"The Forest of Swords," while an independent story, based upon the World War, continues the fortunes of John Scott, Philip Lannes, and their friends who have appeared already in "The Guns of Europe." As was stated in the first volume, the author was in Austria and Germany for a month after the war began, and then went to England. He saw the arrival of the Emperor, Francis Joseph, in Vienna, the first striking event in the gigantic struggle, and witnessed the mobilization of their armies by three great nations.
John Scott and Philip Lannes walked together down a great boulevard of Paris. The young American's heart was filled with grief and anger. The Frenchman felt the same grief, but mingled with it was a fierce, burning passion, so deep and bitter that it took a much stronger word than anger to describe it.
Both had heard that morning the mutter of cannon on the horizon, and they knew the German conquerors were advancing. They were always advancing. Nothing had stopped them. The metal and masonry of the defenses at Lige had crumbled before their huge guns like china breaking under stone. The giant shells had scooped out the forts at Maubeuge, Maubeuge the untakable, as if they had been mere eggshells, and the mighty Teutonic host came on, almost without a check.
John had read of the German march on Paris, nearly a half-century before, how everything had been made complete by the genius of Bismarck and von Moltke, how the ready had sprung upon and crushed the unready, but the present swoop of the imperial eagle seemed far more vast and terrible than the earlier rush could have been.
A month and the legions were already before the City of Light. Men with glasses could see from the top of the Eiffel Tower the gray ranks that were to hem in devoted Paris once more, and the government had fled already to Bordeaux. It seemed that everything was lost before the war was fairly begun. The coming of the English army, far too small in numbers, had availed nothing. It had been swept up with the others, escaping from capture or destruction only by a hair, and was now driven back with the French on the capital.
John had witnessed two battles, and in neither had the Germans stopped long. Disregarding their own losses they drove forward, immense, overwhelming, triumphant. He felt yet their very physical weight, pressing upon him, crushing him, giving him no time to breathe. The German war machine was magnificent, invincible, and for the fourth time in a century the Germans, the exulting Kaiser at their head, might enter Paris.
The Emperor himself might be nothing, mere sound and glitter, but back of him was the greatest army that ever trod the planet, taught for half a century to believe in the divine right of kings, and assured now that might and right were the same.
Every instinct in him revolted at the thought that Paris should be trodden under foot once more by the conqueror. The great capital had truly deserved its claim to be the city of light and leading, and if Paris and France were lost the whole world would lose. He could never forget the unpaid debt that his own America owed to France, and he felt how closely interwoven the two republics were in their beliefs and aspirations.
"Why are you so silent?" asked Lannes, half angrily, although John knew that the anger was not for him.
"I've said as much as you have," he replied with an attempt at humor.
"You notice the sunlight falling on it?" said Lannes, pointing to the Arc de Triomphe, rising before them.
"Yes, and I believe I know what you are thinking.”
"You are right. I wish he was here now.”
John gazed at the great arch which the sun was gilding with glory and he shared with Lannes his wish that the mighty man who had built it to commemorate his triumphs was back with France--for a while at least. He was never able to make up his mind whether Napoleon was good or evil.
Perhaps he was a mixture of both, highly magnified, but now of all times, with the German millions at the gates, he was needed most.
"I think France could afford to take him back," he said, "and risk any demands he might make or enforce.”
"John," said Lannes, "you've fought with us and suffered with us, and so you're one of us. You understand what I felt this morning when on the edge of Paris I heard the German guns. They say that we can fight on, after our foes have taken the capital, and that the English will come in greater force to help us. But if victorious Germans march once through the Arc de Triomphe I shall feel that we can never again win back all that we have lost.”
A note, low but deep and menacing, came from the far horizon. It might be a German gun or it might be a French gun, but the effect was the same. The threat was there. A shudder shook the frame of Lannes, but John saw a sudden flame of sunlight shoot like a glittering lance from the Arc de Triomphe.
"A sign! a sign!" he exclaimed, his imaginative mind on fire in an instant. "I saw a flash from the arch! It was the soul of the Great Captain speaking! I tell you, Philip, the Republic is not yet lost! I've read somewhere, and so have you, that the Romans sold at auction at a high price the land on which Hannibal's victorious army was camped, when it lay before Rome!”
"It's so! And France has her glorious traditions, too! We won't give up until we're beaten--and not then!”
The gray eyes of Lannes flamed, and his figure seemed to swell. All the wonderful French vitality was personified in him. He put his hand affectionately upon the shoulder of his comrade.
"It's odd, John," he said, "but you, a foreigner, have lighted the spark anew in me.”
"Maybe it's because I _ama foreigner, though, in reality, I'm now no foreigner at all, as you've just said. I've become one of you.”
