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- The Boy Scouts in Front of Warsaw - 2/23 -
How could they have gone off?"
The woman looked up. "They could not go," she said. "I myself slid the great latch on the door; they could not lift it. I have seen Elinor try to do so. The little stranger was much too small. The Germans have them, I am sure of it." She bowed her head with fresh sobs.
"There were no Germans about," said Ivan. "No soldiers of any sort; no one at all save the three of whom I spoke and they certainly did not take them away."
"Certainly not!" said Professor Morris, frowning. "They must have gone out and wandered off while I was after my book, although I distinctly told Elinor not to stir from her seat. I have always endeavored to teach my children absolute obedience. I am surprised at Elinor. She understood. She is six years of age, and she said, "Yes, father." This is a terrible thing; but they will be found. I will report at once to the military authorities. I am convinced that they are safe. Someone will take them in just as we took in the strange child whom we found at the door. That child, as you know, is a noble, yet she was lost. These are war times. People are glad to return lost children. They do not want them. Now if I had forgotten my book, it might have been burned; three years of effort in this city wasted and lost forever! I will hide the manuscript in the underground room you told of, Ivan, then we will go to the proper authorities, and get the children."
"Bah!" said the soldier with the broken shoulder suddenly. "Go where thou wilt these days there is no authority save the authority of brute might. Will that help thee?"
"We must find them," said the Professor brokenly. The seriousness of the affair was beginning to dawn on him. "It will certainly be simple. We will advertise."
The girl at his side smiled. "Advertise?" she said. "Why, father, there are no papers left to advertise in."
"Ivan," said the tall boy at the window, "did you hear what the three people at the door were talking about? What did they say? The people you said looked like thieves."
"Yes, they talked," said Ivan, "but it did not seem to mean much. I didn't get much from it anyway."
"Try to think what they said," said the boy. He passed a hand carefully across the bright fairness of his hair where a dark red streak stained it. "Can't you remember anything they said?"
Ivan stood thinking, the jeweled cane still tapping his boot. "Yes," he said, "when the men came up, they said, 'What have you?' The woman laughed -- evilly, and said, 'All the wine we can drink, and all the bread we can eat, and all the fire we burn for years and years.'"
"The man who had spoken said 'Jewels,' and rubbed his hands. 'That is indeed good! Jewels fit for a king!"
"The woman said, "Jewels now, thou fool! Where can one sell jewels these days when one cannot cross the border, and when the world cracks? No one wants jewels!"
"'Then what?' said the man.
"'Oh, stupid!' said the woman. 'Pick up my sacks carefully and be off."
"Then the other man who had already picked up the larger sack, laughed. 'Better than rubies," he said. 'You are always wise, my woman!"
"And then the other man picked up the other sack and he laughed too, and the woman held hand to them and whined, 'Please give me some money for these poor little refugees are starving!'
"At that they all roared, and hurried on."
Ivan paused. "That was all they said," he added. "It doesn't help, does it?"
The girl Evelyn leaned forward. "Say it again, Ivan," she said excitedly. "Say just what the woman said"
Ivan, repeated the words.
Evelyn whispered them after him. Then a wild cry broke from her lips. She turned to her father who sat holding the package containing the fatal manuscript. She seized his arm and shook him. So great was her emotion that she could not say the words she wanted.
"Father, father, don't you see it now!" she cried. "Oh, oh, father! Oh, what shall we do? Oh, my darling little sister!" she gasped, and the tall boy ran forward and seized her hands.
"Control yourself, Evelyn," he cried. "I never saw you act like this. Tell me what it is."
She looked at him quite speechless. The agony of all that she had witnessed, the terror of the past week, the fright of losing her precious little sister scarcely more than a baby, the blindness of her father, all had combined to send her into state scarcely better than insanity. With a desperate effort to control, herself, she looked into her brother's eyes.
"You see, don't you, Warren?" she begged. "You can't seem to be able say it.
Say you see it too, Warren!"
Then as if she had found some way of giving him her message of doom, she drooped against brother's strong shoulder and fainted quietly away. Warren laid her down, and the governess rushed to her.
"Is she dead?" asked Warren.
"Certainly not," said the woman; "she has fainted."
"What did she try to tell you?" cried Ivan. "Was it something I said?"
"Yes, you told her," said Warren, "and she read it right. I know she is right."
"Well, well, what is it?" demanded the Professor. "This is fearfully upsetting, fearfully upsetting!"
Warren bent tenderly above his sister. She was regaining consciousness.
"It is about as bad as it can be," he said hesitatingly. "The remark about refugees told the whole thing. Our little sister was in one of those sacks, gagged or unconscious. They have been stolen to be used and brought up as beggars."
A deep silence followed. The governess covered her eyes. The wounded soldier slowly shook his head. Professor Morris, Ivan and jack stood with bulging eyes staring at Warren, trying to make themselves understand his speech. Ivan, who knew more of the ways of the half barbaric people of Poland and Russia, nodded his head understandingly. Jack stood with open mouth. The Professor rumpled his hair, though deeply, and laughed.
"Now what would they do that for!" he asked sarcastically. "That sort of thing is not done nowadays."
"Not in the best families," said Warren coldly. "But it is done, I'll bet."
"Oh, yes, it's done," said Ivan, "all the time. I know my father talked a lot about it just before the commencement of the war. He was going to try to stamp out a lot of that sort of thing, especially what affected the women and children. Yes, it is done, Professor."
"Not now," said the Professor stubbornly. "There was recorded a case of that sort in 1793, and even later in the early sixties. Later, there are no records at all bearing on the subject. And if no records, surely there are no instances requiring the attention of thinking people.
"It would be most natural to record any instance of the sort, however small and trifling. In my researches I would have run across the facts. There is no mention of it whatever."
"I know it happens anyhow," said Ivan, sticking to his point.
"Ivan, you forget that I am in a position to know," said the Professor. "My researches have led me, thanks to the presentations of your father and many others, into secret records never before opened to outsiders of any race. I regret the stand you take with me. I am unused to contradiction."
"Pardon me," said Ivan wearily. He looked at Warren. In the minds of both boys there was a feeling that the mystery was solved. There was no longer any need to discuss it. A little search around the house would show if the children were there; after that it meant that Evelyn was right.
"Well, Ivan's right," said Warren doggedly. "It doesn't matter what you have found in your researches, father; you have had those dry old records to prove everything to you. I have heard the people tell stories that would make your hair curl. They not only steal children, but sometimes they cripple them, just as they did hundreds of years ago in England. Why do you suppose boys like Ivan here are watched every second? Sometimes they take them for revenge, but when they are gone, they are gone. You can't go out with a wad of bills and stick it under the park fence, and go back and find your child on the front stoop like you can at home."
The Search Begun
"Impossible!" said the Professor. "Impossible, Warren! It surprises me that you should harbor such wild and impracticable ideas."
"It makes sound sense, dad," said Warren sadly. "Europe has been full of beggars from the beginning of time. And soon, after the war is
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