I brought back one fixed impression—how quickly Time had laid its healing hand on this one battlefield. I don't know what will be the effect out there where the terrible trench war is going on. But here, where the fighting turned, never to return—at least we believe it never will—it has left no ugly traces. The fields are cleaned, the roads are repaired. Rain has fallen on ruins and washed off all the marks of smoke. Even on the road to Vareddes the thrifty French have already carried away and fagotted the wrecked trees, and already the huge, broken trunks are being uprooted, cut into proper length, and piled neatly by the roadside to be seasoned before being carted away. There was nothing raw about the scene anywhere. The villages were sad, because so silent and empty.
I had done my best to get a tragic impression. I had not got it. I had brought back instead an impression heroic, uplifting, altogether inspiring.
By the time you come over, and I lead you out on that pilgrimage, it will be even more beautiful. But, alas, I am afraid that day is a long way off.
December 30, 1914
I would wish above all things, if some fairy gave me the chance, to be a hibernating animal this year, during which the weather has almost called an armistice along our front, locked from the Swiss border to the sea.
There is but one consolation, and that is that, costly and terrible as have been the first four months of the war, three of the great aims of the German strategy have been buried too deep ever to be dug up— their hope of a short war is gone; they did not get to Paris, and now know that they never will; they did not, and never can get to Calais, and, in spite of their remarkable feats, and their mighty strength, in the face of those three facts even their arrogance cannot write "victory" against their arms.
I have to confess that I am almost as cold as the boys out there in the rain and the mud. I have managed to get a little coal—or what is called coal this year. It is really charbon de forge—a lot of damp, black dust with a few big lumps in it, which burns with a heavy, smelly, yellow smoke. In normal times one would never dignify it by the name of coal, but today we are thankful to get it, and pay for it as if it were gold. It will only burn in the kitchen stove, and every time we put any on the fire, my house, seen from the garden, appears like some sort of a factory. Please, therefore, imagine me living in the kitchen. You know the size of a compact French kitchen. It is rather close quarters for a lady of large ideas.
The temperature of the rest of the house is down almost to zero. Luckily it is not a cold winter, but it is very damp, as it rains continually. I have an armchair there, a footstool, and use the kitchen table as a desk; and even then, to keep fairly warm, I almost sit on top of the stove, and I do now and then put my feet in the oven.
I assure you that going to bed is a ceremony. Amelie comes and puts two hot bricks in the foot of the bed. I undress in the kitchen, put on felt shoes, and a big wrap, and, with my hotwater bottle in one hand and a book in the other, I make a dash for the arctic regions, and Amelie tidies up the kitchen, locks the doors behind her, and takes the keys away with her.
I am cosy and comfy in bed, and I stay there until Amelie has built the fire and got the house in order in the morning.
My getting up beats the lever de Marie Antoinette in some of its details, though she was accustomed to it, and probably minded less than I do. I am not really complaining, you know. But you want to know about my life—so from that you can imagine it. I shall get acclimated, of course. I know that.
I was in Paris for Christmas—not because I wanted to go, but because the few friends I have left there felt that I needed a change, and clinched the matter by thinking that they needed me. Besides I wanted to get packages to the English boys who were here in September, and it was easier to do it from Paris than from here.
While I was waiting for the train at Esbly I had a conversation with a woman who chanced to sit beside me on a bench on the quai, which seemed to me significant.
Today everyone talks to everyone. All the barriers seem to be down. We were both reading the morning paper, and so, naturally, got to talking. I happened to have an English paper, in which there was a brief account of the wonderful dash made by the Royal Scots at Petit Bois and the Gordon Highlanders at Maeselsyeed Spur, under cover of the French and British artillery, early in the month, and I translated it for her. It is a moral duty to let the French people get a glimpse of the wonderful fighting quality of the boys under the Union Jack.
In the course of the conversation she said, what was self-evident, "You are not French?" I told her that I was an American. Then she asked me if I had any children, and received a negative reply.
She sighed, and volunteered that she was a widow with an only son who was "out there," and added: "We are all of us French women of a certain class so stupid when we are young. I adore children. But I thought I could only afford to have one, as I wanted to do so much for him. Now if I lose that one, what have I to live for? I am not the sort of woman who can marry again. My boy is a brave boy. If he dies he will die like a brave man, and not begrudge the life he gives for his country. I am a French mother and must offer him as becomes his mother. But it was silly of me to have but this one. I know, now that it is too late, that I could have done as well, and it may be better, with several, for I have seen the possibilities demonstrated among my friends who have three or four."
Of course I did not say that the more she had, the more she might have had to lose, because I thought that if, in the face of a disaster like this, French women were thinking such thoughts—and if one does, hundreds may—it might be significant.
I had a proof of this while in Paris. I went to a house where I have been a visitor for years to get some news of a friend who had an apartment there. I opened the door to the concierge's loge to put my question. I stopped short. In the window, at the back of the half dark room, sat the concierge, whom I had known for nearly twenty years, a brave, intelligent, fragile woman. She was sitting there in her black frock, gently rocking herself backward and forward in her chair. I did not need to put a question. One knows in these days what the unaccustomed black dress means, and I knew that the one son I had seen grow from childhood, for whom she and the father had sacrificed everything that he might be educated, for whom they had pinched and saved—was gone.
I said the few words one can say—I could not have told five minutes later what they were—and her only reply was like the speech of the woman of another class that I had met at Esbly.
"I had but the one. That was my folly. Now I have nothing—and I have a long time to live alone."
It would have been easy to weep with her, but they don't weep. I have never seen fewer tears in a great calamity. I have read in newspapers sent me from the States tales of women in hysterics, of women fainting as they bade their men goodbye. I have never seen any of it. Something must be wrong with my vision, or my lines must have fallen in brave places. I can only speak of what I see and hear, and tears and hysterics do not come under my observation.
I did not do anything interesting in Paris. It was cold and grey and sad. I got my packages off to the front. They went through quickly, especially those sent by the English branch post-office, near the Etoile, and when I got home, I found the letters of thanks from the boys awaiting me. Among them was one from the little corporal who had pulled down my flags in September, who wrote in the name of the C company, Yorkshire Light Infantry, and at the end of the letter he said: "I am sorry to tell you that Captain Simpson is dead. He was killed leading his company in a charge, and all his men grieved for him."
That gave me a deep pang. I remembered his stern, bronzed, but kindly face, which lighted up so with a smile, as he sat with me at tea on that memorable Wednesday afternoon, and of all that he did so simply to relieve the strain on our nerves that trying day. I know nothing about him—who he was—what he had for family—he was just a brave, kindly, human being, who had met me for a few hours, passed on—and passed out. He is only one of thousands, but he is the one whose sympathetic voice I had heard and who, in all the hurry and fatigue of those hard days, had had time to stop and console us here, and whom I had hoped to see again; and I grieved with his men for him.
I could not write last week. I had no heart to send the usual greetings of the season. Words still mean something to me, and when I sat down, from force of habit, to write the letters I have been accustomed to send at this season, I simply could not. It seemed to me too absurd to even celebrate the anniversary of the days when the angel hosts sang in the skies their "Peace on earth, good will to men" to herald the birth of Him who added to religion the command, "Love one another," and man, only forty miles away, occupied in wholesale slaughter. We have a hard time juggling to make our pretensions and our acts fit.
If this cold and lack of coal continues I am not likely to see much or write much until the spring campaign opens. Here we still hear the guns whenever Rheims or Soissons are bombarded, but no one ever, for a minute, dreams that they will ever come nearer.
Though I could not send you any greetings last week, I can say, with all my heart, may 1915 bring us all peace and contentment!
January 21, 1915
I have been trying to feel in a humor to write all this month, but what with the changeable weather, a visit to Paris, and the depression of the terrible battle at Soissons,—so near to us—I have not had the courage. All the same, I frankly confess that it has not been as bad as I expected. I begin to think things are never as bad as one expects.
Do you know that it is not until now that I have had a passport from my own country? I have never needed one. No one here has ever asked me for one, and it was only when I was in Paris a week ago that an American friend was so aghast at the idea that I had, in case of accident, no real American protection, that I went to the Embassy, for the first time in my life, and asked for one, and seriously took the oath of allegiance. I took it so very seriously that it was impressed on me how careless we, who live much abroad, get about such things.
I know that many years ago, when I was first leaving the States, it was suggested that such a document might be useful as an identification, and I made out my demand, and it was sent after me to Rome. I must have taken the oath at that time, but it was in days of peace, and it made no impression on me. But this time I got a great big choke in my throat, and looked up at the Stars and Stripes over the desk, and felt more American than I ever felt in my life. It cost me two dollars, and I felt the emotion was well worth the money, even at a high rate of exchange.
I did practically nothing else in Paris, except to go to one or two of the hospitals where I had friends at work.
Paris is practically normal. A great many of the American colony who fled in September to Bordeaux and to London have returned, and the streets are more lively, and the city has settled down to live through the war with outward calm if no gaiety. I would not have believed it would be possible, in less than five months, and with things going none too well at the front, that the city could have achieved this attitude.
