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- The Boy Scouts in Front of Warsaw - 5/23 -
They did not dare run. Rather, they slunk along from building to building as though fearful of being seen. When they passed a wrecked chimney, fallen across the street, Warren rubbed some of the soot and grime on his face and clothes, and told Ivan to do the same. He thought very wisely that they looked too clean and neat for the parts they were endeavoring to enact. In addition to the soot, they were soon soiled and torn from scrambling over wreckage and even Evelyn would not have recognized them.
Soon reaching the residence portion of the city, they began an immediate search for Boy Scouts. Out of the hundred or so in their section, they were fortunate enough to find ten. Several of these were searching frantically for relatives and friends. Not one but had lost someone dear to him. They scattered with a will when Warren and Ivan told them about the two children, but the boys who had been nearest the Professor's house, all said that they had not seen the little girls at all. There were no troops moving about that part while the boys were talking and planning, and they were not molested in any way when they scattered and began to search every foot of the neighborhood. Noon found Warren, Ivan, Jack and a couple of others near a wrecked and deserted bakeshop. There was no one to ask and none to object when they scrambled over the heaps of stone and plaster and wood, and tried the doors of the great ovens. Sure enough, there they found, well cooked and safe, a supply of bread and meant and sweets. Warren and Jack were broken-hearted at the absence of the slightest clue to Elinor, but they made a manly effort and managed to eat a good and nourishing meal, because they knew that they must keep up every bit of strength they had.
At three o'clock by agreement they all met at the Professor's house. Not one had secured a single clue. They had searched every empty and ruined building and had asked every person that they had seen. No one had been able to tell them anything that sounded at all helpful. Warren had thought that the fact that the strange child wore a scarlet dress would be the means of tracing them immediately; but according to the people they questioned, half the children in Warsaw had worn scarlet dresses or coats. Warren was sick with despair. After a short talk, the boys scattered again, working out from the Professor's house like the spokes of a wheel for about half a mile. As Warren decided that he had about reached the limit agreed upon, he stood thinking, when the shrill Scout whistle sounded at his right. It was the signal to gather, and Warren's heart leaped with delight as he thought, "Elinor is found."
He crossed the space like a whirlwind, leaping over fallen walls and dashing around buildings in his mad race.
He found the Scout who had whistled standing at the sagging door of what had once been a comfortable home.
"Where is she?" cried Warren as he reached the doorway.
The boy shook his head. He was deathly pale, and trembled.
"It is not your sister; you may be glad of that; but we must do something. Go in!"
Four other Scouts came panting up, all flushed with the hope that Elinor had been found. They followed the boy who had pushed Warren through the hall and through another door. Warren stopped appalled.
Half the wall was gone. A bomb had evidently struck the house. On the bed a young woman lay. She was quite dead. Her ashy face told it without the evidence of the blood in which she was bathed. By her side lay a tiny girl. She, too, was still and cold in the last sleep of death, but by a strange mischance of war, a baby lay unharmed in the young mother's arms.
Unattended, uncomforted and cold, it had lain there for hours; yet it lived, and as the boys entered sent up a feeble wail. Shaken to the heart, Warren walked to the bed and picked up the infant. Its cries had dwindled to a feeble whining, and it shivered. Warren hastily unfastened his blouse, and pressed the little being to the warmth of his body. He could feel it press against him, or so it seemed to him, as he stood there in that chamber of death. His course, however, seemed clear. The living child in his arms must be cared for, and at once. He could only think of Evelyn. The hospitals were either shattered or filled with too many wounded soldiers. There was no room in any place of that sort now for a little baby . Life was cheap in Warsaw that day. He would take it to Evelyn and she would take care of it somehow. His own little Elinor he dared not think of.
It was with an almost breaking heart that he and the other boys rapidly retraced their steps and finally gained the warehouse. As he went up the long stairs, Professor Morris left his corner, and stood ready to greet them. He was smiling.
"Well, well, where is Elinor?" be asked testily.
