Having accomplished the journey across the sea in safety, Marie would cheerfully, yes, enthusiastically have remained in Paris, even if it were a Paris unlike the gay city she remembered. She would have enjoyed accompanying her "Madame" to the homes of distinguished persons, caring in the meantime for her wardrobe and urging her to return to her rightful place upon the stage. But since Mrs. Burton for the present would do none of these things and since Marie had refused positively to be separated, once more she had to make the best of a bad bargain.
So voluntarily Marie offered to take charge of the greater part of the housework and to devote the rest of her time to sewing for the French children in their vicinity, whose clothes were nothing but an odd assortment of rags.
Marie had her consolations. It was good to be out of a country which produced men of the type of Mr. Jefferson Simpson, who having once proposed marriage and been declined, had not the courtesy to renew his suit. Also it was good to speak one's own tongue again, and although at present there were but few men to be seen in the neighborhood under sixty, there were military hospitals in the nearby villages. Moreover, there was always the prospect of the return of some gallant French poilu for his holiday from the trenches. So Marie was unable to feel entirely wretched even while undergoing the hardships of an existence within a half-demolished farm house on the Aisne.
As a matter of fact, the old farm house was not in so unfortunate a condition as the larger number of French homes, which had been wrecked by the enemy before he began his "strategic retreat."
Only a portion of the left wing of the house had been demolished.
This had comprised a large kitchen, a pantry and the dining room. However, a sufficiently large amount of space remained for the uses of the Camp Fire unit.
In the center the house was divided by a long hall. On one side were two comfortably large rooms. The back one was chosen for the dining room and the front for the living room. The pantry was restored so that it could serve for the kitchen; as the old stove had been destroyed, a new one was ordered from Paris. This developed into a piece of good fortune, as it required far less fuel than the old, and fuel was one of the greatest material problems in France, coal selling at this time for $120 a ton.
A single long room occupied the other side of the hall; this room had a high old-fashioned ceiling and was paneled in old French oak as beautiful as if it had adorned a French palace.
Mere Antoinette explained that the farm house had been the property of Madame de Mauprais, a wealthy French woman who had lived in the chateau not far away. It had been occupied by her son, who had chosen to experiment in scientific farming for the benefit of the small peasant farmers in the neighborhood.
The war had banished Monsieur de Mauprais and whatever family he may have possessed, so that Mrs. Burton had been able to rent his farm for a small sum through an agent who lived in the nearest village.
It is possible that the farm house had been spared in a measure by the German soldiers because of their greater pleasure in the destruction of the old chateau which was only about half a mile away. At the present time the chateau appeared only as a mass of fallen stone.
This single spacious room the Camp Fire girls chose for their school room for the French children in the neighborhood.
The better furniture of the farmhouse had been hacked into bits of wood by the German soldiers and was fit only for burning. The simple things had not been so destroyed. Fortunately their camping life out of doors had accustomed this particular group of American girls to exercising ingenuity, so that the problem of furnishing and making attractive their school room with so little to go upon rather added to their interest.
Two long planks raised upon clothes-horses discovered in the barn formed a serviceable table. Stools and odd chairs were brought down from the attic. On the floor were two Indian rugs Mrs. Burton had induced the Indian woman near the Painted Desert in Arizona to weave for her with the special Camp Fire design, the wood-gatherer's, the fire-maker's and the torch-bearer's insignia, inserted in the chosen shades of brown, flame color, yellow and white.
On the walls hung a few Camp Fire panels and the coverings of sofa cushions and some outdoor photographs of the Sunrise Camp during former camping experiences which the girls had brought over with them.
Besides these larger articles, they had managed to store away in their trunks the materials necessary for the regulation Camp Fire work, honor beads and the jewelry indicating the various orders in the Camp Fire. If they were to interest French girls in the movement, they must have the required paraphernalia.
But the school at the farm house was not primarily a place where the French girls of the neighborhood were only to be interested in Camp Fire ideas. It was also a practical school.
During the past year Marta Clark had been studying kindergarten.
She, with Yvonne to help her, had charge of the tiny French children whom they were able to persuade to come daily to the big farm house. They were such starved, pathetic children, some of them almost babies! Yet they had been through so much suffering, their eyes had looked upon such hideous sights, that many of them were either nervous wrecks or else stupefied.
Surely there could be no better service to France than this effort to bring back to her children a measure of their natural happiness!
Yvonne and Marta devised wonderful games in one end of the big school room. At midday Vera and Peggy always appeared with a special luncheon for their small guests and for the older ones as well. Bettina Graham and Alice Ashton took charge of the older pupils, and in teaching it appeared that Alice at last had found her metier.
Vera and Peggy also worked at the farming out of doors.
More important than any other of Miss Patricia Lord's gifts to the community farm and the surrounding country was a motor tractor, which one day had rolled unconcernedly into the farm house yard, an ugly giant, proving of as much future value to the poor farmers in the neighborhood as any good giant of the ancient fairy tales.
Fortunately Mary Gilchrist was able to explain its use to the French peasants who had never seen the like before, and to show them how speedily their devastated land might again be turned into plowed fields.
Vera and Peggy made frequent trips to the nearby villages, gaining the friendship of the country people, inviting the younger ones to their farm and helping in whatever ways they could. Now and then Sally Ashton went with them and sometimes Sally played with the smallest of the children, but nearly always her interests were domestic.
In contrast, Mary Gilchrist never remained in the house an hour if it were possible to be away. Besides engineering the tractor and being a general express delivery for the entire neighborhood, she had formed the habit of motoring into Soissons, which was one of the large towns nearby, and offering her services and the use of her car to the hospitals. Occasionally she spent days at a time driving invalided soldiers either from one hospital to another, or else in taking them out on drives for the fresh air and entertainment.
It would therefore appear as if each member of the Sunrise Camp Fire unit had arranged her life with the idea of being useful in the highest degree, except the Camp Fire guardian.
As a matter of fact, Mrs. Burton often used to say that she found no especial reason for her presence at the farm now that Aunt Patricia had become the really important and authoritative guardian. Nevertheless, with that rare quality of personality which as a girl Polly O'Neill had infused into every interest of her life, there was nothing which took place at the farm or in the neighboring country which she did not in a measure inspire.
Once their household had been adjusted, it was true Mrs. Burton did not do a great deal of the actual work. Instead, and oftentimes alone, she wandered from one end of the French countryside to the other, occasionally returning so late to the farm that Aunt Patricia would be found waiting for her at the front door in a state of fear and indignation.
Nevertheless the country people began to watch and wait for her coming.
After a time she brought newspapers with her. Then they began to gather together in one of the larger huts to listen while she read aloud the war news, with not always a perfectly correct French accent, and yet one they could understand.
When they were weary of the reading she used to talk, speaking always of the day when France would be free and the invader driven beyond her boundaries, never to return. And among her audience were a few of the old peasants who could recall the Franco-Prussian war.
How amazingly these talks cheered the old men and women! Actually the daily round of toil once more became worth while, so near seemed the return of Victor and Hugo and Etienne. They would be happy to find the little homes restored and the fields green that had been drenched in blood.
Occasionally Mrs. Burton made her audience laugh until the tears ran down their wrinkled faces with funny stories of the trenches, of their own poilus, and the British Tommies and the new American Sammees.
Never had the great actress used her talent to a better purpose.
At least it gained for her from these simple and almost heart broken peasants the eternal tribute of laughter and tears.
Her greatest triumph was when Grand'mere, one of the oldest women in the little village of M—, was at last persuaded to pour forth her story.
In more than three years she had not spoken except to answer "Yes" or "No," or now and then to make known her simple needs, not since the Germans carried off her granddaughter, Elsie. Elsie was the acknowledged beauty and belle of the countryside and engaged to marry Captain Francois Dupis, who was fighting with his regiment at Verdun.
Mrs. Burton had gotten into the habit of stopping at Grand'mere's tiny hut, which her neighbors had restored. At first she brought the old woman little gifts of food in which she seemed not to take the least interest. Now and then she talked to her, although the old woman seldom replied except to nod her head with grave courtesy.
Then one day without any warning as Mrs. Burton was standing near, Grand'mere drew her new friend down into her lap and poured out her heart-broken story. It left the younger woman ill and shaken.
Afterwards returning late to the farm alone and entirely unafraid, so completely had the country people become her friend, Mrs. Burton wondered what had given the French nation its present faith and courage. Nothing approaching it has the world ever before witnessed! Then she recalled that having paid so dearly for their freedom in those mad days of the revolution, the French people would never again relinquish the supreme gift of human liberty.
