The Three Telegrams by Ethel Storm
From The Ladies' Home Journal
For two years Claire RenÃ©'s days had been very much alike. It was a
dull routine, full of heavy tasks, in the tiny crumbling house, in the
shrunken garden patch, and grand'mÃ¨rethere was always grand'mÃ¨re to
care for. Often in the afternoon Claire RenÃ© wandered in the forest
for an hour. She was used to the silence of the tall trees; the silence
in the house frightened her. All the people in her land were gone away;
the great noise beyond had taken them. Sometimes the noise had stopped,
but the silence in the house, the silence in the garden, and the
silence of grand'mÃ¨re never stopped. It was hard for Claire RenÃ© to
There was no one left in her land except grand'mÃ¨re and Jacques.
Jacques lived in the forest and cut wood; in the summer time he shot
birds, in the winter time rabbits; Jacques was a very old man.
Claire RenÃ© thought about a great many things when she walked in
the forest in the afternoons. She wondered how old she was. She knew
that she had been seven years old when her three brothers went away a
long time before. She would like to have another birthday, some day,
but not until ClÃ©ment and Fernand and Alphonse came home again. Then
they would laugh as they used to laugh on her birthdays, and catch her
up in their big, strong arms, and kiss her and call her Dear little
sister. ClÃ©ment was the biggest and strongest of all; sometimes he
would run off with her on his back into the forest, and the others
would follow running and calling; and then at the end of the chase the
three brothers would make a throne of their brown, firm hands and carry
Claire RenÃ© back to the door of the tiny house, where grand'mÃ¨re
would be waiting and scolding and smiling and ruddy of cheek.
Grand'mÃ¨re never scolded any more; she never smiled, and her cheeks
were like dried figs.
Claire RenÃ© didn't often let herself think of the day that such a
dreadful thing had happened. Many days after ClÃ©ment and Fernand and
Alphonse had gone away, grand'mÃ¨re had started to walk to the nearest
town four miles distant. She was gone for hours and hours; Claire RenÃ©
had watched for her from the doorway until dusk had begun to fall; the
dusk had been a queer color, thick and blue; a terrible noise had
filled the air. Then the child remembered that her three brothers had
told her that they were going away to kill rabbitslike Jacques. At
the time she thought it strange that they had cried about killing
rabbits. But when she heard such a thunder of noise she knew it must be
a very great work indeed.
She was just wondering how there could be so many rabbits in the
world, when she saw an old, bent woman coming through the garden gate.
It was grand'mÃ¨re; Jacques was leading her; she was making a strange
noise in her throat, and her eyes were closed. Jacques had stayed in
the house all the night, looking at grand'mÃ¨re, lying on the bed with
her eyes closed. In the morning, Claire RenÃ© had spoken to her, but
she hadn't answered. After days and days she walked from her bed to a
chair by the window. She never again did any more than that;
grand'mÃ¨re was blindand she was deaf.
Jacques explained how it all happened; Claire RenÃ© didn't listen
carefully, but she did understand that her three brothers were not
killing rabbits, but were killing men. She knew then why they had
cried; they were so kind and good, ClÃ©ment and Fernand and Alphonse;
they would hate to kill men. But Jacques had said they were wicked men
that had to be killed. He said it wouldn't take long, that all the
strong men in France were shooting at them.
Claire RenÃ© had a great deal to do after that. She had to bathe and
dress grand'mÃ¨re; she had to cook the food and scrub the floor and
scour the pots and pans. She kept the pans very bright. Grand'mÃ¨re
might some day open her eyes, and there would be a great scolding if
the pans were not bright. Claire RenÃ© also tended the garden; Jacques
helped her with the heavy digging. He was very mean about the
vegetables; he made her put most of them in the cellar; and the green
things that wouldn't keep he himself put into jars and tins and locked
them in the closet. When the summer had gone he gave Claire RenÃ© the
Ma petite, he said, you learn too fast to eat too little. You
must be big and well when your brothers come back.
