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´╗┐Title: Fighting France, from Dunkerque to Belfort
Author: Wharton, Edith, 1862-1937
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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FIGHTING FRANCE

FROM DUNKERQUE TO BELPORT


BY EDITH WHARTON


NEW YORK: MCMXV



CONTENTS


  THE LOOK OF PARIS
  IN ARGONNE
  IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES
  IN THE NORTH
  IN ALSACE
  THE TONE OF FRANCE



THE LOOK OF PARIS

(AUGUST, 1914--FEBUARY, 1915)


I

AUGUST


On the 30th of July, 1914, motoring north from Poitiers, we had
lunched somewhere by the roadside under apple-trees on the edge of a
field. Other fields stretched away on our right and left to a border
of woodland and a village steeple. All around was noonday quiet, and
the sober disciplined landscape which the traveller's memory is apt
to evoke as distinctively French. Sometimes, even to accustomed
eyes, these ruled-off fields and compact grey villages seem merely
flat and tame; at other moments the sensitive imagination sees in
every thrifty sod and even furrow the ceaseless vigilant attachment
of generations faithful to the soil. The particular bit of landscape
before us spoke in all its lines of that attachment. The air seemed
full of the long murmur of human effort, the rhythm of oft-repeated
tasks, the serenity of the scene smiled away the war rumours which
had hung on us since morning.

All day the sky had been banked with thunder-clouds, but by the time
we reached Chartres, toward four o'clock, they had rolled away under
the horizon, and the town was so saturated with sunlight that to
pass into the cathedral was like entering the dense obscurity of a
church in Spain. At first all detail was imperceptible; we were in a
hollow night. Then, as the shadows gradually thinned and gathered
themselves up into pier and vault and ribbing, there burst out of
them great sheets and showers of colour. Framed by such depths of
darkness, and steeped in a blaze of mid-summer sun, the familiar
windows seemed singularly remote and yet overpoweringly vivid. Now
they widened into dark-shored pools splashed with sunset, now
glittered and menaced like the shields of fighting angels. Some were
cataracts of sapphires, others roses dropped from a saint's tunic,
others great carven platters strewn with heavenly regalia, others
the sails of galleons bound for the Purple Islands; and in the
western wall the scattered fires of the rose-window hung like a
constellation in an African night. When one dropped one's eyes form
these ethereal harmonies, the dark masses of masonry below them, all
veiled and muffled in a mist pricked by a few altar lights, seemed
to symbolize the life on earth, with its shadows, its heavy
distances and its little islands of illusion. All that a great
cathedral can be, all the meanings it can express, all the
tranquilizing power it can breathe upon the soul, all the richness
of detail it can fuse into a large utterance of strength and beauty,
the cathedral of Chartres gave us in that perfect hour.

It was sunset when we reached the gates of Paris. Under the heights
of St. Cloud and Suresnes the reaches of the Seine trembled with the
blue-pink lustre of an early Monet. The Bois lay about us in the
stillness of a holiday evening, and the lawns of Bagatelle were as
fresh as June. Below the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysees sloped
downward in a sun-powdered haze to the mist of fountains and the
ethereal obelisk; and the currents of summer life ebbed and flowed
with a normal beat under the trees of the radiating avenues. The
great city, so made for peace and art and all humanest graces,
seemed to lie by her river-side like a princess guarded by the
watchful giant of the Eiffel Tower.

The next day the air was thundery with rumours. Nobody believed
them, everybody repeated them. War? Of course there couldn't be war!
The Cabinets, like naughty children, were again dangling their feet
over the edge; but the whole incalculable weight of things-as-they-were,
of the daily necessary business of living, continued calmly and
convincingly to assert itself against the bandying of diplomatic
words. Paris went on steadily about her mid-summer business of
feeding, dressing, and amusing the great army of tourists who were
the only invaders she had seen for nearly half a century.

All the while, every one knew that other work was going on also. The
whole fabric of the country's seemingly undisturbed routine was
threaded with noiseless invisible currents of preparation, the sense
of them was in the calm air as the sense of changing weather is in
the balminess of a perfect afternoon. Paris counted the minutes till
the evening papers came.

They said little or nothing except what every one was already
declaring all over the country. "We don't want war--_mais it faut
que cela finisse!_" "This kind of thing has got to stop": that was
the only phase one heard. If diplomacy could still arrest the war,
so much the better: no one in France wanted it. All who spent the
first days of August in Paris will testify to the agreement of
feeling on that point. But if war had to come, the country, and
every heart in it, was ready.

At the dressmaker's, the next morning, the tired fitters were
preparing to leave for their usual holiday. They looked pale and
anxious--decidedly, there was a new weight of apprehension in the
air. And in the rue Royale, at the corner of the Place de la
Concorde, a few people had stopped to look at a little strip of
white paper against the wall of the Ministere de la Marine. "General
mobilization" they read--and an armed nation knows what that means.
But the group about the paper was small and quiet. Passers by read
the notice and went on. There were no cheers, no gesticulations: the
dramatic sense of the race had already told them that the event was
too great to be dramatized. Like a monstrous landslide it had fallen
across the path of an orderly laborious nation, disrupting its
routine, annihilating its industries, rending families apart, and
burying under a heap of senseless ruin the patiently and painfully
wrought machinery of civilization...

That evening, in a restaurant of the rue Royale, we sat at a table
in one of the open windows, abreast with the street, and saw the
strange new crowds stream by. In an instant we were being shown what
mobilization was--a huge break in the normal flow of traffic, like
the sudden rupture of a dyke. The street was flooded by the torrent
of people sweeping past us to the various railway stations. All were
on foot, and carrying their luggage; for since dawn every cab and
taxi and motor--omnibus had disappeared. The War Office had thrown
out its drag-net and caught them all in. The crowd that passed our
window was chiefly composed of conscripts, the _mobilisables_ of the
first day, who were on the way to the station accompanied by their
families and friends; but among them were little clusters of
bewildered tourists, labouring along with bags and bundles, and
watching their luggage pushed before them on hand-carts--puzzled
inarticulate waifs caught in the cross-tides racing to a maelstrom.

In the restaurant, the befrogged and red-coated band poured out
patriotic music, and the intervals between the courses that so few
waiters were left to serve were broken by the ever-recurring
obligation to stand up for the Marseillaise, to stand up for God
Save the King, to stand up for the Russian National Anthem, to stand
up again for the Marseillaise. "_Et dire que ce sont des Hongrois
qui jouent tout cela!"_ a humourist remarked from the pavement.

As the evening wore on and the crowd about our window thickened, the
loiterers outside began to join in the war-songs. "_Allons, debout!_
"--and the loyal round begins again. "La chanson du depart" is a
frequent demand; and the chorus of spectators chimes in roundly. A
sort of quiet humour was the note of the street. Down the rue
Royale, toward the Madeleine, the bands of other restaurants were
attracting other throngs, and martial refrains were strung along the
Boulevard like its garlands of arc-lights. It was a night of singing
and acclamations, not boisterous, but gallant and determined. It was
Paris _badauderie_ at its best.

Meanwhile, beyond the fringe of idlers the steady stream of
conscripts still poured along. Wives and families trudged beside
them, carrying all kinds of odd improvised bags and bundles. The
impression disengaging itself from all this superficial confusion
was that of a cheerful steadiness of spirit. The faces ceaselessly
streaming by were serious but not sad; nor was there any air of
bewilderment--the stare of driven cattle. All these lads and young
men seemed to know what they were about and why they were about it.
The youngest of them looked suddenly grown up and responsible; they
understood their stake in the job, and accepted it.

The next day the army of midsummer travel was immobilized to let the
other army move. No more wild rushes to the station, no more bribing
of concierges, vain quests for invisible cabs, haggard hours of
waiting in the queue at Cook's. No train stirred except to carry
soldiers, and the civilians who had not bribed and jammed their way
into a cranny of the thronged carriages leaving the first night
could only creep back through the hot streets to their hotel and
wait. Back they went, disappointed yet half-relieved, to the
resounding emptiness of porterless halls, waiterless restaurants,
motionless lifts: to the queer disjointed life of fashionable hotels
suddenly reduced to the intimacies and make-shift of a Latin
Quarter _pension._ Meanwhile it was strange to watch the gradual
paralysis of the city. As the motors, taxis, cabs and vans had
vanished from the streets, so the lively little steamers had left
the Seine. The canal-boats too were gone, or lay motionless: loading
and unloading had ceased. Every great architectural opening framed
an emptiness; all the endless avenues stretched away to desert
distances. In the parks and gardens no one raked the paths or
trimmed the borders. The fountains slept in their basins, the
worried sparrows fluttered unfed, and vague dogs, shaken out of
their daily habits, roamed unquietly, looking for familiar eyes.
Paris, so intensely conscious yet so strangely entranced, seemed to
have had _curare_ injected into all her veins.

The next day--the 2nd of August--from the terrace of the Hotel
de Crillon one looked down on a first faint stir of returning life.
Now and then a taxi-cab or a private motor crossed the Place de la
Concorde, carrying soldiers to the stations. Other conscripts, in
detachments, tramped by on foot with bags and banners. One
detachment stopped before the black-veiled statue of Strasbourg and
laid a garland at her feet. In ordinary times this demonstration
would at once have attracted a crowd; but at the very moment when it
might have been expected to provoke a patriotic outburst it excited
no more attention than if one of the soldiers had turned aside to
give a penny to a beggar. The people crossing the square did not
even stop to look. The meaning of this apparent indifference was
obvious. When an armed nation mobilizes, everybody is busy, and busy
in a definite and pressing way. It is not only the fighters that
mobilize: those who stay behind must do the same. For each French
household, for each individual man or woman in France, war means a
complete reorganization of life. The detachment of conscripts,
unnoticed, paid their tribute to the Cause and passed on...

Looked back on from these sterner months those early days in Paris,
in their setting of grave architecture and summer skies, wear the
light of the ideal and the abstract. The sudden flaming up of
national life, the abeyance of every small and mean preoccupation,
cleared the moral air as the streets had been cleared, and made the
spectator feel as though he were reading a great poem on War rather
than facing its realities.

Something of this sense of exaltation seemed to penetrate the
throngs who streamed up and down the Boulevards till late into the
night. All wheeled traffic had ceased, except that of the rare
taxi-cabs impressed to carry conscripts to the stations; and the
middle of the Boulevards was as thronged with foot-passengers as an
Italian market-place on a Sunday morning. The vast tide swayed up
and down at a slow pace, breaking now and then to make room for one
of the volunteer "legions" which were forming at every corner:
Italian, Roumanian, South American, North American, each headed by
its national flag and hailed with cheering as it passed. But even
the cheers were sober: Paris was not to be shaken out of her
self-imposed serenity. One felt something nobly conscious and
voluntary in the mood of this quiet multitude. Yet it was a mixed
throng, made up of every class, from the scum of the Exterior
Boulevards to the cream of the fashionable restaurants. These
people, only two days ago, had been leading a thousand different
lives, in indifference or in antagonism to each other, as alien as
enemies across a frontier: now workers and idlers, thieves, beggars,
saints, poets, drabs and sharpers, genuine people and showy shams,
were all bumping up against each other in an instinctive community
of emotion. The "people," luckily, predominated; the faces of
workers look best in such a crowd, and there were thousands of them,
each illuminated and singled out by its magnesium-flash of passion.

I remember especially the steady-browed faces of the women; and also
the small but significant fact that every one of them had remembered
to bring her dog. The biggest of these amiable companions had to
take their chance of seeing what they could through the forest of
human legs; but every one that was portable was snugly lodged in the
bend of an elbow, and from this safe perch scores and scores of
small serious muzzles, blunt or sharp, smooth or woolly, brown or
grey or white or black or brindled, looked out on the scene with the
quiet awareness of the Paris dog. It was certainly a good sign that
they had not been forgotten that night.


II

WE had been shown, impressively, what it was to live through a
mobilization; now we were to learn that mobilization is only one of
the concomitants of martial law, and that martial law is not
comfortable to live under--at least till one gets used to it.

At first its main purpose, to the neutral civilian, seemed certainly
to be the wayward pleasure of complicating his life; and in that
line it excelled in the last refinements of ingenuity. Instructions
began to shower on us after the lull of the first days: instructions
as to what to do, and what not to do, in order to make our presence
tolerable and our persons secure. In the first place, foreigners
could not remain in France without satisfying the authorities as to
their nationality and antecedents; and to do this necessitated
repeated ineffective visits to chanceries, consulates and police
stations, each too densely thronged with flustered applicants to
permit the entrance of one more. Between these vain pilgrimages, the
traveller impatient to leave had to toil on foot to distant railway
stations, from which he returned baffled by vague answers and
disheartened by the declaration that tickets, when achievable, must
also be _vises_ by the police. There was a moment when it seemed
that ones inmost thoughts had to have that unobtainable _visa_--to
obtain which, more fruitless hours must be lived on grimy stairways
between perspiring layers of fellow-aliens. Meanwhile one's money
was probable running short, and one must cable or telegraph for
more. Ah--but cables and telegrams must be _vises_ too--and even
when they were, one got no guarantee that they would be sent! Then
one could not use code addresses, and the ridiculous number of words
contained in a New York address seemed to multiply as the francs in
one's pockets diminished. And when the cable was finally dispatched
it was either lost on the way, or reached its destination only to
call forth, after anxious days, the disheartening response:
"Impossible at present. Making every effort." It is fair to add
that, tedious and even irritating as many of these transactions
were, they were greatly eased by the sudden uniform good-nature of
the French functionary, who, for the first time, probably, in the
long tradition of his line, broke through its fundamental rule and
was kind.

Luckily, too, these incessant comings and goings involved much
walking of the beautiful idle summer streets, which grew idler and
more beautiful each day. Never had such blue-grey softness of
afternoon brooded over Paris, such sunsets turned the heights of the
Trocadero into Dido's Carthage, never, above all, so rich a moon
ripened through such perfect evenings. The Seine itself had no small
share in this mysterious increase of the city's beauty. Released
from all traffic, its hurried ripples smoothed themselves into long
silken reaches in which quays and monuments at last saw their
unbroken images. At night the fire-fly lights of the boats had
vanished, and the reflections of the street lamps were lengthened
into streamers of red and gold and purple that slept on the calm
current like fluted water-weeds. Then the moon rose and took
possession of the city, purifying it of all accidents, calming and
enlarging it and giving it back its ideal lines of strength and
repose. There was something strangely moving in this new Paris of
the August evenings, so exposed yet so serene, as though her very
beauty shielded her.

So, gradually, we fell into the habit of living under martial law.
After the first days of flustered adjustment the personal
inconveniences were so few that one felt almost ashamed of their not
being more, of not being called on to contribute some greater
sacrifice of comfort to the Cause. Within the first week over two
thirds of the shops had closed--the greater number bearing on their
shuttered windows the notice "Pour cause de mobilisation," which
showed that the "patron" and staff were at the front. But enough
remained open to satisfy every ordinary want, and the closing of the
others served to prove how much one could do without. Provisions
were as cheap and plentiful as ever, though for a while it was
easier to buy food than to have it cooked. The restaurants were
closing rapidly, and one often had to wander a long way for a meal,
and wait a longer time to get it. A few hotels still carried on a
halting life, galvanized by an occasional inrush of travel from
Belgium and Germany; but most of them had closed or were being
hastily transformed into hospitals.

The signs over these hotel doors first disturbed the dreaming
harmony of Paris. In a night, as it seemed, the whole city was hung
with Red Crosses. Every other building showed the red and white band
across its front, with "Ouvroir" or "Hopital" beneath; there
was something sinister in these preparations for horrors in which
one could not yet believe, in the making of bandages for limbs yet
sound and whole, the spreading of pillows for heads yet carried
high. But insist as they would on the woe to come, these warning
signs did not deeply stir the trance of Paris. The first days of the
war were full of a kind of unrealizing confidence, not boastful or
fatuous, yet as different as possible from the clear-headed tenacity
of purpose that the experience of the next few months was to
develop. It is hard to evoke, without seeming to exaggerate it, that
the mood of early August: the assurance, the balance, the kind of
smiling fatalism with which Paris moved to her task. It is not
impossible that the beauty of the season and the silence of the city
may have helped to produce this mood. War, the shrieking fury, had
announced herself by a great wave of stillness. Never was desert
hush more complete: the silence of a street is always so much deeper
than the silence of wood or field.

The heaviness of the August air intensified this impression of
suspended life. The days were dumb enough; but at night the hush
became acute. In the quarter I inhabit, always deserted in summer,
the shuttered streets were mute as catacombs, and the faintest
pin-prick of noise seemed to tear a rent in a black pall of silence.
I could hear the tired tap of a lame hoof half a mile away, and the
tread of the policeman guarding the Embassy across the street beat
against the pavement like a series of detonations. Even the
variegated noises of the city's waking-up had ceased. If any
sweepers, scavengers or rag-pickers still plied their trades they
did it as secretly as ghosts. I remember one morning being roused
out of a deep sleep by a sudden explosion of noise in my room. I sat
up with a start, and found I had been waked by a low-voiced exchange
of "Bonjours" in the street...

Another fact that kept the reality of war from Paris was the curious
absence of troops in the streets. After the first rush of conscripts
hurrying to their military bases it might have been imagined that
the reign of peace had set in. While smaller cities were swarming
with soldiers no glitter of arms was reflected in the empty avenues
of the capital, no military music sounded through them. Paris
scorned all show of war, and fed the patriotism of her children on
the mere sight of her beauty. It was enough.

Even when the news of the first ephemeral successes in Alsace began
to come in, the Parisians did not swerve from their even gait. The
newsboys did all the shouting--and even theirs was presently
silenced by decree. It seemed as though it had been unanimously,
instinctively decided that the Paris of 1914 should in no respect
resemble the Paris of 1870, and as though this resolution had passed
at birth into the blood of millions born since that fatal date, and
ignorant of its bitter lesson. The unanimity of self-restraint was
the notable characteristic of this people suddenly plunged into an
unsought and unexpected war. At first their steadiness of spirit
might have passed for the bewilderment of a generation born and bred
in peace, which did not yet understand what war implied. But it is
precisely on such a mood that easy triumphs might have been supposed
to have the most disturbing effect. It was the crowd in the street
that shouted "A Berlin!" in 1870; now the crowd in the street
continued to mind its own business, in spite of showers of extras
and too-sanguine bulletins.

I remember the morning when our butcher's boy brought the news that
the first German flag had been hung out on the balcony of the
Ministry of War. Now I thought, the Latin will boil over! And I
wanted to be there to see. I hurried down the quiet rue de
Martignac, turned the corner of the Place Sainte Clotilde, and came
on an orderly crowd filling the street before the Ministry of War.
The crowd was so orderly that the few pacific gestures of the police
easily cleared a way for passing cabs, and for the military motors
perpetually dashing up. It was composed of all classes, and there
were many family groups, with little boys straddling their mothers'
shoulders, or lifted up by the policemen when they were too heavy
for their mothers. It is safe to say that there was hardly a man or
woman of that crowd who had not a soldier at the front; and there
before them hung the enemy's first flag--a splendid silk flag, white
and black and crimson, and embroidered in gold. It was the flag of
an Alsatian regiment--a regiment of Prussianized Alsace. It
symbolized all they most abhorred in the whole abhorrent job that
lay ahead of them; it symbolized also their finest ardour and their
noblest hate, and the reason why, if every other reason failed,
France could never lay down arms till the last of such flags was
low. And there they stood and looked at it, not dully or
uncomprehendingly, but consciously, advisedly, and in silence; as if
already foreseeing all it would cost to keep that flag and add to it
others like it; forseeing the cost and accepting it. There seemed to
be men's hearts even in the children of that crowd, and in the
mothers whose weak arms held them up. So they gazed and went on, and
made way for others like them, who gazed in their turn and went on
too. All day the crowd renewed itself, and it was always the same
crowd, intent and understanding and silent, who looked steadily at
the flag, and knew what its being there meant. That, in August, was
the look of Paris.


III

FEBRUARY

FEBRUARY dusk on the Seine. The boats are plying again, but they
stop at nightfall, and the river is inky-smooth, with the same long
weed-like reflections as in August. Only the reflections are fewer
and paler; bright lights are muffled everywhere. The line of the
quays is scarcely discernible, and the heights of the Trocadero are
lost in the blur of night, which presently effaces even the firm
tower-tops of Notre-Dame. Down the damp pavements only a few street
lamps throw their watery zigzags. The shops are shut, and the
windows above them thickly curtained. The faces of the houses are
all blind.

