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The Forest of Swords: A Story of Paris and the Marne

The Forest of Swords: A Story of Paris and the Marne

Author:Joseph A. Altsheler


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 des...
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  John Scott and Philip Lannes walked together down a great boulevard ofParis. The young American's heart was filled with grief and anger. TheFrenchman felt the same grief, but mingled with it was a fierce, burningpassion, so deep and bitter that it took a much stronger word than angerto describe it.

  Both had heard that morning the mutter of cannon on the horizon, andthey knew the German conquerors were advancing. They were alwaysadvancing. Nothing had stopped them. The metal and masonry of thedefenses at Liège had crumbled before their huge guns like chinabreaking under stone. The giant shells had scooped out the forts atMaubeuge, 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-centurybefore, how everything had been made complete by the genius of Bismarckand von Moltke, how the ready had sprung upon and crushed the unready,but the present swoop of the imperial eagle seemed far more vast andterrible than the earlier rush could have been.

  A month and the legions were already before the City of Light. Men withglasses could see from the top of the Eiffel Tower the gray ranks thatwere to hem in devoted Paris once more, and the government had fledalready to Bordeaux. It seemed that everything was lost before the warwas fairly begun. The coming of the English army, far too small innumbers, had availed nothing. It had been swept up with the others,escaping from capture or destruction only by a hair, and was now drivenback with the French on the capital.

  John had witnessed two battles, and in neither had the Germans stoppedlong. 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. TheGerman war machine was magnificent, invincible, and for the fourth timein a century the Germans, the exulting Kaiser at their head, might enterParis.

  The Emperor himself might be nothing, mere sound and glitter, but backof him was the greatest army that ever trod the planet, taught for halfa century to believe in the divine right of kings, and assured now thatmight and right were the same.

  Every instinct in him revolted at the thought that Paris should betrodden under foot once more by the conqueror. The great capital hadtruly deserved its claim to be the city of light and leading, and ifParis and France were lost the whole world would lose. He could neverforget the unpaid debt that his own America owed to France, and he felthow closely interwoven the two republics were in their beliefs andaspirations.

  "Why are you so silent?" asked Lannes, half angrily, although John knewthat 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 theArc 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 heshared with Lannes his wish that the mighty man who had built it tocommemorate his triumphs was back with France--for a while at least. Hewas 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 alltimes, with the German millions at the gates, he was needed most.

  "I think France could afford to take him back," he said, "and risk anydemands he might make or enforce."

  "John," said Lannes, "you've fought with us and suffered with us, and soyou're one of us. You understand what I felt this morning when on theedge 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 ingreater force to help us. But if victorious Germans march once throughthe Arc de Triomphe I shall feel that we can never again win back allthat we have lost."

  A note, low but deep and menacing, came from the far horizon. It mightbe a German gun or it might be a French gun, but the effect was thesame. The threat was there. A shudder shook the frame of Lannes, butJohn saw a sudden flame of sunlight shoot like a glittering lance fromthe Arc de Triomphe.

  "A sign! a sign!" he exclaimed, his imaginative mind on fire in aninstant. "I saw a flash from the arch! It was the soul of the GreatCaptain speaking! I tell you, Philip, the Republic is not yet lost! I'veread somewhere, and so have you, that the Romans sold at auction at ahigh price the land on which Hannibal's victorious army was camped, whenit lay before Rome!"

  "It's so! And France has her glorious traditions, too! We won't give upuntil we're beaten--and not then!"

  The gray eyes of Lannes flamed, and his figure seemed to swell. All thewonderful French vitality was personified in him. He put his handaffectionately upon the shoulder of his comrade.

  "It's odd, John," he said, "but you, a foreigner, have lighted the sparkanew in me."

  "Maybe it's because I _am_ a foreigner, though, in reality, I'm now noforeigner 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 hopeagain. Maybe somebody will arrive to save us at the last. Whatever thegreat one, whose greatest monument stands there, may have been, he lovedFrance, 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 theflying men, Lannes!"

