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Title: Kings, Queens and Pawns - An American Woman at the Front
Author: Rinehart, Mary Roberts, 1876-1958
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: MARY ROBERTS RINEHART RETURNING FROM THE WAR-ZONE
AND CAPTAIN FINCH ON S.S. "ARABIC."]



       KINGS, QUEENS AND PAWNS

   _An American Woman at the Front_

                BY
        MARY ROBERTS RINEHART
             AUTHOR OF
               "K"


             NEW YORK
       GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
              1915



CONTENTS

         FOR KING AND COUNTRY

     I.  TAKING A CHANCE

    II.  "SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE"

   III.  LA PANNE

    IV.  "'TWAS A FAMOUS VICTORY"

     V.  A TALK WITH THE KING OF THE BELGIANS

    VI.  THE CAUSE

   VII.  THE STORY WITH AN END

  VIII.  THE NIGHT RAID ON DUNKIRK

    IX.  NO MAN'S LAND

     X.  THE IRON DIVISION

    XI.  AT THE HOUSE OF THE BARRIER

   XII.  NIGHT IN THE TRENCHES

  XIII.  "WIPERS"

   XIV.  LADY DECIES' STORY

    XV.  RUNNING THE BLOCKADE

   XVI.  THE MAN OF YPRES

  XVII.  IN THE LINE OF THE "MITRAILLEUSE"

 XVIII.  FRENCH GUNS IN ACTION

   XIX.  "I NIBBLE THEM"

    XX.  DUNKIRK: FROM MY JOURNAL

   XXI.  TEA WITH THE AIR-FIGHTERS

  XXII.  THE WOMEN AT THE FRONT

 XXIII.  THE LITTLE "SICK AND SORRY" HOUSE

  XXIV.  FLIGHT

   XXV.  VOLUNTEERS AND PATRIOTS

  XXVI.  A LUNCHEON AT BRITISH HEADQUARTERS

 XXVII.  A STRANGE PARTY

XXVIII.  SIR JOHN FRENCH

  XXIX.  ALONG THE GREAT BETHUNE ROAD

   XXX.  THE MILITARY SECRET

  XXXI.  QUEEN MARY OF ENGLAND

 XXXII.  THE QUEEN OF THE BELGIANS

XXXIII.  THE RED BADGE OF MERCY

 XXXIV.  IN TERMS OF LIFE AND DEATH

  XXXV.  THE LOSING GAME

 XXXVI.  HOW AMERICANS CAN HELP

XXXVII.  AN ARMY OF CHILDREN



KINGS, QUEENS AND PAWNS



KINGS, QUEENS AND PAWNS

FOR KING AND COUNTRY


March in England is spring. Early in the month masses of snowdrops
lined the paths in Hyde Park. The grass was green, the roads hard and
dry under the eager feet of Kitchener's great army. For months they
had been drilling, struggling with the intricacies of a new career,
working and waiting. And now it was spring, and soon they would be
off. Some had already gone.

"Lucky beggars!" said the ones who remained, and counted the days.

And waiting, they drilled. Everywhere there were squads: Scots in
plaid kilts with khaki tunics; less picturesque but equally imposing
regiments in the field uniform, with officers hardly distinguishable
from their men. Everywhere the same grim but cheerful determination to
get over and help the boys across the Channel to assist in holding
that more than four hundred miles of battle line against the invading
hosts of Germany.

Here in Hyde Park that spring day was all the panoply of war: bands
playing, the steady tramp of numberless feet, the muffled clatter of
accoutrements, the homage of the waiting crowd. And they deserved
homage, those fine, upstanding men, many of them hardly more than
boys, marching along with a fine, full swing. There is something
magnificent, a contagion of enthusiasm, in the sight of a great
volunteer army. The North and the South knew the thrill during our own
great war. Conscription may form a great and admirable machine, but it
differs from the trained army of volunteers as a body differs from a
soul. But it costs a country heavy in griefs, does a volunteer army;
for the flower of the country goes. That, too, America knows, and
England is learning.

They marched by gaily. The drums beat. The passers-by stopped. Here
and there an open carriage or an automobile drew up, and pale men,
some of them still in bandages, sat and watched. In their eyes was the
same flaming eagerness, the same impatience to get back, to be loosed
against the old lion's foes.

For King and Country!

All through England, all through France, all through that tragic
corner of Belgium which remains to her, are similar armies, drilling
and waiting, equally young, equally eager, equally resolute. And the
thing they were going to I knew. I had seen it in that mysterious
region which had swallowed up those who had gone before; in the
trenches, in the operating, rooms of field hospitals, at outposts
between the confronting armies where the sentries walked hand in hand
with death. I had seen it in its dirt and horror and sordidness, this
thing they were going to.

War is not two great armies meeting in a clash and frenzy of battle.
It is much more than that. War is a boy carried on a stretcher,
looking up at God's blue sky with bewildered eyes that are soon to
close; war is a woman carrying a child that has been wounded by a
shell; war is spirited horses tied in burning buildings and waiting
for death; war is the flower of a race, torn, battered, hungry,
bleeding, up to its knees in icy water; war is an old woman burning a
candle before the Mater Dolorosa for the son she has given. For King
and Country!



CHAPTER I

TAKING A CHANCE


I started for the Continent on a bright day early in January. I was
searched by a woman from Scotland Yard before being allowed on the
platform. The pockets of my fur coat were examined; my one piece of
baggage, a suitcase, was inspected; my letters of introduction were
opened and read.

"Now, Mrs. Rinehart," she said, straightening, "just why are you
going?"

I told her exactly half of why I was going. I had a shrewd idea that
the question in itself meant nothing. But it gave her a good chance to
look at me. She was a very clever woman.

And so, having been discovered to be carrying neither weapons nor
seditious documents, and having an open and honest eye, I was allowed
to go through the straight and narrow way that led to possible
destruction. Once or twice, later on, I blamed that woman for letting
me through. I blamed myself for telling only half of my reasons for
going. Had I told her all she would have detained me safely in
England, where automobiles sometimes go less than eighty miles an
hour, and where a sharp bang means a door slamming in the wind and not
a shell exploding, where hostile aeroplanes overhead with bombs and
unpleasant little steel darts, were not always between one's eyes and
heaven. She let me through, and I went out on the platform.

The leaving of the one-o'clock train from Victoria Station, London, is
an event and a tragedy. Wounded who have recovered are going back;
soldiers who have been having their week at home are returning to that
mysterious region across the Channel, the front.

Not the least of the British achievements had been to transport,
during the deadlock of the first winter of the war, almost the entire
army, in relays, back to England for a week's rest. It had been done
without the loss of a man, across a channel swarming with hostile
submarines. They came in thousands, covered with mud weary, eager,
their eyes searching the waiting crowd for some beloved face. And
those who waited and watched as the cars emptied sometimes wept with
joy and sometimes turned and went away alone.

Their week over, rested, tidy, eyes still eager but now turned toward
France, the station platform beside the one-o'clock train was filled
with soldiers going back. There were few to see them off; there were
not many tears. Nothing is more typical of the courage and patriotism
of the British women than that platform beside the one-o'clock train
at Victoria. The crowd was shut out by ropes and Scotland Yard men
stood guard. And out on the platform, saying little because words are
so feeble, pacing back and forth slowly, went these silent couples.
They did not even touch hands. One felt that all the unselfish
stoicism and restraint would crumble under the familiar touch.

The platform filled. Sir Purtab Singh, an Indian prince, with his
suite, was going back to the English lines. I had been a neighbour of
his at Claridge's Hotel in London. I caught his eye. It was filled
with cold suspicion. It said quite plainly that I could put nothing
over on him. But whether he suspected me of being a newspaper writer
or a spy I do not know.

Somehow, considering that the train was carrying a suspicious and
turbaned Indian prince, any number of impatient officers and soldiers,
and an American woman who was carefully avoiding the war office and
trying to look like a buyer crossing the Channel for hats, the whistle
for starting sounded rather inadequate. It was not martial. It was
thin, effeminate, absurd. And so we were off, moving slowly past that
line on the platform, where no one smiled; where grief and tragedy, in
that one revealing moment, were written deep. I shall never forget the
faces of the women as the train crept by.

And now the train was well under way. The car was very quiet. The
memory of those faces on the platform was too fresh. There was a brown
and weary officer across from me. He sat very still, looking straight
ahead. Long after the train had left London, and was moving smoothly
through the English fields, so green even in winter, he still sat in
the same attitude.

I drew a long breath, and ordered luncheon. I was off to the war. I
might be turned back at Folkstone. There was more than a chance that I
might not get beyond Calais, which was under military law. But at
least I had made a start.

This is a narrative of personal experience. It makes no pretensions,
except to truth. It is pure reporting, a series of pictures, many of
them disconnected, but all authentic. It will take a hundred years to
paint this war on one canvas. A thousand observers, ten thousand, must
record what they have seen. To the reports of trained men must be
added a bit here and there from these untrained observers, who without
military knowledge, ignorant of the real meaning of much that they
saw, have been able to grasp only a part of the human significance of
the great tragedy of Europe.

I was such an observer.

My errand was primarily humane, to visit the hospitals at or near the
front, and to be able to form an opinion of what supplies were needed,
of conditions generally. Rumour in America had it that the medical and
surgical situation was chaotic. Bands of earnest and well-intentioned
people were working quite in the dark as to the conditions they hoped
to relieve. And over the hospital situation, as over the military,
brooded the impenetrable silence that has been decreed by the Allies
since the beginning of the war. I had met everywhere in America tales
from both the German and the Allies' lines that had astounded me. It
seemed incredible that such conditions could exist in an age of
surgical enlightenment; that, even in an unexpected and unprepared-for
war, modern organisation and efficiency should have utterly failed.

On the steamer crossing the Atlantic, with the ship speeding on her
swift and rather precarious journey windows and ports carefully closed
and darkened, one heard the same hideous stories: of tetanus in
uncounted cases, of fearful infections, of no bandages--worst of all,
of no anæsthetics.

I was a member of the American Red Cross Association, but I knew that
the great work of the American Red Cross was in sending supplies. The
comparatively few nurses they had sent to the western field of war
were not at the front or near it. The British, French, Belgian and
Dutch nursing associations were in charge of the field hospitals, so
far as I could discover.

To see these hospitals, to judge and report conditions, then, was a
part of my errand. Only a part, of course; for I had another purpose.
I knew nothing of strategy or tactics, of military movements and their
significance. I was not interested in them particularly. But I meant
to get, if it was possible, a picture of this new warfare that would
show it for the horror that it is; a picture that would give pause to
that certain percentage of the American people that is always so eager
to force a conservative government into conflict with other nations.

There were other things to learn. What was France doing? The great
sister republic had put a magnificent army into the field. Between
France and the United States were many bonds, much reciprocal good
feeling. The Statue of Liberty, as I went down the bay, bespoke the
kindly feeling between the two republics. I remembered Lafayette.
Battle-scarred France, where liberty has fought so hard for life--what
was France doing? Not saying much, certainly. Fighting, surely, as the
French have always fought. For certainly England, with her gallant but
at that time meagre army, was not fighting alone the great war.

But there were three nations fighting the allied cause in the west.
What had become of the heroic Belgian Army? Was it resting on its
laurels? Having done its part, was it holding an honorary position in
the great line-up? Was it a fragment or an army, an entity or a
memory?

The newspapers were full of details that meant nothing: names of
strange villages, movements backward and forward as the long battle
line bent and straightened again. But what was really happening beyond
the barriers that guarded the front so jealously? How did the men live
under these new and strange conditions? What did they think? Or fear?
Or hope?

Great lorries and transports went out from the French coast towns and
disappeared beyond the horizon; motor ambulances and hospital trains
came in with the grim harvest. Men came and, like those who had gone
before, they too went out and did not come back. "Somewhere in
France," the papers said. Such letters as they wrote came from
"somewhere in France." What was happening then, over there, beyond the
horizon, "somewhere in France"?

And now that I have been beyond the dead line many of these questions
have answered themselves. France is saying nothing, and fighting
magnificently, Belgium, with two-thirds of her army gone, has still
fifty thousand men, and is preparing two hundred thousand more.

Instead of merely an honorary position, she is holding tenaciously,
against repeated onslaughts and under horrible conditions, the flooded
district between Nieuport and Dixmude. England, although holding only
thirty-two miles of front, beginning immediately south of Ypres, is
holding that line against some of the most furious fighting of the
war, and is developing, at the same time, an enormous fighting machine
for the spring movement.[A]

[Footnote A: This is written of conditions in the early spring of
1915. Although the relative positions of the three armies are the
same, the British are holding a considerably longer frontage.]

The British soldier is well equipped, well fed, comfortably
transported. When it is remembered that England is also assisting to
equip all the allied armies, it will be seen that she is doing much
more than holding the high seas.

To see the wounded, then; to follow the lines of hospital trains to
that mysterious region, the front; to see the men in the trenches and
in their billets; to observe their _morale_, the conditions under
which they lived--and died. It was too late to think of the cause of
the war or of the justice or injustice of that cause. It will never be
too late for its humanities and inhumanities, its braveries and its
occasional flinchings, its tragedies and its absurdities.

It was through the assistance of the Belgian Red Cross that I got out
of England and across the Channel. I visited the Anglo-Belgian
Committee at its quarters in the Savoy Hotel, London, and told them of
my twofold errand. They saw at once the point I made. America was
sending large amounts of money and vast quantities of supplies to the
Belgians on both sides of the line. What was being done in interned
Belgium was well known. But those hospital supplies and other things
shipped to Northern France were swallowed up in the great silence. The
war would not be ended in a day or a month.

"Let me see conditions as they really are," I said. "It is no use
telling me about them. Let me see them. Then I can tell the American
people what they have already done in the war zone, and what they may
be asked to do."

Through a piece of good luck Doctor Depage, the president, had come
across the Channel to a conference, and was present. A huge man, in
the uniform of a colonel of the Belgian Army, with a great military
cape, he seemed to fill and dominate the little room.

They conferred together in rapid French.

"Where do you wish to go?" I was asked.

"Everywhere."

"Hospitals are not always cheerful to visit."

"I am a graduate of a hospital training-school. Also a member of the
American Red Cross."

They conferred again.

"Madame will not always be comfortable--over there."

"I don't want to be comfortable," I said bravely.

Another conference. The idea was a new one; it took some mental
readjustment. But their cause was just, and mingled with their desire
to let America know what they were doing was a justifiable pride. They
knew what I was to find out--that one of the finest hospitals in the
world, as to organisation, equipment and results, was situated almost
under the guns of devastated Nieuport, so close that the roar of
artillery is always in one's ears.

I had expected delays, a possible refusal. Everyone had encountered
delays of one sort and another. Instead, I found a most courteous and
agreeable permission given. I was rather dazed. And when, a day or so
later, through other channels, I found myself in possession of letters
to the Baron de Broqueville, Premier and Minister of War for Belgium,
and to General Melis, Inspector General of the Belgian Army Medical
Corps, I realised that, once in Belgian territory, my troubles would
probably be at an end.

For getting out of England I put my faith in a card given me by the
Belgian Red Cross. There are only four such cards in existence, and
mine was number four.

From Calais to La Panne! If I could get to Calais I could get to the
front, for La Panne is only four miles from Nieuport, where the
confronting lines of trenches begin. But Calais was under military
law. Would I be allowed to land?

Such writers as reached there were allowed twenty-four hours, and were
then shipped back across the Channel or to some innocuous destination
south. Yet this little card, if all went well, meant the privilege of
going fifty miles northeast to the actual front. True, it gave no
chance for deviation. A mile, a hundred feet off the straight and
tree-lined road north to La Panne, and I should be arrested. But the
time to think about that would come later on.

As a matter of fact, I have never been arrested. Except in the
hospitals, I was always practically where I had no business to be. I
had a room in the Hôtel des Arcades, in Dunkirk, for weeks, where,
just round the corner, the police had closed a house for a month as a
punishment because a room had been rented to a correspondent. The
correspondent had been sentenced to five years' imprisonment, but had
been released after five weeks. I was frankly a writer. I was almost
aggressively a writer. I wrote down carefully and openly everything I
saw. I made, but of course under proper auspices and with the
necessary permits, excursions to the trenches from Nieuport to the La
Bassée region and Béthune, along Belgian, French and English lines,
always openly, always with a notebook. And nothing happened!

As my notebook became filled with data I grew more and more anxious,
while the authorities grew more calm. Suppose I fell into the hands of
the Germans! It was a large notebook, filled with much information. I
could never swallow the thing, as officers are supposed to swallow the
password slips in case of capture. After a time the general spy alarm
got into my blood. I regarded the boy who brought my morning coffee
with suspicion, and slept with my notes under my pillow. And nothing
happened!

I had secured my passport _visé_ at the French and Belgian Consulates,
and at the latter legation was able also to secure a letter asking the
civil and military authorities to facilitate my journey. The letter
had been requested for me by Colonel Depage.

It was almost miraculously easy to get out of England. It was almost
suspiciously easy. My passport frankly gave the object of my trip as
"literary work." Perhaps the keen eyes of the inspectors who passed me
onto the little channel boat twinkled a bit as they examined it.

The general opinion as to the hopelessness of my trying to get nearer
than thirty miles to the front had so communicated itself to me that
had I been turned back there on the quay at Folkstone, I would have
been angry, but hardly surprised.

Not until the boat was out in the channel did I feel sure that I was
to achieve even this first leg of the journey.

Even then, all was not well. With Folkstone and the war office well
behind, my mind turned to submarines as a sunflower to the sun.
Afterward I found that the thing to do is not to think about
submarines. To think of politics, or shampoos, or of people one does
not like, but not of submarines. They are like ghosts in that respect.
They are perfectly safe and entirely innocuous as long as one thinks
of something else.

And something went wrong almost immediately.

It was imperative that I get to Calais. And the boat, which had
intended making Calais, had had a report of submarines and headed for
Boulogne. This in itself was upsetting. To have, as one may say, one's
teeth set for Calais, and find one is biting on Boulogne, is not
agreeable. I did not want Boulogne. My pass was from Calais. I had
visions of waiting in Boulogne, of growing old and grey waiting, or of
trying to walk to Calais and being turned back, of being locked in a
cow stable and bedded down on straw. For fear of rousing hopes that
must inevitably be disappointed, again nothing happened.

There were no other women on board: only British officers and the
turbaned and imposing Indians. The day was bright, exceedingly cold.
The boat went at top speed, her lifeboats slung over the sides and
ready for lowering. There were lookouts posted everywhere. I did not
think they attended to their business. Every now and then one lifted
his head and looked at the sky or at the passengers. I felt that I
should report him. What business had he to look away from the sea? I
went out to the bow and watched for periscopes. There were black
things floating about. I decided that they were not periscopes, but
mines. We went very close to them. They proved to be buoys marking the
Channel.

I hated to take my eyes off the sea, even for a moment. If you have
ever been driven at sixty miles an hour over a bad road, and felt that
if you looked away the car would go into the ditch, and if you will
multiply that by the exact number of German submarines and then add
the British Army, you will know how I felt.

Afterward I grew accustomed to the Channel crossing. I made it four
times. It was necessary for me to cross twice after the eighteenth of
February, when the blockade began. On board the fated Arabic, later
sunk by a German submarine, I ran the blockade again to return to
America. It was never an enjoyable thing to brave submarine attack,
but one develops a sort of philosophy. It is the same with being under
fire. The first shell makes you jump. The second you speak of,
commenting with elaborate carelessness on where it fell. This is a
gain over shell number one, when you cannot speak to save your life.
The third shell you ignore, and the fourth you forget about--if you
can.

Seeing me alone the captain asked me to the canvas shelter of the
bridge. I proceeded to voice my protest at our change of destination.
He apologised, but we continued to Boulogne.

"What does a periscope look like?" I asked. "I mean, of course, from
this boat?"

"Depends on how much of it is showing. Sometimes it's only about the
size of one of those gulls. It's hard to tell the difference."

I rather suspect that captain now. There were many gulls sitting on
the water. I had been looking for something like a hitching post
sticking up out of the water. Now my last vestige of pleasure and
confidence was gone. I went almost mad trying to watch all the gulls
at once.

"What will you do if you see a submarine?'

"Run it down," said the captain calmly. "That's the only chance we've
got. That is, if we see the boat itself. These little Channel steamers
make about twenty-six knots, and the submarine, submerged, only about
half of that. Sixteen is the best they can do on the surface. Run them
down and sink them, that's my motto."

