Back of Raulecourt the woods were full of heavy artillery. Raulecourt was the first town back of the front lines. The men were relieved every eight days and passed through here to other places to rest.
The military authorities sent word to the Salvation Army hut one day that fifty Frenchmen would be going through from the trenches at five o'clock in the morning who would have had no opportunity to get anything to eat.
The Salvation Army people went to work and baked up a lot of biscuits and doughnuts and cakes, and got hot coffee ready. The Red Cross canteen was better situated to serve the men and had more conveniences, so they took the things over there, and the Red Cross supplied hot chocolate, and when the men came they were well served. This is a sample of the spirit of cooperation which prevailed. One Sunday night they were just starting the evening service when word came from the military authorities that there were a hundred men coming through the town who were hungry and ought to be fed. They must be out of the town by nine-thirty as they were going over the top that night. Could the Salvation Army do anything?
The woman officer who was in charge was perplexed. She had nothing cooked ready to eat, the fire was out, her detailed helpers all gone, and she was just beginning a meeting and hated to disappoint the men already gathered, but she told the messenger that if she might have a couple of soldiers to help her she would do what she could. The soldiers were supplied and the fire was started. At ten minutes to nine the meeting was closed and the earnest young preacher went to work making biscuits and chocolate with the help of her two soldier boys. By ten o'clock all the men were fed and gone. That is the way the Salvation Army does things. They never say "I can't." They always CAN.
In Raulecourt there were several pro-Germans. The authorities allowed them to stay there to save the town. The Salvation Army people were warned that there were spies in the town and that they must on no account give out information. Just before the St. Mihiel drive a special warning was given, all civilians were ordered to leave town, and a Military Police knocked at the door and informed the woman in the hut that she must be careful what she said to anybody with the rank of a second lieutenant, as word had gone out there was a spy dressed in the uniform of an American second lieutenant.
That night at eleven o'clock the young woman was just about to retire when there came a knock at the canteen door. She happened to be alone in the building at the time and when she opened the door and found several strange officers standing outside she was a little frightened. Nor did it dispel her fears to have them begin to ask questions:
"Madam, how many troops are in this town? Where are they? Where can we get any billets?"
To all these questions she replied that she could not tell or did not know and advised them to get in touch with the town Major. The visitors grew impatient. Then three more men knocked at the door, also in uniform, and began to ask questions. When they could get no information one of them exclaimed indignantly:
"Well, I should like to know what kind of a town this is, anyway? I tried to find out something from a Military Police outside and he took me for a SPY! Madam, we are from Field Hospital Number 12, and we want to find a place to rest."
Then the frightened young woman became convinced that her visitors were not spies; all the same, they were not going to leave her any the wiser for any information she would give.
Several times men would come to the town and find no place to sleep. On such occasions the Salvation Army hut was turned over to them and they would sleep on the floor.
The St. Mihiel drive came on and the hut was turned over to the hospital. The supplies were taken to a dugout and the canteen kept up there. Then the military authorities insisted that the girls should leave town, but the girls refused to go, begging, "Don't drive us away. We know we shall be needed!" The Staff-Captain came down and took some of the girls away, but left two in the canteen, and others in the hospital.
It rained for two weeks in Roulecourt. The soldiers slept in little dog tents in the woods.
The meetings held the boys at the throne of God each night, they were the power behind the doughnut, and the boys recognized it.
"One hesitated to ask them if they wanted prayers because we knew they did," said one sweet woman back from the front, speaking about the time of the St. Mihiel drive. "We couldn't say how many knelt at the altar because they all knelt. Some of them would walk five miles to attend a meeting."
It poured torrents the night of the drive and nearly drowned out the soldiers in their little tents.
They came into the hut to shake hands and say goodbye to the girls; to leave their little trinklets and ask for prayers; and they had their meeting as always before a drive.
But this was an even more solemn time than usual, for the boys were going up to a point where the French had suffered the fearful loss of thirty thousand men trying to hold Mt. Sec for fifteen minutes. They did not expect to come back. They left sealed packages to be forwarded if they did not return.
One boy came to one of the Salvation Army men Officers and said: "Pray for me. I have given my heart to Jesus."
Another, a Sergeant, who had lived a hard life, came to the Salvation Army Adjutant and said: "When I go back, if I ever go, I'm going to serve the Lord."
After the meeting the girls closed the canteen and on the way to their room they passed a little sort of shed or barn. The door was standing open and a light streaming out, and there on a little straw pallet lay a soldier boy rolled up in his blanket reading his Testament. The girls breathed a prayer for the lad as they passed by and their hearts were lifted up with gladness to think how many of the American boys, fully two- thirds of them, carried their Testaments in the pockets over their hearts; yes, and read them, too, quite openly.
Two young Captains came one night to say good-bye to the girls before going up the line. The girls told them they would be praying for them and the elder of the two, a doctor, said how much he appreciated that, and then told them how he had promised his wife he would read a chapter in his Testament every day, and how he had never failed to keep his promise since he left home.
Then up spoke the other man:
"Well, I got converted one night on the road. The shells were falling pretty thick and I thought I would never reach my destination and I just promised the Lord if He would let me get safely there I would never fail to read a chapter, and I never have failed yet!" This young man seemed to think that—the whole plan of redemption was comprised in reading his Bible, but if he kept his promise the Spirit would guide him.
On the way back to the hut one morning the girls picked marguerites and forget-me-nots and put them in a vase on the table in the hut, making it look like a little oasis in a desert, and no doubt, many a soldier looked long at those blossoms who never thought he cared about flowers before.
Within thirty-six hours after the first gun was fired in the St. Mihiel drive seven Salvation Army huts were established on the territory.
Three days before the drive opened twenty Salvation Army girls reached Raulecourt, which was a little village half a mile from Montsec. They had been travelling for hours and hours and were very weary.
The Salvation Army hut had been turned over to the hospital, so they found another old building.
That night there was a gas alarm sounded and everybody came running out with their gas masks on. The officer who had them in charge was much worried about his lassies because some of them had a great deal of hair, and he was afraid that the heavy coils at the back of their heads would prevent the masks from fitting tightly and let in the deadly gas, but the lassies were level-headed girls, and they came calmly out with their masks on tight and their hair in long braids down their backs, much to the relief of their officer.
It had been raining for days and the men were wet to the skin, and many of them had no way to get dry except to roll up in their blankets and let the heat of their body dry their clothes while they slept. It was a great comfort to have the Salvation Army hut where they could go and get warm and dry once in awhile.
The night of the St. Mihiel drive was the blackest night ever seen. It was so dark that one could positively see nothing a foot ahead of him. The Salvation Army lassies stood in the door of the canteen and listened. All day long the heavy artillery had been going by, and now that night had come there was a sound of feet, tramping, tramping, thousands of feet, through the mud and slush as the soldiers went to the front. In groups they were singing softly as they went by. The first bunch were singing "Mother Machree."
There's a spot in me heart that no colleen may own, There's a depth in me soul never sounded or known; There's a place in me memory, me life, that you fill, No other can take it, no one ever will; Sure, I love the dear silver that shines in your hair, And the brow that's all furrowed and wrinkled with care. I kiss the dear fingers, so toil-worn for me; O, God bless you and keep you! Mother Machree!
The simple pathos of the voices, many of them tramping forward to their death, and thinking of mother, brought the tears to the eyes of the girls who had been mothers and sisters, as well as they could, to these boys during the days of their waiting.
Then the song would die slowly away and another group would come by singing: "Tell mother I'll be there!" Always the thought of mother. A little interval and the jolly swing of "Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile!" came floating by, and then sweetly, solemnly, through the chill of the darkness, with a thrill in the words, came another group of voices:
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide, The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!'
There had been rumors that Montsec was mined and that as soon as a foot was set upon it it would blow up.
The girls went and lay down on their cots and tried to sleep, praying in their hearts for the boys who had gone forth to fight. But they could not sleep. It was as though they had all the burden of all the mothers and wives and sisters of those boys upon them, as they lay there, the only women within miles, the only women so close to the lines.