THE OLD CHATEAU
One afternoon the French farm house was deserted except for Sally Ashton, Mere 'Toinette and Miss Patricia.
As a matter of fact, Miss Patricia was not in the house, but in the farm yard which was separated from the house by a newly planted kitchen garden. It was here that she spent the greater part of her time working far more diligently than if she had been engaged for a few dollars a week. Yet in Massachusetts Miss Patricia Lord's three-hundred-acre farm was one of the prides of the state. In ordinary times she was accustomed to employing from twenty-five to fifty men, although always Miss Patricia acted as her own overseer.
As she had announced, for the present she had managed to secure the services of an old French peasant, nearer seventy years of age than sixty, to act as her assistant. But Jean was possessed of a determination of character only equaled by Miss Patricia's. Not a word of any language did he know except French, while Miss Patricia's French was one of the mysteries past finding out. Also Jean was nearly stone deaf. This misfortune really served as an advantage in his relation with Miss Patricia, as he never did anything at the time or in the way she ordered him to do it, there was consolation in the thought that he had not understood the order. Jean had his own ideas with regard to farming matters and an experience which had lasted through more than half a century.
Therefore with the assistance of Peggy and Vera the outdoor work on the Sunrise Camp Fire farm was progressing with surprising success. The supply of livestock had been increased by a second shipment from the United States. This shipment Miss Patricia had divided with her French neighbors.
Beside old Jean there was at this time another rebel in Miss Patricia's camp, Sally Ashton. The other girls were frequently annoyed by the old lady, nevertheless, appreciating her gallant qualities and for the sake of their Camp Fire guardian, they usually agreed to her demands when it was impossible to evade them. But Sally was not fond of doing anything she was told to do. Not that Sally was disagreeable, and it was not in her nature to argue, she simply ignored either suggestions or commands, always pursuing her own sweet way.
This afternoon, for example, several of the girls had invited her to walk with them to one of the French villages. Once a week they distributed loaves of bread and a few grocery supplies to the neediest of the peasants, those who had been unable to rebuild their huts or find regular occupation. Sally had declined with entire frankness. She had done her duty by making the bread for the others to give away and more successfully than any one of the girls could have made it. She disliked long, fatiguing walks.
Mrs. Burton had gone off alone on one of her dramatic pilgrimages.
Mary Gilchrist had again motored into Soissons and Sally would have enjoyed accompanying her. To have driven about through the French country with convalescent soldiers would have been extremely entertaining. But Mary had not asked her, preferring to take Yvonne, whom the American girls all appeared to adore.
So in consequence Sally was vexed and a little jealous.
Observing the others depart and that apparently Sally had nothing of importance to occupy her, Miss Patricia had ordered her to come out into the yard and help with the young chickens. They seemed to be afflicted with some uncomfortable moulting disease.
To this invitation Sally had made no reply. She especially disliked foolish, feathery outdoor things and had no intention of sacrificing her well-earned leisure. The school had a semi-weekly half holiday and for once the house was quiet.
Yet after a little more than an hour of leisure, Sally found herself bored. Many times of late she had missed her old friendship with Gerry Williams, since this was her first Camp Fire experience without Gerry, who had married Felipe Morris the summer before in California.
At least Gerry occasionally had been frivolous! Certainly these were war times and yet could one be serious forever and ever, without an intermission? The other Camp Fire girls now and then got upon Sally's nerves.
As she was seldom warm enough these days, covered with her steamer blanket Sally had been curled up on the bed in her room which she shared with her sister. First she had taken a short nap and then attempted to read a French novel which she had discovered in the attic of the farm. The French puzzled her and it was tiresome to have to consult a dictionary. So Sally lay still for a few moments listening to Mere 'Toinette singing the Marseillaise in a cracked old voice as she went about her work downstairs.
Finally, stretching in a characteristically indolent fashion, Sally rose and walked over to a window. She could only see through one small opening. All the glass in the countryside had been smashed by the terrific bombardments, and as there was no glass to be had for restoring the windows, glazed paper had been pasted over the frames. The one small aperture had been left for observation of climate and scenery.
Even without her birdseye view, Sally was conscious that the sun was shining brilliantly. A long streak had shone through the glazed paper and lay across her bed.
She decided that she might enjoy a short walk. She really had forgotten Mrs. Burton's suggestion that no one of the girls leave the farm alone and had no thought of deliberately breaking an unwritten law.
Mere 'Toinette and Sally had become devoted friends and also there was an unspoken bond of sympathy between her and Jean, expressed only by the way in which the old man looked at her and in certain dry chucklings in his throat and shakings of his head.
As Sally was about to leave the front door suddenly Mere 'Toinette appeared, to present her with a little package of freshly baked fruit muffins. Sally's appetite in war times, when everybody was compelled to live upon such short rations, was a standing household joke and one which she deeply resented. Mere 'Toinette resented the point of view equally, preferring Sally to any one of the other girls, and also it was her idea that the good things of this world are created only for the young. There was no measure to her own self-sacrifice.
A few yards beyond the house Sally discovered old Jean, who was doubtless coming to find her, as he bore in his hand a French fleur-de-lis, the national wild flower, which he had found growing in a field as hardy and unconquerable as the French spirit.
Sally accepted his offering with the smile of gratitude which seemed always a sufficient reward for her many masculine admirers.
With Mere 'Toinette's gift in her Camp Fire knapsack and with Jean's flower thrust into her belt, Sally then made a fresh start. She had not thought of going far, as the roads and fields were in too disagreeable a condition.
Pausing about an eighth of a mile from the farm house, she considered whether after all it were worth while to remain out of doors. Even if the afternoon were enchanting, walking through the heavy upturned soil was unpleasant.
Then by accident Sally chanced to observe the ruins of the old French chateau shining under the rays of the winter sun.
It was not far away and suddenly she made up her mind to go upon an exploring tour. Half a dozen times in the past few weeks the Camp Fire girls had discussed paying a visit to the chateau to see what interesting discoveries they might unearth among the ruins. But no one of them had so far had the opportunity.
Ordinarily Sally Ashton was the least experimental of the entire group of girls. Instinctively, as a type of the feminine, home-staying woman, she disliked the many adventurous members of her own sisterhood. With not a great deal of imagination, Sally's views of romance were practical and matter of fact. Young men fell in love with one and she had no idea of how many lovers one might have and no thought of limiting the number so far as she was personally concerned. Then among the number one selected the man who would make the most comfortable and agreeable husband, married him, had children and was happy ever afterwards. So you see, a romance which might bring sorrow as well as happiness had no place in Sally Ashton's practical scheme of life.
Therefore the fates must have driven her to the old French chateau on this winter afternoon.
The walk itself occupied about half an hour. Around the chateau in times past there had been a moat. For their own convenience the German troops quartered at the old place had left the bridge over the moat undisturbed, else Sally would never have hazarded a dangerous crossing.
The house had been built of gray stone and it was difficult to imagine how the enemy had managed so completely to reduce it to ruins. An explosion of dynamite must have been employed, for the chateau appeared to have fallen as if it had been destroyed by an earthquake. Certain portions of the outer walls remained standing, but the towers in the center had caved in upon the interior of the house.
As Sally drew near she felt a little desolate and yet she was not frightened, although a proverbial coward.
The place appeared too abandoned to fear that any living thing could be in its vicinity. It was only that one felt the pity of the destruction of this ancient and beautiful home.
The waste and confusion of war troubled Sally as it does all women. So hard it is to see why destruction is necessary to the growth and development of human history!
Wondering what had become of the French family who formerly had lived in the chateau before the outbreak of the war, Sally walked up closer to the ruins. From a space between two walls, forming an insecure arch, a bird darted out into the daylight. Not ordinarily influenced by the beauties of nature or by unexpected expressions of her moods, nevertheless Sally uttered a cry of enchantment.
Between the walls she had spied the ruins of an old French drawing room. The bird must have flown through the opening into the room and then quickly out again into the sunshine.
A little table remained standing with an open book upon it, laid face down. There was a rug on the floor, now thick with mould, and yet it was a rare Aubusson rug with sturdy cupids trailing flowery vines across its surface. There were pieces of broken furniture and bric-a-brac strewn over the floor.
Sally must have continued staring inside the room for several moments before she slowly became aware that there was a human figure seated in a chair in the shadow near one of the half fallen walls.