  Lannes glanced up where the aeroplanes hovered thick over Paris, andtoward the horizon where the invisible German host with its huge gunswas advancing. The look of despair came into his eyes again, but itrested there only a moment. He remembered his new courage and banishedit.

  "Perhaps I ought to be in the sky myself with the others," he said, "butI'd only see what I don't like to see. The _Arrow_ and I can't be of anyhelp now."

  "You brought me here in the _Arrow_, Lannes," said John, seeking toassume a light tone. "Now what do you intend to do with me? As everybodyis 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 thecommander of our flying corps, but you're right in concluding that weshouldn'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 boundto rejoin my company, the Strangers, if I can. I must report as soon aspossible to Captain Colton."

  "That's true, John, but I can't leave Paris until tomorrow. I may haveorders to carry, I must obtain supplies for the _Arrow_, and I wish tovisit 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 del'Opéra."

  "Good. Say three o'clock. The first to arrive will await the otherbefore the steps of the Opera House?"

  John nodded assent and Lannes hurried away. Young Scott followed hisfigure with his eyes until it disappeared in the crowd. A back may be anindex to a man's strength of mind, and he saw that Lannes, head erectand 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 aninfinite sadness and pity, not for Lannes, but for all the three millionpeople who inhabited the City of Light, most of whom were fleeing nowbefore the advance of the victorious invader. He could put himself intheir place. France held his deepest sympathy. He felt that a greatnation, sedulously minding its own business, trampled upon and robbedonce before, was now about to be trampled upon and robbed again. Hecould not subscribe to the doctrine, that might was right.

  He watched the fugitives a long time. They were crowding the railwaystations, and they were departing by motor, by cart and on foot. Many ofthe poorer people, both men and women, carried packs on their backs. Theboulevards and the streets were filled with the retreating masses.

  It was an amazing and stupefying sight, the abandonment by itsinhabitants 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 andMr. Anson in the spring, and he had seen nothing but peace andbrightness. The sun had glittered then, as it glittered now over the Arcde Triomphe, the gleaming dome of the Invalides and the golden waters ofthe Seine. It was Paris, soft, beautiful and bright, the Paris thatwished no harm to anybody.

  But the people were going. He could see them going everywhere. Thecruel, ancient times when cities were destroyed or enslaved by theconqueror had come back, and the great Paris that the world had known solong might become lost forever.

  The stream of fugitives, rich and poor, mingled, poured on withoutceasing. He did not know where they were going. Most of them did notknow themselves. He saw a great motor, filled high with people andgoods, break down in the streets, and he watched them while they workeddesperately to restore the mechanism. And yet there was no panic. Thesound of voices was not high. The Republic was justifying itself oncemore. Silent and somberly defiant, the inhabitants were leaving Parisbefore the giant German guns could rain shells upon the unarmed.

  It was three or four hours until the time to meet Lannes, and drawn byan overwhelming curiosity and anxiety he began the climb of the ButteMontmartre. If observers on the Eiffel Tower could see the German forcesapproaching, then with the powerful glasses he carried over his shoulderhe might discern them from the dome of the Basilica of the SacredHeart.

  As he made his way up the ascent through the crooked and narrow littlestreets he saw many eyes, mostly black and quick, watching him. This bynight was old Paris, dark and dangerous, where the Apache dwelled, andby day in a fleeing city, with none to restrain, he might be no lessruthless.

  But John felt only friendliness for them all. He believed that commondanger would knit all Frenchmen together, and he nodded and smiled atthe 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 steppedbefore him and asked:

  "Which way, Monsieur?"

  He was three or four years older than John, wearing uncommonly tightfitting clothes of blue, a red cap with a tassel, and he was about fivefeet four inches tall. But small as he was he seemed to be made ofsteel, and he stood, poised on his little feet, ready to spring like aleopard when he chose.

  The blue eyes of the tall American looked steadily into the black eyesof the short Frenchman, and the black eyes looked back as steadily. Johnwas fast learning to read the hearts and minds of men through theireyes, and what he saw in the dark depths pleased him. Here were cunningand yet courage; impudence and yet truth; caprice and yet honor. Apacheor not, he decided to like him.