About half-past one a big naval gun went off. It was as though all the noises of the earth were let loose about them. They could lie still no longer. They got up, put on their rain-coats, rubber boots, steel helmets, took their gas masks and went out in the fields where they could see. Soon the barrage was started. Darkness took on a rosy hue from shells bursting. First a shell fell on Montsec. Then one landed in the ammunition dump just back of it and blew it up, making it look like a huge crater of a volcano. It seemed as if the universe were on fire. The noise was terrific. The whole heavens were lit up from end to end. The beauty and the horror of it were indescribable.
At five o'clock they went sadly back to the hut.
The hospital tents had been put up in the dark and now stood ready for the wounded who were expected momentarily. The girls took off their rain-coats and reported for duty. It was expected there would be many wounded. The minutes passed and still no wounded arrived. Day broke and only a few wounded men had been brought in. It was reported that the roads were so bad that the ambulances were slow in getting there. With sad hearts the workers waited, but the hours passed and still only a straggling few arrived, and most of those were merely sick from explosives. There were almost no wounded! Only ninety in all.
Then at last there came one bearing a message. There were no wounded! The Germans had been taken so by surprise, the victory had been so complete at that point, that the boys had simply leaped over all barriers and gone on to pursue the enemy. Quickly packing up seven outfits a little company of workers started after their divisions on trucks over ground that twenty-four hours before had been occupied by the Germans, on roads that were checkered with many shell holes which American road makers were busily filling up and bridging as they passed.
One of the Salvation Army truck drivers asked a negro road mender what he thought of his job. He looked up with a pearly smile and a gleam of his eyes and replied: "Boss, I'se doin' mah best to make de world safe foh Democrats!"
They had to stop frequently to remove the bodies of dead horses from the way so recently had that place been shelled. They passed through grim skeletons of villages shattered and torn by shell fire; between tangles of rusty barbed wire that marked the front line trenches. Then on into territory that had long been held by the Huns. More than half of the villages they passed were partially burned by the retreating enemy. All along the way the pitiful villagers, free at last, came out to greet them with shouts of welcome, calling "Bonnes Americaines! Bonnes Americaines!" Some flung their arms about the Salvation Army lassies in their joy. Some of the villagers had not even known that the Americans were in the war until they saw them.
In the village of Nonsard a little way beyond Mt. Sec they found a building that twenty-four hours before had been a German canteen. Above the entrance was the sign "KAMERAD, tritt' ein."
The Salvation Army people stepped in and took possession, finding everything ready for their use. They even found a lard can full of lard and after a chemist had analyzed it to make sure it was not poisoned they fried doughnuts with it. In one wall was a great shell hole, and the village was still under shell fire as they unloaded their truck and got to work. One lassie set the water to heat for hot chocolate, while another requisitioned a soldier to knock the head off a barrel of flour and was soon up to her elbows mixing the dough for doughnuts. Before the first doughnut was out of the hot fat several hundred soldiers were waiting in long, patient, ever-growing lines for free doughnuts and chocolate. These things were always served free after the men had been over the top.
The lassies had had no sleep for thirty-six hours, but they never thought of stopping until everybody was served. In that one day their three tons of supplies entirely gave out.
The Red Cross was there with their rolling kitchen. They had plenty of bread but nothing to put on it. The Salvation Army had no stove on which to cook anything, but they had quantities of jam and potted meats. They turned over ten cases of jam, some of the cases containing as many as four hundred small jars, to the Red Cross, who served it on hot biscuits. Some one put up a sign: "THIS JAM FURNISHED BY THE SALVATION ARMY!" and the soldiers passed the word along the line: "The finest sandwich in the world, Red Cross and Salvation Army!" The first day two Salvation Army girls served more than ten thousand soldiers in their canteen. They did not even stop to eat. The Red Cross brought them over hot chocolate as they worked.
Evening brought enemy airplanes, but the lassies did not stop for that and soon their own aerial forces drove the enemy back.
That night the girls slept in a dirty German dugout, and they did not dare to clean up the place, or even so much as to move any of the debris of papers and old tin and pasteboard cracker boxes, or cans that were strewn around the place until the engineer experts came to examine things, lest it might be mined and everything be blown up. The girls set up their cots in the clearest place they could find, and went to sleep. One of the women, however, who had just arrived, had lost her cot, and being very weary crawled into a sort of berth dug by the Germans in the wall, where some German had slept. She found out from bitter experience what cooties are like.
The next morning they were hard at work again as early as seven o'clock. Two long lines of soldiers were already patiently waiting to be served. The girls wondered whether they might not have been there all night. This continued all day long.
"We had to keep on a perpetual grin," said one of the lassies, "so that each soldier would think he had a smile all his own. We always gave everything with a smile." Yet they were not smiles of coquetry. One had but to see the beautiful earnest faces of those girls to know that nothing unholy or selfish entered into their service. It was more like the smile that an angel might give.
Here is one of the many popular songs that have been written on the subject which shows how the soldiers felt:
SALVATION LASSIE OF MINE.
"They say it's in Heaven that all angels dwell, But I've come to learn they're on earth just as well; And how would I know that the like could be so, If I hadn't found one down here below?
A sweet little Angel that went o'er the sea, With the emblem of God in her hand; A wonderful Angel who brought there to me The sweet of a war-furrowed land. The crown on her head was a ribbon of red, A symbol of all that's divine; Though she called each a brother she's more like a mother, Salvation Lassie of Mine.
Perhaps in the future I'll meet her again, In that world where no one knows sorrow or pain; And when that time comes and the last word is said, Then place on my bosom her band of red."
By "Jack" Caddigan and "Chick" Stoy.
That day a shell fell on the dugout where they had slept the night before, and a little later one dropped next door to the canteen; another took seven men from the signal corps right in the street near by, and the girls were ordered out of the village because it was no longer safe for them.
One of the boys had been up on a pole putting up wires for the signal corps. These boys often had to work as now under shell fire in daytime because it was necessary to have telephone connections complete at once. A shell struck him as he worked and he fell in front of the canteen. They had just carried him away to the ambulance when his chum and comrade came running up. A pool of blood lay on the floor in front of the canteen, and he stood and gazed with anguish in his face. Suddenly he stooped and patted the blood tenderly murmuring, "My Buddy! My Buddy!" Then like a flash he was off, up the pole where his comrade had been killed to finish his work. That is the kind of brave boys these girls were serving.
The Argonne Drive
That night they slept in the woods on litters, and the next day they went on farther into the woods, twelve kilometres beyond what had been German front.
Here they found a whole little village of German dugouts in the form of log cabin bungalows in the woods. It was a beautifully laid out little village, each bungalow complete, with running water and electric lights and all conveniences. There were a dance hall, a billiard room, and several pianos in the woods. There were also fine vegetable gardens and rabbit hutches full of rabbits, for the Germans had been obliged to leave too hastily to take anything with them.
The boys were hungry, some of them half starved for something different from the hard fare they could take with them over the top, and they made rabbit stews and cooked the vegetables and had a fine time.
The girls up at the front had no time for making doughnuts, so the girls back of the lines made 8000 doughnuts and sent them up by trucks for distribution. They also distributed oranges to the soldiers.
News came to the girls after they had been for a week in Nonsard that they were to make a long move.
Back to Verdun they went and stopped just long enough to look at the city. They were much impressed with St. Margaret's school for young ladies, and a wonderful old cathedral standing on the hill with a wall surrounding it. Just the face of the building was left, all the rest shot away, and through the concrete walls were holes, with guns bristling from every one.
They did not linger long for duty called them forward on their journey. At dusk they stopped in a little village, bought some stuff, and asked a French woman to cook it for them. They inquired for a place in which to wash and were given a bar of soap and directed to the village pump up the street. After supper they went on their way to Benoitvaux. Here they found difficulty in getting quarters, but at last an old French woman agreed to let them sleep in her kitchen and for a couple of days they were quartered with her. The word went forth that there were two American girls there and people were most curious to see them. One afternoon two French soldiers came to the kitchen to visit them. It was raining, as usual, and the girls had stayed in because there was really nothing to call them out. The soldiers sat for some time talking. They had heard that America was a wild place with beaucoup Indians who wore scalps in their belts, and they wanted to know if the girls were not afraid. It was a bit difficult conversing, but the girls got out their French dictionary and managed to convey a little idea of the true America to the strangers. At last one of the soldiers in quite a matter of fact tone informed one of the girls that he was pleased with her and loved her very much. This put a hasty close to the conversation, the lassie informing him with much dignity that men did not talk in that way to girls they had just met in America and that she did not like it. Whereupon the girls withdrew to the other end of the kitchen and turned their backs on their callers, busying themselves with some reading, and the crest-fallen gallants presently left.
