Part 4 out of 4
safety. And it was engineered by anxious, desperate men.
Blenheim, hunched over the steering wheel, had settled to his
business. Certainly his nerve was going; the mania for escape had
caught him; he took startling chances on his curves and turns. Still,
he knew the country, it seemed. We drove on, fast and furiously, by
lanes, by mere paths set among thickets, by narrow brushwood roads.
Sometimes we skirted the river, which shone silver in the moonlight,
lined with rushes. Again, we could see nothing but a roof of trees
We emerged into a wider road, and I became award of various noises; a
booming, clear and regular; the sound of voices; the rumbling of many
wheels. We must be nearing the Front; we were rejoining the main
highroad. My guess was proved correct at the next turning, where a
sentry barred our path.
The sight of his honest French face was like a tonic to me. In some
welcome way it seemed to hearten me for my task. The pistol of my
friend in the tonneau bored through his cape into my side; I sat very
quiet. If I did this four, five, perhaps six times, they might think
me cowed and relax their vigilance. Their suspicions would be lulled
by my tractability and their contempt. Then my hour would strike.
Satisfied with the safe-conducts, the sentry gestured us forward, and
his figure slipped out of my vision as the gray car purred on. The man
beside me chuckled.
"Behold this Yankee! He is as good as gold, my captain. He sits like a
mouse," he announced in his own tongue.
"He'll be wise," Blenheim announced, "to go on doing so." The threat
was in English for my benefit and came from between his teeth.
In front of us the noise was growing. With our next turn we entered
the highroad, taking our place in a long rumbling line of ambulances
and supply-carts and laboring camions, or trucks. We glimpsed faces,
heard voices all about us. The change from solitude to this unbroken
procession was bewildering. But we did not long remain a part of it;
we turned again into narrower lanes.
The control was growing stricter. Four separate times we were halted,
and always I sat hunched in my corner as impassive as a stone. The
more deeply we penetrated toward the Front, the more uneasy grew my
companions. Each time that a sentry halted us they waited in more
anxiety for his verdict. The man beside me, it was true, still menaced
me with his pistol point; but the gesture had grown perfunctory. He
did not think I would attempt anything. He believed now that I was
Our road crossed a hilltop, and I saw beneath us a valley, streaked at
intervals with blinding signal-flashes of red and green. In my ears
the thunder of the guns was growing steadily. When we were stopped
again, the sentry warned us. The road we were traveling, he said, had
been intermittently under fire for two days.
It looked, indeed, as if devils had used it for a playground; the
trees were mere blackened stumps; the fields on each side stretched
burnt and bare. And then came the climax: something passed us,--high
above our heads, I fancy, though its frightful winds seemed brushing
us,--a ghost of the night, an aerial demon, a shrieking thing that
made the man beside me cringe and shudder. It was new to me, but I
could not mistake it. It was what the French call an /obus/, a word
that in some subtle manner seems more menacing and dreadful than our
own term of shell.
As we sped on I leaned against the cushions, outwardly quiet.
Inwardly, I was gathering myself together for my attempt. I had not
thought I would first approach the Front this way; but it was a good
way, I had a good object. At the next stop, whatever it was, I meant
to make the venture. I did not doubt I should succeed in it. But I
could not hope to keep my life.
Another /obus/ hurtled over us and shrieked away into the distance;
and again the man beside me flinched, but I did not. I was thinking,
with odd lucidity, of many things, among them Dunny and his old house
in Washington, into which I should never again let myself with my
latch-key, sure of a welcome at any hour of the day or night. My
guardian's gray head rose before me. My heart tightened. The finest,
straightest old chap who ever took a forlorn little tike in out of the
wet, and petted him, and frolicked with him, and filled his stocking
all the year round, and made his holidays things of rapture, and
taught him how to ride and shoot and fish and swim and cut his losses
and do pretty much everything that makes life worth living--that was
"This will be a hard jolt for the old chap," I thought, "but he'll say
that I played the game."
And Esme Falconer, my own brave, lovely Esme! "She has come down the
staircase now," I told myself. "She has untied Marie-Jeanne. She has
gone out and started the car." What would she think of my
disappearance? Well, she wouldn't misjudge me, I felt sure; and
neither would Jean-Herve-Marie-Olivier. He would know that I was
acting as, in my place, he would have acted, that I didn't mean to let
Franz von Blenheim defy France and go off untouched.
The whole world seemed mysteriously to have narrowed to one girl,
Esme. How I had lived before I saw her; how, having seen her, I could
ever have lived without her,--I didn't know. But the sound of grinding
brakes roused me. We were slowing up in obedience to a signal from a
canvas-covered, half-demolished shelter filled with men in blue
uniforms; we were coming to a standstill. Blenheim leaned out, and for
a moment I saw his face in the beam of light from the sentry's
lantern. It looked thin and set. He was giving beneath the strain.