  "I'm going up into the lantern of the Basilica," he said, "to see if Ican 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 withhim through those glasses at the Germans, some of whom I'm going toshoot?"

  John smiled.

  "If you're going out potting Germans," he said, "you'd better getyourself into a uniform as soon as you can. They have no mercy on _franctireurs_."

  "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'veread 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 wedon'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 soldiercarried a marshal's baton in his knapsack. Perhaps that time has comeagain. And the great emperor was a little man like me."

  John began to laugh and then he stopped suddenly. Pierre LouisBougainville, so small and so insignificant, was not looking at him. Hewas looking over and beyond him, dreaming perhaps of a glitteringfuture. The funny little red cap with the tassel might shelter a greatbrain. Respect took the place of the wish to laugh.

  "Monsieur Bougainville," he said in his excellent French, "my name isJohn Scott. I am from America, but I am serving in the alliedFranco-British army. My heart like yours beats for France."

  "Then, Monsieur Jean, you and I are brothers," said the little man, hiseyes still gleaming. "It may be that we shall fight side by side in thehour 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 greatman, and he will not admit me."

  "If I secure entrance you will, too. Come."

  They reached side by side the Basilique de Sacré-Coeur, which crowns thesummit of the Butte Montmartre, and bought tickets from the porter,whose calm the proximity of untold Germans did not disturb. John saw thelittle Apache make the sign of the cross and bear himself with dignity.In some curious way Bougainville impressed him once more with a sense ofpower. Perhaps there was a spark of genius under the red cap. He knewfrom his reading that there was no rule about genius. It passed kingsby, and chose the child of a peasant in a hovel.

  "You're what they call an Apache, are you not?" he asked.

  "Yes, Monsieur."

  "Well, for the present, that is until you win a greater name, I'm goingto call you Geronimo."

  "And why Zhay-ro-nee-mo, Monsieur?"

  "Because that was the name of a great Apache chief. According to ourwhite standards he was not all that a man should be. He had perhaps acertain insensibility to the sufferings of others, but in the Apacheview that was not a fault. He was wholly great to them."

  "Very well then, Monsieur Scott, I shall be flattered to be calledZhay-ro-nee-mo, until I win a name yet greater."

  "Where is the Father Pelletier, the priest, who you said would bar yourway unless I came with you?"

  "He is on the second platform where you look out over Paris before goinginto the lantern. It may be that he has against me what you would callthe prejudice. I am young. Youth must have its day, and I have done somesmall 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 amwilling to forgive and forget."

  He spoke with so much magnanimity that John was compelled to laugh.Geronimo laughed, too, showing splendid white teeth. The understandingbetween them was now perfect.

  "I must talk with Father Pelletier," said John. "Until you're a greatman, 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 priestwith a fine but severe face, who looked with curiosity at John, and withdisapproval at the Apache.

  "You are Father Pelletier, I believe," said John with his disarmingsmile. "These are unusual times, but I wish to go up into the lantern. Iam an American, though, as you can see by my uniform, I am a soldier ofFrance."

  "But your companion, sir? He has a bad reputation in the quarter. Whenhe should come to the church he does not, and now when he should not hedoes."

  "That reputation of which you speak, Father Pelletier, will soon pass.Another, better and greater will take its place. Our friend here, andperhaps both of us will be proud to call him so some day, leaves soon tofight for France."

  The priest looked again at Bougainville, and his face softened. Thelittle Apache met his glance with a firm and open gaze, and his figureseemed to swell again, and to radiate strength. Perhaps the priest sawin his eyes the same spark that John had noticed there.

  "It is a time when France needs all of her sons," he said, "and eventhose who have not deserved well of her before may do great deeds forher now. You can pass."

  Bougainville walked close to Father Pelletier, and John heard him say inlow tones:

  "I feel within me the power to achieve, and when you see me again youwill recognize it."

  The priest nodded and his friendly hand lay for a moment on the other'sshoulder.