"What about a torpedo?"

"We can see them coming. It will be hard to torpedo this boat--she
goes too fast."

Then and there he explained to me the snowy wake of the torpedo, a
white path across the water; the mechanism by which it is kept true to
its course; the detonator that explodes it. From nervousness I shifted
to enthusiasm. I wanted to see the white wake. I wanted to see the
Channel boat dodge it. My sporting blood was up. I was willing to take
a chance. I felt that if there was a difficulty this man would escape
it. I turned and looked back at the khaki-coloured figures on the deck
below.

Taking a chance! They were all taking a chance. And there was one, an
officer, with an empty right sleeve. And suddenly what for an
enthusiastic moment, in that bracing sea air, had seemed a game,
became the thing that it is, not a game, but a deadly and cruel war. I
never grew accustomed to the tragedy of the empty sleeve. And as if to
accentuate this thing toward which I was moving so swiftly, the
British Red Cross ship, from Boulogne to Folkstone, came in sight,
hurrying over with her wounded, a great white boat, garnering daily
her harvest of wounded and taking them "home."

Land now--a grey-white line that is the sand dunes at Ambleteuse,
north of Boulogne. I knew Ambleteuse. It gave a sense of strangeness
to see the old tower at the water's edge loom up out of the sea. The
sight of land was comforting, but vigilance was not relaxed. The
attacks of submarines have been mostly made not far outside the
harbours, and only a few days later that very boat was to make a
sensational escape just outside the harbour of Boulogne.

All at once it was twilight, the swift dusk of the sea. The boat
warped in slowly. I showed my passport, and at last I was on French
soil. North and east, beyond the horizon, lay the thing I had come to
see.



CHAPTER II

"SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE"


Many people have seen Boulogne and have written of what they have
seen: the great hotels that are now English hospitals; the crowding of
transport wagons; the French signs, which now have English signs added
to them; the mixture of uniforms--English khaki and French blue; the
white steamer waiting at the quay, with great Red Crosses on her snowy
funnels. Over everything, that first winter of the war, hung the damp
chill of the Continental winter, that chill that sinks in and never
leaves, that penetrates fur and wool and eats into the spirit like an
acid.

I got through the customs without much difficulty. I had a large
package of cigarettes for the soldiers, for given his choice, food or
a smoke, the soldier will choose the latter. At last after much talk I
got them in free of duty. And then I was footfree.

Here again I realise that I should have encountered great
difficulties. I should at least have had to walk to Calais, or to have
slept, as did one titled Englishwoman I know, in a bathtub. I did
neither. I took a first-class ticket to Calais, and waited round the
station until a train should go.

And then I happened on one of the pictures that will stand out always
in my mind. Perhaps it was because I was not yet inured to suffering;
certainly I was to see many similar scenes, much more of the flotsam
and jetsam of the human tide that was sweeping back and forward over
the flat fields of France and Flanders.

A hospital train had come in, a British train. The twilight had
deepened into night. Under the flickering arc lamps, in that cold and
dismal place, the train came to a quiet stop. Almost immediately it
began to unload. A door opened and a British nurse alighted. Then
slowly and painfully a man in a sitting position slid forward, pushing
himself with his hands, his two bandaged feet held in the air. He sat
at the edge of the doorway and lowered his feet carefully until they
hung free.

"Frozen feet from the trenches," said a man standing beside me.

The first man was lifted down and placed on a truck, and his place was
filled immediately by another. As fast as one man was taken another
came. The line seemed endless. One and all, their faces expressed keen
apprehension, lest some chance awkwardness should touch or jar the
tortured feet. Ten at a time they were wheeled away. And still they
came and came, until perhaps two hundred had been taken off. But now
something else was happening. Another car of badly wounded was being
unloaded. Through the windows could be seen the iron framework on
which the stretchers, three in a tier, were swung.

Halfway down the car a wide window was opened, and two tall
lieutenants, with four orderlies, took their places outside. It was
very silent. Orders were given in low tones. The muffled rumble of the
trucks carrying the soldiers with frozen feet was all that broke the
quiet, and soon they, too, were gone; and there remained only the six
men outside, receiving with hands as gentle as those of women the
stretchers so cautiously worked over the window sill to them. One by
one the stretchers came; one by one they were added to the lengthening
line that lay prone on the stone flooring beside the train. There was
not a jar, not an unnecessary motion. One great officer, very young,
took the weight of the end as it came toward him, and lowered it with
marvellous gentleness as the others took hold. He had a trick of the
wrist that enabled him to reach up, take hold and lower the stretcher,
without freeing his hands. He was marvellously strong, marvellously
tender.

The stretchers were laid out side by side. Their occupants did not
speak or move. It was as if they had reached their limit of endurance.
They lay with closed eyes, or with impassive, upturned faces, swathed
in their brown blankets against the chill. Here and there a knitted
neck scarf had been loosely wrapped about a head. All over America
women were knitting just such scarfs.

And still the line grew. The car seemed inexhaustible of horrors. And
still the young lieutenant with the tender hands and the strong wrists
took the onus of the burden, the muscles of his back swelling under
his khaki tunic. If I were asked to typify the attitude of the British
Army and of the British people toward their wounded, I should point to
that boy. Nothing that I know of in history can equal the care the
English are taking of their wounded in this, the great war. They have,
of course, the advantage of the best nursing system in Europe.

France is doing her best, but her nursing had always been in the hands
of nuns, and there are not nearly enough nuns in France to-day to cope
with the situation. Belgium, with some of the greatest surgeons in the
world, had no organised nursing system when war broke out. She is
largely dependent apparently on the notable work of her priests, and
on English and Dutch nurses.

When my train drew out, the khaki-clad lieutenant and his assistants
were still at work. One car was emptied. They moved on to a second.
Other willing hands were at work on the line that stretched along the
stone flooring, carrying the wounded to ambulances, but the line
seemed hardly to shrink. Always the workers inside the train brought
another stretcher and yet another. The rumble of the trucks had
ceased. It was very cold. I could not look any longer.

It took three hours to go the twenty miles to Calais, from six o'clock
to nine. I wrapped myself in my fur coat. Two men in my compartment
slept comfortably. One clutched a lighted cigarette. It burned down
close to his fingers. It was fascinating to watch. But just when it
should have provided a little excitement he wakened. It was
disappointing.

We drifted into conversation, the gentleman of the cigarette and I. He
was an Englishman from a London newspaper. He was counting on his luck
to get him into Calais and his wit to get him out. He told me his
name. Just before I left France I heard of a highly philanthropic and
talented gentleman of the same name who was unselfishly going through
the hospitals as near the front as he could, giving a moving-picture
entertainment to the convalescent soldiers. I wish him luck; he
deserves it. And I am sure he is giving a good entertainment. His wit
had got him out of Calais!

Calais at last, and the prospect of food. Still greater comfort, here
my little card became operative. I was no longer a refugee, fleeing
and hiding from the stern eyes of Lord Kitchener and the British War
Office. I had come into my own, even to supper.

I saw no English troops that night. The Calais station was filled with
French soldiers. The first impression, after the trim English uniform,
was not particularly good. They looked cold, dirty, unutterably weary.
Later, along the French front, I revised my early judgment. But I have
never reconciled myself to the French uniform, with its rather
slovenly cut, or to the tendency of the French private soldier to
allow his beard to grow. It seems a pity that both French and
Belgians, magnificent fighters that they are, are permitted this
slackness in appearance. There are no smarter officers anywhere than
the French and Belgian officers, but the appearance of their troops
_en masse_ is not imposing.

Later on, also, a close inspection of the old French uniform revealed
it as made of lighter cloth than the English, less durable, assuredly
less warm. The new grey-blue uniform is much heavier, but its colour
is questionable. It should be almost invisible in the early morning
mists, but against the green of spring and summer, or under the
magnesium flares--called by the English "starlights"--with which the
Germans illuminate the trenches of the Allies during the night, it
appeared to me that it would be most conspicuous.

I have before me on my writing table a German fatigue cap. Under the
glare of my electric lamp it fades, loses colour and silhouette, is
eclipsed. I have tried it in sunlight against grass. It does the same
thing. A piece of the same efficient management that has distributed
white smocks and helmet covers among the German troops fighting in the
rigours of Poland, to render them invisible against the snow!

Calais then, with food to get and an address to find. For Doctor
Depage had kindly arranged a haven for me. Food, of a sort, I got at
last. The hotel dining room was full of officers. Near me sat fourteen
members of the aviation corps, whose black leather coats bore, either
on left breast or left sleeve, the outspread wings of the flying
division. There were fifty people, perhaps, and two waiters, one a
pale and weary boy. The food was bad, but the crisp French bread was
delicious. Perhaps nowhere in the world is the bread average higher
than in France--just as in America, where fancy breads are at their
best, the ordinary wheat loaf is, taking the average, exceedingly
poor.

Calais was entirely dark. The Zeppelin attack, which took place four
or five weeks later, was anticipated, and on the night of my arrival
there was a general feeling that the birthday of the German Emperor
the next day would produce something spectacular in the way of an air
raid. That explained, possibly, the presence so far from the
front--fifty miles from the nearest point--of so many flying men.

As my French conversational powers are limited, I had some difficulty
in securing a vehicle. This was explained later by the discovery the
next day that no one is allowed on the streets of Calais after ten
o'clock. Nevertheless I secured a hack, and rode blithely and
unconsciously to the house where I was to spend the night. I have lost
the address of that house. I wish I could remember it, for I left
there a perfectly good and moderately expensive pair of field glasses.
I have been in Calais since, and have had the wild idea of driving
about the streets until I find it and my glasses. But a close scrutiny
of the map of Calais has deterred me. Age would overtake me, and I
should still be threading the maze of those streets, seeking an old
house in an old garden, both growing older all the time.

A very large house it was, large and cold. I found that I was
expected; but an air of unreality hung over everything. I met three or
four most kindly Belgian people of whom I knew nothing and who knew
nothing of me. I did not know exactly why I was there, and I am sure
the others knew less. I went up to my room in a state of bewilderment.
It was a huge room without a carpet, and the tiny fire refused to
light. There was a funeral wreath over the bed, with the picture of
the deceased woman in the centre. It was bitterly cold, and there was
a curious odor of disinfectants in the air.

By a window was a narrow black iron bed without a mattress. It looked
sinister. Where was the mattress? Had its last occupant died and the
mattress been burned? I sniffed about it; the odour of disinfectant
unmistakably clung to it. I do not yet know the story of that room or
of that bed. Perhaps there is no story. But I think there is. I put on
my fur coat and went to bed, and the lady of the wreath came in the
night and talked French to me.

I rose in the morning at seven degrees Centigrade and dressed. At
breakfast part of the mystery was cleared up. The house was being used
as a residence by the chief surgeon of the Ambulance Jeanne d'Arc, the
Belgian Red Cross hospital in Calais, and by others interested in the
Red Cross work. It was a dormitory also for the English nurses from
the ambulance. This explained, naturally, my being sent there, the
somewhat casual nature of the furnishing and the odour of
disinfectants. It does not, however, explain the lady of the wreath or
the black iron bed.

After breakfast some of the nurses came in from night duty at the
ambulance. I saw their bedroom, one directly underneath mine, with
four single beds and no pretence at comfort. It was cold, icy cold.

"You are very courageous," I said. "Surely this is not very
comfortable. I should think you might at least have a fire."

"We never think of a fire," a nurse said simply. "The best we can do
seems so little to what the men are doing, doesn't it?"

She was not young. Some one told me she had a son, a boy of nineteen,
in the trenches. She did not speak of him. But I have wondered since
what she must feel during those grisly hours of the night when the
ambulances are giving up their wounded at the hospital doors. No doubt
she is a tender nurse, for in every case she is nursing vicariously
that nineteen-year-old boy of hers in the trenches.

That morning I visited the various Calais hospitals. It was a bright
morning, sunny and cold. Lines of refugees with packs and bundles were
on their way to the quay.

The frightful congestion of the autumn of 1914 was over, but the
hospitals were all full. They were surgical hospitals, typhoid
hospitals, hospitals for injured civilians, hospital boats. One and
all they were preparing as best they could for the mighty conflict of
the spring, when each side expected to make its great onward movement.

As it turned out, the terrible fighting of the spring failed to break
the deadlock, but the preparations made by the hospitals were none too
great for the sad by-products of war.

The Belgian hospital question was particularly grave. To-day, several
months later, it is still a matter for anxious thought. In case the
Germans retire from Belgium the Belgians will find themselves in their
own land, it is true, but a land stripped of everything. It is for
this contingency that the Allies are preparing. In whichever direction
the line moves, the arrangements that have served during the impasse
of the past year will no longer answer. Portable field hospital
pavilions, with portable equipment, will be required. The destructive
artillery fire, with its great range, will leave no buildings intact
near the battle line.

One has only to follow the present line, fringed as it is with
destroyed or partially destroyed towns, to realise what the situation
will be if a successful offensive movement on the part of the Allies
drives the battle line back. Artillery fire leaves no buildings
standing. Even the roads become impassable,--masses of broken stone
with gaping holes, over which ambulances travel with difficulty.



CHAPTER III

LA PANNE


From Calais to La Panne is fifty miles. Calais is under military law.
It is difficult to enter, almost impossible to leave in the direction
in which I wished to go. But here again the Belgian Red Cross achieved
the impossible. I was taken before the authorities, sharply
questioned, and in the end a pink slip was passed over to the official
of the Red Cross who was to take me to the front. I wish I could have
secured that pink slip, if only because of its apparent fragility and
its astounding wearing qualities. All told, between Calais and La
Panne it was inspected--texture, weight and reading matter, front and
reverse sides, upside down and under glass--by some several hundred
sentries, officials and petty highwaymen. It suffered everything but
attack by bayonet. I found myself repeating that way to madness of
Mark Twain's:

  _Punch, brothers, punch with care,
  Punch in the presence of the passenjaire,
  A pink trip slip for a five-cent fare_--

and so on.

Northeast then, in an open grey car with "Belgian Red Cross" on each
side of the machine. Northeast in a bitter wind, into a desolate and
almost empty country of flat fields, canals and roads bordered by
endless rows of trees bent forward like marching men. Northeast
through Gravelines, once celebrated of the Armada and now a
manufacturing city. It is curious to think that a part of the Armada
went ashore at Gravelines, and that, by the shifting of the English
Channel, it is now two miles inland and connected with the sea by a
ship canal. Northeast still, to Dunkirk.

From Calais to Gravelines there had been few signs of war--an
occasional grey lorry laden with supplies for the front; great
ambulances, also grey, and with a red cross on the top as a warning to
aëroplanes; now and then an armoured car. At Gravelines the country
took on a more forbidding appearance. Trenches flanked the roads,
which were partly closed here and there by overlapping earthworks, so
that the car must turn sharply to the left and then to the right to
get through. At night the passage is closed by barbed wire. In one
place a bridge was closed by a steel rope, which a sentry lowered
after another operation on the pink slip.

The landscape grew more desolate as the daylight began to fade, more
desolate and more warlike. There were platforms for lookouts here and
there in the trees, prepared during the early days of the war before
the German advance was checked. And there were barbed-wire
entanglements in the fields. I had always thought of a barbed-wire
entanglement as probably breast high. It was surprising to see them
only from eighteen inches to two feet in height. It was odd, too, to
think that most of the barbed wire had been made in America. Barbed
wire is playing a tremendous part in this war. The English say that
the Boers originated this use for it in the South African War.
Certainly much tragedy and an occasional bit of grim humour attach to
its present use.

With the fortified town of Dunkirk--or Dunkerque--came the real
congestion of war. The large square of the town was filled with
soldiers and marines. Here again were British uniforms, British
transports and ambulances. As a seaport for the Allied Armies in the
north, it was bustling with activity. The French and Belgians
predominated, with a sprinkling of Spahis on horseback and Turcos. An
air of activity, of rapid coming and going, filled the town. Despatch
riders on motor cycles, in black leather uniforms with black leather
hoods, flung through the square at reckless speed. Battered
automobiles, their glass shattered by shells, mud guards crumpled,
coated with clay and riddled with holes, were everywhere, coming and
going at the furious pace I have since learned to associate with war.

And over all, presiding in heroic size in the centre of the Square,
the statue of Jean Bart, Dunkirk's privateer and pirate, now come into
his own again, was watching with interest the warlike activities of
the Square. Things have changed since the days of Jean Bart, however.
The cutlass that hangs by his side would avail him little now. The
aeroplane bombs that drop round him now and then, and the processions
of French "seventy-five" guns that rumble through the Square, must
puzzle him. He must feel rather a piker in this business of modern
war.

Dunkirk is generally referred to as the "front." It is not, however.
It is near enough for constant visits from German aeroplanes, and has
been partially destroyed by German guns, firing from a distance of
more than twenty miles. But the real line begins fifteen miles farther
along the coast at Nieuport.

So we left Dunkirk at once and continued toward La Panne. A drawbridge
in the wall guards the road out of the city in that direction. And
here for the first time the pink slip threatened to fail us. The Red
Cross had been used by spies sufficiently often to cover us with cold
suspicion. And it was worse than that. Women were not allowed, under
any circumstances, to go in that direction--a new rule, being enforced
with severity. My little card was produced and eyed with hostility.

My name was assuredly of German origin. I got out my passport and
pointed to the picture on it. It had been taken hastily in Washington
for passport purposes, and there was a cast in the left eye. I have no
cast in the left eye. Timid attempts to squint with that eye failed.

But at last the officer shrugged his shoulders and let us go. The two
sentries who had kept their rifles pointed at me lowered them to a
more comfortable angle. A temporary sense of cold down my back retired
again to my feet, whence it had risen. We went over the ancient
drawbridge, with its chains by which it may be raised, and were free.
But our departure was without enthusiasm. I looked back. Some eight
sentries and officers were staring after us and muttering among
themselves.

Afterward I crossed that bridge many times. They grew accustomed to
me, but they evidently thought me quite mad. Always they protested and
complained, until one day the word went round that the American lady
had been received by the King. After that I was covered with the
mantle of royalty. The sentries saluted as I passed. I was of the
elect.

There were other sentries until the Belgian frontier was passed. After
that there was no further challenging. The occasional distant roar of
a great gun could be heard, and two French aeroplanes, winging home
after a reconnaissance over the German lines, hummed overhead. Where
between Calais and Dunkirk there had been an occasional peasant's cart
in the road or labourer in the fields, now the country was deserted,
save for long lines of weary soldiers going to their billets, lines
that shuffled rather than marched. There was no drum to keep them in
step with its melancholy throbbing. Two by two, heads down, laden with
intrenching tools in addition to their regular equipment, grumbling as
the car forced them off the road into the mud that bordered it,
swathed beyond recognition against the cold and dampness, in the
twilight those lines of shambling men looked grim, determined,
sinister.

"We are going through Furnes," said my companion. "It has been shelled
all day, but at dusk they usually stop. It is out of our way, but you
will like to see it."

I said I was perfectly willing, but that I hoped the Germans would
adhere to their usual custom. I felt all at once that, properly
conserved, a long and happy life might lie before me. I mentioned that
I was a person of no importance, and that my death would be of no
military advantage. And, as if to emphasise my peaceful fireside at
home, and dinner at seven o'clock with candles on the table, the fire
re-commenced.

"Artillery," I said with conviction, "seems to me barbarous and
unnecessary. But in a moving automobile--"

It was a wrong move. He hastened to tell me of people riding along
calmly in automobiles, and of the next moment there being nothing but
a hole in the road. Also he told me how shrapnel spread, scattering
death over large areas. If I had had an idea of dodging anything I saw
coming it vanished.

We went into the little town of Furnes. Nothing happened. Only one
shell was fired, and I have no idea where it fell. The town was a dead
town, its empty streets full of brick and glass. I grew quite calm and
expressed some anxiety about the tires. Although my throat was dry, I
was able to enunciate clearly! We dared not light the car lamps, and
our progress was naturally slow.

Furnes is not on the coast, but three miles inland. So we turned sharp
to the left toward La Panne, our destination, a small seaside resort
in times of peace, but now the capital of Belgium. It was dark now,
and the roads were congested with the movements of troops, some going
to the trenches, those out of the trenches going back to their billets
for twenty-four hours' rest, and the men who had been on rest moving
up as pickets or reserves. Even in the darkness it was easy to tell
the rested men from the ones newly relieved. Here were mostly
Belgians, and the little Belgian soldier is a cheery soul. He asks
very little, is never surly. A little food, a little sleep--on straw,
in a stable or a church--and he is happy again. Over and over, as I
saw the Belgian Army, I was impressed with its cheerfulness under
unparalleled conditions.