In the narrow streets of the Rive Gauche the darkness is even
deeper, and the few scattered lights in courts or "cites" create
effects of Piranesi-like mystery. The gleam of the chestnut-roaster's
brazier at a street corner deepens the sense of an old adventurous
Italy, and the darkness beyond seems full of cloaks and conspiracies.
I turn, on my way home, into an empty street between high garden
walls, with a single light showing far off at its farther end. Not a
soul is in sight between me and that light: my steps echo endlessly
in the silence. Presently a dim figure comes around the corner ahead
of me. Man or woman? Impossible to tell till I overtake it. The
February fog deepens the darkness, and the faces one passes are
indistinguishable. As for the numbers of the houses, no one thinks
of looking for them. If you know the quarter you count doors from
the corner, or try to puzzle out the familiar outline of a balcony
or a pediment; if you are in a strange street, you must ask at the
nearest tobacconist's--for, as for finding a policeman, a yard off
you couldn't tell him from your grandmother!

Such, after six months of war, are the nights of Paris; the days are
less remarkable and less romantic.

Almost all the early flush and shiver of romance is gone; or so at
least it seems to those who have watched the gradual revival of
life. It may appear otherwise to observers from other countries,
even from those involved in the war. After London, with all her
theaters open, and her machinery of amusement almost unimpaired,
Paris no doubt seems like a city on whom great issues weigh. But to
those who lived through that first sunlit silent month the streets
to-day show an almost normal activity. The vanishing of all the
motorbuses, and of the huge lumbering commercial vans, leaves many a
forgotten perspective open and reveals many a lost grace of
architecture; but the taxi-cabs and private motors are almost as
abundant as in peace-time, and the peril of pedestrianism is kept at
its normal pitch by the incessant dashing to and fro of those
unrivalled engines of destruction, the hospital and War Office
motors. Many shops have reopened, a few theatres are tentatively
producing patriotic drama or mixed programmes seasonal with
sentiment and mirth, and the cinema again unrolls its eventful
kilometres.

For a while, in September and October, the streets were made
picturesque by the coming and going of English soldiery, and the
aggressive flourish of British military motors. Then the fresh faces
and smart uniforms disappeared, and now the nearest approach to
"militarism" which Paris offers to the casual sight-seer is the
occasional drilling of a handful of _piou-pious_ on the muddy
reaches of the Place des Invalides. But there is another army in
Paris. Its first detachments came months ago, in the dark September
days--lamentable rear-guard of the Allies' retreat on Paris. Since
then its numbers have grown and grown, its dingy streams have
percolated through all the currents of Paris life, so that wherever
one goes, in every quarter and at every hour, among the busy
confident strongly-stepping Parisians one sees these other people,
dazed and slowly moving--men and women with sordid bundles on their
backs, shuffling along hesitatingly in their tattered shoes,
children dragging at their hands and tired-out babies pressed
against their shoulders: the great army of the Refugees. Their faces
are unmistakable and unforgettable. No one who has ever caught that
stare of dumb bewilderment--or that other look of concentrated
horror, full of the reflection of flames and ruins--can shake off
the obsession of the Refugees. The look in their eyes is part of the
look of Paris. It is the dark shadow on the brightness of the face
she turns to the enemy. These poor people cannot look across the
borders to eventual triumph. They belong mostly to a class whose
knowledge of the world's affairs is measured by the shadow of their
village steeple. They are no more curious of the laws of causation
than the thousands overwhelmed at Avezzano. They were ploughing and
sowing, spinning and weaving and minding their business, when
suddenly a great darkness full of fire and blood came down on them.
And now they are here, in a strange country, among unfamiliar faces
and new ways, with nothing left to them in the world but the memory
of burning homes and massacred children and young men dragged to
slavery, of infants torn from their mothers, old men trampled by
drunken heels and priests slain while they prayed beside the dying.
These are the people who stand in hundreds every day outside the
doors of the shelters improvised to rescue them, and who receive, in
return for the loss of everything that makes life sweet, or
intelligible, or at least endurable, a cot in a dormitory, a
meal-ticket--and perhaps, on lucky days, a pair of shoes...

What are the Parisians doing meanwhile? For one thing--and the sign
is a good one--they are refilling the shops, and especially, of
course, the great "department stores." In the early war days there
was no stranger sight than those deserted palaces, where one strayed
between miles of unpurchased wares in quest of vanished salesmen. A
few clerks, of course, were left: enough, one would have thought,
for the rare purchasers who disturbed their meditations. But the few
there were did not care to be disturbed: they lurked behind their
walls of sheeting, their bastions of flannelette, as if ashamed to
be discovered. And when one had coaxed them out they went through
the necessary gestures automatically, as if mournfully wondering
that any one should care to buy. I remember once, at the Louvre,
seeing the whole force of a "department," including the salesman I
was trying to cajole into showing me some medicated gauze, desert
their posts simultaneously to gather about a motor-cyclist in a
muddy uniform who had dropped in to see his pals with tales from the
front. But after six months the pressure of normal appetites has
begun to reassert itself--and to shop is one of the normal appetites
of woman. I say "shop" instead of buy, to distinguish between the
dull purchase of necessities and the voluptuousness of acquiring
things one might do without. It is evident that many of the
thousands now fighting their way into the great shops must be
indulging in the latter delight. At a moment when real wants are
reduced to a minimum, how else account for the congestion of the
department store? Even allowing for the immense, the perpetual
buying of supplies for hospitals and work-rooms, the incessant
stoking-up of the innumerable centres of charitable production,
there is no explanation of the crowding of the other departments
except the fact that woman, however valiant, however tried, however
suffering and however self-denying, must eventually, in the long
run, and at whatever cost to her pocket and her ideals, begin to
shop again. She has renounced the theatre, she denies herself the
teo-rooms, she goes apologetically and furtively (and economically)
to concerts--but the swinging doors of the department stores suck
her irresistibly into their quicksand of remnants and reductions.

No one, in this respect, would wish the look of Paris to be changed.
It is a good sign to see the crowds pouring into the shops again,
even though the sight is less interesting than that of the other
crowds streaming daily--and on Sunday in immensely augmented
numbers--across the Pont Alexandre III to the great court of the
Invalides where the German trophies are displayed. Here the heart of
France beats with a richer blood, and something of its glow passes
into foreign veins as one watches the perpetually renewed throngs
face to face with the long triple row of German guns. There are few
in those throngs to whom one of the deadly pack has not dealt a
blow; there are personal losses, lacerating memories, bound up with
the sight of all those evil engines. But personal sorrow is the
sentiment least visible in the look of Paris. It is not fanciful to
say that the Parisian face, after six months of trial, has acquired
a new character. The change seems to have affected the very stuff it
is moulded of, as though the long ordeal had hardened the poor human
clay into some dense commemorative substance. I often pass in the
street women whose faces look like memorial medals--idealized images
of what they were in the flesh. And the masks of some of the
men--those queer tormented Gallic masks, crushed-in and squat and a
little satyr-like--look like the bronzes of the Naples Museum, burnt
and twisted from their baptism of fire. But none of these faces
reveals a personal preoccupation: they are looking, one and all, at
France erect on her borders. Even the women who are comparing
different widths of Valenciennes at the lace-counter all have
something of that vision in their eyes--or else one does not see the
ones who haven't.

It is still true of Paris that she has not the air of a capital in
arms. There are as few troops to be seen as ever, and but for the
coming and going of the orderlies attached to the War Office and the
Military Government, and the sprinkling of uniforms about the doors
of barracks, there would be no sign of war in the streets--no sign,
that is, except the presence of the wounded. It is only lately that
they have begun to appear, for in the early months of the war they
were not sent to Paris, and the splendidly appointed hospitals of
the capital stood almost empty, while others, all over the country,
were overcrowded. The motives for the disposal of the wounded have
been much speculated upon and variously explained: one of its
results may have been the maintaining in Paris of the extraordinary
moral health which has given its tone to the whole country, and
which is now sound and strong enough to face the sight of any
misery.

And miseries enough it has to face. Day by day the limping figures
grow more numerous on the pavement, the pale bandaged heads more
frequent in passing carriages. In the stalls at the theatres and
concerts there are many uniforms; and their wearers usually have to
wait till the hall is emptied before they hobble out on a supporting
arm. Most of them are very young, and it is the expression of their
faces which I should like to picture and interpret as being the very
essence of what I have called the look of Paris. They are grave,
these young faces: one hears a great deal of the gaiety in the
trenches, but the wounded are not gay. Neither are they sad,
however. They are calm, meditative, strangely purified and matured.
It is as though their great experience had purged them of pettiness,
meanness and frivolity, burning them down to the bare bones of
character, the fundamental substance of the soul, and shaping that
substance into something so strong and finely tempered that for a
long time to come Paris will not care to wear any look unworthy of
the look on their faces.



IN ARGONNE


I

The permission to visit a few ambulances and evacuation hospitals
behind the lines gave me, at the end of February, my first sight of
War.

Paris is no longer included in the military zone, either in fact or
in appearance. Though it is still manifestly under the war-cloud,
its air of reviving activity produces the illusion that the menace
which casts that cloud is far off not only in distance but in time.
Paris, a few months ago so alive to the nearness of the enemy, seems
to have grown completely oblivious of that nearness; and it is
startling, not more than twenty miles from the gates, to pass from
such an atmosphere of workaday security to the imminent sense of
war.

Going eastward, one begins to feel the change just beyond Meaux.
Between that quiet episcopal city and the hill-town of Montmirail,
some forty miles farther east, there are no sensational evidences of
the great conflict of September--only, here and there, in an
unploughed field, or among the fresh brown furrows, a little mound
with a wooden cross and a wreath on it. Nevertheless, one begins to
perceive, by certain negative signs, that one is already in another
world. On the cold February day when we turned out of Meaux and took
the road to the Argonne, the change was chiefly shown by the curious
absence of life in the villages through which we passed. Now and
then a lonely ploughman and his team stood out against the sky, or a
child and an old woman looked from a doorway; but many of the fields
were fallow and most of the doorways empty. We passed a few carts
driven by peasants, a stray wood-cutter in a copse, a road-mender
hammering at his stones; but already the "civilian motor" had
disappeared, and all the dust-coloured cars dashing past us were
marked with the Red Cross or the number of an army division. At
every bridge and railway-crossing a sentinel, standing in the middle
of the road with lifted rifle, stopped the motor and examined our
papers. In this negative sphere there was hardly any other tangible
proof of military rule; but with the descent of the first hill
beyond Montmirail there came the positive feeling: _This is war!_

Along the white road rippling away eastward over the dimpled country
the army motors were pouring by in endless lines, broken now and
then by the dark mass of a tramping regiment or the clatter of a
train of artillery. In the intervals between these waves of military
traffic we had the road to ourselves, except for the flashing past
of despatch-bearers on motor-cycles and of hideously hooting little
motors carrying goggled officers in goat-skins and woollen helmets.

The villages along the road all seemed empty--not figuratively but
literally empty. None of them has suffered from the German invasion,
save by the destruction, here and there, of a single house on which
some random malice has wreaked itself; but since the general flight
in September all have remained abandoned, or are provisionally
occupied by troops, and the rich country between Montmirail and
Chalons is a desert.

The first sight of Chame is extraordinarily exhilarating. The old
town lying so pleasantly between canal and river is the
Head-quarters of an army--not of a corps or of a division, but of a
whole army--and the network of grey provincial streets about the
Romanesque towers of Notre Dame rustles with the movement of war.
The square before the principal hotel--the incomparably named "Haute
Mere-Dieu"--is as vivid a sight as any scene of modern war
can be. Rows of grey motor-lorries and omnibuses do not lend
themselves to as happy groupings as a detachment of cavalry, and
spitting and spurting motor-cycles and "torpedo" racers are no
substitute for the glitter of helmets and the curvetting of
chargers; but once the eye has adapted itself to the ugly lines and
the neutral tints of the new warfare, the scene in that crowded
clattering square becomes positively brilliant. It is a vision of
one of the central functions of a great war, in all its concentrated
energy, without the saddening suggestions of what, on the distant
periphery, that energy is daily and hourly resulting in. Yet even
here such suggestions are never long out of sight; for one cannot
pass through Chalons without meeting, on their way from the station,
a long line of "eclopes"--the unwounded but battered, shattered,
frost-bitten, deafened and half-paralyzed wreckage of the
awful struggle. These poor wretches, in their thousands, are daily
shipped back from the front to rest and be restored; and it is a
grim sight to watch them limping by, and to meet the dazed stare of
eyes that have seen what one dare not picture.

If one could think away the "'eclopes" in the streets and the
wounded in their hospitals, Chalons would be an invigorating
spectacle. When we drove up to the hotel even the grey motors and
the sober uniforms seemed to sparkle under the cold sky. The
continual coming and going of alert and busy messengers, the riding
up of officers (for some still ride!), the arrival of much-decorated
military personages in luxurious motors, the hurrying to and fro of
orderlies, the perpetual depleting and refilling of the long rows of
grey vans across the square, the movements of Red Cross ambulances
and the passing of detachments for the front, all these are sights
that the pacific stranger could forever gape at. And in the hotel,
what a clatter of swords, what a piling up of fur coats and
haversacks, what a grouping of bronzed energetic heads about the
packed tables in the restaurant! It is not easy for civilians to get
to Chalons, and almost every table is occupied by officers and
soldiers--for, once off duty, there seems to be no rank distinction
in this happy democratic army, and the simple private, if he chooses
to treat himself to the excellent fare of the Haute Mere-Dieu, has
as good a right to it as his colonel.

The scene in the restaurant is inexhaustibly interesting. The mere
attempt to puzzle out the different uniforms is absorbing. A week's
experience near the front convinces me that no two uniforms in the
French army are alike either in colour or in cut. Within the last
two years the question of colour has greatly preoccupied the French
military authorities, who have been seeking an invisible blue; and
the range of their experiments is proved by the extraordinary
variety of shades of blue, ranging from a sort of greyish
robin's-egg to the darkest navy, in which the army is clothed. The
result attained is the conviction that no blue is really
inconspicuous, and that some of the harsh new slaty tints are no
less striking than the deeper shades they have superseded. But to
this scale of experimental blues, other colours must be added: the
poppy-red of the Spahis' tunics, and various other less familiar
colours--grey, and a certain greenish khaki--the use of which is due
to the fact that the cloth supply has given out and that all
available materials are employed. As for the differences in cut, the
uniforms vary from the old tight tunic to the loose belted jacket
copied from the English, and the emblems of the various arms and
ranks embroidered on these diversified habits add a new element of
perplexity. The aviator's wings, the motorist's wheel, and many of
the newer symbols, are easily recognizable--but there are all the
other arms, and the doctors and the stretcher-bearers, the sappers
and miners, and heaven knows how many more ramifications of this
great host which is really all the nation.

The main interest of the scene, however, is that it shows almost as
many types as uniforms, and that almost all the types are so good.
One begins to understand (if one has failed to before) why the
French say of themselves: "_La France est une nation guerriere._"
War is the greatest of paradoxes: the most senseless and
disheartening of human retrogressions, and yet the stimulant of
qualities of soul which, in every race, can seemingly find no other
means of renewal. Everything depends, therefore, on the category of
impulses that war excites in a people. Looking at the faces at
Chalons, one sees at once in which [Page 54] sense the French are
"une nation guerriere." It is not too much to say that war has given
beauty to faces that were interesting, humorous, acute, malicious, a
hundred vivid and expressive things, but last and least of all
beautiful. Almost all the faces about these crowded tables--young or
old, plain or handsome, distinguished or average--have the same look
of quiet authority: it is as though all "nervosity," fussiness,
little personal oddities, meannesses and vulgarities, had been burnt
away in a great flame of self-dedication. It is a wonderful example
of the rapidity with which purpose models the human countenance.
More than half of these men were probably doing dull or useless or
unimportant things till the first of last August; now each one of
them, however small his job, is sharing in a great task, and knows
it, and has been made over by knowing it.

Our road on leaving Chalons continued to run northeastward toward
the hills of the Argonne.

We passed through more deserted villages, with soldiers lounging in
the doors where old women should have sat with their distaffs,
soldiers watering their horses in the village pond, soldiers cooking
over gypsy fires in the farm-yards. In the patches of woodland along
the road we came upon more soldiers, cutting down pine saplings,
chopping them into even lengths and loading them on hand-carts, with
the green boughs piled on top. We soon saw to what use they were
put, for at every cross-road or railway bridge a warm sentry-box of
mud and straw and plaited pine-branches was plastered against a bank
or tucked like a swallow's nest into a sheltered corner. A little
farther on we began to come more and more frequently on big colonies
of "Seventy-fives." Drawn up nose to nose, usually against a curtain
of woodland, in a field at some distance from the road, and always
attended by a cumbrous drove of motor-vans, they looked like giant
gazelles feeding among elephants; and the stables of woven
pine-boughs which stood near by might have been the huge huts of
their herdsmen.

The country between Marne and Meuse is one of the regions on which
German fury spent itself most bestially during the abominable
September days. Half way between Chalons and Sainte Menehould we
came on the first evidence of the invasion: the lamentable ruins of
the village of Auve. These pleasant villages of the Aisne, with
their one long street, their half-timbered houses and high-roofed
granaries with espaliered gable-ends, are all much of one pattern,
and one can easily picture what Auve must have been as it looked
out, in the blue September weather, above the ripening pears of its
gardens to the crops in the valley and the large landscape beyond.
Now it is a mere waste of rubble [Page 58] and cinders, not one
threshold distinguishable from another. We saw many other ruined
villages after Auve, but this was the first, and perhaps for that
reason one had there, most hauntingly, the vision of all the
separate terrors, anguishes, uprootings and rendings apart involved
in the destruction of the obscurest of human communities. The
photographs on the walls, the twigs of withered box above the
crucifixes, the old wedding-dresses in brass-clamped trunks, the
bundles of letters laboriously written and as painfully deciphered,
all the thousand and one bits of the past that give meaning and
continuity to the present--of all that accumulated warmth nothing was
left but a brick-heap and some twisted stove-pipes!

As we ran on toward Sainte Menehould the names on our map showed us
that, just beyond the parallel range of hills six or seven miles to
the north, the two armies lay interlocked. But we heard no cannon
yet, and the first visible evidence of the nearness of the struggle
was the encounter, at a bend of the road, of a long line of
grey-coated figures tramping toward us between the bayonets of their
captors. They were a sturdy lot, this fresh "bag" from the hills, of
a fine fighting age, and much less famished and war-worn than one
could have wished. Their broad blond faces were meaningless,
guarded, but neither defiant nor unhappy: they seemed none too sorry
for their fate.

Our pass from the General Head-quarters carried us to Sainte
Menehould on the edge of the Argonne, where we had to apply to the
Head-quarters of the division for a farther extension. The Staff are
lodged in a house considerably the worse for German occupancy, where
offices have been improvised by means of wooden hoardings, and
where, sitting in a bare passage on a frayed damask sofa surmounted
by theatrical posters and faced by a bed with a plum-coloured
counterpane, we listened for a while to the jingle of telephones,
the rat-tat of typewriters, the steady hum of dictation and the
coming and going of hurried despatch-bearers and orderlies. The
extension to the permit was presently delivered with the courteous
request that we should push on to Verdun as fast as possible, as
civilian motors were not wanted on the road that afternoon; and this
request, coupled with the evident stir of activity at Head-quarters,
gave us the impression that there must be a good deal happening
beyond the low line of hills to the north. How much there was we
were soon to know.

We left Sainte Menehould at about eleven, and before twelve o'clock
we were nearing a large village on a ridge from which the land swept
away to right and left in ample reaches. The first glimpse of the
outlying houses showed nothing unusual; but presently the main
street turned and dipped downward, and below and beyond us lay a
long stretch of ruins: the calcined remains of Clermont-en-Argonne,
destroyed by the Germans on the 4th of September. The free and lofty
situation of the little town--for it was really a good deal more
than a village--makes its present state the more lamentable. One can
see it from so far off, and through the torn traceries of its ruined
church the eye travels over so lovely a stretch of country! No doubt
its beauty enriched the joy of wrecking it.