  "Come on, Geronimo," said John cheerfully. "As I remember it's nearly ahundred steps into the lantern, and that's quite a climb."

  "Not for youth like ours," exclaimed Bougainville, and he ran upward solightly that the American had some difficulty in following him. John wasimpressed once more by his extraordinary strength and agility, despitehis 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 twostood at the same time upon the utmost crest of the Basilique duSacré-Coeur.

  They paused a few moments for fresh breath and then John put the glassesto his eye, sweeping them in a slow curve. Through the powerful lenseshe saw the vast circle of Paris, and all the long story of the past thatit called up. Two thousand years of history rolled beneath his feet, andthe spectacle was wholly magnificent.

  He beheld the great green valley with its hills, green, too, the line ofthe Seine cutting the city apart like the flash of a sword blade, thegolden dome of the Hotel des Invalides, the grinning gargoyles of NotreDame, the arches and statues and fountains and the long green ribbonsthat marked the boulevards.

  Although the city stood wholly in the sunlight a light haze formed onthe rim of the circling horizon. He now moved the glasses slowly over asegment there and sought diligently for something. From so high a pointand with such strong aid one could see many miles. He was sure that hewould find what he sought and yet did not wish to see. Presently hepicked out intermittent flashes which he believed were made by sunlightfalling on steel. Then he drew a long and deep breath that was almostlike 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 GermanUhlans. Will you look?"

  Bougainville held out his hands eagerly for the glasses, and then drewthem 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 Prussianlances."

  John handed him the glasses and he looked long and intently, at timessweeping them slowly back and forth, but gazing chiefly at the pointunder the horizon that had drawn his companion's attention.

  John meanwhile looked down at the city glittering in the sun, but fromwhich its people were fleeing, as if its last day had come. It stillseemed impossible that Europe should be wrapped in so great a war andthat the German host should be at the gates of Paris.

  His eyes turned back toward the point where he had seen the gleam of thelances and he fancied now that he heard the far throb of the Germanguns. The huge howitzers like the one Lannes and he had blown up mightsoon be throwing shells a ton or more in weight from a range of a dozenmiles into the very heart of the French capital. An acute depressionseized him. He had strengthened the heart of Lannes, and now his ownheart needed strengthening. How was it possible to stop the German armywhich had come so far and so fast that its Uhlans could already seeParis? The unprepared French had been defeated already, and the slowEnglish, arriving to find France under the iron heel, must go back anddefend 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 theglasses 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 thebitterness of death for Frenchmen to hear all the world say we are adying race, and it has been said so often that some of us ourselves hadbegun to believe it! But it is not so! I tell you it is not so, andwe'll soon prove to the Germans who come that it isn't! I have lookedfor a sign. I sought for it in all the skies through your glasses, but Idid not find it there. Yet I have found it."


  "In my heart. Every beat tells me that this Paris of ours is not for theGermans. We will yet turn them back!"

  He reminded John of Lannes in his dramatic intensity, real and notaffected, a true part of his nature. Its effect, too, upon the Americanwas powerful. He had given courage to Lannes, and now Bougainville, thatlittle Apache of the Butte Montmartre, was giving new strength to hisown weakening heart. Fresh life flowed back into his veins and heremembered that he, too, had beheld a sign, the flash of light on theArc de Triomphe.

  "I think we have seen enough here, Geronimo," he said lightly, "andwe'll descend. I've a friend to meet later. Which way do you go from thechurch?"

  "To the army. I shall be in a uniform tonight, and tomorrow maybe Ishall 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. "Ibelong to a company called the Strangers, made up chiefly of Americansand English, and commanded by Captain Daniel Colton. If you're on thebattle line and hear of the Strangers there too I should like for you tohunt me up if you can. I'd do the same for you, but I don't yet know towhat force you will belong."

  Bougainville promised and they walked down to the second platform, whereFather Pelletier was still standing.

  "What did you see?" he asked of John, unable to hide the eagerness inhis eyes.

