My revulsion for it all is so great that the words fairly scorch my fingers as I write them.
 We never heard what really started the commotion, whether it was premeditated or accidental, but this illustrates what a furor a rifle shot creates instantly. The nervous tension of both the invader and invaded is tremendous.
September 2nd, Wednesday.
Very early this morning we were awakened by the most remarkable sound—a co-operative noise I should call it, or anything you like, being a combination of steamboat, train of cars and sawmill. Looking out of the window we saw a magnificent Zeppelin sailing along in all its majestic wonder.
Miracles happen overnight in the ambulance now, for Health is hastening back in seven-league-boots and every one of our brave blesses is turning out to be handsome. Each day a real face emerges from its black chrysalis and we find it beautiful. The refinery was of the cruelest type, but the temper of such men stood the test and their souls shine out undeniably over the scarred flesh.
Some new companies, with their under officers, have taken up quarters in the stables and garage. For the last ten days we have had Prussians there, who were discontented with everything and wanted all the kitchen utensils and everything within reach, but these new men are Bavarian Landstuerm, rather nice old things, who have brought all their own contrivances, not the least among them being one of the famous rolling kitchens. This latter is a round boiler, hung on four wheels, and is about a metre in diameter and a metre in depth. It is divided into three longitudinal compartments (the fire being underneath), one for soup, one for meat and one for vegetables. Then, under the driver's seat or perhaps not right under, is a tiny oven where are baked kuchen or a steaming pudding. It is a complete affair and when dinner is ready, they just hitch on a pair of family horses and drive around to the different companies where rations are dished out, literally. I do not know if the position of cook is the most enviable one in the army, but at any rate this chef appears to enjoy it and is content to sit in the courtyard all day, peeling potatoes and onions and cabbages and cabbages and onions and potatoes.
 A printed document was exposed afterwards in the village recommending the Chateau X. to be respected.
September 3rd, Thursday.
"Monsieur Seegnal Box" went this morning and everybody was sorry to see him go, for he was a congenial spirit, and, like us, found nothing attractive about war. He seemed a protection, too, from the beast that is ever snarling at the door.
A young cousin of the family related to us to-day how much at home the soldiers have felt in his chateau in the country; so much so, in fact, that they have already sent off to Germany all his old family portraits and the best rugs. Here is a bit of psychology for you to unravel. Why should they want his family portraits?
I suppose you could not imagine such a thing happening in America. Well, just try for a moment.
Fancy somebody's coming in and explaining to you that you cannot use your own things and that your choice possessions will have a far better setting in Germany than where they are. I think it would do the world a lot of good if everyone tried such a mental drill for three minutes a day.
A great depression hung over the Convent to-day—the men were quiet, showing their consideration for the "camarade" as they always do. Constant, who received internal injuries at Fort d'Embourg, is dying and Augustin is worse. The latter's face has a gray-blue look and his poor jaws are very stiff. But there is hope! Oh, yes, there is Hope in big Jean's smile across the ward, as he follows us around with his great, black eyes. One can find lots of sympathy in a "Oui, Mademoiselle," or a "Non, Mademoiselle," (which is all he ever says) even when it has nothing to do with the question.
Since the commandant has taken the auto we no longer go out. It is much too complicated anyway, as one has to show a passport at every bridge and corner. Every acre of land is infested with soldiers. It is interesting, however, to see what they do and how they turn everything to some use. Men are sent from Germany to repair railroads, build bridges, put up telephones, institute food stations and to kill pigs and wash the meat in porcelain bath tubs as we saw them do yesterday, outside a free bath establishment near one of the factories. As we were looking down on the road tonight, from a hill perhaps two hundred yards away, we saw distinctly a column of soldiers in dark blue uniforms, marching across country, and just behind them the ground seemed to writhe and wriggle in a distressing manner. For a moment we could not imagine what was happening, when soon a company of men in khaki began to evolve itself from the landscape. Does that not prove the inestimable value of earth-colored clothes? For as close as they were to us, we could distinguish nothing.
This gray-green which the Germans wear is by far the best tone of khaki that I have yet seen.
Soldiers are stripping the factories here of their fine machinery, but one sort of chuckles in one's boots when he remembers that it was originally bought in Germany and has not been paid for yet.
All day long, trains without ceasing were bringing back the wounded. We do not know exactly where the fighting is, but probably near Charleroi. A Baron de C. and his wife arrived here at ten P. M. from Posen, one of the German provinces already taken by the Russians. Crazed with anxiety, they are going in search of their son, who was wounded at Namur, and have been three days in a military train—an excruciating journey! At midnight, the soldiers and the chef de cuisine, who has had his kitchen in the court, departed. Before going they sang softly some of their songs and then the wagons, one by one, filed out of the moonlight and were swallowed up in the shadows of the trees. I felt as if the candle had been blown out for them.
September 4th, Friday.
Monsieur J. came home today with bad news, though every day has its bad news. His cousin Robert had been killed near Gand. The old butler's eyes were sweet to see when Madame X. turned at table and said to him, "Francois, Monsieur Robert is dead." This man of one syllable, according to his custom, answered simply, quick tears visible, "Oui, Madame" with that gentle upward intonation which says so much.
The longest sentence he probably ever constructed was uttered thirty-five years ago when his young master had wished to dismiss him for some reason and he had answered, "Oh no, Monsieur, we could not live, either one of us without the other," which settled the question for all time. And now the master is laid to rest and the servant must serve the enemy in his house.
We took a little walk in the woods, this afternoon—as the coast was clear and no strangers in the house for the first time in three weeks. We had hardly finished a short promenade when we heard a violent clanging on the gong to call us back, and when we returned in all haste to the house found seven soldiers in the library going through all the drawers and closets in search of firearms. Commencing there, they searched the whole house from top to bottom, even fumbling in the bureaus among the dainty lingerie of Madame X. Some of them took an obvious pleasure in performing their duty, while others looked uncomfortable and bored. It is true that many of the men hate this war, whereby whole families of brothers and cousins have to leave their homes to fight what they call the "Aristocrats' War," who in their arrogance think to be masters of the whole world.
Some newspapers, two weeks old, were brought from Brussels in the evening and we pounced upon them as a starved dog makes for a bone.
September 5th, Saturday. (At the ambulance.)
"Constant, le pauvre Constant! What is in your tortured soul, these three long days and nights, that chains it to earth and tosses your poor body from one troubled thought to another?"
I did not think to have my question answered. At eleven o'clock this morning a child of twelve years, beautiful as an angel with heavenly blue eyes and a shock of golden hair, dashed breathlessly into the courtyard of the Convent, almost too exhausted to ask if Soldat Constant Martin, by any chance, were there. The gentle Soeur Cecile led him in to the sick man's cot. The boy gazed a moment, bewildered at the wasted form upon it; then with an agonizing cry of "mon pere" fell on his knees by the bedside. The man's eyelids trembled, half opened an instant to look upon his son, and closed. In ten minutes he was at peace.
Since the railroad has been reconstructed the soldiers have been passing in trains instead of on foot. Today we saw hundreds of older men, Bavarians and sailors—it looks as if something had miscarried when the marines have to fight on land. In the opposite direction, thousands of wounded were going back in ambulance cars. These ambulance trains are admirable and are often made up of forty and fifty carriages of the light, swinging, old-fashioned type, of uniform size, the roofs painted white, with a big, red cross on the top and one on each side. The cots are arranged one above the other, showing clean, white linen, while the attendants are spotlessly uniformed in white. In the middle of each train is a car which might be called the "ugly duckling," for it is a decidedly clumsy looking affair, full of steam boilers with safety valves and tubes sticking out at the top, and is, I fancy, a sterilizing plant.
September 6th, Sunday.
Oh, the peace of Sunday in a little village! And Augustin is better, though he still fights his dressings. It takes the combined effort of the ward to present duty in such an attractive guise that he will not realize he is minding, but it is really the sympathetic Roger who can insinuate comforting comparisons from his own recent acquaintance with pain and the ever-ready Pierre, who with a "courage, camarade," and one free hand to help me, actually put the thing through.
On my way home to lunch I glanced at the clock in the church tower and saw that it was an hour ahead of time, having been made to coincide with Teuton pendulums. This is the second time that it has happened, for the villagers dared to climb up the long stairs and put it back, once, but the soldiers were so ferocious in their threats that—well, one must accept their insolence. Crossing the field I passed the farmer who must have felt considerable perturbation of soul this particular day, for he looked "worrited" and was mowing grass for his poor, thin cows, in a blue gingham smock and a bowler hat. The war is not more vital to anyone on earth than to him, for the soldiers have taken away his wagons and most of his hay for their bedding and they ruined the grass in the orchard where they were encamped.
