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A Hilltop on the Marne by Mildred Aldrich

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"What town is that?" he asked, pointing to the hill.

I explained that the town on the horizon was Penchard--not really a
town, only a village; and lower down, between Penchard and Meaux, were
Neufmortier and Chauconin.

All this time he was studying his map.

"Thank you. I have it," he said. "It is a lovely country, and this is
a wonderful view of it, the best I have had."

For a few minutes he stood studying it in silence--alternatively looking
at his map and then through his glass. Then he dropped his map, put his
glasses into the case, and turned to me--and smiled. He had a winning
smile, sad and yet consoling, which lighted up a bronzed face, stern and
weary. It was the sort of smile to which everything was permitted.

"Married?" he said.

You can imagine what he was like when I tell you that I answered right
up, and only thought it was funny hours after--or at least I shook my
head cheerfully.

"You don't live here alone?" he asked.

"But I do," I replied.

He looked at me bravely a moment, then off at the plain.

"Lived here long?" he questioned.

I told him that I had lived in this house only three months, but that I
had lived in France for sixteen years.

Without a word he turned back toward the house, and for half a minute,
for the first time in my life, I had a sensation that it looked strange
for me to be an exile in a country that was not mine, and with no ties.
For a penny I would have told him the history of my life. Luckily he did
not give me time. He just strode down to the gate, and by the time he
had his foot in the stirrup I had recovered.

"Is there anything I can do for you, captain?" I asked.

He mounted his horse, looked down at me. Then he gave me
another of his rare smiles.

"No," he said, "at this moment there is nothing that you can do for me,
thank you; but if you could give my boys a cup of tea, I imagine that
you would just about save their lives." And nodding to me, he said to
the picket, "This lady is kind enough to offer you a cup of tea," and he
rode off, taking the road down the hill to Voisins.

I ran into the house, put on the kettle, ran up the road to call Amelie,
and back to the arbor to set the table as well as I could. The whole
atmosphere was changed. I was going to be useful.

I had no idea how many men I was going to feed. I had only seen three.
To this day I don't know how many I did feed. They came and came and
came. It reminded me of hens running toward a place where another hen
has found something good. It did not take me many minutes to discover
that these men needed something more substantial than tea. Luckily I
had brought back from Paris an emergency stock of things like biscuit,
dry cakes, jam, etc., for even before our shops were closed there was
mighty little in them. For an hour and a half I brewed pot after pot of
tea, opened jar after jar of jam and jelly, and tin after tin of biscuit
and cakes, and although it was hardly hearty fodder for men, they put it
down with a relish. I have seen hungry men, but never anything as
hungry as these boys.

I knew little about military discipline--less about the rules of active
service; so I had no idea that I was letting these hungry men--and
evidently hunger laughs at laws--break all the regulations of the army.
Their guns were lying about in any old place; their kits were on the
ground; their belts were unbuckled. Suddenly the captain rode up the
road and looked over the hedge at the scene. The men were sitting on
the benches, on the ground, anywhere, and were all smoking my best
Egyptian cigarettes, and I was running round as happy as a queen, seeing
them so contented and comfortable.

It was a rude awakening when the captain rode up the street.

There was a sudden jumping up, a hurried buckling up of belts, a grab
for kits and guns, and an unceremonious cut for the gate. I heard a
volley from the officer. I marked a serious effort on the part of the
men to keep the smiles off their faces as they hurriedly got their kits
on their backs and their guns on their shoulders, and, rigidly saluting,
dispersed up the hill, leaving two very straight men marching before the
gate as if they never in their lives had thought of anything but picket
duty.

The captain never even looked at me, but rode up the hill after his men.
A few minutes later he returned, dismounted at the gate, tied his horse,
and came in. I was a bit confused. But he smiled one of those smiles
of his, and I got right over it.

"Dear little lady," he said, "I wonder if there is any tea left for me?"

Was there! I should think so; and I thought to myself, as I led the way
into the dining-room, that he was probably just as hungry as his men.

While I was making a fresh brew he said to me:--

"You must forgive my giving my men Hades right before you, but they
deserved it, and know it, and under the circumstances I imagine they did
not mind taking it. I did not mean you to give them a party, you know.
Why, if the major had ridden up that hill--and he might have--and seen
that party inside your garden, I should have lost my commission and
those boys got the guardhouse. These men are on active service."

Then, while he drank his tea, he told me why he felt a certain
indulgence for them--these boys who were hurried away from England
without having a chance to take leave of their families, or even to warn
them that they were going.

"This is the first time that they have had a chance to talk to a woman
who speaks their tongue since they left England; I can't begrudge it to
them and they know it. But discipline is discipline, and if I had let
such a breach of it pass they would have no respect for me. They
understand. They had no business to put their guns out of their hands.
What would they have done if the detachment of Uhlans we are watching
for had dashed up that hill--as they might have?"

Before I could answer or remark on this startling speech there was a
tremendous explosion, which brought me to my feet, with the
inevitable,--

"What's that?"

He took a long pull at his tea before he replied quietly,--"Another
division across the Marne."

Then he went on as if there had been no interruption:--

"This Yorkshire regiment has had hard luck. Only one other regiment in
the Expedition has had worse. They have marched from the Belgian
frontier, and they have been in four big actions in the retreat--Mons,
Cambrai, Saint-Quentin, and La Fere. Saint-Quentin was pretty rough
luck. We went into the trenches a full regiment. We came out to
retreat again with four hundred men--and I left my younger brother
there."

I gasped; I could not find a word to say. He did not seem to feel it
necessary that I should. He simply winked his eyelids, stiffened his
stern mouth, and went right on; and I forgot all about the Uhlans:--

"At La Fere we lost our commissary on the field. It was burned, and
these lads have not had a decent feed since--that was three days ago. We
have passed through few towns since, and those were evacuated,--drummed
out and fruit from the orchards on the roadsides is about all they have
had--hardly good feed for a marching army in such hot weather. Besides,
we were moving pretty fast--but in order--to get across the Marne,
toward which we have been drawing the Germans, and in every one of these
battles we have been fighting with one man to their ten."

I asked him where the Germans were.

"Can't say," he replied.

"And the French?"

"No idea. We've not seen them--yet. We understood that we were to be
reinforced at Saint-Quentin by a French detachment at four o'clock.
They got there at eleven--the battle was over--and lost. But these boys
gave a wonderful account of themselves, and in spite of the disaster
retreated in perfect order."

Then he told me that at the last moment he ordered his company to lie
close in the trench and let the Germans come right up to them, and not
to budge until he ordered them to give them what they hate--the
bayonet. The Germans were within a few yards when a German automobile
carrying a machine gun bore down on them and discovered their position,
but the English sharpshooters picked off the five men the car carried
before they could fire a shot, and after that it was every man for
himself--what the French call "sauve qui peut."

The Uhlans came back to my mind, and it seemed to me a good time to ask
him what he was doing here. Oddly enough, in spite of the several
shocks I had had, and perhaps because of his manner, I was able to do it
as if it was the sort of tea-table conversation to which I had always
been accustomed.

"What are you doing here?" I said.

"Waiting for orders," he answered.

"And for Uhlans?"

"Oh," replied he, "if incidentally while we are sitting down here to
rest, we could rout out a detachment of German cavalry, which our
aeroplane tells us crossed the Marne ahead of us, we would like to.
Whether this is one of those flying squads they are so fond of sending
ahead, just to do a little terrorizing, or whether they escaped from the
battle of La Fere, we don't know. I fancy the latter, as they do not
seem to have done any harm or to have been too anxious to be seen."

I need not tell you that my mind was acting like lightning. I
remembered, in the pause, as I poured him another cup of tea, and pushed
the jam pot toward him, that Amelie had heard at Voisins last night that
there were horses in the woods near the canal; that they had been heard
neighing in the night; and that we had jumped to the conclusion that
there were English cavalry there. I mentioned this to the captain, but
for some reason it did not seem to make much impression on him; so I did
not insist, as there was something that seemed more important which I
had been getting up the courage to ask him. It had been on my lips all
day. I put it.

"Captain," I asked, "do you think there is any danger in my staying
here?"

He took a long drink before he answered:--

"Little lady, there is danger everywhere between Paris and the Channel.
Personally--since you have stayed until getting away will be
difficult--I do not really believe that there is any reason why you
should not stick it out. You may have a disagreeable time. But I
honestly believe you are running no real risk of having more than that.
At all events, I am going to do what I can to assure your personal
safety. As we understand it--no one really knows anything except the
orders given out--it is not intended that the Germans shall cross the
Marne here. But who knows? Anyway, if I move on, each division of the
Expeditionary Force that retreats to this hill will know that you are
here. If it is necessary, later, for you to leave, you will be notified
and precautions taken for your safety. You are not afraid?"

I could only tell him, "Not yet," but I could not help adding, "Of
course I am not so stupid as to suppose for a moment that you English
have retreated here to amuse yourselves, or that you have dragged your
artillery up the hill behind me just to exercise your horses or to give
your gunners a pretty promenade."

He threw back his head and laughed aloud for the first time, and I felt
better.

"Precautions do not always mean a battle, you know"; and as he rose to
his feet he called my attention to a hole in his coat, saying, "It was a
miracle that I came through Saint-Quentin with a whole skin. The
bullets simply rained about me. It was pouring--I had on a
mackintosh--which made me conspicuous as an officer, if my height had
not exposed me. Every German regiment carries a number of sharpshooters
whose business is to pick off the officers. However, it was evidently
not my hour."