They only had a canteen here one day when they were called to go on to Neuvilly.
When the offensive was extended to the Argonne the Salvation Army followed along, keeping in touch with the troops so that they felt that the Salvation Army was ever with them, sharing their hardships and dangers, and always ready to serve them.
Just before a drive, close to the front, there are always blockades of trucks going either way.
The Salvation Army truck filled with the workers on their way to Neuvilly one dark night was caught in such a blockade. They crawled along making only about a mile an hour and stopping every few minutes until there was a chance to go on again. At last the wait grew longer and longer, the mud grew deeper, and the truck was having such a hard time that the little company of travellers decided to abandon it to the side of the road till morning and get out and walk to Neuvilly. There was a field hospital there and they felt sure they could be of use; and anyway, it was better than sitting in the truck all night. They were then about eight kilometers from the front. So they all got off and walked. But when they reached the place, found the hospital, and essayed to go in, the mud was so deep that they were stuck and unable to move forward. Some soldiers had to rescue them and carry them to the hospital on litters.
Their help was accepted gladly, and they went to work at once. There were many shell-shocked boys coming in who needed soothing and comforting, and a woman's hand so near the front was gratefully appreciated.
When at last there was a lull in the stream of wounded men the girls went to find a place to sleep for a little while. It was early morning, and sad sights met their eyes as they hurried down what had once been a pleasant village street. Destruction and desolation everywhere. The house that had been selected for a Salvation Army canteen was nearly all gone. One end was comparatively intact, with the floor still remaining, and this was to be for the canteen. The rest of the building was a series of shell holes surrounding a cellar from which the floor had been shot away.
The women reconnoitred and finally decided to unfold their cots and try to get a wink of sleep down in that cellar. It did not take them long to get settled. The cots were brought down and placed quickly among the fallen rafters, stone and tiling. Part of the walls that were standing leaned in at a perilous slant, threatening to fall at the slightest wind, but the lassies took off their shoes, rolled up in their blankets, and were at once oblivious to all about them, for they had been travelling all the day before and had worked hard all night.
One hour later, still early in the morning, they were awakened by the arrival of the truck and the thumping of boxes, tables and supplies as the Salvation Army truck drivers unloaded and set up the paraphernalia of the canteen. The girls opened their eyes and looked about them, and there all around the building were American soldiers, a head in every shell hole, watching them sleep. There was something thrilling in the silent audience looking down with holy eyes—yes, I said holy eyes!—for whatever the American soldier may be in his daily life he had nothing in his eyes but holy reverence for these women of God who were working night and day for him. There was something touching, too, in their attitude, for perhaps each one was thinking of his mother or sister at home as he looked down on these weary girls, rolled up in the brown blankets, with their neat little brown shoes in couples under their cots, nothing visible above the blankets but their pretty rumpled brown hair.
The women did not waste much more time in sleeping. They arose at once and got busy. There were five tables in the canteen above and already from each one there stretched a long line of men waiting silently, patiently for the time to arrive when there would be something good to eat. The girls had no more sleep that day, and there simply was no seclusion to be had anywhere. Everything was shell-riddled.
When night came on the question of beds arose again. The cellar seemed hardly possible, and the military officers considered the question.
Across the road from the most ruined end of the canteen building stood an old church. All of its north wall was gone save a supporting column in the middle, all the north roof gone. There were holes in all the other walls, and all the windows were gone. The floor was covered with debris and wreckage. It had been used all day for an evacuation hospital.
Just over the altar was a wonderful picture of the Christ ascending to heaven. It was still uninjured save for a shot through the heart.
The military officer stood on the steps of this ruined church, and, looking around in perplexity, remarked:
"Well, I guess this is the wholest place in town." Then stepping inside he glanced about and pointed:
"And this is the most secluded spot here!"
The seclusion was a pillar! But the girls were glad to get even that for there was no other place, and they were very weary. So they set up their little cots, and prepared to roll themselves in their blankets for a well- earned rest.
The boys had built a small bonfire on the stone floor against a piece of one wall that was still standing, and now they sent a deputation to know if the girls would bring their guitars over and have a little music. The boys, of course, had no idea that the girls had not slept for more than twenty-four hours, and the girls never told them. They never even cast one wistful glance toward their waiting cots, but smilingly assented, and went and got their instruments.
Beneath the picture of the Christ, in front of the altar a few men were at work in an improvised office with four candles burning around them. In the rear of the church Lt.-Col. Frederick R. Fitzpatrick of the One Hundred and Tenth Ammunition Train had his office, and there another candle was burning. Some wounded men lay on stretchers in the shadowed northwest corner, and around the little fire the five Salvation Army lassies sat among two hundred soldiers. They sang at first the popular songs that everybody knew: "The Long, Long Trail," "Keep the Home Fires Burning," "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile! Smile! Smile!" and "Keep Your Head Down, Fritzie Boy!"
By and by some one called for a hymn, and then other hymns followed: "Jesus Lover of My Soul," "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder," and, as always, the old favorite, "Tell Mother I'll Be There!"
They sang for at least an hour and a half, and then they did not want to stop. Oh, but it was a great sound that rolled through the old broken walls of the church and floated out into the night! One of the lassies said she would not change crowds with the biggest choir in New York.
Then they asked the girls to sing and the room was very still as two sweet voices thrilled out in a tender melody, speaking every word distinctly:
Beautiful Jesus, Bright Star of earth! Loving and tender from moment of birth, Beautiful Jesus, though lowly Thy lot, Born in a manger, so rude was Thy cot!
Beautiful Jesus, gentle and mild, Light for the sinner in ways dark and wild, Beautiful Jesus, O save such just now, As at Thy feet they in penitence bow!
Beautiful Christ! Beautiful Christ! Fairest of thousands and Pearl of great price! Beautiful Christ! Beautiful Christ! Gladly we welcome Thee, Beautiful Christ!
Before they had finished many eyes had turned instinctively toward the picture in the weirdly flickering light.
Then the young Captain-lassie asked her sister to read the Ninety-first Psalm, "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty," and she told them that was a promise for those who trusted in God, and she wished they would think about it while they were going to sleep.
"This evening has made me think so much of home," she said thoughtfully, drooping her lashes and then raising them with a sweeping glance that included the whole group, while the firelight flickered up and lit her lovely serious face, and touched her hair with lights of gold, "I suppose it has made every one else feel that way," she went on; "I mean especially the evenings at home when the family gathered in the parlor, with one at the piano and brothers with their horns, and the rest with some kind of instrument, and we had a good 'sing;' and afterward father took the Bible and read the evening chapter, and then we had family prayers and kissed Mamma and Papa good night and went to bed. I shouldn't wonder if many of you used to have homes like that?"
The lassie raised her eyes again and looked on them. Many of the men nodded. It was beautiful to see the look that came into their faces at these recollections.
"And you used to have family prayers, too, didn't you?" she asked eagerly.
They nodded once more but some of them turned their faces away from the light quickly and brushed the back of their hands across their eyes.
"To-night has been a family gathering," she went on, "We girls are little sisters to all you big brothers, and we have had a delightful time with just the family, and the evening chapter has been read, and now I think it would not be complete if we did not have the family prayers before we separate and go to sleep."
