The Twins and their Father followed the resolute figure of Mother
Meraut down the street, not. knowing at all where she was leading
them, but with implicit confidence that she knew what she was
about. She was carrying the heaviest bundles, and the Twins
carried the rest between them, packed in a clothes-basket. On her
other arm Pierrette bore her dearly loved Jacqueline. Father
Meraut could carry nothing but such small articles as could be
put in his pockets, but it was joy enough that he could carry
himself, and it was quite wonderful to see how speedily he got
over the ground with his crutch.
Not far from their house in the Rue Charly ran the River Vesle,
which flows through Rheims, and as the Merauts knew well a man
whose business it was to let boats to pleasure parties in summer,
the children were not surprised to see their Mother walk down the
street toward the little wharf where his boats were kept. He was
waiting to receive them, and, drawn up to the water's edge was a
red and white row-boat, with the name "The Ark" painted upon her
prow. Mother Meraut smiled when she saw the name. "If we only had
the animals to go in two by two, we should be just like Noah and
his family, shouldn't we?" she said, as she put the bundles in
In a few moments they were all seated in the boat, with their few
belongings carefully balanced, and Jacqueline safely reposing in
Pierrette's lap. The boatman pushed them away from the pier. "Au
revoir," called Mother Meraut as the boat slid into the stream.
"We will come back again when the Germans are gone, and in some
way I shall have a chance to send your boat to you, I know.
Meanwhile we will take good care of it."
"There will be few pleasure-seekers on the Vesle this summer,"
answered the boat-man, "and the Ark will be safer with you than
rotting at the pier, let alone the chance of its being blown up
by a shell. I'm glad you've got her, and glad you are going away
from Rheims. It will be easy pulling, for you're going down-
stream, and about all you'll have to do is to keep her headed
right. Au revoir, and good luck." He stood on the pier looking
after them and waving his hat until they were well out in the
middle of the stream.
Father Meraut had the oars, and, as his arms had not been
injured, he was able to guide the boat without fatigue, and soon
the current had carried them through the City and out into the
open country which lay beyond. Mother Meraut sat in the prow,
looking back toward the Cathedral she had so loved, until the
blackened towers were hidden from view by trees along the
riverbank. They had started early in order to be well out of
Rheims before the daily bombardment should begin.
Spring was already in the air, and as they drifted along they
heard the skylarks singing in the fields. The trees were turning
green, and there were blossoms on the apple trees. The wild
flowers along the riverbank were already humming with bees, and
the whole scene seemed so peaceful and quiet after all they had
endured in Rheims, that even the shell-holes left in the fields
which had been fought over in the autumn and the crosses marking
the graves of fallen soldiers did not sadden them.
Mother Meraut sat for a long time silent, then heaved a deep sigh
of relief. "I feel like Lot's wife looking back upon Sodom and
Gomorrah," she said. Suddenly her eyes filled with tears and she
kissed her finger-tips and blew the kiss toward Rheims.
"Farewell, my beautiful City!" she cried. "It is not for your
sins we must leave you! And some happy day we shall return."
There was a report, and a puff of smoke far away over the City,
then the sound of a distant explosion. The daily bombardment had
"Your friends are firing a farewell salute," said Father Meraut.
All the morning they slipped quietly along between greening
banks, carried by the current farther and farther down-stream. At
noon they drew the boat ashore beneath some willow trees, where
they ate their lunch, and then spent an hour in such rest as they
had not had for many weary months.
It was then, and not until then, that Father Meraut ventured to
.ask his wife her plans. "My dear," he said, as he stretched
himself out in a sunny spot and put his head in Pierrette's lap,
"I have great confidence in you, and will follow you willingly
anywhere, but I should really like to know where we are going."
Mother Meraut looked at him in surprise. "Why, haven't I told
you? " she said "My mind has been so full of it I can't believe
you didn't know that we are going to my father's, if we can get
there! You know their village is on a little stream which flows
into the Aisne some distance beyond its junction with the Vesle.
We could drift down to the place where the two rivers join, and
go on from there to the little stream which flows past
Fontanelle. Then we could row up-stream to the village."
"It's as plain as day, now you tell it," answered her husband,
"and a very good plan, too."
"You see," said Mother Meraut, as she packed away the remains of
the lunch, "I haven't heard a word from them all winter. I don't
know whether they are dead or alive. I haven't said anything
about it, because you were so ill and there were so many other
worries, but this plan has been in my mind all the time. What we
shall do when we get to Fontanelle I do not know, but we shall be
no worse off than other refugees, and at any rate we shall not be
under shell-fire every day."
"If we can't find any place to stay there, why can't we go on and
on down the river, until we get clear to the sea," said Pierre
"It's just like being gypsies, isn't it?" added Pierrette.
"So far as I can see," said Mother Meraut, "we've got to go on
and on! Certainly we can't go back."
"No, we can't go back," echoed her husband, with a sigh.
All the pleasant afternoon they drifted peacefully along, and
nightfall found them in open country. It began to grow colder as
darkness came on. "We shall need all our blankets if we are to
sleep in the fields," said Mother Meraut at last. "It's time for
supper and bed, anyway. Let's go ashore."
"We'll build a fire on the bank and cook our supper there," said
"What is there, Mother, that we can cook?"
"There are eggs to fry, and potatoes to roast in the ashes," she
answered, " and coffee besides."
"I am as hungry as a wolf," said Pierrette.
"I'm as hungry as two wolves," said Pierre.
They found a landing-place, and the Ark was drawn ashore. Pierre
and Pierrette ran at once to gather sticks and leaves. These they
brought to their Father, and soon a cheerful fire flamed red
against the shadows. Then the smell of coffee floated out upon
the evening air, and the sputter of frying eggs gave further
promise to their hungry stomachs.
Before they had finished their supper the stars were winking down
at them, and over the brow of a distant hill rose a slender
crescent moon. Pierrette saw it first. "Oh," she cried, "the new
moon! And I saw it over my right shoulder, too! We are sure to
have wonderful luck this month."
Pierre shut his eyes. "Which way is it?" he cried. Pierrette
turned him carefully about so that he too might see it over his
right shoulder, and then, this ceremony completed, they washed
the dishes and helped pack the things carefully away in the
clothes-basket once more.
They slept that night under the edge of a straw-stack in the
meadow near the river, and though they were homeless wanderers
without a roof to cover them, they slept well, and awakened next
morning to the music of bird-songs instead of to the sound of
guns and the whistling of shells.
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