All the winter long Claire RenÃ© watched for her brothers. Once a
telegram had come, brought by a boy who said he had walked all the
miles of the forest. In the memory of Claire RenÃ© there lay a hidden
fear about telegrams. Years before, grand'mÃ¨re had cried for many days
when Jacques had brought from the town just such a thin, crackling
envelope. And Claire RenÃ© knew that after that she had no longer any
young mother or fatheronly grand'mÃ¨re and her three brothers.
Grand'mÃ¨re had enough of sorrow. The telegram was better hidden in
the room of her brothers. Grand'mÃ¨re would never find it there; it was
far away from her chair by the window, up the straight, narrow stairs,
under the high, peaked gable. Then, too, there was a comfort in that
room for Claire RenÃ©; it was quiet; the great silence of downstairs
was too big to squeeze up the narrow way. Each day she would stroke and
tend the high white bed; each week she would drag the mass of feather
mattress to the narrow window ledge and air it for the length of a
At evening she would pull and pile high again the snowy layers, as
quickly as her tired back could move, as quickly as her thin, blue
fingers could smooth the heavy homespun sheets and comforters. Quick
she must be lest ClÃ©ment and Fernand and Alphonse come home before the
night fell over their sleeping place. When she placed the telegram
under the first high pillow (ClÃ©ment's pillow) it made a sound that
In the evenings grand'mÃ¨re's chair was pulled to the great hearth
fire. Claire RenÃ© would watch the flamelight spread over the stonelike
face. Sometimes bright sparkles from the rows of copper pots and pans
would lay spots of light on the heavy closed lids.
Claire RenÃ© would spring from her chair and kneel beside the dumb
figure. Grand'mÃ¨re! she would call. Do you see? Have you the eyes
Then the lights would shift, and her head would drop over her
trembling knees, and she would look away from the dry, sealed eyes of
grand'mÃ¨re. She never cried; it might make a noise in the still,
whitewashed room to frighten her. Grand'mÃ¨re might find the tears when
she raised her hands to let them travel over the face of her
grandchild. It was enough that once grand'mÃ¨re had shivered when her
fingers found the hollows in Claire RenÃ©'s cheeks. After that the
child puffed out her cheeks while the knotted hands made their daily
journey. Grand'mÃ¨re's fingers would smooth the sunny tangled hair,
touch the freckled upturned nose; they would pause and tremble at the
slightest brush from the eyelashes that fringed the deep, gray eyes.
Claire RenÃ© would pile more logs on the fire and wonder what
thoughts lay in grand'mÃ¨re's mind; wonder whether she knew that they
had so much more wood in the shed than they had food in the larder. She
was clever about cooking the roots from the cellar. But grand'mÃ¨re's
coffee was weaker each day, and only once in a long while did Jacques
bring milk. Then he used to stand and order Claire RenÃ© to drink it
all, but she would choke and say it was sour and sickened her; only
thus could she save enough for grand'mÃ¨re's coffee in the morning.
There were many things to think about, to look at on the winter
evenings by the firelight: ClÃ©ment's seat by the chimney corner, where
he whittled and whistled; Fernand's flute hanging on the wall; the
books of Alphonse on the high shelf over the dresser. Claire RenÃ©
found that her heart and her eyes would only find comfort if her
fingers were busy. She would tiptoe to the dresser and bring out a
basket, once filled with the socks of her brothers. She would crouch by
the fireside, first stirring the logs to make more light for her work.
It was long since the candles were gone. It was the only joyous moment
in the day when she handled the dried everlastings that filled the
basket. Always she must hurry, work more quickly, select the withered
colors with more care. The wreaths for her three brothers must be
beautiful, must be ready on time. ClÃ©ment and Fernand and Alphonse
must be crowned, given the reward when they came home from killing
wicked men to save La Belle France!
All the months of the summer before she had watched and tended the
flowers. The seeds she had found in grand'mÃ¨re's cupboard. Jacques had
scolded about the place that had been given them in the garden patch.
But Claire RenÃ© had stamped her foot and strong, strange words that
belonged to her three brothers when they were angry came to her lips.
Jacques had looked startled and funny and had turned his head away; in
the end he had patted Claire RenÃ© on her rigid shoulders and she
thought his eyes were just like wet, black beads.
