapable of--let me say, placing herself in a false position.

  "Though you will not recognize my handwriting, I've said
  enough for you to guess that James Wyndham Beckett is your
  correspondent. I have had the address typed because, for my
  parents' sake and to spare them distress, it seems that you and I
  must reach some understanding before I venture to let them
  know that I'm alive.

  "If you are worthy to be called 'friend' by such a man as Paul
  Herter, you will wish to atone for certain conduct, by carrying
  out the request I make now. I must trust you to do so. But
  first let me relieve my mind of any fear for yourself. I have not
  contradicted the story you told Herter about our engagement.
  What I shall say to my parents when I meet them, as I hope soon
  to do, depends upon circumstances. Till you and I have had a
  private conversation, you will oblige me by letting things remain
  as they are. I have strong reasons for this wish. One of
  them--the only one I need explain now, is that it will seem
  natural to them I should write to my fiancée--a young, strong
  girl able to bear the shock of a great surprise--asking her to break
  the news gently and tactfully to my father and mother. I do
  ask you to do this. How to do it I must leave to you. But
  when you've told my parents that I'm alive, that I've escaped,
  that I'm in Paris with Herter, that as soon as my official business
  of reporting myself is finished, I'll get leave, you may put into
  their hands the following pages of this letter. They will not
  think it strange that the girl I am engaged to should keep the
  first part for her own eyes. Thus, without your being compromised,
  they will learn my adventures without having to
  wait until I come. But there's just room enough left on this
  first sheet to reiterate that, when Herter found me, and gave
  me the somewhat disconcerting news of my engagement to
  his friend, a Miss O'Malley travelling with my parents, I--simply
  listened. Rather than excite his suspicions I did not even
  yield to curiosity, and try to draw out a description. I could
  not be sure then that I should ever see you, or my people, for
  escape was difficult and there were more chances against than
  for my getting out of Germany alive. Now, in all human certainty
  I shall arrive at the Château d'Andelle (I got the address
  at the bank), and you owe it to me to remain on the spot till we
  can thrash out our affair together. I will begin on a _new_ sheet
  the story of the last few months since my capture. You must
  forgive me if it bores you. In reality it is for my parents, when
  you have prepared their minds, and I don't think it will bore
  them....

  "We came a bad cropper. I was thrown clear of the machine,
  but knew nothing until I waked up, feeling like a bag of broken
  bones. It was night, and I saw a huge fountain of red flame and
  a lot of dark figures like silhouettes moving between it and me.
  That brought me out of my stupor. I knew my plane must have
  taken fire as it crashed down, and I was pretty sure the silhouettes
  were Germans. I looked around for my observer, and
  called to him in a low voice, hoping the Bosch wouldn't hear,
  over the noise of the fire. Nobody answered. Later I found out
  that the poor chap had been caught under the car. I pray he
  died before the flames reached him!

  "As I got my wits back, I planned to try and hide myself under
  some bushes I could see not far off, till the coast was clear; but I
  couldn't move. I seemed to be thoroughly smashed up, and
  began to think it was the end of things _ici-bas_ for me. After
  a while I must have fainted. By and by I had a dream of jolting
  along through a blazing desert, on the back of a lame camel. It
  was rather fierce, that jolting! It shook me out of my faint, and
  when I opened my eyes it was to find myself on a stretcher
  carried by fellows in German gray. They took me to a field
  hospital, and I guessed by the look of things that it was close to
  the first lines. It made me sick to think how near I must be to
  our own front--yet so far!

  "Well, I won't be long-winded about what happened next.
  I can go into details when we meet. It turned out that I had
  a leg, an arm, and some ribs smashed. The Bosch surgeon
  wasn't half bad, as Bosches go, but he was a bit brusque. I
  heard him say right out to the anæsthetist, it seemed a pity
  to waste good ether on me, as there wasn't one chance in five
  to save my life. Still, I'd be an experiment! Before I went
  off under the stuff I told them who I was, for I'd heard they were
  sometimes fairly decent to enemy aviators, and I hoped to get a
  message through to my people. I was feeling as stupid as an
  owl, but I did think I saw a change come over the men's faces
  when they heard my name. Later, putting two and two together,
  I concluded that Germany was just the kind of business
  nation to know all about the dear old Governor. I might have
  realized that, out of sheer spite against the United States for
  bursting into the war, they'd enjoy letting a man of James Beckett
  Senior's importance go on believing his son was dead. I bet
  they put my name over the grave of my poor, burned pal, Hank
  Lee! It would be the thoroughgoing sort of thing they do, when
  they make up their minds to create an impression.

  "I didn't die, though! Spite for spite, I got well. But it
  took some time. One of my lungs had been damaged a bit
  by a broken rib, and the doctors prescribed an open-air cure,
  after I'd begun to crawl again. I was put with a lot of T. B.'s,
  if you know what that means, in a camp hospital. Not far
  off was a huge 'camouflaged' aerodrome and a village of hangars.
  I heard that flying men were being trained there. I used to think
  I'd give my head to get to the place, but I never hoped to do it--till
  Herter came.