As we walked out to the gate I asked him if there was anything else I
could do for him.

"Do you think," he replied, "that you could get me a couple of fresh
eggs at half-past seven and let me have a cold wash-up?"

"Well, rather," I answered, and he rode away.

As soon as he was gone one of the picket called from the road to know if
they could have "water and wash."

I told them of course they could--to come right in.

He said that they could not do that, but that if they could have water
at the gate--and I did not mind--they could wash up in relays in the
road. So Pere came and drew buckets and buckets of water, and you never
saw such a stripping and such a slopping, as they washed and shaved--and
with such dispatch. They had just got through, luckily, when, at about
half-past six, the captain rode hurriedly down the hill again. He
carried a slip of white paper in his hand, which he seemed intent on
deciphering.

As I met him at the gate he said:--

"Sorry I shall miss those eggs--I've orders to move east," and he began
to round up his men.

I foolishly asked him why. I felt as if I were losing a friend.

"Orders," he answered. Then he put the slip of paper into his pocket,
and leaning down he said:--

"Before I go I am going to ask you to let my corporal pull down your
flags. You may think it cowardly. I think it prudent. They can be
seen a long way. It is silly to wave a red flag at a bull. Any
needless display of bravado on your part would be equally foolish."

So the corporal climbed up and pulled down the big flags, and together
we marched them off to the stable. When I returned to the gate, where
the captain was waiting for the rest of the picket to arrive, I was
surprised to find my French caller of the morning standing there, with a
pretty blonde girl, whom she introduced as her sister-in-law. She
explained that they had started in the morning, but that their wagon had
been overloaded and broken down and they had had to return, and that her
mother was "glad of it." It was perfectly natural that she should ask me
to ask the "English officer if it was safe to stay." I repeated the
question. He looked down at them, asked if they were friends of mine.
I explained that they were neighbors and acquaintances only.

"Well," he said, "I can only repeat what I said to you this morning--I
think you are safe here. But for God's sake, don't give it to them as
coming from me. I can assure your personal safety, but I cannot take
the whole village on my conscience." I told him that I would not quote
him.

All this time he had been searching in a letter-case, and finally
selected an envelope from which he removed the letter, passing me the
empty cover.

"I want you," he said, "to write me a letter--that address will always
reach me. I shall be anxious to know how you came through, and every
one of these boys will be interested. You have given them the only
happy day they have had since they left home. As for me--if I live--I
shall some time come back to see you. Good-bye and good luck." And he
wheeled his horse and rode up the hill, his boys marching behind him;
and at the turn of the road they all looked back and I waved my hand,
and I don't mind telling you that I nodded to the French girls at the
gate and got into the house as quickly as I could--and wiped my eyes.
Then I cleared up the tea-mess. It was not until the house was in
order again that I put on my glasses and read the envelope that the
captain had given me:--

Capt. T. E. Simpson,
King's Own Yorkshire L. I. VIth Infantry Brigade,
15th Division, British Expeditionary Force.

And I put it carefully away in my address book until the time should
come for me to write and tell "how I came through"; the phrase did
disturb me a little.

I did not eat any supper. Food seemed to be the last thing I wanted. I
sat down in the study to read. It was about eight when I heard the gate
open. Looking out I saw a man in khaki, his gun on his shoulder,
marching up the path. I went to the door.

"Good-evening, ma'am," he said. "All right?"

I assured him that I was.

"I am the corporal of the guard," he added. "The commander's
compliments, and I was to report to you that your road was picketed for
the night and that all is well."

I thanked him, and he marched away, and took up his post at the gate,
and I knew that this was the commander's way of letting me know that
Captain Simpson had kept his word. I had just time while the corporal
stood at the door to see "Bedford" on his cap, so I knew that the new
regiment was from Bedfordshire.

I sat up awhile longer, trying to fix my mind on my book, trying not to
look round constantly at my pretty green interior, at all my books,
looking so ornamental against the walls of my study, at all the
portraits of the friends of my life of active service above the shelves,
and the old sixteenth-century Buddha, which Oda Neilson sent me on my
last birthday, looking so stoically down from his perch to remind me how
little all these things counted. I could not help remembering at the
end that my friends at Voulangis had gone--that they were at that very
moment on their way to Marseilles, that almost every one else I knew on
this side of the water was either at Havre waiting to sail, or in
London, or shut up in Holland or Denmark; that except for the friends I
had at the front I was alone with my beloved France and her Allies.
Through it all there ran a thought that made me laugh at last--how all
through August I had felt so outside of things, only suddenly to find it
right at my door. In the back of my mind--pushed back as hard as I
could--stood the question--what was to become of all this?

Yet, do you know, I went to bed, and what is more I slept well. I was
physically tired. The last thing I saw as I closed up the house was the
gleam of the moonlight on the muskets of the picket pacing the road, and
the first thing I heard, as I waked suddenly at about four, was the
crunching of the gravel as they still marched there.

I got up at once. It was the morning of Friday, the 4th of September. I
dressed hurriedly, ran down to put the kettle on, and start the coffee,
and by five o'clock I had a table spread in the road, outside the gate,
with hot coffee and milk and bread and jam. I had my lesson, so I
called the corporal and explained that his men were to come in relays,
and when the coffee-pot was empty there was more in the house; and I
left them to serve themselves, while I finished dressing. I knew that
the officers were likely to come over, and one idea was fixed in my
mind: I must not look demoralized. So I put on a clean white frock,
white shoes and stockings, a big black bow in my hair, and I felt equal
to anything--in spite of the fact that before I dressed I heard far off
a booming-could it be cannon ?--and more than once a nearer
explosion,--more bridges down, more English across.

It was not much after nine when two English officers strolled down the
road--Captain Edwards and Major Ellison, of the Bedfordshire Light
Infantry. They came into the garden, and the scene with Captain Simpson
of the day before was practically repeated. They examined the plain,
located the towns, looked long at it with their glasses; and that being
over I put the usual question, "Can I do anything for you?" and got the
usual answer, "Eggs."

I asked how many officers there were in the mess, and he replied "Five";
so I promised to forage, and away they went.

As soon as they were out of sight the picket set up a howl for baths.
These Bedfordshire boys were not hungry, but they had retreated from
their last battle leaving their kits in the trenches, and were without
soap or towels, or combs or razors. But that was easily remedied. They
washed up in relays in the court at Amelie's--it was a little more
retired. As Amelie had put all her towels, etc., down underground, I
ran back and forward between my house and hers for all sorts of things,
and, as they slopped until the road ran tiny rivulets, I had to change
shoes and stockings twice. I was not conscious till afterward how funny
it all was. I must have been a good deal like an excited duck, and
Amelie like a hen with a duckling. When she was not twitching my sash
straight, she was running about after me with dry shoes and stockings,
and a chair, for fear "madame was getting too tired"; and when she was
not doing that she was clapping my big garden hat on my head, for fear
"madame would get a sunstroke." The joke was that I did not know it was
hot. I did not even know it was funny until afterward, when the whole
scene seemed to have been by a sort of dual process photographed
unconsciously on my memory.

When the boys were all washed and shaved and combed,--and
they were so larky over it,--we were like old friends. I did not know
one of them by name, but I did know who was married, and who had
children; and how one man's first child had been born since he left
England, and no news from home because they had seen their mail wagon
burn on the battlefield; and how one of them was only twenty, and had
been six years in the army,--lied when he enlisted; how none of them had
ever seen war before; how they had always wanted to, and "Now," said the
twenty-years older, "I've seen it--good Lord--and all I want is to get
home," and he drew out of his breast pocket a photograph of a young girl
in all her best clothes, sitting up very straight.

When I said, "Best girl?" he said proudly, "Only one, and we were to
have been married in January if this hadn't happened. Perhaps we may
yet, if we get home at Christmas, as they tell us we may."

I wondered who he meant by "they." The officers did not give any such
impression.

While I was gathering up towels and things before returning to the
house, this youngster advanced toward me, and said with a half-shy
smile, "I take it you're a lady."

I said I was glad he had noticed it--I did make such an effort.

"No, no," he said, "I'm not joking. I may not say it very well, but I
am quite serious. We all want to say to you that if it is war that
makes you and the women you live amongst so different from English
women, then all we can say is that the sooner England is invaded and
knows what it means to have a fighting army on her soil, and see her
fields devastated and her homes destroyed, the better it will be for the
race. You take my word for it, they have no notion of what war is like;
and there ain't no English woman of your class could have, or would
have, done for us what you have done this morning. Why, in England the
common soldier is the dirt under the feet of women like you."

I had to laugh, as I told him to wait and see how they treated them when
war was there; that they probably had not done the thing simply because
they never had had the chance.

"Well," he answered, "they'll have to change mightily. Why, our own
women would have been uncomfortable and ashamed to see a lot of dirty
men stripping and washing down like we have done. You haven't looked as
if you minded it a bit, or thought of anything but getting us cleaned up
as quick and comfortable as possible."

I started to say that I felt terribly flattered that I had played the
role so well, but I knew he would not understand. Besides, I was
wondering if it were true. I never knew the English except as
individuals, never as a race. So I only laughed, picked up my towels,
and went home to rest.

Not long before noon a bicycle scout came over with a message from
Captain Edwards, and I sent by him a basket of eggs, a cold chicken, and
a bottle of wine as a contribution to the breakfast at the officers'
mess; and by the time I had eaten my breakfast, the picket had been
changed, and I saw no more of those boys.