When I got back, I found that, at least, our ambulance was open.
It is only a small hospital, and very poor. It is set up in the salle de recreation of the commune, which is beside the church and opposite the mairie, backed up against the wall of the park of the Chateau de Quincy. It is really a branch of the military hospital at Meaux, and it is under the patronage of the occupant of the Chateau de Quincy, who supplies such absolute necessities as cannot be provided from the government allowance of two francs a day per bed. There are twenty- eight beds.
Most of the beds and bedding were contributed by the people in the commune. The town crier went about, beating his drum, and making his demand at the crossroads, and everyone who could spare a bed or a mattress or a blanket carried his contribution to the salle. The wife of the mayor is the directress, the doctor from Crecy-en-Brie cares for the soldiers, with the assistance of Soeur Jules and Soeur Marie, who had charge of the town dispensary, and four girls of the Red Cross Society living in the commune.
The installation is pathetically simple, but the room is large and comfortable, with four rows of beds, and extra ones on the stage, and it is heated by a big stove. Naturally it gets more sick and slightly wounded than serious cases, but the boys seem very happy, and they are affectionately cared for. There is a big court for the convalescents, and in the spring they will have the run of the park.
About the twelfth we had a couple of days of the worst cannonading since October. It was very trying. I stood hours on the lawn listening, but it was not for several days that we knew there had been a terrible battle at Soissons, just forty miles north of us.
There is a great difference of opinion as to how far we can hear the big guns, but an officer on the train the other day assured me that they could be heard, the wind being right, about one hundred kilometres—that is to say, eighty miles—so you can judge what it was like here, on the top of the hill, half that distance away by road, and considerably less in a direct line.
Our official communique, as usual, gave us no details, but one of the boys in our town was wounded, and is in a near-by ambulance, where he has been seen by his mother; she brings back word that it was, as he called it, "a bloody slaughter in a hand-to-hand fight." But of course, nothing so far has been comparable to the British stand at Ypres. The little that leaks slowly out regarding that simply makes one's heart ache with the pain of it, only to rebound with the glory.
Human nature is a wonderful thing, and the locking of the gate to Calais, by the English, will, I imagine, be, to the end of time, one of the epics, not of this war alone, but of all war. Talk about the "thin red line." The English stood, we are told, like a ribbon to stop the German hordes,—and stopped them.
It almost seems a pity that, up to date, so much secrecy has been maintained. I was told last week in Paris that London has as yet no dream of the marvellous feat her volunteer army achieved—a feat that throws into the shade all the heroic defenses sung in the verse of ancient times. Luckily these achievements do not dull with years.
On top of the Soissons affair came its result: the French retreat across the Aisne caused by the rising of the floods which carried away the bridges as fast as the engineers could build them, and cut off part of the French, even an ambulance, and, report says, the men left across the river without ammunition fought at the end with the butts of their broken guns, and finally with their fists.
Of course this brings again that awful cry over the lack of preparation, and lack of ammunition.
It is a foolish cry today, since the only nation in the world ready for this war was the nation that planned and began it.
Even this disaster—and there is no denying that it is one—does not daunt these wonderful people. They still see two things, the Germans did not get to Paris, nor have they got to Calais, so, in spite of their real feats of arms—one cannot deny those—an endeavor must be judged by its purpose, and, so judged, the Germans have, thus far, failed. Luckily the French race is big enough to see this and take heart of grace. God knows it needs to, and thank Him it can.
Don't you imagine that I am a bit down. I am not. I am cold. But, when I think of the discomfort in the hurriedly constructed trenches, where the men are in the water to their ankles, what does my being cold in a house mean? Just a record of discomfort as my part of the war, and it seems, day after day, less important. But oh, the monotony and boredom of it! Do you wonder that I want to hibernate?
March 23, 1915
Can it be possible that it is two months since I wrote to you? I could not realize it when I got your reproachful letter this morning. But I looked in my letter-book, and found that it was true.
The truth is—I have nothing to write about. The winter and its discomforts do not inspire me any more than the news from the front does, and no need to tell you that does not make one talkative.
It has been a damp and nasty and changeable winter—one of the most horrid I ever experienced. There has been almost no snow. Almost never has the ground frozen, and not only is there mud, mud everywhere, but freshets also. Today the Marne lies more like an open sea than a river across the fields in the valley. One can imagine what it is like out there in the trenches.
We have occasional lovely sunny days, when it is warmer out-of- doors than in—and when those days came, I dug a bit in the dirt, planted tulips and sweet peas.
Sometimes I have managed to get fuel, and when that happened, I was ever so cosy in the house. Usually, when the weather was at its worst, I had none, and was as nicely uncomfortable as my worst enemy could ask.
As a rule my days have been divided into two parts. In the forenoon I have hovered about the gate watching for the newspaper. In the afternoon I have re-chewed the news in the vain endeavor to extract something encouraging between the lines,—and failed. Up to date I have not found anything tangible to account for such hope as continues to "spring eternal" in all our breasts. It springs, however, the powers be thanked. At present it is as big an asset as France has.
A Zeppelin got to Paris last night. We are sorry, but we'll forget it as soon as the women and children are buried. We are sorry, but it is not important.
Things are a bit livened up here. Day before yesterday a regiment of dragoons arrived. They are billeted for three months. They are men from the midi, and, alas! none too popular at this moment. Still, they have been well received, and their presence does liven up the place. This morning, before I was up, I heard the horses trotting by for their morning exercise, and got out of bed to watch them going along the hill. After the deadly tiresome waiting silence that has reigned here all winter, it made the hillside look like another place.
Add to that the fact that the field work has begun, and that, when the sun shines, I can go out on the lawn and watch the ploughs turning up the ground, and see the winter grain making green patches everywhere—and I do not need to tell you that, with the spring, my thoughts will take a livelier turn. The country is beginning to look beautiful. I took my drive along the valley of the Grande Morin in the afternoon yesterday. The wide plains of the valley are being ploughed, and the big horses dragging ploughs across the wide fields did look lovely—just like a Millet or a Daubigny canvas.
Since I wrote you I have been across to the battlefield again, to accompany a friend who came out from Paris. It was all like a new picture. The grain is beginning to sprout in tender green about the graves, which have been put in even better order than when I first saw them. The rude crosses of wood, from which the bark had not even been stripped, have been replaced by tall, carefully made crosses painted white, each marked with a name and number. Each single grave and each group of graves has a narrow footpath about it, and is surrounded by a wire barrier, while tiny approaches are arranged to each. Everywhere military signs are placed, reminding visitors that these fields are private property, that they are all planted, and entreating all politely to conduct themselves accordingly, which means literally, "keep off the wheat."
The German graves, which, so far as I remember, were unmarked when I was out there nearly four months ago, have now black disks with the number in white.
You must not mind if I am dull these days. I have been studying a map of the battle-front, which I got by accident. It is not inspiring. It makes one realize what there is ahead of us to do. It will be done—but at what a price!
Still, spring is here, and in spite of one's self, it helps.
May 18, 1915
All through the month of April I intended to write, but I had not the courage.
All our eyes were turned to the north where, from April 22 to Thursday, May 13—five days ago—we knew the second awful battle at Ypres was going on. It seems to be over now.
What with the new war deviltry, asphyxiating gas—with which the battle began, and which beat back the line for miles by the terror of its surprise—and the destruction of the Lusitania on the 7th, it has been a hard month. It has been a month which has seen a strange change of spirit here.
I have tried to impress on you, from the beginning, that odd sort of optimism which has ruled all the people about me, even under the most trying episodes of the war. Up to now, the hatred of the Germans has been, in a certain sense, impersonal. It has been a racial hatred of a natural foe, an accepted evil, just as the uncalled-for war was. It had wrought a strange, unexpected, altogether remarkable change in the French people. Their faces had become more serious, their bearing more heroic, their laughter less frequent, and their humor more biting. But, on the day, three weeks ago, when the news came of the first gas attack, before which the Zouaves and the Turcos fled with blackened faces and frothing lips, leaving hundreds of their companions dead and disfigured on the road to Langtmarck, there arose the first signs of awful hatred that I had seen.
I frankly acknowledge that, considering the kind of warfare the world is seeing today, I doubt very much if it is worse to be asphyxiated than to be blown to pieces by an obus. But this new and devilish arm which Germany has added to the horrors of war seemed the last straw, and within a few weeks, I have seen grow up among these simple people the conviction that the race which planned and launched this great war has lost the very right to live; and that none of the dreams of the world which looked towards happiness can ever be realized while Prussia exists, even if the war lasts twenty years, and even if, before it is over, the whole world has to take a hand in it.
Into this feeling, ten days ago, came the news of the destruction of the Lusitania.
We got the news here on the 8th. It struck me dumb.
