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Title: Six Women and the Invasion
Author: Yerta, Gabrielle, Yerta, Marguerite
Language: English
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  SIX WOMEN AND THE INVASION



  MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
  London · Bombay · Calcutta · Madras
  Melbourne

  THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
  New York · Boston · Chicago
  Dallas · San Francisco

  THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, LTD.
  Toronto



  SIX WOMEN
  AND THE INVASION

  BY
  GABRIELLE & MARGUERITE YERTA

  WITH PREFACE BY
  MRS. HUMPHRY WARD

  MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
  ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON
  1917



  COPYRIGHT



PREFACE


This little book gives a very graphic and interesting account by an
eye-witness--who knows how to write!--of life in the occupied provinces
of France under the daily pressure of the German invasion. There are
many repulsive and odious incidents recorded here of the German
occupation, but, mercifully, few "atrocities," such as those which make
of the French Governmental Reports, or that of the Bryce Commission,
tales of horror and infamy that time will never wash out. These pages
relate to the neighbourhood of Laon, and the worst brutalities committed
by German soldiers in France seem to have happened farther south, along
the line of the German retreat during the battle of the Marne, and in
the border villages of Lorraine. But the picture drawn of the Germans in
possession of a French country district, robbing and bullying its
inhabitants, and delighting in all the petty tyrannies of their military
régime, is one that writes in large-hand the lesson of this war. "There
must be no next time!" If Europe cannot protect itself in future against
such conduct on the part of a European nation, civilisation is doomed.

And that this little book under-states the case rather than over-states
it, can be proved by a mass of contemporary evidence. I pass for
instance from Madame Yerta's graphic account of the endless
"requisitions," "perquisitions," "inquisitions," to which the
inhabitants of Morny in the Laonnois were subject in 1915, to a
paragraph in this week's _Morning Post_ (Tuesday, September 18), where a
letter found upon a German soldier, and written to a comrade in Flanders
from this very district, gleefully says: "We take from the French
population all their lead, tin, copper, cork, oil, candlesticks, kitchen
pots, or anything at all like that, which is sent off to Germany. I had
a good haul the other day with one of my comrades. In one walled-up room
we found fifteen copper musical instruments, a new bicycle, 150 pairs of
sheets, some towels, and six candlesticks of beaten copper. You can
imagine the kind of noise the old hag made who owned them. I just
laughed. The Commandant was very pleased."

No doubt the Commandant was of the same race as the Von Bernhausens or
the Bubenpechs, whom Madame Yerta pillories in these lively and
sarcastic pages. It would be too much indeed to expect that any
Frenchwoman who had passed through fifteen months of such a life should
write with complete impartiality of her temporary masters. She would be
less than human were it possible. Yet in the sketches of the two German
officers "Barbu" and "Crafleux," billeted on the "six women," there is
no more than a laughing malice, and an evident intention to be fair to
men who had no evident intention to be cruel. But of the bullying
Commandant, Lieutenant von Bernhausen, and of the officer, Lieutenant
Bubenpech, who succeeded him as the absolute master of the French
village which is the scene of the book, Madame Yerta gives us portraits
in which every touch bites. The drunken, sensual manners of such men,
combined with German conceit and German arrogance, make up a type of
character only too real, only too common, to which throughout the
districts where the Germans have passed, French experience bears
inexorable and damning witness.

It is clear, however, that these six brave women--Madame Valaine, her
four daughters and her daughter-in-law, the writer of the book--were
well able to take care of themselves. The tale of their courage, their
gaiety, their resource under the endless difficulties and petty
oppressions of their lot, lights up the miserable scene, kindling in the
reader the same longing for retribution and justice on a barbarian race,
as burnt in their French hearts.

Madame Yerta describes for us how neighbours helped each other, how they
met in the farm kitchens, behind their closed doors and windows, to pass
on such news as they could get, to pray for France, and scoff at the
invader; how they ingeniously hid their most treasured possessions, how
they went hungry and cold because the Germans had robbed them of food,
clothing and blankets--(they are doing it afresh at this very moment in
occupied France and Belgium!)--and how village and town alike would have
starved but for the Spanish-American Relief Commission.

The result is a typically French book, both in its lightness of touch
and in the passionate feeling that breaks through its pages. The old
Latin civilisation makes the background of it--with its deeply rooted
traditions, its gifts of laughter and of scorn, its sense of manners and
measure, its humanity, its indomitable spirit. When the writer at last,
after fifteen months of bondage, sees once more the fields of "la douce
France," she puts simply and sharply into words the thoughts and
sufferings of thousands--thousands of ill-treated, innocent and
oppressed folk--to whom, as we pray, the course of this just war will
before long bring comfort and release.

Her book deserves a wide audience, and will, I hope, find it.

                                                       MARY A. WARD.

  _September 1917._



CONTENTS


                       PAGE
    PART I.               1
    PART II.             67
    PART III.           241



PART I


"It is no longer the pillar of fire. It is the pillar of cloud, it is
the dark shadow of invasion that approaches."



CHAPTER I


As you know only too well, in the year 1914 war set Europe on fire. That
is to say, you the men made war, and we the women had but to comply. Let
us be honest and true: whereas you, heart of my heart, now gone to fight
for your country, wished for this contest with the enthusiasm, spirit,
and rage of youth, I wished for it too, but with terror, anguish, and
remorse. Such is the difference.

The Place? The Île de France, the part of my country blessed among all,
sweeter to my eyes than the most loudly sung; and in the Île de France,
Morny, a village of the Laonnois, situated on a level plain. At ten
miles' distance, to the west of Morny, Laon is perched on a steep low
hill. To the north, fields and meadows stretch out as far as the eye can
reach, and towards the south, the forest of St. Gobain makes a long dark
blot on the landscape; beyond, a blue line of mountains closes the
horizon like a wall. This peaceful scene, with its green meadows,
fertile fields, rich forests, villages nestling among orchards, with its
good-humoured tenants wrapt up in a love of their country, sums up the
treasures of the Île de France. But it is also "the seasoning of the
French pie, this rotten ferment whose canker-like nature, frivolity,
inconstancy, and folly, have spread into the noblest parts of France."
You were not aware of this? No more was I, but I learned it from
Hummel's _Geography_, published in 1876 for "German families," and it is
a conviction that Teutonic babies imbibe with their mothers' milk.

The _dramatis personae_? Six women, I have said. My mother-in-law, her
four daughters, and I. Let me introduce them. Mme. Valaine, my
mother-in-law, charms by her gentle dignity and by her handsome face,
still young under waving grey hair. As to her daughters, when they all
were little girls in pinafores, an old woman once cried out at the sight
of their childish beauty, "One is prettier than another." To which my
husband--at that time a teasing schoolboy--retorted, "One is naughtier
than another." We do not believe this last assertion. I will only
maintain that their beauty has grown with them.

Geneviève, the eldest, is my favourite sister, another me; and for a
long while we have not been able to do without one another. A supple
shape, a lovely expressive face fringed with golden hair, clear eyes
between black eyelashes, added to a fine intellect and well-poised
faculties, make of her a privileged being. Her steadfast character
always deals straightforwardly, whereas mine, just as tenacious, does
not disdain manoeuvring.

Her sisters are tall and graceful. Yvonne has large black eyes, a tiny
mouth, and splendid golden locks. She is the musician of the family;
thinks nothing better in the world than the harmony of sweet sounds, and
lives only for her art. Antoinette bears proudly an imperial beauty and
a bachelor's degree, which she has recently carried off. As to Colette,
the pet child of the family, by turns charming and execrable, she counts
seventeen summers, and rejoices our eyes with the sweetest face ever
seen, a rose-bud complexion, and cornflower eyes.

Two representatives of the opposite sex intrude upon this company of
women. My husband first. He is the tallest, the handsomest of the sons
of men. "When I see him, I think I behold a young god," said one of our
friends a few years ago; and I shall not cheapen these terms of praise
by any description of him. If I confide to you that he is growing bald
on his temples, be sure you don't go and tell him so; the loss is due to
sojourns in Saigon and Panama; for this half of myself is a true
globe-trotter, and has seen the whole world--without me alas! He is a
man of great learning, and is deeply skilled in philology and theology.
Such as he is, I adore him, and think it better to own it honestly, for
fear my partiality might remain unperceived. The other specimen of the
sterner sex, with whom I have to deal here, is a small Parisian boy,
nine years old, owner of the most flippant tongue. By a stroke of
carelessness he was sent to us for a fortnight, and like many another
has now to stay as a prisoner on account of the Invasion.

Out of common politeness I have not yet mentioned my own person. The
task of describing it is hateful. Of this self fortunately there is not
much--fifty kilos at the utmost. In other words, I am slender. I have a
pink and white complexion and very long auburn hair, a small
insignificant nose, a large mouth, and serious eyes. I am generally
called "Grandmother," in memory of a time when we acted _Little Red
Riding Hood_. My husband always calls me Mr. Monkey, your Poisonous
Ladyship, or Mrs. Kid, vexatious names, truly, for a woman. We live in
Paris the greater part of the year, but it is with pleasure that the
whole family meets every summer in our country-house at Morny, to spend
its holidays.

When, about the 20th of July 1914, Geneviève, Yvonne and I arrived in
the dear old place, my husband and Colette had been enjoying it for a
fortnight; my mother-in-law and Antoinette were expected shortly. We had
taken with us little Pierre Prat, whose mother, a good friend of ours,
could not leave Paris for the present, and the health of the interesting
boy required the country. We had hardly exchanged the usual kisses, and
renewed our knowledge of the place, we were hardly seated at the
dinner-table, when Colette cried out: "Oh, grandmother, how lovely!
Fancy, there will be a war. The day it is declared I shall dress like a
boy and become a soldier!"

"Of course, you will cut your beautiful locks, besmear your cheeks, and
there you are. But tell me in earnest, Posy, do you think there will be
a war?"

I suppose my husband has a name of his own, but no one knows it. For the
whole family he is "Brother," and I call him "Posy."

Now Mr. Posy thought war unavoidable, and began to expound the reasons
that strengthened his opinion.

A little tired of the journey, happy to be again in the country, I
listened to the deep sounds of the dear voice I had not heard for the
last fortnight, but gave little heed to the meaning of his words.
Besides, I was so sure there would be no war at all! We began to lead a
blissful life; we enjoyed walks in the large garden, and praised the sun
and the green. What delightful holidays we would have! The mere thought
of it led to lyrism. O Nature! O Idyll! O blessed rest!

At first nothing happened to trouble our peace. It will be remembered
that the newspapers were rather encouraging. Optimism prevailed; my
husband alone talked of an impending conflict; but he wished it so
eagerly that I thought he might be mistaken in his prophecies. "War is
talked of every year," I said; "it is but a summer topic."

On the 26th of July there were alarming rumours, confirmed the day
after. We then began to talk of war, to talk always about that, to talk
of nothing else. Colette herself held no other conversation, and from
her crimson lips dropped no other words than mobilisation, armament,
concentration.

I shall never forget the night when troops crossed the village. I saw
war that night, war, the man-eater, the great killer, war himself. The
hour was grave. France was preparing to withstand her enemies, and was
sending her armies to protect the frontiers. Troops marched through the
village the whole night. First came the foot soldiers, who filed off to
the strains of the "Marseillaise" and the "Chant du Départ." Leaning out
of my window, in a nightgown, I tried to catch sight of something, and I
saw only a black flood, endlessly rolling on. The sight of this dark
mass which marched on and sang was striking indeed. The young voices had
an accent of resolution and rage, and gave the impression that all
hearts throbbed as if by one impulse. The men knew they were marching on
to death, and they sang as the volunteers of '92 may have sung.
Sometimes there was silence, and nothing was to be heard save the sound
of steps as rhythmical as a heavy shower.

As the first battalion passed, my husband laid his book aside, lifted up
his head, and declared: "There can be no more doubt of it now." And
resuming his Henri Houssaye and his cigarette, he buried himself again
in his reading. I was not so easily resigned to the situation. A
certitude had seized upon me too. "It is war." I was trembling like a
leaf, shaken by the wind, and I could not master my emotion. I was not
frightened, I felt easy in my mind, but my body--was it due to primeval
memory, to misgivings, or to the terrible thought that has been handed
down from wars of yore? I do not know--but my frightened body was
trembling convulsively.

When I was not leaning out of the window, I thought, lying by the side
of my husband: "War is coming, may God protect us!" I clasped his dear
head in despair, I kissed him in an agony, and said over and over again:
"War will carry him off." And I thought: "All over France the roads are
covered with troops, and thousands of women, close to the man they love,
are listening to the steps of the soldiers and the rumbling of the
cannon; broken-hearted, they kiss an adored face, and with bitter tears
repeat: 'War will carry him off!'"

Cavalry followed infantry; then came gunners, cannon, and powder-carts.
The heavy pieces rolled on with the noise of thunder, and shook the
house to its foundations. It was about three o'clock in the morning. A
cold mist fell as if reluctantly from the cloudy sky. The night was less
dark, and the moving forms passed slowly like shadows before my sight,
horses, cannon, and gunners wrapt up in their cloaks. Dark in the dark
haze, the outlines of men and animals seemed to sketch a new dance of
death, in the midst of which the grim monster might have appeared at
any moment. I was so deeply impressed by this phantasmagorical marching
past that I almost expected to see Death go up behind a gunner or get
astride a cannon. I felt intensely that I was seeing war, war and death.
War, the terrible tyrant, was marching along, and nothing would impede
his progress.

Still more foot soldiers. The men sing no more. Dawn is unfavourable to
enthusiasm. You set forth in the evening sanguine of success, seeing at
the end of the road Victory, Triumph, and Glory. But when morning comes,
dark and cold, your exaltation sinks. Not that you feel less resolute,
but behind the brilliant phantoms your fancy had conjured up the night
before, you see grimacing slaughter and death and fire.

Day broke bright and clear. In the sun's lively beams all fears melted
away. There will be a war? Be it so. The men will go and fight, and we
too will do something for France. The following week was a medley of
enthusiasms and sadnesses. At last war and revenge were no more mere
words; at last Germany would be crushed. Too long our enemy had wronged
us; we would wreak a tardy but fearful vengeance for our still unavenged
disgrace, for grievous humiliations daily inflicted on us.

O revenge, O sun, you rise, and your first rays make our hearts sing
like the granite of old Egypt. We lived in a fever. War, which
approached, cast its shadow before, but it was a bright shadow, the
shadow of Glory, of more than human courage, of manifold heroism. It was
the pillar of fire which, shielding our hearts from the enemy and the
terrors to come, hid them from our eyes. The passing breath of
enthusiasm quickened the beating of our hearts. As to myself, I put a
good face upon the matter, but all the time I thought with anguish: "It
is war. I shall be alone.... War will sever us from all we love, blood
and tears will be shed everywhere. May God save France, and have pity
upon us!"

On the 2nd of August war was an unquestioned fact: mobilisation was
proclaimed. My husband has served in the Navy, and had to go to
Cherbourg the next day. We then began preparations for the departure of
our sailor, who increased my cares by saying over and over again: "Don't
expect me to remain in the Navy, there is nothing to do there. I will be
sent to the east of France, and see the white of the Prussians' eyes."

The luggage being ready, we went for a stroll in the village. War was of
course the one topic of the day. To qualify them for the toils of Mars,
the men had duly sacrificed to Bacchus, and their patriotism was none
the less fiery for that. Most women were silent. Many had cried their
eyes quite red. One day more, and they would be alone with groups of
small children. A very young woman, almost a girl, declared with a toss
of her light hair: "Bachelors who have but their own body to care for
ought to go and fight, that's right, but fathers of a family!..." Her
neighbour next door, Mme. Turgau, nodded assent. She had a baby in her
arms, and was pensively listening to her husband who, hot with anger,
was speechifying not very far off. In his quality of orator, he
discoursed not only upon Germans, but upon spies also. In the morning
two Germans had been arrested in Laon, and the day before a man who was
going to blow up a bridge had been shot. But look! Two strangers
appeared at the corner of the street. All faces grew serious, and
Turgau, advancing towards the men, demanded their papers. When they
refused to show them, the crowd grew nervous, and Turgau thought himself
insulted. Cries and bad names filled the air, until the soldiers,
astonished at the uproar, took the culprits away to examine their
papers.

The lover of justice came back home greatly pleased with himself. People
gathered round him, and declared: "Policemen, gendarmes, all humbug!
Fortunately we are here to maintain order." And all together they went
to the next inn, and from the adventure drew this moral lesson: No more
strangers, France for Frenchmen!

Pleasant and peaceful, the last evening was drawing to its close, the
last of many evenings that will never come again. The following morning
I went to the station with my husband. There was a large crowd on the
platform. The men, high in spirit, seemed delighted to go off to the
army. Silent and gloomy, the women stood close to their husbands, and
their eyes betrayed a sadness past remedy. Then came the train, full of
soldiers of the reserve, singing at the top of their voices. All get
into the crowded carriages, a whistle is heard, the train moves forward.
A last kiss, a last handshake. The dear face leans out of the window, my
eyes raised up towards it, until its features disappear and vanish in
the distance. It is all over; he is gone; they are gone. Towards Glory,
towards Death! Who knows? I came back home, forlorn and sad. In vain
Colette's endearing words and Geneviève's warm affection awaited me;
love had deserted the house.

The following days glided by tiresome and empty, but fortunately we soon
found an occupation. A regiment of artillery was formed in the
neighbourhood. Two batteries were quartered in Morny, and willing
needlewomen were required to put the uniforms of the soldiers into good
condition. Very well. There are no opportunities for high deeds, let us
be content with small ones. We put together needles, scissors, and
thread, and thus armed ran to the school where other women were already
working. And what work! We were told to shorten trousers, to let jackets
out, to sew stripes, and to stitch numbers on collars and sleeves. A
noisy and merry activity prevailed in the yard. When off duty, the
soldiers gathered about the big nut-tree, whose shadow protected the
needle-women from the sun. Harmless jokes were exchanged, and Germany of
course had to bear the brunt of them. There was a tailor, a giant with a
jolly face, who declared that he would get all he wanted on the other
side of the Rhine, and for a ball of thread or a missing button would
send you straight to Berlin. These good-natured and simple ways were all
the more touching on account of the dangers which lay ahead. And, what
we highly appreciated, the soldiers behaved like gentlemen. We spent
many hours with them, and never heard a rough or coarse word. For
truth's sake, I must say their Captain kept a sharp look-out upon his
men. He was about forty-five, had nice eyes and a kindly face. We heard
his name, and found out that he was a famous man, whose works we greatly
admired. We had common friends too, and it was not long before we became
real comrades, and told him how eager we were to be of some use to our
country.

"Don't you think we might nurse a few wounded soldiers in our house?" we
asked.

The Captain was good enough to like the idea.

"All right," he said, "if your rooms are large enough and airy."

"Come and see yourself."

The Captain came first alone, and the day after with two Surgeon-Majors.
They made calculations, and then declared that we might receive thirty
soldiers. Two empty houses our neighbours offered out of kindness would
contain twenty other beds. Fifty soldiers would compose quite a
sufficient ambulance, and to our heart's delight we might devote our
strength to the wounded.

"In Laon, they will be only too pleased to send you convalescents," M.
Vinchamps told us; "plenty of patients will soon fill the hospitals; and
a doctor from the town will come every day to tend your invalids."

This medical visit did not remain the only one M. Vinchamps paid us.
About nine o'clock, his day's work over, our new friend came round and
knocked at the window. Our talk was chiefly on war, the only topic we
took an interest in.

"Men are good for nothing," M. Vinchamps said; "courage is their only
gift. That is why I am delighted with the present war. At peace, men are
out of their right element."

"Then you must improve the occasion, and make the best of it, for
certainly there will be universal peace after the present war, and you
men will be for ever out of your element."

No one answered, and our silence called up a picture of dead and wounded
stretched upon a plain where a battle had taken place. And again we
talked of Belgian courage, of that heroic Liége which had to face such
fearful odds, and did not yield to brute strength. We likened the
storming party to the turbulent waters which beat furiously against a
dyke. But we knew the dyke was strong, and would not give way.

The Germans were not highly appreciated by Captain Vinchamps.

"They are not intelligent," he declared.

"But----"

"They are not. I do not deny their qualities. They are fine imitators,
but no creators. They make good use of others' inventions, and derive
benefit from discoveries they would be unable to make themselves. Their
talents--quite practical--are not what is called intelligence. Cuvier,
Pasteur, Lamarck have no rivals on the other side of the Rhine, and
their work no equal. Besides, consider that for fifty years our
neighbours have thought of but one goal: a victorious war."

"But that is very important just now."

"Never mind. Intelligence will get the better of brute strength and
crush it."

The mere thought of victory sent a thrill of rapturous joy through our
hearts.

On going out through the yard, lit up by the moon's rays, the Captain
listened to the whistle of the trains, and said with a smile:

"Food for powder!"

At full speed the trains rolled on both lines day and night; the food
for powder went by without ceasing.

Food for powder!

And yet the expression is not right. For the soul of every man was
awake. At the call of war all men were ready to fight and to die; all
shouted "victory," in the assurance that it would come to us.

In the village our confidence met some distrust. Mme. Tassin, who acts
as housekeeper when we are away, tossed her grey head.

"I was young when I saw _them_ for the first time in '70. What shall I
do at my age if they come here now?"

Geneviève was filled with horror at the mere suggestion. In the farm
near by Mme. Lantois expressed the very same unreasonable fears. "Do you
think we shall have them here?" she asked a young lieutenant, who was as
bitterly disgusted as we were.

Meanwhile our gunners were ready from head to foot, and their horses
from mane to hoof. We heard the last exhortations of the Captain to his
men, and the next day we got up at four o'clock in the morning to see
them off. It was magnificent. The sun shone in triumph upon the martial
train; the flower-covered cannon had a good-humoured air; the horses
pawed the ground; and the gunners had not smiles enough to throw to us,
nor caps enough wherewith to salute us.

Captain Vinchamps, before he took leave, introduced his horse. It was a
"skittish" little mare, he thought, clever and sweet-tempered. Once more
we wished him success, and once more hoped that the war would spare him
and his men; and all, soldiers, officers, and horses, galloped off, and
were soon hidden from our sight amid the poplar trees in the sun and the
dust.

The last soldier had departed. The village was empty of men, and the
women from sunrise to sunset were working in the fields. We led an
uninteresting life. In fact we did not live in Morny, but in Belgium
where our soldiers were fighting. Our overburdened minds looked forward
passionately to the result of the first conflict. What was going to
happen?



CHAPTER II


First came a letter from my husband. He had written it in the first
fever of war. The letter was a week late, and he marvelled at the
splendid eagerness and union of France. "'Tis the world upside down," he
wrote. "In my detachment, out of 1200 seamen, not one was missing or
drunk on getting to Cherbourg. As to myself, I am more decided than ever
not to go to sea. I will see the Prussians face to face. Yesterday I had
a talk with a field officer, and he promised to get me an interesting
post. That is a good thing; I now depend only on him."

I thought I saw him rubbing his hands with satisfaction. An interesting
post! It means, doesn't it, to run into jeopardy, to seek after perilous
missions? Oh, dare-devil! oh, heart of stone! Wrapped up in his joy, he
has no thought for the pangs of those whose hearts are hanging upon his
life!

Soon after there arrived unexpectedly Mme. Valaine and Antoinette,
whose journey had been greatly delayed by the mobilisation. We had got
but scanty news from Paris, and listened in amazement to their
descriptions of the capital, the fine frenzy of the soldiers leaving for
the front, the plunder of German shops, and then in our turn told them
the little that we had seen in the country.

When our stories and greetings were finished, it was time to prepare
rooms for the travellers.

I will seize upon the occasion to give a short description of our dear
old house. Notched like a saw, the gabled front presents a row of
shutters, which, like grey eyelids, secure us from indiscreet looks. To
the right and the left two large iron gates, always carefully closed,
lead one into a paved yard, the other into a narrow road, planted with
trees. The side of the house, looking out on the high-walled garden,
throws off the reserve in which the front is shrouded; windows and doors
are always wide open to the air, the sun, and the creepers, whose
branches penetrate even the rooms themselves. Inside, a passage
separates the house into two parts, the dining- and the drawing-rooms on
one side, and on the other the bedrooms and the kitchen. Geneviève,
Colette, and Mme. Valaine have their rooms downstairs. Upstairs the
attic has been cut up pleasantly into three. Outside, parallel with the
house, a small building opens into the yard, containing a wash-house, a
room--the small room--a coach-house, a stable, and the whole is topped
by an attic.

The house--this does not allow of discussion--is too small, or the
family is too large, and Antoinette, who wanted a room to herself,
declared: "I will settle in 'the small room,'" and we could not get it
out of her head, although we enlarged,--with some complacency--upon the
dangers she might run alone by night.

"The walls are high, the doors strong. I am not afraid, and then there
are the dogs."

Indeed, Gracieuse and Percinet, the collies we dote on, live next door,
and have sharp sets of teeth which they show to all intruders.

"Grandmamma," said Antoinette the next morning, "last night, about
twelve...."

"The proper time for crimes."

"I was startled out of my sleep."

"You were dreaming of the Germans."

"No, no. Some one was in the attic above my room."

"There you are! A spy! Have you run him in?"

"Without joking, Grandmamma. I heard steps quite clearly."

"Do you know that deserters are said to have escaped near Morny?"

In process of time the deserters were proved to be dormice, but we
thought the mistake amusing, and ever after called the attic "the
deserter's attic." Life went on. Dull, spiritless, insignificant in
Morny; immense, tremendous, and tragical beyond there in the North and
the East. We longed for the postman the whole day long. He had few
letters for us, but he still brought papers. We read them carefully, and
we were none the wiser. We ought to have read between the lines, but we
could not. I assure you that, during the end of August, we were deaf and
blind. Our reason refused to believe the testimony of our senses. We saw
thousands and thousands of people whom Belgium and the North had cast
away, the Belgian army driven back from Flanders, the staff officers
settle in Laon, and we never came to the right conclusion.

In the case of floods--long before they are out--birds fly with hasty
wings, beasts hurry away, and even snails climb up the trees. Less
clever than the beasts of the field, we were unconscious of the
threatening inundation even when the country round us already lay under
water, and floating wrecks were visible on all sides.

One morning, at an early hour, we went with our arms full of provisions
to the station where seven trains had stopped, crowded with refugees. In
an instant the poor people had stripped us of our burden, and by way of
thanks answered our anxious questions.

For thirty-six hours they had been travelling, men, women, old people,
children, invalids, crowded in the narrow carriages, and yet they were
happy to get away, to escape, as they thought, from a nightmare. Furious
bombardments, pitiless fights, burning villages--they had witnessed, and
told to us all the horrors of war. They had seen corpses in some places
so thickly packed that they remained standing, and the sight haunted
them, as did the horrible smell of hundreds of dead bodies burning on
funeral piles, or floating in long files down rivers of sinister aspect.

For the first time we realised the actual atrocity of war, and with a
shrinking of the heart we eagerly questioned the lieutenant who convoyed
the train, as to what had happened.

"Madam, I know nothing. I have been told an important battle is
imminent. Belgium is in ruins."

"And we shall not go to Germany, and impose upon the aggressors the law
of retaliation!"

"Of course we shall. Be patient. They shall rue it dearly. But when?"

The hordes that covered the roads were still more miserable than the
travellers we had just seen.

Day after day they trudged grimly along. We saw vehicles of all kinds,
carriages, carts, wains drawn by horses, oxen, donkeys, and even dogs,
loaded and overloaded with women, children, sick people, huddled
together with old clothes, kitchen utensils, articles of food for the
people, and straw for the animals. The men relieved the sorry jades by
pushing or pulling, and on both sides of the road rolled a flood of
ragamuffins. The women, with urchins hanging on to their skirts, bore
babies in their arms; boys and girls rode on bicycles; with great toil
old and infirm people dragged along heaps of shapeless burdens, tools,
saucepans, and the most unexpected objects of every kind.

They went on without rest, and with only one wish, to get farther away,
and the very dogs followed, lolling their tongues out, their tails
curled between their legs, with a feeling of the universal distress
visible in their eyes.

Some faces looked tragical, even desperate, but on most of them was
impressed a gloomy resignation.

"The Prussians are coming!" they had heard, and snatching some hastily
made parcels, they had fled away with no other purpose than flight.

They were but a distracted herd, flying from a destroying wave; they
possessed neither hearth nor home. All that they had was lost, burnt,
plundered, and every one of them was but a cypher in the nameless crowd
that besought the pity of France.

This human torrent had its dregs. There was no excuse for those who were
harsh to the fugitives--and they were plenty--but society was upset, and
the worst elements came to the surface. Plunder-fed vagabonds, always to
be met in public calamities, profited by the woes of others, filched
from the rich, took toll even of the poor, ransacked abandoned houses,
and on their way back still managed to commit highway robbery and to
steal purses. Thanks to these scoundrels, many honest and pitiful people
were involved in the suspicion which wanderers often arouse. Fortunately
our people in Morny are trustful enough, and they did their best to
assist the helpless and relieve the hungry. Even in the poorest houses
the peasants deemed it a point of honour to share their food and lodging
with the wanderers. Several nights running, we gave hospitality to
unfortunate families, first to Belgians and then to people of the North,
small manufacturers of the neighbourhood of Fourmies. All told the same
heart-rending stories: the order to evacuate, the house left ten minutes
after, the bewildered flight on the road. Many had fled of their own
free will, driven by the breath of terror the Prussians spread abroad;
but all were way-worn, all talked of sleepless nights, hunger, thirst,
and suffering.

"Alas," said a young girl, "there are some still unhappier than we are!
Graves have been dug by the wayside; one woman has lost her mother,
another her baby."

And under their breath they whispered the nameless deeds, the monstrous
crimes committed by the Germans.

Their stories left us half incredulous, and if terror seized upon our
soul, it was a far-off, unselfish terror. It did not occur to our minds
that the tempest was lowering overhead; we refused to believe that the
dyke over there had already given way, and that we ourselves might be
overrun by the tumultuous flood of invasion. And then, on Wednesday,
August 26, three Belgian officers announced that 12,000 Belgian
soldiers, "the remainder of an army forty thousand strong," would march
through the village the next day at five.

The excited people gathered in knots on the road long before the
appointed time, and having nothing else to do let their tongues run on.
Much news was exchanged, some of which seemed insipid, and some
thrilling.

The _Journal de Laon_, born with the war, ceased to come out owing "to
postal difficulties." This organ surely suffered from a secret blemish:
it was not born to live. Indifference.

No trains came from the North. Indeed! And we had been told everything
would go on miraculously well, as soon as the mobilisation was over.
Astonishment.

The people of the "Terres Rouges"--a remote quarter of Morny--persuaded
that the Prussians were approaching, made a great slaughter of their
plumpest pigs and poultry, and devoured them hastily. "It is so much
gained," they wisely thought. What a droll idea! Hilarity.

But ... and this seemed odd. The ladies of the Red Cross, leaving the
wounded in the lurch, scampered away last night. Shame upon them! Surely
the strait-laced nurses would never be guilty of indiscretion, and yet
they commit strange blunders. Reprobation.

The staff is established in Laon. Ah! Ah! That is worthy of note. It
will be interesting to see the town in its new aspect of headquarters.
Interest.

And here are the newspapers a neighbour has brought straight from Paris!
Change of Ministry. Formation of a Ministry of National Defence. Oh! Oh!
This is somewhat curious. They are hiding things from us. Anxiety.

While the village was busy in discussion, time went on, and the Belgian
army also. About seven, the boys that stood sentry over the road came on
shouting:

"Here they are! Here they are!"

They were coming indeed, white with dust, but still gallant-looking.
First came lancers, then gunners, a few foot-soldiers, and again
lancers. Here and there a spiked helmet topped a lance's point as a
trophy, and the gunners, along with their guns, dragged a canteen
carried off from the enemy. For three hours they went at a gallop, and
for three hours we shouted our throats sore, and the whole village with
us:

"Bravo! Long life to Belgium! Success to the brave!"

The soldiers, still galloping, answered at the top of their voice:

"_Vive_ France! Down with Germany! Hurrah for the French women!"

And, rushing forward, we shook all the hands that were stretched towards
us. That night I think we shook 12,000 hands as 12,000 men went along.
We ran, we were everywhere. Colette was madly imprudent, and I wondered
at her not being run over or crushed under the wheels of the cannons. At
last, about half-past ten, the village was silent, as we made our way
home with hoarse voices and tired arms, thinking only of our beds. There
will be time enough for serious politics to-morrow.

The next day we went to Laon, Geneviève and I. If we were uneasy and
disquieted, where could we better calm our fears than in Laon? The
official reports were vague but rather encouraging, the officers
optimistic. The civilians thought there was no room for hesitation, and
unhesitatingly ran away. Many were already off. The cowards were
frightened, like hares, by the shadow of their ears. Our scorn was
greater even than their haste. We reserved our sympathies for the
soldiers whose bright uniforms gave a pleasant liveliness to the town.
We were less pleased with the checks put upon our movements. Passports
had to be produced at every corner of the streets, and then, after two
hours waiting among a noisy and ill-smelling crowd, to be signed in a
guardroom. This was--if necessary and comprehensible--very tiresome.

All the same we felt uneasy on our way home. We were infringing the
regulations, that was as clear as day. "It is strictly forbidden to
take any provisions out of the town," the orders said. But there is no
use talking of obedience to hungry women, and we had--with what
pains--carried off from a greedy grocer rice, sugar, salt, and other
precious things, that ran short in the country. Fortunately we saw the
Mayor of Morny driving by, and from him we gratefully accepted a lift
for the sake of our parcels.

The evening was lovely, the country smiling in the setting sun. The
harvest, somewhat delayed for want of men and horses, drew to its close,
and beetroot promised a splendid crop. Everything spoke of peace and
plenty. The Mayor with a word broke the spell. "From this place," he
said, pointing at a hill disgraced by the presence of a factory, "the
cannon was audible yesterday."

"It is mere hearsay," he added, daunted by our protestations, and we all
came to the conclusion the hearers had but singing in their ears.

Thus at the side of the Mayor we made a sensational entrance into Morny.

At home they had taken in two Belgian soldiers, whose lucky star had led
to our door. In great haste the family had prepared a huge omelette, a
solid beefsteak, a comfortable salad. Then to pay their share they had
talked. Alas, what they said was not encouraging:

"We have been beaten; the Germans are gaining ground." They knew nothing
more. The next day we had another Belgian to feed. Our ward, Pierrot,
met him in the street in quest of a dinner, and, showing him the way,
had brought the soldier into the dining-room. Our new guest told us
frightful stories, and talked of defeat and high treason; but, on the
other hand, he boasted of such high deeds he had performed himself that
we listened wholly unmoved to his wondrous tales.

Defeat! Treason! We had no fear on that score. In spite of a vague
alarm, we apprehended no real danger. Some uneasiness stole first over
our minds when we got a telegram from Mme. Prat claiming Pierrot back.
It was the 30th of August. We ran to the station, and were there told
with the greatest serenity:

"There is no train going to Laon to-night."

"To-morrow will do, then; there is no hurry."

We thought no more of the journey, for the majors' dinner took place
that very evening. All that wore a uniform were sure to arouse an
admiring interest. The soldiers were overwhelmed with love and
adulation. A little more, and we would have prostrated ourselves at
their feet. It was but right. What sacrifices could we make to match
what they gave us: their strength, their life, their youth? And they
were France herself; they were ourselves. Every woman who spoiled a
trooper said to herself: "My son too is a soldier."

On this Sunday, then, the village was overjoyed to hear that soldiers
would be billeted on it.

"A good thing. We shall see some officers, and perhaps hear some news."
And we kept our eyes open, ready to snap up the first piece of gold lace
that would come on. The said lace happened to be on the sleeve of a
surgeon-major, who to our anxious questions gave us an evasive answer,
and seized time by the forelock.

"Oh, madam," he said to my mother-in-law, "shall I dare ask you...."

"Dare ask it, sir."

"To lend us your kitchen and your dining-room? We are ten
surgeon-majors, and we have nowhere to dine."

"Certainly, my house is at your disposal."

"But say nothing about it! It is not here that our quarters are."

His companion, a giddy-brained youth fresh from the schools, who
hitherto had not opened his mouth, cried out:

"We will say that the ladies are relations of ours. Mademoiselle will
not refuse to declare I am her cousin."

The haughty Antoinette did not like the joke, and snubbed the joker.
Then Esculapius' disciples went away, to return speedily. We exchanged a
great many low bows, and, the ceremony performed, left the gentlemen for
fear we should disturb them. They seemed to want rest, judging from
their worn-out faces. We heard that one of our guests who had just
fallen into a doze was the famous Professor X, and we beheld his tired
face with some respect. In a clandestine meeting we had decided:

"We shall have supper in the garden."

"We will drink a cup of milk, and eat bread and butter."

We are not of those who believe in the necessity of dining. Of course,
out of respect for our stomachs, we give them tolerable cheer, but
occasionally we are content with a cup of cocoa and a slice of bread.
And that night we had other fish to fry than to feed ourselves. Besides,
we were unlucky enough to have no maids at all at that time; the only
one we had left had refused to stay any longer in a place likely to be
invaded.

Our modest meal over, we ran into the house. In the kitchen, the dinner
was getting on well. A savoury smell rose from the saucepans. A giant
scullion was helping a cook, who pontified solemnly. This strange cook
hid beneath his apron, assumed for the occasion, a uniform covered all
over with decorations. Beneath the trade of cook, also assumed for the
occasion, he hid that of an engineer in civil life, in military life
that of an hospital orderly. He was tall, spare, pale, red-haired, and
he looked unalterably calm.

"Where are the Germans?" we asked the engineer-cook. "Will they come
here? What ought we to do?"

He feared the Prussians would reach Morny, and in his opinion we had
better avoid the meeting.

"Are we to run away, then, and wander about like the Belgians? Or shall
we take a ticket to Marseilles, Algiers, or Timbuktu? Is that far
enough?"

Our interlocutor stilled our impatience with the slow sounds of his
voice. Really now, he had a castle ... in the air?... No, but in
Brittany, where his sister would be delighted to receive us.... And the
head cook, while draining dry his fried potatoes, gave us the address of
his mansion in Brittany. After the advice of the kitchen, we wanted the
counsels of the dining-room. A few sleepy-heads had already gone to
bed, among others the celebrated physician and the giddy-brained youth,
who had grown extremely serious. The remainder of the learned party were
chatting together amid the smoke of tobacco and the flowers on the
table. Without more ado we went in, and asked the usual questions:

"Where are the Germans? Will they come here? What ought we to do?"

A long conversation ensued. Alas, our guests were as pessimistic as
could be. The head major, a small man, thick-set, energetic, and dark,
did not hide from us the truth that we should see the Germans, and,
still worse, that they would lay siege to Paris. Grief and indignation
prevented us from looking at our own situation; we thought but of the
country itself.

"Why," Geneviève cried out, "you think the Germans will conquer us! You
are expecting another '70?"

"Never! never! The Germans will be beaten. Should they go to Marseilles
and Bordeaux, I should still believe in their final defeat, but the
moment is a critical one. We have been beaten; it is a certain fact;
there is no use being blind to it, and the Germans will go to Paris."

A clear voice rose at the end of the table:

"You talk as if we were lost," Colette said. "We are retreating? It may
be a wise measure. Our men are ready for anything. The Germans in
Paris!--but you do not know our soldiers!"

"Very good," said the neighbour of Colette, a tall, fair-haired man. "Do
try to convince my friends; these ten days I have dinned the same
arguments into their ears. But you must excuse our despondency;
weariness is the cause of it; these last three weeks we have hardly
slept. And what do we see of war? Nothing that is not horrible and
disheartening--battle-fields after the fight, the dead, the wounded, the
stragglers--nothing that elevates, and idealises men."

So the talk went on, and the dining-room rang with the praises the
doctors bestowed on their heroic patients. They spoke chiefly of the
terrible weariness of the men.

"They are overcome with sleep," they said, "and to such an extent that
they don't wake up, even when we dress their wounds."

A few minutes after, Colette said to her neighbour:

"It is delightful to discuss with you. At least, you always agree with
me!"

We all burst out laughing, and at this fit of gaiety the majors went
softly out for fear they would wake up the officers and the refugees
whom we were sheltering.



CHAPTER III


Sleep was long in coming that night. After much talking we were still at
a loss what to think. Were the Germans really at our gates? "I cannot
believe it," groaned Geneviève; "it is a collapse; it is the end of all
things."

"If we are invaded, what shall we do?"

The next day we renewed the discussion.

"If the Prussians come, we have but to wait for them with a bold face,"
said Geneviève and Colette. Mme. Valaine hesitated.

"Mother," exclaimed Yvonne and Antoinette, "we cannot stay here. Think
of the risks we run."

"What shame," retorted Colette, "to run away like a troop of rabbits! I
had never thought you were such cowards!"

The others repeated with one accord:

"And if mother was taken as a hostage? The Germans are capable of
anything; they have already committed many atrocities."

Our perplexity was great.

About ten o'clock there dropped from the sky three new surgeons, and,
pressing on them a cup of coffee, we renewed our anxious questions. They
told us plainly that the Germans were gaining ground, and that we were
sure to see them.

"What do you advise us to do?" cried my mother-in-law.

"Madam," Dr. Seseman declared--he was bearded, jovial, and
fatherly--"Madam, if you were relations of mine, I should urge your
departure."

"Well, the die is cast, we shall go," declared Mme. Valaine.

"Yes," I said, "but the house is not in order."

A few days ago, as I went to Mme. Lantois to buy some eggs, the farmer's
wife told me with great satisfaction:

"I feel quieter now, my house is in order."

It was as much as to say that all she set store by had disappeared; the
family had hidden, buried, and walled up whatever they had been able to
hide, bury, and wall up.

Our guests of yesterday's dinner had told us that the owners of a
northern farm had unpaved a yard, dug a huge hole, huddled in pieces of
furniture and pictures, and then filled up and repaved it. This farm
could await the invaders: it was in order. But our house was not in
order--that was obvious enough.

"You have here," said our visitors, "a beautiful Empire clock. It would
be a great pity to have it sent to Germany."

"And this lovely console table--and those vases...."

A few minutes after the two officers, with whom we were gravely
discussing, asked:

"Where is our friend Laison?"

"In the garden with Colette, digging holes...."

"Is he? then we will too."

And soon after, our visitors, in their shirt-sleeves, seemed to strive
who would dig hardest; and we, just as busy, ran in all directions, and
brought in objects of every kind.

In order to carry out our plan, we had to look for a favourable place.
In front of the house stretches a velvet lawn planted here and there
with firs and pretty reeds. We could do nothing there. But beyond there
are beds in the gardens, shaped like a lozenge, a crescent, and what
not, box-edged and planted with shrubs. That was the right place, and we
proved it by digging there six or seven big holes. The largest received
the drawing-room clock, carefully wrapped up in oilcloth, with other
clocks almost as dearly cherished. On this side, we buried silver, on
that, old china, with a great deal of bustle and haste.

"Is the old Rouen jug buried? And my yellow tea-set? I will bury that
too; it is too lovely to lose."

The work drew to an end, and, by a masterpiece of cunning, we strewed
the newly-dug ground with dry leaves, twigs, and small pebbles.

Dr. Laison went into ecstasies about the garden he had made over the
grave of the clocks. He was thinking himself a match for Le Nôtre, when
he gave a start. "What is that?" The buried treasures, indignant at
their ill-usage, protested against it by the voice of the Empire clock,
which began to strike the hour. As we listened to the silvery yet hollow
sound which came from the earth, we were reminded of a tale by Edgar
Poe. But we had to apply our thoughts to other cares, and hide the linen
and clothes. After our guests were gone--loaded with grateful
blessings--we hardly spared the time to swallow a hasty dinner, and went
to give the finishing touch to our work.

Now there is between the ceiling of my bedroom and the roof a very dark
and lofty space that might serve as a very good hiding-place; but the
ladder was too short to get to it, so we put it on a table, and I,
astride on a beam, concealed in the accommodating shadow the things
which my sisters-in-law, posted on the ladder like so many tilers busy
with new roofing, handed up to me. We spread out and heaped up, at first
linen, then clothes, furs, shawls, carpets, curtains, eider-down
coverlets, and a big lion-skin; with many exertions we even hoisted up
to the loft a console table. Colette, standing on tiptoe at the other
end of the attic, declared:

"It looks quite empty; you can put in more things."

"Thanks! We are quite stiff enough for once. Thank Heaven the Germans
don't come every day, or we should not be equal to the job."

Downstairs we took down looking-glasses and pictures, and concealed them
as well as we could behind cupboards and bed-curtains. They showed a
little, but we hoped the Germans would see nothing of them. We could not
bury water-colours or oil-paintings, could we?

At last the house was in order, and we went out for a little stroll. The
village was silent, dead, not a cat in the streets; all the doors and
windows were closed. It was evident that every one was giving himself
wholly up to the very sport we had just enjoyed. All were vying with one
another in hiding their treasures, and were racking their brains to find
unknown holes and undiscoverable hiding-places. I wish to state here
that there is a gap in our public instruction, a want in our literature.
Since we are provided with such alarming neighbours, every school-master
should devote two hours a week to teach our youth what precautions to
take in case of invasion. Moreover, in my leisure hours, I intend to
write a book on "The Art of Concealing applied to Invasion." This may
open a new field of literature, for they will certainly lose no time in
answering the work from the other side of the Rhine with "The
Treasure-seeker's Guide, or a Hand-book for the Complete Plunderer." We
shall have, therefore, to study the question and improve the art of
hiding. In this respect, it is true, an ancient instinct may serve as a
guide, an instinct which has had no better chance of expansion than in
the corner of France we belong to. This rich country has excited the
lust of all conquerors. Before the Christian era the Romans subdued it,
and later on the Franks laid hands upon it. Attila, as Colette said but
yesterday, may have sent a few patrols down here. Then came the Normans,
who levied contributions on us; and the English, who took their ease at
the inhabitants' cost during the Hundred Years' War. Later the troops of
Philip the Second plundered us, and last century, 1814, 1870--two
inauspicious dates--we knew the strangers twice more. Therefore, when
the alarm spread, "the enemy are advancing," the order of the day, which
we knew by right of inheritance, went round: "let us hide, let us hide!"
All kept on hiding, and we hid too.

And our departure? We had decided to go, that was well and good; but how
should we go? We could not by railway, and we could not find a horse and
a carriage in the village for their weight in gold. Mme. Valaine went in
haste to M. Laserbe, who was setting out with three carts drawn by oxen.
He promised to take us and our luggage with him, as little luggage as
possible.

