French Battle-fields of Yesterday
French Battle-fields of Yesterday
BY LOUISE CLOSSER HALE
AFTER the visitor to France goes into the war zone and returns to Paris safely, he, or perhaps I should say she, is not so fearful of going again. It is not the expectation of high explosives descending on a woman's frail hat of straw that filled me with dread on my first visit in the direction of Meaux and Château Thierry, but an uneasiness over my own conduct that might unwittingly transgress the rules of the Army and bring down a high-explosive wrath with a penalty for which there is no mediation. There is no carrying your case to a Supreme Court, no appeal to the Governor or the people. What the Army says you do you do. And the curious tangle we got into on my second trip "toward" the front ended in a situation so complicated that it seemed better at times to die and have it over with.
We rather plunged away from Paris. Our permits from the Maison de la Presse came when least expected, and feverishly fingering our watches, passes, dog, credentials, and luggage we raced for the train to Senlis. One gets a permit to go into the war zone on a certain date and return on a certain date. I don't know what the consequences would be if we didn't go—there might not be any—but I have an uneasy suspicion that the police of the arrondissement would stop me on the Champs Elysées and demand sternly, "Why are you not at Senlis to-day, en route to Villers-Cotterets and thence to Compiègne?"—for so our orders read. It would seem very inadequate to reply that we had missed the train—very suspicious.
But, as I say, on this second visit I was not as afraid of being thought a spy as I was before—or so tortured by a desire to burst into German exclamations. And we caught the train. We even had time to drop our mite into the tin canister of the Red Cross attendant. We can hear her coming along the platform shaking the sous already in the little bank. The noise now is as familiar and defined as the jingle of the coin in the tambourine of the Salvation Army girl outside our theaters in America. All of the canteens at the railway stations are under the control of the Frenchwomen. This is a "work" not to be confused with that of those English and Americans of the small sheds erected in the cantonments where the men are massed before returning to the front.
So I was not prepared when I lifted my eyes to the face of the worker to see a wisp of a New York girl who had put herself into condition for these many hours on her feet by nights of fox-trotting on the ballroom floors of the younger set. I had asked her on the boat what course she had taken in nursing, and she had replied engagingly that she didn't even know how to give first aid. "I wanted to go into a class," she explained, "but I had to 'come out.' Mother made me—I really didn't care about it." And, sure enough, here she was resolutely shaking the tin box, swinging open the doors of the carriages, slamming them to again, darting rapidly up and down the long platform that no one might escape, and beaming at the soldiers who ever crowded past on their way up to the Somme.
After the warning whistle we chatted a little through my window. Like all Americans working in Paris—and there are no Americans who do not work—she arose at seven and went to bed right after dinner—and she just loved it! She was expecting to be transferred to a Cercle. We had passed a Cercle on our way to the station. As the duration of the war has extended itself like a great serpent unrolling horrid unsuspected coils, new demands have arisen for the comfort of the men on their vacations. They are obliged to take these periods of rest. Thousands come, too, from the invaded districts. They have no homes and no people left, and seeing Paris on five cents a day is a poor prospect even to a French economist. So, little clubs have been formed, some of which are supported by the regiments, and some entirely gratuitous, where the bewildered countrymen may find a home in the city of a Frenchman's dream. She was going to the one set back in the pleasant wood that we had passed on our way to the station. The owner, a great designer of robes, was at the war. "It will be funny," she exclaimed. "Mother went there for her gowns!"
One goes quickly into the country when leaving Paris by the Gare du Nord; the sight of green fields from a car window we hold to be a privilege. The long white roads stretch appealingly to us, but they are no longer for the idle motorist. This far from the front they are untraveled, and all along the way the little shops with their signs of tires and oil and gasolene are idle. It is like a district under a spell, and it gives one a pain in the heart to know that the spell will not be broken for a long time, and when we do go over the road once more that boys will stump out on wooden pegs, or will lift painfully an arm that should not rightly hang to the warm body of any man, to serve us.
At Chantilly masses of soldiers went on up the line to the Somme sector, yet we were not without the usual crowd of blue which descended at Senlis, and packed themselves with us about the improvised exit. The station at Senlis was destroyed by the Germans, and the accommodation for the traveler is meager. We stood huddled together, squeezing through when we could.