Down went the heads in response, with reverent mien, and the place was very still while the lassie prayed. Afterward the boys joined their gruff voices, husky now with emotion, into the universal prayer with which she closed: "Our Father which are in heaven——"
They were all sorts and conditions of men gathered around the little fire in that old shell-torn church in Neuvilly that night. To quote from a letter written by a military officer, Lt-Col. Frederick R. Fitzpatrick, to his wife:
"There was the lad who was willing but not strong enough for field work, who was in the rear with the office; the walking wounded who had stopped for something to eat; the big, strong mule skinner who could throw a mule down or lift a case of ammunition, who was rough in appearance and speech and who would deny that the moisture in his eye was anything but the effects of the cold. There were the men who had been facing death a thousand times an hour for the last three days, who had not had a wash or a chance to take off their shoes and had been lying in mud in shell holes —men who looked as though they were chilled through and through; men on their way to the front, well knowing all the hardships and dangers which were ahead of them, but who were worried only about the delay in the traffic; doctors who had been working for three days without rest; men off ammunition and ration trucks, who had been at the wheel so long that they had forgotten whether it was three or four days and nights; wounded on their stretchers enjoying a smoke. And as I stepped in the door there were the feminine voices singing the good old tunes we all know so well, and not a sound in the church but as an accompaniment the distant booming of big guns, the rattle of small arms, the whirl of air craft, the passing of the ever-present column of trucks with rations and ammunition going up, and the wounded coming back; the shouted directions of the traffic police, the sound of the ammunition dump just outside the door and the rattle of the kitchens which surround the church, and which are working twenty-four hours a day.
There was the crowd of men, each uncovered, giving absolute undivided attention to the good, brave girls who were not making a meeting of it; it was just a meeting which grew—men who in their minds were back with mother and sister. The girls sang the good old songs, and then one of them offered a short prayer, in which all the men joined in spirit, and as I tip-toed out of the church it seemed to me that the four candles at the altar did not give all the light that was shown on the picture of Christ our Saviour. Every man in the building that night was in the very presence of God. It was not a religious meeting; it was a meeting full of religion. And it was a picture that will ever stand fresh in my memory and which will be an inspiration in time of doubt. There was nothing there but the real things, absolutely no sham of any kind. Oh, it was wonderful! I hope you can get just a little idea of what it was. I wish you would keep this letter. I want to be able to read it in future years."
In what remained of another village not far distant from Neuvilly, the lassies had a tent erected. The rain was endless—a driving drizzle which quickly soaked through everything but the staunchest raincoats in a very few moments. The ground was so thickly covered by shell craters that they could find no clear space wide enough for the tent. It so happened that almost in the centre of the tent there was a big shell crater. In this the girls lighted a fire. All through the night, and through nights to follow, wounded men limping back through the rain and mud to the dressing stations came in to warm themselves around the fire in the shell hole, and to drink of the coffee prepared by the girls. As they sat around the blazing wood, the fire cast strange shadows on the bleached brown canvas of the tent. In spite of their wounds, they were very cheerful, singing as lightly as though they were safe at home.
Everybody had worked hard at Neuvilly, but they felt they must get to their own outfit as soon as possible at the Field Hospital up in Cheppy where the wounded were coming in droves and the boys were pouring in from the front half-starved, having been fighting all night with nothing to eat except reserve rations. Some had been longer with only such rations as they took from their dead comrades. The need was most urgent, but the puzzle was how to get there. The roads had been shelled and ploughed by explosives until there was no possible semblance of a way, and there were no conveyances to be had. The Zone Major had gone back for supplies, telling the girls to get the first conveyance possible going up the road. That was enough for the girls. "We've got to get there" they said, and when they said that one knew they would. They searched diligently and at last found a way. One girl rode on a reel cart, one on a mule team and one went with an old wagon. They went over roads that had to be made ahead of them by the engineers, and late in the night, bruised and sore from head to foot, they arrived at their destination.
The next morning they reported at the hospital for work and the Major in charge said: "I never was so glad to see anybody in my life!"
They went straight to work and served coffee and sandwiches to the poor half-starved men. The Red Cross men were there, also, with sandwiches, hot chocolate and candy.
The wounded men continued to pour in, later to be evacuated to the base hospital; they kept coming and coming, a thousand men where two hundred had been expected. There was plenty to be done. The girls were put in charge of different wards. They were under shell fire continually, but they were too busy to think of that as they hurried about ministering to the brave soldiers, who gave never a groan from their white lips no matter what they suffered.
The girls worked about eighteen hours a day, and slept from about one or two at night to five or six in the morning. The hospital was in front of the artillery and every shell that went over to Germany passed over their heads. When they had been there five days under continual shell fire from the enemy the General gave orders that they must leave, that it was no fit place for women so near to the front.
When the Salvation Army Zone Major brought this order to the girls rebellion shone in their eyes and they declared they would not leave! They knew they were needed there, and there they would stay! The Zone Major surveyed them with intense satisfaction. He turned on his heel and went back to the General:
"General," he said, with a twinkle, "my girls say they won't go."
The General's face softened, and the twinkle flashed across to his eyes, with something like a tear behind its fire. Somehow he didn't look like a Commanding Officer who had just been defied. A wonderful light broke over his face and he said:
"Well, if the Salvation Army wants to stay let them stay!" And so they stayed.
It was in a German-dug cave that they had their headquarters, cut out of the side of a hill and opening into the hospital yard. It was a work of art, that cave. There was a passage-way a hundred feet long with avenues each side and places for cots, room enough to accommodate a hundred men.
The German airplanes came in droves. When the bugle sounded every one must get under cover. There must be nobody in sight for the Germans were out to get individuals, and even one person was not too insignificant for them to waste their ammunition upon. They had a mistaken idea, perhaps, that this sort of thing destroyed our morale. The tents, of course, were no protection against shells and bombs, and presently the Boche began to shell the town in good earnest, especially at night. Gas alarms, also, would sound out in the middle of the night and everybody would have to rush out and put on their gas masks. They would not last long at a time, of course, but it broke up any rest that might have been had, and it was only too evident that the enemy was trying to get the range on the hospital.
One morning, standing by the window making cocoa for the boys, one of the lassies saw an eight-inch shell land between the hospital tents, ten feet in front of the window, and only five feet from the door of the place where the severely wounded were lying. These shells always kill at two hundred feet. All that saved them was that the shell buried itself deep in the soft earth and was a dud.
The shells were coming every twenty minutes and there was no time to lose for now the enemy had their range. At once all hands got busy and began to evacuate the wounded men into the Salvation Army cave. The cave would accommodate seventy men, but they managed to get a hundred men inside, most of them on litters. They were all safe and the girls heard the whistle of the next shell and made haste toward safety themselves. But someone had carelessly dropped a whole outfit of blankets and things across the passageway of the dugout and the first woman to enter fell across it, shutting out the other two. Before anything could be done the next shell struck the doorway, partly burying the fallen young woman. Inside the dugout rocks came down on some of the men on litters, and anxious hands extricated the lassie from the debris that had fallen upon her, and lifted her tenderly. She was pretty badly bruised and lamed, besides being wounded on her leg, but the brave young woman would not claim her wound, nor let it become known to the military authorities lest they would forbid the girls to stay at the front any longer. So for three weeks she patiently limped about and worked with the rest, quietly bearing her pain, and would not go to the hospital. One lassie outside was struck on the helmet by a piece of falling rock. If she had not had on her helmet she would have been killed.
The shelling continued for six hours.
The hospital was all the time filled with wounded men and there was plenty to be done twenty-four hours out of every day. The women moved about among the men as if they were their own brothers.
A poor shell-shocked boy lay on his cot talking wildly in delirium, living over the battle again, charging his men, ordering them to advance.
"Company H. Advance! See that hill over there? It's full of Germans, but we've got to take it!"
Then he turned over and began to sob and cry, "Oh God! Oh God!"
A lassie went to him and soothed him, talking to him gently about home, asking him questions about his mother, until he grew calm and began to answer her, and rested back quite rationally. The stretcher-bearers came to take him to another hospital, and he started up, put out his hand and cried: "Oh, nurse! I've got to get back to my men! I'm the only one left!"
Thus the heart-breaking scenes were multiplied.
One boy came back to the hospital in the Argonne badly wounded. He called the lassie to him one day as she passed through the ward, and motioned her to lean down so he could talk to her. He said he knew he was hard hit and he wanted to tell her something.
"I was wounded, lying on the ground over there in No Man's Land," he went on. "It was all dark and I was waiting for someone to come along and help me. I thought it was all up with me and while I was lying there I felt something. I can't explain it, but I knew it was there and I saw my mother and I prayed. Then my Buddy came along and I asked him if he could baptize me. He said he wasn't very good himself but he guessed the heavenly Father would understand. So he stooped down and got some muddy water out of a shell hole close by and put it on my forehead, and prayed; and now I know it's all right. I wanted you to know."