"Never fear, I will tell you in good time. There is no danger for the
present."

These words gave us confidence. We would fly, but whither, in this train
of sluggard things? I have mentioned the ridges that lie to the south
and the west of Morny. In the country these modest hills are pompously
called "the mountains." Now every one was convinced the Germans would
shun "the mountains." An army always goes along valleys, does it not?
And what would the enemy do in this uneven region, where orchards and
pasture grounds alternate with rocks and woods? "It is not the right
place to fight in," the people said. And in a hamlet in this happy part
of the country lives an old relation of ours, Mme. Laroye. We decided to
go to Cousin Laroye; we were sure she would receive us with open arms;
there we should see what to do next, and, when once the enemy had passed
over both sides of "the mountains," we could get to Switzerland, the
South of France, or Brittany as we chose.

Meanwhile, after this busy day, we really wanted rest, and to-night at
least we would sleep our fill. But we do not shape our own ends.... At
half-past two we were up. Foot soldiers passed in the street. At three
we were standing at the window, busy pouring out wine or coffee. Our
poor, poor soldiers! So cheerful, so lively, so full of gay spirits but
a month ago, in what a state did we see them return!

Bent, way-worn, they marched painfully. Yet they marched; but as soon as
they were ordered to stop, they dropped on the ground, and many fell
asleep on the spot. Still, when they heard we were giving something to
drink, they came tumbling one over another, and gathered around the
window. A captain advanced, quieted the disturbance, and ordered the
sergeants to distribute the bottles of wine by sections. At the sight of
this officer, I suddenly understood the gravity of the hour.
Dark-haired, with firm and yet fine features, he bore in his eyes the
bitterness of the retreat, the horror of the defeat. A look on his
tragic face informed me of the truth better than long speeches. Beaten!
We were beaten. France was lost....

O God! is it possible? Has God suffered this? No, no, it is not so; I
see now the flames, that protest in the feverish eyes: "We will die, but
we will struggle to the end." Yes, dear soldiers, brave heroes, you will
struggle against the enemy, happy that you can still take an active
part, while we, we can but wring our hands in despair, and support your
courage with love and earnest prayers. In this terrible moment, our
eager goodwill could do no more than ask: "Do you want a cup of coffee?
The water is boiling."

"Madam, with pleasure." Then some one called the officer, and he had to
go without his coffee, for which, by the way, many were eager.

The village was awake, and all were desirous to bring food and drink to
the soldiers. But the soldiers were so many that a great number
certainly got nothing at all.

Day broke, and the men still passed on, always as dusty, always as
tired, all regiments, all arms mixed in confusion. We did our best to
relieve as many as we could. In the morning the crowd grew thinner; we
saw only stragglers and cripples. How many we took in to comfort and
nurse I cannot say; they were too many. I remember the clerk of the
telegraph pointing to his right hand, of which the fingers had been shot
off.

"What shall I do now?" he said. "And the girl I am engaged to, will she
marry me?"

"Of course she will, or she would not be French!"

And then came a soldier wounded in the leg, and, in spite of his
sufferings, he hobbled on with a stick. In admiration, he indicated
Antoinette with a movement of his chin, and declared in his Lorraine
brogue:

"That girl there, she has dressed my wound much better than a trained
nurse."

A little linesman moved our pity still more, and even now we cannot talk
of him without emotion. He was very young, with a childish face; his
motionless features expressed an immense stupor, a grievous surprise.
What! that war! That was war! This wonderful thing we had so often heard
of! It was this retreat, these toils, these sufferings! For three weeks
he had not taken off his shoes, and his blistered feet were so swollen
that the poor fellow could hardly walk. Geneviève washed his poor feet,
and Colette, the over-fastidious Colette, wiped and bound them up with
tender care. We got him fresh socks, and the little foot soldier, after
a comfortable breakfast, went on his way again. As he left us, he looked
around him with amazement depicted on his face, and said:

"The Germans will punish you for that."

In these busy hours we had many opportunities to wonder at the energy
and vitality of our race. As soon as the soldiers, spent with fatigue
and disheartened, had rested a bit and swallowed something hot, they
renewed their vigour and even recovered gaiety enough to tell us their
adventures, to laugh at the German shells, which often do not burst, and
whose fragments run over the cloth of their uniforms, they assured us,
without doing any harm.

"But"--and there they dropped their voices to a whisper--"we have been
beaten, because there are traitors among the generals...." This opinion
drove us to despair. We did not give credit to it, but what would happen
if the men reposed no trust in their chiefs? And what could we answer to
the poor fellows? I recalled to Geneviève's memory Captain Vinchamps'
saying: "Beaten soldiers always call out treason, and they are not
wrong; a traitor is not merely a man who basely and selfishly sells his
country; he is a traitor too when he is not equal to his duty."

We did our utmost to hearten our guests of a moment, to cheer them
physically and morally; and then one after another they resumed their
journey. A touching detail: every lame soldier was attended by a
comrade, who took charge of him, carried his knapsack, held him up, and
was as careful of him as a mother of her child. About noon, when all had
gone away, Yvonne and Colette, who kept a watchful eye upon the street,
cried out: "Something is happening towards the pond," and set off
running thither. They found that a soldier had suddenly gone mad.
Half-naked, up to his waist in water, he shrieked and gesticulated, and
four men had a hard struggle to master him.

Trifling as it was, this incident brought the people's excitement to its
highest point.

"He is a Prussian," said one. "He is a spy," retorted another. This time
the people snatched at their luggage, were off in an instant, and came
back an hour after. The level-crossings were not open to civilians for
the present, or at least to carriages. Our state of mind was that of a
fish caught in a net. Terror spread amain, and won complete power over
the public mind. None knew what he dreaded, and all men reasoned
themselves out of reason. Our arguments were proved absurd and grotesque
by the event. A mist was over us; it was no more the pillar of fire; it
was the pillar of cloud. It was no more the shadow of approaching glory;
it was the black shadow which impending invasion casts before.

News kept coming.

"The Prussians are at Marle."

"No, they have been driven back."

"Perhaps they won't come down here."

Driven back! Oh, you simpletons! Have you not just seen our army pass?
Are you not conscious of the void, which draws on the enemy like a
cupping-glass?

In the village, so lively, so busy but a few days ago, is there a single
uniform left?

At heart the people felt uneasy; the cars were loaded, the horses
harnessed, the drivers on the look-out. Animals and people were but
waiting for a signal to rush upon an unknown fate.

The signal came.

It was about six. Tired, I was lying down in the drawing-room, when all
of a sudden a gun-shot resounded in the air, and directly after followed
sharp firing. At a bound I was up in the attic, at another I flew to the
garret window. Like a gargoyle stretched out on the edge of the roof, I
scanned the horizon. Northward a light puff of smoke vanished in the
upper branches of the poplar trees. Nothing was to be heard; but I
beheld the confused flight of all creatures that were out in the fields.
A man standing in a car lashed his bewildered horse with all his might;
fowls and even pigeons hurried away to poultry-yard and dovecot.

What had happened? I hastened down. The house was empty. I jumped out of
the window. At the corner of the street I caught sight of Geneviève. I
ran after her as fast as I could; we met at the cross-road, where a
crowd had gathered.

"What is the matter?" A patrol.... An English patrol.

We cast a look at the field-grey backs which rode away on big horses.
English? it may be!

"But at what did they fire?"

"It was a signal."

"No, they have shot carrier-pigeons."

"You are mistaken, they have arrested a spy."

In fact they had taken away a French soldier, bareheaded, who looked
about him with a profoundly ironical air.

"Oh," murmured the crowd, "it was easy to see he was a spy; he seemed to
laugh at us."

He was laughing at you! I am sure he was, the poor man! English
soldiers! English soldiers! Oh, you blind of one, of two eyes, threefold
idiots, how foolish you have been! They were twelve in number, and the
village was armed, and the men were there, and Prussians in flesh and
bone, as quiet as can be, took the high road to Laon!

We, quiet too, came back home. There now! We had had our warning! Our
hearts were still throbbing violently, but all the same we plucked up
courage again.

"The English keep watch and ward!"

Each one laughed at his friends' fright. We thought particularly
ridiculous the attitude of one of our neighbours, Marthe Tournillart, a
tall young woman, ruddy-cheeked and dark-haired, who at the first shot
had rushed headlong on her overloaded barrow. Resolutely she laid hold
of it, and with her two children hanging on to her skirts, fled away
bewildered but energetic, she knew not where; but she fled straight into
the hottest of the fight, had one taken place.

Nevertheless the passage of the patrol was looked upon as suspicious.
"We put no trust in this lump of flour," the peasants thought, like La
Fontaine's mice. "If we hear the guns now, it is the right moment for
flight."

Yvonne ran to M. Laserbe. When and how were we to go? The messenger came
back struck with dismay. Laserbe refused to take charge of us! The
traitor! And he had pledged his word! He alleged he had no places left.
Well, what were we to do? Whither could we turn? Could we go on foot?
To-night?

Mme. Valaine hesitated. She thought it dangerous in this troubled time
to run away by night through woods and fields.

"We will see what to-morrow brings," she said.

"Mother, to-morrow may be too late," retorted Antoinette.

"The first thing to do," said I, "is to have supper. There is a soup on
the table which will give you wings."

It was about nine. Hazardous times do not improve punctuality. We sat
down to table, and had hardly enjoyed a few mouthfuls of the soup I had
boasted of, when hasty steps resounded in the street; we heard a knock
at the shutter. We rushed forward.

"The Prussians are coming," whispered one of our neighbours. "They are
ten miles away. They have been seen on their way to Morny. French
officers have been to the Mayor's, and have pulled down the flag. Every
one is going. Good-bye; we won't lose time...."

I am going, you are going, we are going. Go on, oh flock of sheep!

Our own house is greatly alarmed. Mme. Valaine does not know which way
to turn. "Make haste, we must go at once. Get our things ready."
Thinking Laserbe would take us, we had packed up just what was
necessary, and what was necessary meant thirteen bags. We must discard
them. Feverishly we unpacked and abandoned the heavy bags; bundles would
do. A little linen, one or two light dresses, cloaks, shawls, a basket
filled with food, and we were quite ready. Had I not early in the
morning buried in the depths of the garden a sealed-up glass jar full of
jewels? And with the gold pieces my mother-in-law had brought from
Paris, had I not made a band I wore around my waist? We were ready, no
doubt of it.

We did not know what to do with the bags we were bound to abandon. We
dragged them upstairs to a loft next my bedroom, thrust them into it all
topsy-turvy, and hurriedly heaped up big logs at the entrance.
Everything was in order; the dogs were on their chains; we had but to
go.

Here we are in the street, all doors shut, and off we go. We wait one
minute to calm our hearts and to drop a tear.

Dear little house, white walls, virginia creepers, when shall we meet
again? And what will you look like? Let us begone! It is time for
action, not for regret.

Our neighbours next door, the couple Tillard, were putting the donkey in
their cart all ready for flight.

I have read somewhere that people should help one another in misfortune,
and so I blurted out: "Oh, M. Tillard, I suppose you are driving to 'the
mountains.' We are going too. Would you kindly take one of our parcels
with you?" At a loss what to answer, Tillard muttered between his teeth:

"Hum! already loaded.... Don't know which way...."

That is enough. "Thank you.... I understand." Another pause, this time
at M. Lonet's, my mother-in-law's brother. Stern-faced, with knotted
brows, our uncle refuses to go. Not he! He is fonder of his house, of
his gardens, than of anything, and the Germans cannot scare him away. He
bends on our caravan a glance of mingled scorn and pity, and, on going
out, Geneviève whispered in my ear as a last protest:

"He is not a coward."

If fear could not enter M. Lonet's heart, it reigned in the village. The
whole place was deserted, and we were among the last to go. Here and
there a flickering light showed that hasty preparations were still being
made in a few houses. Terror oozed from the closed shutters, hostile to
the expected foe, and from the doors, which presently the dwellers would
half open, to sneak away. At the end of the village, in a yard, a
lantern moved to and fro, a horse was harnessed, people hurried up and
down.

"Lucky rogues," Colette cried out, "who possess a cart!"

That is true. Our bundles already seemed heavy to bear. But, full of
courage, we went on, left the high road, crossed Cerny-les-Bucy, dead,
empty, mute. Another struggle and we were in the open country. Thus we
marched on--a strange little train, six women, attended by a small boy
and two dogs--silent, with heavy hearts, and then a voice complained:

"It is so heavy."

Yvonne had taken charge of the dogs, and had perhaps the hardest work,
for these animals, as soon as they are out of doors, pull on their
chain, until they almost tear out your fingers.

The road was deserted. Nobody in front of us, nobody behind. We were
safe from attack. We decided to rest awhile. Halt! We gathered our
luggage into the middle of the road, and sat down in a ditch.
Speechless, we looked at and listened to the night.

I shall never forget the night of our flight, as I watched it in that
meadow. Silvery night studded with stars, lit up by the moon, warm and
sweet and so quiet! Fields and meadows, bathed in moonlight, stretched
on all sides. Southward a wood showed like a shadow, and from the damp
meadows rose a mist, which followed the brook. You might have said that
large puffs of cotton wool hung in the air upon invisible threads, above
which emerged the tops of pollarded willows. Not a sound was heard. Only
far away a carriage rattled, or a dog barked; and close about us the
crickets sang their shrill song. A god-like presence filled the world,
and the serenity of inanimate things contrasted sharply with the mad
fear of men which swept us away. On this same night, uniformly kind to
all, whole armies marched, dreaming of death and destruction, while
thousands of wayworn fugitives wandered on towards uncertainty, misery,
despair.

Boom, boom! Two formidable detonations from the fort of Laniscourt shook
the air, and aroused us from the torpor which crept over us. Was it a
signal? We did not know. We went on. Go, take up your burden again,
hasten, the way is long. We went on, but slowly; we were tired, and
baggage always retards the advance of an army. Poor snails that we were!
The flood was approaching; it had driven us away; and if in our
unreasoning prudence we resembled snails, we had not the good luck to
carry a house with us. What shelter should we get? Where should we lay
our tired heads? We advanced anyhow, our ears pricked, our eyes on the
look-out. An alarm! This shadow on the road, which moves on...! black,
apocalyptical, it passed by, and greeted us without astonishment:

"Good-night, ladies; a beautiful night, isn't it?"

We recognised old Lolé, a well-known beggar, bent with age, loaded with
a wallet full to the brim. Another shadow, a white one this time,
crossed our path a few steps farther on; it was a small dog, which did
not stop, but hurried on his way to Morny. The times were hard for dogs
too.

"And then, look behind that stack--two, three, five dark forms ... they
are people, aren't they?" But, still more afraid than we, they hid
themselves, and we passed on triumphantly. Without striking a blow, we
crossed the woods, and got to the fields again. On approaching
Mons-en-Laonnois we heard eleven strike. The silvery sound of the bell
seemed to drop from a very high tower, from the starry sky, perhaps.
Here we made a feeble and vain attempt to get a carriage. No one in the
streets; the very garret windows were shut up, the doors barricaded. At
the end of the village, we halted. We were hungry, for the good reason
that we had left on the supper-table the creamy milk and crusty cake,
which were to end our frugal meal. But we had taken with us a few
savoury chicken _pâtés_, which my prudent mother-in-law had made the day
before. We cut slices of bread and butter, and, sitting by the wayside,
made an excellent meal. We were gay, but our gaiety was fictitious. We
laughed at a light anxiously flickering behind a shutter. It seemed a
prey to nameless terror, and, conscious of our own courage, we made
merry over it. The poor thing surely believed a German patrol was
feasting at the gate!

Two hours after, we got to Vaucelles, then to Royaucourt. We were tired
to death, and made up our minds to seek shelter. All the barns were full
of refugees, all the yards were encumbered with refugees' horses, all
the streets were crowded with refugees' vehicles. We too were refugees
now.

"Will there be any room for us," we wondered, "no matter where, so long
as we can rest?" We stopped in front of Mlle. Honorine's inn: "Good
accommodation for man and beast." It was just what we wanted. We gave a
knock at the door.

"Mademoiselle, mademoiselle, open the door, please ... just a small
room, only chairs to sit down." But none so deaf as those who won't
hear. Nothing would have roused Mlle. Honorine from her sweet slumbers.

At length we made up our minds to rest outside, on the threshold of the
unrelenting house. An accommodating bench very kindly welcomed three of
us, Geneviève and Antoinette, wrapped up in their cloaks, stretched on
the stony ground of the courtyard. As to myself, I chose for a
resting-place a flight of steps. Crouching down in a comfortable corner,
with Pierrot nestled in my arms, I covered our bodies with my shawl, and
summoned sleep in vain. The stone was very hard. Yet I was comfortable,
and had no mind to go away. But we soon remembered we were running away,
and that it was high time for us to be off again. "Get up! get up! It is
half-past two." We rose reluctantly, yawned, cleared our throats,
stretched ourselves. Antoinette was so weary and so ill that we had
much trouble to move her. At length we were all up. We cursed the
household that had behaved so unkindly to the poor wanderers, and,
leaving the inhospitable village, we turned to the right. The road wound
its way through the woods. The moon had gone down; it was pitch dark;
our hearts quivered with fear; our eyes searched into the shades of
night; and we strained our ears like the dogs. The poor beasts
disapproved of our nightly expedition, and sniffed at tufts of grass
with great anxiety.

"This black mass here, lying on the wayside, is it a dead body? No, it
is but a log. And there, those white spots, aren't they faces? No, they
are birches. Don't you hear a noise of steps? No, it is the breaking of
a dead branch." We stopped to take a little breath. We were out of the
forest; we had reached the top of the hill. Quite bare, it was not
really a plateau, for the ground spread itself out in large waves. We
walked along, dragging our luggage up and down the road. Geneviève and I
carried the heaviest bag, and tried many experiments to make it lighter.
We put it on our shoulders like an urn, on our back like a sack of
flour. Like the queen of the turtles, we hung it on a stick, of which
each of us took an end. From time to time we stopped a minute to change
hands, or to listen to far-away noises. Then a slight quivering broke
the stillness. We thought we heard a distant rumbling. Sometimes there
were explosions--bridges were being blown up. Day was already breaking.
A pallor whitened the sky towards the east. We reached Urcel, prettily
placed among orchards on the slope of a hill. Worn out, we sat on the
edge of the pavement like so many swallows on the edge of a gutter. We
were in high spirits, we exchanged jokes, and all of a sudden:

"Yvonne, Yvonne, laughter will end in crying...."

Indeed, the poor girl, still half-choked with laughter, was now sobbing
bitterly. We gathered round her, and tried to comfort her.

"Get up, get up, the inn will be open in a minute, and we shall have a
cup of coffee. Come."

At the first glimmering of the dawn, the shop opened a shutter like a
fearful eyelid.

We went in. The landlady, in a dressing-gown, with her black hair loose
over her shoulders, dragged herself along, and raised her weeping eyes.

"Oh, Heavens! they are coming here, aren't they? What an unhappy, poor
creature I am! What will become of me? And my daughter, aged fourteen
years? What will become of us?"

The woman's despair amused us, and we tried to comfort her.

"The Prussians will never reach this out-of-the-way place. Perhaps a
patrol or two will come, and that is all. All the world is seeking
refuge in 'the mountains.' Everybody knows the Prussians won't come
here."

On leaving Urcel, we plunged into the misty shadows of a valley. But
when we got on the other side it was glorious, dazzling. The sun was
just rising, and beneath its first beams the country smiled and
glistened. The meadows, bathed in dew, sparkled as though decked with
gems; the air was mild, nature thrilled with joy, a lark carolled to the
sun. Pierrot, drunk with light and space, danced about like a little
faun, and we ourselves, for an insect, for a flower, for a bush covered
with bright berries, leapt like goats. Our thoughts were lighter than
the soft mists melting in the sun.

War! It is but a myth.

Invasion! an idle tale.

Danger! an illusion.

Weariness, pangs, mental sufferings, all were forgotten. We were young,
we were strong; we breathed the fresh air with ecstasy, and the
splendour of the hour intensified our love of life. Danger is life. War
is victory, and blessed be the hand which bestows on mankind black
nights and white mornings, dull cares and consoling joys.

With light hearts we took to our cheerful road. We marched for one hour,
and then doubts arose.

"Mother, you have taken the wrong road, I am sure. Chevregny is not so
far...."

Yet at a turn of the road we caught sight of Chevregny, nestled in
verdure, crouched in a hollow way. We marvelled at the pointed steeple,
at the red tiles or blue slates of the roofs. So we prepared to make an
entrance into the village worthy of us and it. We sat by the wayside and
took small looking-glasses and powder-puffs out of our leather bags.
Powder is as necessary to women as to soldiers, isn't it? We did our
hair, brushed our dresses, and then went down the village street quite
smart. We turned to the right and entered the big farm of Mme. Laroye.
Surprise, exclamations! Arms lifted up to the sky, and then clasped
around us in a close embrace! Boundless friendship and endless
hospitality were promised us.

"But tell us, dear cousin, who are all these people we see gathered in
your domain?"

Mme. Laroye had already given hospitality to twenty-one refugees in her
barns and cart-sheds, and had received into the bargain certain solid
citizens of Laon, persons whom she honoured with her friendship and
best rooms. We did not allow them to move from their quarters.

"If mother is provided for, dear cousin, it is all that we want. Don't
bother about us; we will sleep in the hay-loft; it will be delightful."

When these matters were settled, we refreshed ourselves. How delightful
it was after that painful night to take a bath, to loll in an armchair,
to sit at table where fresh bread, golden butter, and transparent jam
smiled upon us. We found a charm in the smallest pleasures, and thought:

"Now we are quiet, now we are in safety, we shall suffer nothing at the
hands of the abhorred invader; we shall not see the shadow of their
helmets on our walls; we shall not hear the tramping of their horses on
our pavements; the booming of their cannon will not roll over our
hearts!"

But what did we hear?

We stood up, speechless with horror.

The street rang with loud cries, and those cries were:

"The Prussians! The Prussians!"



PART II


    Frenchman! I saw thy child
    Who cried alone on the road.
    I have comforted him. I have reassured thy wife.
    Thy field lay fallow, I have tilled it.
    When Peace reappears again on earth
    May thou reap the fruits of my labour!

      Published in German in the _Lillerzeitung_, translated into
        French, and reproduced in the _Gazette des Ardennes_.



CHAPTER IV


Placid and heavy on their placid, heavy horses, they slowly advanced
along the street. Of giant stature, they came on, revolver in hand, with
the self-reliance of brutal strength. Their red-edged caps made their
hard-featured faces still harder. It was a sight to strike Nature
herself with horror, and, hidden behind the muslin curtains, we sobbed
bitterly. The guests, huddled together in the dimly lighted room. Were
silently weeping; the women crossed themselves, and watched over their
children as if it were old Bogy's steps they heard. The men tugged
nervously at their moustaches, and shook their fists in the empty air.
Our gestures made the poor people uneasy.

"Heavens!" the women groaned, "don't show your face at the window!"

"Don't open the curtains!"

"Don't draw their attention to the house!"

"How frank they are," an old woman whimpered. "How splendid to be frank
like that! As to myself, I could not be so." I suppose she meant
courageous, but courage was not in question. We thought of nothing; we
felt nothing; we were only looking at the men. We were glaring with all
our eyes at a sight that crushed our souls. Grief left a huge void in
our hearts. The enemy was there, and it was all up with us! I think we
had suffered less if we had seen the Germans arrive in a town. A town is
always somewhat of a courtesan. It gives a hearty welcome and
hospitality to every one; it is daily a prey to strangers of ill repute.
If invasion beats against its walls, if a hostile army crosses its
streets--one human flood succeeding so many others--the town scowls at
the foe, and then loses all memory of him. But there in a small village,
hidden in a fold of the French ground, in a tiny hamlet which a hostile
mind never chose for a shelter, the presence of the invaders seems to
profane the very grass; and ever after the poor little place will remain
an unhallowed spot, which bloodshed and years will not purify again.

After the horsemen had passed, there rolled along cannon and
powder-carts, whose rumbling set our teeth on edge.

"Grandmother, look there!" cried out Colette.

On a powder-cart, looking very unhappy, sat the small dog we had met in
the meadow.

So the Germans had traversed Morny; they had followed close upon us.

At last there came an end to the procession. The street was empty. No
one uttered a word, and we ran away to cry to our hearts' content.
House, yard, barns were all crowded with people. I took refuge in the
garden. Nature seemed covered with an ashen veil, the very sun was
obscured. Had the radiant morning really begotten this sad noon? Like a
wounded animal looking for a dark shelter, I fled to the orchard, and
crouching down in a corner close to the wall I wept most bitterly,
without knowing why. Some one called me; I had to go back to life, or
rather a life, unknown, unsuspected, in which all was changed. The
Prussians were advancing through France.

On arriving at the house I met only with grief-stricken features and
swollen eyes. We had no mind to eat. Only a few refugees, already
indifferent, and the dogs did not lose their appetite. But standing at
the dining-room windows we saw a sight worth seeing. The Prussians had
taken possession of the village, and were looking for what they might
lay their hands upon. They seemed to think little Mme. Laineux' shop
had been created for their own special use, and they set about
plundering it according to rule. They went up, three steps at a time,
got among the groceries, made their choice, and came back, their arms
filled with bottles and bags. In short, they carried away all that was
eatable and drinkable in the house. They went up and down without
interruption like two rows of ants busy stripping a sack of flour, one
row full, the other empty. The grocer's wife, a small woman, dark and
pale with large black eyes, stood by, unable to withstand the
plunderers. She locked the door. The first soldier who encountered that
obstacle went to the window, broke a square, turned the door-handle, and
muttering threats reopened the door.

With a look of despair, Mme. Laineux went and fetched an officer who was
eating upstairs.

"Come and see what your men are doing."

The officer came, looked round, and declared:

"C'est la kerre, Matame!"

And he went back to his lunch.

The shop cleared out, the men made farther search into the house, and
discovered a small store-room, which they emptied with equal activity.
For the pleasure of the thing, they cut stockings to transform them into
socks, and spilled ink on petticoats and blouses. The last comers took
the trap from the coach-house, the horse out of his stable, put the
horse in the trap, and drove off with a light heart.

A bitter disenchantment filled our tired hearts. Nothing would have
astonished us. In the afternoon two soldiers entered the farm, but at
the sight of the yard crowded with men and dogs, withdrew. Broken down
with weariness, we went early to bed. A ladder about twenty feet high
led to a square opening through which we climbed into the hay-loft.
There every one of us made a hole in the hay and buried herself in it.
Now, in theory, hay offers a soft and sweet-smelling couch. The reality
is slightly different. You may find comfort in this bed if you are
wrapped up in cloaks and shawls to keep out the cold of the night, but
the odour of the hay will make you sneeze, you will soon feel stiff in
your legs, and hard blades of grass will prick your ankles and your
neck.

Despite minor annoyances, my companions were very soon slumbering. For
my part I could not sleep. I was feverish and ... my golden waistband
played tricks and got into my ribs. The slanting light of the moon gave
an added pallor to the faces of the four sleeping girls, whose presence
on their bed of hay, beneath the beams of the loft which spiders had
covered with their grey lace, was astonishing enough. It seemed as
though the four heads had been put there for a whim, and the bodies laid
down somewhere else. I fell into a doze. I saw hundreds of Prussians
pass before my eyes, laden with goods, and carrying away the very
houses. Then there came a multitude of galloping horses, which all
vanished from my sight, and I was asleep.

The next day an impudent sunbeam woke us up by caressing our eyelids. In
the barn below the refugees were bustling about noisily. The first
moment after awaking was cruel; we had, as Stendhal says, "to learn our
misery afresh." One after the other, like fowls getting out of the
henhouse, we went down our long ladder, and ran off to wash and to hear
the latest news.

That day also was a day of tears.

The villagers, frightened to death, had not dared to unlock their doors,
and we heard only in the morning that a French convoy had been taken by
surprise and captured by the Germans at Neuville, no more than two miles
from Chevregny.

Then a scout--a fact completely unconnected with the former--had been
killed by the enemy at a cross-way, near Mme. Laroye's house. We went to
see the place, where the two white roads cross each other; large
reddish spots still marked the ground. Kneeling down, we kissed this
blood which cried for revenge, and from our inmost soul we besought
Heaven that France should be victorious over her enemy, so that her
heart's blood might not be shed in vain.

Some peasants, who had witnessed the scene, gave us an account of it. In
great numbers the Germans came down the road. All of a sudden, two
French scouts appeared on the outskirts of the wood, saw the enemy,
fired at them, and then turned back. One of them was lucky enough to get
under cover, but the other, severely wounded, was unhorsed, and fell
down. Stretched by the wayside he made an attempt to get up, but his
adversaries rushed upon him, and in a confused scuffle beat him to death
with the butt-ends of their guns, and rode away at full gallop.

The victim was to be buried that very morning, and as we wished to be
present at the funeral, no time could be lost. When we arrived at the
churchyard two men were already digging a narrow grave. The body,
wrapped in a white sheet, was lying on a stretcher. There was no coffin.
Soldiers should lie in the soil for which they have died. The red spot
beneath his head grew larger little by little, and the blood that
trickled down made a dazzling rill in the white sand. We approached him
with a shrinking heart. With pious hands the grave-digger lifted up the
sheet to show us the face of the dead man. An aquiline nose and a firm
chin were still distinguishable. The rest of the features were clotted
with blood and shapeless. Nearly choked with sobs, we could not help
wondering from which wound the blood had flowed, when suddenly the truth
flashed upon us, at a gesture of the old grave-digger, who pointed at
what were, but the day before, the boy's eyes. His eyes! oh, you
cowards! villains! They had not only beaten him to death, they had put
his eyes out! He was defending himself like a brave soldier. He was
alone against twenty, and they had murdered him. There on the white
road, in the sunshine, they had committed their crime; the shades of
night had fallen upon him before he descended to the tomb.

Oh, vengeance! vengeance! We wept, we cried, and nothing could comfort
us. We wept over the gallant soldier of France, who fell so near us; we
wept over all the dead and wounded, and above all we wept--oh,
narrowness of the human heart!--over the one soldier we loved, whose
uncertain fate tortured our hearts. Oh, my Posy, my treasure, my love,
my pride, have you not asked for a dangerous mission? Have you received
your death-wound, outnumbered in some lonely corner? Have they...? the
terrifying thought! ... oh, his eyes! ... his eyes!... It was beyond
endurance. Crushed with grief, I fell senseless. When I came to myself
the priest had said the usual prayers, and was gone. My companions stood
up, shedding silent tears. The two villagers gloomily filled the grave,
and the earth fell with a hollow sound on the poor body. One of the men
broke off in the middle of his work, and told us of the scout's death.
What he said confirmed what we had already heard. "Curse them!" he cried
out, and, with a gesture of rage, seized his spade, and began again to
fill the grave.

But we had not done with emotion yet.

"Do you know that the Germans took three hundred prisoners yesterday?"
some one asked us. "You will see them pass on the road."

The churchyard is terraced to the street, which runs down a steep hill,
and thence already we caught sight of a few horsemen, closely followed
by soldiers on foot. They were French. At the sight of the enemy, our
grief, all of a sudden, turned to wrath and madness. Here they were in
our own country, the very same we saw yesterday, no doubt. They were
those perhaps who had blinded and killed the scout, and they were
taking our brothers to captivity. Oh, for the power to strike, to kill
those men! To hurl down upon them some of those big stones, half
loosened by time! We shuddered at the mere sight of them, a bantering,
conceited, happy mob. The faces of Yvonne and Antoinette, standing among
the crosses, were wet with tears and convulsed with rage. Hatred was so
clearly visible in their eyes that the faces of the Germans grew hard
and stiffened as if they had been given a slap in the face. They pass,
they are gone, and now the prisoners are coming. They seemed to have
made up their minds to accept the situation. They were hot, and talked
among themselves in a low voice. The officers drove in a jolting car,
motionless and spent. We could not see them very well, but we could
distinguish the stripes on the Captain's sleeve, and then the cart
disappeared from sight at a winding of the road. The way was open; we
went home, and when we were alone, Geneviève and I fell into each
other's arms, and without saying a word wept again inconsolably. Towards
the close of the day the garden tempted us. It is a dear old garden,
full of shade and of old-fashioned, sweet-smelling flowers. It is about
four yards above the level of the street, and if you sit on the wall, as
large as an easy-chair, you can see all that goes on in the street
below. Like souls in agony, we dragged ourselves along the alleys edged
with box, doleful and weary. From the wall we observed the four points
of the compass. Not a Prussian in sight. So we began to talk to little
Mme. Laineux, who looked out of her window just over the way. Close to
her stood a young girl about fifteen years of age, whose head, framed in
a handkerchief tied under the chin, was the most exquisite ever seen.
Raphael might have drawn her fine features, her clear eyes. Even her
hands browned by the sun were pretty; even her waist was elegant in
spite of an unbecoming frock. O France, you are rich in all treasures,
and that sweet little maid is not the least of them! The grocer's wife
confided her sorrows to us in a bitter tone. Two old men passing by
stopped in the street to condole with her; then a third person, shabbily
dressed, joined in the talk, and from the very first proved interesting.
He was a soldier, escaped from the yesterday's fight, and he told us his
adventure in detail.

"Tuesday," he said, "we slept in Arden, a small place we had reached at
five o'clock in the evening. The horses were not tired, and we might
have marched on. At least, we ought to have been up at three, instead of
which we set out again at six o'clock, and were not bidden to make
haste. We did not know that the enemy was treading in our steps. About
nine we approached this place, quite easy in our minds, when we heard
the people cry: 'The Prussians!... To the right-about! Quick! Quick!'
Convoys like us are not looked upon as fighting men, do you see; we
ought to be a few miles behind the front. We were but scantily armed;
some of us had a revolver and no bullets, the others bullets and no
revolver. What could we do against the cannon, which peppered us from
the top of the hill? We were ordered back.

"The drivers made what speed they could, when, just at the turn of the
road, one of the carts managed to tumble down; those that followed at
full speed were thrown down upon it, and thus made a barricade, which
held up all the rest. The guns fired without ceasing. Our Captain came
up: 'Nothing to do, my lads; we are caught. Be quick, get a white flag.'
We looked for a white flag.... There was none. At length a white
handkerchief was hoisted on a stick. And then a troop of horsemen
cantered down upon us. 'Lay yourselves in the ditch,' we heard. The
horses pawed our backs, and I assure you the Prussians did nothing to
hold them back. I will show you."

And the man, taking off his jacket, bared his bruised and swollen back.

"Still lying in the ditch, I noticed close to me the opening of a
gutter-stone stopped up with mud and grass. I tried to pull it out; it
gave way. I got into the narrow passage, and cried out to my companion:
'There is room but for one.'

"'It is one safe and sound,' he answered, and stopped up the opening of
the pipe again.

"For twenty-six hours I lay in there, with the Germans overhead. Never
in my life did I think of my wife and children as I did then! About
eleven o'clock, when all the noise had ceased, I ventured out of my
hole. People who were working hard by took me in, dressed my wound, and
gave me civilian clothes. I hope to escape to the woods and join the
French army again."

And so saying the man went away. We called him back to slip some
biscuits and chocolate into his hand. With a smile he pointed to his
full pockets, and said, "I am well stored, you see. I will share with
the others." Alas, he was not alone! The convoy amounted to 800
soldiers. About 15 had been killed, 350 taken prisoners, and the rest
were hidden in the woods. The boldest or the luckiest might reach the
French lines. The others would probably wander about, like wild beasts
who hide themselves, would suffer cold and hunger, and then after
weeks or months of this wretched life they would be caught and sent
to Germany ... unless they were shot.

Our thoughts were mournful as death when at nightfall we climbed a
second time to the hay-loft. We could not sleep, our anxiety was too
great. Were the Germans still gaining ground? Would they sweep onward,
like a cloud of insects, towards Paris, whose splendour and renown
dazzled and attracted them invincibly? Oh, may they burn their wings
there and be carbonised to the last one! The next day we went to see the
place of the skirmish. The fields on both sides of the road were all
covered over with things the soldiers had thrown away. In some places
the grass was heaped with knapsacks, papers, clothes, and arms. We
tramped on; the road wound its way through meadows and woods, and then
got into a funnel-shaped valley. Here had been the thickest of the
fight. The cavalry came up from behind; there were the guns on the rocks
to the right and left. Alas, the convoy had really been caught in a
trap! The three carts still stood in the middle of the road, and the
meadows were thickly strewn with soldiers' things, papers, and discarded
arms. Colette discovered a beautiful sword hidden in a bush; she
quickly put it back again, that presently she might come and fetch it.
It would be so much gained. A passer-by gave us some other details.
There was a body here, another there. It was to be feared that a few
more dead soldiers were hidden in the wood. On our way back we picked up
all the letters, books, and papers which we found, hoping we might later
on forward them to the soldiers' families, and at the same time tell
them news of the unfortunate convoy. We passed through Neuville, and
there we saw the ammunition captured the day before, heaped up in a
yard. Another Cerberus, adorned with a spiked helmet, watched over
mountains of bullets and boxes of cartridges. There was seven million
francs' worth, said the peasants.

Returning to the village, sunk in despondency, we heard the sound of a
drum, and we arrived just in time to listen to the proclamation which
the rural constable read aloud:

"Arms and clothes, belonging to French soldiers, must be gathered up,
and brought without delay to the Mayor's house.... By order of the
German authorities," said the reader, a small hunchbacked man.

And tears rolled down his cheeks.

At Mme. Laroye's we found a change for the better. The refugees had set
out homewards, and the friends from Laon, by taking leave, enabled us
to live once more after the fashion of civilised people. With pleasure
we stretched our limbs, which three nights had stiffened and tired out,
in a comfortable bed.

From that time Fate proved merciful, and for a few days spared us new
troubles and violent emotions. Of course tears always trembled on our
eyelids, if some incident happened to revive our wounds; but after so
many mental pangs the surrounding peace was a solace to our minds. Life
sprang up anew in our hearts, and with life, spirits. Many a time--was
it a reaction?--we burst out laughing, broke into mad, inextinguishable
laughter. Liza more than once set us in a roar. Liza is Mme. Laroye's
maid,--a maid who has land of her own, who possesses a mile away a
house, a horse, a dog, and, in ordinary times, a husband. But, as the
times we live in are by no means ordinary, Zidore--for he is called
Zidore--had joined the army, to make war against the King of Prussia.

Was Mme. Laroye alone? Liza would discharge with assiduous attention the
duties of her place. Had Mme. Laroye friends or relations to entertain?
Liza went home again, and reappeared only to give herself up to her
menial duties. Liza is a tall woman, clumsily built, with a funny
Hun-like face. Her small eyes, her high cheekbones, prove that a drop of
Asiatic blood runs in her veins. Have I not hinted, in a former chapter,
that Attila may have sent a reconnoitring party down here? But if Liza
has inherited her strong frame and her snub nose from her ancestors, the
Huns, to whom does she owe her restlessness and her pusillanimity? No
doubt to her great-grandmother, the Frankish woman, who had to submit to
the wild Asiatic. For Liza was not brave; Liza did not dare face the
Prussians. From Laon, Morny, and other places, people fled to Chevregny.
It was then an additional reason for Liza's fellow-villagers to run away
farther too. The women had made up their minds to go. As soon as the
enemy was descried from afar, Liza's horse--Mouton--and Mme. Laroye's
horse--Gentil--would be put to, and both fiery steeds--as fiery as their
names--would take their mistresses to a safe place.

But, alas! man proposes.... A cry arose: "The Prussians!" Liza heard it,
snatched up a big loaf in bewilderment, and went full gallop towards the
forest with her dog at her heels. After her galloped a troop of her
companions just as bewildered. They went down the road, struck across
the country, cleared the hedges, and plunged into the forest. In the
heart of the wood they stopped, blessing their star which had led them
to this wild and safe spot. At that very moment they became speechless.
The report of a cannon resounded in the air, then a second one, and a
full volley followed. The poor wretches had thrown themselves headlong
into the valley, where the convoy struggled against its foes, and the
grape-shot fell upon them without mercy. The harmless troop, however,
lifted up its suppliant arms towards Heaven, which did not see them at
all, for the foliage was too thick, and muttered hollow prayers to some
sylvan divinity which heard them not, for the cannon was too loud. Then
they ran away and cowered under the bushes. Shells bespattered them
facetiously with moss and earth. They crouched in a hut that happened to
be there. A malignant cannon-ball carried off a corner of the roof. They
stuck close to the trunk of a tree. Merely to tease them bullets tore
off its leaves and its branches, which rained gently down upon their
heads. The unfortunate fugitives, at last gloomily resigned, sat in a
circle, and waited for the end in the calm of despair. Then all sounds
ceased. They opened one eye, then the other, stretched themselves, got
up, counted themselves, and discovered with the greatest amazement they
had lost neither one hair, save those which they had torn in terror, nor
one button, save those which panting fear had burst from their corsage.
These refugees of the forest had no thought of leaving their precious
shelter. They ate the provisions which in their prudence they had
brought with them, and Liza's big loaf proved a great success. They
spent the night in the hut, and slept with one eye open, raising their
unquiet heads whenever they heard the tramping of a Prussian horse on
the road. In the morning nothing was to be heard. I do not know who was
courageous enough to poke her nose first out of the wood; I expect it
was the dog. At last, however, our villagers plucked up their courage,
and with common accord went back to their native hamlet. Mme. Laroye did
not receive Liza exactly with open arms, but with that gentle irony of
which she has the secret:

"Well, well, Liza, I understand. 'The old lady is too slow,' you
thought, 'she will disturb us. She had better stay at home.' And so you
scampered off."

Liza protested, and we laughed, and Colette pointed the moral of the
adventure.

"It is very funny, Liza's story. But don't you think it is just like
ours?"

The Prussians had forced open most of the houses, and had anticipated
the taxes which they hoped to levy. Fowls, pigeons, geese without
number, and even plump pigs were absent. At Liza's house the ravishers
had shown a certain modesty. A sack of flour, a few pigeons, one or two
ducks only had disappeared. But the intruders had turned the room
topsy-turvy. Did they look for treasure? And, by a sad whim, they had
seized upon two photographs, whose red plush frames were the ornament of
the mantelpiece--Liza in the garb of a nun, and Zidore in a soldier's
uniform. For what purpose had they torn up these precious pictures?

"And Zidore had it taken the first day I saw him!" So the enemy had
destroyed the fond keepsake of a happy day!

Really, the age we lived in was hard, and the Prussians heartless! All
the world was so firmly convinced of this that everybody stayed indoors
as much as possible and ventured reluctantly out of the village, for
fear of dangerous encounters. No one was bold enough to risk horse and
cart on the road, since the first soldier that came might requisition
both. Happy indeed was the owner who was not compelled to turn back and
drive the Prussian to a far-off place. Thus it happened that many a
villager, who, having gone out with team and horse for a few hours,
came back home on foot and alone three or four days later. From this
you may see that communication was not easy, even between places at no
great distance from one another. An old lady, seeing the Germans arrive
in Chevregny, died of the sudden shock, and for several days it was
impossible to send the sad tidings to her son, who was no farther off
than Laon. Indeed, we knew not what was happening in the neighbourhood,
still less at Morny. "The country is overrun with Prussians," we were
told.

So the emotion was great when it was rumoured that flour ran short in
Chevregny, for Chevregny fed two other hamlets and a great many
refugees. Every morning the baker's shop was carried by storm. Every
morning the housewives had to wait their turn for an hour to get a loaf.
It was a heart-rending sight to see how the baker toiled; his wife did
not know which way to turn; his boy knew not what to be at. At this rate
the flour sacks would melt away like snow in an April sun. We had to
find other sacks, or famine would break out in the village. One morning,
then, Liza announced: "My horse is required to go and fetch flour at
Pont-Avers."

In the country the word "requisition" does not exist. You are
"required"--that is all. Mouton, then, was required to go and fetch
provender. Very well. He could not tempt the greed of the Germans, being
well stricken in years, and somewhat lame.

"But who will drive Mouton?" asked Mme. Laroye.

"Well, I don't know, perhaps me," said Liza.

"You don't say so, Liza," her mistress cried out. "There are men enough
left in the village to do that. Now a woman has to stay at home, that is
her right place."

In the afternoon Liza came back, and said in a triumphant tone:

"The blacksmith is driving to Pont-Avers. I have told them it was not a
woman's job."

The good creature was delighted with her saying, and repeated over and
over again:

"I told them so ... it is not a woman's job."

Alas, how many things women had to take charge of which were not
"women's jobs"! How courageous and hard-working they were, the women of
the villages! The men had gone to the war, and left the harvest
ungathered. "The work must be done," said the women, and, without a
moment's rest, they bent in toil to the earth. We, too, did our share.
Perched upon steep ladders or hazardous trees, we picked thousands of
small blue plums, which Liza crammed into big-bellied casks. After
mysterious treatment the fruit was expected to turn into an exquisite
brandy, pronounced by the well-skilled old gossips a cure for every ill.
Better than that, we shut up with our own hands Mme. Laroye's
hiding-place. For who would have believed it? Her house was not in
order! She had buried a cash-box full of golden coins in her garden, but
we thought she had better remove a great many other things just as
valuable as money. Besides, she had a hiding-place. It was not a
fanciful hiding-place like ours, but a serious hiding-place, contrived
by a workman, a past-master in digging and masonry. The cellar opens
into the arched entrance of the house. In a corner of this cellar is a
trap-door which, lifted up, leads to a break-neck flight of steps hewn
out in the rock. At the foot of the steps is a smaller cellar, which is
the hiding-place. We took down the other silver, linen, fine old shawls,
at which we gazed with envious eyes, and then the wine.

"Not all the wine, dear cousin, not all. They will never believe you
have no wine at all."

When the trap-door was closed, we carried down with great trouble a few
barrowfuls of earth, which a skilful hand raked over properly. Then we
stamped upon it, swept the cellar, scattered grey dust over the fresh
earth, and put old boxes and tubs in the corner. Shrewder than a
Prussian would he be who saw anything here! Alas, it was a beast who
brought our fine work to nothing! In the course of time we heard that
Uhlans on their way through Chevregny put horses into the cellar. The
horses, as they are wont to, pawed and scratched the ground.

"It sounds hollow!" cried the Prussians.

"It sounds wine!" they went on, in a fit of inspiration, and then
discovered they had been cheated.

I do not know what became of the other objects, but I know perfectly
well the way Mme. Laroye's wine went.