The figure was that of a young soldier. He was asleep when Sally discovered him and incredibly dirty. His hair was long and matted, hanging thick over his forehead. One arm was wrapped in a soiled bandage.
Yet Sally did not feel frightened, only faint and ill for an instant from pity.
Coming to their farm house after a few days in Paris, Sally had seen trains filled with wounded soldiers. In Paris she also had noticed blinded and invalided men being led along the streets by their families or friends, yet never so piteous a figure as this.
Sally's little cry of astonishment must have awakened the soldier.
The terror on his face when he first beheld her took away any thought of fear from the girl. Besides it was all too strange! Why should he, a soldier, be afraid, and of her? And why should he be in hiding in this queer tumble-down old place? For he was in hiding, there was no doubt of this from his furtive manner.
Some instinct in Sally, or perhaps the fact that she had seen so much hunger since her arrival in this portion of France, made her immediately take out her little package of bread which Mere 'Toinette had given her and thrust it forward.
She was standing framed in the arch made by the two fallen walls, not having moved since the moment of her amazing discovery.
The soldier's hunger was greater than his fear, for he almost snatched the food from Sally's hands and, as he ate it she could not bear watching him. There is something dreadful in the sight of a human being ravenously hungry.
Afterwards, when he did not speak, Sally found herself making the first remarks, and unconsciously and stupidly, not realizing what she was doing at the moment, she spoke in English.
The next instant, to her surprise, the soldier replied in the same tongue, although it seemed to Sally that he spoke with a foreign accent, what the accent was she did not know. Sally had not a great deal of experience, neither was she particularly clever.
"What are you doing here?" is what she naturally inquired.
The soldier hesitated and placed his hand to his forehead, looking at the girl dazedly.
"Why am I hiding here?" he repeated. Then almost childishly he went on: "I am hiding, hiding because no one must find me, else I would be shot at once. I don't know how long I have been here alone. I am very cold."
"But I don't understand your reason," Sally argued. "Why don't you find some one to take care of you? You cannot be living here; besides you could not have been here long without food or water or you would have died."
"But I have had a little food and water," the soldier replied. "I found a few cans of food in a closet and there is water in one of the rooms."
His voice had a complaining note which was an expression of suffering if one had understood. Then his face was feverish and wretched.
"But you don't look as if you had used much water," Sally remarked in her usual matter-of-fact fashion. She had a way of pursuing her own first idea without being influenced by other considerations.
"It is hard work when one's arm is like this," the soldier returned fretfully.
Again Sally surveyed the soiled bandage with disfavor. Apparently it had not been changed in many days, since it was encrusted with dirt and blood and having slipped had been pulled awkwardly back into place.
Temprementally, Sally Ashton hated the sight of blood and suffering. In the years of the Camp Fire training she had been obliged to study first aid, but she had left the practical application to the other girls. Her own tastes were domestic and she therefore had devoted her time to domestic affairs.
Now something must be done for the soldier whose presence in the old chateau and whose behavior were equally puzzling, and as there was no one else, Sally had no idea of shirking the immediate task. In her Camp Fire kit she always carried first aid supplies.
"If you will go to the room where you found the water and wash your arm as thoroughly as you can I will put on a fresh bandage for you," she offered. "Don't argue and don't be long, for something simply has to be done for you, you are in such a dreadful condition."
Even in the midst of feeling a little like Florence Nightingale, Sally preserved a due amount of caution. She had no idea of wandering about a tumble-down chateau with a strange soldier. In reality she was not so much afraid of him as of the house itself. She had the impression that the walls were ready to topple down and bury her.
When the soldier did not move, Sally beckoned him imperiously toward the open arch where she had remained standing just outside the walls.
"You are to come here, while I take off the old bandage. No one will see you and I am afraid to enter so dangerous a place."
The man obeyed, and Sally cut away the soiled linen, trying not to get too distinct an impression of the wound underneath. Yet what she saw alarmed her sufficiently, for she knew enough to realize that the wound required more scientific treatment than she felt able to give. "Now go and wash your arm," she directed, and without a word he went off.
During the ten minutes her self-imposed patient remained away, Sally seriously considered his puzzling situation and determined upon the advice she would offer.
In the first place, so far he had given her no explanation for his conduct.
Why was he in concealment? The possibility that the soldier might have committed a wrong which made it incumbent that he hide from justice did not occur to Sally. She simply determined that they would discuss the subject to some satisfactory end on his return.
The young man did look much better, having made an effort to cleanse his face as well as his wound, but as Sally took hold of his hand before beginning her task, she was startled to discover that he was suffering from a fever through neglect of his injury. This made her the more determined. Although appreciating her own inefficiency and disliking the work, there was nothing to be done at present but to go ahead with her own simple first-aid treatment. She had a bottle of antiseptic and clean surgical gauze.
As she wound the bandage, wishing she had taken the trouble to learn the art more skilfully, Sally announced:
"You must see a physician about your arm as soon as possible. You never have explained to me why you are hiding here. But in any case you cannot remain when you are ill and hungry and cold and require a great deal of attention. You must go into one of the villages to a hospital. While you were away I have been thinking what to do. You look to me too ill to walk very far and, as I am living not more than half a mile away, I will go back to our farm and tell my friends about you. Later I think I can arrange to come back for you in a motor and then we will drive you to one of the hospitals. I don't know as much about the French hospitals as my friends do, but of course everybody is anxious to do whatever is possible for the Allied soldiers."
Sally placed a certain amount of stress on the expression "Allied soldiers," but never for an instant believing in the possibility that her patient could belong to an enemy nationality.
"If you tell anyone you have discovered me here in hiding, it will be the last of me," the soldier declared.
By this time Sally was beginning to be troubled. Why did the young man look and speak so strangely? He seemed confused and worried and either unable to explain his actions, or else unwilling. Yet somehow one had the impression that he was a gentleman and there need be no fear of any lack of personal courtesy.
It was possible from his appearance to believe that he might be suffering from a mental breakdown. Sally recalled that many of the soldiers were affected in this way from shell shock or the long strain of battle.
"I suppose I must tell you something. In any case, I have to trust my fate in your hands and I know there is not one person in a thousand who would spare me. I was a prisoner and escaped from my captors. I don't know how I discovered this old house. I don't know how long I have been wandering about the country before I came here, only that I hid myself in the daytime and stumbled around seeking a place of refuge at night. If you report me I suppose I will not be allowed even a soldier's death. I shall probably be hung."
Suddenly the soldier laughed, such an unhappy, curious laugh that Sally had but one desire and that was to escape from the chateau and her strange companion at once and forever. Yet in spite of his vague and uncertain expression, the soldier's eyes were dark and fine and his features well cut. He was merely thin and haggard and dirty from his recent experiences.
From his uniform it was impossible to guess anything; at least, it was impossible for Sally, who had but scant information with regard to military accoutrements.
But even in the face of his confession she was not considering the soldier's nationality. He looked so miserable and ill, so like a sick boy, that the maternal spirit which was really strongly rooted in Sally Ashton's nature awakened. He could scarcely stand as he talked to her.
"Please sit down. I don't know what you are to do," she remonstrated. "I don't know why you ran away or from whom, but no fate could be much worse than starving to death here in this old place alone. Yet certainly I don't want to give you up to—to anybody," she concluded lamely, as a matter of fact not knowing to whom one should report a runaway soldier.
This was a different Sally Ashton from the girl her family and friends ordinarily knew. The evanescent dimple had disappeared entirely and also the indolent expression in her golden brown eyes. She was frowning and her lips were closed in a firmer line.
At her suggestion the soldier had returned to the chair which he had been occupying at the moment of her intrusion. But Sally saw that although he was seated he was swaying a little and that again he had put up his uninjured arm to his head.
"Perhaps I can get away from here, if you will help me. I have escaped being caught so far. I only ask you to bring me a little food. Tomorrow I shall be stronger."
Unconsciously Sally sighed. What fate had ever driven her forth into this undesired adventure?
She did not like to aid a runaway prisoner, nor did she wish him to meet the disagreeable end he had suggested through any act of hers.
Any other one of the Camp Fire girls, Sally believed, would have given the soldier a lecture on the high ideals of patriotism, or of meeting with proper fortitude whatever fate might overtake him. At least he would have been required to divulge his nationality, and if he were an enemy, of course there could be no hesitation in delivering him to justice.
However, Sally only found herself answering:
"Yes, I suppose I can manage to bring you something to eat once more. But I cannot say when I can get here without anyone's knowing, so you must stay where you can hear when I call. Afterwards you must promise me to go away. I don't know what I ought to do about you."