  "Uhlans, Father Pelletier, and I fancied that I heard the echo of aGerman forty-two centimeter. Would you care to use the glasses? The viewfrom 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 ourenemies may be confounded; tomorrow I shall throw off the gown of apriest 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 saidfarewell to Bougainville.

  "Geronimo," he said, "I expect to see you leading a victorious chargedirectly into the heart of the German army."

  "If I can meet your hopes I will, Monsieur Scott," said the youngFrenchman gayly, "and now, _au revoir_, I depart for my uniform andarms, which must be of the best."

  John smiled as he walked down the hill. His heart had warmed toward thelittle Apache who might not be any Apache at all. Nevertheless the nameGeronimo seemed to suit him, and he meant to think of him by it untilhis 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 yetnearer. The tale of the monster guns had traveled fast, and the shellsmight be falling among them at any moment. Aeroplanes dotted the skies,but they paid little attention to them. They still thought of war underthe old conditions, and to the great mass of the people flying machineswere mere toys.

  But John knew better. Those journeys of his with Lannes through theheavens and their battles in the air for their lives were unforgettable.Stopping on the last slope of Montmartre he studied space with hisglasses. He was sure that he saw captive balloons on the horizon wherethe German army lay, and one shape larger than the rest looked like aZeppelin, but he did not believe those monsters had come so far to thesouth and west. They must have an available base.

  His heart suddenly increased its beat. He saw a darting figure and herecognized the shape of the German Taube. Then something black shotdownward 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 Tauberushing away like a huge carnivorous bird that had already seized itsprey, and then he ran swiftly down the street. The bomb had burst in aswarm of fugitives and a woman was killed. Several people were wounded,and a panic had threatened, but the soldiers had restored order alreadyand ambulances soon took the wounded to hospitals.

  John went on, shocked to the core. It was a new kind of war. The flyingmen might rain death from the air upon a helpless city, but theirvictims were more likely to be women and children than armed men. Forthe first time the clean blue sky became a sinister blanket from whichdropped destruction.

  The confusion created by the bomb soon disappeared. The multitude ofParisians still poured from the city, and long lines of soldiers tooktheir place. John wondered what the French commanders would do. Surelytheirs was a desperate problem. Would they try to defend Paris, or wouldthey let it go rather than risk its destruction by bombardment? Yet itsfall 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. "Itis a quaint old place hidden away, as so many happy homes are in thiscity. You will find nobody there but my mother, my sister Julie, and afaithful 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 ofyou, 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 mea reputation that I can't carry."

  "Never mind about the reputation. What have you been doing since I leftyou this morning?"

  "I spent a part of the time in the lantern of the Basilica onMontmartre, 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 hisacquaintance while I was going up Montmartre, but I already considerhim, next to you, the best friend I have in France."

  "Acquaintanceship seems to grow rapidly with you, Monsieur Jean theScott."

  "It has, but you must remember that our own friendship was prettysudden. It developed in a few minutes of flight from soldiers at theGerman border."

  "That is so, but it was soon sealed by great common dangers. Who is yournew friend, John?"

  "A little Apache named Pierre Louis Bougainville, whom I have nicknamedGeronimo, after a famous Indian chief of my country. He has already goneto fight for France, and, Philip, he made an extraordinary impressionupon me, although I don't know just why. He is short like Napoleon, hehas the same large and beautifully shaped head, and the same penetratingeyes that seem able to look you through and through. Maybe it was aspark of genius in him that impressed me."

  "It may be so," said Lannes thoughtfully. "It was said, and said trulythat the First Republic meant the open career to all the talents, andthe Third offers the same chance. One never can tell where militarygenius is going to appear and God knows we need it now in whatever shapeor 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. Theymay kill a few people, nearly always the unarmed, but that has no realeffect 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 blackspeck against the blue, and John stood beside him, waiting patiently.Meanwhile the throng of fleeing people moved on as before, silent andsomber, even the children saying little. John was again stirred by thedeepest emotion of sympathy and pity. What a tremendous tragedy it wouldbe if New York were being abandoned thus to a victorious foe! Lanneshimself had seemed to take no notice of the flight, but John judged hehad made a powerful effort of the will to hide the grief and anger thatsurely filled his heart.

