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Title: The Girl Philippa
Author: Chambers, Robert W. (Robert William)
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 "The Girl Philippa" ***

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[Illustration: "’Anywhere alone with you in the world would be a
sufficient purpose in life for me’"]



                                _*The*_*
                             GIRL PHILIPPA*


                                   BY

                          *ROBERT W. CHAMBERS*



                             ILLUSTRATED BY
                              FRANK CRAIG



                        D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
                            NEW YORK LONDON
                                  1919



                          COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY
                           ROBERT W. CHAMBERS

           1915, 1916, BY THE INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE COMPANY



                Printed in the United States of America



                               TO MY SON
                                 BOBBY



                            *BOB AT SIXTEEN*

      You can tell a better tale than I;
    Trap and wing you shoot a better score;
      You can cast a surer, lighter fly,
    Catch as can, you’d put me on the floor;
      Should I hoist a sail beneath the sky
    Yours the race, away and back to shore.

      You have mastered all my woodland lore,
    In the saddle you can give me spades;
      You have slain your first and mighty boar
    In the classic Croyden Forest shades;
      You have heard the Northern rivers roar,
    You have seen the Southern Everglades.

      You have creeled your Highland yellow trout
    Where the Scottish moorlands call us back;
      You have left me puzzled and in doubt
    Over tropic specimens I lack—
      Sphinxes that I know not, huge and stout;
    Butterflies, un-named, in blue and black.

      Well, we’ve had a jolly run, my son,
    Through a sunny world has lain our trail
      Trodden side by side with rod and gun
    Under azure skies where white clouds sail;
      —Send our journey is not nearly done!
    Send the light has not begun to fail.

                                _Envoi_

      Yet, that day you tread the trail alone,
    With no slower comrade to escort
      On the path of spring with blossoms sown,
    You may deem me not so bad a sort,
      Smile and think, as one who would condone,
    "He was sure a perfectly good sport."

R. W. C.
Broadalbin; 1916.



                           *DOG-DAYS (1914)*

      The mad dog of Europe
    Yelped in the dog-days’ heat;
      To his sick legs he staggered up
    Swaying on twitching feet;
      Snarled when he saw the offered cup,
    And started down the street.

      All hell has set his brain aflame;
    All Europe shrieks with dread;
      All mothers call on Mary’s name,
    Praying by shrine and bed,
      "For Jesus’ sake!"—Yet all the same
    Each sees her son lie dead.

      "On Guard!" the Western bugles blow;
    "Boom!" from the Western main;
      The Brabant flail has struck its blow;
    The mad dog howls with pain
      But lurches on, uncertain, slow,
    Growling amid his slain.

      They beat and kick his dusty hide,
    He bleeds from every vein;
      On his red trail the Cossacks ride
    Across the reeking plain
      While gun-shots rip his bloody sides
    From Courland to Champagne.

      Under the weary moons and suns
    With phantom eyes aglow,
      Dog-trotting still the spectre runs
    Yelping at every blow
      ’Til through its ribs the flashing guns
    And stars begin to show.

      The moon shines through its riven wrack;
    On the bleached skull the suns
      Have baked the crusted blood all black,
    But still the spectre runs,
      Jogging along its hell-ward track
    Lined with the tombs of Huns.

      Back to the grave from whence it came
    To foul the world with red;
      Back to its bed of ancient shame
    In the Hunnish tomb it fled
      Where God’s own name is but a name
    And souls that lived lie dead.



                          *THE GIRL PHILIPPA*


                               *FOREWORD*


On the twenty-eighth of June, 1914, the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir
to the Austrian throne, was murdered by a Serb in Serajevo, the capital
of Bosnia.  The murder was the most momentous crime ever committed in
the world, for it altered the geography and the political and social
history of that planet, and changed the entire face of the civilized and
uncivilized globe.  Generations unborn were to feel the consequences of
that murder.

Incidentally, it vitally affected the life and career of the girl
Philippa.

Before the press of the United States received the news, Sir Cecil
Spring-Rice, the British Ambassador, had been notified of the tragedy,
and a few minutes later he was in secret conference with the President.

The British Ambassador knew what he wanted, which was more than the
administration knew, and at this hasty and secret conference he bluntly
informed the President that, in his opinion, war before midsummer had
now become inevitable; that there was every probability of England being
drawn into a world-wide conflict; and that, therefore, an immediate
decision was necessary concerning certain pending negotiations.

The truth of this became apparent to the President. The State
Department’s ominous information concerning a certain Asiatic Empire,
the amazing knowledge in regard to the secret military and political
activities of Germany in the United States, the crass stupidity of a
Congress which was no better than an uneducated nation deserved, the
intellectual tatterdemalions in whose care certain vitally important
departments had been confided—a momentary vision of what all this might
signify flickered fitfully in the presidential brain.

And, before Sir Cecil left, it was understood that certain secret
negotiations should be immediately resumed and concluded as soon as
possible—among other matters the question of the Harkness shell.

About the middle of July the two governments had arrived at an
understanding concerning the Harkness shell.  The basis of this
transaction involved the following principles, proposed and mutually
accepted:

1st.  The Government of the United States agreed to disclose to the
British Government, and to no other government, the secret of the
Harkness shell, known to ordnance experts as "the candle shell."

2nd.  The British Government agreed to disclose to the United States
Government, and to no other government, the secrets of its new submarine
seaplane, known as "the flying fish," the inventor of which was one
Pillsbury, a Yankee, who had offered it in vain to his own country
before selling it to England.

3rd.  Both Governments solemnly engaged not to employ either of these
devices against each other in the event of war.

4th.  The British Government further pledged itself to restrain from
violence a certain warlike and Asiatic nation until the Government of
the United States could discover some method of placating that nation.

But other and even more important negotiations, based upon the principle
that the United States should insure its people and its wealth by
maintaining an army and a navy commensurate with its population, its
importance, and its international obligations, fell through owing to
presidential indifference, congressional ignorance, the historic
imbecility of a political party, and the smug vanity of a vast and
half-educated nation, among whose employees were numbered several of the
most perfect demagogues that the purlieus of politics had ever
germinated.

This, then, was the condition of affairs in the United States when, on
the nineteenth of July, the British Ambassador was informed that through
the treachery of certain employees the plans and formula for the
Harkness shell had been abstracted.

But the British Embassy had learned of this catastrophe through certain
occult channels even before it was reported to the United States
Government; and five hours after the information had reached Sir Cecil
Spring-Rice, two young men stepped aboard the Antwerp liner _Zeeduyne_ a
few seconds before the gangway was pulled up.

With the first turn of the steamer’s screws the wheel of fate also began
to revolve, spinning out the web of destiny so swiftly that already its
meshes had fallen over an obscure little town thousands of miles
distant, and its net already held a victim so obscure that few except
the French Government had ever heard of the girl Philippa.

The two young men who had come aboard at the last moment were
nice-looking young men.  They carried tennis bats, among other frivolous
hand luggage, and it was rumored very quickly on board that they were
two celebrated New Zealand tennis champions on their way to the
international tournament at Ostend.

It was the Captain who first seemed interested in the rumor and who
appeared to know all about the famous New Zealand players, Halkett and
Gray.

And this was odd, because when Halkett and Gray came aboard their names
did not figure on the passenger list, no stateroom had been engaged for
them, and the Captain of the _Zeeduyne_ had never before laid eyes on
either of them.

But he may have heard of them, for that morning the British Embassy had
called him on the telephone, had talked for twenty minutes to him, and
had arranged for him to hold his steamer if necessary.  But it had been
necessary for the Captain to hold the _Zeeduyne_ for ten minutes only.

The voyage of the _Zeeduyne_ was calm, agreeable, and superficially
uneventful.  There was much dancing aboard.  Halkett and Gray danced
well.  They had come aboard knowing nobody; in a day or two they seemed
to have met everybody.  Which urbanity is not at all characteristic of
Englishmen.  New Zealanders, it seemed, were quite different.

The ocean being on its best behavior nearly everybody appeared
triumphantly on deck.  There were, however, several passengers who
maintained exclusiveness in their staterooms; and among these were two
German gentlemen who preferred the stateroom they shared in common.
However, they took the air sometimes, and always rather late at night.

Evidently they were commercial gentlemen, for they sent several wireless
messages to Cologne during the voyage, using a code of their own which
seemed to concern perfumes and cosmetics and, in particular, a toilet
soap known as Calypso soap.

In return they received several wireless messages, also apparently in
some commercial code, and all mentioning perfumes and Calypso soap.

And a copy of every code message which they dispatched or received was
sent to the Captain of the _Zeeduyne_, and that affable and
weather-reddened Belgian always handed these copies to the tennis
champions of New Zealand, who spent considerable time poring over them
in the only spot on the steamer which was absolutely safe from
intrusion—the Captain’s private quarters.

Then, in their turn, as the steamer drew nearer to the Belgian coast,
they sent a number of wireless messages in private code.  Some of these
messages were directed to the British Consul at Maastricht, some to the
British Ambassador at Brussels, some to private individuals in Antwerp.

But these details did not interfere with the young men’s social
activities on board, or with their popularity.  Wherever Halkett and
Gray walked, they walked surrounded by maidens and pursued by approving
glances of relatives and parents.

But the two German gentlemen who kept their cabin by day and prowled
sometimes by night were like Mr. Kipling’s cat; when they walked they
walked by their wild lone.  Only the chaste moon was supposed to notice
them.  But always either Halkett or Gray was watching them, sometimes
dressed in the jaunty uniform of a deck steward, or in the clothing of a
common sailor, or in the gorgeous raiment of a ship’s officer.  The two
Germans never noticed them as they walked in the dark by their wild
lone.

And always while one of the young men watched on deck, the other
ransacked the stateroom and luggage of the gentlemen from Germany—but
ransacked in vain.

As the _Zeeduyne_ steamed into the Scheldt, several thousand miles away,
in the city of Washington, the French Ambassador telegraphed in cipher
to his Government that the secret plans and formula for the Harkness
shell, which had been acquired by England from the United States
Government, had been stolen on the eve of delivery to the British
Ambassador; that French secret agents were to inspect the arrival of all
Dutch, Belgian, and German steamers; that all agents in the French
service resident or stationed near the north or northeastern frontier of
France were to watch the arrival of all strangers from Holland or
Belgium, and, if possible, follow and observe any individual who might
be likely to have been involved in such a robbery.

Immediately, from the Military Intelligence Department in Paris orders
were telegraphed and letters sent to thousands of individuals of every
description and station in life, to be on the alert.

Among others who received such letters was a denationalized individual
named Wildresse, who kept a cabaret in the little town of Ausone.

The cabaret was called the Café de Biribi.  Wildresse insisted that the
name had been his own choice.  But it was at the request of the
Government that his cabaret bore the ominous title as an ever-present
reminder to Wildresse that his personal liberty and the liberty of his
worthless son and heir depended on his good behavior and his alacrity in
furnishing the French Government with whatever information it demanded.

The letter sent to Monsieur Wildresse read as follows:

MONSIEUR:

Undescribed individuals carrying important document stolen from the
United States Government may appear in your vicinity.

Observe diligently, but with discretion, the arrival of any strangers at
your café.  If suspicions warrant, lay a complaint before local police
authorities.  Use every caution.  The fugitives probably are German, but
may be American.  Inform the girl Philippa of what is required. And
remember that Biribi is preferable to Noumea.

When Wildresse received this letter he went into the bedroom of the girl
Philippa, who was standing before her looking glass busily rouging her
cheeks and painting her lips.  She wore no corset, her immature figure
requiring none.

"If they come our way, Philippa," growled Wildresse, "play the baby—do
you hear?  Eyes wide and artless, virginal candor alternating with
indifference.  In other words, be yourself."

"That is not difficult," said the girl Philippa, powdering her nose.
"When I lose my innocence then it will mean real acting."

Wildresse glared at her out of his little black eyes.

"_When_ you lose it, eh?" he repeated.  "Well, when you do, I’ll break
your neck.  Do you understand that?"

The girl continued to powder her nose.

"Who would marry me?" she remarked indifferently. "Also, now it is too
late for me to become a religieuse like—"

"You’ll carry on the business!" he growled. "That’s what you’ll do—with
Jacques, when the Sbirs de Biribi let him loose.  As for marrying, you
can think it over when you are thirty.  You’ll have a dot by that time,
if the damned Government lets me alone. And a woman with a dot need not
worry about marriage."

The girl was now busy with her beautiful chestnut hair; Wildresse’s
pock-marked features softened.

"_Allons_," he said in his harsh voice, "lilies grow prettiest on
dunghills.  Also, you are like me—serious, not silly.  I have no fears.
Besides, you are where I have my eye on you."

"If I am what I am it is because I prefer it, not on account of your
eye," she said listlessly.

"Is that so!" he roared.  "All the same, continue to prefer virtue and
good conduct, and I’ll continue to use my two eyes, nom de Dieu!  And if
any strangers who look like Germans come into the café—any strangers at
all, no matter what they look like—keep your eyes on them, do you hear?"

"I hear," said the girl Philippa.

The web of fate had settled over her at last.


About that time the steamer _Zeeduyne_ was docking at Antwerp.

Two hours later two German gentlemen in a hurry registered at the Hôtel
St. Antoine in the Place Verte, and were informed that they were
expected immediately in room 23.

A page conducted them to the corridor and indicated the room; they
thanked him and sent him back for their luggage which he had, it seemed,
neglected to bring from the lobby.

Then both German gentlemen went to the door of room 23, knocked, and
were admitted; and the door was rather violently closed and locked.

The next instant there came a crash, a heavy fall, dull sounds of feet
scuffling behind the locked door, a series of jarring, creaking noises,
then silence.

A chambermaid came into the corridor to listen, but the silence was
profound, and presently she went away.

When the boy came back with the hand luggage and knocked at 23, Halkett
opened the door a little way and, tipping the lad with a five-franc
piece, bade him leave the luggage outside the door for the present.

Later, Gray cautiously opened the door and drew in the luggage.

Ten minutes later both young men came leisurely out of the room, locking
the door on the outside.  They each carried hand luggage.  Halkett
lighted a cigarette.

At the desk Gray requested that the gentlemen in No. 23 should not be
disturbed that night, as they were lying down and in need of repose.
Which was true.

Then both young men departed in a cab.  At the railroad station,
however, an unusually generous stranger offered Gray a motor cycle for
nothing.  So he strapped his bag to it, nodded a smiling adieu to
Halkett, and departed.

Halkett bought a ticket to Maastricht, Holland, which he had no idea of
using, and presently came out of the station and walked eastward rather
rapidly.  A man who also had bought a ticket for Maastricht rose from
his seat in the waiting room and walked stealthily after him, making a
signal to another man.

This second man immediately stepped into a station telephone booth and
called up room 23 at the Hôtel St. Antoine, where two German gentlemen,
badly battered, were now conferring with a third German gentleman who
had paid no attention to instructions from the hotel office but had gone
to room 23, knocked until out of patience, and had then summoned the
_maître d’hôtel_, who unlocked the door with a master-key.

Which operation revealed two Teutons flat on their backs, very carefully
tied up with rope and artistically gagged.

This unbattered gentleman now conversed over the telephone with the man
at the railroad station.

A few moments later he and the two battered ones left the hotel hastily
in a taxicab, joined the man at the railroad station, and drove rapidly
eastward.


And before forty-eight hours had elapsed, each one of these four men
operating in pairs, had attempted to kill the young man named Halkett.
Twice he got away.  The third time two of them succeeded in locating him
in the little town of Diekirch, a town which Halkett was becoming more
and more anxious to leave, as he finally began to realize what a
hornet’s nest he and his friend Gray had succeeded in stirring up.

And all the while the invisible net of destiny in which he now found
himself entangled was every minute enmeshing in its widening spread new
people whose fate was to be linked with his, and who had never even
heard of him.  Among them was the girl Philippa.



                               *PROLOGUE*


A narrow-gauge railroad track runs through the woods from Diekirch,
connecting the two main lines; and on the deserted wooden platform
beside this track stood Halkett, his suitcase in one hand, the other
hand in his side pocket, awaiting the shuttle train with an impatience
born of deepest anxiety.

The young man’s anxiety was presently justified, for, as he sauntered to
and fro, uneasily scanning the track and the unbroken woods around him,
always keeping his right hand in his coat pocket, two men crept out from
behind separate trees in the forest directly behind the platform, and he
turned around only in time to obtain a foreshortened and disquieting
view of the muzzle of a revolver.

"Hands up—" began the man behind the weapon; but as he was in the very
act of saying it, a jet of ammonia entered his mouth through the second
button of Halkett’s waistcoat, and he reeled backward off the platform,
his revolver exploding toward the sky, and fell into the grass, jerking
and kicking about like an unhealthy cat in a spasm.

Already Halkett and the other man had clinched; the former raining blows
on the latter’s Teutonic countenance, which proceeding so dazed,
diverted, and bewildered him that he could not seem to find the revolver
bulging in his side pocket.

It was an automatic, and Halkett finally got hold of it and hurled it
into the woods.

Then he continued the terrible beating which he was administering.

"Get out!" he said in German to the battered man, still battering him.
"Get out, or I’ll kill you!"

He hit him another cracking blow, turned and wrested the other pistol
from the writhing man on the grass, whirled around, and went at the
battered one again.

"I’ve had enough of this!" he breathed, heavily.  "I tell you I’ll kill
you if you bother me again!  I could do it now—but it’s too much like
murder if you’re not in uniform!"

The man on the grass had managed to evade suffocation; he got up now and
staggered off toward the woods, and Halkett drove his companion after
him at the point of his own revolver.

"Keep clear of me!" he said.  "If you do any more telephoning or
telegraphing it will end in murder.  I’ve had just about enough, and if
any more of your friends continue to push this matter after I enter
France, just as surely as I warn you now, I’ll defend my own life by
taking theirs.  You can telephone that to them if you want to!"

As he stood on the edge of the wooden platform, revolver lifted, facing
the woods where his two assailants had already disappeared, the toy-like
whistle of an approaching train broke the hot, July stillness.

Before it stopped, he hurled the remaining revolver into the woods
across the track, then, as the train drew up and a guard descended to
open a compartment door for him, he cast a last keen glance at the
forest behind him.

Nothing stirred there, not even a leaf.

But before the train had been under way five minutes a bullet shattered
the glass of the window beside which he had been seated; and he spent
the remainder of the journey flat on his back smoking cigarettes and
wondering whether he was going to win through to the French frontier, to
Paris, to Calais, to London, or whether they’d get him at last and, what
was of infinitely greater importance, a long, thin envelope which he
carried stitched inside his undershirt.

That was really what mattered, not what might become of a stray
Englishman.  He knew it; he realized it without any illusion whatever.
It was the contents of this envelope that mattered, not his life.

Yet, so far, he had managed to avoid taking life in defense of his
envelope.  In fact, he traveled unarmed. Now, if matters continued
during his journey through France as they had begun and continued while
he was crossing Holland and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, he would be
obliged to take life or lose his own.

And yet, if he did kill somebody, that meant arrest and investigation by
the police of France.  And such an investigation might be fatal to the
success of his undertaking—quite as fatal, in fact, as though he himself
were killed.

The main thing was to get that envelope and its contents to London.

His instructions were not to mail it, but to take it in person, or to
send it, if necessary, by another messenger through other channels.

One thing became more and more evident to him; the time had now arrived
when certain people unknown to him by sight had decided to kill him as
the only way out of the affair.

Would they actually go so far as to kill him in France, with the chance
of the French police seizing that envelope before they could seize it
and clear out with it to Berlin?  Would they hazard the risk of France
obtaining cognizance of a matter which so vitally concerned Germany,
rather than permit that information to reach England?

Halkett lay on his back and smoked and did not know.

But he was slowly coming to the conclusion that one thing was now
imperative: the envelope must not be found upon his person if he were
killed.

But what on earth to do with it until it could be safely transferred to
the proper person he had not the slightest idea.

That evening, as he changed trains at the frontier, in the lamp-lit
dimness of the station platform he was fired at twice, and not hit.

A loud outcry naturally ensued; a stampede of passengers who tried to
escape, a rush of others who desired to see what had happened—much
hubbub and confusion, much shouting in several languages.

But nobody could be found who had fired two shots from a revolver, and
nobody admitted that they had been shot at.

And so, as nobody had been hit, the gendarmes, guards, and railway
officials were in a quandary.

And the train rolled out of the station with Halkett aboard, a prey to
deepest anxiety concerning his long thin envelope.



                              *CHAPTER I*


Somebody at Warner’s elbow spoke to him in French.  He turned his head
leisurely: a well-dressed young fellow, evidently an Englishman, was
striving to maintain a place beside him in the noisy, market day crowd.

"Pardon, Monsieur, are you English?"

"American," replied Warner briefly, and without enthusiasm.

"My name is Halkett," said the other, with a quick smile.  "I’m English,
and I’m in trouble.  Could you spare me a moment?"

To Warner the man did not look the typical British dead-beat, nor had he
any of the earmarks and mannerisms of the Continental beach-comber.  Yet
he was, probably, some species or other of that wearisome and itinerant
genus.

"I’m listening," said the young American resignedly. "Continue your
story."

"There’s such a row going on here—couldn’t we find a quieter place?"

"I can hear you perfectly well, I tell you!"

Halkett said:

"If I try to talk to you here I’ll be overheard, and that won’t do.  I’m
very sorry to inconvenience you, but really I’m in a fix.  What a noise
these people are making!  Do you mind coming somewhere else?"

"Say what you desire to say here," returned Warner bluntly.  "And
perhaps it might save time if you begin with the last chapter; I think I
can guess the rest of the story."

The features of the American expressed boredom to the point of
unfriendly indifference.  The Englishman looked at him, perplexed for a
moment, then his sun-bronzed face lighted up with another quick smile.

"You’re quite mistaken," he said.  "I don’t expect the classic
remittance from England, and I don’t require the celebrated twenty-franc
loan until it arrives.  You take me for that sort, I see, but I’m not.
I don’t need money.  May I tell you what I do need—rather desperately?"

"Yes, if you choose."

"I need a friend."

"Money is easier to pick up," remarked Warner drily.

"I know that.  May I ask my favor of you all the same?"

"Go ahead."

"Thanks, I will.  But can’t we get out of this crowd? What is going on
in this town anyway?"

"Market day.  It’s like this once a month in Ausone. Otherwise the town
is as dead as any other French provincial town."

Shoulder to shoulder they threaded their way through the crowded market
square, amid the clatter of sabots, the lowing of cattle, the incessant
bleating of sheep.  Ducks quacked from crates in wagons, geese craned
white necks and hissed above the heads of the moving throngs; hogs
squealed and grunted; fowls hanging by their legs from the red fists of
sturdy peasant women squawked and flapped.

Cheap-Jack shows of all sorts encumbered the square and adjacent streets
and alleys—gingerbread booths, shooting ranges, photograph galleries,
moving-picture shows, theaters for ten sous.  Through the lowing,
bleating, and cockcrowing, the drumming and squeaking of Punch and Judy,
and the brassy dissonance of half a dozen bands, mournful and incessant
strains from several merry-go-rounds continued audible.

But the steady clatter of sabots on stony pavements, and the ceaseless
undertone of voices, swelling, subsiding, dominated the uproar,
softening the complaint of kine and feathered fowl to a softly cheerful
harmony suggestive of summer breezes and green fields.

On the dusty Boulevard d’Athos—the typical solitary promenade of such
provincial towns—there were, as usual, very few people—the inevitable
nurses here and there, wheeling prams; a discouraged, red-trousered and
sou-less soldier or two sprawling on benches under the chestnut trees;
rarely a passing pedestrian, more often a prowling dog.

At the head of the Boulevard d’Athos, where the rue d’Auros crosses,
Warner halted under the shade of the chestnuts, for the July sun was
very hot.  His unconvinced grey eyes now rested inquiringly on the young
Englishman who had called himself Halkett.  He said:

"What species of trouble are you in?"

Halkett shook his head.

"I can’t tell you what the trouble is; I may only ask you to help me a
bit—"  The quick smile characteristic of him glimmered in his eyes
again—a winning smile, hinting of latent recklessness.  "I have my nerve
with me, you see—as you Americans have it," he added.  "You’re thinking
something of that sort, I fancy."

Warner smiled too, rather faintly, but remained silent.

"This is what I want you to do," continued Halkett. "I’ve a long thin
envelope in my pocket.  I’d like to have you take it from me and slip it
into your breast pocket and then button your coat.  Is that too much to
ask?"

"_What!_"

"That’s all I want you to do.  Then if you wouldn’t mind giving me your
name and address?  And that is really all I ask."

Said the American, amused and surprised:

"That airy request of yours requires a trifle more explanation than you
seem inclined to offer."

"I know it does.  I can’t offer it.  Only—you won’t get into trouble if
you keep that envelope buttoned tightly under your coat until I come for
it again."

"But I’m not going to do that!"

"Why?"

"Why the devil should I?  I don’t propose to wander about France
carrying papers concerning which I know nothing—to oblige a young man
about whom I know even less."

"I quite see that," admitted Halkett seriously.  "I shouldn’t feel
inclined to do such a thing either."

"Can’t you tell me what is the nature of these papers?—Or something—some
explanation——"

"I’m sorry."

"And why do you propose to trust me with them?" continued Warner,
curiously.  "How do you know I am honest?  How do you know I won’t
examine your packet as soon as you clear out?"

Halkett looked up with his quick and winning smile:

"I’ll take that risk."

"Why?  You don’t know me."

"I had a good look at you in the market square before I spoke to you."

"Oh.  You think you are a psychologist?"

"Of sorts.  It’s a part of my business in life."

"Suppose," said Warner, smiling, "you explain a little more clearly to
me exactly what is your actual business in life."

"Very glad to.  I write."

"Books?"

"No; just—stories."

"Fiction?"

"As one might say, facts rather than fiction."

"You are a realist?" suggested Warner with slight irony.

"I try to be.  But do you know, there is more romance in realism than in
fairy tales?"

Warner, considerably diverted, nodded:

"I know.  You belong to the modern school, I take it."

"Very modern.  So modern, in fact, that my work concerns tomorrow rather
than today."

Warner nodded again:

"I see.  You are a futurist—opportunist.  There are a lot of clever men
working on those lines in England....  Still—" he glanced amusedly at
Halkett "—that scarcely explains your rather unusual request. Why should
I take charge of an envelope for _you_?"

"My dear fellow, I can’t answer that....  Still—I may say this much; I’m
hard put to it—rather bewildered—had a rotten time of it in the Grand
Duchy and in Belgium—so to speak—"

"What do you mean by a rotten time?"

"Rows."

"I don’t understand.  You’ll have to be more explicit."

"Well—it had to do with this envelope I carry. Some chaps of sorts
wanted to get it away from me. Do you see? ... I had a lively time, and
I rather expect to have another before I get home—if I ever get there."

Warner looked at him out of clear, sophisticated eyes:

"See here, my ingenuous British friend," he said, "play square with me,
if you play at all."

"I shan’t play otherwise."

"Very well, then; why are you afraid to carry that envelope?"

"Because," said Halkett, coolly, "if I’m knocked on the head and that
envelope is found in my clothing and is stolen, the loss of my life
would be the lesser loss to my friends."

"Is anybody trying to _kill_ you?"

Halkett shrugged his shoulders; but there seemed to be neither swagger
nor bravado in his careless gesture of assent.  He said:

"Listen; here’s my case in brief.  I saw you in the crowd yonder, and I
made up my mind concerning you. I have to think quickly sometimes; I
took a good look at you and—"  He waved one hand.  "You look like a
soldier.  I don’t know whether you are or not.  But I am ready to trust
you.  That’s all."

"Do you mean to say that you are in any real personal danger?"

"Yes.  But that doesn’t count.  I can look out for myself.  What worries
me is this envelope.  Couldn’t you take charge of it?  I’d be very
grateful."

"How long do you expect me to carry it about?"

"I don’t know.  I don’t know whether anything is likely to happen to me
today in this town—or tomorrow on the train—or in Paris—I have no means
of knowing.  I merely want to get to Paris, if I can, and send a friend
back here for that envelope."

"I thought you were to return for it yourself."

"Maybe.  Maybe I’ll send you a letter by a friend—just a line for him to
give you, saying it’s all right."

"Mr. Halkett, you have rather a disconcerting way of expressing
unlimited confidence in me—"

"Yes, I trust you."

"But _why_?"

"You look right."

"That’s no reason!"

"My dear chap, I’m in a corner, and instinct rules, not reason!  You
see, I—I’m rather afraid they may get me before I can clear out."

"_Who’ll_ get you?" demanded Warner impatiently.

"That’s the worst of it; I don’t know these fellows by sight.  The same
chaps never try it on twice."

Warner said quietly:

"What is this very dramatic mess you’re in?  Can’t you give me a hint?"

"I’m sorry."

"Shall I give _you_ a hint?"

"If you like."

"Are the _police_ after you?"

"No."

"You’re sure of that?"

"Quite sure.  I don’t blame you for asking.  It looks that way.  But it
isn’t."

"But you are being followed across Europe by people who want this
envelope of yours?"

"Oh, yes."

"You expect personal violence from them?"

Halkett nodded and gazed absently down the almost deserted boulevard.

"Then why don’t you appeal to the police—if your conscience is clear?"
demanded Warner bluntly.

Halkett’s quick smile broke out.

"My dear chap," he said, "I’d do so if I were in England.  I can’t, as
matters stand.  The French police are no use to me."

"Why don’t you go to your consulate?"

"I did.  The Consul is away on his vacation.  And I didn’t like the
looks of the vice-consul."

"What?"

"No.  I didn’t like his name, either."

"What do you mean?"

"His name is Schmidt.  I—didn’t care for it."

Warner laughed, and Halkett looked up quickly, smiling.

"I’m queer.  I admit it.  But you ought to have come to some conclusion
concerning me by this time.  Do you think me a rotter, or a criminal, or
a lunatic, or a fugitive from justice?  Or will you chance it that I’m
all right, and will you stand by me?"

Warner laughed again:

"I’ll take a chance on you," he said.  "Give me your envelope, you
amazing Britisher!"



                              *CHAPTER II*


Halkett cast a rapid glance around him; apparently he saw nothing to
disturb him. Then he whipped out from his pocket a long, very thin
envelope and passed it to Warner, who immediately slipped it into the
breast pocket of his coat.

"That’s very decent of you," said Halkett in a low voice.  His
attractive face had grown serious and a trifle pale.  "I shan’t forget
this," he said.

Warner laughed.

"You’re a very convincing Englishman," he said. "I can’t believe you’re
not all right."

"I’m right enough.  But you are _all_ white.  What is your name?"

"I had better write it out for you."

"No.  If things go wrong with me, I don’t want your name and address
discovered in my pockets.  Tell it to me; I’ll remember."

Warner looked at him rather gravely for a moment, then:

"James Warner is my name.  I’m a painter.  My present address is La
Pêche d’Or at Saïs."

"By any chance," asked Halkett, "are you the military painter, James
Warner, whose pictures we know very well in England?"

"I don’t know how well my pictures are known in England.  I usually
paint military subjects."

"I _knew_ you were right!" exclaimed Halkett.  "Any man who paints the
way you paint _must_ be right! Fancy my actually knowing the man who did
’Lights Out’ and ’The Last Salute’!"

Warner laughed, coloring a little.

"Did you really like those pictures?"

"Everybody liked them.  I fancy every officer in our army owns a colored
print of one or more of your pictures.  And to think I should run across
you in this God-forsaken French town!  And to think it should be _you_
who is willing to stand by me at this pinch!  Well—I judged you rightly,
you see."

Warner smiled, then his features altered.

"Listen, Halkett," he said, dropping instinctively the last trace of
formality with a man who, honest or otherwise, was plainly of his own
caste.  "I have tried to size you up and I can’t.  You say you are a
writer, but you look to me more like a soldier.  Anyway, I’ve concluded
that you’re straight.  And, that being my conviction, can’t I do more
for you than carry an envelope about for you?"

"That’s very decent of you, Warner.  No, thanks, there is nothing else
you could do."

"I thought you said you are likely to get into a row?"

"I am.  But I don’t know when or where.  Besides, I wouldn’t drag you
into anything like that."

"Where are you stopping in Ausone?"

"At the Boule d’Argent.  I got in only an hour before I met you."

"Do you still believe you are being followed?"

"I have been followed so far.  Maybe I’ve lost them. I hope so."

Warner said:

"I came into town to buy canvases and colors. That’s how I happen to be
in Ausone.  It’s only an hour’s drive to Saïs.  Why don’t you come back
with me?  Saïs is a pretty hamlet.  Few people have ever heard of it.
The Golden Peach is an excellent inn. Why don’t you run down and lie
snug for a while?  It’s the last place on earth anybody would think of
looking for a man who’s done—what I suppose _you’ve_ done."

Halkett, who had been listening with a detached smile, jerked his head
around and looked at Warner.

"What do you suppose I’ve done?" he asked coolly.

"I think you’re a British officer who has been abroad after military
information—and that you’ve got it—in this envelope."

Halkett’s expressionless face and fixed eyes did not alter.  But he said
quietly:

"You are about the only American in France who might have been likely to
think that.  Isn’t it the devil’s own luck that I should pick _you_ for
my friend in need?"

Warner shrugged:

"You need not answer that implied question of mine, Halkett.  My theory
concerning you suits me.  Anyway, I believe you _are_ in trouble.  And I
think you’d better come back to Saïs with me."

"Thinking what you think, do you still mean to stand by me?"

"Certainly.  I don’t _know_ what’s in your damned envelope, do I?  Very
well; I don’t wish to know.  Shall we stroll back to the Boule
d’Argent?"

"Right-o!  What a devilish decent chap you are, Warner!"

"Oh, no; I’m a gambler by disposition.  This business amuses me!"

"Are you stopping at the Boule d’Argent, too?" asked Halkett after a
moment.

"I lunched there and left my stack of _toiles_ and my sack of colors
there.  Also, I have a dogcart and a horse in the stables."

They turned away together, side by side, crossed the boulevard,
traversed the deserted square in front of the beautiful old church of
Sainte Cassilda, and entered the stony rue d’Auros, which led directly
into the market square.

The ancient town of Ausone certainly seemed to be very much _en fête_,
and the rue d’Auros—the main business thoroughfare—was crowded with
townspeople, country folk, and soldiers on leave, clustering not only
all over the sidewalks, but in the middle of the streets and squares,
filling the terraces of the cafés and the courts of the two hotels, the
Boule d’Argent and the Hôtel des Voyageurs.

Sunlight filtered through the double rank of chestnut trees in full
leaf; the shade was even denser and cooler by the stone bridge where,
between stone walls, the little stony river flowed, crystal clear.  Here
women and young girls, in holiday attire, sat on the benches, knitting
or chatting with their friends; children played along the stone
embankment, where beds of brilliant flowers bloomed; the red trousers of
soldiers and the glittering brass helmets of firemen added a gayety to
the color and movement.

"They’re a jolly people, these French," remarked Halkett.

"They’re very agreeable to live among."

"You’ve lived in France for some time?"

"Yes," said Warner.  "My headquarters are in Paris, but every summer I
take a class of American art students—girls—to Saïs for outdoor
instruction. I’ve half a dozen there now, plugging away at _Plein Air_."

"Do you like to teach?"

"Well, not particularly.  It interferes with my own work.  But I have to
do it.  Painting pictures doesn’t keep the kettle boiling."

"I see."

"I don’t really mind it.  Saïs is a charming place; I’ve known it for
years.  Besides, a friend of mine lives there—an American woman, Madame
de Moidrey.  Her sister, Miss Brooks, is one of the young girls in my
class.  So it makes it agreeable; and Madame de Moidrey is very
hospitable."

Halkett smiled.

"Painters," he said, "have, proverbially, a pretty good time in life."

"Soldiers do, too; don’t they?"

Halkett’s smile became fixed.

"I’ve heard so.  The main thing about a profession is to choose one
which will take you out of doors."

"Yours does.  You can sit under a tree and write your stories, can’t
you?"

The Englishman laughed:

"Of course I can.  That’s the beauty of realism; all you have to do is
to walk about outdoors and jot down a faithful description of everything
you see."

They had reached the little stone _quai_ under the chestnut and lime
trees; the cool ripple of the river mingled with the laughter of young
girls and the gay voices of children at play made a fresh and cheerful
sound in the July sunshine.

They leaned against the mossy river wall and looked out under the trees
across the square which surged with people.  Flags fluttered from booths
and white tents; the blare of bands, the tumult of wooden shoes, the
noises of domestic creatures, and human voices all mingled with the
unceasing music from the merry-go-rounds.

Across the esplanade there was a crowd around the Café de Biribi—people
constantly passing to and fro—and strains of lively music leaked out
from within.

After a moment Warner suggested that they go over and have something
light and cool to drink.

"I’ve never been in there," he remarked, as they started, "but I’ve
always intended to go.  It’s kept by a rascal named Wildresse—a sporting
man, fight promoter, and an ex-gambler.  You’ve heard of the Cabaret
Wildresse in Paris, haven’t you?"

"I think I have," replied Halkett.  "It was an all night place on the
Grand Boulevard, wasn’t it?"

"Yes; opposite the Grand Hôtel.  This is the same proprietor.  He’s an
American—a shady sort of sport—and he certainly must have been a pretty
bad lot, because the police made him leave Paris six years ago—what for,
I don’t know—but they fired him out, and he started his cabaret business
here in Ausone.  You hear of it everywhere.  People come even from Nancy
and Liége and Louvain to dance, and dine here—certain sorts of people, I
mean.  The cuisine is celebrated. There are cockfights and other illegal
attractions."

The Cabaret Biribi formed the corner of the square. It was a detached
stucco structure surrounded by green trees and pretty shrubbery; and in
the rear the grounds ran down to the river, where a dozen rowboats were
moored along that still, glassy reach of water which extends for several
miles south of Ausone between meadows and pleasantly wooded banks.

They found the Cabaret Biribi crowded when they went in; a lively young
person was capering on the little stage at the end of the dancing floor,
and singing while capering; soldiers and civilians, with their own or
other people’s sweethearts, sat at the zinc tables, consuming light beer
and wine and syrups; a rather agreeable stringed orchestra played
intermittently.

Waiters scurried about with miraculously balanced trays on high; old man
Wildresse roamed furtively in the background, his gorilla arms behind
his back, his blunt fingers interlocked, keeping a sly and ratty eye on
waiters and guests, and sometimes on the young woman cashier who lounged
listlessly upon her high chair behind the wire cage, one rather lank leg
crossed over the other, and her foot swinging in idle time to the music.

The moment that Warner and Halkett appeared in the doorway, looking
about them to find a table, Wildresse crossed the floor and said to his
cashier in a whisper:

"It’s one of those men.  Schmidt’s description might fit either.  If
they don’t make eyes at you and ask you to dance and drink with them,
come over and join them anyway.  And I want you to pump them dry.  Do
you hear?"

"Yes, I hear."

Warner looked across the room at her again when he and Halkett were
seated.  She had considerable paint on her cheeks, and her lips seemed
too red to be natural.  Otherwise she was tragically young, thin,
excepting her throat and cheeks—a grey-eyed, listless young thing with a
mass of chestnut hair crowning her delicately shaped head.

She made change languidly for waiter and guest; acknowledged the salutes
of those entering and leaving without more than a politely detached
interest; smiled at the jests of facetious customers with mechanical
civility when importuned; and, when momentarily idle, swung her long,
slim foot in time to the music and rested her painted cheek on one hand.

Her indifferent grey eyes, sweeping the hall, presently rested on
Warner; and remained on him with a sort of idle insolence until his own
shifted.

Halkett was saying:

"You know that girl—the cashier, I mean—is extraordinarily pretty.  Have
you noticed her, Warner?"

Warner turned again:

"I’ve been looking at her.  She’s rather thickly tinted, isn’t she?"

"Yes.  But in spite of the paint.  She has a charmingly shaped head.
Some day she’ll have a figure."

"Oh, yes; figures and maturity come late to that type....  If you’ll
notice, Halkett, those hands of hers are really exquisite.  So are her
features—the nose is delicate, the eyes beautifully drawn—she’s all in
good drawing—even her mouth, which is a little too full.  As an amateur,
don’t you agree with me?"

"Very much so.  She’s a distinct type."

"Yes—there’s a certain appeal about her....  It’s odd, isn’t it—the
inexplicable something about some women that attracts.  It doesn’t
depend on beauty at all."

Halkett sipped his Moselle wine.

"No, it doesn’t depend on beauty, on intelligence, on character, or on
morals.  It’s in spite of them—in defiance, sometimes.  Now, take that
thin girl over there; her lips and cheeks are painted; she has the
indifferent, disenchanted, detached glance of the too early wise.  The
chances are that she isn’t respectable. And in spite of all that,
Warner—well—look at her."

"I see.  A man could paint a troubling portrait of her—a sermon on
canvas."

"Just as she sits there," nodded Halkett.

"Just as she sits there, chin on palm, one lank leg crossed over the
other, and her slim foot dangling.... And the average painter would make
her seem all wrong, Halkett; and I might, too, except for those clear
grey eyes and their childish indifference to the devil’s world outside
their ken."  He inspected her for a moment more, then: "Yes, in spite of
rouge and other obvious elementals, I should paint her as she really is,
Halkett; and no man in his heart would dare doubt her after I’d
finished."

"That’s not realism," remarked Halkett, laughing.

"It’s the vital essence of it.  You know I’m something of a gambler.
Well, if I painted that girl as she sits there now, in this noisy,
messy, crowded cabaret, with the artificial tint on lip and cheek—if I
painted her just as she appears to us, and in all the insolently
youthful relaxation of her attitude—I’d be gambling all the while with
myself that the soul inside her is as clean as a flame; and I’d paint
that conviction into her portrait with every brush stroke!  What do you
think of that view of her?"

"As you Americans say, you’re some poet," observed Halkett, laughingly.

"A poet is an advanced psychologist.  He begins where scientific
deduction ends."

"That’s what makes your military pictures so convincing," said Halkett,
with his quick smile.  "It’s not only the correctness of details and the
spirited drawing and color, but you _do_ see into the very souls of the
men you paint, and their innermost characters are there, revealed in the
supreme crisis of the moment."  He smiled quietly.  "I’ll believe it if
_you_ say that young girl over there is quite all right."

"I’d paint her that way, anyhow."

The singing on the stage had ceased from troubling, and the stringed
orchestra was playing one of the latest and most inane of dance steps.
A clumsy _piou-piou_ got up with his fresh-cheeked partner; other
couples rose from the sloppy tables, and in another moment the dancing
floor was uncomfortably crowded.

It was a noisy place; a group of summer touring students from Louvain,
across the border, were singing "La Brabançonne"—a very patriotic and
commendable attempt, but it scarcely harmonized with the dance music.
Perspiring waiters rushed hither and thither, their trays piled high;
the dancers trotted and spun around and galloped about over the waxed
floor; the young girl behind her wire wicket swung her narrow foot to
and fro and gazed imperturbably out across the tumult.

"Philippa!" cried one of the Louvain students, hammering on the table
with his beer glass.  "Come out from behind your _guichet_ and dance
with me!"

The girl’s grey eyes turned superciliously toward the speaker, but she
neither answered nor moved her head.

The young man blew a kiss toward her and attempted to climb upon the
zinc table, but old man Wildresse, who was prowling near, tapped him on
the shoulder.

"Pas de bêtise!" he growled.  "Soyez sage!  Restez tranquille, nom de
Dieu!"

"I merely desired the honor of dancing with your charming cashier—"

"Allons!  Assez!  It’s sufficient to ask her, isn’t it? A woman dances
with whom she chooses."

And, grumbling, he walked on with his heavy sidling step, hands clasped
behind him, his big, hard, smoothly shaven face lowered and partly
turned, as though eternally listening for somebody just at his heels.
Always sidling nearer to the table where Warner and Halkett were seated,
he paused, presently, and looked down at them, shot a glance across at
the girl, Philippa, caught her eye, nodded significantly.  Then,
addressing Warner and his new friend:

"Well, gentlemen," he said in English, "are you amusing yourselves in
the Café Biribi?"

"Sufficiently," nodded Warner.

Wildresse peeped stealthily over his shoulder, as though expecting to
surprise a listener.  Then his very small black eyes stole toward
Halkett, and he furtively examined him.

"_Jour de fête_," he remarked in his harshly resonant voice.  "Grand
doings in town tonight.  Do you gentlemen dine here this evening?"

"I think not," said Warner.

"I am sorry.  It will be gay.  There are dance partners to be had for a
polite bow.  You should see my little _caissière_ yonder!"  He made a
grunting sound and kissed his blunt fingers to the ceiling.  "M-m-m!" he
growled.  "_She_ can dance!  But I don’t permit her to dance very often.
Only a special client now and then——"

"May we consider ourselves special clients?" inquired Warner, amused.

"Oh, I don’t say yes and I don’t say no."  He jerked his round, shaven
head.  "It all depends on _her_.  She dances with whom she pleases.  And
if the Emperor of China asked her, nevertheless she should be free to
please herself."

"She’s very pretty," said Halkett.

"Others have said so before you in the Cabaret de Biribi."

"Why do you call your cabaret the Café Biribi?" asked Warner.

"Eh?  By God, I call it Biribi because I’m not ashamed of the name."

Halkett looked up into his wicked black eyes, and Wildresse wagged his
finger at him.

"Supposition," he said, "that your son is a good boy—a little lively,
but a good boy—and he comes of age and he goes with his class for two
years—three years now, and to hell with it!

"Bon!  Supposition, also, that his sergeant is a tyrant, his captain an
ass, his colonel an imbecile! Bon!  Given a little natural ardor—a
trifle of animal spirits, and the lad is up before the council—bang!—and
he gets his in the battalions of Biribi!"

His voice had become a sort of ominous growl.

"As for me," he said heavily, "I mock at their council and their
blockhead colonel!  I accept their challenge; I do not conceal that my
son is serving in a disciplinary battalion; I salute all the battalions
of Biribi—where there are better men in the ranks than there are in many
a regiment of the line, by God!  And I honor those battalions by naming
my cabaret ’Biribi.’  The Government gets no change out of me!"

The man asserted too much, swaggered too obviously; and Halkett, not
suspicious but always cautious, kept his inquiring eyes fixed on him.

Warner said with a smile:

"You have the courage of your convictions, Monsieur Wildresse."

"As for that," growled Wildresse, casting another stealthy glance behind
him, "I’ve got courage. Courage?  Who hasn’t?  Everybody’s got courage.
It’s brains the world lacks.  Excuse me, gentlemen—affairs of
business—and if you want to dance with my little cashier, there is no
harm in asking her."  And he shuffled away, his heavy head bent
sideways, his hands tightly clasped behind him.

"There’s an evil type," remarked Halkett.  "What a brute it is!"

Warner said:

"With his cropped head and his smooth, pasty face, and those unpleasant
black eyes of his, he looks like an ex-convict.  It doesn’t astonish me
that he has a son serving in the disciplinary battalions of Africa."

"Does it astonish you that he is the employer of that girl behind the
counter?" asked Halkett.

Warner turned to look at her again:

"It’s interesting, isn’t it?  She seems to be another breed."

"Yes.  Now, what do you make of her?"

Warner hesitated, then looked up with a laugh.

"Halkett," he said, "I’m going over to ask her to dance."

"All right; I’ll hold the table," said the Englishman, amused.  And
Warner rose, skirted the dancers, and walked around to the cashier’s
desk, aware all the while that the girl’s indifferent grey eyes were
following his movements.



                             *CHAPTER III*


Warner tucked his walking stick and straw hat under one arm and,
sauntering over to the cashier’s desk, made a very nice and thoroughly
Continental bow to the girl behind it.

Her impartial and uninterested gaze rested on him; after a moment she
inclined her head, leisurely and in silence.

He said in French:

"Would Mademoiselle do me the honor of dancing this dance with me?"

She replied in a sweet but indifferent voice:

"Monsieur is too amiable.  But he sees that I am _caissière_ of the
establishment."

"Yet even the fixed stars of heaven dance sometimes to the music of the
spheres."

She smiled slightly:

"When one is merely a fixture _de cabaret_, one dances only to the music
of the _Sbires_!  You must ask Monsieur Wildresse if I may dance with
you."

"He suggested that I ask you."

"Very well, if it’s a matter of business——"

Warner laughed.

"Don’t you ever dance for pleasure?" he asked in English.

She replied in English:

"Is it your theory that it would give me pleasure to dance with you?"

"It is," he said, still laughing.  "But by demonstration alone are
theories proven."

The girl hesitated, her grey eyes resting on him. Then she turned her
head, drew a pencil from her chestnut hair, rapped with it on the
counter.  A head waiter came speeding to her.

"Aristide, I’m going to dance," she said in the same sweetly indifferent
voice.  "Have the goodness to sit in my chair until I return or Mélanie
arrives."

She slid to the floor from her high seat, came out, through the wire
gate, and began to unpin her cambric apron.

The closer view revealed to him her thinness in her black gown.  She was
not so tall as he had thought her, and she was younger; but he had been
right about her cheeks and lips.  Both were outrageously painted.

She handed her daintily embroidered apron to the waiter, laid one hand
lightly on Warner’s arm; he led her to the edge of the dancing floor,
clasped her waist and swung her with him out into the noisy whirl
beyond.

Thin, almost immature in her angular slenderness, the girl in motion
became enchantingly graceful.  Supple as a sapling in the summer wind,
her hand rested feather-light in his; her long, narrow feet seemed like
shadows close above the floor, never touching it.

The orchestra ceased playing after a few minutes, but old man Wildresse,
who had been watching them, growled, "Go on!" and the music recommenced
amid plaudits and shouts of general approval.

Once, as they passed the students’ table, Warner heard the voice of old
Wildresse in menacing dispute with the student who had first shouted out
an invitation to Philippa.

"She dances with whom she chooses!" roared Wildresse. "Do you
understand, Monsieur?  By God, if the Grand Turk himself asked her she
should not dance with him unless she wished to!"

Warner said to her jestingly:

"Did the Grand Turk ever ask you, Philippa?"

The girl did not smile.

"Perhaps I am dancing with him now.  One never knows—in a cabaret."

When the music ceased she was breathing only a trifle faster, and her
cheeks under the paint glowed softly pink.

"Could you join us?" he asked.  "Is it permitted?"

"I’d like to....  Yes."

So he took her back to the table, where Halkett rose and paid his
respects gracefully; and they seated themselves and ordered a grenadine
for her.

Old Wildresse, sidling by, paused with a non-committal grunt:

"Eh bien?  On s’amuse?  Dis, petit galopin!"

"I’m thirsty," said the girl Philippa.

"And your _caisse_?"

"Tell them to find Mélanie," she retorted indifferently.

"Bon!  A _jour de fête_, too!  How long are you going to be?"  But as
she glanced up he winked at her.

She shrugged her shoulders, leaned forward, chose a straw, and plunged
it into the crimson depths of her iced grenadine.

Old Wildresse looked at her a moment, then he also shrugged his
shoulders and went shuffling away, always apparently distrustful of that
invisible something just behind his back.

Halkett said:

"Mr. Warner and I have been discussing an imaginary portrait of you."

"What?"  The clear, grey eyes turned questioningly to him, to Warner.

The latter nodded:

"I happen to be a painter.  Mr. Halkett and I have agreed that it would
be an interesting experiment to paint your portrait—_as you really
are_."

The girl seemed slightly puzzled.

"As I really am?" she repeated.  "But, Messieurs, am I not what you see
before you?"

The music began again; the Louvain student, a little tipsy but very
decorous, arose, bowed to the girl Philippa, bowed to Halkett and to
Warner, and asked for the honor of a dance with her.

"Merci, Monsieur—another time, perhaps," she replied indifferently.

The boy seemed disposed to linger, but he was not quarrelsome, and
finally Halkett got up and led him away.

From moment to moment Warner, glancing across during his tête-à-tête
with the girl Philippa, could see the Louvain student continually
shaking hands with Halkett who seemed horribly bored.

A little later still the entire Louvain delegation insisted on
entertaining Halkett with beer and song; and the resigned but polite
Englishman, now seated at their table, was being taught to sing "La
Brabançonne," between draughts of Belgian beer.

The girl Philippa played with the stem of her glass and stirred the ice
in it with her broken wheat straw. The healthy color in her face had now
faded to an indoor pallor again under the rouge.

"So you are a painter," she said, her grey eyes fixed absently on her
glass.  "Are you a distinguished painter, Monsieur?"

He laughed:

"You’ll have to ask others that question, Philippa."

"Why?  Don’t you know whether you are distinguished?"

"I’ve had some success," he admitted, amused.

She thought a moment, then leaned forward toward the Louvain table.

"Mr. Halkett," she called in English.  "Is Mr. Warner a distinguished
American painter?"

Halkett laughed.

"One of the most celebrated American painters of the day!"

The Louvain students, understanding, rose as a man, waved their glasses,
and cheered for Warner, the "_grand peintre Américain_."  Which
embarrassed and annoyed him so that his face grew brighter than the
paint on Philippa’s lips.

"I’m sorry," she said, noticing his annoyance.  "I did not mean to make
you conspicuous."

Everybody in the café was now looking at him; on every side he gazed
into amused and smiling faces, saw glasses lifted, heard the cries of
easily aroused Gallic enthusiasm.

"Vive le grand peintre Américain!  Vive l’Amérique du Nord!"

"This is tiresome!" exclaimed Philippa.  "Let us walk down to the river
and sit in one of our boats.  I should really like to talk to you
sensibly—unless you are too much annoyed with me."

She beckoned a waiter to bring her apron; and she put it on.

"When you are ready, Monsieur," she said serenely.

So they rose; Warner paid the bill, and, with a whimsical smile at
Halkett, walked out beside Philippa through one of the rear doors, and
immediately found himself in brightest sunshine, amid green trees and
flower beds.

Here, under the pitiless sky, the girl’s face became ghastly under its
rouged mask—the more shocking, perhaps, because her natural skin, if
pale, appeared to be smooth and clear; and the tragic youth of her
seemed to appeal to all out of doors from the senseless abuse it was
enduring.

To see her there in the freshness of the open breeze, sunshine and
shadow dappling the green under foot, the blue overhead untroubled by a
cloud, gave Warner a slightly sick sensation.

"The air is pleasant," she remarked, unconscious of the effect she had
on him.

He nodded.  They walked down the grassy slope to the river bank, where
rows of boats lay moored.  A few were already in use out on the calm
stream; young men in their shirt sleeves splashed valiantly at the oars;
young women looked on under sunshades of flamboyant tints.

There was a white punt there called the _Lys_. Philippa stepped into it,
drew a key from her apron pocket, unlocked the padlock.  Then, lifting
the pole from the grass, she turned and invited Warner with a gesture.

He had not bargained for this; but he tossed the chain aboard, stepped
in, and offered to take the pole.

But Philippa evidently desired to do the punting herself; so he sat
back, watching her sometimes and sometimes looking at the foliage, where
they glided swiftly along under overhanging branches and through still,
glimmering reaches of green water, set with scented rushes where dragon
flies glittered and midges danced in clouds, and the slim green frogs
floated like water sprites, partly submerged, looking at them out of
golden goblin eyes that never blinked.

"The town is _en fête_," remarked Philippa presently. "Why should I not
be too?"

Warner laughed:

"Do you call this a _fête_?"

"For me, yes." ... After a moment, turning from her pole: "Do you not
find it agreeable?"

"Certainly.  What little river is this?"

"The Récollette."

"It flows by Saïs, too.  I did not recognize it for the same.  The
Récollette is swifter and shallower below Saïs."

"You know Saïs, then?"

"I live there in summer."

"Oh.  And in winter?"

"Paris."

An unconscious sigh of relief escaped her, that it was not necessary to
play the spy with this man.  It was the other man who interested
Wildresse.

The girl poled on in silence for a while, then deftly guided the _Lys_
into the cool green shadow of a huge oak which overhung the water, the
lower branches touching it.

"The sun is warm," she observed, driving in the pole and tying the white
punt so that it could swing with the current.

She came and seated herself by Warner, smiled frankly.

"Do you know," she said, "I’ve never before done this for pleasure."

"What haven’t you done for pleasure?" he inquired, perplexed.

"This—what I am doing."

"You mean you never before went out punting with a customer?"

"Not for the pleasure of it—only for business reasons."

He hesitated to understand, refused to, because, for all her careless
freedom and her paint, he could not believe her to be merely a _fille de
cabaret_.

"Business reasons," he repeated.  "What is your business?"

"Cashier, of course."

"Well, does your business ever take you boating with customers?  Is it
part of your business to dance with a customer and drink grenadine with
him?"

"Yes, but you wouldn’t understand——"  And suddenly she comprehended his
misunderstanding of her and blushed deeply.

"I am not a _cocotte_.  Did you think I meant that?"

"I know you are not.  I didn’t know what you meant."

There was a silence; the color in her cheeks cooled under the rouge.

"It happened this way," she said quietly.  "I didn’t want to make it a
matter of business with you.  Even in the beginning I didn’t....  You
please me.... After all, the town is _en fête_....  After all, a girl
has a right to please herself once in her life....  And business is a
very lonely thing for the young.... Why shouldn’t I amuse myself for an
hour with a client who pleases me?"

"Are you doing it?"

"Yes.  I never before knew a distinguished painter—only noisy boys from
the schools, whose hair is uncut, whose conversation is _blague_, and
whose trousers are too baggy to suit me.  They smoke soldier’s tobacco,
and their subjects of discussion are not always _convenable_."

He said, curiously:

"As for that, you must hear much that is not _convenable_ in the
cabaret."

"Oh, yes.  I don’t notice it when it is not addressed to me....  Please
tell me what you paint—if I am permitted to ask."

"Soldiers."

"Only soldiers?"

"Portraits, sometimes, and landscapes out of doors—anything that appeals
to me.  Do pictures interest you?"

"I used to go to the Louvre and the Luxembourg when I was a child.  It
was interesting.  Did you say that you would like to make a portrait of
me?"

"I said that if I ever did make a portrait of you I’d paint you _as you
really are_."

Her perplexed gaze had the disconcerting directness of a child’s.

"I don’t understand," she said.

"Shall I explain?"

"If you would be so kind."

"You won’t be offended?"

She regarded him silently; her brows became slightly contracted.

"Such a man as you would not willingly offend, I think."

"No, of course not.  I didn’t mean that sort of thing. But you might not
like what I have to say."

"If I merit what you say about me, it doesn’t matter whether I like it
or not, does it?  Tell me."

He laughed:

"Well, then, if I were going to paint you, I’d first ask you to wash
your cheeks."

She sat silent, humiliated, the painful color deepening and waning under
the rouge.

"And," he continued pleasantly, "after your face had been well scrubbed,
I’d paint you in your black gown, cuffs and apron of a _caissière_, just
as I first saw you there behind the desk, one foot swinging, and your
cheek resting on your hand.

"But behind your eyes, which looked out so tranquilly across the tumult
of the cabaret, I’d paint a soul as clean as a flame....  I’m wondering
whether I’d make any mistake in painting you that way, Philippa?"

The girl Philippa had fixed her grey eyes on him with fascinated but
troubled intensity.  They remained so for a while after he had finished
speaking.

Presently, and partly to herself, she said:

"_Pour ça_—no.  So far.  But it has never before occurred to me that I
look like a _cocotte_."

She turned, and, resting one arm on the gunwale, gazed down into the
limpid green water.

"Have you a fresh handkerchief?" she asked, not turning toward him.

"Yes—but——"

"Please!  I must wash my face."

She bent swiftly, dipped both hands into the water, and scrubbed her
lips and cheeks.  Then, extending her arm behind her for the
handkerchief, she dried her skin, sat up again, and faced him with
childish resignation. A few freckles had become visible; her lips were
no longer vivid, and there now remained only the faintest tint of color
under her clear, cool skin.

"You see," she said, "I’m not attractive unless I help nature.  One
naturally desires to be thought attractive."

"On the contrary, you are exceedingly attractive!"

"Are you sincere?"

"Perfectly."

"But I have several freckles near my nose.  And I am pale."

"You are entirely attractive," he repeated, laughing.

"With my freckles!  You are joking.  Also, I have no pink in my cheeks
now."  She shrugged.  "However—if you like me this way——"  She shrugged
again, as though that settled everything.

Another punt passed them; she looked after it absently.  Presently she
said, still watching the receding boat:

"Do you think you’ll ever come again to the Café Biribi?"

"I’ll come expressly to see you, Philippa," he replied.

To his surprise the girl blushed vividly and looked away from him; and
he hastily took a different tone, somewhat astonished that such a girl
should not have learned long ago how to take the irresponsible badinage
of men.  Certainly she must have had plenty of opportunity for such
schooling.

"When I’m in Ausone again," he said seriously, "I’ll bring with me a
canvas and brushes.  And if Monsieur Wildresse doesn’t mind I’ll make a
little study of you. Shall I, Philippa?"

"Would you care to?"

"Very much.  Do you think Monsieur Wildresse would permit it?"

"I do what I choose."

"Oh!"

She misunderstood his amused exclamation, and she flushed up.

"My conduct has been good—so far," she explained. "Everybody knows it.
The _prix de la rosière_ is not yet beyond me.  If a girl determines to
behave otherwise, who can stop her, and what?  Not her parents—if she
has any; not bolts and keys.  No; it is understood between Monsieur
Wildresse and me that I do what I choose.  And, Monsieur, so far I have
not chosen—indiscreetly——"  She looked up calmly.  "——In spite of my
painted cheeks which annoyed you——"

"I didn’t mean——"

"I understand.  You think that it is more _comme il faut_ to exhibit
one’s freckles to the world than to paint them out."

"It’s a thousand times better!  If you only knew how pretty you are—just
as you are now—with your soft, girlish skin and your chestnut hair and
your enchanting grey eyes——"

"Monsieur——"

The girl’s rising color and her low-voiced exclamation warned him again
that detached and quite impersonal praises from him were not understood.

"Philippa," he explained with bored but smiling reassurance, "I’m merely
telling you what a really pretty girl you are; I’m not paying court to
you.  Didn’t you understand?"

The grey eyes were lifted frankly to his; questioned him in silence.

"In America a man may say as much to a girl and mean nothing
more—important," he explained.  "I’m not trying to make love to you,
Philippa.  Were you afraid I was?"

She said slowly:

"I was not exactly—_afraid_."

"I don’t do that sort of thing," he continued pleasantly.  "I don’t make
love to anybody.  I’m too busy a man.  Also, I would not offend you by
talking to you about love."

She looked down at her folded hands.  Since she had been with him
nothing had seemed very real to her, nothing very clear, except that for
the first time in her brief life she was interested in a man on whom she
was supposed to be spying.

The Gallic and partly morbid traditions she had picked up in such a
girlhood as had been hers were now making for her an important personal
episode out of their encounter, and were lending a fictitious and
perhaps a touching value to every word he uttered.

But more important and most significant of anything to her was her own
natural inclination for him.  For her he already possessed immortal
distinction; he was her first man.

She was remembering that she had gone to him after exchanging a glance
with Wildresse, when he had first asked her to dance.  But she had
needed no further persuasion to sit with him at his table; she had even
forgotten her miserable rôle when she asked him to go out to the river
with her.  The significance of all this, according to her Gallic
tradition, was now confronting her, emphasizing the fact that she was
still with him.

As she sat there, her hands clasped in her lap, the sunlit reality of it
all seemed brightly confused as in a dream—a vivid dream which casts a
deeper enchantment over slumber, holding the sleeper fascinated under
the tense concentration of the happy spell. Subconsciously she seemed to
be aware that, according to tradition, this conduct of hers must be
merely preliminary to something further; that, in sequence, other
episodes were preparing—were becoming inevitable. And she thought of
what he had said about making love.

Folding and unfolding her hands, and looking down at them rather
fixedly, she said:

"Apropos of love—I have never been angry because men told me they were
in love with me....  Men love; it is natural; they cannot help it.  So,
if you had said so, I should not have been angry.  No, not at all,
Monsieur."

"Philippa," he said smilingly, "when a girl and a man happen to be alone
together, love isn’t the only entertaining subject for conversation, is
it?"

"It’s the subject I’ve always had to listen to from men.  Perhaps that
is why I thought—when you spoke so amiably of my—my——"

"Beauty," added Warner frankly, "—because it _is_ beauty, Philippa.  But
I meant only to express the pleasure that it gave to a painter—yes, and
to a man who can admire without offense, and say so quite as honestly."

The girl slowly raised her eyes.

"You speak very pleasantly to me," she said.  "Are other American men
like you?"

"You ought to know.  Aren’t you American?"

"I don’t know what I am."

"Why, I thought—your name was Philippa Wildresse."

"I am called that."

"Then Monsieur Wildresse isn’t a relation?"

"No.  I wear his name for lack of any other.... He found me somewhere,
he says....  In Paris, I believe....  That is all he will tell me."

"Evidently," said Warner in his pleasant, sympathetic voice, "you have
had an education somewhere."

"He sent me to school in England until I was sixteen.... After that I
became cashier for him."

"He gave you his name, and he supports you.... Is he kind to you?"

"He has never struck me."

"Does he protect you?"

"He uses me in business....  I am too valuable to misuse."

The girl looked down at her folded hands.  And even Warner divined what
ultimate chances she stood in the Cabaret de Biribi.

"When I’m in Ausone again, I’ll come to see you," he said pleasantly.
"—Not to make love to you, Philippa," he added with a smile, "but just
because we have become such good friends out here in the _Lys_."

"Yes," she said, "friends.  I shall be glad to see you. I shall always
try to understand you—whatever you say to me."

"That’s as it should be!" he exclaimed heartily. "Give me your hand on
it, Philippa."

She laid her hand in his gravely.  They exchanged a slight pressure.
Then he glanced at his watch, rose, and picked up the pole.

"I’ve got to drive to Saïs in time for dinner," he remarked.  "I’m
sorry, because I’d like to stay out here with you."

"I’m sorry, too," she said.

The next moment the punt shot out into the sunny stream.



                              *CHAPTER IV*


Warner and the girl Philippa reëntered the Cabaret de Biribi together
the uproar had become almost deafening.  Confetti was thrown at them
immediately, and they advanced all a-flutter with brilliant tatters.

The orchestra was playing, almost everybody was dancing, groups at
tables along the edge of the floor sang, clinked glasses, and threw
confetti without discrimination.  The whole place—tables, floor,
chandeliers, and people—streamed with multi-colored paper ribbons.
Waiters swept it in heaps from the dancing floor.

Philippa entered the cashier’s enclosure and dismissed the woman in
charge.  Seated once more on her high chair she opened her reticule and
produced a small mirror.  Then she leaned far over her counter toward
Warner.

"Is it permitted me to powder my nose?" she whispered with childlike
seriousness; but she laughed when he did, and, still laughing, made him
a gay little gesture of adieu with her powder puff.

He stood looking at her for a moment, where she sat on her high chair
behind the cage, intently occupied with her mirror, oblivious to the
tumult around her. Then, the smile still lingering on his features, he
turned to look for his new acquaintance, Halkett.


Old man Wildresse sidled up to the cashier’s desk, opened the wicket,
and went inside.  Philippa, still using her tiny mirror, was examining a
freckle very seriously.

"Eh, bien?" he growled.  "Rien?"

"Nothing!"

"Drop that glass and talk!" he said harshly.

She turned and looked at him.

"I tell you it was silly to suspect such a man!" she said impatiently.
"In my heart I feel humiliated that you should have set me to spy on
him——"

"What’s that!"

"No, I’ve had enough!  I don’t like the rôle; I never liked it!  Are
there no police in France——"

"Little idiot!" he said.  "Will you hold your tongue?"

"It is a disgusting _métier_——"

"Damnation!  Hold your tongue!" he repeated. "We’ve got to do what the
Government tells us to do, haven’t we?"

"Not I!  Never again——"

"Yes, you will!  Do you hear?  Yes, you will, or I’ll twist your neck!
Now, I’m going to keep my eye on that other gentleman.  Granted that the
man you pumped is all right, I’m not so sure about the other, who seems
to be an Englishman.  I’m going over to stand near him.  By and by I’ll
address him.  And if I wink at you, leave your _caisse_ with Mélanie,
come over, and sit at their table again——"

"No!"

"Yes, you will!"

"No!"

"Yes, you will.  And you’ll also contrive it so the Englishman asks you
to dance.  Do you hear what I say?  And you’ll find out where he comes
from, and when he arrived in Ausone, and where he is going, and whatever
else you can worm out of him!"  He glared at her.  "Disobey if you
dare," he added.

She was silent.

After a moment he continued in a softer voice:

"Do you want to see me in prison and my son in New Caledonia?  Very
well, then; do what the Government tells you to do."

"I—I’ve done enough—filthy work——" she stammered.  "Why must I?  I have
never done anything wrong——"

"Did you hear what I said?  Do you want to see Jacques in Noumea?"

"No," she said sullenly.

"Then do what I tell you, or, by God, they’ll ship him there and me
too!"

And he clasped his hands behind his back, peered sideways at her,
shrugged, and went shuffling out of the enclosure.

Groups at various tables were singing and shouting; the floor seethed
with sweating dancers.  On the edge of this vortex the girl Philippa,
from her high chair, looked darkly across the tumult toward the table
where Halkett sat.

Something seemed to be happening there; she could see Wildresse
gesticulating vigorously; she saw Warner making his way toward his
friend, who was seated alone at a table, a lighted cigarette balanced
between his fingers and one arm thrown carelessly around the back of the
chair on which he sat.

He was looking coolly but steadily at three men who occupied the table
next to him; Wildresse now stood between the two tables, and his
emphatic gesticulations were apparently directed toward these three men;
but in the uproar, and although he also appeared to be shouting, what he
was saying remained inaudible.

Warner went over and seated himself beside Halkett; and now he could
distinguish the harsh voice of the Patron raised in irritation:

"No politics!  I’ll not suffer political disputes in my cabaret!" he
bawled.  "Quarrels arise from such controversies.  I’ll have no quarrels
in my place.  Now, Messieurs, _un peu de complaisance_!"

One of the men he was exhorting leaned wide in his seat and looked
insolently across at Halkett.

"It was the Englishman’s fault," he retorted threateningly.  "I and my
friends here had been speaking of the assassination of the Archduke
Francis Ferdinand in Serajevo.  We were conversing peaceably and
privately among ourselves, when that Englishman laughed at us——"

"You are mistaken," said Halkett quietly.

"Did you not laugh?" cried the second of the men at the next table.

"Yes, but not at what you were saying.  I’m sorry if you thought so——"

The man half rose in his chair, exclaiming:

"Why shouldn’t I think it natural for an Englishman to laugh at the
murder of an Austrian arch-duke——"

"Stop that discussion!" cried Wildresse, angrily jerking his heavy head
from Halkett to the three men at the other table.  "Let it rest where it
is, I tell you! The English gentleman says he did not laugh at what you
were saying.  Nom de Dieu!  Nobody well brought up laughs at murder!"
And to Halkett and Warner: "Be amiable enough, gentlemen, to carry this
misunderstanding no further.  I’ve had sufficient trouble with the
police in my time."

Warner laid one hand lightly on Halkett’s arm.

"All right," he said to Wildresse; "no trouble shall originate with us."
And, to Halkett, in a lowered voice: "Have you an idea that those men
over there are trying to force a quarrel?"

"Of course."

"Have you ever seen them before?"

"Not one of them."

Warner’s lips scarcely moved as he said:

"Is it the matter of the envelope?"

"I think so.  And, Warner, I don’t intend to drag you into any——"

"Wait.  Are you armed?"

Halkett shook his head.

"That’s no good," he said.  "I can’t afford to do anything conspicuous.
If I’m involved with the authorities I’m done for, and I might just as
well be knocked on the head."  After a moment he added: "I think perhaps
you’d better say good-by to me now, Warner——"

"Why?"

"Because, if they manage to force a quarrel, I don’t mean to have you
involved——"

"Do you really expect me to run away?" asked Warner, laughing.

Halkett looked up at him with a faint smile:

"I’m under very heavy obligations to you already——"

"You are coming to Saïs with me."

"Thanks so much, but——"

"Come on, Halkett.  I’m not going to leave you here."

"My dear chap, I’ll wriggle out somehow.  I’ve done it before.  After
all, they may not mean mischief."

Warner turned and looked across at the three men. Two were whispering
together; the third, arms folded, was staring truculently at Halkett out
of his light blue eyes.

Warner turned his head and said quietly to Halkett:

"I take two of them to be South Germans or Austrians. The other might be
Alsatian.  Do any of these possible nationalities worry you?"

"Exactly," said Halkett coolly.

"In other words, any trouble you may expect is likely to come from
Germans?"

"That’s about it."

Warner lighted a cigarette.

"Shall we try a quiet getaway?" he asked.

"No; I’ll look out for myself.  Clear out, Warner, there’s a good
fellow——"

"Don’t ask me to do a thing that you wouldn’t do," retorted Warner
sharply.  "Come on; I’m going to drive you to Saïs."

Halkett flushed.

"I shan’t forget how decent you’ve been," he said. They summoned the
waiter, paid the reckoning, rose, and walked leisurely toward the door.

At the _caissière’s_ desk they turned aside to say good-night to
Philippa.

The girl looked up from her accounts, pencil poised, gazing at Warner.

"_Au revoir_, Philippa," he said, smilingly.

The girl’s serious features relaxed; she nodded to him gayly, turned,
still smiling, to include Halkett. And instantly a swift change altered
her face; she half rose from her chair, arm outstretched.

"What is that man doing behind you!" she cried out—too late to avert
what she saw coming.  For the man close behind Halkett had dexterously
passed a silk handkerchief across his throat from behind and had jerked
him backward; and, like lightning, two other men appeared on either side
of him, tore his coat wide, and thrust their hands into his breast
pockets.

Warner pivoted on his heel and swung hard on the man with the silk
handkerchief, driving him head-on into the table behind, which fell with
a crash of glassware.  Halkett, off his balance, fell on top of the
table, dragging with him one of the men whose hand had become entangled
in his breast pocket.

The people who had been seated at the table were hurled right and left
among the neighboring tables; a howl of anger and protest burst from the
crowd; there came a shout of "_Cochon_!"—a rush to see what had
happened; people mounted on chairs, waiters arrived, running.  Out of
the mêlée Halkett wriggled and rose, coughing, his features still
crimson from partial strangulation.  Warner caught his arm in a grip of
iron and whisked him out of the door.  The next instant they were
engulfed in the crowds thronging the market square.

Warner, thoroughly aroused and excited, still maintained his grip on
Halkett’s arm.

"Did you ever see anything like it?" he said in a low voice.  "It came
like a bolt from the sky.  That was the _Coup du Père François_.  Did
they get anything from you?"

Halkett spoke with difficulty, pressing his throat with his fingers and
trying to smile.

"What they got," he said, "was meant for them to get—time-tables and a
ticket to Paris.  I don’t intend to travel that way——"  A fit of
coughing shook him. "——For a moment I thought they’d actually broken my
neck.  What did you do to that fellow with his noose?"

"He fell on the table behind you.  Everybody was piled up with the
crockery.  You wriggled out like a lizard."  He turned cautiously and
looked back over his shoulder.  "Do you think we have been followed?"

"I can’t see that we are."

They entered the rue d’Auros and turned into the Hôtel Boule d’Argent.
Warner sent a chasseur to the stables for his horse and dogcart; Halkett
hastened to collect his luggage.

In a few minutes the horse and cart came rattling out of the mews;
luggage, canvases, and the sack of colors were placed in the boot;
Warner mounted, taking reins and whip; Halkett sprang up beside him, and
the groom freed the horse’s head.

Into the almost deserted Boulevard d’Athos they went at a lively clip,
circled the lovely church of Sainte Cassilda at the head of it, and
trotted out into the broad highroad which swings cast to the river
Récollette, and follows that pretty little stream almost due south to
the hills and cliffs and woods and meadows of Saïs.

The sun hung low above the fields, reddening the roadside bushes and
painting the tall ranks of poplars with vivid streaks of gold and rose.

Just outside the remains of the old town wall they passed through a
suburban hamlet.  That, except for a farm or two more, included the last
houses this side of Saïs.

For a little while neither of the young men spoke; Halkett’s cough had
ceased, but now and then he fidgeted with his collar as though to ease
it from the bruised throat.  Warner drove, looking straight between his
horse’s ears, as though intently preoccupied with his navigation.

After a while Halkett said:

"The envelope is safe, I take it:"

"Oh, yes.  They never noticed me until I hit one of them."

"I’m so grateful," said Halkett, "that it’s quite useless for me to try
to say so——"

"Listen!  I’m enjoying it.  I’m grateful to _you_, Halkett, for giving
me the opportunity.  I needed touching up."  He laughed in sheer
exhilaration.  "We stodgy professional people ought to be stirred out of
our ruts, A little mix-up like that with a prospect of others is exactly
what I needed."

Halkett smiled rather dryly.

"Oh," he said.  "If it strikes you that way, I shall feel much
relieved."

"Relieve yourself of all embarrassment," returned Warner gayly.  "If our
acquaintance entails further scraps with those gentlemen, I shall be
merely the more grateful to you."

They both laughed; Warner swung his long whip like a fly rod and caught
the loop cleverly on his whip-stock.

Halkett, still laughing, said:

"You don’t look as though you enjoyed a cabaret fight.  You look far too
respectable."

"Oh, I am respectable, I suppose.  But I’m not very aged yet, and my
student days are still rather near."

The road curved out now along the Récollette where it still flowed a
placid stream between green meadows and through charming bits of
woodland.  In the glass of the flood the sunset sky was mirrored;
swallows cut the still, golden surface; slowly spreading circles of
rising fish starred it at intervals.

"So you don’t go armed?" remarked Warner thoughtfully.

"No."

The American pointed with the butt of his whip to the dashboard where
the blue-black butts of two automatics appeared from slung holsters.

"Why the artillery?" inquired Halkett.

"I drive my neighbor, Madame de Moidrey, sometimes; and in summer it is
often dark before we return. It’s a lovely country; also, the quarrymen
at the cement works are a rough lot.  So I let my pretty neighbor take
no chances with me."

"Quite right," nodded Halkett.  "When quarrymen get drunk it’s no joke.
What quarry is it?"

"The Esser Company.  It’s a German cement concern, I believe."

"German?"

"I believe so."

"Where is this quarry?"

"In the hills back of the Récollette.  They run barges to Ausone.  Just
below their canal the Récollette becomes unnavigable, and the shallows
and rapids continue for several miles below Saïs.  That is the reason, I
suppose, that the country around Saïs remains primitive and undeveloped,
lacking as it does railroad and water transportation."

"I wonder," said Halkett thoughtfully, "whether I might see the quarry
and cement works.  It must be interesting."

Warner shrugged:

"If that sort of thing interests you, I’ll take you over.  It’s a messy
place full of stone crushers and derricks and broken rock and pits full
of green water. Still, if you want to see it——"

"Thanks, I should like to."

Warner glanced at him; a slight grin touched his lips.

"You seem to be interested in a great many kinds of business," he said,
"—literature, military science, cement works, cabaret life——"

Halkett laughed outright; but the next moment he turned like a flash in
his seat, and Warner also cast a quick glance behind him.

"A car coming!" he said, driving to the right. "What’s the matter,
Halkett?  You don’t think it’s after us?"

"I think it is."

"What?"

"I know damned well it is!" said Halkett between his teeth.  "Shall I
jump and swim for it?  Pull in a moment, Warner——"

"Wait!  Do you see that gate in the hedge?  Get out and open it.  Quick,
Halkett!  I know what to do——"

Halkett leaped, dragged open the gate; Warner swung his horse and drove
through and out into a swampy meadow set with wild flowers and bushes
and slender saplings.

The wheels of the cart cut through the spongy sod and sank almost to the
hubs, but Warner used his whip and Halkett, taking the horse by the
head, ran forward beside the swaying cart.  Right across their path
flowed a deep, narrow stream, partly invisible between reeds and tufts
of swamp weed; Warner turned the vehicle with difficulty, urged his
nervous horse across a cattle bridge which had been fashioned out of a
few loose planks, and drove up on firmer ground among tall ferns and
willow bushes.

"Pull up those planks!" he shouted back to Halkett, guiding his horse
with difficulty; and Halkett ran back, lifted the mossy, half rotted
planks, and threw them up among the bushes.

A grey touring car which had halted on the highway outside the hedge had
now turned after them through the gate; and already the driver was
having a bad time of it in the swampy meadow.

As Halkett lifted the last plank that spanned the brook, one of three
men in the tonneau of the car stood up and fired a revolver at him; and
another of the men, seated beside him, also fired deliberately, resting
his elbow on the side of the stalled car to steady his aim, and
supporting the revolver with his left hand under the barrel.

Halkett ran back to where the cart stood, partly concealed among the
ferns and bushes; Warner, holding whip and reins in one hand, passed him
an automatic revolver and drew out the other weapon for his own use.

"This is rottenly ungrateful of me," said the Englishman.  "I’ve
certainly involved you now!"