"It's true, John, and I won't forget it. I'm never going to give up hope again. Maybe somebody will arrive to save us at the last. Whatever the great one, whose greatest monument stands there, may have been, he loved France, and his spirit may descend upon Frenchmen.”
"I believe it. He had the strength and courage created by a republic, and you have them again, the product of another republic. Look at the flying men, Lannes!”
Lannes glanced up where the aeroplanes hovered thick over Paris, and toward the horizon where the invisible German host with its huge guns was advancing. The look of despair came into his eyes again, but it rested there only a moment. He remembered his new courage and banished it.
"Perhaps I ought to be in the sky myself with the others," he said, "but I'd only see what I don't like to see. The _Arrowand I can't be of any help now.”
"You brought me here in the _Arrow_, Lannes," said John, seeking to assume a light tone. "Now what do you intend to do with me? As everybody is leaving Paris you ought to get me out of it.”
"I hardly know what to do. There are no orders. I've lost touch with the commander of our flying corps, but you're right in concluding that we shouldn't remain in Paris. Now where are we to go?”
"We'll make no mistake if we seek the battle front. You know I'm bound to rejoin my company, the Strangers, if I can. I must report as soon as possible to Captain Colton.”
"That's true, John, but I can't leave Paris until tomorrow. I may have orders to carry, I must obtain supplies for the _Arrow_, and I wish to visit once more my people on the other side of the Seine.”
"Suppose you go now, and I'll meet you this afternoon in the Place de l'Op√©ra.”
"Good. Say three o'clock. The first to arrive will await the other before the steps of the Opera House?”
John nodded assent and Lannes hurried away. Young Scott followed his figure with his eyes until it disappeared in the crowd. A back may be an index to a man's strength of mind, and he saw that Lannes, head erect and shoulders thrown back, was walking with a rapid and springy step.
Courage was obviously there.
But John, despite his own strong heart, could not keep from feeling an infinite sadness and pity, not for Lannes, but for all the three million people who inhabited the City of Light, most of whom were fleeing now before the advance of the victorious invader. He could put himself in their place. France held his deepest sympathy. He felt that a great nation, sedulously minding its own business, trampled upon and robbed once before, was now about to be trampled upon and robbed again. He could not subscribe to the doctrine, that might was right.
He watched the fugitives a long time. They were crowding the railway stations, and they were departing by motor, by cart and on foot. Many of the poorer people, both men and women, carried packs on their backs. The boulevards and the streets were filled with the retreating masses.
It was an amazing and stupefying sight, the abandonment by its inhabitants of a great city, a city in many ways the first in the world, and it gave John a mighty shock. He had been there with his uncle and Mr. Anson in the spring, and he had seen nothing but peace and brightness. The sun had glittered then, as it glittered now over the Arc de Triomphe, the gleaming dome of the Invalides and the golden waters of the Seine. It was Paris, soft, beautiful and bright, the Paris that wished no harm to anybody.
But the people were going. He could see them going everywhere. The cruel, ancient times when cities were destroyed or enslaved by the conqueror had come back, and the great Paris that the world had known so long might become lost forever.
The stream of fugitives, rich and poor, mingled, poured on without ceasing. He did not know where they were going. Most of them did not know themselves. He saw a great motor, filled high with people and goods, break down in the streets, and he watched them while they worked desperately to restore the mechanism. And yet there was no panic. The sound of voices was not high. The Republic was justifying itself once more. Silent and somberly defiant, the inhabitants were leaving Paris before the giant German guns could rain shells upon the unarmed.
It was three or four hours until the time to meet Lannes, and drawn by an overwhelming curiosity and anxiety he began the climb of the Butte Montmartre. If observers on the Eiffel Tower could see the German forces approaching, then with the powerful glasses he carried over his shoulder he might discern them from the dome of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
As he made his way up the ascent through the crooked and narrow little streets he saw many eyes, mostly black and quick, watching him. This by night was old Paris, dark and dangerous, where the Apache dwelled, and by day in a fleeing city, with none to restrain, he might be no less ruthless.
But John felt only friendliness for them all. He believed that common danger would knit all Frenchmen together, and he nodded and smiled at the watchers. More than one pretty Parisian, not of the upper classes, smiled back at the American with the frank and open face.
Before he reached the Basilica a little rat of a young man stepped before him and asked: "Which way, Monsieur?”
He was three or four years older than John, wearing uncommonly tight fitting clothes of blue, a red cap with a tassel, and he was about five feet four inches tall. But small as he was he seemed to be made of steel, and he stood, poised on his little feet, ready to spring like a leopard when he chose.