For two or three days I kept quietly in the house. I believe the people about me expected the States to declare war in twenty-four hours. My neighbors who passed the gate looked at me curiously as they greeted me, and with less cordiality as the days went by. It was as if they pitied me, and yet did not want to be hard on me, or hold me responsible.
You know well enough how I feel about these things. I have no sentimentality about the war. A person who had that, and tried to live here so near it, would be on the straight road to madness. If the world cannot stop war, if organized governments cannot arrive at a code of morals which applies to nations the same law of right and wrong which is enforced on individuals, why, the world and humanity must take the consequences, and must reconcile themselves to the belief that such wars as this are as necessary as surgical operations. If one accepts that point of view—and I am ready to do so,—then every diabolical act of Germany will rebound to the future good of the race, as it, from every point of view, justifies the hatred which is growing up against Germany. We are taught that it is right, moral, and, from every point of view, necessary to hate evil, and, in this 20th century, Germany is the most absolute synonym of evil that history has ever seen. Having stated that fact, it does not seem to me that I need say anything further on the subject.
In the meantime, I have gone on imitating the people about me. They are industriously tilling their fields. I continue cutting my lawn, planting my dahlias, pruning my roses, tying up my flowering peas, and watching my California poppies grow like the weeds in the fields.
When I am not doing that, with a pot in one hand, and the tongs in the other, I am picking slugs out of the flower-beds and giving them a dose of boiling water, or lugging about a watering-pot. I do it energetically, but my heart is not in it, though the garden is grateful all the same, and is as nice a symbol of the French people as I can imagine.
We have the dragoons still with us. They don't interest me hugely—not as the English did when they retreated here last September, nor as the French infantry did on their way to the battlefield. These men have never been in action yet. Still they lend a picturesqueness to the countryside, though to me it is, as so much of the war has been, too much like the decor of a drama. Every morning they ride by the gate, two abreast, to exercise their lovely horses, and just before noon they come back. All the afternoon they are passing in groups, smoking, chatting, and laughing, and, except for their uniforms, they do not suggest war, of which they actually know as little as I do.
After dinner, in the twilight, for the days are getting long, and the moon is full, I sit on the lawn and listen to them singing in the street at Voisins, and they sing wonderfully well, and they sing good music. The other evening they sang choruses from "Louise" and "Faust," and a wonderful baritone sang "Vision Fugitive." The air was so still and clear that I hardly missed a note.
A week ago tonight we were aroused late in the evening, it must have been nearly midnight, by an alerte announcing the passing of a Zeppelin. I got up and went out-of-doors, but neither heard nor saw anything, except a bicycle going over the hill, and a voice calling "Lights out." Evidently it did not get to Paris, as the papers have been absolutely dumb.
One thing I have done this week. When the war began I bought, as did nearly everyone else, a big map of Germany and the battle-fronts surrounding it, and little envelopes of tiny British, Belgian, French, Montenegrin, Servian, Russian, German, and Austrian flags, mounted on pins. Every day, until the end of last week, I used to put the flags in place as well as I could after studying the day's communique.
I began to get discouraged in the hard days of last month, when day after day I was obliged to retreat the Allied flags on the frontier, and when the Russian offensive fell down, I simply tore the map off the wall, and burned it, flags and all.
Of course I said to myself, in the spirit I have caught from the army, "All these things are but incidents, and will have no effect on the final result. A nation is not defeated while its army is still standing up in its boots, so it is folly to bother over details."
Do you ever wonder what the poets of the future will do with this war? Is it too stupendous for them, or, when they get it in perspective, can they find the inspiration for words where now we have only tightened throats and a great pride that, in an age set down as commercial, such deeds of heroism could be?
Who will sing the dirge of General Hamilton in the little cemetery of Lacouture last October, when the farewell salute over his grave was turned to repel a German attack, while the voice of the priest kept on, calm and clear, to the end of the service? Who will sing the destruction of the Royal Scots, two weeks later, in the battle of Ypres? Who will sing the arrival of General Moussy, and of the French corps on the last day of that first battle of Ypres, when a motley gathering of cooks and laborers with staff officers and dismounted cavalry, in shining helmets, flung themselves pellmell into a bayonet charge with no bayonets, to relieve the hard-pressed English division under General Bulfin? And did it. Who will sing the great chant in honor of the 100,000 who held Ypres against half a million, and locked the door to the Channel? Who will sing the bulldog fighting qualities of Rawlinson's 7th division, which held the line in those October days until reinforcements came, and which, at the end of the fight, mustered 44 officers out of 400, and only 2336 men out of 23,000? Who will sing the stirring scene of the French Chasseurs, advancing with bugles and shouting the "Marseillaise," to storm and take the col de Bonhomme in a style of warfare as old as French history? And these are but single exploits in a war now settled down to sullen, dull trench work, a war only in the early months of what looks like years of duration.
Doesn't it all make your blood flow fast? You see it tempts me to make an oration. You must overlook my eloquence! One does—over here, in the midst of it—feel such a reverence for human nature today. The spirit of heroism and self-sacrifice lives still amongst us. A world of machinery has not yet made a race incapable of greatness. I have a feeling that from the soil to which so many thousands of men have voluntarily returned to save their country's honor must spring up a France greater than ever. It is the old story of Atlas. Besides, "What more can a man do"—you know the rest. It is one of the things that make me sorry to feel that our own country is evidently going to avoid a movement which might have been at once healthy and uplifting. I know that you don't like me to say that, but I'll let it go.
June 1, 1915
Well, I have really had a very exciting time since I last wrote you. I have even had a caller. Also my neighbor at Voulangis, on the top of the hill, on the other side of the Morin, has returned from the States, to which she fled just before the Battle of the Marne. I even went to Paris to meet her. To tell you the actual truth, for a few days, I behaved exactly as if there were no war. I had to pinch myself now and then to remind myself that whatever else might be real or unreal, the war was very actual.
I must own that Paris seems to get farther and farther from it every day. From daybreak to sunset I found it hard to realize that it was the capital of an invaded country fighting for its very existence, and the invader no farther from the Boulevards than Noyon, Soissons, and Rheims—on a battle-front that has not changed more than an inch or two—and often an inch or two in the wrong direction—since last October.
I could not help thinking, as I rode up the Champs-Elysees in the sun —it was Sunday—how humiliated the Kaiser, that crowned head of Terrorizers, would be if he could have seen Paris that day.
Children were playing under the trees of the broad mall; automobiles were rushing up and down the avenue; crowds were sitting all along the way, watching the passers and chatting; all the big hotels, turned into ambulances, had their windows open to the glorious sunny warmth, and the balconies were crowded with invalid soldiers and white-garbed nurses; not even arms in slings or heads in bandages looked sad, for everyone seemed to be laughing; nor did the crippled soldiers, walking slowly along, add a tragic note to the wonderful scene.
It was strange—it was more than strange. It seemed to me almost unbelievable.
I could not help asking myself if it could last.
Every automobile which passed had at least one soldier in it. Almost every well-dressed woman had a soldier beside her. Those who did not, looked sympathetically at every soldier who passed, and now and then stopped to chat with the groups—soldiers on crutches, soldiers with canes, soldiers with an arm in a sling, or an empty sleeve, leading the blind, and soldiers with nothing of their faces visible but the eyes.
By every law I knew the scene should have been sad. But some law of love and sunshine had decreed that it should not be, and it was not.
It was not the Paris you saw, even last summer, but it was Paris with a soul, and I know no better prayer to put up than the cry that the wave of love which seemed to throb everywhere about the soldier boys, and which they seemed to feel and respond to, might not—with time—die down. I knew it was too much to ask of human nature. I was glad I had seen it.
In this atmosphere of love Paris looked more beautiful to me than ever. The fountains were playing in the Place de la Concorde, in the Tuileries gardens, at the Rond Point, and the gardens, the Avenue and the ambulances were bright with flowers. I just felt, as I always do when the sun shines on that wonderful vista from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre, that nowhere in the world was there another such picture, unless it be the vista from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe. When I drove back up the hill at sunset, with a light mist veiling the sun through the arch, I felt so grateful to the fate which had decreed that never again should the German army look on that scene, and that a nation which had a capital that could smile in the face of fate as Paris smiled that day, must not, cannot, be conquered.
Of course after dark it is all different. It is then that one realizes that Paris is changed. The streets are no longer brilliantly lighted. There are no social functions. The city seems almost deserted. One misses the brightness and the activity. I really found it hard to find my way about and recognize familiar street corners in the dark. A few days of it were enough for me, and I was glad enough to come back to my quiet hilltop. At my age habits are strong.
Also let me tell you things are slowly changing here. Little by little I can feel conditions closing up about me, and I can see "coming events" casting "their shadows before."
Let me give you a little example.
A week ago today my New York doctor came down to spend a few days with me. It was a great event for a lady who had not had a visitor for months. He wanted to go out to the battlefield, so I arranged to meet his train at Esbly, go on with him to Meaux, and drive back by road.
