Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE COMING OF THE GERMANS
When the Twins opened their eyes the next morning, the first
thing they saw was the sun shining in at the eastern window of
the kitchen, and Mother Meraut bending over the fire. There was a
smell of chocolate in the air, and on the table there were rolls
and butter. Pierre yawned and rubbed his eyes. Pierrette sat up
and tried to think what it was she was so unhappy about; sleep
had, for the time being, swept the terrors of the night quite out
of her mind. In an instant more the fearful truth rolled over her
like a wave, and she sank back upon the pillow with a little
Her Mother heard and understood. She too had waked from sleep to
sorrow, but she only cried out cheerfully, "Bonjour, my sleepy
heads! Last night you did not want to go to your beds at all.
This morning you wish not to leave them! Hop into your clothes as
fast as you can, or we shall be late."
"Late where?" asked Pierre.
"To my work at the Cathedral, to be sure," answered Mother Meraut
promptly. "Where else? Did you think the Germans would make me
sit at home and cry for terror while my work waits? Whoever rules
in Rheims, the Cathedral still stands and must be kept clean."
It was wonderful how the dismal world brightened to Pierre and
Pierrette as they heard their Mother's brave voice. They flew out
of bed at once and were dressed in a twinkling.
While they ate their breakfast, Pierre thought of a plan. "We
ought to take a lot of food with us to-day," he said to his
Mother. "There's no telling what may happen before night. Maybe
we can't get home at all and shall have to sleep in the
"Oh," shuddered Pierrette, "among all those tombs?"
"There are worse places where one might sleep," said the Mother.
"The dead are less to be feared than the living, and the
Cathedral is the safest place in Rheims." She brought out a
wicker basket and began to pack it with food as she talked. First
she put in two pots of jam. "There," said she, "that's the jam
Grandmother made from her gooseberries at the farm."
She paused, struck by a new alarm. Her father and mother lived in
a tiny village far west of Rheims. What if the Germans should
succeed in getting so far as that? What would become of them? She
shut her fears in her breast, saying nothing to the children, and
went on filling the basket. "Here is a bit of cheese left from
last night. I'll put that in, and a pat of butter," she said;
"but we must stop at Madame Coudert's for more bread. You two
little pigs have eaten every scrap there was in the house."
"There are eggs left," suggested Pierrette.
"So there are, ma mie," said her Mother. "We will boil them all
and take them with us. There's a great deal of nourishment in
eggs." She flew to get the saucepan, and while the eggs bubbled
and boiled on the stove, she and the children set the little
kitchen in order and got themselves ready for the street.
It was after nine o'clock when at last Mother Meraut took the
basket on her arm and gave Pierrette her knitting to carry, and
the three started down the steps.
"Everything looks just the same as it did yesterday," said
Pierrette as they walked down the street. "There's that little
raveled-out dog that always barks at Pierre, and there's Madame
Coudert's cat asleep on the railing, just as she always is."
"Yes," said Mother Meraut, with a sigh, "the cats and dogs are
the same, it is only the people who are different!"
They entered the shop and exchanged greetings with Madame
Coudert. They had bought a long loaf of bread, and Mother Mcraut
was just opening her purse to pay for it, when suddenly a shot
rang out. It was followed by the rattle of falling tiles. Another
and another came, and soon there was a perfect rain of shot and
"It is the Germans knocking at the door of Rheims before they
enter," remarked Madame Coudert with grim humor. "I did not
expect so much politeness!"
Mother Meraut did not reply. For once her cheerful tongue found
nothing comforting to say. Pierre clung to her arm, and Pierrette
put her fingers in her ears and hid her face against her Mother's
For some time the deafening sounds continued. From the window
they could see people running for shelter in every direction. A
man came dashing down the street; dodging falling tiles as he
ran, and burst into Madame Coudert's shop. He had just come from
the Rue Colbert and had news to tell. "The Boches have sent an
emissary to the Mayor to demand huge supplies of provisions from
the City, and a great sum of money besides," he told them, as he
gasped for breath. "They are shelling the champagne cellars and
the public buildings of the City to scare us into giving them
what they demand. The German Army will soon be here."
In a few moments there was a lull in the roar of the guns, and
then in the distance another sound was heard. It was a mighty
song of triumph as the conquerors came marching into Rheims!
"There won't be any more shooting for a while anyway," said the
stranger, who had now recovered his breath. "They won't shell the
City while it's full of their own men. I'm going to see them come
All Pierre's fears vanished in an instant. "Come on," he cried,
wild with excitement; "let us go too."
"I'll not stir a foot from my shop," said Madame Coudert firmly.
"I don't want to see the Germans, and if they want to see me,
they can come where I am."
But Pierre had not waited for a reply, from her or any one else.
He was already running up the street.
"Catch him, catch him," gasped Mother Meraut.
Pierrette dashed after Pierre, and as she could run like the
wind, she soon caught up with him and seized him by the skirt of
his blouse. "Stop! stop!" she screamed. "Mother doesn't want you
But she might as well have tried to argue with a hurricane.