The blue eyes of the tall American looked steadily into the black eyes of the short Frenchman, and the black eyes looked back as steadily. John was fast learning to read the hearts and minds of men through their eyes, and what he saw in the dark depths pleased him. Here were cunning and yet courage; impudence and yet truth; caprice and yet honor. Apache or not, he decided to like him.
"I'm going up into the lantern of the Basilica," he said, "to see if I can see the Germans, who are my enemies as well as yours.”
"And will not Monsieur take me, too, and let me have look for look with him through those glasses at the Germans, some of whom I'm going to shoot?”
"If you're going out potting Germans," he said, "you'd better get yourself into a uniform as soon as you can. They have no mercy on _franc tireurs_.”
"I'll chance that. But you'll take me with you into the dome?”
"What's your name?”
"Pierre Louis Bougainville.”
"Bougainville! Bougainville! It sounds noble and also historical. I've read of it, but I don't recall where.”
The little Frenchman drew himself up, and his black eyes glittered.
"There is a legend among us that it was noble once," he said, "but we don't know when. I feel within me the spirit to make it great again.
There was a time when the mighty Napoleon said that every soldier carried a marshal's baton in his knapsack. Perhaps that time has come again. And the great emperor was a little man like me.”
John began to laugh and then he stopped suddenly. Pierre Louis Bougainville, so small and so insignificant, was not looking at him. He was looking over and beyond him, dreaming perhaps of a glittering future. The funny little red cap with the tassel might shelter a great brain. Respect took the place of the wish to laugh.
"Monsieur Bougainville," he said in his excellent French, "my name is John Scott. I am from America, but I am serving in the allied Franco-British army. My heart like yours beats for France.”
"Then, Monsieur Jean, you and I are brothers," said the little man, his eyes still gleaming. "It may be that we shall fight side by side in the hour of victory. But you will take me into the lantern will you not?
Father Pelletier does not know, as you do, that I'm going to be a great man, and he will not admit me.”
"If I secure entrance you will, too. Come.”
They reached side by side the Basilique de Sacr√©-Coeur, which crowns the summit of the Butte Montmartre, and bought tickets from the porter, whose calm the proximity of untold Germans did not disturb. John saw the little Apache make the sign of the cross and bear himself with dignity.
In some curious way Bougainville impressed him once more with a sense of power. Perhaps there was a spark of genius under the red cap. He knew from his reading that there was no rule about genius. It passed kings by, and chose the child of a peasant in a hovel.
"You're what they call an Apache, are you not?" he asked.
"Well, for the present, that is until you win a greater name, I'm going to call you Geronimo.”
"And why Zhay-ro-nee-mo, Monsieur?”
"Because that was the name of a great Apache chief. According to our white standards he was not all that a man should be. He had perhaps a certain insensibility to the sufferings of others, but in the Apache view that was not a fault. He was wholly great to them.”
"Very well then, Monsieur Scott, I shall be flattered to be called Zhay-ro-nee-mo, until I win a name yet greater.”
"Where is the Father Pelletier, the priest, who you said would bar your way unless I came with you?”
"He is on the second platform where you look out over Paris before going into the lantern. It may be that he has against me what you would call the prejudice. I am young. Youth must have its day, and I have done some small deeds in the quarter which perhaps do not please Father Pelletier, a strict, a very strict man. But our country is in danger, and I am willing to forgive and forget.”
He spoke with so much magnanimity that John was compelled to laugh.
Geronimo laughed, too, showing splendid white teeth. The understanding between them was now perfect.
"I must talk with Father Pelletier," said John. "Until you're a great man, as you're going to be, Geronimo, I suppose I can be spokesman.
After that it will be your part to befriend me.”
On the second platform they found Father Pelletier, a tall young priest with a fine but severe face, who looked with curiosity at John, and with disapproval at the Apache.
"You are Father Pelletier, I believe," said John with his disarming smile. "These are unusual times, but I wish to go up into the lantern. I am an American, though, as you can see by my uniform, I am a soldier of France.”
"But your companion, sir? He has a bad reputation in the quarter. When he should come to the church he does not, and now when he should not he does.”
"That reputation of which you speak, Father Pelletier, will soon pass.
Another, better and greater will take its place. Our friend here, and perhaps both of us will be proud to call him so some day, leaves soon to fight for France.”
The priest looked again at Bougainville, and his face softened. The little Apache met his glance with a firm and open gaze, and his figure seemed to swell again, and to radiate strength. Perhaps the priest saw in his eyes the same spark that John had noticed there.
"It is a time when France needs all of her sons," he said, "and even those who have not deserved well of her before may do great deeds for her now. You can pass.”
Bougainville walked close to Father Pelletier, and John heard him say in low tones: "I feel within me the power to achieve, and when you see me again you will recognize it.”
The priest nodded and his friendly hand lay for a moment on the other's shoulder.