"Behold my comrade!" He thrust our papers into the hands of the
sentry. "And make haste, for the love of heaven! We are waited for
I cast a quick glance at my body-guard, whose anxious eyes were on the
sentinel. His pistol still lay against my side, but his thoughts were
far away. It was the moment. With the rapidity of lightning I knocked
his arm up, caught his wrist, and clung to it, calling out
simultaneously in a voice of crisp command.
"My friends," I cried in French, "I order you to arrest these persons!
They are agents of the kaiser! They are German spies!"
The pistol, clutched between us, exploded harmlessly into the air. I
head shouts, saw men running toward us. Then I caught sight of
Blenheim's face, dark and oddly contorted; he had turned and was
leveling his revolver at me, resting one knee on the driver's seat as
he took deliberate aim.
"I say," I cried again, struggling for the weapon, "that this is Franz
von Blenheim, that these are men of the kaiser, spying, in disguise--"
It seemed to me that some one caught Blenheim's arm from behind just
as he fired; but I was not certain. For suddenly that same whistling
shriek sounded over us, nearer this time, more ominous; the earth
seemed to rock and then to end in a mighty shock and cataclysm.
Blackness enveloped me, and I dropped into a bottomless pit.
When I opened my eyes it was with a peculiarly reluctant feeling, for
my eyelids were so heavy that they seemed to weigh a ton. My head was
unspeakably groggy, and I had quite lost my memory. I couldn't, if
suddenly interrogated, have replied with one intelligent bit of
information about myself, not even with my name.
Flat on my back I was lying, gazing up at what, surprisingly, seemed
to be a ceiling festooned with garlands of roses and painted with
ladies and cavaliers, idling about a stretch of greensward, decidedly
in the Watteau style. Where was I? What had happened to make me feel
so helpless? It reminded me of an episode of my childhood, a day when
my pony had fallen and rolled upon me, and I had been carried home
with two crushed ribs and a broken arm.
Coming out at that time from the influence of the ether, I had found
Dunny at my bedside. If only he were here now! I looked round. Why,
there he was, sitting in a brocaded chair by the window, his dear old
silver head thrown back, dozing beyond a doubt.
To see him gave me a warm, comforted, homelike feeling. Nor did it
surprise me, but my surroundings did. The room, a veritable Louis
Quinze jewel in its paneling, carving, and gilding, might have come
direct from Versailles by parcel post; my bed was garlanded and
curtained in rose-color. Where I had gone to sleep last night I
couldn't remember; but it hadn't, I was obstinately sure, been here.
What ailed me, anyhow? I began a series of cautious experiments,
designed to discover the trouble. My arms were weak and of a strange,
flabby limpness, but they moved. So did my left leg; but when I came
to the right one I was baffled. It wouldn't stir; it was heavily
encased in something. Good heavens! now I knew! It was in a plaster
The shock of the discovery taught me something further, namely, that
my head was liable to excruciating little throbs of pain. I raised a
hand to it. My forehead was swathed in bandages, like a turbaned
Turk's. Oh, to be sure, in the castle at Prezelay, as we were
retreating up the staircase, Schwartzmann had fired at me; but, then,
hadn't that been a pin prick, the merest scratch?
The name Prezelay served as a key to solve the puzzle. The whole
fantastic, incredible chain of happenings came back to me in a rush;
the gray car, the inn, the murder, the night in the castle, Jean-
"Dunny!" I heard myself quavering in a voice utterly unlike my own.
The figure in the chair started up and hurried toward me, and then
Dunny's hands were holding my hands, his eyes looking into mine.
"There, Dev, there! Take it easy," the familiar voice was soothing me.
"Hold on to me, my boy, You are safe now. You're all right!"
My safety, however, seemed of small importance for the time being.
"Dunny," I implored, "listen! You have got to find out for me about a
girl. How am I to tell you, though? If I start the story, you'll think
"I know all about it, Dev," my guardian reassured me. "I've seen Miss
Falconer. She's absolutely safe."
If that were so, I could relax, and I did with fervent thankfulness.
Not for long, however; my brain had begun to work.
"See here! I want to know who has been playing football with me," was
my next demand, which Dunny answered obligingly, if with a slightly
"That French doctor, nice young chap, said you weren't to talk," he
muttered, "but if I were in your place I'd want to know a few things
myself. It was this way, Dev. A fragment of a shell struck you--"
"A fragment!" I raised weak eyebrows. "I know better. Twenty shells at
least, and whole!"
"--and didn't strike your Teuton friends," he charged on, suddenly
purple of visage. "It was a true German shell, my boy, the devil
looking after his own. The man in the seat with you was cut up a bit;
the other two were thrown clear of the motor. If you hadn't already
given the alarm, they would probably have got off scot-free. As it
was, the French held a drumhead court martial a little later, and all
three of the fellows--well, you can fill in the rest."
I was silent for a minute while a picture rose before me: a dank, gray
dawn; a firing-squad, and Franz von Blenheim's dark, grim face. No
doubt he had died bravely; but I could not pity him; I had too clear a
recollection of the hall at Prezelay.