Most of them have been fighting since Liege. Of a hundred and fifty
thousand men only fifty thousand remain. Their ration is meagre
compared with the English and the French, their clothing worn and
ragged. They are holding the inundated district between Nieuport and
Dixmude, a region of constant struggle for water-soaked trenches,
where outposts at the time I was there were being fought for through
lakes of icy water filled with barbed wire, where their wounded fall
and drown. And yet they are inveterately cheerful. A brave lot, the
Belgian soldiers, brave and uncomplaining! It is no wonder that the
King of Belgium loves them, and that his eyes are tragic as he looks
at them.

La Panne at last, a straggling little town of one street and rows of
villas overlooking the sea. La Panne, with the guns of Nieuport
constantly in one's ears, and the low, red flash of them along the
sandy beach; with ambulances bringing in their wounded now that night
covers their movements; with English gunboats close to the shore and a
searchlight playing over the sea. La Panne, with just over the sand
dunes the beginning of that long line of trenches that extends south
and east and south again, four hundred and fifty miles of death.

It was two weeks and four days since I had left America, and less than
thirty hours since I boarded the one-o'clock train at Victoria
Station, London. Later on I beat the thirty-hour record twice, once
going from the Belgian front to England in six hours, and another time
leaving the English lines at Béthune, motoring to Calais, and arriving
in my London hotel the same night. Cars go rapidly over the French
roads, and the distance, measured by miles, is not great. Measured by
difficulties, it is a different story.



CHAPTER IV

"'TWAS A FAMOUS VICTORY"


FROM MY JOURNAL:

LA PANNE, January 25th, 10 P.M.

I am at the Belgian Red Cross hospital to-night. Have had supper and
have been given a room on the top floor, facing out over the sea.

This is the base hospital for the Belgian lines. The men come here
with the most frightful injuries. As I entered the building to-night
the long tiled corridor was filled with the patient and quiet figures
that are the first fruits of war. They lay on portable cots, waiting
their turn in the operating rooms, the white coverings and bandages
not whiter than their faces.

11 P.M. The Night Superintendent has just been in to see me. She says
there is a baby here from Furnes with both legs off, and a nun who
lost an arm as she was praying in the garden of her convent. The baby
will live, but the nun is dying.

She brought me a hot-water bottle, for I am still chilled from my long
ride, and sat down for a moment's talk. She is English, as are most of
the nurses. She told me with tears in her eyes of a Dutch Red Cross
nurse who was struck by a shell in Furnes, two days ago, as she
crossed the street to her hospital, which was being evacuated. She was
brought here.

"Her leg was shattered," she said. "So young and so pretty she was,
too! One of the surgeons was in love with her. It seemed as if he
could not let her die."

How terrible! For she died.

"But she had a casket," the Night Superintendent hastened to assure
me. "The others, of course, do not. And two of the nurses were
relieved to-day to go with her to the grave."

I wonder if the young surgeon went. I wonder--

The baby is near me. I can hear it whimpering.

Midnight. A man in the next room has started to moan. Good God, what a
place! He has shell in both lungs, and because of weakness had to be
operated on without an anæsthetic.

2 A.M. I cannot sleep. He is trying to sing "Tipperary."

English battleships are bombarding the German batteries at Nieuport
from the sea. The windows rattle all the time.

6 A.M. A new day now. A grey and forbidding dawn. Sentries every
hundred yards along the beach under my window. The gunboats are moving
out to sea. A number of French aeroplanes are scouting overhead.

The man in the next room is quiet.

       *       *       *       *       *

Imagine one of our great seaside hotels stripped of its bands, its gay
crowds, its laughter. Paint its many windows white, with a red cross
in the centre of each one. Imagine its corridors filled with wounded
men, its courtyard crowded with ambulances, its parlours occupied by
convalescents who are blind or hopelessly maimed, its card room a
chapel trimmed with the panoply of death. For bathchairs and bathers
on the sands substitute long lines of weary soldiers drilling in the
rain and cold. And over all imagine the unceasing roar of great guns.
Then, but feebly, you will have visualised the Ambulance Ocean at La
Panne as I saw it that first winter of the war.

The town is built on the sand dunes, and is not unlike Ostend in
general situation; but it is hardly more than a village. Such trees as
there are grow out of the sand, and are twisted by the winds from the
sea. Their trunks are green with smooth moss. And over the dunes is
long grass, then grey and dry with winter, grass that was beaten under
the wind into waves that surge and hiss.

The beach is wide and level. There is no surf. The sea comes in in
long, flat lines of white that wash unheralded about the feet of the
cavalry horses drilling there. Here and there a fisherman's boat close
to the line of villas marks the limit of high tide; marks more than
that; marks the fisherman who has become a soldier; marks the end of
the peaceful occupations of the little town; marks the change from a
sea that was a livelihood to a sea that has become a menace and a
hidden death.

The beach at La Panne has its story. There are guns there now,
waiting. The men in charge of them wait, and, waiting, shiver in the
cold. And just a few minutes away along the sands there was a house
built by a German, a house whose foundation was a cemented site for a
gun. The house is destroyed now. It had been carefully located,
strategically, and built long before the war began. A gun on that
foundation would have commanded Nieuport.

Here, in six villas facing the sea, live King Albert and Queen
Elisabeth and their household, and here the Queen, grief-stricken at
the tragedy that has overtaken her innocent and injured people, visits
the hospital daily.

La Panne has not been bombarded. Hostile aëroplanes are always
overhead. The Germans undoubtedly know all about the town; but it has
not been touched. I do not believe that it will be. For one thing, it
is not at present strategically valuable. Much more important, Queen
Elisabeth is a Bavarian princess by birth. Quite aside from both
reasons, the outcry from the civilised world which would result from
injury to any member of the Belgian royal house, with the present
world-wide sympathy for Belgium, would make such an attack
inadvisable.

And yet who knows? So much that was considered fundamental in the
ethics of modern warfare has gone by the board; so certainly is this
war becoming one of reprisals, of hate and venom, that before this is
published La Panne may have been destroyed, or its evacuation by the
royal family have been decided.

The contrast between Brussels and La Panne is the contrast between
Belgium as it was and as it is. The last time I was in Belgium, before
this war, I was in Brussels. The great modern city of three-quarters
of a million people had grown up round the ancient capital of Brabant.
Its name, which means "the dwelling on the marsh," dates from the
tenth century. The huge Palais de Justice is one of the most
remarkable buildings in the world.

Now in front of that great building German guns are mounted, and the
capital of Belgium is a fishing village on the sand dunes. The King of
Belgium has exchanged the magnificent Palais du Roi for a small and
cheaply built house--not that the democratic young King of Belgium
cares for palaces. But the contrast of the two pictures was impressed
on me that winter morning as I stood on the sands at La Panne and
looked at the royal villa. All round were sentries. The wind from the
sea was biting. It set the long grey grass to waving, and blew the
fine sand in clouds about the feet of the cavalry horses filing along
the beach.

I was quite unmolested as I took photographs of the stirring scenes
about. It was the first daylight view I had had of the Belgian
soldiers. These were men on their twenty-four hours' rest, with a part
of the new army that was being drilled for the spring campaign. The
Belgian system keeps a man twenty-four hours in the trenches, gives
him twenty-four hours for rest well back from the firing line, and
then, moving him up to picket or reserve duty, holds him another
twenty-four hours just behind the trenches. The English system is
different. Along the English front men are four days in the trenches
and four days out. All movements, of course, are made at night.

The men I watched that morning were partly on rest, partly in reserve.
They were shabby, cold and cheery. I created unlimited surprise and
interest. They lined up eagerly to be photographed. One group I took
was gathered round a sack of potatoes, paring raw potatoes and eating
them. For the Belgian soldier is the least well fed of the three
armies in the western field. When I left, a good Samaritan had sent a
case or two of canned things to some of the regiments, and a favoured
few were being initiated into the joys of American canned baked beans.
They were a new sensation. To watch the soldiers eat them was a joy
and a delight.

I wish some American gentleman, tiring of storing up his treasures
only in heaven, would send a can or a case or a shipload of baked
beans to the Belgians. This is alliterative, but earnest. They can
heat them in the trenches in the cans; they can thrive on them and
fight on them. And when the cans are empty they can build fires in
them or hang them, filled with stones, on the barbed-wire
entanglements in front of the trenches, so that they ring like bells
on a herd of cows to warn them of an impending attack.

And while we are on this subject, I wish some of the women who are
knitting scarfs would stop,[B] now that winter is over, and make jelly
and jam for the brave and cheerful little Belgian army. I am aware
that it is less pleasant than knitting. It cannot be taken to lectures
or musicales. One cannot make jam between the courses of a luncheon or
a dinner party, or during the dummy hand at bridge. But the men have
so little--unsweetened coffee and black bread for breakfast; a stew of
meat and vegetables at mid-day, taken to them, when it can be taken,
but carried miles from where it is cooked, and usually cold. They pour
off the cold liquor and eat the unpalatable residue. Supper is like
breakfast with the addition of a ration of minced meat and potatoes,
also cold and not attractive at the best.

[Footnote B: This was written in the spring. By the time this book is
published knitted woollens will be again in demand. Socks and mittens,
abdominal belts and neck scarfs are much liked. A soldier told me he
liked his scarf wide, and eight feet long, so he can carry it around
his body and fasten it in the back.]

Sometimes they have bully beef. I have eaten bully beef, which is a
cooked and tinned beef, semi-gelatinous. The Belgian bully beef is
drier and tougher than the English. It is not bad; indeed, it is quite
good. But the soldier needs variety. The English know this. Their
soldiers have sugar, tea, jam and cheese.

If I were asked to-day what the Belgian army needs, now that winter is
over and they need no longer shiver in their thin clothing, I should
say, in addition to the surgical supplies that are so terribly
necessary, portable kitchens, to give them hot and palatable food.
Such kitchens may be bought for two hundred and fifty dollars, with a
horse to draw them. They are really sublimated steam cookers, with the
hot water used to make coffee when they reach the trenches. I should
say, then, surgical supplies and hospital equipment, field kitchens,
jams of all sorts, canned beans, cigarettes and rubber boots! A number
of field kitchens have already been sent over. A splendid Englishman
attached to the Belgian Army has secured funds for a few more. But
many are needed. I have seen a big and brawny Belgian officer, with a
long record of military bravery behind him, almost shed tears over the
prospect of one of these kitchens for his men.

I took many pictures that morning--of dogs, three abreast, hauling
_mitrailleuse_, the small and deadly quick-firing guns, from the word
_mitraille_, a hail of balls; of long lines of Belgian lancers on
their undipped and shaggy horses, each man carrying an eight-foot
lance at rest; of men drilling in broken boots, in wooden shoes
stuffed with straw, in carpet slippers. I was in furs from head to
foot--the same fur coat that has been, in turn, lap robe, bed clothing
and pillow--and I was cold. These men, smiling into my camera, were
thinly dressed, with bare, ungloved hands. But they were smiling.

Afterward I learned that many of them had no underclothing, that the
blue tunics and trousers were all they had. Always they shivered, but
often also they smiled. Many of them had fought since Liège; most of
them had no knowledge of their families on the other side of the line
of death. When they return to their country, what will they go back
to? Their homes are gone, their farm buildings destroyed, their horses
and cattle killed.

But they are a courageous people, a bravely cheery people. Flor every
one of them that remained there, two had gone, either to death,
captivity or serious injury. They were glad to be alive that morning
on the sands of La Panne, under the incessant roaring of the guns. The
wind died down; the sun came out. It was January. In two months, or
three, it would be spring and warm. In two months, or three, they
confidently expected to be on the move toward their homes again.

What mattered broken boots and the mud and filth of their trenches?
What mattered the German aëroplane overhead? Or cold and insufficient
food? Or the wind? Nothing mattered but death, and they still lived.
And perhaps, beyond the line--

That afternoon, from the Ambulance Ocean, a young Belgian officer was
buried.

It was a bright, sunny afternoon, but bitterly cold. Troops were lined
up before the hospital in the square; a band, too, holding its
instruments with blue and ungloved fingers.

He had been a very brave officer, and very young. The story of what he
had done had been told about. So, although military funerals are many,
a handful of civilians had gathered to see him taken away to the
crowded cemetery. The three English gunboats were patrolling the sea.
Tall Belgian generals, in high blue-and-gold caps and great cape
overcoats, met in the open space and conferred.

The dead young officer lay in state in the little chapel of the
hospital. Ten tall black standards round him held burning candles, the
lights of faith. His uniform, brushed of its mud and neatly folded,
lay on top of the casket, with his pathetic cap and with the sword
that would never lead another charge. He had fought very hard to live,
they said at the hospital. But he had died.

The crowd opened, and the priest came through. He wore a purple velvet
robe, and behind him came his deacons and four small acolytes in
surplices. Up the steps went the little procession. And the doors of
the hospital closed behind it.

The civilians turned and went away. The soldiers stood rigid in the
cold sunshine, and waited. A little boy kicked a football over the
sand. The guns at Nieuport crashed and hammered.

After a time the doors opened again. The boy picked up his football
and came closer. The musicians blew on their fingers to warm them. The
dead young officer was carried out. His sword gleamed in the sun. They
carried the casket carefully, not to disorder the carefully folded
tunic or the pathetic cap. The body was placed in an ambulance. At a
signal the band commenced to play and the soldiers closed in round the
ambulance.

The path of glory, indeed!

But it was not this boyish officer's hope of glory that had brought
this scene to pass. He died fighting a defensive war, to save what was
left to him of the country he loved. He had no dream of empire, no
vision of commercial supremacy, no thrill of conquest as an invaded
and destroyed country bent to the inevitable. For months since Liège
he had fought a losing fight, a fight that Belgium knew from the
beginning must be a losing fight, until such time as her allies could
come to her aid. Like the others, he had nothing to gain by this war
and everything to lose.

He had lost. The ambulance moved away.

I was frequently in La Panne after that day. I got to know well the
road from Dunkirk, with its bordering of mud and ditch, its heavy
transports, its grey gunboats in the canals that followed it on one
side, its long lines of over-laden soldiers, its automobiles that
travelled always at top speed. I saw pictures that no artist will ever
paint--of horrors and beauties, of pathos and comedy; of soldiers
washing away the filth of the trenches in the cold waters of canals
and ditches; of refugees flying by day from the towns, and returning
at night to their ruined houses to sleep in the cellars; of long
processions of Spahis, Arabs from Algeria, silhouetted against the
flat sky line against a setting sun, their tired horses moving slowly,
with drooping heads, while their riders, in burnoose and turban, rode
with loose reins; of hostile aëroplanes sailing the afternoon breeze
like lazy birds, while shells from the anti-aircraft guns burst
harmlessly below them in small balloon-shaped clouds of smoke.

But never in all that time did I overcome the sense of unreality, and
always I was obsessed by the injustice, the wanton waste and cost and
injustice of it all. The baby at La Panne--why should it go through
life on stumps instead of legs? The boyish officer--why should he have
died? The little sixteen-year-old soldier who had been blinded and who
sat all day by the phonograph, listening to Madame Butterfly,
Tipperary, and Harry Lauder's A Wee Deoch-an'-Doris--why should he
never see again what I could see from the window beside him, the
winter sunset over the sea, the glistening white of the sands, the
flat line of the surf as it crept in to the sentries' feet? Why? Why?

All these wrecks of boys and men, where are they to go? What are they
to do? Blind and maimed, weak from long privation followed by great
suffering, what is to become of them when the hospital has fulfilled
its function and they are discharged "cured"? Their occupations, their
homes, their usefulness are gone. They have not always even clothing
in which to leave the hospital. If it was not destroyed by the shell
or shrapnel that mutilated them it was worn beyond belief and
redemption. Such ragged uniforms as I have seen! Such tragedies of
trousers! Such absurd and heart-breaking tunics!

When, soon after, I was presented to the King of the Belgians, these
very questions had written lines in his face. It is easy to believe
that King Albert of Belgium has buried his private anxieties in the
common grief and stress of his people.



CHAPTER V

A TALK WITH THE KING OF THE BELGIANS


The letter announcing that I was to have an audience with the King of
the Belgians reached me at Dunkirk, France, on the evening of the day
before the date set. It was brief and to the effect that the King
would receive me the next afternoon at two o'clock at the Belgian Army
headquarters.

The object of my visit was well known; and, because I wished an
authoritative statement to give to America, I had requested that the
notes of my conversation with His Majesty should be officially
approved. This request was granted. The manuscript of the interview
that follows was submitted to His Majesty for approval. It is
published as it occurred, and nothing has been added to the record.

A general from the Ministry of War came to the Hôtel des Arcades, in
Dunkirk, and I was taken in a motor car to the Belgian Army
headquarters some miles away. As the general who conducted me had
influenza, and I was trying to keep my nerves in good order, it was
rather a silent drive. The car, as are all military cars--and there
are no others--was driven by a soldier-chauffeur by whose side sat the
general's orderly. Through the narrow gate, with its drawbridge
guarded by many sentries, we went out into the open country.

The road, considering the constant traffic of heavy transports and
guns, was very fair. It is under constant repair. At first, during
this severe winter, on account of rain and snow, accidents were
frequent. The road, on both sides, was deep in mud and prolific of
catastrophe; and even now, with conditions much better, there are
numerous accidents. Cars all travel at frightful speed. There are no
restrictions, and it is nothing to see machines upset and abandoned in
the low-lying fields that border the road.

Conditions, however, are better than they were. Part of the
conservation system has been the building of narrow ditches at right
angles to the line of the road, to lead off the water. Every ten feet
or so there is a gutter filled with fagots.

I had been in the general's car before. The red-haired Fleming with
the fierce moustache who drove it was a speed maniac, and passing the
frequent sentries was only a matter of the password. A signal to slow
down, given by the watchful sentry, a hoarse whisper of the password
as the car went by, and on again at full speed. There was no bothering
with papers.

On each side of the road were trenches, barbed-wire entanglements,
earthen barriers, canals filled with barges. And on the road were
lines of transports and a file of Spahis on horseback, picturesque in
their flowing burnouses, bearded and dark-skinned, riding their
unclipped horses through the roads under the single rows of trees. We
rode on through a village where a pig had escaped from a
slaughterhouse and was being pursued by soldiers--and then, at last,
army headquarters and the King of the Belgians.

There was little formality. I was taken in charge by the King's
equerry, who tapped at a closed door. I drew a long breath.

"Madame Rinehart!" said the equerry, and stood aside.

There was a small screen in front of the door. I went round it.
Standing alone before the fire was Albert I, King of the Belgians. I
bowed; then we shook hands and he asked me to sit down.

It was to be a conversation rather than an interview; but as it was to
be given as accurately as possible to the American people, I was
permitted to make careful notes of both questions and answers. It was
to be, in effect, a statement of the situation in Belgium as the King
of the Belgians sees it.

I spoke first of a message to America.

"I have already sent a message to America," he informed me; "quite a
long message. We are, of course, intensely appreciative of what
Americans have done for Belgium."

"They are anxious to do what they can. The general feeling is one of
great sympathy."

"Americans are both just and humane," the King replied; "and their
system of distribution is excellent. I do not know what we should have
done without the American Relief Committees."

"Is there anything further Your Majesty can suggest?"

"They seem to have thought of everything," the King said simply. "The
food is invaluable--particularly the flour. It has saved many from
starvation."

"But there is still need?"

"Oh, yes--great need."

It was clear that the subject was a tragic one. The King of the
Belgians loves his people, as they love him, with a devotion that is
completely unselfish. That he is helpless to relieve so much that they
are compelled to endure is his great grief.

His face clouded. Probably he was seeing, as he must always see, the
dejected figures of the peasants in the fields; the long files of his
soldiers as they made their way through wet and cold to the trenches;
the destroyed towns; the upheaval of a people.

"What is possible to know of the general condition of affairs in that
part of Belgium occupied by the Germans?" I asked. "I do not mean in
regard to food only, but the general condition of the Belgian people."

"It is impossible to say," was the answer. "During the invasion it was
very bad. It is a little better now, of course; but here we are on the
wrong side of the line to form any ordered judgment. To gain a real
conception of the situation it would be necessary to go through the
occupied portions from town to town, almost from house to house. Have
you been in the other part of Belgium?"