In spite of these interesting occupations, we were bored. And yet we had
discovered in Bouconville, three miles off, a well-stored shop which
supplied us with cotton, wool, and stuffs to give work to our idle
fingers. In spite of Mme. Valaine's anxiety, we went, two or three
together, and brought back in triumph what was wanting. But we never
ventured into the wood, and on our homeward journeys we cast sidelong
glances at the "sand-pit," whose green shade always allured us. Such is
the name of a few acres of wood, belonging to my mother-in-law, where I
hope some day to install my household gods. There a brooklet murmurs,
and hard by shall be my house, with a willow charming and majestic, an
ash lofty and elegant to give me shade. There I shall live happy on milk
and honey--goats and bees will be mine--with my husband and the children
which I trust God will grant me. We shall be once more in Arcady.

Thus I mused on my way home, when suddenly some German troops appeared
on the horizon to dispel my dream of Arcady, and sent me home in haste
to the shelter of the farm.

I have said we were bored. Life was chiefly unbearable for want of news.
What was going on? For two days we had heard an echo of the guns. Was
there a battle? The first Germans we had seen had told us with a sneer:

"Parisse, Parisse, within dree tays we are in Parisse!"

Had the progress of the haughty boors been stayed? Hope trembled at the
bottom of our hearts; hope, which dared not grow, and which we dared not
avow.

Ten times a day we left our needlework or our book to run to the garden.
We listened. A kind of rumbling was all we heard. Was it to the east,
the north, or the south? Was it a singing in our ears or was it
cannon-shots?

"What if we placed our ears to the ground?"

And so we lay on the grass like so many dead bodies, and concentrated
our whole souls in listening.

"There certainly is a rambling." This conviction filled our hearts with
joy and anxiety, and the whole day long we fidgeted about the house.
Besides, we could not stay for ever in Chevregny. We had to make up our
minds.

"Since the Germans are here, there, and everywhere," I said, "we had
better go back home, where at least we are comfortable and at ease."

In Chevregny, to be sure, comfort is unknown. For instance, cleanliness
does not hold a large place in the people's life, though we had
transformed the bakehouse into a very decent bathroom. Every evening
Pierrot was washed at the pump, and pretended to throw the water which
deluged him to the bright and passionless moon.

As long as the weather kept warm it was pleasant enough, but all the
same home would be better. But before taking so long a journey, we
thought it well to think over it at leisure. A word from M. Lonet
settled the matter. "There is no danger," he wrote; "some one ought to
come back; the house might be occupied."

If one of us went, then we would all go. Union is strength. Boldly we
had come to Chevregny by night, nine in number, including the dogs.
Nine in number we would go home by day. We had spent a week in
Chevregny.

On Tuesday we had Gentil put to. Liza huddled our luggage into the cart,
helped Mme. Valaine and Pierrot up, and sat on the box. In a few feeling
words, one and all took leave of our kind cousin, and we followed on
foot.

We walked on without hardihood, casting suspicious glances before and
behind. The mere shadow of a helmet would have put us to flight.
Besides, the horse might be requisitioned, and Liza left us at Bièvres,
and drove home as fast as she could. In Bruyères we met with a big dog
almost as alarming as a Prussian. Percinet is fond of fighting, and he
cannot bear the sight of his kindred alive. Two days before he had
satisfied this thirst for blood by killing two dogs. At the entrance of
Morny we passed three riders on the road, dressed in green, booted and
spurred, with their helmets on. We did not think them mere gendarmes, as
we heard afterwards they were. They contented themselves with gazing at
the dusty, weary group that went by. At length we got home. Dear little
house! it had not altered! Its white walls were still there; so was its
grey roof. The Virginia creepers shook their branches like arms to wish
us a hearty welcome. We threw the gate open. The dogs rushed into the
stable at a cheerful bound.

Leaving the luggage in the lobby, we dropped into the dining-room
chairs, and gave a deep sigh of satisfaction.



CHAPTER V


We were at home again! This was a set-off for the misfortunes with which
a wretched fate had loaded us. The house was as snug as we had left it,
and we had but to return to our old habits. So we did and exactly! The
cake we had left, at our flight, was still lying on the table. As we
were hungry we each snatched our share, and ate it with ravenous
appetite. It was a bit hard, but all the same delicious. We wandered
through the house with joy. We were at home again! How many of those who
had fled from the invasion had renounced the pleasures of home for
months or even years? Some of out friends at Morny had not yet come
back. Yet could we pity them? A thousand times no; at least they would
never endure the trials to which the conquered are exposed, and which,
after a momentary calm, once more had depressed us. The presence of the
Germans, quartered in the village, seemed unbearable.

Ah, poor, poor snails that we were! In spite of our efforts, the flood
had overtaken and submerged us. The tree we tried to climb was too low;
the inundation covered everything; and we could not foresee the end of
the nightmare. How long should we have to groan and struggle in that
all-devouring water? We besought God to deliver us, and God seemed deaf
to our prayers and blind to our tears. We called to you who were on the
mainland over the mountains, insurmountable as the great wall of China.
Our hearts called to you, and no one answered. For a fortnight the
floods had been out, and already we were losing patience.

Morally drowned as we were, we still had a physical need of food. A
household of seven persons and two dogs must furnish its larder and
cellar with abundant provisions. The grocers of the village had but
empty shops; our neighbours were unhumbled, because each was the owner
of a plot of ground. Less favoured than the poorest of the poor, we had
no crop at all. What would become of us? I have said we had no crop. I
was wrong. We even had a superb crop. The pear trees, even those which
these last fifteen years had yielded no fruit at all, had deemed it a
point of honour to do their best, in hard times, and were all laden with
huge plump pears, which made your mouth water. They were not ripe yet;
but, determined not to tempt the green-uniformed marauders, we made up
our minds to gather them. For two days we picked them, and filled basket
upon basket with pears, long or round, green or yellow.

Then there was the problem to solve, where to hide them? We laid our
heads together, and by unanimous consent decided upon the deserter's
attic. On one side, the attic was full of faggots; on the other, behind
the chimney that comes up from the wash-house, there was a floor-space,
about eight feet square, and there we laid our beautiful pears amid
shreds of paper instead of straw. To conceal their retreat, we heaped up
at the entrance old boxes, hen-coops, and a garden roller in elaborate
disorder. Nobody would ever have thought that this innocent pile of
rubbish was a treasure-hoard. But we, who knew, put one foot here,
another there, and at a bound we were on the floor in the very abode of
the pears, where cunning paths allowed us to visit our friends and
choose the juiciest among them. We never made these visits without a
groan, for we always forgot the existence of a big cistern, fitted up in
the roof, and constantly knocked our heads against this iron ceiling.
But the shock itself kindled our imagination, and struck out a flash of
genius.

"Suppose we put the wine into the cistern!"

We thought we had given all our wine to the French soldiers, and then we
discovered in the bottom of a box about thirty bottles, which we
resolved to hide from the Germans' thirst. I must admit that our
sobriety equals the camel's. We drink hardly anything besides water. A
bottle of wine a week satisfies the needs of the whole family. But, all
the same, we did not want our wine to moisten German throats. So through
the yard, up the ladder, over the boxes, the bottles went their way. Not
too well poised on a tottering scaffolding I wriggled into the narrow
space between the beam and the cistern. I held out a groping hand, into
which was placed the neck of a bottle, and little by little the
receptacle was filled. We went quickly to work. My sister-in-law carried
up the bottles with care; I laid them down with a gentle hand. For it is
well known that a Prussian ear detects the clinking of bottles a mile
off, and of course the Prussian, contiguous to the ear, being
forewarned, rests not until he has secured the too imprudent bottles.
But all of a sudden I was aroused by a loud shout, instantly hushed to a
discreet silence.

I jumped down from my scaffold, leapt over the pears, scaled the boxes,
tumbled down the ladder, and found myself in the midst of a perplexed
group.

"Grandmother, what is the matter?"

Yvonne and Colette, prying in the cellar, had discovered a fair-sized
keg, which gurgled when it was shaken.

The treasure-hunters thrust in the bung with an effort, inserted a tap,
drew out a glass of the liquor and brought it to me.

"What is it?"

Unctuous, yellowish substance. Was it oil, or syrup? I looked at it,
shook the glass, smelt it, even tasted a drop with the tip of my tongue,
and then announced:

"It is glucose."

Glucose! glucose! and we had no sugar left! Every morning we drank milk
and coffee unsweetened by honey. Mme. Valaine declared my diagnosis
right, and we leapt for joy like marionettes.

There was no more meat, no butter, and eggs were uncommonly rare, but
sweetened dishes take the place of everything. Baskets full of pears! A
keg of glucose! Thirty bottles of wine! Who talked of dearth? For
truth's sake I must say glucose did not answer as well as we expected.
When I tried to sweeten the milk with it, the milk turned sour, and with
it the experiment turned also, to my shame.

On the other hand, by stewing the beloved pears with glucose and wine,
I obtained an unforgettable dish, over which a jury of cooks greedily
licked its lips. And every other evening, for two months, our scanty
menu was thus composed: soup, stewed pears, bread at discretion, fresh
water at will. The glucose went to keep the wine company in the cistern,
except for a few bottles of either liquid, which we craftily concealed
in the garden, and in case of need we had but to cry out:

"Pierrot, go and fetch the bottle that is in the reeds or in the blue
fir ... or in the big yew...."

It was much more amusing than simply to go down into the cellar.

Thus our life was not uninteresting, but our chief occupation was to
watch the horizon, east and south, where our soldiers were fighting. The
guns were coming sensibly nearer; we heard them growl day and night, and
when it grew dark we saw shells burst above the hills. We spent many
hours in the garden looking out for these illuminations, hoping we might
understand something from the way they went. Then came the gleam of an
explosive, striping the sky with a flash of lightning or with a slow
trail of light. The better to observe, we got up the ladder, and sat on
the wall. To the casual passer-by we might have resembled a flock of
crows at roost waiting for gossip's tales. Mme. Valaine had no taste
for these perilous exercises, and contented herself with the stories we
told her. For us the only spectacle we thought worth while was that very
one which almost rent our hearts. How eagerly we wished for the shells
to burst nearer, nearer, to set the house in a blaze so that we might be
set free from our chains!

About the 25th of September took place the first shock between us and
the German army. It was nearly eight o'clock in the evening. The supper
over, I went into the garden, and was peering at the dark sky, heedless
of the cold wind which caused my hair and my shawl to flutter, when a
frightful uproar broke the silence. Gruff voices cried out vociferously;
heavy boots kicked at the gates; the angry dogs barked till they choked.

"Good Heavens! what is happening?"

I threw myself down the ladder, fled through the garden--those days were
full of wild races--got to the house, and saw Geneviève hasten forth, a
key in her hand.

"They want us to open the gate," she said, "and we must."

Yvonne seized the dogs by the collar and dragged them in. The gate was
hardly unlocked when those without threw it open, and at the same time
overran the yard. They were furious, and one of them shouted out in bad
French:

"When the Germans knock at a door, it should be opened immediately."

"You think so, do you, you Boche!"

On hearing us speak fluent German they softened, and looked at us in
amazement.

They all had the same round faces, which the lantern of an under-officer
lit up.

They wanted a lodging: barns, stables to shelter men and horses. All
that was difficult to get!

"There is room but for one horse in the stable."

"Well, that will do for two horses and two men."

"And here is the wash-house."

"Six men will sleep there."

The others withdrew to look for a lodging somewhere else. The remainder,
who seemed to be harmless blockheads, were convoys. We heaved a deep
sigh, but hardly had a mouthful of air reached our lungs, when the yard
was already swarming with a new mob. Standing on the steps I engaged in
parley with the _Feldwebel_.

"The house is chock-full, and eight soldiers are already lodged in the
outhouses."

He was young, big, and stout, and his hard-featured face was deeply
scarred.

Of course he did not allow himself to be prevailed upon.

"It is all the same to me," he answered; "make room for me if you have
none."

He ordered me to open the coach-house, but when he saw it crammed up
with all sorts of things, he made a wry face.

"And up there?" he asked, pointing at the deserter's attic.

Good Heavens! the pears! the wine! I was trembling with fear, and was at
a loss how to answer when the man altered his mind:

"I would rather have a bedroom to myself," and so saying he opened
Antoinette's door.

"That will do," said the person, and waving back the silently waiting
soldiers he kept but two of them with him. We began to remove a few
things from the room, which Antoinette had always kept for herself, and
before the sergeant's taunting eyes we carried away clothes, books, and
knick-knacks. The door we had left ajar was suddenly thrown open, and a
little coxcomb of an officer came in and cried out in a cheerful tone:

"Oh! oh! Two at a time!"

That was more than we could stand, and leaving blankets and coverlets we
ran away.

At the corner of the house a brutal arm stopped me, and a soldier I
hardly saw in the night muttered something I did not understand about
money--five francs. I tried to break loose from the man's hold, and
answered at random we were no shopkeepers and sold nothing.

"If you are busy," he said, "another lady would do."

In the dim light of a glimmering window I caught sight of a
Slavonic-featured, black-bearded, sneaking-eyed face that belonged to
one of the stable-dwellers--a perfect brute. He looked so strange, his
voice was so peculiar that I suddenly understood the meaning of his
words. Frightened, I shook my arm to get it free, set off running, and
got so quickly out of sight he might have believed I had been swallowed
up by the night. I rushed into the house, banged the door, turned the
key in it, pushed the bolts, and even then I was not sure I was secure.
I wished for padlocks, bars, chains, to protect us against such
creatures. We thought we would never dare go to bed.

With Mme. Valaine I went through the house to test the wooden shutters.
In the street the carts of the convoy stood close to the house; here and
there we saw a lantern glimmer. Lying under the awnings the drivers
tumbled and tossed, and from time to time uttered heavy groans. Those
carts reminded us of monstrous beasts, hunch-backed and mischievous,
which squatted at our door to watch and threaten us. The yard was pitch
dark, all seemed to be in a sound sleep, but for the horses, which
kicked and pawed the ground of the narrow stable. The men were snoring;
the dogs shut up in the lobby whined gently. We talked in a low voice
and went on tip-toe. In our own house we felt beset with dangers and
cares. Without taking off our clothes, we laid ourselves down, our eyes
wide open, our ears attentive to all outside sounds, our nerves on edge.
So we waited for the break of day.

The Germans got up at the first glimmer of a misty sun, and we watched
them through the trellised shutters. They had cooked a potato soup, a
grey and sticky stuff, to which they added some brandy, and which they
ate without conviction.

For hours together they peeled vegetables, hummed tunes, whistled,
dawdled up and down; but they never drew a drop of water from the pump,
and they seemed wholly unacquainted with the fact that a human being
ought to wash. Then they began cleaning their arms most carefully, and
deluged them with petroleum and oil. Our amazement was the same which
the sight of wigwams or niggers' cabins might have roused, seen for the
first time. Their guns, leaning against the gate, confirmed this
impression. Real savages' arms, the bayonets were about a hand's
breadth, and notched like a saw. At the mere thought of the wounds such
teeth would make in the flesh, an icy chill ran through our veins.

About nine, after half an hour's monotonous shouting, the convoy filed
off, and soon after vanished from sight. As soon as they were gone we
rushed out. The street swarmed with people, like an ant-hill which a
clumsy foot has trodden on. Well! well! German boots leave traces. The
High Street of Morny had never before witnessed such filth. On all sides
lay dirty straw, muddy rags, formless scraps of iron. The horse-dung
looked clean compared with the rest.

As to ourselves, we cried with horror at the sight of our poor yard,
into which we could not put our foot. Oily pools stood here and there;
the pavement, bespattered with mud, was covered all over with dirty
rags, greasy papers, vegetable peelings, and, overtopping all the rest,
what Antoinette pompously called "human dejections." And yet in a corner
of the garden was a closet formerly intended for the gardener.... But
such people....

Disgusted and bewailing, old Tassin spent the whole afternoon in
cleaning the yard, and made more than one unpleasant discovery, such as
about 40 lb. of rotten meat concealed in the straw. The "small room" was
in a sorry plight. The pandours had emptied the ink-pot into a
work-table, scribbled the walls all over, broken a vase, taken away a
woollen blanket, an eider-down, and a door-curtain. As to the mattress
and the spring-mattress, we could not have touched them with a pair of
tongs, covered as they were with spots of grease. It is agreeable to
receive Germans!

Antoinette instantly made up her mind to change her room, and easily
transformed one of the attics.

We went roundly to work, and the "small room" was soon as empty as a
Pomeranian's head. We had made up our minds that the creatures should
bring straw with them if they required hospitality a second time. To the
King of Prussia himself we would have grudged a bed, lest he should
leave it in as bad a condition as his men.

The convoy came back that very evening. Our guests of yesterday went
back to their lodging. Only the inhabitants of the "small room" did not
return. Perhaps what was left them of conscience reproached them with
theft.

Early in the morning the carts went off, and after three hours' work old
Tassin declared he had removed all traces of their second visit. The
whole village complained that the rascals had not only dirtied whatever
they approached, but had stolen what they wanted, wasted provender and
oats, and had thrown down whole sheaves of wheat for their horses to lie
on.

In the first weeks of the occupation the invaders bled the country to
death. In Morny they took thousands of fowls, hundreds of pigs and
sheep, and I don't know how many horses and cows. M. Lantois' black
bull, which his ravishers had tethered to a cart, and then abandoned in
the middle of the road, protested in a wild, fierce, and fitful roar
that he repeated every other minute for hours together. The farmers
dreaded marauders still more than official requisitions. For what was
requisitioned they obtained, if they insisted, a note of hand, often
scribbled in pencil and almost illegible, but at least proving they had
been deprived of something. The soldiers of course took an unfair
advantage of their victims, who knew not German, and cheated them in
every way. We were often asked to translate such I.O.U.'s as had been
composed according to the writer's own fancy. "Paid and carried away a
horse," wrote one requisitioner who had but paid with lies.--"Exchanged
two horses of equal worth," another pretended, when a broken-down hack
had supplied the place of a good mare.--"Received 40 lb. of bacon." And
the honest customer knew he had gained 450 kilog. on the pork-butcher.

In spite of all, the country people attached great importance to these
notes of hand, and the marauders gave them none. They went two or three
together, got into the houses when the people were working out in the
fields, searched them from top to bottom, and laid hands on what pleased
them. They stripped the hen-houses and dovecots; they would drop in
unawares when the people were about to sit down to dinner, and then
divert themselves by seizing and feasting upon the dishes before the
balked peasants' very faces. Thus eaten out of house and home, the
village would soon be starved. The Mayor of Morny and M. Lonet resolved
to go to Laon and seek some protection against the raiders. The answer
they got from the Germans was that, first, rural matters were no concern
of theirs, and secondly, that the people were expected to give
everything the soldiers asked for.

A word to the wise is enough.

Those who have not known the evils of invasion cannot imagine the rage
and despair which filled our hearts at being thus enslaved and ground
down. Impotent wrath, overwhelming despondency took hold of our souls,
at once humiliated and revolted. Like true civilised people, we could
not understand why we were forbidden to claim justice, to seek redress;
why we were expected to yield to brute strength. And there was no use to
cry out for help, to crave assistance. It seemed to us that we were
forsaken by God and men.

But was the trap shut tight? Were we, for instance, whose interests,
life, and dearest affections lay on the other side of the front, without
means to break through the enemy's barrier? Were we actually prisoners?

My mother-in-law made up her mind to go to Laon in order to consult
competent judges. I was to accompany her. This poor Laon, which I had
seen but a few weeks ago bright with French animation, in what state did
we find it! We saw a few civilians only, with hard and hostile faces. On
the other hand there were a great many grey-clad Germans in the streets
with their helmets on, bustling about in the best of humour. They seemed
at home everywhere, and masters of all the houses. Most shops were shut
up. I tried to get into the only one I saw open, but nobody was in it.
Only in the recesses of the back-shop a big hand was busy about a
saucepan, and heavy steps shook the spiral staircase. It is easy to
understand that I had had enough of it, and that I hastened out with
all possible speed. The sight of their forsaken shops would have rent
the hearts of the owners had they been gifted with second sight. One of
them, I suppose it was a grocer's, had been smashed to atoms. Glass
jars, drawers, looking-glasses were but things of the past, and the
floor was covered all over with a litter twenty inches high, of
biscuits, sweets, macaroni, rice, and odds and ends of all kinds. We
went to see the Mayor, and asked him the questions which we were anxious
to have answered. Were the Germans to settle in the country? Was it
possible to go to Paris? His answer was like a death-knell.

Nothing was to be done. The Germans were not likely to clear out. He
deemed it folly to try to go away. I left the room heart-broken.

We arrived in Morny just in time to see some German infantry march
through the street. They came from the front, and their ill-looks filled
us with joy. They trudged along with weary faces, and were all muddy,
and bent as if with old age. "Just look at them," we said. "Where do
they come from? Surely they are beaten men. Is the French army
advancing?"

Colette, hidden behind the curtains, never failed to throw her wishes
after the Germans as they passed through the village.

"Die, die, die. Die, you nasty red-haired fellow. Die, you fat brute.
Die, you young whipper-snapper. Oh, a wounded man! Die too, poor wretch;
die, die, die"; and the litany drew to a close only when the regiment
had filed off.

"That is to help the French," said she.

Many an adventure befell us in the month of October. I can merely refer,
for instance, to a certain officer who at eleven o'clock one night
wished to lodge "twenty horses in our barn"; or to four requisitioners
who dragged us out of bed at five in the morning, and forced us to dress
in haste, merely to prove we had no pigs. These same soldiers delighted
to talk German with French women; tried to convince us that England was
responsible for the war. "The whole world is against us," they said in a
sulky voice; "the French, the English, the Russians, the Belgians...."

"But you are so numerous."

"Not so numerous as all that."

I remember also that we were once awaked by two drunken soldiers, who
insisted upon our opening the window, and who at our refusal threatened
and vociferated for an hour, promising to come back and set fire to the
house.

On the other hand, listen to the tragical, horrific history of one
afternoon--it was a washing day; the charwoman had forgotten to close
the gate. Two or three of us were in the yard, when a sergeant and four
men made their appearance. Horses were waiting in the street. The
sergeant was of lofty stature, stupid, grave, blue-eyed, and
dark-bearded. He asked us if we could furnish lodgings for "Herr Mayor
and his ten men." The honour was not tempting. We pleaded want of room,
we wrapped up our obvious ill-will in a mass of words. Antoinette
carelessly pointed at the "small room," and hinted that we had no other
left. The men withdrew, the horses rode away, and we sang songs of
victory.

But the following morning, about seven, I heard a noisy knock at the
door. I hastened out, and reluctantly admitted the visitors of
yesterday. From the top of his head the sergeant announced that "Herr
Mayor was very cross, furious even, that we declined to receive him." He
had sent the ruffians now to see how many rooms we might place at his
disposal. I felt sure anxious ears were listening behind every shutter
in the house. The alarm had been given, and the sluggards were making
what speed they could. The fellows entered. The family gathered
together, scared and haggard. A few of them were dressed; the others
were in dressing-gowns. The Germans examined the rooms whose morning
disorder had been hastily concealed, went up to the attic and down to
the cellar. The sergeant then pronounced judgment in a solemn voice. We
might have offered five bedrooms to the German army.

Five bedrooms! And we had but five rooms, containing five beds! Where
should we have slept? On straw with the dogs! That was a happy thought!

"And you would have offered Herr Mayor that small room overlooking the
yard! Herr Mayor!"

As a matter of fact we had offered Herr Mayor nothing. But the poor
wretch was as much shocked as if we had proposed to lodge the Crown
Prince in a pig-sty.

Well, then, to punish us and to teach us the respect due to German
officers, we were condemned to take into our house Herr Mayor and his
ten men.

Death-like silence. A thunderbolt had fallen and struck us dumb. The
soldier went on:

"Get dinner ready at half-past twelve--a table for one in the
dining-room, for men in the kitchen."

At last we found our tongues.

"You talk of dinner! But we have no provisions to cook. Meat is not to
be had at the butcher's...."

"You will be provided with meat. We want wine--champagne."

"Champagne!" We laughed in the face of the man.

"There is no wine in our cellar. We drink nothing but water."

"Anyhow, mind you do things properly."

This was said in a threatening voice, and we made no reply.

The sergeant had executed his mission, but he thought fit further to
admonish us on his own account.

"Are you aware that the Germans are unwilling invaders? They did not
want to make war. Who wished it? Can you doubt? It was England."

"Was it? Oh, really!"

"And the civilians should be kind to the soldiers, who are very
well-behaved. For instance, we ourselves all come of distinguished
families. A private soldier is not necessarily a scoundrel."

"I know that," Geneviève answered. "My brother is a soldier. But as
patriots yourselves, you should understand that we are patriots too, and
that it is painful for us to receive the enemy."

"The enemy! The enemy!"

The sergeant, bounding with rage, struck the pavement with the butt-end
of his gun.

"No, we are not the enemies of women and children; we know how to behave
ourselves...."

While he discoursed, one of the young men of "a distinguished family,"
standing on the staircase, caught sight of my husband's shoes on a
shelf. He seized a pair and put one shoe into each pocket. Turning round
he encountered Yvonne's looks, and hastily replaced his spoil. Twice,
thinking himself unobserved, he recovered the shoes. But being too
carefully watched he gave it up as a bad job, and his superior officer
concluded his speech in these words:

"If the French went to Germany the civilians would receive them kindly."

Indeed! I was pleased to hear it. But if the German women are ready to
give a hearty welcome to our soldiers--and that is quite easy to
understand--it does not follow that we ought to deal in like manner with
their sons and husbands. We have never pretended to govern ourselves by
the fashion of Berlin!

At length they went away, and we had but to yield and prepare our
saucepans. We would rather have given a dinner-party to Gargantua and
his family than prepare food for a German officer and ten men just as
German. We went to Mme. Tassin in our extremity. She would surely come
to our help, in spite of rheumatism. The meat--about half an ox--was
duly brought; half of it was for soup, half to be roasted. In the
wash-house, Mme. Tassin made a gigantic soup, flavoured with a thousand
vegetables. In the kitchen we peeled mountains of potatoes, and prepared
two bottles of French beans, which a soldier had brought in, stolen I
know not where. Antoinette, uncorking one of the bottles, broke its
neck, and cut her finger. Her blood poured upon the beans. Hurrying to
help her I tore off a bit of my finger.

"Never mind! get on with the potatoes!"

At length the work was finished.

Huge and lean, wall-eyed and mouthed like a pike, Herr Mayor arrived
with happy nonchalance, and seated himself at the table. His attentive
servant for very little would have served him on his knees. Dinner done,
Herr Mayor required tea, and, being presented with a teapot, he demanded
a liqueur, to flavour the tea. A few drops of rum were all that was left
of an old bottle which happened to be in the dining-room. I took it in.
As distant as Sirius I saluted the intruder. With a smile Herr Mayor
made a low bow. Something like intelligence lit up his pale eyes. He
cleared his throat, and faltered out:

"The ladies ... would be ... safer in Paris ... than here...."

I gave the rum-bottle to his servant, removed a hundred miles off, and
answered:

"Certainly, sir."

I withdrew.

In the kitchen the ten men seemed to be rather constrained; they talked
in a low voice, but did not lose their appetite for all that. My
mother-in-law stood by, thinking that too many things might have led
them into temptation. At last they went away; Herr Mayor too. His
servant informed us that he would come alone to supper, and that he
desired eggs and pancakes. With slow steps the officer went down the
street. Behind the buckler of our blinds we burst out into bitter
invectives:

"Be off, you old cut-throat! you old scout! You grind the weak; you
bully women! You have eaten my finger-tip and have drunk the blood of
Antoinette! Cannibal! Man-eater!"

The cannibal came back in the evening, ate a small _pâté_, was pleased
with the poached eggs, and satisfied with the pancakes. Then he smoked
his cigar at leisure, and all the while remained unconscious of severe
eyes watching him from the garden. Yvonne and Colette made a wry face.
"The sight of him is enough to make you sick. Fancy! I saw him put a
whole egg into his mouth! His glass was covered with grease when he
drank. Ugh!"

The next day after, another tune was played.

At twelve, precisely, Herr Mayor arrived, and calmly declared that, as
his servant was out on urgent business, we must have the kindness to
wait upon him ourselves.

"A pretty request, truly!"

Mme. Tassin was nowhere. The omelette, done to a turn, was getting cold
in the kitchen. Meanwhile Herr Mayor was waiting in the dining-room. It
was high time that the dish should make the guest's acquaintance. I made
up my mind.

"I will take his dinner to the man."

"Never! You wait at table!"

"And upon a Prussian!"

"He did it on purpose, of course."

I persisted.

"I assure you I shall not deem myself degraded. And I promise you the
man will feel uneasy sooner than I."

So beneath Herr Mayor's haughty nose I put the omelette _aux fines
herbes_.

To the same nose I presented the roast veal with boiled potatoes, which
is dear to all German hearts, and thought I might rest on my laurels.
Then I saw that I had forgotten the sauce. Herr Mayor was chewing dry
veal, sunk in melancholy. I put the sauce-boat on the table within reach
of his hand.

"I had forgotten this; I am not in the habit...."

What did I say? Herr Mayor looked uneasy. He nearly begged my pardon....
"Indeed, I am afraid I disturb you...."

Ah! you deign to notice it? And you might as well have dined at the
village inn? But you don't think that you and your ten gormandisers have
reduced our stock of vegetables to nothing, and swallowed up our last
egg!

But you have not always an officer at hand to give you information, and
so I thought I might improve the occasion. "What is the cannon," I
asked, "which thunders day and night in the south?"

"We have been fighting in Craonne for the last ten days," said he; "the
battle is said to be coming to an end. Just before we were in Fismes."

Herr Mayor pronounced Fismesse. In a doleful tone he bewailed the evils
of war.

The regiment he belonged to had suffered forty per cent losses since the
beginning of war. He himself felt very ill. He had slept in the open air
seven rainy nights running. Had I any kinsman in the war?

"Of course, my husband; and I get no news at all from him. That is the
worst of all privations."

Herr Mayor nodded assent. These partings were cruel. Frau Mayor, too,
would have given a good deal to accompany her Mayor. As to ourselves,
our situation might change for the better. It was, for instance, to our
interest that the Germans should advance. The front would then be
removed farther from us. I answered that we should welcome no such
change for the better. But suppose that just the reverse happened? If
the Germans were driven back, the front would also remove farther?
Wouldn't it?

"Oh! no, no.... Really, this war was stupid. England delights in making
mischief, and the French are mad to enter into an alliance with the
English, when another country was so eager to come to an agreement with
them. France and Germany would get on well with each other. What, then,
prevents a thoroughly good understanding?"

"A mere nothing, sir; a grain of sand.... Alsace-Lorraine, sir."

Herr Mayor shrugged his shoulders. He had forgotten Alsace-Lorraine.

His lunch was over. I asked if he intended to come and dine at our
house.

Again he seemed at a loss what answer to give.

"H'm, h'm ... I am not sure. I will let you know."

His grey cloak streamed in the air, and Herr Mayor went away never to
return.

Some days after I met him on the road. He bowed very low, and with a
smiling face inquired after my husband. The double-faced fellow knew
only too well I had not heard from him, but in common politeness I was
fain to inquire also after his health. Herr Mayor was better, much
better. In a week he would be back at the front, and if he happened to
hear from my husband's regiment, he promised to send me the news.

And with many a bow Herr Mayor smiled himself away. His face was not
ever smiling. The peasants were terrified at his way of carrying out
requisitions. On the other hand, it was rumoured that he believed
himself sprang from the thigh of Jupiter--I beg your pardon--of Wotan,
and spoke to no one.

The family did not fail to exercise its flippancy at my expense. They
asked for the recipe of my philtres to charm Prussians; they urged me to
write a treatise on the art of training Germans, and prophesied a fine
future for me as a tamer of tigers.

I did not mind being scoffed at. Too many cares claimed my attention.
Besides, Barbu and Crafleux had just appeared in our orbit. But I am
anticipating. Our chief anxiety was commonplace enough. The food problem
was hard to solve. Fortunately, in spite of direful predictions, bread
did not run short at the beginning of the war. Milk we had every day.
Though Mme. Lantoye had been robbed of several cows, and though children
were provided for first, she always gave us some. We had almost
forgotten the taste of meat. Butter and cheese, hard to discover, were
extravagantly dear, and eggs were as scarce as in Paris at the end of
the siege. We had laid by a small provision of rice and macaroni,
articles of food no more to be found in the shops; but we had decided to
keep this reserve for extremities, in case, for instance, a bombardment
kept us in the cellar. We all agreed to live from hand to mouth upon
what we could come by. My reflections were profound when, after half a
day's search, I found one egg, from which I had to concoct a dish for
the whole family. You laugh? A proof that you lack imagination. With a
single egg, as a base of operations, you can make pancakes, or
apple-fritters, flower-fritters, or bread-fritters, or any fritters you
like. By the way, I advise the use of nasturtiums. Rose leaves, on the
other hand, are rather tasteless. But here is something better. You make
some pastry, then beat up your one egg with a glass of milk, a few
crumbs of bread, a bit of cheese, if you have any; then you pour the
mixture on the pastry, put the whole in the oven, and when it is baked
you will find a dish that will feed six women. Oh! we made no
complaints; not yet, at least. Really when a _menu_ consists of a potato
fricassee to which laurel and thyme have given a zest, artichokes with
melted butter and chervil--butter, replaced by grease, alas!--fresh
salad, and juicy pears, who would not pronounce himself satisfied with
such a meal? Marmontel, who loved good cheer, Marmontel in the Bastille,
where he so highly appreciated the fare, Marmontel himself would have
been delighted with it.

The want of light was the worst of our evils. Petroleum was no more to
be had, and candles were hard to come by. Linseed oil and modest
night-lights grudged us a glimmer by which we gloomily went to bed.
Therefore as soon as the night fell the fiend of melancholy seized upon
us. The dull light spread a gloom over the room we sat in, and from the
black corners dark thoughts seemed to rise and grow upon us. So we would
rather walk in the garden, or even look out of the window, when night
fell, than sit at our work or our writing-table. How many hours have I
spent leaning out of the window in a nightgown, and watching the shells
burst. In September and October, just after the Germans' arrival, there
were beautiful moonlit nights, worthy to be worshipped on bended knees;
yet I felt an inclination to imitate Salammbô and cry to the moon with
arms uplifted:

"O moon, I hate you. You are deceitful, unrelenting, and cold, and even
the pale glimmer you send us you steal. There is nothing true but the
warm and cheerful sunbeams, which give us light and life. You fling your
silver arrows where you please, and throw what you choose into the
shade. You slip your sly rays into closed rooms, through cracks and
chinks; no secret escapes you. You favour illicit love, unpunished
crimes, acts of violence, and foul deeds. All those things you feast
upon, O moon! But your light is never so pleasant, your caress never so
soft, as when you shine on a battlefield, on places where men kill one
another. You take pleasure in the sight of dead bodies, shrivelled
limbs, wide-open mouths, features distorted in the weird horror of
death. You play on bloody weapons, on dark-mouthed cannon; you pass by
the wounded, crying for help, by dying men whose death-rattle is
unheard, and you smile yourself from the charnel-field, glad to leave
the victims in the unfathomable shades of night."

Moon, I hate you! Everywhere and always you have looked on murderous
battles, unbrotherly contests, man maddened against man. You saw the
formidable army of Xerxes contend with the Greeks; you saw the Roman
Empire quivering at the onslaught of the Barbarians. But can any sight
you have ever witnessed be compared with that which you look down upon
to-day? Europe in arms, cannon spreading death everywhere, thousands of
men killed in the marshes of Poland, on the hills of Galicia, in France,
on the plains of Flanders? Are you pleased, O moon?

Moon, I hate you!

To shun the moon, to shut out the sound of the guns, I close the wooden
shutters, pull down the window, draw the curtains. The cannon are not
silent. Chilled with cold and horror, I fling myself on my bed, bury my
head in the pillows, creep under my blankets. The cannon still roars,
and shakes my bed. I wake up, and the cannon roars louder than ever. To
have lived, and have been sometimes careless and merry, we must have
been as mad and as blind as the moon herself. But we cannot attain to
the moon's insensibility, and that is why our laughter often turns to
tears, and humour ends in a sob.



CHAPTER VI


Morny being near to the battlefield, we naturally saw many soldiers. The
village sheltered four convoys at a time within its walls. Officers and
non-commissioned officers were billeted on the inhabitants, and we had
to bear our share of the common misfortune. And thus Barbu and Crafleux
fell to our lot.

Barbu and Crafleux were two Prussian officers, escaped from a toy-shop,
and carefully wound up before they were let loose from Germany. They
always arrived side by side, with the same automatic stride, the one
tall, thin, and--bearded; the other short, stout, and--_crafleux_. I
must explain that _crafleux_ in the popular speech of Laon means a
misbegotten, rickety creature. The name was not well chosen, for the man
was solid, though ugly; but his round, clean-shaven face, his pig's eyes
sunk deep behind white lashes, well earned him the nickname. And Barbu
himself was no Adonis. He had a small head, with regular features, a
pointed beard, an aurified smile, cheeks seamed with scars. His style of
beauty is not that which I commend. But what matters the want of good
looks? Barbu and Crafleux revealed to us beautiful souls; they were two
model Prussians.

One morning, then, the village constable brought in a smart sergeant,
who seemed to have been taken out of a bandbox. All bows and smiles, the
young man asked for rooms, and we dared not refuse him. The contest with
Herr Mayor had been a warning to us.

"This will do," he said, entering Geneviève's room, "and this," passing
on to Yvonne's and Colette's. He withdrew, still with a smile on his
face, giving us full liberty to prepare the rooms and to rail as we
chose.

"Alas!" groaned Geneviève. "Never again shall I like my room, after I
have seen a Prussian loll on my bed."

"To begin with," I said, "you won't see him. And secondly, I have a just
and clear conception of a Prussian's method of repose. He stretches
himself out as if he were on duty, and his head on the pillow is
carefully adorned with a helmet. He is just as proper to look upon as
his photograph would be, taken after a review."

We hung tasteless chromolithographs in the place of pretty
water-colours; we took away all the books, the knick-knacks, and the
papers. Here and there Colette pinned up peacock's feathers--"to bring
them ill-luck," she said. Then both rooms waited with a grim air for the
unwelcome guests. Presently the orderlies came in, brought heaps of
baggage, got everything ready for their masters, and withdrew. An
indiscreet curiosity prompted us to take an inventory of the riches
deposited with us. Yvonne and Colette spat, like two angry cats.

"Look here! Isn't it a shame? For a single man, two boxes! five bags!
portmanteaux! Well, if he wants so much to go and fight...." Crafleux
was more modest, but Barbu had certainly imported a whole dressing-room
from Germany. The day after his arrival he showed off heaps of small
brushes in small boxes, small creams in small pots, small scents in
small bottles, and photographs and photographic apparatus, electric
lamps and re-fills for these lamps, sporting guns and india-rubber
cushions, soft blankets and uniforms without number. But he was chiefly
remarkable for his befrogged pyjamas of sky blue or Chinese flesh
colour! The sight of him must have been affecting when he had on his
helmet by way of nightcap! So Barbu and Crafleux installed themselves
downstairs, and we upstairs. Yvonne settled down in a tiny attic, and
Colette slept on a couch in Antoinette's room. I gave Geneviève a share
of my own bed in the room which already sheltered the youthful Pierrot.
We were not very comfortable, and what was worse, we suffered from the
cold. This requires an explanation. Some time ago a direful rumour had
spread about: "They have requisitioned a great number of mattresses in
Vivaise." Now Vivaise is a village not far from Morny. "You may be sure
they will do the same here," said the well-informed. And so, in all
houses, the beds were only half as high as before; and he was cunning
indeed who could say what had become of the missing part. We, for
instance, have plenty of mattresses: large, soft, elastic mattresses
which would make you wish to be ill and keep your bed--and should the
enemy of France rest upon them? That shall never be, we declared. By the
unanimous exertion of the whole family, climbing, pulling, pushing,
toiling, we succeeded in hoisting up most of these useful objects, and
hiding them in the loft under the roof. Every bed was left with one
only. When Barbu and Crafleux intruded themselves into the house, we
were hard put to it. One of us made shift with a palliasse, while
Geneviève and I slept on a hair mattress. This plan is not to be
recommended unless you choose to mortify your flesh, or to copy the
fakirs of India. We could have put up with our uncomfortable bedding if,
to add to our misfortune, the cold had not seized upon us. Our present
guests laid their hands upon heaps of blankets, their predecessors had
stolen two, and so we had just enough, and nothing to spare.

We went to sleep as straight as arrows, one on each side of the bed; we
woke up in the morning twisted into knots, one against the other, like
two shivering cats. Despair drove Yvonne from one extreme to the other;
either she lay half-smothered with heat under an enormous eider-down, or
benumbed with cold under a thin cotton blanket. The authors of our
hardships tasted the honey-dew of sleep upon beds of down; they knew not
that threatening fists were shaken at them upstairs, and that bitter
invectives vowed them to execration. Yet I think that when logs
unexpectedly tumbled down, and pieces of furniture joined the dance,
they gave a start and felt uneasy. But on the whole, as quiet as
Vert-Vert at the Visitandines, they led a happy life, got up between
nine and ten, saw about their convoy, fed well at the village inn, often
went shooting, or, if they had a mind, drove out to Laon, came back home
to rest a while and dress for dinner, and then about ten, eleven, or
midnight, got back into their rooms and their comfortable beds.

I hinted that war, conducted in this fashion, was not disagreeable.
Barbu knew that I was laughing at them.

"But our comrades ... who are fighting...."

"Do not lead such a pleasant life ... I am sure of it."

"And I think ... French convoys take their ease too."

"Well, I hope so."

But really, Barbu, it was only right that you should live in comfort,
for none knew better than you how to appreciate it!

One day, going in to return a newspaper he had lent me, I surprised this
lover of comforts seated in an arm-chair, his feet on the fender, his
head resting on a cushion, his back on another, a book in his hand, a
lamp behind him. He looked a perfect picture of self-satisfaction. But
such delights cannot last for ever. "The present convoys are going to
the front," some people said. Do you hear, Barbu? You will go to the
front. You will change your carpet for the mud of the trenches, your
pleasant fire for an icy fog, the studious light of your lamp for the
red glare of the shells! You will go to the front!

They did not go to the front. They were to pass one or two nights in
our house, and they stayed a month!

The village groaned under the reign of the invaders. Every morning the
housewives on their way to the baker poured out their complaints.

"Have yours decent manners?"

"Oh, mine are very hard to please!"

And the gossips began to tell their grievances, for many of these
undesirable guests were in truth very hard to please, and their manners
were detestable. They wiped their filthy boots on the beds and
arm-chairs, deluged the carpets and floors with water; they burnt the
furniture and linen with their cigars. They came back very late at
night, generally tipsy, went to the kitchen, searched the larder and
sideboard, and cooked an extra meal with the stolen goods. The mistress
of the house deemed herself very happy when she was not aroused from a
well-earned sleep and ordered to go and rattle about saucepans and
kitchen ranges. Of course, Barbu and Crafleux would have repudiated such
methods with disgust. Barbu and Crafleux piqued themselves on their
gentlemanly manners. Barbu and Crafleux were two model Prussians.

For truth's sake I must admit that occasionally they came home after
midnight amiably drunk, and--I am a credible witness--danced a jig in
the yard. But these are venial sins, and our watch-dogs themselves, who
from the first day had been hand in glove with the officers, looked
indulgently upon such gambols. Gracieuse was even accused of cherishing
a guilty passion for Crafleux, having once been discovered, curled into
a ball, upon the bed of the gentleman aforesaid-a most improper act for
a lady dog brought up never to enter the house. Another fault was
ascribed to Barbu. On the officers' arrival, we had held a secret
meeting to discuss the question of lights. At length we decided to give
one candle to each man, having laid by a box in case of emergency.
The next morning we discovered a scandal unheard of. Barbu ... his
candle ... a virgin candle, a white, shapely candle! The criminal had
burnt it up in a single night! A huge candle which in the present state
of things was worth its weight in gold! A few waxen tears, still hanging
to the socket, bore witness to the poor thing's death. We put in its
stead a dumpy one, whose loss we should not feel so deeply, and after
that he must provide others for himself. He must provide his firing
also. As a matter of fact he did. One day the officers demanded fires in
their rooms.

"Very well, the charwoman will look after it. But ... fuel runs short."

Barbu wrote at once a note of hand, gave it to the smart bustling
sergeant, and the day after ten sacks of coal were brought and
discharged in the coach-house. We gazed at the black heap with envious
eyes, for we used to do our cooking and warm our rooms with a poor
faggot of wood.

The officers very well knew that we lacked all kinds of stores, and
Barbu asked me once in a roundabout way if they might offer us some
petroleum and sugar.

"We have just received an abundant supply," he said, "and shall be
enchanted if you will make use of them."

This was worthy of reflection. We answered at last that we would
gratefully take their proffered goods, on condition that we might pay
for them.

My sisters-in-law made a great outcry against this proposal.

"Never," said they, "will we receive presents from Prussians!"

"Gently," I replied. "To begin with, we pay in cash for their
'presents'; then our hospitality, forced as it is, is worthy of some
recompense. And, indeed, it is ridiculous to speak of 'their'
merchandise. Is it not stolen goods? Does it not come from our bonded
warehouses and stores? Besides, is it not a good deed to help in
exhausting their provisions?"

So petroleum and sugar, flanked with coffee and rice, reappeared in the
house, and were highly appreciated by all, in spite of their Teutonic
origin.

But when the officers carried kindness so far as to offer us a hare of
their own shooting, they embarrassed us sorely. Though we were not
tempted to accept the gift, we thought a denial would offend our
dangerous guests.

"We have too many," Barbu said artlessly; "yesterday we have shot a
roebuck, seven hares, and twelve partridges in the wood of Bucy."

In our own wood! Very well, we accept the hare; it will not pay for the
rent of the shooting, so we feasted upon jugged hare, and found the very
French flavour much to our taste.

Barbu and Crafleux were two model Prussians. I do not unsay it. I even
think I have proved it. But a Prussian is always a Prussian, and the
best of the brood will never understand certain things.

"Is your piano dumb?" asked Barbu one day.

A few dances might have cheered up the house, he thought, and the roar
of the guns and the clatter of German feet in the street would have
been the best possible accompaniment. Another day, this same Barbu--to
tell the truth he talked to me with his pipe in his mouth, but you
cannot expect much from men brought up in Heidelberg--this same Barbu
asked me if I would not go for a drive to Laon with him and some
fellow-officers.