I started for Esbly in my usual sans gene manner, and was disgusted with myself on arriving to discover that I had left all my papers at home. However, as I had never had to show them, I imagined it would make no difference.
I presented myself at the ticket-office to buy a ticket for Meaux, and you can imagine my chagrin when I was asked for my papers. I explained to the station-master, who knows me, that I had left them at home. He was very much distressed,—said he would take the responsibility of selling me a ticket if I wanted to risk it,—but the new orders were strict, and he was certain I would not be allowed to leave the station at Meaux.
Naturally, I did not want to take such a risk, or to appear, in any way, not to be en regle. So I took the doctor off the train, and drove back here for my papers, and then we went on to Meaux by road.
It was lucky I did, for I found everything changed at Meaux. In the first place, we could not have an automobile, as General Joffre had issued an order forbidding the circulation inside of the military zone of all automobiles except those connected with the army. We could have a little victoria and a horse, but before taking that, we had to go to the Prefet de Police and exhibit our papers and get a special sauf- conduit,—and we had to be diplomatic to get that.
Once started, instead of sliding out of the town past a guard who merely went through the formality of looking at the driver's papers, we found, on arriving at the entrance into the route de Senlis, that the road was closed with a barricade, and only one carriage could pass at a time. In the opening stood a soldier barring the way with his gun, and an officer came to the carriage and examined all our papers before the sentinel shouldered his musket and let us pass. We were stopped at all the cross-roads, and at that between Barcy and Chambry,—where the pedestal of the monument to mark the limit of the battle in the direction of Paris is already in place,—we found a group of a dozen officers—not noncommissioned officers, if you please, but captains and majors. There our papers, including American passports, were not only examined, but signatures and seals verified.
This did not trouble me a bit. Indeed I felt it well, and high time, and that it should have been done ten months ago.
It was a perfect day, and the battlefield was simply beautiful, with the grain well up, and people moving across it in all directions. These were mostly people walking out from Meaux, and soldiers from the big hospital there making a pilgrimage to the graves of their comrades. What made the scene particularly touching was the number of children, and the nurses pushing babies in their carriages. It seemed to me such a pretty idea to think of little children roaming about this battlefield as if it were a garden. I could not help wishing the nation was rich enough to make this place a public park.
In spite of only having a horse we made the trip easily, and got back here by dinner-time.
Two days later we had an exciting five minutes.
It was breakfast time. The doctor and I were taking our coffee out-of- doors, on the north side of the house, in the, shade of the ivy-clad wall of the old grange. There the solitude is perfect. No one could see us there. We could only see the roofs of the few houses at Joncheroy, and beyond them the wide amphitheatre-like panorama, with the square towers of the cathedral of Meaux at the east and Esbly at the west, and Mareuil-les-Meaux nestled on the river in the foreground.
You see I am looking at my panorama again. One can get used to anything, I find.
It was about nine o'clock.
Suddenly there was a terrible explosion, which brought both of us to our feet, for it shook the very ground beneath us. We looked in the direction from which it seemed to come—Meaux—and we saw a column of smoke rising in the vicinity of Mareuil—only two miles away. Before we had time to say a word we saw a second puff, and then came a second explosion, then a third and a fourth. I was just rooted to my spot, until Amelie dashed out of the kitchen, and then we all ran to the hedge,—it was only a hundred feet or so nearer the smoke, and we could see women running in the fields,—that was all.
But Amelie could not remain long in ignorance like that. There was a staff officer cantoned at Voisins and he had telephonic communication with Meaux, so down the hill she went in search of news, and fifteen minutes later we knew that a number of Taubes had tried to reach Paris in the night, that there had been a battle in the air at Crepy-les-Valois, and one of these machines had dropped four bombs, evidently meant for Meaux, near Mareuil, where they had fallen in the fields and harmed no one.
We never got any explanation of how it happened that a Taube should be flying over us at that hour, in broad daylight, or what became of it afterward. Probably someone knows. If someone does, he is evidently not telling us.
Amelie's remark, as she returned to her kitchen, was: "Well, it was nearer than the battle. Perhaps next time—" She shrugged her shoulders, and we all laughed, and life went on as usual. Well, I've heard the whir-r of a German bomb, even if I did not see the machine that threw it.
The doctor did not get over laughing until he went back to Paris. I am afraid he never will get over guying me about the shows I get up to amuse my visitors. I expect that I must keep a controlling influence over him, or, before he is done joking, the invisible Taube will turn into a Zeppelin, or perhaps a fleet of airships.
June 20, 1915
Having an American neighbor near by again has changed life more than you would imagine.
She is only five miles away. She can come over on horseback in half an hour, and she often arrives for coffee, which is really jolly. Now and then she drives over unexpectedly, and carries me back with her for the night. I never feel like staying longer, but it changes the complexion of life. Besides, we can talk about our native land—in English—and that is a change.
Now don't imagine that I have been lonely. I have not. I was quite contented before she returned, but I have never concealed from you that the war is trying. I needed, now and then, to exchange words with one of my own race, and to say things about my own country which I'd be burned at the stake before I 'd say before a French person.
Beside, the drive from here to Voulangis is beautiful. We have three or four ways to go, and each one is prettier than the other. Sometimes we go through Quincy, by the Chateau de Moulignon, to Pont aux Dames, and through the old moated town of Crecy-en-Brie. Sometimes we go down the valley of the Mesnil, a hilly path along the edge of a tiny river, down which we dash at a breakneck speed, only possible to an expert driver. Indeed Pere never believes we do it. He could not. Since he could not, to him it is impossible to anyone.
Just now the most interesting way is through Couilly and St. Germain, by the Bois de Misere, to Villiers-sur-Morin, whence we climb the hill to Voulangis, with the valley dropping away on one side. It is one of the loveliest drives I know, along the Morin, by the mills, through the almost virgin forest.
The artillery—territorials—is cantoned all along here, at Villiers, at Crecy, and at Voulangis. The road is lined with grey cannon and ammunition wagons. Every little way there is a sentinel in his box, and horses are everywhere.
Some of the sentinel boxes are, as we used to say in the States, "too cute for words." The prettiest one in the Department is right here, at the corner of the route Madame, which crosses my hill, and whence the road leads from the Demi-Lune right down to the canal. It is woven of straw, has a nice floor, a Gothic roof, a Gothic door, and the tiniest Gothic window, and a little flag floating from its peak.
It is a little bijou, and I did hope that I could beg, borrow, steal, or buy it from the dragoon who made it. But I can't. The lieutenant is attached to it, and is going to take it with him, alas!
I happened to be at Voulangis when the territorials left—quite unexpectedly, as usual. They never get much notice of a releve.
We were sitting in the garden at tea when the assemblage general was sounded, and the order read to march at four next morning.
You never saw such a bustle,—such a cleaning of boots, such a packing of sacks, such a getting together of the officers' canteens— orderlies getting about quickly, and trying to give demonstrations of "efficiency" (how I detest the very word!), and such a rounding up of last things for the commissary department, including a mobilization of Brie cheese (this is its home), and such a pulling into position of cannon—all the inevitable activity of a regiment preparing to take the road, after a two months' cantonnement, in absolute ignorance of the direction they were to take, or their destination.
The last thing I saw that night was-the light of their lanterns, and the last thing I heard was the march of their hob-nailed boots. The first thing I heard in the morning, just as day broke, was the neighing of the horses, and the subdued voices of the men as the teams were harnessed.
We had all agreed to get up to see them start. It seemed the least we could do. So, well wrapped up in our big coats, against the chill of four o'clock, we went to the little square in front of the church, from which they were to start, and where the long line of grey cannon, grey ammunition, camions, grey commissary wagons were ready, and the men, sac au dos, already climbing into place—one mounted on each team of four horses, three on each gun-carriage, facing the horses, with three behind, with their backs to the team. The horses of the officers were waiting in front of the little inn opposite, from which the officers emerged one by one, mounted and rode to a place in front of the church. We were a little group of about twenty women and children standing on one side of the square, and a dead silence hung over the scene. The men, even, spoke in whispers.
The commander, in front of his staff, ran his eyes slowly over the line, until a sous-officier approached, saluted, and announced, "All ready," when the commander rode to the head of the line, raised one hand above his head, and with it made a sharp forward gesture—the unspoken order "en avant"—and backed his horse, and the long grey line began to move slowly towards the Foret de Crecy, the officers falling into place as it passed.
Some of the men leaned down to shake hands as they went by, some of the men saluted, not a word was spoken, and the silence was only broken by the tramp of the horses, the straining of the harnesses, and rumble of the wheels.
It was all so different—as everything in this war has been—from anything I had ever dreamed when I imagined war. Yet I suppose that the future dramatist who uses this period as a background can get his effects just the same, without greatly falsifying the truth. You know I am like Uncle Sarcey—a really model theatre audience. No effect, halfway good, passes me by. So, as I turned back at the garden gate to watch the long grey line winding slowly into the forest, I found that I had the same chill down my back and the same tightness over my eyes and in my throat, which, in the real theatre-goers, announce that an effect has "gone home."