"Not yet; I may go."

"You should do that--see Louvain, Aerschot, Antwerp--see the destroyed
towns for yourself. No one can tell you. You must see them."

I was not certain that I should be permitted to make such a journey,
but the King waved my doubts aside with a gesture.

"You are an American," he said. "It would be quite possible and you
would see just what has happened. You would see open towns that were
bombarded; other towns that were destroyed after occupation! You would
see a country ruthlessly devastated; our wonderful monuments
destroyed; our architectural and artistic treasures sacrificed without
reason--without any justification."

"But as a necessity of war?" I asked.

"Not at all. The Germans have saved buildings when it suited their
convenience to do so. No military necessity dictated the destruction
of Louvain. It was not bombarded. It was deliberately destroyed. But,
of course, you know that."

"The matter of the violation of Belgium's neutrality still remains an
open question," I said. "I have seen in American facsimile copies of
documents referring to conversations between staff officers of the
British and Belgian armies--documents that were found in the
ministerial offices at Brussels when the Germans occupied that city
last August. Of course I think most Americans realise that, had they
been of any real importance, they would have been taken away. There
was time enough. But there are some, I know, who think them
significant."

The King of the Belgians shrugged his shoulders.

"They were of an unofficial character and entirely without importance.
The German Staff probably knew all about them long before the
declaration of war. They themselves had, without doubt, discussed and
recorded similar probabilities in case of war with other countries. It
is a common practice in all army organisations to prepare against
different contingencies. It is a question of military routine only."

"There was no justification, then, for the violation of Belgian
neutrality?" I inquired.

"None whatever! The German violation of Belgian neutrality was wrong,"
he said emphatically. "On the fourth of August their own chancellor
admitted it. Belgium had no thought of war. The Belgians are a
peace-loving people, who had every reason to believe in the friendship
of Germany."

The next question was a difficult one. I inquired as to the behaviour
of the Germans in the conquered territory; but the King made no
sweeping condemnation of the German Army.

"Fearful things have been done, particularly during the invasion," he
said, weighing his words carefully; "but it would be unfair to condemn
the whole German Army. Some regiments have been most humane; but
others behaved very badly. Have you seen the government report?"

I said I had not seen it, though I had heard that a careful
investigation had been made.

"The government was very cautious," His Majesty said. "The
investigation was absolutely impartial and as accurate as it could be
made. Doubts were cast on all statements--even those of the most
dependable witnesses--until they could be verified."

"They were verified?"

"Yes; again and again."

"By the victims themselves?"

"Not always. The victims of extreme cruelty do not live to tell of it;
but German soldiers themselves have told the story. We have had here
many hundreds of journals, taken from dead or imprisoned Germans,
furnishing elaborate details of most atrocious acts. The government is
keeping these journals. They furnish powerful and incontrovertible
testimony of what happened in Belgium when it was swept over by a
brutal army. That was, of course, during the invasion--such things are
not happening now so far as we know."

He had spoken quietly, but there was a new note of strain in his
voice. The burden of the King of the Belgians is a double one. To the
horror of war has been added the unnecessary violation and death of
noncombatants.

The King then referred to the German advance through Belgian
territory.

"Thousands of civilians have been killed without reason. The execution
of noncombatants is not war, and no excuse can be made for it. Such
deeds cannot be called war."

"But if the townspeople fired on the Germans?" I asked.

"All weapons had been deposited in the hands of the town authorities.
It is unlikely that any organised attack by civilians could have been
made. However, if in individual cases shots were fired at the German
soldiers, this may always be condoned in a country suffering invasion.
During an occupation it would be different, naturally. No excuse can
be offered for such an action in occupied territory."

"Various Belgian officers have told me of seeing crowds of men, women
and children driven ahead of the German Army to protect the troops.
This is so incredible that I must ask whether it has any foundation of
truth."

"It is quite true. It is a barbarous and inhuman system of protecting
the German advance. When the Belgian soldiers fired on the enemy they
killed their own people. Again and again innocent civilians of both
sexes were sacrificed to protect the invading army during attacks. A
terrible slaughter!"

His Majesty made no effort to conceal his great grief and indignation.
And again, as before, there seemed to be nothing to say.

"Even now," I said, "when the Belgians return the Grerman artillery
fire they are bombarding their own towns."

"That is true, of course; but what can we do? And the civilian
population is very brave. They fear invasion, but they no longer pay
any attention to bombs. They work in the fields quite calmly, with
shells dropping about. They must work or starve."

He then spoke of the morale of the troops, which is excellent, and of
his sympathy for their situation.

"Their families are in Belgium," he said. "Many of them have heard
nothing for months. But they are wonderful. They are fighting for life
and to regain their families, their homes and their country. Christmas
was very sad for them."

"In the event of the German Army's retiring from Belgium, do you
believe, as many do, that there will be more destruction of cities?
Brussels, for instance?"

"I think not."

I referred to my last visit to Belgium, when Brussels was the capital;
and to the contrast now, when La Panne a small seaside resort hardly
more than a village, contains the court, the residence of the King and
Queen, and of the various members of his household. It seemed to me
unlikely that La Panne would be attacked, as the Queen of the Belgians
is a Bavarian.

"Do you think La Panne will be bombarded?" I asked.

"Why not?"

"I thought that possibly, on account of Your Majesty and the Queen
being there, it would be spared.

"They are bombarding Furnes, where I go every day," he replied. "And
there are German aëroplanes overhead all the time."

The mention of Furnes brought to my mind the flooded district near
that village, which extends from Nieuport to Dixmude.

"Belgium has made a great sacrifice in flooding her lowlands," I said.
"Will that land be as fertile as before?"

"Not for several years. The flooding of the productive land in the
Yser district was only carried out as a military necessity. The water
is sea water, of course, and will have a bad effect on the soil. Have
you seen the flooded district?"

I told His Majesty that I had been to the Belgian trenches, and then
across the inundated country to one of the outposts; a remarkable
experience--one I should never forget.

The conversation shifted to America and her point of view; to American
women who have married abroad. His Majesty mentioned especially Lady
Curzon. Two children of the King were with Lord Curzon, in England, at
the time. The Crown Prince, a boy of fourteen, tall and straight like
his father, was with the King and Queen.

The King had risen and was standing in his favourite attitude, his
elbow on the mantelpiece. I rose also.

"I was given some instructions as to the ceremonial of this audience,"
I said. "I am afraid I have not followed them!"

"What were you told to do?" said His Majesty, evidently amused. Then,
without waiting for a reply;

"We are very democratic--we Belgians," he said. "More democratic than
the Americans. The President of the United States has great
power--very great power. He is a czar."

He referred to President Wilson in terms of great esteem--not only as
the President but as a man. He spoke, also, with evident admiration of
Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. McKinley, both of whom he had met.

I looked at the clock. It was after three and the interview had begun
at two. I knew it was time for me to go, but I had been given no
indication that the interview was at an end. Fragments of the coaching
I had received came to my mind, but nothing useful; so I stated my
difficulty frankly, and again the King's serious face lighted up with
a smile.

"There is no formality here; but if you are going we must find the
general for you."

So we shook hands and I went out; but the beautiful courtesy of the
soldier King of the Belgians brought him out to the doorstep with me.

That is the final picture I have of Albert I, King of the Belgians--a
tall young man, very fair and blue-eyed, in the dark blue uniform of a
lieutenant-general of his army, wearing no orders or decorations,
standing bareheaded in the wind and pointing out to me the direction
in which I should go to find the general who had brought me.

He is a very courteous gentleman, with the eyes of one who loves the
sea, for the King of the Belgians is a sailor in his heart; a tragic
and heroic figure but thinking himself neither--thinking of himself
not at all, indeed; only of his people, whose griefs are his to share
but not to lighten; living day and night under the rumble of German
artillery at Nieuport and Dixmude in that small corner of Belgium
which remains to him.

He is a King who, without suspicion of guilt, has lost his country;
who has seen since August of 1914 two-thirds of his army lost, his
beautiful and ancient towns destroyed, his fertile lands thrown open
to the sea.

I went on. The guns were still at work. At Nieuport, Dixmude, Furnes,
Pervyse--all along that flat, flooded region--the work of destruction
was going on. Overhead, flying high, were two German aëroplanes--the
eyes of the war.

       *       *       *       *       *

Not politically, but humanely, it was time to make to America an
authoritative statement as to conditions in Belgium.

The principle of non-interference in European politics is one of
national policy and not to be questioned. But there can be no
justification for the destruction of property and loss of innocent
lives in Belgium. Germany had plead to the neutral nations her
necessity, and had plead eloquently. On the other hand, the English
and French authorities during the first year of the war had preserved
a dignified silence, confident of the justice of their cause.

And official Belgium had made no complaint. She had bowed to the
judgment of her allies, knowing that a time would come, at the end
of the war, to speak of her situation and to demand justifiable
redress.

But a million homeless Belgians in England and Holland proclaimed and
still proclaim their wretchedness broadcast. The future may bring
redress, but the present story of Belgium belongs to the world.
America, the greatest of the neutral countries, has a right to know
now the suffering and misery of this patient, hard-working people.

This war may last a long time; the western armies are at a deadlock.
Since November of 1914 the line has varied only slightly here and
there; has been pushed out or back only to straighten again.

Advances may be counted by feet. From Nieuport to Ypres attacks are
waged round solitary farms which, by reason of the floods, have become
tiny islands protected by a few men, mitrailleuses, and entanglements
of barbed wire. Small attacking bodies capture such an outpost, wading
breast-deep--drowning when wounded--in the stagnant water. There are
no glorious charges here, no contagion of courage; simply a dogged and
desperate struggle--a gain which the next day may see forfeited. The
only thing that goes on steadily is the devastating work of the heavy
guns on each side.

Meantime, both in England and in France, there has been a growing
sentiment that the government's policy of silence has been a mistake.
The cudgel of public opinion is a heavy one. The German propaganda in
America has gone on steadily. There is no argument where one side only
is presented. That splendid and solid part of the American people, the
German population, essentially and naturally patriotic, keeping their
faith in the Fatherland, is constantly presenting its case; and
against that nothing official has been offered.

England is fighting heroically, stoically; but her stoicism is a vital
mistake. This silence has nothing whatever to do with military
movements, their success or their failure. It is more fundamental, an
inherent characteristic of the English character, founded on
reserve--perhaps tinged with that often misunderstood conviction of
the Britisher that other persons cannot be really interested in what
is strictly another's affairs.

The Allies are beginning to realise, however, that this war is not
their own affair alone. It affects the world too profoundly. Mentally,
morally, spiritually and commercially, it is an upheaval in which all
must suffer.

And the English people, who have sent and are sending the very flower
of their country's manhood to the front, are beginning to regret the
error in judgment that has left the rest of the English-speaking world
in comparative ignorance of the true situation.

They are sending the best they have--men of high ideals, who, as
volunteers, go out to fight for what they consider a just cause. The
old families, in which love of country and self-sacrifice are
traditions, have suffered heavily.

The crux of the situation is Belgium--the violation of her neutrality;
the conduct of the invading army; her unnecessary and unjustifiable
suffering. And Belgium has felt that the time to speak has come.



CHAPTER VI

THE CAUSE


The Belgian Red Cross may well be proud of the hospital at La Panne.
It is modern, thoroughly organised, completely equipped. Within two
weeks of the outbreak of the war it was receiving patients. It was not
at the front then. But the German tide has forced itself along until
now it is almost on the line.

Generally speaking, order had taken the place of the early chaos in
the hospital situation when I was at the front. The British hospitals
were a satisfaction to visit. The French situation was not so good.
The isolated French hospitals were still in need of everything, even
of anæsthetics. The lack of an organised nursing system was being
keenly felt.

But the early handicaps of unpreparedness and overwhelming numbers of
patients had been overcome to a large extent. Scientific management
and modern efficiency had stepped in. Things were still capable of
improvement. Gentlemen ambulance drivers are not always to be depended
on. Nurses are not all of the same standard of efficiency. Supplies of
one sort exceeded the demand, while other things were entirely
lacking. Food of the kind that was needed by the very ill was scarce,
expensive and difficult to secure at any price.

But the things that have been done are marvellous. Surgery has not
failed. The stereoscopic X-ray and antitetanus serum are playing their
active part. Once out of the trenches a soldier wounded at the front
has as much chance now as a man injured in the pursuit of a peaceful
occupation.

Once out of the trenches! For that is the question. The ambulances
must wait for night. It is not in the hospitals but in the ghastly
hours between injury and darkness that the case of life or death is
decided. That is where surgical efficiency fails against the brutality
of this war, where the Red Cross is no longer respected, where it is
not possible to gather in the wounded under the hospital flag, where
there is no armistice and no pity. This is war, glorious war, which
those who stay at home say smugly is good for a nation.

But there are those who are hurt, not in the trenches but in front of
them. In that narrow strip of No Man's Land between the confronting
armies, and extending four hundred and fifty miles from the sea
through Belgium and France, each day uncounted numbers of men fall,
and, falling, must lie. The terrible thirst that follows loss of blood
makes them faint; the cold winds and snows and rains of what has been
a fearful winter beat on them; they cannot have water or shelter. The
lucky ones die, but there are some that live, and live for days. This
too is war, glorious war, which is good for a nation, which makes its
boys into men, and its men into these writhing figures that die so
slowly and so long.

I have seen many hospitals. Some of the makeshifts would be amusing
were they not so pathetic. Old chapels with beds and supplies piled
high before the altar; kindergarten rooms with childish mottoes on the
walls, from which hang fever charts; nuns' cubicles thrown open to
doctors and nurses as living quarters.

At La Panne, however, there are no makeshifts. There are no wards, so
called. But many of the large rooms hold three beds. All the rooms are
airy and well lighted. True, there is no lift, and the men must be
carried down the staircases to the operating rooms on the lower floor,
and carried back again. But the carrying is gently done.

There are two operating rooms, each with two modern operating tables.
The floors are tiled, the walls, ceiling and all furnishings white.
Attached to the operating rooms is a fully equipped laboratory and an
X-ray room. I was shown the stereoscopic X-ray apparatus by which the
figure on the plate stands out in relief, like any stereoscopic
picture. Every large hospital I saw had this apparatus, which is
invaluable in locating bullets and pieces of shell or shrapnel. Under
the X-ray, too, extraction frequently takes place, the operators using
long-handled instruments and gloves that are soaked in a solution of
lead and thus become impervious to the rays so destructive to the
tissues.

Later on I watched Doctor DePage operate at this hospital. I was put
into a uniform, and watched a piece of shell taken from a man's brain
and a great blood clot evacuated. Except for the red cross on each
window and the rattle of the sash under the guns, I might have been in
one of the leading American hospitals and war a century away. There
were the same white uniforms on the surgeons; the same white gauze
covering their heads and swathing their faces to the eyes; the same
silence, the same care as to sterilisation; the same orderly rows of
instruments on a glass stand; the same nurses, alert and quiet; the
same clear white electric light overhead; the same rubber gloves, the
same anæsthetists and assistants.

It was twelve minutes from the time the operating surgeon took the
knife until the wound was closed. The head had been previously shaved
by one of the assistants, and painted with iodine. In twelve minutes
the piece of shell lay in my hand. The stertorous breathing was
easier, bandages were being adjusted, the next case was being
anæsthetised and prepared.

I wish I could go further. I wish I could follow that peasant-soldier
to recovery and health. I wish I could follow him back to his wife and
children, to his little farm in Belgium. I wish I could even say he
recovered. But I cannot. I do not know. The war is a series of
incidents with no beginning and no end. The veil lifts for a moment
and drops again.

I saw other cases brought down for operation at the Ambulance Ocean.
One I shall never forget. Here was a boy again, looking up with
hopeful, fully conscious eyes at the surgeons. He had been shot
through the spine. From his waist down he was inert, helpless. He
smiled. He had come to be operated on. Now all would be well. The
great surgeons would work over him, and he would walk again.

When after a long consultation they had to tell him they could not
operate, I dared not look at his eyes.

Again, what is he to do? Where is he to go? He is helpless, in a
strange land. He has no country, no people, no money. And he will
live, think of it!

I wish I could leaven all this with something cheerful. I wish I could
smile over the phonograph playing again and again A Wee
Deoch-an'-Doris in that room for convalescents that overlooks the sea.
I wish I could think that the baby with both legs off will grow up
without missing what it has never known. I wish I could be reconciled
because the dead young officer had died the death of a patriot and a
soldier, or that the boy I saw dying in an upper room, from shock and
loss of blood following an amputation, is only a pawn in the great
chess game of empires. I wish I could believe that the two women on
the floor below, one with both arms gone, another with one arm off and
her back ripped open by a shell, are the legitimate fruits of a holy
war. I cannot. I can see only greed and lust of battle and ambition.

In a bright room I saw a German soldier. He had the room to himself.
He was blue eyed and yellow haired, with a boyish and contagious
smile. He knew no more about it all than I did. It must have
bewildered him in the long hours that he lay there alone. He did not
hate these people. He never had hated them. It was clear, too, that
they did not hate him. For they had saved a gangrenous leg for him
when all hope seemed ended. He lay there, with his white coverlet
drawn to his chin, and smiled at the surgeon. They were evidently on
the best of terms.

"How goes it?" asked the surgeon cheerfully in German.

"_Sehr gut_," he said, and eyed me curiously.

He was very proud of the leg, and asked that I see it. It was in a
cast. He moved it about triumphantly. Probably all over Germany, as
over France and this corner of Belgium, just such little scenes occur
daily, hourly.

The German peasant, like the French and the Belgian, is a peaceable
man. He is military but not militant. He is sentimental rather than
impassioned. He loves Christmas and other feast days. He is not
ambitious. He fights bravely, but he would rather sing or make a
garden.

It is over the bent shoulders of these peasants that the great
Continental army machines must march. The German peasant is poor,
because for forty years he has been paying the heavy tax of endless
armament. The French peasant is poor, because for forty years he has
been struggling to recover from the drain of the huge war indemnity
demanded by Germany in 1871. The Russian peasant toils for a remote
government, with which his sole tie is the tax-gatherer; toils with
childish faith for The Little Father, at whose word he may be sent to
battle for a cause of which he knows nothing.

Germany's militarism, England's navalism, Russia's autocracy, France,
graft-ridden in high places and struggling for rehabilitation after a
century of war--and, underneath it all, bearing it on bent shoulders,
men like this German prisoner, alone in his room and puzzling it out!
It makes one wonder if the result of this war will not be a great and
overwhelming individualism, a protest of the unit against the mass; if
Socialism, which has apparently died of an ideal, will find this ideal
but another name for tyranny, and rise from its grave a living force.

Now and then a justifiable war is fought, for liberty perhaps, or like
our Civil War, for a great principle. There are wars that are
inevitable. Such wars are frequently revolutions and have their
origins in the disaffection of a people.

But here is a world war about which volumes are being written to
discover the cause. Here were prosperous nations, building wealth and
culture on a basis of peace. Europe was apparently more in danger of
revolution than of international warfare. It is not only war without a
known cause, it is an unexpected war. Only one of the nations involved
showed any evidence of preparation. England is not yet ready. Russia
has not yet equipped the men she has mobilised.

Is this war, then, because the balance of power is so nicely adjusted
that a touch turns the scale, whether that touch be a Kaiser's dream
of empire or the eyes of a Czar turned covetously toward the South?

I tried to think the thing out during the long nights when the sound
of the heavy guns kept me awake. It was hard, because I knew so
little, nothing at all of European politics, or war, or diplomacy.
When I tried to be logical, I became emotional. Instead of reason I
found in myself only a deep resentment.

I could see only that blue-eyed German in his bed, those cheery and
cold and ill-equipped Belgians drilling on the sands at La Panne.

But on one point I was clear. Away from all the imminent questions
that filled the day, the changing ethics of war, its brutalities, its
hideous necessities, one point stood out clear and distinct. That the
real issue is not the result, but the cause of this war. That the
world must dig deep into the mire of European diplomacy to find that
cause, and having found it must destroy it. That as long as that cause
persists, be it social or political, predatory or ambitious, there
will be more wars. Again it will be possible for a handful of men in
high place to overthrow a world.

And one of the first results of the discovery of that cause will be a
demand of the people to know what their representatives are doing.
Diplomacy, instead of secret whispering, a finger to its lips, must
shout from the housetops. Great nations cannot be governed from
cellars. Diplomats are not necessarily conspirators. There is such a
thing as walking in the sunlight.