On the other side of the hearth, away from grand'mÃ¨re's chair, she
twined and wound the wreaths. No one must know. The Great Day must
be soon! And in her heart she believed that on that day grand'mÃ¨re
would open her eyes.
In the spring Claire RenÃ© finished the wreaths. The very day she
placed them on the highest shelf in the dark closet under the stairs
there had come a knock at the door. She was stiff with terror. Jacques
never knocked; there was no one else. She clung to a heavy chair back
while the same boy who had come before entered slowly and placed a
second telegram in her numb fingers.
I am sorry, mademoiselle, was all he said.
She watched him disappear through the garden gate; she listened
until his steps died in the forest. Grand'mÃ¨re stirred in her chair by
the window; Claire RenÃ© thought a flicker of pain traveled over the
worn face; she thought the closed eyes twitched; Madame Populet
stretched out her hands.
Claire RenÃ© flew up the straight, narrow stairs; she placed the
telegram under Fernand's pillow; she pressed her fists deep into the
feathers; the crackle of paper made her heart stand still. There were
tears starting in her eyes; she held them back. Grand'mÃ¨re had enough
of sorrow; she must never know of the second telegram in the house.
Thoughts came crowding into Claire RenÃ©'s mind. Why not tear up the
white-and-blue envelopes or why not show them to Jacquesin some way
throw away the fear that was eating at her heart? Then the great
silence of the house below seemed to creep up the narrow stairs and lay
cold hands on Claire RenÃ©. Oh, why was it all so lonely! Where were
her three brothers? Why must the telegrams make so great a trembling in
her heart for them, make her kneel and pray that the Holy Mother would
hold them in her arms forever?
Her knees were stiff when she arose; her eyes were bright, but not
with tears; her back was very straight, her head held high, for was she
not a grandchild of Madame Populet? A sister to ClÃ©ment and Fernand
and Alphonse, and through them, a child of France! She stood on her
toes and dropped three kisses on the pillows of her brothers. She was
big enough to keep the secret of her fear about the telegrams. It was
She went downstairs singing. The sound was strange in her throat,
but she must finish the song. She stood behind grand'mÃ¨re's chair, and
laid her hands on the still white head. When the last, high, treble
note fell softly through the room she looked out of the window into the
forest. There were threads of pale green showing on the tall trees;
there were tiny red buds starting from the brown branches of the
pollard willow that swept across the window ledge.
Claire RenÃ© suddenly wanted to shout! She did shout! There was
spring in the world! There was spring in her heart, in her feet, in her
tingling finger tips.
She danced to the dark closet under the stairs. There they were, the
wreaths, for her three brothers! The deep golden one for ClÃ©menthe
was strong and square like a rock; the light golden one for Fernandhe
was pale and slight; the scarlet one for Alphonsehe was straight and
tall like a tree in the forest.
Claire RenÃ© touched the three wreaths; they crackled dryly under
her touch; she turned away and shivered. What did they sound like? Oh,
yes; the crackling of the thin paper on the telegrams!
She shut the closet door softly, and went to kneel beside
grand'mÃ¨re's chair and looked again into the forest. The buds on the
sweeping willows said Yes; the pale-green winding gauze through the
tall trees whispered a promise. She stood up and held out her arms; she
had faith in the forest; she believed what it said. Through a patch of
flickering sunlight she thought she saw three forms moving toward the
cottage. It was only the viburnum bushes dipping and swaying in the
March wind, against the sturdy growth of darkened holly.
The noise died away entirely as the spring advanced. The silence
grew greater and greater. There were few seeds for Claire RenÃ© to
plant in her garden; there was little strength in her arms to work
them. Weeds covered the flower patch of a year ago. A few straggling
everlastings showed their heads above the tangle. Claire RenÃ© had
plenty of strength to uproot them angrily and throw them into the
The three wreaths were still on the shelf in the dark closet under
the stair. Their colors were dimmed, like the hope in their maker's
heart; their forms were shrunken, like the forms of Claire RenÃ© and
grand'mÃ¨re and Jacques.