  "Now I will tell you how he came--which I can freely do,
  as we are both safe in Paris, having come from somewhere
  near Compiègne. One of the first things Herter said about you
  was that you must have guessed where he was going, and more
  or less for what purpose. For that purpose he was the ideal
  man: a Lorrainer of Germanized Lorraine; German his native
  tongue--(though he hates it)--and clever as Machiavelli. He
  "escaped" from France into Germany, told a tale about killing
  a French sentry and creeping across No Man's Land at night, in
  order to get to the German lines. It was a big risk, but Herter
  is as brave and resourceful a man as I ever met. He got the
  Bosches to believe that he was badly ill in Paris when the war
  broke out and couldn't slip away, otherwise he'd have sprung to
  do his loyal duty to the Fatherland. He persuaded them that
  his lot being cast in France for the time, he'd resolved to serve
  Germany by spying, until he could somehow bolt across the
  frontier. He spun a specious tale about pretending to the French
  to have French sympathies, and winning the confidence of
  high-up men, by serving as a surgeon on several fronts. To
  prove his German patriotism he had notes to show, realistically
  made on thin silk paper, and hidden inside the lining of his
  coat.

  "Herter's mission in Boschland isn't my business or yours;
  but I'm allowed to say that it was concerned with aeroplanes.
  There was something he had to find out, and he _has_ found it
  out, or he wouldn't be back on this side of the lines. Because he
  hoped to be among German flying-men, he hinted to you that
  he might be able to do you some service. It occurred to him
  that he might learn where my grave was and let you know.
  Nothing further was in his thoughts then--or until he happened
  to draw out a piece of unexpected information in a roundabout
  way.

  "His trick of getting across to the flying-men was smart, like
  all his tricks. The valuable (?) notes he'd brought into Germany
  mostly concerned new French and American inventions in that
  line. That was his 'speciality.' And when he had handed the
  notes over with explanations, he continued his programme by
  asking for a job as surgeon in a field hospital. (You see, he hoped
  to get back to France before the worthlessness of his notes was
  discovered.) When he'd proved his qualifications, he got his
  job like a shot. They were only too glad of his services. Pretending
  to have been in American training-camps, it was easy
  to bring up my name in a casual way. Laughing that rather
  sinister laugh of his, which you will remember, Herter told a
  couple of flying chaps he had promised a girl to find Jim Beckett's
  grave. One of the fellows laughed too, and made a remark
  which set Herter thinking. Later, he was able to refer to
  the subject again, and learned enough to suspect that there was
  something fishy about the Bosch announcement of my death and
  burial. He tells me that, at this point, he was able to send you a
  verbal message by a consumptive prisoner about to be repatriated.
  Whether you got that message or not who knows?

  "His idea was to send another (in a way he won't explain
  even to me) when he'd picked up further news. But as things
  turned out, there was no time. Besides, it wasn't necessary.
  It looked hopeful that we might be our own carrier pigeons, or
  else--cease to exist.

  "What happened was that Herter heard I was alive and in a
  hospital not far behind the lines. Just at this time he had got
  hold of the very secret he'd come to seek. The sooner he could
  make a dash for home the better: but if possible, he wished to
  take me with him. He had the impression that to do so would
  please his friend Miss O'Malley! How it was to be worked he
  didn't see until an odd sort of American bombing machine fell,
  between an aerodrome it had attempted to destroy, and Herter's
  hospital. They knew it was American, only because of its two
  occupants, both killed. The machine was considerably smashed
  up, but experts found traces of something amazingly novel, which
  they couldn't understand. Herter was called to the scene, because
  he had pretended to be up in the latest American flying
  'stunts.' The minute he saw the wreckage an inspiration
  jumped into his head.

  "He confessed himself puzzled by the mysterious details,
  thought them important, and said: 'It seems to me this
  resembles the engine and wings of the James Beckett invention
  I heard so much about. But I didn't know it was far enough
  ahead yet to be in use. A pity the inventor was killed. He
  might have come in handy.

  "Well, they put those words in their pipes and smoked them--knowing,
  of course, that I was very much alive and almost
  within a stone's throw.

  "I had always pretended not to understand German: thought
  ignorance of the language might serve my plans some day or
  other. The chap they sent to fetch me dropped a few words to a
  doctor in my hearing. And so, though I wasn't told where I was
  being taken or why I was to go, I'd about caught on to the fact
  that I was supposed to have invented the plans for a new bombing
  biplane. That made me wonder if a friend was at work under
  the rose: and I was ready for anything when I got to the scene
  of the smash.

  "Fortunately, none of the Bosches on the spot could speak
  English fluently, and I appeared more of a fool at French than
  German. Herter--entirely trusted by his German pals--was
  told off to talk English with me; and a flash of his eye said, _here_
  was the friend! It was only a flash, and I couldn't be sure, but
  it put me on the _qui vive_. I noticed that in asking me the
  question he was told to ask, he emphasized certain words which
  needed no emphasis, and spoke them slowly, with a look that
  made me determine to fix each one in my mind. This I did, and
  putting them together when I got the chance, I made out, 'I
  want to get you home. Say you invented this model, and could
  put the thing in working trim.'

  "That was a big order! If I said it and could keep my word,
  would it be a patriotic job to present the enemy with a
  perfectly good machine, of a new make, in the place of a wreck they
  didn't understand? This was my first thought. But the
  second reminded me of a sentence I'd constructed with some of
  the emphasized words; '_I want to get you home_.' How did he
  expect to get me home--if not by air?