"It’s all right; I’m enjoying it!  Now, Halkett, their car is badly
mired.  There is another gate to that hedge a few hundred yards below.
If you’ll just lay those planks in the cart, we’ll drive along the hard
ground here and make another bridge below."

Halkett picked up the wet and muddy planks, one by one, and placed them
crossways in the cart.  Then, at a nod from Warner, he climbed up and
the cart started slowly south, winding cautiously in and out among the
bushes.

When they had driven a little distance, the men in the car across the
brook caught sight of them; the driver left his wheel and sprang out;
and from either door of the tonneau the three other men followed,
revolvers lifted.  There was no shouting; not a word spoken; not a sound
except the hard, dry crack of the pistols.

"I don’t know," said Warner coolly, "whether this horse will stand our
fire, but if they cross the stream we’ll have to begin shooting....
We’d better begin now anyway, I think."  He drew rein, turned in his
seat, and fired two shots in quick succession.  The horse started, and,
instantly checked, stood trembling but behaving well enough.

Another shot from Halkett brought the running men to a halt.  Warner
drove on immediately; three of the men started to follow on a run, but
half a dozen rapid shots brought them to a dead stop again.  And again
the dogcart jolted slowly forward.

One of the men made a furious gesture, turned, and ran back to the
mud-stalled car; two of the others followed to aid him to extricate the
machine; the fourth man, skulking along the stream, continued to advance
as the dogcart drove on.

Warner, driving carefully, shoved with his foot a box of clips toward
the dashboard; Halkett reloaded both automatics.  Presently the cart
turned east, descending the hard slope toward the stream again; and the
man who had followed them along the swampy brook immediately opened
fire.

Halkett and Warner sprang out; the former shouldered the planks and ran
forward; the latter, holding his nervous horse by the head, fired at the
man among the reeds as he advanced toward the stream.

It seemed odd that so many bullets could fly and hit nothing; Halkett
heard them whining over his head; the horse heard them too and
threatened to become unmanageable.  Far up the stream the three other
men were laboring frantically to disengage the grey automobile; the man
across the creek, routed out of the reeds by the stream of bullets
directed at him, was running now to get out of range.  Evidently his
automatic was empty, for it merely swung in his hand as he ran.

But what occupied Warner was the course the man was taking, straight for
the lower gate in the hedge.

"Jump in!" he called to Halkett.  "We can’t wait for the other planks!"
The Englishman swung up beside him; the whip whistled and the horse, now
thoroughly frightened, bounded forward down the slope and took the
improvised bridge at a single leap. For one moment it looked like a
general smash, but the cart stood it, and, after a perilous second,
righted itself.

Straight at the closed gate drove Warner, whipping his horse into a dead
run; crashed through the flimsy pickets, slashed mercilessly with his
whip at the man who pluckily stripped off his coat and strove to make
the horse swerve into the hedge, as a toreador waves his cloak at a
charging bull.

Halkett could have shot the man; but he merely turned his weapon on him
as they dashed out into the highroad once more, and tore away due south
through the rose and golden glory of the sunset.

The horse ran a flat mile before Warner chose to ease him down; the
summer wind whistled in their ears; the last glow faded from the
purpling zenith; the crimson streak on the river surface, which had run
parallel on their left like level and jagged lightning, glimmered to a
pallid ochre tint; and the flying mist of trees and bushes which had
fled past like an endless rush of phantoms now took shape and substance
once more above the rising veil of river mist.

Warner’s tense features were flushed with excitement. As he gradually
eased in his horse he was smiling.

"Well, what do you know about this performance of ours, Halkett?" he
inquired rather breathlessly. "Can you beat it in the movies?"

"I’m wondering what I’ve let you in for," said the Englishman very
seriously.

"I’ll tell you," laughed Warner; "you’ve let me in for a last glimpse of
my youth—the days when everything went and every chance for mischief was
gratefully seized—the days when I was a subject of the only real
democracy on earth—the Latin Quarter—the days that dawn no more,
Halkett.  This is the last gleam from their afterglow.  _Nosce tempus_!
But the sun has set at last, Halkett, and the last haymaker is going
home."

"It would not have been very amusing if one of those bullets had knocked
you off your seat," remarked Halkett.

"But they didn’t, old chap!" returned Warner heartily.  "It was a good
mix-up—exciting, harmless, and beneficial.  I feel years younger.
Respectability is a good, warm coat for the winter of life; but one
feels its weight in Indian summer."

Halkett smiled but shook his head:

"No good hunting trouble.  You’ve only to turn around any time to find
it sniffing in your tracks."

"You don’t understand.  For years I’ve worked very steadily, very
seriously.  I’ve painted, studied, read; I’ve made a living by selling
some pictures, by royalties on the reproduction of pictures, by teaching
a summer class of girls.  After a while, you know, one goes stale with
respectability.  I went out to the East and saw the Balkan fighting.  It
helped some.  I made some sketches last year in Mexico.  That helped.

"But there’s an exhilaration about lawbreaking—or in aiding and abetting
a lawbreaker—that has the rest beaten to a batter.  Today’s misdeeds
mean a new lease of life to me, Halkett."

The Englishman laughed.  He was still cradling the two automatics on his
knees; now, with a careless glance behind him, he leaned forward and
replaced them in their respective holsters.

"For a rather celebrated and weighty member of the social structure," he
remarked, "there is a good deal of the boy left in you."

"When that dies in a man," returned Warner lightly, "creative and
constructive work end.  The child who built with blocks, the youth who
built airier castles, is truly dead.  And so is the man he has become."

"Do you think so?"

"I know it.  The same intellectual and physical restlessness drives one
to create and construct, which, as a boy, drove one into active and
constructive mischief. When the day dawns wherein creating no longer
appeals to me, then I am old indeed, Halkett, and the overcoat of
respectability will suit me the year round....  I’m very glad that I
have found it oppressive this July day.  By the way, what day does it
happen to be?"

Halkett said:

"It happens to be the last day of July.  I have an idea that several
billion other people are destined to remember these last few days of
July, 1914, as long as they live."

"Why?" inquired the American curiously.

"Because, within these last few days, Austria has declared war on
Servia, Russia has already ordered partial mobilization, Germany has
sent her an ultimatum, and will back it up tomorrow."

"What!  How do you know?"

"You don’t mean to ask me that, do you?" said Halkett pleasantly.

"No, of course not——"  Warner gazed straight ahead of him as he drove;
his altered features had become gravely expressionless.  After a moment
he said:

"I can’t comprehend it.  Servia had agreed to everything demanded—except
that one item which she offered to arbitrate.  I can’t understand it."

Halkett said calmly:

"It is not difficult to understand.  A telegram has been suppressed—the
only telegram which could now prevent war."  He removed his straw hat,
took from the lining a strip of semi-transparent paper, and read aloud
the minute handwriting:


"The German government has published several telegrams which the Emperor
of Russia exchanged with Emperor William.  Among these telegrams,
nevertheless, is one which was not published—a dispatch from His Russian
Majesty, dated July 29, 1914, containing a proposition to submit the
Austro-Servian conflict to The Hague Tribunal.

"This has an appearance of a desire in Germany to pass over in silence
the attempt to prevent the approaching collision.  In view of this, the
Minister of Foreign Affairs is authorized to publish the telegram
mentioned, of which this is the text:

"’Thanks for your conciliatory and friendly telegram. Inasmuch as the
official message presented today by your ambassador to my minister was
conveyed in a very different tone, I beg you to explain this divergency.
It would be right to give over the Austro-Servian problem to The Hague
Conference.  I trust in your wisdom and friendship.’"


"Where did you get that?" asked Warner bluntly.

"This morning at the Boule d’Argent.  A friend was kind enough to leave
it for me in a note," he added blandly.

"Do you believe it to be authentic?"

"Unfortunately, I can not question its truth."

"You think that the German government——"

"Without any doubt at all, Warner.  For her The Day is about to dawn at
last.  Her Joshua has halted the course of the sun long enough to suit
himself.  It is scheduled to rise tomorrow."

"Do you mean war?"

"I do."

"Where?"

"Well, here, in France—to mention one place."

"In _France_!"

"Surely, _surely_!"

"Invasion?"

"Exactly."

"From which way?"

Halkett shrugged:

"Does anybody now believe it will come by way of the Barrier Forts?  The
human race never has been partial to cross-country traveling; only ants
prefer it."

"You think it will come by the flank—through Belgium?"

"Ask yourself, Warner.  Is there an easier way for it to come?"

"But the treaties?"

"_Nulla salus bello; necessitas no habet legem._"

"Nothing dishonorable is ever necessary."

"Ah!  If nations could only agree upon the definition of that word
’honor’!  There’d be fewer wars, my friend."

"You think, if France follows Russia’s example and mobilizes, that
Germany will strike through Belgium?"

"I’m sure of it."

"What about England, then?" asked Warner bluntly.

But Halkett remained silent; and he did not repeat the question.

"After all," he said, presently, "this entire business is incredible.
Diplomacy will find a way out of it."  And, after a moment’s silence:
"You don’t think so?"

"No."

Presently Halkett turned and looked back through the gathering dusk.

"I wonder," he said, "whether they’ll get their car out tonight?"

"They’ll have to go back to Ausone for aid," said Warner.

"Do you still mean to put me up at Saïs?"

"Certainly.  You don’t expect your friends back there to assault the
inn, do you?"

"No," said Halkett, laughing.  "They don’t do things that way just yet."

Warner snapped his whip, caught the curling lash, let it free, twirled
it, and, snapped it again, whistling cheerfully a gay air from his
student days—a tune he had not thought of before in years.

"I believe," he said, frankly hopeful, "that you and I are going to have
another little party with those fellows before this matter is ended."

"I’m sure of it," said Halkett quietly.

A few moments later Warner, still whistling his joyous air, pointed
toward a cluster of tiny lights far ahead in the dark valley.

"Saïs," he said; and resumed his song blithely:

    "Gai, gai, mariez-vous!
      C’est un usage
      Fort sage.
    Gai, gai, mariez-vous,
    Le mariage est si doux!—"


"Like a bird it is!" he added ironically.

"By the way, you’re _not_ married, are you?" inquired Halkett uneasily.

"Oh, Lord!  No!  Why the unmerited suspicion?"

"Nothing much.  I just thought that after getting you into this scrape I
shouldn’t dare face your wife."

Then they both laughed heartily.  They were already on excellent terms.
Already acquaintance was becoming an unembarrassed friendship.

Warner flourished his whip and continued to laugh:

"I have no serious use for women.  To me the normal and healthy woman is
as naïve as the domestic and blameless cat, whose first ambition is for
a mate, whose second is to be permanently and agreeably protected, and
whose ultimate aim is to acquire a warm basket by the fireside and fill
it full of kittens! ... No; I’m not married.  Don’t worry, Halkett."

He whistled another bar of his lively song:

"Women?  Ha!  By the way, I’ve a bunch of them here in Saïs, all
painting away like the devil and all, no doubt laying plans for that
fireside basket.  It’s the only thing a woman ever really thinks about,
no matter what else she pretends to be busy with.  I suppose it’s
natural; also, it’s natural for some men to shy wide of such things.
I’m one of those men.  So, Halkett, as long as you live, you need never
be afraid of offending any wife of mine!"

"Your sentiments," said Halkett, mockingly serious, "merely reveal
another bond between us.  I thank God frequently that I am a bachelor."

"Good," said Warner with emphasis.  And he chanted gayly, as he drove,
"Gai, gai, marions-nous—" in a very agreeable baritone voice, while the
lights of Saïs grew nearer and brighter among the trees below.

"I never saw a girl worth the loss of my liberty," he remarked.  "Did
you, Halkett?  And," he continued, "to be tied up to a mentally
deficient appendage with only inferior intellectual resources, and no
business or professional occupation—to be tied fast to something that
sits about to be entertained, and that does nothing except nourish
itself and clothe itself, and have babies!—It’s unthinkable, isn’t it?"

"It’s pretty awful....  Of course if a woman came along who combined
looks and intellect and professional self-sufficiency——"

"You don’t find them combined.  Take a slant at my class.  That’s the
only sort who even pretend to anything except vacuous idleness.  There
are no Portias, Halkett.  There never were.  If there were, I’d take a
chance myself, I think.  But a man who marries the young girl of today
has on his hands an utterly useless incubus.  No wonder he sometimes
makes experiments elsewhere.  No wonder he becomes a rainbow chaser. But
he’s like a caged squirrel in a wheel; the more he runs around looking
for consolation the less progress he makes.

"No, Halkett, this whole marriage business is a pitiable fizzle.  Until
both parties to a marriage contract are financially independent,
intellectually self-sufficient, and properly equipped to earn their own
livings by a business or a trade or a profession—and until, if a mistake
has been made, escape from an ignoble partnership is made legally
easy—marriage will remain the sickly, sentimental, pious fraud which a
combination of ignorance, superstition, custom, and orthodoxy have made
it.

"I’m rather eloquent on marriage, don’t you think so?"

"Superbly!" said Halkett, laughing.  "But, do you know, Warner, your
very eloquence betrays the fact that you have thought as much about it
as the unfortunate sex you have so eloquently indicted."

"What’s that?" demanded Warner wrathfully.

"I’m sorry to say it, but you are exactly the sort of man to fall with a
tremendous flop."

"If ever I fall——"

"You fell temporarily this afternoon."

"With that painted, grey-eyed——"

"Certainly, with the girl Philippa.  Come, old chap, you were out with
her a long while!  What did you two talk about?  Love?"

"No, you idiot——"

"You didn’t even mention the word ’love’?  Be honest, old chap!"

Warner began to speak, checked himself.

"Didn’t you or she even mention the subject?" persisted Halkett with
malicious delight.

But Warner was too angry to speak, and the Englishman’s laughter rang
out boyishly under the stars. To look at them one would scarcely believe
they had been a target for bullets within the hour.

"You don’t suppose," began Warner, "that——"

"No, no!" cried Halkett.  "—Not with that girl. I’m merely proving my
point.  You’re too eloquent concerning women not to have spent a good
deal of time in speculating about them.  You even speculated concerning
Philippa.  The man who mourns the scarcity of Portias wouldn’t be likely
to care for one if he met her.  You’re just the man to fall in love with
everything you denounce in a girl.  And I have no doubt I shall live to
witness that sorrowful spectacle."

Warner had to laugh.

"You are rather a terrifying psychologist," he said. "You almost make me
believe I have a streak of romance in me."

"Oh, we all have that, Warner.  We call it by other names—cleverness,
logic, astuteness, intelligence—but we all have it in us, and it is
revealed in every man who marries a woman for love....  Believe me, no
normal man ever lived who was not, at some brief moment in his life, in
love with some woman.  Maybe he ignored it and it never came again;
maybe he strangled it and went on about more serious business; maybe it
died a natural but early death.  But once, before he died, he must have
had a faint, brief glimpse of it.  And that was the naissance of the
latent germ of romance in him—ephemeral, perhaps, but inevitably to be
born before it died."

Warner waved his whip and snapped it maliciously:

"So you have been in love, have you?"

"Why?  Because I, also, am suspiciously eloquent?"

"That’s the reason—according to you."

Halkett smiled slightly.

"Perhaps I have been," he said....  "Hello!  Is this your inn?" as they
drew up before the lighted windows of a two-story building standing
close to the left-hand edge of the highway, under the stars.

"Here we are at the Golden Peach," nodded Warner, as the door opened and
a smiling peasant lad came out with a: "Bon soir, Monsieur Warner!  Bon
soir, messieurs!"  And he took the horse’s head while they descended.


That night, lying awake on his bed in the Inn of the Golden Peach,
Halkett heard the heavy rush of a southbound automobile passing under
his window with the speed of an express train.

And he wondered whether the spongy morass by the little brook still held
the long, grey touring car imprisoned.

He got up, went to his window and leaned out.  Far away down the road
the tail lamps of the machine twinkled, dwindled to sparks, and were
engulfed in the invisible.

"More trouble south of me," he thought.  But he returned to his bed and
lay there, tranquil in the knowledge that when he started south alone on
the morrow the envelope would not be on his person.

After a while he rose again, walked to the door connecting his room with
Warner’s, and opened it cautiously.

"I’m awake," said Warner in a low voice.

"Did you hear that car?"

"Yes.  Was it the one that chased us?"

"I only guess so.  Listen, Warner!  When I go south tomorrow, what are
you going to do with that envelope until I send a man back for it?"

"I’ve thought it all out, old chap.  I shall take one of my new
canvases, lay the envelope on it, cover envelope and canvas with a
quarter of an inch of Chinese White, and when the enamel is dry I shall
paint on it.  By the way, did you do your telephoning to your
satisfaction?"

"Entirely, thank you."

"You got your man?"

"I did," said Halkett.  "He’s on his way here now. Good night.  I’ll
sleep like a fox, old chap!"

"Good night," said Warner cheerily, enamored with his invention for the
safety of the envelope, as well as with the entire adventure.

That night, while they both slept, far away southward, on a lonely road
in the Vosges, the car which had rushed by under their windows was now
drawn up on the edge of the road.

Four men sat in it, waiting.

Just as dawn broke, what they awaited came up out of the south—a far,
faint rattle announced it, growing rapidly louder; and a motor cyclist,
riding without lights, shot out of the grey obscurity, trailing a
comet’s tail of dust.

Head-on he came, like a streak, caught sight suddenly of the motionless
car and of four men standing up in it, ducked and flattened out over his
handlebars as four revolvers poured forth streams of fire.

Motor cycle and rider swerved into the ditch with a crash; the latter,
swaying wide in his saddle, was hurled a hundred feet further through
the air, landing among the wild flowers on the bank above.

He was the man to whom Halkett had telephoned.

He seemed to be very young—an Englishman—with blood on his fair hair,
and his blue eyes partly open.

They searched him thoroughly; and when they could find nothing more they
lifted him between two of them; two others carried the wrecked motor
cycle out across the fields toward the slope of a wooded mountain.

After ten minutes or so, two of the men returned to the car, drew a
couple of short, intrenching spades from the tool box, and went away
again across the fields toward the misty woods.

A throstle in a thorn bush had been singing all the while.



                              *CHAPTER V*


Halkett had not slept well; all night long in the garden under his
window the nightingales had been very noisy.  When he slept, sinister
dreams had assailed him; cocks crowed at sunrise, cowbells tinkled,
outside his drawn blinds a refreshed and garrulous world was awakening;
and the happy tumult awoke him, too.

He was bathed, shaved, and dressed, and downstairs before Warner awoke
at all; and he began to rove about the place which, by daylight, did not
look at all like what he had imagined it to be the night before.

The Inn of the Golden Peach was one of those cream-tinted stucco houses
built into and around a series of haphazard garden walls which inclosed
flower and fruit gardens, cow-barns and stables.  Its roof and wall
copings were covered with red tiles, weather-faded to a salmon tint; two
incredible climbing rosebushes nearly covered the front with delicate,
salmon-pink blossoms, and, in the rear, flowers bloomed along
stone-edged borders—masses of white clove pinks, rockets, poppies,
heliotrope, reseda, portulaca, and pansies—a careless riot of color,
apparently, yet set with that instinctive good taste which seldom fails
in France and is common alike to aristocrat and peasant.

Beyond the strawberry beds were fruit trees, peach, cherry, plum, and
apricot—the cherries hanging ripe and deeply crimson among dark green
leaves, the apricots already golden, peaches and plums delicately
painted with a bloom which promised approaching maturity.

Everywhere the grass grew thick and intensely green, though it was not
very neatly kept; water ran out of a stone trough and made a dancing
little rivulet over a bed of artificially set stones among which grew
ferns. Beyond stood a trellised summerhouse, with iron tables and chairs
painted green.

On the edge of the watering trough, Halkett seated himself in the sun.
An immaculate tiger cat sat on the garden walk a few paces away,
polishing her countenance with the velvet side of one forepaw, and
occasionally polishing the paw with a delicate pink tongue.

Once or twice she looked at Halkett without any apparent interest; now
and then she glanced up with more interest at the side of the house
where, under the kitchen door, in a big basket-cage, a jay hopped about,
making a scuffling noise among his cracked maize and rye straw.

However, the cat proved entirely susceptible to flattery, responded
graciously to polite advances, and presently relapsed into a purring
doze on his knee.

It was very still in the garden, too early even for butterflies to be
abroad.  The kitchen door remained closed; smoke had just begun to rise
from one chimney.

In the peaceful silence nothing stirred; there was no breeze, no sound
save the trickle of water among fern fronds.

Then, from nowhere apparently, into this golden tranquillity came a
nun—no, not a nun, but one of those Grey Daughters of St. Vincent de
Paul, who have "for their monastery the houses of the sick, for a cell a
hired room, for a cloister the city streets, for a veil modesty."

In her white _cornette_, or pointed coiffe, with its starched wings, her
snowy collarette, wide sleeves, grey apron, and grey-blue habit, she
became instantly the medieval incarnation which vitalized the old garden
and the ancient wall, so that the centuries they had witnessed were born
again there where their spirit had returned, clothed in the costume
which they had known so well.

The _soeur de charité_ had not seen Halkett; she passed lightly,
swiftly, along the flowering borders with scissors and ozier basket,
bending here to gather the white clove pinks, kneeling there to snip off
pansies.

And it was only when the grey cat leaped from Halkett’s knees and
advanced toward the Sister of Charity with a little mew of recognition
that she turned, still kneeling, caught sight of Halkett, and remained
looking at him, one delicate white hand resting on the purring cat.

Halkett was on his feet, his hat under his arm, now, and he bade her
good-morning with that pleasant deference which marks such men
immediately for what they are.

She smiled faintly from the transparent shadow of her white _cornette_.

"Flowers are all so lovely," she said, "it is never easy for me to
choose.  They are for my school, you know?"—with a slight rising
inflection.  But evidently this young man did not know, so she added, "I
am Sister Eila," and smiled again, when it was apparent that he had
never heard of Sister Eila.

"I am English," he said, "—traveling through France on business.  I
arrived last night to visit my friend, Mr. Warner.  My name is Halkett."

She nodded and snipped a few more pansies.

"May I help you, Sister?  If you don’t mind telling me what flowers you
desire——"

"Merci, Monsieur.  Pansies, if you please.  The children see odd little
faces in their petals, and it amuses them."

Down on his knees beside the border, the grey cat seated between them,
Halkett picked pansies and laid them in rows in her ozier basket.

"Of course," he said, "your school is a charity school."

"For the poor, of course.  My children are those of the quarrymen."

"You do not teach them alone?"

"Oh, no.  Sister Félicité teaches with me.  And then, of course, we are
together when, during the vacation, hospital service is required of us."

"Is there a quarry hospital?"

"Yes, Monsieur.  It is more like an ambulance where first aid is given.
The hospital at Ausone takes our sick."  Still kneeling, she looked up
at the slender fruit trees beyond, and the sunlight fell full on the
most exquisite young face that Halkett had ever seen. Whether it was her
unexpected beauty that gave him a little shock, or the sudden idea that
in her features there was a haunting resemblance to somebody he had
seen, perhaps met, he did not know.

Sometimes in the first glimpse of a face we recognize the living
substance of her to whom we have aspired, and of whom we have dreamed.
But she has never existed except in the heart which created her until we
unconsciously endow another with all we dreamed she was.

He went on gathering flowers to fill her basket.

"I wonder," she said musingly, "whether any of those apricots are ripe.
One of my children is convalescent, and she really needs a little fresh
fruit."

So Halkett rose, threaded his way through the flowers, and looked
carefully among the branches for a ripe apricot.  He found two, and
Sister Eila laid them together in the corner of her basket, which was
now full.

He walked with her to the garden door, which was set solidly under an
arch in the wall.  There she looked up, smiling, as she said in English:

"Is not our country of Saïs very lovely, Mr. Halkett?"

"Yes, indeed, it is," he replied, also smiling in his surprise.  "But,
Sister Eila, you are English, are you not?"

"Irish—but brought up in France." ... Her face grew graver; she said
very quietly: "Is it true there is any danger of war?  The children are
talking; it is evident that the quarrymen must be discussing such things
among themselves.  I thought I’d ask you——"

"I’m afraid," he said, "that there is some slight chance of war,
Sister."

"Here in France?"

"Yes—here."

"It is Germany, of course?"

"Yes, the menace comes from—" he cast a quick glance toward the east,
"—from over there.... Perhaps diplomacy may regulate the affair.  It is
always best to hope."

"Yes, it is best always—to hope," she said serenely.... "Thank you, Mr.
Halkett.  Mr. Warner is a friend of mine.  Perhaps you may have time to
visit our school with him."

"I’ll come," said Halkett.

She smiled and nodded; he opened the heavy green door for her, and
Sister Eila went out of the golden world of legend, leaving the flowers
and young trees very still behind her.



                              *CHAPTER VI*


Warner discovered him there in the garden, seated once more on the stone
trough, the grey cat dozing on his knees.

"Hello, old chap!" he said cheerfully.  "Did you sleep?"

Halkett gave him a pleasant, absent-minded glance:

"Not very well, thanks."

"Nor I.  Those damn nightingales kept me awake. Has your man arrived?"

"Not yet.  I don’t quite understand why."

Warner sauntered up and caressed the cat.

"Well, Ariadne, how goes it with you?" he inquired, gently rubbing her
dainty ears, an attention enthusiastically appreciated, judging by the
increased purring.

"Ariadne, eh?" inquired Halkett.

"Yes—her lover forsook her—although she doesn’t seem to mind as much as
the original lady did.  No doubt she knows there’s a Bacchus somewhere
on his way to console her."

The other nodded in his pleasant, absent-minded fashion.  After a moment
he said:

"I’ve been talking to a Sister of Charity here in the garden."

"Sister Félicité?"

"No; Sister Eila."

"Isn’t she the prettiest thing!" exclaimed Warner. "And she’s as good as
she is beautiful.  We’re excellent friends, Sister Eila and I.  I’ll
take you over to her school after breakfast."

"It’s the Grey Sisterhood, isn’t it?"

"St. Vincent de Paul’s Filles de la Charité; not the Grey Nuns, you
know."

"I supposed not.  Of course these nuns are not cloistered."

"They are not even nuns.  They don’t take perpetual vows."

Halkett looked up quickly.

"What!" he demanded.

"No.  The vows of these Sisters of Charity are simple vows.  They renew
them annually.  Still, it is a strict order.  Their novitiate is five
years’ probation."

"Oh!  I supposed——"  He remained silent, his thoughtful gaze fixed on
space.

"Yes, our brave gentle Sisters of Charity remain probationers for five
years, and then every year they renew their vows of chastity, poverty,
and obedience. The annual vows are taken some time in March, I believe.
They have no cloister, you know, other than a room in some poor street
near the school or hospital where they work.  Did you ever hear the
wonderful story of their Order?"

"No."

So Warner sketched for him the stainless history of a true saint, and of
the Filles de St. Vincent de Paul through the centuries of their
existence; and Halkett listened unstirring, his handsome head bent, his
hand resting motionless on Ariadne’s head.

A few minutes later a fresh-faced peasant girl, in scarlet bodice and
velvet-slashed black skirts, came out into the garden bearing a tray
with newly baked rolls, new butter, and café-au-lait for two.  She
placed it on the iron table in the little summerhouse, curtseyed to the
two young men, exchanged a gay greeting with Warner, and trotted off
again in her _chaussons_—the feminine, wholesome, and admirable symbol
of all that is fascinating in the daughters of France.

Halkett placed Ariadne on the grass, rose, and followed Warner to the
arbor; Ariadne tagged after them, making gentle but pleased remarks.
There was an extra saucer, which Warner filled with milk and set before
the cat.

"You know," he said to Halkett, "I like to eat by myself—or with some
man.  So I have my meals served out here, or in the tap room when it
rains.  The Harem feeds itself in the dining-room——"

"The _what_?"

"My class, I mean.  An irreverent friend of mine in Paris dubbed it ’the
Harem,’ and the title stuck—partly, I suppose, because of its outrageous
absurdity, partly because it’s a terse and convenient title."

"_They_ don’t call it that, do they?"

"I should say not!  And I hope they don’t know that others do.  Anyway,
the Harem dawdles over its meals and talks art talk at the long table
where Madame Arlon—the Patronne—presides.  You’ll have to meet them."

"Do you criticise your—Harem—this morning?" inquired Halkett, laughing.

"Yes; I give them their daily pabulum.  Do you want to come about with
me and see how it’s done? After the distribution of pap I usually pitch
my own umbrella somewhere away from their vicinity and make an hour’s
sketch.  After that I paint seriously for the remainder of the day.  But
I’ll take you over to Sister Eila’s school this morning if you like."
He fished out a black caporal cigarette and scratched a match.

Halkett, his cigarette already lighted, lounged sideways on the green
iron chair, his preoccupied gaze fixed on Ariadne.

"Annual vows," he said, "mean, of course, that a Sister renews such vows
voluntarily every year; does it not, Warner?"

"Yes."

"They usually do renew their vows, I suppose."

"Almost always, I believe."

"But—a Sister of Charity _could_ return to the—the world, if she so
desired?"

"It could be done, but it seldom is, I understand. The order is an
admirable one; a very wonderful order, Halkett.  They are careful about
admitting their novices, but what they regard as qualifications might
not be so considered in a cloistered order like the Ursalines.  The
novitiate is five years, I believe; except for the head of the order in
Paris, no grades and no ranks exist; all Sisters are alike and on the
same level."  He smiled.  "If anything could ever convert me to
Catholicism, I think it might be this order and the man who founded it,
Saint Vincent de Paul, wisest and best of all who have ever tried to
follow Christ."


Ariadne had evidently centered her gentle affections upon the new
Englishman; she trotted at his heels as he sauntered about in the
garden; she showed off for his benefit, playfully patting a grasshopper
into flight, frisking up trees only to cling for a moment, ears
flattened, and slide back to earth again; leaping high after lazy white
butterflies which hovered over the heliotrope, but always returning to
tag after Halkett where he roamed about, a burnt-out cigarette between
his fingers, his eyes dreaming, lost in speculations beyond the ken of
any cat.

The Harem came trooping into the garden, presently, shepherded by
Warner.  They all carried full field kit—folding easels, stools, and
umbrellas slung upon their several and feminine backs; a pair of clamped
canvases in one hand, color-box in the other.

Halkett was presented to them all.  There was Miss Alameda Golden, from
California, large, brightly colored, and breezy; there was Miss Mary
Davis, mouse-tinted, low-voiced, who originated in Brooklyn; there was
Miss Jane Post, of Chicago, restlessly intense and intellectually
curious concerning all mundane phenomena, from the origin of
café-au-lait to the origin of species; and there was Miss Nancy Lane, of
New York, a dark-eyed opportunist and an observer of man—sometimes
individually, always collectively.  And there was Miss Peggy Brooks,
cosmopolitan, sister of Madame de Moidrey who lived in a big house among
the hills across the meadows—the Château des Oiseaux, prettily named
because the protection and encouragement of little birds had been the
immemorial custom of its lordly proprietors.

And so the Harem, fully equipped to wrestle with the giant, Art, filed
out of the quiet garden and across the meadows by the little river
Récollette, where were haystacks, freshly erected and fragrant, which
very unusual subject they had unanimously chosen for their morning’s
crime.

To perpetrate it upon canvas they pitched their white umbrellas, tripod
easels, and sketching stools; then each maiden, taking a determined grip
upon her charcoal, squinted, so to speak, in chorus at the hapless
haystacks.  And the giant, Art, trembled in the seclusion of the
_ewigkeit_.

Warner regarded them gloomily; Halkett, who had disinterred a pipe from
his pockets, stood silently beside him, loading it.

"They’ll paint this morning, and after luncheon," said Warner.  "After
dinner they all get into an omnibus and drive to Ausone to remain
overnight, and spend tomorrow in street sketching.  I insist on their
doing this once every month.  When they return with their sketches, I
give them a general criticism."

"Will these young ladies ever really amount to anything?" inquired
Halkett.

"Probably never.  Europe, the British Isles, and the United States are
dotted all over with similar and feminine groups attempting haystacks.
The sum-total of physical energy thus expended must be enormous—like the
horsepower represented by Niagara. But it creates no ripple upon the
intellectual serenity of the thinking world.  God alone knows why women
paint haystacks.  I do my best to switch them toward other phenomena."

The rural postman on his bicycle, wearing _képi_ and blue blouse, came
pedaling along the highway.  When he saw Warner he saluted and got off
his wheel.

"Letters, Grandin?"

"Two, Monsieur Warner."

Warner took them.

"Eh, bien?" he inquired, lowering his voice; "et la guerre?"

"Monsieur Warner, the affair is becoming very serious."

"What is the talk in Ausone?"

"People are calm—too calm.  A little noise, now, a little gesticulation,
and the affair would seem less ominous to me—like the Algeciras matter
and the Schnaeble incident before that—Monsieur may remember?"

"I know.  It is like the hush before a tempest.  The world is too still,
the sunlight too perfect."

"There seems to me," said the little postman, "a curious unreality about
yesterday and today—something in the cloudless peace overhead that
troubles men."

Being no more and no less poet than are all French peasants, this
analysis sufficed him.  He touched his képi; the young men lifted their
hats, and the postman pedaled away down the spotless military road.

Warner glanced at the envelope in his hand; Halkett looked at it, too.
It was addressed in red ink.

"It’s for me, old chap," said the Englishman.

The other glanced up, surprised.

"Are you sure?"

"Quite—if you don’t mind trusting me."

Warner laughed and handed him the letter.

"It’s addressed very plainly to me," he said. "You’ve got your nerve
with you, Halkett."

"I have to keep it about me, old chap."

"No doubt.  And still I don’t see——"

"It’s very simple.  I sent two telephone messages last night.  One
letter should have arrived.  It has not!  The man who wrote this letter
must have gone miles last night on a motor cycle to mail it so that your
little postman should hand it to me this morning——"

"Intriguer!" interrupted Warner, still laughing. "He handed it to _me_!
I see you’re going to get me in Dutch before I’m rid of you."

"I don’t comprehend your Yankee slang," retorted Halkett with a slight
grin, "so if you don’t mind I’ll sit here on the grass and read my
letter.  Go on and criticize your Harem.  But before you go, lend me a
pencil.  They stole even my pencil in the Cabaret de Biribi."

Warner, amused, handed him a pencil and a pad, and strolled away toward
the industrious Harem to see what they might be perpetrating.

Halkett seated himself on the grass where, if he chose to glance up, he
had a clear view all about him. Then he opened his letter.

It was rather an odd sort of letter.  It began:


DEAR GREEN:

A red wagon, red seat, orange rumble, red mudguards, blue
steering-wheel, red bumpers, blue wheels, red engines, red varnish, red
open body, red machinery, red all over, in fact, except where it
isn’t—is for sale.


So much of this somewhat extraordinary letter Halkett very carefully and
slowly perused; then, still studying this first paragraph intently, he
wrote down on his pad the following letters in the following sequence,
numbering each letter underneath:

    R O Y G B I V S W A
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0


The letters represented, up to and including the letter V, the colors of
the solar spectrum in their proper sequence: red, orange, yellow, green,
blue, indigo, and violet.  The letter S, which followed the letter V,
stood for _schwarz_, which in German means black.  The letter W stood
for weiss, white; the letter A for _argent_. Every letter, therefore,
represented some color or metallic luster; and these, in turn,
represented numbers.

And now Halkett took the opening salutation in the first paragraph of
his letter—"Dear Green."  The color green being numbered 4, he found
that the fourth letter in the word "dear" was the letter R.  This he
wrote down on his pad.

Then he took the next few words: "A red wagon, red seat, orange rumble,
red——" etc.

The first and only letter in the word "A" he wrote down.  The next word
after "wagon" was "red."  The color red indicated the figure 1.  So he
next wrote down the first letter of the word "wagon," which is W.

Then came the word "seat."  The word "orange" followed it.  The color
orange indicated number 2 in the spectrum sequence.  So he found that in
the word "seat" the letter E was the second letter.  This he wrote.

Very carefully and methodically he proceeded in this manner with the
first paragraph of the letter, as far as the words "all over," but not
including them or any of the words in the first paragraph which followed
them.

He had, therefore, for his first paragraph, this sequence of letters:

RAWERUSEWEVOM.

Beginning with the last letter, M, he wrote the letters again, reversing
their sequence; and he had:

MOVEWESUREWAR.

These, with commas, he easily separated into four words: "Move," "we,"
"sure," and "war."  Then, again reversing the sequence of the words, he
had two distinct sentences of two words each before him:

WAR SURE!  WE MOVE!

Always working with the numbered color key before him, taking his letter
paragraph by paragraph, he had as a final remainder the following series
of letters:

EDIHUOYERADELIARTTIAWDROWOTDEECORPSIALAC.

Reversing these, checking off the separate words, and then reversing the
entire sequence of words, he had as the complete translation of his
letter, including the first paragraph, the following information and
admonition:

"War sure.  We move.  Hide.  You are trailed. Wait word to proceed
Calais."

"War sure!"  That was easily understood.  "We move."  That meant England
was already mobilizing on land and sea.  And the remainder became plain
enough; he must stay very quietly where he was until further
instructions arrived.

He read through his notes and his letter once more, then twisted letter,
envelope, and penciled memoranda into a paper spiral, set fire to it
with a match, and leisurely lighted his pipe with it.

When the flame of the burning paper scorched his fingers, he laid it
carefully on the grass, where it was presently consumed.  The charred
remnants he ground to dust under his heel as he got up and brushed a
spear or two of hay from his clothing.

Then he looked at the Harem, all busily committing felony with brush and
colors; and, as he gazed upon them, he politely stifled a yawn.



                             *CHAPTER VII*


Warner, conscientious but not hopeful, circulated among the easels of
the Harem. Halkett strolled at his heels.

Stopping in front of Alameda Golden’s large canvas, which was all
splashed with primary and aggressive colors, he gazed, uncomforted, upon
what she had wrought there.  After a few moments he said very patiently:

"You should not use a larger canvas than I have recommended to the
class.  Mere size is not necessarily a synonym for distinction, nor does
artistic strength depend upon the muscular application of crude paint. A
considerable majority of our countrymen comprehend only what is large,
gaudy, and garrulous.  Bulk and noise only can command their attention.
On the other hand, only what is weak, vague, and incoherent appeals to
the precious—the incapables and eccentrics among us.  But there is a
sane and healthy majority: enroll yourself there, Miss Golden!

"Be honest, reticent, and modest.  If you have anything to say in paint,
say it without self-consciousness, frankly, but not aggressively.
Behave on canvas as you would bear yourself in the world at large, with
freedom but with dignity, with sincerity governed by that intelligent
consideration for truth which permits realism and idealism, both of
which are founded upon fact."

Miss Golden pouted:

"But I _see_ haystacks this way!" she insisted.  "I see them in large
and brilliant impressions.  To me nothing looks like what it is.
Haystacks appear this way to my eyes!"

"My dear child, then paint them that way.  But the popular impression
will persist that you have painted the battle of Trafalgar."

Miss Golden wriggled on her camp chair.

"Everything," she explained, "is one monstrous, gaudy, and brutal
impression to me.  I see a million colors in everything and very little
shape to anything. I see only cosmic vigor; and I paint it with a punch.
Can’t you see all those colors in those haystacks?  To me they resemble
gigantic explosions of glorious color. And really, Mr. Warner, if I am
to be true to myself, I must paint them as I see them."

Warner, horribly discouraged, talked sanely to her for a while, then
with a pleasant nod he passed to the next easel, remarking to Halkett
under his breath:

"It’s a case for a pathologist, not for a painter."

And so for an hour he prowled about among the Harem, ministering to
neurotics, inspiring the sluggish, calming despair, gently discouraging
self-complacency.

"Always," he said, "we must remain students, because there is no such
thing as mastery in any art. If ever we believe we have attained
mastery, then our progress ceases; and we do not even remain where we
are; we retrograde—and swiftly, too.

"The life work of the so-called ’master’ is passed only in solving newer
problems.  There is no end to the problems, there is an end only to our
lives.

"Look at the matter in that way, not as a race toward an attainable
goal, nor as an eternally hopeless effort in a treadmill; but as a sane
and sure and intelligent progress from one wonder-chamber to a chamber
still more wonderful—locked rooms which contain miracles, and which open
only when we find the various keys which fit their locks....

"That is all for this morning, young ladies."

He lifted his hat, turned, and strolled away across the meadow, Halkett
at his side.

"Some lecture!" he commented with a faint grin.

"It’s sound," said Halkett.

"I do the best I can with them.  One might suppose I know how to paint,
by the way I pitch into those poor girls.  Yet, I myself never pick up a
brush and face my canvas but terror seizes me, and my own ignorance of
all I ought to know scares me almost to death.  It’s not modesty; I can
paint as well as many, better than many.  But, oh, the long, long way
there is to travel!  The stars are very far away, Halkett."

He pitched his easel, secured a canvas, took a freshly-set palette and
brushes from his color-box, and, still standing, went rapidly about his
business, which was to sketch in an impression of what lay before him.

Halkett, watching him over his shoulder, saw the little river begin to
glimmer on the canvas, saw a tender golden light grow and spread,
bathing distant hills; saw the pale azure of an arching sky faintly
tinting with reflections the delicate green of herbage still powdered
with the morning dew.

"This is merely a note," remarked Warner, painting away leisurely but
steadily.  "Some day I may pose my models somewhere outdoors under
similar weather conditions; and you may see dragoons in their saddles,
carbines poised, the sunlight enveloping horses and men—or perhaps a
line of infantry advancing in open order with shrapnel exploding in
their faces.... Death in the summer sunshine is the most terrifying of
tragedies....  I remember once after Lule Burgas——  Never mind, I shan’t
spoil the peaceful beauty of such a morning.

"War?  War _here_!—In this still meadow, bathed in the heavenly
fragrance of midsummer! ... Well, Halkett, the government of any nation
which _attacks_ another nation is criminal, and all the arguments of
church and state and diplomacy cannot change that hellish fact.

"There is only one right in any combat, only one side in any war.  And
no reasoning under the sun can invest an aggressor with that right.

"He who first draws and strikes forestalls God’s verdict."

Halkett said:

"How about your own wars?"

"Halkett, the United States is the only nation which ever entered a war
from purely sentimental reasons. It was so in the Revolution; it was so
in 1812, in the War of Secession, in Mexico, in the Cuban War.

"All our wars have been undertaken in response to armed aggression; all
were begun and carried on in defense of purely sentimental principles.
I do not say it because I am a Yankee, but our record is pretty clean,
so far, in a world which, since our birth, has accused us of ruthless
materialism."

He continued to paint for a while in silence; and when his color notes
were sufficiently complete for his purpose, and when the Harem had filed
before the canvas and had adoringly inspected it, Warner packed up his
kit, and, taking the wet canvas, walked with Halkett back to the Golden
Peach.

There Halkett was made acquainted with Madame Arlon, the stout, smiling
proprietress of the inn, who sturdily refused to believe that war was
possible, and who explained why to Halkett with animation while Warner
went indoors to deposit his sketches in his studio.

He returned presently, saying that he would take Halkett to Sister
Eila’s school across the fields; so the two young men lighted their
pipes and strolled away together through the sunshine.

Eastward, far afield, the gay aprons and sunbonnets of the Harem still
dotted the distance with flecks of color; beyond, the Récollette
glimmered, and beyond that hazy hills rolled away southward toward the
Vosges country.

Halkett looked soberly into the misty east.

"It won’t come from that direction," he said, half to himself.

Warner glanced up, understood, and sauntered on in silence.

"By the way," remarked the Englishman, "I shall stay here tonight."

"I’m very glad," returned Warner cordially.

"So am I, Warner.  Ours is an agreeable—acquaintance."

"It amounts to a little more than that, doesn’t it?"

"Yes.  It’s a friendship, I hope."

"I hope so."

After a moment he added laughingly:

"I’ve fixed up your bally envelope for you."

"How?"

"Covered it with a thick, glossy layer of Chinese white.  I put in a
dryer.  In a day or two I shall make a pretty little picture on it.  And
nobody on earth could suspect that embedded under the paint and varnish
of my canvas your celebrated document reposes."

They took a highway to the left, narrow and tree-shaded.

"When do you get the newspapers here?" inquired Halkett.

"After lunch, usually.  The _Petit Journal d’Ausone_ arrives then.
Nobody bothers with any Paris papers. But I think I shall subscribe,
now....  There’s the school, just ahead."

It was a modern and very plain two-storied building of stone and white
stucco, covered with new red tiles.  A few youthful vines were beginning
to climb gratefully toward the lower window sills; young linden trees
shaded it.  A hum, like the low, incessant murmur of a hive, warned them
as they approached that the children were reciting in unison; and they
halted at the open door.

Inside the big, clean room, the furniture of which was a stove and a
score or more of desks, two dozen little girls, neatly but very poorly
dressed, stood beside their desks reciting.  On a larger desk stood a
glass full of flowers which Halkett recognized; and beside this desk,
slenderly erect, he saw Sister Eila, facing the children, her white
hands linked behind her back.

Seated behind the same desk was another Sister—a buxom one with the
bright, clear coloring of a healthy peasant—more brilliant, even, for
the white wimple, collarette, and wide-winged headdress which seemed to
accent the almost riotous tint of physical health.

The childish singsong presently ceased; Sister Eila turned pensively,
took a step or two, lifted her eyes, and beheld Halkett and Warner at
the doorway.

"Oh!" she exclaimed.  "Please come in, Messieurs. I have been wondering
whether Mr. Warner would bring you before luncheon....  Sister Félicité,
this is Monsieur Halkett, who so amiably aided me to gather my bouquet
this morning."

Sister Félicité became all animation and vigor; she was cordial to
Halkett, greeted Warner with the smiling confidence of long
acquaintance.

It lacked only a few minutes to noon, and so lessons were suspended, and
the children put through one or two drills for Halkett’s benefit.

Out in the kitchen a good, nourishing broth was simmering for them, and
Sister Eila slipped away during the brief exhibition to prepare
twenty-four bowls and spoons and tartines for these ever-hungry little
children of the poor, orphaned for the most part, or deserted, or having
parents too poor to feed them.

At noon Sister Félicité dismissed the school; and the little girls
formed in line very demurely and filed off to the kitchen.

"What a delicious odor!" exclaimed Halkett, nose in the air.

Sister Félicité sniffed the soup.

"We do our best," she said.  "The poor little things fatten here, God be
praised."  And, to Warner, in her vigorous, alert manner: "What is all
this talk concerning war?  The children prattle about it.  They must
have heard such gossip among the quarry people."

Warner said:

"It begins to look rather serious, Sister."

"Is it Germany again?"

"I fear so."

Sister Félicité’s pink cheeks flushed:

"Is it the noisy boaster who rules those Germans who would bring the
sword upon us again?  Is there not enough of barbaric glory in his
Empire for him and his that he should invade the civilized world to seek
for more?  It is a vile thing for any man, be he ruler or subject, to
add one featherweight to the crushing burden of the world’s misery!"

"To declare war is the heaviest of all responsibilities," admitted
Warner.

"Is it already declared?"

"No.  That is to say, Austria has declared war against Servia, Russia is
mobilizing, and Germany has warned her."

"Is that an excuse for anybody to attack France?"

"Russia is mobilizing, Sister," he repeated meaningly.

"What then?"

"France must follow."

"And then?"

Warner shrugged his shoulders.

Sister Eila came out, nodding to Sister Félicité, who usually presided
at the lunch hour: and the latter went away with Warner toward the
kitchen, still plying the American with questions.  Sister Eila bent her
head, inhaled the perfume of the flowers on her desk, and then looked up
at Halkett.

"Don’t you ever lunch?" he asked.

"Yes; I tasted the soup.  You lunch at one at the inn."

"I suppose so.  What a charming country this is—this little hamlet of
Saïs!  Such exquisite peace and stillness I have seldom known."

Sister Eila’s eyes grew vague; she looked out through the sunny doorway
across the fields towards a range of low hills.  The quarries were
there.

"It is a tranquil country," she said pensively, "but there is misery,
too.  Life in the quarries is hard, and wages are not high."

"Mr. Warner tells me they are a hard lot, these quarrymen."

"There is intemperance among the quarrymen, and among the cement
workers, too: and there is roughness and violence—and crime, sometimes.
But it is a very hard _métier_, Mr. Halkett, and the lime dust blinds
and sears and incites a raging thirst.  God knows there is some excuse
for the drunkenness there. We who are untempted must remain gentle in
our judgments."

"I could not imagine Sister Eila judging anybody harshly."

Sister Eila looked up and laughed:

"Oh, Mr. Halkett, I have confessed to impatience too many times to
believe that I could ever acquire patience.  Only today I scolded our
children because they tore down a poster which had been pasted on the
public wall at the crossroad.  I said to them very severely, ’It is a
sin to destroy what others have paid for to advertise their
merchandise.’"

"That was a terrible scolding," admitted Halkett, laughing.

"I’ll show you the poster," volunteered Sister Eila, going over to her
desk.  Raising the lid, she picked up and displayed an advertisement.



                             *CHAPTER VIII*


Halkett looked curiously at this specimen of a poster which was already
very familiar to him.  The dead walls of northern and eastern France and
Belgium had been plastered with such advertisements for the last year or
two, extolling the Savon de Calypso.  But what had recently interested
Halkett in these soap advertisements was that posters, apparently
exactly similar, appeared to differ considerably in detail when examined
minutely.

The picture in this advertisement represented, as always, the nymph,
Calypso, seated upon the grass, looking out over the sea where the sun
shone in a cloudless sky upon a fleet of Grecian ships which were
sailing away across the blue waves of the Ægean.

Where details varied was in the number of ships in the fleet, the number
and grouping of sails, sea birds flying, of waves, and of clouds—when
there were any of the latter—the number of little white or blue or pink
blossoms in the grass, the height of the sun above the horizon line and
the number and size of its rays.

There was always at least one ship—never more than a dozen; he had
counted twenty white blossoms on some posters; varying numbers on
others, of white, of blue, or of pink, but never less than three of any
one color. Sometimes there were no sea birds.

As for the sun, sometimes it hung well above the ocean, often its yellow
circle dipped into it, and then again only the rays spread fanlike above
the horizon line.

[Illustration: Savon de Calypso poster]

And concerning the nymph, her pose and costume did not seem to vary at
all in the various poster specimens which he had seen; the wind was
always blowing her red hair and white, transparent scarf; she always sat
gazing laughingly seaward, one hand resting on the grass, the other
clutching a cake of soap to her bosom.

Still examining the sheet of paper, he counted the white flowers
scattered over the grass around the seated nymph.  There were _ten_ of
them.

"Sister Eila," he said carelessly, "how many kilometers is it to the
next town south of us?  I mean by the military road."

"To Rosières-sous-Bois?"

"Yes."

"About ten kilometers by the military road."

He nodded and counted the ships.  There were three.

"Is there more than one road which runs to Rosières-sous-Bois?" he
asked.

"Yes.  One may go by this road, or cross the bridge by the quarries and
go by the river road, or there is still a better and shorter highway
which runs west of Saïs."

"Then there are _three_ main roads to Rosières-sous-Bois?"

"Yes.  The road to the west is shorter.  It is not more than seven miles
that way."

Halkett casually counted the sea gulls.  Seven gulls were flying around
one of the ships; thirteen around another.

"And the river road, Sister?" he inquired.

"By the quarry bridge?  Oh, that is longer—perhaps twelve or thirteen
kilometers."

"I see....  Rosières-sous-Bois is not a garrison town?"

"No.  There are only a few gendarmes there."

Halkett examined the picture attentively.  The sun appeared to be about
three hours high above the horizon.

"The nearest military post must be about three hours’ journey from
here," he ventured.

Sister Eila thought a moment, then nodded:

"Yes, about three hours.  You mean the fort above the Pass of the
Falcons?  That is the nearest."

He counted the rays of the sun.  There were three long ones and two
short ones.

"I suppose there are three or four battalions garrisoned there," he
remarked.

"Three, I think.  And a company of engineers and one company of Alpine
chasseurs."

All the time, with a detached air, the young Englishman was examining
the colored poster, searching it minutely for variations from other
posters of the same sort which he had recently investigated.

There remained in his mind little or no doubt that the number and
position of the groups of pointed wavelets signified something
important; that the number of sails set on the ships, which varied in
every poster, contained further information; that the sky, cloudless in
some posters, dotted with clouds in others, was destined to convey
topographical particulars to somebody.

These colored advertisements of a soap made in Cologne by Bauermann and
Company, and plastered over the landscape of Northern and Eastern
Belgium and France, concealed a wealth of secret information for anybody
who possessed the key to the messages so clearly and craftily expressed
in pictograph and cipher code.

The sinister significance of the sheet in his hand was becoming more
apparent every minute.  He had made a study of these posters—was just
beginning to find them interesting, when he had been ordered to America.
Now, all his interest in them returned.

Sister Eila had seated herself at her desk, and, while he was still
examining the poster, she continued serenely to correct the pile of inky
copybooks.

He watched her for a while, where she bent above the scrawled pages, her
pen poised, her lovely face framed in the snowy wimple under the pale
shadow of her wide-winged coiffe.

"Sister Eila?"

She turned her head tranquilly.

"You are English, you tell me?"

"Irish."  She smiled.

"It’s the same.  Tell me, have you had enough experience in your world
of duty and of unhappiness to know an honest man when you encounter
him?"

Sister Eila laid aside her pen and turned toward him.

"I don’t think I understand," she said.

"I mean, could you make up your mind about—well—about such a man as I
am—merely by inspecting me and hearing me speak?"

Sister Eila laughed:

"I think I could very easily."

"Have you already done so?"

"Why, yes, I suppose so."

"Do you think I am honest enough to be trusted?"

Sister Eila laughed again, deliciously.

"Yes, I think so," she said.

He remained silent and his face, already grave, grew more serious.
Sister Eila’s smile faded as she watched him.  It was becoming very
plain to her that here was a man in trouble.

Silent there together in the cool stillness of the schoolroom, they
heard the distant clatter of little feet, the vigorous voice of command
from Sister Félicité; and a moment later a double file of chattering
children passed in the sunshine outside the window, led toward their
noonday playground by Sister Félicité accompanied by Warner.

"What is on your mind, Mr. Halkett?" asked Sister Eila, still watching
him.

"If I tell you," he said, "will you ask me no more than I offer to tell
you?"

She flushed:

"Naturally, Monsieur——"

"You don’t quite understand, Sister.  What I have to say I wish you to
write down for me in the form of a letter of information to the French
Government."

"You wish _me_ to write it?"

"Please.  And that is what I mean.  Naturally, you might ask me why I do
not write it myself....  Don’t ask me, Sister....  If you really do
trust me."

He turned, met her gaze, saw two clear, sweet eyes unspoiled and
unsaddened by the wisdom she had learned in dark and wretched places;
saw in them only a little wonder, a faintly questioning surprise.

"What is your answer, Sister?" he asked.

"My answer is—I—I _do_ trust you....  What am I to write?"

She took a few loose leaves of paper from the desk, and sat looking at
him, pen lifted.

He said:

"Write to the chief of the general staff at the Ministry of War in
Paris."

And when she had properly addressed the personage in question, he
dictated his letter very slowly in English; and Sister Eila, her
expressionless young face bent above the letter paper, translated into
French as he dictated, and wrote down the exact meaning of every word he
uttered:


"Information has come to me that the advertisements of Bauermann and
Company, of Cologne, Prussia, which are posted everywhere throughout
Belgium and Northern and Eastern France, conceal military and
topographical details concerning the vicinity where these advertisements
are displayed.

"Such information could be of use only to a prowling spy or an invading
enemy.

"Therefore, acting upon the incomplete information offered me, I deem it
my duty to bring this matter to the notice of the Government.

"It would appear that:

"1st.  Secret information is contained in the details of the picture
which embellishes this advertisement, a sample of which I inclose
herewith.

"2nd.  These details vary in every poster.  Presumably their number,
color, groupings, and general distribution constitute a secret code
which is calculated to convey information to the enemies of France.

"3rd.  In the sample which is inclosed with this letter, the number of
ships probably represents the number of highways leading from Saïs to
Rosières-sous-Bois; the sea gulls flying above two of the ships give the
distance in kilometers; the ten white flowers give the distance by the
military road.

"The sun, in the picture, appears to be about three hours high above the
horizon; and it is _three hours’_ journey from here to the nearest
French fortified post, the Pass of the Falcons in the Vosges.

"The rays of the sun are five in number, three long ones and two short
ones; and there are _three battalions_ of the line guarding the fort at
the pass, and _two companies_, one of engineers, one of Alpine infantry.

"My informant, who desires to remain anonymous, further declares it to
be his belief that an exhaustive study of this and similar posters would
reveal perfectly clear messages in every detail of color, drawing, and
letter-press; and that it is his firm conviction that these posters,
representing a German firm which manufactures soap, have been placed
throughout Belgium and France for the convenience of an invading army.

"Immediate removal of these advertisements seems advisable in the
opinion of my informant.

"(Signed), SISTER EILA,

"Of the Daughters of St. Vincent de Paul at Saïs."


When she had finished the letter and had unhesitatingly signed it, she
lifted her clear eyes to him in silence.  Her breath came a trifle
unevenly; the tint of excitement grew and waned in her cheeks.

"At least," he said, "you will understand that I am a friend to France."

"Yes, that is evident."

"Will you direct and seal the packet and give it to the postman?"

"Yes."

"And, Sister Eila, if they send gendarmes or other officials to question
you?"

She looked straight into his eyes, deeply, so that her gaze seemed to
plunge into the depths of his very soul.

Then, lifting the cross from the rosary at her girdle, she slipped out
of her chair and knelt down beside her desk, her young head bent low
over the crucifix which she held between the palms of her joined hands.

Halkett, head also lowered, stood motionless.

After a few moments she rose lightly from her knees.

"It is a vow, now," she said.  "I have bound myself to silence
concerning the source of my information—" her untroubled eyes rested
again on his—"because I believe in you, Monsieur."

He started to speak, but seemed to find no word to utter.  A bright
color mounted to his brow; he turned abruptly from the desk and stepped
toward the open door.

And the instant he appeared there, framed by the doorway, a shot rang
out, knocking a cloud of stucco and plaster from the wall beside him.



                              *CHAPTER IX*


He shrank back flat against the wall, edged along it, and slipped
swiftly inside the house. A thick veil of lime dust hung across the open
doorway, gilded by the sunlight.  Crumbs of plaster and mortar still
fell to the schoolroom floor.

Through the heated silence of early afternoon he could hear the distant
cries of the children from their playground; there was no other sound;
nothing stirred; nobody came.

If Warner had noticed the shot at all, no doubt he supposed it to be the
premature report of some piece. To the gaunt, furtive Vosges poacher no
close season exists.  If it did exist, he would cease to.

Halkett slowly turned his head and saw Sister Eila behind him.  She had
risen from her chair at the desk; now she came slowly forward, her deep,
grey eyes fixed on him.  But before she could take another step he laid
his hand firmly on her wide, blue sleeve and forced her back into the
room.

"Keep away from that door," he said quietly.

"Did somebody try to kill you?" she asked.  Her voice was curious, but
perfectly calm.

"I think so....  Don’t show yourself near that door.  They might not be
able to distinguish their target at such a range."

"They?  Who are ’they’?"

"Whoever fired....  I must ask you again to please keep out of range of
that doorway——"

"The shot came from the river willows across the fields, did it not?"
she interrupted.

"I’m very sure of it.  You need not feel any anxiety for the children,
Sister; I am going.  There’ll be no more shots."

"There is a door at the back by the kitchen yard, Mr. Halkett.  They
will not see you if you leave that way."

He stood thinking for a while; then:

"On your account, and on the children’s, I’ll have to show myself again
when I leave the house, so that there’ll be no mistake about my
identity.  Don’t move until after I have gone some distance along the
road. And please say to Mr. Warner that I’ve returned to the inn for
luncheon——"

"There is a door in the rear!  You must not show yourself——"

"Indeed, I must.  Otherwise, they might mistake you or Sister Félicité
or one of the children for me——"

"Mr. Halkett!"  He had already started.

"Yes?" he replied, halting and glancing back; and found her already at
his elbow.

"Why were you shot at?" she asked.  "I desire to know."

He looked her straight in the eyes:

"I can’t tell you why, Sister."

"You say you are English, and that you are a friend to France.  If that
is true, then tell me who shot at you!  Do you know?"

"In a general way, I suppose I do know."

"Do you not trust a French Sister of Charity sufficiently to tell her?"

"What man would not trust a daughter of St. Vincent de Paul?" he said
pleasantly.

"Then tell me.  Perhaps I already guess.  Has it to do with your
knowledge of German advertisements?"

He was silent.

"You are evidently a British agent."  Her deep, grey eyes grew more
earnest.  "You are _more_!" she said, clasping her hands with sudden
conviction.  "I suspected it the first time I saw you——"

"Please do not say to anybody what it is that you suspect——"

"You are a British officer!" she exclaimed.

"Sister Eila; you could do me much harm by mentioning to others this
belief of yours, or anything concerning this affair.  And—do you
remember that you once said you trusted me?"

"I said it—yes."

"Do you still have confidence in me?"

Their eyes met steadily.

"Yes," she said.  "I believe you to be a friend to France, and to me."
A slight flush edged the snowy wimple which framed the lovely oval of
her face.

"I _am_ your friend; and I am a friend to France—I say as much as that
to you.  I say it because of what you are, and because—you are _you_.
But ask me no more, Sister.  For men of my profession there are
confessionals as secret and as absolute in authority as those which
shrive the soul."

He hesitated, his eyes shifted from her to the fresh flowers on the
desk, which they had both gathered; he reached over and drew a white
blossom from the glass.

"May I take it with me?"

She bent her head in silence.

Then he turned to go through the deadly doorway, carrying his flower in
his hand; but, as he walked out into the sunshine, Sister Eila stepped
swiftly in front of him, turned on the doorstep, screening him with
extended arms.

"This is the best way," she said.  "They ought to see quite clearly that
I am a Sister of Charity, and they won’t fire at me——"

But he tried to push her aside and spring past her:

"Stand clear of me, for God’s sake!" he said.

"Wait——"

"Sister!  Are you insane?"

"_You_ must be, Mr. Halkett——"

"Keep away, I tell you——"

"Please don’t be rough with me——"

He tried to avoid her, but her strong, young hands had caught both his
wrists.

"They won’t shoot at a Sister of Charity!" she repeated.  "—And I shall
not permit them to murder you!  Be reasonable!  I am not afraid."

She held on to his wrists, keeping always between him and the distant
glimmer of the river:

"I shall walk to the road with you this way; don’t try to shake me off;
I am strong, I warn you!"  She was even laughing now.  "Please do not
wriggle!  Only schoolboys wriggle.  Do you suppose I am _afraid_? Since
when, Monsieur, have Sisters of Charity taken cover from the enemies of
France?"

"This is shameful for me——"

"You behave, as I have said, like a very bad schoolboy, Mr. Halkett——"

He tried vainly to place himself between her and the river, but could
not disengage her grasp without hurting her.  Then, over his shoulder,
he saw three men come out of the river willows.

"You shall not take this risk——" he insisted.

"Please listen——"

"I take no risk worth mentioning.  It was you who would have walked out
to face their fire—with that smile on your lips and a flower in your
hand!  Did you think that a Grey Sister would permit that? Soyez
convenable, Monsieur.  They will not fire while I am walking beside
you."  She looked over her shoulder. One of the men by the willows was
raising a rifle.

They reached the highway at the same moment, and the roadside bank
sheltered them.  Here she released his arm.

"I beg you to be a little reasonable," she said. "You must leave Saïs at
once.  Promise me, Mr. Halkett——"

"I cannot."

"Why?"

"Sister, if I am really a soldier, as you suppose me to be, perhaps I
have—_orders_—to remain at Saïs."

"Have you?" she asked frankly.

He turned and looked at her:

"Yes, little comrade."

"That is really serious."

"It must not cause you any anxiety.  I shall ’wriggle’—as you say—out of
this mess when the time comes. I may start tonight."

"For London?  Do you wriggle as far as that?"

He said gravely:

"You know more about me now from my own lips than I would admit, even
prompted by a firing squad. I trusted you even before you faced death
for me on that doorstep a moment ago.  _Did you see that man come out of
the willows and level his rifle at us?_"

She said tranquilly:

"We daughters of St. Vincent de Paul never heed such things."

"I know you don’t; I know what are your traditions. Many a Sister of
your Order has fallen under rifle and shell fire on the battlefields of
the world; many have died of the pest in hospitals; many have succumbed
to exposure.  The history of modern war is the history of the Grey
Sisters.  What you have just done, as a matter of course, is already
part of that history.  And so—" he looked down at her crucifix and
rosary—"and so, Sister, and comrade, I shall tell you what it would not
be possible for me to admit to any other living soul in France.  Yes; I
_am_ a British officer on special and secret duty.  I left the United
States two weeks ago.  Trouble began in Holland.  I am now on my way to
London.  Orders came today halting me at Saïs.  Enemies of France are
annoying me—people who are becoming more desperate and more determined
as the hours pass and the moment approaches swiftly when they can no
longer hope to interfere with me. That moment will come when war is
declared.  It will be declared.  I shall be very glad to arrive in
England.  Now I have told you almost everything, Sister Eila.  My honor
is in your keeping; my devotion is for my own country, for France—and
for you."

"I have made one vow of silence," she said simply. "I shall make
another—never to breathe one word of this."

"You need not.  Just say to me that you will not speak."

Her lovely face became as solemn as a child’s:

"I shall not speak, Mr. Halkett."

"That settles it," he said.  "If it lay with me, I’d trust you with
every secret in our War Office!"  He checked himself, hesitated, then:
"Sister Eila, if anything happens to me, go to Mr. Warner and ask him
for _that envelope_.  There are sure to be British soldiers in France
before very long.  Give that envelope to some British officer."

After a moment she laughed:

"Englishmen are odd—odd!  They are just boys. They are delightful.  I
shall do what you ask.... And there is your inn....  Am I tired?  _I_?
Vous plaisantez, Monsieur!  But, Mr. Halkett, what would be the object
in your walking back with me?  I should only have to walk back here
again with you!  It would continue _ad infinitum_."

They both laughed.

"When trouble finally comes, and if I am hit, I pray I may lie in your
ward," he said gayly.

Her smile faded:

"I shall pray so, too," she said.

"I’d feel like a little boy safe in his own nursery," he added, still
smiling.

"I am—happy—to have you think of me in that way."  Her smile glimmered
anew in her eyes.  "I should be a devoted nurse."  She made him a
friendly little signal of adieu and turned away.

Hat in hand, he stood looking after the grey-blue figure under the snowy
headdress.

At the turn of the road she looked back, saw him, still standing there;
and again, from the distance, she made him a pretty gesture of caution
and of farewell. Then the grassy bank hid her from view.


At the Inn of the Golden Peach, Warner’s Harem was already lunching.
Through the open windows of the dining-room came a discreet clatter of
tableware and crockery, and a breezy, cheery tumult like the chatter in
an aviary.

Halkett, not fancying it, went around the house to the quiet garden.
Here he wandered to and fro among the trees or stood about aimlessly,
looking down at the flower beds where, kneeling beside Sister Eila, he
had aided her to fill her ozier basket.

Later Warner found him seated under the arbor with Ariadne on his knee;
and a few moments afterward the maid, Linette, served their luncheon.

Neither of the young men was very communicative, but after the dishes
and cloth had been removed, and when Halkett, musing over his cigarette
and coffee, still exhibited no initiative toward conversation, Warner
broke the silence:

"What about that shot?" he asked bluntly.

"What shot?"

"Don’t you want to talk about it?"

Halkett glanced up, amused:

"Well, I suppose there was no hiding that bullet hole and the plaster
dust from Sister Félicité."

"Of course not.  The bullet ripped out the lathing. Who was it fired at
the school?  Or was it at you they let go?"

"Didn’t you ask Sister Eila?"

"I did.  She absolutely refused to discuss it, and referred us both to
you.  It was no accident, was it?"

"No."

"Somebody tried to get _you_?"

"It rather looked that way."

"Our friends in the grey car, of course!" concluded Warner.

"Not necessarily.  _They_ have other friends who might be equally
attentive to me.  I don’t know who shot at me.  There were three of them
over by the river."

"Well, Halkett, don’t you think you had better remain indoors for a
while?"

"I’d better, I suppose."  He laughed.  "Honestly, I’m sick of being shot
at.  One of these days they’ll hit me, if they’re not very careful."

But Warner did not smile.

"Do you promise to stay indoors?" he insisted.

"I’ll see.  Perhaps."

"Don’t you think it advisable for you to carry some sort of a
firearm—one of my automatics, for example?"

"Thanks, old fellow.  I think I’ll do that, if you can spare a section
of your artillery for a day or two."

Warner promptly fished an automatic out of his hip pocket, and Halkett
took it and examined it.

"So I’m to do the Wild West business after all," he said gayly.  "Right
you are, old chap.  I know how it’s done; I’ve read about it in your
novels.  You wait till your enemy takes a drop, then you get the drop!"
He laughed at his British joke.  And, having no hip pocket, he stowed
away the lumpy bluish weapon in a side pocket of his coat.

"Now, don’t let me interfere with your daily routine," he continued.  "I
shall do very well here in the arbor while you lead your Harem toward
the Olympian heights."

"Sometimes I feel like pushing ’em off those cliffs," muttered Warner.
"All right; I fancy you’ll be snug enough in the garden, here with
Ariadne, till I return. We shall have the whole house to ourselves after
dinner.  The Harem migrates to Ausone for overnight to do street
sketches tomorrow, and returns the next morning for a general criticism.
So if you’ll amuse yourself——"

"I shall be quite comfortable, thanks.  If anybody climbs the wall to
pot me, we’ll turn loose on ’em, this time—won’t we, old
girl?"—caressing Ariadne, who had returned to his knee.

Half an hour afterward Warner went away in the wake of the Harem; and at
the end of the second hour he gave them a final criticism before they
started for Ausone.

Much good it did them; but they adored it; they even adored his
sarcasms.  For the Harem truly worshiped this young man—a fact of which
he remained uncomfortably conscious, timidly aware that warier men than
he had been landed by maidens less adept than they.

So it was with his usual sense of deep relief that he saluted the Harem,
picked up his own kit and canvases, and wandered at hazard through a
little poplar grove and out of it on the other edge.

A wild meadow, deep with tasseled grasses and field flowers, stretched
away before him, where swallows sailed and soared and skimmed—where blue
lupin, _bouton d’or_, meadowsweet, and slender, silvery stems crowned
with queen’s lace grew tall, and the heliotrope perfume of hidden
hawkweed scented every fitful little wind.

But what immediately fixed his attention was a distant figure wading
waist-deep amid the grasses—a slim, brilliant shape, which became oddly
familiar as it drew nearer, moving forward with light and boyish grace,
stirring within him vaguely agreeable recollections.

Then, in spite of her peasant’s dress, he recognized her; and he walked
swiftly forward to meet her.  The figure out there in the sunshine saw
him coming and lifted one arm in distant recognition and salute.

They met in mid-meadow, Warner and the girl Philippa.

Her short skirt and low peasant bodice had faded to a rose-geranium
tint; her white chemisette, laced with black, was open wide below the
throat.  Black velvet straps crossed it on the shoulders and around the
cuffs.  Her hair was tied with a big black silk bow.

"How in the world did you come to be here?" he asked, not yet releasing
the eager, warm little hands so frankly clasped between both of his.

Philippa laughed with sheerest happiness:

"Figurez-vous, Monsieur.  I have been punting since early morning; and
when I found myself so near to Saïs I was ready to drop with heat and
fatigue: ’Mais, n’importe!  Allons!’ I said to myself.  ’Courage, little
one!  Very soon you shall see Mr. Warner painting a noble picture by the
river!’  Et puis——"  She tightened her clasp on his hands with an
adorable laugh, "Nous voici enfin ensemble—tous les deux—vous et moi!
Et je suis bien content et bien fatiguée."

"But, Philippa—how in the world do you propose to get back to Ausone
tonight?"

She shrugged, looked up as though protesting to the very skies:

"I have this instant arrived, and his first inquiry is concerning my
departure!  That is not a very friendly welcome."

"Philippa, I _am_ glad to see you——"

"It is time you said so——"

"I thought you understood——"

The girl laughed:

"I understand how glad I am to see _you_!"  She looked about her in the
sunshine, and touched a tall blossom of queen’s lace with outstretched
fingers.

"How heavenly beautiful is this world of God!" she said with that
charming lack of self-consciousness which the skies of France seem to
germinate even in aliens.  "I am very glad to see you," she repeated
abruptly, "and I am awaiting the expression of your sentiments."

"Of course I am glad to see you, Philippa——"

"That makes me quite happy."  She smiled on him and then looked
curiously at his painting kit.  "If you will choose your picture," she
added, "I shall sit beside you and watch you at your painting.  It will
be agreeable.  We can converse."

So he chose a ferny spot at the wood’s edge, pitched his field easel and
camp stool, and opened his color box; and Philippa seated herself
cross-legged on the short grass beside him, gathering both slim ankles
into her hands.

While he was fussing with his canvas, she sang to herself blithely,
radiantly contented, rocking herself to and fro to the rhythm of her
song:

    "’Hussar en vedette,
    What do you see?
      The sun has set
    And a voice is calling me
    Across the Récollette,
    Where the scented rushes fret
    In the May wind’s breath—
      Et garde à vous, Hussar!
    ’Tis the voice of Death!

      ’Hussar en vedette,
    What do you see?
      The moon has set
    And a white shape beckons me
    Across the Récollette,
    Where the scented rushes fret
    In the night wind’s breath—
      Et garde à vous, Hussar!
    ’Tis the shape of Death!’"


Singing away with the serene unconsciousness of a bird, rocking her
lithe young body, and watching his every movement out of wide grey eyes,
Philippa assisted at the artistic preparations with great content,
missing nothing.

"To squeeze color from tubes must be amusing," she remarked.  "I like to
squeeze out tooth paste."

"I am very sure," said Warner, "that you accomplish more charming
results with your tooth paste than I do with my colors."

The girl laughed, showing her snowy teeth:

"Do you find them pretty, Monsieur?"

"Quite perfect, and therefore in keeping with the remainder of you,
Philippa."

"He really seems to mean it," she said, addressing a grasshopper which
had alighted on her knee.  And to Warner: "Is my face sufficiently
scrubbed to suit you?"

He glanced down at her:

"You have kept your word, haven’t you?"

"Ma foi!  My word is my word....  Listen; I came to Saïs to see you; and
partly because I have something to show you.  It concerns your friend, I
think."

"Mr. Halkett?"

"Yes.  After the fight in our cabaret there was much excitement, but
when you had disappeared, and before the agents de police and the
gendarmes arrived, I found on the floor under the overturned table a
portfolio. In that portfolio was part of an unfinished letter.  It is
written in German.  I could not read it; but, studying it, I recognized
Mr. Halkett’s name written several times.  So I said nothing to anybody,
but I have brought it.  Here it is."

She drew from her bosom a small leather pocketbook.

"Before you examine it," she continued, "I ought to tell you what really
happened at the cabaret.  Those men who attacked Mr. Halkett were in the
employment of Monsieur Wildresse."

"What!" exclaimed Warner.

"It is true.  I was furious when I noticed them creeping up behind him.
I realized instantly what they meant to do, and I cried out—too late.
You ought to be told about this.  Therefore, I came here to tell you.

"And I desire to tell you more.  The three men who were seated across
the hall, and who attempted to pick a quarrel with Mr. Halkett, were
’provocative agents’—Germans.

"The _patron_ knew them and interfered.  Besides, he had his own ideas
and his own ends to serve just then.

"But I saw those three German agents whisper to a fourth—a stranger.
And that man came and seated himself with three other men directly
behind Mr. Halkett, where he stood while you were talking to me——"

"Philippa," he interrupted with blunt impatience, "I don’t understand
all this that you are saying to me. Give me that letter if it concerns
Mr. Halkett."

The girl colored painfully.

"Please don’t speak rudely to me," she said.  "I am trying to behave
honestly——"

"I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to speak roughly.  Please continue."

"Yes; it is better you should know what happened before you read this
letter.  Well, then, the men who attacked Mr. Halkett naturally got
away; the patron attended to that.  Naturally, also, he desired to have
people believe that the German agents were responsible for the fight,
and they were, therefore, detained by Monsieur Wildresse and were asked
for an explanation. Then they declared that Mr. Halkett was a British
spy, and that they were Belgian police agents with full authority to
arrest him in France.  Which was a lie, of course, but it served its
purpose by increasing the tumult."

"Did they say that they were Belgians?"

"Yes.  I heard them.  They lied.  There was much confusion and
shouting—everybody crowding around and disputing.  The three Germans
pushed their way toward the door; nobody knew whether or not to stop
them."  She shrugged.  "They were gone before people could make up their
minds.  And, as usual, the police came in too late.  Now you know all
there is to tell about what happened after you left the cabaret."

Warner laid aside his brushes, looked curiously at the portfolio which
she held out to him, hesitated, then opened it and drew out three pages
of a letter in German, but written in English script.  Evidently it was
an unfinished fragment of a letter.  He translated it rather freely and
without any great difficulty:


—were followed from New York by this man, Halkett, and a companion of
his named Gray.  Disembarking at Antwerp and going immediately to room
No. 23 in the Hôtel St. Antoine, according to instructions, we walked
directly into a trap, prepared for us, no doubt, by a wireless message
sent from the steamer by the individual, Halkett.  Schmidt was knocked
flat on his back and lay unconscious; me they hurled violently on the
bed; my face was covered with a pillow, my legs and arms held as in a
vise, while they ripped my clothing from me and then literally tore it
to shreds in their search for the papers I carried.

In the lining of my vest they found the information and drawings which
we had been at such pains and danger to secure from the Yankee War
Department.  And now the Yankee Government will find out who has been
robbing it.

Unless we can overtake these individuals, Halkett and Gray, the loss to
us must be irreparable, as we dared not study the plans and formula on
board ship, nor even venture to trust in the security of our stateroom,
believing that British agents might be on board and watching.  God knows
they were.

I regret deeply that we did not suspect Halkett and Gray.

Also, the ship’s officers, crew, stewards, wireless operator—all
evidently were our enemies and in willing collusion with these two
Englishmen.

Gray, on his motor cycle, left Antwerp for Brussels. We shall watch him
and prevent his meeting Halkett in France.  We fear they have divided
the papers between them.

Our orders are to use our own discretion.  Therefore, I repeat that Gray
shall not live to meet Halkett.

As for Halkett, he undoubtedly has some of the papers on his person.  We
missed him in Holland by accident; we unfortunately failed in the city
of Luxembourg, because he was too crafty to cross the viaduct, but slept
that night in a water mill under the walls in the lower city.

We traced him to Diekirch, but missed him again, twice, although
Schmidt, who was posted further along on the narrow-gauge line, fired at
him as a last resort.  For, as you point out, it is better that France
should come into possession of the Harkness shell than that the British
Admiralty should control it.  The very existence of our fleet is now at
stake.  France is slow to accept foreign inventions; but England is
quick as lightning.

So, if necessary, we shall take extreme measures in regard to Halkett
and Gray, and stand the chances that we may secure their papers and get
back to Berlin before the French police interfere.

And if we fail to get away, well, at least England shall not profit by
the Harkness shell.

Meier and Hoffman are following Gray; we are now leaving for Ausone, and
hope to find Halkett somewhere in that vicinity.

I am writing this with difficulty, as the road is not what it ought to
be, and the wind is disconcerting.  Esser is acting as chauffeur——


And there the letter ended.



                              *CHAPTER X*


Philippa was plaiting grass stems when he finished his examination of
the letter.  And while she deftly braided _boutons d’or_ among the green
blades, she continued under her breath the song of the Vidette, casting
an occasional side glance upward at him, where he sat on his camp stool
studying the written fragments.

At length, seeing that he had finished, she tossed aside the flowering
rope of grass, set her elbows on her knees, her rounded chin on her
hands, and regarded him inquiringly, as though, for the moment, she had
done with childish things.

"It is a letter which urgently concerns Mr. Halkett," he nodded coolly.
"Shall I give it to him?"

"Please."

He pocketed the portfolio, hesitated, glanced at his watch, then, with
an absent-minded air, began to pack up his painting kit.  As he unhooked
his _toile_ he looked around at her.

"Philippa," he said, "if you are going to punt back to Ausone, isn’t it
nearly time you started?"

"Aren’t you going to paint any more?" she asked, smiling.

"No.  I think I had better find Mr. Halkett and show him this letter."

"But—I have come all the way from Ausone to pay you a visit!" explained
the girl in hurt surprise. "Didn’t you want to see me?"

"Certainly I want to see you," he replied smilingly. "But to punt up
stream to Ausone this afternoon is going to take you quite a long
while——"

"As for that," she remarked, "it need not concern us. I am not going
back to Ausone."

"Not going back!"

"Listen, please.  Monsieur Wildresse and I have had a disagreement——"

"Nonsense!"

"No, a serious disagreement.  I am not going back to Ausone.  Shall I
tell you all about it?"