Often the boys, just before they went over the top, would come to these girls and say:
"We're going up there, now. You pray for us, won't you?"
One day some boys came to the hut when there were not many about and asked the girls if they might talk with them. These boys were going over the top that night.
"We fellows want to ask you something," they said. "Some of the chaplains have been telling us that if we go over there and die for liberty that it'll be all right with us afterward. But we don't believe that dope and we want to know the truth. Do you mean to tell me that if a man has lived like the devil he's going to be saved just because he got killed fighting? Why, some of us fellows didn't even go of our own accord. We were drafted. And do you mean to tell me that counts just the same? We want to know the truth!"
And then the girls had their opportunity to point the way to Jesus and speak of repentance, salvation from sin, and faith in the Saviour of the world.
A lassie was stooping over one young boy lying on a cot, washing his face and trying to make him more comfortable, and she noticed a hole in his breast pocket. Stooping closer she examined it and found it was a piece of high explosive shell that had gone through the cloth of his pocket and was embedded in his Testament, which he, like many of the boys, always kept in his breast pocket.
Another boy lay on a cot biting his lips to bear the agony of pain, and she asked him what was the matter, was the wound in his leg so bad? He nodded without opening his eyes. She went to ask the doctor if the boy couldn't have some morphine to dull the pain. The Sergeant in charge came over and looked at him, examined the bandage on the boy's leg and then exclaimed: "Who bandaged this leg?"
"I did" said the boy weakly, "I did the best I could."
The poor fellow had bandaged his own leg and then walked to the hospital. The bandage had looked all right and no one had examined it until then, but the Sergeant found that it was so tight that it had stopped the circulation. He took off the bandage and made him comfortable, and the agony left him. In a little while the Salvation Army lassie passed that way again and found the boy with a little book open, reading.
"What is it?" she asked, looking at the book.
"My Testament," he answered with a smile.
"Are you a Christian?"
"Oh, yes," he said with another smile that meant volumes.
It grew dark in the tent for they dared not have lights on account of the enemy always watching, but stooping near a little later she could see that his lips were murmuring in prayer. There was an angelic smile on his white, dead face in the morning when they came to take him away.
There was a funeral every day in that place. A hundred boys were buried that week. Always the girls sang at the graves, and prayed. There would be just the grave digger, a few people, and some of the boys. Off to one side the Germans were buried. When the simple services over our own dead were complete one of the girls would say: "Now, friends, let us go and say a prayer beside our enemy's graves. They are some mother's boys, and some woman is waiting for them to come home!"
And then the prayers would be said once more, and another song sung.
Those were solemn, sorrowful times, death and destruction on every side. The fighting was everywhere. United States anti-aircraft guns firing at German planes; Germans firing at us; air fights in the sky above.
And in the midst of it all the boys had meetings every night on log piles out in the open. These meetings would begin with popular songs, but the boys would soon ask for the hymns and the meetings would work themselves out without any apparent leading up to it. The boys wanted it. They wanted to hear about religious things. They hungered for it. So they were held at the throne of God each night by the wonderful men and girls who had learned to know human hearts, and had attained such skill in leading them to the Christ for whom they lived.
It was not alone the doughnut that bound the hearts of the boys to the Salvation Army in France, it was what was behind the doughnut; and here, in these wonderful God-led meetings they found the secret of it all. Many of them came and told the girls they did not believe in the so-called "trench religion" and wanted to know the truth from them. And those girls told them the way of eternal life in a simple, beautiful way, not mincing matters, nor ignoring their sins and unworthiness, but pointing the way to the Christ who died to save them from sin, and who even now was waiting in silent Presence to offer them Himself. Great numbers of the men accepted Christ, and pledged themselves to live or die for Him whatever came to them.
How close the Salvation Army people had grown to the hearts and lives of the men was shown by the fact that when they came back from the fight they would always come to them as if they had come to report at home:
"We've escaped!" they would say. "We don't know how it is, but we think it's because you girls were praying for us, and the folks at home were praying, too!"
There were three cardinal principles which were deemed necessary to success in this work. The first and most important depended upon winning the confidence of the boys. This was a prime requisite in any work with the boys, especially by a religious organization.
The first quality looked for in a person professing religion is always consistency. It was felt that if the boys saw that the Salvation Army was consistent, that it stood only for those things in France which it was known to stand for in the United States, that the first step would be established in winning the confidence of the boy. It was therefore determined that the Salvation Army would not, under any circumstances, compromise, and that it should stand out in its religious work and adhere to its teachings as firmly and as vigorously as it was known to do at home.
A stand upon the tobacco question was, therefore, highly important. Other organizations were encouraging the use of tobacco but those who had come in contact with the Salvation Army at home knew that it had always discouraged its use, and although the officers had to go against the judgment of many high military authorities who thought they should handle it, they decided that the Salvation Army would not handle tobacco and that no one wearing its uniform should use it. The consistency of the Salvation Army and the careful conduct of its workers won the esteem of the boys.
The second requisite was that the Salvation Army should be willing to share their hardships. To accomplish this, it was made a rule that Salvation Army workers should not mess with the officers but should draw their rations at the soldiers' mess, also that they should not associate with the officers more than was absolutely necessary and that in the huts. It was neither possible nor desirable that officers should be kept out of the huts, but as far as possible soldiers were made to feel that the Salvation Army was in France to serve them and not for its own pleasure or convenience.
The third requisite was that the Salvation Army should be willing to share their dangers and this was proved to them when they went to the trenches—the Salvation Army moved to the trenches with them and established huts and outposts as close to the front line as was permitted.
After the Armistice was signed, on November 11th, it was a great question what disposition would be made of the troops. It was concluded that they would be sent home as rapidly as possible and that the three ports—Brest, St. Nazaire and Bordeaux—would be used for that purpose. Immediately arrangements were made for the opening of Salvation Army work at the base ports with a view to letting the boys have a last sight of the Salvation Army as they left the shores of France. The Salvation Army had served them in the training area and at the front and were still serving them as they left the shores of the old world and it would meet them again when they arrived on the shores of the home-land. In this way the contact of the Salvation Army would be continuous, so that when they returned, it would be able to reach their hearts and affect their lives with the Gospel of Christ.
The problem of buildings was, of course, the first one and a very difficult one. To secure buildings of adequate size, which could be constructed in a short space of time, was almost out of the question, but it occurred to the officers that the aviation section would be demobilizing and that they had brought over portable steel buildings, for use as hangars. The matter was taken up at once with the military authorities and twenty of these steel buildings were secured—each of them sixty-six feet wide by one hundred feet long. It was planned to place eight of them at Bordeaux, six at St. Nazaire and six at Brest. By placing two of them end to end it was possible to secure one auditorium sixty-six feet wide by two hundred feet long—capable of seating three thousand men. Adjoining that could be another building sixty-six feet by one hundred feet, to be used for canteen and rest room.
It was planned to proceed with a religious campaign at these Base Ports, holding Salvation meetings in these extensive departments.
When the Army of Occupation was started for Germany, two Salvation Army trucks were assigned to go along with the Army. Whenever the Army of Occupation stopped for a space of two or three days, places were secured where doughnuts could be fried, pies made, and at all times hot coffee and chocolate were available for the men.
When the American soldiers marched through the villages of Alsace-Lorraine the Salvationists marched with them. At Esch and Luxemburg they were in all the rejoicing and triumph of the parade, bringing succor and comfort wherever they could find an opportunity.
When the men arrived at Coblenz the Salvation Army was there before them, and on their crossing the Rhine, arrangements had been made for the location of the Salvation Army work at the principal points in the Rhine- head. They are now conducting Salvation Army operations with the Army of Occupation.
One of the occasions when President Wilson clapped for the Salvation Army was at the inauguration of the Soldiers' Association in Paris. The Y had invited all the other organizations to be present. The meeting was held in the Palais de Glace, which seats about ten thousand people.
President and Mrs. Wilson were present, accompanied by many prominent American officials. Representatives of the various War Work Organizations spoke.
The Salvationist who had been selected to represent the Army at this meeting had been in the United States Navy for twelve years and was a chaplain.
When he was called upon to speak the boys with one accord as if by preconcerted action arose to their feet and gave him an ovation. Of course, it was not given to the man but to the uniform.