One of the youngest of the soldiers coming home on his permission had been celebrating in advance. The townspeople coming through the gate were much embarrassed, and talked it over with the riotous one's comrades so that he remained within the gates attended by a kindly bodyguard until he should find himself in better condition to meet his proud family. Only beer and light wine are sold in the war zone, but occasionally an overzealous sympathizer smuggles the soldiers a bottle of more deadly spirits.
We took a cab—the cab—to the hotel, so relieved that there was a hotel left that we did not ask price or distance. Two of the inns mentioned in our carefully secreted German Baedeker were burned by the invaders, but the Grand Cerf remained. It is so near the station that we were inclined to be stern with the cabby over the fare. However, we knew that we would pay him, and he knew it, too, and the landlady of the Grand Cerf knew that we would accept any room she offered us at any price. But she took no masculine advantage, and we found ourselves in quarters of that new era of France, with running water and electric lights—the water not running and the light not lighting for the sake of economy, but all the latest improvements ready for the tourist when the host begins pouring in.
She and another woman apparently did all the work of the house, and there was something more tragic in this empty modern hotel built so obviously for the touring motorist than there is in the older inns which draw a certain warm quality of life from generations of men and women who have slept under the roof. There was even a mahogany American bar with a brass foot-rail, not hiding itself guiltily as in our land, but sharing the writing-room.
The view from our windows was the same that meets the eye at Messina, such buildings as were occupied by the Germans remaining unscarred. And I wonder if a French householder rejoices that his habitation was kept intact through the housing of such unwelcome guests, or would he in preference have suffered the fate of his neighbors. The intact buildings bore a sort of isolation, an air foreign to the scene, as though by the German occupancy they felt the dishonor that had been thrust upon them. The side-street leading past the hotel has already been renamed the Odent in memory of the mayor who was shot during the short German stay. And the first illustrated carte postale which met our eyes was a picture of his grave. For the sake of those American and English who will some day visit this historic ground they have put an English legend as well as a French one upon the postal card. It reads, "Here is shoot and bury the mayor."
One would not have it less simple, for one feels very gentle about the story of the good Monsieur Odent who died so bravely. In the waning light we read the story as written down by a young apprentice who had been marched into the country with the mayor and four other citizens. They had been moved from one place to another with some evidence of that confusion of method which attended the betrayal of other characters in history. They were ordered to lie down, to get up; they marched a little, they could smoke, they were searched.
Suddenly they jostled Monsieur Odent, seized his cane, and struck him upon the head with it. Then they all went on again. The Frenchmen did not know why they were being led away. They could see their houses burning in the town, for it was night by now. They turned into a field of grain. They were commanded to lie down on their stomachs. They were commanded to rise again. An officer advanced and conducted the mayor to a group of his fellow-officers. The words were few—and that was his trial. He returned to his friends and gave the money in his purse to the apprentice, charging him to remit it to his family. He said: "Adieu, my poor Benoit; we shall not see each other again. They will shoot me now." They all clasped hands.
"Monsieur Odent advanced very courageously toward the officers, "the story continues "at six or seven meters from us; after a little time we heard two volleys and a report of a revolver which we judged to be the finishing stroke. Then some soldiers made a ditch, laying there the body of Monsieur Odent, and replacing the earth. In spite of the beautiful light of the moon, we could not distinguish clearly on account of the proximity of the woods."
After this the Germans came to the five friends of Monsieur Odent, saying: "War is sad—as much for us as for you. We had to shoot your mayor as his citizens fired upon our soldiers. We make war upon soldiers, not upon civilians. It is France who has wanted the war, and your Poincaré."
After these noble sentiments the officers asked if it was any of the remaining five who had fired upon the soldiers, which was ingenuous for Germans. And as the five friends said they had not (indeed, no one had fired except a handful of African soldiers who were thought by all to have left the village), they were sent home.
I tell this story because each village of sacked eastern France has been the scene of a tragic incident like it, and I feel that I must repeat such a little tale in every paper I prepare—as one steps into a church, putting one's business aside, to place a candle before the altar.
