The last word had hardly been uttered when the Youngster, who had been fidgeting, leaped to his feet.
“Hark!” he cried.
We all listened.
“Cannon,” he yelled, and rushed out to the big gate, which he tore open, and dashed into the road.
There was no doubt of it. Off to the north we could all hear the dull far-off booming of artillery.
We followed into the garden.
The Youngster was in the middle of the road. As we joined him he bent toward the ground, as if, Indian-like, he could hear better. “Hush,” he said in a whisper, as we all began to talk. “Hush! I hear horses.”
There was a dead silence, and in it, we could hear the pounding of horses’ hoofs in the valley.
“Better come in out of the rain,” said the Doctor, and we obeyed. Once inside the gate the Doctor said, “Well, I reckon it is to-morrow at the latest for us. The truth of the matter is: I kept something from you this evening. The village was drummed out last night. As this road is being kept clear, no one passed here, and as we were ready to start at a moment’s notice, I made up my mind to have one more evening. However, we’ve time enough. They can’t advance to-night. Too wet. No moon. Come on into the house.”
He closed and locked the big gate, but before we reached the house, there was a rush of horsemen in the road–then a halt–the Youngster opened the gate before it was called for. Two mounted men in Khaki rode in, stopped short at the sight of the group, saluted.
“Your house?” asked one, as he slid from his saddle and leaned against his horse.
“Mine,” said the Doctor, stepping forward.
“You are not proposing to stay here?”
“No, we are leaving in the morning.”
“Got any conveyances?”
“Two touring cars.”
“Good. You don’t mind my proposing that you go before daylight, do you?”
“Not a bit,” replied the Doctor, “if it is necessary.”
“That’s for you to decide,” said the other officer. “We are going to set up a battery in this garden. Awfully sorry, you know, but it can’t be helped.”
The Youngster, who had remained at the gate, came back, and whispered in my ear, “They are coming. It’s the English still retreating. By Jove, it looks as if they would get to Paris!”
“How many are there of you?” asked the senior officer.
“Ten,” replied the Doctor.
“Eleven,” corrected the Divorcee. “I shall take Angele and the baby.” And she started on a run for the garage.
“Perhaps,” said the Doctor, looking through the open gate, where the weary soldiers were beginning to straggle by, “perhaps it will not be necessary for all of us to go.” And he went close to the officers, and drew his papers from his pocket. There was a hurried whispered conversation, in which the Critic and the Journalist joined. When it was over, the Doctor said, “I understand,” and returned to our group.
“Well, good friends,” he said, “it really is farewell to the garden! The Critic and I are going to stay a bit. We are needed. The Youngster will drive one car, and the Lawyer the other. Get ready to start by three,–that will be just before daylight–and get into the house, all of you. You are in the way here!”
We had less than three hours to get together necessary articles and all the time there was the steady marching of feet in the road, where what servants we had were standing with water and such small help as could be offered a tired army, and bringing in for first aid such of the exhausted men as could be braced up.
Long before we were ready, we heard the rumble of the artillery and the low commands of the officers. In spite of ourselves, we looked out to see the gray things being driven into the gate, and down toward the hillside.