As we tramped through barracks where chilly Indians, Russians with broad, high cheek-bones, sensitive-looking Frenchmen with quick, liquid eyes, jumped to their feet and stiffened at attention as the commandant passed, a young officer, who had lived in England before the war and was now acting as interpreter, volunteered his guileless impressions. The Turcos were a bad lot—fighting, gambling, and stealing from each other —there was trouble with some of, them every day. The Russians were dirty, good-natured, and stupid.
The English—well, frankly, he was surprised at their lack of discipline and general unruliness—all except some of the Indians, and those, he must say, were well-trained—fine fellows and good soldiers. One could surmise the workings of his mind as one thought of the average happy-go-lucky Tommy Atkins, and then came across one of those tall, straight, hawk-eyed Sikhs and saw him snap his heels together and his arms to his sides and stand there like a bronze statue.
It was a dreadful job getting the Frenchmen to take exercise—"they can't understand why any one should want to work, merely to keep himself fit!" Aside from this idiosyncrasy they were, of course, the pleasantest sort of people to get along with. We saw Frenchmen sorting mail in the post-office, painting signs for streets, making blankets out of pasted- together newspapers—everywhere they were treated as intelligent men to whom favors could be granted. And, of course, there was this difference between the French and English of the early weeks of the war—the French army is one of universal conscription like the German, and business men and farmers, writers, singers, and painters were lumped in together. There was one particularly good-looking young man, a medical officer, who flung up his head to attention as we came up.
"He helped us a lot—this man!" said the commandant, and laid his hand on the young man's shoulder. The Frenchman's eyes dilated a trifle and a smile flashed behind rather than across his face—one could not know whether it was gratitude or defiance.
A sculptor who had won a prize at Rome and several other artists had had a room set aside for them to work in. Some were making post-cards, some more ambitious drawings, and in the sculptor's studio was the head of the young doctor we had just seen and an unfinished plaster group for a camp monument. On the wall was a sign in Latin and French—"Unhappy the spirit which worries about the future," a facetious warning that any one who loafed there longer than three minutes was likely to be killed, and the following artistic creed from "La Fontaine:"
"Ne for fans point noire talent. Nous ne ferions rien avec grace. Jamais un lourdaud quoiqu'il fosse, ne saurait passer pour gallant."
("Don't strain your talent or you'll do nothing gracefully. The boor won't pass for a gallant gentleman, no matter what he does.")
The Germans, at different times in their history, have conquered the French and humbly looked up to and imitated them. Generally speaking, they study and try to understand the French, and their own intellectuality and idealism are things French-men might be expected to like or, at any rate, be interested in. Yet it is one of history's or geography's ironies that the Frenchman goes on his way, neither knowing nor wanting to know the blond beasts over the Rhine—"Jamais un lourdaud quoiqu'il fasse" . . the young sculptor must have smiled when he tacked that verse on the wall of his prison!
Ruhleben is a race-track on the outskirts of Berlin, and a detention camp for English civilians. This is quite another sort of menagerie. You can imagine the different kinds of Englishmen who would be caught in Germany by the storm—luxurious invalids taking the waters at Baden-Baden; Gold Coast negro roust-abouts from rusty British tramps at Hamburg; agents, manufacturers, professors, librarians, officers from Channel boats, students of music and philosophy.
All these luckless civilians—four thousand of them—had been herded together in the stables, paddock, and stands of the Ruhleben track. The place was not as suited for a prison as the high land of Zossen, the stalls with their four bunks were dismal enough, and the lofts overhead, with little light and ventilation, still worse.
Some had suffered, semi-invalids, for instance, unable to get along with the prison rations, but the interesting thing about Ruhleben was not its discomfort, but the remarkable fashion in which the prisoners had contrived to make the best of a bad matter.
The musicians had their instruments sent in and organized an orchestra. The professors began to lecture and teach until now there was a sort of university, with some fifty different classes in the long room under the grand stand. And on the evening when we had the privilege of visiting Ruhleben it was to see a dramatic society present Bernard Shaw's "Androcles and the Lion."
The play began at six o'clock, for the camp lights are out at nine, and it was in the dusk of another one of Berlin's rainy days, after slithering through the Tiergarten and past the endless concrete apartment-houses of Charlottenburg, that our taxicab swung to the right, lurched down the lane of mud, and stopped at the gate of Ruhleben. Inside was a sort of mild morass, overspread with Englishmen— professional-looking men with months-old beards, pink-cheeked young fellows as fresh as if they had just stepped off Piccadilly, men in faded knicker-bockers and puttees, men in sailor blue and brass buttons, men with flat caps and cockney accent, one with a Thermos bottle, and crisp "Right you are!"—a good-natured, half-humorous, half-tragic cross-section of the London streets, drifting about here in the German mud.
There were still a few minutes before the play began, and we walked through some of the barracks with the commandant, a tall, bronzed officer of middle age, with gracious manners, one of those Olympian Germans who resemble their English cousins of the same class. Each barrack had its captain, and over these was a camp-captain—formerly an English merchant of Berlin—who went with us on our rounds.
The stables were crowded with bunks and men—like a cattleship forecastle. One young man, fulfilling doubtless his English ritual of "dressing for dinner," was punctiliously shaving, although it was now practically dark; in another corner the devotee of some system of how to get strong and how to stay so, stripped to the skin, was slowly and with solemn precision raising and lowering a pair of light dumb-bells. Some saluted as private soldiers would; some bowed almost as to a friend, with a cheery "Guten Abend, Herr Baron!" There seemed, indeed, to be a very pleasant relation between this gentleman soldier and his gentlemen prisoners, and the camp-captain, lagging behind, told how one evening when they had sung "Elijah," the men had stood up and given three English cheers for the commandant, while his wife, who had come to hear the performance, stood beside him laughing and wiping her eyes.
As you get closer to war you more frequently run across such things. The fighting men kill ruthlessly, because that, they think, is the way to get their business over. But for the most part they kill without hate. For that, in its noisier and more acrid forms you must go back to the men who are not fighting, to the overdriven and underexercised journalists, sizzling and thundering in their swivel-chairs.
The dimly lit hall under the grand stand was already crowded as we were led to our seats on a rostrum facing the stage with the commandant and one of his officers. There was a red draw curtain, footlights made with candles and biscuit tins, and so strung on a wire that at a pull, between the acts, they could be turned on the spectators. A programme had been printed on the camp mimeograph, the camp orchestra was tuning up, and a special overture had been composed by a young gentleman with the beautiful name of "Quentin Morvaren."
You will doubtless recall Mr. Shaw's comedy, and the characteristic "realistic" fun he has with his Romans and Christian martyrs, and the lion who, remembering the mild-mannered Androcles, who had once pulled a sliver from his foot, danced out of the arena with him instead of eating him. And you can imagine the peculiarly piquant eloquence given to the dialogue between Mr. Shaw's meek but witty Christians and their might-is-right Roman captors, spoken by British prisoners in the spring of 1915, in a German prison camp before a German commandant sitting up like a statue with his hands on his sword!
The Roman captain was a writer, the centurion a manufacturer, Androcles a teacher of some sort, the call-boy for the fights in the arena a cabin-boy from a British merchant ship, and the tender-hearted lion some genius from the "halls." Even after months of this sodden camp it was possible to find a youth to play Lavinia, with so pretty a face, such a velvet voice, such a pensive womanliness that the flat-capped, ribald young cockneys in the front row blushed with embarrassment. A professor of archaeology, or something, said that he had never seen more accurate reproductions of armor, though this was made but of gilded and silvered cardboard—in short, if Mr. Shaw's fun was ever better brought out by professional players, they must have been very good indeed.
It was an island within an island that night, there under the Ruhleben grand stand—English speech and Irish wit in that German sea. You should have seen the two young patricians drifting in, with the regulation drawl of the Piccadilly "nut"—"I say! He-ah's some Christians—let's chaff them!" The crowd was laughing, the commandant was laughing, the curtain closed in a whirl of applause, one had forgotten there was a war. The applause continued, the players straggled out, faltering back from the parts in which they had forgotten themselves into normal, self-conscious Englishmen. There was a moment's embarrassed pause, then the rattle of a sabre as the tall man in gray-blue rose to his feet.
"Danke Ihnen, meine Herren! Aeusserst nett!" he said briskly. ("Thanks, gentlemen! Very clever indeed!") He turned to us, nodded in stiff soldierly fashion. "Sehr nett! Sehr nett!" he said, and led the way out between a lane of Englishmen suddenly become prisoners again.
In The German Trenches At La Bassee
We had come down from Berlin on-one of those excursions which the German General Staff arranges for the military observers and correspondents of neutral countries. You go out, a sort of zoo—our party included four or five Americans, a Greek, an Italian, a diminutive Spaniard, and a tall, preoccupied Swede—under the direction of some hapless officer of the General Staff. For a week, perhaps, you go hurtling through a closely articulated programme almost as personally helpless as a package in a pneumatic tube—night expresses, racing military motors, snap-shots at this and that, down a bewildering vista of long gray capes, heel clickings, stiff bows from the waist, and military salutes. You are under fire one minute, the next shooting through some captured palace or barracks or museum of antiques. At noon the guard is turned out in your honor; at four you are watching distant shell-fire from the Belgian dunes; at eleven, crawling under a down quilt in some French hotel, where the prices of food and wines are fixed by the local German commandant. Everything is done for you—more, of course, than one would wish—the gifted young captain-conductor speaks English one minute, French or Italian the next, gets you up in the morning, to bed at night, past countless sentries and thick-headed guards demanding an Ausweis, contrives never to cease looking as if he had stepped from a band-box, and presently pops you into your hotel in Berlin with the curious feeling of never having been away at all.