  "I don't see anything in the air but our own machines," said Lannes, ashe returned the glasses. "It was evidently a dash by the Taube thatthrew the bomb. But we've stayed here long enough. They're waiting forus at home."

  He led the way through the multitude, relapsing into silence, butcasting a glance now and then at his own peculiar field, the heavens.They reached the Place de la Concorde, and stopped there a moment ortwo. Lannes looked sadly at the black drapery hanging from the stonefigure that typified the lost city of Strassburg, but John glanced upthe great sweep of the Place to the Arc de Triomphe, where he caughtagain 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 avoice of grief. "Oh, Paris, City of Light, City of the Heart! You maynot understand me, John, but I couldn't bear to come back to Parisagain, much as I love it, if it is to be despoiled and ruled byGermans."

  "I do understand you, Philip," said John cheerfully, "but you mustn'tcount a city yours until you've taken it. The Germans are near, butthey'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. Henceforwardit's hope only. Now, we must hurry. My mother and Julie will be growinganxious, for we are overdue."

  They crossed the Seine by one of the beautiful stone bridges and entereda region of narrow and crooked streets, which John thought must be apart of old Paris. In an American city it would necessarily have been aquarter of the poor, but John knew that here wealth and distinction wereoften hidden behind these modest doors.

  He began to feel very curious about Lannes' family, but he was carefulto ask no questions. He knew that the young Frenchman was showing greattrust and faith in him by taking him into his home. They stoppedpresently before a door, and Lannes rang a bell. The door was openedcautiously in a few moments, and a great head surmounted by thick, grayhair was thrust out. A powerful neck and a pair of immense shouldersfollowed the head. Sharp eyes under heavy lashes peered forth, but in aninstant, when the man saw who was before him, he threw open the door andsaid:

  "Welcome, Monsieur."

  John had no doubt that this was the Antoine Picard of whom Lannes hadspoken, and he knew at the first glance that he beheld a real man. Manypeople have the idea that all Frenchmen are little, but John knewbetter.

  Antoine Picard was a giant, much over six feet, and with the limbs andchest of a piano-mover. He was about sixty, but age evidently had madeno impression upon his strength. John judged from his fair complexionthat he was from Normandy. "Here," young Scott said to himself, "is oneof those devoted European family servants of whom I've heard so often."

  He regarded the man with interest, and Picard, in return, measured andweighed him with a lightning glance.

  Lannes laughed.

  "It's all right, Antoine," he said. "He's the young man from that farbarbarian country called America, who escaped from Germany with me, onlyhe's no barbarian, but a highly civilized being who not only likesFrance, but who fights for her. John, this is Antoine Picard, who rulesand protects this house."

  John held out his hand, American fashion, and it was engulfed in themighty grasp of the Norseman, as he always thought of him afterward.

  "Madame, your mother, and Mademoiselle, your sister, have been anxious,"said Picard.

  "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 clicklike the closing of the entrance to a fortress. In truth, the wholeaspect of the house reminded John of a stronghold. The narrow hall wasfloored with stone, the walls were stone and the light was dim. Lannesdivined John's thoughts.

  "You'll find it more cheerful, presently," he said. "As for us, we'reused to it, and we love it, although it's so old and cold and dark. Itgoes back at least five centuries."

  "I suppose some king must have slept here once," said John. "In Englandthey point out every very old house as a place where a king passed thenight, and make reverence accordingly."

  Lannes laughed gayly.

  "No king ever slept here so far as I know," he said, "but the greatMarshal Lannes, whose name I am so proud to bear, was in this house morethan once, and to me, a staunch republican, that is greater than havinghad a king for a tenant. The Marshal, as you may know, although he tooka title and served an Emperor, was always a republican and in the earlydays of the empire often offended Napoleon by his frankness and brusquetruths. But enough of old things; we'll see my mother."

