This story is set after World War I, where a whole village had been destroyed by the fighting.
Marie woke to blackness, her small body shivering from the damp cold. She rearranged her bed of rags and burlap on the dirt floor. The same nightmare jolted her from sleep every night, and closed around her like a dark cloud.
The dream always started pleasantly in her beloved village, walking from her home with Maman and Grandmere down the narrow street. Bright flowers waved under windows, and the sun gleamed on the tall church steeple.
Then she would begin shivering as a frightening gleam of guns crept toward their village. Maman and Grandmere would pull her into a clump of trees, where they would flattened themselves against the ground. Blue-uniformed soldiers would pass in waves. Guns! Fighting! Explosions! Screams! Fire! When they were gone, the village was also gone. Marie, her mother, and her grandmother would take shelter in the old fruit cellar.
Marie fell back into a fitful sleep. Soldiers marched on and on. After French soldiers in blue came Germans in green, then Americans in khaki who laughed and gave pennies to the children, but still left the village in ruins.
When Marie woke again, sunlight shone across the fruit cellar. Hearing new sounds, she wondered what they could be. “Maman, have the soldiers come back?” she asked.
“No, my dear. Go see who has arrived,” Maman looked strangely pleased.
When Marie climbed the fruit-cellar steps she saw new men in grey uniforms with a red and black star on each sleeve and on their caps.
“Oh, Maman!” cried Marie after watching for several minutes. “They carry saws and hammers, not guns. They are building houses!” Marie had thought they were soldiers because they wore uniforms, but they were British and American Quakers.
Marie ran back down the cellar steps and grabbed a sock holding six pennies, the family’s only money. She hurried back up, anxious and hopeful. She ran to the men’s leader and timidly showed him her pennies. “Sir, can you build me a house for six cents?”
Surprised, the man asked her to repeat her question, then replied quite seriously, “Well, Mademoiselle, we’ll see what we can do.”
Marie watched daily to see what would happen.
Would they build her family a house before leaving? Just when she was giving up, Marie received her answer: “Yes!” It was small just like the others, but to her it was the most beautiful house in the world.
When it was finished, the men’s leader offered the front door key to Marie with great ceremony, saying “Miss, the key.”
Marie started to open the door, all the village looking on. But then she stopped. She ran down into the cellar and came back with her six pennies. Now that the house was finished, they looked too few, but they were all she had. She counted them into the leader’s hand. With a huge smile, Marie went inside with her family. Love and gratitude filled their hearts and their new home.