It isn't, of course, an ideal way of working—not like putting on a hat and strolling out to war, as one sometimes could do in the early weeks in Belgium and France. The front is a big and rather accidental place, however—you can scarcely touch it anywhere without bringing back something to help complete the civilian's puzzle picture of the war. Our moment came in the German trenches before La Bassee, when, with the English so near that you could have thrown a baseball into their trenches, both sides began to toss dynamite bombs at each other.
We had come across to Cologne on the regular night express, shifted to a military train, and so on through Aix, Louvain, Brussels, and by the next morning's train down to Lille. Armentieres was only eight miles away, Ypres fifteen, and a little way to the south Neuve Chapelle, where the English offensive had first succeeded, then been thrown back only a few days before.
Spring had come over night, the country was green, sparkling with canals and little streams, and the few Belgian peasants left were trying to put it in shape for summer. A few were ploughing with horses, others laboriously going over their fields, foot by foot, with a spade; once we passed half a dozen men dragging a harrow. Every tree in this country, where wood is grown like any other crop, was speckled with white spots where branches had been trimmed away, and below the timber was piled— heavy logs for lumber, smaller ones cut into firewood—the very twigs piled as carefully as so many stacks of celery.
So fresh and neat and clean-swept did it seem .in that soft sunshine that one forgot how empty it was—so empty and repressed that one awoke startled to see three shaggy farm horses galloping off as the train rolled by, kicking up their heels as if they never had heard of war. It seemed frivolous, almost impertinent, and the landsturm officer, leaning in the open window beside me in the passageway, thinking perhaps of his own home across the Rhine, laughed and breathed a deep-chested "Kolossal!" We passed Enghien, Leuze, Tournai, all with that curious look of a run-down clock. On the outskirts of one town, half a dozen little children stopped spinning tops in the road to demand tribute from the train. They were pinched little children, with the worried, prematurely old faces of factory children, and they begged insistently, almost irritably, as if payment was long overdue. Good-natured soldiers tossed them chocolate and sausage and slices of buttered Kriegsbrod, which they took without thanks, still repeating in a curious jumble of German and French, "Pfennig venir! Pfennig—Pfennig—Pfennig venir!"'
Two officers from division headquarters were waiting for us in the station at Lille—one, a tall, easy-going young fellow in black motor-gauntlets, who looked as if he might, a few years before, have rowed on some American college crew; the other, in the officers' gray-blue frock overcoat with fur collar, a softer type, with quick, dark eyes and smile, and the pleasant, slightly languid manners of a young legation secretary.
We had just time to glance at the broken windows in the station roof, the two or three smashed blocks around it, and be hurried to that most empty of places—a modern city hotel without any guests—when three gray military motor-cars, with the imperial double eagle in black on their sides, whirled up. The officers took the lead, our happy family distributed itself in the others, and with cut-outs drumming, a soldier beside each chauffeur blowing a warning, and an occasional gay "Ta-ta ta-ta!" on a silver horn, we whirled out into the open country.
We passed a church with a roof smashed by an aeroplane a few days before—and caught at the same time the first "B-r-r-rurm!" from the cannonading to the west—a supply-train, an overturned motor-van, and here and there packed ammunition wagons and guns. Presently, in the lee of a little brick farmhouse a short distance from the village of Aubers, we alighted, and, with warnings that it was better not to keep too close together, walked a little farther down the road. Not a man was in sight, nor a house, nor gun, not even a trench, yet we were, as a matter of fact, in the middle of a battle-field. From where we stood it was not more than a mile to the English trenches and only two miles to Neuve Chapelle; and even as we stood there, from behind us, from a battery we had passed without seeing, came a crash and then the long spinning roar of something milling down aisles of air, and a far-off detonation from the direction of Neuve Chapelle.
Tssee-ee-rr... Bong! over our heads from the British lines came an answering wail, and in the field, a quarter of a mile beyond us, there was a geyser of earth, and slowly floating away a greenish-yellow cloud of smoke. From all over the horizon came the wail and crash of shells— an "artillery duel," as the official reports call it, the sort of thing that goes on day after day.
Somebody wanted to walk on to the desolate village which raised its smashed walls a few hundred yards down the road. The tall young officer said that this might not be done—it would draw the enemy's fire, and as if to accent this advice there was a sudden Bang! and the corner of one of the houses we were looking at collapsed in a cloud of dust.
Under these wailing parabolas, swinging invisibly across from horizon to horizon, we withdrew behind the farmhouse for lunch—sandwiches, frankfurters kept hot in a fireless cooker, and red wine—when far overhead a double-decker English aeroplane suddenly sailed over us. It seemed to be about six thousand feet above us, so high that the sound of its motors was lost, and its speed seemed but a lazy, level drifting across the blue. Did it take those three motor-cars and those little dots for some reconnoitring division commander and his staff? Aeroplanes not only drop bombs, but signal to their friends; there was an uncomfortable amount of artillery scattered about the country, and we watched with peculiar interest the movements of this tiny hawk.
But already other guns, as hidden as those that might be threatening us, had come, as it were, to the rescue. A little ball of black smoke suddenly puffed out behind that sailing bird, and presently a sharp crack of a bursting shrapnel shell came down to our ears. Another puff of smoke, closer, one in front, above, below. They chased round him like swallows. In all the drab hideousness of modern warfare there is nothing so airy, so piquant, so pretty as this.
Our bird and his pursuers disappeared in the north; over the level country to the south floated a German observation balloon, and presently we rumbled over a canal and through the shattered village of La Bassee. La Bassee had been in the war despatches for months, and looked it. Its church, used as a range-finder, apparently, was a gray honeycomb from which each day a few shells took another bite. Roofs were torn off, streets strewn with broken glass and brick; yet it is in such houses and their cellars that soldiers fighting in the trenches in a neighborhood like this come back for a rest, dismal little islands which mask the armies one does not see at the front.
The custom of billeting soldiers in houses—possible in territory so closely built up—adds to the vagueness of modern warfare. Americans associate armies with tents. When we mobilized ten thousand men at San Antonio, you were in a city of soldiers. Ten thousand men in this war disappear like water in sand. Some of them are in the trenches, some in villages like this, out of the zone of heavier fire, but within a few minutes' walk of their work, so to speak. Others are distributed farther back, over a zone perhaps ten miles deep, crisscrossed with telephone-wires, and so arranged with assembling stations, reserves, and sub-reserves that the whole is a closely knit organism all the way up to the front. There is continual movement in this body—the men in the trenches go back after forty-eight hours to the near-by village, after days or weeks of this service, back clear out of the zone of fire; fresh men come up to take their places, and so on. All you see as you whirl through is a sentry here, a soldier's head there at a second-story window, a company shuffling along a country road.
Women watched us from the doors of La Bassee—still going on living here, somehow, as human beings will on the volcano's very edge—and children were playing in the street. Husbands gone, food gone, the country swept bare—why did they not go, too? But where? Here, at any rate, there was a roof overhead—until a shell smashed it—and food soldiers were glad to share. There must be strange stories to tell of these little islands on the edge of the battle, where the soldiers who are going out to be killed, and the women whose husbands, perhaps, are going to help kill them, huddle together for a time, victims of a common storm.
We whirled past them down the road a bit, then walked up a gentle slope to the right. Over this low ridge, from the English trenches, rifle-bullets whistled above our heads. In the shelter of a brick farmhouse a dozen or so German soldiers were waiting, after trench service, to go back to La Bassee. They were smallish, mild-looking men, dusted with the yellow clay in which they had burrowed—clothes, boots, faces, and hands—-until they looked like millers.
"How are the English?" some one asked. "Do they know how to shoot?" A weary sort of hoot chorused out from the dust-covered men.
"Gut genug!" they said. The house was strewn with rusty cartridge clips and smashed brick. We waited while our chaperon brought the battalion commander—a mild-faced little man, more like a school-teacher than a soldier—and it was decided that, as the trenches were not under fire at the moment, we might go into them. He led the way into the communication trench—a straight-sided winding ditch, shoulder-deep, and just wide enough to walk in comfortably. Yellow clay was piled up overhead on either side, and there was a wooden sidewalk. The ditch twisted constantly as the trenches themselves do, so as not to be swept by enfilading fire, and after some hundreds of yards of this twisting, we came to the: first-line trench and the men's dugouts.
It was really a series of little caves, with walls of solid earth and roofs of timber and sand-bags, proof against almost anything but the plunging flight of heavy high-explosive shells. The floors of these caves were higher than the bottom of the trench, so that an ordinary rain would not flood them, and covered with straw. And they were full of men, asleep, working over this and that—from one came the smell of frying ham. The trench twisted snakelike in a general north and south direction, and was fitted every few feet with metal firing-shields, loopholed for rifles and machine guns. In each outer curve facing the enemy a firing platform, about waist-high, had been cut in the earth, with similar armored port-holes.
The Germans had been holding this trench for three months, and its whole outer surface was frosted a sulphurous yellow from the smoke of exploded shells. Shrapnel-casings and rusted shell-noses were sticking everywhere in the clay, and each curve exposing a bit of surface to the enemy was honeycombed with bullet holes. In one or two places sand-bags, caves, and all had been torn out.