At the farther end of what was once the main street another small
knot of houses has survived. Chief among them is the Hospice for old
men, where Sister Gabrielle Rosnet, when the authorities of Clermont
took to their heels, stayed behind to defend her charges, and where,
ever since, she has nursed an undiminishing stream of wounded from
the eastern front. We found Soeur Rosnet, with her Sisters,
preparing the midday meal of her patients in the little kitchen of
the Hospice: the kitchen which is also her dining-room and private
office. She insisted on our finding time to share the _filet_ and
fried potatoes that were just being taken off the stove, and while
we lunched she told us the story of the invasion--of the Hospice
doors broken down "a coups de crosse" and the grey officers bursting
in with revolvers, and finding her there before them, in the big
vaulted vestibule, "alone with my old men and my Sisters." Soeur
Gabrielle Rosnet is a small round active woman, with a shrewd and
ruddy face of the type that looks out calmly from the dark
background of certain Flemish pictures. Her blue eyes are full of
warmth and humour, and she puts as much gaiety as wrath into her
tale. She does not spare epithets in talking of "ces satanes
Allemands"--these Sisters and nurses of the front have seen sights
to dry up the last drop of sentimental pity--but through all the
horror of those fierce September days, with Clermont blazing about
her and the helpless remnant of its inhabitants under the perpetual
threat of massacre, she retained her sense of the little inevitable
absurdities of life, such as her not knowing how to address the
officer in command "because he was so tall that I couldn't see up to
his shoulder-straps."--"Et ils etaient tous comme ca," she added, a
sort of reluctant admiration in her eyes.

A subordinate "good Sister" had just cleared the table and poured
out our coffee when a woman came in to say, in a matter-of-fact
tone, that there was hard fighting going on across the valley. She
added calmly, as she dipped our plates into a tub, that an obus had
just fallen a mile or two off, and that if we liked we could see the
fighting from a garden over the way. It did not take us long to
reach that garden! Soeur Gabrielle showed the way, bouncing up the
stairs of a house across the street, and flying at her heels we came
out on a grassy terrace full of soldiers.

The cannon were booming without a pause, and seemingly so near that
it was bewildering to look out across empty fields at a hillside
that seemed like any other. But luckily somebody had a field-glass,
and with its help a little corner of the battle of Vauquois was
suddenly brought close to us--the rush of French infantry up the
slopes, the feathery drift of French gun-smoke lower down, and, high
up, on the wooded crest along the sky, the red lightnings and white
puffs of the German artillery. Rap, rap, rap, went the answering
guns, as the troops swept up and disappeared into the fire-tongued
wood; and we stood there dumbfounded at the accident of having
stumbled on this visible episode of the great subterranean struggle.

Though Soeur Rosnet had seen too many such sights to be much moved,
she was full of a lively curiosity, and stood beside us, squarely
planted in the mud, holding the field-glass to her eyes, or passing
it laughingly about among the soldiers. But as we turned to go she
said: "They've sent us word to be ready for another four hundred
to-night"; and the twinkle died out of her good eyes.

Her expectations were to be dreadfully surpassed; for, as we learned
a fortnight later from a three column _communique,_ the scene we had
assisted at was no less than the first act of the successful assault
on the high-perched village of Vauquois, a point of the first
importance to the Germans, since it masked their operations to the
north of Varennes and commanded the railway by which, since
September, they have been revictualling and reinforcing their army
in the Argonne. Vauquois had been taken by them at the end of
September and, thanks to its strong position on a rocky spur, had
been almost impregnably fortified; but the attack we looked on at
from the garden of Clermont, on Sunday, February 28th, carried the
victorious French troops to the top of the ridge, and made them
masters of a part of the village. Driven from it again that night,
they were to retake it after a five days' struggle of exceptional
violence and prodigal heroism, and are now securely established
there in a position described as "of vital importance to the
operations." "But what it cost!" Soeur Gabrielle said, when we saw
her again a few days later.


II

The time had come to remember our promise and hurry away from
Clermont; but a few miles farther our attention was arrested by the
sight of the Red Cross over a village house. The house was little
more than a hovel, the village--Blercourt it was called--a mere
hamlet of scattered cottages and cow-stables: a place so easily
overlooked that it seemed likely our supplies might be needed there.

An orderly went to find the _medecin-chef_, and we waded after him
through the mud to one after another of the cottages in which, with
admirable ingenuity, he had managed to create out of next to nothing
the indispensable requirements of a second-line ambulance:
sterilizing and disinfecting appliances, a bandage-room, a pharmacy,
a well-filled wood-shed, and a clean kitchen in which "tisanes" were
brewing over a cheerful fire. A detachment of cavalry was quartered
in the village, which the trampling of hoofs had turned into a great
morass, and as we picked our way from cottage to cottage in the
doctor's wake he told us of the expedients to which he had been put
to secure even the few hovels into which his patients were crowded.
It was a complaint we were often to hear repeated along this line of
the front, where troops and wounded are packed in thousands into
villages meant to house four or five hundred; and we admired the
skill and devotion with which he had dealt with the difficulty, and
managed to lodge his patients decently.

We came back to the high-road, and he asked us if we should like to
see the church. It was about three o'clock, and in the low porch the
cure was ringing the bell for vespers. We pushed open the inner
doors and went in. The church was without aisles, and down the nave
stood four rows of wooden cots with brown blankets. In almost every
one lay a soldier--the doctor's "worst cases"--few of them wounded,
the greater number stricken with fever, bronchitis, frost-bite,
pleurisy, or some other form of trench-sickness too severe to permit
of their being carried farther from the front. One or two heads
turned on the pillows as we entered, but for the most part the men
did not move.

The cure, meanwhile, passing around to the sacristy, had come out
before the altar in his vestments, followed by a little white
acolyte. A handful of women, probably the only "civil" inhabitants
left, and some of the soldiers we had seen about the village, had
entered the church and stood together between the rows of cots; and
the service began. It was a sunless afternoon, and the picture was
all in monastic shades of black and white and ashen grey: the sick
under their earth-coloured blankets, their livid faces against the
pillows, the black dresses of the women (they seemed all to be in
mourning) and the silver haze floating out from the little acolyte's
censer. The only light in the scene--the candle-gleams on the altar,
and their reflection in the embroideries of the cure's chasuble--were
like a faint streak of sunset on the winter dusk.

For a while the long Latin cadences sounded on through the church;
but presently the cure took up in French the Canticle of the Sacred
Heart, composed during the war of 1870, and the little congregation
joined their trembling voices in the refrain:

  "_Sauvez, sauvez la France,
  Ne l'abandonnez pas!_"

The reiterated appeal rose in a sob above the rows of bodies in the
nave: "_Sauvez, sauvez la France_," the women wailed it near the
altar, the soldiers took it up from the door in stronger tones; but
the bodies in the cots never stirred, and more and more, as the day
faded, the church looked like a quiet grave-yard in a battle-field.

After we had left Sainte Menehould the sense of the nearness and
all-pervadingness of the war became even more vivid. Every road
branching away to our left was a finger touching a red wound:
Varennes, le Four de Paris, le Bois de la Grurie, were not more than
eight or ten miles to the north. Along our own road the stream of
motor-vans and the trains of ammunition grew longer and more
frequent. Once we passed a long line of "Seventy-fives" going single
file up a hillside, farther on we watched a big detachment of
artillery galloping across a stretch of open country. The movement
of supplies was continuous, and every village through which we
passed swarmed with soldiers busy loading or unloading the big vans,
or clustered about the commissariat motors while hams and quarters
of beef were handed out. As we approached Verdun the cannonade had
grown louder again; and when we reached the walls of the town and
passed under the iron teeth of the portcullis we felt ourselves in
one of the last outposts of a mighty line of defense. The desolation
of Verdun is as impressive as the feverish activity of Chalons.
The civil population was evacuated in September, and only a small
percentage have returned. Nine-tenths of the shops are closed, and
as the troops are nearly all in the trenches there is hardly any
movement in the streets.

The first duty of the traveller who has successfully passed the
challenge of the sentinel at the gates is to climb the steep hill to
the citadel at the top of the town. Here the military authorities
inspect one's papers, and deliver a "permis de sejour" which must be
verified by the police before lodgings can be obtained. We found the
principal hotel much less crowded than the Haute Mere-Dieu at
Chalons, though many of the officers of the garrison mess
there. The whole atmosphere of the place was different: silent,
concentrated, passive. To the chance observer, Verdun appears to
live only in its hospitals; and of these there are fourteen within
the walls alone. As darkness fell, the streets became completely
deserted, and the cannonade seemed to grow nearer and more
incessant. That first night the hush was so intense that every
reverberation from the dark hills beyond the walls brought out in
the mind its separate vision of destruction; and then, just as the
strained imagination could bear no more, the thunder ceased. A
moment later, in a court below my windows, a pigeon began to coo;
and all night long the two sounds strangely alternated...

On entering the gates, the first sight to attract us had been a
colony of roughly-built bungalows scattered over the miry slopes of
a little park adjoining the railway station, and surmounted by the
sign: "Evacuation Hospital No. 6." The next morning we went to visit
it. A part of the station buildings has been adapted to hospital
use, and among them a great roofless hall, which the surgeon in
charge has covered in with canvas and divided down its length into a
double row of tents. Each tent contains two wooden cots,
scrupulously clean and raised high above the floor; and the immense
ward is warmed by a row of stoves down the central passage. In the
bungalows across the road are beds for the patients who are to be
kept for a time before being transferred to the hospitals in the
town. In one bungalow an operating-room has been installed, in
another are the bathing arrangements for the newcomers from the
trenches. Every possible device for the relief of the wounded has
been carefully thought out and intelligently applied by the surgeon
in charge and the _infirmiere major_ who indefatigably seconds him.
Evacuation Hospital No. 6 sprang up in an hour, almost, on the
dreadful August day when four thousand wounded lay on stretchers
between the railway station and the gate of the little park across
the way; and it has gradually grown into the model of what such a
hospital may become in skilful and devoted hands.

Verdun has other excellent hospitals for the care of the severely
wounded who cannot be sent farther from the front. Among them St.
Nicolas, in a big airy building on the Meuse, is an example of a
great French Military Hospital at its best; but I visited few
others, for the main object of my journey was to get to some of the
second-line ambulances beyond the town. The first we went to was in
a small village to the north of Verdun, not far from the enemy's
lines at Cosenvoye, and was fairly representative of all the others.
The dreary muddy village was crammed with troops, and the ambulance
had been installed at haphazard in such houses as the military
authorities could spare. The arrangements were primitive but clean,
and even the dentist had set up his apparatus in one of the rooms.
The men lay on mattresses or in wooden cots, and the rooms were
heated by stoves. The great need, here as everywhere, was for
blankets and clean underclothing; for the wounded are brought in
from the front encrusted with frozen mud, and usually without having
washed or changed for weeks. There are no women nurses in these
second-line ambulances, but all the army doctors we saw seemed
intelligent, and anxious to do the best they could for their men in
conditions of unusual hardship. The principal obstacle in their way
is the over-crowded state of the villages. Thousands of soldiers are
camped in all of them, in hygienic conditions that would be bad
enough for men in health; and there is also a great need for light
diet, since the hospital commissariat of the front apparently
supplies no invalid foods, and men burning with fever have to be fed
on meat and vegetables.

In the afternoon we started out again in a snow-storm, over a
desolate rolling country to the south of Verdun. The wind blew
fiercely across the whitened slopes, and no one was in sight but the
sentries marching up and down the railway lines, and an occasional
cavalryman patrolling the lonely road. Nothing can exceed the
mournfulness of this depopulated land: we might have been wandering
over the wilds of Poland. We ran some twenty miles down the
steel-grey Meuse to a village about four miles west of Les Eparges,
the spot where, for weeks past, a desperate struggle had been going
on. There must have been a lull in the fighting that day, for the
cannon had ceased; but the scene at the point where we left the
motor gave us the sense of being on the very edge of the conflict.
The long straggling village lay on the river, and the trampling of
cavalry and the hauling of guns had turned the land about it into a
mud-flat. Before the primitive cottage where the doctor's office had
been installed were the motors of the surgeon and the medical
inspector who had accompanied us. Near by stood the usual flock of
grey motor-vans, and all about was the coming and going of cavalry
remounts, the riding up of officers, the unloading of supplies, the
incessant activity of mud-splashed sergeants and men.

The main ambulance was in a grange, of which the two stories had
been partitioned off into wards. Under the cobwebby rafters the men
lay in rows on clean pallets, and big stoves made the rooms dry and
warm. But the great superiority of this ambulance was its nearness
to a canalboat which had been fitted up with hot douches. The boat
was spotlessly clean, and each cabin was shut off by a gay curtain
of red-flowered chintz. Those curtains must do almost as much as the
hot water to make over the _morale_ of the men: they were the most
comforting sight of the day.

Farther north, and on the other bank of the Meuse, lies another
large village which has been turned into a colony of eclopes.
Fifteen hundred sick or exhausted men are housed there--and there
are no hot douches or chintz curtains to cheer them! We were taken
first to the church, a large featureless building at the head of the
street. In the doorway our passage was obstructed by a mountain of
damp straw which a gang of hostler-soldiers were pitch-forking out
of the aisles. The interior of the church was dim and suffocating.
Between the pillars hung screens of plaited straw, forming little
enclosures in each of which about a dozen sick men lay on more
straw, without mattresses or blankets. No beds, no tables, no
chairs, no washing appliances--in their muddy clothes, as they come
from the front, they are bedded down on the stone floor like cattle
till they are well enough to go back to their job. It was a pitiful
contrast to the little church at Blercourt, with the altar lights
twinkling above the clean beds; and one wondered if even so near the
front, it had to be. "The African village, we call it," one of our
companions said with a laugh: but the African village has blue sky
over it, and a clear stream runs between its mud huts.

We had been told at Sainte Menehould that, for military reasons, we
must follow a more southerly direction on our return to
Chalons; and when we left Verdun we took the road to
Bar-le-Duc. It runs southwest over beautiful broken country,
untouched by war except for the fact that its villages, like all the
others in this region, are either deserted or occupied by troops. As
we left Verdun behind us the sound of the cannon grew fainter and
died out, and we had the feeling that we were gradually passing
beyond the flaming boundaries into a more normal world; but
suddenly, at a cross-road, a sign-post snatched us back to war: _St.
Mihiel_, 18 _Kilometres_. St. Mihiel, the danger-spot of the region,
the weak joint in the armour! There it lay, up that harmless-looking
bye-road, not much more than ten miles away--a ten minutes' dash
would have brought us into the thick of the grey coats and spiked
helmets! The shadow of that sign-post followed us for miles,
darkening the landscape like the shadow from a racing storm-cloud.

Bar-le-Duc seemed unaware of the cloud. The charming old town was in
its normal state of provincial apathy: few soldiers were about, and
here at last civilian life again predominated. After a few days on
the edge of the war, in that intermediate region under its solemn
spell, there is something strangely lowering to the mood in the
first sight of a busy unconscious community. One looks instinctively,
in the eyes of the passers by, for a reflection of that other vision,
and feels diminished by contact with people going so indifferently
about their business.

A little way beyond Bar-le-Duc we came on another phase of the
war-vision, for our route lay exactly in the track of the August
invasion, and between Bar-le-Duc and Vitry-le-Francois the high-road
is lined with ruined towns. The first we came to was Laimont, a
large village wiped out as if a cyclone had beheaded it; then comes
Revigny, a town of over two thousand inhabitants, less completely
levelled because its houses were more solidly built, but a spectacle
of more tragic desolation, with its wide streets winding between
scorched and contorted fragments of masonry, bits of shop-fronts,
handsome doorways, the colonnaded court of a public building. A few
miles farther lies the most piteous of the group: the village of
Heiltz-le-Maurupt, once pleasantly set in gardens and orchards, now
an ugly waste like the others, and with a little church so stripped
and wounded and dishonoured that it lies there by the roadside like
a human victim.

In this part of the country, which is one of many cross-roads, we
began to have unexpected difficulty in finding our way, for the
names and distances on the milestones have all been effaced, the
sign-posts thrown down and the enamelled _plaques_ on the houses at
the entrance to the villages removed. One report has it that this
precaution was taken by the inhabitants at the approach of the
invading army, another that the Germans themselves demolished the
sign-posts and plastered over the mile-stones in order to paint on
them misleading and encouraging distances. The result is extremely
bewildering, for, all the villages being either in ruins or
uninhabited, there is no one to question but the soldiers one meets,
and their answer is almost invariably "We don't know--we don't
belong here." One is in luck if one comes across a sentinel who
knows the name of the village he is guarding.

It was the strangest of sensations to find ourselves in a chartless
wilderness within sixty or seventy miles of Paris, and to wander, as
we did, for hours across a high heathery waste, with wide blue
distances to north and south, and in all the scene not a landmark by
means of which we could make a guess at our whereabouts. One of our
haphazard turns at last brought us into a muddy bye-road with long
lines of "Seventy-fives" ranged along its banks like grey ant-eaters
in some monstrous menagerie. A little farther on we came to a
bemired village swarming with artillery and cavalry, and found
ourselves in the thick of an encampment just on the move. It seems
improbable that we were meant to be there, for our arrival caused
such surprise that no sentry remembered to challenge us, and
obsequiously saluting _sous-officiers_ instantly cleared a way for
the motor. So, by a happy accident, we caught one more war-picture,
all of vehement movement, as we passed out of the zone of war.

We were still very distinctly in it on returning to Chalons,
which, if it had seemed packed on our previous visit, was now
quivering and cracking with fresh crowds. The stir about the
fountain, in the square before the Haute Mere-Dieu, was more
melodramatic than ever. Every one was in a hurry, every one booted
and mudsplashed, and spurred or sworded or despatch-bagged, or
somehow labelled as a member of the huge military beehive. The
privilege of telephoning and telegraphing being denied to civilians
in the war-zone, it was ominous to arrive at night-fall on such a
crowded scene, and we were not surprised to be told that there was
not a room left at the Haute Mere-Dieu, and that even the sofas in
the reading-room had been let for the night. At every other inn in
the town we met with the same answer; and finally we decided to ask
permission to go on as far as Epernay, about twelve miles off. At
Head-quarters we were told that our request could not be granted. No
motors are allowed to circulate after night-fall in the zone of war,
and the officer charged with the distribution of motor-permits
pointed out that, even if an exception were made in our favour, we
should probably be turned back by the first sentinel we met, only to
find ourselves unable to re-enter Chalons without another
permit! This alternative was so alarming that we began to think
ourselves relatively lucky to be on the right side of the gates; and
we went back to the Haute Mere-Dieu to squeeze into a crowded corner
of the restaurant for dinner. The hope that some one might have
suddenly left the hotel in the interval was not realized; but after
dinner we learned from the landlady that she had certain rooms
permanently reserved for the use of the Staff, and that, as these
rooms had not yet been called for that evening, we might possibly be
allowed to occupy them for the night.

At Chalons the Head-quarters are in the Prefecture, a coldly
handsome building of the eighteenth century, and there, in a
majestic stone vestibule, beneath the gilded ramp of a great festal
staircase, we waited in anxious suspense, among the orderlies and
_estafettes_, while our unusual request was considered. The result
of the deliberation, was an expression of regret: nothing could be
done for us, as officers might at any moment arrive from the General
Head-quarters and require the rooms. It was then past nine o'clock,
and bitterly cold--and we began to wonder. Finally the polite
officer who had been charged to dismiss us, moved to compassion at
our plight, offered to give us a _laissez-passer_ back to Paris. But
Paris was about a hundred and twenty-five miles off, the night was
dark, the cold was piercing--and at every cross-road and railway
crossing a sentinel would have to be convinced of our right to go
farther. We remembered the warning given us earlier in the evening,
and, declining the offer, went out again into the cold. And just
then chance took pity on us. In the restaurant we had run across a
friend attached to the Staff, and now, meeting him again in the
depth of our difficulty, we were told of lodgings to be found near
by. He could not take us there, for it was past the hour when he had
a right to be out, or we either, for that matter, since curfew
sounds at nine at Chalons. But he told us how to find our way
through the maze of little unlit streets about the Cathedral;
standing there beside the motor, in the icy darkness of the deserted
square, and whispering hastily, as he turned to leave us: "You ought
not to be out so late; but the word tonight is _Jena_. When you give
it to the chauffeur, be sure no sentinel overhears you." With that
he was up the wide steps, the glass doors had closed on him, and I
stood there in the pitch-black night, suddenly unable to believe
that I was I, or Chalons Chalons, or that a young man who in Paris
drops in to dine with me and talk over new books and plays, had been
whispering a password in my ear to carry me unchallenged to a house
a few streets away! The sense of unreality produced by that one word
was so overwhelming that for a blissful moment the whole fabric of
what I had been experiencing, the whole huge and oppressive and
unescapable fact of the war, slipped away like a torn cobweb, and
I seemed to see behind it the reassuring face of things as they used
to be.