"Yes, but listen to me, Philippa.  You can’t run away from your home
merely because you have had a disagreement with your Patron and
guardian."

"Shall I tell you why we disagreed?"

"If you choose.  But that doesn’t justify you in running away from your
home."

The girl shook her head:

"You don’t yet understand.  In our café the French Government compels us
to spy on certain strangers and to report whatever we can discover.
Always it disgusted me to do such a thing.  Now I shall not be obliged
to do it any more, because I am never going back to the Cabaret de
Biribi."

"Do you mean to say that you and Monsieur Wildresse are in the secret
service of your Government?" he asked, astonished.

"That is too dignified an explanation.  I have been an informer since I
was seventeen."

"A—a _paid_ informer?"

"I don’t know whether the Government pays Monsieur Wildresse."

"But he doesn’t do such things for the pleasure of doing them."

"Pleasure?  It is an abominable profession!  It is unclean."

"Then why do you do it?" he demanded, amazed.

"I am not perfectly sure why.  I know that the Patron is afraid of the
Government.  That, I suppose, is why we have been obliged to take orders
from them."

"Afraid?  Why?"

"It’s partly on Jacques’ account—his son’s.  If we do what they ask of
us they say that they won’t send him to New Caledonia.  But I believe it
is all _blague_."  She looked up at Warner out of her troubled grey
eyes. "Espionage—that has been my _metier_ since I was taken out of
school—to listen in the cabaret, to learn to keep my eyes open, to
relate to the Patron whatever I saw or heard concerning any client the
Government desired him to watch....  Do you think that is a very
pleasant life for a young girl?"

His face became expressionless.

"Not very," he said.  "Go on."

She said thoughtfully:

"It is a horrible profession, Mr. Warner.  Why should I continue it?
Are there no police?  Why should I, Philippa Wildresse, do their dirty
work? Can you explain?  _Alors_, I have asked myself that many, many
times.  Today, at last, I have answered my own question: I shall never
again play the spy for anybody!  C’est fini!  Voilà!"

Warner remained silent.

"Why, it is revolting!" she exclaimed.  "Figurez-vous, Monsieur!  I was
even signaled to spy upon _you_! Can you conceive such a thing?"

"On _me_?" he repeated, bewildered and angry.

"Certainly.  That is why I danced with you.  I am permitted to dance
only with clients under observation."

Her unflattering candor sent a flush to his face.  His latent vanity had
been rather rudely surprised.

"Afterward," she continued, "I knew you could not be the man they
wanted——"

"What man did they want?"

"Somebody who had stolen documents in America, I believe.  But I was
sure that you were honest."

"Why?"

Philippa lifted her grey eyes:

"Because you were honest with _me_."

"How, honest?"

"You did not make love to me.  Dishonest men always regard women as a
pastime.  To make advances is the first thing I expect from them.  I am
never disappointed.  All men are more or less dishonest—excepting you."

"This is a sorry school you have been brought up in," he said grimly.

"Do you mean that I have had my schooling by observing life?"

"Yes—a life in a cabaret full of _rastaoqueres_ and _cocottes_—a rather
limited and sordid outlook, Philippa.  The world lies outside."

"Still—it is life.  Even a _cocotte_ is part of life."

"So is disease.  But it isn’t _all_ there is in life."

"Nor is life in a cabaret all corruption.  A cabaret is merely the world
in miniature; all types pass in and out; they come and go as souls are
born and go: the door opens and closes; one sees a new face, one loses
it.  It is much like birth and death."

She made an unconsciously graceful gesture toward the white clouds
overhead.

"A cabaret," she went on seriously, "is a republic governed by the
patron, audited by the _caissière_, policed by waiters.  Everybody goes
there—even you, Monsieur.  All languages are spoken there, all questions
discussed, all theories aired, all passions ventilated. Every trait of
human nature is to be observed there; the germ of every comedy; the
motive of every tragedy.... Yet, as you say, it is a saddening
school.... Wisdom is too early acquired there.  One learns too quickly
and too completely in such a school.  Such an education means precocity.
It foreshadows the early death of youth, Monsieur....  If I remain
there, all that is still young in me will die, now, very quickly."

"You poor child!"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Therefore," she said, "I am leaving.  Now do you understand?"

He sat looking at her, wondering uneasily at her intelligence and her
ability to express herself.  Here was a maturity of mind unexpected in
this girl.  So far it had not visibly altered the youth of her, nor
impaired her sweetness and honesty.

In spite of the appalling surroundings amid which she had matured, her
mind and heart still remained young.

Biting a tasselled grass stem reflectively, she sat thinking for a few
moments, then she reverted to the subject of Wildresse and his son.

"I am convinced that it is all _blague_," she repeated, "—this threat of
Noumea.  Unless Jacques misbehaves very seriously in Biribi, nobody can
send him to La Nouvelle.  Besides, if his father chooses to oblige the
Government, what does it matter about me?  No; I have had enough of
degradation.  An hour on the river with you was enough to settle it."

"But what do you intend to do, Philippa?" he inquired.

She looked up at him with her winning smile:

"I came to ask _you_ that.  Please tell me what I am to do."

"You must not ask _me_——"

"Of course.  You are the first man who ever pleased me.  You please me
more and more.  Why should I not come to you in my perplexity and say,
’What am I to do, my friend?’"

He reddened at that; found nothing to answer.  The sudden and grotesque
responsibility which this young girl was so lightly placing upon his
shoulders might have amused if it had not disconcerted him.  But it did
not disconcert her.

"What am I to do, Mr. Warner?" she repeated with a smile of perfect
confidence.

"Why, _I_ don’t know, Philippa.  What _can_ you do down here at Saïs?"

"Tell _me_!" she insisted with undisturbed serenity.

"You couldn’t very well remain here.  You will have to go back to Ausone
and consider this matter more seriously——"

"Ah, ça—non!  I shall _not_ go back!"

"What do you propose to _do_?"

She bit her grass stem:

"I don’t know.  I have my trunk in the punt——"

"What!"

"Certainly, I brought my effects!  I have some money—not very much.  I
shall go to the inn and remain there until you have decided what it is
best for me to do."

The situation began to strike him as sufficiently ludicrous—the tragic
mask is always on the verge of a grin—but he did not feel like smiling.

For a few minutes he occupied himself with collecting, strapping, and
slinging his kit; and when he was ready to go, he looked down at the
girl Philippa, where she was seated watching him out of her trustful
grey eyes.

"I can employ you as a model," he said, "until Monsieur Wildresse sends
for you.  What do you think of the idea?"

[Illustration: "’I can employ you as a model,’ he said"]

"As a—a _model_, Monsieur?" she stammered.

"Yes.  You could pose for me, if you like."

A delicate scarlet flush slowly mounted to her hair.

Perplexed, he watched her.

"Don’t you like the idea?"  And suddenly he divined what was troubling
her.  "Not that sort of model," he said, amused.  "You shall wear your
clothes, Philippa."

"Oh....  Yes, I should like it, I think."

"It’s about the only excuse which would enable you to remain at the inn
until you have come to some conclusion regarding your future," he
explained.

"A painter may always have his models?  It is expected, is it not?"

"Oh, yes, _that_ is always understood.  But nobody would understand your
coming to live at the Golden Peach merely because you and I happened to
be good friends," he added laughingly.

"I understand," she said in a grave voice.  "I am to be your model, not
your friend."

He nodded carelessly, looking away from her.  After a moment, he lighted
a cigarette.  It relieved him considerably to recollect that the Harem
had gone to Ausone.

"Now," he said, "if you are ready to walk back to the inn with me, I’ll
explain you to Madame Arlon, the _patronne_."

"And my punt?" she inquired, rising from the grass.

"Oh, Lord!  I forgot."

"My trunk is in it."

"Where is your punt?"

She pointed across the meadow to where the river sparkled:

"It is my own punt; the _Lys_.  I took nothing from Monsieur Wildresse
that did not belong to me.  It will be agreeable for us to have a punt
here, will it not?"

"Very," he said uneasily.

They turned eastward across the blossoming meadow, over which already
the swallows were soaring in their late afternoon flight.  A _vanneau_
or two rose from moist spots, protesting, and flapping away on
greenish-bronze wings; a _bécassine_ went off like a badly-balanced
arrow, and his flat, raucous, "squack! squack!" rang through the sunny
silence.  Higher, higher his twisting flight carried him toward the sky,
where he dwindled to a speck and vanished; but out of the intense blue
zenith his distant cry still rang long after he had disappeared from the
range of human vision.



                              *CHAPTER XI*


When Warner and the girl Philippa arrived at the Golden Peach, they
found that Madame Arlon, profiting by the prospective temporary absence
of the Harem, had gone to visit relatives near Nancy for a day or two.
But Linette smilingly took charge of Philippa and her luggage.

Warner, entering the southern end of the walled garden, discovered
Halkett at the other extremity, still seated under the latticed arbor.
A letter lay spread upon the table beside his elbow.  Over this letter,
with pencil and paper, he pored as though he were working out a problem
in hieroglyphics.

But when Warner appeared, the Englishman leisurely folded and pocketed
the papers on which he had been working, nodded pleasantly, and handed
to Warner a copy of the _Petit Journal d’Ausone_.

"It came after you left," he said.  "There’s nothing really new in
it—Germany’s ultimatum to Russia, that’s about all....  I am feeling
rather anxious about a friend of mine, Reginald Gray.  He was to have
arrived here last night or early this morning on his motor cycle.  No
word has come from him _personally_, and it is now nearly night again."

Warner seated himself, glanced over the inky little provincial
newspaper, then laid it aside.  There was in its columns nothing
definite concerning the threatened rupture of the peace of Europe.

"Halkett," he said almost solemnly, "this crime with which they say our
civilization is menaced can never be consummated.  There will be no
World War, because the world dares not acquiesce in such an outrage.
The eleventh hour has struck, I know; but salvation exists only because
there is a twelfth hour on the dial; otherwise the preordained end of
everything would be hell."

Halkett smiled slightly.

"I’ve just had another letter," he said.  "I’m likely to remain here for
a few days more....  Which means only one thing."

"What does it mean?"

"War."

Warner smiled incredulously.

"Anyway, there will be one compensation for the general smash if you
remain here," he said gayly.

"You’re very good to take it that way....  You and I—and to hell with
the Deluge!"  But his face sobered while the jest was spoken; he leaned
rather wearily on the iron table and rested his forehead in one hand.
"I wish I knew what has happened to Reginald Gray," he repeated.

"What is it that worries you about your friend Gray?"

"His cap was picked up on the highway five miles southeast of Saïs."

"How could you know that?"

"I have just learned it by telephone, through a certain source of
information."

"Did you learn anything more?"

"_There was a little blood on the road._"

Warner remained silent.

"Also," continued Halkett thoughtfully, "a motor cycle had skidded up
the bank.... But no signs of a serious accident could be
discovered—merely the ragged swathe cut through soft earth and rank
vegetation....  If Gray met with an accident, he must have mended his
machine, remounted, and continued his course—wherever he was
going—unless somebody picked up him and his wheel and took them away....
I can’t understand this affair.  It bothers me."

"The chances are that your friend Gray had a rather bad spill,"
suggested Warner, "and no doubt you’ll hear from him, or about him,
before morning."

"I ought to, certainly."  He filled and lighted his pipe; Warner rose
and began to pace the garden path rather nervously.  Presently he came
back to where the Englishman sat brooding over his pipe and nursing
Ariadne.

"Halkett," he said abruptly, "you remember that girl Philippa in the
Café Biribi?"

The Englishman looked up inquiringly.

"Well, she is here."

"At the inn?"

"Yes.  I met her down in the big river meadow this afternoon, and she
calmly informed me that she had left home for good."

"Run away?"

"Run away.  Taken the key of the fields.  Beat it for keeps.  How does
that strike you?"

"Any particular reason?" inquired Halkett indifferently.

"Why, yes.  The child has been used by the secret police to spy on
people in the Café Biribi."

Halkett’s eyes opened at that.

Warner went on:

"That old rascal, Wildresse, it seems, is nothing but a paid informer.
He forced this girl Philippa to engage in the same filthy business.  She
even admitted that old Wildresse had set her on _me_!  No doubt he had
decided to watch you himself.  And do you know what I think?"

Halkett was very wide-awake now.  He said:

"I believe I do know what you are thinking.  And I believe you are
pretty nearly right."

"That the assault on you was merely a local matter instigated by
Wildresse?"

"It wouldn’t surprise me."

"I think it was, too.  Some of his thugs did it.  He had made up his
mind about you.  But somebody must have tipped him off to watch you."

"Probably."

"I am sure of it.  The three German-appearing men who tried to pick a
quarrel with you over the Archduke’s murder were not the men who tried
to frisk you for your papers.  They were ’provocative agents’ in the pay
of a foreign government—hired opportunists who were expected to pick
something of value out of any confusion attending a general row fomented
by themselves."

"Who told you that?"

"Philippa."

Halkett, now thoroughly interested, looked keenly at Warner through the
thin haze of his pipe.

"These three agents," continued Warner, "were certainly in close
communication with the men who have been following you.  And at least
one of those men was seated at the table directly behind you when
Wildresse’s thugs tried to frisk you for documents.  So you see that
Wildresse, prodded by the French secret police, and these provocative
agents, prodded by the people who are following you, who, in turn, are
spurred by the German Government, were all playing at cross purposes,
but with you as a common objective.  A fine nest of intrigue I led you
into when I took you to the Cabaret de Biribi!  I’m terribly sorry,
Halkett. But I believe that some good has come out of that mess—a
fragment of a letter, written in German, which Philippa gave me in the
meadow this afternoon.

"She found it under the wrecked table behind you. Nobody has seen it
except myself and Philippa; and the child cannot read much German.  But,
studying it and seeing your name in the letter, she was clever enough to
bring it to me.  Here it is."  He laid it on the table under the
Englishman’s eyes.

While Halkett remained absorbed in his translation, Warner paced the
garden, deeply occupied with his own uneasy cogitations.  After a little
while Halkett spoke to him in an altered voice, and he turned and came
swiftly back to the arbor.

The Englishman, looking up, said gravely:

"Concerning myself, there seems to remain now nothing worth concealing
from you....  Perhaps you had better know the truth.  I happen to be an
officer temporarily serving with the Intelligence Department; I had just
been assigned to duty in New York when the Harkness shell was stolen.
The general alarm went out.  Gray, a brother officer, and I chanced to
stumble on evidence which sent us aboard an Antwerp steamer. Our birds
were aboard.  We pulled every string available, and, passing over the
details of the affair, he and I managed to recover the drawings,
specifications, and formula which had been stolen.  Some of these papers
are in that envelope.

"Every German agent in Europe knows we have them.  My Government, for
some reason or other, instructs me to remain here for the present.  As
Gray and I are known, doubtless somebody will appear and take the
drawings out of our hands, because the chances are that I’d be murdered
before I reached Calais.  That is the situation, Warner."

"Has Gray any of the drawings?"

"He has."

"I understand."

"And that is why I am worrying about Gray.  They’d not hesitate to kill
him if they thought there was a chance that he had any of the papers."

Warner said:

"They couldn’t have killed him.  A crime on the public highway cannot
remain undiscovered very long."

Halkett sat thoughtfully stroking Ariadne.  Presently he looked up with
a slight smile.

"Well, what are you going to do with the girl Philippa?" he inquired.

"Now, what do you think of a situation like this?" demanded Warner, half
laughing, half vexed.  "I told her to go home.  She positively refuses.
You can’t blame the child.  The dirty business there has disgusted her.
This seems to be a final revolt. But—what would _you_ do if a young girl
wished herself on _you_?"

"I haven’t the faintest idea," said Halkett, intensely amused.

Warner reddened.

"I haven’t either," he said.  "All I can think of is to use her as a
model—give her a small salary until she finds something to do."

"Are you going to use her for a model?"

"I suppose so, until somebody comes after her to take her back."

"Suppose nobody comes?" suggested Halkett mischievously.

"Well, I’m not going to adopt her, that’s certain," insisted the other.
"Poor little thing!" he added. "—Her instincts seem to be decent.  Who
could blame a young girl for sickening of such a life and cutting away
on her own hook?  That’s a rotten joint, that Cabaret de Biribi.  And as
for that old villain, Wildresse, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he
were playing the dirty game from both ends—German and French.  Informers
are often traitors."

"Very frequently."

"Spies also have that reputation, I believe—except in romantic fiction,"
said Warner.

"They usually deserve it," returned Halkett.  "Generally speaking, they
are a scum recruited from low pubs and brothels.  Rarely does any
reputable person enter that profession except in line of military duty
or in time of war.

"Servants, waiters, chauffeurs, those are the most respectable classes
of secret agents.  But the demi-monde and their hangers-on furnish the
majority of those popularly supposed to represent people of position who
play the rôle of international spy.  They are a rummy lot, Warner.

"It is very, very seldom in Occidental drawing-rooms that such practices
prevail.  A woman of position very rarely becomes a paid agent of that
sort.  Diplomats and attachés who are pumped and victimized are usually
the dupes of socially disreputable people. Society in England and in
Western Europe rarely entertains such a favorite of fiction as a paid
Government spy; nor are such people very often recruited from its ranks.
East of the Danube it is different."

They sat for a while smoking, Halkett lavishing endearments upon Ariadne
who never failed to respond, Warner musing on what Halkett had said and
wondering exactly what duties the Military Intelligence Department of
any Government might include.

No doubt, like the Government, it employs spies, and, like the
Government, never admits the fact.

For among all outcasts so vitally necessary to autocracy and militarism,
the spy is the most pitiable: in time of peace no authority admits
employing him; in time of war, his fate, if taken, is as certain as that
his own Government will disown him.  Eternally repudiated, whether of
respectable or disreputable antecedents, honest or otherwise, patriotic
or mercenary, the world has only one opinion to express concerning
spies, although it often cackles over their adventures and snivels over
their fate.

Perhaps Halkett was musing on these things, for presently he took his
pipe from his mouth and said:

"To my knowledge, we British never employ spies in America.  Your
Government, I know, never employs them anywhere in time of peace.  All
other Governments do.  Europe swarms with them.  If I were in Germany
today, I’d be considered a spy.  They’d follow me about and lock me up
on the first excuse—or without any excuse at all.  And if we chanced to
be at war with Germany, and I were caught, they’d certainly shoot me
because I have recovered stolen property."

"They’d execute you because you are not in uniform?"

"Certainly.  I’d not stand a ghost of a chance.  So I shall be rather
glad that I’m in France when war comes."

"You are so certain it is coming?"

"Absolutely, my dear fellow.  Probably it will be declared tomorrow."

"I cannot believe it, Halkett."

"I can scarcely believe it myself.  But—I know it is coming.  And it is
coming from the north."

"Through _Belgium_?"

"Exactly."

"And the treaty?"

"I have already told you how Germany regards such agreements.  She’ll
kill that treaty with just as much emotion as she’d experience in
assassinating a fly.  It’s a rotten outlook, Warner.  The eleventh hour
has passed."

They smoked for a while in silence, then:

"Where is your little protégée?" asked Halkett, making an effort to
shake off his depression.

"Linette is making her comfortable.  When Madame Arlon returns from
Nancy I shall tell her to look out for the child.  She’s in her room,
unpacking, I suppose."

"Did she even bring her boxes?" asked the Englishman, greatly amused.

"Yes, she did.  And I don’t know what on earth she intends to do for a
living when I go back to Paris. I’m sorry for her, but she can’t expect
me to travel about France with her——"

He checked himself abruptly; Halkett also looked up.

The girl Philippa had entered the further end of the garden.

She came slowly forward through the rosy evening light, straight and
slim in her girlish gown of white, unrelieved except by a touch or two
of black, and by the coppery splendor of her hair.

She halted in the path a little way from the arbor, evidently aware that
somebody was within.

"Are you there, Monsieur Warner?" she asked in her sweet, childish
voice.

He got up with a glance of resignation at Halkett, and went to meet her.
Halkett, from the arbor, noticed the expression of her face when Warner
appeared, and he continued to observe the girl with curious attention.

She had instinctively laid her hands in Warner’s, detaining him naïvely,
and looking up into his face with an honesty too transparent to mistake.

"I miss you very much," she said, "even for a few minutes.  I hastened
my toilet to rejoin you."

"That is very sweet of you, Philippa——"  He didn’t know what else to
say; felt the embarrassment warm on his face—chagrin, shyness, something
of both, perhaps—and a rather helpless feeling that he was acquiescing
in an understanding which already was making him very uneasy.

"Come in to the arbor," he said.  "Mr. Halkett is there."

She slipped her arm through his.  Halkett saw both their faces as they
approached, and, watching Warner for a moment, he felt inclined to
laugh.  But in this young girl’s eyes there was something that checked
his amusement.  A man does not laugh at the happy and serious eyes of
childhood.

So he rose and paid his respects to Philippa with pleasant formality;
she seated herself between the two men.

The last pink rays of the sun fell across the little iron table,
flooding the garden with an enchanted light: already the evening perfume
of clove pinks had become exquisitely apparent; a belated bumblebee
blundered out of the reseda and, rising high in the calm air, steered
his bullet flight into the west.  Ariadne, on the table, stretched
herself, yawned, and looked about her, now thoroughly awake for the rest
of the night.

"_Minette!_" murmured Philippa, caressing her and laying her cheek
against the soft fur.

"You are sunburned," remarked Halkett.

"And badly freckled, Monsieur——"  She looked mischievously at Warner,
laughed at their secret agreement concerning cosmetics, then turned
again to Halkett:

"You have heard, I suppose, of the happy understanding between Mr.
Warner and me?"

"I think so," said Halkett, subduing an inclination to laugh.

"The future, for me, is entirely secure," continued Philippa happily.
"I am permitted to assist Mr. Warner in his art.  It is a very wonderful
future, Mr. Halkett, destined for me without doubt by God."  She added,
half to herself: "And a lifetime on my knees would be too short a time
to thank Him in."

Both men became silent and constrained, Warner feeling more helpless
than ever in the face of such tranquil confidence; Halkett remembering
what Warner had once said about the soul of Philippa—but still
pleasantly and gently inclined to skepticism concerning this _fille de
cabaret_.

Philippa, leaning forward on the table between them, joined her slender
hands and looked at Warner.

"It is pleasant to be accepted as a friend by such men as you are," she
said thoughtfully....  "I have met other gentlemen of your station in
life, now and then.  But their attitude toward me has been different
from yours....  I once supposed that, in a cabaret, all men resembled
each other where women were concerned.  I have been very happily
mistaken."

Warner said:

"A man scarcely expects to see more than one sort of woman in a
cabaret."

"Yet, you were not astonished to see me, were you?"

"Yes," he said, "I was astonished."

"You did not seem to be."

Warner glanced at Halkett:

"Do you remember what I once said about Philippa’s soul?"

The Englishman smiled at Philippa:

"As soon as Mr. Warner saw you he said to me that your soul was as clean
as a flame....  I was slower to understand you."

The girl turned swiftly to Warner:

"What a heavenly thing for a man to say about a woman!  And my lips
painted scarlet—and I a _caissière de cabaret_——"  Her voice broke
childishly; she sprang to her feet and stood looking through the
starting tears at the last level rays of the sun.

Standing so, unstirring till the tears dried, she presently turned and
resumed her chair; and, after a few moments’ silence, she dropped her
elbows on the table again and clasped her hands under her chin.

She said, not looking at either of the men:

"I have thought of becoming a nun.  But it is too late.  Cloisters make
awkward inquiries and search records; no Sisterhood of any order I ever
heard of would admit to a novitiate any girl who has served five years
where I have served....  And so—until I saw you—I did not know what was
to become of me——"

She lifted her grey eyes to Warner.  They were starry with recent tears.
Her chin rested on her clasped hands, her enchanted gaze on him.

Halkett was first to move and make an effort:

"Yes, it was perhaps time to cut away," he muttered. "Anything we can
do—very glad, I’m sure."

"Certainly," said Warner.  "There are a lot of agreeable young women in
my class who will be interested to know you when they return from Ausone
day after tomorrow——"

Philippa turned swiftly toward him:

"I do not wish any woman to know what I have been!  You wouldn’t _tell_
them, would you?"

"No, of course not—if you feel that way," he said. "Only I—it occurred
to me—some protection—some countenance—understanding—from other women——"

"I desire none.  I want only your friendship."

"But how am I going to explain you——"

"You are a painter.  I am your model.  Is not that sufficient
explanation?"

"Yes—if you desire to be so regarded—permanently——"

"I do.  My privacy will then remain my own.  I permit nobody to invade
it—excepting you."

"Very well, if you feel that way....  Only, you are—attractive,
Philippa—and I am rather afraid you might not be understood——"

She shrugged her shoulders:

"For five years I have not been understood.  Do you know that men have
even thrown dice for me, so certain were they that they understood me?
I am accustomed to it.  But I am not accustomed to women—I mean to your
kind.  I distrust them; possibly I am afraid of them.  Anyway, their
interest in me would be unwelcome.  It is your friendship I want.
Nothing else matters."

"You are wrong, Philippa.  Other things do matter. No woman can go it
alone, disdainful of other women’s opinions."

"I have always been alone."

Warner said patiently:

"I should not do anything without first consulting you."

"I feel very sure that you would not."  She smiled at him trustfully,
her cheek on her linked fingers; then her gaze grew absent.  The last
sun ray lingered on her hair, turning it to fiery bronze.  Under it her
grey eyes gazed absently into the future, filled now, for her, with
iridescent castles and peopled with vaguely splendid images—magic scenes
that young and lonely hearts evoke out of the very emptiness of their
isolation.

And in the center of the phantom pageant always appeared Warner, her
friend, endowed with all the mystery and omniscience with which a young
girl’s heart invests the man who first awakens it to irregularity—who
first interferes with the long monotony of its virgin rhythm.

Halkett, a little keener of the two—a little more sensitive, if more
reticent—said pleasantly:

"Perhaps you might prefer to dine out here with us, Philippa.  The
Ha—the class, I mean—banquets and carouses in the dining-room, when it
is here."

"Of course I wish to dine with you!  I said so to Linette before I came
out here.  It is all arranged."

Halkett laughed.  At the same moment, Linette came out with the tray.


A bright afterglow still lingered in the zenith when their leisurely
dinner had ended; and in the garden the mellow light was beginning to
make objects exquisitely indistinct.

Halkett, smoking in silence, was evidently thinking about his friend
Gray, for, when Linette came to remove the cloth and coffee cups, and to
say that some gentlemen on motor cycles were at the garden gate
inquiring for Mr. Halkett, the young Englishman rose with a quick sigh
of relief and walked swiftly to the heavy, green door under the arch in
the garden wall.

As he laid his hand on the latch, he turned toward Warner:

"I’ll bring Gray in directly," he called back; and opened the door and
stepped out into the dusk.

At the same instant Warner rose to his feet, listening; then he ran for
the green door.  As he reached it, the heavy little door burst open;
Halkett sprang inside, slid the big iron bolt into place, turned and
warned the American aside with upflung hand.

"Keep Philippa out of range of the door!" he called across the garden,
drawing his automatic at the same time and springing backward.  "Don’t
stand in a line with that green door——"

A volley of pistol shots cut him short.



                             *CHAPTER XII*


The green door in the garden wall had been perforated by a dozen bullets
from outside before the first heavy crash came, almost shaking it from
its hinges.

Warner had already whipped out his own automatic; Halkett pushed him
aside across a flower bed.

"Keep out of this!" he said.  "It’s my affair——"

"I’m damned if it is!" retorted Warner.  "I’ll settle that question once
for all!"  And he leveled his automatic and sent a stream of lead
through the green door in the wall.

No more blows fell on it, but all over it, from top to bottom, white
splinters flew while bullets poured through it from outside.

"You are wrong to involve yourself," insisted Halkett, raising his voice
to dominate the racket of the automatics.  "They want only me."

"So do I, Halkett.  And I’ve got you and mean to keep you.  Blood is the
thicker, you know."

Philippa came from the arbor, carrying the badly frightened cat with
difficulty.

"Is it really war?" she asked calmly, while Ariadne alternately cowered
and struggled.

"Just a little private war," said Halkett.  "And you had better go into
the house at once——"

"You and I should go, also," added Warner, "if there are more than two
men out there."

"I saw at least half a dozen beyond the wall.  You are quite right,
Warner; we couldn’t hope to hold this garden.  But I dislike to go into
a strange house and invite assault on other people’s property—just to
save my own hide——"

"Keep out of range!" interrupted Warner sharply, taking him by the arm
and following Philippa around the garden toward the rear of the house.

The back door was iron, armed with thick steel bolts; the neighborhood
of the quarry rendering such defenses advisable.  Warner shot all three
bolts, then passed rapidly through the kitchen to the front door and
secured it, while Halkett went to the telephone.  The nearest gendarmes
were at Ausone.

Linette, the chambermaid and waitress, and Magda, the cook, had followed
Halkett and Philippa from the pantry through the kitchen to the front
hallway.  They had heard the noisy fusillade in the garden.  Curiosity
seemed to be their ruling emotion, but even that was under control.

"Is it the Prussians, Messieurs?" asked Linette calmly.  "Has the war
really begun?"  Her face, and Magda’s too, seemed a trifle colorless in
the failing evening light, but her voice was steady.

"Magda," said Warner, "the men outside our garden who fired at Mr.
Halkett are certainly Germans.  He and I mean to keep them out of this
house if they attempt to enter it.  So you and Linette had better go
very quietly to the cellar and remain there, because there may be some
more firing——"

"I?  The cellar!  When Prussians are outside!" exclaimed Magda.  "Ma
foi!  I think Linette and I can be of better use than hiding in the
cellar.  Linette! Set water to boil in both kettles!  I have my dishes
to wash.  The Prussians had better not interfere with me when I have
dishes to wash!"

"Keep away from the windows," added Warner to Linette.  "There are iron
bars on all the lower windows, aren’t there?"

"Yes, Monsieur Warner.  If the front door holds, they cannot get in."

Halkett, at the telephone, called back through the dim hallway to
Warner:

"Somebody has cut the telephone wire.  I can’t do anything with the
instrument!"

Philippa, still clasping Ariadne, had betrayed no sign of fear or
excitement.

"If somebody would tell me what to do," she began—but Warner quickly
drew her into the office of the inn, which was really the inner café and
bar.

"Stay here," he said.  "Those men outside might open fire on us at any
moment.  Don’t go near a window.  Do you promise?"

The girl seated herself obediently and began to stroke the cat, her eyes
serenely fixed on Warner.

Halkett had gone to the floor above to lurk by one of the windows giving
on the garden.  When Warner came up with a box of cartridge clips, the
Englishman, filling his pockets, remarked quietly:

"They’re over the wall already, and dodging about among the fruit
trees—four of them.  There were two others.  Perhaps you had better keep
an eye on the front door, if you really insist on being mixed up with
this mess I’m in."

"Do you suppose those fellows will be silly enough to attack the house?"
asked the American incredulously.

Halkett nodded:

"They are desperate, you see.  I can understand why.  They know that war
is likely to be declared within the next few hours.  If they don’t get
me now they won’t stand much chance later.  That’s why I’m prepared for
anything on their part."

Warner walked swiftly back toward the front, cutting the cords of the
latticed window blinds in every room, so that they fell full length.

"No lights in the house!" he called down over the banisters; "and keep
away from the windows, everybody!  Philippa, do you hear me?"

"I understand; I shall tell them to light no candles," came the
untroubled voice of Philippa.

"Are _you_ all right down there?"

"Yes, _I_ am.  But the cat is still quite frightened, poor darling."

In spite of his anxiety, Warner laughed as he reloaded.

Outdoors there still remained sufficient light to see by.  Flat against
the wall, pistol in hand, he cautiously reconnoitered the dusky roadway
in front of the house, then, leaning further out, he ventured to look
down between lattice and sill at the doorstep below.  A mound of dry hay
had been piled against the door.

"Get out of there!" he shouted, catching a glimpse of two shadowy
figures skulking toward the doorway arch.

His reply was a red flash which split the dusk, another, and another;
the window glass above him flew into splinters under the shower of
bullets; the persiennes jerked and danced.

But the men who stood pouring bullets in his direction had been obliged
to drop double armfuls of faggots. One of these men, still firing as he
ran, took cover behind a poplar tree across the road; the other man
flattened himself against the wall of the house, so far under the door
arch that no shot could reach him from an upper window unless the
marksman exposed himself.

Standing so, he lighted a chemical match and tossed it, flaring, on the
heap of hay piled high against the door; and almost at the same instant
a boilerful of hot water splashed through the bars of the lower window
beside him, scalding and soaking him; and he bounded out into the road
with a yell of astonishment and pain.

The hay, instantly on fire, sent a cloud of white thick smoke billowing
along the façade of the house, then burst into flame; but Linette and
Magda dashed water on it from the lower windows, and the red blaze
leaped and died.

Then, from the rear of the house, the dry rattle of Halkett’s automatic
broke out, and the pattering racket of pistol shots redoubled when other
automatics crackled from the garden.  Thick as hailstones pelting a tin
roof the bullets clanged on the iron rear door, filling the house with
deafening dissonance.

Halkett, peering out through his lattice into the dusk, ceased firing.
A few moments longer the door reëchoed the bullets’ impact; then all
sound ceased, the silence still vibrating metallic undertones.

Prowling from window to window, Warner, pistol lifted, peered warily
from the shelter of the lowered lattice blinds.

One man still crouched behind the poplar tree; the other, he thought,
was lying in the long grass of the roadside ditch.

"Are you all right, Halkett?" he called back through the stinging fumes
of the smokeless powder which filled the hallway.

"Quite fit, thanks.  How is it with you?"

"Still gayly on the job.  I didn’t hit anybody.  I didn’t try to."

"Nor I.  Did you ever see such obstinacy and determination?  Very
German, isn’t it?"

"Perfectly....  They’re keeping rather too quiet to suit me.  What do
you suppose they’re up to?"

But neither he nor the Englishman could discover any movement or hear
any sound around the house. And it had now become too dark to see
anything very clearly.

Philippa appeared mounting the stairs, looking for Ariadne who had
scrambled out of her arms during the fusillade.

Warner nodded to her from where he was standing guard.  She came up
quietly behind him, stood for a moment with both hands around his left
arm—a silent figure in the dusk, friendly as a well-bred dog, and as
winningly unconscious of self.  Her cheek, resting lightly against her
hands, where they clasped his arm, pressed a trifle closer before she
went away.

And while he stood there, perplexedly conscious of this youthful
affection, and listening to every slightest sound, suddenly he heard her
voice, startled, calling out to him from a bedroom on the east side of
the house.

As he entered the room, running, a man outside on a garden ladder kicked
in the window panes, drew back his heavy foot, sent it crashing again
through the wooden frame, and lurched forward across the sill, only to
be held there, fighting, in the grasp of Philippa.

Behind them another man on the ladder was already struggling to fling
his leg over the sill; the head and shoulders of a third appeared just
behind him, menacing with uplifted pistol any interference.

Already Philippa had been dragged headlong half-way through the
shattered window, and the man whom she had seized was endeavoring to
fling her down in the flower bed below, when Warner, leaping forward,
hit him heavily in the face and caught the girl’s shoulders, jerking her
back into the room as her assailant’s grasp on her waist relaxed.

The man with the pistol had not been able to use it; he staggered, his
weapon fell, and he clung with both hands to the rungs as Philippa’s
assaulter went tumbling down the ladder, carrying with him the man
directly behind him.  And the next moment Warner had upset the ladder,
sprung back, and pulled Philippa with him down on the floor.

A hurricane of bullets swept through the shattered window above them;
Halkett, from his latticed vantage, was firing, too.

The girl lay panting beside him, silent, her head across his arm.

"Are you hurt?" he whispered.

"Are _you_?"

"No; answer me!" he repeated impatiently.

"He was—very rough.  I don’t think I am hurt," she breathed.

"You plucky little thing!"

She pressed her cheek against his arm.

"Are you contented with me?" she whispered.

The shots had ceased.  After a long interval of quiet, Warner ventured
to creep to the window and look through a corner of the ragged lattice
blind.  Little by little he raised himself to his knees, peered out and
finally over.

The ladder lay there just below in the garden path; the men were gone.
And, even as he looked, the staccato noise of departing motor cycles
broke out like a startling volley of rifle fire in the night.

For an hour he stood on guard there, with the girl Philippa crouching
beside him on the floor.  From time to time he called cautiously:

"All well here!"

And the Englishman from the front windows always answered:

"All well here!"

Finally:

"Halkett!" he called.  "I believe they’ve cut away for good!"

Halkett presently appeared in the hallway, coming from the front of the
house, as Philippa rose to her knees and stood up, a trifle dazed.

"Warner," he whispered, "a dozen horsemen have just ridden up in front
of our house.  They look like French gendarmes to me, but it’s so dark
outside that I am not quite certain.  Will you take a look at them?"

Warner ran to the front and gazed out.  The road below was filled with
mounted gendarmes, their white aiguillettes plainly visible in the dark.

Two had already descended from their horses, and while one held an
electric torch the other was busily nailing a big placard to the front
door of the inn.  His hammer strokes rang out sharply in the darkness.

It took only a moment for him to complete his business; the electric
torch shifted, flashed upward, was extinguished.

"Mount!" came the quick order from the shadowy peloton of horsemen; up
on their high saddles popped the two troopers; there came a trample of
hoofs, the dull clank of sabres, and away they galloped into the
darkness.

Warner turned slowly, looked hard at Halkett, who merely nodded in reply
to the silent question.

Philippa slipped downstairs in front of them and began to unlatch the
door, as Linette and Magda appeared from the kitchen carrying lighted
candles.

Then, when the front door had swung open, the little group gathered in
front of it and read on the placard, by flickering candlelight, the
decree of the Government of Republican France.

It was the order for general mobilization.

The nation was already at war.



                             *CHAPTER XIII*


A pale streak of daybreak along the eastern hills, a blackbird piping,
then that intense stillness which heralds the sun.

In mid-heaven the last star-drops melted, washed out in the grey silver
of the sky; a light breeze sighed through the trees, and, sighing, died.

Then, above earth, a sudden misty glory of gold and rose; and through
it, as through a veil, the sword-edge of the celestial scimitar curved
up, glittering.

Thus dawned the year of war on Saïs.

But the awakening world of summer did not seem to comprehend; the
yellow-haired lad who drove his cows to pasture halted to read the
placard on the door of the inn, then, whistling his dog to heel, ran
forward after his slowly moving herd.

The miller of Saïs drove by on his way to the mill, drew rein to read
the placard, looked up at the bullet-shattered window above, then jogged
on, his furrowed features unaltered, his aged eyes fixed on his horse’s
ears.

One or two washerwomen on the way to the meadow pool stood gracefully
regarding the poster, flat baskets of clothes balanced on their heads;
then moved on through the golden sunrise, still graceful, unhurried,
exchanging leisurely comments on life and death as they walked.

In the kitchen of the Golden Peach, Magda was astir, and presently
Linette appeared, very sleepy.  As they went about the routine business
to which they had been bred, they too exchanged tranquil views
concerning emperors and kings and the mortality of all flesh.  Also they
took counsel together regarding the return of Madame Arlon, the ultimate
necessity of summoning a glazier from Ausone, the damage done in the
garden by the ladder.

The door of Philippa’s bedroom remained closed; Warner’s door also.  But
Halkett, his hands in his pockets, was out at sunrise, pacing the road
in front of the inn, sometimes looking up at the shot-riddled windows,
or at the placard on the front door, or along the road at the telephone
wires which appeared to be intact as far as he could see.

But somewhere they had been cut, and communication still remained
interrupted.

Deeply worried over the non-appearance of Gray, the cutting of the
telephone wires now became a matter of serious concern to him.  He
scarcely knew how to act in his sudden isolation, and, though his
instructions held him at Saïs until further orders, the decree for
general mobilization would have started him off for Paris except for one
thing.  That was the continued absence of Gray and the possibility that
something alarming had happened to him.

He could not take his envelope and start for England until he had met
Gray or some authorized messenger from Gray.  He had not explained this
to Warner.

But the truth was that what plans he carried were useless without the
interlocking plans carried by Gray. All the eggs had not been trusted to
a single basket. And, vice versa, the information carried by Gray was of
no practical account until supplemented by the contents of the long,
thin envelope.

Gray’s papers and his, taken together, were of vital importance to
England or to any enemy of England; separate they could be of no use to
anybody, enemy or ally.

The determined attack on him the night before proved that others besides
himself understood this. And it also made him realize the more clearly
that since he had parted from Gray in Antwerp, the latter had been as
open to such attacks as had he.  The question now was: had they caught
Gray?  If so, it must have occurred within the last thirty-six hours,
because he had talked over the telephone to Gray the evening of his own
arrival at Saïs.

But since that conversation, which ended with the understanding that
Gray should set out on his motor cycle for Saïs, not a word had he heard
concerning his colleague, except that his cap had been found on the road
south of Saïs, and that the condition of the roadside bank, and a few
drops of blood, gave evidence of an accident—if, indeed, it had been an
accident.

Nor had Halkett any idea who it was that had called him up on the
telephone to tell him this.

As he stood there, looking down the road, terribly perplexed and filled
with keenest apprehensions concerning his colleague, far away through
the vista of poplars and telephone poles something white glimmered in
the sunlit road.

It was the white cornette of a Sister of Charity; after a few minutes
Halkett recognized the advancing figure and walked forward to meet her.

The color of early morning freshened her youthful cheeks, framed by the
snowy wimple.  She extended a friendly hand to him in salutation, as he
came up and uncovered.

"At such an hour, Monsieur, only birds and Sisters of Charity are
supposed to be on the wing.  Is it curiosity that has awakened you to
see how the sun really looks when it rises?"

But as she spoke she detected the deep anxiety which his smile masked,
and her own face became responsively serious.

"Have you had bad news?" she asked gently.

"Worse—I have had no news at all.  Are you going to the inn?"

"Yes."

"May I help you gather your flowers?" he asked.

"Thank you—if you care to."

They walked on in silence, skirted the garden wall westward, then north
to the bullet-splintered green door.

Immediately she noticed the scars of the fusillade, gazed at them
curiously for a moment, then laid a questioning forefinger across a
bullet hole.

And while she stood so, he told her in a few words what had occurred the
night before—told her everything, including the posting of the notice
ordering a general mobilization.

She listened, her finger still resting over the shot hole, her calm face
raised to his.  And, when he ended:

"Then it is war already," she said quietly.

"War has not been declared....  Yes, it is virtually war.  Why not say
so?"

She nodded; he pushed open the heavy little door, and Sister Eila bent
her white-coiffed head and stepped lightly into the garden.

For a while she moved slowly along the flower-bordered paths, as though
uncertain what to choose from among the perfumed thickets, then, setting
her ozier basket on the edge of the walk, she knelt down before the
white clove pinks; and Halkett dropped on his knees beside her.

They worked there together, exchanging scarcely a word, slowly filling
the basket which lay between them.

Ariadne came up with a cheery mew of greeting, and after marching around
and rubbing herself against Halkett, mounted to his shoulders and
settled down, purring like a teakettle beside his ear.

When the basket was filled, Sister Eila stood up and straightened her
shoulders, and Halkett rose too, the cat still perched on his shoulder.

He lifted the flower-heaped basket and set it in the shade of the arbor;
Sister Eila seated herself and Halkett sat down on the stone steps at
her feet.

After a silence, made resonant with Ariadne’s loudly cadenced purring,
Sister Eila clasped her hands in her lap and looked steadily down at the
heap of flowers in the green ozier basket.

"What is going to happen?" she asked in a low voice.  "If there is to be
a war, it will come here, I suppose."

"I am afraid so."

"Yes; Saïs cannot escape."

"The Vosges are too near," he nodded.  "So is Ausone.  So is the Rhine,
for that matter."  He glanced up at her from where he sat caressing
Ariadne.  "Belgium also is too near, Sister Eila."

"You believe _they_ will arrive that way?"

"I feel very certain of it.  And this means that England moves."

"Where?"

"To the firing line."

"With France?"

"Yes, Sister."

She said quietly:

"That is as it should be, Mr. Halkett.  The two great wardens of
European liberty should stand together in its defense."

"They’ve got to stand for _each other_," he said, "—whatever else they
stand for."

"Alsace—Lorraine—I think this is to be a very holy war—for France," she
murmured to herself.

He said nothing.  He was not very clear concerning the exact amount of
holiness involved, but he knew that war had now become a necessity to
England, if she meant to retain the autocracy of the seas.

"We’re bound to go in," he remarked, stroking Ariadne; "there’s nothing
else left for us to do.  And if they don’t give us an excuse by invading
Belgium, we’ll go in anyway.  That’s the meaning of all this! It has
only one real meaning.  The ’Day’ they’ve been drinking to so long
is—Today!  This entire matter has got to be settled once and for all.
And that’s the truth, Sister Eila."

He sat for a while silent, gazing out across the quiet garden.  Then,
again:

"As for Saïs, if there is an invasion of France, it must pass this way:
if the Vosges are to be defended, Saïs will see war."

"That will be very sad for us," she said.  "It seems as though there
were already enough violence and misery in the quarries—enough of
wretchedness and poverty.  If the quarrymen are called to the colors
with their classes, and if the quarries and cement works close, I don’t
know what is to become of our school."

"You said that it is a free school."

"Yes, but the children live elsewhere, and are clothed and fed
elsewhere.  Except at noontime, we do not feed them.  If we had money to
provide beds and food, the school is large enough to shelter the
children. However, I suppose we shall hear from the rue de Bac—the
mother house, you know?"

She rose, picked up her basket of flowers, and Halkett also stood up.

"Good-by," she said.  "Thank you for helping.... I—I suppose you do not
remain very long in Saïs?"

"I don’t know how long."

She inclined her young head gravely.

They walked together to the green door in the wall, and again her eyes
became riveted on the bullet marks.

"Perhaps," she said, "you will have time to—to come to the school again
before you leave Saïs? ... Unless you think it dangerous——"

He looked up, then away from her.

"I’ll come—to the school."

"Then—it is au revoir, I hope."

He stood uncovered, holding open the door, and, as she passed in front
of him, he took from her basket a white clove pink.  She saw what he
did, and halted instinctively to give him his choice.  Suddenly, without
any reason, her cheeks flushed brightly; she bent her head and stepped
quickly through the archway, leaving him standing there with the dull
color deepening in his sun-tanned face.

Warner discovered him still standing where she had left him, the white
blossom hanging from his clenched fist.

"Well," he said, "how did you sleep after that villainous business of
last night?"

"Thanks, I slept," replied Halkett, rousing himself.

They went into the arbor together, and presently Linette came out of the
house carrying their coffee.

"Where is your little friend Philippa?" inquired the Englishman with an
effort.

"In bed, I fancy.  Linette has just taken up her café-au-lait.  I think
the child is feeling the reaction."

"No wonder.  Plucky little thing!"

"Yes.  But what on earth am I going to do with her, Halkett?  Ought I to
wait until that old scoundrel Wildresse comes here or telephones?  Ought
I to try to persuade her to go back to that cabaret?  Ought I to
telephone that she is safe here?"

"The wires are cut."

"I know.  Somebody will fix them, though.  Do you think I’d better try
to persuade Philippa to let me drive her over to Ausone in the trap?  If
I’m to keep her, I ought to have an interview with Wildresse, or she and
I will get into trouble."

"Oh, Lord!" said Halkett.  "That’s your affair. Listen, Warner, I’m so
worried about Gray I can’t think of anything else.  Something serious
certainly has happened to him.  And until those wires are repaired, I
shan’t know what to do.  Is there any other way we can communicate with
Ausone?"

"None that I know of, unless somebody goes over to Ausone.  I can do
that if you like.  I can drive over in the trap.  Of course the
telephone people already know that there’s a break on the line, and no
doubt they’re out now looking for it.  We’ll be in communication with
Ausone by noon, I expect."

For a little while they exchanged views concerning the attack of the
previous night, and Halkett was of the opinion that the order for
mobilization would now restrain any further violence on the part of
those who had been following him, if, indeed, it did not entirely clear
them out of France.  And he expressed a desire for the envelope.

So Warner went into the house, lifted the partly hardened skin of white
lead from the canvas, disinterred the envelope, wiped it clean, and
brought it out to Halkett.  The Englishman put it into his breast
pocket.

"It was perfectly safe where it was," remarked the other.  "It’s an
invitation to murder where it is now."

"Yes, but it’s no good to anybody unless Gray turns up.  I wish I knew
what had become of that man.  I think I’ll try the telephone again——"

He rose and walked swiftly toward the house, Ariadne trotting at his
heels.  Even as he approached, he heard the telephone bell ringing, and
hastened his steps toward the house.

But as he entered, the girl Philippa stepped into the hallway, and he
caught a glimpse of a slim, barefooted figure, holding with one hand the
folds of a shabby chamber robe around her, and with the other the
receiver.

"What?" she cried in answer to a question.  "Yes, I am Philippa....  Oh!
It’s _you_.  I thought so.... What do you desire of me?"

What Wildresse desired of the girl Philippa intimately concerned
Halkett.  He coolly remained to listen.

"No!" she said in her clear, emotionless voice.  "I shall not come back!
... Very well; if the Government agents want me, they can find me
here....  You may threaten me with arrest by the Government if you
choose, but I know that you are more afraid of the Government than I
am....  _Why_ shouldn’t I say it! Yes, I know quite well that we are
going to have war.... You say that the Germans are already across the
Duchy?  Skirmishing before Longwy?  Very well; why don’t you inform
_one_ of your Governments? ... No, I won’t keep quiet!  No, no, _no_!
... What you say does not frighten me....  I refuse to return! ...
Because I am now in an honest business for myself.... Yes, it is an
honest business.  I am permitted to pose for an artist of great
distinction....  What you _say_ does not frighten me; but what you _are_
does cause me some apprehension.  And knowing as much as I do know about
you, I seriously advise you to leave France.... No, I haven’t said such
a thing to anybody else, but I am likely to, so you had better hasten to
leave for America.  Yes, I will tell you why, if you wish. It is because
there are always two millstones when anything is to be crushed.  War is
now beginning to bring those two stones together.  The mill wheel
already is turning!  When the two millstones meet, the little meal worm
that has remained between them so long in safety is going to be
crushed....  Oh, yes, you _do_ know what I mean!  You also know whom I
mean.  Very well, then, if you don’t I’ll tell you this much: _double
wages_ never are paid by a _single_ master.  I learned that yesterday
when you gave me the _wrong_ paper to forward to Paris with the others.
Fortunately for you, I read it.  I then burnt it to ashes and took my
clothes and my punt and my departure!  I might have continued to endure
what you had accustomed me to.  But _two_ masters!  Faugh!  The horror
of it! ... Fear?  If you really think _that_ of me, then you have never
really known me.  It was disgust and shame that drove me toward
liberty....  Yes, this that I say is final.... You _dare_ not interfere!
... Then I’ll say this: if you do not leave France now, _at once_, in
this moment of her peril, I _will_ tell what I know to the first soldier
of France who crosses my path! ... I am not afraid of you, I tell
you....  Believe me, you are well rid of me....  I warn you, in God’s
name, to let me alone!"

She hung up the receiver, turned, and mounted the stairs with flying
feet, but at the top landing Halkett’s quiet voice halted her.

"I was listening, Philippa.  What that man says or does may cost me
dear.  What did he want of you?"

"Mr. Halkett," leaning swiftly toward him over the handrail above—"he is
the most ignoble of creatures! And after five years I learned only
yesterday that he sells his filthy secrets in _two_ markets!—Three,
perhaps; _I_ don’t know how many!  And I no longer care!  It ceases to
interest _me_!"

"Wait!  It interests _me_!"

"But I can’t say any more to you than I have——"

"Why not?"

"I don’t know.  _Can_ I?  You know better than I. But I don’t wish to
betray anybody, even such a man as—as——"

"Wildresse?"

"Yes."

"Is he also betraying France?"

"I—I don’t know.  I suppose it is that.  I haven’t yet tried to
comprehend it——"

"What was the paper you started to forward, then read, and finally
burned?"

"It was a letter directed to a Mr. Esser.  He is a German."

"The head of the Esser Cement Works?"

"Yes."

"What was in the letter?"

"A list of the guns in the Ausone Fort and a plan of the emplacements on
tissue paper....  Perhaps I am stupid, but I could guess what a German
wanted with a plan of a French fort!  It was enough for me! I took my
punt and my effects and I departed!"

"You burnt the letter?"

"In my candle.  Also, I wrote on a piece of paper, ’You damned traitor!’
and I pinned it on his door. Then I went out by the garden door with my
leather trunk on my head!"

"Come down when you are dressed," said Halkett, and walked back through
the hallway to the garden.

"Warner," he said, "this old spider, Wildresse, is certainly a bad lot.
I’d have him arrested by French gendarmes if I were certain that England
is going in. But I dare not chance it until I’m sure.  Perhaps I dare
not chance it at all, because if he has had anything to do with Gray’s
disappearance, as I am beginning to suspect, it would not do to have the
French authorities examine my papers."

"Why?"

"Because—if they have already seized Gray’s papers, they will secure
military information which perhaps my Government might not care to have
even an ally possess. I don’t know whether Gray is living or dead; I
don’t know who has Gray’s papers at this instant.  That’s the trouble.
And I’m hanged if I know what to do! I’m stumped, and that’s the
devilish truth!"

He took a few quick, uncertain steps along the flower beds, turned, came
back to the arbor where Warner was seated:

"It’s a mess!" he said.  "Even if agents employed by Wildresse have
robbed Gray—murdered him, perhaps, to do it—I don’t know what Wildresse
means to do with Gray’s papers."

"What!"

Halkett nodded:

"Yes, he’s _that_ kind!  Pleasant, isn’t it?  If he has Gray’s papers,
it may be France that will pay him for them; it may be that Germany has
already bought and paid for them.  In either case, carrying the papers I
carry, I hesitate to ask for his arrest.  Do you understand?"

"Very clearly.  If there is any way you can think of to get hold of this
scoundrel, I’ll be glad to help. Shall we drive over to Ausone and try?"

"You’re very kind, Warner.  I don’t know; I want to think it over——"  He
turned and walked back to the house, entered the hallway, unhooked the
telephone, and finally was given a connection—not the one he had asked
for.

A voice said curtly:

"During mobilization no private messages are transmitted."  Click!  And
the connection was severed. Again and again he made the attempt; no
further attention was paid to his ringing.  Finally he hung up the
receiver and started to go out through the front doorway.

As he crossed the threshold, a young man in tweeds rode up on a bicycle,
stepped off, and, lifting his cap to Halkett, said politely:

"Monsieur Halkett, if you please?  Is he still residing here at the
Golden Peach?"

Halkett’s right hand dropped carelessly into the side pocket of his
coat.  When he had cocked his automatic, he said pleasantly:

"I am Mr. Halkett."

The young man said smilingly, in perfect English:

"Do you expect a friend, Mr. Halkett?"

"Perhaps."

"Possibly you expect a Mr. Reginald Gray?"

"Possibly."

"He has been injured."

"Really?"

"Yes, rather seriously.  He lost control of his motor cycle two nights
ago.  He was on his way to join you here."

"Indeed?"

"So he told me before he became unconscious."

"Is he still unconscious?"

"No, but he is too weak to move."

"Where is he?"

"At my house, in Bois d’Avril.  I was motoring that evening, and I found
him in the road, insensible.  So I lifted him into my car, slung his
motor cycle on behind, and went top speed for home.  He’s in my own
house in Bois d’Avril.  The physician thinks he will recover."

"What is your telephone number?" asked Halkett bluntly.

The young man gave it, adding that the transmission of private messages
had, unfortunately, been suspended during mobilization.  Which Halkett
knew to be true.

"Very well," he said, "I shall go to Bois d’Avril at once——"

"It is not necessary; I have a message for you, and some papers from Mr.
Gray."

"Really?"

The young man smiled, drew from his inner pocket a long, thin envelope,
and handed it to Halkett.  The latter held it in his hand, looking
steadily into the stranger’s pleasant face for a full minute, then he
coolly opened the envelope.

Inside were the missing papers concerning the Harkness shell, complete.

There could be no doubt concerning their identity; he recognized them at
a glance.  A deep sigh of relief escaped him.

He said:

"There’s no use trying to thank you——"

"It’s quite all right," interrupted the young man smilingly.  "If you
don’t mind offering me a drink—the road over was rather dusty——"

"Leave your wheel there and come in!" exclaimed Halkett cordially,
stepping aside in the doorway.

The young man laid his bicycle against the steps, turned with a smile,
and entered the doorway.

As he passed, he turned like lightning and struck Halkett full between
the eyes with his clenched fist.



                             *CHAPTER XIV*


The terrific impact of the blow sent Halkett reeling across the
threshold.  Partly stunned, he caught at the banisters, groping
instinctively for the pistol.  And already he had contrived to drag it
clear of his side pocket when another blow sent him staggering back
against the stair rail; the pistol flew out of his hand and went
spinning down the hallway over the polished floor.

As Halkett crashed into the banisters and fell full length, Philippa, in
her red skirt and bodice, appeared on the stairs above.

The young man, who had dropped on his knees beside Halkett, and who had
already torn open his coat, caught sight of the girl as she flew past
him down the stairs; and he leaped to his feet to intercept her.

On the newel-post stood a tall, wrought-iron lamp. As he blocked her way
she hesitated an instant, then threw all her weight against the heavy
metal standard, pushing with both hands; and the iron lamp swayed
forward and fell.

As the young man leaped clear of the falling fixture, Philippa vaulted
the stair rail into the hallway below.  He saw instantly what she was
after; both sprang forward to snatch the pistol.

As she stooped for it and seized it, he caught her arm; and she twisted
around on him, beating his head and breast with her free hand while he
strove desperately to master the outstretched arm which still clutched
Halkett’s pistol.

To and fro they swayed over the slippery floor of the hallway, until he
forced back her arm to the breaking point.  Then the pistol clattered to
the floor.

Instantly she kicked it under a tall secretary, where the register was
kept.  Holding her at arm’s length with one hand, he managed to drag the
heavy piece of furniture on its casters away from the wall far enough to
uncover the pistol.

As he stooped for the weapon, she tore herself free, kicked it away from
beneath his fingers, which already touched it, and, wrenching a framed
engraving from the wall behind her, hurled it at him with both hands.

He leaped nimbly aside to avoid it, but another picture followed, and
then a mantel clock and two vases went smashing against the secretary
behind which he had taken shelter.  And suddenly she seized the
secretary itself, and with one supreme effort tipped it over toward him,
driving him again from cover and from the vicinity of the weapon they
both were fighting to secure.

As the big oak secretary fell, and the glass doors crashed into
splinters, she stooped, snatched Halkett’s pistol from the floor, and
crept forward along the base of the staircase.  But the young man had
whipped out a revolver of his own, and was now standing astride of
Halkett’s body, panting, speechless, but menacing her with gesture and
weapon.

She shrank aside and crouched low under the staircase, resting there,
disheveled, bleeding, half naked, struggling for breath, but watching
his every movement out of brilliant, implacable eyes.

Every time he ventured to bend down over Halkett, or make the slightest
motion toward the fallen man’s breast pockets, Philippa stopped his
operations with leveled pistol, forcing him to spring to his feet again.

Suddenly, behind him in the doorway, appeared Magda and Linette, coming
from the meadow across the road, carrying between them a basket of
freshly washed linen.  Like a flash he turned on them and drove them
back and out of doors at the point of his weapon, then whirled about,
aimed full at Philippa, slammed and bolted the front door behind him,
and, covering her with his revolver, ran forward to the foot of the
stairs, where his victim still lay unconscious. Catching the senseless
man by the sleeve, he strove desperately to rip the coat from the inert
body, while keeping his revolver pointed at Philippa’s hiding place
under the stairs.

As he stood there, tugging furiously at the fallen man’s coat, into the
rear of the hallway ran Warner, his automatic lifted.  Both men fired at
the same instant, and the intruder dropped Halkett’s arm.  Then he ran
for the stairway.  Up the stairs he leaped, shooting back at Warner as
he mounted to the landing above; and the American sped after him,
followed by Philippa, as far as the foot of the stairway.

Here Warner hesitated for a few moments, then he began cautiously to
negotiate the stairway, creeping step by step with infinite precaution.

When at last he had disappeared on the landing above, Philippa,
listening breathlessly below, heard Halkett stir and then groan.

As she turned, the Englishman lifted himself on one elbow, fumbled
instinctively in his breast pockets, and drew out two envelopes.

"Take them to Sister Eila!—Hurry, Philippa——"  He passed a shaking hand
across his eyes, swayed to a sitting posture, caught at the stair rail,
and dragged himself to his feet.

"Give me that pistol," he muttered.  She handed it to him; he groped in
his pockets for a few moments, found a clip, reloaded, and, reeling
slightly, walked with her aid as far as the front door.  Philippa opened
it for him.

"Where is this man?" he asked vaguely.

"Mr. Warner followed him upstairs."

He pressed his hand over his battered head, nodded, extended the two
envelopes to her.

"Sister Eila," he repeated.

Philippa took the papers; he straightened his shoulders with a visible
effort; then, steadying himself by the handrail, he started to ascend
the stairs.

The girl watched him mount slowly to the landing above, saw him
disappear, stood listening a moment longer.

Magda and Linette came stealing into the hallway; Philippa pointed to
the telephone.

"Call the gendarmes at Ausone!" she whispered.  "I must go to——"

A shot from above cut her short.  All three women stood gazing up at the
landing in startled silence.

"Quick—the telephone!  The gendarmerie!" cried Philippa.

Magda ran to the box; and at the same instant a man climbed over the
stair well, dropped to the hallway below, swung around on Magda, pushed
her violently from the telephone, and, seizing the receiver, ripped it
out by the roots.

Philippa had already turned and slipped through the doorway, both
envelopes tightly clutched in her hand.  Directly in her path stood the
intruder’s bicycle; and she seized the handles, righted it, and leaped
into the saddle before he could reach the front door.

He ran up the road behind her for a little distance, but she had already
found her balance and was increasing her speed over the smooth, white
highway. Then the young man halted, carefully leveled his revolver,
steadied his aim with his left elbow, and, standing in mid-road, he
deliberately directed a stream of lead after the crouching fugitive.

The last bullet from his magazine sent her veering widely from her path;
the machine sheered in a half-circle, staggered, slid down into the
grassy ditch, flinging the girl off sideways among the weeds.

Philippa got up slowly, as though dazed or hurt. The young man hurried
forward, reloading his weapon as he ran, but a shot from behind warned
him away from the trail of the limping girl, who was now trying to
escape on foot.

Whirling in his tracks, he stood for a second glaring at Halkett and
Warner, who were advancing, shooting as they came on; then, with a
savage glance at Philippa, he fired at her once more, turned, mounted
the roadside bank in a single leap, and ran swiftly along the hedge,
evidently looking for an opening into the field beyond.

When he found one, he wriggled through and was off like a hare, across
the fields and headed for the river, before Halkett and Warner could
discover his avenue of escape.  Checked for a few moments, they ranged
the thorny hedge up and down, like baffled beagles.  They had overrun
the trail.

Warner was already within speaking distance of Philippa when the girl
hailed him.

"Are you hurt?" he called across to her, where she stood knee-deep among
the roadside weeds, trying to draw together the points of her torn
bodice, to cover her throat and shoulders.

"The tire burst.  I have a few scratches!"

"Did he get the papers?" shouted Halkett.

She drew both envelopes from her bosom, and shook them high with a
gesture of defiance.  Then, replacing them, she made a funnel of her
hands and called out to them:

"He crawled under the hedge by that third telephone pole behind you!
You have come too far this way!  No—the _other_ pole!  Wait a moment,
Mr. Warner——"

Still calling out her directions in her clear, calm voice, she started
to limp down the road toward them; and Warner glanced back at her for a
moment; then he suddenly flung up his arm and shouted:

"Philippa!  Look out for that car behind you!"

The girl turned, saw the automobile coming, stepped aside into the ditch
as a cloud of white dust obscured her.

Before she realized that the car had stopped, three men had jumped out
into the ditch and caught hold of her.

Warner heard her cry out; started to run toward her; saw her flung
struggling into the car; saw Wildresse rise and strike her with his
great fist and knock her headlong across the back seat, where she lay,
her disheveled head hanging down over the rear of the tonneau.  Then the
car started.  As she hung there, blood dripping from her mouth, she
reached blindly toward her breast, drew out the envelopes, and dropped
them in the wake of the moving car.

They fluttered along behind it for a moment, drawn into the dusty
suction, then they were whirled away right and left into the roadside
ditches.

Evidently nobody in the car except Philippa knew what she had done, for
the car, at top speed, dashed on toward the north.

Halkett ran up and found Warner gazing vacantly after the receding
machine, pistol leveled, but not daring to shoot.  Then they both saw
Wildresse jerk the half senseless girl upright, saw him strike her again
with the flat of his huge hand so heavily that she crumpled and dropped
back into the corner of the seat.

"God!" whispered Halkett at Warner’s elbow.  "Did you see that?"

Warner, as white as death, made no reply.  The ear had vanished, but he
still stood there staring at the distant cloud of dust settling slowly
in the highway. Presently Halkett walked forward, picked up the two
envelopes, pocketed them, and returned swiftly to where the American
still stood, his grim features set, the red stain from his bitten lip
streaking his chin.

"Warner?"

"Yes?" he answered steadily.

"We’d better start after that man at once."

"Certainly."

Halkett said:

"Have your horse hooked up as soon as you can.... I think——"  His voice
trembled, but he controlled it.  "I am horribly afraid for that
child.... He would cut her throat if he dared."

Warner turned a ghastly visage to his companion:

"Why do you say that?"

"Because she knows enough about him to send him before a firing squad,"
said Halkett.  "That’s the trouble, Warner."

They turned and walked rapidly toward the inn.

Warner spoke presently in an altered voice, but with the mechanical
precision of a man afraid of emotion and any wavering of self-control.

"I’m going to Ausone at once to find her.... Wherever I find her I shall
take her....  It makes no difference to me who objects.  She is going to
have her chance in life....  I shall see to that."

Halkett drew a deep breath:

"Did you ever hear of such a plucky battle as she gave that rascal after
he got me?  I never shall forget what she has done."

They entered the front door of the inn, almost running; Warner continued
on toward the garden and the stable beyond; Halkett halted at the
telephone, gazed grimly at the ruined instrument, realized that he was
again isolated, and called impatiently to Linette who, with Magda, was
gathering up and sweeping aside the debris of the wrecked furniture.

"Linette," he said, "would you do something to help me?"

"Willingly, Monsieur."

"Go to the school; say to Sister Eila that I am in real need of her.
Ask her if she could come here at once, because I cannot go to her."

The girl nodded, turned, and went out rapidly by the front way.  Halkett
hastened upstairs to his room.

When again he returned, the dogcart had just driven up, and Warner sat
waiting in silence, reins and whip in hand.

But Halkett had a letter to write before he could start; and it was slow
work, because the letter must be written in a cipher, the key to which
was the solar spectrum and the three metallic symbols.

He had scarcely completed his letter when Sister Eila and Linette
entered the hallway together.

The Sister of Charity caught sight of him through the doorway as he rose
from his seat in the empty dining-room; and she instantly went to him.

He thanked Linette, closed the door, and turned to Sister Eila.

"There’s nobody else I can trust," he said.  "Will you help me?"

"You know I will."

He drew the two envelopes from his breast pocket and handed them to her
in silence.  Then he laid on the table the letter which he had just,
written.

"I am obliged to go to Ausone," he said.  "It will take me several
hours, I suppose, to go, attend to my business, and return.  Could you
remain here at the inn until I can get back?"

"Yes.  Sister Félicité is with the children."

"Then this is what you must know and prepare for. If, while I am away, a
man should come here and ask for me, you will show him this letter lying
on the table, and you will say to him that I left it here for a man whom
I have been expecting.  You will stand here and watch him while he is
reading this letter.  If he really _can_ read it, then he will ask for
pen and ink, and he will _change the punctuation_ of what I have written
on the envelope: ’_Ibis, redibis non, morieris in bello._’  As I have
punctuated it, it means: ’Thou shalt go, thou shalt not return, thou
shalt die in battle.’

"So if he _can_ read what is _inside_ the envelope, he will erase the
comma after the word _non_, and insert a comma after the word _redibis_.
And the translation will then read: ’Thou shalt go, thou shalt return,
thou shalt _not_ die in battle.’  Is all this quite clear to you,
Sister?"

"Perfectly."

"Then, if a man comes here and asks for me, and if you see that he
really has understood the letter which is written in cipher, then, after
he has repunctuated what I have written, give him the other two
envelopes which I have entrusted to you.

"Will you do this for—France, Sister Eila?"

"Yes"—she lifted her grave young eyes—"for France."

Through the open dining-room window Sister Eila watched his departure,
smiling her adieux as the two men turned toward her and uncovered.

Then she seated herself by the window sill and rested her cheek on her
palm, gazing out at the blue sky with vague, enraptured eyes that saw a
vision of beatitude perhaps, perhaps the glimmering aura of an earthly
martyrdom, in the summer sunshine.

And possibly a vision less holy invaded her tranquil trance, for she
suddenly straightened her young shoulders, picked up the crucifix at her
girdle, and gazed upon it rather fixedly.

The color slowly cooled in her cheeks till they were as white as the
spotless wimple that framed them in its snowy oval.

After a while rosary and crucifix fell between her relaxing hands, and
she looked up at the blue foothills of the Vosges with bluer eyes.

The next moment she sprang to her feet, startled. Over the sparkling
hills came sailing through the summer sky a gigantic bird—the most
enormous winged creature she had ever beheld.  A moment later the high
clatter of the aëroplane became audible.



                              *CHAPTER XV*


Wheeling in spirals now above the river meadow, the great, man-made bird
of prey turned and turned, hanging aloft in the sky like a giant hawk,
sweeping in vast circles through the blinding blue, as though searching
every clump and tussock in the fields below for some hidden enemy or
victim.

Louder and louder came the rattling clatter from the sky, nearer swooped
the great plane on wide-stretched wings, until, close to the earth, it
seemed to sheer the very grass blades in the meadow, and the deafening
racket of its engines echoed and reëchoed, filling the world with
outrageous and earsplitting noise.

Sister Eila had gone to the front door; Magda and Linette stood behind
her.  And they saw the aëroplane alight in the meadow and a hooded
figure, masked in glass and leather, step out, turn its goblin head
toward the inn, then start rapidly toward them across the fields.

He was a tall thin man, and as he crossed the highroad and came toward
them, he lifted the glass and leather mask and drew it back above his
closely-fitting hood.

When he saluted Sister Eila’s habit, he came to a full halt and his
heels clicked together.  Then he spoke in French, pleasantly, perfectly:

"Mr. Halkett, if you please, Sister.  Is he still residing here?"

"Monsieur Halkett has left."

"Oh, I am sorry.  Was not Monsieur Halkett expecting a messenger?"

"Have you a message for Monsieur Halkett?"

The airman twisted his pointed, blond mustache:

"I expected that Monsieur Halkett would have a packet for me.  Did he
leave none?"

"He left a letter," said Sister Eila.

He bowed ceremoniously:

"Would you be kind enough?"

"Will you not enter?"

"I thank you.  If I may be permitted to remain here——"  He had kept
continually glancing up and down the road while speaking; and it was
evident that he preferred to remain where he could watch the highway
both ways.

So Sister Eila brought the letter to him, and he bowed again with
tight-waisted ceremony, pocketed it, and asked again for the packet.

"Wait, if you please," she said.  "The letter was to be read in my
presence."

"A thousand pardons!  I had not understood——"

He drew the sheets of paper from the unsealed envelope, glanced sharply
up and down the highroad, then unfolded the letter.

Sister Eila’s eyes were fixed on his face, but his features exhibited no
emotion whatever.

Every few moments he looked up and down the road, then bent his
pleasantly expressionless face again over the sheets in his gloved
hands.

Presently he looked up with a smile:

"I have read it and I understand it.  Would you be kind enough to give
me the packet which Monsieur Halkett writes that he has left for me?"

"Please read first what is written on the envelope of this letter," said
Sister Eila very calmly.

He turned over the envelope, read the inscription in Latin, smiled as he
read it.

"Rather an ominous message, is it not, Sister?"

"Do you think so?"

He glanced sharply to right and left, then, still smiling, he read
aloud:

"Thou shalt go, thou shalt _not_ return, thou shalt die in battle——"

He turned his head with a jerk and gazed down the road as though
suddenly startled; at the same instant Sister Eila snatched the letter
from his fingers, sprang inside the house, and slammed the door.

As she bolted it, he threw his weight against it for a moment, then
turned and ran for the meadow where the aëroplane stood.

From a window Sister Eila saw him climb aboard; saw the machine move,
run over the ground like a great beetle, and rise from the grass,
pointing upward and eastward as it took wing and soared low over the
river.

And down the highway, pell-mell, galloped a dozen gendarmes in a storm
of dust and flying pebbles, wheeled in front of the inn, put their
superb horses to the ditch and the cattle gate beyond, and, clearing
both, went tearing away across the fields after the rising aëroplane.

Over the river bank they galloped, straight into the water, their big,
powerful horses wading, thrashing, swimming across; then they were up
the opposite bank and over and away, racing after the ascending
aëroplane.

From it was coming a redoubled rattle now; machine and machine gun were
both spitting fiercely as the winged thing fought upward toward the blue
zone of safety.

The gendarmes drew bridle now and began to shoot upward from their
saddles, then spurred on across the fields, taking ditches and hedges as
they came, until the strange chase was hidden by a distant rise of
ground and the quarry alone remained visible, high winging, still
rising, still pointed eastward toward the Rhine.

Then, far away across the hills, a heavier shot set the August air
vibrating—another, another, others following.

Faster and faster cracked the high-angle guns on the Barrier Forts,
strewing the sky with shrapnel; the aëroplane soared and soared, leaving
behind it a wake dotted with clots of fleece which hung for a while
quite motionless against the intense blue, then slowly dissolved and
vanished in mid-air.


From the Ausone Fort the gunners could hear, far to the southeast, the
sky-cannon banging away on the Barrier Forts; and the telescopes on
their signal towers swung toward the sky line above the foothills of the
Vosges.

But in the town below the fortressed hill no echo of the cannonade
penetrated.  Ausone, except in the neighborhood of the railroad and the
office of the _Petit Journal d’Ausone_, lay still and almost deserted in
the August sunshine: a few children played under the trees by the
bridge; a few women sat knitting along the river quay; one or two old
men nodded, half asleep, fishing the deeper pools below the bridge; the
market square remained empty except for a stray dog, tongue lolling,
padding stolidly up the street about his business.

But before the office of the _Petit Journal d’Ausone_ a crowd stood,
covering the sidewalks and overflowing beyond the middle of the street.
Young men and old, women and young girls, were clustered there quietly
watching the bulletin boards.

There was no excitement apparent, no loud talking, no gesticulation:
voices were calm, tones were low; there was almost no movement in the
crowd except when people joined the throng or silently departed.

On one of these bulletin boards was nailed the order for general
mobilization; on the other a terse paragraph announced that on Sunday,
August 2, German soldiers had entered the city of Luxembourg, crossed
the Grand Duchy, and were already skirmishing with Belgian cavalry
around Liége and with French troops before Longwy.  In other terms, the
Teutonic invasion had begun; German troops were already on French soil;
for Longwy is the most northern of the Republic’s fortifications.

Another paragraph reported that King Albert of Belgium had appealed to
England, and that Sir Edward Grey, in the House of Commons, had prepared
his country for an immediate ultimatum to Germany.

Still a third paragraph informed the populace of Ausone that the British
battle fleet had mobilized and sailed, and that the Empire’s land forces
were already preparing to cross the Channel.

And Germany had not yet declared war on either France or Belgium, nor
had England declared war on Germany, nor had Austria, as yet, formally
declared war on Russia, although Germany had.

But there seemed to be no doubt, no confusion in the minds of the
inhabitants of Ausone, concerning what was happening, what had already
happened, and what Fate still concealed behind a veil already growing
transparent enough to see through—already lighted by the infernal
flashes of German rifle fire before Longwy.

Everybody in Ausone knew; everybody in France understood.  A great
stillness settled over the Republic, as though the entire land had
paused to kneel a moment before the long day of work began.

There was no effervescence, no voice raised, no raucous shout from
boulevard orators of the psychological moment, no attitudes, no
complaints.

Only, amid the vast silence, as the nation rose serenely from its knees,
millions of flashing eyes were turned toward Alsace and Lorraine—eyes
dimmed for an instant, then instantly clear again—clear and steady as
the sound and logical minds controlling them.

There was no _sonnerie_ from the portcullis, no salvo from parapet or
bastion, no fanfare blared at midday in square or stony street.  No
bands of _voyous_ went yelling through boulevards, no seething crowds
choked the cafés or formed a sinister maelstrom around embassies or
government offices.

Down at the Gare de Chalons another crowd had gathered to watch the
young men of Ausone depart. They came alone, or two by two, or in
groups—sticks, bundles, suitcases, valises swinging—with serious,
unruffled features intent upon the business of the long, long business
day that was beginning for them at last.

Some were accompanied by parents, some by wives and children, some by
sweethearts: many had said good-by at home and were walking to the
station with brother or friend, saluting acquaintances en route.

But the mobilizing youths were undemonstrative, chary of gesture—shy,
serious young fellows preoccupied with the business on hand, conscious
that their term of service had equipped them for it—and in their bearing
was that modesty and self-respect which discounts self-consciousness and
self-assertion.

For there was no longer any excuse for France to be either noisy or
dramatic when she went about her business—no reason for posturing, for
epigrams, for attitudes, or for the loud laugh and the louder boast to
bolster faith with mutual and riotous reassurance in the face of an
unknown business venture concerning the conduct of which the entire
nation was excited, ignorant, and unprepared.

The Republic had been both instructed and prepared for the matter of the
business on hand.  And was going quietly about it.

In Ausone itself there were few signs of war visible; the exodus of the
young men, the crowd before the bulletins, and the throng at the
station, and perhaps more mounted officers and gendarmes than usual
riding faster than is customary in the peaceful streets of a provincial
town.

But on the roads around the fortified hill dominating the rolling green
landscape in the heart of which Ausone nestled, cavalry patrols were
riding, infantry details tramped through the white dust, military wagons
and motor vans passed under dragoon escort; bridges over the Récollette
were guarded by line soldiers and gendarmes, while sappers and miners
and engineers were busy at every bridge, culvert, and railway cut.

Above the fort slim tentacles of wireless apparatus spread a tracery
against the sky, and a signal tower swam high against the blue.  From it
sparkled blinding flashes in code.  Officers up there were talking
business to the Barrier Forts, and the heliographs along the Vosges
brilliantly discussed the new business deal with other forts far to the
south and east, relaying reports, rumors, and quotations as far as
Paris, where the directors’ meeting was being held; and even as far as
London, where stockholders and directors were gathered to add up profit
and loss, and balance policy against ethics, and reconcile both with
necessity.

In London a King, a Prime Minister, and a First Lord of the Admiralty
were listening to a Sirdar who was laying down the law by wireless to a
President and his Premier.

In St. Petersburg an Emperor was whispering to a priest while the priest
consulted the stars.  Signs being favorable, they changed the city’s
name to Petrograd, which imperial inspiration dealt a violent slap on
the Kaiser’s wrist.

Led westward by a Grand Duke, marching Russia bent several million
reverent heads, awed by this stroke of autocratic genius, and somebody
named a brand of caviar after the Czar of all the Russias.  Which holy
tribute, however, built no strategic railroads in the West.

Meanwhile, the spinning world swung on around its orbit; tides rose and
ebbed; the twin sentinels of the skies relieved each other as usual, and
a few billion stars waited patiently for eternity.


Ausone, lying in the sun, was waiting, too, amid its still trees and
ripening fields.

In the summer world around, no hint of impending change disturbed the
calm serenity of that August afternoon—no sense of waiting, no prophecy
of gathering storms.  But in men’s hearts reigned the breathless
stillness which heralds tempests.

Silently as a kestrel’s shadow gliding over the grass, an ominous shade
sped over sunny France, darkening the light in millions of smiling eyes,
subduing speech, stilling all pulses, cautioning a nation’s ardent heart
and conjuring its ears to listen and its lips to silence.

And, as France sat silent, listening, hand lightly resting on her hilt,
came the far cry from beyond the Vosges—the voices of her lost children.

Now she had risen to her feet, loosening the blade in its scabbard.  But
she had not yet drawn it; she still stood listening to the distant shots
from Longwy in the north, to the noise of the western winds blowing
across the channel; and always she heard, from the east, the lost voices
of her best beloved, calling, calling her from beyond the Vosges.


As they approached Ausone, driving full speed, Warner and Halkett
encountered the Saïs omnibus returning, and drew rein.

In it was the Harem, much annoyed because not permitted to sketch in the
Ausone streets.