  "With that I caught a glimpse of the plan, as one sometimes
  catches sight of the earth through a break in massed
  clouds when flying. If the man meant to help me, I would help
  him. If he turned out a fraud, the Germans shouldn't profit
  by his treachery I'd stop that game at the last moment, if I died
  for it!

  "You will know nothing about the new and curious bombing
  biplane of super-speed invented by Leroy Harman of Galbraith,
  Texas. But Father knows as much as any one not an expert in
  aeronautics can know. When the Government wouldn't believe
  in Harman, Father financed him by my advice. I left home for
  France before the trial machine that was to convince officialdom
  had come into being; and I didn't even know whether it had
  made good. But the minute I saw what lay on the ground,
  surrounded by a ring of Germans, I said to myself; 'Good old
  Leroy!'

  "I'd seen so much of his plans that they remained printed on
  my brain, and I could--if I would--set that biplane on its wings
  again almost as easily as if I _had_ invented it.

  "Odd that the Bosches and I both trusted Herter, seeing he
  must be false to one side or other! But he's that sort of man.
  And I always take a tip from my own instinct before listening to
  my reason. Maybe that's why I didn't do badly in my brief
  career as a flier. Anyhow, I played up to Herter; and I got the
  job of superintending the reconstruction of poor Harman's
  damaged machine. It was a lovely job for a prisoner, though
  they watched me as a German cat would watch an Allied mouse.
  Herter was nearly always on the spot, however, for he'd made
  himself responsible for me. Also, he'd offered to pump me about
  what was best in the air world on my side of the water: how
  many aeroplanes of different sorts America could turn out in
  six months, etc. We contrived a cypher on diagrams I made.
  It was a clever one, but the credit was Herter's.

  "The Bosches were waiting impatiently for my work to be
  done, in order to try out the machine, and if satisfactory, spawn
  a brood of their own on the same model. I was equally impatient.
  I hoped to fly off with the biplane before they had time
  to copy it!

  "A wounded Ace of theirs, Anton Hupfer, was for ever hanging
  round. He was to take up the 'plane when it was ready.
  But Herter industriously chummed with him, and not for nothing.
  To Herter was due the 'discovery' of the inventor;
  and as he boasted experience in flying, he asked the privilege
  of being Hupfer's companion on the trial trip.

  "The success of this trip would depend even more on the
  machine's worth as a bomber than on her speed and climbing
  qualities. It was, therefore, to be undertaken at night, with a
  full complement of real bombs to drop upon headquarters at
  Compiègne. Herter had suggested this. Daylight wouldn't
  have suited for a start.

  "An hour before the appointed time he dashed in upon Hupfer
  to confide that a sudden suspicion concerning me was troubling
  him. He had noticed a queer expression on my face as I gave
  the engine a last look over! If I had done some obscure damage
  to this so new type of machine, the mechanics might not detect
  its nature. Herter didn't wish to harm me, if his suspicion
  was unfounded, he explained, but he proposed a drastic proof
  of my good faith. I was to be hauled out of bed, and hurried
  without warning to look at the biplane in her hangar. The
  mechanics were to be sent outside, there to wait for a signal to
  open the doors: this to avoid gossip if I was honest after all.
  Hupfer was to spring it on me that he'd decided to take me up
  instead of Herter. My face was to be watched as this news was
  flung at me. If I showed the slightest trace of uneasiness, it
  would be a sign that I had played a trick and feared to fall its
  victim. In that case the 'third degree' was to be applied until I
  owned up, and could be haled away for punishment.

  "There was just time to carry out this programme, and
  Hupfer fell for it. Herter had put me wise beforehand, and
  I knew what to expect. His real plan was to stand behind
  Hupfer, the Bosch Ace, and bash him on the head with a
  spanner, while his (Hupfer's) whole attention was fixed on
  me. We would then undress the fellow. I would take his
  clothes, and we'd put him into mine. Hupfer's body (stunned,
  not dead, we hoped) we would lay behind a pile of petrol tins. I
  acting as pilot, would trust to my disguise and the darkness of
  night not to be spotted when the two mechanics threw open the
  hangar doors.

  "Everything happened as we'd arranged, without a hitch--again,
  all credit to Herter! When we'd hidden the limp Ace,
  trussed up in my prison rig, Herter yelled to the waiting men, in a
  good imitation of Hupfer's voice. We ran smoothly out of the
  hangar, and were given a fine send off. How soon the Bosches
  found out how they'd been spoofed, I don't know. It couldn't
  have been long though, as my prison guard was in attendance.
  The great thing was, we went up in grand style. Otherwise--but
  we needn't now think of the 'otherwise'!

  "Our next danger lay in taking the wrong direction, getting
  farther back in Boschland instead of over the frontier. I kept
  my wits, fortunately, so that turned out all right. Still, there
  remained the chance of being shot down by the French, and
  blown with our own bombs into kingdom come. But, by good
  luck it was a clear night. No excuse for getting lost! And
  when I was sure we were well over the French lines, I planed
  down to alight in a field.