"Come on, Geronimo," said John cheerfully. "As I remember it's nearly a hundred steps into the lantern, and that's quite a climb.”
"Not for youth like ours," exclaimed Bougainville, and he ran upward so lightly that the American had some difficulty in following him. John was impressed once more by his extraordinary strength and agility, despite his smallness. He seemed to be a mass of highly wrought steel spring.
But unwilling to be beaten by anybody, John raced with him and the two stood at the same time upon the utmost crest of the Basilique du Sacr√©-Coeur.
They paused a few moments for fresh breath and then John put the glasses to his eye, sweeping them in a slow curve. Through the powerful lenses he saw the vast circle of Paris, and all the long story of the past that it called up. Two thousand years of history rolled beneath his feet, and the spectacle was wholly magnificent.
He beheld the great green valley with its hills, green, too, the line of the Seine cutting the city apart like the flash of a sword blade, the golden dome of the Hotel des Invalides, the grinning gargoyles of Notre Dame, the arches and statues and fountains and the long green ribbons that marked the boulevards.
Although the city stood wholly in the sunlight a light haze formed on the rim of the circling horizon. He now moved the glasses slowly over a segment there and sought diligently for something. From so high a point and with such strong aid one could see many miles. He was sure that he would find what he sought and yet did not wish to see. Presently he picked out intermittent flashes which he believed were made by sunlight falling on steel. Then he drew a long and deep breath that was almost like a sigh.
"What is it?" asked Bougainville who had stood patiently by his side.
"I fear it is the glitter of lances, my friend, lances carried by German Uhlans. Will you look?”
Bougainville held out his hands eagerly for the glasses, and then drew them back a little. In his new dignity he would not show sudden emotion.
"It will give me gladness to see," he said. "I do not fear the Prussian lances.”
John handed him the glasses and he looked long and intently, at times sweeping them slowly back and forth, but gazing chiefly at the point under the horizon that had drawn his companion's attention.
John meanwhile looked down at the city glittering in the sun, but from which its people were fleeing, as if its last day had come. It still seemed impossible that Europe should be wrapped in so great a war and that the German host should be at the gates of Paris.
His eyes turned back toward the point where he had seen the gleam of the lances and he fancied now that he heard the far throb of the German guns. The huge howitzers like the one Lannes and he had blown up might soon be throwing shells a ton or more in weight from a range of a dozen miles into the very heart of the French capital. An acute depression seized him. He had strengthened the heart of Lannes, and now his own heart needed strengthening. How was it possible to stop the German army which had come so far and so fast that its Uhlans could already see Paris? The unprepared French had been defeated already, and the slow English, arriving to find France under the iron heel, must go back and defend their own island.
"The Germans are there. I have not a doubt of it, and I thank you, Monsieur Scott, for the use of these," said Bougainville, handing the glasses back to him.
"Well, Geronimo," he said, "having seen, what do you say?”
"The sight is unpleasant, but it is not hopeless. They call us decadent.
I read, Monsieur Scott, more than you think! Ah, it has been the bitterness of death for Frenchmen to hear all the world say we are a dying race, and it has been said so often that some of us ourselves had begun to believe it! But it is not so! I tell you it is not so, and we'll soon prove to the Germans who come that it isn't! I have looked for a sign. I sought for it in all the skies through your glasses, but I did not find it there. Yet I have found it.”
"In my heart. Every beat tells me that this Paris of ours is not for the Germans. We will yet turn them back!”
He reminded John of Lannes in his dramatic intensity, real and not affected, a true part of his nature. Its effect, too, upon the American was powerful. He had given courage to Lannes, and now Bougainville, that little Apache of the Butte Montmartre, was giving new strength to his own weakening heart. Fresh life flowed back into his veins and he remembered that he, too, had beheld a sign, the flash of light on the Arc de Triomphe.
"I think we have seen enough here, Geronimo," he said lightly, "and we'll descend. I've a friend to meet later. Which way do you go from the church?”
"To the army. I shall be in a uniform tonight, and tomorrow maybe I shall meet the Germans.”
John held out his hand and the Apache seized it in a firm clasp.
"I believe in you, as I hope you believe in me," said young Scott. "I belong to a company called the Strangers, made up chiefly of Americans and English, and commanded by Captain Daniel Colton. If you're on the battle line and hear of the Strangers there too I should like for you to hunt me up if you can. I'd do the same for you, but I don't yet know to what force you will belong.”
Bougainville promised and they walked down to the second platform, where Father Pelletier was still standing.
"What did you see?" he asked of John, unable to hide the eagerness in his eyes.
"Uhlans, Father Pelletier, and I fancied that I heard the echo of a German forty-two centimeter. Would you care to use the glasses? The view from this floor is almost as good as it is from the lantern.”