There is no such thing in civilisation as a warlike people. There are
peaceful people, or aggressive people, or military people. But there
are none that do not prefer peace to war, until, inflamed and roused
by those above them who play this game of empires, they must don the
panoply of battle and go forth.



CHAPTER VII

THE STORY WITH AN END


In its way that hospital at La Panne epitomised the whole tragedy of
the great war. Here were women and children, innocent victims when the
peaceful nearby market town of Furnes was being shelled; here was a
telegraph operator who had stuck to his post under furious bombardment
until both his legs were crushed. He had been decorated by the king
for his bravery. Here were Belgian aristocrats without extra clothing
or any money whatever, and women whose whole lives had been shielded
from pain or discomfort. One of them, a young woman whose father is
among the largest landowners in Belgium, is in charge of the villa
where the uniforms of wounded soldiers are cleaned and made fit for
use again. Over her white uniform she wore, in the bitter wind, a thin
tan raincoat. We walked together along the beach. I protested.

"You are so thinly clad," I said. "Surely you do not go about like
that always!"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"It is all I have," she said philosophically. "And I have no
money--none. None of us has."

A titled Belgian woman with her daughter had just escaped from
Brussels. She was very sad, for she had lost her only boy. But she
smiled a little as she told me of their having nothing but what they
wore, and that the night before they had built a fire in their room,
washed their linen, and gone to bed, leaving it until morning to dry.

Across the full width of the hospital stretched the great drawing-room
of the hotel, now a recreation place for convalescent soldiers. Here
all day the phonograph played, the nurses off duty came in to write
letters, the surgeons stopped on their busy rounds to speak to the men
or to watch for a few minutes the ever-changing panorama of the beach,
with its background of patrolling gunboats, its engineers on rest
playing football, its occasional aëroplanes, carrying each two men--a
pilot and an observer.

The men sat about. There were boys with the stringy beards of their
twenty years. There were empty sleeves, many crutches, and some who
must be led past the chairs and tables--who will always have to be
led.

They were all cheerful. But now and then, when the bombardment became
more insistent, some of them would raise their heads and listen, with
the strained faces of those who see a hideous picture.

The young woman who could not buy a heavy coat showed me the villa
adjoining the hospital, where the clothing of wounded soldiers is
cared for. It is placed first in a fumigating plant in the basement
and thoroughly sterilised. After that it is brushed of its encrusted
mud and blood stains are taken out by soaking in cold water. It is
then dried and thoroughly sunned. Then it is ready for the second
floor.

Here tailors are constantly at work mending garments apparently
unmendable, pressing, steaming, patching, sewing on buttons. The
ragged uniforms come out of that big bare room clean and whole, ready
to be tied up in new burlap bags, tagged, and placed in racks of fresh
white cedar. There is no odour in this room, although innumerable old
garments are stored in it.

In an adjoining room the rifles and swords of the injured men stand in
racks, the old and unserviceable rifles with which Belgium was forced
to equip so many of her soldiers side by side with the new and
scientific German guns. Along the wall are officers' swords, and above
them, on shelves, the haversacks of the common soldiers, laden with
the things that comprise their whole comfort.

I examined one. How few the things were and how worn! And yet the
haversack was heavy. As he started for the trenches, this soldier who
was carried back, he had on his shoulders this haversack of hide
tanned with the hair on. In it he had two pairs of extra socks, worn
and ragged, a tattered and dirty undershirt, a photograph of his wife,
rags for cleaning his gun, a part of a loaf of dry bread, the remnant
of what had been a pair of gloves, now fingerless and stiff with rain
and mud, a rosary, a pair of shoes that the woman of the photograph
would have wept and prayed over, some extra cartridges and a piece of
leather. Perhaps he meant to try to mend the shoes.

And here again I wish I could finish the story. I wish I could tell
whether he lived or died--whether he carried that knapsack back to
battle, or whether he died and its pitiful contents were divided among
those of his comrades who were even more needy than he had been. But
the veil lifts for a moment and drops again.

Two incidents stand out with distinctness from those first days in La
Panne, when, thrust with amazing rapidity into the midst of war, my
mind was a chaos of interest, bewilderment and despair.

One is of an old abbé, talking earnestly to a young Belgian noblewoman
who had recently escaped from Brussels with only the clothing she
wore.

The abbé was round of face and benevolent. I had met him before, at
Calais, where he had posed me in front of a statue and taken my
picture. His enthusiasm over photography was contagious. He had made a
dark room from a closet in an old convent, and he owned a little
American camera. With this carefully placed on a tripod and covered
with a black cloth, he posed me carefully, making numerous excursions
under the cloth. In that cold courtyard, under the marble figure of
Joan of Arc, he was a warm and human and most alive figure, in his
flat black shoes, his long black soutane with its woollen sash, his
woollen muffler and spectacles, with the eternal cigarette, that is
part and parcel of every Belgian, dangling loosely from his lower lip.

The surgeons and nurses who were watching the operation looked on with
affectionate smiles. They loved him, this old priest, with his
boyishness, his enthusiasms, his tiny camera, his cigarette, his
beautiful faith. He has promised me the photograph and what he
promises he fulfils. But perhaps it was a failure. I hope not. He
would be so disappointed--and so would I.

So I was glad to meet him again at La Panne--glad and surprised, for
he was fifty miles north of where we had met before. But the abbé was
changed. He was without the smile, without the cigarette. And he was
speaking beseechingly to the smiling young refugee. This is what he
was saying:

"I am glad, daughter, to help you in every way that I can. I have
bought for you in Calais everything that you requested. But I implore
you, daughter, do not ask me to purchase any more ladies' underlinen.
It is most embarrassing."

"But, father--"

"No underlinen," he repeated firmly. But it hurt him to refuse. One
could see that. One imagined, too, that in his life of service there
were few refusals. I left them still debating. The abbé's eyes were
desperate but his posture firm. One felt that there would be no
surrender.

Another picture, and I shall leave La Panne for a time.

I was preparing to go. A telephone message to General Melis, of the
Belgian Army, had brought his car to take me to Dunkirk. I was about
to leave the protection of the Belgian Red Cross and place myself in
the care of the ministry of war. I did not know what the future would
bring, and the few days at La Panne and the Ambulance Ocean had made
friends for me there. Things move quickly in war time. The
conventions with which we bind up our souls in ordinary life are cut
away. La Panne was already familiar and friendly territory.

I went down the wide staircase. An ambulance had stopped and its
burden was being carried in. The bearers rested the stretcher gently
on the floor, and a nurse was immediately on her knees beside it.

"Shell!" she said.

The occupant was a boy of perhaps nineteen--a big boy. Some mother
must have been very proud of him. He was fully conscious, and he
looked up from his stained bandages with the same searching glance
that now I have seen so often--the glance that would read its chances
in the faces of those about. With his uninjured arm he threw back the
blanket. His right arm was wounded, broken in two places, but not
shattered.

"He'll do nicely," said the nurse. "A broken jaw and the arm."

His eyes were on me, so I bent over.

"The nurse says you will do nicely," I assured him. "It will take
time, but you will be very comfortable here, and--"

The nurse had been making further investigation. Now she turned back
the other end of the blanket His right leg had been torn off at the
hip.

That story has an end; for that boy died.

The drive back to Dunkirk was a mad one. Afterward I learned to know
that red-headed Flemish chauffeur, with his fiercely upcurled
moustache and his contempt of death. Rather, perhaps, I learned to
know his back. It was a reckless back. He wore a large army overcoat
with a cape and a cap with a tassel. When he really got under way at
anything from fifty miles an hour to the limit of the speedometer,
which was ninety miles, the gilt tassel, which in the Belgian cap
hangs over and touches the forehead, had a way of standing up; the
cape overcoat blew out in the air, cutting off my vision and my last
hope.

I regard that chauffeur as a menace on the high road. Certainly he is
not a lady's chauffeur. He never will be. Once at night he took
me--and the car--into an iron railroad gate, and bent the gate into a
V. I was bent into the whole alphabet.

The car was a limousine. After that one cold ride from Calais to La
Panne I was always in a limousine--always, of course, where a car
could go at all. There may be other writers who have been equally
fortunate, but most of the stories are of frightful hardships. I was
not always comfortable. I was frequently in danger. But to and from
the front I rode soft and warm and comfortable. Often I had a bottle
of hot coffee and sandwiches. Except for the two carbines strapped to
the speedometer, except for the soldier-chauffeur and the orderly who
sat together outside, except for the eternal consulting of maps and
showing of passes, I might have been making a pleasure tour of the
towns of Northern France and Belgium. In fact, I have toured abroad
during times of peace and have been less comfortable.

I do not speak Flemish, so I could not ask the chauffeur to desist,
slow down, or let me out to walk. I could only sit tight as the
machine flew round corners, elbowed transports, and threw a warning
shriek to armoured cars. I wondered what would happen if we skidded
into a wagon filled with high explosives. I tried to remember the
conditions of my war insurance policy at Lloyd's. Also I recalled the
unpleasant habit the sentries have of firing through the back of any
car that passes them.

I need not have worried. Except that once we killed a brown chicken,
and that another time we almost skidded into the canal, the journey
was uneventful, almost calm. One thing cheered me--all the other
machines were going as fast as mine. A car that eased up its pace
would be rammed from behind probably. I am like the English--I prefer
a charge to a rearguard engagement.

My pass took me into Dunkirk.

It was dusk by that time. I felt rather lost and alone. I figured out
what time it was at home. I wished some one would speak English. And I
hated being regarded as a spy every mile or so, and depending on a
slip of paper as my testimonial of respectability. The people I knew
were lunching about that time, or getting ready for bridge or the
matinée. I wondered what would happen to me if the pass blew out of
the orderly's hands and was lost in the canal.

The chauffeur had been instructed to take me to the _Mairie_ a great
dark building of stone halls and stairways, of sentries everywhere, of
elaborate officers and much ceremony. But soon, in a great hall of the
old building piled high with army supplies, I was talking to General
Melis, and my troubles were over. A kindly and courteous gentleman, he
put me at my ease at once. More than that, he spoke some English. He
had received letters from England about me, and had telegraphed that
he would meet me at Calais. He had, indeed, taken the time out of his
busy day to go himself to Calais, thirty miles by motor, to meet me.

I was aghast. "The boat went to Boulogne," I explained. "I had no
idea, of course, that you would be there."

"Now that you are here," he said, "it is all right. But--exactly what
can I do for you?"

So I told him. He listened attentively. A very fine and gallant
soldier he was, sitting in that great room in the imposing uniform of
his rank; a busy man, taking a little time out of his crowded day to
see an American woman who had come a long way alone to see this
tragedy that had overtaken his country. Orderlies and officers came
and went; the _Mairie_ was a hive of seething activities. But he
listened patiently.

"Where do you want to go?" he asked when I had finished.

"I should like to stay here, if I may. And from here, of course, I
should like to get to the front."

"Where?"

"Can I get to Ypres?"

"It is not very safe."

I proclaimed instantly and loudly that I was as brave as a lion; that
I did not know fear. He smiled. But when the interview was over it was
arranged that I should have a _permis de séjour_ to stay in Dunkirk,
and that on the following day the general himself and one of his
officers having an errand in that direction would take me to Ypres.

That night the town of Dunkirk was bombarded by some eighteen German
aëroplanes.



CHAPTER VIII

THE NIGHT RAID ON DUNKIRK


I found that a room had been engaged for me at the Hotel des Arcades.
It was a very large room looking out over the public square and the
statue of Jean Bart. It was really a princely room. No wonder they
showed it to me proudly, and charged it to me royally. It was an
upholstered room. Even the doors were upholstered. And because it was
upholstered and expensive and regal, it enjoyed the isolation of
greatness. The other people in the hotel slept above or underneath.

There were times when I longed for neighbours, when I yearned for some
one to occupy the other royal apartment next door. But except for a
Russian prince who stayed two days, and who snored in Russian and kept
two _valets de chambre_ up all night in the hall outside my door
polishing his boots and cleaning his uniform, I was always alone in
that part of the hotel.

At my London hotel I had been lodged on the top floor, and twice in
the night the hall porter had telephoned me to say that German
Zeppelins were on their way to London. So I took care to find that in
the Hotel des Arcades there were two stories and two layers of Belgian
and French officers overhead.

I felt very comfortable--until the air raid. The two stories seemed
absurd, inadequate. I would not have felt safe in the subcellar of the
Woolworth Building.

There were no women in the hotel at that time, with the exception of a
hysterical lady manager, who sat in a boxlike office on the lower
floor, and two chambermaids. A boy made my bed and brought me hot
water. For several weeks at intervals he knocked at the door twice a
day and said: "Et wat." I always thought it was Flemish for "May I
come in?" At last I discovered that he considered this the English for
"hot water." The waiters in the café were too old to be sent to war,
but I think the cook had gone. There was no cook. Some one put the
food on the fire, but he was not a cook.

Dunkirk had been bombarded several times, I learned.

"They come in the morning," said my informant. "Every one is ordered
off the streets. But they do little damage. One or two machines come
and drop a bomb or two. That is all. Very few are killed."

I protested. I felt rather bitter about it. I expected trouble along
the lines, I explained. I knew I would be quite calm when I was
actually at the front, and when I had my nervous system prepared for
trouble. But in Dunkirk I expected to rest and relax. I needed sleep
after La Panne. I thought something should be done about it.

My informant shrugged his shoulders. He was English, and entirely
fair.

"Dunkirk is a fortified town," he explained. "It is quite legitimate.
But you may sleep to-night. The raids are always daylight ones."

So I commenced dinner calmly. I do not remember anything about that
dinner. The memory of it has gone. I do recall looking about the
dining room, and feeling a little odd and lonely, being the only
woman. Then a gun boomed somewhere outside, and an alarm bell
commenced to ring rapidly almost overhead. Instantly the officers in
the room were on their feet, and every light went out.

The _maître d'hôtel_, Emil, groped his way to my table and struck a
match.

"Aëroplanes!" he said.

There was much laughing and talking as the officers moved to the door.
The heavy velvet curtains were drawn. Some one near the door lighted a
candle.

"Where shall I go?" I asked.

Emil, unlike the officers, was evidently nervous.

"Madame is as safe here as anywhere," he said. "But if she wishes to
join the others in the cellar--"

I wanted to go to the cellar or to crawl into the office safe. But I
felt that, as the only woman and the only American about, I held the
reputation of America and of my sex in my hands. The waiters had gone
to the cellar. The officers had flocked to the café on the ground
floor underneath. The alarm bell was still ringing. Over the candle,
stuck in a saucer, Emil's face looked white and drawn.

"I shall stay here," I said. "And I shall have coffee."

The coffee was not bravado. I needed something hot.

The gun, which had ceased, began to fire again. And then suddenly, not
far away, a bomb exploded. Even through the closed and curtained
windows the noise was terrific. Emil placed my coffee before me with
shaking hands, and disappeared.

Another crash, and another, both very close!

There is nothing that I know of more hideous than an aërial
bombardment. It requires an entire mental readjustment. The sky, which
has always symbolised peace, suddenly spells death. Bombardment by the
big guns of an advancing army is not unexpected. There is time for
flight, a chance, too, for a reprisal. But against these raiders of
the sky there is nothing. One sits and waits. And no town is safe. One
moment there is a peaceful village with war twenty, fifty miles away.
The next minute hell breaks loose. Houses are destroyed. Sleeping
children die in their cradles. The streets echo and reëcho with the
din of destruction. The reply of the anti-aircraft guns is feeble, and
at night futile. There is no bustle of escape. The streets are empty
and dead, and in each house people, family groups, noncombatants, folk
who ask only the right to work and love and live, sit and wait with
blanched faces.

More explosions, nearer still. They were trying for the _Mairie_,
which was round the corner.

In the corridor outside the dining room a candle was lighted, and the
English officer who had reassured me earlier in the evening came in.

"You need not be alarmed," he said cheerfully. "It is really nothing.
But out in the corridor it is quite safe and not so lonely."

I went out. Two or three Belgian officers were there, gathered round a
table on which was a candle stuck in a glass. They were having their
after-dinner liqueurs and talking of many things. No one spoke of what
was happening outside. I was given a corner, as being out of the
draft.

The explosion were incessant now. With each one the landlady
downstairs screamed. As they came closer, cries and French adjectives
came up the staircase beside me in a nerve-destroying staccato of
terror.

At nine-thirty, when the aëroplanes had been overhead for
three-quarters of an hour, there came a period of silence. There were
no more explosions.

"It is over," said one of the Belgian officers, smiling. "It is over,
and madame lives!"

But it was not over.

I took advantage of the respite to do the forbidden thing and look out
through one of the windows. The moon had come up and the square was
flooded with light. All around were silent houses. No ray of light
filtered through their closed and shuttered windows. The street lamps
were out. Not an automobile was to be seen, not a hurrying human
figure, not a dog. No night prowler disturbed that ghastly silence.
The town lay dead under the clear and peaceful light of the moon. The
white paving stones of the square gleamed, and in the centre,
saturnine and defiant, stood uninjured the statue of Jean Bart,
privateer and private of Dunkirk.

Crash again! It was not over. The attack commenced with redoubled
fury. If sound were destructive the little town of Dunkirk would be
off the map of Northern France to-day. Sixty-seven bombs were dropped
in the hour or so that the Germans were overhead.

The bombardment continued. My feet were very cold, my head hot. The
lady manager was silent; perhaps she had fainted. But Emil reappeared
for a moment, his round white face protruding above the staircase
well, to say that a Zeppelin was reported on the way.

Then at last silence, broken soon by the rumble of ambulances as they
started on their quest for the dead and the wounded. And Emil was
wrong. There was no Zeppelin. The night raid on Dunkirk was history.

The lights did not come on again. From that time on for several weeks
Dunkirk lay at night in darkness. Houses showing a light were fined by
the police. Automobiles were forbidden the use of lamps. One crept
along the streets and the roads surrounding the town in a mysterious
and nerve-racking blackness broken only by the shaded lanterns of the
sentries as they stepped out with their sharp command to stop.

The result of the raid? It was largely moral, a part of that campaign
of terrorisation which is so strangely a part of the German system,
which has set its army to burning cities, to bombarding the
unfortified coast towns of England, to shooting civilians in conquered
Belgium, and which now sinks the pitiful vessels of small traders and
fishermen in the submarine-infested waters of the British Channel. It
gained no military advantage, was intended to gain no military
advantage. Not a soldier died. The great stores of military supplies
were not wrecked. The victims were, as usual, women and children. The
houses destroyed were the small and peaceful houses of noncombatants.
Only two men were killed. They were in a side street when the first
bomb dropped, and they tried to find an unlocked door, an open house,
anything for shelter. It was impossible. Built like all French towns,
without arcades or sheltering archways, the flat façades of the closed
and barricaded houses refused them sanctuary. The second bomb killed
them both.

Through all that night after the bombardment I could hear each hour
the call of the trumpet from the great overhanging tower, a double
note at once thin and musical, that reported no enemy in sight in the
sky and all well. From far away, at the gate in the wall, came the
reply of the distant watchman's horn softened by distance.

"All well here also," it said.

Following the trumpets the soft-toned chimes of the church rang out a
hymn that has chimed from the old tower every hour for generations,
extolling and praising the Man of Peace.

The ambulances had finished their work. The dead lay with folded
hands, surrounded by candles, the lights of faith. And under the
fading moon the old city rested and watched.



CHAPTER IX

NO MAN'S LAND


FROM MY JOURNAL:

I have just had this conversation with the little French chambermaid
at my hotel. "You have not gone to mass, Mademoiselle?"

"I? No."

"But here, so near the lines, I should think--"

"I do not go to church. There is no God." She looked up with
red-rimmed, defiant eyes. "My husband has been killed," she said.
"There is no God. If there was a God, why should my husband be killed?
He had done nothing."

This afternoon at three-thirty I am to start for the front. I am to
see everything. The machine leaves the _Mairie_ at three-thirty.

       *       *       *       *       *

Do you recall the school map on which the state of Texas was always
pink and Rhode Island green? And Canada a region without colour, and
therefore without existence?

The map of Europe has become a battle line painted in three colours:
yellow for the Belgian Army, blue for the British and red for the
French. It is really a double line, for the confronting German Army is
drawn in black. It is a narrow line to signify what it does--not only
death and wanton destruction, but the end of the myth of civilisation;
a narrow line to prove that the brotherhood of man is a dream, that
modern science is but an improvement on fifth-century barbarity; that
right, after all, is only might.