The only other thing I have done this month which could interest you was to have a little tea-party on the lawn for the convalescent boys of our ambulance, who were "personally conducted" by one of their nurses.
Of course they were all sorts and all classes. When I got them grouped round the table, in the shade of the big clump of lilac bushes, I was impressed, as I always am when I see a number of common soldiers together, with the fact that no other race has such intelligent, such really well-modelled faces, as the French. It is rare to see a fat face among them. There were farmers, blacksmiths, casters, workmen of all sorts, and there was one young law student, and the mixed group seemed to have a real sentiment of fraternity.
Of course, the law student was more accustomed to society than the others, and became, naturally, a sort of leader. He knew just what to do, and just how to do it,—how to get into the salon when he arrived, and how to greet his hostess. But the rest knew how to follow suit, and did it, and, though some of them were a little shy at first, not one was confused, and in a few minutes they were all quite at their ease. By the time the brief formality of being received was over, and they were all gathered round the tea-table, the atmosphere had become comfortable and friendly, and, though they let the law student lead the conversation, they were all alert and interested, and when one of them did speak, it was to the point.
When tea was over and we walked out on the lawn on the north side of the house to look over the field of the battle in which most of them had taken part, they were all ready to talk—they were on ground they knew. One of them asked me if I could see any of the movements of the armies, and I told him that I could not, that I could only see the smoke, and hear the artillery fire, and now and then, when the wind was right, the sharp repeating fire of rifles as well as mitrailleuses, and that I ended by distinguishing the soixante-quinze from other artillery guns.
"Look down there, in the wide plain below Montyon," said the law student. I looked, and he added, "As nearly as I can judge the ground from here, if you had been looking there at eleven o'clock in the morning, you would have seen a big movement of troops."
Of course I explained to him that I had not expected any movement in that direction, and had only watched the approach from Meaux.
Beyond that one incident, these wounded soldiers said no word about battles. Most of the conversation was political.
When the nurse looked at her watch and said it was time to return to the hospital, as they must not be late for dinner, they all rose. The law student came, cap in hand, made me a low bow, and thanked me for a pleasant afternoon, and every man imitated his manner—with varying degrees of success—and made his little speech and bow, and then they marched up the road, turning back, as the English soldiers had done—how long ago it seems—to wave their caps as they went round the corner.
I did wish that you could have been there. You always used to love the French. You would have loved them more that afternoon.
It is wonderful how these people keep up their courage. To me it seems like the uplift of a Holy Cause. They did expect a big summer offensive. But it does not come, and we hear it rumored that, while we have men enough, the Germans have worked so hard, while the English were recruiting, that they are almost impregnably entrenched, and that while their ammunition surpasses anything we can have for months yet, it would be military suicide to throw our infantry against their superior guns. In the meantime, while the Allies are working like mad to increase their artillery equipments, the Germans are working just as hard, and Time serves one party as well as the other. I suppose it will only be after the war that we shall really know to what our disappointment was due, and, as usual, the same cry consoles us all: "None of these things will change the final result!" and most people keep silent under the growing conviction that this "may go on for years."
One thing I really must tell you—not a person mentioned the Lusitania at the tea-party, which was, I suppose, a handsome effort at reticence, since the lady of the house was an American, and the Stars and Stripes, in little, were fluttering over the chimney.
I take note of one remark in your last letter, in reply to mine of May 18. You twit me with "rounding off my periods." I apologize. You must remember that I earned my bread and salt doing that for years, and habit is strong. I no longer do it with my tongue in my cheek. My word for that.
August 1, 1915
Well, dear girl, not a bit of news to tell you. I have really done nothing this last month but look at my flowers, superintend the gathering of my plums, put up a few pots of confiture, mow the lawn, and listen to the guns, now and then, read the communiques, and sigh over the disasters in the east and the deadlock at Gallipoli.
At the end of the first year of the war the scene has stretched out so tremendously that my poor tired brain can hardly take it in. I suppose it is all clear to the general staff, but I don't know. To me it all looks like a great labyrinth,—and the Germans are at the gates of Warsaw. Of course this does not "alter the final result"—when that comes—but it means more destruction, more land to win back, and, I imagine, such desolation in Poland as makes even the Belgian disaster look, by comparison, small.
Oddly enough, while we know that this will brace up the Germans, fighting all about their borders on invaded territory, it does not effect the faith of the people here, who have even the courage to turn aside from their own grief, with tears in their eyes, to pity Poland. What a price Belgium pays for her courage to be honorable, and at what a price Poland must accept her independence! Everyone is philosophical here, but one does not have to be heartless to be that.
I find it ironical that my flowers bloom, that gay humming-birds hover over my Mas de Perse, that I have enough to eat, that sleep comes to me, and that the country is so beautiful.
Our dragoons have ridden away—on to the front, I am told, and silence has settled down on us.
I am well—there ends the history of a month, and I am not the only one in France leading a life like that,—and still the cannon are pounding on in the distance.
August 6, 1915
Well, the sans gene days seem to be passed.
Up to now, as I have told you, the sauf-conduit matter, except on the last day I was at Meaux, was the thinnest sort of formality. I had to have one to leave the commune, but the blank forms were lying around everywhere. I had only to stop at the hotel at Couilly, step into the cafe, pick up a form and ask the proprietor to fill it out, and that was all that was necessary. I might have passed it on to anyone, for, although my name was written on it, no one ever took the trouble to fill out the description. The ticket-seller at the station merely glanced at the paper in my hand when I bought a ticket, and the gendarmes at the ticket window in Paris, when there were any,—often there were none—did no more. Of course, the possession of a sauf-conduit presupposes all one's papers en regle, but I never saw anyone examining to make sure of that.
All this is ended. We are evidently under a new regime.
I had my first intimation yesterday, when I had a domiciliary visit from the gendarmes at Esbly. It was a very formal, thorough affair, the two officers treating me, at the beginning of the interview, as if I were a very guilty person.
I was upstairs when I saw them arrive on their wheels. I put down my sewing, and went down to be ready to open the door when they knocked. They didn't knock. I waited a bit, then opened the door. There was no one on the terrace, but I heard their voices from the other side of the house. I went in search of them. They were examining the back of the house as if they had never seen one like it before. When they saw me, one of them said sharply, without the slightest salute: "There is no bell?"
I acknowledged the self-evident fact.
"How does one get in, since you keep your door locked?" he added.
"Well," I replied, with a smile, "as a rule, one knocks."
To that his only reply was: "Your name?"
I gave it to him.
He looked on his paper, repeated it—mispronouncing it, of course, and evidently sure that I did not know how to pronounce it myself.
"Foreigner," he stated.
I could not deny the charge. I merely volunteered "Americaine."
Then the inquiry continued like this. "Live here?"
"How long have you lived here?"
"Since June, 1914."
That seemed to strike him as a very suspicious date, and he stared at me hard for a moment before he went on: "What for?"
"Principally because I leased the house."
"Why do you remain here in war-time?"
"Because I have nowhere else to go," and I tried not to smile.
"Why don't you go home?"
"This is my home."
"Haven't you any home in America?"
I resisted telling him that it was none of his business, and did my best to look pathetic—it was that, or laugh—as I answered: "Alas! I have not."
This seemed to strike both of them as unbelievable, and they only stared at me as if trying to put me out of countenance.
In the meantime, some of the people of Huiry, interested always in gendarmes, were standing at the top of the hill watching the scene, so I said: "Suppose you come inside and I will answer your questions there," and I opened the door of the salon, and went in.
They hesitated a moment, but decided to follow me. They stood, very stiffly, just inside the door, looking about with curiosity. I sat down at my desk, and made a motion to them to be seated. I did not know whether or not it was correct to ask gendarmes to sit down, but I ventured it. Evidently it was not correct, for they paid no attention to my gesture.
When they were done looking about, they asked me for my papers.
I produced my American passport. They looked at the huge steel- engraved document with great seriousness. I am sure they had never seen one before. It impressed them—as well it might, in comparison with the civil papers of the French government.
They satisfied themselves that the picture affixed was really I—that the name agreed with that on their books. Of course, they could not read a word of it, but they looked wise. Then they asked me for my French papers. I produced my permis de sejour—permitting me to stay in France provided I did not change my residence, and to which was affixed the same photograph as that on my passport; my declaration of my civil situation, duly stamped; and my "immatriculation," a leaf from the register on which all foreigners are written down, just as we would be if admitted to a hospital or an insane asylum.
The two men put their heads together over these documents— examined the signatures and the seals with great gravity—with evident regret to find that I was quite en regle.
Finally they permitted me to put the documents all back in the case in which I carry them.
I thought the scene was over. Not at all. They waited until I shut the case, and replaced it in my bag—and then:
"You live alone?" one asked.
I owned that I did.
"Well," I replied, "because I have no family here."
"You have no domestic?"
I explained that I had a femme de menage.