John distinctly saw the priest shudder.
"No," he replied. "I could not bear it. I shall pray today that our enemies may be confounded; tomorrow I shall throw off the gown of a priest and put on the coat of a soldier.”
"Another sign," said John to himself, as they continued the descent.
"Even the priests will fight.”
When they were once more in the narrow streets of Montmartre, John said farewell to Bougainville.
"Geronimo," he said, "I expect to see you leading a victorious charge directly into the heart of the German army.”
"If I can meet your hopes I will, Monsieur Scott," said the young Frenchman gayly, "and now, _au revoir_, I depart for my uniform and arms, which must be of the best.”
John smiled as he walked down the hill. His heart had warmed toward the little Apache who might not be any Apache at all. Nevertheless the name Geronimo seemed to suit him, and he meant to think of him by it until his valor won him a better.
He saw from the slopes the same endless stream of people leaving Paris.
They knew that the Germans were near, and report brought them yet nearer. The tale of the monster guns had traveled fast, and the shells might be falling among them at any moment. Aeroplanes dotted the skies, but they paid little attention to them. They still thought of war under the old conditions, and to the great mass of the people flying machines were mere toys.
But John knew better. Those journeys of his with Lannes through the heavens and their battles in the air for their lives were unforgettable.
Stopping on the last slope of Montmartre he studied space with his glasses. He was sure that he saw captive balloons on the horizon where the German army lay, and one shape larger than the rest looked like a Zeppelin, but he did not believe those monsters had come so far to the south and west. They must have an available base.
His heart suddenly increased its beat. He saw a darting figure and he recognized the shape of the German Taube. Then something black shot downward from it, and there was a crash in the streets of Paris, followed by terrible cries.
He knew what had happened. He caught another glimpse of the Taube rushing away like a huge carnivorous bird that had already seized its prey, and then he ran swiftly down the street. The bomb had burst in a swarm of fugitives and a woman was killed. Several people were wounded, and a panic had threatened, but the soldiers had restored order already and ambulances soon took the wounded to hospitals.
John went on, shocked to the core. It was a new kind of war. The flying men might rain death from the air upon a helpless city, but their victims were more likely to be women and children than armed men. For the first time the clean blue sky became a sinister blanket from which dropped destruction.
The confusion created by the bomb soon disappeared. The multitude of Parisians still poured from the city, and long lines of soldiers took their place. John wondered what the French commanders would do. Surely theirs was a desperate problem. Would they try to defend Paris, or would they let it go rather than risk its destruction by bombardment? Yet its fall was bound to be a terrible blow.
Lannes was on the steps of the Opera House at the appointed time, coming with a brisk manner and a cheerful face.
"I want you to go with me to our house beyond the Seine," he said. "It is a quaint old place hidden away, as so many happy homes are in this city. You will find nobody there but my mother, my sister Julie, and a faithful old servant, Antoine Picard, and his daughter, Suzanne.”
"But I will be a trespasser?”
"Not at all. There will be a warm welcome for you. I have told them of you, how you were my comrade in the air, and how you fought.”
"Pshaw, Lannes, it was you who did most of the fighting. You've given me a reputation that I can't carry.”
"Never mind about the reputation. What have you been doing since I left you this morning?”
"I spent a part of the time in the lantern of the Basilica on Montmartre, and I had with me a most interesting friend.”
Lannes looked at him curiously.
"You did not speak of any friend in Paris at this time," he said.
"I didn't because I never heard of him until a few hours ago. I made his acquaintance while I was going up Montmartre, but I already consider him, next to you, the best friend I have in France.”
"Acquaintanceship seems to grow rapidly with you, Monsieur Jean the Scott.”
"It has, but you must remember that our own friendship was pretty sudden. It developed in a few minutes of flight from soldiers at the German border.”
"That is so, but it was soon sealed by great common dangers. Who is your new friend, John?”
"A little Apache named Pierre Louis Bougainville, whom I have nicknamed Geronimo, after a famous Indian chief of my country. He has already gone to fight for France, and, Philip, he made an extraordinary impression upon me, although I don't know just why. He is short like Napoleon, he has the same large and beautifully shaped head, and the same penetrating eyes that seem able to look you through and through. Maybe it was a spark of genius in him that impressed me.”
"It may be so," said Lannes thoughtfully. "It was said, and said truly that the First Republic meant the open career to all the talents, and the Third offers the same chance. One never can tell where military genius is going to appear and God knows we need it now in whatever shape or form it may come. Did you hear of the bomb?”
"I saw it fall. But, Phil, I don't see the object in such attacks. They may kill a few people, nearly always the unarmed, but that has no real effect on a war.”
"They wish to spread terror, I suppose. Lend me your glasses, John.”