It took exactly twenty-four hours to strip the shirt off the diplomacy
of Europe and show the coat of mail underneath.

It will take a century to hide that coat of mail. It will take a
thousand years to rebuild the historic towns of Belgium. But not
years, nor a reclothed diplomacy, nor the punishment of whichever
traitor to the world brought this thing to pass, nor anything but
God's great eternity, will ever restore to one mother her uselessly
sacrificed son; will quicken one of the figures that lie rotting along
the battle line; will heal this scar that extends, yellow and blue and
red and black, across the heart of Western Europe.

It is a long scar--long and irregular. It begins at Nieuport, on the
North Sea, extends south to the region of Soissons, east to Verdun,
and then irregularly southeast to the Swiss border.

The map from which I am working was coloured and marked for me by
General Foch, commander of the French Army of the North, at his
headquarters. It is a little map, and so this line, which crosses
empires and cuts civilisation in half, is only fourteen inches long,
although it represents a battle line of over four hundred miles. Of
this the Belgian front is one-half inch, or approximately
one-twenty-eighth. The British front is a trifle more than twice as
long. All the rest of that line is red--French.

That is the most impressive thing about the map, the length of the
French line.

With the arrival of Kitchener's army this last spring the blue portion
grew somewhat. The yellow remained as it was, for the Belgian
casualties have been two-thirds of her army. There have been many
tragedies in Belgium. That is one of them.

In the very north then, yellow; then a bit of red; below that blue;
then red again in that long sweeping curve that is the French front.
Occasionally the line moves a trifle forward or back, like the
shifting record of a fever chart; but in general it remains the same.
It has remained the same since the first of November. A movement to
thrust it forward in any one place is followed by a counter-attack in
another place. The reserves must be drawn off and hurried to the
threatened spot. Automatically the line straightens again.

The little map is dated the twenty-third of February. All through the
spring and summer the line has remained unchanged. There will be no
change until one side or the other begins a great offensive movement.
After that it will be a matter of the irresistible force and the
immovable body, a question not of maps but of empires.

Between the confronting lines lies that tragic strip of No Man's Land,
which has been and is the scene of so much tragedy. No Man's Land is
of fixed length but of varying width. There are places where it is
very narrow, so narrow that it is possible to throw across a hand
grenade or a box of cigarettes, depending on the nearness of an
officer whose business is war. Again it is wide, so that friendly
relations are impossible, and sniping becomes a pleasure as well as an
art.

It was No Man's Land that I was to visit the night of the entry in my
journal.

From the neighbourhood of Ypres to the Swiss border No Man's Land
varies. The swamps and flat ground give way to more rolling country,
and this to hills. But in the north No Man's Land is a series of
shallow lakes, lying in flat, unprotected country.

For Belgium, in desperation, last October opened the sluices and let
in the sea. It crept in steadily, each high tide advancing the flood
farther. It followed the lines of canal and irrigation ditches mile
after mile till it had got as far south as Ypres, beyond Ypres indeed.
To the encroachment of the sea was added the flooding resulting from
an abnormally rainy winter. Ordinarily the ditches have carried off
the rain; now even where the inundation does not reach it lies in
great ponds. Belgium's fertile sugar-beet fields are under salt water.

The method was effectual, during the winter, at least, in retarding
the German advance. Their artillery destroyed the towns behind the
opposing trenches of the Allies, but their attempts to advance through
the flood failed.

Even where the floods were shallow--only two feet or so--they served
their purpose in masking the character of the land. From a wading
depth of two feet, charging soldiers stepped frequently into a deep
ditch and drowned ignominiously.

It is a noble thing, war! It is good for a country. It unites its
people and develops national spirit!

Great poems have been written about charges. Will there ever be any
great poems about these men who have been drowned in ditches? Or about
the soldiers who have been caught in the barbed wire with which these
inland lakes are filled? Or about the wounded who fall helpless into
the flood?

The inland lakes that ripple under the wind from the sea, or gleam
silver in the light of the moon, are beautiful, hideous, filled with
bodies that rise and float, face down. And yet here and there the
situation is not without a sort of grim humour. Brilliant engineers on
one side or the other are experimenting with the flood. Occasionally
trenches hitherto dry and fairly comfortable find themselves
unexpectedly filling with water, as the other side devises some clever
scheme for turning the flood from a menace into a military asset.

In No Man's Land are the outposts.

The fighting of the winter has mystified many noncombatants, with its
advances and retreats, which have yet resulted in no definite change
of the line. In many instances this sharp fighting has been a matter
of outposts, generally farms, churches or other isolated buildings,
sometimes even tiny villages. In the inundated portion of Belgium
these outposts are buildings which, situated on rather higher land, a
foot or two above the flood, have become islands. Much of the fighting
in the north has been about these island outposts. Under the
conditions, charges must be made by relatively small bodies of men.
The outposts can similarly house but few troops.

They are generally defended by barbed wire and a few quick-firing
guns. Their purpose is strategical; they are vantage points from which
the enemy may be closely watched. They change sides frequently; are
won and lost, and won again.

Here and there the side at the time in command of the outpost builds
out from its trenches through the flood a pathway of bags of earth,
topped by fascines or bundles of fagots tied together. Such a path
pays a tribute of many lives for every yard of advance. It is built
under fire; it remains under fire. It is destroyed and reconstructed.

When I reached the front the British, Belgian and French troops in the
north had been fighting under these conditions for four months. My
first visit to the trenches was made under the auspices of the Belgian
Ministry of War. The start was made from the _Mairie_ in Dunkirk,
accompanied by the necessary passes and escorted by an attaché of the
Military Cabinet.

I was taken in an automobile from Dunkirk to the Belgian Army
Headquarters, where an officer of the headquarters staff, Captain
F----, took charge. The headquarters had been a brewery.

Stripped of the impedimenta of its previous occupation, it now housed
the officers of the staff.

Since that time I have frequently visited the headquarters staffs of
various armies or their divisions. I became familiar with the long,
bare tables stacked with papers, the lamps, the maps on the walls, the
telephones, the coming and going of dispatch riders in black leather.
I came to know something of the chafing restlessness of these men who
must sit, well behind the firing line, and play paper battles on which
lives and empires hang.

But one thing never ceased to puzzle me.

That night, in a small kitchen behind the Belgian headquarters rooms,
a French peasant woman was cooking the evening meal. Always, at all
the headquarters that were near the front, somewhere in a back room
was a resigned-looking peasant woman cooking a meal. Children hung
about the stove or stood in corners looking out at the strange new
life that surrounded them. Peasants too old for war, their occupations
gone, sat listlessly with hanging hands, their faces the faces of
bewildered children; their clean floors were tracked by the muddy
boots of soldiers; their orderly lives disturbed, uprooted; their once
tidy farmyards were filled with transports; their barns with army
horses; their windmills, instead of housing sacks of grain, were
occupied by _mitrailleuses_.

What were the thoughts of these people? What are they thinking
now?--for they are still there. What does it all mean to them? Do they
ever glance at the moving cord of the war map on the wall? Is this war
to them only a matter of a courtyard or a windmill? Of mud and the
upheaval of quiet lives? They appear to be waiting--for spring,
probably, and the end of hostilities; for spring and the planting of
crops, for quiet nights to sleep and days to labour.

The young men are always at the front. They who are left express
confidence that these their sons and husbands will return. And yet in
the spring many of them ploughed shallow over battlefields.

It had been planned to show me first a detail map of the places I was
to visit, and with this map before me to explain the present position
of the Belgian line along the embankment of the railroad from Nieuport
to Dixmude. The map was ready on a table in the officers' mess, a bare
room with three long tables of planks, to which a flight of half a
dozen steps led from the headquarters room below.

Twilight had fallen by that time. It had commenced to rain. I could
see through the window heavy drops that stirred the green surface of
the moat at one side of the old building. On the wall hung the
advertisement of an American harvester, a reminder of more peaceful
days. The beating of the rain kept time to the story Captain F----
told that night, bending over the map and tracing his country's ruin
with his forefinger.

Much of it is already history. The surprise and fury of the Germans on
discovering that what they had considered a contemptible military
force was successfully holding them back until the English and French
Armies could get into the field; the policy of systematic terrorism
that followed this discovery; the unpreparedness of Belgium's allies,
which left this heroic little army practically unsupported for so long
against the German tidal wave.

The great battle of the Yser is also history. I shall not repeat the
dramatic recital of the Belgian retreat to this point, fighting a
rear-guard engagement as they fell back before three times their
number; of the fury of the German onslaught, which engaged the entire
Belgian front, so that there was no rest, not a moment's cessation. In
one night at Dixmude the Germans made fifteen attacks. Is it any
wonder that two-thirds of Belgium's Army is gone?

They had fought since the third of August. It was on the twenty-first
of October that they at last retired across the Yser and two days
later took up their present position at the railway embankment. On
that day, the twenty-third of October, the first French troops arrived
to assist them, some eighty-five hundred reaching Nieuport.

It was the hope of the Belgians that, the French taking their places
on the line, they could retire for a time as reserves and get a little
rest. But the German attack continuing fiercely against the combined
armies of the Allies, the Belgians were forced to go into action
again, weary as they were, at the historic curve of the Yser, where
was fought the great battle of the war. At British Headquarters later
on I was given the casualties of that battle, when the invading German
Army flung itself again and again, for nineteen days, against the
forces of the Allies: The English casualties for that period were
forty-five thousand; the French, seventy thousand; the German, by
figures given out at Berlin, two hundred and fifty thousand. The
Belgian I do not know.

"It was after that battle," said Captain F----, "that the German dead
were taken back and burned, to avoid pestilence."

The Belgians had by this time reached the limit of their resources. It
was then that the sluices were opened and their fertile lowlands
flooded.

On the thirty-first of October the water stopped the German advance
along the Belgian lines. As soon as they discovered what had been done
the Germans made terrific and furious efforts to get forward ahead of
it. They got into the towns of Ramscappelle and Pervyse, where furious
street fighting occurred.

Pervyse was taken five times and lost five times. But all their
efforts failed. The remnant of the Belgian Army had retired to the
railroad embankment. The English and French lines held firm.

For the time, at least, the German advance was checked.

That was Captain F----'s story of the battle of the Yser.

When he had finished he drew out of his pocket the diary of a German
officer killed at the Yser during the first days of the fighting, and
read it aloud. It is a great human document. I give here as nearly as
possible a literal translation.

It was written during the first days of the great battle. For fifteen
days after he was killed the German offensive kept up. General Foch,
who commanded the French Army of the North during that time, described
their method to me. "The Germans came," he said, "like the waves of
the sea!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The diary of a German officer, killed at the Yser:--

Twenty-fourth of October, 1914:

"The battle goes on--we are trying to effect a crossing of the Yser.
Beginning at 5:45 P.M. the engineers go on preparing their bridging
materials. Marching quickly over the country, crossing fields and
ditches, we are exposed to continuous heavy fire. A spent bullet
strikes me in the back, just below the coat collar, but I am not
wounded.

"Taking up a position near Vandewonde farm, we are able to obtain a
little shelter from the devastating fire of the enemy's artillery. How
terrible is our situation! By taking advantage of all available cover
we arrive at the fifth trench, where the artillery is in action and
rifle fire is incessant. We know nothing of the general situation. I
do not know where the enemy is, or what numbers are opposed to us, and
there seems no way of getting the desired information.

"Everywhere along the line we are suffering heavy losses, altogether
out of proportion to the results obtained. The enemy's artillery is
too well sheltered, too strong; and as our own guns, fewer in number,
have not been able to silence those of the enemy, our infantry is
unable to make any advance. We are suffering heavy and useless losses.

"The medical service on the field has been found very wanting. At
Dixmude, in one place, no less than forty frightfully wounded men were
left lying uncared, for. The medical corps is kept back on the other
side of the Yser without necessity. It is equally impossible to
receive water and rations in any regular way.

"For several days now we have not tasted a warm meal; bread and other
things are lacking; our reserve rations are exhausted. The water is
bad, quite green, indeed; but all the same we drink it--we can get
nothing else. Man is brought down to the level of the brute beast.
Myself, I have nothing left to eat; I left what I had with me in the
saddlebags on my horse. In fact, we were not told what we should have
to do on this side of the Yser, and we did not know that our horses
would have to be left on the other side. That is why we could not
arrange things.

"I am living on what other people, like true comrades, are willing to
give me, but even then my share is only very small. There is no
thought of changing our linen or our clothes in any way. It is an
incredible situation! On every hand farms and villages are burning.
How sad a spectacle, indeed, to see this magnificent region all in
ruins, wounded and dead lying everywhere all round."

Twenty-fifth of October, 1914:

"A relatively undisturbed night. The safety of the bridge over the
Yser has been assured for a time. The battle has gone on the whole day
long. We have not been given any definite orders. One would not think
this is Sunday. The infantry and artillery combat is incessant, but no
definite result is achieved. Nothing but losses in wounded and killed.
We shall try to get into touch with the sixth division of the Third
Reserve Army Corps on our right."

Twenty-sixth of October, 1914:

"What a frightful night has gone by! There was a terrible rainstorm. I
felt frozen. I remained standing knee-deep in water. To-day an
uninterrupted fusillade meets us in front. We shall throw a bridge
across the Yser, for the enemy's artillery has again destroyed one we
had previously constructed.

"The situation is practically unchanged. No progress has been made in
spite of incessant fighting, in spite of the barking of the guns and
the cries of alarm of those human beings so uselessly killed. The
infantry is worthless until our artillery has silenced the enemy's
guns. Everywhere we must be losing heavily; our own company has
suffered greatly so far. The colonel, the major, and, indeed, many
other officers are already wounded; several are dead.

"There has not yet been any chance of taking off our boots and washing
ourselves. The Sixth Division is ready, but its help is insufficient.
The situation is no clearer than before; we can learn nothing of what
is going on. Again we are setting off for wet trenches. Our regiment
is mixed up with other regiments in an inextricable fashion. No
battalion, no company, knows anything about where the other units of
the regiment are to be found. Everything is jumbled under this
terrible fire which enfilades from all sides.

"There are numbers of _francs-tireurs_. Our second battalion is going
to be placed under the order of the Cyckortz Regiment, made up of
quite diverse units. Our old regiment is totally broken up. The
situation is terrible. To be under a hail of shot and shell, without
any respite, and know nothing whatever of one's own troops!

"It is to be hoped that soon the situation will be improved. These
conditions cannot be borne very much longer. I am hopeless. The
battalion is under the command of Captain May, and I am reduced to
acting as _Fourier_. It is not at all an easy thing to do in our
present frightful situation. In the black night soldiers must be sent
some distance in order to get and bring back the food so much needed
by their comrades. They have brought back, too, cards and letters from
those we love. What a consolation in our cheerless situation! We
cannot have a light, however, so we are forced to put into our
pockets, unread, the words of comfort sent by our dear ones--we have
to wait till the following morning.

"So we spend the night again on straw, huddled up close one to another
in order to keep warm. It is horribly cold and damp. All at once a
violent rattle of rifle fire raises us for the combat; hastily we get
ready, shivering, almost frozen."

Twenty-seventh of October, 1914:

"At dawn I take advantage of a few moments' respite to read over the
kind wishes which have come from home. What happiness! Soon, however,
the illusion leaves me. The situation here is still all confusion; we
cannot think of advancing--"

The last sentence is a broken one. For he died.

       *       *       *       *       *

Morning came and he read his letters from home. They cheered him a
little; we can be glad of that, at least. And then he died.

That record is a great human document. It is absolutely genuine. He
was starving and cold. As fast as they built a bridge to get back it
was destroyed. From three sides he and the others with him were being
shelled. He must have known what the inevitable end would be. But he
said very little. And then he died.

There were other journels taken from the bodies of other German
officers at that terrible battle of the Yser. They speak of it as a
"hell"--a place of torment and agony impossible to describe. Some of
them I have seen. There is nowhere in the world a more pitiful or
tragic or thought-compelling literature than these diaries of German
officers thrust forward without hope and waiting for the end.

At six o'clock it was already entirely dark and raining hard. Even in
the little town the machine was deep in mud. I got in and we started
off again, moving steadily toward the front. Captain F---- had brought
with him a box of biscuits, large, square, flaky crackers, which were
to be my dinner until some time in the night. He had an electric flash
and a map. The roads were horrible; it was impossible to move rapidly.
Here and there a sentry's lantern would show him standing on the edge
of a flooded field. The car careened, righted itself and kept on. As
the roads became narrower it was impossible to pass another vehicle.
The car drew out at crossroads here and there to allow transports to
get by.



CHAPTER X

THE IRON DIVISION


It was bitterly cold, and the dead officer's diary weighed on my
spirit. The two officers in the machine pored over the map; I sat
huddled in my corner. I had come a long distance to do the thing I was
doing. But my enthusiasm for it had died. I wished I had not heard the
diary.

"At dawn I take advantage of a few moments' respite to read over the
kind wishes which have come from home. What happiness!" And then he
died.

The car jolted on.

The soldier and the military chauffeur out in front were drenched. The
wind hurled the rain at them like bullets. We were getting close to
the front. There were shellholes now, great ruts into which the car
dropped and pulled out again with a jerk.

Then at last a huddle of dark houses and a sentry's challenge. The car
stopped and we got out. Again there were seas of mud, deeper even than
before. I had reached the headquarters of the Third Division of the
Belgian Army, commonly known as the Iron Division, so nicknamed for
its heroic work in this war.

The headquarters building was ironically called the "château." It had
been built by officers and men, of fresh boards and lined neatly
inside with newspapers. Some of them were illustrated French papers.
It had much the appearance of a Western shack during the early days of
the gold fever. On one of the walls was a war map of the Eastern
front, the line a cord fastened into place with flag pins. The last
time I had seen such a map of the Eastern front was in the Cabinet
Room at Washington.

A large stove in the centre of the room heated the building, which was
both light and warm. Some fifteen officers received us. I was the only
woman who had been so near the front, for out here there are no
nurses. One by one they were introduced and bowed. There were fifteen
hosts and extremely few guests!

Having had telephone notice of our arrival, they showed me how
carefully they had prepared for it. The long desk was in beautiful
order; floors gleamed snow white; the lamp chimneys were polished.
There were sandwiches and tea ready to be served.

In one room was the telephone exchange, which connected the
headquarters with every part of the line. In another, a long line of
American typewriters and mimeographing machines wrote out and copied
the orders which were regularly distributed to the front.

"Will you see our museum?" said a tall officer, who spoke beautiful
English. His mother was an Englishwoman. So I was taken into another
room and shown various relics of the battlefield--pieces of shells,
rifles and bullets.

"Early German shells," said the officer who spoke English, "were like
this. You see how finely they splintered. The later ones are not so
good; the material is inferior, and here is an aluminum nose which
shows how scarce copper is becoming in Germany to-day."

I have often thought of that visit to the "château," of the beautiful
courtesy of those Belgian officers, their hospitality, their eagerness
to make an American woman comfortable and at home. And I was to have
still further proof of their kindly feeling, for when toward daylight
I came back from the trenches they were still up, the lamps were still
burning brightly, the stove was red hot and cheerful, and they had
provided food for us against the chill of the winter dawn. Out through
the mud and into the machine again. And now we were very near the
trenches. The car went without lights and slowly. A foot off the
centre of the road would have made an end to the excursion.

We began to pass men, long lines of them standing in the drenching
rain to let us by. They crowded close against the car to avoid the
seas of mud. Sometimes they grumbled a little, but mostly they were
entirely silent. That is the thing that impressed me always about the
lines of soldiers I saw going to and from the trenches--their silence.
Even their feet made no noise. They loomed up like black shadows which
the night swallowed immediately.

The car stopped again. We had made another leg of the journey. And
this time our destination was a church. We were close behind the
trenches now and our movements were made with extreme caution. Captain
F---- piloted me through the mud.

"We will go quietly," he said. "Many of them are doubtless sleeping;
they are but just out of the trenches and very tired."

Now and then one encounters in this war a picture that cannot be
painted. Such a picture is that little church just behind the Belgian
lines at L----. There are no pews, of course, in Continental churches.
The chairs had been piled up in a corner near the altar, and on the
stone floor thus left vacant had been spread quantities of straw.
Lying on the straw and covered by their overcoats were perhaps two
hundred Belgian soldiers. They lay huddled close together for warmth;
the mud of the trenches still clung to them. The air was heavy with
the odour of damp straw.