  "The alert was out for us, of course, and a fierce barrage put
  up, but I flew high till I was ready for a dive. We'd hardly landed,
  when the _poilus_ swarmed like bees, but that was what we
  wanted. You must imagine the scene that followed, till I
  can tell you by word of mouth!

  "I shall have made my report, and have been given leave
  to start for a visit to my family by to-morrow I hope.

    "Yours till the end,

               "JIM."

"Yours till the end!" Rather a smart, cynical way of winding up those
"exhibition pages" was it not, Padre? The secret translation of that
signature is: "Yours, you brute, till I can get rid of you with least
damage to my parents' susceptibilities!"

I shall obey, and wait for the interview. It's like waiting to be shot
at dawn!



CHAPTER XXXII


I persuaded Brian to tell Father Beckett. I wasn't worthy. But the dear
old man came straight to me, transfigured, to make me go with him to his
wife, even before he had finished reading the letter.

"You must come," he said--and when Father Beckett says "must," in a
certain tone, one does. It's then that the resemblance, more in
expression than feature, between him and his son shines out like a
light. "It will save mother the trouble of asking for you," he went on,
dragging me joyously with him, his arm round my waist. "She'd do that,
first thing, sure! Why, do you suppose we forget Jim's as much to you as
to us? Haven't you shown us that, every day since we met?"

What answer could I give? I gave none.

Mother Beckett had been lying down for the afternoon nap which by my
orders she takes every day. She'd just waked, and was sitting up on the
lounge, when her husband softly opened the door to peep in. The only
light was firelight, leaping in an open grate.

"Come in, come in!" she greeted us in her silver tinkle of a voice. "Oh,
you didn't disturb me. I was awake. I thought I'd ring for tea. But I
didn't after all. I'd had such a beautiful dream, I hated to come out of
it."

"I bet it was a dream about Jim!" said Father Beckett. He drew me into
the room, and the little lady pulled me down beside her on the wide,
cushiony lounge. Her husband's special arm-chair was close by, but he
didn't subside into it as usual at this cosy hour of the afternoon.
Instead, he knelt stiffly down on one knee, and took the tiny, ringed
hand held out to him. "You wouldn't think a dream beautiful, unless Jim
was in it!"

"Yes I would, if _you_ were in it, dear," she reproached him. "Or Molly.
But Jim was in this dream. I saw him as plainly as I see you both. He
walked in at the door, the way he used to do at home, saying: 'Hello,
Mother, I've been looking for you everywhere!' You know, Father how you
and Jimmy used to feel injured if you called me and I couldn't be found
in a minute. In this dream though, we didn't seem to be back home. I
wasn't sure where we were: only--I was sure----" She stopped, with a
catch in her voice. But Father Beckett took up the sentence where she
let it drop. "Sure of Jim?"

"Yes. He was so real!"

"Well then, Mother darling, I guess the dream ought not to have been
back home, but here, in this very house. For here's where Jim will
come."

"Oh, I do feel that!" she agreed, trying to "camouflage" a tear with a
smile. "Jim's with me all the time."

"Not yet," said Father Beckett, with a stolid gentleness. "Not yet. Not
the real Jim. But he'll come."

"You mean, when Molly and I've finished putting out all his treasures in
the den, just as he'd like to see them?"

"He might come before you get the den ready. He might come--any day
now--even to-morrow." The gnarled brown hand smoothed the small,
shrivelled white one with nervous strokes and passes.

"Father!" she sat up suddenly, straight and rigid among her cushions.
"You've heard--you're trying to break something to me. Tell me right
out. Jim's alive!"

She snatched her hand free, and bending forward, flung both arms round
the old man's neck before he could answer. I sprang up to give them
room. I thought they had forgotten me. But no. Out came Father Beckett's
big hand to snatch my dress.

"This child got the news--a letter," he explained. "The boy was afraid
of the shock for us. He thought she----"

"A shock of joy--why, _that_ gives life--not death!" sobbed and laughed
Mother Beckett. "But it was right to let Molly know first. She's more to
him than we are now. Oh, Father--Father--our Jim's alive--_alive_! I
think in my soul I knew it all the time. I never felt he was gone. He
must have sent me thoughts. Dear ones, I want to pray. I want to thank
God--now, this instant, before I hear more--before I read the letter. We
three together--on our knees!"

Padre, when I was on my knees, with the thin little arm of Jim's mother
thrilling my shoulder, my face hidden in the cushions, I could only say:
"God, forgive!" and echo the thanksgiving of those two loving hearts. I
didn't pray not to be punished. I almost want to be punished--since
Brian is safe, and my punishment can't spoil his future.

       *       *       *       *       *

The patriotic Becketts have given up the big gray car, now they've
settled down at the Château d'Andelle: and our one-legged
soldier-chauffeur has departed, to conduct a military motor. For the
moment there's only the O'Farrell Red Cross taxi, not yet gone about its
legitimate business; so it was Julian who took Father Beckett to the
far-off railway station, to meet Jim Beckett the next day but
one--Julian--of all people on earth!

Father Beckett begged me to be of the party, and Mother Beckett--too
frail still for so long and cold a drive--piled up her persuasions. But
I was firm. I didn't like going to meet trains, I said. It was prosaic.
I was allowed to stop at home, therefore, with my dear little lady: the
last time, I told myself, that she would ever love and "mother" me. Once
Jim and I had settled our affairs in that "interview" I was ordered to
wait for, I should be the black sheep, turned out of the fold.