They had seen nothing of any touring car containing several men and a
young girl.  That did not interest them.  What preoccupied their minds
was that they had been sketching in the streets of Ausone, and had been
politely requested to desist by several unappreciative policemen.  So
they had collectively shaken the dust of Ausone from their several and
indignant feet, and were now en route to Saïs to paint hay stacks.

Requesting to know whether they might still be permitted to paint
haystacks at Saïs, Warner offered them no encouragement, pointing out
that Saïs was in the zone of future military operations.

In the face of such an outrageous condition of affairs, there is no
doubt that Art shrieked as loudly as did Freedom when her popular hero
fell.  Anyway, her devotees now protested in chorus; but Warner advised
them to pack their trunks and go to Paris while the going was good; and
the Saïs omnibus rolled away with the Harem still volubly denouncing a
government which dared to interfere with Haystack Art on any pretext
whatever.

As Warner drove forward Halkett said:

"The chances are that the military will requisition that omnibus before
evening.  It wouldn’t surprise me if they stopped us at the entrance to
Ausone and took your horse and cart."

And it happened as he had feared; red-legged soldiers halted them at the
town entrance; a polite but resolute young officer refused to argue the
matter, but insisted that they descend, accept an official voucher for
the temporary loan of their horse and cart, and continue their journey
on foot.

As yet, however, punts, rowboats, and skiffs were not subject to
requisition by the authorities.  Halkett noticed a skiff tied to the
shore near a small house on the river bank; so they climbed a stile,
crossed the newly mown hayfield, and found an old man fishing from his
doorstep in the rear of the house.

For thirty francs they bought the boat outright; the old man shuffled
into the house and returned with the home-made oars; Warner took them;
Halkett pushed off and sprang in; and they pulled away up the river,
breasting a glassy current over which swallows darted and played and
dipped, starring the calm surface with a hundred spreading circles.

Rushes swayed inshore where meadows bordered the Récollette, and dragon
flies with turquoise bodies sailed glittering into the breeze.  Trees
swept the surface of the water with tender leaves still untarnished by
the ripening world of waning summer; and in shady coves the cattle stood
to their knees in the crystal flood, staring with moony eyes at the
passing skiff.

Presently Warner sent the skiff inshore, and when it lay floating in the
shadow of the trees under the right bank of the stream, he rested on his
oars.

"The café garden is just ahead, around that next turn," he said.  "If
you’ll take the oars, I’ll get out on the bank and look over the
situation."

"Don’t you want me?"

"I don’t know; I’ll see what things look like first. Do you mind?"

"I’ll wait if you say so.  But there’s a rough crowd hanging about that
café, as you know."

"I know it," said Warner grimly.

"Are you armed?"

"I certainly am, Halkett.  But I don’t count on any trouble, because
Wildresse can’t afford to make any. If there’s a row in that cabaret at
such a time as this, the police will make short work of it.  I think
I’ll have no difficulty in finding my little friend Philippa and in
taking her out of that miserable place."

Halkett said:

"Don’t forget yourself and beat up Wildresse for what we saw him do to
Philippa.  You can attend to that later: the idea now is to take the
child back to Saïs."

"I’ll try to remember," said Warner with a somber glance at his friend.
Then he handed him the oars and, making his way to the stern, leaped
lightly to the grassy bank.



                             *CHAPTER XVI*


Warner entered a paved lane leading up the slope, between two high,
stucco walls.  It bore the name, "Impasse d’Alcyon," painted under the
rusty bracket of a gas lamp projecting from the wall.  A few chickens
and a pig moved aside to let him pass.

The Impasse d’Alcyon emerged upon the market square of Ausone to the
left of the Cabaret de Biribi; and, as Warner came out into the sunny,
deserted square, the first thing he caught sight of was a written notice
nailed up over the doorway of the Cabaret de Biribi:

                             AVIS IMPORTANT

The town of Ausone is proclaimed to be in a state of siege.  Place and
town will remain under government of the military authorities, aided by
the municipality.  Both are within jurisdiction of military headquarters
in charge of the secteur which includes place, town, and environs of
Ausone.

BY ORDER OF THE MAYOR.

The Cabaret de Biribi will remain closed until further notice.  For the
convenience of the public, the Café Biribi, adjoining, will remain open
between the hours of seven A.M. and nine P.M. until further notice.


The café, separated from the cabaret by a clipped privet hedge, formed
the southeastern angle of the square.

Under its orange and white awning the tables on the terrace were crowded
with people lingering over after-luncheon coffee and cognac—quiet,
serious, solid citizens, accustomed to their déjeuner at that time and
place, whose habits of long standing had not so far been altered in the
sudden and general upheaval in the accustomed order of things.

Waiters came and went as usual; men consulted the files of provincial
and Paris papers; one or two were playing dominoes inside the café.

Warner, pausing at the entrance to the terrace, summoned a waiter.

"The cabaret is closed, then?" he asked.

"Since last night, Monsieur."

"By the police?"

"Yes, Monsieur."

"Why?"

The waiter said respectfully:

"It is usual in time of war to close places of amusement. Besides, music
and dancing are in questionable taste at such a time as this."

"Certainly.  Where is Monsieur Wildresse?"

"The Patron is absent."

"Where can I find him?"

The waiter shrugged:

"The Patron went away this morning.  I do not know where.  He has not
yet returned."

"Are you quite certain?"

"Perhaps Monsieur had better ask the _caissière_. Maybe the Patron has
returned."

So Warner entered the café.  In the cool, subdued light of the interior,
he saw the cashier behind her counter—a fresh-faced, plump, dark-eyed
country girl, who returned his salute with a smile that showed her white
teeth.

"Monsieur Wildresse?" he inquired.  "May I see him for a moment?"

"The Patron is absent, Monsieur."

"When do you expect him to return?"

"We do not know.  Sometimes he goes to Paris and remains a week or two."

"Do you suppose he has gone to Paris?"

"We do not know.  He never tells us where he is going."

Warner thought hard for a moment, then:

"It seems that the cabaret is closed," he said.

"Locked up, Monsieur."

"I wonder if you could tell me where I might find the _caissière_ of the
cabaret—Mademoiselle Philippa?"

The girl shook her head:

"I think she went to Paris."

"When?"

"The other day.  We understood that she had gone to Paris."

"No," said Warner, "she did not go to Paris.  Has she not returned to
Ausone?"

The _caissière_ rapped with her pencil and a waiter hastened to the
desk.

"Pierre, didn’t you say something about Mademoiselle Philippa this
morning?"

"I said that I thought I saw her.  It was somebody who resembled her, no
doubt."

Warner wheeled around:

"When?"

"It was before noon, some time——"

"Where?"

"Monsieur, they were putting up and locking the shutters of the cabaret,
and on the top floor somebody inside was lowering the lateen shades and
drawing the blue curtains.

"I thought I saw Mademoiselle Philippa—I thought I saw her face for a
moment behind one of the windows in the Patron’s apartment."

"And what do you think about it now?"

"_Ma foi_, Monsieur, if Mademoiselle Philippa has gone to Paris, I could
not have seen her at the window."

"But you saw somebody there?"

"I thought I did."

"Could we go to the cabaret and inquire?"

"It is locked up.  There is nobody now within."

"How do you know?"

"They locked and padlocked it from the outside. They even removed the
geraniums and the three cats. The place is empty, Monsieur.  I know,
because I helped remove the cats and the potted plants.  Everybody and
everything was transferred last night to the café.  And at noon today
the police put seals on the doors."

Warner forced a smile:

"That, of course, settles it.  I’m sorry.  I wanted to see the Patron
and Mademoiselle Philippa. Another time will do."

He thanked the waiter, lifted his hat to the _caissière_, turned, and
walked over to a table by the opposite wall, where he ordered coffee and
cognac and a newspaper, as though he had just lunched.

When his coffee was brought, he opened the paper and leaned back against
the padded leather seat, pretending to read, but studying the room and
everybody in it.

It was a café typical of almost any half dead provincial town in
France—large, rather dimly lighted, shabbily furnished with
marble-topped tables ranged around the walls and two ancient billiard
tables occupying the center of the room.

In the corner near the door was the cashier’s cage and desk; on the same
side of the room, in the further corner, a swinging leather door, much
battered, gave exit and entrance to the waiters as they went to or
arrived from kitchen and cellar.

And one thing occurred to him immediately: the same kitchen, and perhaps
the same cellar, had supplied both cabaret and café.  Therefore, there
must still be some passage of communication between the cabaret—which
had been locked and sealed by the authorities—and the café which the
police had decreed must remain open for the convenience of the public.

Deeply perturbed by what the waiter had said concerning the glimpse he
had caught of somebody resembling Philippa, and made doubly anxious by
Halkett’s sinister remark in regard to the girl’s knowledge of secrets
which might send Wildresse before a platoon of execution, he studied the
gloomy room from behind his newspaper, trying to come to some
conclusion.

He did not believe that Wildresse and his companions had dared drive
into Ausone by daylight with Philippa in the tonneau, either unconscious
or resisting them.

If they had brought her to Ausone at all, they must have carried her by
boat, landed at the foot of the cabaret garden, and smuggled the child
into the house through the rear door giving on the river garden.

If they had brought her to Ausone at all, then, she must be at that
moment somewhere within the walls of the double building forming the
Café and Cabaret de Biribi.  Otherwise, the grey touring car had never
entered Ausone.

To make certain on that point he presently paid his reckoning, bowed to
the cashier, and went leisurely out into the deserted square.

First of all he sauntered back to the town entrance, where the
red-legged soldiers had taken over his cart and horse.  Having been
obliged to give particulars concerning himself, the soldiers were
perfectly friendly. Inquiry they readily answered; such a touring car as
he described had been halted and requisitioned by the guard about two
hours before his own horse was stopped and appropriated.  There were
only two people in the car, both men.

"Friends of yours, Monsieur?" inquired the polite lieutenant in charge.

"Business acquaintances——"

Warner hesitated, then asked for the names of the two men and their
addresses.  The officer on duty very obligingly looked up the
information in his leather-covered book.  It appeared that the men were
Adolf Meier and Josef Hoffman, _commis voyageurs_, of Paris, and that
they had gone for lodging to the Boule d’Argent in Ausone.

Warner thanked the boyish officer; the officer was happy to have been of
service to an American and an artist.

But when Warner turned back into the town, he went directly to the
railroad station instead of to the hotel.  There he presently discovered
and consulted the _chef de gare_ and the ticket agent; and he learned
definitely that Monsieur Wildresse, who was perfectly well known to both
of them by sight, had not taken any train there.

Travelers who board trains at provincial railway stations cannot escape
official observation.  Therefore, what the station master and ticket
agent told him was sufficient for him.

He went slowly back along the river quay, crossed diagonally in front of
the deserted cabaret, entered the Impasse d’Alcyon, and traversed it to
the river bank, where Halkett sat under the big willow tree, smoking his
pipe and letting the rowboat float by the chain which he held in his
hands.

"Halkett," he said, "they’re in Ausone or near it. I’m convinced of
that.  Their car came in with only two men in it.  The military
confiscated it.  The men’s names are Adolf Meier and Josef Hoffman, and
they inscribed themselves as commercial travelers from Paris. Do you
happen to know them?"

"Perfectly."

"What are they; spies?"

"They are—clumsy ones."

"By any chance are they any of the gentlemen who have been following
you?"

"Exactly.  Both have had several shots at me."

"That is interesting.  The address they left with the military
authorities is the Boule d’Argent.

"What I have found out is this: the Cabaret de Biribi has been closed
and sealed up by the police; the café remains open.  A waiter in the
café thought he saw Philippa at the window of her apartment over the
cabaret just before noon today.

"But Wildresse, they all say, went away this morning and has not
returned.  And they have no idea when to expect him.

"Now, my theory is this: Wildresse and his ruffians, realizing that
their own necks are in danger, went to Saïs to see Philippa, either to
bully her into silence or persuade her to return to duty.  When they saw
her by the roadside they changed their plans and took a chance.  I don’t
believe they saw us.  We were on our knees in the grass under the shadow
of the hedge. After they caught her they never looked around.  I don’t
believe any of them noticed us at all.  Before the car reached Ausone
they must have stopped in some deserted place, found a boat somewhere,
sent the car on ahead to Ausone with only two men in it, and then
Wildresse and the other two men must have dragged or carried Philippa
across the fields to the river and forced her into the boat.  That was
the only way they could have ventured to enter Ausone.  They must have
gone by boat to the garden behind the cabaret, where nobody could see
what was going on, and there they probably let themselves into the house
by the rear entrance.

"That’s my theory, Halkett.  I believe Philippa is there.  I believe
Wildresse is there.  And I feel very sure that those two choice
scoundrels of his at the Boule d’Argent will join him wherever he is.
So I think we had better tie up our boat and go to the Boule d’Argent
and find these fellows, Meier and Hoffman, and never let them out of our
sight."

"I think so, too," said Halkett quietly.

He knelt down on the grass, passed the boat chain around the base of the
willow tree, linked and padlocked it, sprang to his feet, and walked
quickly after Warner, who had already started to enter the Impasse
d’Alcyon.

"You’re a little flustered, old chap," he said, as he rejoined Warner in
the narrow alley.  "Don’t walk so fast; we ought not to attract
attention."

"I’m horribly nervous," admitted the other, slackening his pace.

"We’ll have to keep pretty cool about this affair.  It won’t do to scare
those scoundrels."

"Why?"

"Because if they really have her locked up in that cabaret.  I’m afraid
to guess what they might do to her if they thought their own skins were
in danger."

"I know it," said Warner hoarsely.  "I’m worried sick, I tell you!
Wildresse has the worst face I ever looked at.  There is only one word
to characterize that countenance of his—bestial!"

"He’s a bad lot and he looks it.  The military authorities would make
short work of him if Philippa should ever hint at what she has found out
about his rather complicated business affairs.  That’s what I am afraid
of—that he may take some terrible precaution in order to anticipate any
danger from her——"

"What?"

"He is capable of doing anything to prevent her from speaking.  Keeping
her locked up is the precaution that I dread least.  What I’m afraid of
is that he may kill her."

Warner turned a bloodless visage to his comrade:

"That’s what I’m afraid of, too," he said steadily enough.  "I think we
had better notify the police at once——"

"It won’t do, old chap!"

"Why?  On your account?"

"No, no!  My papers are safe enough now.  But I tell you, Warner, French
temper is on a hair trigger, in spite of all this gravity and silence.
The very word ’spy’ would be the match to the magazine."

"But what of it?"

"Suppose Wildresse denies his treachery and makes a counter-accusation
against Philippa?"

"What?  How can he?"

"Suppose he declares that she betrayed him?  Suppose already he has
arranged documents to prove it? Suppose he had long ago taken such a
precaution against any chance of her denouncing him?  He is an old rat,
grown grey in the business.  He must have been perfectly aware that
Philippa is honest—that it even went against her to do the dirty work
that her own Government required of her.  He must have known that if she
ever discovered his double treachery, she would at least desert him,
perhaps denounce him.  No, no, Warner; that crafty old sewer rat left
nothing to chance.

"If that girl now has an opportunity and the desire to denounce him, you
can be absolutely certain that long ago he has foreseen and prepared
himself for just such an event!"

"Do you believe that?"

Halkett smiled:

"I am certain of it."

"Why?"

"What does a young girl know about treachery? How many papers has
Philippa ignorantly and innocently signed which might exculpate
Wildresse and send _her_ before a peloton of execution in the first
_caserne_ available?  _That’s_ the way such rats as he protect
themselves!

"No, Warner.  It’s a filthy business at best, and I admit, sadly enough,
that I know more about it than you ever could know.

"Listen, old chap!  It’s no good stirring up the police until Philippa
is outside French territory.  Then, and then only, may we dare to let
loose the police on this nest of rats in Ausone!"

"Very well," said Warner quietly.  "I’ll act as you think best, only
I’ll——"  He stopped to regain control of himself.  And when he had
himself in hand again: "Only—it will be a—a bad mistake if
Wildresse—if—if any harm comes to that child."

"Oh, in that event," said Halkett quietly, "we need not scruple to kill
him where we find him."

Warner said unsteadily:

"I shall not hesitate a second——"  But Halkett suddenly checked him with
a touch on his elbow, and drew him back behind the wall of the Impasse
d’Alcyon, from which alley they were on the point of emerging into the
town.

Two men were crossing the almost empty market square toward the Café
Biribi, moving without haste over the sunny pavement.

"Hoffman and Meier," whispered Halkett.  "There go our promising young
rodents straight toward the old rat’s nest!  It won’t do for them to
catch sight of me....  Wait a moment!  There they go—into the Café
Biribi!  Follow them—they don’t know you. Keep your eye on them.

"I’ll stroll over to the quay and dangle my legs on the river wall.  If
you need me, come out on the café terrace and beckon."

"Would it do to hand over that pair to the police? They are German
spies, are they not?"

"They are.  But at present they are likely to be useful.  If Wildresse
is in the café or the cabaret, they are sure to reveal the fact to us.
Better go in and keep your eye on them.  If you want me, I shall be
smoking my pipe on the river wall across the street."

He nodded and strolled over toward the little tree-shaded quay, filling
his pipe as he sauntered along. Warner continued on to the café,
entered, seated himself against the shabby wall, picked up an
illustrated journal, ordered bitters, and composed himself to enjoy the
preprandial hour sacred to all Frenchmen.

Without looking he was aware that the two men, Meier and Hoffman, seated
at a table near the cashier’s desk, had noted his arrival and were
steadily inspecting him.

But he did not look in their direction; he turned the pages of the
illustrated paper, leisurely, until the waiter brought his Amer Picon
and a chilled carafe. Then he measured out his water with the unstudied
deliberation of an habitué, stirred the brown liquid, sipped it, and,
turning to another page of his paper, let his eyes rest absently on the
two men opposite.

By that time neither of them was even looking at him.  They were
drinking beer; their heads were close together and they had turned so
that they were facing each other on the padded leather wall settee.

It was impossible to hear what they were saying; they spoke rapidly and
in tones so low that only the vibration of their voices was audible in
the still room.

Guarded but vigorous gesticulations marked the progress of their
conference; now and then both became mute while the waiter replenished
their glasses with beer and added another little saucer to the growing
pile on the marble table.

For an hour Warner dawdled over the café papers and his glass of
bitters.  The men opposite still faced each other on the leather settee,
still conversed with repressed animation, still guzzled beer.  Once or
twice they had looked up and across the room at him and had taken a
swift, comprehensive survey of the few other people in the café, but the
movement had been wholly instinctive and mechanical.  Evidently they
felt entirely secure.

The plump, dark-eyed _caissière_ had caught Warner’s eye once or twice.
Evidently she remembered him, and her quick smile became almost an
invitation to conversation.

It was what he wanted and he hesitated only because he was not sure how
the men opposite might regard his approach toward their vicinity.

But he did it very well; and both men, looking up sharply, seemed
presently to realize that it was merely a flirtation, and that the young
man lounging before the cashier’s counter, smiling, and being smiled
upon, could safely be ignored.

"To be the prettiest girl in Ausone," Warner was saying, "must be a very
great comfort to that girl. Don’t you think so, Mademoiselle?"

"To be the most virtuous, Monsieur, would be far more comforting."

"Have you then _both_ prizes, Mademoiselle?  I was sure of it!"

"Prizes, Monsieur?"

"The golden apple and the _prix de la sagesse_?"

She laughed and blushed, detaching from her corsage a rosebud.

"Accept, Monsieur, the prize for eloquence and for impudence!"  And she
extended the rosebud to Warner.

He took it, lifted it to his lips, looking smilingly at her, and
listening with all the concentration he could summon to the murmuring
conversation at the neighboring table.

Only a word or two he could catch—perhaps merely a guess at—"Patron,"
and "nine o’clock," and "cellar"—at least he imagined he could
distinguish these words.  And all the time he was up to his ears in a
breezy flirtation with a girl very willing, very adept, and perfectly
capable of appreciating her own desirability as well as the good points
of any casual suitor whom Heaven might strand upon her little, isolated
island for an hour or two.

Being French, she was clever and amusing and sufficiently grateful to
the gods for this bit of masculine flotsam which had drifted her way.

"There are boats," she said, "and the evening will be beautiful."
Having made this clear to him, she smiled and let matters shape their
course.

"What pleasure is a boat and a beautiful night to me," he said, "if
nobody shares both with me?"

"Alas, Monsieur, have you no pretty little friend who could explain to
you the planets on a summer night?"

"Alas, Mademoiselle!"

"What a pity....  Because I have studied astronomy a little.  And I
recommend it to you as a diversion.  They are so high, so unattainable,
the stars! It is well for a young man to learn what is attainable, and
then to address himself to its pursuit.  What do you think, Monsieur?"

"That I should very much like to study astronomy if in all the world
there could be discovered anybody amiable enough to teach me."

"How pathetic!  If I only had time——"

"Have you no time at all?"

"It wouldn’t do, _mon ami_."

"Why?"

"Because I should be seen going to a rendezvous with you."

"Isn’t there any way into the cabaret garden except through the
cabaret?" he asked.

She shook her head, laughing at him out of her brown eyes.

He waited a moment to control his voice, but there was a tremor in it
when he said:

"Is there no way through the cellar?"

She noticed the tremor and liked it.  In the lightest and airiest of
flirtations the ardent and unsteady note in a man’s voice appeals to any
woman to continue and finish his subjugation.

"As for the cellar," she said, "it is true that one can get into the
cabaret garden that way.  But, Monsieur, do you imagine that a dark,
damp, ghostly and pitch-black cellar appeals to any woman?"

"Is the cellar so frightful a place, Mademoiselle?"

"Figure it to yourself!—Some twenty stone steps from the pantry
yonder"—She nodded her head toward the battered swinging door of
leather.—"And then more steps, down, down, down!—Into darkness and
dampness where there are only wine casks and kegs and bottles and
mushrooms and rats and ghosts——"

"What of it—if, as you say, the stars are shining on the river——"

"Merci!  A girl must certainly be in love to venture through that
cellar!  And a man, too!"

"Try me.  I’ll go!"

The girl laughed:

"You!  Are you, then, in love already?"

"I should like to prove it.  Where is that terrible cellar?"

"Behind the door, there."  She waved her hand airily.  "Try it.  Show me
how much you are in love! Perhaps then I’ll believe you."

"Will the waiters interfere if I go into the cellar?"

"See how you try to avoid the test!"

"Try me!"

"Very well.  The washroom is there.  If you choose to wash your hands,
you are at liberty to do so.  And then if you can’t slip down into the
cellar while the waiters are looking the other way, all I can say is
that you are not in love!"

He looked at her smilingly, scarcely trusting himself to speak for a
moment, for the face of Philippa rose unbidden before his eyes and a
shaft of fear pierced him.

"You are wrong," he said steadily enough.  "I am in love....  Very
honestly, very innocently....  It just occurred to me.  I didn’t know
how deeply I felt.... I really am in love—as one loves what is fearless,
faithful, and devoted."

"A dog is all that, Monsieur."

"Occasionally a human being is, also.  Sometimes even a woman."

Her smile became a little troubled.

"Monsieur, are you, then, in love with some woman who possesses these
commendable virtues?"

"No.  I am in love with her virtues, Mademoiselle."

"Oh!  Then she might even be your sister!"

"Exactly.  That is the quality of my affection for her."

The pretty _caissière_ laughed:

"You were beginning to make me sad," she said. "I—I am really willing to
teach you astronomy, if you truly desire a knowledge of the stars."

"I do, ardently."

"But I am sincerely afraid of the cellar," she murmured.  "It is ten
o’clock before I am released from duty, and the knowledge that it is ten
o’clock at night makes that cellar doubly dark and terrible.  I—I don’t
want to give you a rendezvous down there; and I certainly don’t propose
to traverse the cellar alone. Monsieur, what on earth am I to do?"

"To study the stars on the river, and to reach a rendezvous without
being noticed, makes it necessary for you to slip out through the
cellar, does it not?"

"Alas!"

"Haven’t you the courage?"

"I don’t—know."

"Yes, you have."

"Have I?"  She laughed.

"Certainly.  I’ll go to the washroom now, and get into the cellar
somehow, and make myself acquainted with it....  I suppose I ought to
have a candle——"

She said:

"When I walk home alone at night I have a little electric torch with me.
Shall I lend it to you?"

She opened the desk drawer, drew it out concealed under her
handkerchief, and he managed to transfer it to his pocket.  It clinked
against the loaded automatic pistol; nobody noticed the sound.

But for a moment he thought the two men, Meier and Hoffman, had noticed
it, because they both got up and came over directly toward him.

However, they merely wished to pay their reckoning with a hundred-franc
note, and Warner moved aside while they crowded before the pretty
cashier’s desk, offering hasty pleasantries and ponderous gallantries,
while she dimpled at them and made change.

Then, after tipping the waiter, they went out into the late afternoon
sunshine.

Warner, looking after them, could see that they were crossing the square
toward the Boule d’Argent; and he knew that Halkett must have seen them
and that he would manage to keep them in view.

Now was his time to investigate the cellar, and he said so to the
brown-eyed girl behind the cage, who had been inspecting him rather
pensively.

"I ought not to do this," said the pretty _caissière_.

"Of course not.  Otherwise we should not find each other agreeable."

She smiled, looking at him a little more seriously and more attentively.

"It is odd, is it not," she said under her breath, "how two people from
the opposite ends of the earth chance to meet and—and find each
other—agreeable?"

"It is delightful," he admitted smilingly.

"I don’t even know your name," she remarked, playing with her pencil.

"James."

"Tchames?"—with a pretty attempt to imitate his English.

"Jim is easier."

"Djeem?"

"Perfect!"

"Djeem," she repeated, looking musingly at the tall, well-built
American.  "C’est drôle, ce nom là!  Djeem? It is pleasant, too....  My
name is Jeanne."  She shrugged her youthful shoulders.  "Nothing
extraordinary, you see....  Still, I shall try to please you, Monsieur
Djeem."

"I dare not hope to please you——"

She laughed:

"You _do_ please me.  Do you suppose, otherwise, I should dare enter
that frightful cellar?"

Under cover of her desk, she deftly detached a key from the bunch at her
belt, covered it with her hand, palm down, and let it rest on the
counter before him.

"Do you promise to keep away from the wine bins?" she asked lightly.

"I promise solemnly," he said, and took the key.

"Very well.  Then you may go and look at this dreadful cellar at once.
And when you behold it, ask yourself how great a goose a girl must be
who ventures into it at ten o’clock at night merely because a young man
desires to take a lesson in astronomy on the river Récollette."



                             *CHAPTER XVII*


He had little difficulty in gaining the cellar from the washroom.  Both
doors opened out of the pantry passage; he had only to watch the moving
figures silhouetted through the pantry doorway, and when they were out
of sight for the moment, he stepped out, unlocked the cellar door,
closed it gently behind him, flashed his electric torch, and started
down the broad stone steps.

It was one of the big, old-time cellars not unusual in provincial towns,
but built, probably, a century before the café and cabaret had been
erected on its solid stone foundations.

Two rows of squatty stone pillars supported the low arches of the roof;
casks, kegs, bins, empty bottles, broken bottles, and row after row of
unsealed wine bottles lined the alleyways leading in every direction
through the darkness.

On either side of the main central corridor stood wine casks of every
shape and size, some very ancient, to judge from the carving and quality
of the wood, some more or less modern, some of today.  Almost all were
hoisted on skids with bung and bung starter in place and old-time jugs
and measures of pewter or glass at hand; a few lay empty amid the cellar
debris, where the salts born of darkness and dampness dimly glimmered on
wall and pavement, and a rustling in unseen straw betrayed the lurking
place of rats.

Warner, playing his flashlight, walked swiftly forward, traversing the
three principal alleys in succession.  The third round included the
little dark runways twisting in and out among the bins, turning sudden
angles into obscurity, or curving back in a blind circle to the point of
entrance.

And as he stood resting for a moment, trying to get his bearings and
shifting his electric torch over the labyrinth within which he had
become involved, a slight but distinct sound broke the silence around
him.

It came from the cellar steps: somebody had opened the door above.

Instantly he extinguished his torch; the blackness walled him in,
closing on him so swiftly that he seemed to feel a palpable pressure
upon his body.

Listening, every nerve on edge, he heard footsteps falling cautiously
upon the stone stairway; a white radiance spread and grew brighter at
the far end of the vaulted place; and in a moment more the blinding star
of an electric torch dazzled his eyes, where he stood looking out
between the cracks of the piled-up boxes which made of the alley in
which he had halted a rampart and an impasse.

Two men were advancing, shining the way before them, turning their heads
from side to side with curiosity, but without apparently any suspicion.

They seemed to know the place and to be entirely familiar with every
alley, for, just before they passed the runway where he crouched behind
the boxes, they turned aside, played their light over the dusty banks of
bottles, chose one, coolly knocked off its neck, and leisurely drained
it between them.

Then, exchanging a few comments in voices too low to be understood, they
resumed their course, passed the entrance to the alley where Warner lay
hidden, and continued on a few paces.

He could see them as black shapes against the flare of light; saw them
halt a few paces from where he stood, saw them reach up and take hold of
a huge tun which blocked their progress.

Their torch was shining full upon it; he could follow minutely
everything they were doing.

One of the men stretched his arms out horizontally and grasped the edges
of the immense cask.  Then he threw his full weight to the right; the
cask swung easily outward, leaving a passageway wide enough for a man.
And there, full in the blaze of brilliant light, was a door, scarcely
ten feet away from where he was standing.

The man who had turned the cask went to the door, slid aside a panel,
reached in and unbolted it, and had already opened the door when a big
bulk loomed up in front of him; a gross, vibrant voice set the hollow
echoes growling under the arches of stone and mortar; Wildresse barred
their way.

He stood there, the torchlight falling full on his round, partly bald
and smoothly shaven head; his wicked little ratty eyes were two points
of black, his wicked mouth was twisted with profanity.

"Sacré tas de bougres!" he roared.  "I told you to come at nine o’clock,
didn’t I?  What are you doing here, then?  You, Asticot, you are
supposed to have more sense than Squelette, there!  Why do you interrupt
me before the hour I set?"

The man addressed as Asticot—a heavy, bench-legged young man with two
_favoris_ pasted over his large wide ears—shuffled his shoes most
uncomfortably.

Squelette, tall, frightfully thin, with his long, furrowed neck of an
unclean bird swathed in a red handkerchief, stood sullen and motionless
while the glare of his torch streamed over Wildresse.

"Nom de Dieu!" shouted the latter.  "Aim at my belly and keep that light
out of my face, you stupid ass!"

Squelette sulkily shifted his torch; Asticot said in the nasal, whining
voice of the outer boulevards:

"_Voyons, mon vieux_, you have been at it for six hours, and the
Skeleton here and I thought you might require our services——"

"Is that so!" snarled Wildresse.  "Also, they may require your services
in La Roquette!"

"They do," remarked Squelette naïvely.

"You don’t have to tell me that!" retorted Wildresse. "You’ll sneeze for
them, too, some day!"  He turned savagely on Asticot: "I _don’t_ want
you now!  I’m busy! Do you understand?"

"I understand," replied the Maggot.  "All the same, if I may be so
bold—what’s the use of chattering if there’s a job to finish?  If
there’s work to do, do it, and talk afterward.  That’s my idea."

Wildresse glared at him:

"Really!  Very commendable.  Such notions of industry ought to be
encouraged in the young.  But the trouble with you, Asticot, is that you
haven’t anything inside that sucked-out orange you think is a head.

"Whatever mental work is to be done, I shall do. Do you comprehend me,
imbecile?  And I don’t trouble to consult your convenience, either.  Is
that clear? Now, take your friend, the Skeleton, and take your torch and
yourself out of this cellar.  Get out, or I’ll bash your face in!—You
dirty little bandy-legged, blood-lapping cockroach——"

His big, pock-pitted, hairless face became frightful in its concentrated
ferocity; both men made simultaneous and involuntary movements to the
rear.

"You’ll come at nine o’clock, do you hear!" he roared. "And you’ll bring
a sack with you and enough weight to keep it sunk!  You, Maggot; you,
Skeleton, do you understand?  Very well, clear out!"

The young ruffians made no response; Asticot turned and made his way
through the narrow passage; the Skeleton shuffled on his heels, shining
his torch ahead.

Halfway down the central corridor they helped themselves to two more
bottles of Bordeaux, pocketing them in silence, and continued on their
course.

Listening, Warner could hear them ascending the stone stairs, could hear
the door click above as they left the cellar.  But his eyes remained
fixed on Wildresse, who still stood in the door, darkly outlined against
the dull gaslight burning somewhere in the room behind him.

Once or twice he looked at the great cask which the two _voyous_ had not
troubled to close into its place behind them.  And Wildresse did not
bother to go out and swing the cask back into place, but, as soon as he
caught the sound of the closing cellar door, stepped back and shut his
own door.

He must either have forgotten, or carelessly neglected, to close the
open panel in it, for the lighted square remained visible, illuminating
the narrow passage after Warner heard him bolt the door on the inside.

His retreating footsteps, also, were audible for some distance before
the sound of them died away; and Warner knew then that the door belonged
to the cabaret, and that behind its bolted shutters and its police seals
Wildresse had been lurking since his return from Saïs.

There was no need to use his torch as he crept out of his ambush and
entered the narrow lane behind the big cask.

With infinite precautions, he thrust his arm through the open panel,
felt around until he found the two bolts, slid them noiselessly back.

The door swung open, inward.  He went in softly.

The place appeared to be a lumber room littered with odds and ends.
Beyond was a passage in which a gas jet burned; at the end of it a
stairway leading up.

The floor creaked in spite of him, but the stairs were carpeted.  They
led up to a large butler’s pantry; and, through the sliding door, he
peered out into the dim interior of the empty cabaret.

Through cracks in the closed shutters rays from the setting sun pierced
the gloom, making objects vaguely distinct—tables and chairs piled one
upon the other around the dancing floor, the gaudy decorations pendent
from the ceiling, the shrouded music stands, the cashier’s desk where he
had first set eyes on the girl Philippa——

With the memory his heart almost ceased, then leaped with the resurgence
of his fear for her; he looked around him until he discovered a leather
swinging door, and when he opened it a wide hallway lay before him and a
stairway rose beyond.

Over the thick carpet he hastened, then up the stairs, cautiously,
listening at every step.

Somewhere above, coming apparently from behind a closed door, he heard
the heavy vibration of a voice, and knew whose it was.

Guided by it along the upper passageway, he passed the open doors of
several bedrooms, card rooms, private dining-rooms, all empty and the
furniture covered with sheets, until he came to a closed door.

Behind it, the heavy voice of Wildresse sounded menacingly; he waited
until it rose to a roar, then tried the door under cover of the noise
within.  It was locked, and he stood close to it, listening, striving to
think out the best way.

Behind the locked door Wildresse was shouting now, and Warner heard
every word:

"By God!" he roared in English.  "You had better not try to lie to me!
Do you want your neck twisted?"

There was no reply.

"I ask you again, what did you do with that paper I gave you by
mistake?" he repeated.

Suddenly Warner’s heart stood still, as Philippa’s voice came to him,
low but distinct:

"I burned it!"

"You burned it?  You lie!"

"I never lie," came the subdued voice.  "I burned it."

"You slut!  How dared you touch it at all?"

"You handed it to me," she said wearily.

"And you knew it was a mistake, you treacherous cat!  My God!  Have I
nourished you for this, you little snake, that you turn your poisonous
teeth on me?"

"Perhaps....  But not on my country."

"Your country!  You miserable foundling, did you suppose yourself
French?"

"France is the only country I have known.  I refuse to betray her."

"France!" he shouted.  "France!  A hell of a country to snivel about!
You can’t tell me anything about France—the dirty kennel full of
mongrels that it is! France?  To hell with France!

"What has she done for me?  What has she done to me?  Chased me out of
Paris; forced my only son into her filthy army; hunted us both without
mercy—finally hunted my son into the Battalions of Biribi—me into this
damned pigpen of Ausone!  That’s what France has done to me and
mine!—Blackmailed me into playing the _mouchard_ for her—forcing me to
play spy for her by threatening to hunt me into La Nouvelle!

"By God!  I break even, though!  I sell her every chance I get; and what
I sell to her she has to pay for, too—believe me, she pays for it a
hundred times over!"

There came a silence, then Wildresse’s voice again, rumbling,
threatening:

"Who was that _type_ you went to visit in Saïs at the Golden Peach?"

No answer.

"Do you hear, you little fool?"

"I hear you," she said in a tired voice.

"You won’t tell?"

"No."

"Why?  Is he your lover?"

"No."

"Oh, you merely got your wages, eh?"

No answer.

"In other words, you’re launched, eh?  You aspire to turn _cocotte_,
eh?"

"I am employed by him quite honestly——"

"Very touching.  Such a nice young man, isn’t he? And how much did you
tell him about me, eh?"

No reply.

"Did you inform him that I was a very bad character?" he sneered.  "Did
you tell him what a hard time you had?  Did you explain to him that a
pious Christian really could not live any longer with such a man as I
am?  _Did_ you?  And that is the way you feel, isn’t it?—That you are
too good for the business in which I have taken the trouble to educate
you?"

"To be compelled to seek information for my Government has made me very
unhappy," she said.  "But to betray that Government—that is not in me to
do. I had rather die....  I think, anyway, that I had rather
not—live—any longer."

"Is that so?  Is that all the spirit you have?  What are you, anyway—a
worm?  Have you no anger in you against the country which has kicked you
and me out of Paris into this filthy kennel called Ausone? Have you no
resentment toward the Government that has attempted to beggar us
both—the Government which bullies us, threatens us, blackmails us,
forbids us entry into the capital, keeps us tied up here like dogs to
watch and bark at strangers and whine away our lives on starvation
wages, when we could make our fortunes in Paris?"

"I don’t know what you did."

"What of it?  Suppose I broke a few of their damned laws!  Is that a
reason to kick me from place to place and finally tie me up here?"

"I—don’t know."

"Oh, ’don’t know’!" he mimicked her.  "You ungrateful slut, if you had
any gratitude in your treacherous little body, you’d stick to me now!
You’d rejoice at my vengeance!  You’d laugh to know that I am paying
back in her own coin the country which insulted me! That’s what you’d
do, instead of sniveling around about ’treachery’ and ’betraying
France.’

"And, by God!—now that war has come, you’ll see your beloved France torn
into pieces by the Bosches! That’s what you’ll see—France ripped into
tatters!

"Yes, and that sight will repay me for all that has been done to me—that
revenge I shall have—soon!—just as soon as they sweep up that stable
litter of Belgians over there!

"_Then_ we’ll see!  Then perhaps I’ll get my recognition from the
Bosches!

"What do I care for France or for them, either?  I’m of no nation; I’m
nothing; I’m for _myself_!  The Bosches were the kinder to me, and they
get what I don’t need, _voilà tout_!"

There came a long pause, and then Wildresse’s heavy tones once more:

"I’ll give you your chance.  Yes, in spite of your treachery and your
ingratitude, I’ll give you your chance!

"You have a brain—such as it is.  It’s a woman’s brain, of course, but
it can figure out on which side the bread is buttered.

"Listen: I ought to twist your neck.  You’ve tried to put mine into the
_lunette_.  You could have sent me up against a dead wall if you had
given that paper you burned to the _flics_.  No, you didn’t.  You
enjoyed a crisis of nerves and you burned it.  I _know_ you burned it,
because I admit that you tell the truth.

"Bon!  Now, therefore, I do not instantly twist your neck.  No!  On the
contrary, I reason with you.  I do not turn you over to the _sergots_.
I _could_!  Why? Voyons, let us be reasonable!  I was not hatched
yesterday.  No!  Do you suppose I have trusted you all these years
without having taken any little precautions? _Tiens_, you are beginning
to look at me, eh?

"Well, then, listen: if in future you have any curiosity concerning
_lunettes_ and dead walls, let me inform you that you are qualified to
embellish either.

"_Tiens_!  You seem startled.  It never occurred to you to ask why I
have had certain papers written out by you, or why I have had you affix
your pretty signature to so many little documents which you could not
read because the ink was invisible.

"No.  You have never thought about such matters, have you?  But, all the
same, I have all I require to make you sneeze into the basket, or to
play blindman’s buff between a dead wall and a squad of execution.

"And _now_!—Now that you know enough to hold your tongue, will you hold
it in future and be honest and loyal to the hand that picked you out of
the gutter and that has fed you ever since?"

There was a silence.

"_Will_ you?" he repeated.

"_No!_"

A bull-like roar burst from Wildresse:

"I’ll twist your neck for you, and I’ll do it now!" he bellowed.  "I’ll
snap that white neck of yours——"



                            *CHAPTER XVIII*


The next instant Warner struck the door such a blow with his doubled
fist that the jarring sound silenced the roar of rage that had burst
from Wildresse at Philippa’s answer, and checked the heavy scuffle of
his great feet, too.

Already Warner had drawn back, pistol lifted, gathered together to throw
his full weight against the door and hold it the moment it was opened
from inside.

The sudden stillness which followed his blow lasted but a few seconds;
heavy steps approached the door, halted; approached irresolutely,
stopped short.  Then ensued another period of quiet; and Warner,
listening, could hear the breathing of Wildresse on the other side of
the door.

Minute after minute passed; Wildresse, still as a tiger, never stirred,
and even his suppressed breathing became inaudible after a while.

Warner, pistol in hand, ready to throw himself against the door the
instant it moved on the crack, bent over and placed his ear close
against the paneling. After a while he detected the sound of footsteps
cautiously retreating, and realized that Wildresse did not intend to
open the door.

He knocked again loudly: the steps continued to recede; somewhere
another door was unbolted and opened; and the stealthy, retreating
footsteps continued on beyond earshot.

Again he knocked heavily with the butt of his pistol; waited, listened,
then drew back and fairly hurled himself against the door.  It scarcely
even creaked; he might as well have attempted to push over the retaining
wall of the corridor itself.

"Philippa!" he called.  "Philippa!"

A low cry answered him; he heard her stir suddenly.

But as he grasped the door knob and shook it in his excitement and
impatience, over his shoulder he caught a glimpse of a gross, hairless
face slyly peering around the further corner of the corridor.  It
disappeared immediately.

"Open the door, Philippa!" he cried.  "Open quick!"

"Warner, _mon ami_, I can’t!  He took the key——" she called through to
him.  "Oh, Warner!  What am I to do?"

"All right!  Wait there!"  He turned and ran for the further end of the
corridor, sprang around the corner without hesitating, sped forward, now
fiercely intent on the destruction of Wildresse.  But the Patron had
fled.  He ran forward, turned another corner in the dim light of locked
shutters, but found no trace of the bulky quarry he hunted, heard
nothing, halted, breathing fast and hard, trying to establish his
bearings.

A stair well plunged downward into shadowy depths just ahead; he stole
forward and looked over; carpeted steps vanished into the darkness
below.

Doors, all locked, faced him everywhere; he ran along them, trying each
as he passed; came to an angle of solid wall, stepped around it, pistol
extended; and it was a miracle he was not startled into pulling trigger
when a door was torn open in his very face, and a figure, dark against
the fiery sunset framed by a window, sprang forward.

"Warner, _mon ami_!  _Me voici_!" she cried joyously, flinging both arms
around his neck; but he stood white and trembling with the nearness of
her destruction at his hands, holding the shaking pistol wide from her
body and unable to utter a word.

And as he stood there, one arm around her thin body, somewhere below and
behind him a door burst open and there came a muffled rush of feet up
the stairway from the darkness below.

He pushed her violently away from him, but before he could turn and
spring to the stairhead, three men leaped into the passage, their
weapons spitting red flashes through the dusky corridor; and he jumped
backward dragging Philippa with him into the room behind them, slammed
the door, and bolted, chained, and locked it.

Outside, Asticot, Squelette, and Hoffman stood close to the door and
poured bullets through it at close range. The stream of lead tore the
papered plaster wall, opposite to tatters; but the door was as massive
as the one he had tried to force with his shoulder; two great bars of
metal bolted it, a heavy chain further secured it, and the key remained
in the lock.

But steel-jacketed bullets still pierced the wood, stripping splinters
from the inside and mangling the opposite wall until the gay wall paper
hung in strips, and the whole room swam in a haze of drifting white
dust.

Edging along, his body flattened against the north wall of the empty
room, and drawing Philippa after him, he cautiously approached the door
which he had tried to force; and heard Wildresse whispering to somebody
outside.  No wonder he had not been able to force it; the bolts and
chains that held it were exactly like those which secured the other
door.

He placed his lips close to Philippa’s ear:

"Where are we?" he breathed; and bent his head to the child’s bruised
mouth, which was still swollen and cut from the blow dealt her by
Wildresse that morning in the car.

"We are in the Patron’s private office, where he used to lock himself
in," she whispered.  "They’ve taken out the desk and chairs.  His
bedroom is next; mine is the next beyond that."

He looked anxiously toward the window and saw tree tops and glimpses of
rolling country sparkling in the lilac-tinted haze of approaching
twilight.

"Where does that window face?" he whispered, softly.

"On the garden and river."

"How far a drop is it?"

"Too far, _mon ami_.  The stone terrace is below."

"Is it thirty feet?"

"I don’t know.  The roof and chimneys are above us.  We are in the top
story of the house."

"There are only two stories above the cellar, as I remember."

"Two, yes."

Still holding himself and her flat against the wall, he turned his head
cautiously from side to side, searching the empty room.  There was
absolutely nothing there except bare floor and walls, and, in the
fireplace, a huge iron grate weighted with cannel coal.

Outside, from the two corridors the firing had ceased; but he could
distinguish the low vibration of heavy voices, carefully subdued, catch
the sound of stealthy movements on the carpeted floor close to both
doors. Lifting his pistol he fired through one door, wheeled, and fired
through the other.  When the deafening racket in the room had ceased, he
bent toward her and whispered:

"Philippa, will you obey me?"

"Yes, mon ami."

"Flatten yourself closer against the wall and don’t stir."

The girl spread out both arms, palms against the wall, and shrank closer
against it with her slim body.

Warner dropped cautiously to the floor, crept across it, dragging
himself by his hands, grasped the sill of the window, drew his head up
with infinite precaution, and looked out and finally down.

Below lay the flagstones and potted flowers of the garden terrace, not
more than twenty-five feet, he thought.  Beyond these, the grass sloped
down to the Récollette, where rowboats still floated under the trees.

Reconnoitering, he could not discover a soul in sight, and, satisfied,
he crept back to where Philippa stood.

As he looked up at her, a faint smile touched the girl’s bruised lips,
and her steady grey eyes seemed to say: "_Me voici, mon ami, toujours à
vos ordres!_"

"We must try to leave by the window," he whispered. "Both doors are
guarded.  And this man means murder—for you, anyway——"

"Yes....  It does not matter much now.... Since I have seen you again."

"You dear child—you dear, brave little thing!"

"Oh, _mon ami_—if you truly are content with me——"

"Little comrade, you have been very wonderful and very true!  Halkett
has recovered his papers.... Can you imagine how I felt when that
murderous brute struck you!"

"It was nothing—I don’t care, now——"  She looked at his face, extended
one finger along the wall, and touched his arm, trying to smile with her
disfigured lips.

He looked at her very intently for a moment, unsmiling.  Then:

"Little comrade!  Listen attentively."

"Yes, Warner."

"It’s too far for us to drop.  It is twenty feet, anyway, and probably
more.  You would break your legs on the stones....  How many of your
clothes can you spare to make a rope?"

"My—_clothing_?"

"Yes.  You see there is not a thing in this room, not even a shred of
carpet.  I can spare my coat, waistcoat, shirt, tie, two handkerchiefs,
collar, belt—and both shoe laces.  I have a heavy, sharp pocketknife
with a four-inch blade, which will cut cloth into strips. Help me all
you can, Philippa.  We shall need every inch of cloth and linen we can
spare....  And I think we had better hurry about it, because I don’t
know what they are planning to do outside those two doors."

She hesitated an instant, then:

"If you wish it....  Will you please turn your head?"

"Of course, you dear child!  What can you spare?"

"I can spare my chemisette and underskirt and petticoat, and my velvet
hairband and my shoe laces.... And a handkerchief and my stockings....
It leaves me my red velvet bodice, which I can lace tightly, my red
velvet skirt, and my shoes....  Will it be enough to give you?"

"I hope so; we must try."  He turned, stripped to his undershirt and
trousers, opened the long-bladed knife, and began to cut out strips from
the materials.

Presently she was ready to contribute to the projected rope, and
together they ventured to seat themselves noiselessly at the base of the
wall and begin serious work on the business before them.

The sound of linen or of cotton being ripped would certainly have set on
the alert the men outside and directed a murderously inclined gentleman
or two to the garden.

So they parted the stuffs with every precaution to avoid any noise,
using the knife constantly, and easing the various fabrics apart little
by little.

Warner was confident that Wildresse, knowing the utter nakedness of the
room in which they were locked, and knowing that death or broken bones
must result from a drop into the terrace flowerpots, was not concerning
himself to guard that quarter.  Working steadily, easing, parting,
picking out or cutting threads, ripping and tearing with greatest
caution, the growing dusk in the room began to impede their operations.
But he dared not use his electric torch, lest they be seen from outside.

Already the girl’s slender fingers were flying as she picked up strip
after strip of fabric and twisted them into the quadruple braid, bending
closer over her task as the light became dimmer and dimmer.

Her bare feet in her laceless shoes were extended and crossed in front
of her; the slender neck and shoulders and arms were exquisite in the
delicate loveliness of immaturity; she worked swiftly, intensely
absorbed, unconscious, unembarrassed in her preoccupation.

Now and then she lifted the braided cord and, stretching it, tested it
with all her youthful strength. Once she handed it to him and he threw
his full strength into the test, nodded, passed it back to her, and went
on with his cutting and ripping.

Before the cord was finished, a tremendous crash shook the door on the
left; and Warner, seated flat on the floor, fired two shots through the
panels.

Then they both went on with their cutting, ripping, knotting, and
braiding.  The fumes from the cartridges set them coughing, but the
smoke filtered out of the open window very soon.

It was dark when the cord was ready—some eighteen feet of it, as far as
Warner could judge by measuring it across his outstretched arms.

Everything was in it except his leather belt, and this he buckled around
Philippa’s body.

There seemed to be no way he could test the cord except, inch by inch,
using main strength; and, looking at the slender girl beside him, he
concluded that it was going to hold her anyway.

The only light left in the room came from the stars; by this he crept
across to the fireplace, lifted the heavy, iron grate with difficulty,
set it at the foot of the window, fastened one end of the cord to it,
turned and beckoned to Philippa.

She came creeping through the dusk on hands and knees; he pushed the
pistol into one hip pocket, the electric torch into the other, fastened
the rope to his leather belt which she wore, motioned her to mount the
sill.

"But—_you_?" she whispered.

"Listen!  I shall follow.  If _I_ fall, try to find Halkett in the
square and tell him."

"Warner—I am afraid!"

"I won’t let you fall——"

"For _you_, I mean!"

"Don’t be afraid.  I could almost drop it without any cord to help me.
Now!  Are you ready?"

"If you wish it."

"Then sit this way—there!  Now, turn and take hold of the sill with both
hands—_that_ way! ... Now, you may let go——"

Her full weight on the cord frightened him; he braced his knees and paid
out the rope which crushed and threatened to cut his hands in two.

Down, down into the dusk below he lowered her; his arms and back and
ribs seemed turned to steel, so terrible was the fear that he might let
her drop.

There remained yet a coil or two of rope when the cord in his staggering
hands suddenly slackened.  A shaft of fright pierced him; he bent
shakily over the sill and looked down.  She had not fallen; she stood on
the terrace, unknotting the rope from her leather belt.

A moment later he drew it up, the belt dangling at the end.  With
trembling and benumbed hands he tested the knot tied to the grate; then,
twisting the cord around both hands, he let himself over the sill, clung
there, and lowered the window, hesitated, let his full weight hang,
heard the iron grate drag and catch, then, blindly, twisting the cord
around his left leg, he let himself down foot by foot, believing every
moment that the cord would part or that the iron grate would be dragged
up and over the sill, carry away the sash, and crush him.

And the next instant his feet touched the stone flagging and he turned
to find Philippa at his side.

"Be silent," she breathed close to his ear.  "A boat has just landed."

"Where?"

"At the foot of the garden.  Two men are getting out!"

He knew that the rope would be discovered; he seized it and tried to
break it loose.  It held as though it had been woven of wire.

"There is a way into the cellar," whispered Philippa. "Can you lift this
grating?  It is only a drop of a foot or two!"

He bent down beside her in the shadows, felt the bars of the narrow
grating overgrown with herbage, pulled upward and lifted it easily from
its grassy bed. Philippa placed her hand flat on the dewy turf, and
vaulted down into darkness.  He balanced himself on the edge of the
hole, turned and pulled the grating toward him, and dropped.  The
grating fell with a soft thud on the damp and grassy rim of the manhole.
Philippa caught his hand.

"I know my way!  Come!" she breathed, and he followed into the pitchy
darkness.

How far they had progressed he had no idea, when she halted and drew him
close to her.

"I’ve lost my way; I thought I could find the main corridor.  Have you a
match?"

"I have a flashlight."

He pulled it from his pocket and drew his pistol also.  Then he snapped
on the light.

For a moment the girl stood dazzled and perplexed, evidently unfamiliar
with what she was gazing at, bewildered.

But Warner knew.  There, in front of him, stood the great tun, swung
open like a gate, and between it and the next cask ran the secret alley
blocked by the door from which Wildresse had driven Asticot and
Squelette.

"I know the way now!" he said.  "But we’ll have to pass through the
café——"

He sprang back with the words on his lips as the door opened violently
and Wildresse lurched out, followed by Asticot and another man.

But the glare of the torch in their eyes checked them and they recoiled,
stumbling over each other in the narrow doorway.

Step by step Warner backed away, keeping Philippa behind him and
focussing the blinding light on the men huddled in the doorway.

"Who are you?" demanded Wildresse hoarsely. "What are you doing in my
cellar?"

He made a motion toward his breast pocket; Asticot was quicker, and he
fired full at the flashlight which Warner was holding wide of himself
and Philippa.

The bullet struck the light; startling darkness buried them, instantly
all a-flicker again with pistol flashes.

"The grating again!  Can you find it, Philippa?" he whispered.

She turned her head as she retreated, caught a glimpse of the faint spot
of starlight behind, took his hand and drew him around.

Evidently Wildresse dared not use any light; his friends were shooting
wildly and at hazard for general results; the racket in the vaulted
place was deafening; but the flashes from their own pistols must have
obscured their vision, for if they could have distinguished the far,
pale spot of light under the manhole, they evidently did not see the dim
figures crouching there.

Warner reached up, grasped the iron bars, lifted them, swung them open.
Then he dragged himself up and over, and, flat on the grass, held down
his arms for Philippa.

Beside him, panting on the grass, she lay flat under the dim luster of
the stars, while they searched the dusk for any sign of the two men who
had landed from the rowboat.

And all at once the girl’s eyes fell upon a ladder leaning against the
house, and she silently touched Warner on the arm.

It became plain enough now; the rope was gone; the men had mounted to
the room, found it empty, had unbolted both doors, and started Wildresse
and his crew toward the cellar—the only egress to the street—where lay
their only chance of successful pursuit.

Bending low above the grass, gliding close to the shrubs and bushes,
Warner, with Philippa’s hand clasped in his, stole down the slope and
into the shadow of the shoreward trees.

A boat, with both oars in it, lay there, pulled up into the sedge; the
girl stepped in; Warner pushed off and followed her, shipped the oars,
swung the boat, and bent to his work.

"You are taking the wrong way!" whispered Philippa.

"Halkett is waiting on the quay."

Already they had rounded the bank in sight of the ancient arch of the
bridge; the quay wall rose above them in the starlight.  At the foot of
the narrow flight of steps he checked the boat; Philippa took the oars,
and he sprang out and ran up the stone incline.

"Halkett!" he called sharply.

A figure seated on the wall turned its head, jumped to the pavement, and
came striding swiftly.

"Have you discovered her whereabouts?  Good heavens!  Where are your
clothes, Warner?"

"I’ve found Philippa.  She’s waiting below in a boat——"

They ran down the steps while they were speaking, and Philippa cried:

"Is it you, Halkett?  I am happy again!"  And stretched out her slender
bare arm to him, excited, trembling a little from the nervous reaction
which now suddenly filled her eyes and set her disfigured mouth
quivering.

"Awf’lly glad," said Halkett heartily, clasping her offered hand in his
firm cool grip; and if he was astonished at her negligee he did not
betray it, but took the oars with decision and sent the boat shooting
out into mid-current.

"Philippa," he said, pulling downstream with powerful strokes through
the darkness, "I don’t know what has happened; Warner got you out of the
mess, whatever it was; but what I do know is that you behaved like a
brick and I shall never forget it!  A soldier’s thanks, little comrade,
for what you did!"

"I—I am—happy——" she faltered; and her voice failed her.  She slid from
the stern down against Warner’s knees, and buried her face in her bare
arms against them.

"Do you think you could spare her your coat, old fellow?" asked Warner
in a low voice.

"Of course!"  Halkett stripped off his coat and passed it over; then he
gave his waistcoat to Warner.

"Lucky it’s a warm night," he said cheerfully, while Warner spread the
coat over Philippa, where she lay exhausted, tremulous, and close to
tears.  The girl who had never whimpered when fear, timidity, and
indecision meant instant disaster, now lay huddled against his knees,
shaking in every limb, crushing back the tears that burned her eyes and
her throat, striving to master the nerves that clamored for relief.

Warner bent over her, close, touching her disheveled hair:

"It’s all right now," he whispered.  "I shall not let you go again until
you want to....  It’s all right now, Philippa.  I’ll stand your friend
always—as long as you need me—as long as you—want me....  Don’t worry
about a home; I’ll see to it.  You are going to have your chance."

One of her crossed hands groped blindly for his, closed over it
convulsively, and her breath grew hot with tears.

"It’s a long way to Tipperary," remarked Halkett cheerily.  "Tell me
about it when you’re ready, old chap."



                             *CHAPTER XIX*


About seven o’clock the next morning Halkett knocked at Warner’s door,
awakening him.

"The cavalry are passing, if you’d care to see them," he said.

Warner got out of bed, found his slippers and a bathrobe, and opened the
door.  Halkett, fully dressed in the field uniform of a British officer,
came in.

"Hello!" exclaimed the American in surprise.  "What does this mean?"

"It means that we’ve gone in, old chap."

"England!"

"Yes, we’re in it!  And I’m off."  He made a gesture for silence.
"Hark!  Do you hear that?"

Warner listened: from the distance came a confused, metallic sound,
growing more and more distinct, filling the room with a faint ringing,
jarring harmony.

"Come to the window; it’s worth seeing," said Halkett.

It was worth seeing.  Through the still morning sunshine, from the
southward came an immense sound wave; the rustle and clash of steel, the
clink-clank of iron-shod hoofs.

Leaning from the window, Warner looked down the road.  A high column of
white dust stretched away into perspective as far as he could see.
Under it, emerging from it, rode the French heavy cavalry, the morning
sun a blinding sheet of fire on their armor.

On they came at a leisurely walk, helmets and breastplates blazing
silvery fire under a perpendicular forest of lances canopied by the
white dust.

They were terribly conspicuous; a cloudless sky exposed every detail of
their uniforms—the gold epaulets of their officers, the crimson epaulets
and breeches of the troopers, the orange-red whalebone plumes that flew
like the manes of horses from the trumpeters’ helmets.

On they came, riding at ease, accompanied by dust and by a vast and
confused volume of assorted noises—the tintinnabulation of their armor,
the subdued clash of sabers, the rattle and clash of equipments, the
solidly melodious trample of thousands of horses.

But Warner looked down at them with anxious eyes and lips compressed.

"Good God!" he said under his breath to Halkett. "Are they going into
battle dressed that way?  I thought they had learned something since
1870!"

"War has caught France unprepared in that particular matter," said
Halkett gravely.

"I didn’t know it.  I understood that Detaille had designed their
campaign dress.  It’s a dreadful thing, Halkett, to send men into fire
dressed in that way!"

"It is.  But look, Warner.  Is there anything more magnificent when in
mass formation than a brigade of French cuirassiers?"

As they rode clanging under the windows of the inn, officers and
troopers looked up curiously at the man in his bathrobe, in friendly
surprise at the young man in the British field uniform; but when the
upturned, sunburned faces caught sight of the next window beyond, a
quick, gay smile flashed out, and dark blue sleeves shot up in laughing
greeting and salute.

"It’s Philippa," whispered Halkett.  "Look!"

Warner turned: Philippa, wearing the scarlet and black peasant dress of
a lost province, sat sideways on her window sill, knitting while she
watched the passing cavalry below.

The velvet straps and silk laces of her bodice accented a full
chemisette of finest lawn; a delicate little apron of the same was
relieved by the scarlet skirt; the dainty, butterfly headdress of black
silk crowned her hair, which hung in two heavy braids.

And, as the cavalry column passed, every big cuirassier, looking up from
the shadow of his steel helmet, saw Alsace itself embodied in this
slender girl who sat knitting and looking down upon France militant out
of quiet, proud eyes.

There was no fanfare, no shouting, no boasting, nothing theatrical.  The
troopers looked up from their saddles and rode by, still looking; the
girl knitted quietly, her steady eyes gazing gravely over the needles.
And it was as though Alsace herself were speaking a silent language from
those clear, grey eyes:

"I am waiting; I have been waiting for you more than forty years.  Take
what time you need, but come. You will always find me waiting."

Every officer understood it; every giant rider comprehended, as the
squadrons trampled past through a thickening veil of dust which grew
denser, dulling the sparkle of metal and subduing the raw, fierce colors
to pastel tints.

The brigade passed up the valley leisurely, without halting; dust hung
along the road for many minutes after the last cuirassier had walked his
big horse out of view.

Philippa, who had been seated on the window sill with her back toward
Warner’s window, left her perch; and Warner turned back into his room to
bathe and dress.

"How long have you been up?" he asked Halkett, who had dropped on a
chair by the window.

"Since sunrise.  Madame Arlon is back.  She behaved very nicely about
the damage.  She doesn’t wish me to pay for it, but I shall.  Did you
know that your Harem left in a body for Paris yesterday afternoon?"

"Very sensible of ’em," said Warner with a sigh of relief.  "How about
you, Halkett?"

"I don’t know yet.  I’m expecting orders at any moment now."

"How do you know that your country has gone into this war?"

"I learned it last night at the Boule d’Argent.  The news had just come
over the wire.

"That precious pair, Meier and Hoffman, whom I had followed to the Boule
d’Argent, were seated there in the café reading the newspapers when the
telegram was posted up.

"They got up from their chairs with the other guests who had clustered
around the bulletin to read what had been posted up.  I watched their
faces from behind my newspaper, and you should have seen their
expressions—utter and blank astonishment, Warner! Certainly Germany
never believed until the last moment that we had any real intention of
going in."

"I didn’t, either, to tell the truth."

Halkett smiled:

"It was inevitable from the very beginning.  The hour that Austria flung
her brutal ultimatum into the face of Servia, every British officer knew
that we were going in.  It took our politicians a little longer to
realize it, that’s all."

Warner finished dressing, and they went downstairs together and across
the grass to the arbor in the garden, where Philippa sat knitting and
talking under her breath to Ariadne, who gazed at her, brilliant-eyed,
purring.

The girl had her back toward them and they made no sound as they
advanced across the turf which bordered the flowers.

"She’s talking to the cat; listen!" murmured Halkett.

"—And after many, many years," they heard Philippa saying, "the sad and
patient mother of the two lost children sent out for her five million
servants. ’Go,’ she said, ’and search diligently for my little daughters
who were stolen by the fierce old giant, Bosche.  And when you come to
where they are imprisoned, you shall know the place, because there is no
place on earth so beautiful, no mountains so tender a blue, no fields so
green and so full of flowers, no rivers so lovely and clear.

"’Also, you shall recognize my little children when you discover them,
because they dress as I am dressed today, in red and black and wearing
the black butterfly. So when you see them behind the bars of their
prison, you shall call to them by name—you shall call out, Alsace!
Lorraine!  Be of good courage!  Your mother has sent us here to find you
and deliver you from the prison of the Giant Bosche!

"’Then you shall draw your broad, bright bayonets and fix them; and you
who are mounted shall unsling your long, pointed lances; and you who
feed the great steel monsters that roll along on wheels, shall make
ready the monsters’ food; and others of you who put on wings and who
mount clattering to the clouds, shall wing yourselves and mount; and you
others who look out over oceans from the tops of tall, steel masts shall
signal for all the anchors to be lifted.

"’Thus you shall prepare to encounter the Giant Bosche, who will come
thundering and trampling and flaming across the horizon, with his black
banners like storm clouds, and advancing amid a roaring iron rain.

"’Thus you shall meet him and hold him, and turn him, and drive him,
drive him, drive him, back, back, back, into the fierce, dark, shaggy
places from whence he crept out into the sun and stole away my little
children.

"’And when that is done, you shall bring me back my children who were
lost, and you shall be their servants as well as mine, dwelling with us
as one family forever, in happiness and honor, dedicating ourselves to
generous and noble deeds as long as the world shall last!’ ...

"That, _minette_, is the fairy story which I promised you if you would
be a good cat and wait patiently for breakfast.  And you have done so,
and now I have kept my promise——"

She lifted her eyes from her knitting, turned her head over her
shoulder, and saw Warner and Halkett gravely listening.

"Oh," she said, blushing.  "Did you hear the story I have been telling
to Ariadne?"  She held out her hand to Warner and then to Halkett,
inspecting the latter critically, much interested in his uniform.

"You saw our cuirassiers?" she asked, as they seated themselves at the
table.  "So did I.  Also, they saw me.  I wished them to see me because
I was dressed in this dress.  We understood each other, the ’grosse
cavalerie’ and I."

"We saw what was going on," said Halkett.  "I should say that about two
thousand suitors have been added to your list this morning, Philippa."

She turned shy and a little grave at that, but seeing Warner laughing,
laughed too.

"If I were a great lady," she said, "you might be right.  Only from the
saddle could any man dare hope for a smile from me now."

Linette, with the bright color of excitement still brilliant in her
cheeks, brought out the breakfast tray.

"On the quarry road, across the river," she said, "our _fantassins_ are
marching north—thousands of them, messieurs!—and the dust is like a high
white wall against the hills!"

So they hastened with their coffee and rolls; Warner fetched the garden
ladder and set it against the east wall, and all three mounted and
seated themselves on the coping.

What Linette had reported was true: across the Récollette a wall of
white dust ran north and south as far as they could see.  Under it an
undulating column tramped, glimmering, sparkling, flowing northward—an
endless streak of dusty crimson where the red trousers of the line were
startlingly visible through the haze.

Watching the stirring spectacle from a seat on the wall beside Philippa,
Warner turned to her presently:

"Do you feel all right this morning?"

"Yes, thank you."

"Your lip is still a trifle swollen."

"I feel quite well."  She looked up at him out of her honest grey eyes.
"It is the happiest morning of my life," she said in a low voice.

"Why?"

"For two reasons: I am to remain with you, that is one reason; I have
lived to see what I am looking at yonder, that is the other reason."

"You have lived to help what is going on yonder," remarked Halkett.

She turned, the question in her eyes; and he answered seriously:

"We British are your allies, now."

"Since when, Monsieur?"

"Since yesterday.  So what you did for me when you saved my papers, you
did for a friend to France."

Her sudden emotion left her silent; she bent her head and looked down at
her knitting, and leisurely resumed it, sitting so, her legs hanging
down from the wall, the sun striking her silver shoe buckles.

"Do you hear, Philippa?" asked Warner, smiling. "You have added reason
to be proud of the wound on your lip."

She flashed a look at him, laughed shyly, and became very busy with her
knitting and with watching the passing column across the river.

Halkett had unslung his field glasses to inspect them at closer range.
The dusty _fantassins_ were swinging along at a smart route step, rifles
slung, red képis askew, their bulky luggage piled on their backs and
flopping on their thighs—the same careless, untidy, slipshod infantry
with the same active, tireless, reckless, rakish allure.

Their smartly mounted officers, smartly booted or gaitered, wearing the
smart tunics and gold-laced caps of their arm of the service, seemed
merely to accent the gayly dowdy, ill-fitting uniforms of the little
_fantassins_.

No British officer could, on his soul and conscience, subscribe to such
flapping, misfitting, fag-ends of military accouterments; and as Halkett
watched them a singularly wooden expression came over his pleasant,
youthful features; and Warner, glancing sideways at him, knew why.

"They’re very picturesque if a painter handles them properly," he
remarked, amused.  "You know what De Neuville did for them."

Philippa, not comprehending, continued to knit and to gaze out of her
lovely grey eyes upon her beloved _fantassins_.

Ariadne, seeing her three friends aloft, presently mounted to the top of
the wall beside them, and sat gravely blinking into space through
slitted eyes.

A glazier had come across the fields from some neighboring hamlet,
bringing with him under his ragged arm some panes of glass and a bag of
implements.

He was in a hurry, because he was expecting that his class would be
called to the colors, but the spectacle of the passing infantry across
the river so fascinated him that he made but a slow job of it.

Toward noon a mounted gendarme, who seemed to know him personally,
shouted, as he rode by, that his class had been called.  The little
glazier nodded, smeared the last strip of putty under the last window
pane to be replaced, climbed down from the sill, lifted his hat to the
three people on the wall—possibly including Ariadne in his
politeness—and trotted away across the fields to tie up a few
possessions in a large red handkerchief, and then trot away toward
Chalons, where France needed even the humblest and most obscure of the
children she had nourished through many years for such an hour as was
sounding now.

Philippa, looking after him, was unconsciously stirred to express her
thoughts aloud:

"There must be _something_ I can do," she said.

"You have been among the very first to do something," rejoined Warner.

"Oh, _that_?  That was nothing."  She pursed up her lips and stared
absently at the troops across the Récollette.  "I can knit socks, of
course....  I don’t know what else to do....  If anybody wants me I am
here."

"_I_ want you, Philippa," said Warner.

"_Mon ami_, Warner——"  She gave him a swift, adorable smile and laid her
hand lightly on his arm for an instant.

Such candid gratitude for friendship he had never read in any eyes
before; the quick response of this friendless girl touched him sharply.

"Of course I want you," he repeated.  "Never forget, Philippa, that
where I am you are welcome—not tolerated—_wanted_!"

She continued to knit, looking down steadily.  Halkett lowered his field
glasses and glanced at her, then with an odd look at Warner leveled the
glasses again and resumed his study of the distant column.

After a few minutes’ silence the girl raised her eyes, and Warner caught
the glint of unshed tears in them.

"It is only happiness," she said in a low voice.  "I am not accustomed
to it."

He did not know what to say, for the grey eyes were stirring him very
deeply, and her attitude and their new relationship touched him and
confused him, too.

The responsibility which he had assumed so impulsively, so lightly yet
warmly, began to wear a more serious aspect to him.

Every few moments some new vein of purest metal was unconsciously
revealed in her by her own transparent honesty.  He began to understand
that she had not only right instincts, but that her mind was right, in
spite of what she had been since released from school—that her
intelligence was of a healthy order, that she thought right, and that,
untaught or taught otherwise, her conclusions were as direct and sane as
a child’s.

"I think, Philippa, we ought to have a business talk this morning," he
said pleasantly.

"To discuss our affairs," she nodded contentedly.  "I have my little
account book in my trunk.  Shall I get it for you?"

He smiled:

"I didn’t intend to examine your financial situation——"

"Oh, but we had better be very clear about it!  You see, I have just
_so_ much saved—I shall show you exactly!—and then we can compute
exactly what economies it will be necessary for me to make in order to
maintain myself until we can find employment for me——"

"But, Philippa—" he tried to maintain his gravity—"you need not have any
concern in that regard. First of all, you are on a salary as my model——"

"Please!  I did not wish to be paid for aiding you——"

"But it is a matter of business!"

"I thought—I am happy in being permitted to return a little of your
kindness to me—I do not want anything from you——"

"Kindness!"

"You have let me find a refuge with you——"

"Dear child, I offer you employment until something more suitable
offers.  Didn’t you understand?"

"Yes, but I did not expect or wish you to pay me—except with friendship.
It is different between us and others, is it not?—I mean you are my
_friend_.... I could not take money from you....  Let it be only
friendship between us.  Will you?  I have enough to last until I can
find employment.  Only let me be with you.  That is quite enough for me,
Warner."

Halkett, who had been gazing fixedly through his glasses, remarked that
the column across the river had now passed.

It was true; the wall of dust still obscured the blue foothills of the
Vosges, but the last _fantassin_ had trotted beyond their view and the
last military wagon had rolled out of sight.

Halkett descended from the ladder and went through the house and down
the road in the direction of the schoolhouse, a smart, well-groomed,
well-set-up figure in his light-colored service uniform and cap.

Philippa gathered her knitting into one hand, placed the other in
Warner’s, and descended the ladder face foremost, with the lithe,
sure-footed grace of Ariadne, who had preceded them.

"Come to my room," she said, confidently taking possession of Warner’s
arm; "I want to show you my account book."

Madame Arlon, who was coming through the hallway, overheard her, gazed
at her unsmilingly, glanced at Warner, whose arm the girl still
retained.

Philippa looked up frankly, bidding the stout, florid landlady a smiling
good morning, and Madame Arlon took the girl’s hands rather firmly into
her own, considered her, looked up at Warner in silence.

Perhaps she arrived at some silent and sudden conclusion concerning them
both, for her tightened lips relaxed and she smiled at them and patted
Philippa’s hands and went about her affairs, still evidently amused over
something or other.  She remarked to Magda in the kitchen that all
Americans were mad but harmless; which distinguished them from
Europeans, who were merely mad.

Upstairs in her bedroom, Philippa was down on her knees rummaging in her
little trunk and chattering away as gay as a linnet to Warner, who stood
beside her looking on.

And at first the pathos of the affair did not strike him.  The girl’s
happy torrent of loquacity, almost childish in its eagerness and
inconsequential repetition of details concerning the little souvenirs
which she held up for his inspection, amused him, and he felt that she
was very, very young.

All the flimsy odds and ends which girlhood cherishes—things utterly
valueless except for the memories evoked by disinterring and handling
them, these Philippa resurrected from the confused heap of clothing in
her trunk—here a thin gold circlet set with a tiny, tarnished turquoise,
pledge of some schoolmate’s deathless adoration—there an inky and
battered schoolbook with girls’ names written inside in the immature
chirography of extreme youth and sentiment.  And there were bits of
inexpensive lace and faded ribbons, and a blotting pad full of frail and
faded flower-ghosts, and home-made sachets from which hue and odor had
long since exhaled, and links from a silver chain and a few bright locks
of hair in envelopes.

And every separate one of these Philippa, on her knees, held up for
Warner to admire while she sketched for him the most minute details of
the circumstances connected.

Never doubting his interest and sympathy, she freed her long-caged heart
with all the involuntary ecstasy of an escaped bird pouring out to the
clouds the suppressed confidences of many years.

Names, incidents, circumstances almost forgotten even in her brief
solitary life, were now uttered almost unbidden from her ardent lips;
the bright or faded bits of ribbon were held aloft, identified with a
little laugh or sigh, tossed aside, and another relic uncovered and held
out to him.

On her knees before these innocent records of the past, the girl was
showing him everything she knew about herself—showing him herself, too,
and her warm, eager heart of a child.

He was no longer merely amused; he stood listening in silence to her
happy, disjointed phrases, evoked by flashes of memory equally
disconnected.

The happiness connected with her girlish souvenirs faded, however, when
they represented the period following her removal from school.

And yet, for all the loneliness and unhappiness—for all the instinctive
mental revolt, all the perplexity and impatience of these latter
years—their souvenirs she handled tenderly, describing each with that
gentleness and consideration born of intimate personal association.

And at last she discovered her account book, strapped with rubber bands,
and she rose from the floor, drew the only chair up for Warner, and
seated herself on her bed, laying the book open across his knees.

Here, under his eyes, columns of accurately kept figures told the story.
Here everything had been minutely set down—her meager salary, her few
expenses, her rigid economies, her savings during the years of her
employment by Wildresse—a record of self-denial, of rigid honesty, of
childlike perseverance.

As he slowly turned the clearly written pages on his knees, Philippa,
leaning against his shoulder, her fresh young face close to his, pointed
out and explained with her forefinger tracing the written figures.

After he had examined her accounts, she unstrapped her thin little pass
book for him.  It was in order and balanced to the end of July.

He closed the books, rested his clasped hands on them, and sat thinking.
His preoccupied expression left her silent, too—or perhaps it was the
slight reaction from her joyous indulgence in loquacity. Reticence
always follows—and always this aftermath of silence is tinged with
sadness.

He was thinking, almost in consternation, how lightly he had assumed
responsibility for a young soul in the making.  All of her was still in
the making; the girl was merely beginning to develop in mind and spirit;
and in body her development had not ended.

Her circumstances aside—whatever her origin, whatever her class or
position might have been—he suddenly realized that for him the
responsibility was too great.

Whatever her origin, in her were the elements and instincts of all
things upright.  Whatever her place in the social scale, her
intelligence could not be questioned.  And, if her recent years had been
passed amid sordid and impossible surroundings and influences, these had
not corrupted her.  In her there was no hint of depravity, nothing
unwholesome, nothing spoiled.

Life and endeavor and the right to hope still lay before her; a
theoretical future opened uncontaminated; opportunity alone was her
problem; and his.  And he realized his responsibility and was perplexed
and troubled.

"Philippa," he said, looking up at her where she sat on the iron bed,
her cheek resting on her clasped hands, "I am not very aged yet.  Do you
realize that?"

"Aged?" she repeated, puzzled.

He laughed and so did she.

"I mean," he said, "that if you and I go about together in this rather
suspicious world, nobody is likely to understand how very harmless and
delightful our friendship is."

She nodded.

"Not that I care," he said, "except on your account. A girl has only one
real asset, as assets and liabilities are now figured out by what we
call civilization.  It won’t do to have any suspicion attach to this
solitary asset of yours.  There must never be any question of your moral
solvency through your friendship for me or mine for you.  Do you follow
me?"

"Yes."

"Very well.  It remains for us to find out how to remain friends without
hurting you and your prospects in a world, which, as I have explained,
is first of all an incredulous world, and after that the most pitiless
of planets.  Do you still follow what I say?"

"Yes."

"Then have you any suggestions?"

"No, Warner."

"What would you prefer to do to support yourself?"

"Anything that permitted me to remain near you."

"I know, Philippa; but I mean, leaving me out of consideration, what do
you prefer to do?"

"I like everything—respectable."

"But what in particular?"

"I don’t know; I like to keep accounts; I like to oversee and manage a
household....  I conducted all the departments of the Café and Cabaret
de Biribi—I was manager, housekeeper, general director; I hired and
discharged servants, looked after all marketing, all the linen and
tableware, kept all accounts and paid all wages.

"I know how to do such things and I like to do them.  It was only the
other—the secret service—which sickened me.  Of course it would have
been a great happiness to me if I had been employed in quiet,
respectable, and cultivated surroundings, and not in a public place
where anybody may enter and misbehave."

"I understand," he said thoughtfully.  "If it is necessary, then, you
are competent to do your duty as housekeeper in a private house."

"I don’t know; I should think so."

"And there is nothing else you prefer?"

Philippa shook her head.  Then she picked up her knitting again,
settling herself on the edge of the bed, feet crossed, fingers flying,
delicate face bent gravely over her work.  And all at once it seemed to
Warner that her peasant dress was not convincing; that this gay costume
of her province which she wore was only a charming masquerade—the pretty
caprice of a young girl born to finer linen and a purple more costly—the
ephemeral and wayward whim which once had been responsible for the
Little Trianon, and irresponsible to everything else except the
traditions of a caste.

"_Who_ are you, Philippa?" he asked curiously.

"I?"  Her lifted eyes were level with his, very sweet and clear, and the
bright needles ceased clicking.

"Don’t you know who you are?" he repeated, watching her.

"A foundling....  I told you once."

"Is that all you know?"

"Yes."

"Does _he_ know more than that?"

"He says he does not."

"You have no clew to your parentage?"

"None."

Her gaze became preoccupied, wandered from his, grew vaguely wistful.

"Out of the gutter," she said, without any bitterness in her emotionless
voice.  "—Of which circumstance he has frequently reminded me."  With an
unconscious movement she extended one exquisitely fashioned hand and
gazed at it absently; looked down at the slim foot, where on the
delicately arched instep a peasant’s silver buckle glimmered.

Then, resting her grey eyes on him:

"If it really was the gutter, it is odd," she said, half to herself,
"because always that second self which lives within me goes freshly
bathed and clean and clothed in silk."

"Your second self?"

"My _real_ self—my only comrade.  You know, don’t you?  When one grows
up alone there grows up with one an inner comrade—the truer self....
Otherwise the solitude of life must become intolerable."

"Yes, I understand."

"All lonely children have such a comrade, I suppose. Absolute
self-isolation seems unendurable—actually impossible for a human being."

She resumed her knitting, meditatively, as a youthful princess might
pick up her embroidery.