Grand'mÃ¨re lay in her bed most of the day. Sometimes, when the sun
shone and the birds sang, Claire RenÃ© would make her aching arms bathe
and dress grand'mÃ¨re and help her into the chair by the window. Then
she would sit beside her and try to run threads through the bare places
in her frocks.
At times she thought of making frocks for herself out of
grand'mÃ¨re's calico dresses, folded so neatly in the cupboard. But
grand'mÃ¨re, she argued, would need them for herself when the Great Day
came, when ClÃ©ment and Fernand and Alphonse would come with ringing
laughter through the forestlaughter that would surely open
grand'mÃ¨re's eyesand her ears. When the birds sang and the sun shone
Claire RenÃ© believed that day would come.
Jacques was always kind. But he had become a part of the great
silence; almost as still as grand'mÃ¨re he was. For hours he would sit
and look at Claire RenÃ© bending over her sewing, over her scrubbing,
over the brightening of the pots and pans. Sometimes his shining black
eyes seemed to lie down in his face, to be going away forever behind
his bush of eyebrow.
Then she would start toward him and call: Jacques, Jacques!
He would always answer, straightening in his chair: Yes, my little
one, be not afraid. Jacques is ever near.
Claire RenÃ© would sigh and go back to her work and wish that she
was big enough to go out into the forest and shoot birds, as Jacques
used to do. She was very hungry. She was tired of eating roots from the
She would like to lie down and go to sleep for the rest of her life,
or die and go to heaven and have the Holy Mother hold her in her arms
and feed her thick yellow milk. Jacques no longer brought even thin
blue milk. There was no coffee in the cupboard, no sugar, no
breadonly hateful roots of the garden.
Claire RenÃ© no longer walked in the forest. Sometimes she would lie
down on a mossy place and look up through the tall trees at the patches
of blue sky overhead. She wondered whether the good God still kept His
home above, whether He, too, were hungry, whether the Holy Mother had
work to do when her back ached and her fingers wouldn't move and were
thin and bony, like young dead birds that sometimes fell from nests.
Once, when Claire RenÃ© was thinking such thoughts, she saw Jacques
come running toward her. His eyes were bright and shiny, and she had a
fear that they might drop out of his head, as the quick breath dropped
out of his mouth.
Listen, ma petite! he cried.
He dropped on the mossy place beside her and rocked back and forth
with his hands clasped about his shaking knees. Claire RenÃ© was used
to waiting. She waited until Jacques found breath for speech.
Then he told her how the Great Man from America was coming to save
France! How he was sending a million strong sons before him. How there
was hope come to heavy hearts!
Claire RenÃ© wanted to ask a great many questions. But Jacques went
right on, talking, talkingabout the right flank and the left flank
and the boches and the Americans. Claire RenÃ© hoped his tongue would
not be too tired to answer one of her questions.
What is America, my little one? Why, the greatest country in the
world, excepting France. Where is America, my little one? Why, across
the Atlantic Ocean, far from France.
Claire RenÃ© sat very still with her hands in her lap. Jacques was a
wise man. He knew a great deal. All old people were wise; but such
strange things made them happy, far-away things that they couldn't ever
touch or see, things out in the big world that went round and round.
She knew that ClÃ©ment and Fernand and Alphonse were out in the big
world, going round and round; but in her heart she saw them only in the
forest, in the garden patch, by the hearth in the tiny house, asleep in
their high white bed.
In these places she could still feel their arms about her, hear
their laughter, listen for their step. But out in the world! What were
they doing? How could she know? Jacques made her feel very lonely.
Never once did he speak of her three brothers; on and on he went about
the Great Man from America.
Presently he ceased for a moment and held Claire RenÃ©'s cold hands
against his grizzled cheek. But, my little one, why are you cold?
Claire RenÃ© looked for a long time into Jacques' shining eyes; then
she whispered: My brothers!
High among the tall trees of the forest the wind was singing and
sighing; beneath on a green moss bank Jacques gathered Claire RenÃ© in
his arms; he gathered her up like a baby and rocked her back and forth.
He cried and laughed into the bright tangle of her hair.
My poor little one! My poor little one! he said over and over.
Then he released her from his arms and held her face between his
knotted hands. Now, listen!