During the afternoon the booming off at the east became more distinct.
It surely was cannon. I went out to the gate where the corporal of the
guard was standing, and asked him, "Do I hear cannon?" "Sure," he
replied. "Do you know where it is?" I asked. He said he hadn't an
idea--about twenty-five or thirty miles away. And on he marched, up and
down the road, perfectly indifferent to it.

When Amelie came to help get tea at the gate, she said that a man from
Voisins, who had started with the crowd that left here Wednesday, had
returned. He had brought back the news that the sight on the road was
simply horrible. The refugies had got so blocked in their hurry that
they could move in neither direction; cattle and horses were so tired
that they fell by the way; it would take a general to disentangle them.
My! wasn't I glad that I had not been tempted to get into that mess!

Just after the boys had finished their tea, Captain Edwards came down
the road, swinging my empty basket on his arm, to say "Thanks" for his
breakfast. He looked at the table at the gate.

"So the men have been having tea--lucky men--and bottled water! What
extravagance!"

"Come in and have some, too," I said.

"Love to," he answered, and in he came.

While I was making the tea he walked about the house, looked at the
pictures, examined the books. Just as the table was ready there was a
tremendous explosion. He went to the door, looked off, and remarked, as
if it were the most natural thing in the world, "Another division
across. That should be the last."

"Are all the bridges down?" I asked.

"All, I think, except the big railroad bridge behind you--Chalifert.
That will not go until the last minute."

I wanted to ask, "When will it be the 'last minute'--and what does the
'last minute' mean?"--but where was the good? So we went into the
dining-room. As he threw his hat on to a chair and sat down with a
sigh, he said, "You see before you a very humiliated man. About half an
hour ago eight of the Uhlans we are looking for rode right into the
street below you, in Voisins. We saw them, but they got away. It is
absolutely our own stupidity."

"Well," I explained to him, "I fancy I can tell you where they are
hiding. I told Captain Simpson so last night." And I explained to him
that horses had been heard in the woods at the foot of the hill since
Tuesday; that there was a cart road, rough and winding, running in
toward Conde for over two miles; that it was absolutely screened by
trees, had plenty of water, and not a house in it,--a shelter for a
regiment of cavalry. And I had the impertinence to suggest that if the
picket had been extended to the road below it would have been impossible
for the Germans to have got into Voisins.

"Not enough of us," he replied. "We are guarding a wide territory, and
cannot put our pickets out of sight of one another." Then he explained
that, as far as he knew from his aeroplane men, the detachment had
broken up since it was first discovered on this side of the Marne. It
was reported that there were only about twenty-four in this vicinity;
that they were believed to be without ammunition; and then he dropped
the subject, and I did not bother him with questions that were bristling
in my mind.

He told me how sad it was to see the ruin of the beautiful country
through which they had passed, and what a mistake it had been from his
point of view not to have foreseen the methods of Germans and drummed
out all the towns through which the armies had passed. He told me one
or two touching and interesting stories. One was of the day before a
battle, I think it was Saint-Quentin. The officers had been invited to
dine at a pretty chateau near which they had bivouacked. The French
family could not do too much for them, and the daughters of the house
waited on the table. Almost before the meal was finished the alerte
sounded, and the battle was on them. When they retreated by the house
where they had been so prettily entertained such a few hours before,
there was not one stone standing on another, and what became of the
family he had no idea.

The other that I remember was of the way the Germans passed the river at
Saint-Quentin and forced the battle at La Fere on them. The bridge was
mined, and the captain was standing beside the engineer waiting to give
the order to touch off the mine. It was a nasty night--a Sunday (only
last Sunday, think of that!)--and the rain was coming down in torrents.
Just before the Germans reached the bridge he ordered it blown up. The
engineer touched the button. The fuse did not act. He was in despair,
but the captain said to him, "Brace up, my lad--give her another
chance." The second effort failed like the first. Then, before any one
could stop him, the engineer made a dash for the end of the bridge,
drawing his revolver as he ran, and fired six shots into the mine,
knowing that, if he succeeded, he would go up with the bridge. No good,
and he was literally dragged off the spot weeping with rage at his
failure--and the Germans came across.

All the time we had been talking I had heard the cannonade in the
distance--now at the north and now in the east. This seemed a proper
moment, inspired by the fact that he was talking war, of his own
initiative, to put a question or two, so I risked it.

"That cannonading seems much nearer than it did this morning," I
ventured.

"Possibly," he replied.

"What does that mean?" I persisted.

"Sorry I can't tell you. We men know absolutely nothing. Only three
men in this war know anything of its plans,--Kitchener, Joffre, and
French. The rest of us obey orders, and know only what we see. Not even
a brigade commander is any wiser. Once in a while the colonel makes a
remark, but he is never illuminating."

"How much risk am I running by remaining here?"

He looked at me a moment before he asked, "You want to know the truth?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Well, this is the situation as near as I can work it out. We infer
from the work we were given to do--destroying bridges, railroads,
telegraphic communications--that an effort is to be made here to stop
the march on Paris; in fact, that the Germans are not to be allowed to
cross the Marne at Meaux, and march on the city by the main road from
Rheims to the capital. The communications are all cut. That does not
mean that it will be impossible for them to pass; they've got clever
engineers. It means that we have impeded them and may stop them. I
don't know. Just now your risk is nothing. It will be nothing unless
we are ordered to hold this hill, which is the line of march from Meaux
to Paris. We have had no such order yet. But if the Germans succeed in
taking Meaux and attempt to put their bridges across the Marne, our
artillery, behind you there on the top of the hill, must open fire on
them over your head. In that case the Germans will surely reply by
bombarding this hill." And he drank his tea without looking to see how I
took it.

I remember that I was standing opposite him, and I involuntarily leaned
against the wall behind me, but suddenly thought, "Be careful. You'll
break the glass in the picture of Whistler's Mother, and you'll be
sorry." It brought me up standing, and he didn't notice. Isn't the mind
a queer thing?

He finished his tea, and rose to go. As he picked up his cap he showed
me a hole right through his sleeve--in one side, out the other-and a
similar one in his puttee, where the ball had been turned aside by the
leather lacing of his boot. He laughed as he said, "Odd how near a chap
comes to going out, and yet lives to drink tea with you. Well, good-bye
and good luck if I don't see you again."

And off he marched, and I went into the library and sat down and sat
very still.

It was not more than half an hour after Captain Edwards left that the
corporal came in to ask me if I had a window in the roof. I told him
that there was, and he asked if he might go up. I led the way, picking
up my glasses as I went. He explained, as we climbed the two flights of
stairs, that the aeroplane had reported a part of the Germans they were
hunting "not a thousand feet from this house." I opened the skylight.
He scanned in every direction. I knew he would not see anything, and he
did not. But he seemed to like the view, could command the roads that
his posse was guarding, so he sat on the window ledge and talked. The
common soldier is far fonder of talking than his officer and apparently
he knows more. If he doesn't, he thinks he does. So he explained to me
the situation as the "men saw it." I remembered what Captain Edwards had
told me, but I listened all the same. He told me that the Germans were
advancing in two columns about ten miles apart, flanked in the west by a
French division pushing them east, and led by the English drawing them
toward the Marne. "You know," he said, "that we are the sacrificed
corps, and we have known it from the first--went into the campaign
knowing it. We have been fighting a force ten times superior in
numbers, and retreating, doing rear-guard action, whether we were really
outfought or not--to draw the Germans where Joffre wants them. I reckon
we've got them there. It is great strategy-Kitchener's, you know."

Whether any of the corporal's ideas had any relation to facts I shall
never know until history tells me, but I can assure you that, as I
followed the corporal downstairs, I looked about my house--and, well, I
don't deny it, it seemed to me a doomed thing, and I was sorry for it.
However, as I let him out into the road again, I pounded into myself
lots of things like "It hasn't happened yet"; "Sufficient unto the day";
and, "What isn't to be, won't be"; and found I was quite calm. Luckily
I did not have much time to myself, for I had hardly sat down quietly
when there was another tap at the door and I opened to find an officer
of the bicycle corps standing there.

"Captain Edwards's compliments," he said, "and will you be so kind as to
explain to me exactly where you think the Uhlans are hidden?"
I told him that if he would come down the road a little way with me I
would show him.

"Wait a moment," he said, holding the door. "You are not afraid?"
I told him that I was not.

"My orders are not to expose you uselessly. Wait there a minute."

He stepped back into the garden, gave a quick look overhead,--I don't
know what for, unless for a Taube. Then he said, "Now, you will please
come out into the road and keep close to the bank at the left, in the
shadow. I shall walk at the extreme right. As soon as I get where I
can see the roads ahead, at the foot of the hill, I shall ask you to
stop, and please stop at once. I don't want you to be seen from the
road below, in case any one is there. Do you understand ?"

I said I did. So we went into the road and walked silently down the
hill. Just before we got to the turn, he motioned me to stop and stood
with his map in hand while I explained that he was to cross the road
that led into Voisins, take the cart track down the hill past the
washhouse on his left, and turn into the wood road on that side. At each
indication he said, "I have it." When I had explained, he simply said,
"Rough road?"

I said it was, very, and wet in the dryest weather.

"Wooded all the way?" he asked.

I told him that it was, and, what was more, so winding that you could
not see ten feet ahead anywhere between here and Conde.

"Humph," he said. "Perfectly clear, thank you very much. Please wait
right there a moment."