The next morning dispelled that vision. We woke to a noise of guns
closer and more incessant than even the first night's cannonade at
Verdun; and when we went out into the streets it seemed as if,
overnight, a new army had sprung out of the ground. Waylaid at one
corner after another by the long tide of troops streaming out
through the town to the northern suburbs, we saw in turn all the
various divisions of the unfolding frieze: first the infantry and
artillery, the sappers and miners, the endless trains of guns and
ammunition, then the long line of grey supply-waggons, and finally
the stretcher-bearers following the Red Cross ambulances. All the
story of a day's warfare was written in the spectacle of that
endless silent flow to the front: and we were to read it again, a
few days later, in the terse announcement of "renewed activity"
about Suippes, and of the bloody strip of ground gained between
Perthes and Beausejour.



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES


NANCY, May 13th, 1915

Beside me, on my writing-table, stands a bunch of peonies, the jolly
round-faced pink peonies of the village garden. They were picked
this afternoon in the garden of a ruined house at Gerbeviller--a
house so calcined and convulsed that, for epithets dire enough to
fit it, one would have to borrow from a Hebrew prophet gloating over
the fall of a city of idolaters.

Since leaving Paris yesterday we have passed through streets and
streets of such murdered houses, through town after town spread out
in its last writhings; and before the black holes that were homes,
along the edge of the chasms that were streets, everywhere we have
seen flowers and vegetables springing up in freshly raked and
watered gardens. My pink peonies were not introduced to point the
stale allegory of unconscious Nature veiling Man's havoc: they are
put on my first page as a symbol of conscious human energy coming
back to replant and rebuild the wilderness...

Last March, in the Argonne, the towns we passed through seemed quite
dead; but yesterday new life was budding everywhere. We were
following another track of the invasion, one of the huge
tiger-scratches that the Beast flung over the land last September,
between Vitry-le-Francois and Bar-le-Duc. Etrepy, Pargny,
Sermaize-les-Bains, Andernay, are the names of this group of
victims: Sermaize a pretty watering-place along wooded slopes, the
others large villages fringed with farms, and all now mere
scrofulous blotches on the soft spring scene. But in many we heard
the sound of hammers, and saw brick-layers and masons at work. Even
in the most mortally stricken there were signs of returning life:
children playing among the stone heaps, and now and then a cautious
older face peering out of a shed propped against the ruins. In one
place an ancient tram-car had been converted into a cafe and
labelled: "Au Restaurant des Ruines"; and everywhere between the
calcined walls the carefully combed gardens aligned their radishes
and lettuce-tops.

From Bar-le-Duc we turned northeast, and as we entered the forest of
Commercy we began to hear again the Voice of the Front. It was the
warmest and stillest of May days, and in the clearing where we
stopped for luncheon the familiar boom broke with a magnified
loudness on the noonday hush. In the intervals between the crashes
there was not a sound but the gnats' hum in the moist sunshine and
the dryad-call of the cuckoo from greener depths. At the end of the
lane a few cavalrymen rode by in shabby blue, their horses' flanks
glinting like ripe chestnuts. They stopped to chat and accept some
cigarettes, and when they had trotted off again the gnat, the cuckoo
and the cannon took up their trio...

The town of Commercy looked so undisturbed that the cannonade
rocking it might have been some unheeded echo of the hills. These
frontier towns inured to the clash of war go about their business
with what one might call stolidity if there were not finer, and
truer, names for it. In Commercy, to be sure, there is little
business to go about just now save that connected with the military
occupation; but the peaceful look of the sunny sleepy streets made
one doubt if the fighting line was really less than five miles away...
Yet the French, with an odd perversion of race-vanity, still
persist in speaking of themselves as a "nervous and impressionable"
people!

This afternoon, on the road to Gerbeviller, we were again in the
track of the September invasion. Over all the slopes now cool with
spring foliage the battle rocked backward and forward during those
burning autumn days; and every mile of the struggle has left its
ghastly traces. The fields are full of wooden crosses which the
ploughshare makes a circuit to avoid; many of the villages have been
partly wrecked, and here and there an isolated ruin marks the
nucleus of a fiercer struggle. But the landscape, in its first sweet
leafiness, is so alive with ploughing and sowing and all the natural
tasks of spring, that the war scars seem like traces of a long-past
woe; and it was not till a bend of the road brought us in sight of
Gerbeviller that we breathed again the choking air of present
horror.

Gerbeviller, stretched out at ease on its slopes above the Meurthe,
must have been a happy place to live in. The streets slanted up
between scattered houses in gardens to the great Louis XIV
chateau above the town and the church that balanced it. So
much one can reconstruct from the first glimpse across the valley;
but when one enters the town all perspective is lost in chaos.
Gerbeviller has taken to herself the title of "the martyr town"; an
honour to which many sister victims might dispute her claim! But as
a sensational image of havoc it seems improbable that any can
surpass her. Her ruins seem to have been simultaneously vomited up
from the depths and hurled down from the skies, as though she had
perished in some monstrous clash of earthquake and tornado; and it
fills one with a cold despair to know that this double destruction
was no accident of nature but a piously planned and methodically
executed human deed. From the opposite heights the poor little
garden-girt town was shelled like a steel fortress; then, when the
Germans entered, a fire was built in every house, and at the
nicely-timed right moment one of the explosive tabloids which the
fearless Teuton carries about for his land-_Lusitanias_ was tossed
on each hearth. It was all so well done that one wonders--almost
apologetically for German thoroughness--that any of the human rats
escaped from their holes; but some did, and were neatly spitted on
lurking bayonets.

One old woman, hearing her son's deathcry, rashly looked out of her
door. A bullet instantly laid her low among her phloxes and lilies;
and there, in her little garden, her dead body was dishonoured. It
seemed singularly appropriate, in such a scene, to read above a
blackened doorway the sign: "Monuments Funebres," and to observe
that the house the doorway once belonged to had formed the angle of
a lane called "La Ruelle des Orphelines."

At one end of the main street of Gerbeviller there once stood a
charming house, of the sober old Lorraine pattern, with low door,
deep roof and ample gables: it was in the garden of this house that
my pink peonies were picked for me by its owner, Mr. Liegeay, a
former Mayor of Gerbeviller, who witnessed all the horrors of the
invasion.

Mr. Liegeay is now living in a neighbour's cellar, his own being
fully occupied by the debris of his charming house. He told us the
story of the three days of the German occupation; how he and his
wife and niece, and the niece's babies, took to their cellar while
the Germans set the house on fire, and how, peering through a door
into the stable-yard, they saw that the soldiers suspected they were
within and were trying to get at them. Luckily the incendiaries had
heaped wood and straw all round the outside of the house, and the
blaze was so hot that they could not reach the door. Between the
arch of the doorway and the door itself was a half-moon opening; and
Mr. Liegeay and his family, during three days and three nights,
broke up all the barrels in the cellar and threw the bits out
through the opening to feed the fire in the yard.

Finally, on the third day, when they began to be afraid that the
ruins of the house would fall in on them, they made a dash for
safety. The house was on the edge of the town, and the women and
children managed to get away into the country; but Mr. Liegeay was
surprised in his garden by a German soldier. He made a rush for the
high wall of the adjoining cemetery, and scrambling over it slipped
down between the wall and a big granite cross. The cross was covered
with the hideous wire and glass wreaths dear to French mourners; and
with these opportune mementoes Mr. Liegeay roofed himself in, lying
wedged in his narrow hiding-place from three in the afternoon till
night, and listening to the voices of the soldiers who were hunting
for him among the grave-stones. Luckily it was their last day at
Gerbeviller, and the German retreat saved his life.

Even in Gerbeviller we saw no worse scene of destruction than the
particular spot in which the ex-mayor stood while he told his story.
He looked about him at the heaps of blackened brick and contorted
iron. "This was my dining-room," he said. "There were some good old
paneling on the walls, and some fine prints that had been a
wedding-present to my grand-father." He led us into another black
pit. "This was our sitting-room: you see what a view we had." He
sighed, and added philosophically: "I suppose we were too well off.
I even had an electric light out there on the terrace, to read my
paper by on summer evenings. Yes, we were too well off..." That
was all.

Meanwhile all the town had been red with horror--flame and shot and
tortures unnameable; and at the other end of the long street, a
woman, a Sister of Charity, had held her own like Soeur Gabrielle at
Clermont-en-Argonne, gathering her flock of old men and children
about her and interposing her short stout figure between them and
the fury of the Germans. We found her in her Hospice, a ruddy,
indomitable woman who related with a quiet indignation more
thrilling than invective the hideous details of the bloody three
days; but that already belongs to the past, and at present she is
much more concerned with the task of clothing and feeding
Gerbeviller. For two thirds of the population have already "come
home"--that is what they call the return to this desert! "You see,"
Soeur Julie explained, "there are the crops to sow, the gardens to
tend. They had to come back. The government is building wooden
shelters for them; and people will surely send us beds and linen."
(Of course they would, one felt as one listened!) "Heavy boots,
too--boots for field-labourers. We want them for women as well as
men--like these." Soeur Julie, smiling, turned up a hob-nailed sole.
"I have directed all the work on our Hospice farm myself. All the
women are working in the fields--we must take the place of the men."
And I seemed to see my pink peonies flowering in the very prints of
her sturdy boots!



May 14th.

Nancy, the most beautiful town in France, has never been as
beautiful as now. Coming back to it last evening from a round of
ruins one felt as if the humbler Sisters sacrificed to spare it were
pleading with one not to forget them in the contemplation of its
dearly-bought perfection.

The last time I looked out on the great architectural setting of the
Place Stanislas was on a hot July evening, the evening of the
National Fete. The square and the avenues leading to it
swarmed with people, and as darkness fell the balanced lines of
arches and palaces sprang out in many coloured light. Garlands of
lamps looped the arcades leading into the Place de la Carriere,
peacock-coloured fires flared from the Arch of Triumph, long curves
of radiance beat like wings over the thickets of the park, the
sculptures of the fountains, the brown-and-gold foliation of Jean
Damour's great gates; and under this roofing of light was the murmur
of a happy crowd carelessly celebrating the tradition of
half-forgotten victories.

Now, at sunset, all life ceases in Nancy and veil after veil of
silence comes down on the deserted Place and its empty perspectives.
Last night by nine the few lingering lights in the streets had been
put out, every window was blind, and the moonless night lay over the
city like a canopy of velvet. Then, from some remote point, the arc
of a search-light swept the sky, laid a fugitive pallor on darkened
palace-fronts, a gleam of gold on invisible gates, trembled across
the black vault and vanished, leaving it still blacker. When we came
out of the darkened restaurant on the corner of the square, and the
iron curtain of the entrance had been hastily dropped on us, we
stood in such complete night that it took a waiter's friendly hand
to guide us to the curbstone. Then, as we grew used to the darkness,
we saw it lying still more densely under the colonnade of the Place
de la Carriere and the clipped trees beyond. The ordered masses of
architecture became august, the spaces between them immense, and the
black sky faintly strewn with stars seemed to overarch an enchanted
city. Not a footstep sounded, not a leaf rustled, not a breath of
air drew under the arches. And suddenly, through the dumb night, the
sound of the cannon began.


May 14th.

Luncheon with the General Staff in an old bourgeois house of a
little town as sleepy as "Cranford." In the warm walled gardens
everything was blooming at once: laburnums, lilacs, red hawthorn,
Banksia roses and all the pleasant border plants that go with box
and lavender. Never before did the flowers answer the spring
roll-call with such a rush! Upstairs, in the Empire bedroom which
the General has turned into his study, it was amusingly incongruous
to see the sturdy provincial furniture littered with war-maps,
trench-plans, aeroplane photographs and all the documentation of
modern war. Through the windows bees hummed, the garden rustled, and
one felt, close by, behind the walls of other gardens, the
untroubled continuance of a placid and orderly bourgeois life.

We started early for Mousson on the Moselle, the ruined
hill-fortress that gives its name to the better-known town at its
foot. Our road ran below the long range of the "Grand Couronne," the
line of hills curving southeast from Pont-a-Mousson to St.
Nicolas du Port. All through this pleasant broken country the battle
shook and swayed last autumn; but few signs of those days are left
except the wooden crosses in the fields. No troops are visible, and
the pictures of war that made the Argonne so tragic last March are
replaced by peaceful rustic scenes. On the way to Mousson the road
is overhung by an Italian-looking village clustered about a
hill-top. It marks the exact spot at which, last August, the German
invasion was finally checked and flung back; and the Muse of History
points out that on this very hill has long stood a memorial shaft
inscribed: _Here, in the year 362, Jovinus defeated the Teutonic
hordes._

A little way up the ascent to Mousson we left the motor behind a bit
of rising ground. The road is raked by the German lines, and stray
pedestrians (unless in a group) are less liable than a motor to have
a shell spent on them. We climbed under a driving grey sky which
swept gusts of rain across our road. In the lee of the castle we
stopped to look down at the valley of the Moselle, the slate roofs
of Pont-a-Mousson and the broken bridge which once linked
together the two sides of the town. Nothing but the wreck of the
bridge showed that we were on the edge of war. The wind was too high
for firing, and we saw no reason for believing that the wood just
behind the Hospice roof at our feet was seamed with German trenches
and bristling with guns, or that from every slope across the valley
the eye of the cannon sleeplessly glared. But there the Germans
were, drawing an iron ring about three sides of the watch-tower; and
as one peered through an embrasure of the ancient walls one
gradually found one's self re-living the sensations of the little
mediaeval burgh as it looked out on some earlier circle of
besiegers. The longer one looked, the more oppressive and menacing
the invisibility of the foe became. "_There_ they are--and
_there_--and _there._" We strained our eyes obediently, but saw only
calm hillsides, dozing farms. It was as if the earth itself were the
enemy, as if the hordes of evil were in the clods and grass-blades.
Only one conical hill close by showed an odd artificial patterning,
like the work of huge ants who had scarred it with criss-cross
ridges. We were told that these were French trenches, but they
looked much more like the harmless traces of a prehistoric camp.

Suddenly an officer, pointing to the west of the trenched hill said:
"Do you see that farm?" It lay just below, near the river, and so
close that good eyes could easily have discerned people or animals
in the farm-yard, if there had been any; but the whole place seemed
to be sleeping the sleep of bucolic peace. "_They are there_," the
officer said; and the innocent vignette framed by my field-glass
suddenly glared back at me like a human mask of hate. The loudest
cannonade had not made "them" seem as real as that!...

At this point the military lines and the old political frontier
everywhere overlap, and in a cleft of the wooded hills that conceal
the German batteries we saw a dark grey blur on the grey horizon. It
was Metz, the Promised City, lying there with its fair steeples and
towers, like the mystic banner that Constantine saw upon the sky...

Through wet vineyards and orchards we scrambled down the hill to the
river and entered Pont-a-Mousson. It was by mere meteorological good
luck that we got there, for if the winds had been asleep the guns
would have been awake, and when they wake poor Pont-a-Mousson is not
at home to visitors. One understood why as one stood in the riverside
garden of the great Premonstratensian Monastery which is now the
hospital and the general asylum of the town. Between the clipped
limes and formal borders the German shells had scooped out three
or four "dreadful hollows," in one of which, only last week, a
little girl found her death; and the facade of the building is
pock-marked by shot and disfigured with gaping holes. Yet in this
precarious shelter Sister Theresia, of the same indomitable breed as
the Sisters of Clermont and Gerbeviller, has gathered a miscellaneous
flock of soldiers wounded in the trenches, civilians shattered by the
bombardment, eclopes, old women and children: all the human wreckage
of this storm-beaten point of the front. Sister Theresia seems in no
wise disconcerted by the fact that the shells continually play over
her roof. The building is immense and spreading, and when one wing
is damaged she picks up her proteges and trots them off, bed and
baggage, to another. "_Je promene mes malades_," she said calmly,
as if boasting of the varied accommodation of an ultra-modern
hospital, as she led us through vaulted and stuccoed galleries where
caryatid-saints look down in plaster pomp on the rows of
brown-blanketed pallets and the long tables at which haggard eclopes
were enjoying their evening soup.


May 15th.

I have seen the happiest being on earth: a man who has found his
job.

This afternoon we motored southwest of Nancy to a little place
called Menil-sur-Belvitte. The name is not yet intimately known to
history, but there are reasons why it deserves to be, and in one
man's mind it already is. Menil-sur-Belvitte is a village on the
edge of the Vosges. It is badly battered, for awful fighting took
place there in the first month of the war. The houses lie in a
hollow, and just beyond it the ground rises and spreads into a
plateau waving with wheat and backed by wooded slopes--the ideal
"battleground" of the history-books. And here a real above-ground
battle of the old obsolete kind took place, and the French, driving
the Germans back victoriously, fell by thousands in the trampled
wheat.

The church of Menil is a ruin, but the parsonage still stands--a
plain little house at the end of the street; and here the cure
received us, and led us into a room which he has turned into a
chapel. The chapel is also a war museum, and everything in it has
something to do with the battle that took place among the
wheat-fields. The candelabra on the altar are made of "Seventy-five"
shells, the Virgin's halo is composed of radiating bayonets, the
walls are intricately adorned with German trophies and French
relics, and on the ceiling the cure has had painted a kind of
zodiacal chart of the whole region, in which Menil-sur-Belvitte's
handful of houses figures as the central orb of the system, and
Verdun, Nancy, Metz, and Belfort as its humble satellites. But the
chapel-museum is only a surplus expression of the cure's impassioned
dedication to the dead. His real work has been done on the
battle-field, where row after row of graves, marked and listed as
soon as the struggle was over, have been fenced about, symmetrically
disposed, planted with flowers and young firs, and marked by the
names and death-dates of the fallen. As he led us from one of these
enclosures to another his face was lit with the flame of a gratified
vocation. This particular man was made to do this particular thing:
he is a born collector, classifier, and hero-worshipper. In the hall
of the "presbytere" hangs a case of carefully-mounted butterflies,
the result, no doubt, of an earlier passion for collecting. His
"specimens" have changed, that is all: he has passed from
butterflies to men, from the actual to the visionary Psyche.

On the way to Menil we stopped at the village of Crevic. The Germans
were there in August, but the place is untouched--except for one
house. That house, a large one, standing in a park at one end of the
village, was the birth-place and home of General Lyautey, one of
France's best soldiers, and Germany's worst enemy in Africa. It is
no exaggeration to say that last August General Lyautey, by his
promptness and audacity, saved Morocco for France. The Germans know
it, and hate him; and as soon as the first soldiers reached
Crevic--so obscure and imperceptible a spot that even German
omniscience might have missed it--the officer in command asked for
General Lyautey's house, went straight to it, had all the papers,
portraits, furniture and family relics piled in a bonfire in the
court, and then burnt down the house. As we sat in the neglected
park with the plaintive ruin before us we heard from the gardener
this typical tale of German thoroughness and German chivalry. It is
corroborated by the fact that not another house in Crevic was
destroyed.


May 16th.

About two miles from the German frontier (_frontier_ just here as
well as front) an isolated hill rises out of the Lorraine meadows.
East of it, a ribbon of river winds among poplars, and that ribbon
is the boundary between Empire and Republic. On such a clear day as
this the view from the hill is extraordinarily interesting. From its
grassy top a little aeroplane cannon stares to heaven, watching the
east for the danger speck; and the circumference of the hill is
furrowed by a deep trench--a "bowel," rather--winding invisibly from
one subterranean observation post to another. In each of these
earthly warrens (ingeniously wattled, roofed and iron-sheeted) stand
two or three artillery officers with keen quiet faces, directing by
telephone the fire of batteries nestling somewhere in the woods four
or five miles away. Interesting as the place was, the men who lived
there interested me far more. They obviously belonged to different
classes, and had received a different social education; but their
mental and moral fraternity was complete. They were all fairly
young, and their faces had the look that war has given to French
faces: a look of sharpened intelligence, strengthened will and
sobered judgment, as if every faculty, trebly vivified, were so bent
on the one end that personal problems had been pushed back to the
vanishing point of the great perspective.

From this vigilant height--one of the intentest eyes open on the
frontier--we went a short distance down the hillside to a village
out of range of the guns, where the commanding officer gave us tea
in a charming old house with a terraced garden full of flowers and
puppies. Below the terrace, lost Lorraine stretched away to her blue
heights, a vision of summer peace: and just above us the unsleeping
hill kept watch, its signal-wires trembling night and day. It was
one of the intervals of rest and sweetness when the whole horrible
black business seems to press most intolerably on the nerves.