There was just one reason why I'd have liked to be in the car to bring
Jim back from the station. Knowing Julian-Puck, I was convinced that
despite Father Beckett's presence he'd contrive a chance to thrust some
entering wedge of mischief into Jim Beckett's head. Not that it was
needed! If he'd read the first pages of Jim's letter--the secret
pages--he would have known that. But the night the great news came to
the château, he whispered into my ear: "You seem to be taking things
easy. Sure you won't change your mind and bolt with me?--or do you count
on your invincible charm, "_über alles_"?"

I didn't even answer. I merely looked. Perhaps he took it for a defiant
look, though Heaven knows it wasn't. I was past defiance. In any case,
such as the look was, it shut him up. And after that the brooding storm
behind his eyes made me wonder (when I'd time to think of it) what
_coup_ he was meditating. There would never be a chance like the chance
at the station before Jim had met me. Julian was sharp enough, dramatic
enough to see that. I pictured him somehow corralling Jim for an
instant, while Father Beckett carried on a conversation of signs with a
worried _porteuse_. Julian would be able to do in an instant as much
damage to a character as most men could do in an hour!

A little added disgust for me on Jim's part, however, what could it
matter? I tried to argue. When a thing is already black, can it be
painted blacker?

Still, I was foolish enough to wish that our good old one-legged soldier
might have stayed to bring Jim home.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mother Beckett would have compelled me to be with her at the open door
to meet "our darling boy," but that I could not bear. It would be as
trying for him as for me, and I had to spare him the ordeal at any
price.

"Don't make me do that," I begged, with real tears in my voice. "I--I've
set my heart on seeing Jim for the first time alone. He wants it too--I
know he does."

She gazed at me for some long seconds, with the clear blue eyes which
seemed--though only seemed!--to read my soul. In reality she saw quite
another soul than mine. The darling crystallizes to radiant beauty all
souls of those she loves, as objects are crystallized by frost, or by
sparkling salt in a salt mine.

"Well, you must have a good and loving reason, I'm sure. And probably
your love has taught you to know better than I can, what Jim would want
you to do," she said. "It shall be just as you wish, dear. Only you must
grant one little favour in return to please me. You are to wait for Jim
in the _den_. When his Father and I have hugged and kissed him a few
times, and made certain he's not one of my dreams, we'll lead him up to
that door, and leave him outside. It shall be my hand that shuts the
door when he's gone in. And I shan't tell him one word about the den. It
shall be a surprise. But he won't notice a thing until--until you and he
have been together for a while, I guess--not even the hobby-horse! He'll
see nothing except you, Molly--_you_!"

I implored--I argued--in vain. The making of the den had been her
inspiration. It was monstrous that I should have to greet her son there.
The pleasure of the den-surprise would be for ever spoilt for Jim. But I
couldn't explain that to his mother. I had to yield at last, tongue-tied
and miserable beyond words.

I haven't described the den to you, Padre. I will do it now, in the
pause, the hush, before the storm.

It's a quaint room, with a little round tower in each of the two front
corners. One of these Mother Beckett has turned into a refuge for
broken-down toys, all Jim's early favourites, which he'd never let her
throw away: the famous spotted hobby-horse starred in the centre of the
stage: oh, but a noble, red-nostrilled beast, whose eternal prance has
something of the endless dignity of the Laocoön! The second tower is a
miniature library, whose shelves are crowded with the pet books of Jim's
boyhood--queer books, some of them, for a child to choose: "Byron,"
"Letters of Pliny," Plutarch's "Lives," Gibbon's "Rome," "Morte
d'Arthur," Maeterlinck's "Life of the Bee," Kingsland's "Scientific
Idealism," with several quite learned volumes of astronomy and geology,
side by side with Gulliver and all kinds of travel and story-books
which we have most of us adored. It was I who had the task of sorting
and arranging this motley collection, and I can hardly tell you, Padre,
how I loved doing it!

The room isn't large, so the ten or twelve pictures on the walls are not
lost in a desert of bare spaces. These pictures, the toys, the books,
tennis-rackets, golf-clubs and two lovely old Persian prayer-rugs are
all of Jim's treasures brought to France. He must have been a boy of
individual, independent nature, for it seems he disliked the idea of
killing things for pleasure, and was never a hunter or even a fisherman.
Consequently, there are no monster fish under glass, or rare birds or
butterflies, or stuffed animals. He must have loved wild creatures
though, for five of the beloved pictures are masterly oil-paintings by
well-known artists, of lions and tigers and stags, _chez eux_, happy and
at home, not being hunted, or standing agonized at bay. Oh, getting this
den in order has taught me more about the real Jim than a girl can learn
about a man in ordinary acquaintance in a year! But then I had a
wonderful foundation to begin building upon: that day in the
rose-arbour--the red-rose day of my life.

Well, when the car was expected back from the station, bringing Jim home
to his mother, I went by her command to the den. Even that was better
than having to meet him in the presence of those two dear souls who
trusted and loved me only second to him. And yet everything in the den
which had meant something in Jim's life, seemed to cry out at me, as I
shut the door and stood alone with them--and my pounding heart--to wait.