I carried my book, Le Drame de Senlis, down to dinner, and there was great fear shown by the two women that they would have to make a light since I was so long over the meal—and the drama. We went out in the dusk immediately afterward, our dog Toby on a leash, since we had lost him in the dark of Meaux. I wished to go immediately to the Abbey of St. Vincent, for I was full of the story of the old and the sick who had gathered in deep, underground passages during the bombardment and the burning of Senlis. In the great room above there had been one wounded German soldier nursed through it all by Mère Joseph, who, when she was besought to go below as the balls were flattening themselves against the walls, pointed to the wounded German, and replied, tartly: "What! And show the enemy I am nursing that we have anything to fear?" For that she wears the Croix de Guerre.
We turned to the right, then to the left, and after that we turned many times. Suddenly, in the dim light, we came upon a gendarme. We could discern the sentry in his little box, but I was as afraid of him as though he were a Boche, and would not ask for assistance.
So we stumbled hastily on, coming to a body of water, black and silent and turgid. Then, hearing voices, we made toward them, only to find our cabby, who set us on the straight road, from which we promptly strayed, and were finally led home by an old woman who volunteered as our guide.
On the next morning we made our way to the cathedral, which the Illustrator sketched during service, afterward photographing the congregation as they passed out, for a souvenir. While he sketched, Toby and I went off to retrace, if possible, our confused wanderings of the night before, and to see the dank tarn which had so frightened me. It was found at the end of devious but charming ways. We passed the soldier in the sentry-box—a pleasant fellow—and discovered the black water of the black night to be a little elbow of that flirtatious stream La Nonette.
It was like a bad dream to me, dissipated by morning light, but I fear the citizens will be a long time erasing their black night of German occupancy from their brains. For them it was a time of going from hospital to hospital, from one German official to another, and of begging for doctors and for indulgence toward the poor. All of them wore hastily made brassards showing the Red Cross for protection, and kept their hands above their heads, crying, "Hospital!" as a safeguard against the raiding troops, who filled the air with the sneering cry of "Franzoise! Franzoise!" as they applied the torch, or looted the little shops.
The relentless cabby in due season called for us, not deigning to touch the baggage left for the maid-of-all-work to bring down. I turned to the landlady, whose close-mouthed austerity had kept me a little timorous, and congratulated her that her house had remained untouched amid the ruins. An expression of weary contempt passed over her face. She said that the German general had made it his headquarters, and that had saved it; but all the time the curé had remained of his own accord within the walls as hostage for his people. And by the lighting up of her face we felt that the curé's presence had in part lifted the curse of Teutonic desecration.
I sought to tell her that it was hard now with her husband at the war, but in a few years when the Americans came he and she would grow rich. Her face contorted, but she ironed it out with her will. "I hope so. We have need—great need of it," she replied, quietly.
Just as the train drew up which was to take us in the direction of Villers-Cotterets, a distinguished-looking officer appeared and rendered himself more distinguished by holding us up to ask pointed questions. We were politely invited to enter a small room, blocking out the curious crowd which grew indifferent to taking a train, and asked why we had been making pictures of Senlisians coming out of church. The sketch was permitted, but the camera—no. We had offended. We must go to court. In utter abandonment we revealed all the secrets of our lives—laissez-passer, passports, Toby's dog-collar, his license, letters from personages. We even pressed the camera upon him as a gift. It was not a good camera.
The officer feared the Greeks, even bearing gifts, but he was lenient. He advised us to pack our camera in our bag and to show it no more in the zones of war. As for our trial, that would come later. We explained earnestly that we must first go to Villers-Cotterets and then to Compiègne, because the Army had said so, and as we did not wish to miss an occasion like our own trial, we trusted that an early summons by the Army would not force us to disobey the Army.
Our feverish desire to please the military touched him. He promised a space of time, as the processes of the "simple police" moved, like the mills of God, slowly, and we went on our way, for the station-master had held the train—partly for us and partly from a generous desire to keep no spectacle from the other voyagers. Suddenly we were alone in a railway carriage, going toward other dangers which we knew not of, but free for the moment. Looking apprehensively through the little glass window that gives upon the next carriage, we stealthily buried the camera in a kit bag, but I felt as expectantly nervous over it as though we had secreted a cuckoo-clock.