He looked up the hill behind him, and made a gesture in the air with his
hand above his head. I turned to look up the hill also. I saw the
corporal at the gate repeat the gesture; then a big bicycle corps, four
abreast, guns on their backs, slid round the corner and came gliding
down the hill. There was not a sound, not the rattle of a chain or a
pedal.

"Thank you very much," said the captain. "Be so kind as to keep close
to the bank."

When I reached my gate I found some of the men of the guard dragging a
big, long log down the road, and I watched them while they attached it
to a tree at my gate, and swung it across to the opposite side of the
road, making in that way a barrier about five feet high. I asked what
that was for? "Captain's orders," was the laconic reply. But when it
was done the corporal took the trouble to explain that it was a
barricade to prevent the Germans from making a dash up the hill.

"However," he added, "don't you get nervous. If we chase them out it
will only be a little rifle practice, and I doubt if they even have any
ammunition."

As I turned to go into the house, he called after me,--

"See here, I notice that you've got doors on all sides of your house.
Better lock all those but this front one."

As all the windows were barred and so could be left open, I didn't mind;
so I went in and locked up. The thing was getting to be funny to
me,--always doing something, and nothing happening. I suppose courage
is a cumulative thing, if only one has time to accumulate, and these
boys in khaki treated even the cannonading as if it were all "in the
day's work."

It was just dusk when the bicycle corps returned up the hill. They had
to dismount and wheel their machines under the barricade, and they did
it so prettily, dismounting and remounting with a precision that was
neat.

"Nothing," reported the captain. "We could not go in far,--road too
rough and too dangerous. It is a cavalry job."

All the same, I am sure the Uhlans are there.

XIII

September 8, 1914.

I had gone to bed early on Friday night, and had passed an uneasy night.
It was before four when I got up and opened my shutters. It was a
lovely day. Perhaps I have told you that the weather all last week was
simply perfect.

I went downstairs to get coffee for the picket, but when I got out to
the gate there was no picket there. There was the barricade, but the
road was empty. I ran up the road to Amelie's. She told me that they
had marched away about an hour before. A bicyclist had evidently
brought an order. As no one spoke English, no one understood what had
really happened. Pere had been to Couilly--they had all left there.
So far as any one could discover there was not an English soldier, or
any kind of a soldier, left anywhere in the commune.

This was Saturday morning, September 5, and one of the loveliest days I
ever saw. The air was clear. The sun was shining.

The birds were singing. But otherwise it was very still. I walked out
on the lawn. Little lines of white smoke were rising from a few
chimneys at Joncheroy and Voisins. The towns on the plain, from
Monthyon and Penchard on the horizon to Mareuil in the valley, stood out
clear and distinct. But after three days of activity, three days with
the soldiers about, it seemed, for the first time since I came here,
lonely; and for the first time I realized that I was actually cut off
from the outside world. All the bridges in front of me were gone, and
the big bridge behind me. No communication possibly with the north, and
none with the south except by road over the hill to Lagny. Esbly
evacuated, Couilly evacuated, Quincy evacuated. All the shops closed.
No government, no post-office, and absolutely no knowledge of what had
happened since Wednesday. I had a horrible sense of isolation.

Luckily for me, part of the morning was killed by what might be called
an incident or a disaster or a farce--just as you look at it. First of
all, right after breakfast I had the proof that I was right about the
Germans. Evidently well informed of the movements of the English, they
rode boldly into the open. Luckily they seemed disinclined to do any
mischief. Perhaps the place looked too humble to be bothered with.
They simply asked--one of them spoke French, and perhaps they all
did--where they were, and were told, "Huiry, commune of Quincy." They
looked it up on their maps, nodded, and asked if the bridges on the
Marne had been destroyed, to which I replied that I did not know,--I had
not been down to the river. Half a truth and half a lie, but goodness
knows that it was hard enough to have to be polite. They thanked me
civilly enough and rode down the hill, as they could not pass the
barricade unless they had wished to give an exhibition of "high school."
Wherever they had been they had not suffered. Their horses were fine
animals, and both horses and men were well groomed and in prime
condition.

The other event was distressing, but about that I held my tongue.

Just after the Germans were here, I went down the road to call on my new
French friends at the foot of the hill, to hear how they had passed the
night, and incidentally to discover if there were any soldiers about.
Just in the front of their house I found an English bicycle scout,
leaning on his wheel and trying to make himself understood in a
one-sided monosyllabic dialogue, with the two girls standing in their
window.

I asked him who he was. He showed his papers. They were all right--an
Irishman--Ulster--Royal Innisfall Fusiliers--thirteen years in the
service.

I asked him if there were any English soldiers left here. He said there
was still a bicycle corps of scouts at the foot of the hill, at Couilly.
I thought that funny, as Pere had said the town was absolutely deserted.
Still, I saw no reason to doubt his word, so when he asked me if I could
give him his breakfast, I brought him back to the house, set the table
in the arbor, and gave him his coffee and eggs. When he had finished,
he showed no inclination to go--said he would rest a bit. As Amelie was
in the house, I left him and went back to make the call my encounter
with him had interrupted. When I returned an hour later, I found him
fast asleep on the bench in the arbor, with the sun shining right on his
head. His wheel, with his kit and gun on it was leaning up against the
house. It was nearly noon by this time, and hot, and I was afraid he
would get a sunstroke; so I waked him and told him that if it was a rest
he needed,--and he was free to take it,--he could go into the room at
the head of the stairs, where he would find a couch and lie down
comfortably. He had sleepily obeyed, and must have just about got to
sleep again, when it occurred to me that it was hardly prudent to leave
an English bicycle with a khaki-covered kit and a gun on it right on the
terrace in plain sight of the road up which the Germans had ridden so
short a time before. So I went to the foot of the stairs, called him,
and explained that I did not care to touch the wheel on account of the
gun, so he had better come down and put it away, which he did. I don't
know whether it was my saying "Germans" to him that explained it, but
his sleepiness seemed suddenly to have disappeared, so he asked for the
chance to wash and shave; and half an hour later he came down all
slicked up and spruce, with a very visible intention of paying court to
the lady of the house. Irish, you see,--white hairs no obstacle. I
could not help laughing. "Hoity-toity," I said to myself, "I am getting
all kinds of impressions of the military."

While I was, with amusement, putting up fences, the gardener next door
came down the hill in great excitement to tell me that the Germans were
on the road above, and were riding down across Pere's farm into a piece
of land called "la terre blanche," where Pere had recently been digging
out great rocks, making it an ideal place to hide. He knew that there
was an English scout in my house and thought I ought to know. I suppose
he expected the boy in khaki to grab his gun and capture them all. I
thanked him and sent him away. I must say my Irishman did not seem a
bit interested in the Germans. His belt and pistol lay on the salon
table, where he put them when he came downstairs. He made himself
comfortable in an easy chair, and continued to give me another dose of
his blarney. I suppose I was getting needlessly nervous. It was really
none of my business what he was doing here. Still he was a bit too sans
gene.

Finally he began to ask questions. "Was I afraid?" I was not. "Did I
live alone?" I did. As soon as I had said it, I thought it was stupid
of me, especially as he at once said,--"If you are, yer know, I'll come
back here to sleep to-night. I'm perfectly free to come and go as I
like,--don't have to report until I 'm ready."

I thought it wise to remind him right here that if his corps was at the
foot of the hill, it was wise for him to let his commanding officer know
that the Germans, for whom two regiments had been hunting for three
days, had come out of hiding. I fancy if I had not taken that tack he'd
have settled for the day.

"Put that thing on," I said, pointing to his pistol; "get your wheel out
of the barn, and I'll take a look up the road and see that it's clear.
I don't care to see you attacked under my eyes."

I knew that there was not the slightest danger of that, but it sounded
businesslike. I am afraid he found it so, because he said at once,
"Could you give me a drink before I go?"

"Water?" I said.

"No, not that."

I was going to say "no" when it occurred to me that Amelie had told me
that she had put a bottle of cider in the buffet, and--well, he was
Irish, and I wanted to get rid of him. So I said he could have a glass
of cider, and I got the bottle, and a small, deep champagne glass. He
uncorked the bottle, filled a brimming glass, recorked the bottle, drank
it off, and thanked me more earnestly than cider would have seemed to
warrant. While he got his wheel out I went through the form of making
sure the road was free. There was no one in sight. So I sent him away
with directions for reaching Couilly without going over the part of the
hill where the Uhlans had hidden, and drew a sigh of relief when he was
off. Hardly fifteen minutes later some one came running up from Voisins
to tell me that just round the corner he had slipped off his wheel,
almost unconscious,--evidently drunk. I was amazed. He had been
absolutely all right when he left me. As no one understood a word he
tried to say, there was nothing to do but go and rescue him. But by the
time I got to where he had fallen off his wheel, he was gone,--some one
had taken him away,--and it was not until later that I knew the truth
of the matter, but that must keep until I get to the way of the
discovery.

All this excitement kept me from listening too much to the cannon, which
had been booming ever since nine o'clock. Amelie had been busy running
between her house and mine, but she has, among other big qualities, the
blessed habit of taking no notice. I wish it were contagious. She went
about her work as if nothing were hanging over us. I walked about the
house doing little things aimlessly. I don't believe Amelie shirked a
thing. It seemed to me absurd to care whether the dusting were done or
not, whether or not the writing-table was in order, or the pictures
straight on the wall.

As near as I can remember, it was a little after one o'clock when the
cannonading suddenly became much heavier, and I stepped out into the
orchard, from which there is a wide view of the plain. I gave one look;
then I heard myself say, "Amelie,"--as if she could help,--and I
retreated. Amelie rushed by me. I heard her say, "Mon Dieu." I waited,
but she did not come back. After a bit I pulled myself together, went
out again, and followed down to the hedge where she was standing,
looking off to the plain.