Sally had gone a few yards from the chateau when she glanced back an instant toward the old stone ruins. The atmosphere of the afternoon had changed, the sun was no longer shining and the chateau lay deep in shadow.
A cold wind was blowing across the desolate fields. Sally was not ordinarily impressionable, yet at this moment she felt a curious sense of foreboding.
A little tired and also because her attention was occupied with her recent experience, Sally did not choose her way over the rough countryside so carefully and therefore managed to take a much longer time for her return to the farm.
Now that the sun had disappeared, the countryside seemed to have grown depressingly desolate. In the gray afternoon light the blackened tree trunks which had been partly burned were stark and ugly.
Under ordinary circumstances Sally was particularly susceptible to physical discomfort, yet this afternoon she was too concerned over her problem to be more than vaguely disturbed by her surroundings.
One thought continually assailed her. Would it be possible to appear among the other girls looking and behaving as if nothing unusual had occurred? For Sally had an honest and profound conviction that she had no talent for deception. How could she realize that she belonged to the type of women with whom dissimulation is a fine art once the exigencies of a situation required it? She had come to one definite conclusion, she would not betray the presence of the runaway soldier in the chateau for at least another twenty-four hours. She would take him food the next day and he might have the opportunity to attempt an escape. In all probability he would soon be captured and punished, and this was doubtless the fate he deserved; nevertheless Sally was glad that, in a cowardly fashion, she would not be directly responsible.
She looked forward to the evening and the next day with no joy, bitterly regretting that she had not spent her leisure hours in resting and reading as she had at first intended. Surely repose and a contented spirit were more to be desired than unexpected adventures!
Weary and dispirited, Sally finally arrived at home, only to be met in the front hall by Miss Patricia, who at once showed signs of an approaching storm.
As a matter of fact, she was excessively annoyed over a piece of information she had just received, so it was unfortunate that Sally should return at a moment when she must bear the brunt of it.
Moving a little listlessly up the broad uncarpeted stairs toward the bedroom she shared with her sister, the girl scarcely noticed the older woman's presence. She was hoping that Alice had not yet returned and that she might have a few moments to herself.
Miss Patricia opened the attack with her usual vigor.
"What do you mean, Sally, by going off this afternoon, knowing that I particularly needed your help? You must understand that it is highly improper for a young girl to tramp about over this French country alone. Even if Polly Burton has permitted you Camp Fire girls the most extraordinary amount of freedom, she surely has realized this and warned you against such indiscretion. There is no way of guessing into what difficulty you may have already managed to entangle yourself!"
Sally felt herself flushing until her clear skin was suffused with glowing color.
"I am sorry, Miss Patricia," she said, "but remember that I am not a child and cannot have you speak to me as if I were a disobedient one. I have been for a walk and——"
But fortunately Sally was not required to complete her sentence. Suddenly Mrs. Burton had appeared out of her bedroom and began to hurry downstairs.
"Sally!" she called with a suggestion of appeal in her voice. "The excitement over your disappearance is my fault, so please don't you and Aunt Patricia quarrel. A little while ago when I returned home and Mere 'Toinette told me that you had gone out alone and she did not know in what direction, why, I became uneasy. You will not again, will you? Really I am afraid it is not safe for you children, although with me of course the case is different. Aunt Patricia is not disposed to think so, forgetting my advanced age. Still, Sally, no matter how enthusiastic we may feel over our work here in the shell-torn area of France, we must remember these are war times when one never knows what may happen next. Besides, the French do not always understand our American ideas of liberty for young girls."
By this time having reached the foot of the stairs, Mrs. Burton slipped her hand inside Sally's, glancing back with a slightly amused and slightly apologetic expression toward Miss Patricia.
"Really, Aunt Patricia, I do regret your being so annoyed, yet you must not take my news too seriously. Our guests are sure not to remain with us long."
To the latter part of her Camp Fire guardian's remark Sally Ashton paid not the slightest heed, so concerned was she with the first part of her speech.
Why of all times should this question of her personal liberty come up for discussion this afternoon? Of her own free choice Sally felt convinced that she would never willingly go out alone. Nevertheless, how was she to keep her word to the young soldier unless she returned next day to the chateau? with the food she had promised him and without confiding the fact to any one else? Oh, why had she allowed herself to be drawn into this reckless promise? At this moment if she could only slip into her Camp Fire guardian's room and ask her advice! Miss Patricia would insist that if the soldier were a deserter he straightway should be brought to justice. But Sally understood her Camp Fire guardian well enough to appreciate that, once hearing the soldier in hiding was ill and wounded, she would be as reluctant as Sally herself to follow her manifest duty.
Confidence on this particular subject was for the present out of the question, and as soon as she conveniently could Sally disappeared inside her own room. Later, when the other girls had returned, weary from their long errand of mercy in the next village and yet immensely interested in their experience, Sally pretended to have a slight headache.
During supper she scarcely listened to the ever steady stream of conversation which flowed unceasingly each evening. In the daytime the American newcomers to the old French farm on the Aisne were too much engaged to allow opportunity for conversation. After supper they gathered in their improvised sitting-room to talk until their early bedtime.
The sitting-room was oddly furnished with whatever furniture could be rescued after the commandeering of the more valuable possessions by the Germans.
In the attic a few broken chairs stored away for years had been brought down and repaired. These were beautiful pieces of furniture in conspicuous contrast to the couches and stools which originally had arrived at the farm as large wooden boxes containing provisions.
With old Jean's assistance, Peggy and Vera had developed unexpected talents as carpenters.
Moreover, whatever her faults, Miss Patricia Lord was an unfailing source of supply. During her brief stay in Paris, without mentioning the fact to any one else, she had purchased thirty yards of old blue and rose cretonne, perhaps with the knowledge that beauty even of the simplest kind helps one to happiness and accomplishment.
Therefore the two couches in the sitting-room were covered with the cretonne, and half a dozen box chairs; and there were cretonne valances at the windows.
Save a single old lamp which had been left in the sitting-room, it had no other ornaments.
The lamp was of bronze and bore the figure of a genie holding the stand, so that obviously it had been christened "Aladdin's lamp." It was supposed to gratify whatever wish one expressed, but the Camp Fire girls were too busy with the interests of other people at present to spend much time in considering their personal desires.
There was one other object of interest in the room, a large photograph of the ruined Rheims Cathedral, which Mrs. Burton had bought in the neighborhood of Rheims not long before. The classic French city was not many miles from the present home of the group of American girls.
As beautiful almost in destruction as it had been in its former glory, the photograph stood as a symbol of the imperishable beauty of French art. Also it represented another symbol. Here on the white wooden mantel of the French farm house "on the field of honor" it called to the American people to continue their work for the relief and the restoration of France.
Tonight as she lay resting upon one of the couches, dressed in a simple dinner dress of some soft violet material, Mrs. Burton had glanced several times toward the photograph.
As a tribute to her headache and a general disinclination to associate with her companions, Sally had been permitted to occupy the other couch which stood on the opposite side of the room.
In their one large chair, close to the table with the lamp, Aunt Patricia sat knitting with her usual vigor and determination. Aside from Sally, the Camp Fire girls were grouped about near her.
After having been quiet for the past half hour, Mrs. Burton suddenly asked: "Would any of you care to hear a poem concerning the destruction of the Cathedral at Rheims, written by a Kentucky woman? A friend sent it to me and it was so exquisite I have lately memorized it. In the last few moments while I have been looking at our photograph I have repeated the lines to myself. I wonder if it would interest you?"
The girls replied in a chorus of acquiescence, but Mrs. Burton did not venture to begin until she also had received a nod of agreement from Aunt Patricia. Between the older and younger woman there was a bond of strong affection. Nevertheless, mingled with Mrs. Burton's love and respect, there was also a certain humorous appreciation.
Since their arrival in France the Camp Fire girls had been compelled to spend their evenings in doors. This was unlike their former custom.
Recently, when they had grown weary of talking, perhaps for only a half hour before bedtime, some one of them had fallen into the habit of reading aloud to the others.
Apart from the pleasure, Mrs. Burton regarded this as useful education.
Not a great many newspapers and magazines reached the old farm house in comparison with other days at camp; nevertheless they arrived in sufficient number both from the United States and Paris to keep one fairly in touch with world movements. The reading of the French papers and magazines was of course especially good practice.
Yet, as a matter of fact, Mrs. Burton could seldom be persuaded to be anything save a listener. After reading or talking the greater part of the day to her new French friends, she was apt to be worn out by evening.