Lannes studied the heavens a long time, minutely examining every black speck against the blue, and John stood beside him, waiting patiently.
Meanwhile the throng of fleeing people moved on as before, silent and somber, even the children saying little. John was again stirred by the deepest emotion of sympathy and pity. What a tremendous tragedy it would be if New York were being abandoned thus to a victorious foe! Lannes himself had seemed to take no notice of the flight, but John judged he had made a powerful effort of the will to hide the grief and anger that surely filled his heart.
"I don't see anything in the air but our own machines," said Lannes, as he returned the glasses. "It was evidently a dash by the Taube that threw the bomb. But we've stayed here long enough. They're waiting for us at home.”
He led the way through the multitude, relapsing into silence, but casting a glance now and then at his own peculiar field, the heavens.
They reached the Place de la Concorde, and stopped there a moment or two. Lannes looked sadly at the black drapery hanging from the stone figure that typified the lost city of Strassburg, but John glanced up the great sweep of the Place to the Arc de Triomphe, where he caught again the glittering shaft of sunlight that he had accepted as a sign.
"We may be looking upon all this for the last time," said Lannes, in a voice of grief. "Oh, Paris, City of Light, City of the Heart! You may not understand me, John, but I couldn't bear to come back to Paris again, much as I love it, if it is to be despoiled and ruled by Germans.”
"I do understand you, Philip," said John cheerfully, "but you mustn't count a city yours until you've taken it. The Germans are near, but they're not here. Now, lead on. It's not like you to despair!”
Lannes shook himself, as if he had laid violent hands upon his own body, and his face cleared.
"That was the last time, John," he said. "I made that promise before, but I keep it this time. You won't see me gloomy again. Henceforward it's hope only. Now, we must hurry. My mother and Julie will be growing anxious, for we are overdue.”
They crossed the Seine by one of the beautiful stone bridges and entered a region of narrow and crooked streets, which John thought must be a part of old Paris. In an American city it would necessarily have been a quarter of the poor, but John knew that here wealth and distinction were often hidden behind these modest doors.
He began to feel very curious about Lannes' family, but he was careful to ask no questions. He knew that the young Frenchman was showing great trust and faith in him by taking him into his home. They stopped presently before a door, and Lannes rang a bell. The door was opened cautiously in a few moments, and a great head surmounted by thick, gray hair was thrust out. A powerful neck and a pair of immense shoulders followed the head. Sharp eyes under heavy lashes peered forth, but in an instant, when the man saw who was before him, he threw open the door and said: "Welcome, Monsieur.”
John had no doubt that this was the Antoine Picard of whom Lannes had spoken, and he knew at the first glance that he beheld a real man. Many people have the idea that all Frenchmen are little, but John knew better.
Antoine Picard was a giant, much over six feet, and with the limbs and chest of a piano-mover. He was about sixty, but age evidently had made no impression upon his strength. John judged from his fair complexion that he was from Normandy. "Here," young Scott said to himself, "is one of those devoted European family servants of whom I've heard so often.”
He regarded the man with interest, and Picard, in return, measured and weighed him with a lightning glance.
"It's all right, Antoine," he said. "He's the young man from that far barbarian country called America, who escaped from Germany with me, only he's no barbarian, but a highly civilized being who not only likes France, but who fights for her. John, this is Antoine Picard, who rules and protects this house.”
John held out his hand, American fashion, and it was engulfed in the mighty grasp of the Norseman, as he always thought of him afterward.
"Madame, your mother, and Mademoiselle, your sister, have been anxious,”
"We were delayed," said Lannes.
They stepped into a narrow hall, and Picard shut the door behind them, shooting into place a heavy bolt which sank into its socket with a click like the closing of the entrance to a fortress. In truth, the whole aspect of the house reminded John of a stronghold. The narrow hall was floored with stone, the walls were stone and the light was dim. Lannes divined John's thoughts.
"You'll find it more cheerful, presently," he said. "As for us, we're used to it, and we love it, although it's so old and cold and dark. It goes back at least five centuries.”
"I suppose some king must have slept here once," said John. "In England they point out every very old house as a place where a king passed the night, and make reverence accordingly.”
Lannes laughed gayly.
"No king ever slept here so far as I know," he said, "but the great Marshal Lannes, whose name I am so proud to bear, was in this house more than once, and to me, a staunch republican, that is greater than having had a king for a tenant. The Marshal, as you may know, although he took a title and served an Emperor, was always a republican and in the early days of the empire often offended Napoleon by his frankness and brusque truths. But enough of old things; we'll see my mother.”
He led the way up the steps, of solid stone, between walls thick enough for a fortress, and knocked at a door. A deep, full voice responded "Enter!" and pushing open the door Lannes went in, followed by John.