Except for an occasional far-off detonation and the more or less constant and, so to speak, absent-minded cracking of rifles, a mere keeping awake, apparently, and letting the men in the opposite trenches know you are awake, the afternoon was peaceful. Pink-cheeked youngsters in dusty Feldgrau, stiffened and clapped their hands to their sides as officers came in sight, heard English with an amazement not difficult to imagine, and doubtless were as anxious to talk to these strange beings from a world they'd said good-by to, as we were to talk to them.
At one of the salient angles, where a platform had been cut, we stopped to look through a periscope: one cannot show head or hand above the trench, of course, without drawing fire, and looks out of this curious shut-in world as men do in a submarine—just as the lady in the old-fashioned house across from us in New York sits at her front window and sees in a slanting mirror everything that happens between her and the Avenue.
We had not been told just where we were going (in that shut-in ditch one had no idea), and there in the mirror, beyond some straggling barbed wire and perhaps seventy-five yards of ordinary grass, was another clay bank—the trenches of the enemy! Highlanders, Gurkhas, Heaven knows what—you could see nothing—but—over there was England!
So this was what these young soldiers had come to—here was the real thing. Drums beat, trumpets blare, the Klingelspiel jingles at the regiment's head, and with flowers in your helmet, and your wife or sweetheart shouldering your rifle as far as the station—and you should see these German women marching out with their men!—you go marching out to war. You look out of the windows of various railway trains, then they lead you through a ditch into another ditch, and there, across a stretch of mud which might be your own back yard, is a clay bank, which is your enemy. And one morning at dawn you climb over your ditch and run forward until you are cut down. And when you have, so to speak, been thrown in the stream for the others to cross over, and the trench is taken, and you are put out of the way under a few inches of French earth, then, perhaps, inasmuch as experience shows that it isn't worth while to try to keep a trench unless you have captured more than three hundred yards of it, the battalion retires and starts all over again.
We had walked on down the trenches, turned a bend where two trees had been blown up and flung across it, when there was a dull report near by, followed a moment later by a tremendous explosion out toward the enemy's trench. "Unsere Minen!" ("One of our bombs!") laughed a young soldier beside me, and a crackle of excitement ran along the trench. These bombs were cylinders, about the size of two baking-powder tins joined together, filled with dynamite and exploded by a fuse. They were thrown from a small mortar with a light charge of powder, just sufficient to toss them over into the opposite trench. The Germans knew what was coming, and they were laughing and watching in the direction of the English trenches.
There was a dull report and at the same moment something shot up from the English trenches and, very clear against the western sky, came flopping over and over toward us like a bottle thrown over a barn.
"Vorsicht! Vorsicht!" It sailed over our heads behind the trench, there was an instant's silence, and then "Whong!" and a pile of dirt and black smoke was flung in the air. Again there was a dull report, and we sent a second back—this time behind their trench—and again—"Vorsicht! Vorsicht!"—they sent an answer back. Four times this was repeated. A quainter way of making war it would be hard to imagine. They might have been boys playing "anty-over" over the old house at home.
Bombs of this sort have little penetrating power. If thrown in the open they go off on the surface much like a gigantic firecracker. They are easy to dodge by daylight, when you can see them coming, but thrown at night as part of a general bombardment, including shrapnel and heavy explosive shells, or exploding directly in the trench, they must be decidedly unpleasant.
The bomb episode had divided us, two officers and myself waiting on one side of the bend in the trench toward which the bombs were thrown, the others going ahead. It was several minutes before I rejoined them, and I did not learn until we were outside that they had been taken to another periscope through which they saw a space covered with English dead. There were, perhaps, two hundred men in khaki lying there, they said, some hanging across the barbed-wire entanglements at the very foot of the German trench, just as they had been thrown back in the attack which had succeeded at Neuve Chapelle. Several Englishmen had got clear into the German trench before they were killed. Here was another example of the curious localness of this dug-in warfare, that one could pass within a yard or two of such a battle-field and not know even that it was there.
By another communication trench we returned to the little house. The sun was low by this time and the line of figures walking down the-road toward the automobiles in its full light. Perhaps the glasses of some British lookout picked us up—at any rate the whisper of bullets became uncomfortably frequent and near, and we had just got to the motors when —Tssee—ee—rr... BONG! a shell crashed into the church of La Bassee, only three hundred yards in front of us.
Before ours had started, another, flying on a lower trajectory, it seemed, shrieked over our heads and burst beside the road so close to the first motor that it threw mud into it. Apparently we were both observed and sought after, and as the range of these main highways, up and down which troops and munitions pass, is perfectly known, there was a rather uncomfortable few minutes ere we had whirled through La Bassee, with the women watching from their doors—no racing motors for them to run away in!—and down the tree-arched road to ordinary life again.
No, not exactly ordinary, though we ourselves went back to a comfortable hotel, for the big city of Lille, which had shown trolley-cars and a certain amount of animation earlier in the day, was now, at dusk, like a city of the dead. The chambermaid shrugged her shoulders with something about a "punition" and, when asked why they were punished, said that some French prisoners had been brought through Lille a week or two before, and "naturally, the people shouted 'Vive la France!'"
So the military governor, as we observed next morning in a proclamation posted on the blank wall across the street, informing the inhabitants that they "apparently did not, as yet, understand the seriousness of the situation," ordered the city to pay a 'fine of five hundred thousand francs, and the citizens for two weeks to go within doors at sundown and not stir abroad before seven next morning. Another poster warned people that two English aviators had been obliged to come down within the city, that they were still at large, and that any one who hid them or helped them escape would be punished with death, in addition to which the commune would be punished, too.
It was through black and silent streets, therefore, that our troop was led from the hotel in which we were lodged to one in which we dined. Here everything was warm and light and cheerful enough. Boyish lieutenants, with close-clipped heads after the German fashion, were telling each other their adventures, and here and there were older officers, who looked as if war had worn them a bit, and they had come here to forget for a moment over a bottle of champagne and the talk of some old friend. The bread was black and hard, but the other food as usual in France, with wine plenty and cheap, and even some of the round-shelled, coppery oysters—captured somehow, in spite of blockades and bombardments—just up from Ostend. It was bedtime when we emerged into the black streets again, to discover, with something like surprise, a sky full of stars and a pale new moon.
The rest of that civilian tour was very civil, indeed—a sort of loop-the-loop of Belgium, with scarce a pause for breath. You can imagine _that cosmopolitan menagerie trooping next morning up the stone stairs of the castle of the Counts of Flanders in Ghent; at noon inspecting old lace in Bruges, and people coming home from church, the German guard changing, and the German band playing in the central square; at two o'clock lunching in one of the Ostend summer hotels, now full of German officers; at four pausing for a tantalizing moment in Middelkerk, while the German guns we were not allowed to see on the edge of the town were banging away at the British at Nieuport down the beach. Next day Brussels—out to Waterloo, in a cloud of dust—the Congo Museum—the King's palace at Laaken, an old servitor with a beard like the tall King Leopold's leading these vandals through it, and looking unutterable things—a word with the civil governor, here—a charming lunch at a barracks, there—in short, a wild flight behind the man with the precious "Ausweis."
We saw and sometimes met a good many German officers in a rather familiar way. Many of the younger men reminded one of our university men at home; several of the older men resembled their well-set-up English cousins. This seemed particularly true of the navy, which has acquired a type—lean, keen, firm-lipped young men, with a sense of humor—entirely different from the German often seen in cafes, with no back to his head, and a neck overflowing his collar. Particularly interesting were those who, called back 'into uniform from responsible positions in civil life, were attacking, as if building for all time, the appallingly difficult and delicate task of improvising a government for a complex modern state, and winning the tolerance, if not the co-operation, of a conquered people confident that their subjection was but for the day.
Our progress everywhere was down a continuous aisle of heel-clickings and salutes. Sometimes, when we had to pass through three rows of passport examiners between platform and gate, these formalities seemed rather excessive. In the grenadier barracks in Brussels we had been taken through sleeping-rooms, cool storerooms with their beer barrels and loops of sausages—"all made by the regiment"—and were just entering the kitchen when a giant of a man, seeing his superior officers, snapped stiff as a ramrod and, as it is every German subordinate's duty to do, bellowed out his "Meldung"—who and what the men in his room were, and that they were going to have meat and noodle soup for dinner.
No Frenchman, Englishman, or American could be taught, let alone achieve of his own free will, the utter self-forgetfulness with which this vast creature, every muscle tense, breathing like a race-horse, roared, or rather exploded: "Herr Hauptmann! Mannschafts-Kuche-desten-Landwehr- Regiments! Belegt-mit-einem-Unter-offizier-und-zehn-Mann! Wir essen heute Suppe mit Nudeln und Fleisch! Zu Befehl!"
He had stepped down a century and a half from the grenadiers of the Great Frederic, and even our hosts may have smiled. It was different with the soldiers' salute, or the ordinary coming to attention, which we saw repeated scores of times a day. Whatever men might be doing, however awkward or inconvenient it might be, whether any one saw them or not, they stopped short at the sight of these long, gray-blue coats and stiffened, chin up, eyes on their superior, hands at their sides. If they were talking, they became silent; if laughing, their faces smoothed out, and into their eyes came an expression which, when you have seen it repeated hundreds of times, you will not forget. It is a look of seriousness, self-forgetfulness, of almost religious devotion, not to the individual, but to the idea for which he stands. I saw a soldier half-dressed, through a barracks window under which we passed, sending after his officer, who did not even see him, that same look, the look of a man who has just volunteered to charge the enemy's trench, or who sees nothing absurd in saying the Germans fear God and nothing else in the world!
One seemed to see the soul of Germany, at least of this "great time," in these men's eyes. The Belgian soul we did not see much of, but there came glimpses of it now and then.
In Antwerp we stopped in a little cafe for a cup of chocolate. It was a raw, cheerless morning, with occasional snowflakes whipping by on the damp north wind, the streets were all but deserted, and in the room that used to be full of smoke and talk there were only empty tables, and you could see your breath.
A man was scrubbing behind the bar, and a pale girl in black came out from behind the cashier's counter to make our chocolate. It was good chocolate, as Antwerp chocolate is likely to be, and as we were getting ready to go out again I asked her how things were. She glanced around the room and answered that they used to have a good business here, but the good times were gone—"les beaux jours sont partis." Two others drifted over and asked questions about the bombardment. She answered politely enough, with the air of one to whom it was an old story now— she had left on the second day, when the building across the way was smashed, and walking, catching rides, stumbling along with the other thousands, had got into Holland. As to why the city fell so quickly— she pulled her shawl about her shoulders and murmured that there were things people did not know, if they did they did not talk about them.
And the Germans—how were they? They had no complaints to make, the girl said; the Germans were well behaved—"tres correct." Possibly, then—it was our young Italian who put the question—the Belgians would just as soon... I did not catch the whole sentence, but all at once something flashed behind that non-committal cafe proprietress's mask. "Moi, je suis fiere d'etre Belge!" said the girl, and as she spoke you could see the color slowly burning through her pale face and neck—she was proud to be a Belgian—they hoped, that one could keep, and there would come a day, we could be sure of that—"un jour de revanche!"
But business is business, and people who run cafes must, as every one knows, not long indulge in the luxury of personal feelings. The officers turned up their fur collars, and we buttoned up our coats, and she was sitting behind the counter, the usual little woman in black at the cafe desk, as we filed out. Our captain paused as we passed, gave a stiff little bow from the waist, touched his cap gallantly, and said: "Bon jour, mademoiselle!" And the girl nodded politely, as cafe proprietresses should, and murmured, blank as the walls in the Antwerp streets: "Bon jour, monsieur!"
The Road To Constantinople
Rumania and Bulgaria
The express left Budapest in the evening, all night and all next day rolled eastward across the Hungarian plain, and toward dusk climbed up through the cool Carpathian pines and over the pass into Rumania.
Vienna and the waltzes they still were playing there, Berlin and its iron exaltation, slow-rumbling London—all the West and the war as we had thought of it for months was, so to speak, on the other side of the earth. We were on the edge of the East now, rolling down into the Balkans, into that tangle of races and revenges out of which the first spark of the war was flung.
Since coffee that morning the lonely train had offered nothing more nourishing than the endless Hungarian wheat-fields, with their rows of peasants, men and women, working comfortably together, and rows of ploughs creeping with almost incredible leisure behind black water-buffalo cattle; but as we rolled down into Predeal through the rain, there, at last, in the dim station lamps, glittered the brass letters and brown paint of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons Lits—and something to eat.
The cars of this beneficent institution—survivors of a Europe that once seemed divided between tourists and hotel-keepers—outdash the most dashing war correspondents, insinuate themselves wherever civilians are found at all, and once aboard you carry your oasis with you as you do in a Pullman through our own alkali and sage-brush. The steward (his culture is intensive, though it may not extend beyond the telegraph- poles, and includes the words for food in every dialect between Ostend and the Golden Horn) had just brought soup and a bottle of thin Hungarian claret, when the other three chairs at my table were taken by a Rumanian family returning from a holiday in Budapest—an urbane gentleman of middle age, a shy little daughter, and a dark-eyed wife, glittering with diamonds, who looked a little like Nazimova.
"Monsieur is a stranger?" said the Rumanian presently, speaking in French as Rumanians are likely to do, and we began to talk war. I asked—a question the papers had been asking for weeks—if Rumania would be drawn into it.
"Within ten days we shall be in," he said.
"And on which side?"
"Oh!" he smiled, "against Austria, of course!"
That was in April. When I came through Rumania three months later soldiers were training everywhere in the hot fields; Bucarest was full of officers, the papers and cafes still buzzing with war talk. Rumania was still going in, but since the recapture of Lemberg and the Russian retreat the time was not so sure—not, it seemed, "until after the harvest" at any rate.
I asked the Rumanian what he thought about Italy. "Italy began as a coquette. She will end"—he made the gesture of counting money into his hand—"she will end as a cocotte." He waved a forefinger in front of his face.
"Elle n'est plus vierge!" he said.
The wife demurred. Italy was poor and little, she must needs coquette. After all, il faut vivre—one must live.
Something was said of America and the feeling there, and the wife announced that she would like of all things to see America, but—she did not wish to go there with her husband. I suggested that she come with me—an endeavor to rise to the Rumanian mood which was received with tolerant urbanity by her husband, and by the lady who looked like Nazimova with very cheering expressions of assent.
"When you return from Constantinople," she flashed back as they left the table, "don't forget!"
These were the first Rumanians I had met. They were amiable, they spoke French—it almost seemed as if they had heard the tales that are usually told of their little capital, and were trying to play the appropriate introduction to Bucarest.
Here it is, this little nation, only a trifle larger than the State of Pennsylvania, a half-Latin island in an ocean of Magyars and Slavs. On the north is Russia, on the south the grave and stubborn Bulgars (Slav at any rate in speech), on the west Hungary, and here, between the Carpathians and the Black Sea, this Frenchified remnant of the empire of ancient Rome. Their speech when it is not French is full of Latin echoes, and a Rumanian, however mixed his blood, is as fond of thinking himself a lineal and literal descendant of the Roman colonists as a New Englander is of ancestors in the Mayflower. At the Alhambra in Bucarest next evening, after the cosmopolite artistes had done then-perfunctory turns and returned to their street clothes and the audience, to begin the more serious business of the evening, the movie man in the gallery threw on the screen—no, not some military hero nor the beautiful Queen whose photograph you will remember, but the head of the Roman Emperor Trajan! And the listless crowd, drowsing cynically in its tobacco smoke, broke into obedient applause, just as they would at home at the sight of the flag or a picture of the President.
Bucarest, like all the capitals of Spanish America, is another "little Paris," but the Rumanians, possibly because unhampered by sombre Spanish tradition or perhaps any traditions at all, succeed more completely in borrowing the vices and escaping the virtues of the great capital they are supposed to imitate. It would be more to the point to call Bucarest a little Buenos Aires. There is much the same showiness; a similar curious mixture of crudeness and luxury. But Buenos Aires is one of the world's great cities, and always just beyond the asphalt you can somehow feel the pampa and its endless cattle and wheat. The Rumanian capital is a town of some three hundred thousand people in a country you could lose in the Argentine, and there is nothing, comparatively speaking, to offset its light-mindedness, to suggest realities behind all this life of patisserie.
You should see the Calea Vittorei on one of these warm summer evenings between five and eight. It is a narrow strip of asphalt winding through the centre of the town, with a tree-shaded drive at one end, and the hotels, sidewalk cafes, and fashionable shops at the other, and up and down this narrow street, in motors, in open victorias driven by Russian coachmen in dark-blue velvet gowns reaching to their heels, all Bucarest crowds to gossip, flirt, and see.
Down the centre in the open carriages flows a stream of women—and many look like Nazimova—social distinctions so ironed out with enamel, paint, and powder that almost all might be cafe chantant singers or dressmakers' marionettes. Some cities have eagles on their crests, and some volcanoes. If you were going to design a postage-stamp for Bucarest, it struck me that the natural thing would be a woman in the corner of an open victoria—after seeing scores of them all alike, you feel as though you could do it in a minute: one slashing line for the hat, two coal-black holes, and a dash of carmine in a patch of marble white, and a pair of silk-covered ankles crossed and pointed in a way that seems Parisian enough after one has become used to the curious boxes in which women enclose their feet in Berlin. Coming up from Bulgaria, which is not unlike coming from Idaho or Montana; or from Turkey, where women as something to be seen of men in public do not exist; or even across from the simple plains of Hungary, these enamelled orchids flowing forever down the asphalt seem at the moment to sum up the place—they are Bucarest.
Officers in light blue, in mauve and maroon—mincing butterflies, who look as if an hour's march in the sun would send them to the hospital, ogle them from the sidewalk. Along with them are many young bloods out of uniform, barbered and powdered like chorus men made up for their work. You will see few young men in Europe with whom the notion of general conscription and the horrors of war can be associated with less regret.
Streams of more frugal nymphs, without victorias but with the same rakish air, push along with the sidewalk crowd, hats pinned like a wafer over one ear, coiffures drawn trimly up from powdered necks. Waiters scurry about; the cafe tables, crowded in these days with politicians, amateur diplomats, spies, ammunition agents, Heaven knows what, push out on the sidewalk. The people on the sidewalk are crowded into the street, motors honk, hoofs clatter, the air is filled with automobile smoke, the smoke carries the smell of cigarettes and coffee and women's perfumes—it is "Bucarest joyeux!"
Some French music-hall singer—when I came through it was Miss Nita-Jo— will tell you all about it at one of the open-air theatres in the evening. All about the people you bump into in this sunset promenade—
"Des gens d'la haute, des petits creves, Des snobs, des sportsmans, des coquets, Les noctambules, les vieux noceurs, Les grandes cocottes—oui! tous en choeur..."—all about Capsa's, which, though but a little pastry shop and tea-room, is as seriously regarded in Bucarest as Delmonico's or the Blackstone, which is, of course, with dreadful seriousness (to see one of the gilded youths of Bucarest enter Capsa's at five-thirty, solemnly devour a large chocolate eclair, and as solemnly stalk out again, is an experience itself), and all about the politicians and the men who are running things. Everything is in miniature, you see, in a little nation like this, which, although only as large as one of our smaller States, has a King and court, diplomats, and army, and foreign policy. All in the family, so to speak, and the chanteuse will sing amusing verses about the prime minister as if she really knew what he was going to do, and, curiously enough—for things are sometimes very much in the family, indeed, in these little capitals—maybe she does know!
Of course the Calea Vittorei is not Rumania, though a good deal more so than Fifth Avenue is America; nor are the officers posing there those who would have much to do with directing the army if Rumania went to war. Ten minutes away from the city limits and you might be riding through the richest farming country in Wisconsin or Illinois: hour after hour of corn and wheat, orchards, hops, and vineyards, cultivated by peasants who, though most of them have no land and little education, at least look care-free, and dress themselves in exceedingly pleasing homespun linen, hand-embroidered clothes. Then higher land, and hills as thick with the towers of oil-wells as western Pennsylvania, and, just before you cross into Hungary, the cool pines of the Carpathians and the villas of Sinaia, the summer home of the court, the diplomats, and the people one does not see very often, perhaps, in the afternoon parade.
It is a pleasant and a rich little country. You can easily understand why its ruling class should love it, and, set apart from their Slav and Magyar neighbors by speech and temperament, want to gather all Rumanians under one flag and push that, too, into its place in the sun.
And this, of course, is Rumania's time—the time of all these little Balkan nations, which have been bullied and flattered in turn by the powers that need them now, and cut up and traded about like so much small change.
Rumania wants the province of Bessarabia on her eastern border, a strip of which Russia once took away; she wants the Austrian province of Bukowina and the Hungarian banat of Temesvar on the west, but most of all the pine forests and the people of Transylvania, just over the divide—you cross it coming from Budapest—largely Rumanian in speech and sympathy, though a province of Hungary. As the Rumanians figure it out, they once stood astride the Carpathians—"a cheval" ("on horseback"), as they say—and so, they feel, they must and should stand now.
We are a nation of fourteen million souls—six less than Hungary, but a homogeneous state, solidly based. Our soil gives us minerals and fuel and almost suffices for our needs. Our people are one of the most prolific in the world and certainly not the least intelligent. We have behind us a continuity of national existence lacking in other nations in this quarter of the globe. In our modern epoch we have assimilated French culture with indisputable success, and have given in every field proof of a great faculty of adaptability and progress. We can become the most important second-class power in Europe the day after the war stops; in fifty years, when our population will have passed twenty-five millions, a great power. We shall be a nation content with our lot, and for that reason a factor for peace. A greater Rumania responds not only to our ideas but to the interests of Europe. The Magyars have had every chance, and they have lost. It is now our turn.
This is a characteristic editorial paragraph from La Roumanie, which is the voice of Mr. Take Ionesco, who, more than anybody else, is the voice of those who want war. Once in the government, but at the moment out of it, Mr. Ionesco keeps up a continuous bombardment of editorials and speeches, and with his-vigor, verve, and facility reminds one a bit, though a younger man, of Clemenceau and his L'Homme Enchaine. Rich, well-informed, daring, and clever, with a really fascinating gift of expression, he will talk to you in French, English (his wife is English), Rumanian—I don't know how many other languages—about anything you wish, always with the air of one who knows. We have no such adventurous statesmen, or statesmen-adventurers, at home—men who have all the wires of European diplomacy at their finger ends; look at people, including their own, in the aggregate, without any worry over the "folks at home"; know what they want much better than they do, and to get it for them are quite ready to send a few hundred thousand to their death.
Mr. Ionesco writes a long, double-leaded editorial every day, and very often he prints with it the speech, or speeches, he made the night before. In a time like this, he says, those of his way of thinking can't say too much; they must be "like the French Academicians, who never stop writing." Now and then, in the intervals of fanning the sparks of war, he takes his readers behind the scenes of European politics, of which he knows about as much, perhaps, as any one.
I arrived in Paris the 31st of December, 1912, in the evening. M. Poincare received me the 1st of January, at half past eight o'clock in the morning—an absurd hour in Paris. But I had to go to London in the afternoon, and M. Poincare to the Elysee at ten o'clock for the felicitations of the New Year. I asked M. Poincare for the support of France in our difficulties with Bulgaria. M. Poincare said... I said... and later events proved that I was right.
He is always sure of himself, like this—no doubts, no half-truths, everything clear and irresistible. I went to see Mr. Ionesco one evening in Bucarest—a porte-cochere opening into a big stone city house, an anteroom with a political secretary and several lieutenants, and presently a quiet, richly furnished library, and Mr. Ionesco himself, a polished gentleman of continental type, full of animation and sophisticated charm, bowing from behind a heavy library table.
The room, the man, the facile, syllogistic sentences in which it was established that Austria-Hungary was already moribund, that Germany could never win, that Rumania must go in with the Entente—it was like the first scene from some play of European society and politics: one of those smooth, hard, swiftly moving things the Parisian Bernstein might have written.
Across it I couldn't help seeing the Berlin I had just left, and people standing in line with their sandwiches at six o'clock to get into the opera or theatre—the live human beings behind that abstraction "Germany." And I said that it seemed unfortunate that two peoples with so many apparent grounds of contact as the Germans and French must so misunderstand each other. Their temperament and culture were different, to be sure, but they were both idealistic, sentimental people, to whom things of the mind and spirit were important. It seemed particularly unfortunate that everything should be done to force them apart instead of bringing them together.
Mr. Ionesco listened with some impatience. Unfortunate, no doubt, but what do you wish? War itself is unfortunate—we must take the world as it is. No, they were with France and down with the Germans. France conquered meant the end of Rumania, subservience to Austria; France victorious, freedom, fresh air.
He gave me a copy of a speech in which he gladly admitted that he was a "responsible factor." People talked of going slow and sparing blood. Well, they might get something by sitting still, even become a great country, but they could never become a great nation. It was not territory and population they wanted, but the sword of Rumania to join in remaking the map of Europe. When the delegates gathered around the green table, they did not want the one from Rumania, as he was at the Congress of Berlin, only able to make visits to chancelleries. He must go in the same door with them, and say: "In proportion to my population, I have shed as much blood as you."
He had always regretted not having children, never so much as to-day; but if he had a dozen sons, and knew that all of them would fall in the war, he would not be cast down. Even if the territory they wished could be occupied by a simple act of gendarmerie—he would say no—they must enter Budapest itself (it is only twenty-four hours' railway journey from Bucarest!)—not till then would Austria admit Rumania's superiority. People accused him of working for himself. Who was Take Ionesco in comparison with the fate of a race? As for ambition, well, he had one, and only one—he wanted to see the Rumanian tricolor floating from Buda palace, and before he died to know the moment in which he could pass before his eyes the eighteen hundred years of Rumanian history from the arrival of Trajan at Severin to the entry of Ferdinand at Budapest, and cry: "Now, Lord, let thy servant go in peace, for mine eyes have seen the saving of my race!"
The Rumanian tricolor was no nearer Buda palace when I returned several months later, but Mr. Ionesco was no less hot for war. Even if Germany won, he said, they still should go in, because they would at least keep their own and Germany's respect. "Go to war?"—the phrase was inexact. "We have been at war for eleven months, only others are firing at us, but we are not firing at them. We are in a war that will decide our existence, but the soldiers dying to defend our rights, instead of being our soldiers, are soldiers of the Allies. The Allies will win, but if any one thinks that, having won without us, they will have won for us, he must be mad. Their victory without us may preserve our material life, but it will never save our moral life nor that of future generations."
Mr. Ionesco and those who agree with him belong, it will be observed, with the romanticists—they are for the bright face of danger, great stakes, and, win or lose, putting all to the touch. Those who did not agree with them were men without souls, hagglers and traders, as if a nation could figure out the number of cannon-shots and prisoners, and go where the going's good! It made interesting reading as you sat at one of the cafe tables, with the crowd flowing by and the five-o'clock papers coming fresh from the press. The other side—and it included the King and most of the government, inasmuch as Rumania had not yet gone to war —had the more difficult task of making caution interesting. In their editorials and speeches Ionesco and his followers were jingoes trying to drive the nation to a Rumanian Sedan.
"A people is great, not only for its numbers of soldiers, but for its civilization, its artists, and intellectuals. A nation militarized is marked for eternal death, for a people lives by its thought and not by force." There was an amusing retort, the afternoon I returned to Bucarest, to one of the fire-eating retired generals, picturing the quaint old fellow as thinking that people were born only to die bravely, and knowing nothing of Rumania's rule as the "defender of Latinism" in the Balkans, "tooting the funereal flute and showing us the mountains— there is to be your tomb!"
There was a time, when the Russians were taking Przemysl, when Rumania's tide seemed to be at the flood—if ever it was going to be. That chance was lost, and Rumania found herself standing squarely in the track of the stream of ammunition which used to flow down from Duesseldorf to the Turks—when I was at the front with the Turks, practically all the ammunition boxes I saw, and there were hundreds of them, were marked "Gut uber Rumanien"—and, later, in Russia's path to Bulgaria and Servia.
One of these days a hot thrill might run down the Calea Vittorei, and all at once Capsa's and the other little booths in this miniature Vanity Fair would seem strange and far-away. But until that day one could fancy the romanticists and realists lambasting each other in the papers, the soldiers grinding away in their dusty camps, the pretty ladies rolling gayly down the sprinkled asphalt, and the chanteuse singing over the footlights:
"Que pense le Premier Ministre? On n'sait pas—"
("What thinks the Prime Minister? Nobody knows—")
"Is he for the Germans? Has he made a convention With perfidious Albion? Nobody knows..."
The Gate to Constantinople
Only the Danube separates Rumania from Bulgaria, yet the people—of the two capitals, at least—are as different as the French and Scotch. The train leaves Bucarest after breakfast; you are ferried over the river at Rustchuk at noon, and, after trailing over the shoulders of long, rolling plateaus, are up in the mountains in Sofia that evening. The change is almost as sharp as that between Ostend and Folkestone.
You leave French, or the half-Latin Rumanian language, for a Slavic speech, and the Cyrillic, or Russian, alphabet; names ending in "sco" or "ano" (Ionesco, Filipesco, Bratiano) for names ending in "off" (Radoslavoff, Malinoff, Ghenadieff, Antinoff, and the like), and all the show and vivacity, the cafes and cocottes of Bucarest, for a clean little mountain capital as determined and serious as some new town out West.
It seemed, though of course such impressions are mostly chance, that the difference began at the border. In Rumania, at the Hungarian border, they took away my passport, which in times like these is like taking away one's clothes, and, though I assured the customs inspector that I was on my way to Constantinople, and in a hurry, it required four days' wait in Bucarest, and innumerable visits to the police before the paper was returned. Every one, apparently, on the train had the same experience—the Austrian drummers looked wise and muttered "baksheesh," and in Bucarest an evil-eyed hotel porter kept pulling me into corners, saying that this taking of passports was a regular "commerce," and that for five francs he would have it back again.
There is a popular legend that the clerks in Bucarest hotels are supposed to offer incoming guests all the choices of a Mohammedan paradise, and the occasional misogynist, who prefers a room to himself, is received with sympathy, and the wish politely expressed that monsieur will soon be himself again. My own experience was less ornate, but prices were absurdly high, the waiter's check frequently needed revision, and one had a vague but more or less continual sense of swimming among sharks.
These symptoms were absent in Bulgaria. The border officials seemed sensible men who would "listen to reason"; the porters, coachmen, waiters, and the like, crude rather than cleverly depraved, and the air of Sofia clear and clean, in more senses than one.
Modern Bulgaria is only a couple of generations old, and though all this part of the world has been invaded and reinvaded and fought over since the beginning of things, the little kingdom (it seems more like a republic) has the air of a new country.
The aristocracy had been wiped out before Bulgaria got her autonomy in 1878, and, unlike Rumania, where the greater portion of the land is in the hand of large proprietors, Bulgaria is a country of small farmers, of shepherds, peasants, each with his little piece of land. The men who now direct its fortunes are the sons and grandsons of very simple people. Possibly it is because we Americans are also a new people, with still some of the prejudices of pioneers, that we are likely to feel something in common with the people of this "peasant state." They seemed to me, at any rate, the most "American" of the Balkan peoples.
There is, of course, one concrete reason for this: Robert College and the American School for Girls (Constantinople College) at Constantinople. It was men educated at Robert College who became the leaders of modern Bulgaria. The only Bulgarian I had known before—I met him on the steamer—had gone from a little village near Sofia to Harvard. His married sister had learned English at the American School for Girls; her husband, a Macedonian Bulgar, had worked his way through Yale. The amiable old general, who was always in the library at the Sofia Club at tea time, ready to tell how the Dardanelles and Constantinople could be taken, had learned English at Robert College and had a son there; the photographer who developed my films also had a son there—and so on.
Snow-capped mountains rise just behind Sofia, and the brown hills thereabout, like the rolling plateaus along the shoulders of which the train crawls on the way down from Rumania, are speckled with sheep. Sometimes even in Sofia you will meet a shepherd patiently urging his little flock up a modern concrete sidewalk and stopping now and then for some passer-by to pick up a lamb, "heft" it, poke it, and feel its wool before deciding whether or not he should take it home for dinner.
These shepherds wear roomy, short box-coats of sheepskin, with the leather outside and the wool turned in, like a motor-coat; homespun breeches embroidered, very likely in blue, and laced from the knee down, and a sort of moccasin or laced soft shoe. They are as common in the streets of Sofia as are the over-barbered young snipes in the streets of Bucarest. On market days the main down-town street is filled with them— long-limbed, slow-moving old fellows, with eyes and foreheads wrinkled from years of squinting in the bright plateau sun, faces bronzed and weathered like an old farmhouse, shuffling down the pavement and into and out of shops with the slow, soft-footed gait of so many elk. And if you were designing a stamp for Bulgaria you might well put one of these hard-headed old countrymen on it, just as in the other capital you would put the girl in the victoria pattering down the asphalt.
Two newspaper correspondents of the more or less continuous string that were filing from one Bulgarian leader to another to find out what Bulgaria was going to do, amiably permitted me to trail about with them, and thus to see and talk a little with some of those who are steering Bulgaria's exceedingly delicate course—men whose grandfathers very likely wore those sheepskin coats with the wool turned in.
None had the peculiar verve and dash of Take Ionesco, but one or two were decidedly "smooth" in a grave, slightly heavy way, and all suggested stubbornness, intense patriotism, and a keen eye for the main chance.
There is little "society" or formal entertaining in Sofia, little display and little, apparently, of that state of mind which, in Bucarest, is suggested by the handsome, two-horse public carriages at a time when there are not enough horses and carriages to go round. One-horse carriages are impracticable, because the Rumanian, or at least the Bucareiio, thinks one horse beneath his dignity, while a trolley- car—although there are trolley-cars—is, of course, not to be thought of.
People on the streets and in the parks were "nice"-looking rather than smart, and the young officers from the military school, who were everywhere, as fine and soldier-like young men as I had seen anywhere in Europe. They and the common soldiers, with their fine shoulders and chests and wiry torsos, looked as though they were made for their work, and took to it like ducks to water.
The palace is on the central square—an unpretentious building in the trees, with a driveway leading up from two gates, at which stand two motionless sentries, each with one stiff feather in his cap. It is such an entrance as you might expect to find at any comfortable country place at home, and one day, when some student volunteers went by on a practise march, and cheered as they passed, I saw the King, with the Queen and one or two others, stroll down the drive and bow just as if he, too, were some comfortable country gentleman.
There is a music-hall in Sofia, but on the two nights I went to it there were scarce twenty in the audience. There are various beer gardens with music, and, of course, moving pictures, but it was interesting, in contrast with Bucarest to find the crowd going to the National Theatre to see Tolstoi's "Living Corpse." The stock company, moderately subsidized by the government, gives drama and opera on alternate nights. I barely got a seat for the Tolstoi play, and the doorkeeper said that the house was always sold out.
The Bulgarians, in short, are simple, and what the Rumanians would call "serieux"—you must abandon all notion of finding here anything like the little comic-opera kingdoms invented by some of our novelists. It was in Bulgaria, as I recall it, that Mr. Shaw put "Arms and the Man," and the fun lay, as you will remember, in the contrast between the outworn, feudal notions of the natives and the intense matter-of-factness of the modern Swiss professional soldier.
You will recall the doubts of the heroine's male relatives as to whether Bluntschli was good enough for her, their ingenuous attempts to impress him, by describing the style in which she was accustomed to live, and his unimpressed response that his father had so and so many table-cloths, so many horses, so many hundreds of plates, etc. Who was he, then—king of his country? Oh, no, indeed—he ran a hotel. Mr. Shaw's fun is all right of itself, but has about as much application to Bulgaria or Sofia as to Wyoming or Denver.
By one of those frequently fascinating chances of geography, this little nation, which has a territory about as big as Ohio, is set squarely in front of the main gate to Constantinople, and saw, in consequence, the powers which ruthlessly bullied it yesterday now almost at its feet.
Rumania stands in Russia's path, on the one hand, and, with its railway, in Germany's on the other; but Bulgaria does both, and, in addition, blocks the whole western frontier of Turkey and the only feasible chance to land an army from the Aegean.
After their disastrous attempt to run the Dardanelles in March, the English and French had been somewhat in the position of an army trying to capture Jacksonville, Florida, for instance, and instead of marching over from Georgia, compelled to go away down to Key West, and fight their way up through the Everglades. They had in front of them hills behind hills and an intrenched enemy whom they could not see generally and who could always see them. Behind them was only a strip of beach, the sea, and the more or less uncertain support of their ships. So narrow was their foothold that even if they had had more men, they could scarce find place to use them.
Could they but land in Bulgaria, they might cut off the Turks from Europe at once, accumulate at their leisure a sufficient force, and push down methodically from a proper base to the Chatalja line, fighting like men instead of amphibious ducks. The thing looks easy, and the twisted hills and hidden batteries of Gal-lipoli Peninsula were so heart-breaking a maze to fling good men into that you can well imagine the Allies used what pressure they could. But if it was important to them that the gate be opened—let alone that Bulgaria come in herself— it was just as important to the Germans and Austrians that it be closed. And who was to say that if Bulgaria threw in her lot with the Allies and attacked the Turks the Central Powers might not even start a grand offensive down through Serbia—and people talked of this in Sofia months before it actually began—connect up their lines all the way to Constantinople—and good-by to their little peasant state and her hard-won independence!
A little state must think of these things. She hasn't the men nor the staggering supply of ammunition lightly to go into a world war like this. And then the Bulgarians had had their fingers burned once—they were not looking for adventures.
You will remember the Balkan War of 1912-3, and how the Bulgars fought their way down almost to Constantinople and were everybody's heroes for a time. Then came the quarrel between the Balkan allies, and presently Bulgaria was fighting for her life—Serbia on the west, Greece on the south, Turkey on the east—and then, when she was quite helpless, the Rumanians coming down from the north to perform the coup de grace.
It was not a particularly sporting performance on the part of the Rumanians, nor could the turning over to them of the Bulgarian part of the province of Dobrudja greatly increase Bulgaria's trust in the powers which permitted it in the treaty of Bucarest.
"It's our own fault," an Englishman said to me, speaking somewhat sardonically of the failure of the Rumanians to go in with Italy in spite of having accepted a timely loan from England. "We put our money on the wrong horse! No, they'll keep on talking—they're the chaps who want to get something for nothing. Think of the treaty of Bucarest and the way we patted Rumania on the back—she was the gendarme of Europe then. 'Gendarme of Europe!' ... I tell you that any army that would do what the Rumanians did to Bulgaria has something wrong with its guts!"
An army goes where it is ordered, of course, but it is true, nevertheless, that the Bulgarians are likely to think of their neighbors on the north as people who want to get something for nothing, and that they who had borne the brunt of the war with Turkey lost everything they had gained. The Turks, "driven from Europe," calmly moved back to Adrianople; Rumania took the whole of Dobrudja; Bulgarian Macedonia went to Serbia and Greece. However much Bulgaria may have been to blame for the break-up of the Balkan League—and she was stubborn and headstrong to say the least—there is no denying that the treaty of Bucarest did not give her a square deal. It was one of those treaties of peace (and you might think that the men who sit around the green table and make such treaties would learn it after a time) that are really treaties of war.
No, Bulgaria was not looking for adventures, nor accepting promises unless she had securities that they would be carried out. You could not talk to any intelligent Bulgarian five minutes without feeling the bitterness left by the treaty of Bucarest and the fixed idea that Bulgarian Macedonia must come under the flag again. But though this was true, and the army mobilized, and on a fine day every other man on the streets of Sofia an officer, the stubborn Bulgars were still sitting tight. If they got what they wanted without fighting for it, they were not anxious to throw away another generation of young men as they had thrown them away for nothing in the Balkan War.
By this negative policy—the pressure, that is to say, of not going to war—Bulgaria had induced Turkey, by the time I came through Sofia again three months later, to turn over enough territory on the east so that the Bulgars could own the railroad down to Dedeagatch and reach the Aegean without being obliged to go into Turkey and out again. It even seemed that Bulgaria might be able to keep her neutrality to the end. Her compromise with Turkey was not so odd as it seemed to many at first. She had fought the Turks, to be sure, but now got what she wanted, and when you come to think of it, it might well be more comfortable from the Bulgars' point of view to have the invalid Ottomans in Constantinople than the healthy and hungry Russians.
Both these small states, in their present hopes, fears, and, dangers, are an instructive spectacle to those who fancy that in the crowded arena of Europe a little nation can always do as it wants to, or that its neutrality is always the simple open-and-shut matter it looked to be, for instance, in the first weeks of August, 1914. We are likely, at home, to look on all this cold-blooded weighing of the chances of war with little patience, to think of all these "aspirations" as merely somebody else's land. Fear or envy of our neighbors, international hatred, is almost unknown with us. All that was left behind, three thousand miles away, and the green water in between permits us to indulge in the rare luxury of altruism. Yet these hatreds, these fears, and ambitions, inherited and carefully nourished, are just as real— particularly in little states like these—as the fact, odd and apparently unreasonable as it may be, that in a bit of country, which might be included in one of our larger States, one lot of people should speak French and think like Latins, and another speak Slavic and think another way, and that neither wants to be absorbed by the other any more than we want to be compelled to speak Spanish or be absorbed by the Mexicans.
The "aspirations" of both these little countries have realities behind them. It is a fact that one gets a whiff of French clarity and verve in Rumania, though it comes from a small minority educated in France, and the Rumanian people may be no more "Latin" than we are. And it is an interesting notion—though perhaps only a notion—that Rumania should be the outpost or rear-guard of Latinism in this part of the world; a bit of the restless West on the edge of the Orient.
For virility and earnestness like that of the Bulgars there is a place, not only in the Balkans, but everywhere. The qualities they have shown in their short life as an independent nation are those which deserve to be encouraged and preserved. And if it were true that this war were being fought to establish the right of little nations to live, one of the tasks it ought to accomplish, it seemed then, was to give the Bulgars back at least part of what was taken from them.
The Adventure Of The Fifty Hostages
Gallipoli lies by the Sea of Marmora, and looks out across it to the green hills of Asia, just where the blue Marmora narrows into the Dardanelles. It is one of those crowded little Turkish towns set on a blazing hillside—tangled streets, unpainted, gray, weather-warped frame houses, with overhanging latticed windows and roofs of red tiles; little walled-in gardens with dark cedars or cypresses and a few dusty roses; fountains with Turkish inscriptions, where the streets fork and women come to fill their water-jars—a dreamy, smelly, sun-drenched little town, drowsing on as it has drowsed for hundreds of years. Nothing ever happens in Gallipoli—I speak as if the war hadn't happened! The graceful Greek sloops, with their bellying sails and turned-up stems and sterns, come sailing in much as they must have come when the Persians, instead of the English and the French, were battering away at the Hellespont. The grave, long-nosed old Turks pull at their bubble pipes and sip their little cups of sweet, black coffee; the camel trains, dusty and tinkling, come winding down the narrow streets from the Thracian wheat country and go back with oversea merchandise done up in faded carpets and boxes of Standard Oil. The wind blows from the north, and it is cold, and the Marmora gray; it blows from the south, and all at once the world is warm and sea and sky are blue—so soft, so blue, so alive with lifting radiance that one does not wonder the Turk is content with a cup of coffee and a view.
Nothing ever happens in Gallipoli—then the war came, and everything happened at once. It was a still May morning, a Sunday morning, when the English and French sent some of their ships up into the Gulf of Saros, on the Aegean side of the peninsula, over behind Gallipoli. Eight or ten miles of rolling country shut away the Aegean, and made people feel safe enough. They might have been in the other wars which have touched Gallipoli, but a few miles of country were nothing at all to the guns of a modern battleship.
An observation-balloon looked up over the western horizon, there was a sudden thunder, and all at once the sky above Gallipoli rained screaming shells and death. You can imagine—at any rate remembering Antwerp, I could very well imagine—how that hurricane of fire, sweeping in without warning, from people knew not where, must have seemed like the end of the world. You can imagine the people—old men with turbans undone, veiled women, crying babies—tumbling out of the little bird-cage houses and down the narrow streets. Off went the minaret, as you would knock off an icicle, from the mosque on the hill. The mosque by the water-front went down in a cloud of dust, and up from the dust, from a petrol shell, shot a geyser of fire. Stones came rumbling down from the old square tower, which had stood since the days of Bayazid; the faded gray houses squashed like eggs. It was all over in an hour—some say even twenty, minutes—but that was long enough to empty Gallipoli, to kill some sixty or seventy people, and drive the rest into the caves under the cliffs by the water, or across the Marmora to Lapsaki.
Now, while the bombardment of Gallipoli may not appear from a merely human point of view, a particularly sporting performance, yet, as most of those killed were soldiers, as Gallipoli had been a staff head-quarters not long before and always has been a natural base for the defense of the Dardanelles, the attack was doubtless justified by the rules of war. It happens, however, that people who live in defenseless, bombarded towns are never interested in the rules of war. So a new and particularly disturbing rumor went flying through the crowded streets of Constantinople.
It is a city of rumors, this beautiful, bewildering Bagdad of the West, where all the races of the world jostle each other in the narrow streets, and you never know how the man who brushes past you lives—let alone feels and thinks. The Constantinople trolley-cars are divided by a curtain, on one side of which sit the men, on the other the veiled women. When there are several women the conductor slides the curtain along, so that half the car is a harem; when there are none he slides it back, and there is no harem at all.
And life is like that. You are at once in a modern commercial city and an ancient Mohammedan capital, and never know when the one will fade out like a picture on a screen and leave you in the Orient, facing its mystery, its fatalism, its vengeance that comes in a night.
You can imagine what it must become, walled in with war and censorship, with the English and French banging away at the Dardanelles gate to the south, the Russian bear growling at the door of the Bosporus, so close that you can every now and then hear the rumble of cannon above the din of Constantinople—just as you might hear them in Madison Square if an enemy were bombarding the forts at Sandy Hook. You wake up one morning to hear that all the influential Armenians have been gathered up and shipped to the interior; you go down to the ordinary-looking hotel breakfast-room and the three Germans taking coffee in the corner stop talking at once; at lunch some one stoops to whisper to the man across the table, there is a moment's silence until the waiter has gone, and the man across the table mutters: "The G. V. says not to worry"—"G. V." meaning Grand Vizier. To-morrow the Goeben is to be blown up, or there will be a revolution, or a massacre—heaven knows what! Into an atmosphere like this, with wounded pouring back in thousands from the Dardanelles, there came the news of the bombardment of Gallipoli. And with it went the rumor of reprisal—all the English and French left behind in Constantinople, and there were a good many who had been permitted to go about their business more or less as usual, were to be collected, men, women, and children, taken down to the peninsula and distributed in the "unfortified" towns. The American ambassador would notify England and France through Washington, and if then the Allies chose to bombard, theirs was the risk.
The American ambassador, Mr. Morgenthau, set about to see what could be done. Presently the word went round that the women might stay behind, but the men, high and low, must go. They came flocking to the embassy, already besought for weeks by French Sisters of Mercy and Armenians in distress, some begging for a chance to escape, some ready to go anywhere as their share of the war. The Turks were finally induced to include only those between twenty and forty, and at the last moment this was cut to an even fifty—twenty-five British subjects, twenty-five French. The plan eliminated, naturally, the better-known remnants of the French and English colonies, and disappointed the chief of police, who had not unreasonably hoped, as he wistfully put it, "to have some notables." Of the fifty probably not more than a dozen had been born in England or France, the others being natives of Malta, Greece—the usual Levantines. Yet if these young bank clerks and tradesmen were not "important," according to newspaper standards, they were, presumably, important to themselves. They were very important, indeed, to the wives and mothers and sisters who fought up to the Galata sea wall that Thursday morning, weeping and wailing, and waving their wet handkerchiefs through the iron fence.
The hostages, one or two of whom had been called to their doors during the night and marched away without time to take anything with them, had been put aboard a police boat, about the size of a New York revenue cutter, and herded below in two little cabins, with ten fierce-looking Constantinople policemen, in gray astrakhan caps, to guard them. It was from the water-line port-holes of these cabins that they waved their farewells.
With them was a sturdy, bearded man in black knickerbockers and clerical hat, the rector of the Crimean Chapel in Constantinople—a Cambridge and Church of England man, and a one-time dweller in the wilds of Kurdistan, who, though not called, had volunteered to go. The first secretary of the American embassy, Mr. Hoffman Philip, an adventurous humanitarian, whose experience includes an English university, the Rough Riders, and service as American minister to Abyssinia, also volunteered, not, of course, as hostage, but as friendly assistant both to the Turkish authorities and to their prisoners.
To him was given the little deck-cabin, large enough for a man to stretch out on the seat which ran round it; here, also the clergyman volunteer was presently permitted, and here too, thanks to passports vouch-safed by the chief of police, the chroniclers of the expedition, Mr. Suydam of the Brooklyn Eagle, and myself.
The passports, mysterious scratches in Turkish, did not arrive until the last minute, and with them came the chief, the great Bedri Bey himself— a strong man and a mysterious one, pale, inscrutable, with dark, brooding eyes and velvety manners, calculated to envelop even a cup of coffee and a couple of boiled eggs in an air of sinister romance.
The chief regretted that the craft was not "a serious passenger boat," for we should probably have to spend the night aboard. Arrangements for the hostages and ourselves would be made at Gallipoli, though just what they would be it was difficult to say, as there were, he said, no hotels in the place and the houses were all destroyed.
With this cheerful prospect he bade us farewell, and all being ready, we waited two hours, and finally, just before noon, with deck-hands hanging life belts along the rail to be ready for possible English submarines, churned through the crowded shipping of the Golden Horn, round Stamboul, and out into the blue Marmora.
The difficulties of the next few days—for which most of the hostages, city-bred and used to the bake-shop round the corner, were unprepared— promptly presented themselves. Lunch-time came, but there was no lunch. There was not even bread. Philip and Suydam had tinned things, and the former some cake, which by tea-time that afternoon—so appallingly soon does the spoiled child of town get down to fundamentals—seemed an almost immoral luxury. But the luckless fifty, already unstrung by the worry of the last forty-eight hours, fed on salt sea air, and it was not until sundown that one of the British came to ask what should be done. Philip dug into his corned beef and what was left of the bread, and so we curled up for the night, the hostages and policemen below, the rest of us in the deck-house, rolled up in all the blankets we had, for one of the Black Sea winds was blowing down the Marmora and it was as cold as November.
The launch came up to Gallipoli wharf in the night and not long after daylight we were shaken out of our blankets to receive the call of the mutessarif, or local governor, a big, slow, saturnine man in semi-riding-clothes, with the red fez and a riding-whip in his hand, who spoke only Turkish and limited himself to few words of that. He was accompanied by a sort of secretary or political director—a plump little man, with glasses and a vague, slightly smiling, preoccupied manner, who acted as interpreter.
The governor and Philip were addressed as "Excellence," the secretary as "Monsieur Le Directeur," and, considering that all concerned were only half awake, and we only half dressed, the interview, which included the exchange of cigarettes and many salutes, was extremely polite. We joined the mutessarif and his secretary in a stroll about the town.
It was deserted—closed shutters, empty houses and shops, not so much as the chance to buy a round, flat loaf of black bread—a shell of a town, with a few ravenous cats prowling about and forgotten chickens pecking the bare cobblestones. We saw the shell hole in the little Mohammedan cemetery, where four people, "come to visit the tombs of their fathers," had been killed, the smashed mosques, yawning house-fronts, and dangling rafters, and there came over one an indescribable irony as one listened, in this Eastern world of blazing sun, blue sky, and blue water, to the same grievances and indignations one had read in London editorials and heard in the beet-fields of Flanders months ago.
The mutessarif took us to a little white villa on the cliff by the sea, with a walled garden, flat black cedar, and a view of the Marmora, and we breakfasted on tea, bread and butter, and eggs. Meanwhile the hostages had been marched to an empty frame house on the beach, from the upper windows of which, while gendarmes guarded the street-door, they were gloomily peering when we returned to the launch. Philip, uneasy at the emptiness of the town and leisurely fashion in which things were likely to move, started for Lapsaki, across the Marmora, for food and blankets, and Suydam and I strolled about the town. We had gone but a few steps when we observed an aimless-looking individual in fez and civilian clothes following us. We tramped up-hill, twisted through several of the hot little alley-like streets—he followed like our shadow. We led him all over town, he toiling devotedly behind, and when we returned to the beach, he sat himself down on a wood-pile behind us, as might some dismal buzzard awaiting our demise.
He, or some of his fellow sleuths, stuck to us all that day. Once, for exercise, I walked briskly out to the edge of the town and back again. The shadow toddled after. I went up to the basin beside the ruined mosque, a sort of sea-water plaza for the town, and, taking a stool outside a little cafe, which had awakened since morning, took coffee. The shadow blandly took coffee also, which he consumed silently, as we had no common tongue, rose as I rose, and followed me back to the beach.
Out in the Marmora, which is but little wider here than the Hudson at Tappan Zee, transports crammed with soldiers went steaming slowly southward, a black destroyer on the lookout for submarines hugging their flanks and breaking trail ahead of them. Over the hills to the south, toward Maidos and the Dardanelles, rolled the distant thunder—the cannon the hapless fifty, looking out of their house on the beach, had been sent down to stop—and all about us, in the dazzling Turkish sunshine, were soldiers and supply-trains, landing, disembarking, pushing toward the front. Fine-looking men they were, too, these infantry-men, bronzed, well-built fellows, with heavy, high cheek-bones, longish noses, black mustaches, and dark eyes, who, whatever their qualities of initiative might be, looked to have no end of endurance and ability to stay put. Bullock-carts dragged by big, black buffalo cattle, carrying their heads far back, as if their big horns were too heavy for them, crowded the street leading to the quay, and camels, strung in groups of five, came swinging in, or kneeling in the dust, waved their long, bird-like necks, and lifted up a mournful bellow, as if protesting in a bored, Oriental way, at a fate which compelled them to bear burdens for the nagging race of men.
It was to an accompaniment of these howls that a young Turkish officer came over to find out who these strangers might be. We spoke of the hostages, and he at once said that it was an excellent idea. The English and French were very cruel—if now they chose to bombard. ... "If a man throws a penny into the sea," he said, "he loses the penny. It isn't the pocket-book that's hurt." I did not quite grasp this proverb, but remarked that after all they were civilians and had done nothing. "That is true," he said, "but the English and French have been very unjust to our civilians. They force us to another injustice—c'est la guerre."
Toward the end of the afternoon the hostages, closely guarded, were marched up into the town and lodged in two empty houses—literally empty, for there was neither bed nor blanket, chair nor table—nothing but the four walls. A few had brought mattresses and blankets, but the greater number, city-bred young fellows, unused to looking after themselves out of doors, had only the clothes they stood in. The north wind held; directly the sun went down it was cold again, and, only half fed with the provisions Philip brought over from Lapsaki, they spent a dismal night,' huddled on the bare floor, under their suitcases or whatever they could get to cover them, and expecting another bombardment at dawn.