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   Chapter 6 No.6

The Wisdom of Father Brown By G. K. Chesterton Characters: 6046

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:03


The three girls went to a little hotel that had been a favorite resort of Gisela's in times of peace when she had felt an imperative need of the high solitudes and eternal snows. They planned a week's rest, and a fortnight or more of mountain climbing, dismissing the world war from their minds as far as possible. But their gentle plans were upset on the eighth day after their arrival, when at the end of an hour's hard skating, clad in the bright sweaters and caps of old, Gisela suddenly stopped short and returned the hard stare of two young women who had drawn apart and were evidently discussing her. That they were Americans Gisela recognized at a glance, but for a moment she saw them through a curtain of fire and smoke and shrieking shells and dying groans, so deep in the background of her memory were the people and events of her merely personal life. One of the young women was very tall, with a slim dashing figure, fine fair hair, keen cold gray eyes, a haughty nostril and upper lip: a beauty of the patrician American type. The other was shorter but also excessively thin, with dark dancing eyes, a warm color, a coquettish nose and pouting lips-which somehow invoked the complacent visage of the late Herr Graf Niebuhr-and a brilliant smile. In a moment Gisela recognized Ann Howland Prentiss and Kate Terriss, now Mrs. Tolby. This American friend of her childhood had married an American whose business kept him in London, and her path and Gisela's had never crossed since her finishing days in Berlin; although she had corresponded with Lili for two or three years and knew the family history in vague outline.

Gisela skated directly over to them and held out her hand to Kate. "It is a long while," she said, "but perhaps you remember me-"

"Do I? Ann will not believe me-that you are Gisela von Niebuhr not D?ring. What a lark that was to run off to America and fool everybody! I wish I had come across you. It would have been quite dramatic to tear off the mask of the governess and reveal the junker. I think it was too stupid of you, Ann, that you didn't guess."

"I noticed many inconsistencies," said Mrs. Prentiss dryly. She added, holding out her hand with a charming smile: "But later, I was so proud to have known Gisela D?ring, that personal curiosity seemed impertinent. How we have missed your writings these last dreadful years!"

Then all three began to talk at once and Gisela gathered that Mrs. Tolby had nursed behind the British lines in France since the early days of the war, and that her old friend, Mrs. Prentiss, had joined her a few months since. Kate asked innumerable questions about the other girls, particularly Mariette, whom she remembered as a Germanic blonde of warm coloring, the coldest eyes, the most subtly rigid and ruthless mouth she had ever seen. She had found some difficulty picturing her as a Red Cross nurse and was not surprised to hear that she was in charge of an enormous organization for the supply of cantines. Of her executive ability and q

uick determination there could be no doubt-as she told Ann Prentiss later.

In the excitement and exhilaration of this purely feminine conversation-which soon included Heloise and Mimi-the two parties forgot the gory chasm that divided them. When they dropped suddenly at a chance word to the present that gripped even these glittering snow fields with its red insatiable fingers, Kate, as ever, was equal to the formidable moment and cried out, snapping her fingers at the blue ether so tranquilly aloof from warring hosts:

"Forget it! For to-day, at least. What are you thinking about so hard, Ann?"

"I'll tell you later. Let us go in and have tea and then skate again. I noticed how well my step suited Countess Gisela's."

Ann Howland, as the wife of an eminent politician, had long since cultivated the art of mental suppleness and had learned to fascinate the most diverse intelligences and egos. Gisela, who was always warmly responsive to personal charm when not too obviously insincere, enjoyed the hour on the ice so exclusively devoted to her by the distinguished American and went to bed that night well content to bury the war during this period of necessary rest, grateful for this fresh current that swept her for the moment into one of those old backwaters of mere femininity. Mrs. Prentiss had not related a single anecdote of the front, nor alluded to the fact that she was a Red Cross nurse.

But she and Kate Terriss sat up until midnight. They were both women capable of seizing those rare opportunities for service that flit past so many intelligent women lacking initiative, and here was one that the most clear-thinking man would have envied. It was a piece of unbelievable luck; Gisela D?ring was not only here to their hand in a relaxed and friendly mood, but she possessed charm combined with a great intelligence and an iron will: she was far more the obvious leader than they had inferred from her work, and they guessed something of the powerful influence she must quietly have obtained over the women of Germany. Mrs. Prentiss had by no means approved of her at an earlier period, for she had shrewdly suspected that it was the handsome German governess, not the high-born Irma, who thwarted her designs upon the most attractive "foreigner" she had ever met. But even if she had cherished a grudge, and her life had been far too happy and successful for that, she would have been so profoundly grateful to Gisela for saving her from the anomalous and wretched position of other modern American women married to medieval Germans, that she felt almost as great a desire to serve her as civilization in general.

When the two Americans parted for the night a methodical program had been worked out, with every date at command and every fact in damning sequence. The result of this momentous conference was that none of the five went to bed on the following night, but sat about a large oval table in the common sitting-room of Mrs. Prentiss and Mrs. Tolby, and wrangled until dawn.

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