I didn't know how to make the time pass. I was too restless to sit
down. I wouldn't let myself look out of the window to see the car come
along the drive. I dared not walk up and down like the caged thing I
was, lest the floor should creak, for the tower-room--the den--is over
the entrance-hall. I felt like a hunted animal--I, the one creature to
whom Jim Beckett deliberately meant to be cruel! I, in this room which
was a tribute to his kindness of heart, his faithfulness, his loyalty!
But why should it not be so? I had no right to call upon these qualities
of his.

The horn of the little Red Cross taxi! It must be turning in at the
gate. How well I knew its gay, conceited tootle! An eighth of a mile,
and the car would reach the house. Even the poor worn-out taxi couldn't
be five minutes doing that!...

If I ran to the window between the towers I could see! No, I wouldn't; I
_couldn't_. I should scream--or faint--or do something else idiotic, if
I saw Jim Beckett getting out of the car, and his mother flying to meet
him. I had never felt like this in my whole life--not in any suspense,
not in any danger.

Instinctively I walked as far from the window as I could. I sought
sanctuary under Brian's cathedral picture--the picture that had
introduced me to Jim. Yes, sanctuary I sought, for in that room my
brother's work was my one excuse to intrude!

By this time the car must have arrived. The front door must have flown
open in welcome. Now Mother Beckett must be crying tears of joy in the
arms of her son, Father Beckett gazing at the blessed sight, speechless
with ecstasy!

What should I be doing at this moment, if I had yielded to their wish
and stopped downstairs with them? Just how far would Jim have gone in
keeping up the tragic farce? Would he have kissed me? Would he----?

The vision was so blazing bright that I covered my eyes to shut it out.
Not that I hated it. Oh no, I loved it too well!

So, for a while, I stood, my hands pressed over my eyes, my ears
strained to catch distant sounds--yet wishing not to hear. Suddenly,
close by, there came the click of a latch. My hands dropped like broken
clock weights. I opened my eyes. Jim Beckett was in the room, and the
door was shut.



CHAPTER XXXIII


I stared, fascinated. Here was Jim-of-the-rose-arbour, and a new
Jim-of-the-war--a browner, thinner, sterner Jim, a Jim that looked at me
with a look I could not read. It may have been cruel, but it was not
cold, and it pierced like a hot sword-blade through my flesh into my
soul.

"_You_--after all!" he said. The remembered voice I had so often heard
in dreams, struck on my nerves like a hand on the strings of a harp. I
felt the vibration thrill through me.

"Yes--it's I." The answer came in a whisper from dry lips. "I'm sorry!"

"What are you sorry for? Because you are you?"

"It wouldn't be--_quite_ so horrible if--I'd been a stranger."

"You think not?"

"I--it seems as if I took advantage of--oh, that's just what I did! I'm
not asking you to forgive me----"

"It isn't so much a question of forgiving, as putting things straight.
We _must_ put them straight----"

"I'll do whatever you wish," I promised. "Only--let me go soon."

"Are you afraid of me?" There was sharpness in his tone.

"Not afraid. I am--utterly humiliated."

"Why did you do this--thing? Let's have that out first."

"The thought came into my head when I was at my wits' end--for my
brother. Not that that's an excuse!"

"I'm not worrying about excuses. It's explanations I need, I had my own
theories--thinking it all over--and wondering--whether it would be you
or a stranger I should find. The name was the one thing I had to go on:
'O'Malley' and its likeness to Ommalee. That was the way I heard your
name pronounced, you know, when we met. I was coming back to see you and
make sure. But I was laid up in Paris with an attack of typhoid. Perhaps
Mother told you?"

"Yes. But please, let us not talk of that! There isn't much time. You'll
have to go back to Fath--to Mr. and Mrs. Beckett. Tell me quickly what
you want me to do."

"I was forgetting for a minute. You look very pale, Miss O'Malley.
Hadn't you better sit down?"

"No, thank you. I like standing--where I am."

"Ah!" he gave a sudden exclamation. At last he had seen Brian's sketch.
He had not noticed it, or any of the "den treasures," before. He had
looked only at me.

"Why--it's _the_ picture! And--Gee!"--his eyes travelled round the
room--"all my dear old things! What a mother I've got!" He gazed about
during a full minute of silence, then turned abruptly back to me. "You
love her--don't you?"

"Who could help loving her?"

"And the dear old Governor--you're fond of him?"

"I should be even worse than I am, if I didn't adore them both. They
have been--angels to me and my brother."

"I'm told that you and he have been something of the same sort to them."

"Oh, they would speak kindly of us, of course!--They're so noble,
themselves, they judge----"

"It was another person who told me the particular thing I'm thinking of
now."

"Another person? Doctor Paul, I suppose."

"You must guess again, Miss O'Malley."

"I can't think of any one else who would----"

"What about your friend, Mr. O'Farrell?"

"He's not my friend!" I cried. "Oh, I _knew_ he'd somehow contrive a
chance to talk to you alone, about me!"

"He certainly did. And what he said impressed me a good deal."

"Most likely it's untrue."

"_Too_ likely! I'm very anxious to find out from headquarters if it's
true or not."