Soldiers came to the Convent this morning to search for firearms. It appears that the German military authorities are terrified of an uprising among the inhabitants, particularly the factory hands, who will not work for the Prussians and are getting a little restless. One can readily imagine such an apprehension when from a population of 40,000 working men in the vicinity, only forty-two firearms were presented upon requisition. If all the rest are buried in the woods, as many believe, it will only be the story of another inspired "Cadmus, who sowed dragons' teeth and there sprang up an army of armed men."
Madame de H. has left for Brussels. The third auto which was hidden away was brought out and with Count Moltke's laisser-passer and the family's chauffeur, she will arrive safely, we hope, though we shall not rest until the man gets back.
In Liege this afternoon, in front of the University, we saw squares and squares which were burned out by the Germans, and also where those eighteen civilians were shot, following a slight uprising of the people. Madame X.'s niece, who lives quite near there, heard the screams of the women, and such scenes of terror seem even yet to paralyze the population. In the Place de la Cathedrale we saw soldiers pushing people along with their saw-toothed bayonets to disperse a crowd which was gaping, stupefied, at some unusual proceeding.
As we stood there, an automobile, with eight Prussian officers in it, came banging down the street, loose bolts jingling, and was just disappearing around a corner when Madame R. exclaimed "Oh, that's our Reynaud!"
All the automobiles, as well as everything else, have been confiscated by the invaders and it is a common occurrence to look up and see one's own beautiful car bounding along over cobblestones and breaking with its load of soldiers—the motors are driven so hard that in two weeks' time they are practically worthless.
At the beginning of the war, many owners cunningly removed a tiny necessary part of their machines, but in most cases the same owners were given just two hours at the point of the bayonet to find those missing parts, which was not always easy. And the farmers, too, who cut down the big trees across the roads to impede the enemy's advance, had just the same amount of time given them to clear the path again. So you see that one is helpless.
Rumors come from France that the fortified town of Mauberge still resists, but that the Germans are at Compiegne, which is so near to beautiful Paris. It is impossible to believe. Yet we all experienced a feeling of absolute faintness when that report came, for Compiegne, or anywhere within one hundred kilometres of it, is too near. But if—Bon Dieu, keep us from thinking!
September 8th, Tuesday.
There is a possibility of our going to Brussels. Oh, the joy of it! That may find me the means, through the American Ambassador, of getting back to my beloved France.
The youngest gardener, the little one, Charles, who is only eighteen years old, has left for "the front." Not with his regiment, for he hasn't one (this year was to have been his class), but as a private individual who could not stay at home when his country needed him. His old mother, with a little catch in her throat, sent him off proudly, her baby, her petit Charles, to serve with his four brothers, already gone.
But how can he get away with the eye of the arrogant usurper on every corner and road?
A Belgian soldier will play his role after his own interpretation. Instead of going off in his best smock and a tiny bundle on a stick, le petit Charles bade us a smiling au revoir in his old blue apron and torn hat. He will wander aimlessly over the hills which he knows so well and, unsuspected, will creep through the friendly hedges into the very arms of hospitable Holland and then, "All's well."
Trains were passing all day loaded with provisions, as well as soldiers and sailors who were sticking on like caterpillars all over the roofs, the sides, the steps and almost the wheels. I saw two of them dancing the tango on the top of one carriage. Then came car after car of prairie wagons, we call them, with voluminous, white, canvas hoods, loaded with provisions; after these, countless, giant cannon decorated with branches, flowers and flags, mounted on open trucks without sides. All this procession was a weird phenomenon gliding by in the sky like a mirage, for the road-bed at the rear of the chateau is very high and is hidden by intervening shrubs and bushes so that the wheels of the cars are quite concealed. It reminded me of those Amazon warriors in "Die Walkuere" who slid up to Heaven so smoothly on their wooden horses at the Opera in Paris.
Dropping from the poetical plane to common cause and effect, the whole gave the impression of being well lubricated—like the wheels of Destiny which turn steadily on with few jerks or hitches.
September 9th, Wednesday.
The word is said. We are packing our bags to leave for Brussels tomorrow. When I went to the Convent this morning, I found all the soldiers in bed and looking so wretched. Merciful Heaven! What blight could have fallen on our children over night? But it was a farce. They had heard that the officers of the regiment, here, were coming to inspect the wounded with the idea of sending those who are well enough on to Germany as, of course, they are prisoners. So the moment the Germans entered the courtyard, all the blesses—even those who are quite well—hopped into bed with their clothes on, pulled the covers up to their chins and with a wet compress on their heads, looked as ill as possible. It was comical to see; one can be a soldier and comedian at the same time—and even the dear Sisters enjoyed it. But I was paralyzed with fear. They had not thought of another side of the question to which the very impudence of their ruse might subject them.
I was very sad to say good-bye to these brave fellows who have been to all the world such a lesson in bravery and patience during their suffering. One big, lanky garcon—Jean, in fact—was quite undone at our departure. He refused to be consoled with the promise of postal cards in some future era and wept and sobbed, but I managed to understand between the sobs that he was saying, "Mais, Mademoiselle, je vous suis habitue." (But, Mademoiselle, I am used to you.) I do not know if this was meant for a compliment, but I took it as such and wept too.
September 10th, Thursday.
This morning was spent in finishing packing, which usually is the biggest part of it, I find.
There appears to be violent fighting at Malines, Louvain and Tirlemont. Nevertheless we are setting out from the chateau, at two o'clock, bag and baggage. Everybody felt sorry to leave the servants (Liegeois) who have been staunch and comforting friends through all the misery of these terrifying times. Will an eager Fate close them in? Let us hope they will absorb the effervescent optimism of the fat old cook who continually reiterates in her awful French, "They cannot hurt me. I am a Hollander."
2 P. M.—Well, off we started. It was a moment I shall never forget, for it was as if we had taken up something solid and heavy (an experience, for example) in our two hands and put it behind us. There were in the party our two autos and Monsieur H. with Signor K., an Italian consul, in his. Monsieur H. has a passport from the military Governor, Field Marshal von der Golz, to go anywhere in Belgium, so we felt very safe to be with him. No ancient stage-coach with a dozen passengers on the top could have made as precarious a flight as our machines, packed and jammed full inside and crowned on the roof with an overhanging cornice of every sort of bundle. You can imagine that there was an idea at the back of our minds of never returning, perhaps, or of keeping what we could in immediate possession.
It was interesting in leaving the city to see the disposition of troops; we passed through Seraing, where are those tremendous Cockerill factories, and soon arrived opposite the famous Fort Hollogne which did such wonderful work in the defense of Liege, August 5th. At present it flies the German flag and but for one or two sentinels pacing near, one would never dream that a tremendous fort was there. Like the others, it is built three stories underground, with just a slight rising of earth defining the cupolas. Along the road on both sides, for miles and miles, lay splendid trees which were cut down for cannon range. Just before arriving at Jauche we met three automobiles with Prussian officers, who shouted "Nicht weiter" and made violent signs which we did not understand. But why "nicht weiter" with the Herr Feld Marschall's permission in our pocket? We soon learned at the railroad crossing. An hour before there had been an alarm and the station had received orders to allow no one to pass, as there was fighting not far beyond in the direction of Tirlemont. Then and there arose a mighty discussion and the esprits of many nations (Belgian, Italian, Russian, French and German) entered into the argument while one meek American looked on at the sparring. Even the little slip of paper ladened with the name of von der Golz in much ink, had no weight. Then we tried another route, that lay right through the heart of a dirty, squalid, little village to Ramillies, the same Ramillies of Louis XIV.'s time, famous in the "Batailles des Flandres." We arrived there by a sudden turn of the road which brought us up standing, onto a bridge spanning the railroad. Below, perhaps two hundred feet distant, was the station, out of which, upon our sudden apparition, swarmed a hundred soldiers in alarm, quite as if the surprising toe of a boot had inadvertently kicked over an ant hill. At Ramillies we were not more successful than at Jauche, for as the officials explained, if we passed the railroad station we were in danger of being caught between two battlelines. So, sadly indeed, we retraced our way and returned in the dark and the pouring rain to a dismantled house and forlorn hopes.
September 12th, Saturday.
We are in the depths of despair today for we hear that they are fighting at Meaux—Meaux, which nearly is Paris. If I were a French woman I could not feel more poignantly about it. But we always think that it is not true, as we have no real means of knowing—all is hearsay.