She listened, and even before Jacques had finished a song began in
her heartso strong and high and true that it reached up into the
treetops and joined in the chorus of the forest.
The words that came from the lips of Jacques made a great beating in
her ears. Could it be sowhat he was sayingthat the Great Man from
America had come to save all the Brothers of France? That soon, soon
he would send ClÃ©ment and Fernand and Alphonse back to the tiny house
in the forest? That all the wicked men in the world would be no more?
That the great and terrible noise would ceaseforever?
Jacques was very, very sure that he was right about it; he had read
it all in a newspaper; he had walked miles and miles to hear men talk
of nothing else.
Claire RenÃ© asked where the great man lived.
In Paris, ma petite.
And what does he look likethe brave one?
He is grave and quiet, like a king.
And has he on his head the crown of gold?
No, ma petite, but he has in his heart the Sons of France.
And ClÃ©ment and Fernand and Alphonse also?
Claire RenÃ© waited while Jacques passed his fingers through her
hair. Yes, ma petite, he said at last.
Claire RenÃ© wished that she had more hands and feet and lips and
eyes and more than such a little body to hold her joy. She made circles
of dancing about Jacques on their way back to the cottage. She said her
happiness was so great that she might fly up into the sky and laugh
from the tops of the trees. Dear Jacques, she said as they paused at
the dried garden patch, do you think to-morrow they will comemy
Jacques shook his head.
Do you think one day from to-morrow?
Again Jacques shook his head.
But Claire RenÃ© was busy in her thoughts. She turned suddenly and
threw her arms about him. Will you again walk the miles of the forest
for Claire RenÃ©, will you?
Butwhyfor what reason, ma petite?
She would send a letter! She would herself write to the Great Man,
and tell him about ClÃ©ment and Fernand and Alphonse, tell him how good
and brave they were, and about grand'mÃ¨re and the silence of her eyes
and ears, and aboutClaire RenÃ© looked frightened and clapped her
fingers over her mouth.
No! She must forever keep the secret about the telegrams. Telegrams
meant sorrow; there must be only happiness in the house for the
Long after twilight had fallen she pleaded with Jacques about the
letter. By the firelight that same night she would write. Grand'mÃ¨re
had taught her to make the letters of many words; she knew what to say.
In the first light of the day Jacques could be gone to the post. And
Not until he finally nodded his head was she satisfied. Then she
wondered why so suddenly he had become heavy with sadness. Why, when
she watched him trudge off into the forest, had he seemed to carry a
burden on his bent back?
She thought: Old people are like that. Grand'mÃ¨re is like that;
she, too, grows tired with the end of the day. They had so many long
days behind them to remembergrand'mÃ¨re and Jacques. And the days
ahead of them?
Claire RenÃ© was often puzzled about their days ahead. They were so
tired! But they would be soon happy. And grand'mÃ¨re would open her
eyes to see and her ears to hear when ClÃ©ment and Fernand and Alphonse
came back again.
Claire RenÃ© ate only a mouthful of her cooked roots on that
evening. For grand'mÃ¨re she made a special brew of dried herbs from
the forest and baked a cake from the last bit of brown flour left in
the cupboard. Grand'mÃ¨re was half the shape she used to be; the
brothers would surely scold when they saw her so gone away.
Claire RenÃ© piled the logs high on the fire; she must have light
for her work, plenty of light. She searched the house for paper and
envelope and pencil and when she had written she threw the paper into
the fire and wept with a passion much too great for her years and her
body. She had forgotten the words; they wouldn't come. And who was she
to be writing to the Great Man, a man like a king?
Until the dawn crept through the windows Claire RenÃ© lay upon the
hearth by the dying fire, sobbing through her sleep. The first light of
day made her remember Jacques. He would be waiting! He had promised to
go, to walk to the post with her letter. She looked at the dark closet
under the stairs. She thought of the three wreaths; if she could make
wreaths, she could make letters! She bounded to her feet; she seized
the last of the paper and the bitten pencil; she struggled with the
letters; she wrote: Dear Great Man: My brothers
A step in the still room startled her. Grand'mÃ¨re was coming from
her room, fully dressed. Claire RenÃ© flew to her side, but Madame
Populet stood erect; she walked alone to her chair by the window.