"As for the gutter," she said, "—out of the common earth we came, and we
return to it....  Christ wandered, too, in very humble places."



                              *CHAPTER XX*


About noon a British soldier in uniform and mounted on a motor cycle
came whizzing up to the Golden Peach.

Warner was in his room writing to his bankers in Paris; Philippa, in her
room, was mending underwear; Halkett, who had walked to the school only
to learn that Sister Eila had gone to the quarries, came out of the
garden, where he had been sitting in silence with Ariadne.

The cyclist, a fresh-faced young fellow, saluted his uniform; Halkett
took the dispatches, read them, turned on his heel and went upstairs to
make his adieux. First he knocked on Philippa’s door, and when the girl
appeared he took his leave of her with a new and oddly stiff deference
which seemed akin to shyness.

"I am so sorry you are going," she said.

"Thanks, so much.  I shan’t ever forget my debt to you.  I hope you’ll
be all right now."

"I shall be all right with Mr. Warner, always.  I do hope we shall see
you again."

"If I come out of this——" He checked himself, embarrassed, then he added
hurriedly: "I’ll look you up, if I may.  I shan’t forget you."

His vigorous handclasp almost wrung a cry from her, but she managed to
smile, and he went on down the corridor and knocked at Warner’s door.

"Well, old chap, good-by and good luck!"

"What!  Have your orders arrived?" exclaimed Warner.

"Just now.  I’ve a motor cyclist below.  He takes me behind him to
Ausone.  From there I go by rail."

"I’m glad for your sake, Halkett; I’m sorry for my own.  It’s been a
jolly friendship."

"Yes, considering all the trouble I’ve put you to——"

"I tell you I liked it!  Didn’t I make that plain?  I was in a rut; I
was turning into an old fluff before you came cannoning into me,
bringing a lively breeze with you.  I’ve never enjoyed anything half as
much!"

"It’s kind of you to take it so.  You’ve been very good to me, Warner.
I shan’t forget you—or the little lady yonder.  I’m sure this doesn’t
mean the end of our friendship."

"Not if it lies with us, Halkett.  I hope you’ll come through.  Good
luck, old fellow."

"Thanks!  Good luck and good-by."

Their gripped hands parted; Halkett turned, walked toward the stairs,
halted:

"I’ll send for my luggage," he said.

"I’ll look out for it."

"Thanks.  And be civil to Ariadne.  She’s a friendly old thing!"

"I’ll cherish her," said Warner, smiling.

So they parted.  He took leave of Madame Arlon and reckoned with her in
British gold; Magda and Linette were made happy with his generosity.

Out on the roadside they saw him swing up behind the soldier cyclist.  A
moment later there was only a trail of dust hanging along an empty road.

But Halkett had not yet done with Saïs.  At the school he dismounted and
ascended the steps.

The schoolroom was empty, the place very still. From a distance came the
voices of children.  It was the hour of their noonday recreation.

He entered the quiet schoolroom.  On the desk stood a vase of white
clove pinks.  He took one, inhaled its fragrance, touched it to his
lips, turned to the door, and suddenly flushed to the roots of his hair.

Sister Eila, on the doorstep, turned her head and looked steadily at the
soldier cyclist for a moment. But a moment was enough.

Yet, still looking away from Halkett, she said in her serene young
voice:

"Your uniform tells me your errand, Monsieur Halkett. You have come for
your papers."

"If I may trouble you——" His voice and manner were stiff and
constrained.

She let her eyes rest on him for a moment:

"A British uniform is pleasant to see in France," she said.  "One
moment——"  She stepped past him and entered the schoolroom.  "I shall
bring you your papers."

He walked slowly out to the road, holding in his hands, which were
clasped behind him, the clove pink. Standing so, he looked across the
fields to the river willows, from whence the shot had come.  Slowly,
clear-cut and in full sunshine, the scenes of that day passed through
his mind.  And after they had passed he turned and walked back to the
schoolroom.

Sister Eila was seated at her desk, the papers lying before her.

He took them, buttoned them inside his tunic.  She sat looking across
the dim room, her elbow on the desk, her chin resting on her palm.

"There is no use trying to thank you," he said with an effort—and
stopped.

After a silence:

"You are going into battle," she said.

"I hope so."

"Yes—I hope so....  God protect you, Mr. Halkett."

He could not seem to find his voice.

Perhaps the silence became unendurable to her; she fumbled for her
rosary, lifted it, and took the metal crucifix between both hands.

"Good-by," he said.

"Good-by."  Her eyes did not leave the crucifix.

He stood motionless, crushing his forage cap in his hands.  The white
flower broke from its stem and fell to the floor.  He bent and picked it
up, looked at it, looked at her, turned and went his way.

The crucifix in her tightening hand grew indistinct, blurring under her
steady gaze.  In her ears still sounded the retreating racket of the
motor cycle; the echoes lingered, grew fainter, died out in the golden
gloom of the room.

Sister Eila extended her arms in front of her and laid her colorless
face between them.  The room grew very still.



                             *CHAPTER XXI*


A line regiment came swinging along from the south, its band silent, but
the fanfare of its field music tremendously noisy—bass drums, snare
drums, hunting horns and bugles—route step, springy and slouchy,
officers at ease in their saddles: but, through the clinging aura of the
dust, faces transfigured, and in every eye a depth of light like that
which shines from the fixed gaze of prophets.

Rifles slung, equipments flapping, the interminable files trudged by
under the hanging dust, an endless, undulating blur of red and blue, an
immense shuffling sound, almost melodious, and here and there a
handsome, dusty horse pacing amid the steady torrent.

They occupied only half of the wide, military road; now and then a
military automobile came screaming past them with a flash of crimson and
gold in the tonneau, leaving on the retina a brilliant, glimmering
impression that faded gradually.

On the road across the Récollette, wagons, motor trucks, and field
artillery had been passing for hours; the barrier of dust had grown much
loftier, hanging suspended and unchanging against the hills, completely
obscuring them except for a blue summit here and there.

Fewer troops passed on this side of the river.  A regiment of dragoon
lancers rode by about one o’clock—slender, nervous, high-strung
officers, with the horse-hair blowing around their shoulders from their
silver helmets; the sturdy, bronzed young troopers riding with their
lances swung slanting from the arm loops—and all with that still, fixed,
enraptured expression of the eyes, as though under the spell of inward
meditation, making their youthful features dreamy.

In some village through which they had passed, people had hung wreaths
of leaves and flowers around their horses’ necks.  They still hung
there, wilting in the sun; some, unraveled and trailing, shed dying
blossoms at every step.

From the garden wall where she sat knitting beside Ariadne, Philippa
plucked and tossed rose after rose down into the ranks of the passing
horsemen.

There was no pleasantry, no jesting, scarcely a smile on the girl’s lips
or on theirs, but as each trooper caught the flung rose he turned his
helmeted head and saluted, and rode on with the fresh flower touching
his dusty lips.

And so they passed, squadron crowding on squadron, the solid trampling
thunder shaking the earth. Not a trumpet note, not a whistle signal, not
a voice, not a gilded sleeve upflung, not a slim saber lifted—only the
steady, slanting torrent of lances and the running glitter of slung
carbines, and a great flowing blaze of light from acres of helmets
moving through the haze, as in a vision of pomp and pageantry of ancient
days and brave.


Warner came across the fields swinging his walking stick reflectively as
the last peloton rode by.

Philippa looked down at him from her perch on the wall, and, unsmiling,
dropped him a rose.

"Thank you, pretty maiden," he said, looking up while he drew the
blossom through his lapel.  "I have something to talk over with you.
Shall I go around and climb up to you, or will you come down and walk to
the river with me?"

"Either will be a pleasure for me.  I desire only to be with you," she
said.  So frank were her grey eyes that again the dull, inward warning
of his increasing responsibility to her and for her left him silent and
disconcerted.

In his knowledge of her undisguised affection, and of the glamour with
which he realized she had already innocently invested him, he began to
comprehend the power over her which circumstances had thrust upon him.

It was too serious a burden for such a man as he, involved too deep a
responsibility; and he meant to shift it.

"Come and walk with me, then," he said, "—or we’ll take the punt, if you
like."

She nodded brightly, rolled up her knitting, looked around at the ladder
in the garden behind her, glanced down at him, which was the shorter
way.

"If I jump could you catch me?"

"I suppose I could, but——"

"Look out, then!  Garde à vous!"

He managed to catch her and ease her to the ground, and, as always, she
took possession of his arm with both of hers clasped closely around it,
as though he meditated flight.

"While you are absent," she said, "my thoughts are occupied only with
you.  When I have you by me"—her clasp tightened a little—"such
wonderful ideas come to inspire me—you can’t imagine!  I aspire to be
worthy of such a friendship; I feel that it is in me to be good and wise
and lofty of mind, and to think and believe generously....  Do you
understand me? ... Petty sorrows vanish—the smaller and selfish desires
and aspirations disappear.  Into my spirit comes a delicious exultation,
as though being with you cleansed my heart and filled my mind with
ardent and noble thoughts....  I don’t know whether you understand.  Do
you?"

"I understand that you are a very generous friend, who believes that her
new friend is everything with which her youthful heart invests him."

"And you are!"

"I’ve got to try to be, now," he said, laughingly. "There is no
unhappiness like that of a broken idol."

"Do I regard you as an idol?"

"Not me, but what your charming fancy pretends is me.  I dread the day
you find me out."

"You are laughing at me," she said happily, walking beside him with her
light, springy step.  "You may make fun of me; you may say what you
will.  _I_ know."

"I think _I_ do, too.  And this is what I know, Philippa; you have
within you some very rare and delicate and splendid qualities.  Also,
you are very young, and you need a guide——"

"_You!_"

"No."

"What!  Of course it’s you I need to guide me——"

"Listen.  You need a woman—older than yourself——"

"Please!—Warner, my friend——"

"I want you to listen, Philippa."

"Yes."

They walked over the clover in silence for a few moments, then, glancing
at her, he unconsciously tried his power:

"You like and trust me, don’t you?"

The girl lifted her grey eyes, and he looked straight ahead of him while
the flush lasted in his face.

He said:

"Because I like and respect you, and because you are my friend, I am
ambitious for you.  I want you to have your chance.  _I_ can’t give it
to you, rightly. No man could do that very successfully or very
prudently.

"While you remain in my employment, of course, we shall see each other
constantly; when, eventually, you secure other employment, we can, at
intervals, meet.  But, Philippa, I don’t want that sort of chance for
you."

"I don’t understand."

"I know you don’t.  Let me tell you what I have done without consulting
you.  If it meets with your approval, the problem of your immediate
future is in a fair way of being solved."

They had reached the bank of the little river: the punt was drawn up
among the rushes; they seated themselves without pushing off.

"Over beyond the woods, yonder," he continued, nodding his head, "is the
Château des Oiseaux—a big, old-fashioned country house.  A friend of
many years lives there with her younger sister—Madame de Moidrey, the
widow of a French officer.  When she was Ethra Brooks, a little American
girl, we were playmates.  Her sister, Peggy, attends my painting class.
After Mr. Halkett left, I walked across to the Château des Oiseaux, and
I lunched there with Madame de Moidrey."

He hesitated: the girl looked up out of clear eyes that read him.

"Yes; I want you to walk over to the Château with me," he said.  "Madame
de Moidrey has asked me to bring you....  And if she likes you, and you
like her, she might desire to have you remain as her companion."

The girl remained silent, expressionless.  He went on, slowly:

"It would not be like securing employment among strangers.  Madame de
Moidrey knows that we are _friends_....  And, Philippa, you are very
young to go into employment among strangers.  Not that you cannot take
care of yourself.  But it is not a happy experience.  Besides, a
personal and sympathetic interest will be wanting—in the beginning at
least.  And that will mean loneliness for you——"

"It will mean it anyway if I am to leave you."

"But I shall see you at the Château——"

"For a little while yet.  Then you will be going back to Paris.  And
then—what shall I do?"

The candid tragedy in her eyes appalled him.

"Dear child," he said, "your duties with Madame de Moidrey will keep you
too busy to think about anybody in particular.  You will find in her a
friend; you will find happiness there, I am very certain——"

"If you wish it, I will go.  But when you leave, happiness departs."

"Philippa, that is nonsense——"

"No...  And I had supposed, if I earned my living, that you would permit
me to live with you—or near you somewhere....  Just to know you were
living near me—even if I did not see you every evening—would rest me....
I had hoped for that, _mon ami_."

"Philippa, dear, it would not do.  That is too Bohemian to be anything
safer than merely agreeable. But the surroundings and duties you are
going to have with Madame de Moidrey are exactly what you need and what
I could have desired for any friend of mine in your circumstances."

The girl’s head began to droop, where she was seated on the stern seat
of the boat.

He said:

"The influences of such a house, of such a home, of such people, are far
better for you than to saunter out and face the world, depending for
companionship upon a man not yet too old to arouse that fussy world’s
suspicion and perhaps resentment.  You must have a better purpose in
life."

She remained silent for a few moments, then, not lifting her head, and
her slim hands nervously plaiting her scarlet skirt:

"Anywhere alone with you in the world would be a sufficient purpose in
life for me....  No matter how I earned my bread—if, when toil ended
with evening, you were the reward—and—consolation——"  A single tear
fell, glittering; she turned her head sharply and kept it turned.

Deeply touched, even stirred, yet perfectly incredulous of himself, he
sat watching her, not knowing how best to meet such childish loyalty,
such blindly obstinate devotion.

Out of what had such a depth of feeling been born? Out of gratitude for
a pleasant and kindly word or two—an exaggerated sense of obligation for
a few services rendered—services that for sheer and loyal courage could
not match what she had done for Halkett?

And she seemed to be so sane, so clear-thinking, so competent in most
things!  This girlish and passionate attachment to him did not conform
to other traits which made up her character and made of her an
individual, specific and distinct.

He said:

"If you were my daughter, and I were in straitened circumstances and
unable to be with you, I should advise you as I have."

Without turning, she answered:

"I am too old and you are too young for us to think of each other in
that way....  I am not a child.... I am unhappy without you.  But I care
enough for you to obey you."

"And I care enough for you, Philippa, to remain in Saïs as long as you
think you want me," he said.

"What!"

She turned, her glimmering eyes radiant, stretching out both hands to
him.

"You are so good—so good!" she stammered.  "The Château will frighten
me; I shall be lonely.  The world is a very large place to be alone
in....  You are so good!—Stay in Saïs a little while yet—just a little
while....  I won’t keep you very long from Paris—only let me know you a
little longer....  I couldn’t bear it—so soon—the only happiness I have
ever known—to end—so soon——"

"You dear child, if I thought you really needed me——"

"No, I won’t let you be more generous than that! Just a few days,
please.  And a promise to let me see you again—something to remember—to
wait for——"

"Surely, surely, little comrade.  You don’t suppose I am going to let
you slip away out of my life, do you? And I don’t understand why you are
in such a sudden panic about my going away——"

"But you _are_ going soon!—You were."

"How did you know?"

"Madame Arlon told me that you had already given congé.  I didn’t care;
I thought I was to go with you.  But now that you wish me to go to the
Château—it—it frightens me."

He rose, stood looking at her for a moment, turned and paced the river
bank once or twice, then came back to where she was seated.

"Come up to the Château now," he said.  "I give you this promise,
anyway; as long as you think you want me and need me in the world, you
have only to say so, Philippa.  And if I cannot come to you, then you
shall come to me."

He hadn’t quite analyzed what he was saying before he said it; he felt a
little confused and uncertain, even now, as to how deeply his promise
involved him.  But even while he was speaking, a subtle undercurrent of
approval seemed to reassure him that he was not all wrong, not too rash
in what he promised.  Or perhaps it was the very rashness of the impulse
that something obscure within him was approving.

As for the girl, she stood up, tremulous, deep-eyed, trying to smile,
trying to speak but failing, and only taking his arm into her possession
again and clasping it closely with a childishly unconscious and
instinctive sense of possession.

When she found her voice at last, she laughed and pressed her cheek
impulsively against his shoulder.

"Tiens!" she said.  "Your Château and its chatelaine have no terrors now
for me, Monsieur....  Did you tell her who I am, and what I have been,
and all that you know about me?"

"Yes, I did."

She dropped his arm, but kept step close beside him.

"You know," she said, "it is odd—perhaps it is effrontery—I don’t
know—but I, Philippa Wildresse—for want of another name—perhaps lacking
the right to any name at all—am tranquil and serene at heart in the
crisis so swiftly approaching."

"What crisis, Philippa?"

"My interview with a lady of the world, Monsieur—Madame la Comtesse de
Moidrey.  The _caissière de cabaret_ should feel very humble and afraid.
Is it effrontery?  What is it that does not disturb me in the
slightest?"

"Perhaps it is that other comrade of many years, Philippa—your other and
inner self."

"It must be.  For she could not hesitate to look anybody in the
face—that wonderful and other self—wonderful as a bright dream,
Monsieur....  Which is all she is, I know."

"You are wrong, Philippa: she is even more real than you.  And some day
you shall be part of her. You are growing so every hour.  And when that
finally happens, then this—all this—will become unreal."

"Not _you_."

"We shall see....  Here are the gates of the Château des Oiseaux.  It is
you who enter, Philippa; but it shall be your inner and real self who
shall go out through the gates one day—God willing."

The girl smiled at him:

"They have but one soul between them," she said. "And that is yours and
God’s, I hope."



                             *CHAPTER XXII*


Madame de Moidrey, strolling with Warner on the south terrace of the
Château des Oiseaux, glanced sideways at intervals through the open
French windows, where, at the piano inside, Philippa sat playing, and
singing in a subdued voice ancient folk songs of the lost provinces.

Peggy Brooks, enchanted, urged her to more active research through the
neglected files of a memory still vivid; Philippa’s voice was
uncultivated, unplaced, but as fresh and carelessly sweet as a
blackbird’s in May. Some of these old ballads she had picked up from
schoolmates, many from the Cabaret de Biribi, where clients were
provincial and usually sentimental, and where some of the ancient songs
were sung almost every day.

Madame de Moidrey had not immediately referred to Philippa when, with
Warner, she had strolled out to the terrace, leaving the two younger
girls together at the piano.

They had spoken of the sudden and unexpected menace of war, of the
initial movements of troops along the Saïs Valley that morning; the
serious chances of a German invasion, the practical certainty that in
any event military operations were destined to embrace the country
around them.  Warner seemed very confident concerning the Barrier Forts,
but he spoke of Montmedy and of Mézières with more reserve, and of
Ausone not at all.

They promenaded for a few minutes longer in silence, each preoccupied
with anxious speculations regarding a future which began already to loom
heavy as a thundercloud charged with unloosed lightnings.

From moment to moment the handsome woman beside him glanced through the
open windows of the music room, where her younger sister and the girl
Philippa were still busily interested in working out accompaniments to
the old-time songs.

Philippa sang "J’ai perdu ma beauté":

    "I have lost my beauty—
    Fate has bereft me,
    Fortune has left me,
    None owes me duty.

    I have lost my lover;
    I shall not recover.
    Our Lady of Lorraine,
    Pity my pain!"


They paused to listen to this naïve melody of other days, then strolled
on.

Madame de Moidrey said:

"She is very interesting, your little friend from Ausone."

"I am glad you think so."

"Oh, yes, there is no doubt about her being clever and intelligent....
I wonder where she acquired her aplomb."

"Would you call it that?"

Madame de Moidrey smiled:

"No, it is a gentler quality—not devoid of sweetness. I think we may
label it a becoming self-possession.... Anyway, it is a quality and not
a trait—if that pleases you."

"She has quality."

"She has a candor which is almost disturbingly transparent.  When I was
a girl I saw Gilbert’s comedy, ’The Palace of Truth.’  And actually, I
believe that your little friend, Philippa, could have entered that
terrible house of unconscious self-revelation without any need of
worrying."

"You couldn’t praise her more sincerely if you think that," he said.
"She offers virgin soil for anybody who will take any trouble with her."

"Oh," said Madame de Moidrey, laughing, "I thought I was to engage her
to aid me and amuse _me_; but it seems that _I_ have been engaged to
educate her in the subtler refinements of civilized existence!"

"Don’t you want to?" asked Warner, bluntly.

"Dear friend of many more years than I choose to own to, have I not
enough to occupy me without adopting a wandering _caissière de
cabaret_?"

"Is that the way you feel?" he said, reddening.

"Don’t be cross!  No; it isn’t the way I feel.  I do need a companion.
Perhaps your friend Philippa is not exactly the companion I might have
dreamed about or aspired to——"

"If you look at it in that way——"

"Jim!  Don’t be rude, either!  I desire two things; I want a companion
and I wish to oblige you.  You know perfectly well I do....  Besides,
the girl is interesting.  You didn’t expect me to sentimentalize over
her, did you?  You may do that if you like.  As for me, I shall consider
engaging her if she cares to come to me."

"She will be very glad to," he said, coolly.

Madame de Moidrey cast a swift side glance at him, full of curiosity and
repressed amusement.

"Men," she said, "are the real sentimentalists in this matter-of-fact
world, not women.  Merely show a man a pretty specimen of the opposite
sex in the conventional attitude of distress, and it unbalances his
intellect immediately."

"Do you imagine that my youthful friend Philippa has unbalanced my
intellect?" he asked impatiently.

"Not entirely.  Not completely——"

"Nonsense!"

"What a bad-mannered creature you are, Jim!  But fortunately you’re
something else, too.  For example, you have been nice about this very
unusual and somewhat perilously attractive young girl.  Few men would
have been so.  Don’t argue!  I have known a few men in my time.  And I
pay you a compliment."

She stopped and leaned back against a weatherworn vase of stone which
crowned the terrace parapet.

"Listen, Jim; for a woman to take into her house a young girl with this
girl’s unknown antecedents and perfectly well-known past performances
ought not to be a matter of romantic impulse, or of sympathy alone. What
you tell me about her, what I myself have already seen of her, are
sufficient to inspire the interest which all romance arouses, and the
sympathy which all lonely youth inspires.  But these are not enough.

"Choice of companionship is a matter for serious consideration.  You
can’t make a companion of the intellectually inferior, of one who
possesses merely the lesser instincts, of any lesser nature, whether
cultivated to its full extent or otherwise.  You know that. We shun what
is not congenial."

He looked at her very intently, the dull red still flushing his face;
and she surveyed him critically, amiably, amused at his attitude, which
was the epitome of everything masculine.

"What are you going to do about her?" he inquired at last.

"Offer to engage her."

"As what?"

"A companion."

"Oh.  Then you _do_ appreciate her?"

Madame de Moidrey threw back her pretty head and laughed with delicious
abandon.

"Perhaps I don’t appreciate her as deeply as you do, Jim, but I shall
humbly endeavor to do so.  Now, suppose, when you go back to the Golden
Peach, you send Philippa’s effects up here, and in the meanwhile I’ll
begin my duty of finishing Philippa’s education—for which duty, I
understand, I’m engaged by you——"

"Ethra, you are a trump!  And I don’t really mind your guying me——"

"Indeed, I’m not guying you, dear friend!  I’m revealing to you the
actual inwardness of this entire and remarkable performance of yours.
And if you don’t know that you are engaging me to finish this young
girl’s education while you’re making up your mind about your sentiments
concerning her, then it’s time you did."

"That is utterly——"

"Please!  And it’s all the truer because you don’t believe it! ... Jim,
the girl really _is_ a pathetic figure—simple, sweet, intelligent, and
touchingly honest.... And I’ll say another thing....  God knows what
mother bore her, what parents are responsible for this young thing—with
her delicate features and slender body.  But it was not from a pair of
unhappy nobodies she inherited her mind, which seems to seek
instinctively what is fine and right amid the sordid complexities of the
only world she has ever known.

"As for her heart, Jim, it is the heart of a child—with one heavenly and
exaggerated idol completely filling it.  _You!_ ... And I tell you very
plainly that, if I were a man, the knowledge of this would frighten me a
little, and make me rather more serious than many men are inclined to
be."

He bit his lip and looked out across the southern valley, where already
the August haze was growing bluer, blurring the low-hanging sun.

She laid a friendly, intimate, half humorous hand on his arm:

"In all right-thinking men the boy can never die. No experience born of
pain, no cynicism, no incredulity acquired through disappointment, can
kill the boy in any man until it has first slain his soul.  Otherwise,
chivalry in the world had long since become extinct.

"You have done what you could do for Philippa. I am really glad to help
you, Jim.  But from now on, be very careful and very sure of yourself.
Because now your real responsibility begins."

He had not thought of it in that way.  And now he did not care to.

To sympathize, to protect, to admire—these were born of impulse and
reason, which, in turn, had their origin in unconscious condescension.

To applaud the admirable, to express a warm concern for virtue in
difficulties, meant merely sincere recognition, not the intimacy of that
equality of mind and circumstance which existed per se between himself
and such a woman as Madame de Moidrey.

The very word "protection" implies condescension, conscious or
unconscious.  We may love what we protect; we never, honestly, place it
on a pedestal, or even on a mathematical level with ourselves.  It can’t
be done.

And so, in a vague sort of way, Warner remained incredulous of the
impossible with which Madame de Moidrey had smilingly menaced him.

Only, of course, she was quite right; he must not thoughtlessly arouse
the woman in the girl Philippa.

But there is nothing in the world that ought more thoroughly to arouse
the best qualities of manhood in a man than the innocent adoration of a
young girl.  For if he could really believe himself to be even a shadow
of what she believes he is, the world might really become the most
agreeable of residential planets.

As Warner and Madame de Moidrey entered the music room through the open
French windows, Philippa turned from the piano and her soft voice died
out in the quaint refrain she had been accompanying.

She rose instinctively, which was more than Peggy did, having no
reverence for age in her own sister—and Madame de Moidrey came forward
and took the girl’s slender hands in hers.

"Have you concluded to remain with me?" she asked, smilingly.

"I did not understand that you had asked me," said the girl gravely.

"I do ask you."

Philippa looked at Warner, then lifted her grey eyes to the elder woman.

"You are very kind, Madame.  I—it will be a great happiness to me if you
accept my services."

The Countess de Moidrey regarded her, still retaining her hands, still
smiling.

"You have a very sweet way of making the acceptance mine and not yours,"
she said.  "Let us accept each other, Philippa.  Will you?"

"You are most kind, Madame——"

"Can kindness win you?"

"Madame, it has already."

The American widow of the recent Count de Moidrey felt a curious
sensation of uncertainty in the quiet self-possession of this young
girl—in her serenity, in her modulated voice and undisturbed manner.

An odd idea persisted that the graciousness was not entirely on her own
part; that there was something even more subtle than graciousness on the
part of this girl, whose delicate hands lay, cool and smooth, within her
own.

It was not manner, for there was none on Philippa’s part; not reticence,
for that argues a conscious effort or a still more conscious lack of
effort.  Perhaps, through the transparent simplicity of the girl, the
older woman’s intuition caught a glimpse of finer traditions than she
herself had been born to—sensed the far, faint ring of finer and more
ancient metal.

And after a moment she felt that courtesy, deference, and propinquity
alone held Philippa’s grave grey eyes; that the soul which looked
fearlessly and calmly out of them at her could not be lightly flattered
or lightly won; and that, released from their conventional duty, those
clear eyes of grey would seek their earthly idol as logically as the
magnetic needle swings to its magnet.

Very subtly, as she stood there, the sympathy of the older woman widened
to include respect.  And, unconsciously, she turned and looked at Warner
with the amused and slightly malicious smile of a woman who detects in a
man the characteristic obtuseness from which her own and feminine
instinct has rescued her just in time to prevent mistakes.

Then, turning to Philippa, she said:

"Our family of _three_ is a very small one, dear, but I think it is
going to be a happy one....  What was that song that you and Peggy were
trying when we came in?"

"It is called ’Noblesse Oblige,’ Madame.  It is a very ancient song."

"It is as old as the world," said the Countess. "Peggy, will you try the
accompaniment?  And will you sing it, Philippa?"

"If you wish it, Madame."

The Countess de Moidrey stepped aside and seated herself; the grey eyes
left her to seek and find their magnet; and, having found it, smiled.

As for the magnet himself, he stood there deep in perplexity and
trouble, beginning slowly to realize how profoundly his mind and
affections had already become involved in the fate of a very young girl,
and in the problems of life which must now begin to threaten and
confront her.

    "Namur, Liége—
    Le dur siége
    Noblesse oblige

sang Philippa—

    "Namurois, Liégeois,
    La lois des Bois
      Exige
    Noblesse—noblesse oblige—"’


The Countess de Moidrey rested her face on her hand, looking curiously
at the young girl from whose lips the old phrase fell so naturally, so
confidently, with such effortless and inborn
understanding—_noblesse—noblesse oblige_.



                            *CHAPTER XXIII*


Philippa’s trunk had gone to the Château des Oiseaux, and the Inn of the
Golden Peach knew her no longer.

Warner, who usually adored the prospect of a month all alone after his
class had left for the season, found to his surprise that he was
experiencing a slight sense of loneliness.

The inn, the garden, seemed to him uncommonly still; and at first he
thought he missed the gallinaceous chatter of the Harem, then he was
very sure that he regretted Halkett acutely.

Ariadne, sitting in the sun by the deserted summer-house in the garden,
always greeted him with a plaintive little mew which, somehow or other,
sounded to him pointedly reproachful.

The cat evidently missed Halkett, perhaps Philippa. Warner remembered
that he had been requested to be polite and agreeable to Ariadne, and,
whenever he recollected these obligations, he dutifully hoisted the
animal to his shoulder and promenaded her.  For which, no doubt, the cat
was grateful, but as she was also beginning to shed her coat in
preparation for a brand-new set of winter furs, Warner found the
intimacy with Ariadne slightly trying.

There were no other guests at the inn.  Now and then during the next
three or four days officers stopped their automobiles for a few moments’
refreshment, or to replenish their gasoline tanks.  But early one
morning a big motor truck, driven by a little, red-legged, boyish
_pioupiou_, and guarded by three others, equally youthful, took away the
entire supply of gasoline and ordered Madame Arlon to remove the sign
advertising it.

They drove away through the early autumn sunshine, singing the "Adoro,"
not the one best known, but that version attributed to the Scottish
Queen, and they looked and sang like three little choir boys
masquerading in the uniforms of their fathers.

Warner had been sketching in the meadow across the road that day,
feeling restless and unaccountably depressed.  It was one of those
still, hazy mornings in early August, when the world seems too quiet and
the sky too perfect for inaction or repose.

He had pitched his easel near the river, perhaps because it remained
busy; and where, if any troops or military trains passed along the
quarry road, he could see them.  Also, from there he could look down
over the road hedge and see the motor cycles whiz by and military
automobiles with a streak of crimson, turquoise and silver uniforms in
the tonneau.

But none came.  Two or three gendarmes, with white and yellow trappings,
passed toward Ausone at a gallop while he sat there, but across the
river nothing stirred save a kestrel soaring.

According to the _Petit Journal d’Ausone_ of the day before, war had
already burst over eastern Belgium full blast and the famous forts so
long celebrated as impregnable were beginning to crumble away under an
avalanche of gigantic shells.

As he sat there under the calm sky, painting leisurely, relighting his
pipe at intervals, he tried to realize that such things as bombardments
and sieges and battles were going on to the north of where he was—not so
very far north, either.  But he could not seem to grasp it as an actual
fact.  For the monstrous and imbecile actuality of such a war seemed
still to remain outside his comprehension; his intelligence had not yet
accepted it—not encompassed and digested the fact—and he could not get
rid of the hopefully haunting feeling that presently somebody or
something somewhere or other would stop all this amazing insanity, and
that the diplomats would begin again where they had left off only a few
days ago.

It was the illimitable proportions of the calamity—the magnitude of the
catastrophe—the cataclysmic menace of it that still left his mind
slightly stunned, as it had paralyzed the minds of every civilized human
being, and suspended for a space the power of thought in the world.

As yet, all these enormous, impossible threats of governments and
emperors seemed to be some gigantic, fantastic, and grotesque hoax which
the sovereigns and chancelleries of Europe were playing in concert to
frighten a humdrum world out of its five dull wits.

And yet, under the incredulity, and the mental obscurity and inertia,
deep within the dazed hearts of men a measured and terrible pulse had
already begun to throb steadily, with an unchanging and dreadful rhythm.
It was the clairvoyant prophecy of the world’s subconscious self
stirring, thrilling to that red future already breaking, and warning all
mankind that the day of wrath had dawned at last.

But to Warner the most unreal part of it all was not the dusty
_fantassins_ in column, slouching forward toward the north—not the
clinking, jingling cuirassiers on their big battle horses, not the
dragoons riding with rapt, exalted faces under forests of tall lances,
not the clanking artillery, the heavy military wagons and motor trucks,
nor the galloping gendarmes which passed the inn every hour or two.

What had become suddenly unreal to him was the green and sunlit serenity
of the world itself—the breeze ruffling the clover, poppies glowing deep
in fields of golden wheat and barley, the melody of the flowing river,
the quiet blue overhead, the tenderness of leaf and blossom, and the
blessed stillness of the world.

Relighting his pipe, he looked at the swallows soaring and sailing high
above the Récollette; noticed butterflies hovering and flitting
everywhere; heard the golden splashing of the river, the sigh of leaves
and rushes.  The word "war" still remained a word to him, but in the
sunshine and the silence he began to divine the immobility of
menace—something unseen and evil which was quietly waiting.


Ariadne had come across from the garden, ostensibly to hunt meadow mice,
really for company.

Sniffing and snooping around his color box, she got one dainty whisker
in the ultramarine, and had enough of art.  So she went off, much
annoyed, to sit by herself in the grass and do some scrubbing.  After a
while the fixed persistency with which she stared across the meadow
attracted his attention and he, also, turned and looked that way.

As he saw nothing in particular to stare at, he presently resumed his
sketching and his troubled thoughts. The latter concerned the girl
Philippa.  Not since he had taken her to the Château had he seen her.
And that was four days ago.

He didn’t know exactly why he had not strolled over. Possibly a vague
idea that he had better not interfere to distract the girl’s attention
from her first lessons in the refinements of existence had kept him away
from her vicinity.

He didn’t even know that he had missed her; he knew only that for some
occult reason or other he had felt rather lonely lately.

He painted away steadily, pausing to relight his pipe now and then, and
all the while Ariadne, never stirring, stared persistently across the
landscape, neglecting her uncleansed whisker.

Suddenly, with a little mew of recognition and greeting, she trotted
forward through the grass; and the next moment two soft hands fell
lightly upon Warner’s shoulders from behind.

"Philippa!" he exclaimed, enchanted.

"Oh, Jim!" she cried joyously, abandoning both hands to him as he sprang
to his feet and faced her.

She was so eager, so pretty in her unfeigned delight, as though it had
been four years instead of four days since they had seen each other; and
he seemed to feel something of this, also, for he held her hands closely
and laughed without any apparent reason for mirth—unless the sheer
contentment of contact and possession be a reason.

"Are you well and happy, Philippa?"

"Yes, I am happy enough up there.  But, oh, how dreadfully I have missed
you, Jim—may I call you Jim?—I do to myself——"

"Of course!"

"I _think_ of you that way—so it came very naturally to my lips—if you
really don’t mind?  And besides, I am so happy to be with you....  Peggy
Brooks and I were looking over maps in the library—you know, the _Petit
Journal_ says that the Prussians are firing enormous shells into
Liége—and so Peggy and I were down on our knees over the maps of
Belgium. Oh, dear!  You know, it isn’t so very far from us here if you
take a ruler and measure by scale....  And it seemed to sober us both—we
had been laughing, I don’t remember exactly what about—but studying the
map made us both serious, and Peggy went upstairs to talk it over with
the Countess, and I felt that I couldn’t stand being away from you for a
single minute longer!"

"You dear child!"

"So I asked Peggy to ask Madame de Moidrey if I might pay you a little
visit, and she said, ’Of course.’  So I came as fast as I could——"  She
laughed and made a sweeping gesture with both arms outflung: "And here I
am!  Are you contented?"

She stooped and stroked Ariadne, looking up to smile at him.

"Careful of her whisker; there is blue paint on it," he warned Philippa;
but the girl wiped off the ultramarine with a green leaf and took the
cat to her heart, covering her with caresses and murmuring endearments.

"Jim, dear, what do _you_ think?" she asked presently.

"About what?"

"About the war?"

He said gravely:

"I don’t quite understand how those magnificent Belgian forts are being
knocked to pieces—if what the paper says is true.  I supposed them to be
among the strongest fortifications in the world."

"Madame de Moidrey says they are.  Her husband, the late Count Victor,
was an artillery officer.  And she told Peggy and me that the Count de
Moidrey had always said they were the very strongest forts in the
world."

"_Something’s_ gone wrong; that is evident," said Warner.  "But not with
_you_, Philippa," he added, smiling at her.  "I never saw you looking as
well; and that’s a tremendously fetching frock you’re wearing."

It was a white outing gown of serge, and the girl wore white stockings
and tennis shoes, and a soft white hat—a boyish headgear which became
her enchantingly.

"Peggy gave it to me," she said.  "It is very American, isn’t it?"

"It’s adorable on _you_.  Do you like Peggy Brooks?"

"Yes."

"And Madame de Moidrey?"

"Yes, I do—rather."

"Not entirely?"

"Jim——"

"What?"

"Yes, I—yes, I do like her....  But I don’t do much to earn my wages.
And that troubles me."

"Your salary?"

Philippa laughed:

"Wages, salary—what does it matter what you call them, when both merely
mean pay for work performed.... I should like to do something for Madame
de Moidrey in return.  But she has many servants and a maid and a
housekeeper.  I thought I was to read to her, write letters for her,
amuse her.  But she sometimes reads to me and she and Peggy are teaching
me to play tennis——"  Philippa held out one narrow foot for his
inspection.  "And yesterday she ordered a horse for me, as well as for
herself and her sister, and I wore one of Peggy’s riding habits—knee
breeches and boots, Jim; and they set me on a horse!  _That_ is the way
I am earning my wages at the Château des Oiseaux!"

"Why complain?" he asked, much amused.

"Because I am unable to return such favors——"

"Don’t worry; whatever they do for you brings its own recompense."

"How?"

"Has it never occurred to you that your society is agreeable,
interesting, amusing, and desirable?"

"No," she said, honestly surprised.

"Well, it is!  People like you.  You yourself amply recompense anybody
for anything done for you, by accepting the attentions offered."

"Do _you_ think of me in that way?"

He hadn’t quite understood until then that he did feel that way about
her, but he felt it now so strongly that it seemed as though he had
always been of that mind.

"I’ve always thought so," he said.  "There is never a dull moment with
you, Philippa.  No wonder people seek you and like you and pet you!"

Philippa blushed and tried to smile, then for a moment she buried her
flushed face in Ariadne’s fluffy fur until her cheeks cooled.

"If," she said, "I had a home and an income, however tiny, I should not
feel at all embarrassed by courtesies from others, because I should, in
my turn, offer the best I possessed.  But, Jim—a homeless girl—with all
that I have been—endured!—I don’t know—but I should feel more
comfortable if I could be of some service in return for all that these
very kind Americans offer me."

She placed Ariadne on the grass, turned and looked down at the river.

"There is my punt," she said.  "Isn’t it curious to remember that you
and I first became friends in that boat?  It seems to have happened very
long ago, when I was a child....  You made me wash my face; do you
remember?"

"I do," he replied gayly.  "You looked like a schoolgirl made up for the
part of Jezebel."

She blushed and hung her head.  Presently her lowered eyes were raised
to him in a distressed, questioning way, and he came over to her and put
his hands on her shoulders.

"I never thought ill of you, Philippa—never doubted you were anything
except what you really are."

She looked up into his eyes:

"I don’t know what I really am.  But I am beginning to understand that I
can be whatever you desire. Also, I am beginning to understand how
generous you have been to me in your thoughts.  Both you and Mr. Halkett
had every reason to think lightly of the _caissière_ of the Cabaret de
Biribi, with her painted lips and cheeks and her easy manners——"  She
shrugged. "And perhaps, but for the grace of God and you, I should have
become what I appeared to be....  Let us sit in the punt.  Shall we?"

They went down to the river together, Ariadne marching at their heels
with tail erect, and the girl stepped aboard and seated herself in the
stern which, afloat, swung in the limpid eddy among the tall, green
rushes.

When Warner also was seated, at her feet, she drew from the pocket of
her white serge jacket a letter, and, leaning over him, opened and
displayed it.

The letter was written in French on common writing paper, in a perfectly
legible but uneducated hand.


MADEMOISELLE [it began],

You are watched and your present whereabouts is known. You are warned to
keep your mouth shut.  Any treachery, even any slight indiscretion on
your part, will be fully revenged by those you betray.

The wages of a traitor are death.  Be advised in time. Return to your
duty while there is yet time and your present ingratitude will be
forgiven.

Make up your mind at once.  There is no time to waste. _What is to
happen shall happen!  It is coming very fast. It is almost upon us_.

The safety which you suppose that the present condition of affairs
guarantees you is but momentary.  Peril threatens you; certain
punishment awaits you.  Documents in possession of those whom you
threaten to betray are sufficient to condemn you now.

And more than that: we hold over you the power of life and death; and
shall hold it, _no matter what happens in Ausone_!

Either way we can destroy you.

Return to us, therefore; accept forgiveness while there is yet time.
You know who has caused this to be written. Therefore, enough!

Return and find security; remain to betray us and you shall be shot!


When Warner finished reading this outrageous missive, he looked up into
Philippa’s undisturbed face, and she smiled.

"When did you receive this?" he demanded.

"It came in the noon mail yesterday."

"Of course it’s from Wildresse."

"Of course," she said simply.  "What do you think of it?"

"I think very little of it," he replied.  "Threatened people are good
insurance risks.  If he could have harmed you, he’d not have troubled to
write you about his amiable designs on you....  It’s a pity—a great
pity, Philippa—that we dare not call in the police."

"If I have written, innocently, the things he says I have written and
signed, it might go hard with me if he were arrested," she said.

"I know it.  It can’t be done—at any rate, it can’t be done yet.  If
there were anywhere you could go—any frontier that might be a barrier of
safety for you! But all Europe seems to be involved—all neutral
frontiers violated—even the Grand Duchy has become a German
thoroughfare....  Let me think it over, Philippa.  I don’t know how
dangerous to you that miserable rascal can become....  But Halkett was
right: as long as you are in France, it won’t do to denounce Wildresse."

"You understand, Jim, that I am not alarmed," she said gently, watching
his anxious and clouded features. "I know that.  I think I have reason
to bear testimony concerning your courage——"

"I did not mean it in that way——"

"I understand, dear.  Those who amount to anything never have to say so.
I know you are not afraid.... Shall I keep that letter for you?"

She handed it to him.  He pocketed it and sat for a while in silence,
his brooding eyes on the blue distance.

Finally, with an effort, his face cleared, and he said cheerfully:

"It is the strangeness and unreality of these last few days which
depresses everybody.  As a matter of fact, the war has lent a certain
almost dignified terror to the attitude and the petty operations of a
very vile and squalid band of malefactors in a small, provincial town.

"These fellows are nothing but cheap dealers in blackmail; and the last
thing they’d do would be to invoke the law, of which they stand in
logical and perpetual fear.

"No, no!  All this hint of political and military vengeance—all this
innuendo concerning a squad of execution, is utter rot.

"If they’ve dabbled in the bartering of military information, they’ll
keep clear of anything resembling military authority.  No; I’m not
worried on that point.... But I think, if Madame de Moidrey cares to ask
me, that I should like to be a guest at the Château des Oiseaux for the
next few days."

"Jim!" she exclaimed, radiant.

"Do you want me?" he asked, pretending astonishment.


And so it happened that after luncheon Warner locked up his room and
studio in the pretty hostelry of the Golden Peach, gave orders for his
trunk to be sent to the Château, and started across the fields toward
the wooded heights, from whence had come over the telephone an amused
voice inviting him to be the guest of the Countess de Moidrey.

When he arrived, Madame de Moidrey was sewing alone on the southern
terrace, and she looked up laughingly and extended her hand.

"So you’re in the web at last," she said.  "I predicted it, didn’t I?"

"Nonsense, Ethra.  I came because Philippa has received a threatening
letter from that scoundrel, Wildresse."

"I know.  The child has told me.  Is it worth worrying over?"

"Not at all," said Warmer contemptuously.  "That sort of thing is the
last resort of a badly frightened coward.  Only I thought, considering
the general uncertainty, that perhaps you and Peggy might not be
displeased to have a rather muscular man in the house."

"As a matter of fact, Jim, I had thought of asking you.  Really, I had.
Only—" she laughed—"I was afraid you might think I was encouraging you
in something else——"

"See here, Ethra!  You don’t honestly suppose that there is anything
sentimental in my relations with Philippa, do you?"

"Isn’t there?"

"No," he said impatiently.

Madame de Moidrey resumed her sewing, the smile still edging her
pleasant lips:

"She _is_ very young yet, in many things; all the enchanting candor and
sweetness of a child are hers still, together with a poise and quiet
dignity almost bewildering at moments....  Jim, your little, nameless
protégée is simply fascinating!"

He spoke quietly:

"I’m only too thankful you find her so."

"I do.  Philippa is adorable.  And nobody can make me believe that there
is not good blood there.  Why, speaking merely of externals, every
feature, every contour, every delicate line of her body is labeled
’race.’  There is never any accident in such a result of breeding.  In
mind and body the child has bred true to her race and stock—that is
absurdly plain and perfectly evident to anybody who looks at her, sees
her move, hears her voice, and follows the natural workings of her
mind."

"Yes," said Warner, "Halkett and I decided that she had been born to
fine linen and fine thoughts. Who in the world can the child be, Ethra?"

Madame de Moidrey shook her head over her sewing:

"I’ve found myself wondering again and again what the tragedy could have
been.  The man, Wildresse, may have lied to her.  If some day he could
be forced to tell what he knows——"

"I have thought of that....  I don’t know, Ethra.... Sometimes it is
better to leave a child in untroubled ignorance.  What do you think?"

"Perhaps....  But, Jim, there is no peasant ancestry in that child, I am
sure, whatever else there may be."

"Just rascally aristocracy?"

The Countess de Moidrey laughed.  She had married for love; she could
afford to.

"I am Yankee enough," she said, "to be sensitive to that subtle and
indescribable something which always characterizes the old French
aristocracy.  One is always aware of it; it is never absent; it clings
always as the perfume clings to an ancient cabinet of sandalwood and
ivory.

"And, Jim, it seems to me that it clings, faintly, to the child
Philippa....  It’s an odd thing to say. Perhaps if I had been born to
the title, I might not have detected it.  What is familiar from birth is
rarely noticed.  But my unspoiled, nervous, and Yankee nose seems to
detect it in this young girl....  And my Yankee nose, being born
republican, is a very, very keen one, and makes exceedingly few
mistakes."

"You intend, then, to keep her as a companion for the present?"

"If she will stay.  I don’t quite know whether she wants to.  I don’t
entirely understand her.  She does not seem unhappy; she is sweet,
considerate, agreeable, and perfectly willing to do anything asked of
her.  She is never exacting; she asks nothing even of the servants.
It’s her attitude toward them which shows her quality.  They feel
it—they all are aware of it.  My maid adores her and is forever hanging
around to aid her in a hundred little offices, which Philippa accepts
because it gives pleasure to my maid, and for that reason alone.

"I tell you, Jim, if anybody thinks Philippa complex, it is a mistake.
Her heart and mind are virginal, whatever her experience may have been;
she is as simple and unspoiled as the children of that tall young King
yonder, Albert of Belgium—God bless him!  And that is the truth
concerning Philippa—upon whom a suspicious world is going to place no
value whatever because no rivets, ecclesiastical or legal, have
irrevocably fastened to her the name she bears in ignorance of her own."

Peggy Brooks, a dark-haired, fresh-faced girl, came out on the terrace,
nodded a familiar greeting to Warner, and looked around in search of
Philippa.

Her sister said in a low voice:

"Peggy is quite mad about her.  They get along wonderfully.  I wonder
where the child is?  She expected you."

"Ethra," said Peggy, "I’ve given her one of my new afternoon gowns.  I
_made_ her take it, on a promise to let her pay me out of her salary.
Mathilde is fussing over her still, I suppose."  And to Warner: "I’m
painting a head of her.  She sits as still as a statue, but it’s
hopeless, Jim; the girl’s too exquisite to paint——"

"I mean to try it some day," said Warner.  "The way to paint her, Peggy,
is to try to treat her as the great English masters of portraiture
treated their grand ladies—-with that thoroughbred loveliness and
grace—just a dash of enchanting blue sky behind her, and the sun-gilded
foliage of stately trees against it, and her scarf blowing free——"  He
laughed.  "Oh, I know how it _ought_ to be done.  We shall see what we
shall see, some day——"

He ceased and turned his head.  Philippa stepped out upon the
terrace—the living incarnation of his own description.

Even Peggy caught her breath as the girl came forward.

"You beautiful thing!" she exclaimed.  "You do belong in a golden frame
in some great English castle!"

Philippa, perplexed but smiling, acknowledged Madame de Moidrey’s
presence and Peggy’s, then turned to Warner with hand extended, as
though she had not taken a similar leave of him an hour or two before.

"Everybody is so generous!  Do you admire my new gown?  Peggy gave it to
me.  Never have I possessed such a ravishing gown.  That is why I am
late; I stood at my mirror and looked and looked——"

She turned swiftly to Peggy: "Dear, I am too happy to know how to say
so!  And if Madame de Moidrey is contented with me——"

"You are too lovely for words, Philippa," said the Countess.  "If Mr.
Warner paints you that way, I shall wish to have the picture for
myself."

"Aha!" exclaimed Warner.  "A commission!"

"Certainly," said the Countess.  "You may begin as soon as Philippa is
ready."

"Very well," said he.  "If I paint the picture, you promise to hang it
in the Château as a memento of Philippa, do you?"

"I do."

"Then there’ll be no charge for this important major operation.
Philippa, will you take ether tomorrow morning?"

The girl laughed and nodded, looking up at him from where she was seated
beside the Countess, examining the sewing.

"Could I not do this for you, Madame?" she said.

"But I like to sew, Philippa."

The girl smiled, then a slight sigh escaped her.  The Countess looked up
at her, and Philippa smiled again, saying:

"There seems to be nothing within my power to do for you, Madame."

"There _is_ something," said Madame de Moidrey under her breath.

"What, if you please?"

"I want you to like me, Philippa....  And if some day you could learn to
love me, that would be the rarest gift that could be offered me."

The girl’s grey eyes widened in utter surprise; suddenly they sparkled
with tears, and she bent her head swiftly and touched the elder woman’s
hands with her own.

"Madame," she whispered, "you overwhelm me with your kindness....  If
only I could express my gratitude——"

She checked herself as Maurice, the head gardener, appeared, hat in
hand, deep anxiety stamped on his seamed and sunburnt features.

"Pardon, Madame la Comtesse—there is a great fire somewhere in the
north.  I thought Madame should be told——"

"A fire?  What is it?  The forest, Maurice?"

"Oh, it is very far away, Madame.  Perhaps it is a forest on fire....
But there is a sound, too.  One may see and hear from the northern
terrace when the wind sets in."

"Is it as far away as Ausone?"

"Farther, Madame."

The Countess glanced at Warner, rose, retaining Philippa’s hand.

"Thank you, Maurice," she said over her shoulder, and, passing her arm
through Philippa’s, she entered the house, followed by Warner and Peggy.

"What do you suppose alarms old Maurice?" whispered Peggy.

But Warner, vastly troubled, made no answer.



                             *CHAPTER XXIV*


Below the carved stone balustrade of the north terrace acres and acres
of tree tops—oak, beech, birch, and fir—spread away on every side. This
was the Forêt des Oiseaux.

Beyond the dense green surface of the tree tops, which was so compact
that it resembled a wide and gently rolling plateau, the country
stretched away toward Ausone.  Here and there some distant farmhouse
window sparkled in the sun; set amid banks of velvet green the
Récollette glittered like severed fragments of a silver thread.

Bathed in a mauve haze the Ausone Fort stood out on its conical,
tree-clad hill; beyond it other hillocks rose, lilac-tinted silhouettes
against the horizon.

Turquoise, palest violet, tender green and gold, the country lay
revealed under the August sky, peaceful, glimmering, silent.

And across this dainty harmony of color was smeared a somber, discordant
smudge, staining the delicate haze of amethyst, defiling the pure sky—a
wide, high area of dirty smoke, leaning from the perpendicular toward
the east, spilling its dun-colored vapor downward over the pale
aquarelle of hill and river and valley.

"The Alcyon Forest is afire!" exclaimed the Countess in a low voice.

"It is much farther away," said Warner.

A sudden breeze sprang up, blowing in their faces over the swaying tree
tops.

"Listen!" said Philippa, touching her lips with one finger.

From an infinite distance the wind carried with it a deadened thumping
sound, now regular as the dulled rolling of drums, now softly irregular,
with intervals of stillness, then again spasmodic, muffled, almost
inaudible.

"Are they threshing anywhere near us?" asked the Countess of her sister.
"What is that pumping sound?" She turned to Warner, who made no reply.

"Do you know what it is, Jim?" demanded Peggy Brooks uneasily.

"I’m not absolutely sure....  I’ll be back in a moment——"  He turned and
went swiftly into the house.

Philippa, leaning on the balustrade beside the Countess, said very
quietly:

"I know what that sound is.  I have heard it before from the outer
boulevard in Ausone, when the grand maneuvers were going on."

The Countess said:

"I was afraid it was that."

"Drums?" asked Peggy Brooks.

"Cannon," said Philippa.

Warner came back with his field glasses.

Studying the horizon, he spoke at intervals in his pleasant, undisturbed
voice:

"They have cleared the Ausone Fort; the flag, the semaphore, the signal
tower—all are gone; there is nothing to be seen there except trees....
It looks like any hill now; nothing is stirring on it....  This glass
brings the smoke much nearer, but it is impossible to guess what is on
fire....  I don’t think it’s a forest....  I’m afraid it is a village."

He offered the glass to the others; each took a turn and made out
nothing new until Philippa, gazing above the discoloring stain of smoke,
spoke to Warner in a low voice and handed him the glasses.

For a few moments he stood rigid, his field glasses poised at an angle;
then, still watching at the same angle, he said:

"You are perfectly right, Philippa; two aëroplanes are soaring between
the smoke and the Ausone Fort."

One by one the others searched for the distant sky craft and discovered
them.

They were still at it when tea was served, and, by that time, the
deadened drumming sound had become unmistakable, increasing in volume
with every lightest puff of wind, and, when the breeze died out, still
filling the ears with its steady thudding.

Also, the dirty smoke-smear had spread, polluting the tender northern
sky, and new centers of infection had appeared here and there amid the
green landscape—dark spots of smoke which, at first, appeared
insignificant and motionless, which were bigger in ten minutes, which in
half an hour had become volumes. Yet their actual growing process was
not perceptible, so gradually the looming spots assumed the threatening
proportions of gloom.

Warner, his teacup on his knees, bracketed the field glasses on the
aëroplanes once more, and was startled at their nearness.

Almost at the same instant a dry crack, like the breaking of a stick,
sounded, coming from the direction of the distant fort—another, another,
others following in quicker succession.  And, watching, he saw below the
aëroplanes a dotted line of tiny white spots, growing in length for a
while, then maintaining its length as the rearward dots vanished and new
dots of cottony white were added to the other end.

Higher and higher rose the aëroplanes above the white wake of exploding
shells, bearing eastward now, sheering widely, as a pair of soaring
hawks sweep swiftly into vaster circles as they mount into the dazzling
blue.

"The fort is using its sky-guns," remarked Warner.

They all took turns watching the fleecy clots of smoke appear, linger,
dissolve in mid-air.  Long after the aëroplanes had disappeared in the
sky, the high-angle guns continued their distant, rattling fusillade.

"What do you think is happening out there?" asked the Countess.  "You
have seen war, Jim.  Have you an idea what the smoke and cannonade mean?
Is a German army coming?"

Warner said:

"They are shelling villages to the north of us—perhaps trenches, too.  I
don’t know what troops we have there.

"Probably their cavalry screen has come into contact with ours, and I
should say that we are retiring. But you can’t tell yet."

"It’s the _invasion_, then," said the Countess calmly.

"It’s a raid, anyway."

"A raid on Ausone?"

"Probably.  The railroad there is always important—much more so than the
Ausone Fort.  I’m afraid that fort doesn’t amount to very much as
fortifications are classed now."

The spectacle from the north terrace had become very disquieting.  All
the horizon was now obscured by smoke, and its dirty shadow dulled the
distance and invaded the middle distance, hanging from west to east like
a sooty veil suspended across land and sky.  There was, however, nothing
else to see, not a glimmer of flame, nothing stirring on the hill where,
unseen, the Ausone Fort crouched above the green valley of the
Récollette.  But the deadened mutter of the cannonade continued unbroken
along the horizon, never ceasing now, not even when the light wind
changed.

Peggy’s curiosity was satisfied; she had taken jealous possession of
Philippa, with a side glance at Warner out of brown eyes not entirely
devoid of malice, and the two were in the billiard room, which opened
from the northern terrace, for the purpose of Philippa’s education in
the game of French billiards.

The Countess set her teacup aside and picked up her sewing.

"I don’t intend to be driven out of my home," she remarked.

He lighted a cigarette and looked curiously into the north.

"Whether it’s to be the wretched story of 1870 again or not," she went
on, "I shall not be frightened away from this house.

"This is my home.  I came here a bride; my dear husband died under this
roof; all I care for in the world, all I hold most dear, most intimate,
is here, Jim.  I shall not go."

He said gravely:

"I hope the necessity may never arise, Ethra."

"It will not.  Are the Germans really barbarians? What object could they
have in injuring this old house?  What good would it do them or their
country to disturb us here?  If they come, we can’t defend ourselves.
What is there for us to do except to submit? But I shall not go away and
leave this place to the mercies of their filthy soldiery."

Warner said nothing.  There were many contingencies overlooked by this
determined lady—circumstances which might mean ruin to the house—if, for
instance, a retreating army chose to defend the Château.  But he
remained silent, not caring to trouble her with the possibilities of
eventualities.

"I had rather you stayed, if you don’t mind, Jim," she said, sewing away
serenely.

"Certainly."

The steady thud of the cannonade had now assumed a more substantial
rumbling sound.

Now and then separate shocks were audible, as though great pieces,
occasionally, were discharged singly, dominating the duller monotone of
lesser caliber.

He kept his eyes pretty constantly on the horizon line of smoke,
evidently expectant of some new development, now and then fancying that
it had become visible, as the calm sky became suffused with the delicate
pastel hues of early evening, and the first bat zigzagged among the
potted orange trees on the terrace.

And presently, in the early dusk, it became visible—first merely as a
dull tint reddening the distant smoke, then as a faint, ruddy line of
light, shifting, twinkling, sinking, flaring palely, then more redly as
the summer dusk deepened and possessed the silent world around them.

From northwest to southeast ran the flicker of the guns, with now and
then a wider flare and a deeper accent dominating the measured monotone.

Five fires were burning, also: two from hamlets or nearer groups of
buildings belonging to some big farm; the other three conflagrations
were farther distant, and much greater, as though three considerable
villages and their environs were in flames.

Philippa and Peggy came to the long, open windows from moment to moment,
standing there, cue in hand, to look out at the reddening sky.

It was still not too dusky to see fairly well, and the lamps had not yet
been lighted in the house, excepting the luster over the billiard table,
when a footman appeared on the terrace, dignified, correct, unruffled:

"The driveway and circle, Madame la Comtesse, are full of cavalry.
Their officers are dismounting; the troopers have gone into our stables
and garage."

The Countess rose quietly, and Warner stood up in silence.

"What cavalry is it?"

"Ours, Madame.  They have taken out the three automobiles and all the
horses."

"Thank you."  And, to Warner: "Would you mind coming with me, Jim?"

They entered the billiard room and traversed the house to the southern
terrace.

Drive and circle were swarming with the pale blue dolmans of hussars
moving in and out of the fan-shaped glare of electric torches, some
mounted, their lances held perpendicularly in the stirrup boots, others
afoot, leading up horses from the Château stables, pushing the three
automobiles along the garage drive, dragging vehicles of every
description by hand—hay wagons, farm wagons, long unused and
old-fashioned family carriages with the De Moidrey crest on their
panels.

Several officers in turquoise and silver, standing on the terrace,
surveyed the proceedings below, one of them turning the brilliant light
of his breast torch upon one spot after another and scarcely raising his
voice as he directed operations.

There was very little noise, no confusion; everybody seemed to know what
was to be done.

As the Countess de Moidrey and Warner came out upon the terrace, the
officers heard them, turned, saluted, and one of them, a slim, handsome
youth most beautifully molded into his uniform, came forward, crimson
cap in hand, bowing with a grace indescribable.

"Madame de Moidrey," he said, "we very deeply regret the military
necessity which temporarily deprives you of your cars and horses, but
the Government requires us to ask them of you and to offer you a
receipt——"

"The Government is welcome, Monsieur," she said earnestly.  "If the
Government will accept what I have to offer as a gift, it will honor me
sufficiently without offering any receipt or promise of
indemnification."

"Countess," said the youthful soldier, bowing, "it is the answer any
soldier of France might expect from one who bears the name of De
Moidrey.  Nevertheless, Madame, I am required to leave in your
possession a receipt for what you so graciously permit me to
requisition....  Permit me, Madame——"  He drew from his dispatch pouch
the papers, already filled in, signed and stamped, and presented them
with a bow.

And, smilingly, Madame de Moidrey tore them across, again and again, and
dropped the fragments upon the terrace.

"Monsieur," she said, "may I not offer you the hospitality of the
house—some little refreshment for you and for your men?"

"Madame, we are overwhelmed, but our orders permit us no time."

Warner said quietly:

"If you could spare a moment, Captain, there is something I should like
you to see from the north terrace."  And to the Countess: "May I take
him?  I think he ought to see what we have seen."

Madame de Moidrey said:

"By all means, Jim."

And the two young men went swiftly through the house and out on the
north terrace.

"Ha!" exclaimed the officer, as the rumble of the cannonade struck his
ears, and he looked out on the dark circle of the horizon, all sparkling
and lighted up with the ruddy flicker and flare of the guns.

"A raid?" asked Warner quietly.

"I don’t know.  Villages are afire yonder.  Have you seen anything that
might be of importance to us, Monsieur?"

"Two aëroplanes.  The Ausone fort fired at them with sky-guns.  They
went east."

"Biplanes?"

"Monoplanes, I think.  I am not sure."

"Square-tipped ailerons?  Could you see?"

"They were shaped exactly like kestrels."

"Ah!  Taubes!  Many thanks, Monsieur."  He stared out across the
darkness.  "Yes, it’s warming up out there.  Well, sir, I must go.  And
thank you again for your kindness——"  He fumbled in his dolman, produced
his cardcase.  "May I be permitted to present my cards to Madame de
Moidrey?  Thank you—if you would be so amiable——"

They retraced their steps through the house, encountering Peggy Brooks
in the hallway, who received a most ceremonious bow from the youthful
hussar, and who acknowledged it with an enchanting inclination of her
pretty head.

Within a few feet of the front terrace, the young officer suddenly
halted.

"Monsieur," he said, very red, "it would seem, perhaps, more courteous
for me to leave my cards for all the ladies of the household.  Would it
not—under such unusual and unfortunate circumstances as those of this
evening?"

Warner looked at him gravely; he was very young, very ceremonious, very
much flushed.  Was it possible that Peggy Brooks had bowled over this
young gentleman with her first smile?

"I think," said Warner, very seriously, "that it might be considered
obligatory for an officer who takes away all the horses and motor cars
to leave his card for every lady in the family.  There are," he added,
"three."


Afterward, when the officer had taken his leave, and his escort of
hussars had trotted away with the horses, wagons, and automobiles,
Warner, much amused, related to the Countess the incident of the cards;
and he distributed them at dinner, reading the name engraved on his own
with some curiosity.

"Well, Peggy," he said, "you did murderous work with your smile this
evening."

She answered calmly:

"I hope so.  He was exceedingly nice looking."

"Le Vicomte d’Aurès," nodded Warner, "Captain of Cavalry!  Very polite,
that youngster; very prolific of visiting cards.  You should have seen
him blush, Peggy."

"I did.  I repeat that he is a nice boy, and I hope he comes back and
steals something else."

Philippa laughed; the Countess smiled indulgently upon her younger
sister, and gave the signal to rise.

"The family comes from the West, I think," she remarked to Warner, as
she took his arm.  "Goodness, Jim, what a nuisance!—Not a horse in the
stable, not a car to move about in.  It looks to me as though we were
marooned here....  But I am very happy to think that I could do even a
little for our Government. I wish I could do more."

"You may have plenty of chances, Ethra," he said.

They walked through to the north terrace and stood for a while watching
the conflagrations on the horizon.

The vast, slightly curved line of flickering points of fire no longer
twinkled and played through the darkness, and the muttering of the
cannonade had ceased. Only the three incendiary foci reddened the sky,
their illuminated vapors billowing up and spreading away for leagues to
the eastward.

There was a mist this night, delicately veiling the tops of the forest
trees, and the perfume of lilies from the gardens saturated the night
air.

Usually, when foggy conditions prevailed over the valley of the
Récollette, the lights of Ausone were visible as a pinkish tinge in the
sky.  But this night no such tint was apparent; no signal lamps sparkled
from the fort, not a light glimmered in the vast black void beyond,
where miles and miles of darkness stretched away unlighted even by the
wastes of star-set firmament above.

Ethra de Moidrey shrugged her pretty shoulders and turned back toward
the billiard room, whither Peggy Brooks had already repaired for
practice.

Philippa, remaining beside Warner, stood watching them through the
lighted windows.

She was wearing her first evening gown—one of Peggy’s gifts—a dainty
affair of palest blue; and her full, smooth cheeks and throat accented
the slim immaturity of her arms and shoulders.

She looked up, smiled faintly, and moved nearer with that unconscious
instinct of youth for seeking contact where confidence and trust is
placed.  Her slim fingers, touching his, nestled into his hand with an
eloquence unmistakable of innocent possession satisfied.

"You _are_ only a very little girl yet, aren’t you, Philippa?" he said,
smiling, but touched by the youth of her and her frail shoulder resting
lightly against his own.

"I know I am, Jim.  I seem to be growing younger under the warm shelter
of your kindness—under the security of this roof and the quiet sense of
protection everywhere.

"It is as though I had been arrested in development since I left
school—as though youth and growth had stopped and only my mind had
continued growing older and older and more tired during these last six
years—dull, bewildering, ignoble years—lonely, endless years that
dragged their days after them like a chain, heavier, heavier——"

She pressed a little closer to his shoulder:

"I had _nobody_.  Do you understand?  I seem to know right from wrong,
but I don’t know how I know it.  Yet, I am old in some things—old and
wearied with a knowledge which still, however, remains personally
incomprehensible to me.  It’s just a vast accumulation of unhappy facts
concerning life as it is lived by many....  I always knew there were
such people as you—as these dear and gentle friends of yours; I never
saw them—never saw even any young girls after I left school—only the
women, young and old, who came to the cabaret, or who came and went
through the Ausone streets, or who sat knitting and gossiping under the
trees on the quay."

She laid her cheek against his shoulder with a little sigh.

"You are very wonderful to me," she murmured, partly to herself.

The night air had become a little fresher: he thought that she should
have some sort of wrap, so they entered the billiard room together,
where Peggy, awaiting her shot, slipped one arm around Philippa’s waist,
detaining her to caress her and whisper nonsense.

"You beautiful child, I want you to stay with me and not go star-gazing
with that large and sunburnt man.  You’ll stay, won’t you, darling?  And
we’ll go to the library presently and find a pretty red and gold book
full of armorial designs and snobbish information; and we’ll search very
patiently through those expensively illuminated pages until we find a
worthy family called D’Aurès——"

"Oh, Peggy!" said Philippa.  "Would you really take so much trouble?"

"Rather!" said Peggy coolly.  "I mean to write him some day and find out
how he is treating my pet Minerva runabout which he had the audacity to
appropriate without thanking me."

Philippa laughed rather shyly, not entirely comprehending the balance
between badinage and sincerity in Peggy’s threat, but realizing that any
freedom she permitted herself was her prerogative.

Warner, lingering at the other door, caught Peggy’s eye.

"You can’t have her, Jim!" she said with emphasis, and drew her closer.

So Warner went on to find a wrap for her, and entered the music room.

The next moment he halted, rigid, astounded.

Peering through the windows into the room were the dirty countenances of
Asticot and Squelette, their battered noses flattened white on the
glass, their ratty eyes fixed on him.



                             *CHAPTER XXV*


That the precious pair believed Warner to be paralyzed with terror was
evident.

As long as he remained motionless they glared at him, their faces and
spread fingers flattened against the windowpane.  Then, the next
instant, he was after them at one bound, jerking open the glass door,
out across the terrace where the two young ruffians, evidently surprised
and confused by his headlong behavior, parted company, Squelette digging
up gravel in his headlong flight down the drive, Asticot darting across
the lawn where, beyond the stables, a hospitable tangle of shrubbery
seemed to promise easy escape.

But Asticot was awfully wrong; in the darkness he rushed full speed into
an elastic barrier of mesh wire which supported the hedge of sweet peas
separating garage and stables; and as he rebounded, Warner caught him
and coolly began to beat him up.

The beating was deliberate, methodical, and merciless; the blows fell
with smart cracks upon the features of Asticot, right, left, sometimes
hoisting him off his large, flat feet, sometimes driving him dizzily
earthward; but another blow and a savage jerk always brought him up to
be swung on again, battered, knocked flying, and finally smashed into
merciful insensibility.

Asticot was in a dreadful mess as he lay there on the grass.  Vignier,
the chauffeur, and a stable lad, Henri, had appeared with a lantern at
the _débâcle_ of Monsieur Asticot.

Warner, breathing rapidly, waited a few moments to recover his breath.

"Take him into the harness room and lay him on a blanket," he managed to
say.  "Keep your eyes on him, Vignier, until I return.  There’s another
of them, but I’m afraid he’s cleared out."

As a matter of fact, Squelette had cleared out.  He must have scaled the
wall somewhere, for the gates were locked, and the old lodge keeper was
evidently asleep.

The lad, Henri, came up, armed with a stable fork, and followed by the
head gardener, Maurice, shouldering a fowling piece and marshaling in
his wake half a dozen others—grooms, under-gardeners, and a lad or two
employed about the place.

They beat the shrubbery for an hour; then Warner left them to explore
the wooded strip along the base of the wall with their flashlights and
lanterns, and went back to the stable where lay Asticot, badly in need
of bandages and protracted repose.

Vignier met Warner at the stable door.

"Has he come to?" inquired the latter, who had begun to feel a little
worried.

"Monsieur Warner, that _voyou_ is a most frightful wreck.  Out of
neither eye is he able to perceive me; what he wears upon his shoulders
does not, to me, resemble a head at all."

"He _is_ conscious, then?"

"Entirely.  He lies upon his blanket and inquires for you at intervals."

"What?"

"It is true.  ’Oh, my mother!’ he whimpers.  ’What a horrible beating I
have had from that American! Oh, my sister, I am battered into a
_boudin_!  Ou est-il, donc, ce Monsieur sans remords?  I have need of
conversing with him.  I wish to behold him who has brought me to this
pitiable ditch of misery!  I do not desire another beating!  It is I,
Asticot, who informs you!’  And that, Monsieur Warner, is what this
_voyou affreux_ continues to repeat in the harness room where I have
locked him in.  Would Monsieur care to inspect the swine?"

Warner nodded and entered the stable; Vignier fitted a key to the
harness room and opened the door.

A lantern burned there brightly.  Under it squatted Asticot on his
blanket.  Neither eye was entirely closed, for there was a ratty glitter
under the puffed lids, and he lost no time in whining out that he did
not desire to be beaten any more by "that gentleman there"—pointing a
shaking finger straight at Warner.

"Vignier," said Warner, "bring me a chair, close the door, and then go
and find something to bandage this rascal.  Bring a tub and hot water,
also!"

And when the chair was fetched and the door closed, Warner seated
himself and surveyed the battered ruffian with grim satisfaction.

"You murderous young sewer rat," he said calmly, "out with the whole
business, now!  Do you hear? I meant to catch one of you and find out
for myself what you’re up to.  Now, tell me, and tell me quick, and
don’t lie, or I’ll start in on you again——"

He half rose from his chair, and Asticot shrieked.

"What were you doing here?" snapped out Warner.

"M-m’sieu’—it was but a peaceful reconnoissance in search of—of
information——" stuttered Asticot in terror.

"What information?—You rat!"

"M-m-m’sieu’—I swear to you on the cross of my mother——"

"Stop that!  Go on!  Go on faster!  What information?"

"T-t-to f-find out if _l-la fille_, Philippa, had taken refuge with
M-madame la Comtesse——"

"Who wants that information?"

"I s-swear to you——"

"Quick!  _Who_ wants it!"

"Monsieur Wildresse——"

"Why?"

"_Je n’en sais rien_——"

"You lying Apache!  _Why_?"

"M’sieu’, he pays us, the Squelette and me, to do his jobs for him, but
he has never made confidants of us.  I swear it.  I don’t know why he
desires to seize the girl, Philippa!"

"He _does_ mean to seize her, then?"

"Alas——"

"_Does_ he?"

Asticot’s entire body jerked from sheer fright.

"Yes—yes, he does!  God knows it is not in me to lie to M’sieu’.  God
knows I do not ever desire another beating such as M’sieu’ has been
pleased to bestow upon me.  I affirm it—I, Asticot—that I am the devoted
servant of M’sieu’ and will most thankfully betray anybody to him——"

"Be quiet!"

"M’sieu’ does not believe me!  Yet, I speak only truth.  I will
diligently serve M’sieu’ if he permits——"

"Serve _me_?  Why?"

"Mon Dieu, M’sieu’, have I not been most horribly beaten by M’sieu’?  I,
Asticot, who am not unacquainted with the _Boxe_ and the _Savate_—I have
been rendered insensible!  With weapons?  No!  _Without_ weapons!  Yes,
with the empty hands of M’sieu’.  Why should I not admire?  Why should I
not experience gratitude that I am alive?  Am I an imbecile to court
further destruction?  _Non, alors_; I am not crazy. God forbid I should
ever again experience the hand of M’sieu’ upon my coat collar!  And
if——"

"You listen to _me_!" interrupted Warner.  "Vermin of your sort that
Wildresse hires for a few francs stand no chance when military law is
proclaimed.  Either side would push you against a wall on sight.  Do you
understand?"

"Mon Dieu, M’sieu’——"

"There are just two safe places for you: Biribi or prison.  Which do you
prefer?"

"I?  Oh, my God!  I have served in the Battalion de Biribi!  Not _that_,
M’sieu’——"

"All right; La Nouvelle——"

Asticot emitted a muffled shriek, huddled his ragged knees within his
arms, and sat rocking and whimpering and blubbering with fright under
the lantern until an impatient gesture from Warner startled him dumb.

"Like all your kind, you don’t like to be hurt, do you?" inquired
Warner, disgusted.  "Yet, for twenty francs—for ten—yes, for _five_—you
could be hired to do murder; couldn’t you?"

"I—I would b-be happy to do it for nothing to oblige M’sieu’——"

"I haven’t a doubt of it.  The only thing you understand is fear....
Where is Wildresse?"

"M’sieu’ doubtless knows."

"Never mind what I know.  Answer!"

"Le vieux——"

"_Who?_"

"Le Père Wildresse—he has taken to the woods——"

"Where?"

"Le forêt d’Ausone."

"Why?"

"It is because of the girl Philippa.  It is evident to Squelette and to
me that he fears her.  Why?  I tell you frankly I do not know.  If I
knew——"

"Go on!"

Asticot turned his battered visage toward Warner. A leer stretched his
swollen mouth.

"If we knew what he is afraid of, Squelette and I, we would make him
sing!" he said coolly.

"Blackmail him?"

"Naturally."

"I understand.  And if you ever had a chance to get behind my back with
a thoroughly trustworthy knife—eh, Asticot?"

"No," said the ruffian naïvely, "I should be afraid to do that."  He
squinted silently at Warner out of his puffy eyes for a few moments,
then, shaking his head: "No," he repeated; "never again.  I should make
of the job only a bungle; I should be too horribly afraid."

Warner got up from his chair.

"Tomorrow," he said, "I shall go with you to the Forest of Ausone and
you shall find the Père Wildresse for me and I shall have a little chat
with him."

"Do you mean to slay him, M’sieu’?  It would be safer, I think.  I could
do it for you, if you wish, when his back is turned.  When one is
annoyed by anybody, it saves much trouble to knock him on the head at
once. If I could once get him down," he added cheerfully, "I would take
him by both ears and beat his head on the ground until his coco
cracked."

"Really?"

"Certainly.  Supposition that an individual bores M’sieu’.  What to do?
M’sieu’ reflects; M’sieu’ rubs his head in perplexity—crac!  There is
his devoted friend, Asticot!  Why had you not before thought of your
humble friend and grateful?  Asticot!  To be sure!  A word to him and
the job is done, discreetly, without any _tapage_.  And M’sieu’,
contented, I trust, with his honest and devoted Asticot, may remember in
his bounty that times are hard and that one must eat and drink—yes, even
poor Asticot among the rest."

"Yes, Asticot.  But after you’re dead such necessities won’t trouble
you."

"M-m’sieu’!"

"I’ve got my eye on you.  Do you know what that means?"

Stammering and stuttering, the ruffian admitted that he did know.

"Very well.  They’ll bring you a tin tub full of hot water, some
clothing which I bestow upon you, some salves and bandages.  Afterward,
they’ll give you some straw to sleep on, and then they’ll lock the door.
What I’ll do with you or to you I don’t know yet.  But I’ll know by
morning."

Vignier knocked at the door.  Behind him came a stableboy with a tub.

"Take care of that rat," said Warner briefly; and went out into the
night.

His hands were slightly discolored, and one had bled at the knuckles.
He went directly to the room, changed his linen, made a careful toilet
with a grimace of retrospective disgust, then adjusting and brushing out
his crumpled attire, took a look at himself in the glass and discovered
no incriminating evidence of his recent pugilistic activity.

But when he went downstairs he discovered that the family had retired;
lights flickered low in the west drawing-room, a lamp remained burning
in the staircase hall, but the remainder of the house was dark.

As he stood at the drawing-room door, undecided whether to carry the
hallway lamp to the library and find a book, or to return to his room
and bed, a slight noise on the stairway attracted his attention.

Philippa, in boudoir robe and slippers, her chestnut hair in two braids,
sat on the carpeted stairs looking down at him through the spindles.

"What on earth are you doing there?" he demanded, smiling up at her.

"You have been away over two hours!"

"I know it: I’m so sorry——"

"You said you were going to find a wrap for me. You didn’t return."

"I’m sorry, Philippa.  I was detained at the garage—a matter which had
to be arranged with Vignier.... You should go back to bed."

"I was in bed."

"Why did you get up?"

"I wished to find out whether you had come in."

"But, Philippa," he protested laughingly, "you don’t feel that you have
to sit up for me, do you?—As though we were ma——"  He checked himself
abruptly, and she caught him up where he had stopped.

"Yes, I do feel that way!" she said emphatically. "When the only man a
girl has in the whole world goes out and doesn’t return, is it not
natural for that girl to sit up until he does return?"

"Yes," he said, rather hastily, "I suppose it is. Speak low, or people
can hear you.  You see I’m all right, so now you had better go to bed——"

"Jim!  I don’t want to go to bed."

"Why not?" he demanded in a guarded voice.

"I am lonely."

"Nonsense, Philippa!  You can’t be lonely with real friends so near.
Don’t sit up any longer."

She sighed, gathered her silken knees into her arms, and shrugged her
shoulders like a spoiled child.

"I am lonely," she insisted.  "I miss Ariadne."

"We’ll go and call on her tomorrow——"

"I want her now.  I’ve a mind to put on a cloak and some shoes and go
down to the inn and get her."

"Come!" he said.  "You don’t want the servants to hear you and see you
sitting on the stairs when the household is in bed and asleep."

"Is there any indiscretion in my sitting on the stairs?"

"Oh, no, I suppose not!"

"Very well.  Let me sit here, then.  Besides, I never have time enough
to talk to you——"

"You have all day!"

"The day is not long enough.  Even day and night together would be too
short.  Even the years are going to be too brief for me, Jim!  How can I
live long enough with you to make up for the years without you!" she
explained a trifle excitedly; but she subsided as he made a quick
gesture of caution.

"It won’t do to sit there and converse so frankly," he said.  "Nobody
overhearing you would understand either you or me."

The girl nodded.  One heavy braid fell across her shoulder, and she took
the curling, burnished ends between her fingers and began to rebraid
them absently. After a moment she sighed, bent her head and looked down
at him between the spindles.

"I am sorry I have annoyed you," she whispered.

"You didn’t."