The next false step was at Crépy-en-Valois. We were obliged to descend at Crépy because the train went no farther. We clung to it as long as possible in the effort to obey our written orders, but the Army finally ordered us out. After four hours we could buy transportation at the ticket-window for Villers-Cotterets, but in the mean time we must pass through the gates that our tickets, which read—unfortunately—only to Crépy, might be taken up. And this town of Crépy was not mentioned in our itinerary.
With some craft the Illustrator abandoned the kit bag containing the camera at the station, extracting his sketching materials which had been permitted him by the officer at Senlis. We had no right to be in Crépy, but we had a right to sketch, and, as one might as well be hanged for a sheep as a goat, the Illustrator busied himself at his craft. Like all forbidden sweets, Crépy was enormously attractive.
We walked over to a great cantonment that ran along the railway tracks where were packed thousands of soldiers, and through the high, guarded fence we could see the head-dresses of the women of the little English canteen serving soup to the troops who were being despatched to the Somme battle-lines. The men come directly from the Champagne sector in motor-vans at this point, taking their three days' rest here after three—and often more—days in the trenches. For the first time we heard the sound of bugles calling the companies together. They called us, too, like the pipes of the Pied Piper, yet the sentry could not let us enter. If we wished, however, he would send for a "dame anglaise" who would talk with us.
We were tempted. We wavered. We refused. It occurred to us that soup for the soldiers was more essential than the satisfying of our curiosity, and, spying a distant church-tower, we began our pursuit of it. The tower was as elusive as a siren. It dodged from one side of the town to the other as we wound along the crooked main street. For a breathing-space we resisted its call and took refuge in the best café.
I was the only woman there save the two proprietors who, in deep black, served the gay party. It was a relief to find them gay. There is so much that is somber about Frenchmen in fighting array. They do not grumble, but they do not laugh. But here in Crépy it was like recess at school—récess, as we called it then. For the first time I caught the glint of warfare. I could understand how the drudgery of the trenches was in a measure ameliorated by the strange excitements of their hazardous occupation. To-morrow night they might be dying, these men in the café; to-day they were taking what ease their billets permitted them. Suddenly, as we sat peacefully, a great roar filled the air. Looking through the open doors we saw the first of a line of motor-trucks filled with soldiers. A whole regiment was returning from the trenches. The men were begrimed beyond words, but they were a jolly crowd. Jolly! Jolly and gay in one paragraph. I am glad to use these words honestly in a paper on France.
One petty official of the town knew numbers of the men, and zig-zagged in front of the cars to shake hands with old acquaintances. Cooks from their wagons waved to the civilians; soldiers on gun-carriages added to the clamor of the wheels. Some of the occupants of our café went on with their game of backgammon; some tilted back in their chairs to look casually through the door. Some of them watched me, my handkerchief to my eyes under stress of emotion. Then all grew quiet for an instant at the tables, for the men in the camions were now singing, their voices rising above the din and floating in to us. As I heard my first bugles in Crépy, so now was I hearing the first song from any lips since I had come to France. These men were about to entrain for the region of the Somme.
A few minutes later the Illustrator was sketching the finally discovered tower of St. Thomas—for so the object of our search was named. It had been shelled by the English while the Germans were making observations from it, as they bore on toward Paris. We thought it of interest. Our contemplation of it was shortly interrupted by the village constable, escorted thither by an official of the Army, who asked for our credentials. He; was a nervous little man, but with, I felt sure, an allegiance to duty which would result in a pointing to the laissez-passer and a cold asking, "Why Crépy?"
And "Why Crépy?" indeed, since we had no excuse for being there beyond the wilfulness of a railway train which would not continue to Villers-Cotterets? Yet he did not ask that. A sleuth by appointment of man, not Heaven, he asked instead, "Why sketching?" And to this the Illustrator replied that he was permitted to sketch, it was his business to sketch, he left Paris to sketch. Otherwise why leave Paris? The Illustrator seemed to feel that the finish of his sketch was the most important thing in the world. In fact, he was debating the sketch question in the hope that neither the Army nor the police, correctly pugnacious, would suddenly think of "Why Crépy?"