Claire RenÃ© knelt beside her, and the hands that were laid on her head
had a new firmness in their pressure. And grand'mÃ¨re was smiling!
Claire RenÃ© thought: She is happy this morning; she feels in the
air the gladness. I will make her a hot brew when I come back from
She wrapped a dark cloak about her shoulders; in her hand was
tightly clasped the half-written paper and the pencil. At the doorway
she turned and called: Good-by, grand'mÃ¨re. Good-by.
Madame Populet was still smiling; her face was turned toward the
forest and, through the sweeping willow over the window, sunbeams laid
their fingers on the sightless eyes.
Two hours later Claire RenÃ© walked through the forest singing. Her
arms were full of scarlet leaves and branches of holly berries. She
wanted to carry all the beautiful things she saw back to the cottage,
to make the place a bower, where she and grand'mÃ¨re and ClÃ©ment and
Fernand and Alphonse could kneel and thank the good God that they were
All the world was kind on this morning. Jacques had been waiting for
her at the door of his wooden hut. He had helped her with the letter.
He had set out straightway to the post. Claire RenÃ© had stooped and
kissed the feet that had so many miles to go.
Jacques had cried out: Ma petite, you hope too far.
But Claire RenÃ©'s mind and heart were a flood of joy; she had no
place for doubt, no time for sorrow. She came out of the forest and
stood looking at the tiny, crumbling house. No longer was she afraid of
the silence. In but a short time her three brothers would fill the air
with laughter; they would carry her on their backs around the house and
into the forest, and grand'mÃ¨re would stand waiting and smilingand
perhaps scolding; who could tell?
She pushed her way through the doorway. The berries and leaves made
a tall screen about her; she could barely see grand'mÃ¨re in her chair
by the window. She laid the branches on the hearth.
There! she said. That's good.
Grand'mÃ¨re was very quiet in her chair by the window. Her hands
were folded over her breast. There was something between her still
Claire RenÃ© looked again, and then she screamed.
Madame Populet's eyes were open; they were fixed on the thin
blue-and-white envelope clasped in her hands. Claire RenÃ© pressed her
fingers into her temples; she was afraid to speak aloud.
She whispered: The third telegram!
Who had brought it? Who had given it to grand'mÃ¨re? Why was she so
still? Why were her eyes open, without seeing? Claire RenÃ© wanted to
scream again; but instead, she made her feet take her to the chair by
the window; she made her fingers pull the thin envelope from between
the stiff fingers. Grand'mÃ¨re's hands were cold. Her silence was more
terrible than any silence Claire RenÃ© had known before. The glazed,
open eyes looked as if they hurt; she closed the lids with the tips of
her fingers. She had seen dead birds in the forest and she knew that
grand'mÃ¨re was now like them.
The telegram was better burned in the fire; there it could bring no
more sorrow. She watched the thin paper curl and smolder among the
smoking embers of last night's blaze. She looked again toward the still
figure by the window. If grand'mÃ¨re was dead, why did she stay on the
earth? Why didn't the Holy Mother send an angel to carry her away into
the heaven of the good God?
Claire RenÃ© began to tremble. What if the angels were too tired to
come, were as faint and hungry as she! What, then, would become of
ClÃ©ment and Fernand and Alphonse would be very angry to find her so
cold and still and dead; they would be, perhaps, as angry to find her
gone away to heaven. But grand'mÃ¨re had so much of sorrow here on
earth; Claire RenÃ© thought the room was growing very dark; she flung
her arms above her head and faintly screamed. But there was no one to
hear. She fell on the hearthstone beside the red berries and the red
There was scarcely a breath left in her body when Jacques found her
Three days later she opened her eyes in her little bed beside
grand'mÃ¨re's bed. Grand'mÃ¨re's bed was smooth and high and white.
Claire RenÃ© was puzzled.
She called: Grand'mÃ¨re!
From the outer room the voice of Jacques replied: Yes, ma petite; I
He came and put his arms about her; she laid her head against his
rough coat, but her eyes were turned toward the empty bed. She was
trying to remember.