It was a large room, with long, low windows, looking out over a sea of roofs toward the dome of the Invalides and Napoleon's arch of triumph. A tall woman rose from a chair, and saying "My son!" put her hands upon Lannes shoulders and kissed him on the forehead. She was fair like her son, and much less than fifty years of age. There was no stoop in her shoulders and but little gray in her hair. Her eyes were anxious, but John saw in them the Spartan determination that marked the women of France.
"My friend, John Scott, of whom I have already spoken to you, Madame my mother," said Lannes.
John bowed. He knew little of French customs, particularly in the heart of a French family, and he was afraid to extend his hand, but she gave him hers, and let it rest in his palm a moment.
"Philip has told me much of you," she said in her deep, bell-like voice, "and although I know little of your far America, I can believe the best of it, if its sons are like you.”
John flushed at the compliment, which he knew to be so sincere.
"Thank you, Madame," he said. "While my country can take no part in this war, many of my countrymen will fight with you. France helped us once, and some of us, at least, will help France now.”
She smiled gravely, and John knew that he was welcome in her house.
Lannes would see to that anyhow, but he wished to make a good impression on his own account.
"I know that Philip risks his life daily," she said. "He has chosen the most dangerous of all paths, the air, but perhaps in that way he can serve us most.”
She spoke with neither complaint nor reproach, merely as if she were stating a fact, and her son added briefly: "You are right, mother. In the air I can work best for our people. Ah, John, here is my sister, who is quite curious about the stranger from across the sea.”
A young girl came into the room. She was tall and slender, not more than seventeen, very fair, with blue eyes and hair of pure gold. John was continually observing that while many of the French were dark and small, in accordance with foreign opinion that made them all so, many more were blonde and tall. Lannes' sister was scarcely more than a lovely child, but his heart beat more quickly.
Lannes kissed her on the forehead, just as he kissed his mother.
"Julie," he said lightly and yet proudly, "this is the young American hero of whom I was telling you, my comrade in arms, or rather in the air, and adopted brother. Mr. John Scott, my sister, Mademoiselle Julie Lannes.”
She made a shy curtsey and John bowed. It was the first time that he was ever in the heart of an old French home, and he did not know the rules, but he felt that he ought not to offer his hand. Young girls, he had always heard, were kept in strict seclusion in France, but the great war and the approach of the German army might make a difference. In any event, he felt bold enough to talk to her a little, and she responded, a beautiful color coming into her face.
"Dinner is ready for our guest and you," said Madame Lannes, and she led the way into another apartment, also with long, low windows, where the table was set. The curtains were drawn from the windows, and John caught through one of them a glimpse of the Seine, of marching troops in long blue coats and red trousers, and of the great city, massing up beyond like a wall.
He felt that he had never before sat down to so strange a table. The world without was shaking beneath the tread of the mightiest of all wars, but within this room was peace and quiet. Madame was like a Roman matron, and the young Julie, though shy, had ample dignity. John liked Lannes' manner toward them both, his fine subordination to his mother and his protective air toward his sister. He was glad to be there with them, a welcome guest in the family.
The dinner was served by a tall young woman. Picard's daughter Suzanne, to whom Lannes had referred, and she served in silence and with extraordinary dexterity one of the best dinners that he ever ate.
As the dinner proceeded John admired the extraordinary composure of the Lannes family. Surely a woman and a girl of only seventeen would feel consternation at the knowledge that an overwhelming enemy was almost within sight of the city they must love so much. Yet they did not refer to it, until nearly the close of the dinner, and it was Madame who introduced the subject.
"I hear, Philip," she said, "that a bomb was thrown today from a German aeroplane into the Place de l'Op√©ra, killing a woman and injuring several other people.”
"It is true, mother.”
John glanced covertly at Julie, and saw her face pale. But she did not tremble.
"Is it true also that the German army is near?" asked Madame Lannes, with just the faintest quiver in her voice.
"Yes, mother. John, standing in the lantern of the Basilique du Sacr√©-Coeur, saw through his glasses the flash of sunlight on the lances of their Uhlans. A shell from one of their great guns could fall in the suburbs of Paris.”
John's covert glance was now for Madame Lannes. How would the matron who was cast in the antique mold of Rome take such news? But she veiled her eyes a little with her long lashes, and he could not catch the expression there.
"I believe it is not generally known in Paris that the enemy is so very near," said Philip, "and while I have not hesitated to tell you the full truth, mother, I ask you and Julie not to speak of it to others.”
"Of course, Philip, we would add nothing to the general alarm, which is great enough already, and with cause. But what do you wish us to do?
Shall we remain here, or go while it is yet time to our cousins, the Menards, at Lyons?”