The high vaulted room was a cave of darkness. The only lights were
small flat candles here and there, stuck in saucers or on haversacks
just above the straw. These low lights, so close to the floor, fell on
the weary faces of sleeping men, accentuating the shadows, bringing
pinched nostrils into relief, showing lines of utter fatigue and
exhaustion.

But the picture was not all sombre. Here were four men playing cards
under an image of Our Lady, which was just overhead. They were muffled
against the cold and speaking in whispers. In a far corner a soldier
sat alone, cross-legged, writing by the light of a candle. His letter
rested on a flat loaf of bread, which was his writing table. Another
soldier had taken a loaf of bread for his pillow and was comfortably
asleep on it.

Captain F---- led the way through the church. He stepped over the men
carefully. When they roused and looked up they would have risen to
salute, but he told them to lie still.

It was clear that the relationship between the Belgian officers and
their troops was most friendly. Not only in that little church at
midnight, but again and again I have seen the same thing. The officers
call their men their "little soldiers," and eye them with affection.

One boy insisted on rising and saluting. He was very young, and on his
chin was the straggly beard of his years. The Captain stooped, and
lifting a candle held it to his face.

"The handsomest beard in the Belgian Army!" he said, and the men round
chuckled.

And so it went, a word here, a nod there, an apology when we disturbed
one of the sleepers.

"They are but boys," said the Captain, and sighed. For each day there
were fewer of them who returned to the little church to sleep.

On the way back to the car, making our way by means of the Captain's
electric flash through the crowded graveyard, he turned to me.

"When you write of this, madame," he said, "you will please not
mention the location of this church. So far it has escaped--perhaps
because it is small. But the churches always suffer."

I regretted this. So many of the churches are old and have the
interest of extreme age, even when they are architecturally
insignificant. But I found these officers very fair, just as I had
found the King of the Belgians disinclined to condemn the entire
German Army for the brutalities of a part of it.

"There is no reason why churches should not be destroyed if they are
serving military purposes," one of them said. "When a church tower
shelters a gun, or is used for observations, it is quite legitimate
that it be subject to artillery fire. That is a necessity of war."

We moved cautiously. Behind the church was a tiny cluster of small
houses. The rain had ceased, but the electric flashlight showed great
pools of water, through which we were obliged to walk. The hamlet was
very silent--not a dog barked. There were no dogs.

I do not recall seeing any dogs at any time along the front, except at
La Panne. What has become of them? There were cats in the destroyed
towns, cats even in the trenches. But there were no dogs. It is not
because the people are not fond of dogs. Dunkirk was full of them when
I was there. The public square resounded with their quarrels and noisy
playing. They lay there in the sun and slept, and ambulances turned
aside in their headlong career to avoid running them down. But the
villages along the front were silent.

I once asked an officer what had become of the dogs.

"The soldiers eat them!" he said soberly.

I heard the real explanation later. The strongest dogs had been
commandeered for the army, and these brave dogs of Flanders, who have
always laboured, are now drawing _mitrailleuses_, as I saw them at
L----. The little dogs must be fed, and there is no food to spare. And
so the children, over whose heads passes unheeded the real
significance of this drama that is playing about them, have their own
small tragedies these days.

We got into the car again and it moved off. With every revolution of
the engine we were advancing toward that sinister line that borders No
Man's Land. We were very close. The road paralleled the trenches, and
shelling had begun again.

It was not close, and no shells dropped in our vicinity. But the low,
horizontal red streaks of the German guns were plainly visible.

With the cessation of the rain had begun again the throwing over the
Belgian trenches of the German magnesium flares, which the British
call starlights. The French call them _fusées_. Under any name I do
not like them. One moment one is advancing in a comfortable obscurity.
The next instant it is the Fourth of July, with a white rocket
bursting overhead. There is no noise, however. The thing is
miraculously beautiful, silent and horrible. I believe the light
floats on a sort of tiny parachute. For perhaps sixty seconds it hangs
low in the air, throwing all the flat landscape into clear relief.

I do not know if one may read print under these _fusées_. I never had
either the courage or the print for the experiment. But these eyes of
the night open and close silently all through the hours of darkness.
They hang over the trenches, reveal the movements of troops on the
roads behind, shine on ammunition trains and ambulances, on the
righteous and the unrighteous. All along the German lines these
_fusées_ go up steadily. I have seen a dozen in the air at once. Their
silence and the eternal vigilance which they reveal are most
impressive. On the quietest night, with only an occasional shot being
fired, the horizon is ringed with them.

And on the horizon they are beautiful. Overhead they are distinctly
unpleasant.

"They are very uncomfortable," I said to Captain F----. "The Germans
can see us plainly, can't they?"

"But that is what they are for," he explained. "All movements of
troops and ammunition trains to and from the trenches are made during
the night, so they watch us very carefully."

"How near are we to the trenches?" I asked.

"Very near, indeed."

"To the first line?"

For I had heard that there were other lines behind, and with the
cessation of the rain my courage was rising. Nothing less than the
first line was to satisfy me.

"To the first line," he said, and smiled.

The wind which had driven the rain in sheets against the car had blown
the storm away. The moon came out, a full moon. From the car I could
see here and there the gleam of the inundation. The road was
increasingly bad, with shell holes everywhere. Buildings loomed out of
the night, roofless and destroyed. The _fusées_ rose and burst
silently overhead; the entire horizon seemed encircled with them. We
were so close to the German lines that we could see an electric signal
sending its message of long and short flashes, could even see the
reply. It seemed to me most unmilitary.

"Any one who knew telegraphy and German could read that message," I
protested.

"It is not so simple as that. It is a cipher code, and is probably
changed daily."

Nevertheless, the officers in the car watched the signalling closely,
and turning, surveyed the country behind us. In so flat a region, with
trees and shrubbery cut down and houses razed, even a pocket flash can
send a signal to the lines of the enemy. And such signals are sent.
The German spy system is thorough and far-reaching.

I have gone through Flanders near the lines at various times at night.
It is a dead country apparently. There are destroyed houses, sodden
fields, ditches lipful of water. But in the most amazing fashion
lights spring up and disappear. Follow one of these lights and you
find nothing but a deserted farm, or a ruined barn, or perhaps nothing
but a field of sugar beets dying in the ground.

Who are these spies? Are they Belgians and French, driven by the ruin
of everything they possess to selling out to the enemy? I think not.
It is much more probable that they are Germans who slip through the
lines in some uncanny fashion, wading and swimming across the
inundation, crawling flat where necessary, and working, an inch at a
time, toward the openings between the trenches. Frightful work, of
course. Impossible work, too, if the popular idea of the trenches were
correct--that is, that they form one long, communicating ditch from
the North Sea to Switzerland! They do not, of course. There are blank
spaces here and there, fully controlled by the trenches on either
side, and reënforced by further trenches behind. But with a knowledge
of where these openings lie it is possible to work through.

Possible, not easy. And there is no mercy for a captured spy.

The troops who had been relieved were moving out of the trenches. Our
progress became extremely slow. The road was lined with men. They
pressed their faces close to the glass of the car and laughed and
talked a little among themselves. Some of them were bandaged. Their
white bandages gleamed in the moonlight. Here and there, as they
passed, one blew on his fingers, for the wind was bitterly cold.

"In a few moments we must get out and walk," I was told. "Is madame a
good walker?"

I said I was a good walker. I had a strong feeling that two or three
people might walk along that road under those starlights much more
safely and inconspicuously than an automobile could move. For
automobiles at the front mean generals as a rule, and are always
subject to attack.

Suddenly the car stopped and a voice called to us sharply. There were
soldiers coming up a side road. I was convinced that we had surprised
an attack, and were in the midst of the German advance. One of the
officers flung the door open and looked out.

But we were only on the wrong road, and must get into reverse and turn
the machine even closer to the front. I know now that there was no
chance of a German attack at that point, that my fears were absurd.
Nevertheless, so keen was the tension that for quite ten minutes my
heart raced madly.

On again. The officers in the car consulted the map and, having
decided on the route, fell into conversation. The officer of the Third
Division, whose mother had been English, had joined the party. He had
been on the staff of General Leman at the time of the capture of
Liège, and he told me of the sensational attempt made by the Germans
to capture the General.

"I was upstairs with him at headquarters," he said, "when word came up
that eight Englishmen had just entered the building with a request to
see him. I was suspicious and we started down the staircase together.
The 'Englishmen' were in the hallway below. As we appeared on the
stairs the man in advance put his hand in his pocket and drew a
revolver. They were dressed in civilians' clothes, but I saw at once
that they were German.

"I was fortunate in getting my revolver out first, and shot down the
man in advance. There was a struggle, in which the General made his
escape and all of the eight were either killed or taken prisoners.
They were uhlans, two officers and six privates."

"It was very brave," I said. "A remarkable exploit."

"Very brave indeed," he agreed with me. "They are all very brave, the
Germans."

Captain F---- had been again consulting his map. Now he put it away.

"Brave but brutal," he said briefly. "I am of the Third Division. I
have watched the German advance protected by women and children. In
the fighting the civilians fell first. They had no weapons. It was
terrible. It is the German system," he went on, "which makes
everything of the end, and nothing at all of the means. It is seen in
the way they have sacrificed their own troops."

"They think you are equally brutal," I said. "The German soldiers
believe that they will have their eyes torn out if they are captured."

I cited a case I knew of, where a wounded German had hidden in the
inundation for five days rather than surrender to the horrors he
thought were waiting for him. When he was found and taken to a
hospital his long days in the water had brought on gangrene and he
could not be saved.

"They have been told that to make them fight more savagely," was the
comment. "What about the official German order for a campaign of
'frightfulness' in Belgium?"

And here, even while the car is crawling along toward the trenches,
perhaps it is allowable to explain the word "frightfulness," which now
so permeates the literature of the war. Following the scenes of the
German invasion into Belgium, where here and there some maddened
civilian fired on the German troops and precipitated the deaths of his
townsmen,[C] Berlin issued, on August twenty-seventh, a declaration,
of which this paragraph is a part:

[Footnote C: The Belgians contend that, in almost every case, such
firing by civilians was the result of attack on their women.]

"The only means of preventing surprise attacks from the civil
population has been to interfere with unrelenting severity and to
create examples which, by their frightfulness, would be a warning to
the whole country."

A Belgian officer once quoted it to me, with a comment.

"This is not an order to the army. It is an attempt at justification
for the very acts which Berlin is now attempting to deny!"

That is how "frightfulness" came into the literature of the war.

Captain F---- stopped the car. Near the road was a ruin of an old
church.

"In that church," he said, "our soldiers were sleeping when the
Germans, evidently informed by a spy, began to shell it. The first
shot smashed that house there, twenty-five yards away; the second shot
came through the roof and struck one of the supporting pillars,
bringing the roof down. Forty-six men were killed and one hundred and
nine wounded."

He showed me the grave from a window of the car, a great grave in
front of the church, with a wooden cross on it. It was too dark to
read the inscription, but he told me what it said:

"Here lie forty-six _chasseurs_." Beneath are the names, one below the
other in two columns, and underneath all: "_Morts pour la Patrie_."

We continued to advance. Our lamps were out, but the _fusées_ made
progress easy. And there was the moon. We had left behind us the lines
of the silent men. The scene was empty, desolate. Suddenly we stopped
by a low brick house, a one-story building with overhanging eaves.
Sentries with carbines stood under the eaves, flattened against the
wall for shelter from the biting wind.



CHAPTER XI

AT THE HOUSE OF THE BARRIER


A narrow path led up to the house. It was flanked on both sides by
barbed wire, and progress through it was slow. The wind caught my rain
cape and tore it against the barbs. I had to be disentangled. The
sentries saluted, and the low door, through which the officers were
obliged to stoop to enter, was opened by an orderly from within.

We entered The House of the Mill of Saint ----.

The House of the Mill of Saint ---- was less pretentious than its
name. Even at its best it could not have been imposing. Now, partially
destroyed and with its windows carefully screened inside by grain
sacks nailed to the frames for fear of a betraying ray of light, it
was not beautiful. But it was hospitable. A hanging lamp in its one
livable room, a great iron stove, red and comforting, and a large
round table under the lamp made it habitable and inviting. It was
Belgian artillery headquarters, and I was to meet here Colonel
Jacques, one of the military idols of Belgium, the hero of the Congo,
and now in charge of Belgian batteries. In addition, since it was
midnight, we were to sup here.

We were expected, and Colonel Jacques himself waited inside the
living-room door. A tall man, as are almost all the Belgian
officers--which is curious, considering that the troops seem to be
rather under average size--he greeted us cordially. I fancied that
behind his urbanity there was the glimmer of an amused smile. But his
courtesy was beautiful. He put me near the fire and took the next
chair himself.

I had a good chance to observe him. He is no longer a young man, and
beyond a certain military erectness and precision in his movements
there is nothing to mark him the great soldier he has shown himself to
be.

"We are to have supper," he said smilingly in French. "Provided you
have brought something to eat with you!"

"We have brought it," said Captain F----.

The officers of the staff came in and were formally presented. There
was much clicking of heels, much deep and courteous bowing. Then
Captain F---- produced his box of biscuits, and from a capacious
pocket of his army overcoat a tin of bully beef. The House of the Mill
of Saint ---- contributed a bottle of thin white native wine and,
triumphantly, a glass. There are not many glasses along the front.

There was cheese too. And at the end of the meal Colonel Jacques, with
great _empressement_, laid before me a cake of sweet chocolate.

I had to be shown the way to use the bully beef. One of the hard flat
biscuits was split open, spread with butter and then with the beef in
a deep layer. It was quite good, but what with excitement and fatigue
I was not hungry. Everybody ate; everybody talked; and, after asking
my permission, everybody smoked. I sat near the stove and dried my
steaming boots.

Afterward I remembered that with all the conversation there was very
little noise. Our voices were subdued. Probably we might have cheered
in that closed and barricaded house without danger. But the sense of
the nearness of the enemy was over us all, and the business of war was
not forgotten. There were men who came, took orders and went away.
There were maps on the walls and weapons in every corner. Even the
sacking that covered the windows bespoke caution and danger.

Here it was too near the front for the usual peasant family huddled
round its stove in the kitchen, and looking with resignation on these
strange occupants of their house. The humble farm buildings outside
were destroyed.

I looked round the room; a picture or two still hung on the walls, and
a crucifix. There is always a crucifix in these houses. There was a
carbine just beneath this one.

Inside of one of the picture frames one of the Colonel's medals had
been placed, as if for safety.

Colonel Jacques sat at the head of the table and beamed at us all. He
has behind him many years of military service. He has been decorated
again and again for bravery. But, perhaps, when this war is over and
he has time to look back he will smile over that night supper with the
first woman he had seen for months, under the rumble of his own and
the German batteries.

It was time to go to the advance trenches. But before we left one of
the officers who had accompanied me rose and took a folded paper from
a pocket of his tunic. He was smiling.

"I shall read," he said, "a little tribute from one of Colonel
Jacques' soldiers to him."

So we listened. Colonel Jacques sat and smiled; but he is a modest
man, and his fingers were beating a nervous tattoo on the table. The
young officer stood and read, glancing up now and then to smile at his
chief's embarrassment. The wind howled outside, setting the sacks at
the windows to vibrating.

This is a part of the poem:

                  _III_

  "_Comme chef nous avons l'homme à la hauteur
  Un homme aimé et adoré de tous
  L'Colonel Jacques; de lui les hommes sont fous
  En lui nous voyons l'emblème de l'honneur.
  Des compagnes il en a des tas: En Afrique
  Haecht et Dixmude, Ramsdonck et Sart-Tilmau
  Et toujours premier et toujours en avant
  Toujours en têt' de son beau régiment,
           Toujours railleur
           Chef au grand coeur_.

                  _REFRAIN_
       "_L'Colo du 12me passe
         Regardez ce vaillant
         Quand il crie dans l'espace
         Joyeus'ment 'En avant!'
         Ses hommes, la mine heureuse
         Gaîment suivent sa trace
         Sur la route glorieuse.
         Saluez-le, l'Colo du 12me passe_.

            "_AD. DAUVISTER_,
                        "SOUS-LIEUTENANT."

We applauded. It is curious to remember how cheerful we were, how warm
and comfortable, there at the House of the Mill of Saint ----, with
war only a step away now. Curious, until we think that, of all the
created world, man is the most adaptable. Men and horses! Which is as
it should be now, with both men and horses finding themselves in
strange places, indeed, and somehow making the best of it.

The copy of the poem, which had been printed at the front, probably on
an American hand press, was given to me with Colonel Jacques'
signature on the back, and we prepared to go. There was much donning
of heavy wraps, much bowing and handshaking. Colonel Jacques saw us
out into the wind-swept night. Then the door of the little house
closed again, and we were on our way through the barricade.

Until now our excursion to the trenches, aside from the discomfort of
the weather and the mud, had been fairly safe, although there was
always the chance of a shell. To that now was to be added a fresh
hazard--the sniping that goes on all night long.

Our car moved quietly for a mile, paralleling the trenches. Then it
stopped. The rest of the journey was to be on foot.

All traces of the storm had passed, except for the pools of mud,
which, gleaming like small lakes, filled shell holes in the road. An
ammunition lorry had drawn up in the shadow of a hedge and was
cautiously unloading. Evidently the night's movement of troops was
over, for the roads were empty.

A few feet beyond the lorry we came up to the trenches. We were behind
them, only head and shoulders above.

There was no sign of life or movement, except for the silent _fusées_
that burst occasionally a little to our right. Walking was bad. The
Belgian blocks of the road were coated with slippery mud, and from
long use and erosion the stones themselves were rounded, so that our
feet slipped over them. At the right was a shallow ditch three or four
feet wide. Immediately beyond that was the railway embankment where,
as Captain F---- had explained, the Belgian Army had taken up its
position after being driven back across the Yser.

The embankment loomed shoulder high, and between it and the ditch were
the trenches. There was no sound from them, but sentries halted us
frequently. On such occasions the party stopped abruptly--for here
sentries are apt to fire first and investigate afterward--and one
officer advanced with the password.

There is always something grim and menacing about the attitude of the
sentry as he waits on such occasions. His carbine is not over his
shoulder, but in his hands, ready for use. The bayonet gleams. His
eyes are fixed watchfully on the advance. A false move, and his
overstrained nerves may send the carbine to his shoulder.

We walked just behind the trenches in the moonlight for a mile. No one
said anything. The wind was icy. Across the railroad embankment it
chopped the inundation into small crested waves. Only by putting one's
head down was it possible to battle ahead. From Dixmude came the
intermittent red flashes of guns. But the trenches beside us were
entirely silent.

At the end of a mile we stopped. The road turned abruptly to the right
and crossed the railroad embankment, and at this crossing was the ruin
of what had been the House of the Barrier, where in peaceful times the
crossing tender lived.

It had been almost destroyed. The side toward the German lines was
indeed a ruin, but one room was fairly whole. However, the door had
been shot away. To enter, it was necessary to lift away an
extemporised one of planks roughly nailed together, which leaned
against the aperture.

The moving of the door showed more firelight, and a very small, shaded
and smoky lamp on a stand. There were officers here again. The little
house is slightly in front of the advanced trenches, and once inside
it was possible to realise its exposed position. Standing as it does
on the elevation of the railroad, it is constantly under fire. It is
surrounded by barbed wire and flanked by trenches in which are
_mitrailleuses_.

The walls were full of shell holes, stuffed with sacks of straw or
boarded over. What had been windows were now jagged openings,
similarly closed. The wind came through steadily, smoking the chimney
of the lamp and making the flame flicker.

There was one chair.

I wish I could go farther. I wish I could say that shells were
bursting overhead, and that I sat calmly in the one chair and made
notes. I sat, true enough, but I sat because I was tired and my feet
were wet. And instead of making notes I examined my new six-guinea
silk rubber rain cape for barbed-wire tears. Not a shell came near.
The German battery across had ceased firing at dusk that evening, and
was playing pinochle four hundred yards away across the inundation.
The snipers were writing letters home.

It is true that any time an artilleryman might lose a game and go out
and fire a gun to vent his spleen or to keep his hand in. And the
snipers might begin to notice that the rain was over, and that there
was suspicious activity at the House of the Barrier. And, to take away
the impression of perfect peace, big guns were busy just north and
south of us. Also, just where we were the Germans had made a terrific
charge three nights before to capture an outpost. But the fact remains
that I brought away not even a bullet hole through the crown of my
soft felt hat.