Tonight she began to speak in a low voice as if she were tired, yet as her little audience was so near it did not matter and her voice never failed in its beautiful quality.
"It was a people's church—stout, plain folk they, Wanting their own cathedral, not the king's Nor prelate's, nor great noble's. On the walls, On porch and arch and doorway—see, the saints Have the plain people's faces. That sweet Virgin Was young Marie, who lived around the corner, And whom the sculptor knew. From time to time He saw her at her work, or with her babe, So gay, so dainty, smiling at the child. That sturdy Peter—Peter of the keys— He was old Jean, the Breton fisherman, Who, somehow, made his way here from the coast And lived here many years, yet kept withal The look of the great sea and his great nets. And John there, the beloved, was Etienne, And good St. James was Francois—brothers they, And had a small, clean bakeshop, where they sold Bread, cakes and little pies. Well, so it went! These were not Italy's saints, nor yet the gods, Majestic, calm, unmoved, of ancient Greece. No, they were only townsfolk, common people, And graced a common church—that stood and stood Through war and fire and pestilence, through ravage Of time and kings and conquerors, till at last The century dawned which promised common men The things they long had hoped for! O the time Showed a fair face, was daughter of great Demos, Flamboyant, bore a light, laughed loud and free, And feared not any man—until—until— There sprang a mailed figure from a throne, Gorgeous, imperial, glowing—a monstrosity Magnificent as death and as death terrible. It walked these aisles and saw the humble ones, Peter the fisherman, James and John, the shopkeepers, And Mary, sweet, gay, innocent and poor. Loud did it laugh and long. 'These peaceful folk! What place have they in my great armed world?' Then with its thunderbolts of fire it drove These saints from out their places—breaking roof, Wall, window, portal—and the great grave arch Smoked with the awful funeral smoke of doom.
"Thus died they and their church—but from the wreck Of fire and smoke and broken wood and stone There rose a figure greater far than they— Their Lord, who dwells within no house of hands; Whose beauty hath no need of any form! Out from the fire He passed, and round Him went Marie and Jean and Etienne and Francois, And they went singing, singing, through their France— And Italy—and England—and the world!"
When Mrs. Burton began her recitation she sat up on the edge of her couch and leaning forward kept her eyes fastened sometimes on the floor, sometimes on the picture of the great cathedral. Now and then her gaze quickly swept the faces of her audience.
She was wondering if the poem had bored any one of them. It was a long poem and perhaps its spiritual meaning would not be altogether plain.
However, as the poem reached its conclusion, and her voice with its dramatic power and sweetness made the picture of the peasant people and their peasant church a visible and compelling thing, she no longer felt fearful.
The faces of the girls before her were fine and serious; Bettina and Marta, who cared more for poetry and art than the others, had flushed and their eyes were filled with tears.
As Mrs. Burton finished, it was as if one could actually hear the new spirit of brotherhood which Christ preached two thousand years ago, "singing, singing, through the world."
Yet in the silence which was a fitting tribute to the poem, suddenly the entire audience broke into a ripple of laughter. From the far side of the room a gentle snore had been Sally Ashton's sole expression of appreciation.
Following the sound of the laughter, Sally sat up and began blinking her soft golden brown eyes, looking for all the world like a sleepy kitten.
"I think you had far better give yourself up to justice and have someone take care of you properly," she announced in a far-away voice. This was the conclusion which Sally had just reached at the end of her half-sleeping and half-waking dream of her runaway soldier.
She did not know that she was to make such an extraordinary remark aloud, but fortunately no one had the faintest knowledge of her meaning.
Indeed, no one really heard her, as the girls were too amused over Sally's characteristic habit of falling asleep on occasions when conversation or entertainment bored her.
Immediately after the laughter, Sally, not understanding its cause, nevertheless arose and began her journey to bed. She was annoyed but not seriously, since in waking she had reached the conclusion she desired. In the morning at dawn, before the other members of her household were awake, she would make a second trip to the chateau.
She would carry provisions to the soldier and then advise him to leave the neighborhood immediately. Unless he departed of his own free will, taking his chances as he must, she then would be compelled to tell that he was in hiding.
Before daylight Sally rose softly and began to dress, feeling extremely irritated. She disliked getting up in the mornings and this scheme of arising early was so annoying that it had kept her awake the greater part of the night.
Besides she had but little hope of not arousing Alice. Once as she was searching quietly on the floor for her shoes, Alice sat up, asking severely:
"What on earth are you doing, Sally Ashton? If you are not ill, come on back to bed. If you are ill, come back in any case and let me get whatever it is you desire."
Sally murmured something vague and indeterminate about endeavoring to discover a lost pillow and Alice fell comfortably asleep again, nor did she awaken when Sally at last slipped out of the room and down stairs.
In case any one else heard her or called, she had made up her mind to explain that she was seeing about some preparation for breakfast. As "housekeeper extraordinary" this statement might be believed, even if it were unlike her to start her ministrations so early.
But no one was disturbed and Sally got her little bundle of provisions together quickly, since she knew just where the supplies of food were kept. They had not a great deal, considering the demands that were constantly being made upon them by the people in the neighborhood who were less well off, so Sally felt that she had not the right to be over-generous, and made her selections with due discretion.
It was more than ever her determination to demand that the soldier leave the chateau at once this morning, if he could be induced to see the wisdom of such a proceeding, but if not by nightfall.
Also Sally had made up her mind to ask no questions. If the soldier were arrested later she wished to know as little as possible concerning him.
He had spoken of being captured and of running away from his captors. This suggested that he was a German or an Austrian who had been taken prisoner and was trying to effect an escape. If this were true Sally felt a fierce condemnation of her own cowardly attitude. But was it not remotely possible that the soldier had committed some offense and had then run away from his own regiment? However, this point of view was but little in his favor. As he spoke English with an accent and as foreign accents were all of an equal mystification to Sally, it was possible that she need never know his origin.
Outdoors and slipping through the garden, to Sally's surprise and consternation she nearly ran into old Jean, who appeared to have been up all night caring for his stock.
He looked like a gnome with his wrinkled skin, his little eyes, his muddy gray hair and even his clothes almost of a color with the earth.
He was carrying a lantern, but instead of speaking beckoned mysteriously to Sally to follow him out to Miss Patricia's barn, where a half dozen cows were now installed.
Not knowing what else to do, Sally stood by until she found herself presented with a small pail of milk, and still with no comments, for immediately after Jean went on with his morning's work.
She did not waste time, however, in puzzling over the old servant man.
After drinking a small quantity of the milk, not wishing to throw the rest away or to return to the house, Sally concluded to take it with her as a part of her offering. Yet she had no real desire to give refreshment to her accidental acquaintance.
Some curious feminine force must have moved Sally Ashton on this occasion. Most women find it difficult to allow a human being to endure physical suffering, once the person is delivered into their care.
As she made her way to the chateau for the second time Sally loathed the cold dark morning and there was no beauty nor significance to her in the gray leaden sky which lay like a mourning veil over the sad French landscape.
Sally considered that she was engaged in an almost unjustifiable action. Yet she could not make up her mind to leave the soldier to starve, or to betray his presence in the chateau.
Moreover, Sally was haunted by a small nervous fear, which may have been out of place in the face of the larger issues which were involved. As the soldier in hiding had no reason to believe she would arrive so early in the morning, he might still be asleep. Sally disliked the idea that thus she might be called upon to awaken him. The conventions of life were dear to her, she had a real appreciation of their value and place in social life and no desire to break with any one of them.
The food could be left in the dismantled old drawing-room, under its arch of leaning walls, but Sally wished to leave a command as well as the food. After this one unhappy pilgrimage she would do nothing more for the soldier's safety and comfort. He must take his chances and slip away.
The entire neighborhood was disturbingly quiet. An owl of late habits would have been almost companionable. Upon one point Sally considered herself inflexible. She would not enter the chateau; she might call softly from the outside if it were necessary. If no one replied she would return to the farm and nevermore would the chateau be honored by her presence.
In an entirely different state of mind she approached the old house on this second occasion and made her way to the opening between the walls.
Inside there seemed an even more uncanny silence. Yet how could one call to an utter stranger whose name, whose identity, whose nationality were all unknown?
"Halloo!" Sally cried in a faint voice, not once but three or four times.
There was no reply.
She called again. Then she entered the drawing-room quickly with no other idea than to put down her offerings and flee away as soon as possible. Sally was possessed of the impression that, however long the wrecked walls might remain in position while she was outside them, once inside she would be buried beneath a descending mass.