The battle had advanced right over the crest of the hill. The sun was
shining brilliantly on silent Mareuil and Chauconin, but Monthyon and
Penchard were enveloped in smoke. From the eastern and western
extremities of the plain we could see the artillery fire, but owing to
the smoke hanging over the crest of the hill on the horizon, it was
impossible to get an idea of the positions of the armies. In the west
it seemed to be somewhere near Claye, and in the east it was in the
direction of Barcy. I tried to remember what the English soldiers had
said,--that the Germans were, if possible, to be pushed east, in which
case the artillery at the west must be either the French of English.
The hard thing to bear was, that it was all conjecture.

So often, when I first took this place on the hill, I had looked off at
the plain and thought, "What a battlefield!" forgetting how often the
Seine et Marne had been that from the days when the kings lived at
Chelles down to the days when it saw the worst of the invasion of 1870.
But when I thought that, I had visions very different from what I was
seeing. I had imagined long lines of marching soldiers, detachments of
flying cavalry, like the war pictures at Versailles and Fontainebleau.
Now I was actually seeing a battle, and it was nothing like that. There
was only noise, belching smoke, and long drifts of white clouds
concealing the hill.

By the middle of the afternoon Monthyon came slowly out of the smoke.
That seemed to mean that the heaviest firing was over the hill and not
on it,--or did it mean that the battle was receding? If it did, then the
Allies were retreating. There was no way to discover the truth. And
all this time the cannon thundered in the southeast, in the direction of
Coulommiers, on the route into Paris by Ivry.

Naturally I could not but remember that we were only seeing the action
on the extreme west of a battle-line which probably extended hundreds of
miles. I had been told that Joffre had made a frontier of the Marne.
But alas, the Meuse had been made a frontier-but the Germans had crossed
it, and advanced to here in little less than a fortnight. If that--why
not here? It was not encouraging.

A dozen times during the afternoon I went into the study and tried to
read. Little groups of old men, women, and children were in the road,
mounted on the barricade which the English had left. I could hear the
murmur of their voices. In vain I tried to stay indoors. The thing was
stronger than I, and in spite of myself, I would go out on the lawn and,
field-glass in hand, watch the smoke. To my imagination every shot
meant awful slaughter, and between me and the terrible thing stretched a
beautiful country, as calm in the sunshine as if horrors were not. In
the field below me the wheat was being cut. I remembered vividly
afterward that a white horse was drawing the reaper, and women and
children were stacking and gleaning. Now and then the horse would stop,
and a woman, with her red handkerchief on her head, would stand, shading
her eyes a moment, and look off. Then the white horse would turn and go
plodding on. The grain had to be got in if the Germans were coming, and
these fields were to be trampled as they were in 1870. Talk about the
duality of the mind--it is sextuple. I would not dare tell you all that
went through mine that long afternoon.

It was just about six o'clock when the first bomb that we could really
see came over the hill. The sun was setting. For two hours we saw them
rise, descend, explode. Then a little smoke would rise from one hamlet,
then from another; then a tiny flame--hardly more than a spark--would be
visible; and by dark the whole plain was on fire, lighting up Mareuil in
the foreground, silent and untouched. There were long lines of
grain-stacks and mills stretching along the plain. One by one they took
fire, until, by ten o'clock, they stood like a procession of huge
torches across my beloved panorama.

It was midnight when I looked off for the last time. The wind had
changed. The fires were still burning. The smoke was drifting toward
us--and oh! the odor of it! I hope you will never know what it is like.

I was just going to close up when Amelie came to the door to see if I
was all right. My mind was in a sort of riot. It was the suspense--the
not knowing the result, or what the next day might bring. You know, I
am sure, that physical fear is not one of my characteristics. Fear of
Life, dread of Fate, I often have, but not the other. Yet somehow, when
I saw Amelie standing there, I felt that I needed the sense of something
living near me. So I said, "Amelie, do you want to do me a great
service?"

She said she 'd like to try.

"Well, then," I replied, "don't you want to sleep here to-night?"

With her pretty smile, she pulled her nightdress from under her arm:
that was what she had come for. So I made her go to bed in the big bed
in the guest-chamber, and leave the door wide open; and do you know, she
was fast asleep in five minutes, and she snored, and I smiled to hear
her, and thought it the most comforting sound I had ever heard.

As for me, I did not sleep a moment. I could not forget the poor
fellows lying dead out there in the starlight--and it was such a
beautiful night.

XIV

September 8, 1914.

It was about my usual time, four o'clock, the next morning,--Sunday,
September 6,--that I opened my blinds. Another lovely day. I was
dressed and downstairs when, a little before five, the battle
recommenced.

I rushed out on the lawn and looked off. It had moved east--behind the
hill between me and Meaux. All I could see was the smoke which hung
over it. Still it seemed nearer than it had the day before. I had just
about room enough in my mind for one idea--"The Germans wish to cross
the Marne at Meaux, on the direct route into Paris. They are getting
there. In that case to-day will settle our fate. If they reach the
Marne, that battery at Coutevroult will come into action,"--that was
what Captain Edwards had said,--"and I shall be in a direct line between
the two armies."

Amelie got breakfast as if there were no cannon, so I took my coffee,
and said nothing. As soon as it was cleared away, I went up into the
attic, and quietly packed a tiny square hat-trunk. I was thankful that
this year's clothes take up so little room. I put in changes of
underwear, stockings, slippers, an extra pair of low-heeled shoes,
plenty of handkerchiefs,--just the essentials in the way of toilette
stuff,--a few bandages and such emergency things, and had room for two
dresses. When it was packed and locked, it was so light that I could
easily carry it by its handle on top. I put my long black military
cape, which I could carry over my shoulder, on it, with hat and veil and
gloves. Then I went down stairs and shortened the skirt of my best
walking-suit, an/d hung it and its jacket handy. I was ready to
fly,--if I had to,--and in case of that emergency nothing to do for
myself.

I had got all this done systematically when my little French friend--I
call her Mile. Henriette now--came to the door to say that she simply
"could not stand another day of it." She had put, she said, all the
ready money they had inside her corset, and a little box which contained
all her dead father's decorations also, and she was ready to go. She
took out the box and showed the pretty jeweled things,--his cross of
the Legion d'Honneur, his Papal decoration, and several foreign
orders,--her father, it seems, was an officer in the army, a great
friend of the Orleans family, and grandson of an officer of Louis XVI's
Imperial Guard. She begged me to join them in an effort to escape to
the south. I told her frankly that it seemed to me impossible, and I
felt it safer to wait until the English officers at Coutevroult notified
us that it was necessary. It would be as easy then as now--and I was
sure that it was safer to wait for their advice than to adventure it for
ourselves. Besides, I had no intention of leaving my home and all the
souvenirs of my life without making every effort I could to save them up
to the last moment. In addition to that, I could not see myself joining
that throng of homeless refugies on the road, if I could help it.

"But," she insisted, "you cannot save your house by staying. We are in
the same position. Our house is full of all the souvenirs of my
father's family. It is hard to leave all that--but I am
afraid--terribly afraid for the children."

I could not help asking her how she proposed to get away. So far as I
knew there was not a carriage to be had.

She replied that we could start on foot in the direction of Melun, and
perhaps find an automobile: we could share the expense. Together we
could find a way, and what was more, that I could share my optimism and
courage with them and that would help.

That made me laugh, but I didn't think it necessary to explain to her
that, once away from the shelter of my own walls, I should be just as
liable to a panic as any one else, or that I knew we should not find a
conveyance, or, worse still, that her money and her jewels would hardly
be safe inside her corset if she were to meet with some of the Uhlans
who were still about us.

Amelie had not allowed me to carry a sou on me, nor even my handbag
since we knew they were here. Such things as that have been hidden-all
ready to be snatched up--ever since I came home from Paris last
Wednesday--only four days ago, after all!

Poor Mile. Henriette went away sadly when she was convinced that my
mind was made up.

"Good-bye," she called over the hedge. "I seem to be always taking
leave of you."

I did not tell Amelie anything about this conversation. What was the
good? I fancy it would have made no difference to her. I knew pretty
well to what her mind was made up. Nothing in the world would have made
Pere budge. He had tried it in 1870, and had been led to the German
post with a revolver at his head. He did not have any idea of repeating
the experience. It was less than half an hour later that Mile.
Henriette came up the hill again. She was between tears and laughter.

"Mother will not go," she said. "She says if you can stay we must. She
thinks staying is the least of two evils. We can hide the babies in the
cave if necessary, and they may be as safe there as on the road."

I could not help saying that I should be sorry if my decision influenced
theirs. I could be responsible for myself. I could not bear to have to
feel any responsibility for others in case I was wrong. But she assured
me that her mother had been of my opinion from the first. "Only," she
added, "if I could have coaxed you to go, she would have gone too."

This decision did not add much to my peace of mind all that long Sunday.
It seems impossible that it was only day before yesterday. I think the
suspense was harder to bear than that of the day before, though all we
could see of the battle were the dense clouds of smoke rising straight
into the air behind the green hill under such a blue sky all aglow with
sunshine, with the incessant booming of the cannon, which made the
contrasts simply monstrous.