"Where is she?"
I said that at that moment she was probably at Couilly, but that ordinarily when she was not here, she was at her own home.
"Where is that?" was the next question.
So I took them out on to the terrace again, and showed them Amelie's house.
They stared solemnly at it, as if they had never seen it before, and then one of them turned on me quickly, as if to startle me. "Vous etes une femme de lettres?"
"It is so written down in my papers," I replied.
I denied my old calling without the quiver of an eyelash. I hadn't a scruple. Besides, my old profession many a time failed me, and it might have been dangerous to have been known as even an ex- journalist today within the zone of military operations.
Upon that followed a series of the most intimate questions anyone ever dared put to me,—my income, my resources, my expectations, my plans, etc.—and all sorts of questions I too rarely put to myself even, and never answer to myself. Practically the only question they did not ask was if I ever intended to marry. I was tempted to volunteer that information, but, as neither man had the smallest sense of humor, I decided it was wiser to let well enough alone.
It was only when they were stumped for another single question that they decided to go. They saluted me politely this time, a tribute I imagine to my having kept my temper under great provocation to lose it, went out of the gate, stood whispering together a few minutes, and gazing back at the house, as if afraid they would forget it, looked up at the plaque on the gate-post, made a note, mounted their wheels, and sprinted down the hill, still in earnest conversation.
I wondered what they were saying to one another. Whatever it was, I got an order early the next morning to present myself at the gendarmerie at Esbly before eleven o'clock.
Pere was angry. He seemed to feel, that, for some reason, I was under suspicion, and that it was a man's business to defend me. So, when Ninette brought my perambulator to the gate, there was Pere, in his veston and casquette, determined to go with me and see me through.
At Esbly I found a different sort of person—a gentleman—he told me he was not a gendarme by metier, but a volunteer—and, although he put me through practically the same paces, it was different. He was sympathetic, not averse to a joke, and, when it was over, he went out to help me into my baby cart, thanked me for troubling myself, assured me that I was absolutely en regle, and even went so very far as to say that he was pleased to have met me. So I suppose, until the commander at Esbly is changed, I shall be left in peace.
This will give you a little idea of what it is like here. I suppose I needed to be shaken up a bit to make me realize that I was near the war. It is easy to forget it sometimes.
Amelie came this morning with the tale that it was rumored that all foreigners were to be "expelled from the zone des armees." It might be. Still, I am not worrying. "Sufficient to the day," you know.
September 8, 1915
You have the date quite right.
It is a year ago today—this very 8th of September—since I saw the French soldiers march away across the hill, over what we call the "Champs Madame"—no one knows why—on their way to the battle behind Meaux.
By chance—you could not have planned it, since the time it takes a letter to reach me depends on how interesting the censor finds it— your celebration of that event reached me on its anniversary.
You are absolutely wrong, however, to pull such a long face over my situation. You write as if I had passed through a year of misery. I have not. I am sure you never got that impression from my letters, and I assure you that I am writing exactly as I feel—I have no facade up for you.
I own it has been a year of tension. It has been three hundred and sixty-five days and a fourth, not one of which has been free from anxiety of some sort or other. Sometimes I have been cold. Sometimes I have been nervous. But all the same, it has been fifty- two weeks of growing respect for the people among whom I live, and of ever-mounting love of life, and never-failing conviction that the sum of it is beauty. I have had to fight for the faith in that, but I have kept it. Always "In the midst of life we are in Death," but not always is death so fine and beautiful a thing as in these days. No one would choose that such things as have come to pass in the last year should be, but since they are, don't be so foolish as to pity me, who have the chance to look on, near enough to feel and to understand, even though I am far enough off to be absolutely safe,—alas! eternally a mere spectator. And speaking of having been cold reminds me that it is beginning to get cold again. We have had heavy hailstorms already, hail as big and hard as dried peas, and I have not as yet been able to get fuel. So I am looking forward to another trying winter. In the spring my coal-dealer assured me that last winter's situation would not be repeated, and I told him that I would take all the coal he could get me. Having said that, I took no further thought of the matter. Up to date he has not been able to get any. The railroad is too busy carrying war material.
I was pained by the tone of your last letter. Evidently mine of the Fourth of July did not please you. Evidently you don't like my politics or my philosophy, or my "deadly parallels," or any of my thoughts about the present and future of my native land. Destroy the letter. Forget it, and we'll talk of other things, and, to take a big jump—
Did you ever keep cats?
There is a subject in which you can find no offence, and if it does not appeal to you it is your own fault.
If you never have kept cats, you have missed lots of fun, you are not half educated, you have not been disciplined at all. / A cat is a wonderful animal, but he is not a bit like what, on first making his acquaintance, you think he is going to be, and he never becomes it.
Now I have been living a year this September with one cat, and part of the time, with two. I am wiser than I used to be. By fits and starts I am more modest.
I used to think that a cat was a tame animal, who lapped milk, slept, rolled up ornamentally on a rug, now and then chased his tail, and now and then played gracefully with a ball, came and sat on your knee when you invited him, and caught mice, if mice came where he was.
All the cats I had seen in the homes of my friends surely did those things. I thought them "so pretty," "so graceful," "so soft," and I always said they "gave a cosy look to a room."
But I had never been intimate with a cat.
When the English soldiers were here a year ago, Amelie came one morning bringing a kitten in her apron. You remember I told you of this. He was probably three months old—so Amelie says, and she knows all about cats. She said off-hand: "C'est un chat du mois de juin." She seems to know what month well-behaved cats ought to be born. So far as I know, they might be born in any old month. He was like a little tiger, with a white face and shirt-front, white paws and lovely green eyes.
He had to have a name, so, as he had a lot of brown, the color of the English uniform, and came to me while the soldiers were here, I named him Khaki. He accepted it, and answered to his name at once. He got well rapidly. His fur began to grow, and so did he.
At first he lived up to my idea of what a kitten should be. He was always ready to play, but he had much more originality than I knew cats to have. He was so amusing that I gave lots of time to him. I had corks, tied to strings, hanging to all the door knobs and posts in the house, and, for hours at a time, he amused himself playing games like basket-ball and football with these corks. I lost hours of my life watching him, and calling Amelie to "come quick" and see him. His ingenuity was remarkable. He would take the cork in his front paws, turn over on his back, and try to rip it open with his hind paws. I suppose that was the way his tiger ancestors ripped open their prey. He would carry the cork, attached to the post at the foot of the staircase, as far up the stairs as the string would allow him, lay it down and touch it gently to make it roll down the stairs so that he could spring after it and catch it before it reached the bottom. All this was most satisfactory. That was what I expected a cat to do.
He lapped his milk all right. I did not know what else to give him. I asked Amelie what she gave hers. She said "soup made out of bread and drippings." That was a new idea. But Amelie's cats looked all right. So I made the same kind of soup for Khaki. Not he! He turned his back on it. Then Amelie suggested bread in his milk. I tried that. He lapped the milk, but left the bread. I was rather in despair. He looked too thin. Amelie suggested that he was a thin kind of a cat. I did not want a thin kind of a cat. I wanted a roly-poly cat.
One day I was eating a dry biscuit at tea time. He came and stood beside me, and I offered him a piece. He accepted it. So, after that, I gave him biscuit and milk. He used to sit beside his saucer, lap up his milk, and then pick up the pieces of biscuit with his paw and eat them. This got to be his first show trick. Everyone came to see Khaki eat "with his fingers."
All Amelie's efforts to induce him to adopt the diet of all the other cats in Huiry failed. Finally I said: "What does he want, Amelie? What do cats, who will not eat soup, eat?"
Reluctantly I got it—"Liver."
Well, I should think he did. He eats it twice a day.
Up to that time he had never talked even cat language. He had never meowed since the day he presented himself at Amelie's and asked for sanctuary.
But we have had, from the beginning, a few collisions of will-power. The first few weeks that he was a guest in my house, I was terribly flattered because he never wanted to sleep anywhere but on my knees. He did not squirm round as Amelie said kittens usually did. He never climbed on my shoulders and rubbed against my face. He simply jumped up in my lap, turned round once, lay down, and lay perfectly still. If I got up, I had to put him in my chair, soothe him a bit, as you would a baby, if I expected him to stay, but, even then, nine times out of ten, as soon as I was settled in another chair, he followed, and climbed into my lap.
Now things that are flattering finally pall. I began to guess that it was his comfort, not his love for me, that controlled him. Well—it is the old story.
But the night question was the hardest. He had a basket. He had a cushion. I have the country habit of going to bed with the chickens. The cat came near changing all that. I used to let him go to sleep in my lap. I used to put him in his basket by the table with all the care that you would put a baby. Then I made a dash for upstairs and closed the doors. Ha! ha! In two minutes he was scratching at the door. I let him scratch. "He must be disciplined," I said. There was a cushion at the door, and finally he would settle' down and in the morning he was there when I woke. "He will learn," I said. H'm!