A few feet within the arch she discovered her soldier.
He had made for himself a bed out of an old mattress which he had dragged from some other room, using a torn covering which once had been a beautiful eiderdown quilt. As he had no pillow and his face was completely uncovered, Sally realized he was in a stupor and so ill that he had not heard her approach or her repeated calls.
Fortunately Sally Ashton was essentially practical.
Moreover, in an extraordinary fashion for so young and presumably selfish a girl she immediately forgot herself. She was living in an atmosphere of unselfishness and devotion to others, so the thought that the object of her present care was not a worthy object did not at the moment influence her.
In a matter-of-fact and skillful fashion Sally first poured a small amount of milk inside her patient's parted lips. Except that the soldier became half aroused by her act and seemed to wish more, there was no difficulty. Then unwrapping the arm which she had bandaged the day before, she cleansed the wound a second time with the antiseptic she had brought for the purpose.
Afterwards, realizing that she must find the water she had been told was still to be had in one of the rooms of the chateau, without considering her previous fears, Sally climbed and crawled through one dangerous opening after the other, in spite of her awkwardness in any unaccustomed physical exertion. Finally she discovered the water. Then in a half broken pitcher, secured in passing through one of the wrecked bedrooms, she carried a small amount to the drawing-room.
Without hesitation or embarrassment the girl bathed her undesired patient's face and hands. He had fine, strong features; there was nothing in the face to suggest weakness or cowardice. Still it remained impossible to decide his nationality or whether he was an officer or merely a common soldier, since his outfit was a patchwork of oddly assorted garments.
Sally's acquaintance with uniforms was limited. She knew that the French wore the horizon blue and the British and Americans a nearly similar shade of khaki.
Her patient's outfit was like no other she had seen.
Yet over these minor details she did not trouble. In spite of her lack of experience, Sally was convinced that the soldier was now suffering from blood poison due to neglect of his wound and the unhealthy and unsanitary conditions in which he had been living.
The day before she had thought he looked and acted strangely and had half an idea that he may have been partly delirious then, so she was not altogether surprised by the present situation.
During her journey across the fields daylight had come; because she would not otherwise have been able to accomplish her present task even so inadequately as she had accomplished it, Sally was pleased.
Yet when the moment arrived and she had done all she could for the soldier's comfort she had to face her real difficulty.
There is no mistake in this world more serious than to judge other people's problems in the light in which they appear to us. The problem which is nothing to one human being appears insurmountable to another.
So with Sally Ashton's present difficulty.
She had made up her mind to tell the soldier that unless he left the chateau before the following day she would be compelled to tell her friends of his hiding place and ask advice. But she had meant to warn him of her intention and allow him to take his chances if he preferred.
Now he appeared defenceless and entirely at her mercy.
Should she betray him at once? Certainly there was a possibility that he would die of neglect if left alone at the chateau. But then he must have faced this possibility and deliberately chosen it.
Sally wondered what would become of an escaped prisoner if he were discovered to be desperately ill? It did not seem possible that the military authorities would be so severe as he had anticipated.
Yet she knew very little of the ways of military authorities, and an escaped prisoner would scarcely be an object of devoted attention.
Although not aware of the fact, already Sally had assumed a protective attitude toward the soldier.
One thing she might do and that was to wait another twenty-four hours. It was barely possible that he might not be so ill as she now believed.
At present she must not remain a moment longer at the chateau. Instead she must run back across the fields, since it was her plan to reach the farm house and be discovered in the act of assisting Mere 'Toinette in the preparation of breakfast.
OTHER DAYS AND OTHER WAYS
Under the new conditions of life in the devastated country of France, it has been difficult to set down the effect which the change of environment, the change of interest and of inspiration had upon each individual member of the Sunrise Camp Fire unit.
Certainly their present daily life bore but a faint resemblance to their former outdoor summer encampments in various picturesque places in the United States. Nevertheless the Camp Fire girls always had considered that they were doing useful work merely by following the rules of their camp fire and by gaining the honors necessary to the growth of their organization and their own official rank.
Now they realized that all their efforts had been but a preparation for the service they were at present undertaking. There was no detail of their past experience which was not of service, their Health Craft, Camp Craft, Home Craft, Business and Patriotism. Why, their very watch cry, "Wohelo"—work, health and love—embodied the three gifts they were trying to restore to the poverty-stricken French people in this particular neighborhood upon "the field of honor!"
On this afternoon, in spite of the cold, the girls had arranged to hold their first out-of-doors Camp Fire meeting since their arrival in France.
For weeks they had been working among the young French girls in the villages and the country near at hand, persuading them to spend whatever leisure they had in studying the Camp Fire ideas and activities.
Bettina Graham and Alice Ashton had introduced as much Camp Fire study as possible into the regular routine of the school which they held daily in the big schoolroom at the farm. Even with the younger children there were like suggestions of play and of service which Marta Clark and Yvonne were able to give.
But until this afternoon there had been no actual organization of the first group of Camp Fire girls in France. Strange that with Camp Fires in England, Australia, Africa, Japan, China and other foreign places, there should have been none in France! But Yvonne Fleury could have explained that, unlike American girls, French girls were not accustomed to intimate association with one another, their lives up to the time of their marriage being spent in seclusion among the members of their own family.
Indeed, upon this same afternoon Yvonne was thinking of this as she dressed slowly before going outdoors to join the other girls. The house was empty save that Mere 'Toinette was working downstairs.
Marta Clark and Peggy had been kind enough to make her a simple Camp Fire costume, the khaki skirt and blouse, which formed their ordinary service costume. Notwithstanding she had been studying the Camp Fire manual and trying to acquire the necessary honors, this was the first time Yvonne had worn the costume.
How utterly unlike anything she had ever dreamed were these past weeks in her life! From the moment of her confession of weakness and the telling of her story to Mrs. Burton, Yvonne had deliberately chosen to remain with her rather than continue with the canteen work which she had originally planned to do in returning to her own country.
For one reason she had fallen under the spell of Mrs. Burton's sympathy and charm; moreover, the girls in the Camp Fire work were nearer her own age and were to undertake a character of occupation in which she felt herself able to be useful. They were also going to live in the neighborhood of her old home before the outbreak of the war.
As a matter of fact, although Yvonne had preferred not to confide the information to any one except Mrs. Burton, she was at present not fifty miles from the chateau in France where she had lived until the night word came that she and her family must fly before the oncoming horde of the enemy.
Well, more than three years had passed since that night, three years which sometimes seemed an eternity to Yvonne. She had no wish to revisit the ruins of her old home, no wish to be reminded of it. There was no one left for whom she cared except perhaps a few neighbors.
However, in the last few weeks Yvonne ordinarily did not permit herself to become depressed. This much she felt she owed to Mrs. Burton's kindness and to the comradeship which had been so generously given to her by the Camp Fire girls. Yvonne felt a particular affection for each one of them. She could not of course feel equally attracted. So far she cared most for Peggy Webster and for Mary Gilchrist, possibly attracted toward Mary because she also was an outsider like herself. Then Mary's boyish attitude toward life, her utter freedom even from the knowledge of the conventions in which Yvonne had been so carefully reared, at first startled, then amused the young French girl. But for Peggy Webster, Yvonne had a peculiar feeling of love and admiration. This may have been partly due to the fact that Peggy was Mrs. Burton's niece and so shared in the glamor of the great lady's personality, but it was more a tribute to Peggy's own character.
After Yvonne's pathetic account of her history, Mrs. Burton had told at least a measure of her story to Peggy. She had asked Peggy to invoke the compassion and aid of the other girls and to do what she could for Yvonne herself.
To Peggy's strength, to the freedom and the courage of her outlook upon life, Yvonne's tragic story had appealed strongly, but more Yvonne's timidity. Often the young French girl appeared unwilling to go on with the daily struggle of life when everything for which she had ever cared had been taken from her.
Among the American Camp Fire girls there was only one girl for whom Yvonne felt a sensation of distrust which almost amounted to a dislike, and this was Sally Ashton. Nevertheless, in the early days of their acquaintance, Yvonne had not this point of view. Then she had admired Sally's prettiness, the gold brown of her hair and eyes, her white skin and even her indolent manners and graces. Yet recently Yvonne had become aware of a circumstance, or rather of a series of circumstances, which had first surprised, then puzzled and finally repelled her.
In a few moments Yvonne left the farm house. If she were late at their first outdoor camp fire she realized she would have no difficulty in discovering the site they had selected, although it was at some distance away.