A messenger brought news from Monsieur N., "Uncle Maurice," in the Ardennes. It appears that in August when the German troops went through Belgium on foot, the regiment of Count Otto von M. passed his villa. Count Otto is "Uncle M's" nephew—the son of his sister, who married a "high official of the Imperial Court," of whom I have already spoken. So it happened that the young officer went to call on his esteemed uncle, who frankly shut the door in his face. The Count burst into tears and cried, "Uncle, Uncle, won't you speak to me? It is not my fault. When my brothers and I received orders to come through Belgium, we begged other commissions but to no avail."
Certainly not! who better than the Counts von M. who have hunted from childhood, thro' every lane and secret path, to lead the armies thro' Belgium.
Trains are passing with every known thing therein—first thousands of soldiers, then wagons of provisions, cannon, boats for pontoon bridges mounted on wheels ready for unloading, material for building, trucks of hay, portable houses and in one car were hundreds of tiny wheels sticking up which we discovered belonged to wheelbarrows. It is a droll procession, that never ceases before one's eyes. To offset it, we have taken to playing Patience morning, noon and night, and if this monotony keeps up much longer we shall certainly become imbeciles. From time to time, in the trains going back to Germany one sees French prisoners, easy to tell by their red kepis, boxed up in cattle cars, peering out from a narrow slit at the top. From the terrace can be heard the dull thud of distant cannon; the fighting is at Warrem, thirty kilometres from here.
Monday, September 14th.
Somebody came into possession of a newspaper, the "Figaro" from Paris, dated September 6th. We were delighted to have it loaned us for an hour, greasy and dirty as it was, for in these days a newspaper is the most precious article on earth. It is brought in on a silver tray—then somebody feverishly reads aloud for the benefit of the others, while the servants run out to invite the neighbors to come in and listen. Just as the reader is in the middle of a grand eulogy on glorious victories, etc., an unknown person raps on the door to reclaim the precious journal and we all relapse into a general interchange of impressions, ideas, complaints, inspirations—"They say"; "It appears"; "Why"; "Must"; "Ought"; "Should"; etc. In a German paper we read to-day, they are preparing their men for "slight defeats" by saying that, "The French army is no longer the army of 1870, but one worthy to combat with our own." That was very condescending and was doubtless inspired by the formidable battleline from the coast to Nancy, before their noses.
September 16th, Wednesday.
Natural laws are demonstrating themselves very plainly these days, for when we were sitting on the terrace just before lunch to-day, a curious thing happened—a sound wave, from a cannon shot literally hit our ear drums. I felt as if somebody had struck mine with a padded club. There was no noise, you understand, but we all looked up, aware of the impact at the same moment, so that it could not have been imagination. It must be that the terrible experiences of the past weeks have developed us to a highly sensitized degree, for many things are strikingly clear which were not so before.
Nearly every afternoon we go up over the hill to a high cliff overhanging the river which makes a sounding board for those sounds, which never abate, of a distant battle across the valley.
Heaven above! how are there men enough left after all these weeks of killing to continue a battle? At times the reports come as thick and fast as hail, making one long roar of awfulness, and our hearts sink like lead at the vision it conjures up.
And again, how readily and eagerly hope springs up when the shots become interrupted and the noise fades away a little.
In this wooded spot where we so often go to find out the real truth of things with our own ears, one meets nearly all one's friends from the neighboring villas who have come for the same purpose, morbidly attracted as we all, no doubt, are by these dreadful signs of a world of torture.
We huddle together like sheep lost in the storm, we confide our personal misfortunes and we recount the barbarous tales we have recently heard, the story ever interrupted by fresh evidence of the reviving fury of the never-ending struggle.
When we arrived home we heard that a company of soldiers had arrested, as espions, four or five men who, like ourselves, were taking a little promenade in the wood across the valley. Our liberties are being curtailed more and more. Thank goodness there is a large garden and a private wood to wander in. A month ago the order was that every inhabitant must be in the house and lights out at eight P. M. Now it is seven o'clock and as the days grow shorter it will soon be six or five—and perhaps three. The soldiers are in such a blue fear of being shot that recently in Aerschot all the villagers were put into the church on bread and water. Some of the men were shot before their wives and most of the houses burned. And they say, "the heart of the Imperial Empire bleeds." It is not surprising that it does when one considers what is happening right here at Liege, where houses are burned and innocent men shot for murder. Afterward one finds German bullets in German soldiers, which proves what you will.
What a story we heard to-day—such a pitiful little story of somebody's blue-eyed boy who ran out with his toy gun and aimed it at the passing troops.
They shot him dead, the little fellow, but he will sleep in a hero's grave as truly as another, for his loyal wee might.
September 18th, Friday.
A memorable day! We went in the auto to Spa. As we drove out of the court yard we were obliged to let some horsemen pass, who were out for their morning exercise. I think it is somebody's body guard, for we see them often at a distance. There are about thirty of them and at close range they are rather beautiful, that is, their uniforms of spotless white broadcloth with gold trimmings. En route we passed by Fort d'Embourg, which still has some of its cupolas, and Fort Chaudefontaine, which our burned soldiers defended and which is demolished. For miles around the country has been flattened, one may say, from the operation of the cannon and looks as if a cyclone had hurried across it. Every bit of shrubbery has been swept off the soil as if by a blast of magic and the singed earth has a very shorn-lamb aspect.
Our route was a veritable via dolorosa—destruction on both sides, in front and behind. Many houses and trees had eight inch shells half sticking in them which have not exploded and nobody knows when they may. The churches were without fail demolished more or less and the most astonishing thing was to see, again and again, the marble statue of the Christ standing intact on the crumbling remains of an altar. It fills one with awe and reverence to see this figure repeatedly spared by a supernatural power from an otherwise pitiless devastation. We passed through the now famous Louvigne which was entirely burned by the Prussians on their way to Liege. It was the same old story of the "civilians firing on the troops," or rather the excuse of the delinquents to martyr innocent villagers who instinctively took up a rifle to defend their homes, as any one of us would. And revenge came quickly.
As we neared this spot which scarred the face of Nature, we were seized with silent horror. If, in the smiling sunshine and in the quiet of the beautiful country, we shivered at the sight of such destruction and the thought of that dastardly work which marked the destiny of hundreds of human beings, what must the awful realization have been to the inhabitants themselves? Fancy the helplessness of them and their consternation at the approach of a great army bearing down, of men maddened with the love of conquest, of the wild beast seeking what it may devour! Imagine the distant rumbling of wheels, drawing nearer and nearer, the thud of horses' hoofs, the rhythmic tramp of feet, first wafted on the wind, and finally the frightful dread confirmed by a sudden explosion from the forts. Then the arrival—the dark—the noise—the confusion—the terror of the women—the screams of little children clinging to their mothers—the despair of the old ones, ill and bedridden—fire everywhere and men torn from the arms of their loved ones and stood up in a row and shot. What ghastly scenes, illumined still more by those rockets of flame from the forts which cut across the plain to stay the brutal invaders!
I saw a little girl come out from the debris to draw water from a pump—for what? For whom? There did not seem to be a living creature in the vicinity, though perhaps some of the poor things who fled out into the night across the fields for safety, have come back to dig out a little home under the crumbled stone. One or two houses remained standing, which seems a miracle, as petrole-soaked fire-brands were thrown systematically into every habitation. As we passed, rather quickly, I counted ninety houses in ruins and about half a mile from the road, a magnificent chateau, a victim as well as the meanest hovel. The facade only was standing, though on approaching directly, the building seemed intact, except for a curious impression of daylight shining through the windows.
Coming back in the twilight the effect of all this misery was accentuated, the sentinels every few hundred yards were more suspicious than ever and when we came upon a few isolated "Hussars de la Mort" with the death's head leering out from those elegant fur turbans, I thought all was finished. Happily the men were more peaceable than their aspect.
Spa, the lovely, indolent ville d'eaux, which we visited, was filled with the "military" and bristling like a porcupine with saw-edged bayonets and pointed helmets.
September 22nd, Tuesday.
The doctor has gone to Neufchateau in the Ardennes to bring back the French and Belgian wounded. I wish I could have gone with him, for we seem so useless here now that our soldiers are well, and the days are long, since the wild excitement of a giant army on the wing has cooled down. "On the wing" is not an idle expression when we remember those forced marches and how they lashed the poor artillery horses which galloped and strained in the traces without making much impression on the wheels. It was rather like that famous chariot race in the play, "Ben Hur," when the landscape rolled around too fast for the horses. Certain Imperial Esprits have doubtless already arrived, but without the baggage—an item somewhat important.
May the Fates preserve beautiful Paris! There is a dear little French sister at the Convent (this Sisterhood was transferred from Metz after the War of 1870) who says that we must pray the Blessed Virgin every day to "ecraser (smash) les Allemands," and she says it so fervently that one does not observe the lack of Christian spirit.