"Oh, I did!  It wouldn’t do to have people think—what—couldn’t be
true....  But, Jim, can’t you forgive a girl who is entirely alone in
the world, clinging to every moment of companionship with her closest
friend?  And can’t you understand her being afraid that something might
happen to him—to take him away—and the most blessed friendship that—that
she ever even dreamed of in—in the dreadful solitude which was her
youth?"

"You dear child—of course I understand....  I never have enough of you,
either.  Your interest and friendship and loyalty are no warmer than are
mine for you....  But you mustn’t become morbid; nothing is going to
alter our regard for each other; nothing is going to happen to either
you or me."  He laughed.  "So you really need not sit up nights for me,
if I happen to be out."

She laughed too, framed her cheeks in her hands, and looked down at him
with smiling, humorous eyes which grew subtly tender.

"You do care for me, Jim?"

"Why should I deny it?"

"Why should _I_?  I don’t.  I know I care for you more than everything
else in the world——

"Philippa!"

"Yes, Jim?"

"You know—people happening to overhear you might not understand——"

"I don’t care!  It’s the truth!"  She rose, bent over the banister to
look down at him, discovered that he was not annoyed, smiled adorably.

"Good night!  I shall sleep happily!" she whispered, gathering her
boudoir robe around her.

At the top of the stairs she turned, leaned over, kissed the palm of one
slim hand to him, and disappeared with a subdued and faintly mischievous
laugh, leaving in his eyes of an artist a piquant, fleeting, and
charming picture.

But upon his mind the impression she left began to develop more
slowly—the impression of a young girl—"clean as a flame," as he had once
said of her—a lovely and delicate personality absolutely in keeping with
the silken boudoir gown she wore—in keeping with the carven and stately
beauty of her environment in this ancient house.

Philippa not only fitted into the very atmosphere of such a place; it
seemed as though she must have been born in it, so perfectly was she a
harmonious part of it, so naturally and without emphasis.

Centuries had coördinated, reconciled, and made a mellow ensemble of
everything within this house—the walls, the wainscot, mantels, lusters,
pictures and frames, furniture and dimmed upholstery.

In the golden demi-light of these halls Philippa moved as though she had
known no other—and in the sunlight of music room or terrace she belonged
as unquestioned as the sunlight itself; and in lamplit spaces where soft
shadows framed her, there also she belonged as certainly as the high,
dim portraits of great ladies and brave gentlemen peering down at her
through their delicate veils of dust.

Thinking of these things beside the open window of his bedroom, he
looked out into the south and east and saw in the sky the silvery
pencilings of searchlights on the Barrier Forts, shifting, sweeping in
wide arcs, or tremblingly concentrated upon the clouds.

There was no sound in the fragrant darkness, not a breath of air, not a
leaf stirring.

His inclination was not to sleep, but to think about Philippa; and he
sat there, a burned-out cigarette between his fingers, his eyes fixed so
persistently on the darkness that after a while he became conscious of
what his concentration was delicately evoking there—her face, and the
grey eyes of her, shadowy, tender, clear as a child’s.



                             *CHAPTER XXVI*


Warner awoke with a start; somebody was knocking on his door.  As he sat
up in bed, the solid thudding of the cannonade filled the room—still
very far away, but deeper and with a heavier undertone which set the
windows slightly vibrating.

The knocking on his door sounded again insistently.

"All right!" he called, throwing on a bathrobe and finding his slippers.

The rising sun had not yet freed itself from the mist that lay over hill
and plain; wide, rosy beams spread to the zenith and a faint glow tinged
the morning fog, but the foreground of woods and fields was still dusky
and vague, and his room full of shadows.

He tied the belt of his robe and opened the door. In the semi-obscurity
of the corridor stood Philippa, hair disordered, wrapped in her chamber
robe.

"Jim," she said, "the telephone in the lower hall has been ringing like
mad.  It awoke me.  I lay and listened to it, but nobody seemed to hear
it, so I went down.  It’s a Sister of Charity—Sister Eila—who desires to
speak to you."

"I’ll go at once—thank you, Philippa——"

"And, Jim?"  She was trotting along beside him in her bare feet and
bedroom slippers as he started for the stairs.  "When you have talked to
her, I think you ought to see what is happening on the Ausone road."

"_What_ is happening?" he demanded, descending the stairs.

She kept pace with him, one hand following the stair rail:

"There are so many people and carts and sheep and cattle, all going
south.  And just now two batteries of artillery went the other way
toward Ausone.  They were going at a very fast trot—with gendarmes
galloping ahead to warn the people to make room——"

"When did you see this?"

"Now, out of that window as I stood knocking at your door."

"All right," he said briefly, picking up the telephone. "Are you there,
Sister Eila?  Yes; it is Warner speaking."

"Mr. Warner, where can I communicate with Captain Halkett?"

"I don’t know, Sister."

"Could you find out?"

"I haven’t any idea.  He has not written me since he left."

"He left no address with you?"

"None.  I don’t imagine he knew where he could be found.  Is it anything
important?"

"Yes.  I don’t know what to do.  There is an Englishman—a soldier—who
has been hurt and who says he must send word to Captain Halkett.  Could
you come to the school?"

"Of course.  When?"

"Just as soon as you can.  I am so sorry to awaken you at such an
hour——"

"It’s quite all right, Sister.  I’ll dress and go at once....  And tell
me, are there a lot of people passing southward by the school?"

"Oh, yes, Mr. Warner, ever since dawn.  Everyone is leaving Ausone and
the villages along the Récollette.... I must not use the telephone any
longer.  I had permission to use it only because the business was of a
military nature.  Come as soon as you can——"

The connection was abruptly broken—probably by some officer in control.

Warner rose; Philippa had vanished.  He walked out to the music room,
opened the long windows, and stepped through them to the south terrace.

The muffled roll of the cannonade filled his ears. Except for that
dominating and unbroken monotone, the sunrise world was very still, and
mist still veiled the glitter in the east.

But below in the valley of the Récollette, the road lay perfectly
distinct in the clear, untinted and transparent light of early dawn.

Along it people and vehicles swarmed, moving south—an unending stream of
humanity in pairs, in family groups, their arms filled with packages,
parcels, bundles tied up in sheets, and bedquilts.

Peasant carts piled with dingy household effects bumped and jolted
along; farm wagons full of bedding, on which huddled entire families
clasping in their arms cheap wooden clocks, earthen bowls, birdcages,
flowerpots, perhaps a kitten or a puppy; and there was every type of
vehicle to be seen—the _charrette à bras_, the _tombereau_ dragged by
hand, dilapidated cabriolets, wheelbarrows, even baby carriages full of
pots and pans.

Here and there some horse, useless for military purposes, strained under
a swaying load, led by the head; sometimes a bullock was harnessed with
a donkey.

Companies of sheep dotted the highway here and there, piloted by boys
and wise-looking, shaggy dogs; there were dusty herds of cattle, too,
inclined to leisurely straying but goaded continually into an unwilling
trot by the young girls who conducted them. On the river, too, boats
were passing south, piled with bedding and with children, the mother or
father of the brood doing the rowing or poling.

The quarry road on the other side of the river was too dusty and too far
away to permit a distinct view of what was passing there.  Without the
help of his field glasses, Warner merely conjectured that cavalry were
moving northward through the dust that hung along the river bank.

But the spectacle on the Ausone road below was ominous enough.  The
northern countryside was in flight; towns and villages were emptying
themselves southward; and the exodus had merely begun.

He went back to his room, shaved, bathed, dressed in knickerbockers and
Norfolk, and, scribbling a note for Madame de Moidrey, pinned it to his
door as he closed it behind him.

On his way through the lower hall, somebody called him softly, and he
saw Philippa in the music room, carrying a tray.

"Did you think I was going to let you go out without your breakfast?"
she asked, smiling.  "I have prepared coffee for us both, you see."

He thanked her, took the tray, and carried it out to the terrace.

There, as the sun rose above the bank of mist and flashed out over miles
of dewy country, they had their breakfast together—a new-laid egg, a
bowl of café-au-lait, new butter and fresh rolls.

"May I go with you?" asked the girl.

"Why—yes, if you care to——"

She said seriously:

"I don’t quite like to have you go alone on that road, with so much
confusion and the air heavy with the cannonade——"

His quick laughter checked her.

"You funny, absurd, sweet little thing!" he said, still laughing.  "Do
you expect to spend the remainder of your life in seeing that I don’t
get into mischief?"

"If you’ll let me," she said with a faint smile.

"Very well, Philippa; come along!"  He held out his hand, laughing; the
girl clasped it, a half humorous, half reproachful expression in her
grey eyes.

"I don’t mind your laughing, as long as you let me be with you," she
said.

"Why, Philippa!" he said gayly.  "What possesses you to be afraid that
anything is likely to happen to me?"

"I don’t know what it is," she replied seriously.  "I seem to be afraid
of losing you.  Let me be with you—if it does not annoy you."

"You dear child, of course it doesn’t annoy me. Only I don’t want you to
become morbid over the very nicest and frankest of friendships."

They were passing the garage now; he dropped her hand, asked her to wait
for him a moment, turned into the service drive, went toward the stable.
A sleepy groom responded to the bell, unlocked the doors, and fetched
the key to the harness room.

Warner said to the groom:

"Give that fellow in there his breakfast and turn him loose.  Tell him
I’ll kill him if I ever again catch him hanging around here."

The groom grinned and touched his cap, and Warner turned on his heel and
rejoined Philippa.

They had to awaken the old lodge keeper, who pulled the chain from where
he lay in bed.

Through the wicket and across the road they went, over a stile, and out
across country where the fields flashed with dew and the last shreds of
mist drifted high among the trees of the woods which they skirted.

Philippa wore her peasant dress—scarlet waist and skirt with the full,
fine chemisette; and on her chestnut hair the close little bonnet of
black velvet—called _bonnet à quartiers_ or _bonnet de béguin_—an
enchanting little headdress which became her so wonderfully that Warner
found himself glancing at her again and again, wondering whether the
girl’s beauty was growing day by day, or whether he had never been
properly awake to it.

Her own unconsciousness of herself was the bewitching part of
her—nothing of that sort spoiled the free carriage of her slender,
flexible body, of the lovely head carried daintily, of the grey eyes so
clear, so intelligent, so candid, so sweet under the black lashes that
fringed them.

"Very wonderful," he said aloud, unthinking.

"What?" asked Philippa.

He reddened and laughed:

"You—for purposes of a painter," he said.  "I think, if you don’t mind,
I shall start a portrait of you when we return.  I promised Madame de
Moidrey, you know."

Philippa smiled:

"Do you really suppose she will hang it in that beautiful house of
hers—there among all those wonderful and stately portraits?  Wouldn’t
that be too much honor—to be placed with such great ladies——"

"The dead De Moidreys in their frames need not worry, Philippa.  If I
paint you as you are, the honor of your presence will be entirely
theirs."

"Are you laughing at me?"

He looked up sharply; the girl’s face was serious and rather pale.

They were traversing a corner of a woodland where young birches
clustered, slim and silvery under their canopy of green which as yet had
not changed to royal gold.

He picked up her hand as they emerged into the sunlight of a field,
raised it, and touched his lips to the delicate fingers.

It was his answer; and the girl realized instantly what the
old-fashioned salute of respect conveyed; and her fingers clung to his
hand.

"Jim," she said unsteadily, "if you knew—if you only could realize what
you have done for me—what you are doing for me every moment I am with
you—by your kindness, your gentleness, your generous belief in me—what
miracles you accomplish by the very tones of your voice when you speak
to me—by your good, kind smile of encouragement—by your quiet patience
with me——"

Her voice broke childishly, and she bent her head and took possession of
his arm, holding to it tightly and in silence.

Surprised and moved by her emotion, he found nothing to say for a
moment—did not seem to know quite how to respond to the impulsive
gratitude so sincerely exaggerated, so prettily expressed.

Finally he said:

"Philippa, I have nothing to teach you—much to learn from you.  Whoever
you are, you need no patronage from anybody, no allowances, no
concessions, no excuses.  For I never knew a cleaner, braver, sweeter
character than is yours, Philippa—nor a soul more modest, more simple
and sincere.  What does it matter how you come by it—whether God gave
it, or whether what you are has been evolved by race—by generations of
gentle breeding?

"We don’t know; and _I_, for one, don’t care—except for any satisfaction
or consolation it might afford you to know who you really are.

"But, for me, I have learned enough to satisfy myself. And I have never
known a lovelier character than is yours, Philippa; nor a nobler one."

She continued walking beside him, clinging very tightly to one of his
arms, her head lowered under its velvet bonnet.

When she looked up at last, her eyes were wet with tears; she smiled
and, loosening her clasp, stretched out her hand for his handkerchief.

"The second time I have borrowed from you," she managed to say.  "Do you
remember—in the boat?"

He laughed, greatly relieved that the tense constraint was broken—that
the tension of his own emotion was relaxed.  For he had become intensely
serious with the girl—how serious and how deeply in earnest he now began
to realize.  And whether his own ardent tribute to her had awakened him,
while offering it, to all that he was praising, or whether he had
already discovered by cooler research all that he now found admirable in
her, he did not know.

They came to a hedge; she returned his handkerchief, placed her hand in
his, mounted the stile with lithe grace, and he climbed up beside her.

Below them ran the Ausone road, grey with hanging dust; and through the
floating cloud tramped the fugitives from the north—old men, old women,
girls, little children, struggling onward under their burdens, trudging
doggedly, silently southward.

Philippa uttered an exclamation of pity as a man passed wheeling a
crippled child in a wheelbarrow, guiding it carefully along beside a
herd of cattle which seemed very difficult to manage.

For a few minutes they stood there, watching the sad procession defiling
at their feet, then Warner jumped down to the high, grassy bank, lifted
Philippa to the ground—which was not necessary, although he seemed to
think so, and the girl thanked him very sweetly—and then they went
forward along the hedge of _aubépine_ until, around the curve of the
road just ahead, he caught sight of the school.

"We can enter by the rear and keep out of that crowd," he said to
Philippa.  "You don’t know Sister Eila, do you?"

"No."

"Nor Sister Félicité?"

"No, Jim.  Are they nuns?"

"Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul.  Here is the garden gate.  We can go
through the kitchen."

But before they had traversed the little vegetable garden, Sister Eila
came to the kitchen door.

Warner said:

"Sister Eila, I am so glad that you are to know my friend, Mademoiselle
Philippa Wildresse, who, as I am, is a guest of Madame de Moidrey at the
Château."

Sister Eila came forward, her clear eyes on Philippa, took the girl’s
offered hand in both of hers, stood silent for a moment, then turned to
Warner.

"It was most kind of you to bring her, Mr. Warner. I hope that we shall
become friends—" turning to Philippa—"if you also wish it."

Philippa’s grey eyes looked steadily at Sister Eila.

"Yes, I do," she said in a low voice.

Sister Félicité appeared from the schoolroom, greeting and presentation
were made, and then the elder Sister took Philippa away to the
schoolroom where recitations were in progress; and Sister Eila led
Warner through the kitchen, up the uncarpeted stairs, and into a room
where, on an iron bed, a man lay.

He was young, fair-haired, and very pallid under his bandage, and the
eyes he turned on Warner as he entered were the eyes of a sick man.

Sister Eila seated herself on a stool which stood beside the bed; Warner
drew up the only other chair and sat down.

The young man turned his hollow eyes from Warner and looked
questioningly at Sister Eila.

"Yes," she said, "this is Mr. Warner, an American, who is Mr. Halkett’s
friend.  You may trust him; Mr. Halkett trusted him."

Warner said with a smile, and leaning toward the sick man:

"Is there anything I can do for you?  Halkett and I became the very best
of friends.  I should be very glad of the opportunity to do anything for
his friends—" he hesitated, smiled again—"or for any British officer."

"I’m Gray," said the man on the bed, in a weak voice.

"I think Halkett was expecting somebody named Gray the first night he
spent at the Saïs inn.  Was it you?"

"Yes."

"I think he telephoned you."

"Yes.  You are Mr. Warner?"

"I am."

"Halkett spoke of you—your kindness."

"Oh, it was nothing——"

"I know what it was," said Gray quietly.  "How much did Halkett tell
you?"

"About what?"

"About me."

"Very little, Mr. Gray.  I understood that you were to come to Saïs on a
motor cycle, carrying with you a very important paper.  Halkett waited
day after day.  He seemed to be under a very great strain.  All he said
to me was that something serious must have happened to you, because the
paper you carried was necessary to supplement the one he carried."

"And Halkett has gone!"

"Yes.  But somehow or other he got possession of the paper you had in
your charge—or a copy of it."

Gray’s youthful face quivered with excitement.

"How did he get it?" he asked.

"A messenger came.  Halkett was alone.  The messenger pretended to come
from you, and he gained Halkett’s confidence by giving him the paper you
carried, or a copy of it.

"The moment Halkett was off his guard, the fellow knocked him
insensible, and would have robbed him of both papers if a young girl—a
Miss Wildresse—had not tackled the fellow, and held him off with
magnificent pluck until I came in and found what was going on.  Then the
fellow cleared out—got clean away, I regret to say.  That is how the
thing happened.  I’m very glad to be able to reassure you, Mr. Gray."

"Thanks, awfully.  It’s been hell not to know.  You see, I was hurt; the
beggars got me.  I’ve been lying in a cottage down the road a bit—I
don’t know where. I was badly knocked out—knocked silly, you know—fever
and all that....  I woke up the other day. Couldn’t get the people to
stir—tried to make ’em hunt up Halkett.  They were just stupid—kind, but
stupid.  Finally one of their kiddies, who comes to school here, told
Sister Eila that there was a sick _Anglais_ in his daddy’s cottage—"  He
looked up at her as he spoke and she smiled.  "—And Sister Eila, being
all kinds of an angel of mercy, came all the way there to
investigate....  And she wheeled me back here in a _charette_!  What do
you think of that, Mr. Warner?"

"He was in _such_ a state, poor boy!" said Sister Eila. "Just think, Mr.
Warner!  They had not even washed him when they put on their dreadful
poultices—good, kind, ignorant folk that they are!  So of course I
insisted on bringing him here where Sister Félicité and I could give him
proper attention."

Gray smiled tremulously:

"I’ve been bathed, cleansed, patched, mended, beautifully bandaged, fed,
and spoiled!  I don’t know what you think of the Grey Sisters, but I
know what I think."

"There’s no difference of opinion in the world concerning them," said
Warner, and Sister Eila smiled and blushed and held up an admonitory
finger:

"It is I who am being spoiled, gentlemen."  Then, very seriously to
Warner: "Have you seen the pitiable procession which has been passing
along the Ausone road since before dawn?  Is it not heartbreaking, Mr.
Warner?  What is happening in the north, that all these poor people come
hurrying southward? I thought the cannonade was from our own forts."

Gray looked up at him curiously.

"I don’t yet know what is happening north of Ausone," said Warner
quietly.  "There were three fires burning last night.  I think they were
villages in flames. But it was far to the north.  The Ausone Fort was
not engaged—except when an aëroplane came within range.  Then they used
their high-angle guns."

There was a silence.  Listening, Warner could hear the cannonade
distinctly above the shuffle of feet and the childish singsong of
recitation in the schoolroom underneath.

Presently, glancing up, he caught Sister Eila’s eye, rose, and followed
her to the window.

"I don’t know what to do," she said.  "Sister Félicité is going to try
to keep the children here, but a gendarme came day before yesterday,
saying that the school might be required for a military hospital, and
that the children were to remain at home.  I have telephoned to Ausone;
I have telegraphed to the rue de Bac; I have done all I could do.  But I
am directed, from the rue de Bac, to prepare for field service, at the
front.  And from Ausone they telephone Sister Félicité that she may keep
the children until the last moment, but that, when needed, she must turn
over our school to the military authorities.  And so, Mr. Warner, what
am I to do with that poor boy over there?  Because, if I go away, Sister
Félicité cannot properly attend to him and care for the children, too."

Warner stood thinking for a moment.  Then:

"Could you get me permission to use your telephone?" he asked.

"Only for military purposes.  It is the rule now."

Warner walked over to Gray:

"You are a British officer, I take it."

"Yes."

"Captain?"

"Yes."

Sister Eila, listening, understood and took Warner to the telephone.
For a few moments he heard her soft voice in conversation with the
military operator, then she beckoned him and he gave the number he
desired and waited.

Presently he got the Château des Oiseaux, and after a few moments Madame
de Moidrey came to the telephone.

"Ethra," he said, "would you care to be hospitable to a British officer
who has been injured?"

"Certainly!  Where is he?"

"At Sister Eila’s school.  Is there anything left to harness up and send
for him?"

"Yes; there is a donkey and a basket wagon.  I’ll have a groom take it
over at once.  Is the officer badly hurt?"

"I don’t know.  I think he merely needs bandaging and feeding.  He’s the
comrade of my friend, Captain Halkett.  Gray is his name, and he’s a
captain or something or other.  May I tell him that you will receive
him?"

"Of course, Jim.  You need not have asked; you could have brought him
here immediately."

The military operator cut in:

"A thousand thanks to Madame la Comtesse for her kindness to our allies,
the English!  Madame, I regret, very much that I must switch off——"
click!

Warner smiled and turned to Sister Eila:

"Madame de Moidrey takes him!"

"I am so thankful!  I will go up and make him ready."

"What is the matter with him?"

"Think of it!  He was coming on his motor cycle full speed toward Saïs
through the night, when right ahead he saw a car drawn up beside the
road, and four men standing in it with pistols aimed at him.  Only one
bullet hit him, making a deep furrow over his temple.  He remembers
losing control of the motor cycle, of being hurled through the air.
Then, evidently some time afterward, he found himself struggling under a
thin covering of dirt and sticks and lumps of sod—fighting for air,
pushing, creeping, crawling out of the hasty and shallow grave where
they had flung him beside his ruined motor cycle.  He thinks that the
frame of the motor cycle kept him from being suffocated by the sod and
earth piled over him.

"It was early morning; a peasant was breaking ground in another field
not far away, and Mr. Gray managed to crawl near enough to make the man
hear. That is all he remembers until he regained consciousness once more
in the man’s cottage."

"Good heavens, what a ghastly experience!" muttered Warner.

"It is dreadful.  If they knew that his heart still beat, it was inhuman
of them to do such a thing as that.  But perhaps they considered him
dead.  He may have appeared so.  I have had to bandage both arms and
both knees where he was hurled over the ground when he fell.  He has a
fracture of the left wrist which is doing nicely, and two broken ribs
are mending without trouble.  As for the scar on his temple, it is
nearly closed now.  I think all will be well with him.  Now, I shall go
and prepare him for his little journey."

At the foot of the stairs she paused, turned slowly to Warner, and he
thought her lovely face had become somewhat pale.

"I think you said over the telephone that you have had no word from Mr.
Halkett?"

"Not a word, Sister Eila."

"Thank you."



                            *CHAPTER XXVII*


The journey back along the Ausone road was a slow and stifling one.
Warner, walking on the left, led the donkey by the head; Philippa moved
beside the basket cart on the right.  In the cart sat the wounded
Englishman, his bandaged head lying on Sister Eila’s shoulder.

Through the heavy, suffocating cloud of dust, group after group of
fugitives loomed up ahead, coming toward them, parting right and left to
let the basket cart and the little, plodding donkey pass through. Sheep
were driven aside for them; cattle swung out into the roadside ditches
on either hand, halting there with stupid heads turned toward them while
the basket cart took right of way.

Once, from the toiling procession behind them, distant shouts arose, and
the ground began to quiver and shake; and Warner called out a sharp
warning to Philippa and drew the donkey cart out among the dusty weeds
of the ditch, while everywhere ahead of them people, cattle, vehicles,
were being hurriedly turned out and crowded aside along the grassy
roadside gullies.

Louder grew the clamour behind; heavier the jarring of the ground; a
mounted gendarme—a _maréchal de logis_—appeared, alternately cantering
and galloping his superb horse, and sweeping the crowds aside with
vigorous gestures of his white-gloved hand.

Behind him trotted six more gendarmes, sabers sheathed, their single
rank stretching the entire width of the road from ditch to ditch.  And
behind these, in a writhing storm of dust and flying gravel, came the
field artillery on a swift, swinging trot, drivers erect in their
saddles, képis strapped tight, sun-scorched faces sweating under masks
of dust.

Tan-colored limbers, guns, caissons drawn by powerful, dust-whitened
teams, rushed past thudding and clanking, escorted by galloping pelotons
of artillerymen armed with saber and carbine, flanked by smart officers
flashing all over cherry red and gold.

Battery after battery, with forges and wagons, passed; a fanion with
trumpeters sped by; a squadron of remount cavalry in clearer blue
jackets followed, then came two squadrons of galloping dragoon lancers,
their steel helmets covered with brown holland slips, and the pennons
streaming wildly from their lance heads.  A gendarme or two galloped in
the rear, mere ghosts in the driving dust.  And the flying column had
passed.

Sister Eila, covering Gray’s mouth and nose with her grey-blue sleeve,
bowed her head and closed her eyes while the storm of dust and pebbles
lasted; then Warner nodded to Philippa, and between them they led out
the donkey cart once more and pushed slowly ahead into the oncoming
torrent of vehicles—cattle, men, women, and children.

It was nearly noon when they arrived at the Château des Oiseaux.  A
footman aided him to carry Gray upstairs to the room prepared for him.

"Are you all right?" asked Warner doubtfully.

Gray opened his haggard eyes.

"All right, thanks....  May I have a little water, if it’s not too much
trouble——"

Sister Eila entered the room with a carafe and some lemons; and Warner
withdrew.

In the hallway below he encountered Madame de Moidrey and Peggy Brooks
in earnest consultation with the village physician—an old man crippled
from 1870, and wearing the Legion and an empty sleeve.

Warner shook hands with Dr. Senlis and told him what he knew of Gray’s
condition.  Sister Eila came down presently and everybody greeted her
with a warmth which unmistakably revealed her status in Saïs.

Presently she went upstairs again with Dr. Senlis. Later the Countess
went up.  Peggy and Philippa had gone out to the south terrace where the
reverberation of the cannonade was now continually shaking the windows,
and where, beyond, Ausone, a dark band of smoke stretched like a rampart
across the northern sky.

As Warner stood thinking, listening to the dull shock of the concussions
rolling in toward them on the wind from the north, the footman, Vilmar,
approached him.

"Pardon, Monsieur Warner, but there is a frightful _type_ hanging about
whom it seems impossible to drive away——"

"What!" said Warner angrily.

"Monsieur, I have hustled him from the terrace several times; I have
summoned aid from my fellow domestics; the chauffeur, Vignier, chases
him with frequency into the shrubbery; Maurice and the lad, Henri,
pursue him with horsewhips——"

"Is it that _voyou_ who is all over bandages?" demanded Warner
incredulously.

"It is, Monsieur——"

Out of sheer contempt for the creature and for all his species, Warner
had ordered him to be fed and turned loose.  And here he was, back
again, hanging around!

"Where is he?"

"He dodged into the shrubbery across the lawn."

The effontery of Asticot amazed Warner.  With an impatient gesture he
turned on his heel to traverse the lawn.  And at the same moment Asticot
emerged from the bushes bordering it.

His bruised and ratty eyes blinked nervously; his battered _casquette de
marlou_ was in his hand; his knees, and his teeth also, seemed inclined
to smite together. Plainly, he was terrified; and when Warner walked
swiftly toward him across the lawn, the creature uttered a sort of
stifled squeak.

"Asticot," said Warner, in pleasant, even tones, "I told the servants to
feed you and turn you loose.  Also, I left word that I’d kill you the
next time I caught you hanging around here.  Did they give you that
message?"

"M-m’sieu’——"

"Did they?"

"Alas!"

"Then why are you still prowling in this vicinity? Do you _want_ to be
killed?"

A suppressed howl escaped the bandaged ruffian.

"I do not desire to go away from M’sieu’!  No!  I desire to remain under
his powerful protection——"

"What!"

"I desire to serve M’sieu’—to dedicate my life to the service of
M’sieu’, my patron, powerful and terrible.  I have need to render him
homage—I, Asticot, grateful and affectionate——"  He blubbered
sentimentally, squirming like a kicked and abject dog.

Warner, astonished, stared at the writhing ruffian for a few moments,
then he burst into a laugh.

"Why, you Parisian sewer rat," he said, "do you imagine that I could
have any use for _you_?"

"M’sieu’!  I ask as wages only a crust, a pallet of straw in some
corner, and a few pennies which will enable me to ’fry a cigarette’ when
I am lonely——"

"I don’t want you!" repeated Warner, disgusted, but much amused.  "Why
do you imagine that I have any employment to offer a cutthroat?"

"There is le Père Wildresse," replied Asticot, naïvely.

"Do you imagine I expect to hire somebody to murder him?"

"M’sieu’—it is but natural."

Warner’s laughter died out and his expression altered.

"Come, Asticot, cut away," he said quietly, "or I shall become angry!"

"M’sieu’!  Don’t drive me away!" he whined.  "I know how to wash brushes
in black soap——"

"What!"

"Also, I have learned how to stretch _toiles_ and make _chassis_.  I
have served in Biribi.  My lieutenant amused himself by painting
pictures of camels and palms and the setting sun, very red and as full
of rays as a porcupine——"

"I don’t _want_ you, Asticot!  It is noon, now.  I shall tell them at
the stables to give you a crust and a bowl of soup.  After you have
sufficiently stuffed yourself, go quietly away wherever you belong, and
don’t come back——"

"M’sieu’!  I entertain a deep affection for M’sieu’——"

"Go to the devil!" said Warner wearily, and walked back to the house.
Here he gave the footman culinary instructions to transmit to the
kitchen-maid, who, in turn, should see that something to eat was sent to
the stables for Asticot.

Then he walked through the house to the northern terrace, where Philippa
and Peggy sat sewing and looking out across the valley toward the smoky
panorama in the north.  His field glasses lay on the parapet, and he
picked them up and adjusted them to his vision.

"Isly is burning, and Rosales, and the great farm of Le Pigeonnier,"
remarked Peggy.

"Who says so?"

"Mathilde.  The postman told her.  He heard it in Ausone from the
soldiers.  That is where the fighting is, at Isly.  The trains leaving
Ausone are loaded with soldiers going north.  It appears that matters
are progressing very well for us."

Warner said nothing.  With two French towns burning on the horizon, the
great farm of Le Pigeonnier on fire, and the cannonade steadily becoming
more distinct, he was not at all certain that everything promised well
for Ausone and Saïs and the valley of the Récollette.

Through his glasses he could see the beautiful spire of Sainte Cassilda
in Ausone.  Beyond, where the wooded, conical hill rose from the rolling
plain as though it were an enormous artificial mound, nothing of the
fort was visible.

But farther away, beyond the river, he could see trains crawling across
the landscape—see smoke trailing from locomotives; farther still only
the green and gold of woods and grain fields stretched away, growing
vaguer and dimmer until the wall of smoke obscured them and blotted the
earth from view.

Madame de Moidrey appeared at the doorway behind them.

"They have just telephoned from Ausone to ask whether we can take in
wounded, if necessary," she said calmly.  "They are to send material for
fifty beds this evening.  Sister Eila and Dr. Senlis have offered to
remain for the present.  I think everybody will have to help."

Philippa, who had risen, came toward her.

"I don’t mind where I sleep," she said, "if I can only be of any use——"

"You are not going to be disturbed, dear—not at present, anyway."  And
to Peggy: "I have told them to open the east wing and air the gallery
and the rooms on both the upper floors.  There is room for two hundred
beds in the east wing.  Vignier has gone to turn on the water, and I
shall have the parquet and windows thoroughly cleaned and the stair
carpets taken out of storage and laid down."

"Is there anything I can do?" asked Warner.

"Nothing for any of us to do so far.  When the beds arrive, I shall have
them set up and ready, that’s all.  Peggy, if the servants require any
further instructions, tell them what to do.  Sister Eila is inspecting
the east wing and I must return to Mr. Gray."

"How is Gray?" asked Warner.

"Very much afraid that he is making us extra trouble.  He is so patient,
so considerate—really a most charming man.

"I have an idea that the cannonade is making him very restless.  He
tries not to show it.  He lies there very quietly, asking for nothing,
most grateful for the slightest attention.  I have been giving him the
medicine Dr. Senlis prescribed and reading the paper to him between
doses."

"Couldn’t I do that?" began Peggy, but Madame de Moidrey shook her
pretty head hastily and went away to inspect her Englishman, for whom
luncheon was being prepared on a tray.

Luncheon was served on the terrace for the others. It was a rather
silent affair: they ate with the distant rumble of cannon in their ears
and their eyes turning ever toward the north where that impenetrable
wall of smoke masked the horizon from east to west.

"I think I shall go over to Ausone," remarked Warner.

Philippa looked up in silence.

"Why?" inquired Peggy.

"Because," he replied, "I have a couple of dozen pictures and sketches
in storage at the Boule d’Argent, and I think I might as well get them
and ship them to my Paris studio."

"Do you really suppose there is any danger that——"

"No," he interrupted, smilingly, "but you know how finicky and panicky a
painter is.  I think I’ll take a stroll after luncheon and bring back my
canvases—" he turned to Philippa—"if I may take your punt for the
purpose?"

"Certainly.  I’ll pole you up to Ausone——"

"You will do nothing of the sort, thank you!" he retorted, laughing.

"Is there any danger?" asked Peggy.

"Not the slightest.  But I had rather that Philippa remained here."

Peggy passed her arm around Philippa’s shoulders.

"He doesn’t want you, darling, but I do!  Remain where you’re
appreciated and I’ll take you up presently to see that exceedingly
nice-looking Englishman."

Philippa’s smile was a little forced; she looked up at Warner every now
and then, curiously, questioningly, even reproachfully.

When he had pretended long enough not to be aware of it, he turned and
looked at her and laughed.  And after Peggy had risen and entered the
house, he said:

"Philippa, I don’t care to have you any nearer that wall of smoke out
yonder than you are at present. That’s the only reason I don’t want you
to go to Ausone in the punt with me."

"You know," she said, "that I might just as well be where you are all
the time."

"Why?"

"Is it necessary for me to tell you that if anything happens to you it
might as well happen to me at the same time?"

"Nonsense, Philippa——"

"You know it is so," she said quietly.

He looked at the smoke, glanced at her, rose and walked to the door,
and, turning abruptly, came back to where she was seated.

"That won’t do," he said bluntly.  "Nobody should be as vital to you as
that.  Life and happiness are beginning for you.  Both must be
independent of circumstances and individuals.  Everything already lies
before you, Philippa—youth, attainment, the serenity and the happiness
of opportunity heretofore denied you.  Fulfillment does not depend on
others; the interest in living and the reason for living depends on
personal faith, resolution, and endeavor, not on what accidents affect
other lives around you.  Life should be lived thoroughly and completely
to the end, industriously, vigorously, and with a courage for enjoyment
never faltering.  Your life is _yours_.  Live it!  Find in it the sheer
happiness of living.  No matter what befalls others, no matter who these
others may be, it is your business in life to go on living, to go on
discovering reasons for living, to go on desiring to live, and to find
in living the highest happiness in the world—the satisfaction of a duty
thoroughly accomplished!"

He was smiling and rather flushed when he ended his emphatic sermon.
The girl beside him had listened with drooping head, but her grey eyes
were raised to his from time to time.

And now that he had finished expounding his strenuous and masculine
logic, she turned away and leaned on the parapet looking down at the
tops of the forest trees below.

He came over and rested on the stone balustrade beside her.

"Am I not right?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Then you understand that, whatever may happen to anybody else, life
always presents the same noble challenge to you?"

"Yes....  A bird, shot through the breast, must go on fighting for
breath as long as its heart beats.... I should do the same—if anything
happened to you."

The hot color suddenly burnt his face.  He made no comment—found none to
make.  Her transparent candor had silenced him utterly; and he found
himself troubled, mute, and profoundly moved by her innocent avowal of
devotion.

She looked around at him after a while.

"That is what you meant, isn’t it?"

He shook his head slightly.  He could scarcely presume to criticize her
or instruct her concerning the mysteries of her own heart.  Those
intimate, shadowy, and virginal depths were exempt from the rule of
reason.  Neither logic nor motive was in control there; instinct alone
reigned.

No, he had nothing more to say to her; nothing definite to say to
himself.  A haunting and troubled perplexity possessed his mind; and a
deeper, duller, and obscure wonder that the young heart in her, and the
youthful faith that filled it, had been so quietly, so fearlessly
surrendered to his keeping.

He had always supposed that his experience, his years, his clear
thinking and humorously incredulous mind rendered him safe from any
emotional sentiment not directly connected with his profession.

The fact that women were inclined to like him had made him unconsciously
wary, even amiably skeptical. Outside of a few friendships he had never
known more than a passing fancy for any woman—a sentiment always partly
humorous, an emotion always more or less amused.  His preferences were
as light as the jests he made of them, his interest as ephemeral as it
was superficial—aside from his several friendships with women, or where
women were intimately concerned with his work.

The swiftness with which acquaintance had become friendship between
Philippa and himself had disturbed and puzzled him.  That, like a
witch-flower, it had opened over night into full blossom, he seemed to
realize, even admitted to himself.  But already it seemed to have become
as important, as established, as older friendships.  And more than that,
day by day its responsibilities seemed to multiply and grow heavier and
more serious.

He thought of these things as he leaned on the stone balustrade there
beside Philippa.  What she might be thinking of remained to him a
mystery impenetrable, for she had passed one arm through his and her
cheek rested lightly against his shoulder, and her grey eyes, brooding,
seemed lost in the depths of the distant smoke.

And all the while she was saying in her sweet, serene way:

"You will let me go with you, won’t you?  It would be very agreeable on
the river this afternoon.  Such a pleasure you could not sensibly deny
me.  Besides, the punt is mine, Jim.  I don’t let anybody charter it
unless captain and crew are included.  I am, naturally, the captain.
Ariadne is the crew.  If you desire to engage a passage to Ausone——"

"Philippa, you little tyrant, do you mean to refuse me the _Lys_?"

"Come down to the river and look her over," she said, drawing him away
from the balustrade.  "And on the way you may get the pole from the
garage."

He was inclined to demur, but she had her way; and ten minutes later
they were walking across the fields, he with the pole across his
shoulder, she moving lightly and happily beside him, her hair in two
braids and the velvet strings of the bonnet fluttering under her rounded
chin.

The Ausone road lay white and deserted; the last fugitive from the north
had passed.  Nor were there any more skiffs or laden boats on the river,
nor any signs of life on the quarry road.  All was still and sunny and
silent; the Récollette slipped along, clear and silvery, between green
banks; to the east the calm blue hills stretched away vague with haze;
swallows soared and dipped, starring the glass of the stream as though
rising fish were breaking its serene surface.  But the still air and
cobalt sky were heavy with the cannonade, making the stillness of the
sun-drenched world almost uncanny.



                            *CHAPTER XXVIII*


Philippa, curled up in the punt, had fashioned for herself a chaplet of
river lilies.  The white blossoms wreathing the black velvet _bonnet à
quartiers_, and a huge bouquet of the lovely flowers which she carried
in her hand gave a bridal aspect to the affair, heightened presently
when she began to festoon the gunwales with lilies and scented rushes
from the sedge, as they slipped along inshore to avoid the stronger
current of midstream.

The air vibrated and hummed with the unbroken rolling of the
bombardment; there was not a cloud in the calm sky; no birds sang and
few, except the darting swallows of the Récollette, were on the wing at
all; but everywhere dragon flies glittered, level-winged, poised in
mid-air, or darted and hovered among the reeds with a faint, fairy-like
clash of gauzy wings.

The sound of the cannonade grew so much more distinct as they drew near
the environs of Ausone that, to Warner, the increase in volume and the
jar of concussion seemed scarcely due alone to their approach. Rather it
appeared as though the distant reverberations were very gradually
rolling toward them; and before they had poled within sight of the
outskirts of the town Warner said to Philippa:

"It sounds to me as though the whole business were miles nearer than the
mere distance we have come. And that is not an encouraging suggestion,
either."

"Could it be the wind which is carrying it toward us?"

"There is very little wind in those tree tops up there."  He shrugged,
poled ahead, not apprehensive, yet conscious that Philippa had no
business in a town from the vicinity of which such ominous sounds could
be heard so distinctly.

Few people were moving on the Ausone road, merely a belated group or two
trudging southward.  Except for a distant cavalry patrol riding slowly
along the quarry road across the river, the country appeared to be empty
of military movement.  As they advanced upstream, one fact became
apparent; the fugitives who had passed through Saïs that morning had not
come from the scattered hamlets and cottages along the Récollette.  They
could see women washing linen along the river banks and hanging out the
wash on clotheslines.  Old men and children fished tranquilly from the
sterns of skiffs pulled up among the rushes; cattle stood knee-deep in
the limpid stream under the fringe of trees; a farmer who had cut his
wheat and barley had already begun threshing.  It was evident that the
exodus from the north was not, so far, affecting Ausone.

When their punt glided past the great willow tree where the Impasse
d’Alcyon terminated at the river bank, Warner, swinging his pole level,
pointed in silence and looked at Philippa.  She smiled interrogatively
in response.

"That’s where Halkett and I landed when we came to find you," he said.

Then she comprehended and the smile faded from her lips.

Around the bend lay the tree-shaded lawn of the Café Biribi.  They gazed
at it fixedly and in silence, as they shot swiftly past.  There was no
sign of life there; the beds of cannas and geraniums lay all ablaze in
the sun; the windows of the building were closed, the blinds lowered;
every gayly-painted rowboat had been pulled up on the landing and turned
keel upward. A solitary swan sailed along close inshore, probing the
shallows with his brilliant scarlet beak.

Then, as they left the deserted scene of their first meeting, and as the
pretty stone bridge of the Place d’Ausone came into sight beyond,
spanning the river in a single, silver-grey arch, Warner looked up along
the steep and mossy quay wall, and saw, above him, a line sentinel,
fully equipped, lounging on the parapet, watching them.  Two others
paced the bridge.

"Halte là!  Au large!" called out the sentinel.  "The Pont d’Ausone is
mined."

Leaning on his pole and holding the punt against the current, Warner
called out:

"Is it permitted to land, soldier?"

"It is not forbidden," replied the soldier.  "But you must not approach
the bridge any nearer.  There are wires under water."

"I have business in Ausone at the Boule d’Argent!" explained Warner.
"Is it all right for us to go there?"

"If you remain there with Madame over night you must inscribe yourself
with the police and stay indoors after nine without lights," replied the
sentinel.  It was evident that he took the chaplet of river lilies for a
bridal wreath, and that the young bride’s beauty dazzled him.  He was
very young, and he blushed when Philippa looked up laughingly and
thanked him as she put off her white chaplet.

Warner tied the skiff to a rusty ring; Philippa sprang ashore; and they
mounted the stone steps, arm in arm together.  As they passed the
sentinel she drew a lily from her bouquet.

"_Bonne chance_, soldier of France!" she murmured, dropping the white
blossom into his sunburnt hand; and clasping Warner’s arm she passed
lightly on into the square, hugging her bouquet to her breast.

The aspect of the town, from the quay wall above, seemed to have changed
very little.  Except on fête days the Place d’Ausone, or market square,
was never animated.  A few people moved about it now, as usual; a few
men sat sipping their bitters on the terrace of the Café Biribi;
children played under the trees by the river wall; old women knitted; a
few aged anglers, forbidden the bridge, dozed on the quay parapets,
while their brilliant scarlet quills trailed in the pools below.

True, there were no idle soldiers to be seen strolling in couples or
dawdling on benches.  A patrol of _chasseurs à cheval_, in their pale
blue jackets and black "tresses," walked their wiry horses across the
square. Also, near the horse fountain, three anti-aircraft guns stood in
the sunshine, their lean muzzles tilted high, the cannoniers lying on
their blankets around them, and a single sentinel on guard, pacing the
Place with his piece shouldered.  At the further end of the rue d’Auros,
where it enters the boulevard by the Church of Sainte Cassilda, cavalry
were moving; and more sky artillery was visible in front of the church
plaza. Otherwise the presence of troops was not noticeable in Ausone
town.

Nor were Philippa and Warner particularly noticed or remarked, the
girl’s provincial costume being a familiar sight in the region from Saïs
to Dreslin.  In fact, Warner’s knickers and Norfolk excited the only
attention, and every now and then some man passing, and taking him for
English, lifted his hat in cordial salutation to a comrade of an allied
nation.

But for all the absence of animation and excitement in the Ausone
streets, the deepening thunder of the cannonade began to preoccupy
Warner; and finally he inquired what it signified of a passing line
soldier, who stopped courteously and saluted.

"C’est le fort d’Ausone qui donne, Monsieur," he explained, bowing
slightly to Philippa as he spoke.

"What!" exclaimed Warner.  "Is the Ausone fort firing?"

"Since two hours, Monsieur.  It would appear that affairs are warming up
out there."

"What does that mean?"

"_Dame_—they must see something to fire at," replied the soldier,
laughing.  "As for us here in the town, we know nothing.  We others—we
never know anything that happens until it is happening to us."

"From the Château at Saïs," said Warner, "one can see three towns on
fire in the north."

"It is more than we soldiers can see from here, Monsieur.  Yet we know
it must be so, because people from Isly, from Rosales, from Dreslin,
have been passing through from the north.  They must have passed through
Saïs."

"Thousands," nodded Warner.

The soldier saluted; Warner lifted his cap, and he and Philippa entered
the Boule d’Argent, where, in a little, lace-curtained dining-room to
the left, they seated themselves by the street window and ordered tea
and sugar-buns.

The _gérant_, who knew Warner, came up and made a most serious and
elaborate bow to Philippa and to the American.

"Ah, Monsieur Warner!" he said.  "_Voyez-vous_ the Bosches have begun at
last!  But, God willing, it shall not be 1870 again!"

"It won’t be; don’t worry, François.  The Republic knows how to confront
what is coming!"

"Yes.  I hope we have learned something.  All Frenchmen will do what is
possible.  As for me, I expect that my class will be called.  I shall do
my best, Monsieur Warner....  It is a great happiness to know that the
English are with us.  We must stand by those poor Belgians.  Have you
heard the news, Monsieur?"

"Nothing since noon."

"Ah!  The Bosches are ruining everything with their artillery.  Liége,
Namur, are crumbling; Louvain has been swept by shells.  The great
cupola forts are in ruins; everything is on fire; they are shooting the
people in their houses, in the streets—the dead lie everywhere—women,
children, in the ditches, in the fields, on the highroads.  Ah, Monsieur
Warner, c’est triste, allez!"

"Where did you hear such things, François?"

"It is already common talk.  The noon bulletins of the _Petit Journal_
confirm it.  They say that our fort is shelling the Uhlans of Guillaume
now.  They say that the forest of Ausone crawls with them."

A waiter brought their tea; the _gérant_ bowed himself out and sent a
porter to the lumber room to collect and cord up Warner’s canvases.

While Philippa poured their tea, the cups began to rattle in the
saucers, and the windows shivered and trembled in the increasing
thunder.  Twice his cup slopped over; and he was just lifting it to his
lips when suddenly the very floor seemed to jump under them and a
tremendous shock rocked the room.

"A big gun in the fort," said Warner, coolly forcing a smile.  "I think,
Philippa, as soon as you have finished——"

A terrific salvo cut him short.  Somewhere he could hear a crashing
avalanche of broken glass, prolonged into a tinkling cascade; then came
a second’s silence, then another splitting roar from the end of the
street.

The waiter came in hurriedly, very pale.

"An aëroplane, Monsieur!  They are firing at it from the boulevard——"

His words were obliterated in the rush and clatter of horses outside.

Dragoons were galloping up the stony rue d’Auros, squadron on squadron,
and behind them rattled three high-angle guns harnessed to teams driven
by dragoons.

"Attention there!" shouted an officer, reining in and halting a peloton
of horsemen.  "Fire at will from your saddles!"

Warner sprang to the window; the street and the market square was full
of halted cavalry firing skyward. They had several high-angle guns there
too; the ear-splitting detonations became continuous; and all the time
the solid earth was shaking under terrible detonations from the fort’s
cupolas, where the big cannon were concealed.

From everywhere came the treble clink and tinkle of broken glass; people
in the hotel were running to the windows and running away from them; the
building itself seemed to sway slightly; dust hung in the air, greying
everything.

Warner drew Philippa to him and said calmly, but close to her ear:

"The thing to do is to get out of this at the first opportunity.  I had
no idea that anything would happen as near——"

His voice was blotted out in a loud report, shouts, a woman screaming,
the rumble and tumbling roar of bricks.  Another shattering report
almost deafened him; the air was filled with whizzing, whining noises;
the entire front of a shop diagonally across the street caved in with a
crystalline crash of glass, and the cornice above it lurched outward,
swayed, crumpled, and descended in a pouring avalanche of bricks and
mortar.

Somebody in the hotel lobby shouted:

"An aëroplane is directly over us.  They are dropping bombs!"

"Go to the cellar!" cried another.

An officer of gendarmerie came in, followed by a trooper.

"Stay where you are!" he said.  "It’s safer."

Another explosion sounded, but farther away this time.

"Their Taube is steering toward the fort," continued the same
quiet-voiced officer who had spoken. "Don’t go out into the streets!"

The uproar in the square had become terrific; high-angle guns poured
streams of fire into the sky; dragoons sitting their restless horses
fired upward from their saddles; an engine escorted by brass-helmeted
pompiers arrived and a stream of water was turned on the debris of the
shop across the street, where already pale flames flickered and played
over the dusty ruins.

"Somebody has been killed," whispered Philippa in Warner’s ear.

He nodded, watching the Red Cross bearers as they hastened up with their
stretchers, where the firemen were uncovering something from beneath the
heap of smoking debris.

A staff officer, attended by a hussar lancer, and followed by two
mounted gendarmes, rode into the street just as the dragoons, forming to
whistle signal in column of fours, rode out of the street at a gallop.

There came another clatter of hoofs; an open carriage escorted by six
_gendarmes-à-cheval_ rolled through the rue d’Auros.  In it was a
white-haired gentleman wearing a top hat and a tri-colored sash.

"The mayor," nodded Warner, as carriage and escort passed rapidly in the
direction of the Hôtel de Ville.

The sky-guns had ceased firing, now; three of them were limbered up and
dragged away toward the Boulevard d’Athos by dragoons.  More Red Cross
brassards appeared in the street, more stretchers.  Two double-decked
motor ambulances drew up; others, following, continued on toward the
Place and the railroad station. Then three grey military automobiles
full of officers came whizzing through the rue d’Auros with terrific
blasts of warning; and sped on, succeeded by others filled with infantry
soldiers, until a steady stream of motor cars of every description was
rushing past the windows, omnibus motors, trucks, hotel busses,
furniture vans, private cars, of every make and varying capacities, all
loaded with red-capped _fantassins_ and bristling with rifles.

Warner opened the window and leaned far out, one arm around Philippa.

Eastward, on the Plaza Sainte Cassilda, masses of lancer cavalry were
defiling at a trot, dragoons, hussars, and _chasseurs-à-cheval_, and the
rue d’Auros was filled with onrushing motor cars as far as he could see.
Westward, parallel with the stream of automobiles, field artillery was
crossing the Place d’Ausone, battery after battery, the drivers whipping
and spurring in their saddles, the horses breaking from trot to gallop.

"Something unexpectedly serious is happening," said Warner, trying to
make his voice audible in the din from the fort.  "Look into those
alleys and lanes and cross streets!  Do you see the people hurrying out
of their houses?  I must have been crazy to bring you here!"

"I can’t hear you, Jim——"  Her lips formed the words; he pointed across
the street into the alleyways and mews; she nodded comprehension.

"Until these automobiles pass we can’t cross—can’t get across!"  He
found himself almost shouting; and he emphasized his meaning with
pantomime and gesticulation.

She nodded, undisturbed.  Now and then, when soldiers in automobiles
looked up at them, she tossed white flowers from her bouquet into the
tonneau and nodded a gay response to the quick salutes.  One lily
remained; she drew it through the laces that held her scarlet and black
bodice, then, resting her hand on Warner’s shoulder, looked gravely down
at the rushing column underneath.

The tremendous concussions from the fort had loosened plaster and broken
window glass everywhere in the hotel; a smarting mist drifted through
the open window; the room behind them was obscured as by a fog, and
every shock from the guns added to the thickening dust veil.

The _gérant_, François, ghastly pale but polite, came presently to
inform Warner by signs that a chimney had fallen in on the lumber room
and that at present it was not possible for the porter to enter and find
the canvases stored there.

Warner understood, catching a word or two here and there, and shrugged
his indifference to what might become of his sketches.

"All I want," he shouted into the _gérant’s_ ear, "is to get this young
lady out of Ausone!"

François nodded, pointed toward the cross streets which were now
swarming with people preparing for flight.  There came a sudden lull in
the cannonade, and almost at the same time the last motor filled with
soldiers sped through the street below.

Instantly the street, now occupied only by firemen and Red Cross
soldiers, was filled with citizens.  Groups formed, surged hither and
thither, mingled with other groups and became a swaying crowd.  Already
hand-carts and wheelbarrows appeared, piled with bedding and household
furniture; the open carriage of the mayor repassed, was halted, and the
aged magistrate stood up and addressed the people; but Warner could not
make out what he was saying, and in a moment or two the carriage
continued toward the Boulevard d’Athos, escorted by gendarmes.

"It’s plain enough that the Germans are pretty close," said Warner
carelessly.  "If you’re ready, Philippa, I think we’d better get back to
Saïs."

"And your beautiful pictures!  Oh, Jim, I can’t bear to have them left
here——"

"Which do you imagine I consider the more valuable, Philippa, you or
those daubs of mine?  Come, dear; let’s clear out if we can before that
fort begins to converse again with Germans."

He paid his reckoning at the desk, where _patron_, _gerant_,
_caissière_, and staff had gathered in calm consultation concerning
eventualities.  Nobody seemed excited; everybody was polite, even
smiling; servants were already busy with dusters, brooms, and pans; the
porter carried down luggage for departing guests.

"Monsieur Warner, are you leaving us?" inquired François smilingly.
"Perhaps it is better; they say that the Germans are now in range of the
fort.  Saïs is likely to be more peaceful than Ausone tonight.  If the
Bosches don’t bombard us, I think your pictures will be quite safe with
us."

He bowed them to the door; Philippa, clinging to Warner’s arm, went out
into the stony street, which was now crowded with hurrying people, all
preparing for flight.

As they set foot on the pavement, a frightful detonation shook the town,
another, another; and on the heels of the thunderous shock the first
German shell fell in Ausone, plunged through the roof and exploded in
the transept of the Church of Sainte Cassilda, blowing the altar and
choir stalls to dust and splinters.

Before Philippa and Warner could make their way to the river, three more
shells came plunging into the town, one exploding with a deafening din
in the empty market, another stripping a shop open from roof to basement
and literally disemboweling it, and a third blowing up the eastern end
of the rue d’Auros, where its whistling fragments tore right and left
through a huddled group of women and children.

Then, as they ran toward the quay, the soldiers on guard there came
hastening toward them, warning them back.  For a few moments the Place
d’Ausone streamed with terrified people in confused and purposeless
flight, forced back from the river by line soldiers who kept shouting
something which Warner could not understand.

But in another moment he understood, for the old stone bridge across the
Récollette split in two, vomiting great masses of stone into the air,
and the earth rocked with the roar of dynamite.

Half stunned, balked, hesitating, Warner stood in the market place with
his arm around Philippa, looking about him for a chance; while shell
after shell fell into the town, and the racket of their detonations
resounded from the railroad station to the boulevard.

"The river," he said; "it’s the best way out of this, I think!"

She nodded, clasped his arm, and they started once more toward the quay.

Below the parapet their punt, still tied fast, lay tossing and rocking
on the agitated river.  Down the stone stairs they ran; Philippa sprang
on board, and the next moment Warner cast off and drove the punt swiftly
out into the current of midstream.

Then, directly ahead of them, parallel to the Impasse d’Alcyon, a shell
fell with the whistling screech of a steamer’s siren; there came a
deadened roar; a geyser of water and gravel rose in mid-river, hurling
rocks, planks from the landing, and splintered rowboats in every
direction.

Great limbs from the willow trees hurtled earthward, a muddy maelstrom
of foam whirled their punt, caught it on a comb of seething water, flung
it from wave to wave.

Warner, beaten from his balance, had fallen to his knees.  As the
plunging punt swept downstream, he continued to use his pole
mechanically.  Around them debris still rained into the discolored
river, branches, fragments of sod; the surface of the water was covered
with floating boards, sticks, green leaves, uprooted reeds and rushes; a
mangled and bloody swan floated near, its snowy neck and head under
water.

Philippa crouched on the bottom of the punt, deadly pale, her hands over
her ears, her grey eyes riveted on Warner.

When his voice was under control, he said:

"Are you all right, dear?"

She read his lips, nodded, tried to smile, fell to trembling with both
hands still convulsively crushed over her ears.

Current and pole had already swept the punt out past the _banlieu_, past
the suburban cottages, past the farms and the cattle and the
clotheslines where the wash hung drying.

Behind them lay the town, amid a hell of exploding shells; the hills and
woods reëchoed the infernal crash; and, high overhead, above the
dreadful diapason of the guns, rose the crazy treble hooting of incoming
projectiles, dominating the awful roar on earth with a yelling bedlam in
the sky.

Again and again he looked aloft, fearfully attempting to trace and trail
and forestall some whistling screech growing louder and louder and
nearer and nearer, until the shattering crash of the explosion in the
town behind them relaxed the nerve-breaking tension.

Farther out in the green countryside he no longer looked up and back.
Philippa still lay huddled at his feet, looking up out of grey eyes that
quivered and winced sometimes, but always opened again, steady and clear
with faith.

On the Ausone road fugitives from every farm and hamlet were afoot
again, but he could not see them very distinctly through the dust that
hung there.  Also clouds now obscured the declining sun; the world had
turned grey around them; and the Récollette flowed away ahead with
scarcely a glimmer on its tarnished flood, save where a dull and leaden
sparkle came and went along the water weeds inshore.

It was as though the subtle poison of war itself had polluted material
things, killing out brightness and health and life, staining sky and
water and earth with its hell-distilled essence.

Then a more concretely sinister omen took shape, floating under the
trees in a deep, still cove—a dead cavalry horse, saddled and bridled,
stranded there, barely awash; and a hooded crow already walking busily
about over the level gravel of the shoal.

As they neared Saïs, the quarry road across the river became visible.
Dust eddied and drifted there, and he could distinguish the slanted
lances of cavalry in rapid motion and catch the muffled roar of hoofs.

They were galloping north, a dusty, interminable column enveloped in an
endless grey cloud of their own making in the thickening evening mist
already hanging palely over land and water.

There was scarcely a tint of color left in the east, and that vague hue
died out under clotted clouds as he looked.

And after a while he was aware of a vague rumor in the air, which seemed
to come from the east—a vibration, low, indefinite, almost inaudible,
yet always there to challenge his attention.

The Vosges lay beyond; and the Barrier Forts.

Duller and duller grew the twilight.  He drove the punt forward into
dusky reaches shrouded in mist, where not a ripple glimmered, and the
trees and river reeds stood motionless in the fog.

There were no stars, no lights ashore.  On his left he could hear the
unbroken trample of cavalry riding north; far beyond, the air was
heavily unsteady with the dull rumor beyond the hills; behind him the
shriller tumult had died away and the deadened booming of the guns
sounded like the heavy thunder of surf on sand.

Philippa had risen to a sitting position, and now she was lying back
comfortably extended among the cushions.

They exchanged a few words; her voice was calm, cheerful, untroubled.
She offered to take the punt pole; said that at first she had felt more
bewildered and dazed than frightened; explained that real fear had first
possessed her when the dead and bloody swan floated past, and that then
she had been horribly afraid of the sky noises—the shrieking, hooting,
whistling approach of the unseen.

He had been under fire in the Balkans; Lule Bourgas had blunted for him
the keener edge of terror.  And now, still thoroughly stirred, only the
excitement of the past hour remained and stimulated him.

"It’s war all around us now," he said, driving his punting pole steadily
and straining his keen eyes into the shadows beyond.  "There are
stirring days ahead for France in this region, I fear; the Barrier Forts
are far away and there is nothing in the north to hold the deluge
breaking over Luxembourg into Belgium.

"A great war is beginning, Philippa; the greatest that the earth has
ever faced....  I never supposed that I should live to see such a
war—the greatest of all wars—the last _great_ war, I think.

"If I were anything except a useless painter, I’d go into it....  I
don’t know what good I’d be to anybody.  But if anybody wants me——"

"We both can offer ourselves," said Philippa.

"Dear child!  I’d like to catch _you_ wandering into this sort of——"

"I shall volunteer if you do!"

"You shall _not_!  You’ll go to Paris with Madame de Moidrey—that’s what
you’ll do!"

"Jim, that is absurd.  If I’m wanted I shall volunteer for hospital
service, anyway.  And if you offer yourself I shall wait until I find
out where you are to be sent, and then I shall beg them to take me at
the nearest field ambulance."

"No good, Philippa.  They do that sort of thing in romances, but in real
life a course of hospital training is required of volunteers."

"I can scrub floors and sew and cook," she said serenely.  "Do they not
need such people?"

"There’s no use discussing it," he said.  "Only trained women will be
wanted—tolerated; and I suppose only trained men.  The amateur nurse and
warrior were utterly and definitely discredited in South Africa.
There’ll be no more of that.  There’s no room for us, Philippa; the
firing line would reject me with derision, and the base hospital would
politely bow you out."  He laughed rather mirthlessly.  "There remains
for us," he said, "the admirable, but somewhat monotonous thinking-rôles
of respectable citizens—items in the world-wide chorus which marches
harmlessly hither and thither during the impending drama, and forms
pleasing backgrounds for the principals when they take their curtain
calls."

She felt the undertone of slight bitterness in his voice; understood it,
perhaps, for, when the punt was turned and driven gently ashore among
the foggy rushes, she retained the supporting arm he offered, clung to
it almost caressingly.

"I know you," she murmured, as they mounted the grassy bank together;
"you have no need to tell me what you are—dearest, noblest, best among
men."

He answered almost impatiently:

"I don’t want you to think that of me!  You must not believe it,
Philippa.  Keep your head clear, and your judgment independent of that
warm, sweet heart of yours.  I’m a most ordinary sort of man, little
distinguished, not in any way remarkable——"

"Don’t!" she said.  "You only hurt me, not yourself. Of what use is it
saying such things to a girl when the whole world would be a solitary
place if you were not in it—if your living mind did not make the earth a
real and living place to me!

"I tell you that, to me, life itself—the reality of the living
world—depends on you.  If you die, all dies. Without you there is
nothing—absolutely nothing!—Not even myself!"

Calm, passionless, clear, her voice serenely pronounced and emphasized
her childish creed.  And, impatient, restless, disturbed at first, yet
in this young girl’s exaggerated and obstinate devotion he found no
reason for mirth, no occasion for the suppressed amusement of
experience.

He said:

"I can try to be what you think me, Philippa. Yours is a very tender
heart, and noble.  Perhaps your heart may gradually lend me a little of
its own quality, so that the glamour with which you invest me shall not
be all unreal."

There was a short silence, then Philippa laughed. It was a sweet, happy,
confused little laugh.  She made an effort to explain it.

"The greatest thing in the world," she said—"the _only_ thing!"

"What, Philippa?"

"Our friendship."

It was still early evening as they entered the house together and
traversed the hall to the north terrace.

The Countess de Moidrey, a book on her lap, was seated by a lighted lamp
in the billiard room, gazing out of the open windows, through which the
thunder of the cannonade, wave after wave, came rolling in from the
north.

"Madame—" began the girl timidly.

"Philippa!" she exclaimed, rising.

The girl came forward shyly, the unuttered words of explanation still
parting her lips; and the Countess de Moidrey drew her into her arms.

"My darling," she whispered unsteadily, "my darling child!"

Suddenly Philippa’s eyes filled and her lips quivered; she turned her
face away, stood silent for a moment, then slowly she laid her cheek on
the elder woman’s breast, and a faint sigh escaped her.

Madame de Moidrey looked at Warner over the chestnut head in its velvet
bonnet, which lay close and warm against her breast.

"Jim," she said, "they told me where you had taken this child.  Can you
imagine what my state of mind has been since that horrible uproar began
over there in Ausone?"

"I must have been a lunatic to take her," he admitted; but Philippa’s
protesting voice interrupted, unruffled, childishly sweet.

"The fault was mine, Madame.  I was very willful; I made him take me.
I’ll try not to be willful any more——"

"Darling!  He ought to have known better.  Do you understand how far you
have crept into all our hearts? It was as though a child of my own were
out there among the cannon——"  She bent and kissed the girl’s flushed
cheek.  "I’m not inclined to forgive Mr. Warner, but I shall if you want
me to.  Now, run up stairs, darling, and speak to Peggy.  She’s still
sitting at her bedroom window, I fancy, watching those dreadful flashes
out there, and perfectly miserable over you——"

"Oh!" cried Philippa, lifting her head.  "You all are so sweet to me—so
dear!  I shall hasten immediately——"  She stooped swiftly and touched
her lips to the hands that held and caressed her, then turned and
mounted the stairs with flying feet.

Warner gazed rather blankly at Madame de Moidrey.

"I must have been crazy to risk taking her.  But, Ethra, I hadn’t any
reason to suppose there was any danger."

"Were you in Ausone when the fort began firing? Didn’t you know enough
to come home?"

"Yes; I didn’t realize it was the Fort d’Ausone.  We were at tea in the
Boule d’Argent when the Taube appeared.  Then everything was in a mess,
Ethra.  I know a number of people have been killed.  We saw a shop blown
up across the street.  After that the cupola guns on the fort opened and
the town shook; and before we could cross the rue d’Auros to find our
punt, where we had left it tied under the river wall, the big German
shells began to fall all over the town. It was certainly a rotten
deal——"

"Jim, I am furious at you for taking that child into such a place.  I
wish you to understand now, from this moment, that I love her dearly.
She is adorable; and she’s mine.  You can’t take her about with you
without ceremony, anywhere and everywhere.  Anyway, it’s sheer madness
to go roaming around the country in such times as these.  Hereafter, you
will please ask my permission and obtain my sanction when you are
contemplating any further harebrained performances."

Warner took his rebuke very humbly, kissed the pretty hand that,
figuratively, had chastised him, and went away to dress, considerably
subdued.

"By the way," he asked, when halfway up the stairs, "how is that man,
Reginald Gray?"

"I think he is better, Jim.  Sister Eila is with him. Poor child, she
has been superintending the placing of the cot beds which have arrived,
and she is really very tired.  If you are going to stop in and speak to
Mr. Gray, please say to Sister Eila that I shall relieve her in a few
moments."

He met Peggy with Philippa in the upper hall.

"You brute!" remarked Peggy, turning up her nose; and Philippa laughed
and closed the girl’s lips with her soft hand.

"You may chase me about and kick me, too," said Warner, contritely.
"Anyway, I’m not to go anywhere with Philippa any more, it seems——"

"What!" exclaimed Philippa, then smiled and flushed as Peggy said
scornfully:

"You couldn’t keep away from her if you tried.  But hereafter you’ll
include me on your charming excursions in quest of annihilation!"  And
she tightened her arm around Philippa’s waist and swung her with her
toward the further end of the hall.

Very conscious of his temporary unpopularity, he went in to see how Gray
was feeling, and found him sitting up in bed and Sister Eila preparing
his dose for him.

So Warner gave the Sister of Charity the message from Madame de Moidrey,
and offered to sit beside Gray until the Countess arrived.

When Sister Eila had retired, Gray said, rather wistfully:

"I shan’t know how to thank these people for taking me in.  It’s really
a beastly imposition——"

"Nonsense, my dear fellow.  They like it.  All women adore a hero.  How
do you feel, anyway?"

"Much fitter, thanks.  I don’t know what medicine they’re giving me, but
it is evidently what I needed.... And do you know that the Countess de
Moidrey has been kind enough to visit me and read to me, and even write
a letter to Halkett for me?  I sent it to London.  They’ll get into
touch with him there."  His sunken eyes rested on the window through
which, far away over Ausone Fort, the flicker and flare of the guns
lighted up the misty darkness, throwing a wavering red glare over the
clouds.

Boom—boom—rumble—rumble—boom! came the dull thundering out of the north.
Every window was shaking and humming.

"A devil of a row," remarked Gray, restlessly.

"You’ve heard that the German shells are already falling on Ausone,
haven’t you?"

"No.  Are they?"

Warner drew a brief picture of what he had seen that afternoon in
Ausone, and the Englishman listened, intensely interested.

"And I don’t know," he ended, "what is to prevent the Germans from
battering the Ausone Fort to pieces if they have silenced those big
Belgian fortresses around Namur.  In that case, we’ll have their
charming Uhlans here in another forty-eight hours——"

He checked himself as Madame de Moidrey knocked and entered, followed by
a maid with Gray’s dinner on a tray.

"Thank you, Jim; you may go and dress now.  Mr. Gray, you are to dine a
little earlier, if you don’t mind—Suzanne, place the tray on this
tabouret.  Now, shall I help you, Mr. Gray?"

"Thanks, so much; but I am detaining you from dinner——"

"No, indeed.  Let me help you a little——" arranging a napkin for him and
uncovering his cup of fragrant broth.

Warner and the maid, Suzanne, lingered, looking on, thinking they might
be needed.

But realizing presently that neither the Countess nor her patient was
paying the slightest attention to them, they looked at each other very
gravely and quietly walked out.


That night at dinner Sister Eila was absent.

Certain prescribed devotions made Sister Eila’s attendance at any meal
an uncertainty.  The private chapel in the east wing had now become a
retreat for her at intervals during the day; the kitchen knew her when
Gray’s broth was to be prepared; she gently directed the servants who
had been setting up the hospital cots in the east wing, and she showed
them how to equip the beds, how to place the tables, how to garnish the
basins of running water with necessaries, where to pile towels, where to
assemble the hospital stores which had arrived with the cots in cases
and kegs and boxes.

Besides this she had not forgotten to give Gray his medicine and to
change his bandages.

It had been a busy day for Sister Eila.

And now, in the little chapel whither she had crept on tired feet to her
devotions, she had fallen asleep on her knees, the rosary still clinging
to her fingers, her white-bonneted head resting against the pillar
beside which she had knelt.

Warner, wandering at hazard after dinner, discovered her there and
thought it best to awaken her.

As he touched her sleeve, she murmured drowsily:

"I have need of prayer, Mr. Halkett....  Let me pray—for us—both——"

For a long while Warner stood motionless, not daring to stir.  Then,
moving cautiously, he left her there asleep on her knees, her white
cheek against the pillar, the wooden prayer beads hanging from her
half-closed hand.



                             *CHAPTER XXIX*


The first streak of tarnished silver in the east aroused the sleeping
batteries beyond Ausone. Warner, already dressed and out of doors, felt
the dim world around him begin to shake again, as one by one the distant
guns awoke and spoke to the ruined fort of doom.  There was not a soul
astir in the Château or about the grounds.  Over shrubbery and woods
thin films of night mist drooped, sagging like dew-laden spiders’ webs;
in the demi-light the great house loomed spectral and huge amid its
phantom trees, and the wet lawns spread away and vanished under the
pallid pall that bathed them.

Warner had slept badly.  What might be transpiring in the north had
haunted his troubled slumber, had broken it continually, and finally had
driven him from his hot and tumbled pillows to dress and go out into the
dark obscurity.

To see for himself, to try to form some conclusion concerning the
approaching situation of the people in the Château des Oiseaux, was his
object.

The first grey tint in the east woke up the guns; from the northern
terrace he could see the fog all rosy over Ausone; pale flashes leaped
and sparkled far beyond as the deep waves of sound came rolling and
tumbling toward him, breaking in thunderous waves across the misty
darkness.

Now and then a heavier concussion set the ground shaking, and a redder
glare lighted the north and played shakily over the clouds.  Ausone was
still replying.

On the other side of the Récollette there was a hill terraced to the
summit with vineyards.  From its western slope he knew that part of
Ausone town was visible, and from there he believed that with his field
glasses he could see for himself how much of the town was really on
fire; how near to it and to the fort were those paler flashes reflected
on the clouds which ringed the northern sky.

Nobody was astir in the house as he left it; nobody in the roadway.

At the lodge he rapped on the dark window until the old man peered out
at him through the diamond panes, yawning and blinking under his Yvetot
nightcap, a candle trembling in his hand.

Outside the wall he crossed the road, climbed the hedge stile and struck
across a field of stubble.

Over the darker eastern hills a wet sky lowered; the Récollette ran
black under its ghostly cerements of vapor; lapwings were calling
somewhere from the foggy sky, and their mournful and faint complaint
seemed to harmonize sadly with the vague grey world around him.

A trodden path twisted through the grass down to the reedy shore where
the punt lay.  Peering about for it, his foot struck the pole, where it
lay partly buried in the weeds; he picked it up and went down among the
rushes.  But until he laid his hand on the boat he did not notice the
man asleep there.  And not until the man sat up with a frightful yawn,
rubbing his sleep-swollen lids, did he recognize Asticot.

"What the devil——" he began, but Asticot stumbled to his large, flat
feet with a suppressed yelp of apprehension, as Warner’s dreaded grasp
fell on his collar.

"_Mon Dieu_," moaned the young ruffian, "may I not even sleep without
offending M’sieu’——"

Warner shook him, not roughly.

"Now answer me once and for all!  _Why_ are you hanging around Saïs?"

The tiny, mousy eyes of Asticot became fixed; a grin of terror stiffened
the pasty features.

"Why do I still find you in Saïs?" repeated Warner. "Tell me the truth!"

"I—I am too f-frightened to tell you——"

"Get over your fright.  Listen, Asticot, I’m not going to hurt you.  But
you’ve got to answer me. Come, compose yourself——"  He relaxed his grasp
on the coat collar and stepped aside.  "Come, Asticot; tell me why I
find you here in Saïs?"

"M’sieu’——"

"Yes, go on.  Just tell me the truth.  I’m not going to beat you."

"M’sieu’ will not believe me—God knows I do not know how to explain it
to myself—but since that frightful beating bestowed upon me I do not
know how to get along without the protection of M’sieu’——"

"What do you mean?"

"I am _afraid_!  I do not know why.  I desire to be taken under the
patronage of him I fear.  C’est plus fort que moi.  _Tenez_, M’sieu’,
like a dog owned by nobody I once ran about at random, and not afraid,
until caught and nearly killed by M’sieu’.  And now I desire to be his.
It is natural for me to follow him—even though I remain afraid of him,
even risking his anger and another beating——"

"Asticot!"

"M’sieu’?"

"Do you nourish any agreeable dreams that you may one day live to insert
your knife in my back?"

The sheer astonishment in the young ruffian’s visage was sufficient
answer for Warner.  He realized then that this yellow mongrel would
never again try to bite—that he might collapse and succumb under
violence, but never again would he twist and try to mangle the hand of
punishment which once had broken him so mercilessly.

"Get into the punt, anyway," said Warner, much perplexed.

Asticot turned and crept into the stern.

"Sit down!"

The young man squatted obediently.  Warner shoved off, sprang aboard,
and sent the punt shooting out across the misty water.

"So you don’t want to murder me any more?" he asked humorously.

"No," said Asticot, with sullen but profound conviction.

"What’s become of your delightful friend, Squelette?"

Asticot looked up, bared every tooth.

"_Figurez-vous_, M’sieu’, a dragoon patrol caught him yesterday stealing
a goose from a farm.  Me, I hid in a willow tree.  It’s the Battalion of
Biribi for Squelette—his class having been called a year ago—and he over
the Belgian line with his fingers to his nose!  Hé—hé!" laughed Asticot,
writhing in the enjoyment of the prospect before his recent comrade.
"Me, I have done my time in Biribi!—And the scars of it—God!—hot irons
on the brain!—And the heart a cinder!  Biribi!  Is there a priest’s hell
like it?"  He spat fiercely into the river.

"And Squelette, who always mocked me for the time I did in Biribi!
_Tenez_, M’sieu’, now they’ve caught him and he’ll do a tour for himself
in that dear Biribi! Hè—hè!  C’est bien fait!  Chacun à son tour!  As
for me——"  His voice suddenly relapsed into a whine.  "I shall now be
well protected by M’sieu’ and I shall be diligent and grateful in his
service, ready always with brush and black soap or with knife and
noose——"

"Thanks," said Warner dryly.  "You may stick to the bowl of black soap
until your class is summoned."

Asticot looked at him earnestly.

"If I have to go with my class, will M’sieu’ speak a word for me that it
shall be the line and not Biribi again?"

"Yes, if you behave yourself."

"A—a certificate of honest employment?—A few kind words that I have
diligently labored in the service of M’sieu’?"

"Yes, I’ll do that."

Asticot squirmed with delight.  And Warner, poling steadily up stream,
saw him making his toilet in the grey light, dipping his fists into the
water, scrubbing his battered features, carefully combing out _favoris_
and _rouflaquette_ and greasing both from the contents of a knotted
bandana handkerchief which he drew from the capacious pocket of the coat
which the charity of Warner had bestowed upon him.

He was as merry as a washer-raccoon over his ablutions; all care for the
future had fled, and an animal-like confidence in this terrible young
patron of his reigned undisturbed in the primitive brain of Asticot.

There was now only one impelling force in life for him—the instinctive
necessity of running rather close to Warner’s heels, wherever that might
lead him. Anxiety for personal comfort and well-being he dismissed; he
would eat when his master thought best; he would find shelter and warmth
and clothing when and where it pleased the man after whom he tagged.  He
was safe, he was comfortable.  That dominating physical strength which
had nearly destroyed him, coupled with that awesome intellectual power
which now held him in dumb subjection, would in future look out for him
and his needs.  Tant mieux!  Let his master do the worrying.

Carefully combing out his _favoris_ with a broken comb and greasing them
with perfumed pomade flat over his sunken cheekbones, he fairly wriggled
with his new sense of security and bodily comfort.

Now and then he scratched his large, outstanding ears, trying to realize
his good fortune; now and then, combing his _rouflaquette_ with
tenderness and pride, he lifted his mean, nasal voice in song:

    "Depuis que j’suis dans c’tte p—n d’Afrique
    A faire l’chameau avec une bosse su’ l’dos,
    Mon vieux frangin, j’suis sec comme un coup d’trique,
    J’ai b’entôt p’us que d’la peau su’les os!
      Et v’là l’Bat. d’Af. qui passe,
      Ohé! ceux d’la classe!—"


Combing away and plastering his lovelocks by the help of a fragment of
mirror, Asticot whined out his dreadful ballads of Africa, throwing all
the soul he possessed into the tragic recital and sniffling
sentimentally through his nose:

    A Biribi c’est là qu’on marche,
      Faut pas flancher;
    Quand l’chaouch crie: ’En avant!  Marche!’
      I’faut marcher,
    Et quand on veut fair’ des épates,
      C’est peau d’zébi:
    On vous fiche les fers au quat’ pattes
      A Biribi!

    A Biribi c’est là qu’on crève
      De soif et d’ faim,
    C’est là qu’i’ faut marner sans trêve
      Jusqu’ à la fin! ...
    Le soir on pense à la famille
      Sous le gourbi....
    On pleure encor’ quand on roupille
      A Biribi!"


He was still chanting when the punt glided in among the rushes of the
eastern bank.  He followed Warner to the land, aided him to beach the
punt, then trotted docilely at heel as the American struck out across
the quarry road and mounted the retaining wall of the vineyard-clad
hill.

Up they climbed among the vines; and Asticot with a leer, but keeping
his mousy eyes on Warner, ventured to detach a ripe bunch here and there
and breakfast as he trotted along.

The thunder of the cannon had become very distinct; daylight came slowly
under the heavy blanket of grey clouds; the foggy sky was still stained
with rose over Ausone; red flashes leaped from the fort; the paler glare
of the German guns played constantly across the north.

And now, coming out on the hill’s crest among the vines, Warner caught
sight of Ausone town far below, beyond the Château forest.  Here and
there houses kindled red as coals in a grate; the sluice and wheel of a
mill by the Récollette seemed to be on fire; beyond it haystacks were
burning and smothering all the east in smoke.

"_Mazette_," remarked Asticot, with his mouth full of stolen grapes.
"It appears to Bibi that their church of Sainte Cassilda is frying the
stone saints inside!"

And then, adjusting his field glasses, Warner discovered what the
mouse-eyes of Asticot had detected: Sainte Cassilda the beautiful was
merely a hollow shell within which raged a sea of fire crimsoning the
gaping doors and windows, glowing scarlet through cracks and fissures in
the exquisitely carved façade, mounting through the ruined roof in a
whirl of rosy vapors that curled and twisted and glittered with swarming
golden sparks.

Another fire burned in the ruins of what had been the Chalons railway
station; the Café and Cabaret de Biribi were level wastes of stones and
steaming bricks, over which fire played and smoke whirled upward; the
market was a long heap of live coals; even trees were afire by the
river, and Warner could see flames here and there among the bushes and
whole thickets burning fiercely along the river and beyond, where the
Bois d’Ausone touches it with a fringe of splendid oaks.