Some time had passed since the arrival of the Camp Fire party in this neighborhood of France and now even in the winter fields there was a suggestion of approaching spring.
As Yvonne walked on she felt an unselfish joy, a greater lightness of heart. Surely the spring would bring back some of her lost happiness to France. There would be another great drive, another tragic contest of strength, but the British and French lines would hold.
Yvonne had the great faith and courage of her people, now she had learned to lay aside her personal sorrow.
In a few more weeks Miss Patricia's American tractor, which was indeed a "strange god in a machine," would be able to turn these fields into plowed land ready for the spring planting.
But now in a meadow, while still some distance away, Yvonne beheld an American, a French and a British flag set up on temporary staffs, and blending their colors and designs in a symbolic fashion as they floated in the wind.
Yvonne paused for a moment to watch the group of her acquaintances and friends.
Standing apart from the girls were Miss Patricia Lord, Mrs. Burton, and the two visitors who had arrived only a few days before. They were the guests whose approaching visit to the farm house Miss Patricia had so openly deplored, one of them Mrs. Bishop and the other Monsieur Duval, both of them ship acquaintances. Mrs. Bishop was in France to represent an American magazine and was at present intending to write a series of articles on the reclamation work along the Aisne and the Marne.
Monsieur Duval had given no explanation for his appearance save to announce that he had some especial work on hand for his government in the southern districts of France.
In spite of the fact that fuel was of such tremendous value in France at the present time, the Camp Fire girls had permitted themselves the extravagance of a fire to inaugurate their first outdoor Camp Fire ceremony. The boxes in which Miss Patricia's various purchases had come to the farm had proved useful for more than one service.
In a circle near the camp fire were eight young French girls who this afternoon were to receive the wood-gatherers' rings. Just beyond them the American girls were seated.
Peggy had been chosen to present the rings.
Possibly they were waiting for Yvonne's arrival, for no sooner had she slipped silently into her place than Peggy Webster arose and recited the Wood-gatherer's Desire.
"As fagots are brought from the forest, Firmly held by the sinews which bind them, I will cleave to my Camp Fire sisters Wherever, whenever I find them.
"I will strive to grow strong like the pine tree, To be pure in my deepest desire; To be true to the truth that is in me And follow the Law of the Fire."
Then she offered each one of the French girls a silver ring. When she came to Yvonne, clasping the Fire Maker's bracelet about her wrist, she whispered:
"We feel, Yvonne, that you have a right to a higher order in our new Camp Fire group than the other members because of the help you have given us in whatever work we have attempted since our arrival in France. In fact, you are the leading French Camp Fire girl!"
A moment later, in answer to a signal, Mrs. Burton walked over and stood just beyond the two circles of girls and the camp fire and close to the Allied flags.
"There is not much I feel able to say to you," she began, speaking in a simple and friendly fashion. "I think perhaps you are already beginning to understand how intensely the people of the United States desire to render to France a part of the debt we owe her. It is France who has saved our liberty and the liberty of the entire world.
"Now I hope that the first group of Camp Fire girls in France will later carry the flaming torch until the news of the Camp Fire movement has spread through all the French land. In the Camp Fire life we look for the romance, the beauty and the adventure which may be hidden in the smallest task. More important than these things I hope Camp Fire girls the world over may become a part of the new spirit everywhere growing up among women, the spirit of union, the ability to work and play together as men have in the past. For once all girls and women are united, there will be a new league for peace among the nations such as this world has never known."
A DEPARTURE AND AN ARRIVAL
One evening two days later a little after the hour for bedtime at the farm, Mrs. Burton knocked softly at Miss Patricia's door.
Miss Patricia quickly opened it.
"You are ill, Polly Burton. Well, it is just what I have been expecting ever since the arrival of that strange man and woman. It seems to me that we had quite enough to do without entertaining guests. Besides, it strikes me as pure waste of energy, this riding about through the country with strangers when you should be at some real work."
During her speech Miss Patricia had drawn the younger woman into her room, closed the door behind her and was now gazing at her severely but it must be confessed solicitously as well.
"But I am not ill, Aunt Patricia," Mrs. Burton protested as soon as she was allowed an opportunity to speak. "I only came in to have a talk with you about something important."
Aunt Patricia's bedroom was large and empty, for there was more space at the old farm house than furniture. A great old-fashioned French bed had been spared from the general wreckage and upon this Mrs. Burton seated herself, drawing her feet up under her and her lavender dressing gown about her, since with so little heat in the house the bedrooms were uncomfortably cold.
There was but one solitary stiff-backed chair, in which Miss Patricia sat perfectly erect.
"Why not come here and sit beside me? There is plenty of room, and you will be more comfortable," Mrs. Burton urged.
Aunt Patricia shook her head.
"I am quite comfortable where I am. Moreover, Polly Burton, if I am an old woman and you no longer a young one, at the same time I am aware that you have every idea of trying to persuade me to some point of view of which you do not think I will approve. I have seen your methods before this evening. Thank you, I shall remain where I am."
Mrs. Burton laughed.
Aunt Patricia did look so uncompromising in a hideous smoke-gray dressing gown made without any attempt at decorations. Her small knot of hair was screwed into a tight coil at the back of her head.
Mrs. Burton's own hair had kept its beautiful dusky quality, it had the dark sheen of the hair of the mythical Irish fairies, for only in Anglo-Saxon countries are fairies of necessity fair. Tonight Mrs. Burton's hair was unbound and hung about her shoulders as if she were a girl.
Fearing that Miss Patricia might regard her frivolous appearance with disfavor, she now began braiding it into one heavy braid.
"What ever it is you desire to say, I do wish you would begin, Polly, so that we both can go to bed," the elderly spinster remarked.
Mrs. Burton shook her head. "You are not in a good humor, are you, Aunt Patricia? But at least there is one thing you will be glad to hear: our guests, Monsieur Duval and Mrs. Bishop, are leaving our farm the day after tomorrow."
"A good riddance," Miss Patricia answered sharply.
Then observing that her companion had flushed and undoubtedly was annoyed by her plain speaking, Aunt Patricia's manner became slightly mollified.
"It is not that I have anything personal against your friends, Polly. I must say they have both endeavored to be very agreeable since their arrival and to give as little trouble as possible. But I told you on board ship I did not like the attitude of that Frenchman toward you. It was no surprise to me when he discovered he had important business in this part of France. Of course it should not be necessary for me to remind you that you are a married woman, with your unfortunate husband serving his country in France many miles from here and also that you are chaperoning a group of young girls. I suppose you will simply tell me that I do not understand French manners, but that is neither here nor there, Polly Burton. Your Frenchman is polite to your friend, Mrs. Bishop, I must confess he is also courteous to me; but I am obliged to repeat that his manner neither to Mrs. Bishop nor to me is in the least like his manner to you."
"Aunt Patricia, you are so ridiculous! Still I don't feel like laughing this time; you really are making me angry," Mrs. Burton answered.
"I have made a great many persons angry in my life, Polly. I cannot even flatter myself that this is the first time I have offended you. However, I feel compelled to speak the truth." Miss Patricia's tone remained imperturbable.
"But that is just the trouble, Aunt Patricia, you are not speaking the truth, although of course I know you don't realize it and I beg your pardon," Mrs. Burton argued. "But why do you allow yourself to acquire such prejudices and such foolish impressions? I simply refuse to discuss the suggestion you have just made. Please never speak of it to me again."
Ordinarily when the celebrated Mrs. Burton assumed an air of offended dignity such as she wore at present her world was apt to sue for pardon. Miss Patricia revealed no such intention. As a matter of fact, as she remained resolutely silent and as Mrs. Burton had not yet explained the reason for her visit, it was she who had to resume the conversation in a conciliatory manner.
"I presume you won't approve then, Aunt Patricia, of what I wish to speak to you. Monsieur Duval has been ordered to southern France on some work for his government and has asked Mrs. Bishop and me to accompany him, because it is work in which he thinks we may be useful. You know the Germans have been sending back some of the French refugees whom they drove before them in their retreat. There are groups of five hundred at a time who now and then are sent over the border either from Germany or Switzerland. They are penniless and not only have no money or food or clothes; they do not know whether their families are living or dead and in any case have no way to reach them. The French government is to try to arrange some plan by which homes may be secured for these unfortunate people until they can communicate with their relatives or friends."
"An excellent idea, but I do not exactly see your connection with it," Miss Patricia returned.