Presently she sat up and asked: Did the angel come and take
grand'mÃ¨re and carry her to the Holy Mother in heaven?
Jacques crossed his heart. Yes, ma petite, he said.
Faintly Claire RenÃ© smiled and faintly she questioned: But, my
Jacques turned his troubled eyes away. She must wait, he said; when
she was strong they would talk of many things. He told her that he had
brought food to make her well, and that on the first warm day he would
himself carry her out into the sunshine of the forest; there she would
again run and sing and be like a happy, bright bird.
In the days that followed Claire RenÃ© never spoke of grand'mÃ¨re;
she never spoke of her three brothers. She lay in her bed and stared
about the quiet room. The silence was different, now that grand'mÃ¨re
was gone. Everything was different.
Jacques gave her food and care, and every day he said: In only a
little time you will be strong again, ma petite.
But something in his eyes kept her from speaking about ClÃ©ment and
Fernand and Alphonse. Often she thought about the telegrams upstairs in
the high, white bed. She wondered if Jacques had found them there. Once
she heard him walking on the floor above. He was there a long time, and
when he came down his voice was queer and deep and his eyes were hidden
behind a mist.
He never spoke any more about the Great Man from America. Jacques
was like grand'mÃ¨re; he was old, he was full of sorrow. Claire RenÃ©
was afraid to ask about her letter; she thought about it each day.
But on the morning she was carried to ClÃ©ment's chair by the
chimney corner, she felt a great gladness spring in her heart. Yes;
they would come soonher three brothers. To-morrow she would be strong
enough to walk alone to the dark closet under the stairs and look again
at the three wreaths on the highest shelf.
Claire RenÃ© smiled in her sleep that night; she dreamed of laughter
in the house, of strong young arms about her, of quick steps and bright
Once she awoke and must have called out, for Jacques was kneeling
beside her bed.
Poor little one, he said, you call, but there is only old Jacques
Claire RenÃ© put out her hand and let it rest on the old man's head.
Dear Jacques, she whispered, always I will love you.
The sun was streaming through the tiny house the next morning.
Jacques had left Claire RenÃ© sitting in the warm light of the open
doorway while he went to bring wood from the forest. There were no
birds singing from the leafless trees, but Claire RenÃ© saw a sparrow
hopping about on the bright brown earth of the garden patch. She was
wishing she had a great piece of white fat to hang out on a tree for
the bird's winter food; wishing there were crumbs to leave on the
window ledge, as grand'mÃ¨re used to do.
She was wishing so hard about so many things that she failed to see
three men coming out of the forest. They were tall and straight and
fair, and their eyes were as blue as the sky above their heads. Their
clothes were the color of pale brown sand and on their heads were
jaunty caps of the selfsame color.
Jacques was with them; he was making a great many motions with his
hands. They were all walking very slowly and talking very fast.
As they neared the house Jacques pointed to Claire RenÃ©, and the
three strange men held back. Jacques came slowly forward. The sound of
his step on the hard ground interrupted Claire RenÃ©'s reverie; she
looked up and around. She saw the three men standing at attention
beyond the garden gate.
She threw back the heavy cloak wrapped about her; the thin folds of
her calico dress hung limply from her sunken shoulders, and above the
wasted child body the sun spun circles of gold in her tangled hair. She
made a slight quivering start toward Jacques, which passed into a rigid
stare toward the three figures beyond.
She was unaware when Jacques put a caressing, supporting arm about
her and said: Listen, my child.
The three men were coming forward. One of them had a letter in his
hand. With kind eyes and bared heads they stood before the straining
gaze of Claire RenÃ©.
The letter is for you, ma petite. Jacques voice was infinitely
tender; the added pressure of his arm made Claire RenÃ© conscious of
his presence; she suddenly clung to him and buried her face in his coat
sleeve. He went on to say: The letter is for Claire RenÃ©from the
'Great Man from America'!
The tangled head shook in the angle of his arm. Claire RenÃ© was
The tallest of the three men handed the letter to Jacques; he wiped
his eyes and turned his head away. The others shifted in position and
tightly folded their arms across their broad chests.