A soldier of the Rainbow Division sitting next to one of the Salvation Army workers over there, kept telling him what the boys thought of the Salvation Army, and when the cheering began he poked the Salvationist in the ribs and whispered joyously:
"I told you! I told you! We've just been waiting for eight months to pull this off! Now, you see!"
The speaker when given opportunity did not attempt to make a great speech. He told in simple, vivid sentences of the services of the Salvation Army just back of the trenches under fire; and President Wilson sat listening and applauding with the rest.
The chaplain paid a tribute to President Wilson, finishing with these words:
"President Wilson was not man-elected, but God-selected!"
For some little time after the War started it was a question as to whether the Salvation Army was entitled to any representation in the realm of Chaplaincies of the United States forces. During the progress of the consideration Adjutant Harry Kline secured an appointment with the Nebraska National Guard, and his regiment being made a part of the National Army, he was received as an officer of the same and thus became our first Army Chaplain.
The War Office decided favorably with regard to the question of our general representation, and shortly thereafter Adjutant John Allan, of Bowery fame, was given a first lieutenancy and then followed, in the order given, Captain Ernest Holz, Adjutant Ryan and Captain Norman Marshall.
The exceptional service that these men have rendered is of sufficient importance to have a much wider notice than where only the barest of reference is possible. Shortly after arrival in France Chaplain Allan was being very favorably noticed because of the character of the work which he was doing, and it was gratifying to learn that this confidence was reflected in his appointment as Senior Chaplain of his regiment and his assignment to special service where probity and wisdom were essential. Shortly thereafter he was taken to the Army Headquarters, where up to the present time he is most highly esteemed as a co-laborer with Bishop Brent, the Chaplain-General of the overseas forces.
Typical of the enthusiasm of each of the five men appointed as Chaplains, the following story is told of First Lieutenant Ernest Holz, who was inducted into his office as Senior Chaplain of his regiment right at the commencement of his career.
At the beginning of the year, when Chaplain Holz knew his Salvation Army comrades would, as usual, be engaged in special revival work, he thought it would be a worthy thing to time a similar effort among the men of his regiment. Approaching the Colonel, he found him in hearty agreement concerning the effort, and so securing the assistance of his fellow chaplains they arranged for a series of meetings nightly for one week, with the result that two hundred of the men of the regiment confessed Christ and practically all of them were deeply interested.
The effort was wholly directed to the uplift of the men and God commanded His blessing in a most gratifying manner.
The boat docked that morning, and one soldier at least, as he stood on the deck and watched the shores of his native land draw nearer, felt mingling with the thrill of joy at his return a vague uneasiness. He was coming back, it is true, but it had been a long time and a lot of things had happened. For one thing he had lost his foot. That in itself was a pretty stiff proposition. For another thing he was not wearing any decorations save the wound stripes on his sleeve. Those would have been enough, and more than enough, for his mother if she were alive, but she had gone away from earth during his absence, and the girl he had kissed good-bye and promised great things was peculiar. The question was, would she stand for that amputated foot? He didn't like to think it of her, but he found he wasn't sure. Perhaps, if there had been a croix de guerre! He had promised her to win that and no end of other honors, when he went away so buoyant and hopeful; but almost on his first day of real battle he had been hurt and tossed aside like a derelict, to languish in a hospital, with no more hope of winning anything. And now he had come home with one foot gone, and no distinction!
He hadn't told the girl yet about the foot. He didn't know as he should. He felt lonely and desolate in spite of his joy at getting back to "God's Country." He frowned at the hazy outline of the great city from which tall buildings were beginning to differentiate themselves as they drew nearer. There was New York. He meant to see New York, of course. He was a Westerner and had never had an opportunity to go about the metropolis of his own country. Of course, he would see it all. Perhaps, after he was demobilized he would stay there. Maybe he wouldn't send word he had come back. Let them think he was killed or taken prisoner, or missing, or anything they liked. There were things to do in New York. There were places where he would be welcome even with one foot gone and no cross of war. Thus he mused as the boat drew nearer the shore and the great city loomed close at hand. Then, suddenly, just as the boat was touching the pier and a long murmur of joy went up from the wanderers on board, his eyes dropped idly to the dock and there in her trim little overseas uniform, with the sunlight glancing from the silver letters on the scarlet shield of her trench cap and the smile radiating from her sweet face, stood the very same Salvation Army lassie who had bent over him as he lay on the ground just back of the trenches waiting to be put in the ambulance and taken to the hospital after he had been wounded. He could feel again the throbbing pain in his leg, the sickening pain of his head as he lay in the hot sun, with the flies swarming everywhere, the horrible din of battle all about, and his tongue parched and swollen with fever from lying all night in pain on the wet ground of No Man's Land. She had laid a soft little hand on his hot forehead, bathed his face, and brought him a cold drink of lemonade. If he lived to be a hundred years old he would never taste anything so good as that lemonade had been. Afterward the doctor said it was the good cold drink that day that saved the lives of those fever patients who had lain so long without attention. Oh, he would never forget the Salvation lassie! And there she was alive and at home! She hadn't been killed as the fellows had been afraid she would. She had come through it all and here she was always ahead and waiting to welcome a fellow home. It brought the tears smarting to his eyes to think about it, and he leaned over the rail of the ship and yelled himself hoarse with the rest over her, forgetting all about his lost foot. It was hours before they were off the ship. All the red tape necessary for the movement of such a company of men had to be unwound and wound up again smoothly, and the time stretched out interminably; but somehow it did not seem so hard to wait now, for there was someone down there on the dock that he could speak to, and perhaps—just perhaps—he would tell her of his dilemma about his girl. Somehow he felt that she would understand.
He watched eagerly when he was finally lined up on the wharf waiting for roll-call, for he was sure she would come; and she did, swinging down the line with her arms full of chocolate, handing out telegraph blanks and postal cards, real postal cards with a stamp on them that could be mailed anywhere. He gripped one in his big, rough hand as if it were a life preserver. A real, honest-to-goodness postal card! My it was good to see the old red and white stamp again! And he spoke impulsively:
"You're the girl that saved my life out there in the field, don't you remember? With the lemonade!" Her face lit up. She had recognized him and somehow cleared one hand of chocolate and telegrams to grasp his with a hearty welcome: "I'm so glad you came through all right!" her cheery voice said.
All right! All right! Did she call it all right? He looked down at his one foot with a dubious frown. She was quick to see. She understood.
"Oh, but that's nothing!" she said, and somehow her voice put new heart into him. "Your folks will be so glad to have you home you'll forget all about it. Come, aren't you going to send them a telegram?" And she held out the yellow blank.
But still he hesitated.
"I don't know," he said, looking down at his foot again. "Mother's gone, and———"
Instantly her quick sympathy enveloped his sore soul, and he felt that just the inflection of her voice was like balm when she said: "I'm so sorry!" Then she added:
"But isn't there somebody else? I'm sure there was. I'm sure you told me about a girl I was to write to if you didn't come through. Aren't you going to let her know? Of course you are."
"I don't know," said the boy. "I don't think I am. Maybe I'll never go back now. You see, I'm not what I was when I went away."
"Nonsense!" said the lassie with that cheerful assurance that had carried her through shell fire and made her merit the pet name of "Sunshine" that the boys had given her in the trenches. "Why, that wouldn't be fair to her. Of course, you're going to let her know right away. Leave it to me. Here, give me her address!"
Quick as a flash she had the address and was off to a telephone booth. This was no message that could wait to go back to headquarters. It must go at once.
He saw her again before he left the wharf. She gave him a card with two addresses written on it:
"This first is where you can drop in and rest when you are tired," she explained. "It's just one of our huts; the other is where you can find a good bed when you are in the city."
Then she was off with a smile down the line, giving out more telegraph blanks and scattering sunshine wherever she went. He glanced back as he left the pier and saw her still floating eagerly here and there like a little sister looking after more real brothers.
The next day, when he was free and on a few days leave from camp, he started out with his crutch to see the city, but the thought of her kept him from some of the places where his feet might have strayed. Yet she had not said a word of warning. Her smile and the look in her eyes had placed perfect confidence in him, and he could remember the prayer she had uttered in a low tone back there at the dressing station behind the trenches in the ear of a companion who was not going to live to get to the Base Hospital, and who had begged her to pray with him before he went. Somehow it lingered with him all day and changed his ideas of what he wanted to see in New York.