The crowd increased amazingly. It was a dull afternoon for them and they were ready to hope almost anything might happen. It occurred to me as the examination continued, most gloomily for us. that, among a people to whom bloodshed was now a common thing, one death more or less would make little difference. The officer who had been standing passively by thought it might be more pleasant for me if the inquisition continued in the jail. And, while I had no doubt this was only a ruse to jail and keep us there, I went proudly along—as proudly as Marie Antoinette.
The big gates of the Prefecture soon clanged upon us, and we stood in a small room, again telling all about ourselves in the most confiding fashion. The Illustrator did most of it, turning to me now and then in a quick, mitrailleuse style and ejaculating, questioningly, "the year previous," or, "day after to-morrow," as the expression in French failed him. Things grew worse. Our French proved puzzling. The policeman manifested a suspicion that we were making fun of him. I grew bewildered in my effort to assist.
Just at that moment, however, the gendarme interrupted our flow of strange confidences to say if we knew of any one in Crépy who could interpret for us, the any one would be sent for. We knew no one.
I did not think there could be anything much worse, and the one consolation left me was the recollection that, with us, always, when matters had been at the worst, something nice was sure to happen. This time it was the entrance of the préfet. He had been sent or probably, as he examined our papers without delay, and told the little policeman that, while there was nothing to say that the Illustrator could sketch, there was nothing to say that he couldn't. And it seemed that there wasn't a thought in the mind of either of them that we were spies—which was most discouraging. "Naturally," he concluded, "one could not make the photograph."
"No, no!" we exclaimed, in shocked unison. "Photograph, never!"
So the end, while satisfactory for us, as the Illustrator was allowed to complete the sketch, was disappointing to the waiting crowd. Personally I went with a good deal of relief toward the railway station, entertaining a real desire to offend neither the Army nor the police again, and hoping the railway would meet us half-way in order to go to Villers-Cotterets and from there to Compiègne. It met us only a third of the way, which was not enough. While we could get to Villers-Cotterets, there was no longer any train running between that town and Compiègne for the excellent reason that the track was in the range of the German guns. This was sufficient reason for me to give up the trip; but would that satisfy the Army if they found us wandering along by other routes to Compiègne? One could not say disrespectfully to the Army: "It is your fault. Why did you send us that way?" For fear of the Army gets into your joints in France.
At a remote distance from the kit bag containing the camera, which had sat all afternoon by itself on the platform, we conferred with various travelers, getting into such a frightful tangle of plans for escape that one of them suggested if we knew the "dame anglaise" to send for her. She had been stationed at Villers-Cotterets, and probably could advise us if the commandant there would permit us to travel by motor from that point to Compiègne. It was about then that the Illustrator took things into his own hands. One civilian was telling him we could not sleep in Crépy because we had no permission to do so, and another civilian was saying that the examiner of permits could not pass us out of any place whatsoever if it was not mentioned in our laissez-passer. Very firmly he bought tickets (three of them, one for the dog) for a small place called Longueil, marched us into the station buffet from its back door, dined us, one at a table, one on the floor, and passed us directly onto the station platform from the front door. In a little while we were again in the railway carriage by ourselves.
We reached Compiègne late. The journey was ten miles from Crépy by road, and we had been three hours en route, but one does not complain now in France. One whining stays at home. It was dark, and Compiègne was black as the pit, and there were no cabs. No, there was one cab proudly engaged. We discovered it by the headlight of a cart on which a crowd of officers were climbing. As we had pressed toward the gate—the air white with permits, for even a soldier carries his pass—an officer and I nodded to each other understandingly, for both of us were impeded by a dog and many tickets. I visibly admired his poodle, and as a reward he sang out from his high seat on the cart telling the driver of the solitary cab, if he was not waiting for old ladies, he must drive me also. But he was waiting for old ladies, so it was arranged that he would carry up the crafty kit bag, and we would join the long black line of pedestrians. "Bonne chance!" I called after the young officer and the dusky poodle. "Merci-i-i!" came the answer out of the gloom.