CHAPTER XII

NIGHT IN THE TRENCHES


When I had been thawed out they took me into the trenches. Because of
the inundation directly in front, they are rather shallow, and at this
point were built against the railroad embankment with earth, boards,
and here and there a steel rail from the track. Some of them were
covered, too, but not with bombproof material. The tops were merely
shelters from the rain and biting wind.

The men lay or sat in them--it was impossible to stand. Some of them
were like tiny houses into which the men crawled from the rear, and by
placing a board, which served as a door, managed to keep out at least
a part of the bitter wind.

In the first trench I was presented to a bearded major. He was lying
flat and apologised for not being able to rise. There was a machine
gun beside him. He told me with some pride that it was an American
gun, and that it never jammed. When a machine gun jams the man in
charge of it dies and his comrades die, and things happen with great
rapidity. On the other side of him was a cat, curled up and sound
asleep. There was a telephone instrument there. It was necessary to
step over the wire that was stretched along the ground.

All night long he lies there with his gun, watching for the first
movement in the trenches across. For here, at the House of the
Barrier, has taken place some of the most furious fighting of this
part of the line.

In the next division of the trench were three men. They were cleaning
and oiling their rifles round a candle.

The surprise of all of these men at seeing a woman was almost absurd.
Word went down the trenches that a woman was visiting. Heads popped
out and cautious comments were made. It was concluded that I was
visiting royalty, but the excitement died when it was discovered that
I was not the Queen. Now and then, when a trench looked clean and dry,
I was invited in. It was necessary to get down and crawl in on hands
and knees.

Here was a man warming his hands over a tiny fire kindled in a tin
pail. He had bored holes in the bottom of the pail for air, and was
shielding the glow carefully with his overcoat.

Many people have written about the trenches--the mud, the odours, the
inhumanity of compelling men to live under such foul conditions.
Nothing that they have said can be too strong. Under the best
conditions the life is ghastly, horrible, impossible.

That night, when from a semi-shielded position I could look across to
the German line, the contrast between the condition of the men in the
trenches and the beauty of the scenery was appalling. In each
direction, as far as one could see, lay a gleaming lagoon of water.
The moon made a silver path across it, and here and there on its
borders were broken and twisted winter trees.

"It is beautiful," said Captain F----, beside me, in a low voice. "But
it is full of the dead. They are taken out whenever it is possible;
but it is not often possible."

"And when there is an attack the attacking side must go through the
water?"

"Not always, but in many places."

"What will happen if it freezes over?"

He explained that it was salt water, and would not freeze easily. And
the cold of that part of the country is not the cold of America in the
same latitude. It is not a cold of low temperature; it is a damp,
penetrating cold that goes through garments of every weight and seems
to chill the very blood in a man's body.

"How deep is the water?" I asked.

"It varies--from two to eight feet. Here it is shallow."

"I should think they would come over."

"The water is full of barbed wire," he said grimly. "And some, a great
many, have tried--and failed."

As of the trenches, many have written of the stenches of this war. But
the odour of that beautiful lagoon was horrible. I do not care to
emphasize it. It is one of the things best forgotten. But any
lingering belief I may have had in the grandeur and glory of war died
that night beside that silver lake--died of an odour, and will never
live again.

And now came a discussion.

The road crossing the railroad embankment turned sharply to the left
and proceeded in front of the trenches. There was no shelter on that
side of the embankment. The inundation bordered the road, and just
beyond the inundation were the German trenches.

There were no trees, no shrubbery, no houses; just a flat road, paved
with Belgian blocks, that gleamed in the moonlight.

At last the decision was made. We would go along the road, provided I
realised from the first that it was dangerous. One or two could walk
there with a good chance for safety, but not more. The little group
had been augmented. It must break up; two might walk together, and
then two a safe distance behind. Four would certainly be fired on.

I wanted to go. It was not a matter of courage. I had simply,
parrot-fashion, mimicked the attitude of mind of the officers. One
after another I had seen men go into danger with a shrug of the
shoulders.

"If it comes it comes!" they said, and went on. So I, too, had become
a fatalist. If I was to be shot it would happen, if I had to buy a
rifle and try to clean it myself to fulfil my destiny.

So they let me go. I went farther than they expected, as it turned
out. There was a great deal of indignation and relief when it was
over. But that is later on.

A very tall Belgian officer took me in charge. It was necessary to
work through a barbed-wire barricade, twisting and turning through its
mazes. The moonlight helped. It was at once a comfort and an anxiety,
for it seemed to me that my khaki-coloured suit gleamed in it. The
Belgian officers in their dark blue were less conspicuous. I thought
they had an unfair advantage of me, and that it was idiotic of the
British to wear and advocate anything so absurd as khaki. My cape
ballooned like a sail in the wind. I felt at least double my ordinary
size, and that even a sniper with a squint could hardly miss me. And,
by way of comfort, I had one last instruction before I started:

"If a _fusée_ goes up, stand perfectly still. If you move they will
fire."

The entire safety of the excursion depended on a sort of tacit
agreement that, in part at least, obtains as to sentries.

This is a new warfare, one of artillery, supported by infantry in
trenches. And it has been necessary to make new laws for it. One of
the most curious is a sort of _modus vivendi_ by which each side
protects its own sentries by leaving the enemy's sentries unmolested
so long as there is no active fighting. They are always in plain view
before the trenches. In case of a charge they are the first to be
shot, of course. But long nights and days have gone by along certain
parts of the front where the hostile trenches are close together, and
the sentries, keeping their monotonous lookout, have been undisturbed.

No doubt by this time the situation has changed to a certain extent;
there has been more active fighting, larger bodies of men are
involved. The spring floods south of the inundation will have dried
up. No Man's Land will have ceased to be a swamp and the deadlock may
be broken.

But on that February night I put my faith in this agreement, and it
held.

The tall Belgian officer asked me if I was frightened. I said I was
not. This was not exactly the truth; but it was no time for the truth.

"They are not shooting," I said. "It looks perfectly safe."

He shrugged his shoulders and glanced toward the German trenches.

"They have been sleeping during the rain," he said briefly. "But when
one of them wakes up, look out!"

After that there was little conversation, and what there was was in
whispers.

As we proceeded the stench from the beautiful moonlit water grew
overpowering. The officer told me the reason.

A little farther along a path of fascines had been built out over the
inundation to an outpost halfway to the German trenches. The building
of this narrow roadway had cost many lives.

Half a mile along the road we were sharply challenged by a sentry.
When he had received the password he stood back and let us pass.
Alone, in that bleak and exposed position in front of the trenches,
always in full view as he paced back and forward, carbine on shoulder,
with not even a tree trunk or a hedge for shelter, the first to go at
the whim of some German sniper or at any indication of an attack, he
was a pathetic, almost a tragic, figure. He looked very young too. I
stopped and asked him in a whisper how old he was.

He said he was nineteen!

He may have been. I know something about boys, and I think he was
seventeen at the most. There are plenty of boys of that age doing just
what that lad was doing.

Afterward I learned that it was no part of the original plan to take a
woman over the fascine path to the outpost; that Captain F---- ground
his teeth in impotent rage when he saw where I was being taken. But it
was not possible to call or even to come up to us. So, blithely and
unconsciously the tall Belgian officer and I turned to the right, and
I was innocently on my way to the German trenches.

After a little I realised that this was rather more war than I had
expected. The fascines were slippery; the path only four or five feet
wide. On each side was the water, hideous with many secrets.

I stopped, a third of the way out, and looked back. It looked about as
dangerous in one direction as another. So we went on. Once I slipped
and fell. And now, looming out of the moonlight, I could see the
outpost which was the object of our visit.

I have always been grateful to that Belgian lieutenant for his
mistake. Just how grateful I might have been had anything untoward
happened, I cannot say. But the excursion was worth all the risk, and
more.

On a bit of high ground stands what was once the tiny hamlet of
Oudstuyvenskerke--the ruins of two small white houses and the tower of
the destroyed church--hardly a tower any more, for only three sides of
it are standing and they are riddled with great shell holes.

Six hundred feet beyond this tower were the German trenches. The
little island was hardly a hundred feet in its greatest dimension.

I wish I could make those people who think that war is good for a
country see that Belgian outpost as I saw it that night under the
moonlight. Perhaps we were under suspicion; I do not know. Suddenly
the _fusées_, which had ceased for a time, began again, and with their
white light added to that of the moon the desolate picture of that
tiny island was a picture of the war. There was nothing lacking. There
was the beauty of the moonlit waters, there was the tragedy of the
destroyed houses and the church, and there was the horror of unburied
bodies.

There was heroism, too, of the kind that will make Belgium live in
history. For in the top of that church tower for months a Capuchin
monk has held his position alone and unrelieved. He has a telephone,
and he gains access to his position in the tower by means of a rope
ladder which he draws up after him.

Furious fighting has taken place again and again round the base of the
tower. The German shells assail it constantly. But when I left Belgium
the Capuchin monk, who has become a soldier, was still on duty; still
telephoning the ranges of the gun; still notifying headquarters of
German preparations for a charge.

Some day the church tower will fall and he will go with it, or it will
be captured; one or the other is inevitable. Perhaps it has already
happened; for not long ago I saw in the newspapers that furious
fighting was taking place at this very spot.

He came down and I talked to him--a little man, regarding his
situation as quite ordinary, and looking quaintly unpriestlike in his
uniform of a Belgian officer with its tasselled cap. Some day a great
story will be written of these priests of Belgium who have left their
churches to fight.

We spoke in whispers. There was after all very little to say. It would
have embarrassed him horribly had any one told him that he was a
heroic figure. And the ordinary small talk is not currency in such a
situation.

We shook hands and I think I wished him luck. Then he went back again
to the long hours and days of waiting.

I passed under his telephone wires. Some day he will telephone that a
charge is coming. He will give all the particulars calmly, concisely.
Then the message will break off abruptly. He will have sent his last
warning. For that is the way these men at the advance posts die.

As we started again I was no longer frightened. Something of his
courage had communicated itself to me, his courage and his philosophy,
perhaps his faith.

The priest had become a soldier; but he was still a priest in his
heart. For he had buried the German dead in one great grave before the
church, and over them had put the cross of his belief.

It was rather absurd on the way back over the path of death to be
escorted by a cat. It led the way over the fascines, treading daintily
and cautiously. Perhaps one of the destroyed houses at the outpost had
been its home, and with a cat's fondness for places it remained there,
though everything it knew had gone; though battle and sudden death had
usurped the place of its peaceful fireside, though that very fireside
was become a heap of stone and plaster, open to winds and rain.

Again and again in destroyed towns I have seen these forlorn cats
stalking about, trying vainly to adjust themselves to new conditions,
cold and hungry and homeless.

We were challenged repeatedly on the way back. Coming from the
direction we did we were open to suspicion. It was necessary each time
to halt some forty feet from the sentry, who stood with his rifle
pointed at us. Then the officer advanced with the word.

Back again, then, along the road, past the youthful sentry, past other
sentries, winding through the barbed-wire barricade, and at last,
quite whole, to the House of the Barrier again. We had walked three
miles in front of the Belgian advanced trenches, in full view of the
Germans. There had been no protecting hedge or bank or tree between us
and that ominous line two hundred yards across. And nothing whatever
had happened.

Captain F---- was indignant. The officers in the House of the Barrier
held up their hands. For men such a risk was legitimate, necessary. In
a woman it was foolhardy. Nevertheless, now that it was safely over,
they were keenly interested and rather amused. But I have learned that
the gallant captain and the officer with him had arranged, in case
shooting began, to jump into the water, and by splashing about draw
the fire in their direction!

We went back to the automobile, a long walk over the shell-eaten roads
in the teeth of a biting wind. But a glow of exultation kept me warm.
I had been to the front. I had been far beyond the front, indeed, and
I had seen such a picture of war and its desolation there in the
centre of No Man's Land as perhaps no one not connected with an army
had seen before; such a picture as would live in my mind forever.

I visited other advanced trenches that night as we followed the
Belgian lines slowly northward toward Nieuport.

Save the varying conditions of discomfort, they were all similar.
Always they were behind the railroad embankment. Always they were
dirty and cold. Frequently they were full of mud and water. To reach
them one waded through swamps and pools. Just beyond them there was
always the moonlit stretch of water, now narrow, now wide.

I was to see other trenches later on, French and English. But only
along the inundation was there that curious combination of beauty and
hideousness, of rippling water with the moonlight across it in a
silver path, and in that water things that had been men.

In one place a cow and a pig were standing on ground a little bit
raised. They had been there for weeks between the two armies. Neither
side would shoot them, in the hope of some time obtaining them for
food.

They looked peaceful, rather absurd.

Now so near that one felt like whispering, and now a quarter of a mile
away, were the German trenches. We moved under their _fusées_, passing
destroyed towns where shell holes have become vast graves.

One such town was most impressive. It had been a very beautiful town,
rather larger than the others. At the foot of the main street ran the
railroad embankment and the line of trenches. There was not a house
left.

It had been, but a day or two before, the scene of a street fight,
when the Germans, swarming across the inundation, had captured the
trenches at the railroad and got into the town itself.

At the intersection of two streets, in a shell hole, twenty bodies had
been thrown for burial. But that was not novel or new. Shell-hole
graves and destroyed houses were nothing. The thing I shall never
forget is the cemetery round the great church.

Continental cemeteries are always crowded. They are old, and graves
almost touch one another. The crosses which mark them stand like rows
of men in close formation.

This cemetery had been shelled. There was not a cross in place; they
lay flung about in every grotesque position. The quiet God's Acre had
become a hell. Graves were uncovered; the dust of centuries exposed.
In one the cross had been lifted up by an explosion and had settled
back again upside down, so that the Christ was inverted.

It was curious to stand in that chaos of destruction, that ribald
havoc, that desecration of all we think of as sacred, and see,
stretched from one broken tombstone to another, the telephone wires
that connect the trenches at the foot of the street with headquarters
and with the "château."

Ninety-six German soldiers had been buried in one shell hole in that
cemetery. Close beside it there was another, a great gaping wound in
the earth, half full of water from the evening's rain.

An officer beside me looked down into it.

"See," he said, "they dig their own graves!"

It was almost morning. The automobile left the pathetic ruin of the
town and turned back toward the "château." There was no talking; a
sort of heaviness of spirit lay on us all. The officers were seeing
again the destruction of their country through my shocked eyes. We
were tired and cold, and I was heartsick.

A long drive through the dawn, and then the "château."

The officers were still up, waiting. They had prepared, against our
arrival, sandwiches and hot drinks.

The American typewriters in the next room clicked and rattled. At the
telephone board messages were coming in from the very places we had
just left--from the instrument at the major's elbow as he lay in his
trench beside the House of the Barrier; from the priest who had left
his cell and become a soldier; from that desecrated and ruined
graveyard with its gaping shell holes that waited, open-mouthed,
for--what?

When we had eaten, Captain F---- rose and made a little speech. It was
simply done, in the words of a soldier and a patriot speaking out of a
full heart.

"You have seen to-night a part of what is happening to our country,"
he said. "You have seen what the invading hosts of Germany have made
us suffer. But you have seen more than that. You have seen that the
Belgian Army still exists; that it is still fighting and will continue
to fight. The men in those trenches fought at Liège, at Louvain, at
Antwerp, at the Yser. They will fight as long as there is a drop of
Belgian blood to shed.

"Beyond the enemy's trenches lies our country, devastated; our
national life destroyed; our people under the iron heel of Germany.
But Belgium lives. Tell America, tell the world, that destroyed,
injured as she is, Belgium lives and will rise again, greater than
before!"



CHAPTER XIII

"WIPERS"


FROM MY JOURNAL:

An aëroplane man at the next table starts to-night on a dangerous
scouting expedition over the German lines. In case he does not return
he has given a letter for his mother to Captain T----.

It now appears quite certain that I am to be sent along the French and
English lines. I shall be the first correspondent, I am told, to see
the British front, as "Eyewitness," who writes for the English papers,
is supposed to be a British officer.

I have had word also that I am to see Mr. Winston Churchill, the First
Lord of the British Admiralty. But to-day I am going to Ypres. The
Tommies call it "Wipers."

       *       *       *       *       *

Before I went abroad I had two ambitions among others: One was to be
able to pronounce Ypres; the other was to bring home and exhibit to my
admiring friends the pronunciation of Przemysl. To a moderate extent I
have succeeded with the first. I have discovered that the second one
must be born to.

Two or three towns have stood out as conspicuous points of activity in
the western field. Ypres is one of these towns. Day by day it figures
in the reports from the front. The French are there, and just to the
east the English line commences.[D] The line of trenches lies beyond
the town, forming a semicircle round it.

[Footnote D: Written in May, 1915.]

A few days later I saw this semicircle, the flat and muddy battlefield
of Ypres. But on this visit I was to see only the town, which,
although completely destroyed, was still being shelled.

The curve round the town gave the invading army a great advantage in
its destruction. It enabled them to shell it from three directions, so
that it was raked by cross fire. For that reason the town of Ypres
presents one of the most hideous pictures of desolation of the present
war.

General M---- had agreed to take me to Ypres. But as he was a Belgian
general, and the town of Ypres is held by the French, it was a part of
the etiquette of war that we should secure the escort of a French
officer at the town of Poperinghe.

For war has its etiquette, and of a most exacting kind. And yet in the
end it simplifies things. It is to war what rules are to
bridge--something to lead by! Frequently I was armed with passes to
visit, for instance, certain batteries. My escort was generally a
member of the Headquarters' Staff of that particular army. But it was
always necessary to visit first the officer in command of that
battery, who in his turn either accompanied us to the battlefield or
deputised one of his own staff. The result was an imposing number of
uniforms of various sorts, and the conviction, as I learned, among the
gunners that some visiting royalty was on an excursion to the front!

It was a cold winter day in February, a grey day with a fine snow that
melted as soon as it touched the ground. Inside the car we were
swathed in rugs. The chauffeur slapped his hands at every break in the
journey, and sentries along the road hugged such shelter as they could
find.

As we left Poperinghe the French officer, Commandant D----, pointed to
a file of men plodding wearily through the mud.

"The heroes of last night's attack," he said. "They are very tired, as
you see."

We stopped the car and let the men file past. They did not look like
heroes; they looked tired and dirty and depressed. Although our
automobile generally attracted much attention, scarcely a man lifted
his head to glance at us. They went on drearily through the mud under
the pelting sleet, drooping from fatigue and evidently suffering from
keen reaction after the excitement of the night before.

I have heard the French soldier criticised for this reaction. It may
certainly be forgiven him, in view of his splendid bravery. But part
of the criticism is doubtless justified. The English Tommy fights as
he does everything else. There is a certain sporting element in what
he does. He puts into his fighting the same fairness he puts into
sport, and it is a point of honour with him to keep cool. The English
gunner will admire the enemy's marksmanship while he is ducking a
shell.

The French soldier, on the other hand, fights under keen excitement.
He is temperamental, imaginative; as he fights he remembers all the
bitterness of the past, its wrongs, its cruelties. He sees blood.
There is nothing that will hold him back. The result has made history,
is making history to-day.

But he has the reaction of his temperament. Who shall say he is not
entitled to it?

Something of this I mentioned to Monsieur le Commandant as the line
filed past.

"It is because it is fighting that gets nowhere," he replied. "If our
men, after such an attack, could advance, could do anything but crawl
back into holes full of water and mud, you would see them gay and
smiling to-day."

After a time I discovered that the same situation holds to a certain
extent in all the armies. If his fighting gets him anywhere the
soldier is content. The line has made a gain. What matter wet
trenches, discomfort, freezing cold? The line has made a gain. It is
lack of movement that sends their spirits down, the fearful boredom of
the trenches, varied only by the dropping shells, so that they term
themselves, ironically, "Cannon food."

We left the victorious company behind, making their way toward
whatever church bedded down with straw, or coach-house or drafty barn
was to house them for their rest period.

"They have been fighting waist-deep in water," said the Commandant,
"and last night was cold. The British soldier rubs his body with oil
and grease before he dresses for the trenches. I hope that before long
our men may do this also. It is a great protection."

I have in front of me now a German soldier's fatigue cap, taken by one
of those men from a dead soldier who lay in front of the trench.

It is a pathetic cap, still bearing the crease which showed how he
folded it to thrust it into his pocket. When his helmet irked him in
the trenches he was allowed to take it