"It will be a good opportunity for shopping," he said. "No? The other
ladies will not either? Last week I dared not ask you, our carriage was
too modest, but to-day we have one of the Prince of Monaco's coaches."

Barbu still wonders why we refused. Then something still better
happened. When the officers had settled themselves in our house, we made
up our minds that the Germans should not catch sight of us in the
passage, and the order was given, "Disappear"; and the Germans never saw
the pretty faces which swarmed about us. But since I am a married woman
and proficient in German--my mother-in-law does not understand a word of
it--I had been appointed spokeswoman to the officers in case of need.

But one day I suppose the intruders caught sight of a golden head in
flight, and Barbu asked me:

"There are young girls in the house?"

"Yes, my four sisters-in-law."

"Really, we had not the least idea of it."

The next day I happened to go into the drawing-room. The blinds were
down, and the door was open into the passage. An unaccustomed object was
lying on the table. Bless me, it was a box of chocolates! Delicious
sweets, no doubt of it! And on the cover Barbu had written in his
neatest hand and best French, "Sacrifice to the invisible spirits."
Every one came and contemplated the gift and the autograph with
laughter. Then we allowed the poor chocolates to get damp in the dimly
lighted room. They disappeared three weeks after as mysteriously as they
had come, the day of "our Prussians'" departure. May they lie lightly on
Barbu's stomach!

At last the convoy left Morny. On the morning on which they were to
start Barbu plunged us into an ocean of perplexities by asking us:

"You do not mind my taking a few snapshots of your house, do you?"

"Certainly ... not, sir."

"I should be very happy if one or two of the young ladies consented to
sit at a window."

And nobody had prompted him in that! In vain I objected that the hour
was early, and that my sisters-in-law got up very late.

"Oh, it does not matter," said he. "We will wait for them. Ask the
ladies to get ready, and we will come back in half an hour."

Think how nice it would be in a year or two in Berlin, or Leipzig, or
Heidelberg, to show a few photographs! "Here are a few souvenirs of our
victorious stay in France! In that house we led a very happy life. The
young ladies whom you see were reluctant hostesses, but the French,
breathing revenge, were obliged to welcome us!"

The whole family was in a fury of anger.

"Of course, it is out of the question to comply with all the wishes of
these wretched Prussians!"

Two days before Barbu had invited his brothers-in-arms to dinner. Upon
this occasion he asked us for a table-cloth, a large table-cloth.

We took out of its dark hiding-place a damask cloth and eighteen
napkins.

"Is that what you want, sir?"

"We wish vases also."

"Will these do?"

"And we desire flowers."

"Take some asters from the garden."

And then:

"May I take a photograph of your house?"

"Sir, I cannot prevent you."

"Will you put a smiling face at the window?"

No, no, a truce to jesting. Give him a flat denial. But how? On taking
leave the Germans would certainly try to shake hands with us, that is
their way, and we were determined not to shake theirs. Would they take
it amiss?

More than once it had proved hazardous to irritate these dangerous
guests. Mme. Valbot in Lierval saw her house plundered. Why? She had
refused to sew on a button for the officer who lodged in her house.

Old Vadois, the confectioner in Laon, was listening to the tales of "his
Prussian."

"The people are not kind enough to the soldiers," the officer said. "The
French are better received in Alsace-Lorraine than we are here."

"So the French are in Alsace-Lorraine!" the old man cried out, with a
blissful look.

"Soldiers, take this man into custody, he speaks ill of the Germans,"
roared the officer. And they threw the poor wretch into a dungeon, where
he slept on straw.

Our neighbour Polinchard, who is something of a simpleton, was pruning
his pear-trees one day, when he saw his enforced boarders making
fruitless endeavours to open a fastened door.

"Not through this one," he cried, waving them back with a motion of his
pruning knife, and pointing to the usual entrance.

"What now!" cried the soldiers. "He threatens us! He threatens Germans!
Away with him to prison!"

The culprit was condemned to two months. That is why, on reflection, we
hesitated to offend Barbu and Crafleux. They had been kind, well-behaved
men, certainly, but in the village they were looked upon as haughty,
violent, and hard-hearted.

"What will Barbu say," we wondered, "if, when he holds out his large
paws, we put our hands behind our backs? Will he send us to prison, and
put us on bread and water? Will he fasten us to the stirrups of his
horse and drag us to Laon all six in a line? or will he give some such
order as this to the commandant of the village: 'Should an opportunity
come, billet fifty men on these people'?"

A pleasant prospect! The moment was critical. I made up my mind to
brazen it out. There is always--I had quite forgotten this--a chord, or
rather a cable, in all German hearts, and this chord or cable is
sentiment. Let us, then, proceed by sentiment.

I advance. My countenance is that of an angel; my eyes are full of
melancholy, my voice is honey-sweet, my hair ... no, it is not
dishevelled, or at least only morally dishevelled. I began to talk. Of
course my mother-in-law had no objection to their taking photographs of
the house. But they would permit us not to appear at the windows. The
gentlemen would understand our feelings. They were men of heart and
intelligence. They had been very kind to us, and we were very grateful
to them, but ... I became animated. "But we are at war with you ... we
cannot help seeing in you the invaders of our country, and I am sure you
are aware that certain things are painful to us! You know how hard it
would be to your wives and sisters to receive strangers. You cannot
wonder at our dealing with you as with adversaries. And I must tell you
that every time I see you I think with an inward thrill of terror, 'This
man may kill my husband.'"

I had done. I wept with emotion. Crafleux was gazing at his boots with a
shake of his head. Tears stood in Barbu's eyes, and through this
sentimental haze he saw his wife receiving French soldiers. As to
myself, I felt I would soon have to blow my nose. My mother-in-law
beheld the scene in silence, waiting to know the effect of my harangue.
It proved effectual.

"Madam, believe me, we understand and respect your feelings. We have now
only to thank you for your hospitality, and to assure you we shall
always remember it."

They bowed themselves out of the room, bowed again from the threshold,
bowed again in the yard. We heard the gate close behind them, a silence
while they took a few snapshots, and then the rolling away of their
carriage.

They were gone! Gone for ever! And no hindrances had stood in the way!
They had gone leaving behind six sacks of coal.... They had gone even
leaving a letter of recommendation for the officers who would take their
place!

God forbid I shall ever revile the memory of Barbu and Crafleux!



CHAPTER VII


After the convoy's departure Morny was empty. The only Prussians left
were those who held the lines of communication and a few soldiers at the
sugar factory. We walked abroad without meeting the enemy at every turn;
in brief, we felt at home again. We were all like people crushed by a
landslip, who recover their breath, and take on again their former shape
as the earth disappears which overwhelmed them. But, alas, it was out of
the question to forget the past! Empty barns, stables, and poultry-yards
deprived of their inhabitants bore witness to the passage of the
scourge.

Other things also proved that the wind was blowing from the east, whence
came the all-devouring grasshoppers.

One morning, as I came back from a quest after milk, I stood still,
struck with amazement, and followed the example of the dairy-woman in
the fable. I looked at the village steeple, and could make nothing of
the time it proclaimed to the four points of the compass. Old Tassin
happened to pass by.

"Well, Mme. Valaine," said he, "what do you make of this? It is German
time up there. We are Prussians now!"

I lifted up my eyes to the sky, and, seeing the sun, felt easier in my
mind. No change there; it was eight, not nine o'clock. Yet they had made
fruitless attempts to set the sun by the German time I was sure. That is
why I saw officers cast reproachful looks at the sun, which dared tell
the French time in a territory occupied by Germans! That was playing
them false. That was treason, and the sun would rue it bitterly.

A certain regiment, passing through Morny, chanced to trust to the
village clock, and did not reach its goal at the appointed time. The
delay was the cause of a failure, which put some big-wigs with helmets
on into a rage. In short, the village constable was ordered to put the
machine right, the German time being the only right time under the sun.

However, the departure of our guests set us at ease, and the whole
village along with us. As the village might not revictual itself
officially, it revictualled itself by fraud, and as much as possible.
Now there lives in Morny a sympathetic drunkard named Durand. Fond of
quarrelling as he is in his cups, when in a sober state he is a good,
kindly soul. He had been invalided, because his hands were twisted by
gout, and this infirmity rendered him equally unfit for the work of the
fields; so he became a tradesman. He deals usually in rabbit-skins,
scrap-iron, and rags. His business and stock-in-trade consist of a box
set up on two wheels, and drawn by a good-natured yellow dog. Scrap-iron
may hide a good many things, and with a view to present circumstances
our friend contrived to extend his import trade. Far from me to hint
that Durand, in ordinary times, snaps his fingers at the gendarmes and
laughs at the laws, practices as common in our border departments as
unseemly everywhere. But he improvised with the war a wonderful cunning,
thanks to which he smuggled all sorts of necessary things into Morny,
under the Germans' very eyes. In his surprise packet were concealed
butter, grease, chocolate, sugar, to say nothing of candles. The
housewives scrambled for the provisions, which rose almost to the usual
level. The weary dog put out his tongue and laughed, for he knew well
that we were getting the better of the Germans.

He was not the only one to laugh. The peasants, too, laughed in their
sleeves when they saw the Germans stock still in "the mountains." At the
first moment of invasion, the people were struck with dismay. The
arrogant enemy, sure of victory, seemed to meet with no obstacles.
"Handsome men, well armed and equipped. Ah, there is no reason to laugh
at them!" said the old women. They thought the situation hopeless. But
now it was whispered about, "They won't pass 'the mountains'; they won't
cross the Aisne." At this conviction their hearts rose, which yesterday
had been filled with bitterness. Evidently the invaders had been
stopped; they knew not how, but the fact remained.

One morning I encountered a knot of gossips in the street. They talked
of a new attack on Soissons. Mme. Tassin assured us that William had
said they must pass, and pass they must. Without stopping in my walk, I
interjected: "And General Pau said that they won't pass, and pass they
won't." It was reported that a French prisoner had spoken these words in
Laon. Whether General Pau had really expressed himself thus I don't
know. But the Germans gained no more ground; we were sure of that; but
it was no less certain that we were caught in a trap, that we could not
stir a limb. We had good hopes the trial would not last long. All the
same the situation could not be helped, and we resolved to accept it.
In the village, things were going tolerably. While the baker's wife,
gallant soul, made her bread, the work of the fields progressed slowly.
They left the beetroots as long as possible in the earth, expecting that
"our French" would come back before the harvest, which was superb. At
length they had to submit to fate and bury the precious roots in vast
silos. With us the days crawled by like centuries. It is true that the
housekeeping entirely rested with us; it was no use looking for help in
the village; women who had not a good many children to look after were
working out in the fields. Only Mme. Tassin consented from time to time
to come and help us. But how many hours, what long evenings, remained to
fill for six women shut up in a house! What, indeed, can you do at home
but dream if you are a hare, and sew if you are a woman? We sewed.

After Barbu's stay a little petroleum was left, which we used with
miserly care. At dinner we contented ourselves with a night-light, and
when we worked only our heads were allowed to come within the circuit of
the lamp.

We made sets of baby-linen for poor little ones who took it into their
heads to be born into the world, when their fathers had gone off to the
war, and had left larder and purse at home empty. We competed with one
another in the making of caps and shirts. Yvonne is amazingly clever,
and when she has a mind to sew works no end of wonders in a trice. Our
ambition increased with success. We fashioned web-like laces, and our
embroidery might have aroused the jealousy of the fairies. Generally we
kept silence. Sighs frequently answered the guns, and if we talked we
poured out plaints of pity for those who fought, or called up
remembrances of happier days.

"Just think, there are people who get letters!"

We moaned at the thought of our deprivation.

"Lucky people! They know if their relations are dead or alive."

"At this very moment there are some who read the papers!"

"Oh, rage! oh, despair! oh, hostile blockade!"

"And there are some people who know the truth! When shall we see a
newspaper again?"

"At this very moment some are enjoying ... nice things to eat!"

"Oh, for a tea at Rumpelmayer's!"

"Oh, for chocolates from Pihan!"

Such memories did but sharpen the thorn of our hunger. And yet we had
not lost all the pleasures of life. For instance, do you suppose we had
given up having tea in the afternoon? By no means. It is highly
important that women should swallow something good and hot about five
o'clock. Simple toast was the only dainty we allowed ourselves.
Well-buttered toast with a well-sugared cup of tea is not to be
despised. Hold! Toast, yes, but no butter! The little we had was
jealously salted and reserved for cooking. And tea? Do you think tea a
native of the department of the Aisne? Tea was no more to be had. Sugar
was so scarce that we never ate a single lump without a family council
to decide whether it was the proper moment. Fortunately I found a recipe
of my grandmother's at the bottom of my reticule. I requisitioned all
the licorice in Morny. Mme. Lantois' walnut-tree provided us at little
cost with a basketful of green shining leaves. Walnut leaves are like
good women: in the long run they may lose their beauty, but they retain
their virtue. These leaves then, boiled with licorice, gave us a
delicious drink all the winter, which had nothing in common with the
pale decoctions we nowadays moisten our throats with at the end of a
dinner-party. I had been careful to say negligently: "This tea is
excellent for the complexion. Regularly taken, it would greatly improve
the skin, and give it a matchless bloom."

No one ever missed the afternoon tea. This ceremony, indeed, was often
transformed into a great patriotic meeting, vibrating with despair and
lamentations, or with enthusiasm and hope, according to the news of the
day. For news we had, though I said we got none, and it was commented
upon with passion. Our news of course was all unofficial, and evil or
good rode fast. It spread throughout the country; it floated in the air;
it came from every quarter. When I left Mme. Lantois' dairy with a can
full of milk, my pocket was also full of news; likewise if we went to
the baker, or if we called on M. Lonet.

The initiated came back in a hurry, called the whole family to gather
round, and feverishly told the news. We ended by putting a bell in the
dining-room, known as "the war bell." If one of us heard anything fresh,
she rushed into the room and frantically rang the bell. From the garden,
the attic, the bedrooms we flocked, allured by the hope of good tidings.

"What has happened? What is going on?"

Marvellous things always happened.

Periodically--at least twice a month--neighbouring towns were retaken by
the French.

"You know, that cannonade ... so violent ... simply meant that our
soldiers recovered St. Quentin."

Noyon also was reconquered I do not know how many times, and La Fère
retaken with bayonets. Once the news really seemed worthy of belief. The
Germans had put it up in Laon: "La Fère has been in a cowardly manner
retaken by the French." We thought it true. Really, now, who would make
up such an adjective? The Germans had certainly used it. On inquiry it
was found that the adjective, like the news, had been invented, and the
bill had never existed at all. Glorious feats were just as frequent on
the front near us.

"The Route des Dames ... you know?... The French have held it since
yesterday. And to-night they have carried the village of Ailles."

"Really, I thought they took it last week."

"Last week it was a false report; to-day the thing is certain."

And the Allies! Think how they worked!

"Seventy thousand Russians have just landed at Antwerp. The English are
shelling Hamburg. Our Northern army is advancing, yes, it is...;
deliverance will come from the North."

Ah, the secret of making legends is not lost! Popular imagination
invents hundreds of them. But nowadays they cannot live long. Books and
newspapers cut their wings as soon as they are hatched, and the poor
things flutter an instant, and then die. But imagine a corner of a
country like ours, perfectly isolated from the rest of the world for
some ten years, and deprived of all news, all writings; suppose the
peasants should be questioned long after upon the events of the present
war, from their statements you might compose the most beautiful epic
poem ever heard. As in the good old time, its title would be, "The
Gestes of the French by the Grace of God."

Frenchmen, my brothers, I know you were splendid. You fought like lions,
like the heroes that you are. Your glorious feats are too numerous to be
counted. It was our despair not to know them. But, in revenge, we
invented feats for you, fresh ones every day. Once, for instance, the
French, masters of the stone-quarries of Paissy, made good use of a
secret passage, and leaping unexpectedly from out of the ground, flick,
flack, flick, spread death and dismay among the Germans; then, like
jacks-in-the-box, they disappeared as if by magic. Struck with
consternation, the Germans would have thought themselves dreaming had
not too many proofs testified to the reality of the brief apparition.
And what do you think of the _chasseurs à pied_ who, behind a hedge at
Malva, planted a forest of poles with a cap on the top of every one, and
then, when the enemy with loud cries were in the very act of rushing
upon this trap, shot them down to the very last man?

And don't let us forget the Africans. Ten negroes from Senegal--you
understand, ten--sprang out of their trenches on a night as black as
ink--of course we did not know whether negroes were or were not in the
trenches--noiselessly crept along the ground through brushwood and
darkness, and shouting their war-cry bounded forward into the village of
Chamouille. Panic-stricken, the German soldiers fled, while the
officers--seventeen in number--not one more, not one less--let the
Africans cut their throats like so many lambs. The ten negroes lay down
once more, flat on their faces, and crawling along on their hands and
knees, went back to their trenches without a tassel missing from their
caps, without a rent dishonouring their large breeches. These anecdotes
were our daily bread. Innumerable were the villages taken by surprise,
the convoys seized, the batteries triumphantly brought in. We were
always breathless; every one of us lent a half-sceptical ear to
everything that was said, and tried to detect a little truth among all
this fiction. Who invented or transformed the news? It was difficult to
know. Many a time Mr. Nobody-knows-who had confided it to Mrs.
So-and-So, who told it to Mr. Everybody. But generally the information
came from the best sources. If M. H., the Mayor of Laon, had really said
all that was ascribed to him, he had done nothing else but commit the
secrets of our army to the office-porter or the fruiterer over the way.
On the other hand, it is hard to conceive how many secrets our
countrymen extracted from their German guests. Speaking of the officers
to whom they gave hospitality they assumed a mysterious air, and hinted
that, walking delicately, they had elicited from them avowals as
mortifying for their pride as encouraging for us.

But there was another origin, quite modern, for the news no one wanted
to take upon himself. It was no difficult riddle. The news came from
Heaven. Aviators dropped it. Letters had been picked up here and there,
said rumour; some of them were evidently home-made, and were but laughed
at--this one, for instance: "Friends, take courage; reinforcements are
coming." A touching contrivance of some ingenious liar to cheer up his
neighbours!

Other messages, written in a kind of official style, were so precise
that they seemed worthy of attention; and one of them, known throughout
the country as the message of Magny, was for a long time looked upon as
authentic by the most competent judges. Oh, we were very credulous, and
you laugh at us, all of you, who read the papers every morning at your
breakfast. We were so cruelly crushed by the invaders, so uneasy at
hearing nothing, so eager for news which might have been bones for our
anxiety to gnaw that we greedily snatched at all the falsehoods we came
across, and found our mouths a minute after full of sand.

Was there no means of encouraging us? Floods of sentimental ink were
wasted elsewhere upon our fate, but the smallest drop spilt in the
Vernandois or the Laonnois would have done us more good.

We had not deserved thus to be forsaken, for we were admirable. I
maintain, laying aside all useless modesty, I maintain that we were
admirable. Our persons and properties had been given up as hostages. A
line was chalked out on the map; it was the part to be sacrificed. In
this part we were shut up, bodies and souls, with no possibility of
shaking ourselves free. We not only suffered it to be so; we agreed to
the bargain; we resigned ourselves to hunger, misfortune, oppression. We
submitted to see our houses plundered, our forests levelled with the
ground, our lands destroyed, so that the rest of the country might be
safe, the metropolis undamaged, that France herself might be free to
recover her power and to prepare her vengeance. Exposed to violence,
requisitions, even to reprisals, we did not give way; we wished for
victory, never for peace; we thought of France, not of ourselves. But
what unbearable pangs did we bear! We laboured under "the hope deferred
that maketh the heart sick," as the Bible says. Sometimes we seemed to
think the burden too heavy for our strength and impossible to be borne
any longer. What became of us when, in the last days of October, the
Germans arrogantly announced that they had won a victory at Soissons,
that they had broken through, and that they were going on to Paris...?
"Parisse!... Parisse!..."

We were heart-broken by it, sunk in desolation, and when thereupon came
the welcome message of Magny, full of excellent things, although
scandalously false, should we not have believed it true? Rather than not
to have believed it, we should have framed and hung a copy in every
house!

The message of Magny made its appearance on All Saints' Day. On coming
back from the cemetery we watched the shelling of a French aeroplane,
which laughed at its assailant, and the smoke of the shells was like
small round balls gilt by the sun. The cannon rolled furiously in the
direction of Noyon, and we thought: "If they have passed, it is not over
there."

In the village we heard the good news that every one whispered in his
neighbour's ear: "They haven't passed; on the contrary, they have been
soundly beaten at Vailly. Besides, aviators have dropped a letter near
Magny, copies of which are passing from hand to hand."

They have not passed! They have been beaten! Oh, joy! how lovely is the
day! And how near is the Capitol to the Tarpeian Rock! Yesterday we lay
on the ground broken with the shock; to-day, lively and drunk with joy,
we rush with a bound towards the regions of trust and hope!

Our best source of news was Mme. Lantois'. The kitchen of the farm is a
large, gay, bright room, whose painted walls, black and white flags,
glittering copper saucepans, and cages full of song-birds, are pleasant
to the eye. A select society was to be met there about five in the
evening. To find a seat you had to disturb one of the cats which lay
enthroned on all free chairs. To upset a cat is high treason. To remain
standing would have looked uncivil. I used to get out of the scrape by
taking on my lap Gros-Blanc, Yé-Yé, or Belle-Limace, who seemed to
approve of this arrangement.

All tongues were let loose.

First, we exchanged and commented upon the news of the day. What
troops--infantry, cavalry, artillery--had been seen in Morny and its
neighbourhood, whether there were many of them and which direction they
took, whether the trains were loaded with soldiers or ammunition--these
were the questions asked and answered. Then we were told what wounded
soldiers and prisoners had been brought to Laon, and heard what
motor-cars had traversed the village. Twice the Emperor himself was seen
within our gates in an iron-plated car, preceded and followed by two
cars occupied by soldiers armed to the teeth. Upon this occasion the
Prussians of the village posted on both sides of the road had bawled
themselves hoarse to such a degree that they had been obliged to run to
the next cellar in order to moisten their gullets. Hundreds of pairs of
eyes, moreover, had watched the sky and discovered aeroplanes--English
or French--which had been fired at by such and such a battery. The
German flying machines had been disporting themselves here or there. The
captive balloon--"William's sausage"--had perched above certain points.
How many of us had, the night before, observed the signals that came
from Laon or glittered in the "mountains"?

The ears had just as much to do as the eyes. Guns had been fired from
this quarter and that, German cannon or French, ordnance or fieldpiece.
In one direction a mine had been fired. In fine weather we heard the
sound of rifles or the crackling of mitrailleuses. One stormy day the
workmen declared that they had heard the French bugles sound for a
charge. What a fine harvest of news we gathered every evening! What
would we not have given to be able to hand it on to those who might have
turned it to good account! When we had gone all over it again there
followed a warmly conducted debate; we drew conclusions as to the
successes or reverses each side had met with, or as to the positions
they occupied.

But as it is impossible always to be discussing strategy, and as we
could talk only of the war, we fell to telling stories. And many of them
touched upon our general flight before the Germans and its failure.

M. and Mme. Lantois, with their son René, a big lad of eighteen, had
tried to run away too--not, like ourselves, on foot, but in a cart drawn
by two stout horses. The prudent hands of the farmer's wife had heaped
up in the bottom of the vehicle two sacks of flour, a keg of wine, a
barrel of salt pork, two hundred eggs, and even thirty bottles of
petroleum. No matter whither they would have to go, they were thus
prepared for any events. The first hours all went well, but near
Nouvion-le-Vineux the fugitives were overtaken by the French army. They
were ordered to draw up on the roadside and wait. Night fell. The
soldiers kept on advancing. A cannon happened to break down and got
somewhat injured. So the weary farmer went to sleep leaning against a
post, while his wife, lantern in hand, gave a light to the poor gunners,
who, cursing and swearing, did their best to mend the damaged wheel. The
stream of men flowed on uninterruptedly till the morning. The good
people, who had kept out of the way all this time, thought the moment
propitious to resume their journey. They put the horses to, and were
about to move forward, when they were startled by a loud shout. Fresh
soldiers were advancing, and ... they were Prussians.

"I am sure," Mme. Lantois said, "that at this point they were not three
miles away from our rearguard."

Horses, cart, provisions, and even petroleum--ogres turn up their noses
at nothing--were swallowed in a mouthful. The three fugitives, despoiled
and abashed, came back on foot to Morny, all whose inhabitants returned
to their houses sheepish and downcast.

In other places the Germans were not even put to the trouble of
despoiling the people, who of their own free will sacrificed to the
new-comers. They mistook them for English soldiers. In Festieux, for
instance, not far from us, the urchins of the village cried out:

"The English are coming!"

And the peasants crowded about them. They had already stripped
themselves for the French, but all the same they were eager to welcome
the Allies. And they poured out wine and coffee, they offered fruit and
biscuits. The woman who told us this story, after she had shared a whole
pail of lemonade among "those poor boys who were so hot," went to the
tallest of the band, a man with gold lace, and, in a very loud voice so
that he might understand French the better, said to him:

"Well, as a reward, you will bring us William's head!"

The man spread out his face in a broad grin, and, wiping his mouth with
the back of his hand, answered:

"We no English, we Germans...."

Tableau!

This comical scene had its tragic side. In the same village were still
two French foot soldiers. A kindly soul ran to call them.

"Come quick, there are English soldiers here! We are all brothers."

Smiling, the soldiers came up.

"You idiots!" they cried, "they are Prussians!"

And, climbing upon a carriage which happened to stand there, they opened
fire upon the invaders.

The Germans replied, a refugee was wounded, the women screamed, all fled
and hid themselves. Of the two courageous soldiers, one, alas, was
killed, and the other taken prisoner.

More than once we heard accounts of the fighting from eye-witnesses.
M. and Mme. Robert, large landowners of Ailles, told us how their
village had been occupied by the enemy. Every day German patrols had
been seen in the place; but one morning the French came back. All fell
into raptures, kissed one another, marvelled at the return, dug up their
treasures, and kept the day as a feast. In the evening the youths of the
village went for a walk with the Zouaves, listening to the warriors'
tales, and the fiddler of the village played madly the sole tune that he
knew.

The next morning, about half-past five, Mme. Robert, looking out of the
window, said to her husband:

"Look, some one is trying to get in through the orchard gate."

In truth, some one was coming in. The Germans had arrived in great
numbers; they sprang up from all sides.

Our soldiers were ready. A close fight took place in the orchards, in
the gardens, in the barns, and chiefly in the big yard of the farm. At
the outset of the skirmish an officer had pushed the inhabitants into
the kitchen:

"Stay there, don't go out."

The defenders of the village had to fight against fearful odds, and yet
many Germans seemed to play their part reluctantly. Some of them took
refuge in the barns, and hid themselves to avoid the scuffle. Then a
captain came up, armed with a kind of whip, the leather thongs of which
were weighted with tiny leaden balls, and with this he vigorously lashed
his soldiers until they returned to the hottest of the fight. The
Zouaves fought like lions, but they were only 250 against an enemy ten
times superior in number, and in spite of their efforts at last gave
way. Another German officer, noticing civilians in a room, cried aloud
with anger, and shut them up in an empty cellar. For a long time the
prisoners heard the noise of the fight going on above their heads, and
little by little it became less violent, and then ceased completely.
Only the third day, in the morning, were the poor people taken out of
the cellar, half-dead with hunger and cold. M. and Mme. Robert were
still dressed as at the moment of the surprise, their naked feet light
slippered, he with a night-cap and white ducks on, she in a
morning-jacket and short petticoats. They were not even allowed to go in
for a minute to eat a bit of food and take clothes and money. It may be
supposed that the German soldiers, always thrifty, had safely put into
their pockets all that was worth stealing. Accompanied by soldiers, the
poor people had to go on foot to Laon, half-naked and starved.

"Going through Chamouille," said Mme. Robert, "I was so hungry that I
ate the potato peelings I found in the street."

In Laon, the prisoners were set at liberty, and they went to relations
of theirs, who did their best to comfort and clothe them.

"Such rich people, too!" concluded the scandalised narrator.

Discussions and stories were not the only things that allured me to the
farm. I had a secret there, the mystery of my life. I realised a dream
cherished since my girlhood--I learned to milk the cows. At nightfall I
jumped out of my window, fled to the warm stable, and there strove hard
to draw milk from Lolotte's distended udders. She was a splendid
large-horned cow, which has since been requisitioned so that her milk
might be reserved for his Excellency the General So-and-So. The good
animal mistook me for an awkward calf, and, looking at me with
commiseration, endeavoured to lick me tenderly. Oh, we acquired many
talents we never had dared to aspire to before the war. We sawed wood,
we dug in the garden. And everywhere it was the same; all tried to make
up with their imagination and their work for the many things that were
wanting. René Lantois contrived an excellent blacking with soot and wax.
Our neighbours grated and boiled their beetroots and so made treacle
that they used instead of sugar, while a grocer manufactured sweets
which were a great success among the urchins of the place. And the
forest saw more women cutting wood than ever it had seen men.

When we were dissatisfied with the local products, we went off to Laon.
I think that a longing for movement peculiar to all captive animals
chiefly drew us to such adventures.

Laon may be small and provincial, but while you are there it gives you
the impression of a town. You see tall houses, narrow streets, and
policemen just as you see them in a capital. Booksellers, chemists, and
dentists smile at you at every corner of the streets. These
institutions, which civilised people cannot do without, are scarcely to
be met in Morny. Therefore, and despite the uncertain times we lived in,
we rarely let a fortnight pass without organising an expedition to our
county town. Two or three of us went off, accompanied by the anxiety and
good wishes of the family, and returned home in triumph, bringing back
good news, balls of thread and worsted for our needles, and on lucky
days a few pounds of provisions.

Thus it was that Yvonne and I went once to Laon on foot--the only method
of travelling at our disposal--with our neighbour Mme. Lantois. Our
shopping done, we could not help going in the direction of the "Agence,"
a big building, a sort of agricultural Exchange, in which French
soldiers were being nursed. Of course we were forbidden to visit the
prisoners. But by good luck, two hundred and fifty of them were just
starting for Germany, and we had but to wait a moment for them. We saw
them go down the flight of steps, limping and looking piteous and ill.
They fell into line on the foot pavement. Oh, what sad happiness it was
to see once more their dear caps, their red trousers, their lively
faces, when we had met only wooden heads for nearly two months. Many
were too weak to stand, and they dropped on benches, or on the steps of
the staircase. A Turco sat down on the pavement with a far-away air.
"Mektoub!" As they were going away we wanted to get something to give
them. Not a shop was open save the chemist's over the way. We went in to
buy cough lozenges of all kinds. Owing to the circumstance the chemist
let his whole stock go at the lowest possible price, and his wife loaded
us with piles of handkerchiefs. So we divided our poor gifts right and
left. A big dark-haired lad felt the fine linen with pleasure.

"A handkerchief! Think, these last two months I never had one!"

Their guardians did not prevent us from talking to the prisoners, but
when they caught sight of an officer they sent us rudely away. Most of
the captives had been wounded and taken in the neighbourhood of Craonne,
Berry-au-Bac, and La Ville au Bois. They did not complain, said they had
been pretty well treated, but they were unanimous in adding:

"The English are most wretched; they are tormented in every possible
way."

Presently we saw the English prisoners get down the steps in their turn,
half a dozen big, thin men with worn countenances that moved our pity.

A stout German under-officer thought well to give us his opinion: "Here
are the English!" said he. "Look at their pigs' heads. They ought all to
be shot; not the French," he added, to be agreeable, "only the English."
We wanted the poor Tommies to have their share too. As I was threading
my way through the crowd and they were stretching out their hands, their
guardian, with a blow of his large claws, swept away the boxes of sweets
and put them into his pocket, amid the laughs of his comrades. It was
too late to make good the German's mischief, for the soldiers were
already moving forward. The less injured limped quickly away, a car
drove the others to the station, into which no civilian was allowed to
penetrate, and after many salutations we watched them go to captivity
with a sad heart.

Our visits to the county town were not all marked by such incidents. One
day, Yvonne was copying--in order not to lose a word--the official
reports, in which we read: German victory here, Prussian success there,
Austrian army advancing this way, English forces retreating in that one,
and, believing nothing of it, she burst out laughing as she traced the
news with her ironical pencil. A stern-looking sergeant came up and
announced:

"You not laugh, townspeople, all that true."

But we laughed all the same. Every one laughed at those reports, the
sincerity of which was doubtful, which appeared to us still more false
than they were, and which yet were the only threads which connected us
with the rest of the world.

Fortunately, the benevolent Germans resolved to keep us informed of
what going on, and published a weekly paper at Laon, the _Journal
de was Guerre_, which appeared for the first time in November. The
purpose of this publication, we were told, was to let the invaded
know the truth about the war. Oh! a German truth, of course, carefully
dressed up, for their self-respect prevents our enemy from showing
us unveiled so indiscreet a person as Truth. And the people laughed
more than ever. They laughed from Sissonne to La Fère, from Anizy
to Marle. I must say that the newspaper was--according to us, if not
to the authors--ludicrous both in matter and manner. It was written
in a language closely connected with the French. With a knowledge of
philology and some application you managed to make out even the
obscurest sentences. Thus, after a little practice, we succeeded in
reading the new idiom quite fluently, if we were still unable to
appreciate its niceties.

The first number of this precious periodical was a real poem. It was
addressed to "the high and chivalrous sentiments of the true French
nation." Its authors did not despair of explaining to the French nation
that its Government and its Allies had shamefully deceived it, and hoped
that it would soon see who was really responsible for the war, what
humane and disinterested part Germany had borne in the whole affair. In
another article peace was openly hinted at, and the author set forth the
advantages which France would get if she listened to reason, that is, if
she abandoned the Allies and sided with gentle Germany. And then,
forgetful of all reserve, the Germans added that, in case of peace, the
Government, far from requiring a contribution of war, would probably be
inclined to "build a bridge of gold to France"--what a good promise we
had there!--as Bismarck did in '66 to Austria. "It seemed weakness," the
profound politician added; "it was strength." If the learned members of
the German Universities had but attended a common school in France, they
would have learned that which our La Fontaine wrote: "If we force our
talent, we shall do nothing with grace." Maybe they had understood that
sweet manners are not congenial to their nature, that the voice of the
cannon alone suits their temper. We should not see them propose to
France with bows and smiles the fate of vassal that Austria had
accepted in '66. On the second page, the _Journal de Guerre_ magnified
the capture of Antwerp, and described its consequences in pompous
phrases. Then the author of a small and acid article concerning the
relations of France and Russia concluded with this sentence, as witty as
it is nicely turned:

"Varus, Varus, give me back my millions and my billions! If Russia
listens to that! It is very doubtful!" This is a literal translation.

Indeed, we laughed. Not a Homeric laugh, of course, stifled laughter
maybe, a tittering rather than a hearty laugh, a catching laugh which
the enemy might have happened to overhear, a real laugh all the same. We
should have felt doubly prisoners if we had not made fun of our jailers,
and to be prisoners only once was quite sufficient.

As we knew German, we fell upon the papers we came across and bitterly
enjoyed the high praises they bestowed on their high deeds. They
pleasantly jeered at the "parti-coloured army" of the Allies, at the
negroes who, according to them, "tremble with cold like a leaf tossed by
the wind," which, the Prussian libellers added, must produce a bad
effect in a battle.

A number of _Simplicissimus_ completed our edification. The proud
German Michael was represented spitting his seven foes on his mighty
sword. The Cossacks, bullying women and children, turn up the whites of
their eyes at the sight of a single Uhlan, and fall on their knees. In
Lorraine the German soldiers, by way of a change, leave off firing at
the French: "Let us keep a few of them to kill with bayonets," they say.
In conclusion, an Englishman helps his little Japanese monkey up the
noble oak-tree where the German eagle is perched: "Go on," he says, "try
to pluck some feathers from his tail."



CHAPTER VIII


The literature of the day, then, gave us little comfort. And every week
the _Journal de Guerre_ played the very same tune. Yet about the end of
November we read in its columns a proclamation from the General-Governor
of the place, which every one was bound to acknowledge interesting, if
not agreeable. This proclamation brought us the orders and prohibitions
of the almighty authorities.

"It is expressly forbidden to give assistance and shelter to French or
Allied soldiers. Owners of arms of all kinds, telegraphic and telephonic
apparatus, and bicycles, are ordered to bring them to the military
authorities.

"It is expressly forbidden to keep live pigeons of any breed.

"It is expressly forbidden to go without passport from one place to
another."

The tyrant who issued the orders concluded with these words:

"The population have nothing to dread as long as they submit to the laws
of war and comply with our orders."

With our orders! With this you may go far, and they went very far.

The general regulations did not concern us nearly. Unfortunately we
never met wounded or straggling French soldiers; we possessed neither
bicycles nor telephonic or telegraphic apparatus; we owned no pigeons
whatever, and we were content to assure our neighbours of our sympathy,
when, not without groanings and great sorrow, they slaughtered the
inhabitants of their dovecots. This massacre aimed at the suppression of
all carrier-pigeons, and in many farms the application had not waited
for the law. At Mme. Lantois', for instance, an under-officer and two
men had dropped in unawares, strangled and taken away as many pigeons as
they were able to carry.

"Don't take the big white ones," besought the farmer's wife.

Naturally, the Germans are too wise not to be suspicious; those French
people might be cunning enough to disguise their carriers as big white
feather-legged pigeons.

One night, old Leprince heard a noise in his out-house. Half undressed,
he hastened out, and met face to face four soldiers, who in broken but
energetic language ordered him back to his mattress. The old man watched
the intruders go away, went to his dovecot, and by the light of his
lantern saw the floor bespattered with blood and scattered all over with
pigeons' heads.

But after the proclamation the slaughter surpassed any previous raids.
It is easy to imagine the emotion that spread among the cooing tribe,
famous for their attachment to family sentiments and home life. How many
young ones just hatched were killed! How many loving couples severed
from one another! Bewildered, the poor things fled in bands throughout
the country, and made common cause with the crows, pecking corn in the
fields. If a Prussian happened to pass, he lifted his gun to his
shoulder and fired at the white birds. If the frightened flock sought
refuge on a roof: "The deuce take the pigeons!" the angry peasant cried
out; "am I going to pay 1500 francs because two dozen birds have
alighted on my house?" Then stones were thrown and off went the birds.
The order was explicit; for every pigeon saved, the owner was subject to
a fine of fifty francs. Therefore all dovecots were shut up, and no one
dared give asylum to the proscribed. The race of bicycles, also
persecuted, was equally bewildered. The helpful bowels of the earth
swallowed some of them; the mouth of a well engulfed a few others. Some
I know spent two months in a brook, and then let themselves fall to
little bits rather than serve the Germans. True patriots were the
bicycles. As to those which had not managed to escape the Germans'
attention, they were taken to the mayor's house, and clearly showed they
were out of temper by grating, creaking, gnashing the teeth of their
wheels and screws the whole way long. This did not prevent the invaders
from using them on the spot with great satisfaction.

Of the regulations as to passports we had a proof before letters, so to
say.

On a certain morning of November, Yvonne and Antoinette, attended by
Pierrot, went to Laon. For Yvonne a visit to the dentist was urgent;
Pierrot wanted a Latin grammar. About five in the evening we began to
feel uneasy. The night and the fog fell in concert, and the travellers
had not yet returned. At half-past five Mme. Valaine and I ventured out,
ready for anything, and at two miles' distance from the house we saw the
little group, walking along very fast, and with a candid air.

"Why, here you are! Frightened not to see us back? There was no reason
at all! Look, we have got the _Journal de Guerre_, a pound of
chocolate, and some sweets!"

We dined with a good appetite. Three days after we heard a loud ring of
the bell, and two German officers, attended by the Mayor, were shown in.

"The young ladies who lately were arrested at the level-crossing live
here, don't they?"

We looked at one another, struck with amazement. Yvonne and Antoinette
alone seemed to be acquainted with the circumstance, and modestly
acknowledged they were the young ladies in question.

"Well, they are to be at the Commander's office in Laon at two o'clock.
You need not be afraid, thanks to the Mayor, the affair is already
settled."

At two o'clock! It was now past twelve. There was not a minute to lose.
We were ready in an instant, and on the way to Laon the offenders told
the truth.

"Oh," they said to me, "we have been so frightened! You know, we did not
want to worry mother, but you can imagine that we ourselves were
terrified."

"We were already late," said Antoinette, "when at St. Marcel we
discovered that we had lost Colette's ring. We went back to the town,
found the jewel half-crushed, and hastened once more on the way home. It
was about half-past four, the night was rapidly falling when we got to
the level-crossing.

"'Passports!' we heard.

"'But we have none ... they have never been required.'

"'Then go back to Laon, you are not allowed to pass.'

"'Impossible! We have no house in Laon; my mother is expecting us at
Morny.'

"'Wait a minute,' said a voice, and, riding on a bicycle, an officer,
attended by two men, came out of the fog. We explained the whole thing
in our best German, for he did not speak French at all. He was
courteous, and seemed inclined to let us go, when he was struck by a
sudden idea:

"'Are you English?' he asked.

"Yvonne understood, 'Do you speak English?' and answered:

"'Yes.'

"'So, you are! Then you don't go. Come into the house.'

"The soldiers gathered round and looked curiously at us. One of them
carried a lantern, which made all faces red. Our hearts beat violently.

"'Sir, please let us go home. We are not English ... my sister mistook
your question.'

"You will explain this to me; come in first."

"The door was thrown open; I stood on the threshold, when Yvonne caught
my arm:

"'Don't go in, don't go in!'

"I looked around me. We were alone among these ten men, whose looks
seemed very strange to me. Around us nothing but the lonely fields, the
darkness, and the fog. In front of us a row of untidy beds; on a
broken-legged table a wretched lamp completed this picture of a
disreputable house.

"'Oh no, I pray you, let us go away; let us return to Laon.'

"'If you don't come in, and quickly, I will shoot you.'

"And the officer snatched up his revolver.

"Out of despair we went in, the ten men pushed us and rushed in after
us.

"'You pack off post haste,' the officer said.

"The soldiers disappeared, except one to guard the door.

"'Well, you were wise to come in,' said the officer, 'or I would have
ordered my men to fire at you.'

"To exemplify his officer's words, the facetious guard pointed his
revolver at us. Pierrot chose that very moment to shriek with terror:

"'Oh, I am so frightened, so frightened!'

"We were frightened too, I assure you; yet we did our best to comfort
the poor boy. I explained our case to our judge, and produced the
twisted ring, the cause of our being late.

"'We live in Morny, were born in Morny, our anxious family is waiting
there for us. Here are our papers; you see we are French students, and
not English.'

"At last the interrogation was at an end. Pierrot's tears were still
falling fast when the officer--a small, dark-haired, Roman-nosed
nervous-looking man, more like a Meridional than a German--allowed
himself to be convinced.

"'Well, I permit you to go on my own responsibility. It was a piece of
good luck you met me here, or you would not have reached your home.
Never go out at nightfall without a passport. Now go.'

"We had but waited for his permission, and were off as soon as it was
given. Pierrot trotted along, still shaken by his sobs.

"'Poor Pierrot, no more crying, it is all over. Take this chocolate. But
you know you are not going to tell tales. You may have one sweet more.
Don't say a word of what you have seen. Mme. Valaine might be worried
about it. Keep these cough lozenges, you will eat them to-morrow.'

"He took the bribe, and, consoled in his mind, promised not to open his
lips about the adventure. So we came back with our heads high, and
without a tremor in our voices."

"You throw off the mask now! You had not relied on the solicitude of the
Germans, who wanted to know if you had come home safely."

In Laon, the Mayor, red and merry, overflowing with fatness and
self-importance, told us simply that the thing was settled, as our
declarations had proved true. He was sorry we had been disturbed to no
purpose. And we too. To walk for three hours at full speed in order to
listen to such rubbish! I shall be believed if I say that ever since
then we never felt inclined to travel without passport, which, besides,
was soon afterwards strictly forbidden. The general regulations were
increased by rules peculiar to every village, differing slightly one
from another according to the local commandant. Those inflicted on Morny
seemed to us the most disagreeable. They saw the light one after the
other. At any time of the day you might meet the rural constable in the
street, his drum by his side, a scrap of paper in his hand. He looked
ashamed of his paltry function, being used by the military authorities
to announce to the world all kinds of nonsense.

"Order to stop all clocks and timepieces in all houses."

Why? Who will ever pierce the mysteries of a German brain?

The kitchens of the farms seemed empty when the pendulums which for ages
had animated the rustic oak clock-cases suddenly stopped, when in the
best bedrooms the shepherds and shepherdesses who adorned the
mantelpieces ceased their tick-tack. Yet in many a room a discreet
murmur survived, and the owner was ever on the look-out ready to stop
the unwonted noise if any search impended. Then came another commandant
who did not care for the order, and little by little the people made
their clocks go as before.

"Order to bring to the _Mairie_--now called Commandature--one lamp out
of every two."

A selection was made, the best lamps were hidden, and the rest given to
the invaders.

"It is forbidden to let dogs and _cats_ go out."

Poor pussy was astonished at the obstacles put in the way of her
nocturnal adventures, and it is said that every garden and field mouse
danced three times in honour of the German Emperor.

But what seemed to us more ridiculous than anything was the latter part
of this announcement:

"It is forbidden to let the dogs go out; it is forbidden to let them
bark."

Who indeed had invented this fantastic order? Some old grumbler maybe,
who was prevented from sleeping by a loquacious bulldog, and as we had
relapsed into feudalism, this temporary lord thought that nothing should
disturb him. I am surprised that he did not throw blame upon the frogs
in the neighbouring marshes. As our fathers, armed with poles, were wont
to beat the ditches by night, repeating, as they did it: "Peace, peace,
you frogs, let his Lordship sleep," so their sons of to-day might have
beaten the marshes, saying: "Peace, peace, you frogs, let his German
Lordship sleep."

Prevent the dogs from barking! Really, now, we did our best, and for a
few days, even for a few nights, we nearly reduced them to silence. In
our house, Gracieuse, a chatterbox by nature, had a great many
interviews with the cudgel, which worked well, and all about us the
nights were still. It was but the cannon's turn to speak. In vain, for
the moon appeared, white and round and fascinating. Her four-legged
admirers did not bay to her in chains. You may imagine the poor animals,
crouching down in their narrow kennels, fastened with too tight a chain
and too tight a collar, lying squat in the dark, and thinking with
terror of the new and inexplicable severity, or casting a sly look at
the whip or the broom which the master snatched up if any sound came
from their throats. This lasted about a fortnight. Then one evening a
pug-dog stirred up the others to mutiny by yelping furiously. The
shepherd-dogs followed, then the hounds. And the curs, plucking up
courage, made their deep bass heard, until at last, their muzzles lifted
towards the sky, their mouths distended from ear to ear, the whole
canine tribe began to bay the moon.