As day broke, a watery light illuminated the still landscape.  Smoke
hung heavy over Ausone Fort; the great cupola guns flashed redly through
it; a wide, high bank of vapor towered above Ausone, stretching away to
the west and north.  Whole rows of burning houses in Ausone glowed and
glimmered, marking the courses of streets; the Hôtel de Ville seemed to
be intact, but the Boulevard d’Athos was plainly on fire; and, over the
rue d’Auros, an infernal light flickered as flame and smoke alternately
lighted the street or blotted it from view.

"The town is done for," said Warner calmly.  "The fort is still
replying, but very slowly.  It looks rather bad to me.  It looks like
the end."

Asticot scratched one large ear and furtively helped himself to another
bunch of grapes.  Warner seated himself on the ground and raised his
field glasses.  Asticot squatted on his haunches, his little, mousy eyes
fixed wistfully on the burning town.  Looting ought to be good in
Ausone—dangerous, of course, but profitable. A heaven-sent opportunity
for honest pillage was passing.  Asticot sighed and licked his lips.

After a while, and imbued now with the impudent confidence of a
tolerated mongrel, he ventured to rise and nose around a bit, keeping,
however, his new master carefully in sight.

The sour little wine grapes had allayed his thirst and hunger; he
prowled at random around the summit of the hill, surveying the river
valley and the hills beyond.  By chance he presently kicked up a big
hare, which cleared out at full speed, doubling and twisting before the
shower of stones hurled after it by Asticot. He ran after it a little
way among the vines, hoping that a chance missile might have bowled over
the toothsome game.  Craning his neck, he peeped discreetly down the
hillside, reconnoitering; then suddenly ducked; squatted for a moment as
though frozen to a statue, and, dropping on his belly, he crawled back
to Warner, who still sat there with his field glasses bracketed on
Ausone.

"M’sieu’!"

Warner turned at the weird whisper, lowering his glasses.

"Las Bosches!" whispered Asticot.

"Where?" demanded Warner incredulously.

"Riding up this very hill where we are sitting!  I saw them—six of them
on their horses!"

"They must be French!"

"No, Bosches!  Uhlans!"

"Did they see you?"

"No."

Along the upper retaining wall of the vineyard a line of low bushes grew
in patches, left there, no doubt, so that the roots might make firmer
the steep bank of earth and dry-laid stone.

Warner rose, and, stooping low, ran toward this thatch of cover,
followed by Asticot.

Under the bushes they crept, stretched themselves flat, and lay
listening.

They had not long to wait; straight through the rows of vines toward the
crest of the hill rode an Uhlan, walking his big, hard-breathing horse
to the very verge of the northern slope.

His lance, with pennon furled, slanted low from the arm loop; he sat his
high saddle like a statue, and looked out across the valley toward the
burning town beyond.

He was so near that Warner could see the grey uniform in detail—the
ulanka piped with dark crimson, shoulder straps bearing the number 2,
collar with the eagle-button insignia of the Guard.  A grey helmet-slip
covered the mortar board and leather body of the schapska; boots and
belt were of russet leather.

Another Uhlan rode up, showing the star of an oberleutnant on the
_pattes-d’épaules_.

Four others followed, picking their way among the vines, cautiously yet
leisurely.  At the stirrups of the oberleutnant strode a man on foot—a
big, shambling, bald-headed man wearing a smock and carrying a felt hat
in his huge hand.  And when he turned to wipe his hairless face on his
sleeve, Asticot clutched Warner’s arm convulsively.

The man was Wildresse.

The officer of Uhlans sat very straight in his saddle, his field glasses
sometimes focussed on the burning town, sometimes sweeping the landscape
to the north and west, sometimes deliberately studying the valley below.

Presently he lowered his glasses and turned partly around to look down
at Wildresse, who was standing among the vines by his stirrup.

"Wohin führt diese Weg?" he demanded with a nod toward the quarry road
below.

"Nach Drieux, Excellenz!"

"Zeigen Sie mir die Richtung nach Dreslin mit der Hand!"

Wildresse raised his arm and pointed, tracing the quarry road north and
west.

"Also!  Wie tief ist dieser Fluss?  Ist eine Brücke?"

The harsh, deep rumble of Wildresse’s voice, the mincing, nasal tones of
the Prussian, the snort of horses receded as the Uhlans rode slowly over
toward the right—evidently a precaution to escape observation from the
valley below.

For a while they sat their big horses there, looking out over the
valley; then, at a signal from the ober-leutnant, they turned their
mounts and rode slowly off down the eastern slope of the vineyard,
taking with them the double traitor, Wildresse.

Asticot’s eyes were like two minute black sparks; he was shivering now
from head to foot as he lay there; and it became very evident to Warner
that this young ruffian had had no knowledge of that sort of villainy on
the part of Wildresse.

"Ah, le cochon!" hissed Asticot, grasping two fistfuls of earth in his
astonishment and fury.  "Is he selling France then to the Bosches?"

"Didn’t you know it?" inquired Warner coldly.

"I?  Nom de Dieu!  For what do you take me then? Whatever I am, I am not
_that_!  Ah, le sale bougre de Wildresse!  Ah!  Les salauds de saligauds
de Bosches! Ah, Wildresse!—Fumier, viande à corbeau, caserne à puces,
gadou’, morceau d’chausett’s russes—que j’te dis que j’t’engeule et que
j’t’abomine, vermine malade, canard boiteux——"

Ashy white, his mouth twisted with rage, Asticot lay shivering and
cursing the treachery of his late employer, Wildresse.  And Warner
understood that, low as this creature was, ignorant, treacherous,
fierce, ruthless, and cowardly, the treason of Wildresse had amazed and
horrified and enraged him.

"It’s the last depths of filth," stammered Asticot. "Ah, non, nom de
Dieu!  One does not do _that_!—Whatever else one does!  I’ll have his
skin for this.  It becomes necessary to me that I have his skin!  Minc’
de Marseillaise!  Viv’ la république!  En avant l’armée!  Gare au coup
d’scion, eh, vache d’apache! Les coutcaur sont faits pour les chiens,
mince de purée!  C’est vrai qu’ Squelette c’est un copain à moi—but if
he is in this—he and the père Wildresse, et bon!—Faut leur-z-y casser la
geule——"

"That’s enough!" interrupted Warner, who for a moment had been struck
dumb by the frightful fluency of an invective he never dreamed existed,
even in the awful argot of _voyous_ like Asticot.

He rose.  Pale and still trembling, Asticot stumbled to his feet, his
pasty face twisted with unuttered maledictions.

Moving cautiously to the eastern edge of the vineyard, they saw, far
below them, six Uhlans riding slowly eastward toward the Bois de Saïs,
and a gross figure on foot shuffling ahead and evidently acting as pilot
toward the wilder uplands of the rolling country beyond.

Warner watched them through his glasses until they disappeared in the
woods, then he turned, looked at the burning town in the north for a few
moments, closed his field glasses and slung them, and, nodding to
Asticot, descended the western slope toward the river.

There were no people visible anywhere, either on the quarry road or
across the river.  The fugitives from Ausone must have gone west toward
Dreslin.

Asticot crawled into the punt; Warner shoved off and poled for
midstream, where he let the current carry him down toward Saïs.

"Asticot?"

"M’sieu’?"

"That was only one small scouting party of Uhlans. Perhaps there are
more of them along the river."

Asticot began to curse again, but Warner stopped him.

"Curb that charmingly fluent flow of classic eloquence," he said.  "It
may sound well on the outer boulevards, but I don’t care for it."

The _voyou_ gulped, swallowed a weird oath, and shivered.

"Asticot, that man Wildresse ought to be apprehended and shot.  Have you
any idea where his hiding place is?"

"In the Bois d’Ausone.  It _was_ there.  Animals travel."

"Could you find the place?"

Asticot shrugged and rubbed his pock-marked nose. The forest of Ausone
was too near the cannon to suit him, and he said so without hesitation.

"Very well," said Warner.  "When we meet any of our soldiers or
gendarmes you can explain where Wildresse has been hiding.  He won’t
come out, I suppose, until the occupation of Ausone by the Germans
reassures him.  He ought to be caught and executed."

"If the cannon would only stop their ugly noises I’d go myself,"
muttered Asticot.  "_Tenez, M’sieu’_, it would be a pleasure for me to
bleed that treacherous hog——"

"I don’t doubt it," said Warner pleasantly, "but, odd as it may appear
to you, Asticot, I have a personal prejudice against murder.  It’s
weak-minded of me, I know.  But if you have no objection, we’ll let
military law catch Wildresse and deal with him if it can."

Asticot looked at him curiously:

"Is it then distasteful to M’sieu’ that I bleed this _espèce de_ pig for
him?"

"I’m afraid it is."

"You do not desire me to settle the business of this _limace_?"

"No."

"For what purpose is an enemy?" inquired the _voyou_.  "For revenge.
And of what use is revenge if you do not use it on your enemy?"

"You can’t understand me, can you, Asticot?"

"No," said Asticot naïvely, "I can’t."



                             *CHAPTER XXX*


It was still very early as Warner walked up to the Golden Peach, but
Magda and Linette were astir and a delicious aroma of coffee floated
through the hallway.

Warner surveyed his most recent acquisition with a humorous and slightly
disgusted air.  As it appeared impossible to get rid of Asticot, there
seemed nothing to do but to feed him.

So he called out Linette and asked her to give some breakfast to the
young _voyou_; and Linette showed Asticot into the bar and served
breakfast with a scorn and aloofness which fascinated Asticot and also
awed him.

None of the leering impudence, none of the easy effrontery of the outer
boulevards, aided Asticot to assert himself or helped him toward any
attempt at playfulness toward this wholesome, capable, business-like
young woman.

She served him with a detached and supercilious air, placed cover and
food with all the nonchalance of serving a house cat with its morning
milk.  And Asticot dared not even look at her until her back was turned;
then only did he venture to lift his mousy eyes to study the
contemptuous girl who had provided him with what he spoke of as the
"_quoi d’boulotter_."

As for Warner, he had sauntered into the kitchen, where Madame Arlon
greeted him heartily, and was prettily confused and flattered when he
seated himself and insisted on having breakfast with her.

Over their café-au-lait they discussed the menace of invasion very
quietly, and the stout, cheery landlady told him that she had concluded
to keep the inn open in any event.

"What else is there for me to do?" she asked.  "To leave my house is to
invite robbery; perhaps even destruction, if the Prussians arrive.  I
had rather remain and protect my property if I can.  At any rate, it
will not be for long, God willing!"

"I do not believe it will last very long, this headlong rush of the
Germans into France," he said thoughtfully. "It seems to me as though
they had the start of us, but nothing more serious.  I’m very much
afraid we are going to see them here in the Récollette Valley before
they are driven back across the frontier."

Linette’s cheeks grew very red.

"I had even rather serve that frightful _voyou_ in there than be forced
to set food before a Prussian," she said in a low voice.

"Wait a bit longer," said Warner.  "—A little patience, perhaps a little
more humiliation, but, sooner or later, surely, surely the liberation of
the Vosges—the return of her lost children to France, the driving out of
German oppression, arrogance, and half-cooked civilization forever....
It’s worth waiting for, worth endurance and patience and sacrifice."

"It is worth dying for," said Magda simply.

"If," added Linette, "one only knew how best to serve France by offering
one’s life."

"It is best to live if that can be accomplished honorably," said Madame
Arlon.  "France is in great need of all her children."

The three women spoke thoughtfully, naturally, with no idea of heroics,
expressing themselves without any self-consciousness whatever.

After a silence Warner said to Linette with a smile:

"So you don’t admire my new assistant, Monsieur Asticot?"

"Monsieur Warner!  That dreadful _voyou_ in _your_ service!"

Warner laughed:

"It seems so.  I didn’t invite him.  But I can’t get rid of him.  He
sticks like a lost dog."

"Send him about his business—which doubtless is to pick pockets!" cried
Linette.  "Monsieur has merely to whisper ’Gendarmes!’ to him, and he
does not stop running until he sights the Eiffel Tower!"

Madame Arlon smiled:

"He really is a dreadful _type_," she said.  "The perfume of Paris
gutters clings to him.  Monsieur Warner had better get rid of him before
articles begin to be missed."

"Oh, well," remarked Warner, "he’ll probably scuttle away like a scared
rabbit when the Germans come through Saïs.  I’m not worrying.
Meanwhile, he carries my field kit and washes brushes—if I ever can make
up my mind to begin painting again.... That heavy, steady thunder from
the north seems to take all ambition out of me."

"It affects me like real thunder," nodded Madame Arlon.  "The air is
lifeless and dead; one’s feet drag and one’s head grows heavy.  It is
like the languor which comes over one before a storm.

"Do the guns seem any louder to you since last night?"

"I was wondering....  Well, God’s will be done.... But I do not believe
it is in His heart to turn the glory of His face from France....  Magda,
if we are to make the preserves today, it will be necessary for you to
gather plums this morning.  Linette, is that type still eating?"

"He stuffs himself without pause," replied the girl scornfully.  "Only a
guinea pig can eat like that!"

She went into the bar café and bent a pair of pretty but hostile eyes
upon Asticot, who stared at her with his mouth full, then, still
staring, buttered another slice of bread.

"Voyons," she said impatiently, "do you imagine yourself to be at
dinner, young man?  Permit me to remind you that this is
breakfast—café-au-lait—not a banquet at the Hôtel de Ville!"

"I am hungry," said Asticot simply.

"Really?" she retorted, exasperated.  "One might almost guess as much,
what with the _tartines_ and _tranches_ you swallow as though you had
nothing else to do.  Come, stand up on what I suppose you call your
feet.  Your master is out in the road already, and I don’t suppose that
even you have the effrontery to keep him waiting."

Asticot arose; a gorged sigh escaped him.  He stretched himself with the
satisfaction of repletion, shuffled his feet, peeped cunningly and
sideways out of his mousy eyes at Linette.

"_Allons_," she said coldly, "it’s paid for.  Fichez-moi le camp!"

There was a vase of flowers on the bar.  Asticot shuffled over, sniffed
at them, extracted the largest and gaudiest blossom—a yellow dahlia—and,
with a half bold, half scared smirk, laid it on the table as an offering
to Linette.

The girl was too much astonished and incensed to utter a word, and
Asticot left so hurriedly that when she had recovered her power of
speech he was already slouching along down the road a few paces behind
Warner.

The latter had hastened his steps because ahead of him walked Sister
Eila; and he meant to overtake and escort her as far as the school, and
then back to the Château, if she were returning.

As he joined her and they exchanged grave but friendly greetings, he
suddenly remembered her as he had last seen her, kneeling asleep by the
chapel pillar.

And then he recollected what she had murmured, still drowsy with dreams;
and the memory of it perplexed him and left his face flushed and
troubled.

"How is your patient, Sister?" he inquired, dropping into step beside
her.

"Much better, Mr. Warner.  A little care is all he needs.  But I wish
his mind were at rest."  She glanced behind her at Asticot, plainly
wondering who he might be.

"What worries Gray?" inquired Warner.

"The prospect of being taken prisoner, I suppose."

"Of course.  If the Germans break through from the north they’ll take
him along.  That would be pretty hard luck, wouldn’t it?—To be taken
before one has even a taste of battle!"

Sister Eila nodded:

"He says nothing, but I know that is what troubles him.  When I came in
this morning, I found him up and trying to walk.  I sent him back to
bed.  But he tells me he does not need to use his legs in his branch of
the British service, and that if he could only get to Chalons he would
be fit for duty.  I think, from things he has said, that both he and Mr.
Halkett belong to the Flying Corps."

Warner was immensely interested.  Sister Eila told him briefly why she
suspected this to be true, then, casting another perplexed glance behind
her, she asked in a low voice who might be the extremely unprepossessing
individual shuffling along the road behind them. And Warner told her,
humorously; but she did not smile.

Watching her downcast eyes and grave lips in the transparent shadow of
her white coiffe, he thought he had never seen a human face so pure, so
tender—with such infinite capacity for charity.

She said very gently:

"My duties have led me more than once into the Faubourgs.  There is
nothing sadder to me than Paris.... Always I have believed that sin and
degradation among the poor should be treated as diseases of the mind....
Poor things—they have no doctor, no medicines, no hospital to aid them
in their illness—the most terrible illness in the world, which they
inherit at birth—poverty!  Poverty sickens the body, and at last the
mind; and from a diseased mind all evil in the world is born....  They
are not to blame who daily crucify Christ; for they know not what they
do."

He walked silently beside her.  She spoke again of crippled minds, and
of the responsibility of civilization, then looked up at his gloomy
visage with a faint smile, excusing herself for any lack of cheerfulness
and courage.

"Indeed," she said almost gayly, "God is best served with a light heart,
I think.  There is no palladin like good humor to subdue terror and slay
despair; no ally of Christ so powerful as he who laughs when evil
threatens.  Sin is most easily slain with a smile, I think; its germs
die under it as bacilli die in the sunlight.  _Tenez_, Monsieur Warner,
what do you think of my theories of medicine, moral, spiritual, and
mundane?  Is it likely that the Academy will award me palms?"

He laughed and assured her that her views were sound in theory and in
practice.  A moment later they came in sight of the school.

"It is necessary that I make some little arrangements with Sister
Félicité for my absence," she explained. "I scarcely know what she is
going to do all alone here, if the children are to remain."

They went into the schoolroom, where exercises had already begun, and
the droning, minor singsong of children filled the heavy air.

Sister Félicité greeted Warner, then, dismissing the children to their
desks, withdrew to a corner of the schoolroom with Sister Eila.

Their low-voiced consultation lasted for a few minutes only; the little
girls, hands solemnly folded, watched out of wide, serious eyes.

On the doorstep outside, Asticot sat and occasionally scratched his
large ears with a sort of bored embarrassment.

Warner went out to the doorstep presently and looked up at the sky,
which threatened rain.  As he stood there, silent, preoccupied, Sister
Eila came out with Sister Félicité, nodding to Warner that she was ready
to leave.  And, at the same instant, two horsemen in grey uniforms rode
around the corner of the school, pistols lifted, lances without pennons
slanting backward from their armslings.

Asticot, paralyzed, gaped at them; Warner, as shocked as he, stood
motionless as four more Uhlans came trotting up and coolly drew bridle
before the school.

Already three of the Uhlans had dismounted, stacked lances, abandoning
their bridles to the three who remained on their horses.

As they came striding across the road toward the school, spurs and
carbines clinking and rattling, a child in the schoolroom caught sight
of them and screamed.

Instantly the room was filled with the terrified cries of little girls:
Sister Eila and Sister Félicité, pale but calm, backed slowly away
before the advancing Uhlans, their arms outstretched in protection in
front of the shrieking, huddling herd of children.  Behind them the
terrified little girls crouched under desks, hid behind the stove, or
knelt clinging hysterically to the grey-blue habits of the Sisters, who
continued to interpose themselves between the Uhlans and their
panic-stricken pupils.

The Uhlans glanced contemptuously at Asticot as they mounted the door
steps, looked more closely at Warner; then one of them walked, clanking,
into the schoolroom, lifting his gloved hand to his helmet in salute.

Sister Félicité tried vainly to quiet the screaming children; Sister
Eila, her head high, confronted the Uhlans, both arms extended.

"Stop where you are!" she said coolly.  "What do you wish, gentlemen?
Don’t you see that you are frightening our children?  If you desire to
speak to us we will go outside."

An Uhlan clumsily tried to reassure and make friends with a little girl
who had hidden herself behind the stove.  She fled from him, sobbing,
and threw herself on her knees behind Sister Eila, hanging to her
skirts.

"Pas méchant," repeated the big cavalryman, with a good-natured grin;
"moi, père de famille!  Beaucoup enfants à moi.  Pas peur de moi.  Vous
est bon Français."

Another Uhlan pointed inquiringly at Warner, who had placed himself
beside Sister Félicité.

"_Anglais?_" he demanded.

"American," said Sister Eila calmly.

"Oh," he exclaimed with a wry grin.  "Americans are our friends.
Frenchmen have our respect.  We salute them as brave enemies.  But not
the English! Therefore, do not be afraid.  We Germans mean no harm to
peaceful people.  You shall see; we are not barbarians!  Tell your
children we are not ogres."

He stood tall and erect in his grey, close-fitting uniform, looking
curiously about him.  The plastron of the tunic, or _ulanka_, was piped
with yellow, and bore the _galons_ and the heraldic buttons of a
_Feldwebel_. The shoulder strap bore the number 3; the boots and belt
were of tan-colored leather; all metal work was mat-silver; spurs,
saber, were oxidized; and the oddly shaped helmet, surmounted by the
mortar board, was covered with a brown holland slip bearing the
regimental number.

The children had become deathly silent, staring with wide and frightened
eyes upon these tall intruders; the Sisters of Charity stood motionless,
calm, level-eyed; Warner, wondering why the Uhlans had entered the
school, had drawn Sister Eila’s arm through his, and remained beside her
watching the Germans with undisturbed curiosity and professional
interest.  Afterward his well-known picture of the incident was bought
by the French Government.

The _Wachtmeister_ in charge of the peloton turned to him with a sort of
insolent civility.

"Wie viel Kilometer ist es bis Ausone?" he inquired.

Warner made no reply.

"Wie heisst dieser Ort?"  The Wachtmeister had raised his voice
insolently.

"Saïs," replied Warner carelessly.

"Sind hier deutsche Truppen durchmarschiert?"

Warner remained silent.

"Sind deutsche Truppen im Walde?"

"There is no use asking an American for information," said Warner
bluntly.  "You’ll get none from me."

Instantly the man’s face changed.

"So!  Eh, bien!  Qui cherche à s’esquiver sera fusillé!" he said in
excellent French.  "Unlock every door in the house.  If there are any
dogs tie them up.  If they bark, you will be held responsible.  Don’t
move!  Keep those children where they are until we have finished!"

He nodded to a trooper behind him.  The Uhlan instantly drew a short
hammer and a cold chisel from his pouch, knelt down, and with incredible
rapidity ripped up a plank from the hardwood floor, laying bare to view
the solid concrete underneath.

"Sound it!"

The trooper sounded the concrete with the heavy butt of his chisel.

"All right!"  The non-com touched his schapska in salute to the Sisters
of Charity.  "Take your children away before noon.  We need this place.
German troops will occupy it in half an hour."  Then he swung around and
shot an ugly glance at Warner.

"If you are as neutral as you pretend to be, see that you are equally
reticent toward the French when we let you go....  You may be American,
but you behave like an Englishman.  You annoy me; do you understand?"

Warner shrugged his shoulders.

"What do you mean by that gesture of disrespect?" demanded the Uhlan
sharply.

"I mean that you ask improper questions and you know it!"

"I ask what I choose to ask!" he said angrily.  "I think I shall take
you with us, anyway, and not leave you here!"

"You’ll only get into trouble with my Government and your own——"

"Take that man!" shouted the Uhlan in a passion. "I’ll find out what he
is——"

A shot rang loudly from the road outside; the Uhlans turned in
astonishment, then ran for the door where their comrades flung them
their bridles.  They seized their lances and scrambled into their
saddles, still disconcerted and apparently incredulous of any serious
danger to themselves.  Then another Uhlan who had cantered off down the
road suddenly fired from his saddle; the others, bending forward,
scanned the road intently for a moment; then the whole peloton swung
their horses, spurred over the ditch and up the grassy bank, trotted in
single file through the hedge gate, and, putting their horses to a
gallop, headed straight across the meadow toward the river and the
quarry bridge beyond.

They had reached the river willows and were already galloping through
them when, far away toward the south end of the meadow, a horseman
trotted into view, drew bridle, fired at the Uhlans, then launched his
horse into a dead run toward them, disengaging his lance from which a
pennon flew gayly.

After him, bending forward in their saddles, came two score riders in
pale blue jackets, lances advanced, urging their wiry horses, spurring
hard to intercept the Uhlans.

But the Germans, who had gained the bridge, were now galloping over it,
and they disappeared amid a distant racket of shots.

To the spectators at the school door, it all looked like a pretty,
harmless, unreal scene artistically composed and arranged for
moving-picture purposes; the wide, flat green meadow was now swarming
with the pale blue and white laced dolmans of French hussar lancers.
Everywhere they were galloping, trotting, maneuvering; a section of a
light battery appeared, drew rapidly nearer, went plunging across the
meadow hub-deep in wild flowers, swung the guns and dropped them at the
bridge, making the demi-tour at a gallop.

Back came the caissons, still at a gallop; the dark, distant figures of
the cannoniers moved rapidly for a moment around each gun; a tiny figure
held up one arm, dropped it; crack! echoed the report of the
field-piece; up went the arm, down it jerked; crack! went the other.

From a front room overhead Warner and Sister Eila were leaning out and
watching the lively spectacle along the river.

"It looks to me," he said, "as though the Germans were in the cement
works....  By George!  They are!  The yards and quarries are alive with
their cavalry!  Look!  Did you see that shell hit the stone crusher?
There goes another.  The big chimney on the Esser Works is
falling—look!—down it comes! Our gunners have knocked it into dust!"

Another section of artillery came plunging into view across the meadows,
the drivers spurring and lashing, the powerful horses bounding forward,
and the guns jumping and bouncing over the uneven ground.

It was like a picture book—exactly what the layman expects of a battle—a
wide, unobstructed view over a flat green meadow, artillery at a gallop
with officers spurring ahead; brilliantly uniformed cavalry arriving in
ever-increasing squadrons, some dismounting and deploying, others drawn
up here and there under serried thickets of lances.  But there was no
smoke, only a dusky, translucent haze clinging for a moment to the gun
muzzles; no enemy in sight save for a scrambling dot here and there
among the quarry hills where, from the cement works, a cloud of dust
rose and widened, veiling the trees and hillsides.

For a while the lively rattle of the fusillade continued, but in a few
minutes a six-gun battery arrived and went into ear-splitting action,
almost instantly extinguishing the German fire from the quarry.  A few
more ragged volleys came, then only dropping shots from their carbines
as the hussars rode forward and broke into a gallop across the quarry
bridge.

More cavalry was arriving all the while, dragoons and
_chasseurs-à-cheval_, all riding leisurely toward the quarry.  More
artillery was coming, too, clanking and bumping up the road, a great
jolting column of field batteries, not in a hurry, paying little
attention to the lively proceedings across the river, where the German
cavalry was retreating over the rolling country toward the eastern hills
and the blue hussars were riding after them.

The artillery passed the school and continued on toward Ausone.  Behind
them came infantry with their swinging, slouchy stride, route step,
mildly interested in the doings of the cavalry in the meadow, more
interested in the Sisters of Charity leaning from the schoolhouse
windows and the excited children crowding at the open door.

Not very far beyond the school a regiment turned out into a stubble
field and stacked arms.  Other regiments swung out east and west along
the Route de Saïs, stacked arms, let go sacks, and went to work with
picks and spades.

More artillery rumbled by; then came some engineers and a pontoon train
which turned out toward the river opposite the school after the
engineers had opened a way through the hedge stile.

Sister Eila and Warner had returned from the upper story to stand on the
doorstep among the children.

"One thing is certain," he said in her ear; "Sister Félicité will have
to take the children away tonight. The infantry yonder are intrenching,
and all these wagons and material that are passing mean that the valley
is to be defended."

The young Sister nodded and whispered to Sister Félicité, who looked
very grave.

Some odd-looking, long, flat motor trucks were lumbering by; the freight
which they carried was carefully covered with brown canvas.  Other
trucks were piled high with sections of corrugated iron, hollow steel
tubes, and bundles of matched boards and planking.

For these vehicles there was a dragoon escort.

"Aeroplanes and material for portable sheds," said Warner.  "They intend
to erect hangars.  There is going to be trouble in the valley of the
Récollette."

He turned and looked out and around him, and saw the valley already
alive with soldiers.  Across the river on the quarry road they were also
moving now, cavalry and artillery; and, as far as he could follow
eastward with his eye, red-legged soldiers were continuing the lines of
trenches already begun on this side of the river.

An officer of hussars rode up, saluted the Sisters and Warner, glanced
sharply at Asticot, who had flattened himself against the vines on the
schoolhouse wall, and, leaning forward from his saddle, asked if the
German cavalry had been there that morning.

"Six Uhlans, _mon capitaine_," said Warner.  "They ripped up a plank
from the floor; I can’t imagine why. You can see it through the door
from where you sit your saddle."

The officer rode up close to the steps and looked into the schoolroom.

"Thank you, Monsieur.  You see what they’ve done, I suppose?"

"No, I didn’t understand."

"It is simple.  The Esser cement works across the river built this
school two years ago.  It’s a German concern.  While they were about it
they laid down a few cement gun platforms—with an eye to this very
moment which confronts us now."

He shrugged his shoulders:

"The Esser cement works over there are full of gun emplacements in
cement, masquerading as pits, retaining walls, foundations, and other
peaceful necessities. A British officer discovered all this only a few
days ago——"

"Captain Halkett!" exclaimed Warner, inspired.

The Hussar glanced at him, surprised and smiling.

"Yes, Monsieur.  Are you acquainted with Captain Halkett?"

"Indeed, I am!  And," he turned to the Sisters of Charity, "he is a good
friend of all of us."

"He is my friend, also," said the Hussar warmly. "He has told me about
Saïs and how, masquerading as a quarry workman one evening, he
discovered gun platforms along the Récollette and among the quarries.
You understand they were very cunning, those Germans, and the cement
works and quarries of Herr Heinrich von Esser are all ready to turn
those hills yonder into a fortress.  Which," he added, laughing, "we may
find very convenient."

Sister Eila, standing beside the horse’s head, stroked it, looking up at
the officer out of grave eyes.

"Is Captain Halkett well?" she asked calmly.

"I think so, Sister.  I saw him yesterday."

"If you see him again, would you say to him that Captain Gray is at the
Château des Oiseaux recovering from an accident?"

"Yes, I will tell him, Sister; but he must be around here somewhere——"

"Here!" exclaimed Warner.

"Why, yes.  Our aëroplanes have just passed through.  A British Bristol
biplane is among them in charge of a flight-lieutenant—Ferris, I think
his name is.  Captain Halkett ought to be somewhere about. Possibly he
may be superintending the disembarkment and the erection of the sheds."

He pointed northwest, adding that he understood the sheds were to be
erected on the level stretch of fields beyond the school.

"However, I shall give him your message, Sister, if I meet him," he
said, saluted them ceremoniously in turn, cast another puzzled and
slightly suspicious glance at Asticot, and rode away.

"I should like to find Halkett," said Warner.  "I certainly should like
to see him again.  We had become friends, you see.  Shall we walk back
that way across the fields, Sister Eila?"

Sister Eila turned to Sister Félicité.  Her color was high, but she
spoke very calmly:

"Had I not better remain with you and help you close the school?"

Sister Félicité shook her head vigorously:

"I can attend to that if it becomes necessary.  I shall not budge unless
I am called to field duty."

"But the children?  Had I not better take some of them home?"

"There’s time enough.  If there is going to be any danger to them, I can
arrange all that."

Sister Eila hesitated, her lovely head lowered.

"If we could find Halkett on our way back," said Warner, "I think he
would be very glad to hear from us that Gray is alive."

Sister Eila nodded in silence; Warner made his adieux; the Sisters of
Charity consulted together a moment, then the American and Sister Eila
went out through the rear door and through the little garden. And at
their heels shuffled Asticot, furtively chewing a purloined apple.



                             *CHAPTER XXXI*


As they reached the plateau above the school and halted for a few
moments to look back across the valley of the Récollette, Warner began
to understand.

The cannonading in the north had ceased.  On every road, in whichever
direction he looked, troops, artillery, and wagons were moving eastward.
This was no mere cavalry reconnoissance; it was a serious offensive
movement in force toward the east.  Eastward and south lay the Vosges;
beyond, the lost provinces stretched away in green valleys toward the
Rhine.

There lay the objective of this movement which was based on the great
Barrier Forts from Verdun to Toul, from Toul to Nancy and Luneville,
southward to Epinal, to the great, grim citadel of Belfort.

This was no raid, no feint, no diversion made by a flying corps along
the frontier.  A great screen of cavalry was brushing back every hostile
scout toward the mountains; the contact at the cement works was a mere
detail.  Nor was this movement directed toward the north, where the
Grand Duchy was crawling alive with Prussians already battering at the
"Iron Gate of France."

No, the guns of Longwy were not calling these French horsemen north,
whatever was happening at Verdun or along the Moselle.  Their helmets
were moving toward the east, toward the passes of the Vosges where
Alsace lay, and Lorraine.  Metz, Strassburg, Colmar, Mülhausen, beckoned
from every tall tower, every gable, every spire.  It was invasion!
Armed France was riding toward the rising sun.

Sister Eila’s pale, intelligent face was lifted to the distant horizon;
her clear, exalted gaze made it plain to him that she, also, had begun
to understand.

As for Asticot, he was finishing the core of his apple and watching
details in the vast panorama out of his tiny mouse-eyes; and whether he
understood or cared to understand no man might say.  For the minds of
little animals must remain inscrutable.

Near them, on the grassy plateau, soldiers were unloading portable sheds
in sections and erecting them; others were leveling hedges, felling
small, isolated trees, uprooting bushes, and clearing away a line of
wire pasture fencing.

Evidently this plateau was to be a base for some of the airmen operating
along the Vosges or possibly, also, north and east from Verdun.

As they moved forward he looked about for a British uniform, but saw
none.  A soldier informed them that there were no British troops
attached to the army of General Pau as far as he knew; two or three
cavalry officers politely confirmed the statement, taking Warner to be
an Englishman.

It was not until, following the deeply trodden sheep-walk, they passed
the silver birch woods that they had any news of Halkett.

A squadron of hussars was already bivouacked there; their wagons were
coming across the fields from the Dreslin road; officers, men, and
horses had taken advantage of the woods to escape observation from
air-scouts; and three batteries of artillery were parked in the Forêt de
Saïs, where the cannoniers had already begun to cover everything with
green branches.

As they passed through the Forêt de Saïs, out of which a shepherd with
his shaggy dogs was driving his flock, they overtook an officer of
hussars on foot, sauntering along the same path, a lighted cigarette
between his white-gloved fingers.

He stepped aside into the bracken, courteously, in deference to Sister
Eila, and lifted his hand to his shako in salute.  But when he caught
sight of Warner he stepped forward with a quick, boyish smile and held
out his hand.

"Do you remember me?—D’Aurès?  This is Monsieur Warner, is it not?"

They exchanged a handclasp; Warner presented him to Sister Eila.

"This is exceedingly nice," said the American cordially.  "We—Sister
Eila and I—are returning to the Château.  I hope you will come with us."

"If I may venture to pay my respects——"

"You will be welcome, I know."  He added, laughing: "Also, the ladies
will be most interested in the fate of their horses and their
automobiles."

The Vicomte d’Aurès reddened, but laughed:

"The Countess was most gracious, most patriotic," he said.  "But one
could expect nothing less from a De Moidrey.  Nevertheless, I felt like
a bandit that evening.  I left them only a basket wagon and a donkey."

"Which have been greatly appreciated, Monsieur," said Sister Eila,
smiling.  And she told him about the removal of Captain Gray from the
school to the Château.

"Oh, by the way," exclaimed D’Aurès, "we have a British aviator with
us—a friend of yours, Sister Eila, and of Mr. Warner."

"Halkett!"

"Yes, indeed.  It appears that Captain Halkett has specialized in this
region, so he has been assigned to us.  I have the honor of a personal
acquaintance with him."

"Where is he?" asked Warner.

"He is near here somewhere.  His machine, a Bristol, is to be parked
with ours on the plateau yonder.  I think they are erecting the hangars
now."

They entered the wicket of the lodge gate and advanced along the drive
toward the house.

Warner said:

"All this movement means the invasion of Alsace-Lorraine, I take it."

D’Aurès nodded.

"Could you give me an idea of the situation as it stands, Captain?"

"I can only guess.  Briefly, we are moving on Strassburg from the Donon
peaks to Château-Salins.  As I understand it, our armies now stretch
from the Sambre to the Seine, from the Meuse to the Oise.

"I can tell you only what is gossiped about among cavalry officers.  We
believe that we are leading a great counter-offensive movement; that it
is our General Joffre’s strategy to drive the Germans out of upper
Alsace, block Metz and Strassburg, and, holding them there in our steel
pincers, let loose our army on their flank and rear."

"And Longwy?  And this drive just north of us at Ausone?"

D’Aurès smiled.

"Can you still hear the cannonade?"

They halted to listen; there was no longer that deadly rumor from the
north.

"Verdun and Toul are taking care of that raid, I think," said D’Aurès
pleasantly.  "It comes from Metz, of course.  Verdun must look out for
the country between it and Longwy, too.  That is not _our_ route. Ours
lies by Nancy toward Vic and Moyenvic, and through Altkirch to
Mülhausen, and _then_—" he laughed—"it does not become a Frenchman to
prophesy or boast.  There were too many dreamers in 1870.

"I am telling merely the gossip of our camps.  It is human to gossip
when the day’s work is over.  But for the rest—route step and plod
ahead!—That is what counts, not bragging or splendid dreams."

When they reached the terrace Warner fell back to speak to Asticot.

"I’ve arranged for you at the Golden Peach.  Madame Arlon knows."  He
handed Asticot a key.  "There’s plenty to do in my studio down there.
Get some wood and make cases for my canvases.  Cover the _chassis_ with
_toile_ and prime them with white lead.  Use an ivory palette knife and
let them have the sun when there is any and when there is no wind and
dust.  That will keep you busy until I send for you.  Do you
comprehend?"

"Yes, M’sieu’....  May I not walk behind M’sieu’ when he takes the air?"

Warner scowled at him, but he looked so exactly like a shiftless,
disreputable and mongrel dog who timidly desires to linger, yet is
fearful of a kick, that the American laughed.

"A fine bargain I have in you!" he said.  "You prefer rambling to work,
it appears!"

"I prefer the vicinity of M’sieu’," said Asticot naïvely.

"Go back to the inn and see if you can do an honest hour’s work!"
retorted Warner; and he turned and rejoined Sister Eila, who had taken
D’Aurès up the steps of the terrace.

It appeared that the ladies were on the north terrace. On the way
through the hall, Sister Eila excused herself and mounted the stairs for
a look-in on Gray. At the same moment, Peggy Brooks came out of the
billiard room, saw D’Aurès, recognized him.

"Oh," she said, extending her hand, "I am so glad you have come back!
How is my Minerva runabout?"

"I’m sorry I don’t know," he replied, blushing; "I didn’t steal it for
myself, you see."

"You _didn’t_ steal it!  It’s a gift.  It’s mine to give. I give it to
_you_!  My sister took all the credit of giving away the horses and
cars.  But I insist on your having my Minerva runabout.  It’s a charming
car.  You’ll fall in love with it if they let you drive it.  Come out to
the terrace and speak to my sister and to my dearest friend, Philippa
Wildresse."

Warner, much amused to observe the capture of this young man, followed
them out to the south terrace.

He certainly was an ornamental young man of enchanting manners, and his
popularity was immediate.

To Warner Philippa came presently:

"Where have you been?" she asked.  "And couldn’t you have taken me?"

"Dear child, I was out before sunrise prowling about the hills with that
vagabond at my heels—Asticot."

"What did you see?"

"Uhlans on Vineyard Hill, across the Récollette. Wildresse was with
them."

"He!"

"Yes, the miserable spy!  If he’s not gone clear away some of D’Aurès’
men had better try to round him up and get rid of him....  After that,
Sister Eila and I went to the school.  More Uhlans came sniffing around,
but they cleared out in a hurry when our cavalry appeared.  Our
artillery shelled the Germans out of the Esser quarries—you must have
heard the firing?"

"Yes.  We all thought that the Germans had arrived.  Poor Mr. Gray
looked so disgusted!"

"Philippa, Halkett is here somewhere."

"Oh!" she exclaimed happily.

"He’s here with his machine—an aëroplane of sorts—Bristol, I believe.
No doubt he’ll come up to the house when he has a chance.  I suppose
Sister Eila has gone up to tell Gray."

They had strolled around to the eastern parapet and now stood looking
out over the tree tops.

"What has happened at Ausone?" she asked.  "The cannon have stopped
firing."

"I saw Ausone burning from Vineyard Hill.  It’s all knocked to pieces,
Philippa.  What I think has happened is this: troops from Verdun and
Toul—perhaps from Chalons—have entered Ausone in time to save the fort.
I suppose our infantry are intrenched along the Récollette and that
there is going to be more fighting in Ausone Forest, which must be full
of Germans."

"You don’t think they’ll come here?"

"I don’t know.  The army which you see below us everywhere in the valley
is probably on its way to invade Alsace.  D’Aurès thinks so.  I suppose
this line will be defended.  We shall hear more cannonading, I fancy.
Anyway, they are digging trenches to fall back on."

"Where?"

"Along the Récollette."

From where they were leaning on the stone balustrade, they could see
pontoons spanning the river. Across them troops and wagons were passing;
through every ford cavalry were splashing; the quarry bridge and road
were packed with motor trucks escorted by cavalry; and on the Saïs
highway artillery was still passing toward Ausone.

Her cheeks framed by her hands, elbows on the parapet, Philippa gazed at
the moving host below.  She wore a thin white gown; a scarf fell from
her shoulders; her thick, beautiful hair was full of ruddy gleams,
accenting the snowy neck and throat.

"If I set up my easel will you let me have a try at you?" he asked.

"Yes, but you’ve had no luncheon.  I’ll bring you something, and you can
arrange your canvas while I’m gone."

But they found Sister Eila had arranged for him to lunch with Gray, so
he sat with that battered and patient Englishman, chatting, watching the
troops in the valley from the open window, and lunching comfortably.

Sister Eila glanced in, smiled, then went lightly away toward the
eastern wing of the house, where fresh consignments of bandages were to
be sterilized and stored in Red Cross boxes—gauze rolls, plugs for
bullet wounds, body bandages, fracture bandages, arm slings, rolls of
unbleached muslin, of cotton, of gauze.

As she passed the open door of the chapel, she halted, faced the altar
and made her reverence.  Then, crossing herself, she rose erect, turned
to continue her way, and encountered Halkett face to face.

A bright flush leaped to her cheeks; his own face reddened to his hair
under the bronze coat of tan.

"I am so glad to see you," she said steadily, offering her hand.  "We
heard you were in Saïs with your aëroplane.  How did you happen to come
into the east wing?  It must have been closed when you were here
before?"

"I have never before been in this house.  I saw you cross the court as I
mounted the terrace steps."  He tried to ease the constraint in his
voice.  "I wanted to speak to you—first of anybody—in Saïs....  Are you
well?"

"Perfectly.  And you, Captain Halkett?"

"You seem thinner.  You do not spare yourself."

"We scarcely have time to think of ourselves," she said, smiling.  "I am
trying to fit up a little hospital here; Madame de Moidrey offers the
house."

"I understand that my friend, Captain Gray, is here?"

"Poor boy!  I must not detain you any longer. You will desire to pay
your respects to Madame de Moidrey and her sister and to the beautiful
Miss Wildresse——"

"Philippa!  Here?"

"You know her?  Is she not lovely?  I find her charming.  And—so should
all young men," she added with a little laugh.  "Therefore—I shall no
longer detain you, Captain Halkett——"

"May I—hope to see you again?"

"I hope so, indeed," she replied cheerfully.  "Do you remain for a while
in Saïs?"

"For a while, I think."

There fell a silence, which became a little strained. Sister Eila looked
up at him from lowered eyes; then her face went white and she laid her
hand flat against the chapel wall beside her, as though for support.

"Then—if I may hope to see you again—inspect your hospital, perhaps——"

She nodded, still leaning on the chapel wall.

So he went away swiftly, very straight in his field uniform, and she saw
him cross the court, head erect, looking directly before him as though
he saw nothing.

An immense fatigue seemed to weight her; still supporting herself
against the wall, she turned and looked at the chapel door.  Even on
that grey day the light within was golden from the old glass.

Into that mellow stillness crept Sister Eila, her young head drooping,
the metal crucifix swinging at her girdle from its rosary of wooden
beads.

The painted saints stared at her; the painted angels all stood watching
her; the Mother of God looked out from the manger, brooding,
preoccupied, wonder-eyed; but the Child at her breast was smiling.

Then down on her knees fell Sister Eila; her slim hands clasped, clung,
tightened, parted, and covered her face convulsively.

Very far away in the valley a trumpet spoke.



                            *CHAPTER XXXII*


Warner began the full-length portrait—which has now become famous under
the title "Philippa Passes"—in the main hall of the Château.

A clear light fell through the northern and eastern windows; from the
golden gloom above generations of De Moidreys looked down upon the fair
girl who stood in their great hall as tranquil and unconscious as though
born within the carved gray walls which they had built or added to in
years long dead.

He had chosen for the pose a moment when, as she was in the act of
passing in front of him, a word from him had checked her and caused her
to turn her head.

There he held her as she had paused, poised on the very edge of motion,
her enchanting head turned and the grey eyes meeting his.

Already on his canvas he had caught her; an odd sensation of cold,
clear-minded exaltation seemed to possess him as he worked—a calm,
strange certainty of himself and of the work in hand.

There was no hesitation, no doubt within him, only a sustained
excitement under unerring control.  He knew what he wanted; he knew that
he was doing methodically what he wanted to do with every unhurried
brush stroke.

There was no halting, no searching, no checks; his mind had never been
so absolutely in control of his hand; his hand never so automatically
obedient, his intelligence never before so clear, so logical, so steady
under the incessant lightning of inspiration.

Conscious of the tremendous tension, he knew he was equal to it—knew
that no weakness of impulse or of sentiment could swerve him, unsteady
him, meddle with his brain or his nerves or his hand.

Nothing could stop him from doing what he had to do, nothing could
tamper with this newborn confidence which had suddenly possessed him
with its unlooked for magic.

He was painting Philippa as he had known her from the beginning; as he
had prophesied; as she had been revealed—a young girl with grey eyes and
chestnut hair, fine of limb, with the shadow of a smile on her wistful
lips, and "her soul as clean as a flame."

So certain was he of what he was about that to Philippa he seemed to
work very leisurely, wiping brush after brush with unhurried
deliberation, laying on stroke after stroke with that quiet decision
which accumulates and coördinates component parts into a result so
swiftly that an ensemble is born as though by magic.

A few great pictures are painted that way; myriads of bad ones.  If he
thought of this it did not trouble him.  Already, on his canvas, the
soul of a young girl was looking at him through those grey eyes; on the
fresh lips, scarce parted, hovered the shadow of a smile, virginal and
vague.

He felt the splendid tension; experienced the consciousness of
achievement, steeled every nerve, wiped his brushes with deliberation,
drew them across the edges of the colors needed, scarcely glancing at
his palette, laid on the brush stroke with the precision of finality.

From where he had slung his tall canvas between two ancient, high-backed
chairs as an improvised easel, he could see the northern terrace and the
people gathered there—Madame de Moidrey in animated conversation with
Halkett; Peggy knitting fitfully and looking over her clicking needles
at the youthful Vicomte d’Aurès, who had pushed aside the tea table in
order to obtain an unobstructed view of this American girl who was
making his boyish head spin.

Beyond them, on a steamer chair, lay Gray.  Sister Eila sat beside him
sewing.  There was conversation between them and Madame de Moidrey and
Halkett—across and across, cat-cradle fashion—but it passed through
Peggy and D’Aurès unheeded, as wireless in the upper air currents; and
the Countess glanced occasionally at her sister or let her eyes rest on
D’Aurès now and then with a pleasant, preoccupied air, as though
considering other things than those which were passing under her pretty
nose.

From time to time Philippa came around to where Warner stood before his
canvas, and remained beside him in silence while he studied what he had
done.

Once he looked up questioningly; the girl took possession of his right
arm with both of hers and rested her cheek lightly against his shoulder.
No words could have praised or reassured him as eloquently.  And he
understood that what he had done was, to her, worthy of all she believed
him to be—matchless, wonderful, and hers.

The light had failed a little in the early August sky, but the clouds
had cleared and the sun glittered in the west.  There was light to work
by, yet.

He clothed his canvas in a mystery of cobweb shadow: behind her there
was a dull gleam of duller tapestry; delicate half-lights made the
picture vague, so that the "clean flame" of her seemed the source of all
light, its origin, making exquisite the clear, young eyes.

He knew that what he had painted was already a fit companion to be
placed among the matchless company looking down on them from the walls
through a delicate bloom of dust.

What he had done belonged here, as she herself belonged here between
these old-time walls and the ancient roof above.  And every corridor,
every room, every terrace, would be the sweeter, the fresher, for her
lingering before she passed on her life’s journey through an old and
worn-out world.

"Philippa passes," he said, thinking aloud.

She looked up, smiled.

"Only where you lead her, shall Philippa pass," she murmured.

"It is to be the title of your portrait....  Would you care to look at
it now?  There is not so much more to do to it, I think...."

She came around and stood silently beside him.

"Is it you?" he asked.

"My other self....  I had not supposed you knew her—so deeply—so
intimately—more intimately than I myself seem to know her."

He laughed gently.

"Heart of a child," he said, half to himself.

"Heart of a man," she answered.  "What have I done to deserve you?  How
can you be so patient with me? ... You, a man already grown,
distinguished, ripe with wisdom....  I don’t know why you should annoy
yourself with me....  It is too wonderful—why you should be my friend—my
friend——"

"There is something far more wonderful, Philippa—that you should be my
friend.  Didn’t you know it?"

She laughed.

"I wonder if you know what I would do for you? There is nothing you
could ask of me that I would not do——"

She ceased, her voice threatening unsteadiness, but her eyes were clear
and she was smiling.

"Words are idle things," she added calmly, "and not necessary, I think,
between you and me....  Only, sometimes I feel—a need of telling you—of
my devotion....  There have been lonely years—friendless—and a heart
sickens under eternal silence—needing an opportunity for
self-expression——"

"I know, dear."

"I know you do....  You are very kind to me."

"Philippa, I care more for you than I do for any living person!"

The lovely surprise in her face flushed her to her hair.  She looked at
him out of confused, incredulous eyes, strove to smile, caught her
trembling lip between her teeth.

"Didn’t you know it?" he said in a low voice.

She tried to answer, turned sharply and faced the windows with blurred
eyes that saw only a glimmering sheet of light there.

He stood motionless, looking at her, intent upon the sudden confusion in
his own brain, realizing it, trying to explain it, analyze it coolly,
calmly account for it.

If it were any emotion resembling love which was so utterly possessing
him, he chose to know it, to inform himself as to the real significance
of this loss of logical equilibrium, this mental inadequacy which began
to resemble a sort of chaos.

Was he in love with this girl?  Was it love?  Was this what it all had
meant—all, from the very beginning, through all its coincidences,
accidents, successive steps and stages?

And suddenly a terrible timidity seized him. Suppose she knew what he
was thinking about!  What would she think?  What would she do?  Where
would her confidence go?  What would become of her trust in him?  What
would happen to her implicit faith in him?

Of one thing he was suddenly and absolutely certain; love had never
entered her mind, never lodged in her heart, never troubled that candid
gaze, never altered her fearless smile.  With all her devotion to him,
all her passionate attachment of a child, never had anything as
deep—never had any emotion as profound as love disturbed the mystery of
depths where dwelt in virginal immaturity the soul of her, "clean as a
flame—"

As for himself—where he now stood—whither he was being led by something
which was not reason, not intention, he did not seem able to understand.

The light in the room had become too uncertain to paint by; he released
his canvas and carried it away behind a tapestry, setting it slanting,
face to the stone wall.

The brushes, mediums, palette, he left on the palette table and pushed
it into a corner behind a sofa, where nobody was likely to fall over it
before he gave brushes and palette to Asticot to clean.

All the while Philippa stood looking out of the window over the tree
tops, her young heart and brain on fire with happiness and throbbing
with the wonder of her first innocent passion.

With it, for the first time, had come something she never before had
known with Warner—something indefinite, new, inexplicable—a vague sense
of shyness almost painful at instants—a consciousness of herself that
she had never known—a subtle, instinctive realization of her own
maturity which left a faintly delicious sensation in her breast.

Now, for the first time since she had known him, her instinct was not to
go to him, not to face him.  She did not understand why—did not question
herself. From the window she looked out over the forest; she heard him
moving quietly about behind her; listened with an odd content in his
proximity, but with no desire to turn and join him—no wish to move or
stir from the spell which held her there in the enchanted silence of a
happiness so wonderful that sky and earth seemed to understand and share
it with her.

"Philippa?"

She turned slowly as in a dream.

It was perhaps as well that he had a record on canvas of what she had
been—of the young girl he had been painting in all her lovely
immaturity.  Perhaps the girl who faced him now from the window was even
lovelier, but she was not the Philippa of "Philippa Passes."

Truly that Philippa had passed, vanished silently even as she had stood
there with her eyes on the window; faded, dissolved into thin shadow,
leaving, where she had stood, this slender, silent, deep-eyed girl
looking at him out of the new and subtle mystery which enveloped her.

He thought that it was he himself who saw her differently and with new
eyes; but she herself had changed.  And, for the first time, as they
passed slowly toward the terrace together, he was conscious of a
freshness that seemed to cling to her like a fragrance—and of the beauty
of her as she moved beside him, not touching him, keeping clear of
contact, her head a trifle bent.



                            *CHAPTER XXXIII*


Warner, dressing for dinner, stood looking down from his window at the
Saïs road.  Halkett, in his smart but sober field uniform, sat sideways
on the window sill, chatting with his friend and surveying the lively
panorama below, where, through the fading light, endless columns of
motor lorries rolled ponderously eastward.

In every direction bicycle and motor cycle messengers were speeding,
north and south on the Saïs road, west toward Dreslin by the mill,
eastward over cow-paths and sheepwalks, and across the pontoons, or by
the school highway and quarry bridge, southeast toward a road crowded
with motor lorries, and through that gap in the foothills which narrows
into the Pass of the Falcons.

Warner, leisurely buttoning his waistcoat, stood looking out of the
window at the scenes passing under the plateau, and listening with the
greatest interest to Halkett’s comments on these preliminaries for a
campaign about to open.

"Then, in your opinion, it is invasion?" he said.

Halkett nodded:

"I can make nothing else of this movement, Warner. Our General, Pau, is
at Nancy.  What you see down there is part of a perfectly complete and
coherent army, and it is certainly moving on the Vosges passes.

"Metz, Strassburg, Colmar, lie beyond; our alpinists are swarming around
the Donon.  Under it lie the lowlands of Alsace and Lorraine.

"Already we have seized the pass of Saales; Thann and Danemarie are
menaced; the valley of the Bruche lies before us, Saarburg and the
railroad to Metz invite us.

"Does it not all seem very logical, Warner?"

"It sounds so."

"It is good strategy.  The logic is sound logic.  If we carry it
through, it will be applauded as brilliant strategy.

"The Germans want a decisive battle on French soil in the vicinity of
Rheims.  If they beat us there, they pivot on Verdun, half-circle on the
Oise, and Paris lies before them.  They have today a million men within
striking distance of the French frontier."

"Are we fully mobilized?"

"Our concentration is slower; we are massing between Bar-le-Duc and
Epinal.  We have, so far, only seven _corps d’armée_ concentrated, and
twenty-one more on the march.  But do you know what we have done
already?

"Listen; this isn’t generally known yet, but we have taken the passes of
Bonhomme and Sainte Marie; _we have taken Mülhausen_——"

"_What!_"

"Yes, it’s ours.  More than that, we have entered Dinant.  At
Mangiennes, Moncel, Lagarde, we drove the Germans.  Our line of battle
stretches two hundred miles from a point opposite Tongres to Nancy.  We
smashed the Germans at Altkirch and left them minus thirty thousand men!

"And this great counter-offensive which our General is planning is
already exercising such a pressure on their advance toward Brussels that
they have begun to detach entire army corps and send them post haste
into Alsace.  What do you think of that, Warner?"

"Fine!" exclaimed the American.  "It’s simply splendid, Halkett.  You
see, we here in the valley couldn’t know anything about it.  All we had
to go by was that the German guns were booming nearer and nearer, that
Ausone is in ruins, that Uhlans were riding the country as impudently as
though they were patrolling their own fatherland.  I tell you, old chap,
it’s a wonderful relief to me to hear from you what is really going on."

He turned to his mirror, lighted a cigarette, and began to fuss with his
tie.

Halkett said, grimly amused:

"Oh, yes, we all ought to feel immensely relieved by capturing a
mountain and a couple of unfortified German towns, even if there are
today in Europe seventeen million men under arms and seventeen million
more in reserve, all preparing to blow each other’s heads off."

Warner came back slowly to the windows:

"It _is_ a ghastly situation, Halkett.  The magnitude of the cataclysm
means nothing to us, so far.  Nobody yet has comprehended it.  I don’t
think anybody ever really can—even when it’s over and the whole
continent is underplowcd and fertilized with dead men from the Channel
to the Carpathians—no single mind of the twentieth century is ever going
to be able to grasp this universal horror in all its details.  In a
hundred years, perhaps——"  He shrugged, threw away his cigarette, and
picked up his evening coat to inspect it before decorating his person
with it.

Halkett said:

The scale of the whole business is paralyzing. Here’s a single detail,
for example: Germany is in process of launching six huge armies into
France.  The Crown Prince, the Grand Duke of Württemberg, Generals von
Kluck, von Bülow, von Hausen, and von Heeringen command them.

"Three of them have not yet moved; three are on their juggernaut way
already—the Army of the Meuse, based at Cologne, is marching through
Belgium on a front thirty miles wide, its right flank brushing the Dutch
border at Visé, its left on Stavelot, its center enveloping the Liége
railroad.

"The Moselle army, based on Coblenz, has made a highway of the Grand
Duchy and is in Belgium.  The Rhine army has its bases at Strassburg and
Mayence, and started very gayly to raise the devil on its own account,
but we’ve stung it in the flank already and it’s squirming in
uncertainty.

"And that is the situation so far, old chap, as well as I can understand
it.  And I understand it fairly well because of my position with this
French army. You don’t quite understand how I happen to be here and what
I am doing, do you?"

"Not exactly.  I know you have a Bristol aëroplane here and that you are
attached to the British Flying Corps."

"Oh, yes.  In our service I am squadron commander, and Gray is wing
commander.  But I have a flight-lieutenant yonder at the sheds and a
mechanic.

"As a matter of fact, Warner, I am the British Official Observer with
General Pau’s army, and Gray, when he can get about, is to act with me.
That is what I am doing."

"You make no flights?"

"Oh, yes, we shall fly, Gray and I—not doing any range finding for the
artillery and not making ordinary raids with bombs.  Observation is to
be our rôle.  It’s interesting, isn’t it?"

"It’s fascinating," said Warner, linking his arm in Halkett’s as they
left the room.

"As a matter of fact," he added, "in spite of the horrors in Belgium,
the slaughter there and in Alsace, this war has not really begun."

Halkett turned a drawn and very grave face to him:

"Warner," he said, "this war will not really begin until next spring.
And there will be a million dead men under ground by that time."

Dinner that evening at the Château des Oiseaux was a most cheerful
function.  The passing of an army for miles and miles through the
country around them was a relief and a reassurance which brought with it
a reaction of gayety slightly feverish at moments.

The Countess de Moidrey gave her arm to Gray, tall, slim, yellow-haired,
and most romantically pale: Captain the Vicomte d’Aurès took out Peggy
Brooks—they turned to each other with the same impulse, as naturally as
two children coming together—and the words designating them to other
partners remained unspoken on Ethra’s lips.

Philippa, in an enchanting gown of turquoise, looked up at the Countess,
flushed and expectant, but the elder woman, much amused, designated
Halkett, and the girl took the arm he offered with a faint smile at
Warner, as though to reassure him concerning matters temporarily beyond
her own control.

The Countess saw it, stood watching Warner, who had drawn Sister Eila’s
arm through his own, and was taking her out—saw Halkett and Philippa
halt and draw aside to let them pass; saw the expression in Sister
Eila’s face as her glance met Halkett’s, wavered, and passed elsewhere.

Before she and Gray had moved to close the double file, the Curé of
Dreslin was unexpectedly announced, and she turned to receive him,
asking him to support Gray on the other side.  Always Father Chalus was
a welcome guest at the Château; every house, humble or great, from
Dreslin to Saïs, was honored when this dim-eyed old priest set foot
across the threshold.

The dinner was lively, gay at times, and always cheerful with the
excitement lent by the arrival of the army—an arrival verging closely on
the dramatic, with the echoes of the cannonade still heavy among the
northern forests, the evening sky still ruddy above Ausone, and the
August air tainted with the odor of burning.

Through the soft candlelight servants moved silently; the Countess, with
the old Curé on her right, devoted herself to him and to Gray.

As though utterly alone in the center of some vast solitude peopled only
by themselves, young D’Aurès and Peggy Brooks remained conspicuously
absorbed in each other and equally oblivious to everything and everybody
else on earth.

"How is Ariadne?" inquired Halkett of Philippa,

"Poor dear!  I have not seen her since she soiled a whisker in Jim’s
ultramarine!"

Sister Eila’s lowered eyes were lifted; she tried to smile at Halkett.

"I saw Ariadne the other day," she said.  "The cat is quite comfortable
in the garden of the Golden Peach."

Halkett said lightly:

"Ariadne introduced me to Sister Eila.  Do you remember, Sister?"

But Sister Eila had already turned to Warner, and perhaps she did not
hear.

Later Warner bent toward Philippa:

"You are enchanting in that filmy turquoise blue affair."

"Isn’t it a darling?  Peggy _would_ make me wear it.  It’s hers, of
course....  Do I please you?"

"Did you ever do anything else, Philippa?"

She colored, looked up at him confused, and laughed:

"Oh, yes," she said, "I have annoyed you too, sometimes.  Do you
remember when I ran away from Ausone and told you about it in the meadow
by the river? Oh, you were very much annoyed!  You need not deny it.  I
realize now how much annoyed you must have been——"

"Thank God you did what you did," he said under his breath.

"What else could I do?"

"Nothing....  I must have been blind, there in Ausone, not to understand
you from the first moment. And I must have been crazy to have gone away
and left you there....  When I think of it, it makes me actually ill——"

"Jim!  You didn’t know."

"I should have known.  Any blockhead ought to have understood.  That was
the time I should have heard the knocking of opportunity!  I was deaf.
That was the time I should have caught a glimpse of that clean flame
burning.  I seemed to know it was there—words are cheap!—but my eyes
were too dull to perceive a glimmer from it!"

"Jim!  You saw a girl with painted lips and cheeks insulting the
sunlight.  How could you divine——"

"I couldn’t; I didn’t.  I was not keen enough, not fine enough.  Yet,
that was the opportunity.  That was the moment when I should have
comprehended you—when I should have stood by you—taken you, held you
against everybody, everything——  Good God!  I went away, smug as any
Pharisee, and with a self-satisfied smile left you on the edge of
hell—smiling back at me out of those grey, undaunted eyes——"

"Please!  You were wonderful every minute from the beginning—every
minute—all through it, Jim——"

"_You_ were!  I know what I was.  Halkett knows, too.  I was not up to
the opportunity; I did not measure up to the chance that was offered me;
I was not broad enough, fine enough——"

"What are you saying!—When you know how I feel—how I regard you——"

"How can you regard me the way you say you do?"

"How can I help it?"  She looked down at her glass, touched the slender
stem absently.

"Out of all the world," she said under her breath, "you alone held out a
comrade’s hand.  Does anything else matter? ... Think!  You are
forgetting. Remember!  Picture me where I was—as I was—only yesterday!
Look at me now—here, beside you.—here under this roof, among these
people—and the taste of their salt still keen in my mouth!  Now, do you
understand what you have done for me—you alone? Now, do you understand
what I—feel—for you?—For you who mean not only life to me, but who have
made possible for me that life which follows death?"

Her cheeks flushed; she turned breathlessly toward him.

"I tell you," she whispered, "you have offered me Christ, as surely as
He has ever been offered at any communion since the Last Supper! ...
_That_ is what you have done for me!"



                            *CHAPTER XXXIV*


Dinner was ended.

Gray had retired to his room, persuaded by Madame de Moidrey, who bribed
him by promising to read to him when he was tired of talking shop to
Captain Halkett.

Sister Eila had returned to the east wing, which was convenient to her
business as well as to her devotions.

Also, she had need of Father Chalus, who had come all the way from
Dreslin on foot.  For it was included in the duty of the parish priest
to confess both Sister Eila and Sister Félicité; only the sudden perils
and exigencies of home duties in Dreslin had detained him since the war
broke out.

He was old, lean, deeply worn in the service of the poor—a white-haired
man who looked out on the world through kindly blue eyes dimmed by
threescore years of smoky candlelight and the fine print of breviaries—a
priest devotedly loved in Dreslin, and by the household of the Château,
and by every inhabitant of the scattered farms composing the little
hamlet called Saïs.

It appeared that Sister Eila had great need of Father Chalus, for they
had gone away together, into the eastern wing of the house.  And the
Countess, noticing their departure, smiled to herself; for, like
everybody else, she was skeptical regarding the reality of any sins that
Sister Eila might have to confess.

The young Vicomte d’Aurès had taken his leave with all the unspoiled,
unembarrassed, and boyish cordiality characteristic of his race; also he
departed in a state of mind so perfectly transparent to anybody who
cared to notice it that Madame de Moidrey retired to the billiard room
after his departure, looking very serious.  She became more serious
still when Peggy did not appear from the southern terrace, whither she
had returned to mention something to Monsieur D’Aurès which she had
apparently forgotten to say to him in the prolonged ceremony of
leavetaking.

When fifteen minutes elapsed and no Peggy appeared, Madame de Moidrey
rose from her chair, flushed and unsmiling.  But before she had taken a
dozen steps toward the southern terrace her younger sister reappeared,
walking rapidly.  When she caught sight of the Countess advancing, she
halted and gazed at her sister rather blankly.

"Well, Peggy?"

"Well?"

"I am not criticising you or that boy, but perhaps a little more
reticence—repose of manner—reserve——"

"Ethra," she said in an awed voice, "I am in love with D’Aurès."

"_What!_"

"I am.  It came."

"Good heavens, Peggy——"

"I know!  I said ’good heavens,’ too—I mean I thought it.  I don’t know
what I’ve been saying this evening——"

"When?  Where?"

"Everywhere.  Just now, on the terrace——"

"Peggy!"

"What?"

"You didn’t say anything that could be——"

"Yes, I did.  I think he knows I’m in love with him. I meant him to
know!"

"Peggy!"

"Oh, Ethra, I don’t remember what I said.... And I think he cares for
me—I think we’re in love with each other——"

The girl dropped into a chair and stared at her sister.

"I’m bewitched, I think.  Ever since I saw him that first time it’s been
so.  I’ve thought of him all the time....  He says that it was so with
him, also——"’

"Oh, heavens, Peggy!  Are you mad?  Is he? You’re acting like a pair of
crazy children——"

"We _are_ children.  He’s only a boy.  But I know he’s growing into the
only man who could ever mean anything to me....  He’s writing to his
father now. I expect his father will write to you.  Isn’t it wonderful!"

Ethra de Moidrey gazed at her sister dizzily.  The girl sat with her
face between her hands looking steadily at the carpet.  After a moment
she glanced up.

"It’s the way _you_ fell in love," she said under her breath.

Madame de Moidrey rose abruptly, as though a sudden shaft of pain had
pierced her.  Then, walking over to her sister, she dropped one hand on
her dark head; stroked the thick, lustrous hair gently, absently; stood
very silent, gazing into space.

When Peggy stood up the Countess encircled her waist with one arm.  They
walked together slowly toward the southern terrace.

A million stars had come out in the sky; there was a scent of lilies
lingering above the gardens.  Sounds from distant bivouacs came to their
ears; no camp fires were visible, but the Récollette glittered like snow
in the white glare of searchlights.

"That boy," said Peggy, "—wherever he is riding out there in the
night—out there under the stars—that boy carries my heart with him....
I always thought that if it ever came it would come like this.... I
thought it would never come....  But it has."

Halkett, returning from a conference with Warner and Gray, came out on
the terrace to take his leave. They asked him to return when he could;
promised to visit the sheds and see the Bristol biplane.

Part way down the steps he turned and came back, asked permission to
leave his adieux with them for Sister Eila from whom he had not had an
opportunity to take his leave, turned again and went away into the
night, using his flashlight along the unfamiliar drive.

Ethra de Moidrey went into the house to keep her promise to Gray, and
found him tired but none the worse for his participation at dinner.

Philippa and Warner had come in to visit him; the Countess found the
book from which she had been reading to him since his arrival.  He
turned on his pillow and looked at her, and she seated herself beside
the bed and opened the book on her knees.

"Do you remember where we left off?" she asked, smiling.

"I think it was where he was beginning to fall in love with her."

The Countess de Moidrey bent over the book. There was a slight color in
her cheeks.

"I had not noticed that he was falling in love," she observed, turning
the pages to find her place.

Philippa said to Warner:

"Could we walk down and see the searchlights? They are so wonderful on
the water."

"Probably the sentinels won’t permit us outside our own gates," he
replied.  "I know one thing; if you and I were not considered as part of
the family of the Château, the military police would make us clear out.
It’s lucky I left the inn to come up here."

The Countess had begun reading in a low, soft voice, bending over her
book beside the little lamp at the bedside, where Gray lay watching her
under a hand that shaded his pallid face.

Something in her attitude and his, perhaps—or in her quiet voice—seemed
subtly, to Philippa, to exclude her and the man with her from a silent
entente too delicate, perhaps, to term an intimacy.

She touched Warner’s arm, warily, not taking it into her possession as
had been her unembarrassed custom only yesterday—even that very day.

Together they went out into the corridor, down the stairway, and
presently discovered Peggy on the southern terrace gazing very earnestly
at the stars.

That the young girl was wrapped, enmeshed, in the magic of the great web
which Fate has been spinning since time began, they did not know.

Still stargazing, they left her and walked down the dark drive to the
lodge where, through the iron grille, they saw hussars _en vedette_
sitting their horses in the uncertain luster of the planets.

Overhead the dark foliage had begun to stir and sigh in the night
breeze; now and again a yellowing leaf fell, rustling slightly; and they
thought they could hear the Récollette among its rushes—the faintest
murmur—but were not sure.

He remembered her song, there in the river meadow:

    Hussar en vedette
    What do you see?—


And thought of the white shape on the bank—a true folk song, unfinished
in its eerie suggestion which the imagination of the listeners must
always finish.

Yet he said:

"_Was_ he killed—that _vedette_ on the Récollette, Philippa?"

She knew what he meant, smiled faintly:

"Does anybody see Death and live to say so?"

"Of course I knew," he said.

They turned back, walking slowly.  He had drawn her arm through his, but
it rested there very lightly, scarcely in contact at all.

"What a fine fellow Halkett is!" he said.

"Your friends should be fine, Jim.  Our friends ought to reflect our own
qualities and mirror our aspirations....  That was written in one of my
school-books," she added with that delicate honesty which characterized
her.

"You reflect my aspirations," he said, unsmiling.

"Oh, Jim!  I?  Do you imagine I believe that?"

"You might as well.  It’s true enough.  You have just mirrored for me my
hopeless aspiration toward that perfect and transparent honesty which I
haven’t attained, but which seems always to have been a part of you."

Sister Eila passed them in the starlight, her young head bent over the
rosary in her hands, moving slowly across the lawn.

Their passing on the drive did not seem to arouse her from her
meditation; she seated herself on a stone bench under a clump of yews;
and they moved on in silence.

As they reached the terrace a shot sounded down by the river; another
echoed it; the rattle of rifle fire ran along the valley from, north to
south; a rocket rose, flooding the hill beyond the quarry road with a
ghastly light.

Peggy Brooks, white as death, came over to Philippa and took her hands
into both of hers.

She had begun to learn what love meant, with the first blind shot in the
dark, and all the passion and fear within her was concentrated in
wondering where those leaden messengers of death had found their
billets.

She said in a ghost of a voice:

"Is there going to be a battle here?"

"Not now," replied Warner.  "Probably it’s nothing at all—some nervous
sentry waking up his equally nervous comrades....  What a horrible light
that rocket shed!"

The shots had died away; there was no more firing.

Vignier had come around; he was an old soldier, and Warner spoke to him.

"Perhaps a cow," he said with a shrug, "—the wind in the bushes—a
hedgehog rustling.  Young soldiers are like that in the beginning.  And
still, perhaps they have caught a prowler out there—an Uhlan, maybe, or
a spy.  One never knows what to expect at night."

"Do you think that our valley will see any fighting, Vignier?"

"Does that not depend, Monsieur, on what is to happen beyond the Vosges?
They have dug line after line of trenches across the valley and the
plateau as far as Dreslin.  Those are positions being prepared in
advance, to fall back upon in case of disaster in the east."

"I thought that was what this trench digging meant."

"That is what it means, Monsieur Warner.  They tell me that our soldiers
are going to operate the cement works day and night to turn out material
for platforms and emplacements.  I know that they have gone into our
western woods with loads of cement and crushed stone.  The forest is
full of _fantassins_ and _chasseurs-à-pied_.  It is certain that some
general will make our Château his headquarters _en passant_."

He had scarcely spoken when, far away in the darkness, a noise arose.
It came from the direction of the lodge gate, grew nearer, approaching
by the drive.

The Countess, reading to Gray, heard it, laid down her book to listen.
Gray listened too, raising himself on his pillows.

"Cavalry have entered the grounds," he said quietly.

"I shall have to go down," she said.  At the door she paused: "Will you
remember where we left off, Captain Gray?"

"I shall remember.  It is where he has completely fallen in love with
her."

The Countess de Moidrey met his calm gaze, sustained it for a moment,
then with a smile and a nod of adieu she turned and went out into the
corridor. As she descended the stairs she placed both hands against her
cheeks, which burned slightly.

The hall below was already crowded with officers of somebody’s staff;
the pale blue tunics of chasseurs and hussars were conspicuous against
the darker dress of dragoons.  The silver corselet of a colonel of
cuirassiers glittered in the lamplight; twisted gold arabesques
glimmered on crimson caps and sleeves; the ring of spur and hilt and the
clash of accouterments filled the house.

As the Countess set foot in the hall, a general officer wearing the
cross of the Legion came forward, his red cap, heavy with gold, in his
gloved hand.

"Countess," he said, bending over the hand which she smilingly extended,
"a thousand excuses could not begin to make amends for our intrusion——"

"General, you honor my roof.  Surely you must understand the happiness
that I experience in reminding you that the house of De Moidrey belongs
to France and to the humblest and highest of her defenders."

The General, whose clipped mustache and imperial were snow-white, and
whose firm, bronzed features denied his years, bent again over the
pretty hand that rested on his own.

Then, asking permission to name himself, in turn he presented the
members of his military family.

Included was a thin blond man of middle height, with a golden mustache
twisted up, cinder-blond hair, and conspicuous ears.  He wore a monocle,
and was clothed in a green uniform.  General of Division Delisle
presented him as Major-General Count Cassilis, the Russian Military
Observer attached to division headquarters.

For a few moments there was much bending of tight-waisted tunics in the
yellow lamplight, much jingling of spurs and sabers, compliments spoken
and implied with a gay smile and bow—all the graceful, easy formality to
be expected in such an extemporized gathering.

Peggy and Philippa appeared, followed by Warner; presentations were
effected; servants arranged chairs and brought trays set with bottles of
light wine and biscuits, preliminary to an improvised supper which was
now being prepared in the kitchen.

General Raoul Delisle had known Colonel de Moidrey; he and the Countess
formed the center of the brilliant little assembly where half a dozen
officers surrounded Peggy and Warner.

But the effect of Philippa on the Russian Military Observer, General
Count Cassilis, was curious to watch.

From the instant he laid eyes on her, he had continued to look at her;
and his inspection would have had all the insolence of a stare had he
not always averted his gaze when hers moved in his direction.

When he had been named to her, he had bowed suavely, and with
characteristic Russian ceremony and empressement; but the instant her
name was pronounced the Russian Observer had straightened himself like a
steel rod released from a hidden spring, and his fishy blue eyes widened
so that his monocle had fallen from its place to swing dangling across
the jeweled decorations on his breast.

And now he had managed to approach Philippa and slightly separate her
from the company, detaining her in conversation, more suave, more
amiably correct than ever.

Already in her inexperience with a world where such men are to be
expected, the girl found herself vaguely embarrassed, subtly on the
defensive—a defensive against something occult which somehow or other
seemed to menace her privacy and seemed to be meddling with the natural
reticence with which, instinctively, she protected herself from any
explanation of her past life.

Not that Count Cassilis had presumed to ask any direct question; she was
not even aware of any hint or innuendo; yet she was constantly finding
herself confronted with a slight difficulty in responding to his gay,
polite, and apparently impersonal remarks. Somehow, everything he said
seemed to involve some reference on her part to a past which now
concerned nobody excepting herself and the loyal friends who
comprehended it.

And, from the beginning, from the first moment when this man was
presented to her, and she had looked up with a smile to acknowledge the
introduction, she experienced an indefinite sensation of meeting
somebody whom she had seen somewhere years before—years and years ago.

As he conversed with her, standing there by the table with the lighted
lamp partly concealed by his gold-slashed shoulder, the vague impression
of something familiar but long forgotten came at moments, faded,
returned, only to disappear again.

And once, a far, pale flicker of memory played an odd trick on her, for
suddenly she seemed to remember a pair of thin, conspicuous ears like
his, and lamplight—or perhaps sunlight—shining behind them and turning
them a translucent red.  It came and vanished like the faint memory of a
dream dreamed years and years ago.  As she looked at Count Cassilis, the
smile died out in her eyes and on her lips, and the slightest feeling of
discomfort invaded her.

Toasts were offered, acknowledged, compliments said, glasses emptied.

The General of Division Delisle spoke diffidently of quarters for
himself and his military family, and was cordially reassured by the
Countess.

There was plenty of room for all.  It was evident, too, that they had
ridden far and must be hungry. Servants were summoned, rooms in the east
wing thrown open to the air; the kitchen stirred up to increased
activity for the emergency; the officers piloted to the rooms assigned
them.

Down on the drive a shadowy escort of hussars waited until an orderly
appeared, shining, with his breast torch, the path to the stables.

Then three sky-guns jolted up out of the darkness and halted; a company
of infantry tramped by toward the garage; the horses of the staff were
led away by mounted gendarmes; and three big military touring cars,
their hoods and glass windows grey with dust, began to purr and pant and
crawl slowly after the infantry.

Everywhere sentries were being set, taking post on every terrace, every
path and road, and before the doorways of the great house.

A single candle burned in the chapel.  Beside it sat Sister Eila, intent
on her breviary, her lips moving silently as she bent above it.

The fifth part of the breviary, Matins, Lauds, and the Little Office of
the Blessed Virgin, absorbed her.

The whole of the breviary services, the duty of publicly joining or of
privately reading aloud so as to utter with the lips every word, is
generally incumbent upon all members of religious orders.

But Sisters of Charity, forming as they do an _active_ religious order,
are excepted.

Nevertheless, they are always bound to some shorter substitute, such as
the Little Office, or to some similar office.  And though the hours for
devotion are prescribed, the duties of mercy sometimes interrupt the
schedule which must then be carried out as circumstances of necessity
permit.

Philippa, entering the chapel, caught sight of Sister Eila, and knelt
without disturbing her.

The girl had experienced an odd, unaccustomed, and suddenly imperative
desire for the stillness of an altar, for its shelter; for that silent
security that reigns beneath the crucifix and invites the meditation of
the pure in heart.

How long she had been seated there in the shadows she did not know, but
presently she became aware of Sister Eila beside her, resting against
her as though fatigued.

The girl put her arm around Sister Eila’s neck instinctively, and drew
the drooping head against her shoulder.

They had not known each other well.

That was the beginning.



                             *CHAPTER XXXV*


The growling and muttering of German guns in the north and northeast
awoke Warner in his bed.

Sunrise plated his walls and ceiling with gold; the morning air hummed
with indefinite sounds and rumors, the confusion and movement of many
people stirring.

He stood for a moment by his window looking down over the plateau and
across the valley of the Récollette.

Everywhere cavalry, infantry, artillery, baggage trains, automobiles,
bicycles, motor cycles were moving slowly eastward into the blazing eye
of the rising sun and vanishing within its blinding glory.

Two French aëroplanes had taken the air.  They came soaring over the
valley from the plateau, filling the air with the high clatter of their
machinery; pale green ribbons of smoke fell from them, uncoiling like
thin strips of silk against the sky; flag signals were being exchanged
between officers gathered on the terrace below and a group of soldiers
at the head of the nearest pontoon across the river.

Poles supporting field telephone and telegraph wires stretched across
the lawn, running south toward the lodge gate.  Another line ran east,
another west.

Parked on the lawn were a dozen big automobiles, the chauffeurs at the
wheels, the engines running.  Behind these, soldier cyclists and motor
cyclists sat cross-legged by their machines, exchanging gossip with a
squadron of hussars drawn up on the other side of the drive.

