It clouded our gladness to know that before the patient Sister stretched another period of isolation. Just that day another pupil had developed scarlet fever, and only awaited our boys’ departure to occupy the little room. Hearing that this fresh prisoner lay under sentence of durance vile, we suggested that all the toys—chiefly remnants of shattered armies that, on hearing of the Boy’s illness, we had brought from the home playroom he had outgrown—might be left for him instead of being sent away to be burnt.
The Boy’s bright face dulled. “If it had been anybody else! But, mother, I don’t think you know that he is the one French boy we disliked. It was he who always shouted ‘a bas les Anglais!’ in the playground.”
The reflection that for weary weeks this obnoxious boy would be the only inmate of the boite, as the invalids delighted to call their sick-room, overcame his antipathetic feeling, and he softened so far as to indite a polite little French note offering his late enemy his sympathy, and formally bequeathing to him the reversion of his toys, including the arbre de Noel with all its decorations, except the little waxen Jesus nestling in the manger of yellow corn; the Soeur had already declared her intention of preserving that among her treasures.
The time that had opened so gloomily had passed, and now that it was over we could look back upon many happy hours spent within the dingy prison walls. And our thoughts were in unison, for the Boy, abruptly breaking the silence, said: “And after all, it hasn’t been such a bad time. Do you know, I really think I’ve rather enjoyed it!”
Heavy skies lowered above us, the landscape seen through the driving mist-wreaths showed a depressing repetition of drabs and greys as we journeyed towards Calais. But, snugly ensconced in the train rapide, our hearts beat high with joy, for at last were we homeward bound. The weeks of exile in the stately old town had ended. For the last time the good Sister had lit us down the worn stone steps. As we sped seawards across the bleak country, our thoughts flew back to her, and to the little room with the red cross on its casement, wherein, although our prisoners were released, another term of nursing had already begun for her. In contrast with her life of cheerful self-abnegation, ours seemed selfish, meaningless, and empty.
Dear nameless Sister! She had been an angel of mercy to us in a troublous time, and though our earthly paths may never again cross, our hearts will ever hold her memory sacred.
By the same Author
OUR STOLEN SUMMER
THE RECORD OF A ROUNDABOUT TOUR
MARY STUART BOYD