Now it was the mother who, in this question of physical peril, was showing deference to her son, the masculine head of the family. John liked it. He remembered an old saying, and he felt it to be true, that they did many things well in France.
Lannes glanced at young Scott before replying.
"Mother," he said, "the danger is great. I do not try to conceal it from you. It was my intention this morning to see you and Julie safe on the Lyons train, but John and I have beheld signs, not military, perhaps, but of the soul, and we are firm in the belief that at the eleventh hour we shall be saved. The German host will not enter Paris.”
Madame Lannes looked fixedly at John and he felt her gaze resting like a weight upon his face. But he responded. His faith had merely grown stronger with the hours.
"I cannot tell why, Madame," he said, "but I believe as surely as I am sitting here that the enemy will not enter the capital.”
Then she said decisively, "Julie and I remain in our own home in Paris.”
There was little more talk. The dignified quiet of the Lannes family remained unchanged, and John imitated it. If they could be so calm in the face of overwhelming disaster it should be no effort for him to remain unmoved. Yet he glanced often, though covertly, at Julie Lannes, admiring her lovely color.
When dinner was over they returned to the room in which Madame Lannes had received them. The dark had come already, and Suzanne had lighted four tall candles. There was neither gas nor electricity.
"Mr. Scott will be our guest tonight, mother," said Lannes, "and tomorrow he and I go together to the army.”
John raised his hand in protest. It had not been his intention when he came to remain until morning, but Lannes would listen to no objection; nor would his mother.
"Since you fight for our country," she said, "you must let us give you shelter for at least one night.”
He acquiesced, and they sat a little while, talking of the things furthest from their hearts. Julie Lannes withdrew presently, and before long her mother followed. Lannes went to the window, and looked out over Paris, where the diminished lights twinkled. John stood at the other window and saw the great blur of the capital. All sounds were fused into one steady murmur, rather soothing, like the flowing of a river.
He seemed to hear presently the distant thunder of German guns, but reason told him it was only a trick of the imagination. Nerves keyed high often created the illusion of reality.
"What are you thinking about, Lannes?" he asked.
"Of my mother and sister. Only the French know the French. The family tie is powerful with us.”
"I know that, Phil.”
"So you do. You're an adopted child of France. Madame Lannes is a woman of great heart, John. I am proud to be her son. I have read of your civil war. I have read how the mothers of your young soldiers suffered and yet were brave. None can know how much Madame, my mother, has suffered tonight, with the Germans at the gates of Paris, and yet she has shown no sign of it.”
John was silent. He did not know what to say, but Lannes did not pursue the subject, remaining a full five minutes at the window, and not speaking again, until he turned away.
"John," he said then, "let's go outside and take a look about the quarter. It's important now to watch for everything.”
John was full willing. He recognized the truth of Lannes' words and he wanted air and exercise also. A fortress was a fortress, whether one called it a home or not, Lannes led the way and they descended to the lower hall, where the gigantic porter was on watch.
"My friend and I are going to take a look in the streets, Antoine," said Lannes. "Guard the house well while we are gone.”
"I will," replied the man, "but will you tell me one thing, Monsieur Philip? Do Madame Lannes and Mademoiselle Julie remain in Paris?”
"They do, Antoine, and since I leave tomorrow it will be the duty of you and Suzanne to protect them.”
"I am gratified, sir, that they do not leave the capital. I have never known a Lannes to flee at the mere rumor of the enemy's coming.”
"And I hope you never will, Antoine. I think we'll be back in an hour.”
"I shall be here, sir.”
He unbolted the door and Lannes and John stepped out, the cool night air pouring in a grateful flood upon their faces. Antoine fastened the door behind them, and John again heard the massive bolt sink into its place.
"The quarter is uncommonly quiet," said Lannes. "I suppose it has a right to be after such a day.”
Then be looked up, scanning the heavens, after the manner that had become natural to him, a flying man.
"What do you see, Philip?" asked John.
"A sky of dark blue, plenty of stars, but no aeroplanes, Taubes or other machines of man's making.”
"I fancy that some of them are on the horizon, but too far away to be seen by us.”
"Likely as not. The Germans are daring enough and we can expect more bombs to be dropped on Paris. Our flying corps must organize to meet theirs. I feel the call of the air, John.”
Young Scott laughed.
"I believe the earth has ceased to be your natural element," he said.
"You're happiest when you're in the _Arrowabout a mile above our planet.”
Lannes laughed also, and with appreciation. The friendship between the two young men was very strong, and it had in it all the quality of permanence. Their very unlikeness in character and temperament made them all the better comrades. What one could not do the other could.
As they walked along now they said but little. Each was striving to read what
Publisher: BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
Publication Date: 04-21-2014
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