"If you ask me, I'll answer honestly. I can't and won't lie to you."

"I'll take you at your word and ask you--in a minute. You may be angry
when I do. But--it will save time. It'll clear up all my difficulties at
one fell swoop."

"Why wait a minute, then?" I ventured, with faint bitterness, because
_his_ "difficulties" seemed so small compared with mine. He was in the
right in everything. This was his home. The dear Becketts were his
people. All the world was his.

"I wait a minute, because something has to be told you before I can ask
you to answer any more questions. When I didn't know who or what
my--er--official fiancée would turn out to be, this was the plan I made,
to save my parents' feelings--and yours. I thought that, when we'd had
the interview I asked you to give me, we could manage to quarrel, or
discover that we didn't like each other as well as before. We could
break off our engagement, and Father and Mother need never know--how it
began."

"A very generous idea of yours!" I cried, the blood so hot in my cheeks
that it forced tears to my eyes. "It had occurred to me, too, that for
_their_ sakes we might manage that way. Thank you, Mr. Beckett, for
sparing me the pain--I deserve. I couldn't have dared hope for such a
happy solution----"

"Couldn't you?"

"No. I----"

"Well, I'm hoping for an even happier one--a lot happier. But of course
it depends on what you say to Mr. O'Farrell's--accusation."

"He--made an accusation?"

"Listen, and tell me what you'd call it. He said you told him at Amiens,
when he asked you to marry him, that--_you loved me_."

"Oh!"

"Is it true?"

"Yes, I did tell him that----"

"I mean, is it true that you've loved me?"

"Mr. Beckett, after all, you are cruel! You're punishing me very hard."

"I don't wish to 'punish you hard'--or at all. Why am I 'cruel,' simply
asking if it's true that you've loved me? Of course, when Mother told
you of my fever, and what I'd said of this cathedral picture, she told
you that I was dead in love with 'the Girl,' as I called you, and just
about crazy because I'd lost her. Why shouldn't you have loved me a
little bit--say, the hundredth part as much as I loved you? I'm not a
monster, am I? And we both had exactly the same length of time to fall
in love--whole hours on end. Cruel or not cruel, I've got to know. Was
it the truth you told the O'Farrell man?"

I could not speak. I didn't try to speak. I looked up at him. It must
have been some such look as the Princess gave St. George when he
appeared at the last minute, to rescue her from the dragon. The tears
I'd been holding back splashed over my cheeks. Jim gave a low cry of
pity--or love (it sounded like love) as he saw them; and the next thing,
he was kissing them away. I was in his arms so closely held that my
breath was crushed out of my lungs. I wanted to sob. But how can you sob
without breath? I could only let him kiss me on cheeks, and eyes, and
mouth, and kiss him back again, with eager haste, lest I should wake up
to find he had loved me for a fleeting instant, in a divine dream.

When he let me breathe for a second, I gasped that, of course, it
_couldn't_ be true, this wonderful thing that was happening?

"I've dreamed of you--a hundred times," I stammered. "Waking
dreams--sleeping dreams. They've seemed as real--almost as real--as
this."

"Did I kiss you like this, in the dreams?"

"Sometimes. But not in the realest ones. It never seemed real that you
could care, in spite of all--that you'd forgive me, if you should come
back----"

"Did you want me to come?"

"Oh, 'want' isn't the word to express it!"

"Even though you dreaded--being found out!"

"That didn't count, against having you alive, and knowing you were in
the world--if only for your parents' sake. I wanted them to be happy,
more than I wanted anything for myself except Brian's good. I had you
for my own, in my dreams, while you were dead, and I expected to lose
you if you were alive. But----"

"You really expected that?"

"Oh, indeed, yes!"

"Although you knew from Mother how I'd loved you, and searched for you?"

"You thought I was _good_--then."

"I think so now."

"But you can't! You know what a wicked, wicked wretch I was! Why, when
you came into this room and looked at me, I _saw_ how you felt! And your
letter----"

"Don't you understand, I was testing you? If you hadn't cared for me,
what you did might have been--(only 'might', mind you, for what man can
judge a girl's heart?) what you did to my people _might_ have been cruel
and calculating. I had to find out the truth of things, before letting
myself go. The letter was written to let a stranger see--if you turned
out to be a stranger--what to expect. But O'Farrell made me sure in a
minute, that the girl here must be _my_ Girl. After that, I'd only to
see you--to ask if he told the truth--to watch your face--your precious,
beautiful face! I thought of it and pictured it. But I never thought of
those tears! Forgive me, my darling, for making them come. If you'll let
me love you all your life, they shall be the last I'll ever cause."

I laughed, and cried a little more, at the same time. "What a word from
you to me--'Forgive'!"

"Well, it's more suitable than from you to me, because there's nothing
you could do that I wouldn't forgive before you did it, or even be sure
it was just the one right thing to do. My Girl--my lost, found love--do
you suppose it was of your own accord you came to my people and said you
belonged to me? No. It was the Great Power that's in us all, which made
you do what you did--the Power they call Providence. You understand now
what I meant, when I said that one question from me and an answer from
you, would smooth away all my difficulties at once? Bless that O'Farrell
fellow!"