"As for you," Dunny was continuing, "you seem to have puzzled them
finely. There you were in a French uniform, at your last gasp
apparently, and with an American passport, that you seem to have clung
to through thick and thin, inside your coat. They took a chance on
you, though, because you had made them a present of the Franz von
Blenheim; and by the next day, thanks to Miss Falconer and the Duke of
Raincy-la-Tour, you were being looked for all over France.
"So that's how it stands. You're at Raincy-la-Tour now, at the duke's
chateau. The place has been a hospital ever since the war began. Only
you're not with the other wounded. You are--well--a rather special
patient in the pavilion across the lake; and you're by way of being a
hero. The day I landed, the first paper I saw shrieked at me how you
had tracked the kaiser's star agent and outwitted him and handed him
over to justice."
"The deuce it did!" I exclaimed. "You must have been puffed up with
My guardian's jaw set itself rigidly. "I was too busy," was his grim
answer. "You see, the end of the statement said there was no hope that
you could survive. And when I got here I found you with fever,
delirium, one leg shot up, four bits of shell in your head, a fine
case of brain concussion. That was nearly three weeks ago, and it
seems more like three years!"
An idea, at this point, made me fix a searching gaze on him.
"By the way," I asked accusingly, "how did you happen to arrive so
opportunely on this side? It seemed as natural as possible to find you
settled here waiting for my eyes to open; but on second thoughts I
suppose you didn't fly?"
He looked extraordinarily embarrassed.
"Why," he growled at length, "I had business. I got a cablegram soon
after you left New York. The thing was confoundedly inconvenient, but
I had no choice about it."
"Dunny," I said weakly, but sternly, "you didn't bring me up to tell
whoppers, not bare-faced ones like that, anyhow, that wouldn't deceive
the veriest child. What earthly business could you have over here in
war-time? Own up, now, and take your medicine like a man."
His guilty air was sufficient answer.
"Well, Dev," he acknowledged, "it was your cable. That Gibraltar mess
was a nasty one, and I didn't like its looks. I'm getting old, and
you're all I've got; so I took a passport and caught the /Rochambeau/.
Not, of course, that I doubted your ability to take care of yourself,
"Didn't you? You might have," I admitted with some ruefulness, "if you
had known I was bucking both the Allied governments and the picked
talent of the Central powers. It was too much. I was riding for a
fall, and I got it. But I don't mind saying, Dunny, I'm infernally
glad you came."
He wiped his eyes.
"Well, you go to sleep now," he counseled gruffly. "You've got to get
well in a hurry; there's work for you to do! All sorts of things have
been happening since that /obus/ knocked you out. Just a week ago, for
instance, the President went before Congress and--"
"What's that you say? Not war?"
"Yes, war, young man! We're in it at last, up to our necks; in it with
men and ships and munitions and foodstuffs and everything else we have
to help with, praise the Lord! You'll fight beneath the Stars and
Stripes, instead of under the Tricolor. I say, Dev, that's positively
the last word I'll utter. You've got to rest!"
In a weak, quavering fashion, but with sincere enthusiasm, I tried to
celebrate by singing a few bars of the "Star-Spangled Banner" and a
little of the "Marseillaise." Dunny was right, however; the
conversation had exhausted me. In the midst of my patriotic
demonstration I fell asleep.
My convalescence was a marvel, I learned from young Dr. Raimbault, the
surgeon from the chateau who came to see me every day. According to
him, I was a patient in a hundred, in a thousand; he never wearied of
admiring my constitution, which he described by the various French
equivalents of "as hard as nails." Not a set-back attended the course
of my recovery. First, I sat propped up in bed; then I attained the
dignity of an arm-chair; later, slowly and painfully, I began to drag
myself about the room. But the day on which my physician's rapture
burst all bounds was the great one when I crawled from the pavilion,
gained a bench beneath the trees, and sat enthroned, glaring at my
crutches. They were detestable implements; I longed to smash them. And
they would, the doctor airily informed me, be my portion for three
To feel grumpy in such surroundings was certainly black ingratitude.
It was an idyllic place. My pavilion was a sort of Trianon, a Marie
Antoinette bower, all flowers and gold. Fresh green woods grew about
it; a lake stretched before it; swans dotted the water where trees
were mirrored, and there were marble steps and balustrades. Across
this glittering expanse rose Raincy-la-Tour, proud and stately, with
its formal gardens and its fountains and its Versailles-like front. In
the afternoons I could see the wounded soldiers walking there or being
pushed to and fro in wheel-chairs; legless and armless, some of them;
wreckage of the mighty battle-fields; timely reminders, poor heroic
fellows, that there were people in the world a great deal worse off
Yet, instead of being thankful, I was profoundly wretched. I moped and
sulked; I fell each day into a deeper, more consistent gloom. I tried
grimly to regain my strength, with a view to seeking other quarters.
While I stayed here I was the guest of the Firefly of France; and
though I admired him,--I should have been a cad, a quitter, a poor
loser, everything I had ever held anathema in days gone by, not to do
so,--still I couldn't feel toward him as a man should feel toward his
host; not in the least!