One night, while I was in my dressing-room, I neglected to latch the bedroom door. When I was ready to get into bed, lo! there was Khaki on the foot of the bed, close against the footboard, fast asleep. Not only was he asleep, but he was lying on his back, with his two white paws folded over his eyes as if to keep the lamplight out of them. Well—I had not the heart to drive him away. He had won. He slept there. He never budged until I was dressed in the morning, when he got up, as if it were the usual thing, and followed, in his most dignified manner, down to breakfast.
Well, that was struggle number one. Khaki had scored.
But, no sooner had I got myself reconciled—I felt pretty shamefaced— when he changed his plans. The very moment I was ready for bed he wanted to go out. He never meowed. He just tapped at the door, and if that did not succeed, he scratched on the window, and he was so one-idea-ed that nothing turned him from his purpose until he was let out.
For a time I used to sit up for him to come in. I was ashamed to let Amelie know. But, one night, after I had been out in the garden with a lantern hunting for him at midnight, I heard a gentle purring sound, and, after looking in every direction, I finally located him on the roof of the kitchen. Being a bit dull, I imagined that he could not get down. I stood up on a bench under the kitchen window, and called him. He came to the eaves, and I could just reach him, but, as I was about to take him by a leg and haul him down, he retreated just out of my reach, and said what I imagined to be a pathetic "meow." I talked to him. I tried to coax him to come within reach again, but he only went up the roof to the ridgepole and looked down the other side and said "meow." I was in despair, when it occurred to me to get the step- ladder. You may think me impossibly silly, but I never supposed that he could get down.
I went for the key to the grange, pulled out the ladder, and hauled it along the terrace, and was just putting it up, when the little devil leaped from the roof into the lilac bush, swayed there a minute, ran down, scampered across the garden, and dashed up a pear tree, and—well, I think he laughed at me.
Anyway, I was mad. I went in and told him that he might stop out all night for all I cared. Still, I could not sleep for thinking of him—used to comfort—out in the night, and it was chilly. But he had to be disciplined.
I had to laugh in the morning, for he was playing on the terrace when I opened the door, and he had a line of three first-class mice laid out for me. I said: "Why, good morning, Khaki, did mother make him stay out all night? Well, you know he was a naughty cat!"
He gave me a look—I fancied it was quizzical—rolled over, and showed his pretty white belly, then jumped up, gave one look up at the bedroom window, scampered up the salon shutter, crouched on the top, and, with one leap, was through the bedroom window. When I rushed upstairs—to see if he had hurt himself, I suppose,—he was sitting on the foot of the bed, and I think he was grinning.
So much for disciplining a cat.
However, I had learned something—and, evidently, he had also. I had learned that a cat can take care of himself, and has a right to live a cat's life, and he learned that I was dull. We treat each other accordingly. The truth is—he owns me, and the house, and he knows it.
Since then he asks for the door, and gets it when he asks. He goes and comes at his own sweet will. When he wants to come in, in the daytime, he looks in at all the windows until he finds me. Then he stands on his hind legs and beats the window with his paws until I open it for him. In the night, he climbs to the bedroom window, and taps until he wakens me. You see, it is his house, not mine, and he knows it. What is the drollest of all—he is never one minute late to his meals.
He is familiarly known to all my neighbors as "the Grand Duc de Huiry" and he looks the part. Still, from my point of view, he is not an ideal cat. He is not a bit caressing. He never fails to purr politely when he comes in. But he is no longer playful. He never climbs up to my shoulder and rubs against my face as some of Amelie's commoner cats will do. He is intelligent and handsome—just a miniature tiger, and growls like a new arrival from the jungle when he is displeased— and he is a great ratter. Moreover Amelie has decided that he is an "intellectuel."
One morning, when he had been out all night, and did not return until almost breakfast-time, he was sitting on my knee, making his toilette, while I argued the matter with him. Amelie was dusting. I reproached him with becoming a rodeur, and I told him that I should be happier about him if I knew where he was every night, and what he did.
He yawned as if bored, jumped off my knees and began walking round the library, and examining the books.
"Well," remarked Amelie, "I can tell you where he goes. He has a class in Maria's grange, where the wheat is stored—a class of mice. He goes every evening to give conferences on history and the war, and he eats up all the stupid pupils."
I had to laugh, but before I could ask her how she knew, Khaki jumped up on top of the lowest line of books, and disappeared behind.
Amelie shrugged her shoulders, and said: "Voila! He has gone to prepare his next conference." And he really had chosen a line of books on history.
You see Amelie knows beasties better than I do. There really is a sort of freemasonry between certain people and dumb animals. I have not a bit of it, though I love them. You would adore to see Amelie play with cats. She knows how. And as for her conversation with them, it is wonderful. I remarked the fact to her one day, when her morning salutations with the cats had been unusual. She replied, with her customary shrug: "Eh bien, Madame, toujours, entre eux, les betes se comprennent."
So much in brief for cat number one. Number two is a different matter.
In the spring, four kittens were born at Amelie's. They were all sorts of mongrels. There was a dear little fluffy, half angora, which I named Garibaldi, and Amelie, as usual, vulgarized it at once into "Didine." There was a long-legged blue kitten which I dubbed Roi Albert. There was a short-legged, sturdy little energetic striped one which I called General Joffre, and a yellow and black fellow, who was, of course, Nicolas. I regretted there weren't two more, or three.
Garibaldi was about the dearest kitten I ever saw. He attached himself to me at once. When he was only a round fluffy ball he would try to climb into my lap whenever I went to see the kittens. The result was that when he was still very young, he came to live with me, and I never saw so altogether loveable an animal. He has all the cat qualities I ever dreamed of. As Amelie says: "II a tout pour lui, et il ne manque que la parole." And it is true. He crawls up my back. He will lie for hours on my shoulder purring his little soft song into my ear. He will sit beside me on my desk, looking at me with his pretty yellow eyes, as if he and I were the whole of his world. If I walk in the garden, he is under my feet. If I go up to Amelie's he goes too.
His attachment has its drawbacks. He tries to sit on my book when I am reading, and longs to lie on the keyboard of my machine when I am writing. If I try to read a paper when he is on my lap he immediately crawls under it, and gets between my eyes and the print. I am terribly flattered, but his affection has its inconveniences. Needless to say, Khaki hates him, and never passes him without growling. Luckily Didine is not a bit afraid of him. Up to date they have never fought. Didine has a great admiration for Khaki, and will tag him. The difference in their characters is too funny. For example, if Didine brings a mouse into the garden Khaki never attempts to touch it. He will sit apart, indulgently watching Didine play with his prey, torment it, and finally kill it, and never offer to join in the sport. On the contrary, if Khaki brings in a mouse, Didine wants to join in the fun at once. Result—Khaki gives one fierce growl, abandons his catch and goes out of the garden. Difference, I suppose, between a thoroughbred sport and, well, a common cat.
I could fill a volume with stories about these cats. Don't worry. I shall not.
You ask me if I have a dog. Yes, a big black Caniche named Dick, a good watch-dog, but too fond of playing. I call him an "india-rubber dog," because when he is demanding' a frolic, or asking to have a stone thrown for him—his idea of happiness—he jumps up and down on his four stiff legs exactly like a toy woolly dog on an elastic.
He is a good dog to walk with, and loves to "go." He is very obedient on the road for that reason—knows if he is naughty he can't go next time.
So now you have the household complete. I'll warrant you won't be content. If you are not, there is no satisfying you. When I pour all my political dreams on paper, and shout on to my machine all my disappointments over the attitude of Washington, you take offence. So what can I do? I cannot send you letters full of stirring adventures. I don't have any. I can't write you dramatic things about the war. It is not dramatic here, and that is as strange to me as it seems to be to you.
October 3, 1915
We have been as near to getting enthusiastically excited as we have since the war began.
Just when everyone had a mind made up that the Allies could not be ready to make their first offensive movement until next spring— resigned to know that it would not be until after a year and a half, and more, of war that we could see our armies in a position to do more than continue to repel the attacks of the enemy—we all waked up on September 27 to the unexpected news that an offensive movement of the French in Champagne had actually begun on the 25th, and was successful.
For three or four days the suspense and the hope alternated. Every day there was an advance, an advance that seemed to be supported by the English about Loos, and all the time we heard at intervals the far-off pounding of the artillery.
For several days our hearts were high. Then there began to creep into the papers hints that it had been a gallant advance, but not a great victory, and far too costly, and that there had been blunders, and we all settled back with the usual philosophy, studied the map of our first-line trenches on September 25, when the attack began,— running through Souain and Perthes, Mesnil, Massiges, and Ville sur Tourbe. We compared it with the line on the night of September 29, when the battle practically ended, running from the outskirts of Auderive in the west to behind Cernay in the east, and took what comfort we could in the 25 kilometres of advance, and three hilltops gained. It looked but a few steps on the map, but it was a few steps nearer the frontier.
Long before you get this, you will have read, in the American papers, details hidden from us, though we know more about this event than about most battles.