I'd never thought to bless Julian O'Farrell, but now I willingly agreed.
Sometimes, dimly, I had divined latent goodness in him, as one divines
vague, lovely shapes floating under dark depths of water. And he had
said once that love for me was bringing out qualities he hadn't credited
himself with possessing. I had taken that as one of Puck's pleasantries!
But I knew the true inwardness of him now, as I had learned to know the
true inwardness of Dierdre. Julian had had his chance to hurt me with
his rival. He had used it instead to do me good. He had laughed the
other day, "Well, I'll always be _something_ to you anyhow, if only a
brother-in-law." But now, he would be more than that, even if he went
out of my life, and I never saw him again.

"Bless O'Farrell. Bless Providence. Bless you. Bless me. Bless
everybody and everything!" Jim was going on, joyfully exploding, still
clasping me in his arms; for we clung as if to let each other go might
be to lose one another forever! "How happy Mother dear--and the good old
Governor are going to be! They absolutely adore you!"

"Did they say so?"

"They did. And almost hustled me into this room to meet you. I'm glad
the best thing in my life has come to me here, among all the odds and
ends of my childhood and youth, that I call my treasures! Of course
Mother planned it specially that you should welcome me here."

"Yes, the darling! But it seemed to me a terrible plan. I thought you'd
hate me so, I'd spoil the surprise of the room for you."

Those words were uttered with the last breath he let me draw for some
time. But oh, Padre, if it had been my last on earth, how well worth
while it would have been to live just till that minute, and no longer! I
am _so_ happy! I don't know how I am going to deserve this forgiveness,
this deliverance, this joy!

"Even if I'd found a strange girl looking after my parents and saving
their lives and winning their love, it would have been pretty difficult
to chuck her," Jim was laughing. "You, on this side of the door, waiting
to face the ogre Me, couldn't have felt much worse than I felt on my
side, not knowing what I should see--or do. Darling, one more kiss for
my people's sake, one more for myself, and then I must take you to them.
It's not fair to keep them waiting any longer. But no--first I must put
a ring on the Girl's finger--as I hoped to do long ago. You
remember--the ring of my bet, that almost made me lose you? I told you
about it, didn't I, on our day together, when I thought I should come
back in two weeks?"

"You told me you hoped not to lose a thing you wanted. You didn't say it
was a ring. But at Royalieu--the newspaper correspondents' château near
Compiègne--we came across a friend of yours, the one you made the bet
with----"

"Jack Curtis!"

"Yes. He told me about the ring. And he was sure you were alive."

"Good old Jack! Well, now I'm going to slip that magic ring on your
darling finger--the 'engaged' finger."

"But where is it?"

"The finger? Just now on the back of my neck, which it's making
throb--like a star!... Oh, the _ring_? That's in the hobby-horse which I
see over there, as large as life. At least, it's in him unless, unlike a
leopard, he's changed his spots."

Jim wouldn't let me go, but drew me with him, our arms interlaced, to
the tower end of the room where the hobby-horse he had once rescued from
fire endlessly pranced. "This used to be my bank, when I was a little
chap," he said. "Like a magpie, I always hid the things I valued most in
a hole I made under the third smudge to the left, on Spot Cash's breast.
'Spot Cash' is the old boy's name, you know! When I won the bet and took
the ring home, I had a fancy to keep it in this hidie hole, for luck,
till I could find the Girl. Mother knew. She was with me at the time.
But I was half ashamed of myself for my childishness, and asked her not
to tell--not even the Governor. I shouldn't wonder if that was why it
occurred to her to pack up my treasures for France. Maybe she had a
prophetic soul, and thought, if I found the Girl, I should want to lay
my hand on the ring. Here it is, safe and sound."

As he spoke, he had somehow contrived to extract a particularly black
smudge from the region of the hobby-horse's heart. It came out with a
block of wood underneath, and left a gap which gave Spot Cash the effect
of having suffered an operation. At the back of the cavity a second
hole, leading downward, had been burrowed in the softish wood; and in
this reposed a screwed-up wad of tissue paper. Jim hooked the tiny
packet out with a finger, opened the paper as casually as though it
enclosed a pebble, and brought to the light (which found and flashed to
the depths of a large blue diamond) a quaintly fashioned ring of
greenish gold.

"This belonged to the most beautiful woman of a day that's past," Jim
said. "Now, it's for the most beautiful woman of a better day and a
still grander to-morrow. May I wish it on your finger--with the greatest
wish in the world?"

I gave him my hand--for the ring, and for all time.

One more moment in his arms, and he opened the door, to take "his Girl"
to Father and Mother Beckett.

Somewhere in the distance Julian O'Farrell was singing, as he had sung
on the first night we met, Mario's heartbreaking song in "La Tosca"--the
song on the roof, at dawn. Always in remembering Julian I must remember
Mario's love and sacrifice! I knew that he meant it should be so with
me.

The voice was the voice of love itself, such love as mine for Jim, as
Jim's for me, which can never die. It made me sad and happy at the same
time. But, as Jim and I paused at the door to listen, hand in hand, the
music changed. Julian began to sing something new and strangely
beautiful--a song he has composed, and dedicated to Brian. I was sad no
longer, for this is a song of courage and triumph. He calls it:
"Everyman's Land."

THE END


THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK





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