I remember that it was about four in the afternoon when I was sitting in
the arbor under the crimson rambler, which was a glory of bloom, that
Pere came and stood near by on the lawn, looking off. With his hands in
the pockets of his blue apron, he stood silent for a long time. Then he
said, "Listen to that. They are determined to pass. This is different
from 1870. In 1870 the Germans marched through here with their guns on
their shoulders. There was no one to oppose them. This time it is
different. It was harvest-time that year, and they took everything, and
destroyed what they did not take. They bedded their horses in the
wheat."

You see Pere's father was in the Franco-Prussian War, and his
grandfather was with Napoleon at Moscow, where he had his feet frozen.
Pere is over seventy, and his father died at ninety-six. Poor old Pere
just hates the war. He is as timid as a bird--can't kill a rabbit for
his dinner. But with the queer spirit of the French farmer he has kept
right on working as if nothing were going on. All day Saturday and all
day Sunday he was busy digging stone to mend the road.

The cannonading ceased a little after six--thirteen hours without
intermission. I don't mind confessing to you that I hope the war is not
going to give me many more days like that one. I'd rather the battle
would come right along and be done with it. The suspense of waiting all
day for that battery at Coutevroult to open fire was simply nasty.

I went to bed as ignorant of how the battle had turned as I was the
night before. Oddly enough, to my surprise, I slept, and slept well.

XV

September 8, 1914.

I did not wake on the morning of Monday, September 7,--
yesterday,--until I was waked by the cannon at five. I jumped out of
bed and rushed to the window. This time there could be no doubt of it:
the battle was receding. The cannonading was as violent, as incessant,
as it had been the day before, but it was surely farther off--to the
northeast of Meaux. It was another beautiful day. I never saw such
weather.

Amelie was on the lawn when I came down. "They are surely retreating,"
she called as soon as I appeared.

"They surely are," I replied. "It looks as if they were somewhere near
Lizy-sur-I'Ourcq," and that was a guess of which I was proud a little
later. I carry a map around these days as if I were an army officer.

As Amelie had not been for the milk the night before, she started off
quite gayly for it. She has to go to the other side of Voisins. It
takes her about half an hour to go and return; so--just for the sake of
doing something--I thought I would run down the hill and see how Mile.
Henriette and the little family had got through the night.

Amelie had taken the road across the fields. It is rough walking, but
she doesn't mind. I had stopped to tie a fresh ribbon about my cap,--a
tri-color,--and was about five minutes behind her. I was about halfway
down the hill when I saw Amelie coming back, running, stumbling, waving
her milk-can and shouting, "Madame--un anglais, un anglais." And sure
enough, coming on behind her, his face wreathed in smiles, was an
English bicycle scout, wheeling his machine. As soon as he saw me, he
waved his cap, and Amelie breathlessly explained that she had said,
"Dame americaine" and he had dismounted and followed her at once.

We went together to meet him. As soon as he was near enough, he called
out, "Good-morning. Everything is all right. Germans been as near you
as they will ever get. Close shave."

"Where are they?" I asked as we met.

"Retreating to the northeast--on the Ourcq."

I could have kissed him. Amelie did. She simply threw both arms round
his neck and smacked him on both cheeks, and he said, "Thank you,
ma'am," quite prettily; and, like the nice clean English boy he was, he
blushed.

"You can be perfectly calm," he said. "Look behind you."

I looked, and there along the top of my hill I saw a long line of
bicyclists in khaki.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, a little alarmed. For a moment I
thought that if the English had returned, something was going to happen
right here.

"English scouts," he replied. "Colonel Snow's division, clearing the
way for the advance. You've a whole corps of fresh French troops coming
out from Paris on one side of you, and the English troops are on their
way to Meaux."

"But the bridges are down," I said.

"The pontoons are across. Everything is ready for the advance. I think
we've got 'em." And he laughed as if it were all a game of cricket.

By this time we were in the road. I sent Amelie on for the milk. He
wheeled his machine up the hill beside me. He asked me if there was
anything they could do for me before they moved on. I told him there
was nothing unless he could drive out the Uhlans who were hidden near
us.

He looked a little surprised, asked a few questions--how long they had
been there? where they were? how many? and if I had seen them? and I
explained.

"Well," he said, "I'll speak to the colonel about it. Don't you worry.
If he has time he may get over to see you, but we are moving pretty
fast."

By this time we were at the gate. He stood leaning on his wheel a
moment, looking over the hedge.

"Live here with your daughter?" he asked.

I told him that I lived here alone with myself.

"Wasn't that your daughter I met?"

I didn't quite fall through the gate backwards. I am accustomed to
saying that I am old. I am not yet accustomed to have people notice it
when I do not call their attention to it. Amelie is only ten years
younger than I am, but she has got the figure and bearing of a girl.
The lad recovered himself at once, and said, "Why, of course not,--she
doesn't speak any English." I was glad that he didn't even apologize,
for I expect that I look fully a hundred and something. So with a
reiterated "Don't worry--you are all safe here now," he mounted his
wheel and rode up the hills.

I watched him making good time across to the route to Meaux. Then I came
into the house and lay down. I suddenly felt horribly weak. My house
had taken on a queer look to me. I suppose I had been, in a sort of
subconscious way, sure that it was doomed. As I lay on the couch in the
salon and looked round the room, it suddenly appeared to me like a thing
I had loved and lost and recovered--resurrected, in fact; a living thing
to which a miracle had happened. I even found myself asking, in my
innermost soul, what I had done to deserve this fortune. How had it
happened, and why, that I had come to perch on this hillside, just to
see a battle, and have it come almost to my door, to turn back and leave
me and my belongings standing here untouched, as safe as if there were
no war,--and so few miles away destruction extending to the frontier.

The sensation was uncanny. Out there in the northeast still boomed the
cannon. The smoke of the battle still rose straight in the still air. I
had seen the war. I had watched its destructive bombs. For three days
its cannon had pounded on every nerve in my body; but none of the horror
it had sowed from the eastern frontier of Belgium to within four miles
of me, had reached me except in the form of a threat. Yet out there on
the plain, almost within my sight, lay the men who had paid with their
lives--each dear to some one--to hold back the battle from Paris--and
incidentally from me. The relief had its bitterness, I can tell you. I
had been prepared to play the whole game. I had not even had the chance
to discover whether or not I could. You, who know me fairly well, will
see the irony of it. I am eternally hanging round dans les coulisses, I
am never in the play. I instinctively thought of Captain Simpson, who
had left his brother in the trenches at Saint-Quentin, and still had in
him the kindly sympathy that had helped me so much.

When Amelie returned, she said that every one was out at the Demi-Lune
to watch the troups going to Meaux, and that the boys in the
neighborhood were already swimming the Marne to climb the hill to the
battlefield of Saturday. I had no curiosity to see one scene or the
other. I knew what the French boys were like, with their stern faces,
as well as I knew the English manner of going forward to the day's work,
and the hilarious, macabre spirit of the French untried lads crossing
the river to look on horrors as if it were a lark.

I passed a strangely quiet morning. But the excitement was not all
over. It was just after lunch that Amelie came running down the road to
say that we were to have a cantonnement de regiment on our hill for the
night and perhaps longer--French reinforcements marching out from the
south of Paris; that they were already coming over the crest of the hill
to the south and could be seen from the road above; that the advance
scouts were already here. Before she had done explaining, an officer
and a bicyclist were at the gate. I suppose they came here because it
was the only house on the road that was open. I had to encounter the
expressions of astonishment to which I am now quite accustomed--a
foreigner in a little hole on the road to the frontier, in a partially
evacuated country. I answered all the usual questions politely; but
when he began to ask how many men I could lodge, and how much room there
was for horses in the outbuildings, Amelie sharply interfered, assuring
him that she knew the resources of the hamlet better than I did, that
she was used to "this sort of thing" and "madame was not"; and simply
whisked him off.

I can assure you that, as I watched the work of billeting a regiment in
evacuated houses, I was mighty glad that I was here, standing, a willing
hostess, at my door, but giving to my little house a personality no
unoccupied house can ever have to a passing army. They made quick work,
and no ceremony, in opening locked doors and taking possession. It did
not take the officer who had charge of the billeting half an hour,
notebook in hand, to find quarters for his horses as well as his men.
Before the head of the regiment appeared over the hill names were
chalked up on all the doors, and the number of horses on every door to
barn and courtyard, and the fields selected and the number of men to be
camped all over the hill. Finally the officer returned to me. I knew
by his manner that Amelie, who accompanied him, had been giving him a
"talking to."

"If you please, madame," he said, "I will see now what you can do for
us"; and I invited him in.

I don't suppose I need to tell you that you would get very little idea
of the inside of my house from the outside. I am quite used now to the
little change of front in most people when they cross the threshold. The
officer nearly went on tiptoes when he got inside. He mounted the
polished stairs gingerly, gave one look at the bedroom part-way up,
touched his cap, and said: "That will do for the chef-major. We will
not trouble you with any one else. He has his own orderly, and will eat
outside, and will be no bother. Thank you very much, madame"; and he
sort of slid down the stairs, tiptoed out, and wrote in chalk on the
gatepost, "Weitzel."

By this time the advance guard was in the road and I could not resist
going out to talk to them. They had marched out from the south of Paris
since the day before,--thirty-six miles,--without an idea that the
battle was going on the Marne until they crossed the hill at Montry and
came in sight of its smoke. I tell you their faces were wreathed with
smiles when they discovered that we knew the Germans were retreating.

Such talks as I listened to that afternoon--only yesterday--at my gate,
from such a fluent, amusing, clever French chap,--a bicyclist in the
ambulance corps,--of the crossing the Meuse and the taking, losing,
re-taking, and re-losing of Charleroi. Oddly enough these were the
first real battle tales I had heard.