  He led the way up the steps, of solid stone, between walls thick enoughfor 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 ofroofs toward the dome of the Invalides and Napoleon's arch of triumph. Atall woman rose from a chair, and saying "My son!" put her hands uponLannes shoulders and kissed him on the forehead. She was fair like herson, and much less than fifty years of age. There was no stoop in hershoulders and but little gray in her hair. Her eyes were anxious, butJohn saw in them the Spartan determination that marked the women ofFrance.

  "My friend, John Scott, of whom I have already spoken to you, Madame mymother," said Lannes.

  John bowed. He knew little of French customs, particularly in the heartof a French family, and he was afraid to extend his hand, but she gavehim 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 bestof 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 thiswar, 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 impressionon his own account.

  "I know that Philip risks his life daily," she said. "He has chosen themost dangerous of all paths, the air, but perhaps in that way he canserve us most."

  She spoke with neither complaint nor reproach, merely as if she werestating 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 fromacross the sea."

  A young girl came into the room. She was tall and slender, not more thanseventeen, very fair, with blue eyes and hair of pure gold. John wascontinually observing that while many of the French were dark and small,in accordance with foreign opinion that made them all so, many more wereblonde 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 Americanhero of whom I was telling you, my comrade in arms, or rather in theair, and adopted brother. Mr. John Scott, my sister, Mademoiselle JulieLannes."

  She made a shy curtsey and John bowed. It was the first time that he wasever 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 hadalways heard, were kept in strict seclusion in France, but the great warand the approach of the German army might make a difference. In anyevent, he felt bold enough to talk to her a little, and she responded, abeautiful color coming into her face.

  "Dinner is ready for our guest and you," said Madame Lannes, and she ledthe way into another apartment, also with long, low windows, where thetable was set. The curtains were drawn from the windows, and John caughtthrough one of them a glimpse of the Seine, of marching troops in longblue coats and red trousers, and of the great city, massing up beyondlike a wall.

  He felt that he had never before sat down to so strange a table. Theworld without was shaking beneath the tread of the mightiest of allwars, but within this room was peace and quiet. Madame was like a Romanmatron, and the young Julie, though shy, had ample dignity. John likedLannes' manner toward them both, his fine subordination to his motherand his protective air toward his sister. He was glad to be there withthem, 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 withextraordinary dexterity one of the best dinners that he ever ate.

  As the dinner proceeded John admired the extraordinary composure of theLannes family. Surely a woman and a girl of only seventeen would feelconsternation at the knowledge that an overwhelming enemy was almostwithin sight of the city they must love so much. Yet they did not referto it, until nearly the close of the dinner, and it was Madame whointroduced the subject.

  "I hear, Philip," she said, "that a bomb was thrown today from a Germanaeroplane into the Place de l'Opéra, killing a woman and injuringseveral other people."

  "It is true, mother."

  John glanced covertly at Julie, and saw her face pale. But she did nottremble.

  "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 duSacré-Coeur, saw through his glasses the flash of sunlight on the lancesof their Uhlans. A shell from one of their great guns could fall in thesuburbs of Paris."

  John's covert glance was now for Madame Lannes. How would the matron whowas cast in the antique mold of Rome take such news? But she veiled hereyes a little with her long lashes, and he could not catch theexpression there.

  "I believe it is not generally known in Paris that the enemy is so verynear," said Philip, "and while I have not hesitated to tell you the fulltruth, 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 isgreat 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, theMenards, at Lyons?"

  Now it was the mother who, in this question of physical peril, wasshowing deference to her son, the masculine head of the family. Johnliked it. He remembered an old saying, and he felt it to be true, thatthey 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 fromyou. It was my intention this morning to see you and Julie safe on theLyons 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 hourwe shall be saved. The German host will not enter Paris."

  Madame Lannes looked fixedly at John and he felt her gaze resting like aweight upon his face. But he responded. His faith had merely grownstronger with the hours.

  "I cannot tell why, Madame," he said, "but I believe as surely as I amsitting here that the enemy will not enter the capital."

  Then she said decisively, "Julie and I remain in our own home in Paris."