"It is forbidden to go out after five o'clock in the evening and before
six o'clock in the morning."

"It is forbidden to keep a light burning after eight o'clock in the
evening."

"How convenient it is!" moaned Mme. Lantois. "The dairymaid does not
live at the farm, and this will oblige us to milk the cows one hour
earlier in the morning, one hour later in the evening."

But the dispensers of orders did not mind putting the farmers out, and
every one had to submit. We consoled ourselves for imprisonment in our
houses for thirteen hours on end by thinking that in case of a nocturnal
incident, under every roof, from every garret-window would spring a
head, with which one might exchange one's impressions. What was
something more of a hardship was to veil our lights after eight o'clock
in the evening. Most of our neighbours go to bed shortly after the sun,
but to townswomen as we are it seemed impossible to sleep before eleven.

Our fruit, our crops, our wine were requisitioned; well, we understood
why. But for mercy's sake leave us our evenings, for none can enjoy them
if they are taken away from us. On winter nights rooms are comfortable
and warm, furniture friendly, and household gods favourable. Ideas float
in the air and may be turned into talk or dreams. I warrant, it is the
vigil of thinkers that has civilised the world.

In the morning everything has a cold air, inanimate objects are hostile,
a dull light reluctantly falls from the windows, and for some hours you
strive hard to tame life again and make it bearable. I beseech you, let
me live in the evening. The Germans did not allow us to live in the
evening. More than once, when the bell had rung eight o'clock, we heard
fists hammer on the shutters, and harsh voices cry:

"Go to bed; French no light, no light."

Yet it took some trouble to discover that we were not sitting in the
dark. These people had to thrust their noses through the chinks of the
wooden shutters to perceive that there was no light in the room. The
window-curtains not being sufficient to mask the light, we set our wits
to work in order to conceal it. Geneviève and I stuffed the shutters
with two big cloaks; Colette established a cleverly contrived screen all
around her lamp, and Yvonne hung up an extra blind. Every day, when the
lamps were lit, one of us went out to supervise the windows, while those
within waited for information.

"Is my window all right?"

"At the top, on the left side, there is a tiny bright spot.... Good, now
it is quite dark."

"And in my room?"

"Just a small streak at the bottom."

Into the smallest details of our life the Germans had managed to
introduce something vexatious.

Yet Morny being a quiet village, with a prudent Mayor at its head, we
were not so much to be pitied during the first months of the occupation.
It might perhaps be thought that we were too easily resigned to fate,
that we yielded too readily to the enemy's orders. Of course a
rebellion, followed by fearful punishment, would look well in a story.
But to what purpose should we attempt what would certainly bring new
harsh measures upon our neighbours? Ah, if the least of our actions
might have been useful to the country we were burning to serve, how
eagerly we--even the women--would have risked all to be helpful, and
exposed our lives, our liberty. But, alas, we were persuaded that we
were helpless, useless, even of no worth at all. We were mere ciphers,
as unimportant to one army as to the other, just like clods of earth in
the fields! I know that a well-placed clod may cause a man to fall, and
you may be sure that when we found an opportunity we never failed to
make a Prussian stumble. But it would have been downright folly to think
of an open rebellion, and we knew it well, though we sometimes talked of
it.

The German soldiers said:

"French women not bad; Belgian run after us with hay-forks." Alas, what
a price poor Belgium paid for her heroism!

Soon after their arrival, the invaders took care to explain how they
intended to be obeyed, and to insist that the community would be
responsible for all individual acts. The Hussars were very near burning
Chevregny while we were there, because some one--evidently one of the
French convoys escaped from the fight, and hidden in the wood--fired at
a battalion passing on the road. One man was wounded in the foot.
Furious, the commander talked of setting the whole village on fire, and
it escaped only because the priest proved that a soldier had fired the
gun and not one of his flock.

At Laon, a German soldier was killed by a civilian--in a brawl after
drinking, French witnesses said; while asleep, the German report
declared. We have read the poster stuck up in Laon. The end ran thus:

"The house where the crime was committed has been set on fire, and the
guilty man will be shot. If a similar deed occurs again, the quarter
where it takes place will be burnt, and the town condemned to pay a
million francs."

We did not require telling twice that it was not worth while. Bought one
at a time, the Prussians were really too expensive. An invaded country
could not afford them at such a price! Then all power of action had been
taken away from us; we could but try to the utmost of our power to save
as much of our goods as possible, to set bounds, with cunning, which is
the arm of the weak, to the ravages of the scourge. If impotent anger
often moved the women into tears, what shall we say of the men? How
shall we depict the fate of thousands of soldiers ordered back home on
the eve of the invasion? They are soldiers, they ought to fight for
their country. They watch from afar the different stages of the battle,
whose manifold din reaches them. They stand, panting, with clenched
fists. They think: "This is going on, such a thing is happening. If I
were with my brothers, I would fall upon the enemy, I would fight
against the invaders."

Their blood is burning; they wish to kill; they will kill some of them.
A sudden uproar, imperious voices are heard. Be quick! Prussians are at
the door. They are shown in, even with a good grace. To refrain so long
from murder, for which they would gladly have paid with their life, more
heroism was required from our men--the natural defenders of molested
women and famished children--than is necessary to rush headlong into the
thickest of a fight.

I have already spoken of the regulations the German authorities had
decreed. But what is impossible to explain, and what people can never
understand who have not lived among the invaders, is the way the laws
were applied, and the thousand vexations that came from them. We were
constantly threatened with requisitions, inquisitions, perquisitions. We
never saw two soldiers walking together in the street without thinking:
"Where are they going? What do they want?"

Among those who were quartered in Morny during October, were a certain
veterinary surgeon, pale-faced and red-haired, and a certain professor,
red-nosed and dark-bearded, both with gold spectacles. The excellent
fellows spoke French as if they had been born in Pontoise, obtruded
themselves everywhere, and took a great interest in everything. They
talked cattle with the farmers, flour with the baker, provisions with
the housewives, and sweets with the urchins. They teased the young
girls, and patted the dogs. After three weeks of such dealings they knew
Morny just as well as the elders of the place, knew your income, your
family affairs and secrets, better than you. They had a large share in
the writing of a guide for the use of the invaders, and when every
inhabitant had been duly analysed, both went away to their pleasant
trade elsewhere. You may guess how useful this was for the Germans, if
you consider what an advantage it would be to leeches to understand
anatomy, and to know the disposition of the blood-vessels.

So much for inquisitions. As to requisitions, they were always going on,
and the farmers never got up at dawn without thinking: "What are they
going to steal to-day?"

So we continued to hide as well as we could all that we possessed.

Think of our anxiety the day we heard they were said to search houses!

One morning, about the end of November, the street was suddenly filled
with soldiers. The word "perquisition" was hovering over our heads. How
anxious we were for the cheese and butter we had the luck to get but the
day before! If they happened to notice it they would be sure to come
back and fetch it. So we rushed into the garden, and with all possible
speed thrust the three pounds of butter and the five pieces of cheese,
the hope of many a future meal, into the box borders. Everything was
ready. On our features was a mask of carelessness. Then the bell rang;
we opened the gate.

"Come in, gentlemen, and may it please Mercury, the god of the thieves,
your patron, to let you pass close to our hiding-places without
discovering them!"

A soldier guarded the door. Two other ones came in with a sergeant. As
the saint, so the altar. From one room to another we followed the
visitors. They were careful not to forget the drawers, which their hands
searched and researched. They disturbed the dresses hung in the
cupboards, to make sure that no French soldiers were hidden behind. They
shook the _portières_, to scare the carrier-pigeons away. "Ah! this
bed-curtain is swollen ... a French soldier ... the iron cross for
me...." Flat down on his face lay the knave. Alas! no feet were to be
seen beneath the curtain, nothing but the innocent frame of a picture
forgotten there three months ago. They went upstairs, took a careful
survey of the attics, pried into the heaps of logs. Then catching sight
of the roof whose shadow served as a screen to our bedding:

"What is up there, then?" asked the under-officer.

"Up there? It is an empty space between the roof and the ceiling."

The man seemed satisfied with the explanation; the big boots got down
again; they paused; they had found nothing. At length they made up their
minds to go out; they disappeared from sight; they went to search the
next house. A week after these operations the villagers still talked
about them.

"Has your house been carefully searched?"

"Oh, dear! dear! they have looked even into the saucepans!"

"They have gone through the papers in my desk."

"They have climbed upon the beams of our roof."

The visitors seldom found anything worth while--one or two pigeons which
their owners had hidden in the attic, and for which they had to pay
fifty francs each. Other villages were less happy. For a trifle a man
was considered suspect, and taken into custody. If a cartridge happened
to be discovered in a house, the owner was arrested and sent to Laon,
Hirson, or still farther off--and after the retreat of August what
urchin had not a collection of French and Belgian cartridges?

A gentleman-farmer of the neighbourhood was put into prison under the
pretence that he talked German too much! Another was arrested all of a
sudden without any apparent reason.

"But why am I arrested?"

"Go on, you will know later."

The poor wretch came back from Germany a year afterwards, ill, worn out,
done for. Only they had neglected to reveal to him why he had been
imprisoned.

It is not difficult to imagine how these prisoners were hunted. A man
was arrested in Barenton. A gun had been found in his bed, it would
seem. He was confined for a time at Laon, managed to escape, and went
right to Morny, where M. Dunard, his lifelong friend, hid him in his
house. Did any one betray the runaway's retreat? I do not know, but two
days after his arrival an under-officer and four men came to M.
Dunard's, one from the street, the others from the garden, turned the
farmer, his wife, and the maid out of doors, conscientiously searched
the house, found the fugitive, and took him away. We saw the poor man
pass between two gendarmes on horseback. He looked desperate; his hands,
tied to one of the stirrups, were quite blue. But immanent justice, dear
to the Germans, had a watchful eye. Here it was even imminent. A good
citizen of Morny was just coming back from the forest, with his donkey
put to a cart, loaded with wood. The ass saw a procession, which he
thought unseemly, and proclaimed his opinion in the way usual to his
kind. The horses, frightened by the loud hee-haw, reared and fell back.
A military motor-car which was approaching could not stop in time, and
gave a sudden lurch, followed by a general confusion. Horses, gendarmes,
donkey, cart, and logs fell topsy-turvy to the ground. Oh, the poor
prisoner with his tied-up hands! Well, he alone came off safe and sound.
He alone, and the donkey of course. Gendarmes, horses, and driver got up
lame to the right and left, and more or less injured. After some
bandaging the Germans took their prisoner away all the same, but the
interlude had given a few minutes of intense joy to many people.

For a long time we were afraid that the men of the village would be all
taken away. We knew that in many northern places the male population had
been carried off to fill up German prisons. When would they do the same
in Morny?

"When the Germans withdraw," was the general answer.

And the expectation of this day filled us with a mixture of joy and
dread. The day came, and the Germans did not withdraw. One morning all
able-bodied men were summoned to the "mairie." They were taken in herds
to Laon, and shut up in the citadel; for two nights they slept on the
floor and had to eat a nameless stew. On the third day of their absence,
towards evening, a joyful rumour spread in the village. "The men are
coming back! the men are coming back!"

Women and children rushed out to meet husbands, sons, and fathers, and
the noisy troop came back home, and stayed there.

We thought ourselves crushed with grief. What seemed to us most
unbearable was the want of news. Every family had one or several of its
members away at the front, and we asked over and over again, are they
dead, wounded, ill?

And we knew no more of what happened in the invaded country, in Lille,
St. Quentin, or Rethel, than of what happened in San Francisco, Paris,
or Pekin. Every village was an island carefully isolated from the rest
of the world, and kept up very few relations with the nearest towns. On
the other hand, we can think only with compassion of the everlasting
threats hanging over our heads, of the uninterrupted plunder, of the
vexatious measures, which left us no rest. Yet all this was bearable
compared with what we had still to support! First the bad season was
coming; soon we should suffer from the cold, since fuel was rare; and
even from hunger, since bread was scarce. One day Colette cried out:
"Oh, mother, look! Winter is coming; the Christmas roses are in bloom."
On the very same day we heard that the village had a new commandant.
Until then Morny had given hospitality but to convoys and troops of the
reserve. We should now have to deal with soldiers on active service.
About a hundred Death's Head Hussars settled themselves in the big farm
on the Laon road, and their lieutenant became the supreme chief of the
commune. The invaders certainly organised their government. Every
village was provided with a commandant, who grew more and more powerful.
You can imagine how these people were puffed up with pride. Just think
of a lieutenant, a small country squire, owning beneath the sky of
Pomerania three acres of barren, unfruitful land, who all of a sudden
sees himself absolute master of a rich territory of 1500 souls. It was
enough to turn his head. Von Bernhausen was the name of the one we got.
He was of an historical family, and gave himself out to be a rich
cattle-breeder. He was a huge fellow--Geneviève and I reached to his
waist--aged about twenty-six. Boldly cleft from heels to chin, he bore
on his interminable legs a kind of shortened bust, a gallows head with
small eyes, a little nose, still less forehead, a great deal of cheek,
and still more of a thick-lipped and ever damp mouth. This ugly
lieutenant was a thorough glutton, and the poultry-yards of Morny had
many proofs of it. As he did not walk very upright, his coat, which was
always greasy, formed in front a mass of horizontal creases that might
have aroused the jealousy of an accordion. Two days after his arrival he
was nicknamed Bouillot for short, a diminutive of Crabouillot, which
means in the _patois_ "dirty." Self-confident, conscious of the rights
his title and name gave him, this lordly personage went to Laon, or
received his superiors, without any change for the better in his dress.
The peasants said he was the cousin of the Emperor. We shall be more
modest, and be content with saying that his forefathers are very well
known in Germany and other countries. His faults were overlooked in high
quarters, and I leave you to imagine the benefit he reaped from his post
and the way he understood comfort, good cheer, and service. To begin
with, he requisitioned a capital cook of the place, and told her that
she was to exert all her skill on behalf of Germany. A salary was quite
out of the question. Early in the morning he was often to be seen in a
poultry-yard, busy selecting his birds among the few geese, ducks, and
fowls that were still there, and then: "I want this to be at the farm at
ten o'clock." If the owner timidly asked for a note of hand, the officer
turned short round and shouted in his face: "I told you to bring me this
at ten o'clock."

Once he came to M. Lantois and said: "I want the carriage you've got;
bring it to me." The farmer, after a moment's hesitation, dared to
pronounce, too, the words "note of hand."

"I shall give none; you don't want any; your cart won't get lost."

Suddenly the man went into a regular rage, tore up and down the yard,
uttered yells of anger, and bellowed:

"I am the commandant of this village! I can do everything I please! You
must give me all that I want!"

He took the carriage away, and two days later it was lying broken in a
ditch.

Thus we had nothing to do but suffer these exactions. We had marched
straight back towards the Middle Ages. We were bondsmen, attached to the
soil, as no one was allowed to leave the land. The mighty and powerful
lords had re-established all feudal rights. They took toll for the
shortest journeys, sold our own flour in common mills, from all men
required villein service. They were careful not to forget certain
prerogatives, and thought they had a double right to the favour of all
women and girls, being at once lords and conquerors. Accordingly a house
like ours seemed to them especially created for the pleasure of the King
of Prussia's officers.

And yet how careful we were to hide ourselves! From the moment that the
hussars haunted the country, Mme. Valaine did not allow us even to go
and fetch the bread. The bakehouse was deemed too far off, and the
garden sufficient for exercise. Mme. Lantois' farm, M. Lonet's house, a
hundred yards to the right, a hundred yards to the left, were the
longest walks we were permitted to enjoy. And before risking our nose in
the street we took a rapid survey.

"No Prussian is to be seen? Good, I will risk it."

Despite these precautions, we were forced to receive frequent
requisitioners or perquisitioners, and we soon heard that the soldiers
called our habitation "the house of the pretty girls."

Fatal name! No sooner had Lieutenant von Bernhausen heard it than he
despatched to us his second self, the sergeant Marquis, _alias_
Sainte-Brute. For, as no one can doubt, Bouillot had about him worthy
followers--this sergeant, Sainte-Brute, as much dreaded as his master,
and a few other hussars, "he loved above all," as Victor Hugo says. Was
it "for their great courage and their huge size"? I do not know, but for
their ferocity in any case, their want of scruple, their hatred of
France. Among them he reckoned "the Blackguard," a vicious lad with a
pink and white complexion; "Rabbit's Paw," who looked like a degenerate
fool, with a long bovine face; and the "Japanese," whose slanting,
spiteful eyes were always laughing.

One evening, when all the inhabitants of the village had locked up their
houses, a loud ring was heard at our gate. This made our hearts beat
quickly.

"So late, O heavens! what do they want?"

We ran out, and soon showed in Sainte-Brute, attended by two soldiers.
Like a conqueror he walked up the steps and entered the dining-room. He
showed his best graces, his small moustache was curled up, his cloak put
on after the Spanish fashion, his cap roguishly set on one side. A paper
in his hands, he made a show of his fingers--he had well-kept nails, I
must acknowledge. Mme. Valaine, Geneviève, and I stood and waited. A
night-light illumined the scene.

"It is six o'clock," the under-officer announced. "Everybody must be at
home. I want to see all the inhabitants of this house."

Come along, then! Let him count us; set the family in a row; it is
fair-day; the Germans are amusing themselves!

The girls came in reluctantly with fury-flashing eyes.

Sainte-Brute thought the light too weak; he pointed his electric lamp at
us, and one after another scanned our hostile faces; then he declared:

"The 'population' say that you often go to Laon without passports."

"If the population say so, it is lying. In the last ten days we have
been but once to Laon, and here is the passport you gave us yourself."

"Hum, hum, the population...."

Sainte-Brute seemed to hesitate. The Blackguard plucked him by the
sleeve:

"Come, come...."

"Mind, you have had your warning," the sergeant concluded by saying. "It
is strictly forbidden to travel without leave from the military
authorities."

Satisfied with his speech, the man withdrew. He took a careful survey of
the lobby, opened the kitchen door, cast his light in every direction.
He seemed to take a great interest in the copper of the saucepans. Yet
he went out, followed by his acolytes. Their steps resounded in the
street. We bolted the door, and an hour after had not recovered from the
emotion.

What was the meaning of this visit?

The next day, under the pretence that he wanted to see what lodging we
might give to chance soldiers, Bouillot himself came to see us with his
train. At his heels was a big hound. Percinet did not believe his eyes.
A dog in his yard! He flung himself on the intruder; a furious fight
began; with his heavy boots the officer gave our poor collie many a hard
kick, and at length knocked him down.

"Brute!" cried Colette, in an indignant tone.

Herr von Bernhausen replied with a smile. He was kind enough to believe
the epithet was meant for the dog.

While Yvonne was taking away the poor limping beast, the lieutenant
asked a few questions, then turned on his heels and went away. Once in
the street, he lifted up his long arms, as if to say:

"There is nothing to do in this house!"

He had pronounced our sentence; the reign of terror had begun.

Were I to live a hundred years I should never forget the weeks of mental
torture I owe to the Germans. Ten times a day terror sent all the blood
of my veins to my heart, and made my legs shake under me. Ten times a
night terror awoke me panting from my sleep, with my eyes swimming with
tears.

Is any one coming in? Is there a knock at the door? Is the bell ringing?

For we had been officially chosen as butts, and at any time, under the
most futile pretences, two or three hussars, or a troop of them, used to
enter the house. They well-nigh forced the gate open, or broke the bell,
and roaring out horribly one day required harness we never had, another
maintained they would find in our garden their horses broken loose.
Then, at nightfall, when our neighbours were all shut up in their
houses, they would come back and stay in front of the house. More than
once they arrived drunk, and all the while they made a frightful uproar,
shouting, calling after us, kicking in the gates, knocking at the
shutters with their revolvers, and trying to break them open. If from
upstairs we asked what they wanted, they answered with threats, insults,
and invitations to come down.

This life was a very hell.

For weeks we kept a ladder raised against the wall so that if the
soldiers, more intoxicated than usual, managed to force a shutter open
and entered the house we might escape. Thanks to a small pent-house
built on the other side of the wall, we could in a few steps be in Mme.
Lantois' orchard.

The farmer's wife had said to us:

"Do come in case of an emergency. The doors overlooking the garden are
never locked, and if you were pursued my husband and son would take a
hay-fork to defend you."

Colette, who now slept in the big room upstairs, had a hatchet nigh at
hand.

"Oh," she said, "if they got up to my room, I would split two or three
heads before I jumped out of the window!"

Of a certainty we had a very large share in the distribution of cares,
yet the sun shone--or rather the wind blew--for every one. It is useless
to say that the hussars were prompt of hand, and were not always
satisfied with threats. One day Lieutenant von Bernhausen had a mind to
go to Laon with his retinue. He sent for the Mayor of Morny:

"Make haste, I want three coaches put to at eleven o'clock. Be off!"

Bewildered, the Mayor hurried away to carry out the order. Where would
he get three coaches whose wheels would hold together, three horses
whose legs would not shake under them, whose backs would not be covered
with bruises and scabs, when the farmers were all eaten out of house and
home? Besides, the less sorry jades were out in the fields at that time
of the day. By dint of researches and efforts, three decent coaches were
got together at length. But it was half-past eleven.

For thirteen minutes the commandant had been making the air echo with
the thunder of his wrath, and when he saw the Mayor red in the face and
out of breath, he rushed towards him with a stick, and vigorously beat
the shoulders of the unfortunate magistrate.

Such is the proper way to deal with French people.

Let us be just. The following day the same Bernhausen dusted the jacket
of one of his own soldiers, who had ventured to kick a civilian. Yet it
is worth remarking that the rascal did not get punished on account of
the ill-usage inflicted on a defenceless person, but for the insolence
he had shown by encroaching on his superior's rights. Gold lace alone
empowers you to distribute hard thumps and blows.

One farm on the Laon road, being in a conspicuous place, had to suffer
particularly from the plunderers and requisitioners who happened to pass
by. One day Mme. Vialat could not succeed even in giving her sick child
something hot. As soon as anything was ready the soldiers rushed
forward, took it away, and laughed at the thought that they had played a
nice little trick.

There remained in the house a certain number of sheepskins, carefully
prepared, and not less carefully hidden. One day the hussars discovered
and laid hold of the treasure. The farmer lost his temper, and tried to
defend his goods. Too many things had already been stolen; he required a
note of hand; but Sainte-Brute never gave notes of hand. Things were
growing bad; the farmer could not keep down his anger, and gave the
plunderers a piece of his mind. The soldiers threw themselves upon him;
Mme. Vialat and her niece ran to the rescue.

"They might have killed him," the young girl told us. "I came and stood
before him."

The brutes gave her a sound slap on the face, struck her aunt with the
butt-end of their guns, and on their own private authority carried away
the precious skins.

A young shopkeeper of the village, Mlle. Grellet, objected to a close
search into her own linen. The soldiers had no chance of success, as
they were looking for a missing wheel. But the sergeant pretended that
no one dared withstand his will, and with a hoarse laugh he rudely
knocked the girl about.

Indignant, she struck him on the face. She was directly knocked down,
her features belaboured with clenched fists, and justice was demanded of
the commandant. The poor girl was immediately sentenced to three days'
imprisonment. We saw her taken to the "mairie," she was shaken with
sobs, her bloody face all bruised and swollen. She was guilty of having
inflicted serious ill-treatment on the person of the rosy, smiling, and
triumphant sergeant who was accompanying her.

As to ourselves, the witnesses of these chivalrous deeds, we looked on,
with our fists clenched, with our teeth grinding, with tears of rage in
our eyes ... and never uttered a word.

It was no use crying for help. Our very prayers seemed to rise to an
unrelenting God, and we could but murmur:

"Father, Father, why hast Thou forsaken us?"

It was the reign of terror.

"Ah, Madam," said a woman all in tears, whose husband owned a
merry-go-round, "they have just requisitioned our mechanical organ. Ah,
Madam, such a beautiful 'music,' for which we had given four thousand
francs--all our savings! They have taken it to amuse themselves. And how
furious they were! When they are well spoken I don't mind it so much,
but when they look so angry I tremble like a leaf."

It was the reign of terror.

"When I see them coming," another neighbour declared, "it makes my blood
run cold."

M. Lonet himself acknowledged that he never saw Prussians enter his
house without an inward thrill of fear.

"Whom will they harm to-day?" we thought. "People, animals, or things?"

It was the reign of terror.

When the invaders alarmed strong and courageous men, I, who am not a
thunderbolt of war, how could I put a good face on the matter?
Geneviève, on the other hand, was more indignant than frightened, but,
as to myself, I was frightened to death.

It was the reign of terror, terror, terror. And you do not understand
the meaning of this, you who have not rushed to your light to blow it
out for fear its pale glimmer would betray your presence, who have not
stopped panting in the dark to listen to angry yells uttered close to
your windows, to hear your shutters shake and creak under the
assailants' blows--you who have not realised that you are a woman and
weak, and that a dozen brutes will seek more than your life if they
succeed in their design. You do not know what it is like, but we know it
from sad experience, and if the horrors that have overwhelmed other
places have been spared us, at least we have felt their envenomed
breath, and our bodies and souls have not yet set themselves free from
the poison.



CHAPTER IX


Thus ground down and sunk in grief we reached the end of the year. You
must not think that we were as yet urged to desperation. The courageous
inhabitants who, after hours' waiting, got a passport to go to Laon
always came back with the most comforting information.

"The news is very good ... very good. I should not be astonished if the
Germans went away in a short time."

The farmer's wife of the "Huchettes" who daily took milk to Laon--so
many bottles were requisitioned for the Red Cross--mysteriously said
with her forefinger lifted up:

"I have good hope, good hope, that 'our French' will be back before the
1st of January."

And the cannon was ever booming; its voice cheered us; we never got
weary of listening to it and studying it. Once we even believed that it
promised our deliverance. It was the 21st of December, at about eleven
in the evening. Geneviève and I were gloomily reading books held quite
close to the light, when Colette knocked at our door and appeared in her
nightgown:

"Come, come, a battle is being fought just now, don't you hear the
cannon? It is roaring louder than ever."

On tiptoe, for fear we should arouse Mme. Valaine from her sleep, we
went upstairs. Colette's window was wide open; we squeezed together in
the narrow space. Both Geneviève and I got upon the window-sill and
leaned against the frame, whilst the others pressed against the rail in
front. And there, half-dressed, unconscious of the cold, we eagerly
watched the horizon. The action took place in the direction of Vailly.
In fact, the cannon was roaring with a rage never yet heard. Its near or
distant rumbling never ceased for a second, and the bursting shells
succeeded one another uninterruptedly. When certain pieces of ordnance
were firing off full volleys, we felt a quivering all about us, and on
the writing-table the penholder jingled against the crystal of the
inkstand. Our bodies, our souls thrilled with enthusiasm, and the battle
awoke an inward echo. With our minds' eyes we eagerly watched the place
where great things happened. Our hearts flew onward to meet those who
seemed to approach us!... Oh, come, come!

Our eyes were riveted on the horizon in flames, where ever-renewed
flashes showed a red undulation marked with blue spots, or streaked with
the lights of five turning beacons. We saw the shells burst, above,
below, to the right, to the left. The cannonade seemed to slacken.
Listen! listen! A soft breeze brought us the thrilling sounds of sharp
firing, the crackling of machine-guns. Then the hollow voice began
again, and drowned the others.

"Oh," Colette cried out, wringing her hands, "to think that our
brothers, our hearts' blood, are over there! They are fighting ... they
sink to the ground ... they are wounded ... they are dying...."

We trembled, we bit our lips, we said in a murmur:

"If only they were going to break through, if only they came back...."

"Oh, come, come!..."

The whole village was wide awake. Through attic windows anxious faces
were peeping; restless people stood at their garden walls. From house to
house they exchanged impressions.

A young woman of the neighbourhood had rushed to her coffee-mill at the
beginning of the action, and by the time her old father went to the
garden to unearth a precious bottle of _marc_, she had ground all her
small reserve, so that "our French" might have hot coffee on reaching
the village!

Alas, our hopes were once more hoped in vain! Little by little the
firing grew fainter, the cannon less audible; the flames and the lights
died away; and suddenly silence and peace fell upon the village. The
extinguisher was dropped on us again. Speechless and gloomy we went to
bed at two o'clock in the morning, with limbs and souls chilled, and we
did not even try to seek sleep.

The civilians were not the only ones who thought the French likely to
come back. The hussars had spent the whole night on horseback, ready, if
their brothers-in-arms withdrew, to go at full speed to the north: such
were the orders in case of an alarm--at least they said so. Officers,
under-officers, and soldiers were all the more grieved with the
disturbance as they were going to feast and make merry all night in
order to keep Christmas, and were looking forward to such a junketing as
they had never dreamed of in the Marches of Brandenburg. The lieutenant
had visited all the farms of the village, felt a hundred fowls, and
chosen the plumpest and the tenderest. The feathered tribe were waiting
for their last hour in an adjacent shed.

But now to whom would the inheritance come?

"My beautiful fowls," the officer muttered between his teeth, "my
beautiful fowls! Who will eat them? How many a slip is there 'twixt the
duck and the lip!"

The alarm over, Von Bernhausen had not yet recovered his serenity. At
break of day he summoned his host, the farmer, the cook, and the cook's
boy, ordered them to slay, pluck, and roast directly all that bore comb
or webbed foot.

"At eleven," he declared, "we shall eat them every one."

They ate them every one. Crammed to the brim, greatly pleased with
themselves, the hussars strummed on their paunches: "'Tis so much
gained!"

There is no need to say that they began their feast again on Christmas
Day. In order to celebrate this godly day according to old customs,
soldiers of all arms and all localities had looked everywhere for
fir-trees. They were not satisfied with small ones, and in our wood,
near Bucy, they lopped eighteen beautiful Norway pines; they did the
like in other private estates, and even in a public place of Laon, where
the beheaded trees cut a very sorry figure, you may take my word for
it.

Their Christmas Eve supper was very merry, at Morny at least, and till a
late hour of the night we heard the noise of dances, laughter, and
shouts, mingled with women's voices. We civilians spent a poor trembling
Christmas, whose bitter sweetness was made up of fond thoughts of the
absent, and sad remembrances of past years. Christmas ... peace on the
earth ... Christmas ... all the pleasures of our childhood recurred to
our memory.... Good-will to all men.... Christmas, the feast of the one
that said: "Love one another." And the strong still grind down the weak,
hatred and bloodshed prevail everywhere!... The irony of the day brought
to our lips a bitter taste.

On the 31st of December every one had gone to bed as usual; the people
were but slumbering as they were now wont to, when out burst a sharp
firing accompanied by loud shouting. Every one sprang up, all windows
flew wide open, cries arose:

"The French!"

"Listen...."

"Hoch! hoch!"

Oh, despair! they were but the Prussians cheering the New Year. Even
when they enjoy themselves, these people are not harmless. Their guns
were loaded with balls, which passed through several shutters; it was a
miracle that no one was hurt.

If that New Year's Day was not a merry one, it brought with it hope that
is inseparable from everything at its beginning. Deliverance! that was
what we wished one another. And we not only relied on the New Year to
bring it, but to bring it without great delay. Fortunately this
assurance gave us a moral satisfaction, for our material rejoicings were
very scanty. In most houses, in ours for instance, meat did not appear
on the table any more than it had for many a day. Only a few farmers
succeeded in putting a chicken in their pot without the knowledge of the
Germans. For it was understood that all fowls were requisitioned. Their
owners had a right to look after them and to feed them, but not to eat
them. At the butcher's horse-meat was sold--coming of course from
animals killed at the front--and sometimes some coarse beef, which was
obtained by large bribes from soldiers employed at the slaughter-house.
Rather than feast upon such unappetising and expensive meat, we
preferred to eat boiled vegetables. Sometimes frogs' legs varied the
monotony of our daily menu; some of our neighbours managed to buy
venison, poachers being not rare in the German army; and soldiers there
were who profited handsomely from roebucks, which they killed when the
officers turned their backs.

But these few windfalls did not make up for the lack of many things,
hitherto looked upon as indispensable. And what was our alarm on hearing
once that bread itself would run short! On a certain Saturday the people
who went to fetch flour came back with their carts empty; likewise the
following week. No more bread! This bad fortune had been long foreseen,
and to provide against it we had dried slices of bread in the oven, and
thus filled many and many a tin. But seven persons are not long eating
up a reserve of this kind. So by a recipe, which all the village knew, a
dough was made of mashed potatoes and a little flour--every one had
managed to lay by a few pounds of it--and these thin cakes, baked in the
oven, bore some likeness to the food we missed.

Other villages were even less fortunate than ours, and had no bread at
all--officially at least--for a very long time. The farmers who had
contrived to hide corn had to grind it in a coffee-mill or with the help
of a mincing-machine, and the ovens--long unemployed--were again turned
to account when no Germans were present.

On the whole our village did not starve now, as it had starved during
October and November. A few peasants had mysteriously dug up their
potatoes, and sold them just as mysteriously. Besides, through the
Mayor's clever management, the Germans consented to our buying from them
a certain quantity of rice, salt, and sugar. These goods, we heard, were
the remainder of provisions sent to the commissary of stores. They were
sold on stated days, and every inhabitant was entitled to a kilo of
rice, a pound of sugar, half a pound of salt, once a fortnight. It was a
sheer pleasure to chaffer with the invaders; they demanded gold as
payment for their scanty revictualling, but later on they had to content
themselves with a sum partly in gold, partly in silver. They played
hang-dog tricks on the middlemen. Once the Mayor was informed that such
and such goods were to be had to the amount of three hundred francs.
Greatly pleased, he paid in golden cash. He was kept waiting one hour,
then two, then three. At length he was told that he had been deceived.
The provisions were not nearly so abundant as they were first thought;
there was scarcely a hundred francs' worth. The difference was to be
given back to the purchaser. And, indeed, two hundred francs were
returned to him, but the two hundred francs were paid in German notes!

For three weeks we had no bread at all; then the Germans vouchsafed us
flour of their own, so much a day; a loaf made with this powder took the
shape of a small, flat, brown and heavy crown, which gave us such acute
pains that we often preferred being hungry to having our fill of this
dough. We were all poor wretches and starvelings, but we were
fellow-citizens, and we arranged to keep a certain level of the
provisions. But a hundred times more wretched and starving were the
refugees who, when their villages were burned to the ground, had been
shared among the communes throughout the country. For months they had
neither house nor home, and about forty of them had taken shelter in
Morny, where they were huddled in one or two empty houses, lived but
scantily, and slept on straw. Several died during the winter. Laon was
also overrun with hundreds of those poor fugitives, and throughout the
town you were assailed and pursued by small ragged beggars who made you
think of Naples or Marseilles. The poor things moved your pity the more
deeply as you were compelled to think:

"Such is perhaps the fate that is awaiting me."

Indeed, nobody was sure that a whim of the Germans would not turn him
out of doors. It was seen more than once. So many things were
requisitioned. First of all, the invaders laid the absent people under
contribution, and as long as their houses had window-panes and
furniture, they were sufficient for the plunderers. But afterwards? A
large manufacturer of the neighbourhood, M. Vergniaud, had built a
castle a few years before in the Renaissance style, and filled it with
Renaissance furniture. When the rumour of invasion came, the owner took
flight with his household. The first soldiers quartered in the villa
knocked off the sculptures of the cupboards with axes, while others
carried away what pleased them. We saw a china bath taken away to the
trenches; it contained two small pigs. In the luggage of an officer who
lodged in our house there were damask curtains, plates of old Strasburg
ware, and even children's clothes, all of which came from that castle.

In the end what remained of the furniture was taken to the station,
loaded upon railway trucks, conveyed from one place to another for a
fortnight, and then sent to an unknown destination. To Germany or to the
trenches?

Some officers, who lived in Laon, did not approve of the costly
furniture about them, so they sent for three civil prisoners. The orders
they gave them were simple: "Take the furniture into the garden and
break the whole in pieces with your axes; it will serve as firewood."
The house thus cleared, these gentlemen had but to look elsewhere for
the wherewithal to furnish their rooms.

If uninhabited houses contained nothing useful, they requisitioned what
they wanted from those who had stayed at home. Von Bernhausen soon
discovered that he might find many things in our house of which he could
make a good use. First, he was sure that such people as we are overfed
ourselves. In fact, boiled potatoes, boiled carrots, boiled beans,
boiled rice, barley coffee, and nut-tree tea are everywhere looked upon
as choice dainties. So one day the street was ringing with drunken
shouts. We kept silent, attentive to the least sound. "Will they go by
without worrying us?" Oh no! An angry hand rang a full peal, whilst
heavy boots beat rhythmical imprecations upon the gate. The key had
hardly turned in the lock when Sainte-Brute rushed in like a madman,
with two other hussars. Geneviève jumped to avoid the shock of the man:

"Oh, he is drunk!"

These words increased the fury of the non-commissioned officer:

"Drunk ... drunk ... I am drunk.... You dare say it again. It is an
insult to the German army.... You will see ... you will see...."

Geneviève, with folded arms and head erect, as white as her woollen
jacket, faced the non-commissioned officer. She looked at him with such
an air of scorn and defiance that the maniac broke into a new fit of
rage. Bending forward, his fists clenched, his eyes starting from their
sockets, crimson-faced, he foamed at the mouth, he spat out: "Drunk ...
you said I am drunk ... you will go to prison ... you will be put on
bread and water ... sleep on straw ... it will serve you right ...
drunk ... drunk...."

Around us stood the frightened family. The "Blackguard" sneered, and
"Rabbit's Paw," when the madman ceased, took up the burden of abuse. All
of a sudden the sergeant altered his mind and sprang into the cellar.
His companions followed him, and we heard them upsetting empty bottles
and shaking casks. "You may seek for wine, my fine fellows, and if you
find a single bottle I will pour it out for you myself."

In the depths of the cellar Sainte-Brute continued to breathe forth
fury, loading us with violent and obscene insults. Fortunately we did
not understand much of his foul language. Then he came upstairs again in
haste, rushed into the garden, and squeaked:

"Beans ... beans ... beans...."

Like one stupefied, he stopped and gazed at the lawn as if he had
expected the beans to spring up at his call. There was no sign of them.

Then he turned round to me:

"Have you any beans?"

Good Heavens! There was a small sack of big white beans which we had
bought last week, and out of which we hoped to get many a meal! If I
deny that we have any, thought I, these people will go to the attic, and
the first thing they see is the sack of beans, white and fruitful of
promise.

"Hum ... yes, we have a small quantity of beans. But as we bought them,
they cannot be requisitioned."

"How much have you?"

The answer came reluctantly:

"About twenty litres."

"Well, they are requisitioned; you are forbidden to use them."

The callers were about to leave, but the drunken man still wished to
take Geneviève away.

"She must go to prison ... she has insulted the German army."

The "Blackguard," who was almost sober, pulled him by the arm:

"Come away, come away! These people will make a fuss, and it will be
said that we are barbarians!"

Sainte-Brute was loath to let himself be convinced. At length his
unsteady legs took him off, and his acolytes followed him.

"Ah!" cried Geneviève, passing her hand over her forehead with a gesture
as of madness, "to think that all our life we have been respected, that
we have met only polite and courteous people, and now drunken brutes may
insult us in our own house! Why, they talk of putting us in prison, as
though we were old rag-pickers found trespassing."

The neighbours hastened to condole with us, for the shouts of the
soldiers had been heard a mile off. The next intrusion came the
following day. They returned to fetch the beans. This time they were
merry in their cups, they asked for their prey with smiles, and laying
hold of it seemed vastly amused. On leaving they burst out laughing, and
Von Bernhausen, who was waiting for them outside, roared with merriment
as he weighed the sack of beans in his hand.

The Prussians are full of humour.

For three days running, no offensive. Then, one morning, the Hussars
announced themselves, as usual, by shouting, kicking at the gate, and
ringing violently at the bell. They walked in, went through the house,
and right on to the bathroom.

"We want this bath."

It was no use protesting. The bath was taken away. Three days after it
was lying smashed to pieces in the yard of an inn which the Hussars
frequented, and serving as a dust-bin for the sluts of the place.

Then came the turn of the piano.

Some time before Christmas the non-commissioned officer who had
previously searched the house presented himself very civilly:

"You have a piano; I want it for a few days; we shall bring it back to
you after Christmas."

We could not say a word. Weeks glided by; the new year saw many dawns
break; and no one brought back the piano. This harmonious piece of
furniture was the finest ornament of a house which the _garde-voies_ had
made their home. You saw nothing but black coats there; no Hussars, no
convoys. The _garde-voies_ are territorials, elderly, sedate men,
fathers of families, whose stoutness their uniforms cannot conceal. They
smoke pipes as big as beer glasses, and drink beer out of glasses as big
as kegs. They looked scornfully on those who stay at the farm, whose
drunkenness and rakish habits are a cause of scandal to them.

Therefore they kept aloof, searched houses, and requisitioned goods for
their own account, had their private rejoicings, and spent their
evenings amid tobacco smoke and the smells of beer, while they listened
rapturously to patriotic songs or even playful ditties hammered out on
our good-natured piano.

One day a rumour spread. The _garde-voies_ are going away. The sergeant
is already off. In fact, the non-commissioned officer had left our
parts, unmindful of the various pieces of furniture he had "borrowed"
from the inhabitants. It was the moment to go and claim what belonged to
us. The house was about to be cleared under the superintendence of a
corporal, who kindly authorised us to have the piano conveyed home. He
did not care for it any more; he was going away. And the instrument was
put back into our drawing-room. It did not stay there for a great while.
That very evening Von Bernhausen came round, greatly incensed.

"That piano which the _garde-voies_ had? I hear you took it away,
without asking my leave!"

"But it is our piano. It was agreed we should have it back."

"I want it; I will come for it to-morrow at ten. You had no right to
fetch it without orders from me."

Bouillot withdrew, proud of himself. The following day he came back
followed by a vehicle and eight men chosen among the strongest of the
band. All flocked round the piano, pushing, pulling to no purpose.

"I think," said my mother-in-law, "that it would be better for the walls
and for the piano if you passed it directly into the street by the
window."

"Hold your tongue," answered the kind officer, "you know nothing about
it. The piano will go through the passage."

It went through, and took with it much of the wainscot. The Hussars made
a great deal of bustle, sweating blood and water. "Peuh!" Yvonne
whispered in my ear, "those fellows have no muscles, they are but fat.
Two years ago, when we moved to Passy, the same piano was carried in by
a single, small, hunchbacked man. But look at that!"

Bouillot acted the busybody, moved to and fro, jested with his men, and
by way of encouragement gave them sound slaps in the small of the back.
It was easy to see that these people, or at least their forefathers, had
tended the swine in the forests of old Germany. At last by dint of
effort the instrument was taken out of the house, carried along the
pavement, and hoisted into the cart. The Hussars served as horses.
Gee-ho! They rushed forward, but in the courtyard the carriage gave a
start, and the piano--with intent to commit suicide--bounded out and
fell to the ground. After a few convulsions, and one last writhe of
agony, it lay quiet.

"Oh! my beautiful Pleyel," cried Yvonne.

Some fragments of wood had been knocked off; Bouillot picked them up:

"It will be easy to mend." They gave the piano a lift, and made for the
farm. All along the street we saw it skip along in its jolting car; the
ravishers scoffingly waved their hands, and mocked at us until they were
lost sight of behind a screen of snow.

Two days after a new joke of the same kind. Bouillot and his whole gang
broke in noisily:

"I want two chairs."

"All right," my mother-in-law answered, "I will give orders for them to
be brought down."

"No, I will choose them myself."

The Hussars, merry as schoolboys on a holiday, came tumbling one over
the other into the rooms, meddled with everything, poked their noses
everywhere. Von Bernhausen went right to the drawing-room. Those he
wanted were two easy-chairs in the style of Louis XVI.--ancient silk is
matchless for wiping filthy boots upon. This was carrying things too
far. Now an officer had installed himself in our house that very
morning, taking the place of Barbu and Crafleux. Could we not appeal to
him as a last shift?

Antoinette rushed forward, and knocked imperiously at the door of the
newcomer: "Sir, sir...."

She was answered by a growl. Then the door opened slightly, and a
ruffled head appeared.

"Sir, an officer is there who wants to take our furniture...."

But at that very moment Bouillot approached in a whirlwind. He stopped
short at the sight of his brother-in-arms. The two men eyed one another.

"Ah! hum! you here...."

They shook hands coldly. They were face to face, the one immense, the
other small; both had the same rank, the same decoration. Our guest had
been aroused from his afternoon nap. It was three o'clock, the right
time for honest men to sleep. His eyes were swollen, his dress untidy,
and his toes, vexed at being incorrect, wriggled about in his socks. Yet
he undertook our defence. He did not refer, I need hardly say, to
justice or to the Conventions of the Hague. He advanced a single
argument, but it struck home.

"I am quartered in this house."

"Yet this house is one of the best furnished in the village; it is but
right we should fetch here what is wanting."

"... These are my quarters.... I want the furniture that is here...."

At the beginning of the conference the soldiers became serious, and one
after another vanished on tiptoe. Bernhausen at last resigned himself
and went after them. It was our turn now to laugh at the Hussars, when
we saw them go away crestfallen, and heard their chief stammer
explanations.

A few days after, Lieutenant Bubenpech, whom our roof had the honour to
shelter, was appointed commandant in place of Bouillot, by right of
seniority. Thus ended the persecution of which we had been the victims
for two months. The guests of the farm continued their misdeeds and
their extortions, but they avoided our house, which sheltered a power
the rival of their own. We even had the pleasure of seeing the
"Blackguard" come to our house on duty, a bashful, blushing
"Blackguard," and more than that, as polite as a chamberlain in presence
of his sovereign.

However, in the beginning of February, we again had difficulties with
soldiers, coming from the trenches. Twice a week they went through Morny
with heavily laden carts. Oh, these convoys! Monday and Thursday, as
early as four in the morning, the carts rattled through the village, and
noisily shook their empty sides on the pavement. They stopped at the
station where there were large stores of straw, and a few hours later
went back to the front full to the brim. The farmers took great interest
in these personages. Loads, drivers, and carts engrossed their
attention.