To Mademoiselle Claire RenÃ©: The soil of France now
bodies of your three brothers, ClÃ©ment and Fernand and
Populet. The soil of France covers the Croix de Guerre upon
breasts. The sons of France, and of America, hold forever in
hearts the memory of their honor. We are all one family
and Americaand so I send to you three brothersnot in place
but in the stead of those others. They come to give you love
service in the name of America.
Claire RenÃ© slowly moved apart from Jacques. She stood alone with
head erect and taut arms by her sides. She hesitated a moment, then
came forward and held out her hands.
Bonjour, messieurs, she said.
The tallest of the three men covered her hands with his own. Little
friend, he said, we can't make you forget your brothers; we want to
help you remember them. We want to do some of the things for you that
they used to do, and we want you to do a lot of things for us. We are
pretty big, it is true, but we need a little girl like you to sort of
keep us in order. We want to take you right along with us this very
dayto a place where we can care for you, and
But Claire RenÃ© slipped with electric swiftness to Jacques' side;
from his sheltering arm she made declaration: Never! I stay here with
Jacquesalways. Then struggling against emotion she added with
finality: I thank you, messieurs.
The tall man lingered with his thoughts a moment before he spoke; he
was standing close to Claire RenÃ© and made as though to lay his hand
upon her hair, but drew back and said that they were all pretty good
cooks and that they were very, very hungry.
At this Claire RenÃ© threw a frightened, wistful glance at Jacques.
The tall man interrupted hastily. He said they had brought food with
them, and would she allow them to prepare it?
Claire RenÃ© nodded her head; her eyes looked beyond her
questionerout into the lonely forest.
Jacques presently lifted her into his arms and carried her within
the house. With reverence he placed her in grand'mÃ¨re's chair by the
window. Her ears were filled with distant echoes; her sight was
blurred; speech had gone from her lips. As through a dark curtain she
saw the figures moving about the room; far away she heard the clatter
and the talk and sometimes laughter.
After a long time Jacques came and held some steaming coffee to her
lips. He made her drink and drink again; a pink flush crept into her
cheeks; shyly she met the glances from the eyes of those three fair,
kind faces. Then her own eyes filled with tears and she lowered her
The tallest of the three men came behind her chair and spoke gently,
close to her ear: Our great and good commander, who sent us here, will
be very unhappy if you do not come. You see, he wanted the sister of
ClÃ©ment and Fernand and Alphonse Populet to be a sister to some of his
own boys. It would help us a great deal, you know; we're pretty lonely
The collaboration in the faces of his friends seemed to put an
instant end to his effort and, as if an unspoken command were given,
they all sat down and made a prompt finish to the meal.
With no word on her lips Claire RenÃ© watched from Grand'mÃ¨re's
chair by the window. About her, figures moved like dim marionettes;
they cleared the table; they polished the copper pans; they sat in the
chimney corner and puffed blue circles of smoke above their heads.
Dimly she saw all this, but clearly she saw the inside of a great
man's mind. She, Claire RenÃ©, had work to do; she was calledfor
Long, slanting shadows from the sinking sun were streaking the wall
of the whitewashed room with slender, forklike fingers. Jacques and the
three men were knotted in talk beside the ruddy fire glow. Claire RenÃ©
braced herself with a sharp sigh. No soldier ever went into battle with
a more self-made courage than hers.
Unseen, unnoticed, noiselessly she made her pilgrimage across the
room. In the dark closet, under the stairs, she reached for the
wreaths. With quick, short breath she gathered them in her arms. One
moment she lowered her head while her lips touched the faded crackling
flowers. The compact was sealed; her sacrifice was ready.
In that attitude she passed swiftly within the circle about the
fireplace. She came like a spirit of Peace with the wreaths in her
arms. Over and above the serenity in her face there dawned a joyous
expectancy. Yes; she could trust les AmÃ©ricains!
On each reverent, bowed head she placed her wreath; and when she had
finished, without tremor in her voice she said: My brothers!
Copyright, 1919, by The Curtis Publishing Company. Copyright,
1921, by Ethel Dodd Thomas.