New Year’s Day held a tangible excitement, for that morning saw a modified return to ordinary food, and, in place of bottles of milk, Paul’s load consisted of such tempting selections from the school meals as were deemed desirable for the invalids. Poultry not being included in the school menus, we raided a cooked-provision shop and carried off a plump, well-browned chicken. The approbation which met this venture resulted in our supplying a succession of poulettes, which, at the invalids’ express desire, were smuggled into their room under my cloak. Not that there was the most remote necessity for concealment, but the invalids, whose sole interest centred in food, laboured under the absurd idea that, did the authorities know they were being supplied from without, their regular meals would be curtailed to prevent them over-eating.
The point of interest, for the Red-Cross prisoners at least, in our morning visits lay in the unveiling of the eatables we had brought. School food, however well arranged, is necessarily stereotyped, and the element of the unknown ever lurked in our packages. The sugar-sticks, chocolates, fruit, little cakes, or what we had chanced to bring, were carefully examined, criticised, and promptly devoured.
A slight refreshment was served them during our short stay, and when we departed we left them eagerly anticipating luncheon. At gloaming, when we returned, it was to find them busy with half-yards of the long crusty loaves, plates of jelly, and tumblers, filled with milk on our Boy’s part, and with well diluted wine on that of his fellow sufferer.
Fear of starvation being momentarily averted, the Soeur used to light fresh candles around the tiny Holy Bebe on the still green Christmas-tree, and for a space we sat quietly enjoying the radiance. But by the time the last candle had flickered out, and the glow of a commonplace paraffin lamp lighted the gloom, nature again demanded nourishment; and we bade the prisoners farewell for the night, happy in the knowledge that supper, sleep, and breakfast would pleasantly while away the hours till our return.
The elder Red-Cross knight was a tall, good-looking lad of sixteen, the age when a boy wears painfully high collars, shaves surreptitiously—and unnecessarily—with his pen-knife, talks to his juniors about the tobacco he smokes in a week, and cherishes an undying passion for a maiden older than himself. He was ever an interesting study, though I do not think I really loved him until he confided his affairs of the heart, and entrusted me with the writing of his love-letters. I know that behind my back he invariably referred to me as “Ma”; but as he openly addressed the unconscious nun as “you giddy old girl,” “Ma” might almost be termed respectful, and I think our regard was mutual.
All things come to him who waits. There came a night when for the last time we sat together around the little tree, watching the Soeur light the candles that illuminated the Holy Bebe. On the morrow the prisoners, carefully disinfected, and bearing the order of their release in the form of a medical certificate, would be set free.