Very little is passing through the city at present except perhaps this eternal line of trains, and oh, how we are thirsting for news! Can you imagine, dear people at home, you who have hundreds of newspapers, how we are straining every nerve to know the real truth of things as they are, to pierce through this thick wall, with which an arrogant despotism has cut us off from the whole world? But we cannot. It is wadded on both sides with deceptions and our only privilege is to surmise. What poor things we are, in truth, though born and reared in the common independence of the age. Everywhere (else) the poorest farmer has his one old horse to take him to and fro, where he will, and he has his acre of God's country, where he may muse in the sun or dream with the stars, while we, conquered by numbers, must walk in a straight line without loitering and we must go into our houses at seven P. M. and close the door. Do you think that is amusing?
September 24th, Thursday.
We heard five booms of cannon in an hour this morning and bad and inhuman as it sounds, we were quite pleased—any little sign from an outside world that one lives, one breathes, to drag us out of this inertia, this eternal silence!
September 28th, Monday.
There was quite a demonstration in Liege yesterday when they brought back from Neufchateau some Belgian and French wounded. The people all shouted, "Vive la France." Today we have a new military governor, who has given the order to shoot, without hesitation, any person attempting such an indiscretion again.
The scene of operations is gradually swinging back into Belgium and the stories of atrocities are increasing. The sacking and burning of Louvain, with its art treasures and its world-famous library of rare books and old manuscripts, is only another blot on a shield already stained. In fact, it is said that the general who permitted it is most discontented with himself for having been so stupid and that he has been relieved from active service on account of ill health.
Monsieur Max, the burgomaster of Brussels, has been taken prisoner and is in confinement at Namur, because he was not able nor willing to meet the demands of the Prussians, who want gold. We hear that the women of Germany have been required to give up all their jewelry, except wedding rings, for fighting money.
September 30th, Wednesday.
We went again to Spa in the auto. Passing again through the pitiful village of Louvigne, we saw, in a meadow, the graves, covered with wayside flowers, of the farmers who were shot. The soldiers picked out forty of the villagers, stood them up in a line, then shouted, "Save yourselves." Thirteen were shot in the back and the rest escaped. What words to find for this barbarism? But is it barbarism and not rather the refined cruelty of civilization? Is it not better then to remain a primitive, with a beautiful faith in the Sun-god?
October 1st, Thursday.
The siege of Antwerp has begun. Here is a dialogue between the Kaiser and his belle armee.
K. "I need Antwerp."
A. "Your Majesty shall have Antwerp, but we need five hundred thousand men."
K. "You shall have them."
Does this explain the fantastic array of soldiers, sailors, the old, the young, grandfathers and infants, the simple rank and file and the elegant regiments of H. M. that are continually trailing on to the battlefield?
September 29th, Tuesday.
The servants are dismantling the house today, putting all the art treasures in safety—tapestries, silver, portraits, paintings, rugs, fine china, furniture, dresses, furs, books, linen—in fact everything of value. All this is to be taken off for safekeeping and sealed up,—maybe, in the crystal caves of the river nymph, Arethusa. Madame X. does not like to imagine the Haus Fraus parading in her sables.
A man in the city saw some circulars ready for distribution that were printed by the German War Office, saying that in case of retreat of the army, the inhabitants of Liege would have six hours to evacuate the city.
All that horror over again? Oh! this is a more terrifying thought, even, than the advance of an army.
Madame de H. managed to get through to us a letter from Brussels by messenger. What dreadful things are happening, what curious things! Three kilometres from her chateau on the other side of Brussels is an old feudal castle which has been occupied for the last two years by an Austrian family. These people were never very neighborly, preferring their own society evidently and spending all their time and interest in repairing the dilapidated walls of an unused wing of the chateau. This had turned out an endless task, as it appears, continued for weeks and then suddenly and unaccountably stopped for days, only to be feverishly recommenced. But of course, people round about, accustomed to the varying energy of workmen in general were not puzzled at this. At least this was the explanation given and, in truth, it began to look as if the old place would live its given quota of days and crumble away still unfinished.
Twenty-four hours after Germany declared war on France and had already crossed the frontier into Belgium, the Austrian family disappeared in the night, taking with them their household goods. The next day Belgian authorities seized the property and found a complete arsenal under the walls with a net-work of tunnels burrowing far into the earth in all directions.
October 3rd, Saturday.
During the last forty-eight hours, hundreds of cattle cars have been going back to Germany and we were very curious as to their contents. Unhappily, we have been enlightened.
Some of the villagers at the station, this morning, looked into one car and saw that it was full of dead human bodies, tied together in threes and packed tightly side by side in rows. Is that not too horrible for words? It is better not to be too inquisitive these days, for there is horror enough on the surface of things.
The Germans have already taken some of the forts of Antwerp, although the country surrounding the outer belt line of forts has been purposely inundated, which does not, however, prevent the operation of big field cannon.
About fourteen of our wounded at the Convent Ambulance were sent to Germany today as prisoners. We went to see them off and found the poor things absolutely overwhelmed. Against the fear of cold and imprisonment, they put on as many clothes as possible—two suits of underwear, two pairs of socks, two pairs of trousers, coats, shirts, sweaters and waistcoats—until they looked like stuffed partridges. Poor, feathered brood, with pinioned wings! At three P. M. our (usually) gay boys were led out of the court, two by two, like convicts, a Prussian at the head of the column and a Prussian at the foot.
Oh, these Belgians are brave and they know how to obey, which may be the very secret of their greatness. It is glorious to see the respect with which even grown men accept the advice of their aged parents, for at the moment of peril to their honor and their country when the old father had said to his son, "My boy, it is time to lay down the hoe and take up the sword," he had answered, simply, "Oui, mon pere," while the women brought out the sword and buckled it on with a tearless Godspeed.
That is the way the Belgians went to war and that is the way they will sustain themselves to the glorious end.
October 5th, Monday.
To-day, two months after that horrible battle of Sartilmont, we found a Belgian soldier's cap lying in the middle of the path in the woods. It seemed like a human thing and stirred me to the profoundest depths. I never thought that clothes could take on life and a personality all alone, but they do. Has its owner been in hiding all these weeks or is he lying yet unburied among the friendly trees? In these places where Death has walked so boldly one feels his accompanying presence at every step.
October 8th, Thursday.
Monsieur B., a man of seventy years (Madame X.'s brother-in-law), was taken as hostage yesterday at Spa. Fortunately for him, he was allowed to sleep in the hotel, but can you imagine what the anxiety of those twenty-four hours was? Every voice in the street, every foot-step in the corridor—!
From the top of the mountain all day a continual booming was heard, distantly transmitted through the air. It was so incessant and with such vivacity, one could easily imagine two armies all mixed up into one. The Red Cross trains bear witness to tremendous battles somewhere—but where? We hardly know how to contain ourselves in this absolute ignorance of what is happening in the world. We rush upon and tear to bits, like beasts of prey, the least little piece of news that comes straggling within reach and if, by chance, someone comes into the court, it is enough for all the family, including the servants, to rush to the windows in excitement.
The soldiers who are in the garage had the delicate idea of killing a cow therein, which they did, and dismantled the animal then and there. The next day they dressed themselves in Belgian uniforms, stripped from the dead, and had themselves photographed before the chateau. We noticed their laughing and pointing to the attic windows of the house, and we finally discovered that they had festooned strings of sausages, of their own recent make, from the window sills, to ripen.
A Baron de S. spent the night here, and told us of the ravages made by the passing troops at his chateau down in the country. They had buried a Frenchman in one corner of the garden and two Germans in another and nothing was left but the house. All engravings and paintings were cut with a sword; silver platters were melted in a lump in the court yard; meat was cut up on a beautiful salon table; shoe polish was rubbed on another; pipes in the kitchen and bathroom were cut to flood the rooms; every glass in the house was broken and all the linen carried off except the handkerchiefs.
October 9th, Friday.
Baron T., another friend of the family, came to lunch. He told us of his cousin, who was one of the unfortunate victims of the sack of Louvain. This aged man (seventy years) with a thousand others, was obliged to walk for twenty-four hours with nothing to eat or drink and arms stretched up straight over their heads. The poor man, fainting with fatigue, asked permission of the soldiers to put his hands behind his neck, but this grace was denied, and after some hours more all the company was pushed into a cattle train and for eight days taken over the country, as far as Cologne, and at last released in Brussels, almost demented.
When this Monsieur—of whom I speak, found himself free again he made his way, laboriously enough, to his brother's house in Brussels.
The maitre d'hotel opened the door and, seeing this haggard, bootless individual, who was weakened with fatigue and dazed from his recent horrible experience, did not recognize him, naturally enough, and refused him admission until the old gentleman got his poor scattered brains together enough to prove his identity. This is the story as we have it first-hand. Can it then be possible that the others we heard are true, too?
October 10th, Saturday.
I have been advertised! like a stray dog, and what a feeling of importance it gives one. A peculiar looking document with the Embassy seals of Paris and Brussels on it, arrived from the American Consul in Liege enquiring if such a person as "Me" still exists.
Well, rather, I should say. Fancy one's coming all the way on foot from Brussels to find out that!
Masses of soldiers and cannon passing today and news from Brussels is bad. The worst must have happened! "Antwerp, the untakable." How is it possible in a few days, with fifty-two forts in triple line? We were so depressed we could scarcely eat dinner, when about nine P. M. came the news, from a man of affairs who is just back from Brussels, that the rumor is false. We shall sleep tonight after this hope and the end of the world is not today, anyway.
October 11th, Sunday.
We have heard the raging of a distant battle for days and we tremble for the result. It seems that Antwerp is really taken, that is, "they say" so, but it is such a mystery to everybody.
A Dutch army nurse—but in the German Red Cross service—is here for a few days' furlough, and related to Madame X. some horrible details of the battlefield in France, whence she has recently come. It is just one scene of mud and blood—pieces of limbs strewn everywhere and the dead standing straight against masses of bodies, both living and dead. In some towns she saw women and children pinioned with a sword through the breast to the walls of their houses, and in Belgium the women and children were often obliged to hold the hands of the men whom the soldiers shot at random, according to their fancy. Here again are tales that one hears that I cannot assert as facts, though this woman told them as her own experiences.
Madame X. received a card from Charles, the young gardener, who is now safe in France training with the Belgian army near Dunkirque. You are doubtless wondering how a card arrived here, as we have had no mail since August 2nd. It was sent to a certain bank in Holland which is not far from the Belgian frontier and a messenger brought it on foot.
And I have sent you back a letter, dear people, scribbled at top speed (without capitals, t's crossed nor i's dotted, probably) by the same messenger who takes his life in his hands when he passes the guard at the Dutch frontier again. If letters are found on this person he will certainly be shot, so whether you ever receive my communication will be a matter of history.
October 13th, Tuesday.
The old concierge of the hunting box at Viel Salm (near Malmedy, Germany), who has been dying of tuberculosis for twenty years, arrived here tonight, having walked the whole distance of seventy five kilometres. This shows the faithfulness of the old servant who thought he must come to report the sacking of the villa by the German troops which occurred in the early days of August.
The poor man could not have hobbled another step, for he was at the end of his strength and his feet were just two great blisters. He told a shocking tale of the troops, who entirely pillaged the villa. While he went to complain of them at the Kommandantur of the place, others came and what they did not break up, they took off. Pictures, engravings and mirrors were broken, the leather chairs slit up with a sabre—artistically done in the shape of a cross—and porcelain smashed in the middle of the courtyard. You can see by this that pillaging and atrocities began when the troops were hardly over the frontier.
In one of the numerous pillaged chateaux around about, an extraordinary bit of literature, in fact a masterpiece, has been found by the chatelaine. A tiny scrap of paper sticking out from a book had these words scribbled on it in German: "I am only a common soldier but I ask pardon for these atrocities, committed by my superior officers."
October 14th, Wednesday.
It is unbelievable the trainloads of soldiers that are passing about every ten minutes, and the fighting—judging from the wounded—must be beyond words. The army nurse told of men who have fought five days in the trenches without relief. They were tumbling over with fatigue, rifle in hand, and the officers were obliged to go from one to the other, shaking them into consciousness.
October 16th, Friday.
We went to Viel Salm in the automobile. The destruction at the villa, which I saw with my own eyes, has not been exaggerated. There was practically nothing left but the structure itself and that was far from intact, for nearly all the great plate glass windows were broken by some devot of vandalism who had taken the trouble and an ax to split up the jambs of the doors so that they never could shut again.
Inside was far worse; every picture, glass and mirror was smashed, each leather chair had a great cross on it, cut with the sword, the sofas were ripped up the middle, curtains and portieres were wrenched from their rods, all the dishes were taken except the glass stoppers of the water-bottles, all the linen, all the blankets, all the clothes except a few which were carefully cut up into ribbons and the tops of riding boots which were sawed off for gaiters. In addition to this, eighteen beds and bedsteads as well were carried off.
We visited the Baronne de L., whose son, after refusing a demand of forty thousand francs, was taken as a hostage, with the burgomaster and others of the village.
One morning at two o'clock a great ox cart drove up the avenue of pines to the chateau and took him off before his mother's eyes. He is now confined in a convict's cell at Coblenz.
Baronne de L. has suffered severely at the hands of the invaders. She is living quite alone in the chateau with the servants since her son was taken and the avalanche of troops swept over the frontier at this point. The house has been full of officers from the "first days" and she thinks one of them was the "Kronprinz" from his photograph and because his brother-officers always addressed him as Excellency. After one frightful day, when the soldiers had literally despoiled the place by tearing trophies from the wall, appropriating furniture and devastating the stables, the household quieted down about midnight and everybody was in bed, when suddenly a thundering of horses' hoofs was heard in the courtyard and a new detachment of hungry, quarrelsome men piled in, making a raid on the kitchen and pantries as usual. They were even more boisterous and brutal than their predecessors and poor Madame de L. crept fearfully up to the captain's room to solicit his aid and protection. She knocked and knocked several times before the door finally burst open and he angrily demanded what she wanted. Just as he was in the middle of roaring out an oath, he suddenly drew himself up haughtily, attired as he was in that great voluminous night gown accredited to the Teutonic people, to salute a superior officer who at that moment ascended the stair-case.
Baronne de L. said that in spite of the fearfulness of the moment, it was one of the most laughable scenes that she ever witnessed.
On our way home from Viel Salm we saw the wonderful bridge of trees, three hundred feet long and fifty feet high, at Trois Ponts, which the Germans built when the tunnel was blown up by the Belgians at the commencement of the war. It is a marvellous affair in engineering construction and commands enthusiastic admiration. Except for iron bolts and rivets, it is made entirely of trunks of huge trees—with the bark yet on in places, though, when necessary, a surface was planed square and true to meet its fellow.
We drove through the village of Francorchamps, which was also burned to the ground, and a few miles further on met three Prussian officers who snarled out some frightful invective as we passed. I cannot think of a reason, except that we were in an automobile while they were obliged to circulate in a modest, pony phaeton.
October 17th, Saturday.
Antwerp is taken! There is no doubt about it now, and it is a sad blow for Belgium. Antwerp! the pride and strength of the whole empire! But there is not a person (bar the enemy) who does not expect to get it back and all the rest of the usurped territory.
Madame de H. sent letters by a "foot-messenger" from Brussels. She left here only to plunge into a wild vortex of experiences there. Two days ago she saw a battle in the air between two aeroplanes and yesterday the locomotives on the trains had chains of roses around their necks to celebrate some good news for the enemy. It sounds wild, doesn't it? And last week—well, one does not dare to think what might have happened at her home, Chateau de H., when four different companies of soldiers pursued each other in quick succession on the road.
First a regiment of German light infantry passed who stopped just long enough for some hot coffee and were off again. About half an hour later a brigade of Belgian bicycle carabiniers appeared and stayed to "lunch." They were not so presses and were leisurely laughing and joking when one of the stable-men rushed panting into the kitchen and said a company of Uhlans could be seen galloping hard in the distance.
Then ensued a kaleidoscopic performance which took less time than my writing it, and they all escaped, safely guided by Baron de H. himself, down a narrow path hidden by trees behind the stables which led them eventually right out across the heart of that famous beet-root country. When the last man was safely hidden from view, one breathed a sigh of relief which only changed to an exclamation of terror as, turning from this window to look out of another, one saw a hundred fierce horsemen dash up, hard on the scent of their prey.
When Madame de H. (senior) looked down from her room and saw the Uhlans ride into the court, she went right off her head, literally, and drawing a tiny pearl-handled revolver from a secret drawer in her desk, started to shoot from the window. But thanks to the presence of mind and rapid action of her daughter-in-law, who pushed her unceremoniously into her dressing-room and locked the door, she was prevented in time, which without the least doubt saved all their lives.
It is just such circumstances as these that have given the troops opportunities and excuses to shoot peace loving citizens and burn down many a town.
Madame de H. (junior) then went down stairs and placated the men, who were very insolent, as well as she could with what was left to eat in the house. As the latter were deep in this occupation of refreshing themselves, the sentry espied a troop of Belgian lanciers coming on the gallop and gave the alarm.
To horse! and away they went, bridles clinking, lances clashing. Then commenced a phantom race as they flew over the ground like the wind, the Belgians following hot in pursuit, until they both disappeared over the edge of the world.
October 19th, Monday.
I went to see the American Consul, to explain that I do exist and to ask his advice about getting back to France. He did not seem to second my enthusiasm, which surprised me, and said, "In the first place what would you go in, and in the second, why should you want to go, with Paris surrounded by 2,000,000 soldiers?"
Isn't it human nature to want to get out of prison?
He has received no mail from America since August 19th and a letter which came from his confrere, the American Consul at Aix-la-Chapelle, Germany, took twenty-five days by the German Military Post.
October 22nd, Thursday.
I was perfectly enraged this morning when I crossed the bridge and saw the soldiers changing the street signs into the German language. Now it is "nach Brussels" and "nach Luettich."
I suppose you will say, "But why be so disturbed about things? It is not your war." But it is my war. I cannot keep out of it—it's everybody's war!
The new soldiers who have been in the stable at the chateau received sudden orders to advance. The rest of the company, scattered about in the vicinity, assembled here and they marched out of the court, a hundred strong. Poor, old, nice things, these Bavarians; they did not look very military nor very keen about moving on to the "front."
In contrast one can tell a Prussian five blocks away by his swing. His stride is so individually overbearing that it is impossible to mistake.
November 5th, Thursday.
Monsieur and Madame S. came back from Brussels today and oh, it was good to get a little, first-hand, outside news! It appears that Brussels still has a semblance of her normal activity, as the heel of oppression, in the presence of different foreign representatives, has not cut in so deeply there. Madame S. said, one evening when they were walking in the street she noticed a man following them and when they reached a particularly dark corner he came quickly up and whispered, "Would you like to see a 'London Times'? Then come into the shadow across the way." It is well known that a single copy has already sold for 165 francs and also there has been quite a traffic in renting sheets of it for twenty francs the half hour.
Coming back from Brussels, they drove through Louvain—martyred Louvain! It was too dreadful to contemplate. First the material destruction of those wonderful buildings, like an exquisite pattern in lace, torn by a ruthless sword and eaten by wanton flame; then the misery and deprivation of the people who were able to resist those hours of agony and peril.
Every sort of device was used for shelter and hollow eyes and terror-stricken faces looked out from the damp cellars under the ruins, where destitute families of at least half the population had crept to find a home.
Now we know why the taking of Antwerp has been kept so modestly in the background and has never been advertised in Liege like all the other victories, which were always flaunted in large print. It is because while the Germans were studiously busy taking the city, fort by fort, the Belgian army was walking out by the side door, along the coast to France, so that when a big personage was sent from Germany to make a grand, triumphal entry into Antwerp, he found an empty city and received the sword of a general, ill and incapacitated for duty.
It is said that the Prussian general who accomplished the siege was decorated amid a grand flourish of trumpets and then retired, since one of the great motives was the capture of the Belgian army, which is now safe in France and taking a week-end off somewhere. Is it not fine that little Belgium has been able to impede the great German army two and one half months, which has given the other actors in the play time to change their costumes? Oh, it is fine to be brave!
Countess de M. came with Monsieur and Madame S. from Brussels and has her passports all in order to go to France, to her husband who is in the Belgian army near Calais. She is leaving at once, under the protection of the Dutch Consul, who is here in Liege for a few days (a circumstance ordained by the Fates) and who is going to conduct her in his auto over the frontier to Maestricht, Holland. And the miracle has happened! If I can get my papers in readiness in two days, she will take me with her. I am wild with joy, but I feel it is like a dream that one knows cannot come true.
November 6th, Friday.
Just the moment I finished breakfast this morning, I dashed into town, that is, as fast as an old tramcar could take me, to the American Consul. In my impatience, I fancy I must have rung his bell several times, though it was really a long while before the servant opened the door and showed me in to the library. Then Mr. Z. (a German-sounding name), the Consul, appeared, unshaven and with the evidence of his morning meal upon his face—it was yellow.
But nothing mattered to me and I plunged into the subject of getting a passport for to-morrow without preliminaries. Perhaps I took the poor man's breath away, for certainly he was not nearly as enthusiastic as I about it. In fact, he embarked upon a dissertation pertaining to the invaders which made me cry out in astonishment, "Why, you surprise me, you seem to have pro-enemy tendencies." "Well," he said, "they've done everything they've said they have, haven't they?"
I asked him if he had seen Louvigne or Vise yet and he said, "No, I haven't ben up t' Vise yet."
All this, however, was far from the point in question and I finally got back to it by informing him of the good fortune I was going to have to-morrow in getting away to Holland in the Dutch Consul's automobile if I could get my passport from the Germans. It did not occur to me that there would be any difficulty about it, so I calmly asked him if he could get it for me by six o'clock to-night?
"Oh, no," he replied, "I could not get it before two or three days."
"But," I protested, aghast, "I am going to-morrow and it is a chance in a thousand; I may not have another such opportunity during the war. Could you not make an especial effort to get it for me?"
"Well," he answered, "I'll do what I can but I won't promise anything. I'm not agoing to ask any favors of those people," i.e., the Germans.
"It is not a favor," I replied, "it is your right. For what other reason is an American Consul if he is not to protect his people, particularly in wartime?"
"Oh, my dear young lady," he answered, "you must not think that you are the only American in Liege."
"How many are there?" indignantly.
"Well, three or four," he replied, reluctantly.
That was really too much! I was in despair. What was to be done? Seeing my hope of freedom vanishing before my eyes, I clutched at the last straw and entreated him with what eloquence I could whip into line to make at least some effort to get me the passport by six o'clock, when I would come again to his house for it.
"Oh, no," he said quickly, "I don't get back here until eight o'clock, but if you happen to pass by 'The Golden Lion' (or some such name) you might find me there."
Choking with rage I said to him, "I see that you cannot help me, Mr. Z., but if you will be good enough to give me your card (he had already suggested it) to the German passport department, I will go to the Kommandantur myself and see what I can do; in fact, I am sure I can accomplish far more than you." He ought to have been affronted at this but, on the contrary, seemed jolly well pleased and handed me out his card in a hurry, glad to relieve himself of the obligation of asking any favors of "those people."
I then made my way to the Palais de Justice. A man accosted me in the square and told me if I were going for passports it would be of no use, as there were hundreds and hundreds of people there before me. But I kept on. With the glorious end in view, viz., to be a free person and to see the scenes that, in a morbid way, I had begun to feel would never be my privilege again, I kept on, threading a path through the throngs until I stood right in front of the guard of the sacred chamber. He was an enormously fat sentry, with the usual little round cap and fixed bayonet. I thought he would eat me, he looked so offended, and roared out, "Nein, nein, das Zimmer ist voll." Then was my moment. I pulled out the little white card and addressed him—not too timidly either, for hadn't I the great American people behind me? He caught the words, "American Consul," which drew him up to salute and in the most lamb-like voice he murmured, "Ach, ja, Amerikaner," and let me pass. I cast one look at the multitude back of me—poor things, who may have stood there two days already, and I felt despicably mean, as if I were not playing fair.
Once inside, I was put through a category of questions, worse than an "Inkwhich." "Why had I come to Liege?" "How long had I been there?" "Why did I want to go away?" "Where to?" "How?" etc. Finally my inquisitor became suspicious, or feigned it, and said, "But what have I to prove that you are an American?" Then I was furious and I answered, "Monsieur (I suppose he hated the French appellation), since you have the card of the American Consul asserting it, in your hand, is not such a question an indignity to my government?" He answered with a wry smile and said nothing.
At 4 P. M. I returned for my passport with half a dozen photographs to be affixed thereto. I had no difficulty in getting into the Bureau des Passeports as I still had the Consul's card upon which Herr Bauer, one of the German secretaries, had scribbled some mysterious symbols which probably meant "let her pass," or its equivalent. At any rate, the sentry and I regarded each other superciliously and I skidded past his saw-toothed bayonet without hurt.
When I entered the crowded room I saw that I was about fiftieth in the line and I said to myself that if I waited my turn I should still be there at midnight. Luckily, an idea came to me, and waving that fateful little white card in the air, I called out over the heads of everybody, "Oh, Herr Bauer." A Belgian gentleman standing next me was quick enough to catch the name and shouted out also, "Herr Bauer." But Herr Bauer was far too clever for him and said with a mocking smile, "Ah, no, Monsieur, you will have to wait your turn. Mademoiselle, come this way."
I detached myself from the crowd and stepped behind the rail, horribly conscious of unpleasant scrutiny. My face got hotter and hotter and I could only see a host of uplifted Belgian eyebrows. Even the clerks looked up and stared, unaccustomed as they evidently were to Herr Bauer's benignity. And I had to bear all that humiliation because—well, why?
Having exposed the facts, I will give you the privilege to form your own opinion which will be every bit as good as mine, I know.
11 P. M. My passport signed, sealed and written all over by the Imperial Government, is in my hand. I shall dream of long journeys, of bitter struggles and at last—freedom! Will the daylight never come?
November 7th, Saturday.
Saturday dawned cold, gray and shivery. Madame de M., Monsieur le consul hollandais, and I left the chateau at eight A. M. I was heartbroken to part from the dear people with whom I had experienced so much and I fancied their eyes looked longingly at the departing automobile. They, too, would have liked to come out into the sunshine of Freedom—how much!
From Liege to the frontier sentries stopped us often, but the consul's much-used passport, framed and glassed in like Napoleon's Abdication or the Declaration of Independence, was very convincing. Half an hour's cold drive along the Meuse brought us to Vise. On approaching it, we did not dream that we were nearing a town and in truth we were not—only the remains of one, for not a single building was standing. I had thought that Louvigne with its one lane was desolate and awful, but here were streets and streets of ashes and crumbled brick—and I seemed to see again the ruins of ancient Troy in Asia Minor, which are not more complete. Someone murmured, "Pompeii." But it is not comparable. The ages have woven about the broken columns of Pompeii a light film of romance and a bit of tender beauty springs up with the tiny, flowering weeds which push their way to the sun between many colored tiles. Here, the tragedy is too new; too crude; too bleeding!
The only living things I saw were a cat scampering down a deserted alley, and one man—half-dazed, looking at what was probably his own ruined home; the only wall to be seen which was, even in part, standing. It must have been an ironmonger's shop, for some black kettles still hung on nails against the stone, and iron stoves in all their bleakness stood up in bold relief on piles of ashes.
When the Germans came to Vise the commanding officer called the people together in the market place and harangued them at length, threatening them with dreadful punishments if they did not do so and so. He felt he had to, doubtless, as the town and the surrounding country are well known centers of the firearms industry; the peasants work in their own homes to a large extent and are very expert in the making of delicate weapons and also in their use.
So, when the sturdy Belgians could not digest another single threat, apparently, somebody fired a shot from the crowd which killed the officer while he was speaking. Then followed that frightful slaughter and the firing of the town, the remnants of which we saw to-day. Nobody on earth will ever know who fired the shot, probably, for the soldiers hate their officers and already German bullets have been found in German soldiers.
9 A. M. Over the frontier! Oh, the joy of it—the indescribable relief—the wet-eyed thankfulness! Shall I ever forget it? I did not know until then what depths Tyranny had furrowed into my consciousness. Here were men and women laughing and talking in the streets and people daring to drive in their own carriages, and everybody reading newspapers—I felt as if I would spend my last sou for one.
The day was spent in wandering aimlessly over the old town. The wind was bitterly piercing and a fog hung over the canal but I was not altogether aware of bodily discomfort. My mind, trying to adjust itself to new conditions, was in a haze, staggering back and forth from the consciousness of regained freedom to servitude and from barbarism to freedom again.
At three P. M. the train left for Flushing, where we were to take the boat for Folkestone, England. Just before it pulled out of the station, a friend of Comtesse de M. rushed up to the car window and said, "Madame, must you go? We have just received a dispatch saying that a big boat has been sunk today by a mine near Boulogne." But nothing on earth could have deterred us then.
All through the country of Holland, Dutch soldiers were "preparing" everywhere. We arrived at Flushing at two A. M. and went aboard at once, but not before being well looked over by English commissioners, who examined our foreheads and wrists for German measles. Shall I ever get away from that word?
November 8th, Sunday.
A long day on the Channel and I was seasick—miserably, hopelessly, endlessly seasick, but when somebody shouted I managed to lift my head in time to see a floating mine—just a tiny, black buoy bobbing about, but I did not mind. I asked the stewardess if she were not afraid, making the journey every day, and her answer awed me by its conciseness and its confidence. "Oh, no," she said. "Our Admiralty has arranged a path for us between the mines." That was a sublime faith, but I should choose a more winsome path—bordered with marigolds, perhaps, or phlox.
About four P. M. the gaunt, chalk cliffs of Dover hove into sight, rising up in their grimness and seeming yet to shadow the awful tragedy of the previous day, when an auxiliary cruiser had struck a mine a quarter of a mile from shore and sunk in five minutes.
November 9th, Monday.
Folkestone! The busiest town on earth, I should say, and soldiers everywhere. There were ruddy-looking troops, singing also, and apparently quite content to be "going over," for an Englishman is always game; and there were pale ones, just out of hospital, in every kind of uniform, and bands of refugees and exiles who had not a franc among them.
Comtesse de M. went with me to the English Embassy to see if they would give me a passport to France with her, for in my haste in leaving Liege, it had not occurred to me that I would need a passport ever again anywhere.
It seemed to me that there were millions of people at the door of the Embassy, but fortunately Madame de M. found an acquaintance who must have had considerable influence, for he took us around to a secret door and we were soon in the audience room. Well, of course, there was nothing to prove that I was an American but our honest word, which was not enough, so I offered to hand out my German passport, which was certainly maladroit.
Fancy, an Englishman viseing a German passport!
Then Madame de M. pulled out hers and asked them to sign my name on it as companion to her. The august head looked troubled at this; however, he took his pen and was just in the act of putting it to paper when his assistant or rather accomplice interposed and they argued a bit. He took his pen for the second time and plunging it into the inkwell was just about to sign when somebody else expostulated and another discussion ensued.
For the third time (he pulled himself together as a man who knows what he is about) he took his pen and would certainly have achieved his object if the door had not opened at the inexpressible moment to admit an authoritative-looking person who vetoed the whole proceeding.
What those moments were to me I shall never be able to describe—that pen so near the paper! A naked sword three times across my throat would not have been greater suspense. Marie Antoinette could not have suffered more.
Well, the game was up anyway, and as there was no American Consul nearer than London, I decided to try the amiability of the French Consul which I found impeccable.
At the French Embassy again was that rush and struggle for papers, and there I witnessed a pathetic scene. A Belgian man, of middle age, and well dressed, came to the consul literally asking alms. "Monsieur," he said, "to ask you for help is the hardest thing that I shall ever do in my life, but I have lost everything and I must go to my wife, who is ill in France, and I have but five francs. Could your Embassy aid me?"
At five P. M. the boat left Folkestone, containing a conglomerate parcel of humanity—sailors and soldiers of different nations and in divers uniforms, singing alternately the "Marseillaise" and "God Save the King"; Red Cross assistants eager to reach the field of their work; white-haired mothers in search of their wounded sons, trembling for the message that land would have in store for them and despairing exiles awaiting at least the welcome sound of their beloved tongue. Night fell like a soft mantle and we forged on, into the darkness, chancing what might befall. What impressed me among the people aboard was the apparent lack of anxiety for personal safety. Past sufferings and the great future issue were the predominant thoughts.
The dock at Calais was crowded with anxious friends and Belgian soldiers. Madame de M. found several acquaintances among the latter—friends of her husband. After the usual Custom House proceedings we started on a quest for rooms for the night. A subdued excitement trembled over the city; the whole population was in the streets; throngs were seething up and down; hundreds of soldiers were hurrying to and fro and intense groups of men discussed probabilities, while anxious women pressed in on the crowd to catch a hopeful word. We heard that the German army was about to plunge through to Dunkirque and would shell Calais from there. The civil population was therefore expecting every moment the order to evacuate the city.
As we crossed the railroad near the pier, we saw in the half light a small company of Belgian soldiers limping along, each with a forlorn bundle on his back. Their aspect was completement demoralize, and the young lieutenant with us, moved by his quick sympathy, shouted, "Oh, say, camarades, have you heard of the new victories on the Yser and the brilliant defense of the Belgians?" The poor, despondent things, fired at once by the spirit of his enthusiasm, straightened themselves up and cried, "Oh! Ah! Is it true? Merci, mon lieutenant, vivent les Belges!"
A few yards further on we passed a group of refugees who were stumbling aimlessly along in the dark—there were men and women, trying to console each other, and whimpering children, sick with hunger, clinging to their mothers' skirts. Their plaintive cry was like a knife through the heart.
After picking a toilsome way through the crowds we arrived in the quarter of the big hotels and found there was not a room to be had. Not at all daunted, we retraced our steps and sought the small hotels—there were no rooms. Still, with courage—even amusement (the affair was taking on a spirit of adventure) we attacked the pensions de famille—not a cot; not a corner. Then we stopped in the Place to review the situation, which began to look dull gray. There were still the cabarets, or we could sit in the street all night. We chose the cabarets and with newborn hope started on, systematically taking one street after another, knocking at most dreadful-looking places, even along the waterfront. A woman's voice from behind barred shutters usually responded. Every chair, every table, every square inch of floor was spoken for. Then the warm, brightly-lighted railroad station, opposite the pier, leaped into our numbed consciousness—why had we not thought of it before? The military authorities forbade loitering there.
Out in the dark, once more we looked at each other inquiringly. That was a curious joke. Fate had never dealt us such a hand of cards before! We viewed the landscape—half of it was water and the little waves lapping against the quai were rather mocking.
Suddenly, dark and smug, a swaying object which we had not observed till then, took monstrous form before our eyes and in it we recognized an old friend, the Channel boat Elfrida, which lay basking in the velvet shadows like a dozing cat and gently pulling on her cables. Why not? We did! Nothing prevented our going aboard but a sleepy guard, who was quickly consoled with a five-franc piece, and we made ourselves comfortable for the night on the yellow, velvet cushions in the captain's salon, behind the wheel-house.
Who can assert that it has not all been arranged for us? Otherwise, I fear, our own poor efforts would land us too often in the mud.
November 10th, Tuesday.
Left Calais at nine A. M. The sun was pouring its cheerful rays over the glorious land. It ought to be free—this smiling France! Wherever the eye rested were soldiers drilling, building, maneuvering and digging. Every few hundred yards the railroad was intersected by lines of trenches. These latter appeared to be about seven feet deep—cut true as a die into the ground and were braced with a lining of woven reeds, like basket work. The front wall of these trenches was crenated about every two feet, forming little niches for the soldiers and protection against flank shots. The poppies and corn flowers blowing over the edges were holding on for dear life to their tiny inch of soil and nearly obliterated those brutal gashes in the earth which had swallowed up their brothers and sisters. An unsuspecting army might well be lured into such a pleasant bear-trap.
Train progress was very slow for we had to switch off continually to allow ammunition trains and troops to pass. All the railroad stations were packed with soldiers and grieving women, though there was nothing in the way of heroics in these leave-takings, just grim resolve on the faces of the men and silent sorrow on the lips of the women. It seemed as if clasped hands could not release each other and eyes held eyes in a long farewell. Husbands were tearing themselves from their wives; white-haired mothers were adding one word more of caution to their departing sons; and there were young boys, of perhaps the last class, who, touched at the moment to say au revoir, were yet eager to plunge out into the future. I shall never know how many last good-byes I witnessed this day.
Train after train of cattle cars passed us, with a big cannon in the middle, three horses stabled in one end and three in the other. Along the road were several regiments of Indian troops—the Girkhas. They were tall, splendidly handsome men of fine features, light, chocolate-colored skin and brilliant, black eyes. They wore long, khaki coats, belted in like a Russian blouse, and khaki turbans and they waved their hands and smiled continually, showing flashing, white teeth. They were evidently well pleased with the turn of events which had led them to this wondrous, new world, where was plenty of opportunity for killing—this reputed trait, however, was quite belied by their amiable faces.
About four P. M. (three hours yet to Paris) I was dead with fatigue and seeing so much. Also I had not had a bite to eat since eight A. M., having counted on a basket lunch on the road, or at least a solitary sandwich, but all the convenient station buffets have been closed up since the war and civilians are tacitly understood to look after themselves and not to bother the Government by racing needlessly over the country. But I do not think there were many making aimless journeys.
Since noon the cars had been steadily filling up, until the compartments destined for ten persons were accommodating twenty, not including bundles, lapdogs, bandboxes and bird-cages—even then there was always room for one more. And nobody was indignant, but rather complacent and obliging, for had they not all sons at the front and the same great grief at heart? The conversation was general as to people and on one sole topic, the "War," including the strategic achievements of the French army, "Eux" (they, i.e., the Germans), and the marvellous qualities of their beloved General Joffre, affectionately termed "Grandpere" by the soldiers.
And so we rolled slowly and more slowly on, packed like sardines, the removing of one meaning the displacement of all, as when one heedlessly snatches a potato from the middle of a bushel basket. But very few got down except the soldiers, the objective point for all being Paris.
The twilight shadows were welcome, for they swallowed up all the phantasmagoria of the day and we relapsed into silence. It was one of those moments when Reality, or the fear of it, battles with our courage and each one grew thoughtful as he neared the great city, dreading to meet the spectre he feared.
The wheels of the cars sang on in a hollow, monotonous tune, the windows rattled systematically and outraged brakes screeched at every recurrent jolt. Finally we saw a dim row of lights and a long, thin whistle from our engine told us that the journey was done. Again was that noticeable lack of excitement: everyone calmly took his personal belongings and prepared to get down when the guard, in an unimportant voice, should call out "Paree," which you would not hear if you were not listening.
After the Customs, I was in a frenzy to get out into the street, to be welcomed back, as one always is here, and to be cheered and warmed by the bright lights—the flashing eyes of Paris. But the streets were dim, the shops and restaurants closed and few people circulating about. How different it all was! I felt like Rip van Winkle after his twenty-years' sleep, for at the apartment (I thought I had come to the wrong house) was a new concierge, young and pretty, replacing the old, white-haired one. Had we gone back twenty years instead? The rooms were empty—all my friends had disappeared, the dust was inches thick, the furniture pushed mostly into the middle of the rooms and some of the beds were gone. Thickly sprinkled over the floor of my room and on my bed were pieces of the window glass, broken like all the others in the house, by a German bomb which fell and exploded in front of the Prince of Monaco's house, two doors from us—not one hundred and fifty feet away. Half dazed, I dusted a place large enough for my hat and coat, extracted some clean linen from the closet and went to bed, sick at heart.
November 12th, Thursday.
Paris! after a four days' tiring journey which in happier times takes only five hours. But it doesn't matter—it is home again. Anywhere is home which is out from under that yoke of infamous tyranny. I rage in proportion as the minutes separate me from this odious thing that closes its iron fingers around the necks of my friends.
No! It is not to be borne. Let every man, woman and child on the earth rise up until we have right. Do I not know? Have I not experienced the mailed fist? And yet, how little in comparison to others; but it is enough.
The concierge gave me coffee and rolls and I dressed quickly in order to get out into the street where I knew the dismal impression of the indoors would be dispelled by the habitual smile of the enchanted city. But the day was dull—the summit of the Eiffel Tower was hooded in a cloud of fog and a cold blast swept over the Place de La Concorde which froze me to the marrow. I kept on, however, somewhat protected by the arcades of the rue de Rivoli, expecting to see, at least, familiar faces in the shop-keepers of that gay, little Rialto—but the doors were all closed and the blinds down. One place was open—the art shop of the little, old, white-haired man with the twinkling eyes, who has sold me marvellous Venus de Milos, etc., times without number. I greeted him with real feeling and enthusiasm, for here was somebody I knew. He did not recognize me and stared dully, without answering, as one who is dazed; he was unshaven and dirty, his usually clear eye was lifeless and his face was thin and drawn. Could it be that he had not enough to eat, or was it despair? He must have had nephews and perhaps sons and grandsons at the front. But do the people who stay at home change like that? I went on—the Hotel Meurice was closed; the Continentale had a section open for the Red Cross; the Bristol was closed; the Ritz was made into an Ambulance; not a living soul on the Place Vendome. All the famous hat shops were closed—who would have a reason to buy hats? All the big dressmakers were closed and every jewelry shop but two in all that dazzling, brilliant rue de la Paix was closed. There were perhaps a dozen people on the Boulevards, a single taxicab crawled listlessly out of a side street, but not an omnibus to be seen. They, like all the world, had left for the "front" and will go down in history as having transferred the valiant French army in all haste to Victory on the Battlefield of the Marne.
The only thing unchanged was the Opera, which stood there, in all its splendor, looking on at the grievous spectacle of Paris, in anguish. Will she live? Can she die? Is the burden of her woes too great? O, Beautiful City of Dreams! Some call you very wicked—you, whose brave smile has endured through all your sorrows. Is that so little? And the valor of your Sons—was it ever surpassed? Did one of the hundreds, one of the thousands, one of the millions, hesitate the fraction of an instant at your call?
O, Paris! Inimitable Paris! with the death shadow on your lovely face....
- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation and spelling in the original document have been preserved. Typographical errors corrected in the text: Page 9 interment changed to internment Page 52 officiers changed to officers Page 67 Kommandatur changed to Kommandantur Page 74 wth changed to with Page 93 pertubation changed to perturbation Page 94 stupified changed to stupefied Page 115 gods changed to goods Page 126 Coblentz changed to Coblenz -