It suddenly occurred to me, as we chatted and laughed, that all the time
the English were here they had never once talked battles. Not one of
the Tommies had mentioned the fighting. We had talked of "home," of the
girls they had left behind them, of the French children whom the English
loved, of the country, its customs, its people, their courage and
kindness, but not one had told me a battle story of any kind, and I had
not once thought of opening the subject. But this French lad of the
ambulance corps, with his Latin eloquence and his national gift of humor
and graphic description, with a smile in his eyes, and a laugh on his
lips, told me stories that made me see how war affects men, and how
often the horrible passes across the line into the grotesque. I shall
never forget him as he stood at the gate, leaning on his wheel,
describing how the Germans crossed the Meuse--a feat which cost them so
dearly that only their superior number made a victory out of a disaster.

"I suppose," he said, "that in the history of the war it will stand as a
success--at any rate, they came across, which was what they wanted. We
could only have stopped them, if at all, by an awful sacrifice of life.
Joffre is not doing that. If the Germans want to fling away their men
by the tens of thousands--let them. In the end we gain by it. We can
rebuild a country; we cannot so easily re-create a race. We mowed them
down like a field of wheat, by the tens of thousands, and tens of
thousands sprang into the gaps. They advanced shoulder to shoulder.
Our guns could not miss them, but they were too many for us. If you had
seen that crossing I imagine it would have looked to you like a disaster
for Germany. It was so awful that it became comic. I remember one
point where a bridge was mined. We let the first divisions of artillery
and cavalry come right across on to our guns--they were literally
destroyed. As the next division came on to the bridge--up it went--men,
horses, guns dammed the flood, and the cavalry literally crossed on
their own dead. We are bold enough, but we are not so foolhardy as to
throw away men like that. They will be more useful to Joffre later."

It was the word "comic" that did for me. There was no sign in the fresh
young face before me that the horror had left a mark. If the thought
came to him that every one of those tens of thousands whose bodies
dammed and reddened the flood was dear to some one weeping in Germany,
his eyes gave no sign of it. Perhaps it was as well for the time being.
Who knows?

I felt the same revolt against the effect of war when he told me of the
taking and losing of Charleroi and set it down as the most "grotesque"
sight he had ever seen. "Grotesque" simply made me shudder, when he
went on to say that even there, in the narrow streets, the Germans
pushed on in "close order," and that the French mitrailleuses, which
swept the street that he saw, made such havoc in their ranks that the
air was so full of flying heads and arms and legs, of boots, and
helmets, swords, and guns that it did not seem as if it could be
real--"it looked like some burlesque"; and that even one of the gunners
turned ill and said to his commander, who stood beside him: "For the
love of God, colonel, shall I go on?" and the colonel, with folded arms,
replied: "Fire away."

Perhaps it is lucky, since war is, that men can be like that. When they
cannot, what then? But it was too terrible for me, and I changed the
subject by asking him if it were true that the Germans deliberately
fired on the Red Cross. He instantly became grave and prudent.

"Oh, well," he said, "I would not like to go on oath. We have had our
field ambulance destroyed. But you know the Germans are often bad
marksmen. They've got an awful lot of ammunition. They fire it all
over the place. They are bound to hit something. If we screen our
hospital behind a building and a shell comes over and blows us up, how
can we swear the shell was aimed at us?"

Just here the regiment came over the hill, and I retreated inside the
gate where I had pails of water ready for them to drink. They were a
sorry-looking lot. It was a hot day. They were covered with dirt, and
you know the ill-fitting uniform of the French common soldier would
disfigure into trampdom the best-looking man in the world.

The barricade was still across the road. With their packs on their
backs, their tin dippers in their hands for the drink they so needed,
perspiring in their heavy coats, they crawled, line after line, under
the barrier until an officer rode down and called sharply:--

"Halt!"

The line came to a standstill.

"What's that thing?" asked the officer sternly.

I replied that obviously it was a barricade.

"Who put it there?" he asked peremptorily, as if I were to blame.

I told him that the English did.

"When?"

I felt as if I were being rather severely cross-examined, but I answered
as civilly as I could, "The night before the battle."

He looked at me for the first time--and softened his tone a bit--my
white hair and beastly accent, I suppose--as he asked:

"What is it for?"

I told him it was to prevent a detachment of Uhlans from coming up the
hill. He hesitated a moment; then asked if it served any purpose now.
I might have told him that the Uhlans were still here, but I didn't, I
simply said that I did not know that it did. "Cut it down!" he ordered,
and in a moment it was cut on one end and swung round against the bank
and the regiment marched on.

It was just after that that I discovered the explanation of what had
happened to my Irish scout on Saturday. An exhausted soldier was in
need of a stimulant, and one of his comrades, who was supporting him,
asked me if I had anything. I had nothing but the bottle out of which
the Irish scout had drunk. I rushed for it, poured some into the tin
cup held out to me, and just as the poor fellow was about to drink,
his comrade pulled the cup away, smelt it, and exclaimed, "Don't drink
that--here, put some water in it. That's not cider. It's eau de vie
des prunes."

I can tell you I was startled. I had never tasted eau de vie des
prunes,--a native brew, stronger than brandy, and far more
dangerous,--and my Irishman had pulled off a full champagne glass at a
gulp, and never winked. No wonder he fell off his wheel. The wonder is
that he did not die on the spot. I was humiliated. Still, he was Irish
and perhaps he didn't care. I hope he didn't. But only think, he will
never know that I did not do it on purpose. He was probably gloriously
drunk. Anyway, it prevented his coming back to make that visit he
threatened me with.

The detachment of the regiment which staggered past my gate camped in
the fields below me and in the courtyards at Voisins, and the rest of
them made themselves comfortable in the fields at the other side of the
hill and the outbuildings on Amelie's place, and the officers and the
ambulance corps began to seek their quarters.

I was sitting in the library when my guest, Chef-Major Weitzel, rode up
to the gate. I had a good chance to look him over, as he marched up the
path. He was a dapper, upright, little chap. He was covered with dust
from his head to his heels. I could have written his name on him
anywhere. Then I went to the door to meet him. I suppose he had been
told that he was to be lodged in the house of an American. He stopped
abruptly, halfway up the path, as I appeared, clicked his heels
together, and made me his best bow, as he said:--

"I am told, madame, that you are so gracious as to offer me a bed."

I might have replied literally, "Offer? I had no choice," but I did not.
I said politely that if Monsieur le Chef-Major would take the trouble to
enter, I should do myself the distinguished honor of conducting him to
his chamber, having no servant for the moment to perform for him that
service, and he bowed at me again, and marched in--no other word for
it--and came up the stairs behind me.

As I opened the door of my guest-room, and stood aside to let him pass,
I found that he had paused halfway up and was giving my raftered green
salon and the library beyond a curious glance. Being caught, he looked
up at once and said: "So you are not afraid?" I supposed he was inspired
by the fact that there were no signs of any preparations to evacuate.

I replied that I could not exactly say that, but that I had not been
sufficiently afraid to run away and leave my house to be looted unless I
had to.

"Well," he said, with a pleasant laugh, "that is about as good an
account of himself as many a brave soldier can give the night before his
first battle "; and he passed me with a bow and I closed the door.

Half an hour later he came downstairs, all shaved and slicked up--in a
white sweater, white tennis shoes, with a silk handkerchief about his
neck, and a fatigue cap set rakishly on the side of his head, as if
there were no such thing as hot weather or war, while his orderly went
up and brought his equipment down to the terrace, and began such a
beating, brushing, and cleaning of boots as you never saw.

At the library door he stopped, looked in, and said, "This is nice"; and
before I could get together decent French enough to say that I was
honored--or my house was--at his approval, he asked if he might be so
indiscreet as to take the liberty of inviting some of his fellow
officers to come into the garden and see the view. Naturally I replied
that Monsieur le Chef-Major was at home and his comrades would be
welcome to treat the garden as if it were theirs, and he made me another
of his bows and marched away, to return in five minutes, accompanied by
half a dozen officers and a priest. As they passed the window, where I
still sat, they all bowed at me solemnly, and Chef-Major Weitzel stopped
to ask if madame would be so good as to join them, and explain the
country, which was new to them all.

Naturally madame did not wish to. I had not been out there since
Saturday night--was it less than forty-eight hours before? But equally
naturally I was ashamed to refuse. It would, I know, seem
super-sentimental to them. So I reluctantly followed them out. They
stood in a group about me--these men who had been in battles, come out
safely, and were again advancing to the firing line as smilingly as one
would go into a ballroom--while I pointed out the towns and answered
their questions, and no one was calmer or more keenly interested than
the Breton priest, in his long soutane with the red cross on his arm.
All the time the cannon was booming in the northeast, but they paid no
more attention to it than if it were a threshing-machine.

There was a young lieutenant in the group who finally noticed a sort of
reluctance on my part-which I evidently had not been able to conceal--to
looking off at the plain, which I own I had been surprised to find as
lovely as ever. He taxed me with it, and I confessed, upon which he
said:--

"That will pass. The day will come--Nature is so made, luckily--when
you will look off there with pride, not pain, and be glad that you saw
what may prove the turning of the tide in the noblest war ever fought
for civilization."

I wonder.

The chef-major turned to me--caught me looking in the other
direction--to the west where deserted Esbly climbed the hill.

"May I be very indiscreet?" he asked.

I told him that he knew best.