Below the village the road wound down to a forest that had formed a
dark blur in our bird's-eye view of the plain. We passed into the
forest and halted on the edge of a colony of queer exotic huts. On
all sides they peeped through the branches, themselves so branched
and sodded and leafy that they seemed like some transition form
between tree and house. We were in one of the so-called "villages
negres" of the second-line trenches, the jolly little settlements to
which the troops retire after doing their shift under fire. This
particular colony has been developed to an extreme degree of comfort
and safety. The houses are partly underground, connected by deep
winding "bowels" over which light rustic bridges have been thrown,
and so profoundly roofed with sods that as much of them as shows
above ground is shell-proof. Yet they are real houses, with real
doors and windows under their grass-eaves, real furniture inside,
and real beds of daisies and pansies at their doors. In the
Colonel's bungalow a big bunch of spring flowers bloomed on the
table, and everywhere we saw the same neatness and order, the same
amused pride in the look of things. The men were dining at long
trestle-tables under the trees; tired, unshaven men in shabby
uniforms of all cuts and almost every colour. They were off duty,
relaxed, in a good humour; but every face had the look of the faces
watching on the hill-top. Wherever I go among these men of the front
I have the same impression: the impression that the absorbing
undivided thought of the Defense of France lives in the heart and
brain of each soldier as intensely as in the heart and brain of
their chief.

We walked a dozen yards down the road and came to the edge of the
forest. A wattled palisade bounded it, and through a gap in the
palisade we looked out across a field to the roofs of a quiet
village a mile away. I went out a few steps into the field and was
abruptly pulled back. "Take care--those are the trenches!" What
looked like a ridge thrown up by a plough was the enemy's line; and
in the quiet village French cannon watched. Suddenly, as we stood
there, they woke, and at the same moment we heard the unmistakable
Gr-r-r of an aeroplane and saw a Bird of Evil high up against the
blue. Snap, snap, snap barked the mitrailleuse on the hill, the
soldiers jumped from their wine and strained their eyes through the
trees, and the Taube, finding itself the centre of so much
attention, turned grey tail and swished away to the concealing
clouds.


May 17th.

Today we started with an intenser sense of adventure. Hitherto we
had always been told beforehand where we were going and how much we
were to be allowed to see; but now we were being launched into the
unknown. Beyond a certain point all was conjecture--we knew only
that what happened after that would depend on the good-will of a
Colonel of Chasseurs-a-pied whom we were to go a long way to
find, up into the folds of the mountains on our southeast horizon.

We picked up a staff-officer at Head-quarters and flew on to a
battered town on the edge of the hills. From there we wound up
through a narrowing valley, under wooded cliffs, to a little
settlement where the Colonel of the Brigade was to be found. There
was a short conference between the Colonel and our staff-officer,
and then we annexed a Captain of Chasseurs and spun away again. Our
road lay through a town so exposed that our companion from
Head-quarters suggested the advisability of avoiding it; but our
guide hadn't the heart to inflict such a disappointment on his new
acquaintances. "Oh, we won't stop the motor--we'll just dash
through," he said indulgently; and in the excess of his indulgence
he even permitted us to dash slowly.

Oh, that poor town--when we reached it, along a road ploughed with
fresh obus-holes, I didn't want to stop the motor; I wanted to hurry
on and blot the picture from my memory! It was doubly sad to look at
because of the fact that it wasn't _quite dead;_ faint spasms of
life still quivered through it. A few children played in the ravaged
streets; a few pale mothers watched them from cellar doorways. "They
oughtn't to be here," our guide explained; "but about a hundred and
fifty begged so hard to stay that the General gave them leave. The
officer in command has an eye on them, and whenever he gives the
signal they dive down into their burrows. He says they are perfectly
obedient. It was he who asked that they might stay..."

Up and up into the hills. The vision of human pain and ruin was lost
in beauty. We were among the firs, and the air was full of balm. The
mossy banks gave out a scent of rain, and little water-falls from
the heights set the branches trembling over secret pools. At each
turn of the road, forest, and always more forest, climbing with us
as we climbed, and dropped away from us to narrow valleys that
converged on slate-blue distances. At one of these turns we overtook
a company of soldiers, spade on shoulder and bags of tools across
their backs--"trench-workers" swinging up to the heights to which we
were bound. Life must be a better thing in this crystal air than in
the mud-welter of the Argonne and the fogs of the North; and these
men's faces were fresh with wind and weather.

Higher still ... and presently a halt on a ridge, in another
"black village," this time almost a town! The soldiers gathered
round us as the motor stopped--throngs of chasseurs-a-pied in
faded, trench-stained uniforms--for few visitors climb to this
point, and their pleasure at the sight of new faces was presently
expressed in a large "_Vive l'Amerique!_" scrawled on the door of
the car. _L'Amerique_ was glad and proud to be there, and instantly
conscious of breathing an air saturated with courage and the dogged
determination to endure. The men were all reservists: that is to
say, mostly married, and all beyond the first fighting age. For many
months there has not been much active work along this front, no
great adventure to rouse the blood and wing the imagination: it has
just been month after month of monotonous watching and holding on.
And the soldiers' faces showed it: there was no light of heady
enterprise in their eyes, but the look of men who knew their job,
had thought it over, and were there to hold their bit of France till
the day of victory or extermination.

Meanwhile, they had made the best of the situation and turned their
quarters into a forest colony that would enchant any normal boy.
Their village architecture was more elaborate than any we had yet
seen. In the Colonel's "dugout" a long table decked with lilacs and
tulips was spread for tea. In other cheery catacombs we found neat
rows of bunks, mess-tables, sizzling sauce-pans over kitchen-fires.
Everywhere were endless ingenuities in the way of camp-furniture and
household decoration. Farther down the road a path between
fir-boughs led to a hidden hospital, a marvel of underground
compactness. While we chatted with the surgeon a soldier came in
from the trenches: an elderly, bearded man, with a good average
civilian face--the kind that one runs against by hundreds in any
French crowd. He had a scalp-wound which had just been dressed, and
was very pale. The Colonel stopped to ask a few questions, and then,
turning to him, said: "Feeling rather better now?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. In a day or two you'll be thinking about going back to the
trenches, eh?"

"_I'm going now, sir._" It was said quite simply, and received in
the same way. "Oh, all right," the Colonel merely rejoined; but he
laid his hand on the man's shoulder as we went out.

Our next visit was to a sod-thatched hut, "At the sign of the
Ambulant Artisans," where two or three soldiers were modelling and
chiselling all kinds of trinkets from the aluminum of enemy shells.
One of the ambulant artisans was just finishing a ring with
beautifully modelled fauns' heads, another offered me a
"Pickelhaube" small enough for Mustard-seed's wear, but complete in
every detail, and inlaid with the bronze eagle from an Imperial
pfennig. There are many such ringsmiths among the privates at the
front, and the severe, somewhat archaic design of their rings is a
proof of the sureness of French taste; but the two we visited
happened to be Paris jewellers, for whom "artisan" was really too
modest a pseudonym. Officers and men were evidently proud of their
work, and as they stood hammering away in their cramped smithy, a
red gleam lighting up the intentness of their faces, they seemed to
be beating out the cheerful rhythm of "I too will something make,
and joy in the making."...

Up the hillside, in deeper shadow, was another little structure; a
wooden shed with an open gable sheltering an altar with candles and
flowers. Here mass is said by one of the conscript priests of the
regiment, while his congregation kneel between the fir-trunks,
giving life to the old metaphor of the cathedral-forest. Near by was
the grave-yard, where day by day these quiet elderly men lay their
comrades, the _peres de famille_ who don't go back. The care of this
woodland cemetery is left entirely to the soldiers, and they have
spent treasures of piety on the inscriptions and decorations of the
graves. Fresh flowers are brought up from the valleys to cover them,
and when some favourite comrade goes, the men scorning ephemeral
tributes, club together to buy a monstrous indestructible wreath
with emblazoned streamers. It was near the end of the afternoon, and
many soldiers were strolling along the paths between the graves.
"It's their favourite walk at this hour," the Colonel said. He
stopped to look down on a grave smothered in beady tokens, the grave
of the last pal to fall. "He was mentioned in the Order of the Day,"
the Colonel explained; and the group of soldiers standing near
looked at us proudly, as if sharing their comrade's honour, and
wanting to be sure that we understood the reason of their pride...

"And now," said our Captain of Chasseurs, "that you've seen the
second-line trenches, what do you say to taking a look at the
first?"

We followed him to a point higher up the hill, where we plunged into
a deep ditch of red earth--the "bowel" leading to the first lines.
It climbed still higher, under the wet firs, and then, turning,
dipped over the edge and began to wind in sharp loops down the other
side of the ridge. Down we scrambled, single file, our chins on a
level with the top of the passage, the close green covert above us.
The "bowel" went twisting down more and more sharply into a deep
ravine; and presently, at a bend, we came to a fir-thatched outlook,
where a soldier stood with his back to us, his eye glued to a
peep-hole in the wattled wall. Another turn, and another outlook;
but here it was the iron-rimmed eye of the mitrailleuse that stared
across the ravine. By this time we were within a hundred yards or so
of the German lines, hidden, like ours, on the other side of the
narrowing hollow; and as we stole down and down, the hush and
secrecy of the scene, and the sense of that imminent lurking hatred
only a few branch-lengths away, seemed to fill the silence with
mysterious pulsations. Suddenly a sharp noise broke on them: the rap
of a rifle-shot against a tree-trunk a few yards ahead.

"Ah, the sharp-shooter," said our guide. "No more talking,
please--he's over there, in a tree somewhere, and whenever he hears
voices he fires. Some day we shall spot his tree."

We went on in silence to a point where a few soldiers were sitting
on a ledge of rock in a widening of the "bowel." They looked as
quiet as if they had been waiting for their bocks before a Boulevard
cafe.

"Not beyond, please," said the officer, holding me back; and I
stopped.

Here we were, then, actually and literally in the first lines! The
knowledge made one's heart tick a little; but, except for another
shot or two from our arboreal listener, and the motionless
intentness of the soldier's back at the peep-hole, there was nothing
to show that we were not a dozen miles away.

Perhaps the thought occurred to our Captain of Chasseurs; for just
as I was turning back he said with his friendliest twinkle: "Do you
want awfully to go a little farther? Well, then, come on."

We went past the soldiers sitting on the ledge and stole down and
down, to where the trees ended at the bottom of the ravine. The
sharp-shooter had stopped firing, and nothing disturbed the leafy
silence but an intermittent drip of rain. We were at the end of the
burrow, and the Captain signed to me that I might take a cautious
peep round its corner. I looked out and saw a strip of intensely
green meadow just under me, and a wooded cliff rising abruptly on
its other side. That was all. The wooded cliff swarmed with "them,"
and a few steps would have carried us across the interval; yet all
about us was silence, and the peace of the forest. Again, for a
minute, I had the sense of an all-pervading, invisible power of
evil, a saturation of the whole landscape with some hidden vitriol
of hate. Then the reaction of the unbelief set in, and I felt myself
in a harmless ordinary glen, like a million others on an untroubled
earth. We turned and began to climb again, loop by loop, up the
"bowel"--we passed the lolling soldiers, the silent mitrailleuse, we
came again to the watcher at his peep-hole. He heard us, let the
officer pass, and turned his head with a little sign of
understanding.

"Do you want to look down?"

He moved a step away from his window. The look-out projected over
the ravine, raking its depths; and here, with one's eye to the
leaf-lashed hole, one saw at last ... saw, at the bottom of the
harmless glen, half way between cliff and cliff, a grey uniform
huddled in a dead heap. "He's been there for days: they can't fetch
him away," said the watcher, regluing his eye to the hole; and it
was almost a relief to find it was after all a tangible enemy hidden
over there across the meadow...

The sun had set when we got back to our starting-point in the
underground village. The chasseurs-a-pied were lounging along
the roadside and standing in gossiping groups about the motor. It
was long since they had seen faces from the other life, the life
they had left nearly a year earlier and had not been allowed to go
back to for a day; and under all their jokes and good-humour their
farewell had a tinge of wistfulness. But one felt that this fugitive
reminder of a world they had put behind them would pass like a
dream, and their minds revert without effort to the one reality: the
business of holding their bit of France.

It is hard to say why this sense of the French soldier's
single-mindedness is so strong in all who have had even a glimpse of
the front; perhaps it is gathered less from what the men say than
from the look in their eyes. Even while they are accepting
cigarettes and exchanging trench-jokes, the look is there; and when
one comes on them unaware it is there also. In the dusk of the
forest that look followed us down the mountain; and as we skirted
the edge of the ravine between the armies, we felt that on the far
side of that dividing line were the men who had made the war, and on
the near side the men who had been made by it.



IN THE NORTH


June 19th, 1915.

On the way from Doullens to Montreuil-sur-Mer, on a shining summer
afternoon. A road between dusty hedges, choked, literally strangled,
by a torrent of westward-streaming troops of all arms. Every few
minutes there would come a break in the flow, and our motor would
wriggle through, advance a few yards, and be stopped again by a
widening of the torrent that jammed us into the ditch and splashed a
dazzle of dust into our eyes. The dust was stifling--but through it,
what a sight!

Standing up in the car and looking back, we watched the river of war
wind toward us. Cavalry, artillery, lancers, infantry, sappers and
miners, trench-diggers, road-makers, stretcher-bearers, they swept
on as smoothly as if in holiday order. Through the dust, the sun
picked out the flash of lances and the gloss of chargers' flanks,
flushed rows and rows of determined faces, found the least touch of
gold on faded uniforms, silvered the sad grey of mitrailleuses and
munition waggons. Close as the men were, they seemed allegorically
splendid: as if, under the arch of the sunset, we had been watching
the whole French army ride straight into glory...

Finally we left the last detachment behind, and had the country to
ourselves. The disfigurement of war has not touched the fields of
Artois. The thatched farmhouses dozed in gardens full of roses and
hollyhocks, and the hedges above the duck-ponds were weighed down
with layers of elder-blossom. On all sides wheat-fields skirted with
woodland went billowing away under the breezy light that seemed to
carry a breath of the Atlantic on its beams. The road ran up and
down as if our motor were a ship on a deep-sea swell; and such a
sense of space and light was in the distances, such a veil of beauty
over the whole world, that the vision of that army on the move grew
more and more fabulous and epic.

The sun had set and the sea-twilight was rolling in when we dipped
down from the town of Montreuil to the valley below, where the
towers of an ancient abbey-church rise above terraced orchards. The
gates at the end of the avenue were thrown open, and the motor drove
into a monastery court full of box and roses. Everything was sweet
and secluded in this mediaeval place; and from the shadow of
cloisters and arched passages groups of nuns fluttered out, nuns all
black or all white, gliding, peering and standing at gaze. It was as
if we had plunged back into a century to which motors were unknown
and our car had been some monster cast up from a Barbary shipwreck;
and the startled attitudes of these holy women did credit to their
sense of the picturesque; for the Abbey of Neuville is now a great
Belgian hospital, and such monsters must frequently intrude on its
seclusion...

Sunset, and summer dusk, and the moon. Under the monastery windows a
walled garden with stone pavilions at the angles and the drip of a
fountain. Below it, tiers of orchard-terraces fading into a great
moon-confused plain that might be either fields or sea...


June 20th.

Today our way ran northeast, through a landscape so English that
there was no incongruity in the sprinkling of khaki along the road.
Even the villages look English: the same plum-red brick of tidy
self-respecting houses, neat, demure and freshly painted, the
gardens all bursting with flowers, the landscape hedgerowed and
willowed and fed with water-courses, the people's faces square and
pink and honest, and the signs over the shops in a language half way
between English and German. Only the architecture of the towns is
French, of a reserved and robust northern type, but unmistakably in
the same great tradition.

War still seemed so far off that one had time for these digressions
as the motor flew on over the undulating miles. But presently we
came on an aviation camp spreading its sheds over a wide plateau.
Here the khaki throng was thicker and the familiar military stir
enlivened the landscape. A few miles farther, and we found ourselves
in what was seemingly a big English town oddly grouped about a
nucleus of French churches. This was St. Omer, grey, spacious,
coldly clean in its Sunday emptiness. At the street crossings
English sentries stood mechanically directing the absent traffic
with gestures familiar to Piccadilly; and the signs of the British
Red Cross and St. John's Ambulance hung on club-like facades that
might almost have claimed a home in Pall Mall.

The Englishness of things was emphasized, as we passed out through
the suburbs, by the look of the crowd on the canal bridges and along
the roads. Every nation has its own way of loitering, and there is
nothing so unlike the French way as the English. Even if all these
tall youths had not been in khaki, and the girls with them so pink
and countrified, one would instantly have recognized the passive
northern way of letting a holiday soak in instead of squeezing out
its juices with feverish fingers.

When we turned westward from St. Omer, across the same pastures and
watercourses, we were faced by two hills standing up abruptly out of
the plain; and on the top of one rose the walls and towers of a
compact little mediaeval town. As we took the windings that led up
to it a sense of Italy began to penetrate the persistent impression
of being somewhere near the English Channel. The town we were
approaching might have been a queer dream-blend of Winchelsea and
San Gimignano; but when we entered the gates of Cassel we were in a
place so intensely itself that all analogies dropped out of mind.

It was not surprising to learn from the guide-book that Cassel has
the most extensive view of any town in Europe: one felt at once that
it differed in all sorts of marked and self-assertive ways from
every other town, and would be almost sure to have the best things
going in every line. And the line of an illimitable horizon is
exactly the best to set off its own quaint compactness.

We found our hotel in the most perfect of little market squares,
with a Renaissance town-hall on one side, and on the other a
miniature Spanish palace with a front of rosy brick adorned by grey
carvings. The square was crowded with English army motors and
beautiful prancing chargers; and the restaurant of the inn (which
has the luck to face the pink and grey palace) swarmed with khaki
tea-drinkers turning indifferent shoulders to the widest view in
Europe. It is one of the most detestable things about war that
everything connected with it, except the death and ruin that result,
is such a heightening of life, so visually stimulating and
absorbing. "It was gay and terrible," is the phrase forever
recurring in "War and Peace"; and the gaiety of war was everywhere
in Cassel, transforming the lifeless little town into a romantic
stage-setting full of the flash of arms and the virile animation of
young faces.

From the park on top of the hill we looked down on another picture.
All about us was the plain, its distant rim merged in northern
sea-mist; and through the mist, in the glitter of the afternoon sun,
far-off towns and shadowy towers lay steeped, as it seemed, in
summer quiet. For a moment, while we looked, the vision of war
shrivelled up like a painted veil; then we caught the names
pronounced by a group of English soldiers leaning over the parapet
at our side. "That's Dunkerque"--one of them pointed it out with his
pipe--"and there's Poperinghe, just under us; that's Furnes beyond,
and Ypres and Dixmude, and Nieuport..." And at the mention of
those names the scene grew dark again, and we felt the passing of
the Angel to whom was given the Key of the Bottomless Pit.

That night we went up once more to the rock of Cassel. The moon was
full, and as civilians are not allowed out alone after dark a
staff-officer went with us to show us the view from the roof of the
disused Casino on top of the rock. It was the queerest of sensations
to push open a glazed door and find ourselves in a spectral painted
room with soldiers dozing in the moonlight on polished floors, their
kits stacked on the gaming tables. We passed through a big vestibule
among more soldiers lounging in the half-light, and up a long
staircase to the roof where a watcher challenged us and then let us
go to the edge of the parapet. Directly below lay the unlit mass of
the town. To the northwest a single sharp hill, the "Mont des Cats,"
stood out against the sky; the rest of the horizon was unbroken, and
floating in misty moonlight. The outline of the ruined towns had
vanished and peace seemed to have won back the world. But as we
stood there a red flash started out of the mist far off to the
northwest; then another and another flickered up at different points
of the long curve. "Luminous bombs thrown up along the lines," our
guide explained; and just then, at still another point a white light
opened like a tropical flower, spread to full bloom and drew itself
back into the night. "A flare," we were told; and another white
flower bloomed out farther down. Below us, the roofs of Cassel slept
their provincial sleep, the moonlight picking out every leaf in the
gardens; while beyond, those infernal flowers continued to open and
shut along the curve of death.


June 21st.

On the road from Cassel to Poperinghe. Heat, dust, crowds,
confusion, all the sordid shabby rear-view of war. The road running
across the plain between white-powdered hedges was ploughed up by
numberless motor-vans, supply-waggons and Red Cross ambulances.
Labouring through between them came detachments of British
artillery, clattering gun-carriages, straight young figures on
glossy horses, long Phidian lines of youths so ingenuously fair that
one wondered how they could have looked on the Medusa face of war
and lived. Men and beasts, in spite of the dust, were as fresh and
sleek as if they had come from a bath; and everywhere along the
wayside were improvised camps, with tents made of waggon-covers,
where the ceaseless indomitable work of cleaning was being carried
out in all its searching details. Shirts were drying on
elder-bushes, kettles boiling over gypsy fires, men shaving,
blacking their boots, cleaning their guns, rubbing down their
horses, greasing their saddles, polishing their stirrups and bits:
on all sides a general cheery struggle against the prevailing dust,
discomfort and disorder. Here and there a young soldier leaned
against a garden paling to talk to a girl among the hollyhocks, or
an older soldier initiated a group of children into some mystery of
military housekeeping; and everywhere were the same signs of
friendly inarticulate understanding with the owners of the fields
and gardens.

From the thronged high-road we passed into the emptiness of deserted
Poperinghe, and out again on the way to Ypres. Beyond the flats and
wind-mills to our left were the invisible German lines, and the
staff-officer who was with us leaned forward to caution our
chauffeur: "No tooting between here and Ypres." There was still a
good deal of movement on the road, though it was less crowded with
troops than near Poperinghe; but as we passed through the last
village and approached the low line of houses ahead, the silence and
emptiness widened about us. That low line was Ypres; every monument
that marked it, that gave it an individual outline, is gone. It is a
town without a profile.

The motor slipped through a suburb of small brick houses and stopped
under cover of some slightly taller buildings. Another military
motor waited there, the chauffeur relic-hunting in the gutted
houses.

We got out and walked toward the centre of the Cloth Market. We had
seen evacuated towns--Verdun, Badonviller, Raon-l'Etape--but we had
seen no emptiness like this. Not a human being was in the streets.
Endless lines of houses looked down on us from vacant windows. Our
footsteps echoed like the tramp of a crowd, our lowered voices
seemed to shout. In one street we came on three English soldiers who
were carrying a piano out of a house and lifting it onto a
hand-cart. They stopped to stare at us, and we stared back. It
seemed an age since we had seen a living being! One of the soldiers
scrambled into the cart and tapped out a tune on the cracked
key-board, and we all laughed with relief at the foolish noise...
Then we walked on and were alone again.

We had seen other ruined towns, but none like this. The towns of
Lorraine were blown up, burnt down, deliberately erased from the
earth. At worst they are like stone-yards, at best like Pompeii. But
Ypres has been bombarded to death, and the outer walls of its houses
are still standing, so that it presents the distant semblance of a
living city, while near by it is seen to be a disembowelled corpse.
Every window-pane is smashed, nearly every building unroofed, and
some house-fronts are sliced clean off, with the different stories
exposed, as if for the stage-setting of a farce. In these exposed
interiors the poor little household gods shiver and blink like owls
surprised in a hollow tree. A hundred signs of intimate and humble
tastes, of humdrum pursuits, of family association, cling to the
unmasked walls. Whiskered photographs fade on morning-glory
wallpapers, plaster saints pine under glass bells, antimacassars
droop from plush sofas, yellowing diplomas display their seals on
office walls. It was all so still and familiar that it seemed as if
the people for whom these things had a meaning might at any moment
come back and take up their daily business. And then--crash! the
guns began, slamming out volley after volley all along the English
lines, and the poor frail web of things that had made up the lives
of a vanished city-full hung dangling before us in that deathly
blast.

We had just reached the square before the Cathedral when the
cannonade began, and its roar seemed to build a roof of iron over
the glorious ruins of Ypres. The singular distinction of the city is
that it is destroyed but not abased. The walls of the Cathedral, the
long bulk of the Cloth Market, still lift themselves above the
market place with a majesty that seems to silence compassion. The
sight of those facades, so proud in death, recalled a phrase used
soon after the fall of Liege by Belgium's Foreign Minister--"_La
Belgique ne regrette rien_ "--which ought some day to serve as the
motto of the renovated city.

We were turning to go when we heard a whirr overhead, followed by a
volley of mitrailleuse. High up in the blue, over the centre of the
dead city, flew a German aeroplane; and all about it hundreds of
white shrapnel tufts burst out in the summer sky like the miraculous
snow-fall of Italian legend. Up and up they flew, on the trail of
the Taube, and on flew the Taube, faster still, till quarry and pack
were lost in mist, and the barking of the mitrailleuse died out. So
we left Ypres to the death-silence in which we had found her.

The afternoon carried us back to Poperinghe, where I was bound on a
quest for lace-cushions of the special kind required by our Flemish
refugees. The model is unobtainable in France, and I had been
told--with few and vague indications--that I might find the cushions
in a certain convent of the city. But in which?

Poperinghe, though little injured, is almost empty. In its tidy
desolation it looks like a town on which a wicked enchanter has laid
a spell. We roamed from quarter to quarter, hunting for some one to
show us the way to the convent I was looking for, till at last a
passer-by led us to a door which seemed the right one. At our knock
the bars were drawn and a cloistered face looked out. No, there were
no cushions there; and the nun had never heard of the order we
named. But there were the Penitents, the Benedictines--we might try.
Our guide offered to show us the way and we went on. From one or two
windows, wondering heads looked out and vanished; but the streets
were lifeless. At last we came to a convent where there were no nuns
left, but where, the caretaker told us, there were cushions--a great
many. He led us through pale blue passages, up cold stairs, through
rooms that smelt of linen and lavender. We passed a chapel with
plaster saints in white niches above paper flowers. Everything was
cold and bare and blank: like a mind from which memory has gone. We
came to a class room with lines of empty benches facing a
blue-mantled Virgin; and here, on the floor, lay rows and rows of
lace-cushions. On each a bit of lace had been begun--and there they
had been dropped when nuns and pupils fled. They had not been left
in disorder: the rows had been laid out evenly, a handkerchief
thrown over each cushion. And that orderly arrest of life seemed
sadder than any scene of disarray. It symbolized the senseless
paralysis of a whole nation's activities. Here were a houseful of
women and children, yesterday engaged in a useful task and now
aimlessly astray over the earth. And in hundreds of such houses, in
dozens, in hundreds of open towns, the hand of time had been
stopped, the heart of life had ceased to beat, all the currents of
hope and happiness and industry been choked--not that some great
military end might be gained, or the length of the war curtailed,
but that, wherever the shadow of Germany falls, all things should
wither at the root.

The same sight met us everywhere that afternoon. Over Furnes and
Bergues, and all the little intermediate villages, the evil shadow
lay. Germany had willed that these places should die, and wherever
her bombs could not reach her malediction had carried. Only Biblical
lamentation can convey a vision of this life-drained land. "Your
country is desolate; your cities are burned with fire; your land,
strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as
overthrown by strangers."

Late in the afternoon we came to Dunkerque, lying peacefully between
its harbour and canals. The bombardment of the previous month had
emptied it, and though no signs of damage were visible the same
spellbound air lay over everything. As we sat alone at tea in the
hall of the hotel on the Place Jean Bart, and looked out on the
silent square and its lifeless shops and cafes, some one suggested
that the hotel would be a convenient centre for the excursions we
had planned, and we decided to return there the next evening. Then
we motored back to Cassel.


June 22nd.

My first waking thought was: "How time flies! It must be the
Fourteenth of July!" I knew it could not be the Fourth of that
specially commemorative month, because I was just awake enough to be
sure I was not in America; and the only other event to justify such
a terrific clatter was the French national anniversary. I sat up and
listened to the popping of guns till a completed sense of reality
stole over me, and I realized that I was in the inn of the Wild Man
at Cassel, and that it was not the fourteenth of July but the
twenty-second of June.

Then, what--? A Taube, of course! And all the guns in the place were
cracking at it! By the time this mental process was complete, I had
scrambled up and hurried downstairs and, unbolting the heavy doors,
had rushed out into the square. It was about four in the morning,
the heavenliest moment of a summer dawn, and in spite of the tumult
Cassel still apparently slept. Only a few soldiers stood in the
square, looking up at a drift of white cloud behind which--they
averred--a Taube had just slipped out of sight. Cassel was evidently
used to Taubes, and I had the sense of having overdone my excitement
and not being exactly in tune; so after gazing a moment at the white
cloud I slunk back into the hotel, barred the door and mounted to my
room. At a window on the stairs I paused to look out over the
sloping roofs of the town, the gardens, the plain; and suddenly
there was another crash and a drift of white smoke blew up from the
fruit-trees just under the window. It was a last shot at the
fugitive, from a gun hidden in one of those quiet provincial gardens
between the houses; and its secret presence there was more startling
than all the clatter of mitrailleuses from the rock.

Silence and sleep came down again on Cassel; but an hour or two
later the hush was broken by a roar like the last trump. This time
it was no question of mitrailleuses. The Wild Man rocked on its
base, and every pane in my windows beat a tattoo. What was that
incredible unimagined sound? Why, it could be nothing, of course,
but the voice of the big siege-gun of Dixmude! Five times, while I
was dressing, the thunder shook my windows, and the air was filled
with a noise that may be compared--if the human imagination can
stand the strain--to the simultaneous closing of all the iron
shop-shutters in the world. The odd part was that, as far as the
Wild Man and its inhabitants were concerned, no visible effects
resulted, and dressing, packing and coffee-drinking went on
comfortably in the strange parentheses between the roars.

We set off early for a neighbouring Head-quarters, and it was not
till we turned out of the gates of Cassel that we came on signs of
the bombardment: the smashing of a gas-house and the converting of a
cabbage-field into a crater which, for some time to come, will spare
photographers the trouble of climbing Vesuvius. There was a certain
consolation in the discrepancy between the noise and the damage
done.

At Head-quarters we learned more of the morning's incidents.
Dunkerque, it appeared, had first been visited by the Taube which
afterward came to take the range of Cassel; and the big gun of
Dixmude had then turned all its fury on the French sea-port. The
bombardment of Dunkuerque was still going on; and we were asked, and
in fact bidden, to give up our plan of going there for the night.

After luncheon we turned north, toward the dunes. The villages we
drove through were all evacuated, some quite lifeless, others
occupied by troops. Presently we came to a group of military motors
drawn up by the roadside, and a field black with wheeling troops.
"Admiral Ronarc'h!" our companion from Head-quarters exclaimed; and
we understood that we had had the good luck to come on the hero of
Dixmude in the act of reviewing the marine fusiliers and
territorials whose magnificent defense of last October gave that
much-besieged town another lease of glory.

We stopped the motor and climbed to a ridge above the field. A high
wind was blowing, bringing with it the booming of the guns along the
front. A sun half-veiled in sand-dust shone on pale meadows, sandy
flats, grey wind-mills. The scene was deserted, except for the
handful of troops deploying before the officers on the edge of the
field. Admiral Ronarc'h, white-gloved and in full-dress uniform,
stood a little in advance, a young naval officer at his side. He had
just been distributing decorations to his fusiliers and
territorials, and they were marching past him, flags flying and
bugles playing. Every one of those men had a record of heroism, and
every face in those ranks had looked on horrors unnameable. They had
lost Dixmude--for a while--but they had gained great glory, and the
inspiration of their epic resistance had come from the quiet officer
who stood there, straight and grave, in his white gloves and gala
uniform.

One must have been in the North to know something of the tie that
exists, in this region of bitter and continuous fighting, between
officers and soldiers. The feeling of the chiefs is almost one of
veneration for their men; that of the soldiers, a kind of
half-humorous tenderness for the officers who have faced such odds
with them. This mutual regard reveals itself in a hundred
undefinable ways; but its fullest expression is in the tone with
which the commanding officers speak the two words oftenest on their
lips: "My men."

The little review over, we went on to Admiral Ronarc'h's quarters in
the dunes, and thence, after a brief visit, to another brigade
Head-quarters. We were in a region of sandy hillocks feathered by
tamarisk, and interspersed with poplar groves slanting like wheat in
the wind. Between these meagre thickets the roofs of seaside
bungalows showed above the dunes; and before one of these we
stopped, and were led into a sitting-room full of maps and aeroplane
photographs. One of the officers of the brigade telephoned to ask if
the way was clear to Nieuport; and the answer was that we might go
on.

Our road ran through the "Bois Triangulaire," a bit of woodland
exposed to constant shelling. Half the poor spindling trees were
down, and patches of blackened undergrowth and ragged hollows marked
the path of the shells. If the trees of a cannonaded wood are of
strong inland growth their fallen trunks have the majesty of a
ruined temple; but there was something humanly pitiful in the frail
trunks of the Bois Triangulaire, lying there like slaughtered rows
of immature troops.

A few miles more brought us to Nieuport, most lamentable of the
victim towns. It is not empty as Ypres is empty: troops are
quartered in the cellars, and at the approach of our motor knots of
cheerful zouaves came swarming out of the ground like ants. But
Ypres is majestic in death, poor Nieuport gruesomely comic. About
its splendid nucleus of mediaeval architecture a modern town had
grown up; and nothing stranger can be pictured than the contrast
between the streets of flimsy houses, twisted like curl-papers, and
the ruins of the Gothic Cathedral and the Cloth Market. It is like
passing from a smashed toy to the survival of a prehistoric
cataclysm.

Modern Nieuport seems to have died in a colic. No less homely image
expresses the contractions and contortions of the houses reaching
out the appeal of their desperate chimney-pots and agonized girders.
There is one view along the exterior of the town like nothing else
on the warfront. On the left, a line of palsied houses leads up like
a string of crutch-propped beggars to the mighty ruin of the
Templars' Tower; on the right the flats reach away to the almost
imperceptible humps of masonry that were once the villages of St.
Georges, Ramscappelle, Pervyse. And over it all the incessant crash
of the guns stretches a sounding-board of steel.

In front of the cathedral a German shell has dug a crater thirty
feet across, overhung by splintered tree-trunks, burnt shrubs, vague
mounds of rubbish; and a few steps beyond lies the peacefullest spot
in Nieuport, the grave-yard where the zouaves have buried their
comrades. The dead are laid in rows under the flank of the
cathedral, and on their carefully set grave-stones have been placed
collections of pious images gathered from the ruined houses. Some of
the most privileged are guarded by colonies of plaster saints and
Virgins that cover the whole slab; and over the handsomest Virgins
and the most gaily coloured saints the soldiers have placed the
glass bells that once protected the parlour clocks and wedding-wreaths
in the same houses.

From sad Nieuport we motored on to a little seaside colony where
gaiety prevails. Here the big hotels and the adjoining villas along
the beach are filled with troops just back from the trenches: it is
one of the "rest cures" of the front. When we drove up, the regiment
"au repos" was assembled in the wide sandy space between the
principal hotels, and in the centre of the jolly crowd the band was
playing. The Colonel and his officers stood listening to the music,
and presently the soldiers broke into the wild "chanson des zouaves"
of the --th zouaves. It was the strangest of sights to watch that
throng of dusky merry faces under their red fezes against the
background of sunless northern sea. When the music was over some one
with a kodak suggested "a group": we struck a collective attitude on
one of the hotel terraces, and just as the camera was being aimed at
us the Colonel turned and drew into the foreground a little grinning
pock-marked soldier. "He's just been decorated--he's got to be in
the group." A general exclamation of assent from the other officers,
and a protest from the hero: "Me? Why, my ugly mug will smash the
plate!" But it didn't--

Reluctantly we turned from this interval in the day's sad round, and
took the road to La Panne. Dust, dunes, deserted villages: my memory
keeps no more definite vision of the run. But at sunset we came on a
big seaside colony stretched out above the longest beach I ever saw:
along the sea-front, an esplanade bordered by the usual foolish
villas, and behind it a single street filled with hotels and shops.
All the life of the desert region we had traversed seemed to have
taken refuge at La Panne. The long street was swarming with throngs
of dark-uniformed Belgian soldiers, every shop seemed to be doing a
thriving trade, and the hotels looked as full as beehives.


June 23rd LA PANNE.

The particular hive that has taken us in is at the extreme end of
the esplanade, where asphalt and iron railings lapse abruptly into
sand and sea-grass. When I looked out of my window this morning I
saw only the endless stretch of brown sand against the grey roll of
the Northern Ocean and, on a crest of the dunes, the figure of a
solitary sentinel. But presently there was a sound of martial music,
and long lines of troops came marching along the esplanade and down
to the beach. The sands stretched away to east and west, a great
"field of Mars" on which an army could have manoeuvred; and the
morning exercises of cavalry and infantry began. Against the brown
beach the regiments in their dark uniforms looked as black as
silhouettes; and the cavalry galloping by in single file suggested a
black frieze of warriors encircling the dun-coloured flanks of an
Etruscan vase. For hours these long-drawn-out movements of troops
went on, to the wail of bugles, and under the eye of the lonely
sentinel on the sand-crest; then the soldiers poured back into the
town, and La Panne was once more a busy common-place _bain-de-mer_.
The common-placeness, however, was only on the surface; for as one
walked along the esplanade one discovered that the town had become a
citadel, and that all the doll's-house villas with their silly
gables and sillier names--"Seaweed," "The Sea-gull," "Mon Repos,"
and the rest--were really a continuous line of barracks swarming
with Belgian troops. In the main street there were hundreds of
soldiers, pottering along in couples, chatting in groups, romping
and wrestling like a crowd of school-boys, or bargaining in the
shops for shell-work souvenirs and sets of post-cards; and between
the dark-green and crimson uniforms was a frequent sprinkling of
khaki, with the occasional pale blue of a French officer's tunic.

Before luncheon we motored over to Dunkerque. The road runs along
the canal, between grass-flats and prosperous villages. No signs of
war were noticeable except on the road, which was crowded with motor
vans, ambulances and troops. The walls and gates of Dunkerque rose
before us as calm and undisturbed as when we entered the town the
day before yesterday. But within the gates we were in a desert. The
bombardment had ceased the previous evening, but a death-hush lay on
the town, Every house was shuttered and the streets were empty. We
drove to the Place Jean Bart, where two days ago we sat at tea in
the hall of the hotel. Now there was not a whole pane of glass in
the windows of the square, the doors of the hotel were closed, and
every now and then some one came out carrying a basketful of plaster
from fallen ceilings. The whole surface of the square was literally
paved with bits of glass from the hundreds of broken windows, and at
the foot of David's statue of Jean Bart, just where our motor had
stood while we had tea, the siege-gun of Dixmude had scooped out a
hollow as big as the crater at Nieuport.

Though not a house on the square was touched, the scene was one of
unmitigated desolation. It was the first time we had seen the raw
wounds of a bombardment, and the freshness of the havoc seemed to
accentuate its cruelty. We wandered down the street behind the hotel
to the graceful Gothic church of St. Eloi, of which one aisle had
been shattered; then, turning another corner, we came on a poor
_bourgeois_ house that had had its whole front torn away. The
squalid revelation of caved-in floors, smashed wardrobes, dangling
bedsteads, heaped-up blankets, topsy-turvy chairs and stoves and
wash-stands was far more painful than the sight of the wounded
church. St. Eloi was draped in the dignity of martyrdom, but the
poor little house reminded one of some shy humdrum person suddenly
exposed in the glare of a great misfortune.

A few people stood in clusters looking up at the ruins, or strayed
aimlessly about the streets. Not a loud word was heard. The air
seemed heavy with the suspended breath of a great city's activities:
the mournful hush of Dunkerque was even more oppressive than the
death-silence of Ypres. But when we came back to the Place Jean Bart
the unbreakable human spirit had begun to reassert itself. A handful
of children were playing in the bottom of the crater, collecting
"specimens" of glass and splintered brick; and about its rim the
market-people, quietly and as a matter of course, were setting up
their wooden stalls. In a few minutes the signs of German havoc
would be hidden behind stacks of crockery and household utensils,
and some of the pale women we had left in mournful contemplation of
the ruins would be bargaining as sharply as ever for a sauce-pan or
a butter-tub. Not once but a hundred times has the attitude of the
average French civilian near the front reminded me of the gallant
cry of Calanthea in _The Broken Heart:_ "Let me die smiling!" I
should have liked to stop and spend all I had in the market of
Dunkerque...

All the afternoon we wandered about La Panne. The exercises of the
troops had begun again, and the deploying of those endless black
lines along the beach was a sight of the strangest beauty. The sun
was veiled, and heavy surges rolled in under a northerly gale.
Toward evening the sea turned to cold tints of jade and pearl and
tarnished silver. Far down the beach a mysterious fleet of fishing
boats was drawn up on the sand, with black sails bellying in the
wind; and the black riders galloping by might have landed from them,
and been riding into the sunset out of some wild northern legend.
Presently a knot of buglers took up their stand on the edge of the
sea, facing inward, their feet in the surf, and began to play; and
their call was like the call of Roland's horn, when he blew it down
the pass against the heathen. On the sandcrest below my window the
lonely sentinel still watched...


June 24th.

It is like coming down from the mountains to leave the front. I
never had the feeling more strongly than when we passed out of
Belgium this afternoon. I had it most strongly as we drove by a
cluster of villas standing apart in a sterile region of sea-grass
and sand. In one of those villas for nearly a year, two hearts at
the highest pitch of human constancy have held up a light to the
world. It is impossible to pass that house without a sense of awe.
Because of the light that comes from it, dead faiths have come to
life, weak convictions have grown strong, fiery impulses have turned
to long endurance, and long endurance has kept the fire of impulse.
In the harbour of New York there is a pompous statue of a goddess
with a torch, designated as "Liberty enlightening the World." It
seems as though the title on her pedestal might well, for the time,
be transferred to the lintel of that villa in the dunes.

On leaving St. Omer we took a short cut southward across rolling
country. It was a happy accident that caused us to leave the main
road, for presently, over the crest of a hill, we saw surging toward
us a mighty movement of British and Indian troops. A great bath of
silver sunlight lay on the wheat-fields, the clumps of woodland and
the hilly blue horizon, and in that slanting radiance the cavalry
rode toward us, regiment after regiment of slim turbaned Indians,
with delicate proud faces like the faces of Princes in Persian
miniatures. Then came a long train of artillery; splendid horses,
clattering gun-carriages, clear-faced English youths galloping by
all aglow in the sunset. The stream of them seemed never-ending. Now
and then it was checked by a train of ambulances and supply-waggons,
or caught and congested in the crooked streets of a village where
children and girls had come out with bunches of flowers, and bakers
were selling hot loaves to the sutlers; and when we had extricated
our motor from the crowd, and climbed another hill, we came on
another cavalcade surging toward us through the wheat-fields. For
over an hour the procession poured by, so like and yet so unlike the
French division we had met on the move as we went north a few days
ago; so that we seemed to have passed to the northern front, and
away from it again, through a great flashing gateway in the long
wall of armies guarding the civilized world from the North Sea to
the Vosges.



IN ALSACE

August 13th, 1915.


My trip to the east began by a dash toward the north. Near Rheims is
a little town--hardly more than a village, but in English we have no
intermediate terms such as "bourg" and "petit bourg"--where one of
the new Red Cross sanitary motor units was to be seen "in action."
The inspection over, we climbed to a vineyard above the town and
looked down at a river valley traversed by a double line of trees.
The first line marked the canal, which is held by the French, who
have gun-boats on it. Behind this ran the high-road, with the
first-line French trenches, and just above, on the opposite slope,
were the German lines. The soil being chalky, the German positions
were clearly marked by two parallel white scorings across the brown
hill-front; and while we watched we heard desultory firing, and saw,
here and there along the ridge, the smoke-puff of an exploding
shell. It was incredibly strange to stand there, among the vines
humming with summer insects, and to look out over a peaceful country
heavy with the coming vintage, knowing that the trees at our feet
hid a line of gun-boats that were crashing death into those two
white scorings on the hill.

Rheims itself brings one nearer to the war by its look of deathlike
desolation. The paralysis of the bombarded towns is one of the most
tragic results of the invasion. One's soul revolts at this senseless
disorganizing of innumerable useful activities. Compared with the
towns of the north, Rheims is relatively unharmed; but for that very
reason the arrest of life seems the more futile and cruel. The
Cathedral square was deserted, all the houses around it were closed.
And there, before us, rose the Cathedral--_a_ cathedral, rather, for
it was not the one we had always known. It was, in fact, not like
any cathedral on earth. When the German bombardment began, the west
front of Rheims was covered with scaffolding: the shells set it on
fire, and the whole church was wrapped in flames. Now the
scaffolding is gone, and in the dull provincial square there stands
a structure so strange and beautiful that one must search the
Inferno, or some tale of Eastern magic, for words to picture the
luminous unearthly vision. The lower part of the front has been
warmed to deep tints of umber and burnt siena. This rich burnishing
passes, higher up, through yellowish-pink and carmine, to a sulphur
whitening to ivory; and the recesses of the portals and the hollows
behind the statues are lined with a black denser and more velvety
than any effect of shadow to be obtained by sculptured relief. The
interweaving of colour over the whole blunted bruised surface
recalls the metallic tints, the peacock-and-pigeon iridescences, the
incredible mingling of red, blue, umber and yellow of the rocks
along the Gulf of AEgina. And the wonder of the impression is
increased by the sense of its evanescence; the knowledge that this
is the beauty of disease and death, that every one of the
transfigured statues must crumble under the autumn rains, that every
one of the pink or golden stones is already eaten away to the core,
that the Cathedral of Rheims is glowing and dying before us like a
sunset...


August 14th.

A stone and brick chateau in a flat park with a stream running
through it. Pampas-grass, geraniums, rustic bridges, winding paths:
how _bourgeois_ and sleepy it would all seem but for the sentinel
challenging our motor at the gate!

Before the door a collie dozing in the sun, and a group of
staff-officers waiting for luncheon. Indoors, a room with handsome
tapestries, some good furniture and a table spread with the usual
military maps and aeroplane-photographs. At luncheon, the General,
the chiefs of the staff--a dozen in all--an officer from the General
Head-quarters. The usual atmosphere of _camaraderie_, confidence,
good-humour, and a kind of cheerful seriousness that I have come to
regard as characteristic of the men immersed in the actual facts of
the war. I set down this impression as typical of many such luncheon
hours along the front...


August 15th.

This morning we set out for reconquered Alsace. For reasons
unexplained to the civilian this corner of old-new France has
hitherto been inaccessible, even to highly placed French officials;
and there was a special sense of excitement in taking the road that
led to it.

We slipped through a valley or two, passed some placid villages with
vine-covered gables, and noticed that most of the signs over the
shops were German. We had crossed the old frontier unawares, and
were presently in the charming town of Massevaux. It was the Feast
of the Assumption, and mass was just over when we reached the square
before the church. The streets were full of holiday people,
well-dressed, smiling, seemingly unconscious of the war. Down the
church-steps, guided by fond mammas, came little girls in white
dresses, with white wreaths in their hair, and carrying, in baskets
slung over their shoulders, woolly lambs or blue and white Virgins.
Groups of cavalry officers stood chatting with civilians in their
Sunday best, and through the windows of the Golden Eagle we saw
active preparations for a crowded mid-day dinner. It was all as
happy and parochial as a "Hansi" picture, and the fine old gabled
houses and clean cobblestone streets made the traditional setting
for an Alsacian holiday.

At the Golden Eagle we laid in a store of provisions, and started
out across the mountains in the direction of Thann. The Vosges, at
this season, are in their short midsummer beauty, rustling with
streams, dripping with showers, balmy with the smell of firs and
braken, and of purple thyme on hot banks. We reached the top of a
ridge, and, hiding the motor behind a skirt of trees, went out into
the open to lunch on a sunny slope. Facing us across the valley was
a tall conical hill clothed with forest. That hill was
Hartmannswillerkopf, the centre of a long contest in which the
French have lately been victorious; and all about us stood other
crests and ridges from which German guns still look down on the
valley of Thann.

Thann itself is at the valley-head, in a neck between hills; a
handsome old town, with the air of prosperous stability so oddly
characteristic of this tormented region. As we drove through the
main street the pall of war-sadness fell on us again, darkening the
light and chilling the summer air. Thann is raked by the German
lines, and its windows are mostly shuttered and its streets
deserted. One or two houses in the Cathedral square have been
gutted, but the somewhat over-pinnacled and statued cathedral which
is the pride of Thann is almost untouched, and when we entered it
vespers were being sung, and a few people--mostly in black--knelt in
the nave.

No greater contrast could be imagined to the happy feast-day scene
we had left, a few miles off, at Massevaux; but Thann, in spite of
its empty streets, is not a deserted city. A vigorous life beats in
it, ready to break forth as soon as the German guns are silenced.
The French administration, working on the best of terms with the
population, are keeping up the civil activities of the town as the
Canons of the Cathedral are continuing the rites of the Church. Many
inhabitants still remain behind their closed shutters and dive down
into their cellars when the shells begin to crash; and the schools,
transferred to a neighbouring village, number over two thousand
pupils. We walked through the town, visited a vast catacomb of a
wine-cellar fitted up partly as an ambulance and partly as a shelter
for the cellarless, and saw the lamentable remains of the industrial
quarter along the river, which has been the special target of the
German guns. Thann has been industrially ruined, all its mills are
wrecked; but unlike the towns of the north it has had the good
fortune to preserve its outline, its civic personality, a face that
its children, when they come back, can recognize and take comfort
in.

After our visit to the ruins, a diversion was suggested by the
amiable administrators of Thann who had guided our sight-seeing.
They were just off for a military tournament which the --th dragoons
were giving that afternoon in a neighboring valley, and we were
invited to go with them.

The scene of the entertainment was a meadow enclosed in an
amphitheatre of rocks, with grassy ledges projecting from the cliff
like tiers of opera-boxes. These points of vantage were partly
occupied by interested spectators and partly by ruminating cattle;
on the lowest slope, the rank and fashion of the neighbourhood was
ranged on a semi-circle of chairs, and below, in the meadow, a
lively steeple-chase was going on. The riding was extremely pretty,
as French military riding always is. Few of the mounts were
thoroughbreds--the greater number, in fact, being local cart-horses
barely broken to the saddle--but their agility and dash did the
greater credit to their riders. The lancers, in particular, executed
an effective "musical ride" about a central pennon, to the immense
satisfaction of the fashionable public in the foreground and of the
gallery on the rocks.

The audience was even more interesting than the artists. Chatting
with the ladies in the front row were the General of division and
his staff, groups of officers invited from the adjoining
Head-quarters, and most of the civil and military administrators of
the restored "Departement du Haut Rhin." All classes had turned out
in honour of the fete, and every one was in a holiday mood.
The people among whom we sat were mostly Alsatian property-owners,
many of them industrials of Thann. Some had been driven from their
homes, others had seen their mills destroyed, all had been living
for a year on the perilous edge of war, under the menace of
reprisals too hideous to picture; yet the humour prevailing was that
of any group of merry-makers in a peaceful garrison town. I have
seen nothing, in my wanderings along the front, more indicative of
the good-breeding of the French than the spirit of the ladies and
gentlemen who sat chatting with the officers on that grassy slope of
Alsace.

The display of _haute ecole_ was to be followed by an exhibition of
"transportation throughout the ages," headed by a Gaulish chariot
driven by a trooper with a long horsehair moustache and mistletoe
wreath, and ending in a motor of which the engine had been taken out
and replaced by a large placid white horse. Unluckily a heavy rain
began while this instructive "number" awaited its turn, and we had
to leave before Vercingetorix had led his warriors into the ring...


August 16th.

Up and up into the mountains. We started early, taking our way along
a narrow interminable valley that sloped up gradually toward the
east. The road was encumbered with a stream of hooded supply vans
drawn by mules, for we were on the way to one of the main positions
in the Vosges, and this train of provisions is kept up day and
night. Finally we reached a mountain village under fir-clad slopes,
with a cold stream rushing down from the hills. On one side of the
road was a rustic inn, on the other, among the firs, a chalet
occupied by the brigade Head-quarters. Everywhere about us swarmed
the little "chasseurs Alpins" in blue Tam o'Shanters and leather
gaiters. For a year we had been reading of these heroes of the
hills, and here we were among them, looking into their thin
weather-beaten faces and meeting the twinkle of their friendly eyes.
Very friendly they all were, and yet, for Frenchmen, inarticulate
and shy. All over the world, no doubt, the mountain silences breed
this kind of reserve, this shrinking from the glibness of the
valleys. Yet one had fancied that French fluency must soar as high
as Mont Blanc.

Mules were brought, and we started on a long ride up the mountain.
The way led first over open ledges, with deep views into valleys
blue with distance, then through miles of forest, first of beech and
fir, and finally all of fir. Above the road the wooded slopes rose
interminably and here and there we came on tiers of mules, three or
four hundred together, stabled under the trees, in stalls dug out of
different levels of the slope. Near by were shelters for the men,
and perhaps at the next bend a village of "trappers' huts," as the
officers call the log-cabins they build in this region. These
colonies are always bustling with life: men busy cleaning their
arms, hauling material for new cabins, washing or mending their
clothes, or carrying down the mountain from the camp-kitchen the
two-handled pails full of steaming soup. The kitchen is always in
the most protected quarter of the camp, and generally at some
distance in the rear. Other soldiers, their job over, are lolling
about in groups, smoking, gossiping or writing home, the "Soldiers'
Letter-pad" propped on a patched blue knee, a scarred fist
laboriously driving the fountain pen received in hospital. Some are
leaning over the shoulder of a pal who has just received a Paris
paper, others chuckling together at the jokes of their own French
journal--the "Echo du Ravin," the "Journal des Poilus," or the
"Diable Bleu": little papers ground out in purplish script on
foolscap, and adorned with comic-sketches and a wealth of local
humour.

Higher up, under a fir-belt, at the edge of a meadow, the officer
who rode ahead signed to us to dismount and scramble after him. We
plunged under the trees, into what seemed a thicker thicket, and
found it to be a thatch of branches woven to screen the muzzles of a
battery. The big guns were all about us, crouched in these sylvan
lairs like wild beasts waiting to spring; and near each gun hovered
its attendant gunner, proud, possessive, important as a bridegroom
with his bride.

We climbed and climbed again, reaching at last a sun-and-wind-burnt
common which forms the top of one of the highest mountains in the
region. The forest was left below us and only a belt of dwarf firs
ran along the edge of the great grassy shoulder. We dismounted, the
mules were tethered among the trees, and our guide led us to an
insignificant looking stone in the grass. On one face of the stone
was cut the letter F., on the other was a D.; we stood on what, till
a year ago, was the boundary line between Republic and Empire. Since
then, in certain places, the line has been bent back a long way; but
where we stood we were still under German guns, and we had to creep
along in the shelter of the squat firs to reach the outlook on the
edge of the plateau. From there, under a sky of racing clouds, we
saw outstretched below us the Promised Land of Alsace. On one
horizon, far off in the plain, gleamed the roofs and spires of
Colmar, on the other rose the purplish heights beyond the Rhine.
Near by stood a ring of bare hills, those closest to us scarred by
ridges of upheaved earth, as if giant moles had been zigzagging over
them; and just under us, in a little green valley, lay the roofs of
a peaceful village. The earth-ridges and the peaceful village were
still German; but the French positions went down the mountain,
almost to the valley's edge; and one dark peak on the right was
already French.

We stopped at a gap in the firs and walked to the brink of the
plateau. Just under us lay a rock-rimmed lake. More zig-zag
earthworks surmounted it on all sides, and on the nearest shore was
the branched roofing of another great mule-shelter. We were looking
down at the spot to which the night-caravans of the Chasseurs Alpins
descend to distribute supplies to the fighting line.

"Who goes there? Attention! You're in sight of the lines!" a voice
called out from the firs, and our companion signed to us to move
back. We had been rather too conspicuously facing the German
batteries on the opposite slope, and our presence might have drawn
their fire on an artillery observation post installed near by. We
retreated hurriedly and unpacked our luncheon-basket on the more
sheltered side of the ridge. As we sat there in the grass, swept by
a great mountain breeze full of the scent of thyme and myrtle, while
the flutter of birds, the hum of insects, the still and busy life of
the hills went on all about us in the sunshine, the pressure of the
encircling line of death grew more intolerably real. It is not in
the mud and jokes and every-day activities of the trenches that one
most feels the damnable insanity of war; it is where it lurks like a
mythical monster in scenes to which the mind has always turned for
rest.

We had not yet made the whole tour of the mountain-top; and after
luncheon we rode over to a point where a long narrow yoke connects
it with a spur projecting directly above the German lines. We left
our mules in hiding and walked along the yoke, a mere knife-edge of
rock rimmed with dwarf vegetation. Suddenly we heard an explosion
behind us: one of the batteries we had passed on the way up was
giving tongue. The German lines roared back and for twenty minutes
the exchange of invective thundered on. The firing was almost
incessant; it seemed as if a great arch of steel were being built up
above us in the crystal air. And we could follow each curve of sound
from its incipience to its final crash in the trenches. There were
four distinct phases: the sharp bang from the cannon, the long
furious howl overhead, the dispersed and spreading noise of the
shell's explosion, and then the roll of its reverberation from cliff
to cliff. This is what we heard as we crouched in the lee of the
firs: what we saw when we looked out between them was only an
occasional burst of white smoke and red flame from one hillside, and
on the opposite one, a minute later, a brown geyser of dust.

Presently a deluge of rain descended on us, driving us back to our
mules, and down the nearest mountain-trail through rivers of mud. It
rained all the way: rained in such floods and cataracts that the
very rocks of the mountain seemed to dissolve and turn into mud. As
we slid down through it we met strings of Chasseurs Alpins coming
up, splashed to the waist with wet red clay, and leading pack-mules
so coated with it that they looked like studio models from which the
sculptor has just pulled off the dripping sheet. Lower down we came
on more "trapper" settlements, so saturated and reeking with wet
that they gave us a glimpse of what the winter months on the front
must be. No more cheerful polishing of fire-arms, hauling of
faggots, chatting and smoking in sociable groups: everybody had
crept under the doubtful shelter of branches and tarpaulins; the
whole army was back in its burrows.


August 17th.

Sunshine again for our arrival at Belfort. The invincible city lies
unpretentiously behind its green glacis and escutcheoned gates; but
the guardian Lion under the Citadel--well, the Lion is figuratively
as well as literally _a la hauteur._ With the sunset flush
on him, as he crouched aloft in his red lair below the fort, he
might almost have claimed kin with his mighty prototypes of the
Assarbanipal frieze. One wondered a little, seeing whose work he
was; but probably it is easier for an artist to symbolize an heroic
town than the abstract and elusive divinity who sheds light on the
world from New York harbour.

From Belfort back into reconquered Alsace the road runs through a
gentle landscape of fields and orchards. We were bound for
Dannemarie, one of the towns of the plain, and a centre of the new
administration. It is the usual "gros bourg" of Alsace, with
comfortable old houses in espaliered gardens: dull, well-to-do,
contented; not in the least the kind of setting demanded by the
patriotism which has to be fed on pictures of little girls singing
the Marseillaise in Alsatian head-dresses and old men with operatic
waistcoats tottering forward to kiss the flag. What we saw at
Dannemarie was less conspicuous to the eye but much more nourishing
to the imagination. The military and civil administrators had the
kindness and patience to explain their work and show us something of
its results; and the visit left one with the impression of a slow
and quiet process of adaptation wisely planned and fruitfully
carried out. We _did_, in fact, hear the school-girls of Dannemarie
sing the Marseillaise--and the boys too--but, what was far more
interesting, we saw them studying under the direction of the
teachers who had always had them in charge, and found that
everywhere it had been the aim of the French officials to let the
routine of the village policy go on undisturbed. The German signs
remain over the shop-fronts except where the shop-keepers have
chosen to paint them out; as is happening more and more frequently.
When a functionary has to be replaced he is chosen from the same
town or the same district, and even the _personnel_ of the civil and
military administration is mainly composed of officers and civilians
of Alsatian stock. The heads of both these departments, who
accompanied us on our rounds, could talk to the children and old
people in German as well as in their local dialect; and, as far as a
passing observer could discern, it seemed as though everything had
been done to reduce to a minimum the sense of strangeness and
friction which is inevitable in the transition from one rule to
another. The interesting point was that this exercise of tact and
tolerance seemed to proceed not from any pressure of expediency but
from a sympathetic understanding of the point of view of this people
of the border. I heard in Dannemarie not a syllable of lyrical
patriotism or post-card sentimentality, but only a kindly and
impartial estimate of facts as they were and must be dealt with.


August 18th.

Today again we started early for the mountains. Our road ran more to
the westward, through the heart of the Vosges, and up to a fold of
the hills near the borders of Lorraine. We stopped at a
Head-quarters where a young officer of dragoons was to join us, and
learned from him that we were to be allowed to visit some of the
first-line trenches which we had looked out on from a high-perched
observation post on our former visit to the Vosges. Violent fighting
was going on in that particular region, and after a climb of an hour
or two we had to leave the motor at a sheltered angle of the road
and strike across the hills on foot. Our path lay through the
forest, and every now and then we caught a glimpse of the high-road
running below us in full view of the German batteries. Presently we
reached a point where the road was screened by a thick growth of
trees behind which an observation post had been set up. We scrambled
down and looked through the peephole. Just below us lay a valley
with a village in its centre, and to the left and right of the
village were two hills, the one scored with French, the other with
German trenches. The village, at first sight, looked as normal as
those through which we had been passing; but a closer inspection
showed that its steeple was shattered and that some of its houses
were unroofed. Part of it was held by German, part by French troops.
The cemetery adjoining the church, and a quarry just under it,
belonged to the Germans; but a line of French trenches ran from the
farther side of the church up to the French batteries on the right
hand hill. Parallel with this line, but starting from the other side
of the village, was a hollow lane leading up to a single tree. This
lane was a German trench, protected by the guns of the left hand
hill; and between the two lay perhaps fifty yards of ground. All
this was close under us; and closer still was a slope of open ground
leading up to the village and traversed by a rough cart-track. Along
this track in the hot sunshine little French soldiers, the size of
tin toys, were scrambling up with bags and loads of faggots, their
ant-like activity as orderly and untroubled as if the two armies had
not lain trench to trench a few yards away. It was one of those
strange and contradictory scenes of war that bring home to the
bewildered looker-on the utter impossibility of picturing how the
thing _really happens._

While we stood watching we heard the sudden scream of a battery
close above us. The crest of the hill we were climbing was alive
with "Seventy-fives," and the piercing noise seemed to burst out at
our very backs. It was the most terrible war-shriek I had heard: a
kind of wolfish baying that called up an image of all the dogs of
war simultaneously tugging at their leashes. There is a dreadful
majesty in the sound of a distant cannonade; but these yelps and
hisses roused only thoughts of horror. And there, on the opposite
slope, the black and brown geysers were beginning to spout up from
the German trenches; and from the batteries above them came the puff
and roar of retaliation. Below us, along the cart-track, the little
French soldiers continued to scramble up peacefully to the
dilapidated village; and presently a group of officers of dragoons,
emerging from the wood, came down to welcome us to their
Head-quarters.

We continued to climb through the forest, the cannonade still
whistling overhead, till we reached the most elaborate trapper
colony we had yet seen. Half underground, walled with logs, and
deeply roofed by sods tufted with ferns and moss, the cabins were
scattered under the trees and connected with each other by paths
bordered with white stones. Before the Colonel's cabin the soldiers
had made a banked-up flower-bed sown with annuals; and farther up
the slope stood a log chapel, a mere gable with a wooden altar under
it, all tapestried with ivy and holly. Near by was the chaplain's
subterranean dwelling. It was reached by a deep cutting with
ivy-covered sides, and ivy and fir-boughs masked the front. This
sylvan retreat had just been completed, and the officers, the
chaplain, and the soldiers loitering near by, were all equally eager
to have it seen and hear it praised.

The commanding officer, having done the honours of the camp, led us
about a quarter of a mile down the hillside to an open cutting which
marked the beginning of the trenches. From the cutting we passed
into a long tortuous burrow walled and roofed with carefully fitted
logs. The earth floor was covered by a sort of wooden lattice. The
only light entering this tunnel was a faint ray from an occasional
narrow slit screened by branches; and beside each of these
peep-holes hung a shield-shaped metal shutter to be pushed over it
in case of emergency.

The passage wound down the hill, almost doubling on itself, in order
to give a view of all the surrounding lines. Presently the roof
became much higher, and we saw on one side a curtained niche about
five feet above the floor. One of the officers pulled the curtain
back, and there, on a narrow shelf, a gun between his knees, sat a
dragoon, his eyes on a peep-hole. The curtain was hastily drawn
again behind his motionless figure, lest the faint light at his back
should betray him. We passed by several of these helmeted watchers,
and now and then we came to a deeper recess in which a mitrailleuse
squatted, its black nose thrust through a net of branches. Sometimes
the roof of the tunnel was so low that we had to bend nearly double;
and at intervals we came to heavy doors, made of logs and sheeted
with iron, which shut off one section from another. It is hard to
guess the distance one covers in creeping through an unlit passage
with different levels and countless turnings; but we must have
descended the hillside for at least a mile before we came out into a
half-ruined farmhouse. This building, which had kept nothing but its
outer walls and one or two partitions between the rooms, had been
transformed into an observation post. In each of its corners a
ladder led up to a little shelf on the level of what was once the
second story, and on the shelf sat a dragoon at his peep-hole.
Below, in the dilapidated rooms, the usual life of a camp was going
on. Some of the soldiers were playing cards at a kitchen table,
others mending their clothes, or writing letters or chuckling
together (not too loud) over a comic newspaper. It might have been a
scene anywhere along the second-line trenches but for the lowered
voices, the suddenness with which I was drawn back from a slit in
the wall through which I had incautiously peered, and the presence
of these helmeted watchers overhead.

We plunged underground again and began to descend through another
darker and narrower tunnel. In the upper one there had been one or
two roofless stretches where one could straighten one's back and
breathe; but here we were in pitch blackness, and saved from
breaking our necks only by the gleam of the pocket-light which the
young lieutenant who led the party shed on our path. As he whisked
it up and down to warn us of sudden steps or sharp corners he
remarked that at night even this faint glimmer was forbidden, and
that it was a bad job going back and forth from the last outpost
till one had learned the turnings.

The last outpost was a half-ruined farmhouse like the other. A
telephone connected it with Head-quarters and more dumb dragoons sat
motionless on their lofty shelves. The house was shut off from the
tunnel by an armoured door, and the orders were that in case of
attack that door should be barred from within and the access to the
tunnel defended to the death by the men in the outpost. We were on
the extreme verge of the defences, on a slope just above the village
over which we had heard the artillery roaring a few hours earlier.
The spot where we stood was raked on all sides by the enemy's lines,
and the nearest trenches were only a few yards away. But of all this
nothing was really perceptible or comprehensible to me. As far as my
own observation went, we might have been a hundred miles from the
valley we had looked down on, where the French soldiers were walking
peacefully up the cart-track in the sunshine. I only knew that we
had come out of a black labyrinth into a gutted house among
fruit-trees, where soldiers were lounging and smoking, and people
whispered as they do about a death-bed. Over a break in the walls I
saw another gutted farmhouse close by in another orchard: it was an
enemy outpost, and silent watchers in helmets of another shape sat
there watching on the same high shelves. But all this was infinitely
less real and terrible than the cannonade above the disputed
village. The artillery had ceased and the air was full of summer
murmurs. Close by on a sheltered ledge I saw a patch of vineyard
with dewy cobwebs hanging to the vines. I could not understand where
we were, or what it was all about, or why a shell from the enemy
outpost did not suddenly annihilate us. And then, little by little,
there came over me the sense of that mute reciprocal watching from
trench to trench: the interlocked stare of innumerable pairs of
eyes, stretching on, mile after mile, along the whole sleepless line
from Dunkerque to Belfort.

My last vision of the French front which I had traveled from end to
end was this picture of a shelled house where a few men, who sat
smoking and playing cards in the sunshine, had orders to hold out to
the death rather than let their fraction of that front be broken.



THE TONE OF FRANCE


Nobody now asks the question that so often, at the beginning of the
war, came to me from the other side of the world: "_What is France
like?"_ Every one knows what France has proved to be like: from
being a difficult problem she has long since become a luminous
instance.

Nevertheless, to those on whom that illumination has shone only from
far off, there may still be something to learn about its component
elements; for it has come to consist of many separate rays, and the
weary strain of the last year has been the spectroscope to decompose
them. From the very beginning, when one felt the effulgence as the
mere pale brightness before dawn, the attempt to define it was
irresistible. "There _is_ a tone--" the tingling sense of it was in
the air from the first days, the first hours--"but what does it
consist in? And just how is one aware of it?" In those days the
answer was comparatively easy. The tone of France after the
declaration of war was the white glow of dedication: a great
nation's collective impulse (since there is no English equivalent
for that winged word, _elan_ ) to resist destruction. But at that
time no one knew what the resistance was to cost, how long it would
have to last, what sacrifices, material and moral, it would
necessitate. And for the moment baser sentiments were silenced:
greed, self-interest, pusillanimity seemed to have been purged from
the race. The great sitting of the Chamber, that almost religious
celebration of defensive union, really expressed the opinion of the
whole people. It is fairly easy to soar to the empyrean when one is
carried on the wings of such an impulse, and when one does not know
how long one is to be kept suspended at the breathing-limit.

But there is a term to the flight of the most soaring _elan_. It is
likely, after a while, to come back broken-winged and resign itself
to barn-yard bounds. National judgments cannot remain for long above
individual feelings; and you cannot get a national "tone" out of
anything less than a whole nation. The really interesting thing,
therefore, was to see, as the war went on, and grew into a calamity
unheard of in human annals, how the French spirit would meet it, and
what virtues extract from it.

The war has been a calamity unheard of; but France has never been
afraid of the unheard of. No race has ever yet so audaciously
dispensed with old precedents; as none has ever so revered their
relics. It is a great strength to be able to walk without the
support of analogies; and France has always shown that strength in
times of crisis. The absorbing question, as the war went on, was to
discover how far down into the people this intellectual audacity
penetrated, how instinctive it had become, and how it would endure
the strain of prolonged inaction.

There was never much doubt about the army. When a warlike race has
an invader on its soil, the men holding back the invader can never
be said to be inactive. But behind the army were the waiting
millions to whom that long motionless line in the trenches might
gradually have become a mere condition of thought, an accepted
limitation to all sorts of activities and pleasures. The danger was
that such a war--static, dogged, uneventful--might gradually cramp
instead of enlarging the mood of the lookers-on. Conscription, of
course, was there to minimize this danger. Every one was sharing
alike in the glory and the woe. But the glory was not of a kind to
penetrate or dazzle. It requires more imagination to see the halo
around tenacity than around dash; and the French still cling to the
view that they are, so to speak, the patentees and proprietors of
dash, and much less at home with his dull drudge of a partner. So
there was reason to fear, in the long run, a gradual but
irresistible disintegration, not of public opinion, but of something
subtler and more fundamental: public sentiment. It was possible that
civilian France, while collectively seeming to remain at the same
height, might individually deteriorate and diminish in its attitude
toward the war.

The French would not be human, and therefore would not be
interesting, if one had not perceived in them occasional symptoms of
such a peril. There has not been a Frenchman or a Frenchwoman--save
a few harmless and perhaps nervous theorizers--who has wavered about
the military policy of the country; but there have naturally been
some who have found it less easy than they could have foreseen to
live up to the sacrifices it has necessitated. Of course there have
been such people: one would have had to postulate them if they had
not come within one's experience. There have been some to whom it
was harder than they imagined to give up a certain way of living, or
a certain kind of breakfast-roll; though the French, being
fundamentally temperate, are far less the slaves of the luxuries
they have invented than are the other races who have adopted these
luxuries.

There have been many more who found the sacrifice of personal
happiness--of all that made life livable, or one's country worth
fighting for--infinitely harder than the most apprehensive
imagination could have pictured. There have been mothers and widows
for whom a single grave, or the appearance of one name on the
missing list, has turned the whole conflict into an idiot's tale.
There have been many such; but there have apparently not been enough
to deflect by a hair's breadth the subtle current of public
sentiment; unless it is truer, as it is infinitely more inspiring,
to suppose that, of this company of blinded baffled sufferers,
almost all have had the strength to hide their despair and to say of
the great national effort which has lost most of its meaning to
them: "Though it slay me, yet will I trust in it." That is probably
the finest triumph of the tone of France: that its myriad fiery
currents flow from so many hearts made insensible by suffering, that
so many dead hands feed its undying lamp.

This does not in the least imply that resignation is the prevailing
note in the tone of France. The attitude of the French people, after
fourteen months of trial, is not one of submission to unparalleled
calamity. It is one of exaltation, energy, the hot resolve to
dominate the disaster. In all classes the feeling is the same: every
word and every act is based on the resolute ignoring of any
alternative to victory. The French people no more think of a
compromise than people would think of facing a flood or an
earthquake with a white flag.

Two questions are likely to be put to any observer of the struggle
who risks such assertions. What, one may be asked, are the proofs of
this national tone? And what conditions and qualities seem to
minister to it?

The proofs, now that "the tumult and the shouting dies," and
civilian life has dropped back into something like its usual
routine, are naturally less definable than at the outset. One of the
most evident is the spirit in which all kinds of privations are
accepted. No one who has come in contact with the work-people and
small shop-keepers of Paris in the last year can fail to be struck
by the extreme dignity and grace with which doing without things is
practised. The Frenchwoman leaning in the door of her empty
_boutique_ still wears the smile with which she used to calm the
impatience of crowding shoppers. The seam-stress living on the
meagre pay of a charity work-room gives her day's sewing as
faithfully as if she were working for full wages in a fashionable
_atelier_, and never tries, by the least hint of private
difficulties, to extract additional help. The habitual cheerfulness
of the Parisian workwoman rises, in moments of sorrow, to the finest
fortitude. In a work-room where many women have been employed since
the beginning of the war, a young girl of sixteen heard late one
afternoon that her only brother had been killed. She had a moment of
desperate distress; but there was a big family to be helped by her
small earnings, and the next morning punctually she was back at
work. In this same work-room the women have one half-holiday in the
week, without reduction of pay; yet if an order has to be rushed
through for a hospital they give up that one afternoon as gaily as
if they were doing it for their pleasure. But if any one who has
lived for the last year among the workers and small tradesmen of
Paris should begin to cite instances of endurance, self-denial and
secret charity, the list would have no end. The essential of it all
is the spirit in which these acts are accomplished.

The second question: What are the conditions and qualities that have
produced such results? is less easy to answer. The door is so
largely open to conjecture that every explanation must depend
largely on the answerer's personal bias. But one thing is certain.
France has not achieved her present tone by the sacrifice of any of
her national traits, but rather by their extreme keying up;
therefore the surest way of finding a clue to that tone is to try to
single out whatever distinctively "French" characteristics--or those
that appear such to the envious alien--have a direct bearing on the
present attitude of France. Which (one must ask) of all their
multiple gifts most help the French today to be what they are in
just the way they are?

_Intelligence!_ is the first and instantaneous answer. Many French
people seem unaware of this. They are sincerely persuaded that the
curbing of their critical activity has been one of the most
important and useful results of the war. One is told that, in a
spirit of patriotism, this fault-finding people has learned not to
find fault. Nothing could be more untrue. The French, when they have
a grievance, do not air it in the _Times:_ their forum is the cafe
and not the newspaper. But in the cafe they are talking as freely as
ever, discriminating as keenly and judging as passionately. The
difference is that the very exercise of their intelligence on a
problem larger and more difficult than any they have hitherto faced
has freed them from the dominion of most of the prejudices,
catch-words and conventions that directed opinion before the war.
Then their intelligence ran in fixed channels; now it has overflowed
its banks.

This release has produced an immediate readjusting of all the
elements of national life. In great trials a race is tested by its
values; and the war has shown the world what are the real values of
France. Never for an instant has this people, so expert in the great
art of living, imagined that life consisted in being alive.
Enamoured of pleasure and beauty, dwelling freely and frankly in the
present, they have yet kept their sense of larger meanings, have
understood life to be made up of many things past and to come, of
renunciation as well as satisfaction, of traditions as well as
experiments, of dying as much as of living. Never have they
considered life as a thing to be cherished in itself, apart from its
reactions and its relations.

Intelligence first, then, has helped France to be what she is; and
next, perhaps, one of its corollaries, _expression_. The French are
the first to laugh at themselves for running to words: they seem to
regard their gift for expression as a weakness, a possible deterrent
to action. The last year has not confirmed that view. It has rather
shown that eloquence is a supplementary weapon. By "eloquence" I
naturally do not mean public speaking, nor yet the rhetorical
writing too often associated with the word. Rhetoric is the
dressing-up of conventional sentiment, eloquence the fearless
expression of real emotion. And this gift of the fearless expression
of emotion--fearless, that is, of ridicule, or of indifference in
the hearer--has been an inestimable strength to France. It is a sign
of the high average of French intelligence that feeling well-worded
can stir and uplift it; that "words" are not half shamefacedly
regarded as something separate from, and extraneous to, emotion, or
even as a mere vent for it, but as actually animating and forming
it. Every additional faculty for exteriorizing states of feeling,
giving them a face and a language, is a moral as well as an artistic
asset, and Goethe was never wiser than when he wrote:

  "A god gave me the voice to speak my pain."

It is not too much to say that the French are at this moment drawing
a part of their national strength from their language. The piety
with which they have cherished and cultivated it has made it a
precious instrument in their hands. It can say so beautifully what
they feel that they find strength and renovation in using it; and
the word once uttered is passed on, and carries the same help to
others. Countless instances of such happy expression could be cited
by any one who has lived the last year in France. On the bodies of
young soldiers have been found letters of farewell to their parents
that made one think of some heroic Elizabethan verse; and the
mothers robbed of these sons have sent them an answering cry of
courage.

"Thank you," such a mourner wrote me the other day, "for having
understood the cruelty of our fate, and having pitied us. Thank you
also for having exalted the pride that is mingled with our
unutterable sorrow." Simply that, and no more; but she might have
been speaking for all the mothers of France.

When the eloquent expression of feeling does not issue in action--or
at least in a state of mind equivalent to action--it sinks to the
level of rhetoric; but in France at this moment expression and
conduct supplement and reflect each other. And this brings me to the
other great attribute which goes to making up the tone of France:
the quality of courage. It is not unintentionally that it comes last
on my list. French courage is courage rationalized, courage thought
out, and found necessary to some special end; it is, as much as any
other quality of the French temperament, the result of French
intelligence.

No people so sensitive to beauty, so penetrated with a passionate
interest in life, so endowed with the power to express and
immortalize that interest, can ever really enjoy destruction for its
own sake. The French hate "militarism." It is stupid, inartistic,
unimaginative and enslaving; there could not be four better French
reasons for detesting it. Nor have the French ever enjoyed the
savage forms of sport which stimulate the blood of more apathetic or
more brutal races. Neither prize-fighting nor bull-fighting is of
the soil in France, and Frenchmen do not settle their private
differences impromptu with their fists: they do it, logically and
with deliberation, on the duelling-ground. But when a national
danger threatens, they instantly become what they proudly and justly
call themselves--"a warlike nation"--and apply to the business in
hand the ardour, the imagination, the perseverance that have made
them for centuries the great creative force of civilization. Every
French soldier knows why he is fighting, and why, at this moment,
physical courage is the first quality demanded of him; every
Frenchwoman knows why war is being waged, and why her moral courage
is needed to supplement the soldier's contempt of death.

The women of France are supplying this moral courage in act as well
as in word. Frenchwomen, as a rule, are perhaps less instinctively
"courageous," in the elementary sense, than their Anglo-Saxon
sisters. They are afraid of more things, and are less ashamed of
showing their fear. The French mother coddles her children, the boys
as well as the girls: when they tumble and bark their knees they are
expected to cry, and not taught to control themselves as English and
American children are. I have seen big French boys bawling over a
cut or a bruise that an Anglo-Saxon girl of the same age would have
felt compelled to bear without a tear. Frenchwomen are timid for
themselves as well as for their children. They are afraid of the
unexpected, the unknown, the experimental. It is not part of the
Frenchwoman's training to pretend to have physical courage. She has
not the advantage of our discipline in the hypocrisies of "good
form" when she is called on to be brave, she must draw her courage
from her brains. She must first be convinced of the necessity of
heroism; after that she is fit to go bridle to bridle with Jeanne
d'Arc.

The same display of reasoned courage is visible in the hasty
adaptation of the Frenchwoman to all kinds of uncongenial jobs.
Almost every kind of service she has been called to render since the
war began has been fundamentally uncongenial. A French doctor once
remarked to me that Frenchwomen never make really good sick-nurses
except when they are nursing their own people. They are too
personal, too emotional, and too much interested in more interesting
things, to take to the fussy details of good nursing, except when it
can help some one they care for. Even then, as a rule, they are not
systematic or tidy; but they make up for these deficiencies by
inexhaustible willingness and sympathy. And it has been easy for
them to become good war-nurses, because every Frenchwoman who nurses
a French soldier feels that she is caring for her kin. The French
war-nurse sometimes mislays an instrument or forgets to sterilize a
dressing; but she almost always finds the consoling word to say and
the right tone to take with her wounded soldiers. That profound
solidarity which is one of the results of conscription flowers, in
war-time, in an exquisite and impartial devotion.

This, then, is what "France is like." The whole civilian part of the
nation seems merged in one symbolic figure, carrying help and hope
to the fighters or passionately bent above the wounded. The
devotion, the self-denial, seem instinctive; but they are really
based on a reasoned knowledge of the situation and on an unflinching
estimate of values. All France knows today that real "life" consists
in the things that make it worth living, and that these things, for
France, depend on the free expression of her national genius. If
France perishes as an intellectual light and as a moral force every
Frenchman perishes with her; and the only death that Frenchmen fear
is not death in the trenches but death by the extinction of their
national ideal. It is against this death that the whole nation is
fighting; and it is the reasoned recognition of their peril which,
at this moment, is making the most intelligent people in the world
the most sublime.



THE END





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