You remember the tea-party I had for the boys in our ambulance in June? Well, among the soldiers here that day was a chap named Litigue. He was wounded—his second time—on September 25, the first day of the battle. He was nursed in our ambulance the first time by Mlle. Henriette, and yesterday she had a letter from him, which she lets me translate for you, because it will give you some idea of the battle, of the spirit of the poilus, and also because it contains a bit of news and answers a question you asked me several weeks ago, after the first use of gas attacks in the north.
A l'hopital St. Andre de Luhzac,
September 30, 1915 Mademoiselle,
I am writing you tonight a little more at length than I was able to do this morning—then I had not the time, as my nurse was waiting beside my bed to take the card to the post. I wrote it the moment I was able, at the same time that I wrote to my family. I hope it reached you.
I am going to tell you in as few words as possible, how the day passed. The attack began the 25th, at exactly quarter past nine in the morning. The preparatory bombardment had been going on since the 22d. All the regiments had been assembled the night before in their shelters, ready to leap forward.
At daybreak the bombardment recommenced—a terrible storm of shells of every calibre—bombs, torpedoes—flew overhead to salute the Boches, and to complete the destruction which had been going on for three days.
Without paying attention to the few obus which the Boches sent over in reply to our storm, we all mounted the parapets to get a view of the scene. All along our front, in both directions, all we could see was a thick cloud of dust and smoke. For four hours we stood there, without saying a word, waiting the order to advance; officers, common soldiers, young and old, had but one thought,—to get into it and be done with it as quickly as possible. It was just nine o'clock when the officers ordered us into line, ready to advance,—sac au dos, bayonets fixed, musettes full of grenades and asphyxiating bombs. Everyone of us knew that he was facing death out there, but I saw nowhere the smallest sign of shrinking, and at quarter past nine, when we got the signal to start, one cry: "En avant, et vive la France!" burst from thousands and thousands of throats, as we leaped out of the trenches, and it seemed to me that it was but one bound before we were on them.
Once there I seem to remember nothing in detail. It was as if, by enchantment, that I found myself in the midst of the struggle, in heaps of dead and dying. When I fell, and found myself useless in the fight, I dragged myself, on my stomach, towards our trenches. I met stretcher-bearers who were willing to carry me, but I was able to crawl, and so many of my comrades were worse off, that I refused. I crept two kilometres like that until I found a dressing-station. I was suffering terribly with the bullet in my ankle. They extracted it there and dressed the ankle, but I remained, stretched on the ground, two days before I was removed, and I had nothing to eat until I reached here yesterday—four days after I fell. But that could not be helped. There were so many to attend to.
I will let you know how I get on, and I hope for news from you. In the meantime I send you my kindest regards, and my deep gratitude.
Your big friend,
I thought you might be interested to see what sort of a letter a real poilu writes, and Litigue is just a big workman, young and energetic.
You remember you asked me if the Allies would ever bring themselves to replying in sort to the gas attacks. You see what Litigue says so simply. They did have asphyxiating bombs. Naturally the most honorable army in the world cannot neglect to reply in sort to a weapon like that. When the Boches have taken some of their own medicine the weapon will be less freely used. Besides, today our men are all protected against gas.
I had hardly settled down to the feeling that the offensive was over and that there was another long winter of inaction—a winter of the same physical and material discomforts as the first—lack of fuel, suspense,—when the news came which makes my feeling very personal. The British offensive in the north has cost me a dear friend. You remember the young English officer who had marched around me in September of last year, during the days preceding the battle of the Marne? He was killed in Belgium on the morning of September 26—the second day of the offensive. He was in command of an anti- aeroplane battery advanced in the night to what was considered a well-concealed position. The German guns, however, got the range. Shrapnel nearly wiped out the command, and the Captain was wounded in the head. He died at the hospital at Etaples half an hour after he arrived, and lies buried in the English cemetery on the dunes, with his face towards the country for which he gave his young life.
I know one must not today regret such sacrifices. Death is—and no one can die better than actively for a great cause. But, when a loved one goes out in youth; when a career of achievement before which a really brilliant future opened, is snapped, one can still be proud, but it is through a veil of tears.
I remember so well that Sunday morning, the 26th of September. It was a beautiful day. The air was clear. The sun shone. I sat all the morning on the lawn watching the clouds, so small and fleecy, and listening to the far-off cannon, not knowing then that it meant the "big offensive." Oddly enough we spoke of him, for Amelie was examining the cherry tree, which she imagined had some sort of malady, and she said: "Do you remember when Captain Noel was here last year how he climbed the tree to pick the cherries?" And I replied that the tree hardly looked solid enough now to bear his weight. I sat thinking of him, and his life of movement and activity under so many climes, and wondered where he was, little thinking that already, that very morning, the sun of his dear life was told, and that we should never, as I had dreamed, talk over his adventures in France as we had so often talked over those in India, in China, and in Africa.
It is odd, but when a friend so dear as he was, yet whom one only saw rarely, in the etapes of his active career, goes out across the great bourne, into the silence and the invisible, it takes time to realize it. It is only after a long waiting, when not even a message comes back, that one comprehends that there are to be no more meetings at the cross-roads. I moved one more portrait into the line under the flags tied with black—that was all.
You hardly knew him, I know, but no one ever saw his upright figure, his thin, clear-cut features, bronzed by tropic suns, and his direct gaze, and forgot him.
December 6, 1915
It is two months since I wrote—I know it. But you really must not reproach me so violently as you do in yours of the 21st of November, just received.
To begin with, there is no occasion for you to worry. I may be uncomfortable. I am in no danger. As for the discomforts—well, I am used to them. I cannot get coal very often, and when I do I pay twenty-six dollars a ton for it, and it is only imitation coal, at that. I cannot get washing done oftener than once in six weeks. Nothing dries out-of-doors in this country of damp winters. I am often forced to live my evenings by candle-light, which is pretty extravagant, as candles are costly, and it takes a good many to get through an evening. They burn down like paper tapers in these days.
When I don't write it is simply because I have nothing more interesting than things like that to tell you. The situation is chronic, and, like chronic diseases, much more likely to get worse than to get better.
You should be grateful to me for sparing you, instead of blaming me.
I might not have found the inspiration to write today if something had not happened.
This morning the town crier beat his drum all over the hill, and read a proclamation forbidding all foreigners to leave the commune during the next thirty days without a special permit from the general in command of the 5th Army Corps.
No one knows what this means. I have been to the mairie to enquire simply because I had promised to spend Christmas at Voulangis, and, if this order is formal, I may have difficulty in going. I have no desire to celebrate, only there is a child there, and the lives of little children ought not to be too much saddened by the times and events they do not understand.
I was told at the mairie that they had no power, and that I would have to address myself to Monsieur le General. They could not even tell me what form the request ought to take. So I came home, and wrote the letter as well as I could.
In the meantime, I am distinctly informed that until I get a reply from headquarters I cannot go out of the commune of Quincy-Segy.
If I really obey the letter of this order I cannot even go to Amelie's. Her house is in the commune of Couilly, and mine in Quincy, and the boundary line between the two communes is the path beside my garden, on the south side, and runs up the middle of my road from that point.
It is annoying, as I hardly know Quincy, and don't care for it, and never go there except to present myself at the mairie. It is further off the railroad line than I am here. Couilly I know and like. It is a pretty prosperous village. It has better shops than Quincy, which has not even a pharmacie, and I have always done my shopping there. My mail comes there, and the railway station is there, and everyone knows me.
The idea that I can't go there gives me, for the first time since the battle, a shut-in feeling. I talked to the garde champetre, whom I met on the road, as I returned from the mairie, and I asked him what he thought about the risk of my going to Couilly. He looked properly grave, and said:
"I would not, if I were in your place. Better run no risks until we understand what this is to lead to."
I thanked him, with an expression just as serious and important as his. "I'll obey," I said to myself, "though to obey will be comic."
So I turned the corner on top of the hill. I drove close to the east side of the road, which was the Quincy side, and as I passed the entrance to Amelie's court I called to Pere to come out and get Ninette and the cart. I then climbed out and left the turn-out there.
I did not look back, but I knew Pere was standing in the road looking after me in amazement, and not understanding a bit that I had left my cart on the Quincy side of the road for him to drive it into Couilly, where I could not go.
"I'll obey," I repeated to myself, viciously, as I strolled down the Quincy side of the road and crossed in front of the gate where the whole width of the road is in my commune.
I hadn't been in the house five minutes before Amelie arrived.
"What's the matter?" she demanded, breathlessly.
"Why didn't you drive into the stable as usual?"
"Why couldn't you?"
"Because I am forbidden to go to Couilly."
I thought she was going to see the joke and laugh. She didn't. She was angry, and I had a hard time to make her see that it was funny. In fact, I did not really make her see it at all, for an hour later, wanting her, I went up to the Quincy side of the road, leaned against the wall, opposite her entrance, and blew my big whistle for ten minutes without attracting her attention.