"Whatever those lazy-bones do," cried an old peasant, "is badly done,
and ought not to be done."

To tell the truth, there is an art of loading carts with straw. The
first layers should be well placed and should make a solid foundation
according to time-honoured rules. The Prussians' loads always stood
awry, and threatened ruin as soon as they were erected. First one bundle
tumbled over, a second followed, then at a turn of the road the whole
pyramid sank to the ground, hurling the listless drivers headlong into a
ditch. Nearly every time they came to fetch straw the loaders managed to
let it fall, and we watched them rebuild carelessly another tottering
heap, Of course these men were thirsty after their hard toil, and they
stopped at every fountain to refresh ... their horses; as to themselves
they drank anything but water.

Such is, then, the way fifteen soldiers happened to come to our house to
draw water from our pump. Many buckets had been pulled up, and the men
did not go. They went up and down, laughed, opened one door, then
another, ventured into the garden, peeped in at the windows. Geneviève
went to encounter them.

"Do you want anything?"

"Nothing at all. We are pleased to stay here because there are pretty
girls in the house," answered the sergeant in very good French.

"Then, if there is no need for you to stay here, you had better go away;
I want to lock the gate, we never keep it open."

And the men withdrew. Colette, who watched the scene from upstairs, said
afterwards:

"It was very funny! You'd have thought that our sister was driving these
fifteen big louts before her."

No sooner were they in the street than the Germans gazed at one another.
Did it not look as if they had been kicked out of doors!

"Hullo! we are not people to be trifled with!"

They soon gave proofs of it. Suddenly they flung themselves upon the
windows, doors, walls. We were forced to give way, and my mother-in-law
opened the gate. This compliance with their wishes did not abate the
assailants' anger. They rushed into the yard, and poured forth worse
volleys of abuse than ever an Apache of Montmartre could invent.

"Ah," cried the sergeant, grinding his teeth in anger, "you are not
tamed down here; you do not know what the Germans are! Come to Lierval;
you will see there how the people have been curbed. They don't say
anything now.... They hold their tongues, I warrant you...."

One of his men drew the moral of this discourse by aiming his gun at us.
"Franzouss ... all shot."

They stayed two hours, strolling about the yard, muttering insults
between their teeth. To complete our misfortune, the convoy spent the
night in Morny. The men came back in the evening, and the commandant
being away they made the most fearful row we had ever heard, from nine
to eleven, and yet the Hussars were not bad at rough music.

They were not bad at many other jobs. They were acknowledged the most
skilful hunters of hiding-places, and Sainte-Brute, with his acolytes,
spent many a day in wandering through fields and gardens. They sought
for holes that might conceal potatoes, corn, or--generally near to the
houses--wine which they were so fond of. The Conventions of the Hague,
it would seem, allow the invaders of a country to requisition wine, for
the use of the "wounded"; so when the soldiers emptied a cellar or
discovered a _cache_ they declared with gravity that it was all for the
Red Cross. I suppose the Germans bear a likeness to zoophytes, what one
of them absorbs is profitable to the others, and when wine had been
unearthed "for the wounded" the whole pack were drunk for days together.
And these creatures took all--all. They destroyed systematically what
they could not take away. After having despoiled us of our money, they
seized corn, straw, vegetables, wine, milk, eggs. Poultry, cows, oxen,
the very horses which the peasants had bought of them in a bad
condition, and taken good care of, belonged to them, and they alone were
entitled to dispose of them. All that was on the earth and beneath the
earth, all that was growing and living--including the people--were their
own property. They carried off the very paving-stones heaped up on the
wayside to repair the roads. If they stay long enough they will carry
away, cart after cart, the rich, fat earth of our soil, to spread over
and fertilise the barren ground of Prussia. If they could find a means,
with the help of their alchemists who have made a pact with the devil,
they would take away our deep-blue sky in panels; they would drag along
our bracing and mild air to purify the mists of the north.

As they cannot--despite their bargain with the devil--perform such feats
of skill, they wreak revenge on us by spoiling our beautiful country.
Our farmers were furious when they saw the Germans--the first winter
after their arrival--plough up fields throughout the land, unmindful of
the limits and value of the soil. And what splendid tillage was theirs!
Their laziness turned up about ten centimetres of earth; they sowed
seed, and put no manure; before they leave they want to exhaust the soil
of which they are jealous, and which they would like to annihilate. They
cut down nut trees to make butt-ends of guns, and fruit trees to amuse
themselves.

In the forests they committed downright murder. Where it is worth while
they cut down trees of reasonable growth at regular intervals; anywhere
else they break off saplings about one yard from the ground. In the wood
of Festieux I know an immense beech-tree. Its trunk can hardly be
encircled by four men with outstretched arms. In its boughs a nobleman
of the neighbourhood lived for several weeks at the time of the
Revolution. As they found no means to fell this giant, the invaders have
hewn pieces out of it all round, and cut off its upper branches. The
poor tree will not outlive the invasion. On the outskirts of the
villages, along the roads and brooks, the Germans cut down the beautiful
trees, poplars, maples, chestnuts, which gave a poetical charm to the
country. To spoil the land is the aim of our malignant foe. Truly, it
will be long before songs and laughter are heard again in the wasted
country. The nymphs of our groves seek in vain their verdant shades
along the treeless rivulets, and flee away, sighing their elegies. Can
anything be sadder than this? No epic could be more tragical, no ode
could exalt our hearts more than this call, more than this immense
wailing we are ever hearing. It is the very breath of our sullied,
bruised, wounded country, and it will not cease until the day when her
sons return, and striking her soil with their feet will say:

"Mother! O, mother! thy cause is avenged! We come back from the country
of thy foes!"



PART III


     "There is no one in the jungle so wise and good and clever and
     strong and gentle as the Bandar-log."

     "We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most
     wonderful people in all the Jungle. We all say so, and so it must
     be true."--"The Monkey-People," RUDYARD KIPLING (_The Jungle
     Book_).



CHAPTER X


Herr Bubenpech had hardly been appointed commandant in Morny when the
enemy took a new step in the organisation of the country. From that
moment two or three spectacled scribes gathered together in a large
schoolroom, labelled "Bureau" both in French and in German, and busied
themselves with endless scribblings. They drew up lists of the male
inhabitants of the village, who twice a month had to be present when
their names were called over. They put in writing all the divers tasks
required of the villagers. They kept an account of the allowance of food
sometimes granted to the civilians. They distributed passports and they
superintended requisitions. From the outset Bubenpech seemed eager to
show he was hard to please. The rural constable was ordered to announce
that gold was to be brought to the "bureau," where the owners would be
given bank-notes in its stead, according to the simplest exchange, 100
marks for 125 francs.

Pieces of gold are not readily drawn out of the stockings. Yet a few of
them had to come forth. I am afraid that since then the invaders have
managed to empty them; but at that time they were only at the heel.

By mere chance Morny had as yet paid no more than the contribution of
war which had been levied on the whole country soon after the invasion.
Other villages less fortunate than ours had been overburdened with taxes
upon the most ridiculous pretences. A poor hamlet, Coucy les Eppes, was
fined six times during the space of a few months. First came the general
contribution. Then a fine of half a million francs was imposed upon the
canton of Sissonne, to which Coucy belongs, and every village had to pay
its share. It so happened that in September some soldiers, coming back
from Reims, drove their carts through Sissonne, and as their carts were
loaded with bottles of wine, they drank all the way, and threw empty
bottles behind them. Then came motor-cars, which punctured their tyres
on the broken glass. Great scandal! The civilians were accused of having
put a trap for honest Prussian wheels. Their protestations availed
nothing. The canton was condemned to a fine; the canton must pay; and
Coucy paid like the other communes.

When all houses were searched after the great proclamation of November,
an old flint-lock, kept in memory of an ancestor, was discovered in
Coucy at an old maiden lady's. It never struck the owner that she should
have brought it to the Mayor's house, or hidden it. And suppose the old
maiden lady had shouldered the ancient gun? It is enough to make you
shudder when you think of the danger the German army might have thus
incurred. As quick as could be a few thousand francs were levied on the
village which dared be subversive enough to conceal an old maid and an
old gun. Even then the troubles of the poor village did not come to an
end. A French aviator dropped a bomb on the station, and the bomb
disturbed a few German carriages. The military authority knitted its
brows.

"Why! This Coucy is talked of again! Let it have a good fine, and it
will keep quiet."

For what reasons had this village to bleed itself and borrow from the
town in order to pay the invader twice more, I do not know, but so it
was. Morny's turn was coming. One night a barn of the farm where the
Hussars were quartered took fire, and was soon in a blaze with the straw
it contained. The whole village ran to quench the conflagration. We
stood near-by just long enough to see the peasants put the fire out
with all speed, while the soldiers folded their arms, and were pleased
to be amused. Von Bernhausen and Bubenpech looked on at the spectacle.
Then Von Bernhausen thought proper to rate the Mayor sharply:

"There are not people enough.... Go and fetch civilians.... Be
quick...."

All the able-bodied men of the village were summoned, and they sweated
while the Hussars made sport of them. The _Gazette des Ardennes_, which
took the place of the _Journal de Guerre_ to the very best advantage,
does not relate such accidents in this wise, but I can only narrate what
my eyes have seen.

Bubenpech rubbed his hands. He had found an opportunity to show his
zeal. With all speed he sent a report to the Staff, upon which he
depended, stating that civilians had set the barn on fire out of spite.
He forgot to add that a few hours before the disaster the Hussars had
burnt their dirty, lousy mattresses in the neighbourhood of the said
barn, where, besides, soldiers had been seen smoking many a time with
perfect serenity.

So stout gentlemen in full uniform came to Morny, and with reproachful
looks stalked majestically through the streets. A chance was given us to
atone for the misdeed. If within twenty-four hours information was
lodged against the civilian who had set fire to the barn, the village
might be forgiven. Should the contrary happen, a severe penalty would be
immediately enforced. No denunciation, and for good reasons. The people
were convinced that the soldiers had kindled the straw on purpose. The
military authorities, grieved to the heart, imprisoned, without further
delay, the Mayor and six notable persons. Then they deliberated upon the
matter, and always regretfully imposed a fine of 16,000 francs on the
village. They ordered the other prisoners to be set at liberty after
three days, but kept the Mayor under lock and key for two weeks, ill fed
and worse lodged. M. Lonet and another municipal councillor went the
round of the village, and did their best to get the sum required. They
managed to collect 12,000 francs, and the Germans had to be content with
that for the present. They knew only too well that they would catch us
again.

Besides other cares worried us. In February 1915 our houses were again
searched from top to bottom. It was proclaimed that the inhabitants
should declare the quantity of corn, flour, and vegetables they had in
store, so that the provisions might be requisitioned according to the
needs of the German army. And mysterious sacks, closed baskets, furtive
barrows were seen in Morny. There was an air of haste; men passed close
to the walls, went along out-of-the-way paths, up to attics, down into
holes. When the day of perquisition came--the Germans believed their own
eyes rather than the declarations of the natives--there were tears and
gnashing of teeth. Treasures were discovered, potatoes and corn dug up.
The Germans laid hold of everything; they even despoiled the very poor
of their slender provisions. For instance, our neighbours, the
Branchiers, a very young couple, whose joint ages were less than forty
years, who had only an empty purse and about thirty kilos of potatoes,
were robbed to the very last shred.

That they might not lose a single potato they carefully raked Mme.
Turgau's shed all around, and seized forty, though the poor woman has
four children, who do not live upon nothing. We, in our house, tired of
the war, hid nothing at all. We had possessed for a fortnight four sacks
of wheat, which we had bought from a farmer, who had mysteriously sold
this secret hoard. Where, I beg of you, could you conceal four sacks of
wheat in an honest house? Especially when you know from sad experience
that the perquisitioners perform their office conscientiously. At
Aulnois they had watered a cellar to make sure that the ground had not
been newly dug. At Vaux they had not left twenty centimetres of a
certain garden unexplored. After a long debate we decided to leave
things as they were.

But if peace returns and I am able to build a house, it shall have
hiding-places, wells, tanks, deep dungeons! Hollow walls shall open by
means of secret springs, and two, three, five cellars shall be arrayed
one beneath the other, which, in case of need, shall swallow up whole
herds, to say nothing of a vast reserve of groceries.

Meanwhile, our goods being full in sight, Bubenpech, who, out of
politeness, gave himself the trouble to search our house, visiting every
cupboard and poking his nose everywhere, had been at no pains to
discover them. He declared he was compelled to requisition the corn, but
with a smile he left us our potatoes. Colette was indignant.

"Why! this fellow does not take our potatoes because he wants to be
amiable! And our neighbours have been despoiled of everything! It is a
shame! We must share with the others."

And we did.

A basket to right, a basket to left, a basket over the way, our
provision well-nigh dwindled to nothing. After that we were in the same
state as our neighbours. It is beyond doubt that some people had
managed to save many things, and of course the Germans had surmised as
much. Two or three days after the first perquisitions they dropped in
unawares, and made very profitable visits. Mme. Turgau, for instance,
had succeeded in hiding a sack of wheat, and the soldiers were hardly
out of the way when she baked a loaf to celebrate her good fortune. The
loaf, yellow and round, was displayed on the table, while on the ground
lay the sack, saved from the wreck, and little Lucienne, a slender girl
of twelve, as reasonable as a woman, was grinding corn in a coffee-mill.
Near at hand a dish was already full of flour; after a second operation
of the same kind it would be fit for kneading. The mother was out, the
baby girl, Claire, was busy sucking her thumb, with her admiring gaze on
her sister; the last-born was asleep in its cradle.

Heavy steps broke the silence, big shadows appeared on the door-sill.
"The Prussians!"

The coffee-mill stopped short.

"Ah! ah!" the non-commissioned officer said, "you have corn; you stole
it."

"No, sir, it is just a little bit I have gleaned with mamma."

"You stole it," replied the soldier. "Don't you know that everything
belongs to the Germans? If you have corn you must have stolen it."

And the perquisitioners carried away in triumph the small sack, the
beautiful golden loaf, and even the dishful of half-ground flour. On
coming back, Mme. Turgau found Lucienne in tears, Claire weeping in
imitation of her sister, and Jacquot, ever ready to make an uproar,
screaming at the top of his voice. After these fatal visits we had still
more holes to take in in our belts. Nothing was ever left on our table.
The dishes, few in number, were immediately divided into seven parts,
and every one thought when rising from table: "I could begin again with
pleasure."

The question of light was another plague of our life. The last drop of
petroleum, the last traces of linseed oil had been converted into smoke
a long time before. We were obliged to use horse-oil like our
neighbours.

Horse-oil! Oh! for ever and ever nauseous remembrance! Always
half-congealed, brownish, sticky, stinking, it made its bold
manipulators sick for an hour.

This oil was manufactured by a man in the village when he could procure
a dead horse, not too lean; and as we could not get as much as we had
wished, we had to be sparing of it. The villagers simply poured it into
an old sardine box, and the wick, leaning against the metal brim,
smoked, charred, smelt nasty, and gave as little light as possible.

In spite of our efforts, this half-liquid matter energetically refused
to ascend in the lamp; and we were forced to let it burn openly in a
receptacle of some kind or other, and to support it by an ingenious
system of pins. In fact it was so ingenious that the wick was swamped in
the oil every moment, and we were left groping about the dark room,
whose air was infected with a smell of burnt flesh. Doleful evenings,
still more doleful nights. We no longer slept as we had slept before the
Hussars' serenades. In order to give a larger apartment to Bubenpech,
Geneviève and I had to be satisfied with the "small room" which is on a
level with the yard and icy cold in winter. A simple rush-mat covered
the pavement; the stove was small, the fuel rare, our blanket thin--the
Hussars had requisitioned two others. We went to bed shivering with
cold; our hot-water bottle alone gave us a little life. As to sleep....
One does not sleep much in an invaded country; every moment some
unwonted noise makes you start; and then the rumbling of the cannon
disturbs you, and the thought of the absent sends a thrill through your
heart.

And then you ask yourself: How long? how long? In February 1915 the end
seemed to have been postponed. "Our soldiers will come back next
spring," said the peasants. Resigned to fate, we all waited for their
return, and long were the nights. I know people who went to bed at five
o'clock, without a dinner, for good reasons, and got up at about eight
o'clock. How many pangs and cares thus wandered in the darkness!
Geneviève and I dreaded the shades of evening, and it was often midnight
before we made up our minds to blow out the light. Many a nightmare
startled us, keeping us wide awake for the rest of the night. Who shall
describe the horror of the dreams dreamed during the war? The dreams of
the conquered! Every night brought its own vision, but two came back
with a most distressing obstinacy.

A landscape covered with snow, a great deal of snow, round-topped
mountains, the wind tossing the branches of the fir-trees. It looks like
the Vosges. Why? Posy, are you in the Vosges? How can the wind make such
a noise through the branches? I see but one fir tree black against the
gloomy sky. And I hear it thunder, yet the thunder never roars in
winter. I see a crow whirling round and round before it alights. There
is nothing under the fir tree. But I know something must be there. Here
it is, it is black ... it is long. The crow hovers. I do not stir, my
feet are sunk in the snow. Yet I come nearer, or rather the thing is
approaching. Yet it is exactly what I thought; it is a dead body. Its
uniform is untouched. Its face ... the eye-sockets are empty. Who is it?
who is it? The crow has torn out his eyes! Yet we buried the scout in
Chevregny. Who is it? Oh, God! he that is nearest to me in the world!

Posy!...

I shrieked with terror and I awoke, panting. The wind moaned through the
trees of the garden, and from time to time ceased as if to allow its
raging interlocutor, the cannon, to roar instead of itself.

It was impossible to try to sleep again. But we also used to dream wide
awake. In the invaded country thousands and thousands of people are thus
thinking in the dark. Their hands are clasped in prayer, or clenched, or
convulsively pressed, or relaxed out of utter weariness. It is the hour
when the absent are present. What family has not one or several members
at the front? And for many months an abyss has grown between us which
cannot be crossed. But at night they come back; in the dark we see the
dear faces smile; we watch their familiar gestures, we hear their
familiar voices. Shall we be allowed to see them again here below?
Where are they? where are the strong arms that embraced me when I
murmured, "Posy, I am cold."

Where are the beloved ones? The mothers are at prayers, the mothers are
crying; sisters, wives, all that love shrink with horror at the sights
that pass before their eyes. Where are the beloved ones? They have been
dead perhaps these last six months. Their bodies may be rotting among
barbed wire; they may have been blown to pieces by an explosion, or
swollen by asphyxiating gas, or burnt in the flames, or crushed beneath
earthworks, or riddled by grape-shot, or torn by balls. Their bodies
which have been cherished, cared for, kissed! And we go on hoping for
them, thinking them alive, safe and sound. When shall we know whether
they are dead or alive, whether strong and healthy or moaning upon a bed
in hospital?

Our souls, our eager hearts are longing for delivery, and the day it
comes will perhaps bring with it the bitterest sorrows. Most families
will have to mourn a dead one; the whole country will be sunk in grief:
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted. We shall
be despoiled and stripped of everything; we live but for the hope of
meeting again our loved ones, and how many will never come back! And
while they die, we receive their murderers! They sleep under our roofs,
eat the fruits of our labour, and reign over us.

The want of news, the presence of the Germans, such were the saddest
things of our life. Oh, they were present, always present! It was
impossible to forget them even for one moment. They pursued us in our
dreams, they haunted us. How often I have found myself stretched on a
road, on an icy cold road in a barren country. And men came galloping up
with loud shouting, and I could not move, the cavalcade was going to
crush me:

The Hussars! the Hussars!...

Once more I set up a cry; I woke up. Steps, voices resounded in the
street. The officers' evening party was at an end. The key fumbled at
the lock; Bubenpech was coming back. It was one o'clock, or two, or
three. I heard the dogs patter along the yard, they wanted to identify
the visitor. The cannon rumbled with a sluggish sound. The hours were
slow, slow.

At breakfast, Antoinette often said charitably:

"Just mind what I say, mother, one morning you will see the whole of us
come up singing, dancing, laughing, perfectly fit for Bedlam."

To be sure one would go mad for less. Our life was duller than any
one's: fancy six women shut up in a house, having nothing particular to
do, always engrossed by the same tiring thoughts. Leisure is an evil
very difficult to bear in an invaded territory. You wait; you do nothing
else; you seem to be in a condition that cannot go on for long. Work? To
what purpose? For whose sake? And what work to do? Save the men whom the
Germans have requisitioned, and who, of course, tire themselves as
little as possible, every one drags out his days. The baker, the
teachers, and the cobbler are the only persons of the village really
busy. We envied them their occupations, as we had but our needles to
fill up our free hours. Very soon we had darned our old clothes, set
them to rights, and distributed them among the poor. There was a family
of seven children, whose mother had just died, and whose clothes we kept
in decent condition. But it was not enough. We, too, yawned our life
away.

Ten times a day we cried aloud for the means of escape! Escape! To live
again an active life, to see people who are not Germans, to know what is
going on, to live!

A gleam of hope came: it was in the month of March, the garden was
already strewn with snowdrops, primroses, and crocuses. Captivity was
harder to bear than ever. One day the rural constable made an
announcement. He appeared to our eyes crowned with a golden nimbus, and
more dazzling than an archangel; his voice was sweeter than honey. He
said:

"The persons who want to leave the invaded territory to go into other
parts of France may have their names put down at the townhall with the
exception of the men from fourteen to sixty."

This caused so great an emotion among us that we well-nigh quitted this
life suddenly and simultaneously. We kept on the look-out for Bubenpech,
when he should come home, to demand further particulars.

This Bubenpech did not please us at all. It is agreed that no Prussian
could have pleased us. But on the dislike we entertain to the whole race
was grafted a personal aversion to him. He was dark-haired,
middle-sized, short-legged, with a solid torso, topped by a big neckless
head. He had regular features, deceitful eyes, and looked something of a
rake. He was said to be nearly related to a general, and he thought
himself irresistible.

"How dissipated he looks," we said the first time we saw him.

And one of his soldiers whispered in Mme. Lantois' ear:

"Lieutenant, not bad! ... but many women, many women. That's not good!"

In fact Bubenpech led a most dissolute life. He soon brought confusion
upon Morny, and his stay there was the commencement of a debauch that
caused a scandal throughout the region.

With us he was at first all smiles. But our looks soon chilled him, and
he was content with a short bow when he happened to meet one of us,
which was rare, for we carefully avoided him.

"At least," we said, "he is not too dull-witted; he understands that we
look sour at the Germans, and he does not want to have us punished for
it."

We were candid. Bubenpech was not rude and unmannerly like Von
Bernhausen, and therefore his methods were different.

All the same he bore us a grudge for having been insensible to his
charms; only he looked upon revenge as a cold dish. But he swore that we
should pay dearly for the scorn of the Germans, and he waited his
opportunity. He was sure to seize it, even if it limped with a lame
foot.

For the present, he encouraged us to go, and gave most comforting
particulars about the journey, which would be an easy one. The trains
would take thousands of people to Switzerland, and within four or five
days at the farthest we should be in Paris. Would we go, indeed! Rather
than stay behind we would have made the journey in a cattle-truck, upon
our head, or on our knees. Five days to go to Paris, what is that! Even
were we to spend them sleepless, even were we to starve, and be squeezed
tight like sardines in a tin box!

"Who will go?" I inquired. There were some who held back.

"I stay here," declared Mme. Valaine. "Up to now the house has not been
plundered; I want to keep it as it is."

"I stay here," said Colette in her turn. "Do you think I will fly before
the Prussians again? Besides, I have nothing to do in Paris. I will keep
mother company. I saw the French go away; I want to see them come back."

"Then," Yvonne decided, "I will stay too. Shall I go and study music in
Paris when the Prussians are still here? Never. Since mother and Colette
remain, I stay with them. After all, the French can't be long in coming
back."

Mother and daughters insisted.

"Besides," they added, "living will be easier when you are away. If Mme.
Lantois manages to give us one or two eggs or a bottle of milk, this
windfall will not have to be divided into seven parts. For us, all that
is left of our potatoes! For us, the provision of macaroni that is
hidden in the canopy of the bed of 'our Prussian.'"

After a long discussion the thing was settled. We fell into one
another's arms. Every one of us shed a flood of tears, and with feverish
haste we made preparations for our departure.

At the idea that he was going to see his mother again Pierrot had turned
as white as a sheet, and then had begun screaming at the top of his
voice, "Mother! mother! mother!" He jumped, he danced. We had to tell
him that if he were so tiresome we should be obliged to leave him in
Morny, and he became as quiet as a lamb.

Our bags were soon packed, and with thrilling hearts we awaited our
departure.

The announcement of the journey did not arouse the enthusiasm which the
Germans had expected. Bubenpech had given us a grand and imposing
picture of those evacuations _en masse_.

"We purpose," he said, "we purpose evacuating forty per cent of the
civil population. Why should we go on feeding so many useless people?

"We shall but keep back," he went on, "large landowners and the workers
we are in need of. At the end of the month, a train will start every
day; volunteers will first go, then the necessitous."

The number of volunteers were very small. The people reposed no trust at
all in the Prussians.

"Do you think," the women of the village whispered, "that they are going
to take you to France? To a concentration camp rather. You may take my
word for it. Some people have thus left Chauny, and now they are
somewhere in the north ... out in the open country ... up to the knees
in the mud...."

We laughed at them.

"But why should the Germans take charge of us? They would be obliged to
feed us no matter how little they gave us."

It was all of no use. Nobody was willing to go, not even those who
eagerly wished to escape.

The organisers of the convoys were amazed. They determined that certain
persons should go by foul means since they would not go by fair means.
The commandant of every village was ordered to eject so many persons.
The number for Morny was fixed at twenty. There were two volunteers
besides ourselves, an elderly lady, Mme. Charvon, and her granddaughter;
both wanted to go back to Paris. Thirteen reluctant emigrants were then
to be picked up among the people. Bubenpech chose at random a woman from
Braye, her five small children, and her old father, then three orphan
boys, and a family including an invalid father, a mother, and two little
girls.

These had two sons, sixteen and eighteen years old, who would stay
behind if the parents went. They raised an outcry.

"My poor boys!" the mother moaned; "am I going to abandon them like
that? We beg nothing of the Germans! We want only to be left together."

She went to the "bureau," threw herself at the feet of Bubenpech, who
scouted her demand with disdain, and had her kicked out of doors. The
morning we were to start she pretended to be ill, and kept to her bed.
The lieutenant despatched four men who took her out of bed, heedless of
her resistance, and made her get into the cart, with a blanket as sole
wrapper. We heard the poor woman sob while she put on her stays and
petticoats in the jolting cart that took us to Laon. And the folly of it
was that another woman of Cerny wished for nothing better than to go.

"Since my sister and father are sent away," she said, "I choose rather
to go with them; I have no mind to stay here alone with my two babies."

It was not to be. Three persons eager to stay were forced to go; three
others, nothing loath to go, were bidden to stay. Thus had our leaders
settled the matter.

In other villages it was still worse. A man of Barenton set his house on
fire and hanged himself rather than leave. Some persons were sent away
because the Germans coveted their houses for one purpose or another. At
Vivaise the wife of an adjutant was compelled to leave her
well-furnished house for the reason that it pleased those gentlemen. So
a blind woman and her invalid husband, both aged seventy-five, were
banished from Verneuil. In tears they left their small house where they
had lived happily for many a year, their garden, whose fruits were
sufficient for their scanty needs. Besides, they had a few fowls and a
little money, and so they were not in the least a charge upon the
Germans. Of course they expected everything to be plundered and
destroyed, and, weak and old as they were, they saw no hope that they
would ever come back.

We were volunteers, at one moment distressed at the thought that we left
three of our own people in the lurch, at another mad with joy that we
should soon be at liberty, or trembling with fear lest we should hear
bad news of those whose fate was hidden from us.

About the end of March, after many tears had been shed, embraces and
kisses exchanged, after the very dogs had been hugged, we found
ourselves in front of the "bureau" with the other departing travellers.
We all got into two big carts, and sat down on our luggage. The
departures were somewhat delayed. We had to wait for the woman who did
not want to go away.

At ten the carts set out.

"Good-bye, we shall see you later in Paris," Bubenpech cried.

It was the parting kick of the ass.

"Then you will come as a prisoner," replied Antoinette, laying aside all
prudence. The officer broke out laughing and turned a deaf ear. With a
great deal of jolting, the carts took us away, and we soon lost sight of
the pale faces of Mme. Valaine and her daughters. Two gendarmes on
horseback accompanied us. Thus we were enrolled among the emigrants. We
alighted in Laon, and were shown into a huge hall adjoining the station.
The little emigrants of Cerny were still screaming, the refractory woman
had not left off crying. Pierrot felt uneasy, and hung on my arm; we
dragged our luggage along with a great deal of trouble. The hall we were
taken to was already crowded with hundreds of persons. From early
morning the refugees had been arriving in great numbers. Long rough
boards nailed upon four upright pieces of wood served as tables and
benches. Besides the picture of the emperor the walls were chiefly
decorated with vast inscriptions. "God with us" was not absent; nor was
"God punish England," in letters three feet high. The shrieking of the
urchins, their mothers' scolding overtopped the general noise. The old
people looked scared, and did not know what to do. On the rough tables
soldiers put platters of a sticky, greyish soup; a smell of burnt grease
floated in the air. We were waiting for our turn to go to a small room
where three nurses of the Red Cross were busy feeling, searching,
undressing the emigrants as they pleased.

"No papers, no letters?"

At two every one had filed off before these searchers, and we were
ordered to start again. So through the streets of Vaux the pitiful crowd
wended its way to the station, about twelve hundred emigrants surrounded
by soldiers. From their thresholds the inhabitants stared at us. Truly a
more miserable herd never was seen. The Germans had chosen to send away
the poorest among the poor of our villages--bareheaded women, ragged
children, beggarly men, sick people, cripples, idiots. All were laden
and overladen with parcels, baskets, and bundles. There were two or
three carts to convey the heaviest luggage, but every one preferred
keeping what was dearest to him.

We, too, were overladen. We made what haste we could among the grey
crowd. We had walked a mile, I could hardly carry my bag any longer. At
one moment it even dropped from my hands. I approached an officer, stiff
and stout, who seemed to be the manager of the caravan.

"Sir," I besought, "please order a moment's rest.... I can't go any
farther."

"No, no, no halt. If you can't carry your things, ask some one else."

Some one else! That was easy to say. I looked around me despairingly;
the people were all as weary as I.

Pierrot stuck to my arm, Antoinette was somewhere in front, Geneviève
was spent with fatigue. Near us a soldier seemed touched with pity.

"I am sorry I can't help you, but it is forbidden."

At length I caught sight of a big fellow who carried his fortune in a
handkerchief. He was one-eyed, one-armed, but he was willing to take
charge of my bag. I was then able to help Geneviève with hers. We were
saved, we stopped every other minute, put down our common load, and
taking it up again ran forward to fall into place.

Where were we going to? We went on, tramping through the mud, with the
noise of a flock of sheep, and, to crown all, there came on a heavy
rain, which the poor crying children received on their dirty little
noses. We had left the suburbs, and the road now passed through the open
country. At about three miles from the station we perceived an immense
train of third-class carriages that was waiting for us. It was carried
by storm. Each one settled himself. We were but six persons in one
carriage, we and two ladies of Morny, the grandmother and the
granddaughter.

We exchanged congratulations. We had been told that the journey might be
difficult: one of the hardest stages was passed. We sat down to recover
our breath, stretched our stiff limbs, and then looked around us. The
carriages we were in had been used to convey troops; they were bedecked
with inscriptions in pencil. Some without much expense of thought merely
wished that "God should punish England!" Others clamoured for "the death
to those pigs of Frenchmen!" Or stated that "French blood is good."
Pierrot conscientiously rubbed out with his handkerchief as much as he
could. After many manoeuvres, marches, and counter-marches the train
decided to start. It was about four o'clock. Oh, memorable hour! We saw
the gate of our prison open a little! Was it possible that we were
going away? Was it true? Could we say in our turn, "within four days,
Parisse!"

We were made with joy; we kissed one another; then we thought it wise to
put our things in order. This carriage would doubtless serve us as a
shelter as far as the Swiss frontier, perhaps for two or three days. The
first thing, then, was to make ourselves comfortable. Our feet were
cold. Suppose we put on our slippers? No sooner said than done.

When our first joy had somewhat cooled down, and we were properly
installed, we watched the landscape. The train went slowly through a
dull country; the clouds seemed to crawl along the ground, and the mist
moistened the panes of the windows. We had hardly gone an hour when the
train stopped, and left half of its carriages in the station. Then we
resumed our journey, and soon made a second halt. We could not read the
name of the station we were at; we did not know even what line we were
on. The engine was reversed, then stopped some time after with a loud
whistle.

Soldiers went along the carriages and threw the doors open.

"Get down, all, bags and baggage."

Sudden change! In great haste we put on our shoes, tied our shawls and
cloaks together, gathered our bags, and jumped out on the line. Many
cries and calls were heard. At last the train emptied itself; there was
a whistle, and off it moved. There we were, about six hundred of us
standing on a steep bank, and wondering what was going to happen next.
No station was to be seen, the country seemed deserted, pasture-land on
the left, hills stripped by the winter on the right. The emigrants,
uneasy in their minds, bustled about; women fell a-weeping; relations
sought one another; an old man bent with age, and walking awry like a
crab, moved to and fro. "My wife, I have lost my wife." Thus he moaned
to himself, looking for the weak arm that would hold up his greater
debility.

The babies cried with cold. A sharp wind pierced us to the marrow, the
rain cut our faces, and our hearts thrilled with fear, while the night
fell on the anxiety of the miserable herd moving in the fog.



CHAPTER XI


Under the bridge of the railway was a high-road. The soldiers directed
the crowd towards it. "Get down, get down," they cried, gesticulating
all the while. Narrow steps had been cut in the dark slippery ground.
The bank was very steep, yet every one ventured down; the young people
held the old ones; the nimblest carried luggage and infants; the
children tumbled forwards upon all fours. On getting to the road we saw
a few carts waiting for bags and bundles. We abandoned ours into the
hands of the soldiers. Happen what might to our things, our courage
failed us to take charge of them again. Who knew how many miles we were
to walk?

"Go on, go on," our guardians cried.

And the sorry band, so much the more lamentable as they were drenched to
the skin, bent their bodies, and trudged off again. "What does this
unexpected halt mean?" we asked one another with a mixture of curiosity
and dismay. The road with hedges on each side, after we had met with a
bridge and a crossing, took us to a village. Standing in front of their
houses, the people, moved with pity, watched our beggarly crowd go by in
the twilight, dabbling in the mud, and not knowing where they were being
taken to. We did not even know the place we were in. The name we read on
a finger-post did not say anything to us. At the top of the street two
gendarmes on horseback divided the herd into two parts, so many heads to
the right, so many to the left. We were pushed on to the right, we went
to the right. We had left the village, and went down a road bordered
with high trees that led into the open country.

"They were right all the same, those who said we would be landed in the
fields," moaned a woman. Then we took a short cut between two banks. We
were all over mud. At length, on the slope of the hill, we caught sight
of a dark mass, a very large farm with vast outhouses. We had reached
the goal. The lower windows glimmered; a few guards were seen in a room
of the ground floor. We entered the kitchen, where whole beams blazed on
the hearth. The soldiers bustled about. It was no light matter to settle
in a short time--350 persons crowded in together in the courtyard. And
they hurried over the job: so many emigrants in the house, in the
barns, in the stables, in the attics.

"Straw is to be had everywhere; do as you can."

The people did as they could. Moving about kept them warm; it was their
only means. We were among the privileged; we had been presented with a
small room at the angle of the house, on the first story. It was very
scantily furnished: a spring mattress in an iron frame, a child's
bedstead, two trusses of straw.

"Pierrot, your couch would be fit for a king."

We buried him in the straw with his clothes on, and heaped clothes upon
him. He was not cold; he fell asleep.

But we lay, dying with cold, all three on the narrow spring mattress,
and the draught chilled us to the bone. In vain we wrapped ourselves in
shawls and cloaks; we could get neither warmth nor sleep. We had brought
with us a candle, and we let it burn, not without remorse, since we
expected many another night of the same kind. A change of weather
happened opportunely; the wind suddenly rose and swept away the clouds;
we thought there would be a frost. A cold, bleak wind was howling round
the house; the weathercocks creaked, the boards in the half-ruined
sheds cracked, and the 350 emigrants shuddered with cold in the freezing
rooms of the farm and in the draughty barns. A mile and a half away, at
the sugar-mill, 360 others were shivering in halls and cellars. In the
guard-room downstairs the soldiers gave a straw mattress to a poor old
man who had terrible pains in the back, and who did not cease to wail
the whole night long. Upstairs, in the attic, there were forty persons,
among them fifteen children of charity. There was no rest to their
weeping, nor to the patter of their feet. These small refugees, rather
than go down the steep, black steps into a colder, blacker place,
relieved themselves at the angles of the beams, and we saw with horror a
trickle come from between the joists and run down our walls. Twice heavy
steps shook the lobby, the door opened, a voice counted us: "One, two,
three, four...." The soldiers were going their round. Half-frozen, we
ventured downstairs to go and warm ourselves in the kitchen. But it was
already crowded with about forty women with their babies, either in
front of the fire or squeezed together on the benches. The air was
unbreathable, so we went back to our icy chamber. Benumbed with cold,
our limbs gathered up together, our chins on our knees, our feet stuck
in our muffs, with a sore throat and a giddy head we made up our minds
to wait for the morning, to take stock of our situation, and to find out
in what place fate and the Germans had deposited us.

In the whole Thiérache, teeming with lovely hamlets, I warrant that
there is no other so pretty as Jouville. It is perched half-way up the
hill on the high-road to Guise, and its houses, first set in a straight
row along the road, soon take a short-cut, and then descend the vale,
where they meet with the purling Serre. They dawdle there in small
knots, and storm a second hill, topped by a white steeple-crowned
church. This building is not in the least handsome, yet it sowed
dissension among the inhabitants. Jouville-East-Hill laid claim to the
pious edifice; Jouville-West-Hill got it. Jouville-East-Hill forthwith
took to free-thinking, flung itself into the socialist party, and swore
it would never cross the Serre to gratify the spiritual needs of its
souls. On the other hand, Jouville-West-Hill took a most serious turn,
swore only by holy-water sprinklers and stoles, and sang nothing but
vespers and matins. Jouville, in ordinary times, gives itself wholly up
to cultivation of apples, to cattle-breeding, and to wicker-weaving.
Each occupation adds a feature to the village. The apple trees fill the
well-kept orchards that hem it all around; those meadows that stretch
afar off feed the cows, and the willows, which will presently be
converted into baskets, form thick hedges and make a draught-board
pattern in the fields. The village, indeed, is packed with osiers, cut,
tied in bundles, placed upright along the streets, and watered by the
brook. So they grow green, and are covered with catkins, just like their
brothers that have not been cut. The houses of Jouville are small, red
and white, beneath a slate hood; their windows laugh a roguish laugh. On
their roofs are fantastic weathercocks, and in front of them small
gardens, in which box-trees flourish, cut into shapes. In short,
Jouville looks at once simple and smart, modest and satisfied, and its
mere aspect should cheer up the way-worn wanderer. Though this rustic
Eden pleased us, we had no mind to take up our abode in it. The day
after our arrival, we managed to ask an officer:

"What is the matter? What are we doing here?"

"Oh, the departure has been postponed, the organisers of the convoy are
not in agreement."

"But how long are we going to stay here?"

"Not longer than a few days; you need not be afraid."

Although we were forewarned, our simple minds would not believe in
duplicity. We were reassured.... A few days would soon glide by. When a
soldier talked of a whole week, he astonished us. The chief cook in the
kitchen, where he was superintending a swarm of busy scullions, dared to
murmur three weeks, and he was hooted at by everybody. In the farm and
in the sugar-mill the emigrants settled themselves as well as they
could. A pitiful place, in which straw was expected to do everything!
The straw served as seats and mattresses, it served as blankets, it
served as shutters and padding. Nothing but straw to preserve oneself
from the cold. And the cold was terrible. I think that we shall never
suffer from anything as we suffered from the cold in Jouville. It was
the icy chill of the seventh cycle of Hell, the chill that pierces you
to the very marrow of the bones; it was the chill of death.... For a
whole week we tried vainly to warm ourselves. The weather was clear; the
wind blew with fury; the frozen ground was as hard as stone; icicles
were dangling from the gutters; and the emigrants' teeth were
chattering. They bent their shoulders, thrust their hands in their
arm-pits, and wandered up and down. Some had on only rough linen
clothes. From the yard they went up to the attic, from the barns to the
kitchen, in quest of a bit of warmth, and they looked so cold that the
mere sight of them heightened your misery.

In the sugar-mill some people had the luck to lodge in rooms that could
be heated. But what of those who dwelt in attics through which the wind
was blowing just as it did outside, or in cellars where they sat in a
perpetual draught? The manifold misery we were the witnesses of was
beyond description. I remember a room in the sugar-mill where about
fifty emigrants had been huddled together--men and women, old people and
children, in ill health or in good. It was a long, icy-cold room, with a
low ceiling, feebly lighted by two deep windows in the shape of
loopholes. At the threshold the odour of sick and dirty humanity
suffocated you; the children's squalling, the mothers' scolding, the
men's rough voices stunned you. In the dimly lighted room you perceived
a path opened through the straw, spread out on both sides, on which you
saw creatures crouched or lying. You stumbled on baskets, kitchen
utensils, and bundles, had to shun wet linen and children's clothes,
which the women had stretched out in the fallacious hope of drying them.
When your eyes got somewhat used to the sober light of the place, you
were able to single out the sick or the old people lying about the
straw, the mothers suckling their babies, the men leaning against the
wall. You saw their pale worn faces, their hands benumbed with cold,
their thin clothes. And if you stopped to talk to them they told you
many bitter, heart-rending stories. In a corner a girl of twenty was at
the last gasp. She had but one lung left, and spat blood, while small
children were playing about her. It was the hopeless horror of a
concentration camp. Yet the commandant of the convoy, a lieutenant of
the reserve, a good man after all, and the father of a family, did his
best with the poor means at his disposal. Once even we saw a tear roll
down his cheek at a distressing sight. The weather being inclement, he
gave orders to have the greater part of the emigrants lodged in the
village. The sick first, then the women and the children would be
provided for. There was great excitement. A choice was made, and after
three days and a good deal of writing, the farm and the sugar-mill had
but a hundred occupants left, all huddled together in the few habitable
rooms. The rest encamped in empty houses, slept on straw, a dozen in a
room. At any rate they were under cover, and could warm themselves or
accept the hospitality of the inhabitants of the village. Such was our
case. Charming people gave us shelter, and placed two rooms at our
disposal. We had beds. After we had spent three nights on a spring
mattress and had shivered all the while, how pleasant it was to go to
bed! But our apartment was not heated, had not been lived in for a long
time, was impregnated with damp, and, chilled as we were, we recovered
warmth only a few days after.

The life of the camp was organised after the military fashion. We were
expected to obey at a glance.

In the morning, as early as half-past seven, the emigrants hastened to
the sugar-mill or the farm, where each was inscribed in the place where
he slept the night before. A grown-up member of each family presented
the cards of those with him. In the two courtyards the emigrants filed
past from right to left, and answered to their names mangled by the
_Feldwebel_. Then came the daily allowance of coffee. Armed with
saucepans, jugs, pots, and cups, women and urchins went to the kitchen
to have them filled. They returned home, and at eleven o'clock, with
porringers, pails, and coppers, they made again for the farm or the
sugar-mill, to bring them back full of soup. Towards evening they wended
their way a third time to fetch coffee for their supper.

About twice a week we were told in the morning that bread would be
distributed at four o'clock. It was another errand to run. Every one
produced his card, and received an allowance for several days. If the
_Feldwebel_ announced: "In the afternoon at three the emigrants will be
passed in review," the whole village was in a flutter. It was no trifle
to drag the old people and the babies out from their heaps of straw, to
hold up the lame, to lead the blind, and to persuade the idiots. The
ragged army, every day more beggarly, hobbled along to one of the
rallying points. In the evening about eight o'clock the drum was beaten
by way of curfew-bell. Every one shut himself up and blew out his
candle, if he had one. Silence spread over the village; the emigrants,
laying aside their cares for a while, fell asleep, and the night beneath
its veil hid unnumbered miseries.

We were forbidden to go out of the village, and a pass was necessary if
we would visit a farm half a mile from the hamlet. We were real
captives, and no communication whatever was allowed with the
neighbourhood. What an organisation, how many rules for such a short
stay! Some people will think ... a short stay! One day followed another,
and they were all alike, and always saw us in Jouville. "Next week the
departure," the Germans said with unshaken impudence. Hope put us to the
torture. One week followed another; we were still there. For two months,
eight long and tedious weeks, we led this life of prisoners, thinking
that the next day would set us free. Every morning, about eight, I left
our lodging to answer to the roll-call. I was generally behindhand, and
ran along the path that led to the farm every day with a hope which sank
and withered. Shall we get news to-day? I hardly dared believe it; yet,
my feet being frozen, my face cut by the wind, I made haste. In April
the weather grew no milder, but the approaching spring was visible. A
few flowers ventured to show themselves along the hedges, and the birds
sang at the full pitch of their voices. Thus, while I ran along, the
blackbirds in rapturous joy whistled each and all: "Fuit, fuit ... she
had faith in the Germans!"

The tomtit ruthlessly and unceasingly twittered: "Sol, sol, mi ... sol,
sol, mi ... you mustn't trust any one ... sol, sol, mi ... and still
less the Germans ... sol, sol, mi...." And the wind jeered at me from
the naked branches, and the bryony's small golden stars laughed in my
face, spreading its wreaths along the path. I reached the farm, and the
women gathered at once round me. If they caught sight of Geneviève or
Antoinette, it was the same thing: we were taken by storm.

"Madam, madam, have you heard any news? When are we going?"

"Alas! within four or five days the officer said, but you know if he is
to be believed."

A strain of protestations showered down:

"You will see, they will leave us here."

"Ah! we shall never go to free France!"

"They will take us to Germany. And we can't go on living here! Our brats
have no more shoes; their clothes are in rags; it is no use to darn
them, they fall in pieces."

"But the worst is that we are hungry. We could stand it, but our
children, our little ones, are hungry."

And it was only too true, we were hungry, every one was hungry. What!
Did the Germans not feed us? Of course they did! And on what! Twice a
day each emigrant got a bowl of coffee. A bowlful or a dishful as you
liked, this lukewarm beverage was not given out with a niggard hand.
Lukewarm it always was, and thin too--stimulants ought not to be
misused,--and blackish with a smell of mud. It was without sugar or
milk, and there was no danger of feeling heavy after you had swallowed
it. If the children fell a-weeping in the night, after having swallowed
one cup of this coffee for their dinner, their mothers knew they were
not going to have an attack of indigestion. We got bread. It was real,
authentic German bread, kneaded and baked by Germans. Coloured outside
like gingerbread, it was turtledove grey inside, and would have looked
rather tempting but for the unbaked or mouldy parts. We supposed that
rye-flour, pea-flour, and potato fecula were largely used in the making
of it. Some pretended that they found sawdust in it too. I could not
affirm this. I was rather inclined to think that chemicals had induced
the heavy dough to rise. When new, this somewhat sour-tasted bread was
nice enough, and we ate it without distrust the first days we spent in
Jouville, as the bracing air gave us an appetite. Alas! it soon caused
us pains in the stomach, sickness, inflammation of the bowels, in short
put our digestive organs out of order. The emigrants ate it all the
same; indeed they could not get enough of it. The first three weeks the
Germans made a show of generosity: every person received a loaf every
third day. The weight of one loaf was supposed to be three pounds, in
reality it never exceeded thirteen hundred grammes. But the daily ration
was sufficient, and nobody complained. Unfortunately the allowance
became more and more stingy; during the last month every one received
one pound every third or even fourth day. One hundred and twenty-five
grammes--our daily pittance--do not represent a large slice, and the
people began to clamour for food. We got soup. We were entitled to a
ladle of soup by way of lunch. Shall I describe this mixture? Is it not
already famous in both continents? Do our prisoners not feast upon it in
Germany? It is a grey, thick substance which curdles like flour paste,
whose chief ingredient is fecula. Each portion contained five or six
tiny bits of meat, coming undoubtedly from over-fat animals, for we
never saw a scrap of lean. A few horse- or kidney-beans, a little rice
or barley, mixed with bits of straw, bits of wood, and other scraps of
vague origin. Antoinette had once a real godsend. She discovered in her
soup-plate ... she discovered ... how can I tell? Oh, shade of Abbé
Delille, inspire me to paraphrases! She discovered one of those
animalcules which ... plague take oratorical precautions! She found a
louse on a hair, the whole boiled. This took away what was left of our
strength, and we swore we would rather waste away, and slowly dry up,
than eat such stew in the future.

"Look at this, madam, look at this hodgepodge," moaned the women. "At
home we would not have given this rotten stuff to our pigs, and now we
must feed upon it, and give it to our children."

M. Charvet, our host, cast a look of dismay at our porringers.

"As to myself, I should die beside this, but I would never taste it."

And yet the emigrants were obliged to eat it. From the first days of our
arrival we set our house in order. Our bedrooms were at Mme. Charvet's,
but we spent the whole day long at the rural constable's. The
constable--a brave old man, wounded in 1870--gave up his large kitchen
to us, and supplied us with wood at very little cost. In a corner of the
kitchen stood a large four-post bed which received at night three of our
protegées: a lady eighty-five years old, and her two grand-daughters
aged seven and twelve years. Mme. Noreau, Mimi, and Miquette were
respectively mother and daughters of a retired officer who lives at
Coucy. Of course the officer and his two sons had not been allowed to
go, and his wife had refused to leave them. But they took the chance of
sending into France the grandmother and the little girls, who had
greatly suffered from their life of privation. From the first evening,
the sight of these helpless figures upholding one another had moved our
pity. They gratefully accepted our proffered friendship and assistance.
This is then the way we came to rule such a large household at the old
constable's. A good oven served at once to heat the room and cook the
food. For excellent reasons our stew was of the simplest. A few eggs,
milk, sugar, and butter were to be had in the village, but as we had
absolutely no other article of food--no meal whatever, no vegetables, no
meat,--we were hungry despite custards and omelettes. I said we had
tried to swallow the soup. We gave it up on account of the adventure
afore mentioned after a fortnight of earnest endeavours. So much the
worse, we said; we will live with empty stomachs. Many others were in
the same plight. We were privileged beings, for only a few among the
emigrants had a little money, enough to get something besides the usual
fare supplied us by our jailers. I leave you to imagine the appetite of
those who were reduced to bread, coffee, and soup in all. And remember
that among them there were two hundred and eighty children under ten
years who were not merely starved, but half-naked as well. The charity
children were more miserable than the others. In the bitter cold weather
they wound rags round their legs by way of stockings; their shoes were
shapeless things, held together by string, their trousers were torn,
their jackets had lost their sleeves, the girls' frocks were in rags.
Their distress melted the people of the village to tears. Jouville has
but four hundred inhabitants, and if their religious and political
passions are lively, their hearts are none the less warm.

Jouville-East-Hill and Jouville-West-Hill showed themselves equally kind
to the emigrants, and not only kind, but forbearing, and the emigrants
needed forbearance. They were not the _élite_, and they were guilty of
many a misdeed. M. Charvet well-nigh died of anger the day he discovered
that his beloved fish-pond had been secretly rid of its finest
inhabitants.

Another farmer was breathless with rage when he saw the potatoes he had
planted the day before dug up in the morning.

Ah, you rascally emigrants! Of course some people will feel deeply
shocked at such behaviour, and deem it a hanging matter--for instance,
well-fed people, secure from danger, who afar off scowl at the Germans,
the emigrants, and the typhus-smitten people with the very same
feelings.

But I who was once numbered with those emigrants, who like them was a
prey to hunger, I could not find the smallest stone to throw at them.
And the inhabitants of Jouville, who were the witnesses of our life,
threw no stone either. None of them caused our chains to be drawn
tighter by complaining to the Germans. For the invaders of the north of
France are very severe to the people who transgress the eighth
commandment ... "Thou shalt not steal."

The Jouvillians did even better. From all quarters they brought to us
and to the school-mistress of the village quantities of clothes fit to
wear, if not new, and these were distributed among the raggedest
refugees. We ourselves, with two others, did our best to clothe the
orphan girls, and the poor things were extremely proud of their new
frocks made up of shreds and patches. Some one gave them wooden shoes,
and the bruised little feet could patter down the stony high-road
without fear. The emigrants soon looked upon us as their private
property, and thought us good for everything. An old woman would come to
us, for instance, with an imperious air:

"I have been told that you are visitors of the poor, and then ..." some
request followed.

The unfortunate visitors of the poor would sometimes have been glad to
live on charity themselves. Well, this reminds me that we did once
receive alms. We were following a path by the river, bordered with
pleasant houses. It was a day of perquisitions, and the soldiers,
having turned everything upside down, had left the quarter which we
were traversing. A good old woman was coming from the river-side with a
loaf in her hand, and the mere sight of the white, light crumb made our
mouths water. The woman stopped, and said with a sidelong glance:

"You see, they don't want to know I have a little flour left. I hid my
loaf in the hole of a willow tree."

She burst out laughing, and we chimed in.

I suppose she noticed our admiring gaze, for she said all of a sudden:

"Would you like to have some?"

She tripped along quickly, and, with short steps, went to her kitchen,
came back with a knife, and cut off two large slices, which she held out
to us. We seized the bread with an avidity hardly tempered with shame,
and stammered out joyful thanks. This moved the compassion of the good
woman:

"Fancy, they are hungry! What a pity! Such lovely girls!"

And so, jumping from one stone to another in the muddy path down the
river, we burst into unrestrained laughter, and we devoured our bread
which was the real bread, the white bread of France. We had, indeed, not
a few windfalls. M. Charvet more than once presented us with one of
those pretty round loaves, which he kneaded and baked himself.

We also were hand in glove with a farmer, who sometimes in secrecy let
us have a few potatoes or a pound or two of flour, and thus gave us the
means of adding something to our meagre fare. A few treats of that kind
helped us to hold out! We looked like corpses, and we were, one after
another, the victims of strange pains caused by the cold, the bread, and
the continual excitement.

Most of the emigrants were ill. Eight of them died. We then had occasion
to see and admire the way in which the Germans organise the sanitary
service for the use of civilians. From the very first day an empty house
had been bedecked with the title of hospital, and adorned with the
scutcheon of the Red Cross. A large room directly opening into the
street was chosen for consultations; two smaller rooms containing
symmetrical heaps of straw served to receive the patients. There was a
permanent orderly in the camp, and a doctor came daily from Marle.
Emigrants, choose what sickness you like! You will be cared for!

And quickly influenza, diphtheria, bronchitis, inflammation of the lungs
burst upon the emigrants. But we soon discovered that it was not easy
to be admitted to the sick ward. I had to call four times on the officer
before they vouchsafed to take away an old couple who, despite the
Siberian cold, lived alone in a barn with big holes in its roof. The
poor woman coughed pitifully, and her old companion could only bring her
lukewarm coffee and heap upon her mountains of straw. She died two days
after she had been transferred to the hospital. An old woman died, her
body was carried away, and quickly another old woman took her place on
the very same couch of straw. A dying woman, utterly unconscious, was
left a week unattended to.

"I assure you the corner she was in was a very sink," said the man who
took upon himself to clean it when the corpse had been taken away. "And
my wife and children had to live in this infected spot!"

Our medical attendant was a young coxcomb, fair-haired,
regular-featured, and harsh-looking. A glass was fixed in his eye. About
half-past nine his carriage, drawn by a pretty horse, pulled up;
carelessly he threw the reins to his groom; he alighted and penetrated
his domain. His Lordship sat down in an easy-chair, crossed his legs,
took a haughty survey of the patients who called upon him, and spoke in
a curt and supercilious tone. He was soon held to be a villainous
fellow.

"He is as wicked as the devil," a woman said, with a look of dismay.

A great many of them wanted their children to be examined by the doctor.

"I would rather die on straw than go to him for myself," a mother
said ... "but, my poor little girl!"

But what was worse, the Prussian doctor did not care a fig for sick
children! We had been told that every baby was entitled to a litre of
milk, which one of the farmers of the village would deliver to the
mother on presentation of a note of hand. But a child above two years
was allowed to drink milk only if the doctor deemed it expedient for its
health. A woman we knew had a little girl not yet three. Six months
before the whole family had fled in a shower of bullets and grape-shot,
and for nearly a month had lived in the depths of a dark stone quarry
with hardly anything to eat. Since then the child had been as white as
wax; she had no strength at all, and she was always staring straight
before her as if she had beheld horrible things.

As she was penniless, the woman was forced to bring her child to this
medicaster.

"Sir, you see my little girl ... I think milk would do her good...."

He had but to write a note, and she would have had it.

"Milk! I haven't any! I keep no cows in my house!" and the doctor burst
out laughing, thinking himself very witty.

"Anyhow," the mother said with her teeth ground, "when he stays at home
there is a brute beast in his house worse than a cow."

Another beggar woman had twins about two years old. One of them ate soup
and bread, and throve like couch-grass. The other, who ever since the
family had left their native hamlet had fed on indigestible things, and
had nowhere to lay her head, had grown pale and sickly. She had ceased
to run alone, took no food, and pined away visibly. Her mother brought
her to the doctor.

"That child! What should I prescribe her? She is ailing on account of
her being French. French children are all rickety and weakly. How am I
to help it? Lay the blame on your race."

Before leaving, the little doctor sometimes gave a glance--a single
one--at the rooms of the hospital, then stepped into his carriage, took
up the reins, cracked his whip, and as harsh-featured as ever put his
horse to a gallop.

However, some attention had to be paid to the sick. The orderly was
there for that purpose. He was a big stout man, whose eyes seemed
starting from their sockets. He did not like to be called up in the
afternoon--he took a nap--and still less in the night. His remedies--the
same for every sickness--were most economical: "Keep on low diet, apply
cold compresses." Yet he understood his business well enough.

Our hostess, Mme. Charvet, a wealthy landowner, suddenly fell ill of a
disquieting haemorrhage. No doctor in the village, not even in the
neighbourhood. We ran in haste to fetch "Goggle-eyes."

"Oh, please, please, come!..."

"Goggle-eyes" lost no time in coming, showed assiduous attention to the
patient, punctured her, and rode on a bicycle to Marle in order to fetch
medicines. A few days after, a poor emigrant, mother of six small
children, was attacked by the same disease. He was sent for in vain; and
left her forty-eight hours without help. It was indeed a miracle that
she did not depart this life.

This proves clearly that to the mind of a German, even though he be a
_Sozial-Democrat_, the skin of a capitalist will ever be superior to the
skin of a starveling.

The physician was not our sole caller. A few other ones came when the
straw was still clean, and when we received a pound of bread a day. A
stout commandant, and three days after, a thin commandant came to visit
the camp. Both the stout and the thin looked extremely well satisfied,
and seemed to say:

"What splendid organisation! How perfectly everything is getting on!
Really, nobody but Germans could settle things like that!"

The thin commandant was escorted by the official interpreter of the
camp. He never asked a question of the people, for many reasons, the
principal being that he did know the language of Voltaire. The very
first day he had given a sample of his talents by asking a youth:

"Hé ... vous ... combien hannées vous havoir?"

And the boy, stretching his legs and hands, stood there gazing, gaping
at his interlocutor, and his whole countenance answered:

"I don't understand German!"

Therefore mimicry and loud cries bore a great part in the relations
between soldiers and emigrants.

The stout commandant piqued himself on French. In one of the rooms of
the farm he asked:

"You are comfortable here, aren't you?"

And the women, pickled in respect, answered all with one voice:

"Oh, yes, sir, yes!"

"You get good soup, don't you?"

"Oh, yes, sir, yes!"

"You get a lot of bread, don't you?"

"Oh, yes, sir, yes!"

"When you reach France you will tell the French you have been leniently
dealt with, won't you?"

"Oh, yes, sir, yes!"

The stout commandant went away, proud of himself and proud of being one
of those Germans who know how to organise camps for refugees.

"Rely on our saying how we have been dealt with," bantered the old
women, the moment the officers' large backs were turned.

Another caller was a clergyman, who was quite different from the others.

The Rev. Herr Freyer was about thirty-five, he was tall, dark-haired,
with malicious eyes and a turned-up nose. I must say he did his best to
comply with our wishes and serve the cause of the emigrants. From the
very beginning he told us that he was very fond of the French--yes, but
the Germans are all fond of the French--and that his grandmother was of
French descent.

"Why! then she had married a German?"

Well, let us go on to something else.

This man was certainly the cleverest German we had met, or rather the
only clever one we ever met. We were all the more amazed to notice once
more the abyss that separates the French from the German mind. An utter
incomprehension of certain delicacies, a lack of sensitiveness, is
peculiar to them. If they had fallen from the very moon, our ways of
doing and thinking could not be stranger to them.

And in discussion, they are unable to cast out preconceived notions,
which will ever get the better of reasoning and observation.

Herr Freyer certainly wished to show us kindness, and at every turn he
told us things which set our teeth on edge. Yet he wondered to see us
stand up for causes which he had looked upon as lost since a long time.

"How I pity France," he used to tell us, "poor degenerate France!"

And he looked quite scared when he saw our anger, and heard our vehement
protestations. He was still convinced victory would be theirs. On the
other hand, he once declared to us:

"There is a blemish in the character of the Germans ... they are
kind-hearted to a fault. The German nation is thoroughly kind-hearted."

Owing to the circumstances we dared not say all that we wanted to, and
were content to hint at Belgium....

"Oh, so many lies have been told! You ought not to believe such
slanderous accusations. As to myself I know that what you are alluding
to is false; the Germans are too kind-hearted to be guilty of the deeds
they are charged with."

Such is our enemy's mode of reasoning. He denies what they cannot
excuse. It is very easy.

"In Alsace-Lorraine we have been to blame in every way," said the
clergyman to us.

He is making confession, we thought.

"Yes, we have been too kind-hearted, over-indulgent to the people. If we
had had a firmer hand, everything would have got on much better."

This blasphemer had some merit, let us not be too hard on him.

Our leisure was propitious to gossip, and we spent many an hour
listening to those who had seen the first tragical events of the
invasion. Their simple, unvarnished tales were like so many nightmares.
For instance, there were bargemen of Braye whose boat had been split in
two by a cannon ball, and who had escaped death only by swimming and
clinging to floating planks. There was the woman of Corbeny, driven by
the Prussians from a village near Soissons. With several others she
walked to Cerny at a stretch, with the Germans ever at her heels. The
unhappy wretches had covered forty kilometres in the midst of a battle,
spent with weariness, breathless, tumbling down, and trudging off again.
Three of them were killed on the way. The woman who gave us an account
of this carried her baby, aged eighteen months, throughout this wild
race, and on the way the poor little thing was wounded twice in her
mother's arms. Of Cerny were the poor creatures who were shut up in a
deep stone quarry, and stayed there with scarcely any food for
twenty-seven days. When they were taken out and brought to Laon they
were pale, hollow-cheeked, and covered with vermin; they could hardly
walk by themselves, and their eyes could not look upon the daylight.
"The people wept as they saw us go by," the women said. During the first
hours of their sojourn in the stone quarry, there had been a tragical
incident. The fugitives were crouching in the dark when an officer broke
in, accompanied with soldiers:

"Some of you," he said, "have harboured Englishmen. We discovered an
English officer lying in such and such barn, in such a place. We have
set the building on fire."

"Ho," said a man, "my barn!"

"Ah, it was yours! You knew an Englishman was hidden in it? Come on."

The poor man vainly protested against the accusation; he was taken away.

The following day he had not yet returned. His wife was greatly
disturbed, and despite the danger made up her mind to go and try to see
him. She took some chocolate out of the slender store of the refugees.

"They have thrown him into prison," she said, "and I am sure they will
starve him to death."

The woman went. The village was half in ruins, and the ruins smoked. All
was deserted. She summoned up her courage, went straight to her house,
walked into the yard, and, close to the dunghill, his face fallen in the
filth, his hands tied behind his back, saw the corpse of her husband. He
had been shot twice in the head, and his side was pierced with a large
wound.

The victim's brother and the niece from whom we heard this story, were
not allowed to attend his burial.

From the same part were two ladies, a mother and her daughter, with a
new-born baby, who were flung out of their house with only a
dressing-gown and slippers on, and driven on without stopping at the
bayonet's point, until they reached Laon, half distracted.

To Cerny also belonged those seven men who had been confined in the
_mairie_ of Chamouille, and who saw an officer come up and yell in a
furious tone: "Your dirty French have discovered our presence here. One
of you must have made signals. That's why we are getting a shower of
shrapnel." The civilians denied the charge, and defended themselves. To
no purpose.

"You shall spend the whole night in front of the house, and if you get
knocked on the head, it will serve you right."

The men were drawn up in the street, and from evening till morning stood
there within reach of their guards' revolvers. As if by miracle, the
cannonade ceased, and during the night not a shot was fired upon the
village. The next day the prisoners were sent to Laon.

Less tragic but just as remarkable, was the story of our companions
Noreau, the grandmother, so small, so weak, that we more than once
thought her death near at hand, and her darlings, with their pale faces
and their eyes encircled with black. Major Noreau owned a large house in
Coucy. It pleased the invaders, in their omnipotence, to take possession
of eleven rooms, and to establish their offices in them. The owners had
but the use of a single room, reserved for the sick father. Mme. Noreau,
her four children and her mother-in-law, slept all the winter in a cold
attic. Some of them slept on straw, but the old grandmother had, instead
of a bed, ... a kneading-trough!

All the furniture had been carried away, scattered about the village, or
over the trenches. To crown all, the family had suffered hunger almost
unceasingly. Coucy had been still less favoured with provisions than
Morny, and only the farmers had managed to lay by some few articles of
food.

"One day," our old friend told us, "little Mimi picked up from the
dunghill a lump of sugar an officer's servant had thrown to the dog. She
knew her mother had had no food the last two days, and brought her this
windfall."

The same little Mimi, after she had slept on straw for months together,
forgot, for want of practice, her normal vocabulary, such words, for
instance, as sheet, and the first evening she asked Antoinette, who had
adopted her:

"What is the name of those things ... you know what I mean ... those
white things one stretches upon the beds?..."

A great many emigrants were thrown out of their villages in September,
when the Germans had been driven back. They had been pushed forward like
cattle, had been penned up in the citadel of Laon, and left there for
weeks, for months, sleeping on straw and starving. All these unhappy
wanderers were stranded at Jouville. They had met again with their old
companion Hunger. They were persecuted by the cold. Many lay groaning in
the icy cellars of the sugar-mill, or in the airy attics of the farm.

And then suddenly came the spring. It came in one night. A light breath
passed over the vale, which was soon like a nosegay. The meadows grew
green, the hedges expanded their buds, the trees put forth tender
leaves, the groves were embroidered with periwinkles. Beneath the thorn
bushes came up lords-and-ladies; violets in tufts peeped out along the
paths, and the meadows were strewn with primroses. Six small lambs in
the keeping of a shepherd girl looked like six white specks on the slope
of the green hill. The hedges were lively with songs and murmurs. The
spring wondered much that it did not see the fresh idylls it was used
to. Alas! Love had fled; Venus alone, a lewd and venal Venus, saw her
altars besieged with a host of worshippers; but pure chaste Love had no
faithful followers left.

Yet the spring bestowed with a full hand its gaiety upon all Nature. I
met once with five small emigrants. The eldest was about eight years
old; their clothes were all in rags, their feet walked naked on the
stones. But they had flowers in their arms, and their pale faces were
bright with the joy of the Spring. The joy of the Spring! Could we feel
glad at it? "The month of May without France is no longer the month of
May." This corner of France was no more France since we bore the yoke of
strangers. In vain we lay basking in the sun, with outstretched arms.
The sun could not, as once it did, warm and burn us, as if to make us
die a voluptuous death. In vain did we listen to the watchful
nightingale, whose song overtopped the noise of the water-gate. It
expressed all the ecstasy and passion of mankind; it could no longer
make us feel the sweetness of life. Our hearts were benumbed with grief,
and had no taste for happiness.

Even the humblest of our companions, of our neighbours, understood this
contrast between the sentiments of us all, and the joys which filled
Nature. And we heard poor women say in a mournful tone:

"What misery! To think that we must live with the Germans in such fine
weather!"

We lived with the Germans. In their train came all the ills--captivity,
sickness, hunger. We suffered hunger more than ever since the ration of
bread had been reduced almost to nothing. The women made loud
complaints, and even talked of mutiny. The commandant of the camp--it
was no longer he of the first days--replied to my complaints, lifting up
his arms in a gesture of impotency and indifference:

"They are hungry! How am I to help it? I have nothing to give them. I
had rather see them eat! It wouldn't disturb me in the least! Do you
think I should care about it?"

A few women with their children and a cripple ran away, thinking they
might reach their village. They were overtaken, some at five, others at
ten kilometres from Jouville, were thrown into prisons without any
further formality, and sentenced to wait there for the departure in
which every one had ceased to believe. Two girls did succeed in getting
home, but were likewise caught and brought back. These flights rendered
our supervision stricter than ever. We had to answer to numberless
roll-calls, and once, when the _Feldwebel_ was in a bad temper, he
called us all "a set of pigs!"

Our misery was alleviated at last, when the American-Spanish Relief
Commission began its work. Jouville had already received some white
flour. The mayor of the village interposed to obtain the same favour for
the emigrants. He succeeded, and the last week of their quarantine the
poor people got bread--white bread. The first day we went to the baker
we saw a stirring sight. The children gazed in wonder at the golden
loaves; they squeezed, they smelt their portion with joy, and without
waiting broke off pieces which they ate eagerly. I saw women look at
their share with staring eyes, and say weeping:

"Bread, real bread!"

This happened the last week of our sojourn in Jouville. Indeed the
longed-for event was about to take place. There were endless reviews and
verifications of names and civil conditions. The men were examined, and
re-examined by the doctor, for all would not be allowed to leave. A card
with a number was delivered to every person, and we were all ordered to
meet in the yard of the sugar-mill at eight o'clock in the morning on
Friday, the 14th of May. Different sentiments prevailed. A few were
overjoyed at the news; others showed signs of despairing incredulity.

"God knows where they are going to take us now! What will become of us?
You will see they will shut us up in Germany!"

But most of them suspended their judgment. Not daring to hope, they
anxiously waited upon events. A still greater misfortune than we had
borne lay in store for us, Geneviève had caught a severe cold about a
month before, and the day we heard delivery was near she was in bed,
shaking with fever. She spent a very bad night, notwithstanding our
care. In the morning I ran for the German doctor--as there was no
other--despite the patient's protests.

"No, no, I will have no Germans about me. Besides, there is nothing the
matter that will prevent me from going."

The fair-haired coxcomb gave a listless ear to my words, looked at me
between his eyelids, and asked with his lips:

"Why did not this person come round for medical advice?"

I replied that "this person" was in a high fever, and could not get up.
Fortunately another doctor had come to help the former to examine the
people before they were allowed to depart. He was a fat, red-faced,
jovial fellow, who showed great haste to oblige me, and repeated over
and over again as he accompanied me:

"Ah! le kerre! pien ture, pien ture!"

His diagnosis was alarming. A double congestion of the lungs. He
prescribed cold water compresses.

"And--and the departure...."

"Oh, it is quite out of the question! The lady could not stand the
journey. It is absolutely impossible."

"Then ... we are not going either...."

"That is no business of mine."

And the doctor withdrew with a shrug of his shoulders. Mad with despair
we went to the commandant of the camp, Antoinette and I.

"We cannot go. Our sister is ill; we cannot forsake her."

"Why, you must go, you are not ill."

We did not know what saint to pray to; we looked out for help. The mayor
of Jouville vainly went to the _Kommandantur_ of Marle to plead our
cause:

"All emigrants in good health must go." Such was the answer.

Geneviève tossed about her bed, and protested:

"I want to go; I will go. I will not run aground, as we are reaching the
port."

But the doctor, once more consulted, repeated emphatically:

"Impossible, impossible."

"Then allow us to stay too."

"Impossible, impossible."

At length, towards evening--the whole camp with the whole village
sympathised with us--some one told me:

"An officer from Marle is at the Red Cross. Go and try again."

We ran to see him. I well-nigh fell at his feet, and besought him. He
looked somewhat moved.

"Well, let me see what I can do. You are sure the lady is unable to
travel?" he asked the doctor.

"Absolutely. She cannot be moved."

"I cannot be moved either," I cried. "Please examine me. You will see
there is something the matter with my heart, and if I am driven to go,
it will be the death of me."

"Well," the officer said, "let us see."

His eyes gave consent. He turned to the doctor.

"You might examine her, and see if the journey would not endanger her
life."

The doctor tossed his head, and smiled an incredulous smile.

"Hum, hum, it can't be denied there is something wrong with her
heart," ... and, taking a pen, he signed the slip which I so much
desired. What a relief! Geneviève would not be left, seriously ill,
among strangers.

"And I, what am I to do?" Antoinette moaned.

"Ah! you must go."

There was nothing else to do. On the way home I tried to encourage her,
miserable as she was at going away alone.

The next day I left Geneviève, burning with fever, in Mme. Charvet's
care, and went to see the convoy start, heart-broken.

The sun lit up the scene; everybody was in a flutter of excitement.
Villagers had been requisitioned, with carts and horses, to convey the
children, the infirm, and the luggage. The crowd set out, under the
conduct of the soldiers, amid calls and shouts. Many emigrants were
crying:

"Where are we going to? Whither shall we be taken?"

Several families were severed one from another, for about fifteen men
had been thought too strong to leave the invaded territory. They might
turn soldiers, and fight against the Germans!

The charity children, delighted at the prospect, flocked around me.

"You will come later on, won't you, madam?"

Old Mme. Noreau and her grand-daughters faltered some words of sympathy,
Antoinette strove hard to restrain her tears, and Pierrot dared not show
his joy. I went with them as far as the end of the village, where two
gendarmes were busy counting up the herd. I was not allowed to go any
farther, and I stood there gazing at the trampling crowd, and until I
saw them disappear at a winding of the road.

A halting-place had been arranged four miles from thence, where a train
was waiting to convey the emigrants to Hirson. They spent the night in
the waiting-rooms, lying on the floor, sitting on benches, all squeezed
together with fluttering hearts and anxious looks, disturbed by the
squalling of the children and the groans of the old people. In the
morning, the poor wretches were carefully searched, and then crowded
into the train. Two days after they reached France. With tears and cries
of joy they greeted life, at length recovered after so many trials.



CHAPTER XII


After eight months' hopeless waiting, after long weeks spent in a
flutter of expectation, we had seen the gate of delivery closed upon us.
The others were gone; they were free; and Geneviève and I alone still
bore the yoke of invasion, which no one loathed as much as we did. No
one had more eagerly wished for freedom, longed to return home, and
yearned to meet again those we loved, and alone we stayed behind.

The poor girl thought that she would die of despair rather than of
illness, and while she moistened her pillow with tears, I hid my sobs in
the attic.

Mme. Charvet took care of Geneviève, and did her best to comfort us
both. We did not follow the prescriptions of the German doctor, and
never once applied cold compresses. A French matron's experience is at
times worth more than the learning of a Teutonic physician. We applied
mustard-poultices and cupping-glasses; we gave the patient hot
_tisanes_ and syrups, which were all the better because they were made
in the village.

On the 4th of June, three weeks after the convoy's departure, we arrived
at Morny station, in the care of a sergeant. My sister-in-law was still
a convalescent, and we trudged along to the Bureau, where our guardian
handed over his prisoners. Thus we were restored to liberty; we were no
longer emigrants. And with beating hearts we went back home.

On seeing us, my mother-in-law, Yvonne, and Colette well-nigh turned
into stone. They thought we had been in Paris for two months at least.
We returned to our old habits; five women were again under the same
roof, five women in the midst of invasion. One only had succeeded in
escaping.

No change for the better in the village. A single detail amused us. The
soldiers of the line lived as before in a white house at the corner of
the street. For a long time, one of its stout occupants, perched on a
ladder, taking great pains and putting out his tongue, had formulated
this wish in big black letters:

"God punish England!"

And now, on account of recent events, the painter had added in a fit of
rage:

"And the devil run away with Italy!"

The Hussars of the farm were gone, Bouillot at their head, and that day
the village had heaved a deep sigh. As a last theft, the Pandours had
carried away a cartful of furniture, in order to make themselves
comfortable in the trenches which would shelter them.

On the other hand, two convoys were still quartered within our gates,
and troops of passage were now and then billeted upon us. We gave
hospitality to a young lieutenant, who had succeeded Bubenpech as
commandant. He lodged in the two rooms we had abandoned to the Prussians
with a heavy heart; he had requisitioned, besides, "the small room" for
his servant, and the stable for his horse. Gracieuse and Percinet, shut
up in a corner of the coach-house, would gladly have seen the Prussian
mare dead, which had usurped their domain. We, too, bore a grudge
against the fat Hans, who encumbered our rooms with his person, his
pipes, and his clothes.

So, resigned to fate, we established ourselves in the drawing-room,
Geneviève and I. One of the windows looks into the street, and when,
behind the lace of our curtains, we saw, hour after hour, day after day,
the same carts loaded with straw, the same placid-looking
Prussians,--they are all alike,--the same stiff and sneering
lieutenants, we might have believed our stay in Jouville had been but a
dream. The invaders seemed more "at home" than ever. The officers
enjoyed themselves according to rule. Of course they had not waited for
the spring to lead a jolly life. As early as November 1914 they had had
drunken revelries. What merry evenings! What dishes never tasted in
Germany! What floods of good wine! What erotic, patriotic, and bacchic
songs! "Let us drink and eat, for we shall die to-morrow!"

"But no, we shall not die, we, who shout the loudest, we are safe; we do
not go to the front, we stay behind, secure from danger. No other task
but to grind down, vex, and punish civilians! Let us profit by the war.
Joy's the word! There was a festival yesterday at Laon; it will be at
Morny to-day; to-morrow it will be Coucy's turn. Still more revels,
still more junketings. It is war, hurrah for the war!"

And all enjoyed themselves: those who cared for nothing as well as those
who cared first to save their skin, sybarites as well as
sentimentalists, the pompous as well as the dissipated.

But this demands an explanation. We had seen many officers of the
reserve, the very men whom the _Gazette des Ardennes_ calls "the flower
of cultured German manhood"; but we had discovered few varieties among
them, and all of them could be comprised in one of the categories we had
created for the purpose.

Those who cared-for-nothing deserve careful consideration. They partook
of the qualities common to their brothers-in-arms, which I will extol
farther on, but their pusillanimity or their indifference belonged alone
to them.

Such, for instance, was this lieutenant quartered in Laon, who confided
to every one willing to listen to him:

"I don't care a fig for the fate of Germany! If only the war would end
soon, and I could get on with my studies and make myself a good position
after.... I should be content."

Of the same kind was the young commandant of the village, lamed by a
fall from his horse.

"The war!" he said, "what do I care for it? I am unfit for fighting, do
you see. I shall neither be killed nor mutilated, and it is all one to
me how long the war will last. I have comfortable rooms, and get good
dinners without untying my purse-strings. I am well paid, and able to
save. When we are at peace again I shall have a jaunt, and then go back
to Germany. Men will be rare, and I shall marry whom I choose, the
richest girl I can hear of, of course. My future is assured, and so I
am quite easy in my mind."

We thought still more disgusting those who first-cared-for-their-skin.
We were pleased to observe not a few cowards who strove with feet, hand,
and purse to avoid danger and keep behind the line.

Love of life, self-esteem, a dislike for bloodshed, and a natural dread
of blows kept them from the front. They thought but of one goal: to
cling at any price to safety.

I wrote "at any price" on purpose. Several of them boasted they had paid
for not being sent to the front. Where, when, how, to whom, I do not
know. By what mysterious bribery, by what surreptitious palm-greasing
other people will perhaps establish. The truth of such things is not
easy to ascertain. I can only state that two officers and a sergeant,
belonging to different regiments, told those in whose houses they
lodged, one in Laon, the others in Morny and Jouville, that they had
paid from 4000 francs to 6000 francs to get leave to keep out of
danger's way. Thus they obtained a few months' respite, after which they
had to pay again or endanger their lives.

When we were at Jouville, a stout sergeant, nicknamed Tripe, well-nigh
died of an apoplectic stroke on hearing he was ordered to go to the
front. "I have paid 4000 francs to be exempted from fighting. I thought
the war wouldn't last so long! And now I have no money left!" Mad with
rage, he dashed his helmet right across the room, and this martial
attribute was picked up with its point all awry. As to private soldiers
who told their hosts they had acted in the same way, I will not even try
to count them, they are too many.

The other officers owned a certain number of qualities in common.
According to the individuals, one of these characteristics eclipsed the
others, and the dominant feature helped us to classify the fools.

Of the sentimentalists, Herr Mayor was the best specimen. His eyes cast
upon the blue sky, he murmured his regrets in a voice broken by tears:
"His wife ... so many griefs ... and so many dead ... how dreadful is
war! If only we could make a Holy Alliance of the peoples!" I must say
that Herr Mayor kept his sensibility in his pocket, and took it out only
at dessert. In the discharge of his duties he forgot this faculty
completely.

The pompous officers were more entertaining. Such was a certain cavalry
officer who at the end of September put up for a few days at M.
Lonet's. His name ended in "ski," he twirled his mustachio after the
Polish fashion, and drew himself up most elegantly. Once upon a time he
happened to go through the drawing-room, where Geneviève was talking
with Mme. Lonet. The surprise sent a thrill through him: "Why! two
pretty women! Quick! let us show off!"

And the braggart began to hold forth in praise of Germany.

"Ah! _mesdames_, the emperor is extremely satisfied with the march of
our army. Our gallant soldiers laugh at obstacles, and advance as if by
miracle."

This speech was made shortly after the battle of the Marne.
Unfortunately the hearers, as well as the orator, were unacquainted with
the event, which, had they known of it, would have given yet more
meaning to the gentleman's discourse.

The same _Rittmeister_ could not refrain from delivering high-sounding
addresses to all whom he met. In case of need he even fell back on the
man who split the wood or the maid of all work. "Have you seen," he
would say, "have you seen our splendid Imperial Guard? Have you noticed
the gait of our soldiers? Do you know that no troops in the world are to
be compared with them?" And for a revictualling cart that rattled by,
for a soldier's shirt drying on a hedge, he would pour forth his soul in
dithyrambs on Germany's greatness, invincibility, and might. You will
think, no doubt, that the first and foremost soldier of the Prussian
army, the supreme chief of our enemy, would take his place, not without
the radiance of a star, among his _confrères_ of pomposity.

Another pompous talker, a sub-lieutenant and former law student, lodged
in the spring of 1915 at Mme. Lantois'. He set up for a linguist, and
wanted us to believe he knew French better than we. Once I brought him a
demand-note to sign. He carped at a word I used. I tried to defend my
prose, but he stopped me with a motion of his hand:

"I know the word and how to use it."

I had nothing to do but hold my tongue, so I did, like one
thunderstruck. Unfortunately the eloquent rascal took it into his head
to turn his stay in France to account. Are we to suppose he thought he
would thus acquire a few niceties of speech of which he was ignorant?
Nobody knows. But he was often to be seen seated in the big kitchen,
devoutly listening to the conversation of the workers, to the stories of
the old people of the farm, to whom Mme. Lantois spoke sharply when they
lingered too long. The lieutenant knew how to listen, how to learn, how
to remember what he heard. For one day we heard him say, thumping his
fist on the table:

"Je savions ce que je disions!"

Among our guests were a great many sybarites. Is Barbu's love of
creature comforts still remembered? And the many cushions necessary to
uphold his person? Can you imagine that some of them, before choosing
their room, felt the elasticity of the mattresses, tried the softness of
the blankets, inspected the fineness of the sheets? Are the nice
afternoon-naps already forgotten?

"We are at war! but that is no reason to give up comfort. Let us have
carpets and cushions, wadding and down! We are sybarites!"

The category, to which we come now, the brutes, is the most scandalously
celebrated. The present war has been its triumph. I must say we never
saw these gentlemen at their best, such as they showed themselves in
assaults, in pillage, in massacre, in arson. We did see them as brutes
in their treatment of a peaceful, submissive, terrified
population,--brutes who thought they had drawn in their claws. Bouillot,
for instance, was a beautiful specimen of the kind, but we saw many
another. For instance, there was the hero, who had a small boy of
Jouville bound fast to a post during an icy cold afternoon. There was
that other who knocked down the shepherd-boy of Aulnois, and gave him a
good horse-whipping. The poor boy had gone beyond the frontier of the
commune with his cattle:

"What am I to do?" he said. "My master's meadow is in Vivaise. I must
feed my flock, and at the office they won't give me a pass. They say I
don't want one to go those few steps."

I should never finish telling the high deeds of those scoundrels, and I
have still to sing the praises of the revellers. They were many in
number, and I think more dangerous than the rest. They came to France,
allured by the depravity they attributed to us, and it was they who
brought to us their vices, particularly those exclusive to their race,
on which I had rather not insist. No doubt they thought that they would
do a pious work in helping to pervert a country which they hated. Be
that as it may, they eagerly exerted themselves to this end, and did
their best to transform the country behind the front into a vast
brothel. Of course such creatures had not the least respect for the
house which sheltered them. An old lady in Morny was deeply shocked at
being forced to provide two fast girls of Laon with lodging and board
for some days, and many a country house, which had never looked upon
other than peaceful scenes, was scared at revels, the noise of which
made the very window-panes tremble.

Bubenpech was a remarkably vicious specimen. A bottle of champagne was
never emptied in the province without his presence. He was at every
feast, he took part in every rejoicing; he rarely came home before two
or three o'clock in the morning. He had a pretty taste in wine and nice
dinners. Besides, he looked upon himself as Don Juan, and expected every
one to yield to him. No thought hindered his caprices. One day he asked
a young girl publicly to come and see him in his rooms. Another day we
saw him towards dusk kiss two loose girls in the open street. To be at
perfect liberty, he sent to prison, under some pretence or another, a
man whose daughter he was paying court to. He inscribed, among the women
inspected by the police, the name of a young girl who, though not very
respectable, had done no harm but reject his advances. With real Gallic
humour our good villagers were careful to catalogue the great deeds of
our guests, chiefly when heroines from the other side of the Rhine came
upon the scene.

One Sunday morning, about ten o'clock, there appeared at our house a
little German nurse of the Red Cross, dark-haired, smart, and--a fact
hardly to be believed--pretty; but the lady had a peevish air--an air
only.

"Lieutenant Bubenpech?"

"Out."

With all possible speed the orderly went to fetch the officer. Bubenpech
came back as fast as he could, shut himself up with the little dame, and
did not move until four o'clock in the afternoon, forgetful of his
lunch. And the orderly, who timidly presented himself for duty, was
roughly sent away from the closed door.

"Oh," said Mme. Valaine, shocked, "such impudence! in my house!"

The neighbours made jokes and watched the door. They even laid wagers:
they will come out; they won't. At last the couple came out, and
disappeared on foot towards Laon.

A moment after a murmur was heard:

"What does it mean?"

To show his disregard of decency, Bubenpech had thrown his window wide
open before going out. And now the whole village gathered about our
windows and jeered at the shameless disorder of the room and bed.

So, while some officers clearly belonged to such and such a category,
they all possessed to a certain degree the qualities peculiar to the
other classes. But there were real mongrels among them. For instance,
you can imagine for yourself a sentimental-fine-talker and a
sybarite-who-cared-for-his-skin or a brutish-reveller. And there was a
sameness in all, a family resemblance. Prussian militarism, hypocrisy,
and haughtiness were smeared over them all like a thick coat of paint.
All showed an extreme satisfaction with their own race and person. In
short, you have but to scratch the Prussian to find the barbarian.
Should an opportunity offer, or even no opportunity, they can all be
unreasonable, harsh, unrelenting.

These gentlemen enjoyed themselves.

In a physical sense, you can easily picture to yourself those revellers.
They were not handsome--at least we never came across one we thought
handsome, in spite of our efforts to be impartial. Save Bouillot, we
never saw a very tall one. They were either long and threadlike, or
short and fat. Those who thought they had a look of Apollo you might
reproach with thick wrists and ankles, large hips, and heavy feet. Most
of them had shapely hands, and very often well-kept nails. Their
features were unpleasing from being shockingly irregular or freezingly
regular; their hard eyes belied the false kindness of their smile. At a
distance, their stiff and starched gait, their mechanical movement; at
close quarters, their voice, their smell, their whole being made us
bristle with hostility. For a trifle we would have snarled at them like
a dog, and every day their presence lay heavier on our hearts.

Their smell! Some people deny its reality. Let them go to the North of
France! When you have lodged Prussian officers--very clean people, no
doubt--you may air the room eight days running, and it will not lose the
smell _sui generis_ which impregnates it, and every inhabitant of the
village, from the Mayor down to the smallest child, would turn up his
nose on entering the room, and say:

"Faugh! it smells of Prussians here!"

Such as they were, the gentlemen amused themselves. Some maintained even
that they made conquests. I am touching here on a very delicate
subject--the relations between the invaders and the women of the invaded
countries. There has been much talk of rape. Compared with the crimes
committed in Belgium and in Lorraine, the misdeeds we shall mention are
but little things. To be sure, there were rapes, but, thanks be to God,
they were few, and they took place at the beginning of the invasion,
chiefly after the Germans' retreat on the Marne. In Jouville I heard
many a sad story. There was the story of a young woman of Chevregny who
went mad after her misfortune, and of several old women too. For, hardly
credible as it seems, old women often fell victims to acts of violence,
because they lacked agility to run away. At Braye, several soldiers fell
upon a woman of eighty, knocked her down, and beat her most
unmercifully. At Chamouille, in October 1914, a few women were living in
a cellar, frightened to death. "One evening," one of them told me, "we
heard a loud cry; there was a falling of stones, and a young woman
tumbled down into the cellar through a shell-hole. Thus she escaped from
her pursuers, but her companion, an old woman of sixty-eight, fell
defenceless into the hands of the filthy fellows."

Ah, we had many proofs of the respect the Germans have for old age!

A woman of Cerny, eighty-seven years old, small and white-haired, with
red eyes and a shaking head, told us how she had left her lodging. "I
had a small bundle of clothes ready lying on the table. But the soldiers
did not allow me to go in and take it; they beat me. As I didn't go--I
had money, too, in my bundle--they forced me to go; they all flocked
around me, they were twelve, and ... how am I to say it?..." In short,
the twelve rascals had driven the poor old woman out of her house by
directing towards her that which a famous statue innocently eternises in
Brussels. Stripped of her spare clothes and money, filthy, disgusted at
what she had seen, the unhappy woman had to go to a neighbour to beg for
a bodice and a petticoat, that she might cast away her soiled clothes.

When the Germans settled themselves upon us, these feats of the satyr
were no longer common. Here and there evil deeds were still spoken of,
and a doctor of the neighbourhood told us in the spring of 1915 that
nearly every week there was an act of violence. I must confess that many
a woman was the victim of her own imprudence. When you have lived all
your life in a quiet village, among kind people, you have some
difficulty in believing that you must be on your guard for months
together, that you are for ever surrounded with brutes. So more than one
villager had reason to regret having gone alone to the forest, or having
persisted in living in a lonely house.

But the systematic brutalities, the collective assaults, which marked
the beginning, were no longer known. The method had changed. There were
acts of violence which were no less terrible for being moral. In many a
village whose inhabitants suffered hunger, the children were provided
with bread and soup. Yes, but this privilege was reserved for the
children whose mothers showed themselves complaisant towards the
soldiers. And these women accepted dishonour, because they could not
bear to see their little ones pine away and die, while others could not
withstand the troubles and vexations that lay in store for good women.

A cry of reprobation and horror arose when we heard that the conduct of
all women was not blameless. In the first place there were the women of
the lowest class. Even Boule de suif herself would have been tamed after
daily relations with the German soldiers. Of course a few black sheep
are a disgrace to the flock, and I can fancy women-haters shrugging
their shoulders in scorn when they hear of this.

Gently, sir--a truce to jeering. More than one person wearing a beard
gave abundant proof of an equal complaisance. Alas, traitors were to be
found among us. For instance, there were those who welcomed the Germans
with a smile, and revealed to them the resources of the place. There
were those, the foulest of all, who denounced French soldiers hidden in
the woods or those who fed the fugitives. There were those who, for a
little money or food, pointed out the hiding-places of his neighbours,
and thus surrendered to the enemy wine, grain, potatoes, even money and
jewels. But I am pleased to say that such despicable wretches were rare,
and on the whole the population was proud and dignified, and opposed to
the invaders' dishonesty a solid brotherhood, which no troubles, no
persecutions could lessen or fatigue. And yet we led a grievous life;
the Germans seemed to aim at making it as hard as possible, while theirs
was as merry as can be.