Mrs. Burton shrugged her shoulders impatiently. In all her life she never remembered any one who had opposed her desires in exactly the same fashion Miss Patricia did. Then, a little ashamed of herself, she answered gently but firmly:
"My connection is that I am interested and that Mrs. Bishop and I have both decided to accompany Monsieur Duval. It is barely possible that we may be useful and able to offer a certain amount of advice. So many of the refugees are young women who have suffered impossible things and may require special care and shelter. Besides, I am very deeply anxious to see more of the country. We expect to travel south in the sector the Germans held three years ago. I will thus be able to find out how much restoration work has already been accomplished and how great a task remains. Moreover, Aunt Patricia dear, I have a personal errand. Surely you will think this important.
"You remember my talking to you of the old peasant whose granddaughter, Elsie, had been driven into exile. Except to me the old woman has never spoken of her loss. Now there is a possibility that Elsie has been sent back into France and I have promised Grand'mere to search for her.
"Moreover, Aunt Patricia, each village in the devastated districts has been ordered to prepare a list of names of the missing who disappeared at the time of the German retreat. These lists are to be turned over to Monsieur Duval. A committee is to be appointed near the frontier to take charge of the lists and see that the refugees get in touch with their own people as soon as possible. Don't you think this a wonderful scheme?"
As Mrs. Burton unfolded the plan which had been carefully worked out with a great deal of foresight and care, in her enthusiasm she forgot Miss Patricia's chilling attitude. She had spent many hours during the brief visit at the farm of Mrs. Bishop and Monsieur Duval in the outline she had just explained.
Aunt Patricia continued to look unimpressed and uninspired.
"I told you before, Polly, that I had no idea of criticizing Monsieur Duval's efforts in behalf of his government. I know the situation you speak of is extremely deplorable. Still I fail to see any reason for your assistance. There is sufficient work for you in this immediate neighborhood. However, I presume you have definitely made up your mind," Miss Patricia concluded.
Before replying, Mrs. Burton waited a moment, watching for a sign of yielding in her companion. But as Miss Patricia gave none, she nodded her head.
"Yes, Aunt Patricia, I am going with Mrs. Bishop and Monsieur Duval, although I am sorry you do not approve of my making the trip. I won't be away more than two weeks and I feel I may be of greater service than by remaining here."
"You also feel that traveling about through the French country with a distinguished French politician and a woman author will be far more exciting than staying at the farm and doing your duty, Polly Burton," Miss Patricia added, allowing her accumulated anger to overflow at last. "Do, please, whatever else you wish to add by way of camouflage, at least confess the truth. I presume it is your idea to leave me to look after the group of girls you undertook to chaperon in France?"
In spite of the fact that by this time, Mrs. Burton, whose amiability was never her strong point, was in as bad a temper as her antagonist, she had to confess to herself that in Miss Patricia's last speech the scales dropped in her favor.
"Why, yes, Aunt Patricia, that is what I wish you to do. But will it be such a serious responsibility? The work at the farm is so splendidly organized now and the girls are so deeply interested, I don't see why you should have any especial difficulty if you will just allow things to go on as they are at present."
Of her own free will Miss Patricia at this moment rose from her stiff chair and came and sat on the edge of the bed facing the younger woman. She showed no sign of relaxing either physically or mentally, or of any softening in her rigid point of view.
"I wonder, Polly Burton, if you have any reason for believing that things usually go on in exactly the same fashion in this world, after one has carefully arranged that they should? Of course I shall do my best to look after the Camp Fire girls, although they do not like me and I do not understand them. There is no telling what may occur in your absence," Miss Patricia ended so gloomily that Mrs. Burton's eyes shone with merriment, although she carefully lowered her lids.
At the same instant, to her surprise, she felt Miss Patricia lean over and seize her by both shoulders. For a second she wondered if Aunt Patricia had made up her mind to shake her because of her rebellion. Instead Miss Patricia added unexpectedly:
"Polly, my dear child, I really don't wish you to go on this wild goose chase, partly for the reasons I have given you, but also because I am afraid for you. You know the world is expecting another great German offensive this spring and no one understands why it has been delayed so long. Well, you must realize that as you travel farther south in France the line between the German and the French armies grows narrower and narrower. Only a few miles of victory and the Germans will again occupy their old line! It is possible you might arrive at some district at a crucial moment when a battle was beginning. Then the saints alone could preserve you!"
With the last few words of her long speech Miss Patricia reverted to her Irish brogue and her Irish faith.
Afterwards Mrs. Burton was glad to remember that, although Aunt Patricia certainly was not regarding her with affection at the moment, nevertheless, she slipped her arm about the elderly lady's hard and upright shoulders.
"You are a dear, Aunt Patricia! But please don't worry. We are not going into any dangerous neighborhoods. The drive will not begin for many weeks. In any case there will be no retreat. Yet indeed we mean to take every possible precaution and at no time will we be near the German line. It is good of you to think I am worth worrying over, but this time it is not necessary."
"Have you your husband's permission for this trip, Polly? I presume you have written Richard Burton of your new French friend?" Aunt Patricia demanded as a last forlorn hope.
In reply Mrs. Burton smiled and nodded.
"Yes, I have done both of those things. I wrote Richard about Monsieur Duval soon after our meeting on shipboard. But of course I have had no reply to my letter with regard to my trip south with Mrs. Bishop and Monsieur Duval, for there is not time for me to hear before we leave."
"And nothing will change your decision, Polly?"
Mrs. Burton had slid down on to the floor from the high old bed and now stood before Miss Patricia, hesitating for the fraction of a second.
"I do wish you would not put the question in such a way, Aunt Patricia. You make me think of what Sally Ashton said to you, as if I too were a disobedient child, and I am more than twice Sally's age. Of course I do not wish to do anything you oppose, but the trip to southern France and the work I hope to be able to accomplish will be a great opportunity and a great experience. I hope you will make up your mind to feel as I do before we start the day after tomorrow."
Before Aunt Patricia could reply, Mrs. Burton made a hasty and carefully designed retreat. Being fully cognizant that there was no possibility of Miss Patricia's relenting, she wished to pretend to believe she might change her mind and at the same time to announce the proposed time for her own departure.
Fortunately for Mrs. Burton's courage and decision, her plan met with no especial opposition from any other member of the Camp Fire group.
The girls regretted her leaving, and Sally Ashton more than the others; nevertheless it appealed to them as it had to Mrs. Burton, as a wonderful chance for service and at the same time a thrilling adventure.
Two days later, even at the moment when the automobile appeared at the door to bear off Mrs. Burton and her two companions, Miss Patricia's attitude remained unchanged.
Mrs. Burton devoted the last five minutes before her departure to begging Aunt Patricia to bestow her final consent and parting blessing. Aunt Patricia steadfastly refused.
She also declined to see the automobile leave the farm. Instead, during the final farewells, turning her back upon the assembly, she marched up alone to her own room. Once inside, it is true she wiped away several tears, but immediately after set herself to writing a letter to Captain Richard Burton. And Captain Burton and Miss Patricia only were to know what the letter contained! Fortunately Captain Burton understood Miss Patricia and her devotion to his wife. Moreover, the extent of her devotion was to be proven later.
The following day, perhaps because of Miss Patricia's prediction that nothing in life runs on continuously in the same groove, an unexpected telegram was brought out to the French farm house for Peggy Webster.
In the telegram Lieutenant Ralph Marshall of the United States Aviation Service in France stated that, having been slightly injured by a fall, he had secured a few day's leave of absence. Would he be permitted to spend his leave with Mrs. Burton and the Camp Fire girls at their farm house on the Aisne?
To Peggy Webster there appeared to be but one possible answer to this amazing piece of good fortune, and fortunately she was able to persuade Aunt Patricia to the same point of view. Miss Patricia did not approve of young men, but she did approve of Peggy and understood the situation in regard to Ralph.
Therefore the return telegram read: "Yes."
Except for brief intervals, Peggy and Ralph had seen but little of each other since their summer together in Arizona, a summer which had been fateful for them both. It had not occurred to Peggy that either she or Ralph would ever change their minds with regard to their future marriage, in spite of the fact that she was but eighteen years old and Ralph not much older. There remained only the question of persuading their two families to share their view.
In the last two years Ralph had been redeeming his former idleness. Having volunteered for aviation work before the entry of the United States into the world war, he had been able to secure a commission and already had been in France a number of months.
It was the morning after the departure of Mrs. Burton and her guests and three days before the arrival of Ralph. Marshall for his visit at the farm house on the Aisne.