Pierre danced up and down with rage, as Pierrette braced herself,
and firmly anchored him by his blouse. "Leggo, leggo!" he
shrieked. "I'm going, I tell you! I'm not afraid of any Germans
Just then, panting and breathless, Mother Meraut arrived upon the
scene. While Pierrette held on to his blouse, she attached
herself to his left ear. It had a very calming effect upon
Pierre. He stopped tugging to get away lest he lose his ear.
"Foolish boy," said his Mother, "see how much trouble you give
me! You shall see the Germans, but you shall not run away from
me. If we should get separated, God only knows whether we should
ever find each other again."
The music had grown louder and louder, and was now very near.
"I'll stay with you, if you'll only go," pleaded Pierre, "but you
aren't even moving."
"Come, Pierrette," said his Mother, "take hold of his left arm. I
will attend to his right; he might forget again. What he really
needs is a bit and bridle!"
The three moved up the street, Pierre chafing inwardly, but
helpless in his Mother's grasp, and at the next crossing the
great spectacle burst upon them. A whole regiment of cavalry was
passing, singing at the top of their lungs, "Lieb' Vaterland,
macht ruhig sein." The sun glistened on their helmets, and the
clanking of swords and the jingling of spurs kept time with the
swelling chorus. After the cavalry came soldiers on foot—miles
"Oh," murmured Pierrette, clinging to
her Mother, "it's like a river of men!"
Her Mother did not answer. Pierrette looked up into her face. The
tears were streaming down her cheeks, but her head was proudly
erect. She looked at the other French people about them. There
were tears on many cheeks, but not a head was bowed. Pierre was
glaring at the troops and muttering through his teeth: "Just you
wait till I grow up! I'll make you pay for this, you pirates!
"Hush!" whispered Pierrette. "Suppose they should hear you!"
"I don't care if they do! I wish they would!" raged Pierre. "I'm
But the German Army was destined not to suffer the consequences
of Pierre's wrath. He did not even have a chance to tell
Pierrette his plan for their destruction, for at this point his
Mother, unable longer to endure the sight, dragged him forcibly
from the scene. "They shall not parade their colors before me,"
she said firmly, "I will not stand still and look in silence upon
my conquerors! If I could but face them with a gun, that would be
She led the children through a maze of small streets by a
roundabout way to the Cathedral, and there they were met at the
entrance by the Verger, who gazed at them with sad surprise.
"You've been out in the street during the bombardment," he said
reproachfully. "It's just like you, Antoinette."
"Oh, but how was I to know it was coming?" cried Mother Meraut.
"We left home before it began!"
"It would have been just the same if you had known," scolded the
Verger. "Germans or devils—it would make no difference to you!
You have no fear in you."
"You misjudge me," cried Mother Meraut; "but what good would it
do to sit and quake in my own house? There is no safety anywhere,
and here at least there is work to do."
"You can go about your work as usual with the noise of guns
ringing in your ears and the Germans marching through Rheims?"
exclaimed the Verger.
"Why not?" answered Mother Meraut, with spirit. "I guess our
soldiers don't knock off work every time a gun goes off or a few
Germans come in sight! It would be a shame if we could not follow
their example!" `
"Antoinette, you are a wonderful woman. I have always said so,"
declared the Verger solemnly. "You are as brave as a man!"
"Pooh!" said Mother Meraut, mockingly. "As if the men, bless
their hearts, were so much braver than women, anyway! Oh, la! la!
the conceit of you!" She wagged a derisive finger at the Verger,
and, calling the children, went to get her scrubbing-pail and
All day long, while distant guns roared, she went about her daily
tasks, keeping one spot of order and cleanliness in the midst of
the confusion, disorder, and destruction of the invaded city. The
Twins were busy, too; their Mother saw to that. They dusted
chairs and placed them in rows; and at noon they found a corner
where the light falling through one of the beautiful stained-
glass windows made a spot of cheerful color in the gloom, and
there they ate part of the lunch which they had packed in the
wicker basket. During all the excitement of the morning they had
not forgotten the lunch!
When the day's work was done, they ventured out upon the streets
in the gathering dusk. They found them full of German soldiers,
drinking, swaggering, singing, and they saw many strange and
terrifying sights in the havoc wrought by the first bombardment.
As they passed the door of Madame Coudert's shop, they peeped in
and saw her sitting stolidly behind the counter, knitting.
"Oh," said Pierrette, "doesn't it seem like a year since we were
here this morning?"
Mother Meraut called out a cheerful greeting to Madame Coudert.
"Still in your place, I see," she said.
"Like the Pyramids," came the calm answer; and, cheered by her
fortitude, they hurried on their way to the little house in the
Mother Meraut sighed with relief as she unlocked the door.
"Everything just as we left it," she said. "We at least shall
have one more night in our own home." Then she drew the children
into the shelter of the dear, familiar roof and locked the door
from the inside.