"Well," he said, "I want to know how it happens that you--a foreigner,
and a woman--happen to be living in what looks like exile--all alone on
the top of a hill--in war-time?"

I looked at him a moment--and--well, conditions like these make people
friendly with one another at once. I was, you know, never very
reticent, and in days like these even the ordinary reticences of
ordinary times are swept away. So I answered frankly, as if these men
were old friends, and not the acquaintances of an hour, that, as I was,
as they could see, no longer young, very tired, and yet not weary with
life, but more interested than my strength allowed. I had sought a
pleasant retreat for my old age,--not too far from the City of my
Love,--and that I had chosen this hilltop for the sake of the panorama
spread out before me; that I had loved it every day more than the day
before; and that exactly three months after I had sat down on this
hilltop this awful war had marched to within sight of my gate, and
banged its cannon and flung its deadly bombs right under my eyes.

Do you know, every mother's son of them threw back his head--and laughed
aloud. I was startled. I knew that I had shown unnecessary feeling--but
I knew it too late. I made a dash for the house, but the lieutenant
blocked the way. I could not make a scene. I never felt so like it in
my life.

"Come back, come back," he said. "We all apologize. It was a shame to
laugh. But you are so vicious and so personal about it. After all, you
know, the gods were kind to you--it did turn back--those waves of
battle. You had better luck than Canute."

"Besides," said the chef-major, "you can always say that you had front
row stage box."

There was nothing to do to save my face but to laugh with them. And they
were still laughing when they tramped across the road to dinner. I
returned to the house rather mortified at having been led into such an
unnecessary display of feeling, but I suppose I had been in need of some
sort of an outlet.

After dinner they came back to the lawn to lie about smoking their
cigarettes. I was sitting in the arbor. The battle had become a duel
of heavy artillery, which they all found "magnificent," these men who
had been in such things.

Suddenly the chef-major leaped to his feet.

"Listen--listen--an aeroplane."

We all looked up. There it was, quite low, right over our heads.
"A Taube!" he exclaimed, and before he had got the words out of his
mouth, Crick-crack-crack snapped the musketry from the field behind
us--the soldiers had seen it. The machine began to rise. I stood like
a rock,--my feet glued to the ground,--while the regiment fired over my
head. But it was sheer will power that kept me steady among these men
who were treating it as if it were a Fourteenth of July show. I heard a
ping.

"Touched," said the officer as the Taube continued to rise. Another
ping.

Still it rose, and we watched it sail off toward the hills at the
southeast.

"Hit, but not hurt," sighed the officer, dropping down on the grass
again, with a sigh. "It is hard to bring them down at that height with
rifles, but it can be done."

"Perhaps the English battery will get it," said I; "it is going right
toward it."

"If there is an English battery up there," replied he, "that is probably
what he is looking for. It is hardly likely to unmask for a Taube. I
am sorry we missed it. You have seen something of the war. It is a
pity you should not have seen it come down. It is a beautiful sight."

I thought to myself that I preferred it should not come down in my
garden. But I had no relish for being laughed at again, so I did not
say it.

Soon after they all went to bed,--very early,--and silence fell on the
hilltop. I took a look round before I went to bed. I had not seen
Amelie since the regiment arrived. But she, who had done
everything to spare me inconvenience, had fourteen officers quartered in
her place, and goodness knows how many horses, so she had little time to
do for me.

The hillside was a picture I shall never forget. Everywhere men were
sleeping in the open--their guns beside them. Fires, over which they
had cooked, were smouldering; pickets everywhere. The moon shed a pale
light and made long shadows. It was really very beautiful if one could
have forgotten that to-morrow many of these men would be sleeping for
good--"Life's fitful dream" over.

XVI

September 8, 1914.

This morning everything and everybody was astir early. It was another
gloriously beautiful day. The birds were singing as if to split their
throats. There was a smell of coffee all over the place. Men were
hurrying up and down the hill, to and fro from the wash-house, bathing,
washing out their shirts and stockings and hanging them on the bushes,
rubbing down horses and douching them, cleaning saddles and
accouterments. There is a lot of work to be done by an army besides
fighting. It was all like a play, and every one was so cheerful.

The chef-major did not come down until his orderly called him, and when
he did he looked as rosy and cheerful as a child, and announced that he
had slept like one. Soon after he crossed the road for his coffee I
heard the officers laughing and chatting as if it were a week-end house
party.

When Amelie came to get my breakfast she looked a wreck--I saw one of
her famous bilious attacks coming.

It was a little after eleven, while the chef-major was upstairs writing,
that his orderly came with a paper and carried it up to him. He came
down at once, made me one of his pretty bows at the door of the library,
and holding out a scrap of paper said:--

"Well, madame, we are going to leave you. We advance at two."

I asked him where he was going.

He glanced at the paper in his hand, and replied:--

"Our orders are to advance to Saint-Fiacre,--a little east of Meaux,--
but before I go I am happy to relieve your mind on two points. The
French cavalry has driven the Uhlans out--some of them were captured as
far east as Bouleurs. And the English artillery has come down from the
hill behind you and is crossing the Marne. We follow them. So you see
you can sit here in your pretty library and read all these nice books in
security, until the day comes--perhaps sooner than you dare hope--when
you can look back to all these days, and perhaps be a little proud to
have had a small part in it." And off he went upstairs.

I sat perfectly still for a long time. Was it possible that it was only
a week ago that I had heard the drum beat for the disarming of the Seine
et Marne? Was there really going to come a day when all the beauty
around me would not be a mockery? All at once it occurred to me that I
had promised Captain Simpson to write and tell him how I had "come
through." Perhaps this was the time. I went to the foot of the stairs
and called up to the chef-major. He came to the door and I explained,
asking him if, we being without a post-office, he could get a letter
through, and what kind of a letter I could write, as I knew the
censorship was severe.

"My dear lady," he replied, "go and write your letter,--write anything
you like,--and when I come down I will take charge of it and guarantee
that it shall go through, uncensored, no matter what it contains."

So I wrote to tell Captain Simpson that all was well at Huiry,--that we
had escaped, and were still grateful for all the trouble he had taken.
When the officer came down I gave it to him, unsealed.

"Seal it, seal it," he said, and when I had done so, he wrote, "Read and
approved" on the envelope, and gave it to his orderly, and was ready to
say "Good-bye."

"Don't look so serious about it," he laughed, as we shook hands. "Some
of us will get killed, but what of that? I wanted this war. I prayed
for it. I should have been sad enough if I had died before it came. I
have left a wife and children whom I adore, but I am ready to lay down
my life cheerfully for the victory of which I am so sure. Cheer up. I
think my hour has not yet come. I had three horses killed under me in
Belgium. At Charleroi a bomb exploded in a staircase as I was coming
down. I jumped--not a scratch to show. Things like that make a man feel
immune--but Who knows?"

I did my best to smile, as I said, "I don't wish you courage--you have
that, but--good luck."

"Thank you," he replied, "you've had that"; and away he marched, and
that was the last I saw of him.

I had a strange sensation about these men who had in so few days passed
so rapidly in and out of my life, and in a moment seemed like old
friends.

There was a bustle of preparation all about us. Such a harnessing of
horses, such a rolling-up of half-dried shirts, but it was all orderly
and systematic. Over it all hung a smell of soup-kettles--the
preparations for the midday meal, and a buzz of many voices as the men
sat about eating out of their tin dishes. I did wish I could see only
the picturesque side of it.

It was two o'clock sharp when the regiment began to move. No bands
played. No drum beat. They just marched, marched, marched along the
road to Meaux, and silence fell again on the hillside.

Off to the northeast the cannon still boomed,--it is still booming now
as I write, and it is after nine o'clock. There has been no sign of
Amelie all day as I have sat here writing all this to you. I have tried
to make it as clear a statement of facts as I could. I am afraid that I
have been more disturbed in putting it down than I was in living it.
Except on Saturday and Sunday I was always busy, a little useful, and
that helped. I don't know when I shall be able to get this off to you.
But at least it is ready, and I shall take the first opportunity I get
to cable to you, as I am afraid before this you have worried, unless
your geography is faulty, and the American papers are as reticent as
ours.

THE END

APPENDIX

In connection with the foregoing narrative this order issued by General
Joffre on September 4,1914, which has but just become available for
publication, has special interest and significance:--

1. It is fitting to take advantage of the rash situation of the First
German Army to concentrate upon it the efforts of the Allied Armies on
the extreme left. All dispositions will be made in the course of
September S to start for the attack on September 6.

2. The disposition to be carried out by the evening of September 5 will
be:--

(a) All the available forces of the Sixth Army to be to the northeast of
Meaux, ready to cross the Ourcq between Lizy-sur-Ourcq and May-en-Multien,
in the general direction of Chateau-Thierry. The available elements of
the First Cavalry Corps which are at hand will be placed for this
operation under the orders of General Maunoury (commanding the Sixth
Army).

(b) The British Army will be posted on the front of Changis-Coulommiers,
facing eastward, ready to attack in the general direction of Montmirail.

(c) The Fifth Army, closing a little to its left, will post itself on
the general front of Courtacon-Esternay-Sezanne, ready to attack in the
general direction from south to north, the Second Cavalry Corps securing
the connection between the British Army and the Fifth Army.

(d) The Ninth Army will cover the right of the Fifth Army, holding the
southern exits from the march of Saint-Gond and carrying part of its
forces on to the plateau north of Sezanne.

3. The offensive will be taken by these different armies on September 6,
beginning in the morning.

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