The winter had been painful, but the summer was still more so. We had
less liberty and less food. We were allowed to leave the place we lived
in but three times a week, and on stated days. Besides, we had to ask
for a pass two days beforehand, and pay seventy-five centimes for it
when it was granted, which was not always the case. It was almost
impossible to go to the country from Laon, and for weeks together nobody
was allowed to leave the town. One day passports had been freely given
to the people, tradesmen mostly who went to Marle to buy raw sugar--a
yellowish sticky substance with a taste of glue--and a little butter,
precious goods that were still to be found there in small quantities.
They all came back furious. At different points of the road,
level-crossings, outskirts of villages, they had all been arrested.

Men and women had been then entirely stripped of their garments, and
searched according to rule. Nurses of the Red Cross and soldiers showed
equal zeal in the task, which had a practical object--the gathering of
all gold and even silver coins of five francs which pockets and purses
might contain. The sum seized, it must be said, was replaced by notes of
the Reichsbank.

The victims thought the joke a very bad one, and I am sure Thomas of
Marle's bones must have turned in his grave. To think that on this
nobleman's own territory soldiers arrested and robbed the passers-by,
and he not there to help! And, what is worse, the aggressors were German
troopers, and the victims good and loyal French citizens! What does your
shade regret, O famous plunderer? To be unable to fight for your
countrymen, or to have no share in the robbery?

I need not say that after that no gold pieces ever ventured out on the
roads.

A pass also was necessary to go out into the country, and you were
expected to have an identity card in your pocket if you but stood on
your threshold. All papers had to be renewed every fortnight.

"Fancy," an aged woman said to us, "that I have to pay twenty marks
because I forgot my antiquity card!"

One Saturday, a farmer's wife, perched on a ladder out of doors, was
eagerly polishing the glass of a bull's-eye window.

Two gendarmes on horseback passed by and gave heed to this commendable
zeal:

"Matam! ... carte...."

"Hem, hem! Ah, yes, my identity card; wait a minute, it is lying on the
table...."

"Ha! ha! no, not enter ... no card ... fine...."

So she had to pay the fine.

One of our neighbours was taking his cows out of the stable. Suddenly
one of them seemed to smell some enlivening odour--was it that of
powder?--she bent a frolicsome head on one side, lifted up her sprightly
nostrils, raised a swaggering tail, and, as fast as she could tear, went
full gallop towards the meadows, the brooklet, the rosy horizon where
the setting sun pleased her. The owner took to his heels in his turn,
and fled after the giddy-pated creature. The better to run, he tore off
his jacket, and succeeded in getting hold of the tether. Then he stopped
panting, all in a sweat, and rapped out a tremendous oath.

As if by miracle, a gendarme happened to stand there, his note-book in
hand.

"Card, card...."

"Ah! oh, it is in my jacket pocket...."

The jacket was smiling in the distance, a small spot lying on the green.

"Ach!" the Prussian said with a sneer, "not fetch: fine."

Cost fifty francs.

Rascally cow!

I treat the matter as a joke. Sometimes we did joke. We could not have
our minds always on the stretch. We already were half-crazy, and we
should have gone quite mad if we had not occasionally laughed. We often
laughed, with rage, with an empty stomach, with our brain confused after
a troubled night. Our race needs to laugh in the midst of tears, and
tears are shed in secret, whereas laughter bursts forth in public.

When the Germans laugh, it is always a peal. As to tears, they trickle
down their cheeks for a trifle; they bathe in them, they pour them forth
everywhere. I had always looked upon this lachrymal faculty so often
spoken of as a legend, but we have come to the conclusion that there is
nothing more real.

An untoward event, a deception, bad news, or simply home-sickness and
melancholy--anything is an excuse for tears. Here is a famous example.
Those who have visited the battlefields of Mars-la-Tour and Gravelotte
have seen the famous monument--a granite armchair in the midst of a
lawn, surrounded with a balustrade. This noble simplicity should speak
to the soul of itself. Yet an inscription explains:

"During the battle of Mars-la-Tour, the Emperor Wilhelm the First sat
here and wept."

Of course he thought the game was lost. But if his descendants are
faithful to tradition, where will they get the torrents of tears they
will have to shed within a short time!

However, we are not always crying. We even tried to enjoy the summer, to
make up for the sad spring we had spent. As we had to plead a practical
object to obtain leave to take walks out of the village, we begged to be
allowed "to go and fetch wood."

And, lying on the grass in the open country, we tried to forget the war
for a few moments, Geneviève and I, lost in the surrounding calm and
beauty; but distant rumours soon belied our short-lived illusions, and
dispelled the poor creations of the fancy.

No, it was not peace. Our stomachs, always clamouring for food, never
failed to tell us so. During the month of June we hardly ate anything
except asparagus and cherries. These things are not highly nutritious.
No potatoes, a slice of horrid, sticky, sour German bread. Then came
carrots, green peas, and artichokes, and we no longer starved; and when
in the second fortnight of August there arrived the food sent by the
Spanish-American Board of Relief, we thought we had been transported to
a Land of Cockayne. Twenty grammes of bacon daily, a dish of rice on
Sunday, a dish of beans on Thursday, eatable bread; what would you ask
more? No matter. I wonder, when we are once out of this vale of hunger,
how long it will be before we recover our former health.

During the month of July we spent the hot hours of the day out of doors
stretched on the grass. Being near a field of corn, we put out a timid
hand and from time to time broke off ripe ears; we rubbed them between
our fingers, and their plump grains, stripped of the husks, seemed to us
delicious food. It was strictly forbidden to pluck corn, "however small
the quantity might be." "Our leather bags may be searched," we thought,
"but they cannot make a post-mortem examination of us to make sure of a
possible theft." For there is no doubt that we were committing highway
robbery to the prejudice of the Germans.

When we had yawned the whole long day away, in wearisomeness and hunger,
we might have hoped to slumber at night, for sleep is as good as a
dinner.

Alas! remember the Germans' revels! These gentry were no longer allowed
to find their amusement out of the village in which they were quartered.
Every night the officers of Morny will disport themselves in Morny!

Yes, indeed! They spent their evenings in a house which they had
transformed into a casino, amid laughter and songs. Only the immediate
neighbours were kept awake. But about twelve or one o'clock we never
failed to start up in our beds, as the songs and cries came nearer.

"Here are the brutes going home. What whim will they take into their
heads to-night?"

We heard them approach to the strains of accordeons and mouth-organs.
From upstairs we saw them dressed up like women, with plumed hats on,
stopping at every door, trying, it would seem, who could bawl the
loudest. Or they tricked themselves out as house-painters, carried
buckets and brooms and set high ladders against the walls, and climbed
up as if to storm the house. Another time they would pretend to be
strolling musicians, and, armed with saucepans and cauldrons, would give
a mock serenade that would have put the dead to flight. Or, what was
far worse, the noise of their steps would be scarcely audible; they
would talk in whispers and stifle their laughter.

And, lying in the dark, we said to ourselves, still half asleep:

"They seem quiet to-night; perhaps we shall be able to go to sleep
again."

But all of a sudden: bing, bang, formidable blows with revolvers shook
the wooden shutters, and resounded in the room like peals of thunder.
The unexpected noise startled us out of our torpor, and we could hardly
recover our breath.

The next day, Mme. Lantois, half-sour, half-sweet, asked her lieutenant:

"Well, you had some fun last night?"

"Oh, yes! We knocked hard at the windows of all houses where there are
young girls."

Maybe the officer read disapproval in the features of his interlocutor,
for he went on:

"We are merry.... You may be sure that the French officers amuse
themselves in the same way...."

In the same way? Oh no, Mr. ex-law student of Heidelberg!

One evening, an officer whose rooms were not far from our house refused
to take part in a drunken orgy. He was tired; he had a headache; in
short, he preferred to go to bed. There were guests in Morny, and before
they left to drive home, the whole band made an irruption into the
refractory officer's room, tore him from his bed, and, with shouts of
laughter, hoisted him into the visitors' carriage and ordered the
coachman to drive on.

At the end of the village our man was stripped of his night-shirt,
deposited on the road, and his comrades went away at full speed. As
naked as when he was born, he had to walk along the high street to get
back to his quarters.

The commandant of the village, to whom we gave hospitality, did not care
to put a stop to these extravagances. Being but twenty-five, he had
little authority over his comrades, and besides, from time to time he
liked an orgy himself. He was famous for his worship of Bacchus. He was
as long as a day without bread; he had a small boy's head, adorned with
large outstretched ears at the top of it. The women of the village, at
the sight of his slender calves, had surnamed him "Jackdaw's Leg." More
stupid than bad, he felt frightfully dull at Morny, and talked with
raptures of his stay in Belgium. "What a good time I had of it!" he used
to say. "I was drunk from morning till night!" That he might not get
quite out of practice, Jackdaw's Leg tippled as often as he could, and
many a night his unsteady legs were at much pains to convey him home
without accident. We knew him by his uncertain gait; and when drunk he
never failed to prevent us from sleeping the livelong night. He sought
laboriously for the dancing keyhole. Then he banged-to the door. At
length he succeeded in getting to his room, and his door was hardly
shut, when the result of his excess burst forth noisily and--sinister
detail--we perceived a characteristic clash of washhand-basin and
slop-pail. Then desperate hiccups, groanings, and sighs were audible,
and the whole house resounded with his laborious efforts.

Upstairs we heard Colette, furious and disgusted, rail against the tipsy
fellow:

"You dirty, loathsome brute ... pig...."

Then nothing was heard but snores. The officer had certainly flung
himself upon his bed with his boots on.

And the following morning plump Hans, his servant, was to be seen all
a-flutter running to and fro with water, pails, and floor-cloths.
Sometimes the painful scene took place in the street; the disreputable
traces of it were still to be seen on wall and pathway the next morning,
and the lieutenant made for his rooms with deep sighs. Yet he was able
to walk by himself to our house. What could we say of that captain who,
in Jouville, used to be wheeled home in a barrow by his servants?

At that time an adventure happened by night which I cannot recall
without an inward thrill of fear. It was already late in the evening,
and we were shut up in our room, Geneviève and I. Our windows were open,
and the strong wooden shutters were carefully closed. We had been
talking for some time, lying in the dark, and were about to fall asleep,
when we heard a carriage rattle by and then stop at the farther end of
the house. It was about half-past eleven.

"Kolb, Kolb," cried a loud voice.

Such was the official name of Jackdaw's Leg. A silence followed, then
the owner of the voice seemed to grow impatient.

"Kolb ... Kolb ... Kolb...."

No answer came. The uproarious fellow bellowed:

"Kolb ... Kôôôôlb...."

I bounced out of bed, still drowsy.

"This man will wake up the whole street," I murmured. "I believe we had
better answer."

"Lieutenant Kolb is at the casino," I cried from behind the shutter.

"What?" asked the voice.

I thought my interlocutor fifteen yards from thence, in front of the
gate. My hand leaning against the fastening unconsciously turned it; all
of a sudden it was wrenched from my grasp and the shutters flew wide
open. As quick as lightning I shut the window, stuck to the wall, and
slipped behind the piano. Geneviève had started to her feet and
stretched herself at full length along the bed. We saw the man produce
an electric lamp from his pocket, and, with his nose flattened against
the window-pane, try to catch a glimpse of the inside of the room. The
curtains prevented him from seeing clearly anything, but we got a full
view of his person.

He was a captain, colossus-like, thick-featured, and red-bearded; he had
a helmet and a grey coat on. He sat on the window-sill, and muttered in
a clammy, drunken voice:

"Mademoiselle, mademoiselle, open the window.... I want to wish you a
good morning ... shake hands with me.... Mademoiselle, open the window."

We held our breaths, we dared not stir a finger.

Then the officer got up, stepped backwards, took a survey of the house,
and made for the next window. He shook the shutters, which did not give
way, and went to try the others. How eagerly we wished the orderly had
shut up everything at his master's! The first window held out, the
second too, but the fastening of the third one yielded, and we heard the
man jump into the room. As if he knew the ins and outs, he swiftly
crossed both rooms and the passage, and stopped at our door.

"Open...."

He gave a knock ... then made an endeavour to open the door.

We were struck with dismay.

With a shove of his shoulders he might have forced the lock. With naked
feet and nothing but a nightgown on, how should we have been able to
stand up against this booted, armed giant if he had broken in?
Noiselessly Geneviève sprang towards me. I softly opened the window
overlooking the garden, and we jumped out, careless of the pebbles that
bruised our feet, ran along the house with all possible speed, and
stopped at my mother-in-law's window.

"Mother, mother, open the window."

Our voices were low, but so anxious that the shutters immediately flew
open. We climbed in like cats and hastily closed the window. With
strained ears we listened to the intruder's goings and comings, but he
soon jumped out of the window, and after renewed calling and knocking we
heard his carriage roll away.

We prudently waited some time before venturing out, then we poked our
noses into the passage, and, making sure the enemy had really withdrawn,
we took once more possession of our own room. But, alas, our emotion had
destroyed all chance of sleep.

Day after day, night after night, alarm upon alarm, the summer glided
by. Then came the harvest-time. The farmers were much agitated, for the
Germans had declared that they would gather in the harvest.

They did so.

Ah, the birds will long remember the summer of 1915!

The harvest lasted three months, and all that time the grain strewed the
ground. Every overripe sheaf lost in transport half its wealth.

"They are but lazy-bones, the whole pack of them," M. Lantois muttered
between his teeth. "When we gather in the harvest, we get up at three
o'clock and work till eight or nine, and we hurry over our meals. But
those fellows! they get up at six, leave off work from eleven to one,
and have done with it at five!"

If the soldiers did not tire themselves out, the civilians they employed
showed no eager haste to do things properly.

The peasants were full of indignation.

"If those idiots had allowed us to gather in the harvest on the
condition that we gave them half or even a third of it, they would have
had more corn than they have now, and we should have been provided for
the whole year!"

However, the Prussians at last understood that more speed was necessary.
And since all the able-bodied men were requisitioned, it was the turn of
the women. The rural constable announced one evening that women who
would work in the fields would receive two francs a day. This aroused a
great deal of wonder. In the times we lived in two francs were looked
upon as a large sum, and many women hired themselves out willingly. A
week after, there was a sudden fall in the tariff. The women heard they
would be paid only fourpence a day, and the female workers dwindled to
zero. The soldiers, in a rage, tried to enlist the women in their very
houses. But they did not succeed. One had a bad headache, another was in
bed, a third was nursing her baby, a fourth was sitting up by her sick
mother, and so on.

This state of things did not last long. The military authorities issued
an order, which enjoined all women from sixteen to fifty to be on the
_place_ of the village at such an hour, to be enrolled as day-labourers.
Mothers of young children alone were exempt. We looked at one another
in bewilderment. Why, then, we had to go too! But if we can wield the
pen and the needle, and on occasion the broom, we are not trained to
handle the sickle, the spade, and the rake. Besides Geneviève was hardly
recovered. Colette is as slender as a reed, and if Yvonne and I are far
from being viragoes in times of peace, we were still weaker after a year
of privation and trouble.

"The little of health and life we have left would be lost in the
fields," said Yvonne.

"I won't risk it," said Geneviève. "I had rather go to prison. Let them
take me to Chalandry!"

It was at Chalandry that the Germans had installed a prison for women.

Jackdaw's Leg good-humouredly reassured us in his most Teutonic accents:

"The measures in hand concern but the peasants," he said.

It is worth while remarking that the officers did their best to be on
tolerable terms with their hosts, and when the inhabitants were
ill-treated, the head of the house was sure to be away.

Now, Jackdaw's Leg had been feeling very poorly for some weeks. Was it
due to home-sickness and to a longing for sauerkraut and sausages? Or
might it not rather come from too many merry parties? In short, the
commandant seemed to languish, and ten times a day lay down on his
couch. As he had two bedrooms at his disposal, he slept in one bed by
night, and--for variety's sake--in the other by day, unmindful of the
fact that he thus requisitioned two pairs of sheets a week, that soap
was scarcely to be had, and that the poor washerwoman had to whiten the
linen with wood ashes. Jackdaw's Leg, being ill, got a month's leave of
absence, and disappeared in the background. His place was filled up by
the young linguist who had put up at Mme. Lantois'.

He would gladly have seen us dead.

Calling on his brother-in-arms, lingering without a motive, or for a
wrong motive, in our garden, in our lobby or on our threshold, peeping
through the keyholes--we once detected him in this occupation--he had
discovered that our souls were not unworthy of associating with his, mad
for music and philology, enamoured of art and culture. Notwithstanding
that we had the reputation of hating the Germans, this nice Prussian,
who produced in tippling-houses a list of at least one thousand and
three names--the list of his conquests in France--this nice Prussian
then gave us to understand that he would condescend to enter into
relations with us, relations based on philosophy, science, and
literature. Why not on politics?

We responded in such a manner to his advances as to convince even a
Prussian. And since then the fellow had borne us a dangerous grudge.

Two days after the departure of Jackdaw's Leg we heard a beat of
the rural constable's drum ... women from sixteen to fifty ... one
o'clock ... market-place.... We hardly listened to it. It was no
concern of ours. But at one o'clock Mme. Lantois ran up breathless: "Do
you know that the lieutenant just said that _everybody_ must go to the
market-place? He even told us that if you didn't go, he would send four
soldiers to fetch you, and take you off to Chalandry."

Consternation! Alarm! It was twelve o'clock according to German time.
Without waiting for luncheon we ran out in all directions to look for
substitutes. At one we arrived on the _place_, attended by four old
women, still hale and hearty, and well pleased to fill our places, for
of course to the scanty pay of the Germans we had agreed to add the
usual price of a day's work. The sight of the place suggested a picture
of the slave-market. Women, wearing light blouses and coarse linen
aprons, had gathered on both sides. To shield themselves from the glare
of the sun, the most of them wore a handkerchief tied under the chin; a
few of them laughing, tossed their sunburnt hair, and many with weary
faces leant against the tools they had brought. There were gloomy-eyed
women, who up to that time had never done any work but housekeeping;
there were young girls, carefully looked after by their mothers, who did
not know what to do with themselves; there were sedate, stern-looking
workers, and at last the usual set of soldiers' wenches, laughing at and
making fun of the others, noisier than the rest of the company, and
thinking that they might do what they liked.

Under the shade of the plane-trees was seated Jacob--such was the
Christian name of the lieutenant, and no one gave him another--busy
calling the names over. Ours was among the last; we answered without
wincing, and then presented our substitutes. Thus did we baffle the
trick which Jacob wanted to play us.

This enforced service brought about many troubles between the invaders
and the inhabitants, so the Germans had prudently turned the sugar-mill
of Aulnois into a prison for male culprits, and converted a house at
Chalandry into a jail for women. And if you showed the least disposition
to disobedience, you were immediately taken into custody. Did you call
a private soldier such names as he had deserved a hundred times? To
prison with you. Had you kept back any goods from the perquisitioners?
To prison with you. Were you unwilling to comply with the
requisitioners' orders? To prison with you. Were you penniless when
liable to a fine? To prison with you, to prison, to prison!

Half a dozen men from Morny were for ever ruralising at Aulnois. Of
course it is no disgrace to be put into prison by the Germans, but it is
a well-known fact that the diet of the Prussian jails is anything but
engaging.

A girl of sixteen coming back one evening from the fields threw her
pickaxe on her threshold, and cried out in tears:

"I won't work any longer for those barbarians!"

An indiscreet ear overheard the sentence, which was repeated in high
quarters.

Now, the word "barbarians" is to a German like a red rag to a bull.

So, two days afterwards, the family of the imprudent little person were
awakened out of their sleep at four o'clock in the morning. A sergeant
and four men came to fetch the guilty girl and take her to Chalandry.
Half an hour was granted her to get ready. Mad with despair and shaken
with sobs herself, she left her parents sunk in desolation and in tears.
They even did not know how long their child would be imprisoned. Towards
evening the father succeeded in seeing the commandant, who told him his
daughter would be in prison for three weeks.

"I was not too uncomfortable," the poor thing said afterwards; "one of
the 'nurses' was rather nice ... we were sewing the whole day long ...
but there were such funny women there...."

I should think so.

Then what an excellent pretext for vexatious measures was this enforced
service! A rich landowner of Vivaise, who was ill, sent a servant of
his, old but able-bodied, to take his place. One morning the officer
asked:

"Why does M. Villars not come himself?"

"He is ill."

"He is not so ill as you are pleased to say. He must come, and we will
see what occupation he is fit for."

M. Villars had to yield, and by way of an easy little job he was ordered
to clean the soldiers' closet, and gather up dung on the road. Ah, the
enslavers knew how to rouse our wrath, and more than one Prussian
well-nigh paid with his life for his insolence.

If our men strove hard to be always submissive it is because they knew
that a single attempt at revolt might have caused the village to be set
on fire and the inhabitants dispersed. Yet once a worker had a quarrel
with a Prussian. He was a youth of eighteen, who, when he had seen the
convoys go away, had cried for rage and clenched his fists, saying:

"Ah, if I were but allowed to go ... within eight days I should wear red
trousers!"

He did not know that red trousers were blue now, but he meant well, and
this young fellow one evening gave a sharp answer to one of the soldiers
who supervised the work of the fields. The Prussian, not quick at the
answer, aimed his revolver at him. The boy stooped down, and the bullet
was lost in a bush. At the same time a sudden collective rage seized
upon the companions of the young man, who had listened to the quarrel a
few steps away. Armed with hay-forks, scythes and spades, they rushed
headlong upon the common enemy, who bounded forward and fled across the
country. It was a splendid chase: Jacques Bonhomme pursuing Michael.
With the whole band at his heels, the Prussian raced across fields and
meadows, cleared the hedges, crossed the brooks, got to the village, and
went to earth. The pursuers stopped and looked at one another. "What
were we going to do?" With a sheepish look and their arms dangling, they
went home more than ever depressed beneath a feeling of helplessness.

Our tyrants were not content with worrying us with passports and
enforced service. They continued to strip us methodically, poor shorn
lambs as we were, to whom the wind was not tempered but whose food was
strictly measured. Though the Germans had taken all the fruits of the
fields, they were still afraid that something might be left us to eat.
So the farmers' wives were forced during the summer to reconstitute
their poultry yards. All birds were counted and requisitioned. Besides,
the farmers had to deliver to the _Kommandantur_ as many eggs as they
had hens every fourth day.

"What are we to do if the hens lay no eggs?"

"Do as you will," replied the Germans.

The fruit-trees in the orchards and gardens looked promising. We all
rejoiced at it. "If we have nothing else to eat we shall have
marmalade." But the first rosy tint had hardly spread over the cheeks of
the apples, when the rural constable proclaimed throughout the village:
"When good and ripe, fallen apples should be brought to the _Bureau_; a
severe penalty will be enforced on the refractory persons."

But the Germans still thought that we might cheat them, and the fruit
was unripe when they began to gather it. Children from twelve to sixteen
were requisitioned, and under the supervision of two soldiers they
knocked down the plums and picked them up. A month later it was the turn
of the apples, and then of the pears. The Germans carried off the fruit
throughout the country, and we saw hundreds of carts go by loaded with
sacks of apples, which were conveyed to Germany.

Among the most troublesome announcements made to the amazed
parish--always with a threat against refractory persons--I must recall
that which forbade them to cut down grass along roads and paths. This
annoyed particularly the owners of rabbits, goats, and kids; the animals
were requisitioned, but as long as the Germans were not in need of them
the peasant had to take charge of them--had the use of them, if I may
say so. And it was no trifle to feed the cattle, as the provender was
requisitioned.

In Mme. Lantois' big shed the Germans had heaped up a great deal of hay,
and towards evening the farmer's wife used to stand on her threshold,
and, after a glance to the right and left, she would run to the shed,
gather up an armful of hay, and come back home in a hurry. "My poor
beasts," she said, "I can't give them enough to eat. When I hear them
move about of nights it nearly breaks my heart; it prevents me from
sleeping, it does."

In the autumn the potatoes were dug up and sent to the north. The
peasants were furious. One of them, busy digging in his own field behind
his house, muttered between his teeth: "Isn't it a shame! The very
potatoes I have planted myself! And I shan't have any! Wait a minute!"

He had on a large belt that transformed the upper part of his shirt into
a sack. His hand went by turns down to the ground and up to his neck,
and he soon had the figure of Punch. While the guard studied the
weather, his nose lifted up towards the sky, the man sneaked away,
slipped into his house, emptied his belt, came back, and began again.
Alas, came the moment when the guard discovered the trick!

This guard was a holy man, fat, stout, demure-looking, a canting
preacher, who not only took the apostleship of his nation for granted,
but his own too. When the misappropriated potatoes had got back to the
Prussian sacks our Mr. Smooth-Tongue looked at the grieved
culprit--grieved at having been caught--looked at the hollow-cheeked
faces around him, at the sunken, jaded eyes. He paused before speaking,
tossed his head three times, and said: "How perverse are the French!
Don't you know that stealing is forbidden? And don't you know that the
potatoes belong to the Germans? Now then, by taking our potatoes you
commit a theft. It is a disgrace. Be sure you never do such a thing
again!" Such talk was to be heard from many Germans. It suits them. I
delight in hearing them sing this tune, the _Gazette des Ardennes_ at
their head, and cry up to the skies the good, the beautiful. They go
still further, and my joy increases. They laud the love of their
neighbour, respect for the property of others, compassion towards the
weak; they extol the meekness, the goodness, the infinite sweet temper
of Germany. But oh! it is ever to be regretted that so many noble words
should be delivered in vain. Such rubbish does not take with us.

"Their _Gazette des Ardennes_!" exclaimed a farmer's wife. "We buy it
only to read the list of French prisoners, and because there is no other
newspaper. But when my husband reads it, he never leaves off thumping on
the table, and rapping out oaths from beginning to end. Since those
filthy fellows have settled themselves down here, one has never a fine
word in one's mouth!"

"The other day," another woman told us, "my husband had to bring
vegetables to Laon. He went to have his pass signed; the sergeant held
out his hand to take the paper and said: 'Well, comrade?' My husband
gave no answer, but he thought to himself: 'You my comrade! I would
rather kick you soundly than call you that.'"

Our sense of impotence was never greater than in the month of August,
when the Germans trumpeted abroad with a sneer the defeat of the
Russians, and oh, sacrilege! ordered our own bells to be rung to
celebrate the glorious deeds of the German army! But in September hope
rose in our hearts, and filled them with joy. The offensive began in
Champagne. The cannon raged as never before. How they rolled and shook
and roared! And to our minds the uproar was suave, the rumbling was
blessed.

The French aeroplanes came eight days running to drop bombs on the
station at Laon. Six, seven, even ten were to be seen at the same time
in the sky; they sparkled like jewels in the deep-blue heavens; they
well-nigh drove us mad; we jumped for joy in the garden, cheered them,
and would gladly have thrown our hearts out to them. Fortunately no
outsiders were the witnesses of our frenzy, or we should have been found
guilty. At Laon, two young girls were looking out of an upper window,
and at the sight of the dear aeroplanes had screamed with joy, and
clapped their hands. Alas, some soldiers saw them from the street, and
lodged an information against them! They were immediately arrested,
tried, and sentenced to a month's imprisonment. We lived in hope for a
whole week. The _Gazette des Ardennes_ suppressed the French official
reports which they generally gave at full length--at least so they
said--and we thought that the offensive, even in the Germans' opinion,
bade fair to succeed. Then the cannon was silent once more, and our
hearts sank within us.

The fair weather was past. It was cold and rainy, and again, as the year
before, we gathered every evening around the lamp--a horrid,
evil-smelling horse-oil lamp. Our circle was often out of spirits; our
very gestures revealed weariness. Thirteen months of captivity lay heavy
on us, and we had received no news whatever of those we loved:

"Oh, they are all dead!" sighed Colette.

Yet we reposed the strictest confidence in our army. We felt sure
victory would ultimately be ours. But, oh! how long was victory in
coming!

It was cold and damp. We were afraid of the coming winter. Though the
summer had brought us many hardships, yet we had made shift to live;
but how could we manage in the bad season, when we had neither fuel nor
vegetables? They had refused us permission to cut down trees in our own
woods, though the invaders had massacred them at will. Besides, the
Germans chose this very moment to threaten us with enforced service. We
were told that we were no longer allowed to get other persons to supply
our places as day labourers.

"The substitutes you find prove that they are still able-bodied. So they
must work for their own account, and you for yours."

"Oh!" we moaned, "is there no means of escape from this hell?"

We had made several attempts, had addressed petitions, and written
letters that had been either thrown away or answered with a negative.
And now they wanted to add penal servitude to imprisonment! They would
oblige us to work from morning till night, in the mud, in the rain.

"I prefer going to Chalandry," Geneviève repeated.

But we were excused enforced service, and exempted from prison. A
greater misfortune spared us these troubles. One morning I met in the
passage two callers who did not ask for Jackdaw's Legs. One of them,
very tall, very thin, and very stiff, with Japanese-like features, bent
himself down with a low bow. His companion, smaller but just as thin and
stiff, copied him hastily.

"Madam," lisped the former in a faint voice, "I should like to see the
owner of this house."

I showed both men in, and rushed into my mother-in-law's bedroom.
Everybody was in a stir.

"What do they want? This visit foretells no good, of course."

"It is the general's son," Colette said. "I had him pointed out to me a
few days ago."

Mme. Valaine walked into the dining-room, where the visitors were
waiting. On tip-toe we went into the passage, and holding our breaths
anxiously listened from behind the door.

As soon as my mother-in-law entered the room, the officers got up, and
bowed themselves at right angles. Then the lisping voice began:

"Madam, I am a staff officer. I have been ordered to inform you of a
decision that concerns you nearly...."

"Ah!..."

Behind the door left ajar we strained uneasy ears; the speaker went on
with his speech:

"You are not ignorant, madam, of the painful necessities of the war, and
I am sorry to have to tell you that we are in need of your house...."

"Oh!"

It was Geneviève who uttered this stifled cry. Mme. Valaine had no voice
to answer.

The orator continued:

"... We are in need of your house for a printing office. It corresponds
exactly with our wishes."

"But it is my own house; I live in it with my family. I have a right to
stay in it...."

"Madam, I am very sorry, but we want it. To-day is Thursday; I think we
can wait till Monday next to take possession of the place."

"But it is impossible ... my furniture...."

"Oh, the house must remain furnished. But you may take away such pieces
of furniture as the officers do not want."

"But, sir, it is a disgrace!" Geneviève, unable to control her
indignation any longer, had pushed the door open, thus unmasking our
group, and had entered the lists. Her invasion slightly disturbed the
officer.

"It is a disgrace! You pretend that you don't make war upon civilians,
and you turn five women out of doors at the beginning of the winter! You
offend against the law of nations. But it is your habit. I know you by
your handiwork!"

Wholly unmoved, the executioner replied:

"I see you are excited, and I shall not repeat what I have just heard."

"What! Indeed! You may repeat it if you like. I should not be afraid to
say so to anybody."

Always calm and stiff and lisping, the Japanese blond went back to what
he was saying:

"You will be quieter by and by. I said we want the house to be free on
Monday next. As we may stay in France for months, and even for years, it
is our duty to settle things as well as can be. It is our right. I am
sorry this is disagreeable for you, but it is war." When he had done
talking, he bowed himself to the ground, his companion immediately did
the like, and both withdrew. In a death-like silence we listened to the
retreating steps, to the gate slammed-to, and then burst out into
lamentations. A fortnight after we were in Laon.

The dear old house, the garden, the furniture were all violated, lost.
As nothing else kept us in Morny, we had asked leave to go to Laon,
which by way of compensation had been granted to us. So, we should not
be bound to enforced service, and we could make up for the tediousness
of the winter by devouring all the books in the town library. And above
all, we should not see plundered, and given over to the beasts, the
beloved old house, embellished by our love, where the family had lived
for several generations, where my husband and my sisters-in-law had been
born, where they had spent their childhood.

We should not see the looking-glasses cracked by awkwardness or malice,
the hangings splashed with beer, the carpets torn up, the pieces of
furniture burnt one after another for firewood, according to the whims
of the servants. We should not see the officers walking two by two under
our lime-trees, in our long alleys, edged with box--the box, beneath
which we hid our Easter eggs!

The rumour of our expulsion spread abroad, and presently we heard the
reason of it.

Jacob, the linguist, the pompous talker, not to say the chatterbox, told
the Lantois:

"The ladies' troubles are due to an officer's vengeance. Lieutenant
Bubenpech had a personal grudge against them; he is the nephew of the
brigade-major, and he thought it amusing to give these ladies a little
lesson."

Very kind indeed, Herr Bubenpech! But we know what a pretty thing is
German vengeance, and it gets home! And after all, life was more easily
bearable in Laon than in the country. Friends of ours who lived near the
Porte d'Ardon let us have a little apartment in their house. Our windows
overlooked the country, and as usual we could watch the bursting of
shells, the captive balloons, and the turning beacons. Horse-oil was
faithful to our lamps, and we used turf to heat our rooms. I recommend
this fuel to those who have a love of dust and smoke. The question of
food was hard, but not harder than in Morny. Meat was scarcely to be
had. The people dimly remembered the shape of an egg, the colour of
butter or oil or grease or milk. Babies I know fed on vegetable-soup
alone from six weeks of age. The American Board of Relief distributed
provisions similar to those we had enjoyed in Morny--250 grammes of
bread a day, a little rice, dry vegetables, from time to time a bit of
bacon. Besides, green vegetables were to be had at the greengrocer's.
But we were forbidden to buy more than ten kilograms of potatoes a head
per month. At Morny the Germans had generously distributed twenty
kilograms a head, but half of them were rotten, and then the population
had been told that they had received their winter supply.

What we appreciated most in the town was the calmness of the nights.
Where superior officers are quartered, subalterns are obliged to save
appearances and to conduct their drunken revelries in private. We had no
more brutal intrusions to fear; we dreaded no perquisitions, as we had
lost everything. And the aspect of so many houses close to one another
gave us an impression of security, long since forgotten.

Yet how sad the town looked! Many houses had been emptied according to
the Germans' whims. Furniture, bedding, linen, clothes had been carried
away. The officers loaded the women who devoted themselves to soothe the
boredom of the war with presents, chosen from among this booty. They
adorned their apartments with things they had taken from all quarters of
the town, and if they did not get from the houses of the absent what
they wanted, they applied to those who were still there.

Thus it was that a sergeant and four men once came to the house of the
friends who had received us, to fetch away a set of drawing-room
furniture. Protestations were of no avail.

"I have my orders. Make out an invoice, take it to the _Kommandantur_,
and a note of hand will be delivered to you."

To any complaint which the wronged owner might make an officer answered:
"I have but one word of advice to give you: Keep quiet and hold your
tongue."

The streets always swarmed with officers and soldiers on foot and on
horseback. All shops were open by order of the Germans, but there was
nothing to be sold in most of them. No articles of food were to be had,
and the stock of shoes, materials, and clothes was nearly exhausted by
the needs of the people and by frequent requisitions. In November all
silk goods had been requisitioned, even ribbons above ten centimetres'
breadth. Many empty shops--which had been plundered after the departure
of the owners--had been laid hold of by German civilians, who had lost
no time in bringing their little trade to France. Thus you might admire
a stationer's and two booksellers' shops, a jeweller's--various kinds of
paltry stuff--a boot and shoe warehouse, a hairdressing saloon, and so
on. These patriotic establishments were always thronged with
customers--in uniform of course.

The _Kommandantur_ sold officially in a shop thus installed Belgian lace
of great beauty, marvels of point: Brussels, Bruges, Mechlin. After a
month it was offered for sale in the town hall alone, and so the sight
of these treasures was kept back from French eyes. The officers
scrambled for this lace, which, in spite of high prices, sold
wonderfully well. For the rest, military men of all ranks spent a great
deal of money, and a French jeweller told us that private soldiers often
spent upon gold chains and rings all the money they possessed. Was it a
way to convert their paper money into something safer? Later on they
were forbidden to pay for their purchases in silver or in German notes,
and the tradesmen were not allowed to receive anything from the soldiers
but municipal banknotes, and were bound to give back only German or
French money. These rules were a great hindrance to business.

In the autumn of 1915, the magnanimous, high-souled military authorities
decreed that the persons who had concealed wine--well-hidden wine alone
had escaped being requisitioned--would avoid close searches and severe
punishments by making a statement of the quantity they possessed. Afraid
and tired out, many people complied and handed over what they had so
long kept out of sight, and thousands of bottles went down the throats
of our tormentors.

More serious was the proclamation which granted a delay to the French
soldiers still in the invaded territory. The blockade had taken a great
many of them by surprise, and had prevented them from reaching the
French line; they wore civil clothes and lived under an assumed name.
Some of them had surrendered at the beginning of the invasion; others
had been discovered and shot. But the new regulation enabled those who
were hidden to give themselves up until the 20th of November. From that
date every French soldier, caught in invaded territory, would be looked
upon as a spy and be immediately shot. As many as eighty surrendered
before the stated day, and oh, desolation! the very day after they
arrested, in a suburb of the town where he lived disguised as a workman,
a French officer, a captain. We read on the bills stuck up in the
streets that he had been shot in the citadel.

Another announcement threatened the villagers more than the town's
people. It intimated that every criminal attempt made at any point of
the railroads would immediately bring terrible reprisals upon the
inhabitants of the neighbouring villages. "Whether guilty or not," the
unhappy wretches would be "driven from their houses if the military
authorities thought proper"; the women would be taken away, and "the men
enrolled in the gangs of labourers." Besides, such hostages as the
Germans selected might be shot.

On the other hand, the invaders were always in readiness to drain the
country of the little money that was left. Many means were at their
disposal. Fines were showered down upon the towns and villages. If a
French aeroplane dropped bombs on the Laon station, the town was quickly
condemned to pay upwards of one hundred thousand francs. In October, to
mark, no doubt, the anniversary of the German occupation, the invaded
were warned that they would have to pay a second contribution of war.
The chief authorities of the communes were told that those under their
charge would soon get into the habit of paying tribute, very likely
every quarter, to the conquerors. "And when all the money has thus been
wrung from all purses, well, you will but have to issue municipal notes,
which you will give to us, the Prussians. So, when the war is at an end,
when you have all been eaten out of house and home, you will all the
same be our debtors!"

They were just as ingenious in fooling the farmers. In that year, 1915,
the peasants had tilled the fields themselves. But the Germans are
scrupulously honest, as every one knows. "We are going," they said, "to
pay you for your trouble and your corn. You will receive twenty francs a
hectare!" Splendid amend! Rich indemnity! Morny was entitled to 18,000
frs. "Yes," the Germans went on, "but you remember that old fine of
yours, which you never paid entirely. Besides, there is the quarter's
contribution to the war, and a thousand francs fine imposed for a
passport that was not viséd. In short, when it is all added up, you owe
to us 800 frs." The civilians who had to listen to these speeches hung
their heads. The account was right: they could not plead false
arithmetic. Two and two always make four, especially when the German
army maintains it.

This gave heart to the Prussians to go still further: "Let us talk of
the future. Next year we shall cultivate the fields ourselves. Of course
it is but right that you should remunerate us for so doing. Our tillage
is worth fifty-six francs a hectare. Besides, you must pay us our
expenses: three hectolitres of seed a hectare ... at the highest
possible price. We will be paid beforehand." The sum total was 92,000
frs. for the village of Morny alone. And there were about 1500
inhabitants left in Morny, all in utter poverty after the exactions of
which they had been victims. Fortunately the Prussians put the remedy at
the sufferers' disposal: "If you have no money left, you possess good
pieces of land, which you might pledge. We have just founded a
German-Belgian Bank in Brussels, which will lend you some money." These
honest offers were made in the month of December, but we do not know how
things befell, for the dawn rose again for us. Convoys were organised
for a second time.

We blessed the number of the _Gazette des Ardennes_ which, at the end of
November, brought us the good news. Twenty thousand persons were to be
chosen in the invaded territory, first among the poor and the sick and
the people whose usual residence was on the other side of the front. We
feared lest our demand should be rejected, and we left no stone unturned
to prevent refusal. At length we were told that our names had been put
down on the list of the emigrants.

It was the end of the year. Colette still hoped to see the French come
back before our departure. But, alas! nothing of the kind happened.
Christmas, New Year's Day, were kept as they had been kept a year
before, sadly by the French, merrily by the Germans. Then the month of
January, cold and foggy, glided by, and we were still kept waiting. At
length the day of the departure came. The convoy, the mass of emigrants,
were strikingly like the herd we had witnessed the year before. Yet I
think we saw more sick people. There were many who coughed. When once we
were all seated in a carriage, we five, with two little orphan girls,
who went to meet their grandmother at Lyons, the train moved off at
last, and such an emotion seized upon us that no one uttered a word. The
first time our flight had been stopped at Chevrigny, a second time at
Jouville. How far should we go now?

We had been told that there would be no quarantine. Was it true? We were
travelling through a grey country. The night fell and the dawn rose
again: we were in Germany. We made many a long stop in the stations;
soldiers distributed coffee and soup in the carriages. We had taken with
us, put by from our pittance of a whole week, dry toast, barley coffee,
and licorice-wood tea. As to tasting "the soup"--no, thank you. We
peered through the windows, but did not see anything worth looking at.
Towns and villages were gloomy; in the stations, boys of about thirteen
did the work of railway porters.

The night fell again. We reached the Black Forest, which was white with
snow. We wound our way up a mountain, and caught sight of a vale far
below us. The branches of the fir-trees bent beneath their pure burden,
and the cloak spread over the ground was so dazzling that it gave light
to the starless night. Houses were to be seen everywhere, grouped
together in hamlets and villages, or standing apart in the
mountain--good-natured-looking houses nestled in the snow, with
gaily-lit-up windows.

Then I cast my eyes about me. My companions were slumbering, and the
flickering light brought out the paleness of their uneasy faces. One of
the little girls was coughing, and we could hear other people who seemed
to echo back the same sad sound. The long train that rolled along was
full of wretchedness and misery. And from those snug little houses, from
those towns we had just crossed, came the soldiers who had rushed upon
our country. From thence the plunderers, the drunkards, the debauchees,
the executioners; from thence came those who have carried dismay into a
peaceful country, who have converted a happy, industrious population
into a fearful, enslaved herd....

May you be cursed ... cursed....

And there, in the big houses, in the towns, live still the accomplices.
They are all there. The lamp is bright, the stove lit up. Dinner is
over; they are smoking their pipes and reading their papers.

And in the invaded territory thousands and thousands of people have gone
to bed at six, because they have no light, no fire, and no dinner. And
the others are there. They read the papers. They praise whatever the
German army does, they admire the German soldiers, they approve all
high-handed measures, and those who are at home, as well as those away
from home, lift up their eyes towards the sky, and thank God for not
being like the rest of mankind.

Ah no, you are not like the rest of mankind! Could we shout it loud
enough? Is there any cry that might pierce your dull conscience? Are
there maledictions of sufficient vehemence to penetrate the carapace in
which you have wrapped up your understanding?

Ah, I wish I were hundred-tongued, and gifted with more than human
genius, the better to proclaim your infamy, the better to cry out upon
the sufferings width which you do not cease to load us. I can but repeat
what I have seen, what I have heard, what I have borne. I shall never be
weary of lifting up a corner of the veil in which you wrap yourselves,
you dissemblers, you false-faced, false-hearted men! On your features of
brutality and violence you wear a benignant, canting mask, you assume a
candid, astonished look, and turn round to the neutrals, to Europe, to
all civilised powers, saying:

"We are charged with evil deeds! Look if it is like us?"

You resemble the woman of whom the Bible says: "She wipes her mouth, and
says: I have done no harm." You reject with a shrug of your shoulders
those of your actions which might make you uneasy. Your accommodating
consciences do away with them, and they immediately fall into oblivion.
But we are sure to remember what you forget. You have shown yourselves
openly, and we know your real faces only too well, their unrelenting
harshness, their falseness, their incomprehension, and in your double
face we spit out the horror and scorn you rouse in us. And yet we admire
you. Your presence was attended with murder, fire, acts of violence and
plunder; you have displayed a powerful, splendid, hideous bestiality,
and it is that bestiality which we admire in you.

Do not reject the title of Barbarians. It is the only one that suits
you. You might have been fine Barbarians, but for a long time to come
you will be only shabby civilised men. I had rather see you stand on a
pedestal, and hear you shout, exaggerating your misdeeds, overstraining
your cruelty, your vices, your animality:

"Yes, we are Barbarians! and then?"

Thus you might have been great, and since you are strong, since you know
how to fight, you would have been like a hero who defends himself as he
is, and not like a little girl about to be whipped, who tries to deny
her fault, and weeps.

Believe me, you will cut no figure in history as saints. Where your
horses have trodden, the grass will not spring up again for long. So
make up your minds, unmask yourselves, and cry out:

"We are _the_ Barbarians!"

The train had reached the highest point of its journey. All the vale,
and the slopes of the mountains, were flecked with a thousand brilliant
points. They were the windows of the houses, more smiling than ever. A
few moments passed, and then a kind of excitement came over us. Were we
approaching the Swiss frontier?

We had still to wait in our carriages for the morning. Long hours
together we should have to wait for our turn to be searched, and allow
the nurses to examine the soles of our shoes, and the hems of our
garments. But what did it matter? We were in raptures! It was over! Our
martyrdom was at an end!

We were in Switzerland! We were free!

A fraternal welcome cheered us all along the road. Here was rich Zurich,
whose prosperity dazzled our eyes. Then came Berne and fair Geneva, at
the end of its blue lake.

Here was at last ... oh, my heart, do not throb so violently! Here she
was ... France ... it was France ... unsullied France, where no Germans
breathe, living, active France, the France that will crush the enemy. We
saw Mont Blanc watch over the frontier; then we came within sight of the
valley, of a rocky land, and then of the plain, the plain as vast as the
hope which filled our hearts.

And now that we had reached France, now that we rode in a French
carriage, we sat close to one another, and with tears in our eyes looked
at the landscape.

We felt heavy with an overwhelming joy, and we waited for the morrow,
not knowing whether it would bring happiness or mourning.


THE END


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TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

The following words appear both with and without hyphens and were
transcribed as they appear in the book: arm[-]chair, bank[-]notes,
battle[-]fields, cannon[-]ball, guard[-]room, hunch[-]backed,
needle[-]women, night[-]cap, tip[-]toe, way[-]worn.





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ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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