The lights of the army vans and automobiles left us. A dim sentry deflected the line of pedestrians at the river to a narrow temporary foot-bridge. Soon we were at the hotel, where we secured rooms on the court, that we might hear the rumbling, rattling camions going up to the front in the early morning. We had made no effort to avoid the great bell of the Hôtel de Ville, however, and it seemingly came into the window to settle down in both rooms at once. It is the most vibrant bell in the world, and some say that it is the most persistent in its reverberation of the hours; but after a while it stopped telling the time—or did I?—until the morning light.
One remembers Compiègne gratefully after visiting these towns through which the Germans passed, for it tugs less at the strings of pity in our hearts. It still has an air of prosperity. The palace is no longer visited by tourists; the best hotel no longer serves a precious dinner to those irregular couples motoring out from Paris for a holiday. The antiquity-shops have bars across the doors. Even the single one which I found open had no attendant, as though a theft in these times of strict morality was as unlikely as a sale. But, in spite of this, the town radiates success. Our hotel restaurant did a huge business, and, lacking the uniform of horizon blue and the nurses' garb, we would have despaired of attention, save that the manager kept an eye upon us.
So inexplicably and kindly attentive was the manager that our vanity received no shock when he admitted he was hanging about for our English. He wished to perfect himself in our tongue, for he was of the far-seeing who are getting ready for the tourist. It was pitiful to witness this good citizen struggling between joy that his city was fairly intact and regret that it bore no greater marks of devastation. And he assured me tremulously, as though I might leave if it were not so, that bombs still fall in Compiègne.
I talked with the functionary a good deal, for his English held me. More than that, my shattered nerves could not attend the Illustrator on any further sketching excursions. As a man develops daring by exercising it, like a muscle, the Illustrator now courted stern interrogation. He went out boldly—with a sketching-stool—shifting up and down the river-bank as he transferred to his paper the new bridge which was going up. I would have thought it a much greater offense than the picturing of an old church or a dilapidated tower, yet nothing came of it.
I learned many things from the little manager, feeling that it was my right, since it improved his English. He explained to me the women of the little towns who still sit in the windows of an afternoon and make tatting. They had perplexed me, for in our little towns the women are making bandages for the fathers and the brothers and the sons of these women. The French gentlewomen, it seems, have become nurses, and, if I am not mistaken, none of them is compensated, but, peer as I might past windows into highly upholstered rooms, read as I did all the notices of church and state, I could never find evidence of a "bandage class." The explanation was simple. Back of all this tatting is a certain sacrificial reason for the sticking to it. These ladies do not wish to encroach upon the poor and needy women, for these are engaged by the Government to make bandages as a means of livelihood. In great workshops of the Service de Santé these women congregate daily, making up with wonderful economy the gauze and cotton provided for them by France, or by such of us whose giving must come from our purse rather than from our full day.
We must go upon a round of hospitals to appreciate the crying necessity of vast quantities of gauze and cotton, or else remember that in these hospitals each day are as many wounded soldiers as Boston boasts inhabitants.
We visited two hospitals near Compiègne. That of the French Republic, which is under the control of Dr. Alexis Carrel, lies at the edge of the forest, and a sentinel challenged us with gun held an arm's length above the soldier's head, but, "Hôpital," grunted the cocher, and we turned into pleasant grounds of the great hotel which, later, trippers will enjoy. Within, all was order and comfort—and smothered pain. But I am a stumbler in a hospital, where I become resentful of the scheme which sends the patients there. I fear to offend by offering such poor phrases as I can muster. The wounded may not want me to come nodding about the beds. If they have been pushed about like checkers, surely they have now reached the king's row, and with the privilege of a crown there should be accorded them a choice of audiences.
An army car, gray paint and white letters, was sent to us by Doctor Carrel to take us on to Château d'Annel, which, I believe, is the only field hospital under the American flag. The men are taken here directly from the front, often with only such bandaging as the stretcher-bearers can manage. It is very beautiful—the château—with a great tree in front which Napoleon planted, and a charming salon such as Napoleon would have enjoyed In company with his court, save that he might have been discommoded by the stack of "cradles" for shattered arms and legs which bravely ornamented one corner.
I found among the patients one Arab, and I groped about for topics of conversation which might interest this poor alien. I told him I had been a visitor to his land. His people had planned a fantasia in our honor at one place, and I was sorry that I could not offer him something in return half so gay; but when I told him that Bou Saada was the name of the village he was radiant, for that turned out to be his own home. So we grew gay, talking over Bou Saada, and, as he exclaimed loudly in Arabic, he was probably saying, "How small the world is!"
I walked down to the military graveyard sentineled by crosses, except that little plot set apart for the Mohammedans. I told the American surgeon-chief of the Moorish custom of sinking cups for the birds in the earth above their dead, so that the little creatures, when drinking, might carry the souls up to heaven, and he arranged to place them on his Moorish graves that the birds of France might do all they could for the souls of these poor strangers.
I thought the surgeon-chief was very fine as he stood there, hat removed, in God's Acre, not at all impatient of the forms of mourning of the Mohammedans, although science must have given him a different viewpoint from that of these mourners. He continued kind, yet casual, as he turned and pointed to a sort of wattled dugout and asked if I cared to take refuge in it, as "they" had begun.
I did not know what he meant at first, and when I knew what he meant I did not believe that it could possibly happen to me. Of course it was a joke about using the dugout at the moment, for "they" were not firing in our direction. The booming continued. I hadn't anything to talk about as we walked over the great stretch of lawn to the little tent under Napoleon's tree where the afternoon tea is served. I must have seemed extraordinarily stupid, and I kept picking a small purple flower even as I said to myself, "You don't do this when guns are firing on men not so far away." I could not realize it. The "hymn of hate" continued as we took our tea—the French physicians with their American surgeons and some young British officers—pitifully young these days. We talked of the war and speculated on its duration. No one was as sanguine as I of a speedy peace. "It will last longer than will this marmalade," said one Frenchman, helping himself liberally, for whatever the emotion of these people, they do not betray it.
We went back to Paris in the evening. I continued commonplace by an effort to wire ahead for a cold supper in my room, and was firmly reminded that, if I was not warlike, the telegraph was. Only an urgent message could block the despatches of the Army. "If you have a dear one very ill?" the little manager with the pin suggested. But we had none, nor would we have dared ask for cold chicken and salad to be made ready for her no matter how dear she might have been, or how ill. There is no deceiving the Army.
Back in the rosy light, the twilight, the starlight, so accommodating was our train. Then other lights, the red-hot furnaces of munition-factories showing through glass roofs; and, of a sudden, wonderful, far-off lights high in the air that winked and went out and winked again. Like the stars they traveled with us; unlike them, they changed their course. They came on protectingly and hovered over us; they floated off on strange air quests. All the thrills that I could not feel when I had heard the sound of cannon that day shook me with awe as I watched the aeroplanes coming up for night duty outside Paris.
The train slackened speed at last, and the guardians of our welfare passed on. Our carriage at the end looked out upon a stream with a path alongside of it. A young soldier marched by. He was whistling. It is pleasant to write "whistling" along with jolly and gay—three words once so fittingly employed on any such excursion into the country. But the air was "[w:It's a Long Way to Tipperary|Tipperary]]—"
Ah, the ease with which we all sang it two years—and more—ago! The sureness of a quick return to Tipperary! The confidence of so many singers quiet now forever! It came to me that night on the train like an echo across deep waters—waters on which a host are still struggling toward the far, sad shore of victory. " 'Tis a long, long way—"
And then came another light—a lantern—quite unreasonably entering with an officer, who climbed up seemingly to demand our credentials. Since we had not been photographing or sketching on the train, it seemed that it must be a gentleman from Villers-Cotterets out looking for us. It was no consolation to me if Villers-Cotterets was disappointed in our non-appearance. And I thought this time the end had come. But it had not come, probably for the reason that our real finish is still hanging over us like the sword of Damocles. The official's mission was never made clear to us, although we managed to make ourselves clear to him, so he departed with his lantern on a further search. Perhaps he was only Diogenes on his night rounds.
The end came by post forwarded to us by the concierge of our hotel, after we had returned to America. It was concise yet elegant in form, for the simple police of Senlis "invited" us to be present at our trial for illegally carrying a camera in La Zone d'Armée, and the trial had taken place one week before our kind invitation was received! They say, unless we invoke the Minister of Justice himself, an invitation less pleasant awaits us when we return to Paris. Yet there will be one consolation: if we are sentenced to hard labor, we shall be working for France.