"We did not find her," answered Warren curtly. He was so tired that he staggered as be walked. He gained the top of the steps and, crossing unsteadily to Evelyn, laid the baby in her arms. Its little pinched face, and bloodstained dress prepared her for Warren's story.
"It is nearly starved," she said. "What shall we give it?"
"I know," said Ivan. "Babies all drink milk, don't they? There is a court down below, and when we went out I saw a couple of goats in it."
It was true, and the poor creatures were glad enough to be milked. The baby, finally fed and warmed, slept exhausted in Evelyn's arms.
In all the cruel war whose dark shadow obscured Europe a great deal of suffering fell to the share of the poor little babies and the small children. To older children war could be explained. It was a vast and terrible something that swept away homes and food and comfort. It was a monster that devoured fathers and brothers, and left families without support, and homeless. But there was a reason that could be told, and which they could understand more or less.
But the tiny ones, alas! What could be told them when their little world tumbled, when they were carried out from warmth and safety, when food was denied; when the bosoms that had warmed them grew cold and unresponsive, what could they do but suffer and die the slow, torturing death of hunger and cold?
Their little cries arose to heaven, there were no ears to hear them when the thunder of guns drowned all else. Poor, poor babies! Born, many of them, to enlighten the world with new discoveries, to cure the afflicted, to bring joy, they have perished as surely or a cause which they could not understand as have the soldiers in the trenches.
When great nations are falling, and men are being mowed down like grass, in numbers beyond the counting, the lives of little babies can only be held precious by mothers who guard them with their every breath.
The poor little bit of humanity found by the boys would soon have closed its little eyes in the death which bad so suddenly overtaken the mother and sister. But it proved a sturdy little scrap, and after drinking all the milk they dared give it, cried for more.
It was a pretty child, well dressed and well cared for, and Evelyn studied it with tender interest as it lay contentedly in her arms. As she hushed and soothed it into sleep, she talked with her brothers. Professor Morris had gone to the other end of the long room, and they could hear him groan as he walked the floor.
"Don't you think that it would be safe now for us to go back home?" said Evelyn. "We can always prove that we are Americans, and I think there will be no more lawlessness. What do you think?"
Warren remembered the soldier with the wounded shoulder.
"We can't leave Peter here," he said.
"Why no, but he managed to get up here with help, and I think we can get him home with us. I don't know what else to do, unless Anna is willing to stay with him until morning."
"That's the thing to do," said Warren, "but Anna is such a scare cat."
"She ought to be willing to stay with her own brother!" declared Evelyn. "That shoulder will kill him unless cold water is kept on it all the time, until we can get hold of a doctor or get him to a hospital."
"The hospitals are so full that you can't get inside the doors," said Warren.
"I found that out today."
"Well, we will ask Anna, anyway," she said. She called to the governess, who approached at once. Telling her the plan, Evelyn waited for the woman to speak.
"Surely that is a wise plan indeed," she said, to their great relief. "Peter could not be moved tonight. He is full of fever. And someone will find our little Elinor, and take her home. Then what could they do if the house was deserted?"
"I never thought of that," said Evelyn in a grief-stricken tone. "Let us hurry and get back before it is dark."
"Yes," said Warren, "we could not make it at all in the dark. The lights are all gone, and the streets are nearly impassable in lots of places. Get dad, and come on. Don't forget the book," he added, smiling bitterly.
They hastily brought blouses and overalls from the clothes room below and made as comfortable a bed for Peter as they could. There was plenty of goat's milk to drink, and bread from the bake shop, with which Warren had thoughtfully had the boys fill their pockets.
Then, as the dusk gathered, they hurried out, Professor Morris clasping the bulky manuscript, Evelyn carrying the sleeping baby, while Warren and Ivan supported her on either side, and Jack went ahead to pick out the safest path.
They reached the house after a hard walk, and were soon feeling some sense of bodily comfort after all the hardships of the day. They decided to act as nearly as possible as though they were but little disturbed by the past events, and to assume the position of foreigners who felt themselves under the protection of their own government.
Naturally, all their thoughts were of Elinor, but night had fallen black and stormy, and in all the confusion and lawlessness there was nothing to be done but wait as best they could for morning.
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