There were no tents visible anywhere, but everywhere in the open
soldiers were erecting odd-looking skeleton shelters and covering them
with freshly cut green boughs from the woods.  Under one of these an
automobile was already standing, and under others hussars stood to
horse.

Across the rolling country, stretching over valley and plateau, the face
of the green and golden earth was striped, as though some giant plow had
turned furrows at random here and there, some widely separated from the
rest, others parallel and within a few yards of one another.  A few dark
figures appeared along these furrows of raw earth, moved about,
disappeared.  It was evident that the trenches of these prepared
positions were still in process of construction, for carts were being
driven to and from them and men were visible working near some of them.

Warner had completed his toilet when a maid brought café-au-lait.  He
ate, listening to the grumble of the northern cannonade and watching the
movement of the columns along dry roads, where unbroken walls of dust
marked every route, seen or unseen, across the vast green panorama.

He had finished breakfast and was lighting a cigarette in preparation
for descending to the terrace, when the noise of an altercation arose
directly under his window; and, looking out, he beheld Asticot in
dispute with the sentry stationed there, loudly insisting that he was a
servant of the establishment, and demanding free entry with every
symptom of virtuous indignation.

He was a sight; his face and hands were smeared with black—charcoal, it
looked like—his clothes were muddy and full of briers, his beloved
lovelocks, no longer plastered in demicurls over each cheekbone, dangled
dankly beside his large, wide ears.

Over his shoulder he carried a sack, and to this he clung while he
flourished his free hand in voluble and impassioned argument.

Warner spoke sharply from the window above:

"Asticot!"

The disheveled one looked up with a joyous exclamation of recognition;
the sentry also looked up.

"He’s my servant," said Warner quietly.  "Asticot! What do you want?"

"M’sieu’ Warner, I have something for you and for Mademoiselle
Philippa——"

"Very well.  Go to the harness room; make something approaching a
toilet, put on the clean suit I gave you, and report to me."

"’Fait, M’sieu’!"

The sentry scowled after him as he departed, and Asticot pulled a
hideous face at him and thrust his tongue into his cheek in derision.

Warner, immensely amused, reassured the soldier on guard, folded his
arms and leaned on the sill to watch the interminable columns of motor
lorries moving through the valley.

The scenes everywhere were so intensely interesting that he had not had
enough of them when Asticot reappeared, cleansed, reclothed, his hair
sleekly plastered, still lugging his sack and looking at the sentinel
with the sad air of outraged innocence bestowing forgiveness.

"Let him pass, please," said Warner from the window. After a few moments
a disgusted maid knocked, requesting enlightenment concerning "an
individual pretending to be a servant of Monsieur Warner."

"It’s true, Babette," he said, laughing.  "Show him up, if you please."

Asticot entered, cap in hand, bowed, scraped the carpet with a
propitiating and crablike shuffle of his right foot, and set the sack
upon the floor.

There always had been something about the young ruffian which inclined
Warner to mirth.  He waited a moment to control the amusement which
twitched at his lips, then:

"Well, Asticot, where have you been and what is in this bundle?"

"M’sieu’—may I close the door?  I thank M’sieu’.... One cannot be too
careful about being overheard in these miserable days of martial law."

"What?  Have you been doing something you are ashamed of?"

"No; nothing that I am ashamed of," replied Asticot naïvely.  "I have
been to Ausone."

"To Ausone!"

"M’sieu’, figurez-vous!—It occurred to me last evening—_tiens!_ there
ought to be a few odds and ends to pick up in Ausone—a few miserable
_chiffons_ which nobody wants—little fragments of no value, you
understand—what with the bombardment and all those ruined houses——"

"You went _looting_!"

"M’sieu’!" he said in pained surprise.  "It was nothing like _that_!
No!  I said to myself, ’_Tenez, mon vieux_, to rake over a pile of
rubbish is no crime in Paris.  On peut ramasser des bouts d’cigares
comme ça.  Eh, bien, quoi?’  I said to myself, ’Asticot, en route!’

"So I borrowed a boat——"

"Borrowed?  From whom?"

"I could not find any owner, M’sieu’.  So, as I say, I offered myself a
boat, and I took the fishing pole which was in it, and I rowed boldly up
the river.

"I suppose, seeing the fishing pole, nobody stopped me.  Besides, there
were a few freshly caught fish in the boat.  These I held up, offering
to sell to the soldiers I saw—a precaution, M’sieu’, which rendered my
voyage very easy."

"It’s a wonder you did not get yourself shot!"

"It was dark enough after a while.  And there are no troops beyond the
second mill; and no vedettes disturbed me.

"At the Impasse d’Alcyon I tied my boat.  The alley and the square were
full of the poor people of Ausone, returning to look among the ruins for
what had been their homes.  Me, I said I was looking for mine, also——"

Warner said:

"That is villainous, Asticot; do you know it?"

"M’sieu’!  I journeyed there only for what was rightfully mine!"

"Yours!  What do you mean?"

"_Tenez_, M’sieu’; that wicked traitor, Wildresse, employed me, did he
not?  Bon!  Would you believe it—never yet has he paid me what he owes
me!  M’sieu’, such trickery, such ingratitude is nauseating!  Besides,
now that I know he has sold France, I would not touch his filthy money.
No!"

He scowled thoughtfully at space, shrugged, continued:

"The question nevertheless remained: _how_ was I to reimburse myself?
Tiens!  An idea!  I remembered that in the cellar of that cabaret my
friend, Squelette, and I had discovered a safe.

"That very night, after M’sieu’ had escaped us, taking with him
M’amzelle Philippa, Squelette and I we drilled into that safe——"

"What!"

Asticot shrugged:

"Que voulez-vous!  C’est la vie!  Also, M’sieu’ should trouble himself
to recollect that I had not become honest and God-fearing under the
merciless blows of M’sieu’.  I was still full of evil in those days,
alas! not yet sufficiently remote——"

"Go on," said Warner, controlling his laughter.

"M’sieu’, we got the safe door open, Squelette and I, but found no
opportunity to rummage.  Then we were sent here, M’sieu’ knows the
rest—the bombardment and all....  So last night I went back to the
cabaret—or what remains of it—four walls and a heap of brick.  The fire
was out.  The cabaret was ruined, but the café had not been destroyed.

"And now, M’sieu’, comes a real vein of luck.  And what do you suppose!
Face to face in the dark I came upon a pioupiou on guard as I crawl
through the café door.

"And I thought his bayonet was in my bowels, M’sieu’, when he turned his
breast torch on me.  One makes short work of looters—not that I can
rightly be called that.  No!  But still I thought: ’Dieu!  Je claque!
C’est fini!’  When, ’Tiens!’ exclaims my soldier.  ’C’est mon vieux
co’pain!  What dost thou do here, Asticot, smelling around these ruins?’

"M’sieu’, I look, I expel a cry of joy, I embrace a friend!  It is One
Eye—my comrade in the Battalion of Biribi!  I am within the lines of a
Battalion of Africa!"

He licked his lips furtively, and leered at Warner.

"_Voyez-vous_, M’sieu’, when old friends meet an affair is quickly
arranged.  I file away at full speed; I gain the cellar, I flash the
safe, I pull some old sacks under me and sit down at my leisure.  It was
most comfortable.

"Can M’sieu’ see the tableau?  Me, Asticot, seated before the open safe
of Wildresse, who has wronged me and my country, leisurely revenging
myself by knocking off the necks of his wine bottles and refreshing
myself while I examine the contents of the traitor’s safe!"

He smirked, doubtless picturing to himself his recent exploit, with
himself, Asticot, as the heroic center of a deed which evidently gave
him exquisite satisfaction.

He reached for the sack on the floor, squatted down on the rug in front
of Warner’s chair, untied the sack, and drew from it bundle after bundle
of papers.

"His!" he remarked.  "All private.  I think, M’sieu’, that a few of
these will do away with any necessity for ceremony when we catch
Wildresse."

He passed the packages of papers to Warner, who laid them on the table,
looking very serious.

What Asticot did not extract from the sack he had already removed and
hidden in the straw under his blanket in the harness room—a bag of
Russian gold coins and a bag of French silver money.

Now, however, he produced a pillowcase.  There were old, rusty stains on
it, and in the corner of it a heraldic device embroidered.

Asticot deftly untied it and dumped out of it upon the floor a strange
assortment of things—toys, and picture books in French, articles of
clothing, ribbons, tiny slippers, the crumpled frocks and stockings of a
little girl, and fragments of a little cloak of blue silk edged with
swansdown, and a little hat to match.

"What in the world——" began Warner, when Asticot opened one of the
picture books and silently displayed the name written there—"Philippa."

"M’sieu’, because you are fond of M’amzelle, when I discovered her name
in these books I brought everything as I found it—tied up in this
pillowcase—toys, clothing, all, just as I discovered it in the
safe—thinking perhaps to please M’sieu’, who is so kind to me——"

"You did right!  What are those things—photographs? Give them to me——"

"M’sieu’, they are the pictures of a little child.  To me they resemble
M’amzelle Philippa."

Warner examined the half-dozen photographs in amazement.  They were more
or less faded, not sufficiently to prevent his recognizing in them the
child that Philippa had once been.  He was absolutely certain that these
photographs represented Philippa somewhere between the ages of five and
seven.

One by one he studied them, then turned them over. On every one was
written "Philippa," and the age, "four," "five," "six," on the several
pictures.  All were written in the same flowing feminine handwriting.
The name of the photographer was the same on every picture, except on
that one where the age "six" was written.  That photograph had been
taken in the city of Sofia in Bulgaria.  The others bore the name of a
photographer in the French city of Tours.

Asticot, squatting on the floor cross-legged, watched him in silence.

Finally Warner said:

"Thank you, Asticot.  You have behaved with intelligence.  I double your
wages."

"M’sieu’ is contented with his Asticot, grateful and devoted?"

"Indeed, I am!"

"Will M’sieu’ permit me to go now?"

"Certainly.  Do they feed and lodge you properly at the inn?"

Asticot murmured that it was heavenly, and hastily took his departure,
burning with anxiety concerning the safety of the treasure he had
concealed under the straw and blanket in the harness room.

As for Warner, he was intensely interested, excited, and perplexed.
Here, apparently, in this old, stained pillowcase which Asticot had
found in the private safe of Wildresse, were the first clews to
Philippa’s identity that anybody, excepting Wildresse, had ever heard
of.

These photographs were without doubt photographs of Philippa as a child,
two taken in Tours, one in Sofia.

And the girl’s name was Philippa, too——

Suddenly it occurred to him that, according to Wildresse, Philippa had
been left at his door as a Paris foundling—as an infant only a few weeks
old.  So Wildresse himself might have named her.  Perhaps his wife had
written Philippa’s name on these pictures. And yet—how had Philippa come
to be in the Bulgarian city of Sofia?  Was it possible that Wildresse
could ever have taken the child there?

He looked down at the toys, at the clothing.  Had they belonged to
Philippa as a child?

Between his room and Gray’s there was a pretty sitting room.  He put
everything back into the pillowcase, went out into the corridor, found
the sitting room door open and the room full of sunlight.

A maid, who sat sewing in the corridor, went to Philippa’s room with a
request from Warner that she dress and come to the sitting room.

Warner emptied the pillowcase on the center table, then, folding it,
gave it to the maid, who returned to say that Philippa was dressed and
would come immediately.

"Take this pillowcase to Madame la Comtesse," he explained.  "Say to
Madame that there is a device embroidered on the case, and that I should
be infinitely obliged if Madame la Comtesse would be kind enough to
search for a similar device among such volumes on the subject as she
possesses."

The maid went away with the pillowcase, and a moment later Philippa
appeared, fresh, dainty, smiling, an enchanting incarnation of youth and
loveliness in her thin, white morning frock.

She offered her hand and withdrew it immediately, as though this slight,
new shyness of hers in his presence forbade that contact with him which,
before that day when he painted her, had never seemed to embarrass her.

He ushered her silently into the little sitting room; she went forward
and stopped by the center table, looking down curiously at the motley
heap of toys and clothing which covered it.

He watched her intently as she turned over one object after another.
Presently she glanced around at him interrogatively.

"Examine them," he said.

"What are they?"

"You see—a child’s toys and clothing.  Pick up that broken doll and look
it over carefully."

She lifted the battered French doll, examined it as though perplexed,
laid it aside, picked up a Polichinelle, laid that aside, looked at a
woolly dog, a cloth cat, a wooden soldier in French uniform with scarlet
cap askew and one arm missing.

"Well?" he asked.

"I don’t understand, Jim."

"I know.  Is there among these things any object which seems at all
familiar to you?"

"No."

"Nothing that seems to stir in you any memory?"

She shook her head smilingly, turned over the heap of garments, shifting
them to one side or the other, caught a glimpse of the little cloak of
pale blue silk and swansdown, lifted it curiously.

"How odd," she said; "I have——"  She hesitated, looked intently at the
faded silk, passed one slim hand over the swansdown, stood with brows
bent slightly inward as though searching in her mind, deeply, for
something which eluded her.

Warner did not speak or stir; presently she turned toward him,
perplexed, still searching in her memory.

"It’s odd," she said, "that I seem to remember a cloak like this....  Or
perhaps as a very little child I dreamed about such a pretty cloak....
It was long ago....  Where did you get it, Jim?"

"Do you seem to remember it?"

"Somehow, I seem to."

"Is there anything else there which appears at all familiar to you?"

She sorted over the toys and garments, shook her head, picked up a
picture book and stood idly turning the pages——

And suddenly uttered a little cry.

Instantly he was beside her; the page lay open at a golden scene where
the Sleeping Beauty had just awakened, and the glittering Prince had
fallen on one knee beside her couch.

"Jim!  I—I remember that!  It was all gold—all—all golden—everything—her
hair and his—and the couch and her gown and his clothes—all gold,
everything golden!

"I _know_ that picture.  Where in the world did you find it?  I was a
child—they showed it to me; I always asked for it——"  She looked up at
him, bewildered.

"Turn the pages!" he said.

She turned; another soft little cry escaped her; she recognized the
picture, and the next one also, and the next, and every succeeding one,
excitedly calling his attention to details which had impressed her as a
child.

Of the other books she seemed to retain no recollection; remembered none
of the toys, nothing of the clothing except the faded silken cloak with
its border of swansdown.  But this book she remembered vividly; and when
he showed her her name written in it she grew a little pale with
surprise and excitement.

Then, seated there on the table’s edge beside her, he told her what
Asticot had told him and showed her the photographs.

She seemed a little dazed at first, but, as he continued, the color
returned to her cheeks and the excitement died out in her grey eyes.

"I cannot remember these events," she said very quietly.

"Is it possible he could have taken you to Bulgaria without your
recollecting anything about it?"

"I must have been very, very young."  She sat on the table’s edge,
staring at the sunny window for a while in silence, then, still gazing
into space:

"Jim....  I have sometimes imagined that I could remember something—that
I am conscious of having been somewhere else before my first
recollections of Wildresse begin.  Of course, that is not possible, if
he found me, a baby, at his door——"

"He may have lied."

She turned slowly toward him:

"I wonder."

"I wonder, too."

After a silence she said, speaking with a deliberation almost colorless:

"Whether they were dreams, I am not quite certain, now.  Always I have
supposed them to have been dreams—dreamed long ago....  When I was very,
very little....  About a lady with red hair—near me when I was
sleepy....  Also there comes a voice as though somebody were singing
something about me—my name—Philippa."

"Is that all?"

"I think so....  She had red hair, and her cheeks were warm and soft....
I was sleepy.  I think she sang to me....  Something about ’Philippa,’
and ’dreamland.’ ... The golden picture in that book makes me think of
her voice.  The cloak with the swans-down reminds me....  Do you think
it could have been a dream?"

"God knows," he muttered, staring at the floor.

After a while he rose, drew a chair to the table, and Philippa seated
herself.  Leaning there on one elbow, her cheek on her palm, she opened
the book she had remembered and gazed at the golden picture.

Warner watched her for a while, then went quietly out and along the
corridor to the hall that crossed it.  Madame de Moidrey’s maid
announced him.

"May I come in a moment, Ethra?"

"Certainly, Jim.  It’s all right; I’m in negligée."  And as he entered:
"Where in the world did you find that soiled old pillowcase?"

"Did you discover the device embroidered on it?"

She pointed to a volume lying on her dressing table:

"Yes.  The arms of Châtillon-Montréal are embroidered on it.  It’s
rather a strange thing, too, because the family is extinct."

"What?"

"Certainly.  As soon as I found out what the device was, I remembered
all about the family.  Sit down there, if you want to know.  You don’t
mind Rose doing my hair?"

"You’re as pretty as a picture, Ethra, and you are perfectly aware of
it.  Go on and tell me, please."

"It’s a well-known family, Jim—or was.  The early ones were Crusaders
and Templars, I believe.  Their history ever since has been mixed up
with affairs oriental.

"There was a De Châtillon who had a row with Saladin, and I think was
slain by that redoubtable Moslem.  The daughter of that De Châtillon
married a paladin of some sort who took her name and her father’s
quarterings and added a blue fanion and a human head to them; also three
yaks’ tails on a spear support the arms.  Why, I don’t remember.  It’s
in that book over there, I suppose.

"Anyway, it seems that some king or other—Saint Louis, I believe—created
the first son of this paladin and of the daughter of De Châtillon a
Prince of Marmora with the Island of Tenedos as his domain.

"Of course one of the Sultans drove them out.  Fifty years ago the
family was living in Tours, poor as mice, proud as Lucifer of their
Principality of Marmora and Tenedos—realms which no Châtillon, of
course, had ever been permitted to occupy since the Crusades.

"The family is extinct—some tragedy, I believe, finished the last of the
Châtillons.  I don’t remember when, but it probably is all recorded in
that book over there."

"May I borrow it?"

"Certainly.  But where in the world did that exceedingly soiled
pillowcase come from?"

"Don’t have it washed just yet, Ethra.  A man discovered it in a safe
which was the private property of that scoundrel, Constantine Wildresse.

"When your hair is done, will you please go into the sitting room on my
corridor?  Philippa has something to show you."

The Countess looked at him curiously as he took his leave.

"Please hurry with my hair," she said to her maid.



                            *CHAPTER XXXVI*


As Warner returned to his own room, two thoughts persisted and dominated
all others: Philippa’s parents were known to Wildresse; Wildresse must
be found.

Somehow or other he had already taken it for granted that Philippa’s
father or mother, or perhaps both parents, had been engaged in some
capacity in the service of this family called De Châtillon.  There was
no particular reason for him to believe this; her parents might have
been the friends of these people. But the idea of some business
association between the two families seemed to obsess him—he could not
explain why—and with this idea filling his mind he entered his room,
seated himself by the open window, and picked up the packages of
personal papers belonging to Wildresse and taken from his safe by
Asticot.

There were three packets of documents, each packet tied separately with
pink tape and sealed twice.

Running over the first packet like a pack of cards, he found that every
paper had been endorsed on the outside and dated, although the dates
were not arranged in proper sequence.

On the first document which he read without unsealing the packet was
written, "Affaire Schnaeble, 1887."  On the next he read, when he parted
the papers, "Affaire de Clermont-Ferrand, 1888."  The next, however,
bore the inscription, "Affaire Panitza" and bore an earlier date.
Beneath this caption was written: "Prince Ferdinand and the Oberanovitch
Dynasty. Dossier of Draga.  The Jockey Club and King Milan. Queen
Natalie and her dossier.  The Grand Duke Cyril."

He turned over document after document, all bearing endorsements, but
the majority of the captions meant nothing to him, such as "Abdul Hamid
and Marmora," "The Greco-Italian Proposition for an International
Gendarmerie," "Ali Pasha, Saïd Pasha, and the Archives of Tenedos," "The
Hohenzollern-Benedetti Affair."

There seemed to be nothing in this packet to justify his breaking the
seals before he turned over the documents to the military authorities.

Nor, in the next packet, could he discover anything among the motley
assortment of endorsements which seemed to justify his forestalling the
French authorities in their examination.

But in the third packet he found that, no matter what the endorsement
might be, under each caption was written, "The De Châtillon Affair."

This packet he locked in his desk until he should return; he gathered up
the other two, took his cap, buttoned and belted his Norfolk, and went
downstairs.

The man he sought had not yet left the Château; General Delisle was
seated at a table in the music room looking at a series of big linen
maps which had been hung up on the opposite wall.

A dozen officers were seated in a semicircle around him; an officer with
a pointer stood by the maps as demonstrator, another sat at a table near
by, under a portable switchboard.  In the little room adjoining was
seated a military telegraph operator.

Through the open French windows cyclist messengers were constantly
mounting and descending the terrace steps; every few moments motor
cycles arrived and departed; now and then a cavalryman galloped up in an
old-style storm of dust, or a trooper vaulted into his saddle and
departed _ventre à terre_.  The growling of the cannonade was perfectly
audible in the room.

At first General Delisle did not see Warner, but the Russian Military
Observer did, and he rose and came quietly over to shake hands and
inquire concerning the health of the ladies.

Several times his big, fish-blue eyes wandered curiously all over
Warner’s face and figure, as though insolently appraising the American
and trying to come to some conclusion concerning the nature of the man
and of the packet of papers which he had stuffed into the pocket of his
Norfolk jacket.

A moment later Delisle caught sight of him, rose with pleasant courtesy,
and extended his hand, asking after the health of the ladies, and making
a similar inquiry concerning himself.

"General, could I see you for one moment alone?" said Warner.

The General moved out from the seated circle of officers, joined Warner,
and moved with unhurried step beside him through the house toward the
billiard room.

When they had reached the billiard room, Warner had told him all he knew
concerning Wildresse, concluding with the appearance of the man escorted
by Uhlans on Vineyard Hill.

Then he drew the papers from his pocket and gave them to the silent
officer, who stood quite motionless, looking him through and through.

It was evident that General Delisle had no hesitation about breaking the
big, sprawling seals of grey wax; he ripped both packets open so that
the documents fell all over the scarf covering the billiard table; then,
rapidly, he picked up, opened, scanned, and cast aside paper after
paper.

There was not the slightest change in the expression of his face when he
came to the "Schnaeble-Incident"; he scanned it, laid it aside, and said
quietly as he picked up the next paper:

"That document is sufficient to settle the affair of this man Wildresse.
If we catch him, ceremony will be superfluous....  The nearest wall or
tree, you understand—unless he cares to make a statement first.... I
always have time to listen to statements.  Only one out of a hundred
proves to be of any value at all, Mr. Warner, but that one is worth all
the time I waste on the others——"

And all the while he was opening, scanning, and casting aside document
after document.

"Oh, almost any one of these is enough," remarked the General.  "Here’s
a villainous center of ramifications, leading God knows where——"

He checked himself abruptly; a dull color mounted to his bronzed
cheekbones.  Warner glanced at the caption of the document.  It read:
"Dossier of Count Cassilis and the Battenberg Affair."

The General read it, very slowly, for a few minutes. He could not have
gone much further than the first paragraph when he folded the paper
abruptly, shot a lightning glance at Warner that dazzled him like a
saber flash; and suddenly smiled.

"This seems to indicate a rather bad business, Mr. Warner," he said
pleasantly.  "I count on your discretion, of course."

"You may, General."

"I mean even among my entourage.  _Do you understand_?"

"Perfectly."

"Who has any knowledge of these papers excepting yourself and myself?"

"Nobody but Wildresse, as far as I know."

The General motioned to the sentry who stood guard by the three sky-guns
on the north terrace:

"Colonel Gerould; say to him I am waiting!"

A few moments later the big Colonel of Cuirassiers came clanking into
the billiard room.  General Delisle handed him the papers, said a few
words in a low voice. As he spoke there was something quietly terrible
in the stare he turned on Colonel Gerould; and the latter turned visibly
white and glared blankly into space as the General laid his hand on his
arm and spoke low and rapidly into his ear.

The next moment the Cuirassier was gone and General Delisle had taken
Warner’s arm with a quiet smile and was leisurely sauntering back toward
the music room.

"It was very friendly of you, Mr. Warner—may I add, very sagacious?  But
that is like an American. We French feel very keenly the subtle sympathy
of—" he laughed—"neutral America."

"Are these papers of real importance, General?—Is it proper of me to ask
you such a question?"

"They are of—overwhelmingly vital importance, Mr. Warner."

"What!"

The General halted, looked him pleasantly in the eyes:

"The most vitally important information that I have ever received during
my entire military career," he said quietly.  "Judge, then, of my
gratitude to you. I cannot express it.  I can only offer you my
hand—with a heart—very full."

They exchanged a firm clasp.  As they went into the music room, Count
Cassilis, who had seated himself at the piano, and who was running over
a few minor scales, turned and looked at them, rising slowly to his feet
with the other officers when the General entered.  He had his monocle
screwed into his right eye.

The cannonade had now become noisy and jarring enough to interrupt
conversation, and it was plain to Warner that French batteries somewhere
along the Récollette had opened.

Out on the terrace he could see aëroplanes in the northeastern sky, no
doubt trying to find the range for the French batteries.  They were very
high, and the clots of white appeared and dissolved far below them.

But now the steady tattoo of machine guns had become audible in the
direction of the Ausone Forest, and the racket swelled swiftly into a
roar of rifle fire and artillery—so rapidly, indeed, that every head in
the vicinity was turned to listen—hussars, cyclists, infantry, the
cannoniers lying beside their sky-guns, the military chauffeurs, the
sentries, all looked toward the northeast.

Two more French aëroplanes took the air over the plateau, rose rapidly,
and headed toward the Ausone Forest.

Down on the Saïs highway the slowly moving file of motor lorries drew
out to the right-hand edge of the road, and past them galloped battery
after battery, through a whirling curtain of dust—guns, caissons,
mounted officers, flashing past in an interminable stream, burying the
baggage vans out of sight under the billowing clouds.  Columns of
cavalry, also, appeared in the river meadows on both banks, trotting out
across the stubble and splashing through the reeds, all moving toward
the northeast.

The quarry road, too, was black with moving infantry; another column
tramped across the uplands beyond; horsemen were riding over Vineyard
Hill, horsemen crossed the Récollette by every ford, every
pontoon—everywhere the French riders were to be seen swarming over the
landscape, appearing, disappearing, in view again increased in numbers,
until there seemed to be no end to their coming.

The uproar of the fusillade grew deafening; the sharper crack of the
fieldpieces became dulled in the solid shocks from heavier calibers.

General Delisle came out on the terrace and stood looking across the
valley just as the British biplane soared up over the trees—the Bristol
machine, pointed high, racing toward the northeast.

Warner, looking up, realized that Halkett was up there.  The roaring
racket of the aëroplane swept the echoes along forest and hillside;
higher, higher it pointed; smoke signals began to drop from it and
unroll against the sky.

Looking upward, Warner felt a light touch on his elbow; Sister Eila had
slipped her arm through his.

Gazing into the sky under her white coiffe, the Sister of Charity stood
silent, intent, her gaze concentrated on the receding aëroplane.

When the first snowy puff ball appeared below it, her arm closed
convulsively on Warner’s, and remained so, rigid, while ball after ball
of fleece spotted the sky, spread a little, hung, and slowly dissolved
against the blue.

Down on the Saïs road four Red Cross motor ambulances were speeding in
the wake of the artillery.  A fifth ambulance came up the drive.  Sister
Félicité, seated beside the chauffeur, signaled to Sister Eila.

Warner said:

"Are you called for field duty?"

"On the telephone a few minutes ago.  They need us this side of Ausone."

He went with her to the ambulance and she swung on board.  As the
chauffeur started to back and make a demi-tour, Warner jumped on the
vehicle and shook hands with Dr. Senlis.

"Do you want a bearer?" he asked.

"Yes, if you don’t mind."

Sister Eila picked up a brassard bearing the conventional emblem, and
tied it around his left arm above the elbow.

He had not yet noticed the other figure in the ambulance; now he looked
around, stared, and suddenly a violent desire to laugh seized him.

"Asticot!" he exclaimed.

"Oui, c’est moi, M’sieu’," replied that smirking gentleman, with a
demureness that struck Warner as horrible.

"But _why_?" he asked, in frank amazement.

"Ah," rejoined Asticot complacently, "that is the question, M’sieu’.  I
myself do not know exactly why I am here."

But he knew well enough.  First of all, he had gotten all over any
terror of bullets in Africa.  Five years and fifty skirmishes had
blunted that sort of fear in him.

What he wanted to do was to see what was going on.  More than that, the
encounter with One Eye in Ausone had strangely moved this rat of the
Faubourgs. He desired to find that Disciplinary Battalion again—the
Battalion which had been for him a hell on earth—but he wanted to look
at it, pushed by a morbid curiosity.  If One Eye were there, perhaps
other old friends might still decorate those fierce and sullen ranks.

There was a certain lieutenant, too—gladly he would shoot him in the
back if opportunity offered.  He had dreamed for months of doing this.

But there was still another reason that incited Asticot to offer his
services to Sister Félicité as a bearer.  The ambulance had been called
to the Ausone Forest.  Somewhere within those leafy shades lurked
Wildresse.

Never before had such a hatred blazed in the crippled intellect of
Asticot as the red rage that flared within him when he learned that he
had been employed by a spy who had sold out France.

Anything else he could have understood, any other crime.  He was not
squeamish; nothing appalled him in the category of villainy except only
this one thing. Scoundrel as he was, he could not have found it in his
heart to sell his country.  And to remember that he had been employed by
a man who _did_ sell France aroused within him a passion for revenge so
fierce that only a grip on the throat of Wildresse could ever satisfy
the craving that made his vision red as blood.

He wore a brassard, this _voyou_ of the Paris gutters, set with the
Geneva cross.  And in his pocket was an automatic pistol.

From the rear seat Sister Eila could still see the Bristol biplane in
the sky, circling now high over Ausone Forest and the cultivated hills
beyond.  She never removed her eyes from it as the ambulance rolled on
through the dust beside the slower moving line of lorries.

Later the motor lorries turned east; a column of infantry replaced them,
trudging silently along in the sun, their rifles shouldered.  Then they
passed a battalion of _chasseurs-à-pied_ in green and blue, swinging
along at a cheerful, lively pace toward the crash of rifles and machine
guns.

Across the river they saw the first German shells explode in the fields,
and dark columns of smoke rise and spread out over the bushes and
standing grain.

For some time, now, Warner had recognized the high whimper of bullets,
but he said nothing until Sister Eila mentioned the noises, guessing
correctly what were the causes.

Asticot shrugged and cuddled a cigarette which Warner had given him,
enjoying it with leering deliberation.

He was inclined to become loquacious, too, whenever a shell exploded
across the river.

"Baoum—baoum!" he sneered.  "Tiens!  Another overripe egg!  The Bosches
will starve themselves with their generosity!  Pan!  Pouf!  V’lan!
Zoum—zo——um! That is shrapnel, M’sieu’, as you know.  As for me, I do
not care for it.  Anything else on the _carte du jour_, but not shrapnel
for Bibi!  No!  For the big shells, yes; for the machine guns, yes; for
the Démoiselles Lebel, all right!  But no shrapnel, _if_ you please——"

Sister Eila looked at him in smiling surprise.

"You would do well in the wards, with your cheerfulness," she said.  "I
always was certain that I should find in you some quality to admire."

Asticot looked at her, mouth open, as though thunderstruck.  Then, to
Sister Eila’s amazement, a blush turned his expressive features scarlet.

To be spoken to like that by a _Sainte_ of Saint Vincent de Paul!  To be
admired by a Sister of Charity! He, Asticot, was commended, approved of,
encouraged!

It was too much for Asticot.  He turned redder and redder; he started to
relieve his terrible embarrassment by cursing, caught himself in time,
choked, passed his red bandanna over his battered visage, tried to
whistle, failed, and turned his ratty and distressed eyes upon Warner
for relief.

"Cheerfulness _is_ a virtue," said Warner gravely. "You seem to possess
others, also; you have physical courage, you have exhibited gratitude
toward me which I scarcely expected.  It is a wonderful thing for a man,
Asticot, to be commended at all by Sister Eila."

Sister Eila smiled and flushed; then her face became serious and she
leaned forward and looked up at the Bristol biplane.  Under it the white
fleece of the shrapnel was still floating.

The ambulance stopped; hussars came riding on either side of it; an
officer gave an order to the driver, who turned out among some trees.

The road ahead was crowded with infantry deploying at a double—a
strange, gaunt, haggard regiment, white with dust, swinging out to
whistle signal into the patches of woodland and across the willow-set
meadows to the right.

Sullen sweating faces looked up everywhere among the bayonets; hard
eyes, thin lips, bullet heads, appeared through the drifting dust.

Here and there an officer spoke, and there seemed to be a ringing
undertone of iron in the blunt commands.

They came running in out of the stifling cloud of dust like a herd of
sulky vicious bulls goaded right and left by the penetrating whistle
calls and the menacing orders of their officers.

"One Eye!" yelled Asticot, waving his cap vigorously. "He!  Mon vieux!
How are you, old camp kettle?"

A soldier looked up with a frightful leer, waved his arm, and ran
forward.

"C’est un vieux copain à moi!" remarked Asticot proudly.  "M’sieu’,
voilà le Battalion d’Afrique!  Voilà Biribi qui passe!  Tonnerre de
Dieu!  There is Jacques! Hé!  Look yonder, M’sieu’!  That young one with
the head of a Lyceum lad!  Over there!  That is the _gosse_ of
Wildresse!"

"_What!_"

"Certainly!  That is Jacques Wildresse of Biribi! Hé!  If he knew!  Eh?
Poor devil!  If he knew what we know!  And his scoundrel of a father out
there now in those woods!  C’est épatant!  Quoi!  _B’en_, such things
are true, it seems!  And when he looses his rifle, that lad, what if the
lead finds a billet in his own flesh and blood!  Eh?  Are such things
done by God in these days?"

An officer rode up and said to the chauffeur:

"Pull out of there.  Back out to the road!"

But, once on the road again, they were ordered into a pasture, then
ordered forward again and told to take station under a high bank crowned
with bushes.

No shells came over, but bullets did in whining streams.  The air
overhead was full of them, and the earth kept sliding from the bank
where the lead hit it with a slapping and sometimes a snapping sound,
like the incessant crack of a coach whip.

Firing had already begun in the woods whither the Battalion of Africa
had hurried with their flapping equipments and baggy uniforms white with
dust.  In the increasing roar of rifle fire the monotonous woodpecker
tapping of the machine guns was perfectly recognizable.

Branches, twigs, bits of bark, green leaves, came winnowing earthward in
a continual shower.  There was nothing to be seen anywhere except a few
mounted hussars walking their horses up and down the road, and the motor
cyclists who passed like skimming comets toward Ausone.

Sister Eila and Sister Félicité had descended to the road and seated
themselves on the grassy bank, where they conversed in low tones and
looked calmly into the woods.

Asticot, possessed of a whole pack of cigarettes, promenaded his good
fortune and swaggered up and down the road, ostentatiously coming to
salute when an automobile full of officers came screaming by.

The military chauffeur dozed over his steering wheel. Two white
butterflies fluttered persistently around his head, alighting sometimes
on the sleeves of his jacket, only to flit away again and continue their
whirling aerial dance around him.

For an hour the roar of the fusillade continued, not steadily, but
redoubling in intensity at times, then slackening again, but continuing
always.

Hussars came riding out from among the trees.  One of them said to
Warner that the ambulances across the Récollette were very busy.

Another, an officer, remarked that the Forest was swarming with Uhlans
who were fighting on foot. Asked by Asticot whether the Battalion
d’Afrique had gone in, the officer answered rather coolly that it was
going in then with the bayonet, and that the world would lose nothing if
it were annihilated.

After he had ridden on up the road, Asticot spat elaborately, and
employed the word "coquin"—a mild explosion in deference to Sister Eila.

More cavalry emerged from the woods, coming out in increasing numbers,
and all taking the direction of Ausone.

An officer halted and called out to Sister Eila.

"It goes very well for us.  The Bat. d’Af. got into them across the
river!  The Uhlans are running their horses!—Everywhere they’re swarming
out of the woods like driven hares!  We turn them by Ausone! A bientôt!
God bless the Grey Sisters!"

Everywhere cavalry came trampling and crowding out of the woods and
cantering away toward the north, hussars mostly, at first, then
_chasseurs-à-cheval_, an entire brigade of these splendid lancers,
pouring out into the road and taking the Ausone route at a gallop.

More motor cycles flashed past; then half a dozen automobiles, in which
officers were seated examining maps; then up the road galloped dragoon
lancers, wearing grey helmet slips and escorting three light field guns,
the drivers of which were also dragoons—a sight Warner had never before
seen.

An officer, wearing a plum-colored band of velvet around his red cap,
and escorted by a lancer, came from the direction of Ausone, leaned from
his saddle, and shook the ambulance chauffeur awake.

"Drive back toward Saïs," he said.  "They are taking care of our people
across the river, and you may be needed below!"  He saluted the Sisters
of Charity: "A biplane has fallen by the third pontoon.  You may be
needed there," he explained.

Sister Eila rose; her face was ashen.

"What biplane, Major?" she asked unsteadily.

"I don’t know.  British, I think.  It came down under their shrapnel
like a bird with a broken wing."

He rode on.  Warner aided the Sisters of Charity to their seats.  Then
he and Asticot jumped aboard.

As they turned slowly, two wheels describing a circle through the dusty
grass of the ditch, half a dozen mounted gendarmes trotted out of the
woods with sabers drawn.

Behind them came four mounted hussars.  A man walked in the midst of
them.  There was a rope around his neck, the end of which was attached
to the saddle of one of the troopers.

At the same moment a sort of howl came from Asticot; he half rose, his
fingers curling up like claws; his expression had become diabolical.
Then he sank back on his seat.

The ambulance rolled forward faster, faster toward Saïs, where a biplane
had come down into the river.

But Asticot had forgotten; and ever his blazing eyes were turned
backward where, among four troopers, Wildresse walked with a rope around
his neck and his clenched fists tied behind him.



                            *CHAPTER XXXVII*


The hussars conducted him toward headquarters. His huge hands were tied
behind him; there was a rope around his neck, the other end of which was
fastened to a hussar’s saddlebow.

The troopers rode slowly, carbines poised forward with butt on thigh.

_Fantassins_ along the road looked on, somber-eyed; the murmured word
"spy" passed from lip to lip; the wounded turned their big, hollow eyes
on him; drivers, cyclists, cannoniers, looked upon him; but nobody
reviled him.  Their silence was more terrible.

He spoke only once, looking up at the horseman beside him, his deep,
harsh voice breaking the rigid silence:

"Hé!  Vous là-haut!  Supposition that I confess? ... That I make a
statement involving others.... That Cossack there at headquarters!  Do I
benefit?"

The cavalryman did not even glance at him.

"Tas de casse-geules!" rumbled Wildresse, and spat into the dust.

They crossed the pontoon, the troopers dismounting and leading their
horses, then into the saddle again, across the river meadows, and so
around to the lodge gates.

Across the road they were opening trenches for dead horses, and on the
plateau hundreds of soldiers’ graves were being dug.

Wildresse glanced at them askance, and his bull neck roughened with
shivers as he thought of the quick-lime.

It was then that the first convulsive twitch jerked his face and left
the right eye turned slightly outward in a sort of cast.  After that
something seemed to loosen in his cheek, and his jaw was inclined to sag
unless controlled with conscious effort.

_Fantassins_ on guard passed forward prisoner and escort with monotonous
formulae; the sentry on the terrace summoned assistance; a staff officer
came; two line soldiers arrived later, halted, fixed bayonets, and
loaded their pieces.

Half a dozen staff officers in the music room rose and stepped aside,
opening a lane to the table where General of Division Raoul Delisle sat
at the telephone. A cool-eyed major of dragoons relieved him of the
apparatus; the General turned and looked up at Wildresse.

"You are Constantine Wildresse?"

"Yes, General."

"Otherwise Constantine Volmark?"

"Well—yes!  My name is Volmark."

"Which name do you claim?" asked Delisle dryly.

"Volmark.  It is useless to deny it—no good to deceive anybody."

"You are Austrian?"

"And Greek, on my mother’s side."

"Greek?"

"That is—she was Eurasian."

"From—Tenedos?"

But Wildresse had suddenly caught sight of Count Cassilis.

"You!" he cried.  "Now, then, will you do anything for me?"

Cassilis stared.

"_Will_ you?" demanded Wildresse loudly.

Cassilis glanced at Delisle and tapped his forehead with a bored air.

"Oh!" shouted Wildresse.  "So that’s it, eh?  I am crazy, am I?"

He passed a thick, dry tongue over his lips, made an effort; looked hard
at Delisle:

"Yes, _mon Général_; I am Constantine Volmark, born in Tenedos.  What
then, if you please?"

"You are known.  No court is necessary.  You will be shot immediately."

"Circumstances—in extenuation——"

"None!"

"And if I confess——"

"It is useless."

"A statement involving others, unsuspected——"

"What?"

"It is important.  Nations are involved," muttered Wildresse.  "An
officer in your entourage—eh?  Is there any immunity in such things,
General?"

"No."

"No—immunity?"

"No."

"I am not permitted to make a statement?"

"I am here to listen.  I always have time to listen."

"Then I may speak freely?"

"Yes, you may make a statement if you choose."

"Accusations?"

"If you choose."

"It will not help my case if I prove to you of what filth chancelleries
are made?  If I expose to you what the faith of governments amounts
to?—If I show you a man who has betrayed everybody since his boyhood—an
officer here—your comrade and friend?  All this will not help my case?"

"No."

"And yet I may make my statement if I choose?  Is that the situation,
General?"

"Yes."

"And I may denounce whom I please?  I am free to accuse, am I?  Free to
confess and involve others?"

"Yes."

"Hé!  Nom d’un nom!  Comme vous est un bon bougre!!" broke out Wildresse
in his harsh and dreadful voice.  "I am to die, am I?  So that’s it, is
it? Then I’ll pull down everybody and everything I can while I have the
chance.  Men?  Does it matter so much about a man or two if one can set
the treacherous nations flying at one another’s throats?  There’s a real
revenge!  I’ll poison the belief in nations in you all!—You with your
alliances and leagues and ententes!—That’s where you’ll not forget me!
That’s where your half crazy Kings and diseased Emperors will turn
cross-eyed with suspicion!  That’s where there’ll be a ratty scuttling
to cover in your dirty chancelleries! I’ll strip the orders and
epaulettes off one or two idols before I finish.  And I want witnesses!
I demand witnesses to confront me——"

"Be quiet, Wildresse.  Whom do you desire to confront?"

"You—for one!  Then, the educated Kurd, yonder! That Cossack there—that
man over there in a green uniform, who pretends to be a Christian!—That
bashi-bazouk of Abdul—Major-General Count Cassilis, Russian Military
Observer at division headquarters!"

"Very well."

"And I demand to be confronted with others, too. That Yankee painter,
Warner.  Let him carry the poison I spill back among his own people.
They won’t forget.  And I want the British officer here, Captain Gray!
Let him report to his Government what I say, and see if it can swallow
it! ... That’s a sufficiency of men....  And for my supplement I want
the Countess de Moidrey—so that the noble faubourg shall feel the poison
in its veins.... And, as proof documentary of the statement I shall
make, I demand to be confronted with the girl Philippa!"

"Is that all?"

"No....  The mercy, the extenuation denied me by the military autocracy
of France, I shall seek from another.  I require two things only before
I die: understanding and absolution from—my son."

"Who?"

"My only son, Jacques Wildresse, 6th Company, Battalion of
Africa!—Jacques—of Biribi!  That’s all I want—so that he understands and
pardons.  As for you others—_je m’en_——"

The staff officer at the telephone suddenly bent over and whispered to
the General.  He listened, nodded, looked calmly at Wildresse.

"The soldier Wildresse, 6th Company, Battalion d’Afrique, was unable to
bear your disgrace.  He is this moment reported dead by his own hand."

A terrible spasm shot like lightning across the prisoner’s visage,
drawing his whole face to one side. Slowly the flaccid muscles resumed
their natural places; the screwed up features loosened.

"That’s a lie," mumbled Wildresse; and his big, hairless head doddered
for a moment.

At a nod from Delisle a soldier picked up the wrist rope, coiled it, and
gave it a slight pull.

"March!" he said briefly to his prisoner.

Count Cassilis came over, faintly amused at the scene, to judge by his
expression.

"There’s a good place under the north terrace," he said languidly.  "You
don’t intend to listen, I fancy, to this statement he wants to make....
Do you?"

"Oh, yes," said the General.  "It’s my business to listen always."

He sent an aid to find Warner and Gray, and to beg the honor of Madame
de Moidrey’s presence and of Philippa’s.  Then he smiled pleasantly at
Count Cassilis.

"Yes," he said, "statements always should be listened to.  It’s the man
who doesn’t care to hear who makes the most terrible mistakes in life.
I can’t afford to make mistakes.  I’d rather risk being bored.  So, if
you don’t mind, my dear General——"

"Not in the least," said General Count Cassilis languidly.

They had conducted Wildresse into the small, semi-circular library in
the northeast tower, the entrance to which gave on the terrace and
billiard room.

Gray and Warner appeared presently with the Countess and Philippa;
General Delisle went to them immediately, and remained in close
consultation with them.

"It may prove of some military importance to us; it may prove of no
value whatever—this statement he desires to make," concluded the
General.  "Of course it is not possible for me to guess.... And yet,
Madame, if there is a chance that the statement might be of value, may I
not venture to hope that you and Mademoiselle are willing to submit to
this disagreeable proceeding in the interests of France?"

"Certainly," said the Countess, and linked her arm in Philippa’s.

The girl was a little pale, a trifle nervous, too.  She glanced at
Warner, tried to smile, then stood with lips slightly compressed and
head high, looking steadily at the soldier who stood before the closed
door of the little library.

"If you are ready," said the General quietly.

So they went in, one by one, very noiselessly, as though somebody had
just died in there.  But their entrance did not arouse Wildresse from
his abstraction.

Two red-legged _fantassins_, with fixed bayonets and loaded rifles,
stood behind him.

The man himself sat huddled on a chair in a corner, his great, blunt,
murderous-looking hands hanging crossed between his knees, his big,
hairless head of a butcher wagging slightly as though palsied.

There was not an atom of color left in his face, except for the
pockmarks which were picked out in sickly greenish grey all over his
flabby features.

He did not look up when they entered, his little, wicked black eyes,
which had become dull and covered with a bluish glaze, remained fixed as
though he were listening, and his heavy lower lip sagged.

"Wildresse," said General Delisle.

There was no response; a soldier stirred the prisoner to attention with
the butt of his piece.

"Stand up," he said.

Wildresse, aroused, got to his great feet stupidly, looked around,
caught sight of Philippa, and silently snarled—merely opened his mouth a
little way till his upper lip curled back, emitting no sound
whatever—then he caught sight of the green uniform of General Count
Cassilis, and instantly the old glare blazed up in his eyes.

"By God, the Cossack!" he growled; and the heavy voice vibrated
ominously through the room.

Warner led Philippa to a chair as General Delisle seated the Countess.
Wildresse, his heavy arms hanging inert, stood looking from one man to
another, as they found scats in turn, on sofas or on chairs—Delisle,
Warner, Cassilis, Gray.

"Make your statement," said General Delisle dryly. And he added: "If it
is a long one, you may seat yourself."

Wildresse shot a terrible look at the Russian Military Observer.

"For the last time," he said hoarsely, "will you do something for me?
... For the last time?"

Cassilis lifted his expressive eyebrows and glanced rather wearily at
Delisle.

"You know!" bellowed Wildresse in a sudden fury. "You know what I can
say!  If I say it, Russia and her allies will have an enemy instead of
another ally! If I speak, your country will earn the contempt of France
and of England too; and their implacable enmity after this war is ended.
If I speak!  Will you do something for me?"

Cassilis, polishing his monocle with a heavily scented handkerchief,
shrugged.

"Very well!" roared Wildresse.  "It is death, then, is it?  You filthy,
treacherous Cossack, I’ll do what I can to ruin you and your lying
Government before I pass out!—You Moslem at heart—you bashi-bazouk——"

"Moderate your voice and your manner!" said General Delisle very
quietly.

Wildresse turned his great, hairless head; his face had become suddenly
chalky again; he seated himself heavily; his big hands, doubled into
fists, fell on either knee.

For a moment the slight, palsy-like movement of the head began again,
the black eyes lost their luster, the heavy lip became pendulous.  But
he made an effort, and a change came over him; the muscles tightened
visibly; he lifted the bulk of his great shoulders and sat erect,
looking questioningly from one to another.

Then he began to speak without preamble, reciting his statement in an
accentless, pedantic way which seemed to lend to what he said a somber
sort of truth—the corroborative accuracy of unimaginative stupidity,
which carries with it conviction to the minds of listeners.

He said:

"Count Cassilis knows.  Like every Cossack he is at heart a Mussulman
and a bashi-bazouk.  Ask Enver Bey.  He knows more than any white man,
this Cassilis.  He knows who sent the bashi-bazouks into the province of
Philippopolis in ’76, where half a hundred villages were burnt and
twelve thousand Bulgarian men, women, and children were murdered.  It
was this man’s father who did that!"

"A lie," remarked Cassilis, politely concealing a yawn.  "General, if
this rambling statement interests you——"

"Pardon, Count——" interposed Delisle, with cool courtesy.  And to
Wildresse: "Go on!"

Without even lifting his eyes, and as though he had been unconscious of
the interruption, Wildresse went on reciting:

"It was the Sultan’s business—that affair in Bulgaria.  Your father
played double traitor; the Sultan never knew; the war provoked by Count
Serge Cassilis followed; Russia beat Turkey into the mud and slush.
Count Serge got double pay.  Your Czar wanted Bulgaria to become a free
state full of gratitude to Russia; and he tried to carry things with a
high hand at San Stefano.  You were not there!  It was Count Serge.
Where I first laid eyes on you, and you on me, was at Slivnitza.  And
after that I did your dirty jobs for you.....  Very well; it warms up;
Bulgaria becomes free—except she must tip her hat to the Sultan.  Eh!
You Russians didn’t like that!  All the same, Bulgaria becomes free to
choose and elect her own Prince. Only—she doesn’t want the Russian
candidate—_you_!

"Alexander of Battenberg—Cousin of the Hesse Grand Duke—he was the
first.  Your Czar didn’t like him, eh?  They made a god of him, didn’t
they, in Sofia?  And you Russians began to hate him.  So did that
rickety old gambler of Servia, King Milan.  Who started that Servian
fool after Alexander of Battenberg? And what did he get for his foolery?
He got his empty head broken at Slivnitza—he and his swineherd
army—kicked headlong through the Dragoman Pass!  And that settled the
Roumanian question.  Eh? Swine and swineherd kicked into the lap of Holy
Russia....  And yours was double pay!

"Then _you_ came sneaking back into the scene, Count Cassilis.  I did
your filthy work for you.  You taught me how double pay is earned!

"Prince Alexander of Battenberg was the idol of Bulgaria.  I don’t know
who gave you your orders, but I got mine from you!  Was it Abdul
Hamid—Abdul the Damned—who gave you your orders?

"Russian roubles paid _me_ and the men I used. Maybe the Bank of
Constantinople paid you....  And so we broke into his palace—the young
prince Alexander’s—and carried him across the frontier.  You sat on your
big horse among your Cossacks and saw us bring the Prince of Bulgaria
into Russia.  And your pockets full of Turkish sweetmeats!—Like a
prostitute!

"That time you meant murder; but others were afraid.  Alexander of
Battenberg was allowed to abdicate.

"Then, for the world, history went on to the summer of ’87, when that
Saxe-Coburg Prince was elected—Ferdinand, who now talks to himself for
want of an audience, and who calls himself the Czar of all the
Bulgars—he of the long nose and beard, and the eye of a wild pig.

"Russia pretended to hate him.  Does she?  _You_ know!

"But history gives us only two Bulgarian princes from 1879 to 1915.  How
is that, Count Cassilis? Were there _only two?_—Alexander of Battenberg,
whom you were afraid to murder, and this fat-jowled Ferdinand of
today——"

"The man is crazy, I think," remarked Count Cassilis to the Countess.

Wildresse merely gazed at him out of lackluster eyes, and went on
speaking with monotonous and terrible simplicity:

"History has lied to the world.  There was another prince after
Alexander.  Every chancellery in Europe knows it, but never mentions it.
A few others outside know it; you among others....  And I.

"England and France found him.  The Templars of Tenedos were not all
dead.  The race of the hereditary Prince of Marmora was not extinct—the
race of that man whose head Saladin cut off with his own hand—the race
of Djani the Paladin, and of Raymond de Châtillon—the Princess of
Marmora!  England found him—Philip de Châtillon—and forced him on Russia
and Germany and Austria in secret conference. The Porte promised assent;
it _had_ to.  Before he was presented for election to the Bulgarian
people—a matter of routine merely—he was crowned and consecrated, and
you know it!  He was already as truly the ruler of Bulgaria as your Czar
is today of all the Russias.  And you know that, too!  And _that_ time,
whoever gave you your orders, and whatever they may have been, _my_
orders from you spelled murder!"

There was a moment’s silence; Cassilis had turned his sneering, pallid
face on Wildresse as though held by some subtle and horrible
fascination, and he sat so, screwing up his golden mustache, his fishy
blue eyes fixed, his lips as red as blood, and his wide, thin ears
standing out translucent against the lighted lamp behind him.

Delisle, Warner, Gray, watched Wildresse with breathless attention; the
Countess de Moidrey sat with Philippa’s hand in hers, staring at this
man who was about to die, and who continued to talk.

Only Philippa’s face remained outwardly tranquil, yet she also was
terribly intent upon what this man was now saying.

But Wildresse’s head began to wag again with the palsy-like movement; he
muttered, half to himself:

"That’s how Philip de Châtillon died—Prince Philip of Bulgaria—that’s
how he died—there in the palace with his young wife—the way they did for
Draga, the Queen—and Milan’s son—the Servian swine who reigned before
this old fighter, Peter!—_You_ know, Count Cassilis!  So do I—and
Vasilief knew.  We both knew because we did it for you—tore the
bedclothes off—God!  How that young man fought!  We stabbed his
red-haired wife first—but when we stretched that powerful young neck of
his, the blood spouted to the ceiling——"

The Countess made a gesture as though she were about to rise; Philippa’s
hand crushed hers, drew her back.

"That’s how they died—those two young things in the bedroom of the
Palace there....  I know what my orders were....  There was a child—a
little girl six years old....  Vasilief went to the Ghetto and cut the
throat of a six-year-old....  That’s what we buried with Prince Philip
of Bulgaria and his wife.... I took the little Princess out of her bed
and kept her for myself....  In case of trouble.  Also, I thought she
might mean money some day.  I waited too long; it seems she was not
worth killing—no use for blackmail.  And the French Government wouldn’t
listen, and the British were afraid to listen.... What’s proclaimed dead
remains dead to Governments, even if they have to kill it again.

"That is my statement.  Vasilief and I killed Prince Philip of Bulgaria,
and his red-haired Princess, too.... In their bedroom at the Palace it
was done.... But I took their little girl with me....  I had to knife
Vasilief to do it.  He wanted too much.  I strangled him and turned my
knife inside him—several times.  And took the little girl away with
me—the little six-year-old Princess Philippa——"  He lifted his heavy
head and stared at Philippa: "_There she sits!_"

Philippa stood straight up, her grey eyes fixed on Wildresse in terrible
concentration.

He wagged his head monotonously; a tic kept snatching at the upper lip,
baring his yellow dog-teeth, so that he seemed to be laughing.

"There’s a bag full of the child’s clothing—your
clothing—toys—photographs—God knows what. There’s a safe in the cellar
of the Café Biribi.  The fire won’t harm it.  I kept the pieces of
identification there—against a time of need.  England wouldn’t listen
and wouldn’t pay anything.  France was afraid for her alliance.  There
was nothing in it for Germany.  Russia shrugged and yawned—as _you_ do,
Count Cassilis—and then tried to kill me.

"As for the long-nosed wild pig of Bulgaria—do you think I had a chance
with him?  Not with Ferdy.  Non pas!  I couldn’t reach the people.  That
was the trouble.  That is where I failed.  Who would believe me without
my pieces of identification?  And I was afraid to take them into
Sofia—afraid to cross the frontier with them—dared not even let France
know I had them—or any other Power.  They’d have had my throat cut for
me inside of forty-eight hours!  Eh, Cassilis?  You know how it is
done....  And that’s all....  They’ve burned the Café Biribi.  But the
safe is in the cellar....  I’ve done what I could to revenge myself on
every side.  I’ve sold France, sold Germany, sold Russia when I was
able.  Tell them that in Petrograd!  I had no chance to sell England....
At first I never meant to harm the girl Philippa.... Philippa de
Châtillon!  Only when she turned on me, then I meant to twist her
neck....  I waited too long, talked too much.  That man—the Yankee,
yonder—saved her neck for her——"

His head was wagging by jerks; the tic stretched his loosened mouth,
twitching it into awful and silent laughter, and the _rictus mortis_
distorted his sagging features as the soldiers took him by both arms,
shaking him into comprehension.

He shambled to his feet, looking at everybody and seeing nothing.

"Philippa de Châtillon, Princess of the Bulgars!" he mumbled....  "The
girl Philippa, gentlemen, _caissière de cabaret_! ... Her father died by
the Palace window, and her mother on the black marble floor!—Very young
they were, gentlemen—very young.... And I think very much in love——"

They took him out, still mumbling, the spasm playing and jerking at his
sagging jaw.



                           *CHAPTER XXXVIII*


The sun was a crimson disk through the dust; a haze possessed the world;
forest and hill, meadow and river, faded to phantoms in the unreal
light.

The Château des Oiseaux was very quiet.  General and staff had departed;
sentries, telegraphers, wires, switchboard—the sky-guns on the northern
terrace, the great racing automobiles, cyclists, motor cyclists,
_fantassins_, cavalry—all were gone into the magic glory of the east.

The park was empty and still; only traces remained where green leaves
curled up and grew brittle, and drooping boughs withered on rustic
scaffoldings; where lawn and drive showed the fresh scars of wheels and
hoofs; and where trusses of hay and straw and glistening heaps of
spilled oats marked the abandoned lines.

So far to the north and east had the sound of cannon receded that only
at intervals, when the wind was right, was it distinguishable at all as
a soft, almost inaudible thudding along the horizon.

No gun shots troubled the August quiet; the shrill chirring of insects
from every stubble field accentuated it.

Very few soldiers were to be seen; _fantassins_ mounted guard by the
pontoons; vedettes were visible along the river meadows and on the low
hills beyond the Récollette.  Patrols rode slowly on the Saïs highway;
wagons still rolled eastward through the sunset light, or went into park
in sheltered places; few cyclists went south, fewer still whizzed by
into the north and east.

Just at sunset a squadron of hussars passed the lodge gate, walking
their horses.  An officer turned his mount, spurred through the open
gate, and galloped up the drive to the Château.

He dismounted at the foot of the terrace; his horse stood, turning a
beautiful, gentle head around toward the distant gate where his comrades
were slowly passing.

His rider, mounting the terrace steps two at a time, encountered Madame
de Moidrey and Warner, paid his respects almost breathlessly, but with
perfect restraint of an impatience impossible to conceal.

"And Captain Halkett?" he inquired.  "I hear that he was not injured
when his biplane came down into the river?"

"He was stunned, that’s all," said Warner quietly. "His mechanic was
badly bruised, but not seriously. The plane is a wreck."

The Vicomte d’Aurès stood a moment, twisting one glove between his
fingers, then, with winning dignity, but turning very red, he said to
the Countess:

"I have come also to make my adieux to—Peggy—if I have your
permission——"

The Countess nodded:

"She is in there....  You have my permission ... and approval."

He saluted her hand very simply, straightened up, took faultless leave
of Warner, turned, and entered the house.  Peggy rose from the music
stool and came toward him in the dim rose light.  They met as naturally
and unconsciously as two children; he took both her hands; she released
them and drew them around his neck and laid her face against his breast.

They had only a few moments.

Ethra de Moidrey and Warner saw his departure from where they were
strolling along the parapet of the lily garden.  He left the park at a
fast gallop, never turning to look back.  Twilight swallowed the
gallant, gay young figure.  For a few moments the double gallop of hoofs
sounded through the evening air, then died away.

The Countess, seated on the parapet, laid her hand appealingly on
Warner’s sleeve:

"Jim, do you like him?"

"He’s all right, Ethra.  If I had a younger brother I should wish him to
be like that boy."

"Yes....  He is nice....  He is going into battle.... That is hard....
Poor little Peggy.  Womanhood comes swiftly when it comes, Jim.  The
reagent is sorrow.  We all pass that way, we women.  Sorrow is the
philosopher’s stone....  Else we remain only children until we die."

Warner gazed at the dusty glory still glowing above the western hills:

"What a day it has been!" he murmured.

"God guide those men who are riding into the east," said she.  "What a
strange day it has been, Jim!  Did you understand that painful incident
between General Delisle and General Count Cassilis?"

"Perfectly.  The Russian Military Observer was given his congé.  Did you
not see what happened?  The rattle of the volley that ended Wildresse
meant also the end of the world for Count Cassilis.

"I saw General Delisle walk across the terrace and say something to
Cassilis in a low voice.  I saw the Russian’s face.  It was like death.
The end was also in sight for him.  He knew it.  He knew what his
dismissal from French division headquarters meant.  He knew he must go
home.  He knew that his arrest would follow the instant he set foot
across the frontier of his own Empire.

"But his good manners did not desert him.  You saw him take his leave,
stiff, correct, calm as though the ceremony meant nothing to him except
familiar routine.

"There was no exchange of handclasps, nothing of cordiality, merely the
faultless observance of convention.  Then he went away."

"He is a traitor?" she asked, in an awed voice.

"Undoubtedly.  Think what it has meant—think what it would have meant to
this army if his treachery had not been discovered!—A spy at
headquarters! But his own Emperor will punish him.  As surely as I stand
here, Ethra, that man is doomed to die on the scaffold.  He knows it....
Did you notice him light a cigarette when he got into his limousine?  I
could not keep my eyes off him—that man already practically dead—that
traitor impassively saluting the hussars’ fanion as his automobile
rolled by!  And even while I looked at him I seemed to see him suspended
there in his shroud, a dead weight on the gibbet, turning gently in the
morning breeze—God!  The fellow got on my nerves!—Knowing the guilt that
lay black within him—the murders in Sofia——"

"Horrible," said the Countess with a slight shiver. "And the man,
Wildresse—did it—with those dreadful hands of his.  I thought I should
faint when he was telling of it—what he did in the bedroom—"

She shuddered, rose abruptly:

"Philippa is in her room, still poring over those papers.  I can’t bear
to leave the child all alone, and yet it seems like intrusion to disturb
her.  Could you take her for a little walk, Jim, before dinner?—Take her
out of her room—out of the house for a while? I’m afraid she’s
remembering that murderer’s confession. She ought not to brood over such
things."

"Yes, I’ll try to take her mind off it.  Suppose I walk down to the inn
with her!  Halkett’s there.  It might divert her; she’s fond of him."
He smiled slightly.  "There’s a cat there, too.  It will seem like old
times—she and Halkett and Ariadne and I together at the Golden Peach.  I
believe it will divert her."

"Why not remain and dine there with Mr. Halkett, as you used to, in your
somewhat unconventional way?" suggested the Countess, smiling.  "I am
very sure that would appeal to Philippa."

"I’ll ask her," nodded Warner.

They walked slowly into the house together.  Gray lay in the corner of
an upholstered lounge beside a lighted lamp, a book open on his knees,
his cheek resting on his hand.

At the sound of their approach he looked up quickly, and his face
brightened.

"I thought I wouldn’t read any further," he said frankly.  "We have
enjoyed so much reading it together.  Do you mind going on with it to
the end?"

The Countess laughed and a pretty color rose in her cheeks.

"Do you think," she said, "that I expect to spend the remainder of my
days reading romances with you?"

And, as Warner turned and mounted the stairs:

"Besides," she added, "there is really nothing more to read in that
silly novel."

"Why not?" he inquired, his face expressing candid disappointment.

"Because they have already fallen in love," she explained carelessly.
"And the end of such a proceeding is always obvious, Mr. Gray."

She glanced up at the stairs.  Warner had disappeared.

After a moment, casually unconscious, she seated herself on the broad,
upholstered end of the lounge, looking down over his shoulder at the
open book on his knees.

"In fiction," she remarked, "there is only one end to such
situations....  But, if you like, I don’t mind beginning another book
with you, Mr. Gray."

Her hand, which rested among the cushions, supporting her, happened to
come within the range of his wandering vision.  He looked at it for a
little while. Presently he placed his own over it, very lightly.

Neither moved.  But it was a long time before he ventured to turn his
head and look up at the woman with whom he had read through his first
long love story. She had read such stories before, understood something
of their tricks, their technique, their reality, and their romance.  And
had supposed there was nothing further for her to learn about them and
that her interest in them was dead.

"If you don’t mind," he said, "reading on with me, for a while——"

"I might tire."

"Try not to."

Her flushed face became thoughtful.  Already the prospect of reading
another romance with him seemed interesting.

Warner and Philippa, silently descending the stairs together, glanced
around at the two figures together there under the lighted lamp.

The Countess was saying calmly:

"We might as well finish the love story we have begun, if you really
insist on following through to the conventional end."

"Yes," he said.  "I do insist.  Let us follow through together—to the
end."

Philippa, slim and white, moved silently through the house beside
Warner, out across the terrace and down to the drive.

The last hint of color had died out in the west. Below, in the valley,
no searchlights flooded the river; only a moving lantern here and there
glimmered through the misty dusk.

"It will be jolly," he was saying, "for us to dine again together before
Halkett leaves.  Don’t you think so, Philippa?"

"Yes.  When is he going?"

"Tomorrow, I believe.  They are sending the wrecked machine to Verdun by
rail.  I suppose he’ll follow in the morning.  What a miracle that he
was not killed!  They say the big Bristol behaved exactly like a
wing-tipped grouse when the shrapnel hit her—coming down beating and
fluttering and fighting for equilibrium to the end.  It was the skill of
his pilot that brought her safely wabbling and planing into the river,
where she waddled about like a scotched duck."

"Was the pilot badly hurt?"

"Not badly.  Sister Eila is looking after him. They’re going to bring
him up to the Château hospital in the morning.  He’s at the inn now."

"Why didn’t they bring any wounded to us, Jim?"

"The ambulances from Ausone and Dreslin took them.  I believe we are to
expect fifty wounded tomorrow. Sister Félicité was notified after our
ambulance returned from the Bois d’Ausone."

Twice they were halted, and the permit from General Delisle which Warner
carried was minutely inspected by flashlight.  Then they moved on slowly
through the fragrant night toward the unlighted windows of the Golden
Peach.

There, as in the Château, all lights were masked by shutters and
curtains, so that no night visitor soaring high under the stars might
sight anything at which to loose the tiny red spark—that terrible,
earth-shattering harbinger of death and annihilation.

At the front door they knocked; Linette welcomed them into a darkened
hall, but as soon as the door was closed again she brought out a lamp.

Madame Arlon followed, delighted that they were to dine there with
Halkett.

He was somewhere about the garden, she said, and Sister Eila was
upstairs with the wounded pilot.

Moving along the familiar path in the garden, they presently discovered
Halkett seated alone in the little arbor, with Ariadne dozing on his
lap.

"We’ve come to dine with you, old fellow!" said Warner.  "—Philippa and
you and I and Ariadne again. Does the idea appeal to you?"

"Immensely!"  He had saluted Philippa’s hand and had offered her the
cat, which she took to her breast, burying her face in the soft fur.

"Darling," she murmured, "it is so nice to have you again!  One needs
all one’s old friends in days like these."

They returned to the house, Philippa walking between the two men,
caressing Ariadne, who acknowledged the endearments with her usual
enthusiasm.

Dinner was all ready for them in the little room by the bar: a saucer
was set beside Philippa’s chair for Ariadne; Linette went upstairs to
summon Sister Eila, and returned with word that she would be down after
a while, and that dinner was not to wait for her.

Warner said to Halkett:

"How did you feel when you were falling, old chap?"

"Not very comfortable," returned the other, smiling.

"You thought it was all up with you?"

"On the contrary, I realized it was all down."

Philippa smiled faintly.

"You didn’t expect to come out alive?" inquired Warner.

"I didn’t think of that.  Bolton, my pilot, said: ’I’m trying to make
the river, sir.’  I was attempting to find out how badly we were
damaged.  It seemed an age; but we both were busy."

"You probably did some very serious thinking, too."

Halkett nodded.  He remembered that part vividly—the thinking part.  He
recollected perfectly where his thoughts were concentrated as he came
fluttering down out of the sky.  But on whom they were centered he never
would tell as long as he lived.

Sister Eila came in.

Halkett placed her; she and Philippa exchanged faint smiles; then the
two men resumed their seats.

"Monsieur Bolton is now asleep," she said, speaking to Halkett and
looking at her plate.  "Tomorrow we shall move him to the east wing of
the Château.  We shall have many wounded tomorrow, I believe."

"Yes.  Sister Félicité told me," said Warner.  He looked at her for a
moment.  "Are you well, Sister Eila?"

"Why, yes; I am perfectly well."

"You look very pale.  Do you ever find time to sleep?"

"Sufficiently, thank you," she replied, smiling.  "You know we are very
tough, we Sisters of Charity.  There is a saying that nothing but death
can kill a Grey Sister."

Warner laughed, Halkett forced a smile.

"I think," added Sister Eila, "that British airmen ought to be included
in that proverb.  Don’t you, Mr. Halkett?"

"Nothing can kill me," he said.  "I’m even wondering whether old man
Death could do the job."

Philippa turned to Warner:

"Isn’t the conversation becoming a trifle grim for our reunion?"

They all smiled; Philippa fed tidbits to Ariadne, who had forsaken a
well-garnished platter on the floor to sit up beside Philippa and pat
her gown from time to time with an appealing paw.

"That’s very human," commented Warner.  "Ariadne wants only what is not
meant for her."

"I can understand her," said Halkett carelessly. "May I smoke, Sister
Eila?  Do you mind, Philippa?"  He struck a match: "With your
permission," he said, and lighted his cigarette as Linette entered with
coffee.

"Yes," he said musingly, "it seems to be the game in life—to desire what
is not meant for one.  The worst of it is that philosophy doesn’t help
one to understand and become reconciled."

Sister Eila said, looking at her plate:

"Religion helps."

"Only a favored few, Sister."

"Yes, for everybody the refuge of faith is waiting."

"Belief may explain; but it can not reconcile," rejoined Halkett
quietly.  "Except for the mystery of God, there is no other mystery like
man.  None has yet explained him; not even himself.  If his riddle is
ever to be solved, I don’t know when that will be, unless it is to
happen after death."

There was a silence.

Halkett spoke again:

"Unbidden love comes; it abides as long as it chooses—a day, a
lifetime—and after life, perhaps.  But if it chooses to go, no one ever
born can control its departure....  This is one mystery of man—only one
among many....  I believe something of this sort occurred to me while—"
he laughed—"I was coming a cropper in the sky this morning."

Sister Eila’s eyes were fixed on space; Halkett laid aside his cigarette
and picked up Ariadne.

"Well, old lady," he said, "there is only one solution to everything; go
on with the business in hand and do it as thoroughly as your intellect
permits.  Your business, I suppose, is to look ornamental, have kittens,
and catch mice.  _Bonne chance_, little lady!"

He set her on the table and she marched gingerly among the coffee cups
toward Philippa.

Sister Eila rose; all followed her example.

Halkett, looking around at them, said pleasantly:

"It was a happy thought—this reunion.  I had meant to say good-by
tonight at the Château——"

"Tonight!" exclaimed Warner.

"Yes.  Orders have come.  An automobile arrives later, to take me to the
railroad station at Dreslin. My wrecked machine has gone——"  He looked
smilingly at Sister Eila: "What’s left of me is to follow tonight, it
seems....  And so I shall go over to the Château, now, I think, and make
my very grateful adieux, and have a last word with Gray.  Shall I say
good-by to you now?  Will you be here when I return in an hour?"

Philippa said in a low voice:

"We are going to walk in the garden.  Look for us there."

He turned to Sister Eila.

"I shall be with my sick man," she said smilingly. Her face was deadly
white.

So Halkett took his cap and went away up the road all alone, and Sister
Eila mounted the stairs to inspect her patient.

As Warner stood for a moment by the open door looking after Halkett, a
familiar voice came to his ears—the voice of Asticot, bragging of his
prowess and cheerfully predicting even greater glory for himself.

"Nonsense!" came the voice of Linette, sharply. "You had nothing more to
do with the taking of that spy than had Ariadne!"

"M’amzelle!  It was I who accomplished that! Behold your Asticot, a
hero, modest and humble——"

"Tiens!  You are not _my_ Asticot!  Be kind enough to remember that!"

"M’amzelle, you know me——"

"No, I don’t!"

"But you are perfectly at liberty to become acquainted with me——"

"I do not desire to!"

"My master, M’sieu’ Warner, trusts and respects me.  He is the most
wonderful gentleman in the whole world, M’sieu’ Warner.  And he believes
in me!"

"_I_ don’t!" retorted Linette.

Asticot heaved a terrific sigh:

"And I with thirty thousand francs which I have labored to save—fruits
of my toil—souvenirs of years of self-denial——"

"What!  Thirty thousand francs!  Bah!  Thirty thousand debts, you
mean——"

"I mean nothing of the sort," said Asticot simply. "If you doubt my
word, I will show them to you some day.  Linette, you know me——"

"I tell you I don’t!"

Warner could hear Magda laughing, and Madame Arlon making caustic
comments concerning the financial solvency of Asticot and the manner in
which he wore his hair.

"As for that," rejoined Asticot, "I can trim my hair to please
Linette——"

"That," exclaimed Linette, exasperated, "is impossible! Only a machine
that will trim your neck close to your shoulders might interest me,
Monsieur Asticot!"

"Woman!" said Asticot, unruffled.  "Tenez, M’amzelle! _That_ is what I
think of woman—charming, capricious, enchanting woman!  I salute your
incomparable sex!"  And Warner heard him kiss his own palm with a
vigorous smack.

"Imbecile!" cried Linette.  "Put on a uniform before you have the
impudence to make love to an honest girl!"

"I am going to," said Asticot triumphantly.

Warner closed the door, turned back into the hallway, and entered the
little dining room.  Philippa was no longer there; so he went through
the house into the dark garden, where the air was sweet with the perfume
of clove pinks and lilies.

She was there, a pale shape in the darkness, moving slowly among the
flowers.  As he came up she lifted her head and looked at him, her grey
eyes still vague with memories which the place evoked.

And, after a few moments’ wandering along the paths with him:

"Why are you so silent?" she asked.

"I thought perhaps I might disturb your thoughts, Philippa."

"You are always part of my thoughts.  I have no thought that I would not
share with you.... But—you have never understood that."

"I understand you, Philippa."

"Do you?"

"Yes.  You are everything a woman should be; nothing a woman should not
be.  That is my understanding of you."

She shook her head gently:

"That is an impossible woman.  You are kind to me in your thoughts.
And—you have not understood me after all."

"What have I not understood, Philippa?"

"My—my heart and mind."

"Both are wonderful, matchless——"

"You are wrong!  There is your mistake.  They are not wonderful; and
both may be matched by the hearts and minds of any woman! ... Has it
never occurred to you that I am very human?"

He remained silent; they walked on for a while, turned, and retraced
their steps along the border of clove pinks.

"Have you gone over all your papers?" he asked in a hesitating voice.

"Yes."

"Is there anything I can do to help you—advise—aid——"

She turned almost impatiently:

"Always you are thinking of my well-being, my worldly benefit.  It is
for that you give me your companionship, your protection.  I—I don’t
know—sometimes I think I have never been—so—lonely——"

Her voice broke; she turned sharply from him and stood with slender
hands clenched in the starlight.

"Philippa?" he said gently, in his kindly, even voice. And it seemed to
break the barrier to her reserve.

"Oh!" she faltered.  "—It is something else a woman—hopes for—something
different—when her heart—is empty——"

He dared not understand her, dared not touch her. He heard himself
saying: "There is nobody but you, Philippa," and dared not speak—dared
not say what he should have said before either he or she had learned who
she really was.

Perhaps a faint idea of what held him to an aloofness, a formality
unaccustomed, occurred to her during the strained silence.  Perhaps she
divined, vaguely, what might be in his mind.

After a while she turned, not looking at him, and took his arm!  It was
the first time she had done so since that day when he painted her.

Even yet she could scarcely realize, scarcely comprehend the great
change which had come to her.  She knew it was true; she understood that
it must be the truth—that she was no longer nameless—not the foundling,
not the lonely child of chance who had looked out blankly over the
world, without aim, without interest, having nothing to expect, nothing
to hope for from a world which had not even bestowed upon her a name.

And now—now, suddenly hazard had snatched aside that impenetrable
curtain which, as long as she could remember, had hung between her and
all that she desired most passionately to know.

From the loose, half palsied lips of a murderer had fallen the words she
had never expected to hear.  He had gone to his death, shambling,
doddering, mumbling to himself.  But the papers which had belonged to
him had confirmed every word he uttered.

She knew now who she was, Philippa de Châtillon. She knew how her mother
had died; and her father.

As yet, the wonderment of it all had not been too deeply embittered by
the tragedy.  It was still only wonder, and a striving to realize—a
dream, strange, terrible, beautiful by turns; but still a dream to her.

Something far more real, more vivid, more vital, possessed her.  She
knew it; felt it always now.  The consciousness of it shared with her
the veiled emotions which the solving of her life’s mystery evoked.

As she stood there in the brilliant starlight, both arms wound around
one of his in the old, unconscious way, Halkett came into the garden,
walking swiftly:

"The car is here.  Don’t come to the door.  I had rather say good-by and
God bless you here in this garden—where I first knew you, Philippa—where
you and I became friends, Warner....  So—good-by.  If I come out of it,
I’ll come to you—to both of you, I hope."

"Yes," said Philippa calmly.

He took her hand, held it, looked at Warner, and took the hand he
offered.

"Good-by!"

"Good-by!"

He turned and walked swiftly into the house.  As he passed the stairway,
he saw Sister Eila standing there as white as death.

They looked at each other in silence; she laid one hand on the banisters
as though to steady herself.  With the other she held out to him a
flower.

When he had gone with his flower, and when the whir of his motor car had
died away in that silent house, she turned to ascend the stairs again,
stumbled, dropped by the rail, and lay there huddled in a heap, both
hands pressed desperately over her quivering face.

Then in the room above, the sick man groaned; and she straightened up
and rose as though a trumpet had sounded.  And slowly, steadily, she
mounted her Calvary, drying her eyes naïvely and like a little girl who
has been hurt and whose grief seems hopeless, inconsolable, and never
ending.

Slowly, side by side, his arm once more in her possession, Warner and
Philippa returned to the Château.

When they reached the terrace, the stars overhead had become
magnificent; millions and millions of them sparkled up there, arching
the dark earth with necklaces of light.

He turned and gazed out over the panorama of the night.  Far in the east
the silver pencil of a searchlight swept the heavens.

Into the mysterious east he stared in silence, thinking of Wildresse.

The Orient had hatched out Wildresse; Biribi had caught him; Biribi had
utterly extinguished his race at last.

The mysterious irony of it—the death of this man’s only son—the fate
that had delivered the father into the crime-blotched hands of that
terrible battalion—the hazard of Asticot’s discovery in the safe—the
sudden, dramatic unmasking of Cassilis—could these things be happening
in this year of 1914?

Stranger things than these were happening, and he knew it.

Westward the spray of a grey sea dripped from the muzzles of a thousand
guns.

Eastward the coldly logical strategy of a great commander was
developing, and the first fierce drive at Alsace-Lorraine was being
launched.

From farther eastward still the two allies, listening, caught already
the low growling of the Russian bear.

Germany, poised high above the glare of battle, waiting to snatch up,
one by one, heroic and dying nations to her bosom—Germany clutching the
dripping sword of conquest, heard also the rumbling of the Asiatic
monster behind the Caucasus.

She turned her armed head and stared over her mailed shoulder toward the
east, haughty, incredulous, magnificently barbaric—the last of the
Valkyries left amid the dying gods of old, standing there alone,
glittering, motionless amid the hellish conflagration of the
Götterdämmerung.

Warner looked up at the stars.

The glimmering writing on Heaven’s wall was plain to read.

Plainer, it seemed, than his own heart, which had grown heavy as he
stood there beside the woman to whom it was now too late to speak.

For he should have spoken before, long ago, almost in the beginning.
Because he had always loved her. He had known it for days, now; and yet
with that blind delay and distrust of self to which some men are fated,
he had waited too long to ask of her what his heart had so long, so
blindly desired.

Now it was too late: He should have spoken before.

He should have spoken when she was lonely, friendless, nameless.

Now it was too late.

He turned toward the house, but she did not move, they came face to face
under the high stars.

"_Can’t_ you—love me?" she faltered.

"Philippa!——"

She flung both arms around his neck.





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