But it was a long hard tramp he had set for himself to see the town with that one foot. He hadn't much money for cars, even if he had known which cars to take, so he hobbled along and saw what he could. He was all alone, for the fellows he started with went so fast and wanted to do so many things that he could not do, that he had made an excuse to shake them off. They were kind. They would not have left him if they had known; but he wasn't going to begin his new life having everybody put out on his account, so he was alone. And it was toward evening. He was very tired. It seemed to him that he couldn't go another block. If only there were a place somewhere where he could sit down a little while and rest; even a doorstep would do if there were only one near at hand. Of course, there were saloons, and there would always be soldiers in them. He would likely be treated, and there would be good cheer, and a chance to forget for a little while; but somehow the thought of that Salvation lassie and the cheery way she had made him send that telegram kept him back. When a girl with painted cheeks stopped and smiled in his face he passed her by, and half wondered why he did it. He must go somewhere presently and get a bite to eat, but it couldn't be much for he wanted to save money enough and hunt up that lodging house where there were nice beds. How much he wanted that bed!
It was quite dark now. The lights were lit everywhere. He was coming to a great thoroughfare. He judged by his slight knowledge of the city that it might be Broadway. There would likely be a restaurant somewhere near. He hurried on and turned into the crowded street. How cold it was! The wind cut him like a knife. He had been a fool to come off alone like this! Just out of the hospital, too. Perhaps he would get sick and have to go to another hospital. He shivered and stopped to pull his collar up closer around his neck. Then suddenly he stood still and stared with a dazed, bewildered expression, straight ahead of him. Was he getting a bit leary? He passed his hand over his eyes and looked again. Yes, there it was! Right in the midst of the busy, hurrying throng of Union Square! He made sure it was Union Square, for he looked up at the street sign to be certain it wasn't Willow Vale—or Heaven—right there where streets met and crossed, and cars and trolleys and trucks whirled, and people passed in throngs all day, just across the narrow road, stood the loveliest, most perfect little white clapboard cottage that ever was built on this earth, with porches all around and a big tree growing up through the roof of one porch. It stood out against the night like a wonderful mirage, like a heavenly dove descended into the turmoil of the pit, like home and mother in the midst of a rushing pitiless world. He could have cried real tears of wonder and joy as he stood there, gazing. He felt as though he were one of those motion pictures in which a lone Klondiker sits by his campfire cooking a can of salmon or baked beans, and up above him on the screen in one corner appears the Christmas tree where his wife and baby at home are celebrating and missing him. It seemed just as unreal as that to see that little beautiful home cottage set down in the midst of the city.
The windows were all lit up with a warm, rosy light and there were curtains at the windows, rosy pink curtains like the ones they used to have at the house where his girl lived, long ago before the War spoiled him. He stood and continued to gaze until a lot of cash-boys, let loose from the toil of the day, rushed by and almost knocked his crutch from under him. Then he determined to get nearer this wonder. Carefully watching his opportunity he hobbled across the street and went slowly around the building. Yes, it was real. Some public building, of course, but how wonderful to have it look so like a home! Why had they done it?
Then he came around toward the side, and there in plain letters was a sign: "SOLDIERS AND SAILORS IN UNIFORM WELCOME." What? Was it possible? Then he might go in? What kind of a place could it be?
He raised his eyes a little and there, slung out above the neatly shingled porch, like any sign, swung an immense fat brown doughnut a foot and a half in diameter, with the sugar apparently still sticking to it, and inside the rough hole sat a big white coffee cup. His heart leaped up and something suddenly gave him an idea. He fumbled in his pocket, brought out a card, saw that this was the Salvation Army hut, and almost shouted with joy. He lost no time in hurrying around to the door and stepping inside.
There revealed before him was a great cozy room, with many easy-chairs and tables, a piano at which a young soldier sat playing ragtime, and at the farther end a long white counter on which shone two bright steaming urns that sent forth a delicious odor of coffee. Through an open door behind the counter he caught a glimpse of two Salvation Army lassies busy with some cups and plates, and a third enveloped in a white apron was up to her elbows in flour, mixing something in a yellow bowl. By one of the little tables two soldier boys were eating doughnuts and coffee, and at another table a sailor sat writing a letter. It was all so cozy and homelike that it took his breath away and he stood there blinking at the lights that flooded the rooms from graceful white bowl-like globes that hung suspended from the ceiling by brass chains. He saw that the rosy light outside had come from soft pink silk sash curtains that covered the lower part of the windows, and there were inner draperies of some heavier flowered material that made the whole thing look real and substantial. The willow chairs had cushions of the same flowered stuff. The walls were a soft pearly gray below and creamy white above, set off by bands of dark wood, and a dark floor with rush mats strewn about. He looked around slowly, taking in every detail almost painfully. It was such a contrast to the noisy, rushing street, a contrast to the hospital, and the trenches and all the life with which he had been familiar during the past few dreadful months. It made him think of home and mother. He began to be afraid he was going to cry like a great big baby, and he looked around nervously for a place to get out of sight. He saw a fellow going upstairs and at a distance he followed him. Up there was another bright, quiet room, curtained and cushioned like the other, with more easy willow chairs, round willow tables, and desks over by the wall where one might write. The soldier who had come up ahead of him was already settled writing now at a desk in the far corner. There were bookcases between the windows with new beautifully bound books in them, and there were magazines scattered around, and no rules that one must not spit on the floor, or put their feet in the chairs, or anything of the sort. Only, of course, no one would ever dream of doing anything like that in such a place. How beautiful it was, and how quiet and peaceful! He sank into a chair and looked about him. What rest!
And now there were real tears in his eyes which he hastened to brush roughly away, for someone was coming toward him and a hand was on his shoulder. A man's voice, kindly, pleasant, brotherly, spoke:
"All in, are you, my boy? Well, you just sit and rest yourself awhile. What do you think of our hut? Good place to rest? Well, that's what we want it to be to you, Home. Just drop in here whenever you're in town and want a place to rest or write, or a bite of something homelike to eat."
He looked up to the broad shoulders in their well-fitting dark blue uniform, and into the kindly face of the gray-haired Colonel of the Salvation Army who happened to step in for a minute on business and had read the look on the lonesome boy's face just in time to give a word of cheer. He could have thrown his arms around the man's neck and kissed him if he only hadn't been too shy. But in spite of the shyness he found himself talking with this fine strong man and telling him some of his disappointments and perplexities, and when the older man left him he was strengthened in spirit from the brief conversation. Somehow it didn't look quite so black a prospect to have but one foot.
He read a magazine for a little while and then, drawn by the delicious odors, he went downstairs and had some coffee and doughnuts. He saw while he was eating that the front porch opened out of the big lower room and was all enclosed in glass and heated with radiators. A lot of fellows were sitting around there in easy-chairs, smoking, talking, one or two sleeping in their chairs or reading papers. It had a dim, quiet light, a good place to rest and think. He was more and more filled with wonder. Why did they do it? Not for money, for they charged hardly enough to pay for the materials in the food they sold, and he knew by experience that when one had no money one could buy of them just the same if one were in need.
Later in the evening he took out the little card again and looked up the other address. He wanted one of those clean, sweet beds that he had been hearing about, that one could get for only a quarter a night, with all the shower-bath you wanted thrown in. So he went out again and found his way down to Forty-first Street.
There was something homelike about the very atmosphere as he entered the little office room and looked about him. Beyond, through an open door he could see a great red brick fireplace with a fire blazing cheerfully and a few fellows sitting about reading and playing checkers. Everybody looked as if they felt at home.
When he signed his name in the big register book the young woman behind the desk who wore an overseas uniform glanced at his signature and then looked up as if she were welcoming an old friend:
"There's a telegram here for you," she said pleasantly. "It came last night and we tried to locate you at the camp but did not succeed. One of our girls went over to camp this afternoon, but they said you were gone on a furlough, so we hoped you would turn up."