On three separate occasions Dunny motored up to Paris, bringing back
as the fruits of his first excursion my baggage from the Ritz. I was
clothed again, in my right mind; except for my swathed head, I looked
highly civilized. The day when I had raced hither and yon, and fought
an unbelievable battle in a dark hall, and insanely masqueraded first
in a leather coat, then in a pale-blue uniform, seemed dim and far-off
"It was a nice hashish dream," I told my mirrored image. "But it
wasn't real, my lad, for a moment; such things don't happen to folks
like you. You're not the romantic type; you don't look like some one
in an old picture; you haven't brought down thirty German aeroplanes
or thereabouts, and won every war medal the French can give and the
name of Ace. No; you look like a--a correct bulldog; and winning an
occasional polo cup is about your limit. Even if it hadn't been
settled before you met her, you wouldn't have stood a chance."
There were times when I prayed never to see Esme Falconer again. There
were other times when I knew I would drag myself round the world--yes,
on my crutches!--if at the end of the journey I could see her for an
instant, a long way off. I could see that my despondency was driving
Dunny to distraction. He evolved the theory that I was going into a
Then came the afternoon that made history. I was sitting at my window.
The trees seemed specially green, the sky specially blue, the lake
specially bright. I was feeling stronger and was glumly planning a
move to Paris when I saw an automobile speed up the poplared walk
Rip-snorting and chugging, the thing executed a curve before the
chateau, and then, hugging the side of the lake, advanced, obviously
toward my humble abode. My heart seemed to turn a somersault. I should
have known that car if I had met it in Bagdad. It was a long blue
motor, polished to the last notch, deeply cushioned, luxurious,
poignantly familiar, the car, in short, that I had pursued to Bleau,
and that later, in flat defiance of President Poincare or the
Generalissimo of France, or whoever makes army rules and regulations,
I had guided through the war zone to the castle of Prezelay.
As the chauffeur halted it near the pavilion, it disgorged three
occupants, one of who, a young officer, slender of form and gracefully
alert of movement, wore the dark-blue uniform of the French Flying
Corps. I knew him only too well. It was Jean-Herve-Marie-Olivier. But
the glance I gave him was most cursory; my attention was focused
hungrily on the two ladies in the tonneau. They had risen and were
divesting themselves in leisurely fashion of a most complicated
arrangement of motor coats and veils.
From these swathing disguises there first emerged, as if from a
chrysalis, a black-clad, distinguished-looking young woman whom I had
never seen before. However, it was the second figure, the one in the
rosy veils and the tan mantle, that was exciting me. Off came her
wrappings, and I saw a girl in a white gown and a flowered hat--the
loveliest girl on earth.
I did not stand on the order of my going. I rocked perilously, and my
crutches made a furious clatter, but I was outside in a truly
infinitesimal space of time. Yes; there they were, chatting with
Dunny, who had hurried to meet them. And at sight of me the Firefly of
France ran forward with hands extended, greeting me as if I were his
oldest friend, his brother, his dearest comrade in arms.
I took his hands and I pressed them with what show of warmth I could
summon. It was as peasant as a bit of torture, but it had to be gone
through. Then I stared past him toward the ladies, who were coming up
with Dunny; and except for that girl in white, I saw nothing in all
"Monsieur," the duke was saying, "I pay you my first visit. Only my
weakness has prevented me from sooner welcoming to Raincy-la-Tour so
honored a guest."
He turned to the lady who stood beside Miss Falconer, a slender, dark-
eyed, gracious young woman wearing a simple black gown and a black hat
and a string of pearls.
"Here is another," said the Firefly, "who has come to welcome you. Oh,
yes, Monsieur, you must know, and you must count henceforth as your
friends in any need, even to the death, all those who bear the name of
Raincy-la-Tour. Permit that I present you to my wife, who is of your
"Jean's wife is my sister, Mr. Bayne," Miss Falconer said.
AN UNEXPECTED VISIT
I don't know what they thought of me, probably that I was crazy. For a
good minute, a long sixty seconds, I simply stood and stared. The
duke's blue uniform, his wife's black-gowned figure, and the white,
radiant blur that was Miss Falconer revolved about me in spinning,
starry circles. I gasped, put out a hand, fortunately encountered
Dunny's shoulder, and, leaning heavily on that perplexed person, at
last got back my intelligence and my breath.
"Won't you shake hands with me, Mr. Bayne?" smiled the Duchess of
I was virtually sane again.
"I do hope," I said, "that you will forgive me. Not that I see the
slightest reason why you should, I am sure. Life is too short to wipe
out such a bad impression. I know how you'll remember me all your
days; as an idiot with a head done up in layers of toweling, wobbling
on two crutches and gaping at you like a fish."
But the duchess was still holding my hand in both of hers and smiling
up at me from a pair of great, dark, tender eyes, the loveliest pair
of eyes in the world, bar one. No, bar none, to be quite fair. The
Firefly's wife, most people would have said, was more beautiful than
her sister; but then, beauty is what pleases you, as some wise man
remarked long ago.
"I don't believe, Mr. Bayne," she was saying gently, "that I shall
ever remember you in any unpleasant way. You see, I know about those
bandages, and I know why you need those crutches. Even if you were
vain, you wouldn't mind the things I think of you--not at all."
I lack any clear recollection of the quarter of an hour that followed.
I know that we talked and laughed and were very friendly and very
cheerful, and that Dunny's eyes, as they studied me, began to hold a
gleam of intelligence, as if he were guessing something about the
reasons for my former black despondency. I recall that the duke's hand
was on my shoulder, and that--odd how one's attitude can change!--I
liked to feel it. We were going to be great friends, tremendous pals,
I suspected. And every time I looked at the duchess she seemed
lovelier, more gracious; she was the very wife I would have chosen for
such a corking chap.
This, however, was by the way. None of it really mattered. While I
paid compliments and supplied details as to my convalescence and
answered Dunny's chaffing, I saw only one member of the party, the
girl in white. She was rather silent; she gave me only fugitive
glances. But she wasn't engaged, at least not to the Firefly. Hurrah!
What an agonizing, heart-rending, utterly unnecessary experience I had
endured, now that I thought of it! I had jumped to conclusions with
the agility of a kangaroo. He had kissed her; she had allowed it. Did
that prove that he was her fiance? He might have been anything--her
cousin or an old friend of her childhood, or her sister's husband's
nephew. But brother-in-law was best of all, not too remote or yet too
close. In that relationship, I decided, he was ideal.
By this time I was wondering how long we were to stand here exchanging
ideas and persiflage, an animated group of five. The duke and duchess
were charming, but I had had enough of them; I could have spared even
good old Dunny; what I wanted, and wanted frantically, was a tete-a-
tete; just Esme Falconer and myself. When I saw two automobiles,
packed imposingly with uniformed figures, speed up the drive to the
chateau, hope stirred in me. With suppressed joy,--I trust it was
suppressed,--I heard the duke exclaim that this was General Le Cazeau,
due to visit the hospital with his staff and greet the wounded and
bestow on certain lucky beings the reward of their valor in the shape
of medals of war. Obviously, it would have been inexcusable for the
master and mistress of Raincy-la-Tour to ignore a visitor so
distinguished. I made no protest whatever as they turned to go.
"But, Miss Falconer," I implored fervently, "you won't desert me, will
you? Pity a poor /blesse/ that no general cares two straws to see!"
She smiled, an omen that encouraged me to send Dunny a look of
meaning; but my guardian, bless him, had grasped the situation; he was
Down by the water among the trees there was a marble bench, and with
one accord we turned our steps that way. I emphasized my game leg
shamelessly; I positively flourished my crutches. My battle scars, I
guessed from the girl's kind eyes, appealed to her compassion, and as
soon as I suspected this I thanked my stars for that German shell.
"Isn't there anything," she said as we sat down, "that you want to ask
me? I think I should be curious if I were you. After all we have done
together there isn't much beyond my name that you know of me, and you
knew that in Jersey City the night the /Re d'Italia/ sailed."
I shook my head.
"There is just one thing I wanted to know," I answered cryptically,
"and I learned that when your brother-in-law presented me to his wife.
Still, there is nothing on earth you can tell me that I shan't be glad
to listen to. Say the multiplication table if you like, or recite
cook-book recipes. Anything--if you'll only stay!"
Little golden flickers of sunshine came stealing through the branches,
dancing, as the girl talked, on her gown and in her hair. I looked
more than I listened. I had been starved for a sight of her. And my
eyes must have told my thoughts; for a flush crept into her cheeks,
and her lashes fluttered, and she looked not at me, but across the
swan-dotted lake toward the towers of Raincy-la-Tour.
After all there was little that I had not guessed already; but each
detail held its magic, because it was she who spoke. If she had said
"I like oranges and lemons," the statement would have held me
spellbound. I sat raptly gazing while she told me of herself and her
sister Enid; of their life, after the death of their parents, with an
aunt whose home was in Pittsburgh, of their travels; and of a winter
at Nice, four years ago, when the blue of the skies and seas and the
whiteness of the sands and the green of the palms had all seemed
created to frame the meeting and the love affair of Enid Falconer and
the young nobleman who was now known to the world as the Firefly of
Their marriage had proved an ideal one, as happy as it was brilliant.
Esme, thereafter had spent half her time in Europe with her sister,
half in America with her aunt, who was growing old. Then had come the
war. At first it had covered the duke with laurels. But a certain dark
day had brought a cable from the duchess, telling of his disappearance
and the suspicion that surrounded it; and Esme, despite her aunt's
entreaties, had promptly taken passage on the next ship that sailed.
"I had meant to go within a month, as a Red Cross nurse," she told me.
"I had my passport, and I had taken a course. Well, I came on to New
York and spent the night there. Aunt Alice telegraphed to her lawyer,
the dearest, primmest old fellow, and he dined with me, protesting all
the time against my sailing. I saw you in the St. Ives restaurant. Did
you see us?"
"Let me think." I pretended to rack my brains. "I believe I do recall
something, in a hazy sort of way. You had on a rose-colored gown that
was distinctly wonderful, and when we tracked the German to the door
of your room, you were wearing an evening coat, bright blue. But the
main thing was your hair!" Here I became lyric. "An oak-leaf in the
sunlight, Miss Falconer! Threads of gold!"
But she ignored me, very properly, and shifted the scene from hotel to
steamer, where Franz von Blenheim, in the guise of Van Blarcom, had
given her a fright. As she exhibited her passport at the gang-plank,
he had read her name across her shoulder; then he had claimed
acquaintance with her, a claim that she knew was false.
"And he wasn't impertinent. That was the worst of it," she faltered.
"He did it--well--accusingly. I had known all along that any one who
knew of Jean's marriage would recognize my name. And Jean was
suspected, and the French are strict; if they were warned, they would
not let me enter France; they would think I had come spying. I was
afraid. Then, after dinner, I went on deck and found you standing by
the railing reading that paper with its staring headlines about Jean."
"Of course!" I exclaimed. At last I fathomed that puzzling episode.
"You thought the paper might speak of the duke's marriage, that it
might mention your sister's name. In that case, if it stayed on board,
it might be seen by the captain or by an officer, and they would guess
who you were and warn the authorities when we got to shore."
"Yes. That was why I borrowed it. And I was right, I discovered; just
at the end the account said that Jean had married an American, a Miss
Enid Falconer, four years ago. Then I asked you to throw it overboard,
Mr. Bayne; and you were wonderful. You must have thought I was mad,
but you didn't flutter an eyelid or even smile. I have never forgotten
--and I've never forgiven myself either. When I think of how the
steward saw you and told the captain, and of how they searched your
baggage that dreadful day--"
"It didn't matter a brass farden!" I hastened to assure her, for she
had paused and was gazing at me, large-eyed and pale. "Don't think of
that any more. Suppose we skip to Paris! Blenheim followed you there,
hoping he was on the scent of the vanished papers; and when you
arrived at the rue St.-Dominique, there was still no news of the
"No news," she mourned; "not a word. And Enid was ill and hopeless;
from the very first she had felt sure that Jean was dead. But I
wouldn't admit it. I said we must try to find him. All the way over in
the steamer I had been making a sort of plan.
"You see, one of the papers had described how the French had found
Jean's airship lying in the forest of La Fay, as if he had abandoned
it from choice. That was considered proof of his treason; but of
course I knew that it wasn't. I remembered that the Marquis of
Prezelay, Jean's cousin, had a castle on the forest outskirts; I had
been to visit it with Jean and Enid. I wondered if he might be there.
"The more I thought of it, the likelier it seemed. If he had been
wounded and had wanted to hide his papers, he would have remembered
the castle and the secret panel in the wall. Even if he were--dead,
which I wouldn't believe, it would clear his name if I found the proof
of it. So I told Enid I would go to Prezelay."
I was resting my arms on my knees and groaning softly.
"Oh, Lord, oh, Lord!" I murmured, wishing I could stop my ears. When I
thought of that brave venture of the girl's and its perils and what
had nearly come of it I found myself shuddering; and yet I was growing
prouder of her with every word.
"What comes next," she confessed, "is terrible. I can hardly believe
it. As I look back, it seems to me that we were all a little mad. To
get through the war zone to Prezelay I had to have certain papers; and
I got them from an American girl, an old friend of Enid's and of mine,
Marie Le Clair. The morning I arrived in Paris she came to say good-
bye to Enid. She was acting as a Red Cross nurse, and they were
sending her to the hospital at Carrefonds to take the first
consignment of the great new remedy for burns and scars. Carrefonds is
very near Prezelay. It all came to me in a moment. I told her how
matters stood and how Enid was dying little by little, just for lack
of any sure knowledge. She gave me the papers she had for herself and
her chauffeur, Jacques Carton, and I used them for myself and for
Georges, Jean's foster-brother, who was at home from the Front on
leave and was staying in his old room at the house."
"Great Caesar's ghost!" I sputtered. "You didn't--you don't mean to
say that-- Why, good heavens, didn't you know--?"
Then I petered off into silence; words were too weak for my emotions.
She had seen the risk of course, and so had the girl who had helped
her; but with the incredible bravery of women, they had acted with
"Yes," she faltered; "I told you I felt mad, looking back at it. But
Marie is safe now; Jean has worked for her, and his relatives and
friends have helped, and the minister of war. It was the only way.
Under my own name I could never have got leave to enter the war zone
while Jean was missing and suspected-- What is the matter, Mr. Bayne?"
For once more I had groaned aloud.
"Simply," I cried stormily, "that I can't bear thinking of it! The
idea of your taking risks, of your daring the police and the Germans--
you who oughtn't to know what the word danger means! I tell you I
can't stand it. Wasn't there some man to do it for you? Well, it's
over now; and in the future-- See here, Miss Falconer, I can't wait
any longer. There is something I've got to say."
But I was not to say it yet, for, behold! just as my tongue was
loosened, I became aware of a most distinguished galaxy approaching us
round the lake. All save one of its members--Dunny, to be exact--were
in uniform; and the personage in the lead, walking between my guardian
and the duke of Raincy-la-Tour, was truly dazzling, being arrayed in a
blue coat and spectacularly red trousers and wearing as a finishing
touch a red cap freely braided with gold. Miss Falconer had risen.
"Why," she exclaimed, "it is General Le Cazeau!"
"Then confound General Le Cazeau!" was my inhospitably cry.
He was, I saw when he drew close, a person of stately dignity, as
indeed the hero who had saved Merlancourt and broken that last
furious, desperate, senseless onslaught of the Boches ought by rights
to be. Perhaps his splendor made me nervous. At any rate, my
conscience smote me. I remembered with sudden panic all my manifold
transgressions, beginning with the hour when I had chucked reason
overboard and had deliberately concealed a murdered man's body beneath
a heap of straw.
"I believe," I gasped, "that this is an informal court martial. Nobody
could do the things I have done and be allowed to live. Still, I don't
see why they cured me if they were going to hang or shoot me."
I struggled up with the help of my crutches and stood waiting my doom.
The group had paused before us, and presentations followed, throughout
which the master of ceremonies was the Firefly of France. Then the
gray-headed general fixed me with a keen, stern gaze rather like an
"Your affair, Monsieur, has been of an irregularity," he said.
As with kaleidoscopic swiftness the details of my "affair" passed
through my memory, it was only by an effort that I restrained an
indecorous shout. He was correct. I could call to mind no single
feature that had been "regular," from the thief who was not a thief
and had flown out of my window like a conjurer, to the fight in
Prezelay castle where I had vanquished four husky Germans, mostly by
the aid of a wooden table, of all implements on earth.
"It is too true, /Monsieur le General/," I assented promptly. My
humility seemed to soften him; he relaxed; he even approached a smile.
"Of an irregularity," he repeated. "But also it was of a gallantry.
With a boldness and a resource and a scorn for danger that, permit me
to say, mark your compatriots, you have unmasked and handed over to us
one of our most dangerous foes. For such service as you have rendered
France is never ungrateful. And, moreover, there have been friends to
plead your cause and to plead it well."
As he ended he cast a glance at the Duke of Raincy-la-Tour and one at
Dunny, whereupon I was enlightened as to the purpose of my guardian's
three trips to Paris the preceding week. I believe I have said before
that Dunny knows every one, everywhere; in fact, I have always felt
that should circumstances conspire to make me temporarily adopt a life
of crime, he could manage to pull such wires as would reinstate me in
the public eye. But the general was stepping close to me.
"Monsieur," he was saying, "we are now allies, my country and the
great nation of which you are a son. Very soon your troops are coming.
You will fight on our soil, beneath your own banner. But your first
blood was shed for France, your first wounds borne for her, Monsieur;
and in gratitude she offers you this medal of her brave."
He was pinning something to my coat, a bronze-colored, cross-shaped
something, a decoration that swung proudly from a ribbon of red and
green. I knew it well; I had seen it on the breasts of generals,
captains, simple poilus, all the picked flower of the French nation.
With a thrill I looked down upon it. It was the Cross of War.
A THUNDERBOLT OF WAR
The great moment had arrived. General Le Cazeau and his staff were on
their way back to Paris. The duke and duchess were at the chateau
talking with the /blesses/; for the second time Dunny had tactfully
disappeared. The approach of evening had spurred my faltering courage.
As the first rosiness of sunset touched the skies beyond Raincy-la-
Tour and lay across the water, I sat at the side of the only girl in
the world and poured out my plea.
"It isn't fair, you know," I mourned. "I've only a few minutes. I
shouldn't wonder if we heard your car honking for you in half an hour.
To make a girl like you look at a man like me would take days of
eloquence, and, besides, who would think of marrying any one with his
head bound up Turkish fashion as mine is now?"
She laughed, and at the silvery sound of it I plucked up a hint of
courage; for surely, I thought, she wasn't cruel enough to make game
of me as she turned me down. Still, I couldn't really hope. She was
too wonderful, and my courtship had been too inadequate. Despondent,
arms on my knees, I harped upon the same string.
"I've never had a chance to show you," I lamented, "that I am
civilized; that I know how to take care of you and put cushions behind
you and slide footstools under your feet, and--er--all that. We've
been too busy eluding Germans and racing through forbidden zones and
rescuing papers from behind secret panels, for me to wait on you. Good
heavens! To think how I've done my duty by a hundred girls I shouldn't
know from Eve if they happened along this moment! And I've never even
sent you a box of /marrons glaces/ or flowers."
She shot a fleeting glance at me.
"No," she agreed, "you haven't! If you don't mind my saying so, I
think they would have been out of place. At Bleau, for instance, and
at Prezelay I hadn't much time for eating bonbons; but after all you
did me one or two more practical services, Mr. Bayne."
"Nothing," I maintained, my gloom unabated, "that amounted to a row of
pins. Though I might have shone, I'll admit; I can see that, looking
back. The opportunity was there, but the man was lacking. I might have
been a real movie hero, cool, resourceful, dependable, clear-sighted,
a tower of strength; and what I did was to muddle things up hopelessly
and waste time in suspecting you and seize every opportunity of
trusting people who positively spread their guilt before my eyes."
"I don't know." She was looking at the lake, not at me, and she was
smiling. "There were one or two little matters that have slipped your
mind, perhaps. Take the very first night we met, when you tracked your
thief to my room and wouldn't let the hotel people come in to search
it. Don't you think, on the whole, that you were rather kind?"
"I couldn't have driven them in," I declared stubbornly, "with a
pitchfork. I couldn't have persuaded them to make a search if I had
prayed them on my bended knees. Their one idea was to help the fellow
in what the best criminal circles call a getaway; and when I think how
I must have been wool-gathering, not to guess--"
"Well, even so,"--Miss Falconer was still smiling--"weren't you very
nice on the steamer? About the extra, I mean. And at Gibraltar, too,
when they asked you what you had thrown overboard--do you remember how
you kept silent and never even glanced my way?"
"No," I groaned, "I don't; but I remember our trip to Paris. I
remember marching you into the wagon-restaurant like a hand-cuffed
criminal, and sitting you down at a table, and bullying you like a
Russian czar. I gave you three days to leave France. Have you
forgotten? I haven't. The one thing I omitted--and I don't see how I
missed it--was to call the gendarmes there at Modane and denounce you
to them. It's more than kind of you to glide over my imbecilities; I
appreciate it. But when I think of that evening I want a nice, deep,
dark dungeon, somewhere underground, to hide."
"I think," she murmured consolingly, "that you made amends to me
later." Her face was averted, but I could see a distracting dimple in
her cheek. "You mustn't forget that I haven't been perfect, either.
When you followed me to Bleau, and I came down the stairs and saw you,
I misunderstood the situation entirely and was as unpleasant as I
"Naturally," I acquiesced with dark meaning. "How could you have
understood it? How could any human being have fathomed the mental
processes that sent me there? I only wonder that instead of giving me
what-for, you didn't murder me. Any United States jury would have
acquitted you with the highest praise."
She turned upon me, flushed and spirited.
"Mr. Bayne, you are incorrigible! Why will you insist on belittling
everything that you have done? I suppose you will claim next that you
didn't risk imprisonment or death every minute of a whole day, just to
help me, and that at Prezelay you didn't fight like a--a--yes, like a
paladin!--to save me from being tortured by Herr von Blenheim and his
I started up and then sank back.
"As a special favor," I begged her, "would you mind not mentioning
that last phase of the affair? When you do, I go berserker; I'm a
crazy man, seeing red; I'm honestly not responsible. It was when our
friend Blenheim developed those plans of his that I swore in my soul
I'd get him; and I thank the Lord that I did and that he'll never
trouble you or any other woman again.
"Still, Miss Falconer, what does all that amount to? Any man would
have helped you, wouldn't he? A nice sort of fellow I should have been
to do any less! Whereas for a girl like you I ought to have
accomplished miracles. I ought to have made the sun stop moving, or
got you the stars to play with, or whisked the moon out of the skies."
She was laughing again.
"Dear me!" she exclaimed. "What fervor! Can this be my Mr. Bayne, the
Mr. Bayne of our adventure, who never turned a hair no matter what mad
things happened, and who was always so correct and conventional and so
immaculately dressed, and so--"
"Stodgy! Say it!" I cried with utter recklessness. "I know I was;
Dunny told me so that evening at the St. Ives. Have as many cracks at
me as you like. I was getting fat; I was beginning to think that the
most important thing in the universe was dinner. Well, I'm not stodgy
any longer, Esme Falconer; you've reformed me. But of all the men in
all the ages who were ever desperately, consumedly, imbecilely in
In the distance two figures were strolling toward the blue car, the
duke and the duchess. When they reached it, the Firefly cast a glance
in our direction and sounded a warning, most unwelcome honk upon the
horn. They were going, stony-hearted creatures that they were! They
were taking Esme back to Paris. At the thought I abandoned my last
pretense at self-command.
"Esme, dearest," I implored, "do you think you could put up with me?
Could you marry me when I've done my part over here--or even sooner--
right away? A dozen better men may love you, but mine is a special
brand of love--unique, incomparable! Are you going to have me--or
shall I jump into the lake?"
The sunset light was in her hair and in the gray, starry eyes she
turned to me--those eyes that, because their lashes were so long and
crinkled so maddeningly, were only half revealed. Her lips curved in a
"Oh, you dear, blind, silly man! Do you think any girl could help
loving you--after all that has happened to you and me?" she whispered.
Then I caught her to me; and despite my crutches and my bandaged head
and that atrocious horn in the distance honking the signal for our
parting, I was the happiest being in France--or in the world.
"I knew all along it was a dream, and it is! Such things don't really
happen. No such luck!" I cried.