She handed over the telegram and he took it in wonder. Who would send him a telegram? And here of all places! Why, how would anybody know he would be here? He was so excited his crutch trembled under his arm as he tore open the envelope and read:
"Dear Billy (It was a regular letter!):
"I am leaving to-night for New York. Will meet you at Salvation Hostel day after to-morrow morning. What is a foot more or less? Can't I be hands and feet for you the rest of your life? I'm proud, proud, proud of you!
He found great tears coming into his eyes and his throat was full of them, too. It didn't matter if that Salvation Army lassie behind the counter did see them roll down his cheeks. He didn't care. She would understand anyway, and he laughed out loud in his joy and relief, the first joy, the first relief since he was hurt!
Some one else was coming in the door, another fellow maybe, but the lassie opened a door in the desk and drew him behind the counter in a shaded corner where no one would notice and brought him a cup of tea, which she said was all they had around to eat just then. She didn't pay any attention to him till he got his equilibrium again.
She was the kind of woman one feels is a natural-born mother. In fact, the fellows were always asking her wistfully: "May we call you Mother?" Young enough to understand and enter into their joys and sorrows, yet old enough to be wise and sweet and true. She mothered every boy that came.
A sailor boy once asked if he might bring his girl to see her. He said he wanted her to see her so she could tell his mother about her.
"But can't you tell her about your girl?" she asked.
"Oh, yes, but I want you to tell her." he said. "You see, whatever you say mother'll know is true."
So presently she turned to this lonely boy and took him upstairs through the pleasant upper room with its piano and games, its sun parlor over the street, lined with trailing ferns, with cheery canaries in swinging tasseled cages, who looked fully as happy and at home as did the soldier boys who were sitting about comfortably reading. She found him a room with only one other bunk in it. Nice white beds with springs like air and mattresses like down. She showed him where the shower-baths were, and with a kindly good-night left him. He almost wanted to ask her to kiss him good-night, so much like his own mother she seemed.
Before he got into that white bed he knelt beside it, all clean and comfortable and happy like a little child that had wandered a long way from home and got back again, and he told God he was sorry and ashamed for all the way he had doubted, and sinned, and he wanted to live a new life and be good. Then he lay down to sleep. To-morrow morning Jean would be there. And she didn't mind about the foot! She didn't mind! How wonderful!
And then he had a belated memory of the little Salvation Army lassie on the wharf who had brought all this about, and he closed his eyes and murmured out loud to the clean, white walls: "God bless her! Oh, God bless her!"
This is only one of the many stories that might be told about the boys who have been helped by the various activities of the Salvation Army, both at home and abroad.
It would be well worth one's while to visit their Brooklyn Hospital and their New York Hospital and all their other wonderful institutions. In several of them are many little children, some mere infants, belonging to soldiers and sailors away in the war. In some instances the mother is dead, or has to work. If she so desires she is given work in the institution, which is like a real home, and allowed to be with her child and care for it. Where both mother and father are dead the child remains for six years or until a home elsewhere is provided for it. Here the little ones are well cared for, not in the ordinary sense of an institution, but as a child would be cared for in a home, with beauty and love, and pleasure mingling with the food and shelter and raiment that is usually supplied in an institution. These children are prettily, though simply, dressed and not in uniform; with dainty bits of color in hair ribbon, collar, necktie or frock; the babies have wee pink and blue wool caps and sacks like any beloved little mites, they ride around on Kiddie Cars, play with doll houses and have a fine Kindergarten teacher to guide their young minds, and the best of hospital service when they are ailing. But that is another story, and there are yet many of them. If everybody could see the beautiful life-size painting of Christ blessing the little children which is painted right on the very wall and blended into the tinting, they could better comprehend the spirit which pervades this lovely home.
The New York Hospital, which has just been rebuilt and refurnished with all the latest appliances, is in charge of a devoted woman physician, who has given her life to healing, and has at the head of its Board one of the most noted surgeons in the city, who gives his services free, and boasts that he enjoys it best of all his work. Here those of small means or of no means at all, especially those belonging to soldiers and sailors, may find healing of the wisest and most expert kind, in cheery, airy, sanitary and beautiful rooms. But here, too, to understand, one must see. Just a peep into one of those dainty white rooms would rest a poor sick soul; just a glance at the room full of tiny white basket cribs with dainty blue satin- bound blankets—real wool blankets—and white spreads, would convince one.
And what one sees in New York in the line of such activities is duplicated in most of the other large cities of the United States.
Not the least of the Salvation Army service for the returning soldiers is the work that is done on the docks by the lassies meeting returning troop ships. They send telegrams free, not C.O.D., for them, give the men stamped postal cards, hunt up relatives, answer questions, and give them chocolate while they wait for the inevitable roll call before they can entrain. Often these girls will sit up half the night after having met boats nearly all day, to get the telegrams all off that night. It is interesting to note that on one single day, April 20th, 1919, the Salvation Army Headquarters in New York sent 2900 such free telegrams for returning soldiers.
The other day the father of a soldier came to Headquarters with an anxious face, after a certain unit from overseas had returned. It was the unit in which his boy had gone to France, but he had written saying he was in the hospital without stating what was the matter or how serious his wound. No further word had been received and the father and mother were frenzied with grief. They had tried in every way to get information but could find out nothing. The Salvation Army went to work on the telephone and in a short time were able to locate the missing boy in a Casual Company soon to return, and to report to his anxious father that he was recovering rapidly.
Another soldier arrived in New York and sent a Salvation Army telegram to his father and mother in California who had previously received notification that he was dead. A telegram came back to the Salvation Army almost at once from the West stating this fact and begging some one to go to the camp where the boy's Casual Company was located and find out if he were really living. One of the girls from the office went over to the Debarkation Hospital immediately and saw the boy, and was able to telegraph to his parents that he was perfectly recovered and only awaiting transportation to California. He was overjoyed to see someone who had heard from his parents.
A portion of one troop ship had been reserved for soldiers having influenza. These men were kept on board long after all the others had left the ship. A Salvation Army worker seeing them with the white masks over their faces went on board and served them with chocolate, distributing post cards and telegraph blanks. When she was leaving the ship a Captain said to her rather brusquely: "Don't you realize that you have done a foolish thing? Those men have influenza and your serving them might mean your death!"
Looking up into the man's eyes the Salvationist said: "I am ready to die if God sees fit to call me."
The officer laughed and told her that was the first time in his life he had known anyone to say they were ready to die and would willingly expose themselves to such a contagious disease.
"Aren't you ready to die?" asked the girl. "Certainly not," replied the Captain. "Sometimes I think I am hardly fit to live, much less die."
"Don't you realize that there is a Power which can enable you to live in such a way as to make you ready to die?"
"Oh, well, I don't bother about going to church, in fact, I don't bother about religion at all, although I must say once or twice when I was up the line over there I wished I did know something about religion, that is, the kind that makes a fellow feel good about dying; but I don't want to go to church and go through all that business."
"It is possible to accept Christ here and now on this very spot—on this ship—if you'll only believe," said the girl wistfully.
The Captain could not help being interested and thoughtful. When she left, after a little more talk he put out his hand and said:
"Thank you. You've done me more good than any sermon could have done me, and believe me, I am going to pray and trust God to help me live a different life."
Sad things are seen on the docks at times when the ships come into port, and the boys are coming home.
A soldier in a basket, with both arms and both legs gone and only one eye, was being carried tenderly along.
"Why do you let him live?" asked one pityingly of the Commanding Officer.
The gruff, kindly voice replied:
"You don't know what life is. We don't live through our arms and legs. We live through our hearts."
Some of our boys have learned out there amid shell fire to live through their hearts.
One of these lying on a litter greeted the lassie from Indiana, just come back to New York from France to meet the boys when they landed:
"Hello, Sister! You here?"
Her eyes filled with tears as she recognized one of her old friends of the trenches, and noticed how helpless he was now, he who had been the strongest of the strong. She murmured sympathetically some words of attempted cheer:
"Oh, that's all right, Sister," he said, "I know they got me pretty hard, but I don't mind that. I'm not going to feel bad about it. I got something better than arms and legs over in one of your little huts in France. I found Jesus, and I'm going to live for Him. I wanted you to know."
A few days later she was talking with another boy just landed. She asked him how it seemed to be home again, and to her surprise he turned a sorrowful face to her: