Part 1 out of 4
ANTWERP TO GALLIPOLI
A Year of the War on Many Fronts--and Behind Them
by Arthur Ruhl
with Illustrations from Photographs
I. "The Germans Are Coming!"
II. Paris at Bay
III. After the Marne
IV. The Fall of Antwerp I
V. Paris Again-and Bordeaux: Journal of a Flight from a London Fog
VI. "The Great Days"
VII. Two German Prison Camps
VIII. In the German Trenches at La Bassee
IX. The Road to Constantinople: Rumania and Bulgaria
X. The Adventure of the Fifty Hostages
XI. With the Turks at the Dardanelles
XII. Soghan-Dere and the Flier of Ak-Bash
XIII. A War Correspondents' Village
XIV. Cannon Fodder
XV. East of Lemberg: Through Austria-Hungary to the Galician Front
XVI. In the Dust of the Russian Retreat
The Germans Are Coming!
The Germans had already entered Brussels, their scouts were reported on
the outskirts of Ghent; a little farther now, over behind the horizon
wind-mills, and we might at any moment come on them.
For more than a fortnight we had been hurrying eastward, hearing,
through cable despatches and wireless, the far-off thunder of that vast
gray tide rumbling down to France. The first news had come drifting in,
four thousand miles away, to the little Wisconsin lake where I was
fishing. A strange herd of us, all drawn in one way or another by the
war, had caught the first American ship, the old St. Paul, and, with
decks crowded with trunks and mail-bags from half a dozen ships, steamed
eastward on the all but empty ocean. There were reservists hurrying to
the colors, correspondents, men going to rescue wives and sisters. Some
were hit through their pocketbooks, some through their imaginations--
like the young women hoping to be Red Cross nurses, or to help in some
way, they weren't sure how.
One had a steamer chair next mine--a pale, Broadway tomboy sort of girl
in a boyish sailor suit, who looked as if she needed sleep. Without
exactly being on the stage, she yet appeared to live on the fringe of
it, and combined the slangy freedoms of a chorus girl with a certain
quick wisdom and hard sense. It was she who discovered a steerage
passenger, on the Liverpool dock, who had lost his wife and was bringing
his four little children back to Ireland from Chicago, and, while the
other cabin passengers fumed over their luggage, took up a collection
for him then and there.
"Listen here!" she would say, grabbing my arm. "I want to tell you
something. I'm going to see this thing--d'you know what I mean?--for
what it'll do to me--you know--for its effect on my mind! I didn't say
anything about it to anybody--they'd only laugh at me--d'you know what I
mean? They don't think I've got any serious side to me. Now, I don't
mind things--I mean blood--you know--they don't affect me, and I've read
about nursing--I've prepared for this! Now, I don't know how to go about
it, but it seems to me that a woman who can--you know--go right with
'em--jolly 'em along--might be just what they'd want--d'you know what I
One Russian had said good-by to a friend at the dock, he to try to get
through this way, the other by the Pacific and Trans-Siberian. The
Englishman who shared my stateroom was an advertising man. "I've got
contracts worth fifty thousand pounds," he said, "and I don't suppose
they're worth the paper they're written on." There were several Belgians
and a quartet of young Frenchmen who played cards every night and
gravely drank bottle after bottle of champagne to the glory of France.
Even the Balkans were with us, in the shape of a tall, soldier-like
Bulgarian with a heavy mustache and the eyes of a kindly and highly
intelligent hawk. He was going back home--"to fight?" "Yes, to fight."
"With Servia?" asked some one politely, with the usual vague American
notion of the Balkan states. The Bulgarian's eyes shone curiously.
"You have a sense of humor!" he said.
This man had done newspaper work in Russia and America, studied at
Harvard, and he talked about our politics, theatres, universities,
society generally. It was a pity, he said, and the result of the
comparative lack of critical spirit in America that Mr. Roosevelt had
been a hero so long. There were party papers mechanically printing their
praise or blame--"and then, of course, the New York Evening Post and the
Springfield Republican"--but no general intelligent criticism of ideas
for a popular idol to meet and answer. "On the whole, he's a good
influence--but in place of something better. It isn't good for a man to
stand so long in the bright sunshine."
That it was impossible for the Mexicans to work out their own salvation
he doubted. "I think of Bulgaria--surely our inheritance of Turkish
rule was almost as bad, and of how the nation has responded, and of the
intensive culture we had at a time when we were only a name to most
western Europeans." He was but one of those new potentialities which
every whisper from the now cloud-wrapped Continent seemed to be opening
--this tall, scholar-fighter from the comic-opera land where Mr. Shaw
placed his chocolate soldiers.
In a steamer chair a frail-looking young woman in a white polo coat
looked nervously out on the sea. She was Irish and came of a fighting
line--father, uncles, and brothers in army and navy, her husband in
command of a British cruiser, scouting the very steamship lane through
which we were steaming. Frail-looking, but not frail in spirit--a
fighter born, with Irish keenness and wit, she was ready to prick any
balloon in sight. She had chased about the world too long after a
fighting family to care much about settling down now. They couldn't
afford to keep a place in England and live somewhere else half the time
--"and, after all, what is there in being a cabbage?" She talked little.
"You can learn more about people merely watching them," and she lay in
her steamer chair and watched.
She could tell, merely by looking at them in their civilian's clothes,
which were army and which navy men, which "R.N.s" and which merchant-
service men. We spoke of a young lieutenant from an India artillery
regiment. "Yes--'garrison-gunner,'" she said. She was sorry for the
German people, but the Kaiser was "quite off his rocker and had to be
War suddenly reached out for us as we came up to Mersey Bar, and an
officer in khaki bellowed from the pilot-boat: "Take down your
wireless!" Down it came, and there the ship stayed for the night, while
the passengers crowded about a volunteer town-crier who read from the
papers that had come aboard, and, in the strange quiet that descends on
an anchored steamship, asked each other how true it was that the German
military bubble--a magazine article with that title had been much read
on the way over--had burst.
Slowly next morning we crept up the Mersey, past a rusty tramp outward
bound, crowded with khaki-clad men. All the shipping was tooting as she
swept by, and the men cheering and waving their hats at the land they
might never come back to. The regular landing-stages were taken by
transports, tracks were held for troop-trains, and it was night before
we got down to London, where crowds and buses stormed along as usual and
barytone soloists in every music-hall were roaring defiance to the
Kaiser and reiterating that Britannia ruled the waves.
Into the fog of war that covered the Continent an army of Englishmen had
vanished, none knew where. Out of it came rumors of victories, but as I
crossed the Strand that morning on the way to Charing Cross, a newsboy
pushed an extra into the cab window--the Germans were entering Brussels!
Yet we fought into the boat train just as if thousands of people weren't
fighting to get away from the very places we hoped to reach.
There were two business men in our coupe going to France, an elderly
Irish lady, an intransigent Unionist, with black goggles and umbrella,
hoping to get through to her invalid brother in Diest, and a bright,
sweet-faced little Englishwoman, in nurse's dark-blue uniform and
bonnet, bound for Antwerp, where her sister's convent had been turned
into a hospital. She told about her little east-coast town as we
crossed the sunny Channel; we trailed together into the great empty
station at Ostend and, after an hour or two, found a few cars getting
away, so to speak, of their own accord.
The low checker-board Belgian fields drifted quickly past; then Bruges,
with a wounded soldier leaning on the shoulders of two companions; then
Ghent. There was a great crowd about the station--men thrown out of
work, men in flat cloth caps smoking pipes--the town just recovering
from the panic of that afternoon. Flags had been hauled down--the
American consul was even asked if he didn't think it would be safer to
take down his flag--some of the civic guards, fearing they would be shot
on sight if the Germans saw them in uniform, tore off their coats and
threw them in the canal. Others threw in cartridges, thousands of
gallons of gasolene were poured on the ground, and everybody watched the
church tower for the red flag which would signal that firing was about
to begin. Le Bien Public of Ghent, however, protested stoutly because
its mail edition had been refused at the station:
It is not alone on the field of battle that one must be brave. For us
civilians real courage consists in doing our ordinary duty up to the
last. In Limburg postmen made their rounds while Prussians inundated the
region, and peasants went right along with their sowing while down the
road troops were falling back from the firing-line.
Let us think of our sons sleeping forever down there in the trenches of
Haelen and Tirlemont and Aerschot; of those brave artillerymen who, for
twenty days, have been waiting in the forts at Liege the help so many
times promised from the allies; of our lancers charging into
mitrailleuse-fire as if they were in a tournament; let us remember that
our heroic little infantrymen, crouched behind a hedge or in a trench,
keeping up their fire for ten hours running until their ammunition was
exhausted, and forced at last to retire, wounded and worn out, without a
chief to take orders from, have had no other thought than that of
finding some burgomaster or commissioner of police, in order not to be
taken for deserters. Let us think a little of all these brave men and
be worthy of them.
There were no music-halls in Belgium and there were posters on the blank
walla, even of little villages, reminding bands and hurdy-gurdy players
and the proprietors of dance-halls that this was no time for unnecessary
noise. There were no soldiers going gayly off to war; the Belgians were
coming back from war. They had been asked to hold out for three days,
and they had held for three weeks. All their little country was a
battle-field, and Belgium open to the invader.
It was too late to get to Brussels, but there was still a train to
Antwerp. At Puers soldiers were digging trenches and stringing
approaches with barbed wire. The dikes had been opened and part of the
country flooded. Farther on we passed the Antwerp forts, then comely
suburbs where houses had been torn down and acres of trees and shrubs--
precious, as may be imagined, to a people who line their country roads
with elms and lindens like avenues in parks, and build monuments to
benevolent-looking old horticulturists--chopped down and burned. And
go, presently, into the old city itself, dull-flaming with the scarlet,
gold, and black, of the Belgian flag, and with something that seemed to
radiate from the life itself of this hearty, happy people, after all
their centuries of trade and war, and good food, and good art--like
their own Rubenses and Van Dycks.
There was no business, not a ship moving in the Scheldt. All who worked
at all were helping prepare for the possible siege; those who didn't
crowded the sidewalk cafes, listening to tales from the front, guessing
by the aid of maps whither, across the silent, screened southwest, the
German avalanche was spreading.
"Treason," "betrayal," "savagery," were on everybody's lips. For
Antwerp, you might say, had been "half German"; many of its rich and
influential men were of German origin, although they had lived in
Belgium for years. And now the Belgians felt they had lived there as
spies, and the seizure of Belgium was an act long and carefully planned.
One was told of the finding of rifles in German cellars, marked
"Preserves," of German consuls authorized to give prizes for the most
complete inventories of their neighborhoods turned in by amateur spies.
Speaking to one man about the Rubens "Descent from the Cross" still
hanging in the cathedral, I suggested that such a place was safe from
bombardment. He looked up at the lace-like old tower, whose chimes,
jangling down through leaping shafts and jets of Gothic stone, have so
long been Antwerp's voice. "They wouldn't stop a minute," he said.
All eastern Belgium was cut off. Brussels, to which people run over for
dinner and the theatre, might have been in China. Meanwhile Antwerp
seemed safe for the time and I returned to Ghent, got a train next day
as far south as Deynze, where the owner of a two-wheeled Belgian cart
was induced to take me another thirty kilometres on down to Courtrai.
It was rumored that there had been a battle at Courtrai--it was, at any
rate, close to the border and the German right wing and in the general
line of their advance.
We rattled along the hard highroad, paved with Belgian blocks, with a
well-pounded dirt path at the side for bicycles, between almost
uninterrupted rows of low houses and tiny fields in which men and women
both were working. Other carts like ours passed by, occasional heavy
wagons drawn by one of the handsome Belgian draft-horses, and now and
then a small loaded cart, owner perched on top, zipping along behind a
jolly Belgian work dog--pulling as if his soul depended on it and
apparently having the time of his life. Every one was busy, not a foot
of ground wasted; a more incongruous place into which to force the waste
and lawlessness of war it would be hard to imagine.
Past an old chateau, with its lake and pheasant-preserve; along the
River Lys, with its miles of flax, soaked in this peculiarly potent
water, now drying in countless little cones, like the tents of some vast
Lilliputian army, and so at last into Courtrai.
It was like hundreds of other quaint old towns along the French and
Flemish border, not yet raked by war, but motionless, with workmen idle,
young men gone to the front, and nothing for people to do but exchange
rumors and wait for the clash to come. I strolled round the old square
and through some of the winding streets. One window was filled with
tricolor sashes carrying the phrase: "Long live our dear Belgium! May
God preserve her!"
On blank walls was this proclamation in parallel columns of French and
Ville De Courtrai Avis Important a la Population Courtraisienne Stad
Kortrijk Belangrijk Bericht aan de Kortrijksche Bevolking
I am about to make an appeal to your reason and your sentiments of
If, in the course of the unjust war which we are now enduring, it
happens that French or Belgian troops bring German prisoners to our
city, I beseech you to maintain your calm and dignity. These prisoners,
wounded or not, I shall take under my protection, became I say that they
are not really to blame for acts which they have been ordered to do
under threat of cruel punishment.
Yes, I say I shall take them under my protection because my heart bleeds
to think that they, too, have left behind those dear to them--an aged
father, an old mother, a wife, children, sisters, or sweethearts whom
separation has plunged into deepest anguish. Do not forget when you see
these prisoners passing by, I beg of you, and permit yourself to shout
at and insult them. Keep, on the contrary, the respectful silence
appropriate to thinking men. Fellow citizens, if, in these grave and
painful circumstances, you will listen to my advice, if you will recall
that it is now thirty years that I have been your burgomaster and during
all that time of hard work I have never asked a favor of you, I feel
sure that you will obey my request and, on your side, you may be sure
that my gratitude will not be wanting.
A. REYNAEKT, Burgomaster.
Although war had not touched Courtrai as yet, the rumor of it, more
terrifying often than the thing itself, had swept through all Flanders.
Along the level highways leading into Courtrai trooped whole families
carrying babies and what few household things they could fling together
in blankets. Covered wagons overflowed with men, women, and children.
The speed with which rumor spread was incredible. In one village a
group of half-drunken men, who insisted on jeering the Germans were put
at the head of a column and compelled to march several miles before they
were released. The word at once ran the length of dozens of highroads
that the Germans "were taking with them every one between fifteen and
fifty." I heard the same warning repeated on several of the roads about
Courtrai by men and women, panting, red-faced, stumbling blindly on from
they knew not what. Later, I met the same people, straggling back to
their villages, good-naturedly accepting the jibes of those who had
A linen manufacturer who lived in the village of Deerlyck, not far from
Courtrai, where German scouts had been reported, kindly asked me to come
out and spend the night. For several miles we drove through the densely
populated countryside, past rows of houses whose occupants all seemed to
Women ran out to stop him and rattled away in Flemish; there were
excited knots of people every few steps, and the heads kept turning this
way and that, as if we were all likely to be shot any minute. We drove
into the courtyard of the solid old Flemish house--a house in which he
and his father before him had lived, with tiny rooms full of old
paintings, garden, stable, and hothouse packed close in the saving
Belgian fashion, and all as spick and span and shining as if built
yesterday--and then into the street again. It was interesting to watch
this square little man roll sturdily along, throwing out his stout arms
impatiently and flinging at the nervous villagers--who treated him
almost as a sort of feudal lord--guttural Flemish commands to keep cool
and not make fools of themselves.
All at once, coming out of nowhere, a wave of panic swept down the
street like a squall across a still pond.
"Bing--Bang!" went wooden shutters over windows, the stout housewives
flinging the bars home and gathering up their children. Doors slammed,
windows closed--it was like something in a play--and almost as soon as
it takes to tell it there was not a head, not a sound; the low houses
were one blank wall, and we stood in the street alone.
Just such scenes as this people must have known in the days when Europe
was a general battle-ground--when the French or the Spanish came into
Flanders; just such villages, just such housewives slamming shutters
close--you can see them now in old Flemish pictures.
Slowly doors and windows opened, heads poked out. The little street
filled, the knots of people gathered again. We walked up and down, the
linen merchant flinging out his arms and his reassurances more and more
vigorously. Half an hour passed, and then, all at once, it came again.
And this time it was real. The Germans were coming!
Down the straight, paved highway, a mile or so away, at the farther end
of an avenue of elms which framed them like a tunnel, was a band of
horsemen. They were coming at an easy trot, half a dozen in single file
on either side of the road. We could see their lances, held rakishly
upstanding across the saddle, then the tail of the near horse whisking
to and fro. One, crossing over, was outlined against the sky, and those
who could see whispered: "One is standing sidewise!" as if this were
somehow important. Tears rolled down the cheeks of the women huddled
inside the door before which we stood.
Coming nearer and nearer up that long tunnel of trees, like one of those
unescapable things seen in dreams, the little gray spot of moving
figures grew to strange proportions--"the Germans!"--front of that
frightful avalanche. A few hundred yards away they pulled down to a
walk, and slowly, peering sharply out from under their helmets, entered
the silent street. Another moment and the leader was alongside, and we
found ourselves looking up at a boy, not more than twenty he seemed,
with blue eyes and a clean-cut, gentle face. He passed without a look
or word, but behind him a young officer, soldier-like and smart in the
Prussian fashion, with a half-opened map in his hand, asked the way to a
near-by village. He took the linen merchant's direction without pausing
and the horses swung down the side street. "Do you speak English?" he
called back, as if, in happier times, we might have been friends, and,
without waiting for an answer, trotted on into the growing dusk.
They were but one of hundreds of such squads of light cavalry--uhlans
for the most part--ranging all over western Belgium as far as Ostend, a
dozen or so men in hostile country, prepared to be cut to pieces if they
found the enemy they were looking for, or to be caught from ambush at
any time by some squad of civic guards. But as one watched them
disappear down their long road to France they grew into something more
than that. And in the twilight of the quiet countryside these stern
shapes that rode on without turning, lances upstanding from tired
shoulders, became strange, grotesque, pathetic--again the Germans,
legions of the War Lord, come too late into a world which must crush
them at last, Knights of the Frightful Adventure, riding to their death.
Paris At Bay
The Calais and Boulogne routes were already closed. Dieppe and Havre
might at any moment follow. You must go now, people said in London, if
you want to get there at all.
And yet the boat was crowded as it left Folkstone. In bright afternoon
sunshine we hurried over the Channel, empty of any sign of war, unless
war showed in its very emptiness. Next to me sat a young Frenchman,
different from those we had met before hurrying home to fight.
Good-looking, tall, and rather languid in manner, he spoke English with
an English accent, and you would have taken him for an Englishman. A
big canvas bag full of golf-clubs leaned against the wall behind him,
and he had been trying to play golf at one of the east-coast seaside
places in England. But one couldn't play in a time like this, and the
young man sighed and waved his hands rather desperately--one couldn't
settle down to anything. So he was going home. To fight ?--I
suggested. Possibly, he said--the army had refused him several years
ago--maybe they would take him now. Very politely, in his quiet manner,
he asked me down to tea. When he stood by the rail watching the tawny
French cliffs draw nearer, one noticed a certain weary droop to his
shoulders, in contrast to his well-tanned, rather athletic-looking,
face--born a little tired, perhaps, like the young nobleman in
Bernstein's "Whirlwind." His baggage was addressed to a Norman chateau.
On the other side was a pink-cheeked boy of seventeen, all French,
though he spoke English and divided his time between writing post-cards
to the boys he had been visiting in England and reading General von
Bernhardi. "The first chapter, 'The Right to Make War,'" he said, "I
understand that--yes! But the second chapter--'The Duty to Make War'"
--he laughed and shook his head.
"No--no--no!" He was the son of an insurance agent who was already at
the front, and, although under age, he hoped to enlist. We drew nearer
Dieppe--tall French houses leaning inward with tricolors in the windows,
a quay with the baggy red breeches of French soldiers showing here and
there--just such a scene as they paint on theatre curtains at home. A
smoky tug whistled uproariously, there was a patter of wooden shoes as
children clattered along the stone jetty, and from all over the crowd
that had come down to greet us came brave shouts of "Eep-eep Hoorah!
No news, or at least no reliable news. A lot of wounded had been
brought in, business was stopped, the great beach deserted; some thought
the Germans would be in Dieppe in a day or two. Our train was supposed
to start as soon as the boat arrived and reach Paris before ten that
night. It was after dark before we got away and another day before we
crawled into St. Lazare.
There was a wild rush for places as soon as the gates opened; one took
what one could, and nine of us, including three little children, were
glad enough to crowd into a third-class compartment. Two ladies, with
the three little children, were hurrying away from the battle that their
husbands .thought was going to be fought near Dieppe within a day or
two. From Paris they hoped to get to the south of France. Over and
over again the husbands said good-by, then the guards whistled for the
"Albaire!" ... and a boy of about six went to the door of the
compartment to receive his father's embrace. "Don't let the Germans get
you!" cried the father, with a great air of gayety, and kissed the boy
again and again. He returned to his corner, rubbed his fists into his
eyes, and the tears rolled out under them. Then the two little girls--
twins, it seemed, about four years old, in little mushroom hats--took
their turns, and they put their fists into their eyes and cried, and
then the two mothers began to cry, and the men, dabbing their eyes and
puffing vigorously at their cigars, cried good-by over and over, and so
at last we moved out of the station.
The long train crept, stopped, backed, crept on again. Through the open
windows one caught glimpses of rows of poplar-trees and the countryside
lying cool and white in the moonlight. Then came stations with
sentries, stray soldiers hunting for a place to squeeze in, and now and
then empty troop-trains jolted by, smelling of horses. In the confusion
at Dieppe we had had no time to get anything to eat, and several hours
went by before, at a station lunchroom, already supposed to be closed, I
got part of a loaf of bread. One of the young mothers brought out a bit
of chocolate, the other a bottle of wine, and so we had supper--a souper
de luxe, as one of them laughed--all, by this time, old friends.
Eleven o'clock--midnight--the gas, intended for a short journey, grew
dimmer and dimmer, presently flickered out. We were in darkness--all
the train was in darkness--we were alone in France, wrapped in war and
moonlight, half real beings who had been adventuring together, not for
hours, but for years. The dim figure on the left sighed, tried one
position and another uneasily, and suddenly said that if it would not
derange monsieur too much, she would try to sleep on his shoulder. It
would not derange monsieur in the least. On the contrary...
"You must make yourself at home in France," laughed the mother of the
two little girls. But the other was even more polite.
"Nous sommes en Amerique!" she murmured. The train jolted slowly on. An
hour or two after midnight it stopped and a strange figure in turban and
white robe peered in. "Complet! Complet!" cried the lady with the
little girls. But the figure kept staring in, and, turning, chattered
to others like him. There was a crowd of them, men from France's
African colonies, from Algeria or Morocco, who had been working in the
French mines and were now going back to take the places of trained
soldiers--the daredevil "Turcos"--sent north to fight the Germans.
They did not get into our compartment, but into the one next to it, and
as there was no place to sit down, stood in patient Arab fashion, and
after a time gradually edged into ours, where they squatted on the
floor. They talked broken French or Italian or their native speech and
now and then broke into snatches of a wild sort of song. In Paris girls
ran into the street and threw their arms about the brave "Marocs" as
they marched by, but the lady with the little girls felt that they were
a trifle smelly, and, fishing out a bottle of scent, she wet a
handkerchief with it and passed it round.
The young Frenchman lit a match--three-twenty. The little boy, rousing
from his corner, suddenly announced, apropos of nothing, that the
Germans ought to be dropped into kettles of boiling water; at once came
the voice of one of the little girls, sound asleep apparently before
this, warning him that he must not talk like that or the Germans might
hear and shoot them. We jolted on, backed, and suddenly one became
aware that the gray light was not that of the moon. The lady at my left
sat upright. "The day comes!" she said briskly. It grew lighter. We
passed sentries, rifles stacked on station platforms, woods--the forest
of St. Germain. These woods were misty blue in the cool autumn morning,
there were bivouac fires, coffee-pots on the coals, and standing beside
these fires soldiers in kepis and red trousers and heavy blue coats with
the flaps pinned back. Just such soldiers and scenes you have seen in
the war pictures of Detaille and De Neuville. Bridges, more houses, the
rectangular grass-covered faces of forts at last; just as Paris was
getting up for breakfast, into St. Lazare station, heaped with trunks
and boiling with people, Parisians, belated American tourists, refugees
from northeast villages, going somewhere, anywhere, to get away. It was
There were miles of closed shops with placards on the shutters:
"Proprietor and personnel have been called to the colors"; no buses or
trams, the few 'cabs piled with the luggage of those trying to get away,
almost no way to traverse the splendid distances but to walk. Papers
could not be cried aloud on the streets, and the only news was the
official communique and a word about some Servian or Russian victory in
some un-pronounceable region of the East.
"France is a history, a life, an idea which has taken its place in the
world, and the bit of earth from which that history, that life, that
thought, has radiated, we cannot sacrifice without sealing the stone of
the tomb over ourselves and our children and the generations to follow
us." Thus George Clemenceau was writing in L'Homme Libre, and people
knew that this was true. And yet in that ghastly silence of Paris,
broken only by the constant flight of military automobiles, screaming
through the streets on missions nobody understood, those left behind did
not even know where the enemy was, where the defenders were, or what was
being done to save Paris. And it gradually, and not unnaturally, seemed
to the more nervous that nothing had been done--the forts were paper,
the government faithless, revolution imminent--one heard the wildest
Late that afternoon I walked down from the Madeleine toward the river.
It was the "hour of the aperitif"--there were still enough people to
fill cafe tables--and since Sunday it had been the hour of the German
aeroplane. It had come that afternoon, dropped a few bombs--"quelques
ordures"--and sailed away to return next day at the same hour. "You
have remarked," explained one of the papers, "that people who are
without wit always repeat their jokes." And just as I came into the
Place de la Concorde, "Mr. Taube" came up out of the north.
You must imagine that vast open space, with the bridge and river and
Invalides behind it, and beyond the light tracery of the Eiffel Tower,
covered with little specks of people, all looking upward. Back along
the boulevards, on roofs on both banks, all Paris, in fact, was
similarly staring--"Le nez en l'air." And straight overhead, so far up
that even the murmur of the motor was unheard, no more than a bird,
indeed, against the pale sky, "Mr. Taube," circling indolently about,
picking his moment, plotting our death.
I thought of the shudder of outraged horror that ran over Antwerp when
the first Zeppelin came. It seemed the last unnecessary blow to a
heroic people who had already stood so much. Very different was "Mr.
Taube's" reception here. He might have been a holiday balloon or some
particularly fancy piece of fireworks. Everywhere people were staring
upward, looking through their closed fists, through opera-glasses. Out
of the arcades of the Hotel de Crillon one man in a bath-robe and
another in a suit of purple underclothes came running, to gaze calmly
into the zenith until the "von" had gone.
As the little speck drew straight overhead, these human specks scattered
over the Place de la Concorde suddenly realized that they were in the
line of fire, and scattered just as people run from a sudden shower.
This was the most interesting thing--these helpless little humans
scrambling away like ants or beetles to shelter, and that tiny insolent
bird sailing slowly far overhead. This was a bit of the modern war one
reads about--it was a picture from some fanciful story of Mr. H. G.
Wells. They scattered for the arcades, and some, quaintly enough, ran
under the trees in the near-by Champs-Elysees. There was a "Bang!" at
which everybody shouted "There!" but it was not a bomb, only part of the
absurd fusillade that now began. They were firing from the Eiffel
Tower, whence they might possibly have hit something, and from roofs
with ordinary guns and revolvers which could not possibly have hit
anything at all. In the gray haze that hung over Paris the next
morning, I wandered through empty streets and finally, with some vague
notion of looking out, up the hill of Montmartre. All Paris lay below,
mysterious in the mist, with that strange, poignant beauty of something
trembling on the verge. One could follow the line of the Seine and see
the dome of the Invalides, but nothing beyond. I went down a little way
from the summit and, still on the hill, turned into the Rue des
Abbesses, crowded with vegetable carts and thrifty housewives. The gray
air was filled with their bargaining, with the smell of vegetables and
fruit, and there, in front of two men playing violins, a girl in black,
with a white handkerchief loosely knotted about her throat, was singing
of the little Alsatian boy, shot by the Prussians because he cried "Vive
la France!" and threatened them with his wooden gun.
True or not, it was one of those things that get believed. Verses were
written about it and pictures made of it all over Paris--presently it
would be history. And this girl, true child of the asphalt, was
flinging it at them, holding the hearts of these broad-faced mothers in
the hollow of her hand. She would sing one verse, pause, and sell
copies of the song, then put a hand to her hoarse throat and sing again.
The music was not sold with the song, and it was rather difficult--a
mournful sort of recitative with sudden shifts into marching rhythm--and
so the people sang the words over and over with her until they had
almost learned the tune. You can imagine how a Frenchman--he was a young
fellow, who lived in a rear tenement over on the other side of
Montmartre--would write that song. The little boy, who was going to
"free his brothers back there in Alsace" when he grew up, playing
soldier--"Joyeux, il murmurait: Je suis petit, en somme, Mais viendra
bien le jour, ou je serai un homme, Ardeat! Vaillanti..."--the
Prussians--monstres odieux--smashing into the village, the cry "Maman!
Maman!"--and after each verse a pause, and slowly and lower down, with
the crowd joining in, "Petit--enfant" ("Little boy, close your big blue
eyes, for the bandits are hideous and cruel, and they will kill you if
they read your brave thoughts") "ferme tes grands yeux bleus."
The violins mixed with the voices of the market-women, crying their
artichokes and haricots, and above them rang--"Ardent! Vaillant! ..."
Audit might have been the voice of Paris itself, lying down there in her
mist, Paris of lost Alsace and hopeless revanche, of ardor and charm
crushed once, as they might be again, as the voice of that pale girl in
black, with her air of coming from lights and cigarette smoke, and of
these simple mothers rose above the noise of the street, half dirge,
half battle-cry, while out beyond somewhere the little soldiers in red
breeches were fighting, and the fate of France hung in the balance, that
After The Marne
At the end of the village the road climbed again from the ravine and
emerged on open fields. A wall of timber, dark and impenetrable as the
woods round an old chateau, rose at the farther end of these fields--the
road cutting through it like a tunnel--and on the brow of the ravine,
commanding the road and the little plain, was a line of trenches. Here
evidently they had fought.
We walked on down the road. Below the northern horizon, where they were
fighting now along the Aisne, rolled the sullen thunder of artillery, as
it had been rolling since daylight. And the autumn wind, cold with the
week of equinoctial rain, puffing out of thickets and across ravines,
brought, every now and then, the horrible odor of death.
Ahead, to the right, one caught the glint of a French infantry's red
trousers. A man was lying there, face downward, on the field. Then
across the open space appeared another--and another--they were scattered
all over that field, bright as the red poppies which were growing in the
stubble and as still. They were in various positions. One lay on his
back, with one knee raised like a man day-dreaming and looking up at the
sky. Another was stretched stiff, with both hands clinched over his
chest. One lay in the ditch close beside us, his head jammed into the
muddy bank just as he had dived there in falling; another gripped a cup
in one hand and a spoon in the other, as if, perhaps, he might have
tried to feed himself in the long hours after the battle rolled on and
left them there.
All these were French, but just at the edge of the thick timber was a
heap--one could scarcely say of Germans, so utterly did the gray, sodden
faces and sodden, gray uniforms merge into anonymity. A squad of French
soldiers appeared at a turn in the road. Two officers rode beside them,
and they were just moving off across the fields carrying shovels instead
of rifles. Looking after them, beyond the belt of timber, one could see
other parties like theirs on the distant slopes to the left, and here
and there smoke. Two more French soldiers appeared pushing a
wheelbarrow filled with cast-off arms. With the boyish good nature
which never seems to desert these little men in red and blue, they
stopped and offered us a few clips of German cartridges. They were
burying their own men, they said, burning the Germans. The dead had
been lying here for nearly a fortnight now while the battle line rolled
northward, clear across France.
We turned back toward Crepy, passing again through the shattered village
of Betz. For three days it had been the centre of a battle, the two
forces lying outside it and shelling each other across the town. The
main street, now full of French soldiers, was in ruins, the church on
the edge of the ravine smashed and gaping, and a few peasant women stood
about, arms folded patiently, telling each other over and over again
what they had seen.
Past fields, where the wheat still waited to be stacked and thrashed,
past the carcasses of horses sprawled stiff-legged in the ditch or in
the stubble, we tramped on to Crepy-en-Valois. The country was empty,
scoured by the flood that had swept across it, rolled back again, and
now was thundering, foot by foot, farther and farther below the horizon
to the north. The little hotel across from the railroad station in
Crepy had kept open through it all. It was the typical Hotel de la Gare
of these little old towns--a bar and coffee-room down-stairs, where the
proprietor and his wife and daughters served their fleeting guests, a
few chambers up-stairs, where one slept between heavy homespun sheets
and under a feather bed. They were used to change, and the mere coming
of armies could not be permitted to derange them.
Within a fortnight that little coffee-room of theirs had been crowded
with English soldiers in retreat; then with Germans--stern, on edge,
sure of being in Paris in a few days; then with the same Germans falling
back, a trifle dismayed but in good order, and then the pursuing French.
And now they were serving the men from the troop-trains that kept
pouring up toward the Aisne, or those of the wounded who could hobble
over from the hospital trains that as steadily kept pouring down.
Sometimes they coined money, and, again, when the locomotive
unexpectedly whistled, saw a roomful of noisy men go galloping away,
leaving a laugh and a few sous behind. Madame would come in from the
kitchen, raise her arms and sigh something about closing their doors,
but, after all, they knew they should keep right on giving as long as
they had anything to give. One of their daughters, a strapping,
light-hearted colt of a girl, told us some of the things they had seen
as she paused in the hall after preparing our rooms. Her sister stood
beside her, and together they declaimed in an inimitable sort of
How the English soldiers had come in, all laughing, and the young
officers so handsome; but the German soldiers were all like this--and
the young woman gave a quick gesture as of one taking nose and mouth in
her hand and pulling it stiffly down a bit. The French officers and
their men were like fathers and sons, but the Germans had a discipline
you would not believe--she had seen one officer strike a man with his
whip, she said, because he was not marching fast enough, and another,
when a soldier had come too near, had kicked him. And they all thought
surely they were going into Paris--"Two days more," they had laughed as
they drank down-stairs, "Paris, and then--kaput!"
You can imagine that gray horde rolling through the streets--narrow,
cobblestoned streets, with steep-roofed stone houses and queer little
courts, and the air over all of having been lived in for generations on
generations. There is the remnant in Crepy of one of the houses that
used to belong to the Dukes of Valois, and at the end of one winding
street you find yourself unexpectedly looking through a grilled iron
gateway into the ordered stateliness of an old-time chateau. On the
outward side the walls of the chateau garden drop a sheer thirty or
forty feet to the edge of the ravine. What a place to wait for an
approaching enemy, one thinks, walking underneath; and the Germans
evidently thought so too, for from this part of town they carefully kept
away. They burned one house, that of a dressmaker so unfortunate as to
live next door to a shop in which arms were sold, they pillaged the
houses whose owners had run away, and they ordered the town to pay them
one hundred thousand francs, but those townspeople who had the fortitude
to stay behind were not molested. The enemy were even polite, one woman
told us--"Pas peur!" said the officer who visited her house, taking off
his hat. On the gate of another house was scrawled in German script,
"Sick Woman--keep away!" and as we passed the open windows, sure enough
there was the pale young mother lying propped up in bed just as she had
been when the Germans came.
On another door we read, also in German script, "Good people--they give
everything!" and on several were orders to leave those within alone. And
there was a curious and touching irony in that phrase: "Gute Leute--
Schoenen!" chalked in stiff script by those now fighting for their lives
to the north of us and likely never to see their fatherland again.
Crepy-en-Valois, more fortunate than some of the towns, whose mayors
were dismissed for revealing "a lamentable absence of sang-froid," had a
mayor who stuck to his post. He was there when three-fourths of the
village had fled and, getting up from a sick-bed to receive the German
commander, he saw that the latter's orders were carried out, and signed
the order for the town's ransom while his daughter held smelling-salts
under his nose.
Whether the mayor of the old town of Senlis, a few miles west of Crepy,
was in any way tactless is scarcely of importance now, in so far as it
concerns him for he and the other hostages were shot, and, however
little good it may have done anybody, he at least gave France his life.
It is said that his order to the townspeople to turn in their arms was
not completely obeyed. It was also said--and this several people of
Senlis told us--that a few Senegalese, lagging behind as the French
left, fired on the Germans as they approached, and that it was possible
that one or two excited civilians had joined in.
Granting that civilians did fire after hostages had been given, there
remains the question of reprisal. It was the German commander's idea
that Senlis should be taught a lesson, and this consisted of shooting
the mayor and the hostages, and sacking and burning the main street--a
half mile, perhaps--from end to end. The idea was carried out with
thoroughness, and men ran along from house to house feeding the flames
with petroleum and even burning a handsome new country house which stood
apart at one end.
A nice-looking, elderly gentleman whom we met in front of the ruined
Hotel du Nord said that the Germans came there and, finding champagne in
the cellar after the maitre d'hotel had told them there wasn't any, set
fire to the hotel, and, as I recall it, shot him. How true such stories
are I cannot say, but there was no doubt that Senlis had been punished.
At least half of the old city on the banks of the wistful Nonette--it is
a much larger place than Crepy, with a cathedral of some consequence--
was smashed as utterly as it might have been by a cyclone or an
earthquake. The systematic manner in which this was done was suggested
by the fact that, in the long street running parallel to the one picked
for destruction, nearly every door still carried its chalked order to
"Schoenen." One house spared was that of a town fireman. "I've got five
little children," he told the German soldiers. "They're one, two,
three, four, five years old, and I'm expecting another." And they went
These were common sights and sounds of that gracious country north of
Paris--deserted, perhaps demolished, villages; the silent countryside,
with dead horses, bits of broken shell, smashed bicycles or artillery
wagons along the road; and the tainted autumn wind. Along the level
French roads, under their arches of elms or poplars, covered carts on
tall wheels, drawn by two big farm horses harnessed one behind another,
and loaded with women, children, and household goods, were beginning to
move northward as they had moved south three weeks before. Trains,
similarly packed, were creeping up to within ear-shot of the constant
cannonading, and it was on one of these trains that we had come.
In Paris, recovered now from the dismay of three weeks before, keen
French imaginations were daily turning the war into terms of heroism and
sacrifice and military glory. Even editors and play-writers fighting at
the front were able to send back impressions now and then, and these,
stripped by the censorship of names and dates, became almost as
impersonal as pages torn from fiction. Sitting comfortably at some cafe
table, reading the papers with morning coffee, one saw the dawn coming
up over the Oise and Aisne, heard the French "seventy-fives" and the
heavy German siege-guns resume their roar; saw again, for the hundredth
time, some hitherto unheard-of little man flinging away his life in one
brief burst of glory. And these thrills, repeated over and over again,
without sight or sound of the concrete facts, in that strange, still
city whose usual life had stopped, produced at last a curious sense of
unreality. Meaux became as far away as Waterloo, and one read words
that had been spoken yesterday exactly as one reads that the old guard
dies but never surrenders.
A man could leave the Cafe de la Paix and in two hours be under fire,
where killing was as matter of fact as driving tacks. And in between
these two zones--the zone where war was at once a highly organized
business and a splendid, terrible game, and that in which its
disjointed, horrible surfaces were being turned into abstractions, into
ideas, poetry, rhetoric--was this middle ground through which we were
now tramping, where one saw only its silence and ruin and desolation.
We returned to Crepy. All that night the trains went clanking through
the station, pouring more men--Frenchmen, Englishmen--into the sodden
trenches along the Aisne. For a week it had rained, cold shower
following cold shower. In Paris shivering concierges closed their doors
in the middle of the day in mournful attempts to keep warm--autumn's
quick sequel to the almost torrid heat in which the armies had fought
across this same country a fortnight before. It was into trenches half
filled with water that the new men were going--Frenchmen trundling over
to the bar in big overcoats, with their air of good little boy, to go
galloping back with a bottle of red wine and a long loaf of bread;
Englishmen, noisy, laughing, trying to talk French with their fingers
and wanting a nip of brandy or hot water for their tea.
There were Highlanders among them, men with necks like towers and
straight, flat backs and a swing of the shoulders--like band music going
past. One watched them stride back to their cars with a sort of pang.
What grotesque irony that men like these, who in times when war was
man's normal business might have fought their way through, must now,
with all the diseased and hopeless bodies encumbering the earth, be cut
off by a mere wad of unthinking lead!
All that night it rained, and, through the rain and dark, trains kept
pouring on up into the terrible north. Once I heard cattle lowing as
their cars clanked past, and again, in the gloomy clairvoyance of night,
saw the faces on the field at Betz, beaten on by the rain that had
beaten them for days. And just before a feeble daylight returned again,
the steady rumble of artillery.
After noon there was a break in the clouds, and we started on foot for
Villers-Cotterets, some fifteen kilometres away. The hard macadam road
was no more than dampened, and ambulances and motor-trucks went scooting
by as on a city street. Occasionally there was an abandoned trench,
once a broken caisson, and the wreck of an aeroplane, but the wheat was
harvested and stacked. Beyond Vaumoise the country grew more hilly, and
the caves and quarries, which the Germans were making such effective use
of along the Aisne, began to appear.
And all this time the cannon were thundering--so close that it seemed
each hilltop would bring them into view, and as the detonation puffed
across the landscape, one even fancied one could feel the concussion in
one's ear. Up from a field ahead of us an aeroplane rose and, in a wide
spiral, went climbing up the sky, now almost cleared, and presently
disappeared in the north. Then, after satisfying a sentry that our
papers were correct--such things could be done in those first days--we
got into Villers-Cotterets. Instead of deserted houses we found that
nearly every house was quartering soldiers. There were infantrymen,
dragoons, flyers, Senegalese, Algerians in white turbans and burnooses
on their desert horses, and everywhere officers. We had stumbled into a
With somewhat the sensation of walking a tight rope, we sought the mayor
to ask for permission to stay in town--finally to ask for safe-conducts
to Soissons. The charming old gentleman, undisturbed by war's alarms,
politely made them out.
Presently in a hotel full of officers we came on three civilians calmly
eating dinner. They had arrived by train, although there were no trains
for civilians; they were now dining at a long table set for officers
from which we had a moment before been turned away; and we were rescued
by a mysterious being at the head of the table--a dark, bald,
bright-eyed, smiling, sanguine gentleman, who might have been an
impresario or a press agent, and continually had the air of saying, as
from time to time he actually said: "Ssst! Leave it all to me!"
He was an American, he said, but spoke vernacular French. The other two
civilians were a London chartered accountant and a Canadian volunteer--a
young Oxford man--waiting for his regiment. Across the table, a big
French dragoon, just in from the firing-line, his horsetail helmet on
the chair beside him, was also dining. This man was as different from
the little infantrymen we had so often seen as the air of that town was
different from deserted Paris. Just as he was, he might have stepped--
or ridden, rather--from some cavalry charge by Meissonier or Detaille; a
splendid fellow--head to spurs, all soldier.
After weeks of newspaper rhetoric and windy civilian partisanship, it
was like water in the desert to listen to him--straight talk from a
professional fighting man, modest, level-headed, and, like most fighting
men, as contrasted with those who stay at home and write about fighting,
ready to give a brave enemy his due. The German retirement was not at
all a rout. When an army is in flight it leaves baggage and equipment
behind, guns in the mud. The Germans had left very little; they were
falling back in good order. Their soldiers were good fighters,
especially when well led. They might lack the individual initiative of
Frenchmen, the nervous energy with which Frenchmen would keep on
fighting after mere bone and muscle had had enough, but they had plenty
of courage. Their officers--the dragoon paused. Yesterday, he said,
they had run into a troop of cavalry. The German officer ordered his
men to charge, and instead they wavered and started to fall back. He
turned on them. "Schweinhunde!" he shouted after them, and, flinging his
horse about, charged alone, straight at the French lances.
"Kill him?" asked the man at the head of the table.
The dragoon nodded. "It was a pity. Joli garcon he was"--he ran a hand
round a weather-beaten cheek as if to suggest the other's well-made
face--"monocle in his eye--and he never let go of it until it fell off--
a lance through his heart."
As we talked two secret-service-men entered, demanded our papers,
examined them, and directed us to call at the Maine for them next
morning at eight o'clock. Now, indeed, we were walking a tight rope.
Following the genius who had got us our suppers, we emerged into the
dark street, walked down it a few doors, entered a courtyard full of
cavalry horses, where men in spurred boots were clanking up and down
stairs. He thrust a heavy key into a lock, opened a door and ushered us
into an empty and elegantly furnished house.
Here was a sombre dining-room with decanters and glasses, bedrooms with
satin down quilts spread over the foot of the bed, and adjoining one of
them a dressing-room with pomades and perfumes and rows of boots just as
its owner had left it. Who he might be, why we should be here, how our
mysterious, conductor--who knew no one in Villers-Cotteret and had but
landed there himself that night--had arranged this occupation, was
beyond finding out. At the moment, with military motor-trucks rumbling
past outside, soldiers coming and going in the court and tramping about
in the room overhead--an extension of the adjoining house--one scarcely
thought of trying to find out. One merely accepted it, enchained by
that uplifted finger and "Leave it to me!" For a time we talked under
the dining-room light, with doors bolted and wooden shutters on street
and courtyard closed, as if we were conspirators in Russian melodrama,
and then we slept.
The Germans were evidently much nearer than Paris had supposed, and we
should not have been greatly surprised to find them in the streets next
morning. It was an Algerian horseman, however, muffled up in his dingy
white and looking rather chilly, who was riding past the window as I
first looked out.
We went to the Mairie--not the grandfatherly old mayor this time, but a
sharp-eyed special commissioner of police.
"After all," said he, when we had put our case, "you want to get as near
the front as possible."
True, I answered, we did.
"Well," he said, with a gesture at once final and wholly French, "you
are already farther than that. You are inside the lines." He crossed
out the safe-conduct and on the laissez-passer wrote: "Good for
immediate return to Paris," and carefully set down the date. Half an
hour later we were well on the road to Crepy, with the thunder which had
drawn us hither rolling fainter and fainter in the north.
The Fall Of Antwerp
The storm which was to burst over Antwerp the following night was
gathering fast when we arrived on Tuesday morning. Army motor-trucks
loaded with dismantled aeroplanes, and the less essential impedimenta
screamed through the streets bound away from, not toward, the front. The
Queen, that afternoon, was seen in the Hotel St. Antoine receiving the
good-bys of various friends. Consuls suddenly locked their doors and
fled. And the cannon rumbling along the eastern horizon as they had
rumbled, nearer and nearer, for a fortnight, were now beyond the outer
line of forts and within striking distance of the town. That night, an
hour or two after midnight, in my hotel by the water-front, I awoke to
the steady clatter of hoofs on cobblestones and the rumble of wheels. I
went to the window, on the narrow side street, black as all streets had
been in Antwerp since the night that the Zeppelin threw its first bombs,
and looked out. It was a moonlight night, clear and cold, and there
along the Quai St. Michael, at the end of the street, was an army in
retreat. They were Belgians, battered and worn out with their unbroken
weeks of hopeless fighting; cavalrymen on their tired horses,
artillerymen, heads sunk on their chests, drowsing on their lurching
caissons; the patient little foot-soldiers, rifles slung across their
shoulders, scuffling along in their heavy overcoats.
In the dark shadow of the tall old houses a few people came out and
stood there watching silently, and, as one felt, in a sort of despair.
All night long men were marching by--and in London they were still
reading that it was but a "demonstration" the Germans were engaged in--
down the quay and across the pontoon bridge--the only way over the
Scheldt--over to the Tete-de-Flandres and the road to Ghent. They were
strung along the street next morning, boots mud-covered, mud-stained,
intrenching shovels hanging to their belts, faces unshaven for weeks,
just as they had come from the trenches; yet still patient and cheerful,
with that unshakable Flemish good cheer. Perhaps, after all, it was not
a retreat; they might be swinging round to the south and St. Nicholas to
attack the German flank...
But before they had crossed, another army, a civilian army, flowed down
on and over the quay. For a week people had been leaving Antwerp, now
the general flight began. From villages to the east and southeast, from
the city itself, people came pouring down. In wagons drawn by huge
Belgian draft-horses, in carts pulled by the captivating Belgian work
dogs, panting mightily and digging their paws into the slippery cobbles;
on foot, leading little children and carrying babies and dolls and
canaries and great bundles of clothes and household things wrapped in
sheets, they surged toward that one narrow bridge and the crowded
ferry-boats. I saw one old woman, gray-haired and tanned like an Indian
squaw with work in the fields, yet with a fine, well-made face, pushing
a groaning wheelbarrow. A strap went from the handles over her
shoulders, and, stopping now and then to ask the news, she would slip
off this harness, gossip for a time, then push on again. That afternoon
under my window there was a tall wagon, a sort of hay wagon, in which
there were twenty-two little tow-headed children, none more than eight
or ten and several almost babies in arms. By the side of the wagon a
man, evidently father of some of them, stood buttering the end of a huge
round loaf of bread and cutting off slice after slice, which the older
children broke and distributed to the little ones. Two cows were tied
to the back of the wagon and the man's wife squatted there milking them.
All along the quay and in the streets leading into it were people like
this--harmless, helpless, hard-working people, going they knew not
where. The entrance to the bridge was soon choked. One went away and
returned an hour later and found the same people waiting almost in the
same spot, and, with that wonderful calm and patience of theirs, feeding
their children or giving a little of their precious hay to the horses,
quietly waiting their turn while the cannon which had driven them from
their homes kept on thundering behind them.
That afternoon I walked up-town through the shuttered, silent streets--
silent but for that incessant rumbling in the southeast and the
occasional honking flight of some military automobile--to two of the
hospitals. In one, a British hospital on the Boulevard Leopold, the
doctor in charge was absent for the moment, and there was no one to
answer my offer of occasional help if an outsider could be of use. As I
sat waiting a tall, brisk Englishwoman, in nurse's uniform, came up and
asked what I wanted. I told her.
"Oh," she said, and in her crisp, English voice, without further ado,
"will you help me with a leg?"
She led the way into her ward, and there we contrived between us to
bandage and slip a board and pillow under a fractured thigh. Between
whispers of "Courage! Courage!" to the Belgian soldier, she said that
she was the wife of a British general and had two sons in the army, and
a third--"Poor boy!" she murmured, more to him than to me--on one of the
ships in the North Sea. I arranged to come back next morning to help
with the lifting, and went on to another hospital in the Rue Nerviens,
to find that little English lady who crossed with me in the Ostend boat
in August on the way to her sister's hospital in Antwerp.
Here in the quiet wards she had been working while the Germans swept
down on Paris and were rolled back again, and while the little nation
which she and her sister loved so well was being clubbed to its knees.
Louvain, Liege, Malines, Namur--chapters in all the long, pitiless story
were lying there in the narrow iron beds. There were men with faces
chewed by shrapnel, men burned in the explosion of the powder magazine
at Fort Waelhem, when the attack on Antwerp began--dragged out from the
underground passage in which the garrison had sought momentary refuge
and where most of them were killed, burned, and blackened. One strong,
good-looking young fellow, able to eat and live apparently, was shot
through the temples and blind in both eyes. It was the hour for
carrying those well enough to stand it out into the court and giving
them their afternoon's airing and smoke. One had lost an arm, another,
a whimsical young Belgian, had only the stump of a left leg. When we
started to lift him back into his bed, he said he had a better way than
that. So he put his arms round my neck and showed me how to take him by
the back and the well leg.
"Bon!" he said, and again "Bon!" when I let him down, and then, reaching
out and patting me on the back, "Bon!" he smiled again.
That night, behind drawn curtains which admitted no light to the street,
we dined peacefully and well, and, except for this unwonted seclusion,
just outside which were the black streets and still the endless
procession of carts and wagons and shivering people, one might have
forgotten, in that cheerfully lighted room, that we were not in times of
peace. We even loitered over a grate fire before going to bed, and
talked in drowsy and almost indifferent fashion of whether it was
absolutely sure that the Germans were trying to take the town.
It was almost exactly midnight that I found myself listening, half
awake, to the familiar sound of distant cannon. One had come to think
of it, almost, as nothing but a sound; and to listen with a detached and
not unpleasant interest as a man tucked comfortably in bed follows a
roll of thunder to its end or listens to the fall of rain.
It struck me suddenly that there was something new about this sound; I
sat up in bed to listen, and at that instant a far-off, sullen "Boom !"
was followed by a crash as if lightning had struck a house a little way
down the street. As I hurried to the window there came another far-off
detonation, a curious wailing whistle swept across the sky, and over
behind the roofs to the left there was another crash.
One after another they came, at intervals of half a minute, or screaming
on each other's heels as if racing to their goal. And then the crash
or, if farther away, muffled explosion as another roof toppled in or
cornice dropped off, as a house made of canvas drops to pieces in a
The effect of those unearthly wails, suddenly singing in across country
in the dead of night from six--eight--ten miles away--Heaven knows
where--was, as the Germans intended it to be, tremendous. It is not
easy to describe nor to be imagined by those who had not lived in that
threatened city--the last Belgian stronghold--and felt that vast, unseen
power rolling nearer and nearer. And now, all at once, it was here,
materialized, demoniacal, a flying death, swooping across the dark into
your very room.
It was like one of those dreams in which you cannot stir from your
tracks, and meanwhile "Boom... Tzee-ee-ee-ee !"--is this one meant for
Already there was a patter of feet in the dark, and people with white
bundles on their backs went stumbling by toward the river and the
bridge. Motors came honking down from the inner streets, and the quay,
which had begun to clear by this time, was again jammed. I threw on
some clothes, hurried to the street. A rank smell of kerosene hung in
the air; presently a petrol shell burst to the southward, lighting up
the sky for an instant like the flare from a blast-furnace, and a few
moments later there showed over the roofs the flames of the first fire.
Although we could hear the wail of shells flying across their wide
parabola both into the town and out from the first ring of forts, few
burst in our part of the city that night, and we walked up as far as the
cathedral without seeing anything but black and silent streets. Every
one in the hotel was up and dressed by this time. Some were for leaving
at once; one family, piloted by the comfortable Belgian servants--far
cooler than any one else--went to the cellar, some gathered about the
grate in the writing-room to watch the night out; the rest of us went
back to bed.
There wasn't much sleep for any one that night. The bombardment kept on
until morning, lulled slightly, as if the enemy might be taking
breakfast, then it continued into the, next day. And now the city--a
busy city of nearly four hundred thousand people--emptied itself in
earnest. Citizens and soldiers, field-guns, motor-trucks, wheelbarrows,
dog-carts, hay-ricks, baby-carriages, droves of people on foot, all
flowing down to the Scheldt, the ferries, and the bridge. They poured
into coal barges, filling the yawning black holes as Africans used to
fill slave-ships, into launches and tugs, and along the roads leading
down the river and southwestward toward Ostend.
One thought with a shudder of what would happen if the Germans dropped a
few of their shells into that helpless mob, and it is only fair to
remember that they did not, although retreating Belgian soldiers were a
part of it, and one of the German aeroplanes, a mere speck against the
blue, was looking calmly down overhead. Nor did they touch the
cathedral, and their agreement not to shell any of the buildings
previously pointed out on a map delivered to them through the American
Legation seemed to be observed.
Down through that mass of fugitives pushed a London motor-bus ambulance
with several wounded British soldiers, one of them sitting upright,
supporting with his right hand a left arm, the biceps, bound in a
blood-soaked tourniquet, half torn away. They had come in from the
trenches, where their comrades were now waiting, with their helpless
little rifles, for an enemy, miles away, who lay back at his ease and
pounded them with his big guns. I asked them how things were going, and
they said not very well. They could only wait until the German
aeroplanes had given the range and the trenches became too hot, then
fall back, dig themselves in, and play the same game over again.
Following them was a hospital-service motor-car, driven by a Belgian
soldier and in charge of a young British officer. It was his present
duty to motor from trench to trench across the zone of fire, with the
London bus trailing behind, and pick up wounded. It wasn't a
particularly pleasant job, he said, jerking his head toward the distant
firing, and frankly he wasn't keen about it. We talked for some time,
every one talked to every one else in Antwerp that morning, and when he
started out again I asked him to give me a lift to the edge of town.
Quickly we raced through the Place de Meir and the deserted streets of
the politer part of Antwerp, where, the night before, most of the shells
had fallen. We went crackling over broken glass, past gaping cornices
and holes in the pavement, five feet across and three feet deep, and
once passed a house quietly burning away with none to so much as watch
the fire. The city wall, along which are the first line of forts, drew
near, then the tunnel passing under it, and we went through without
pausing and on down the road to Malines. We were beyond the town now,
bowling rapidly out into the flat Belgian country, and, clinging there
to the running-board with the October wind blowing quite through a thin
flannel suit, it suddenly came over me that things had moved very fast
in the last five minutes, and that all at once, in some unexpected
fashion, all that elaborate barrier of laissez-passers, sauf-conduits,
and so on, had been swept aside, and, quite as if it were the most
ordinary thing in the world, I was spinning out to that almost mythical
Front, indeed! It was two fronts. There was an explosion just behind
us, a hideous noise overhead, as if the whole zenith had somehow been
ripped across like a tightly stretched piece of silk, and a shell from
the Belgian fort under which we had just passed went hurtling down long
aisles of air--farther--farther--to end in a faint detonation miles
Out of sight in front of us, there was an answering thud, and--
"Tzee-ee-ee-er-r-r-ong!"--a German shell had gone over us and burst
behind the Belgian fort. Under this gigantic antiphony the motor-car
raced along, curiously small and irrelevant on that empty country road.
We passed great holes freshly made, neatly blown out of the macadam,
then a dead horse. There were plenty of dead horses along the roads in
France, but they had been so for days. This one's blood was not yet
dry, and the shell that had torn the great rip in its chest must have
struck here this morning.
We turned into the avenue of trees leading up to an empty chateau, a
field-hospital until a few hours before. Mattresses and bandages
littered the deserted room, and an electric chandelier was still
burning. The young officer pointed to some trenches in the garden. "I
had those dug to put the wounded in in case we had to hold the place,"
he said. "It was getting pretty hot."
There was nothing here now, however, and, followed by the London bus
with its obedient enlisted men doing duty as ambulance orderlies, we
motored a mile or so farther on to the nearest trench. It was in an
orchard beside a brick farmhouse with a vista in front of barbed-wire
entanglement and a carefully cleaned firing field stretching out to a
village and trees about half a mile away. They had looked very
interesting and difficult, those barbed-wire mazes and suburbs,
ruthlessly swept of trees and houses, when I had seen the Belgians
preparing for the siege six weeks before, and they were to be of about
as much practical use now as pictures on a wall.
There are, it will be recalled, three lines of forts about Antwerp--the
inner one, corresponding to the city's wall; a middle one a few miles
farther out, where the British now were; and the outer line, which the
enemy had already passed. Their artillery was hidden far over behind
the horizon trees, and the British marines and naval-reserve men who
manned these trenches could only wait there, rifle in hand, for an enemy
that would not come, while a captive balloon a mile or two away to the
eastward and an aeroplane sailing far overhead gave the ranges, and they
waited for the shrapnel to burst. The trenches were hasty affairs,
narrow and shoulder-deep, very like trenches for gas or water pipes, and
reasonably safe except when a shell burst directly overhead. One had
struck that morning just on the inner rim of the trench, blown out one
of those crater-like holes, and discharged all its shrapnel backward
across the trench and into one of the heavy timbers supporting a
bombproof roof. A raincoat hanging to a nail in this timber was
literally shot to shreds. "That's where I was standing," said the young
lieutenant in command, pointing with a dry smile to a spot not more than
a yard from where the shell had burst.
Half a dozen young fellows, crouched there in the bomb-proof, looked out
at us and grinned. They were brand-new soldiers, some of them, boys
from the London streets who had answered the thrilling posters and
signs, "Your King and Country Need You," and been sent on this ill-fated
expedition for their first sight of war. The London papers are talking
about it as I am writing this--how this handful of nine thousand men,
part of them recruits who scarcely knew one end of a rifle from another,
were flung across the Channel on Sunday night and rushed up to the front
to be shot at and rushed back again. I did not know this then, but
wondered if this was what they had dreamed of--squatting helplessly in a
ditch until another order came to retire--when they swung through the
London streets singing "It's a long, long way to Tipperary" two months
Yet not one of the youngest and the greenest showed the least
nervousness as they waited there in that melancholy little orchard under
the incessant scream of shells. That unshakable British coolness, part
sheer pluck, part a sort of lack of imagination, perhaps, or at least of
"nerves," left them as calm and casual as if they were but drilling on
the turf of Hyde Park. And with it persisted that almost equally
unshakable sense of class, that touching confidence in one's superiors--
the young clerk's or mechanic's inborn conviction that whatever that
smart, clean-cut, imperturbable young officer does and says must
inevitably be right--at least, that if he is cool and serene you must,
if the skies fall, be cool and serene too.
We met one young fellow as we walked through an empty lateral leading to
a bomb-proof prepared for wounded, and the ambulance officer asked him
sharply how things had been going that morning.
"Oh, very well, sir," he said with the most respectful good humor,
though a shell bursting just then a stone's throw beyond the orchard
made both of us duck our heads. "A bit hot, sir, about nine o'clock,
but only one man hurt. They do seem to know just where we are, sir; but
wait till their infantry comes up--we'll clean them out right enough,
And, if he had been ordered to stay there and hold the trench alone, one
could imagine him saying, in that same tone of deference and chipper
good humor, "Yes, sir; thank you, sir," and staying, too, till the cows
We motored down the line to another trench--this one along a road with
fields in front and, about a couple of hundred yards behind, a clump of
trees which masked a Belgian battery. The officer here, a tall,
upstanding, gravely handsome young man, with a deep, strong, slightly
humorous voice, and the air of one both born to and used to command--the
best type of navy man--came over to meet us, rather glad, it seemed, to
see some one. The ambulance officer had just started to speak when
there was a roar from the clump of trees, at the same instant an
explosion directly overhead, and an ugly chunk of iron--a bit of broken
casing from a shrapnel shell--plunged at our very feet. The shell had
been wrongly timed and exploded prematurely.
"I say!" the lieutenant called out to a Belgian officer standing not far
away, "can't you telephone over to your people to stop that? That's the
third time we've been nearly hit by their shrapnel this morning. After
all"--he turned to us with the air of apologizing somewhat for his
display of irritation--"it's quite annoying enough here without that,
It was, indeed, annoying--very. The trenches were not under fire in the
sense that the enemy were making a persistent effort to clear them out,
but they were in the zone of fire, their range was known, and there was
no telling, when that distant boom thudded across the fields, whether
that particular shell might be intended for them or for somebody's house
We could see in the distance their captive balloon, and there were a
couple of scouts, the officer said, in a tower in the village, not much
more than half a mile away. He pointed to the spot across the barbed
wire. "We've been trying to get them for the last half-hour."
We left them engaged in this interesting distraction, the little
rifle-snaps in all that mighty thundering seeming only to accent the
loneliness and helplessness of their position, and spun on down the
transverse road, toward another trench. The progress of the motor
seemed slow and disappointing. Not that the spot a quarter of a mile
off was at all less likely to be hit, yet one felt conscious of a
growing desire to be somewhere else. And, though I took off my hat to
keep it from blowing off, I found that every time a shell went over I
promptly put it on again, indicating, one suspected, a decline in what
the military experts call morale.
As we bowled down the road toward a group of brick houses on the left, a
shell passed not more than fifty yards in front of us and through the
side of one of these houses as easily as a circus rider pops through a
tissue-paper hoop. Almost at the same instant another exploded--where,
I haven't the least idea, except that the dust from it hit us in the
face. The motor rolled smoothly along meanwhile, and the Belgian soldier
driving it stared as imperturbably ahead of him as if he were back at
Antwerp on the seat of his taxicab.
You get used to shells in time, it seems, and, deciding that you either
are or are not going to be hit, dismiss responsibility and leave it all
to fate. I must admit that in my brief experience I was not able to
arrive at this restful state. We reached at last the city gate through
which we had left Antwerp, and the motor came to a stop just at the
inner edge of the passage under the fort, and I said good-by to the
young Englishman ere he started back for the trenches again.
"Well," he called after me as I started across the open space between
the gate and the houses, a stone's throw away, "you've had an experience
I was just about to answer that undoubtedly I had when--
"Tzee-ee-ee-er-r"--a shell just cleared the ramparts over our heads and
disappeared in the side of a house directly in front of us with a roar
and a geyser of dust. Neither the motor nor a guest's duty now detained
me, and, waving him good-by, I turned at right angles and made with true
civilian speed for the shelter of a side street.
The shells all appeared to be coming from a southeast direction, and in
the lee of houses on the south side of the street one was reasonably
protected. Keeping close to the house-fronts and dodging--rather
absurdly, no doubt--into doorways when that wailing whistle came up from
behind, I went zigzagging through the deserted city toward the hotel on
the other side of town.
It was such a progress as one might make in some fantastic nightmare--as
the hero of some eerie piece of fiction about the Last Man in the World.
Street after street, with doors locked, shutters closed, sandbags,
mattresses, or little heaps of earth piled over cellar windows; streets
in which the only sound was that of one's own feet, where the loneliness
was made more lonely by some forgotten dog cringing against the closed
door and barking nervously as one hurried past.
Here, where most of the shells had fallen the preceding night, nearly
all the houses were empty. Yet occasionally one caught sight of faces
peering up from basement windows or of some stubborn householder
standing in his southern doorway staring into space. Once I passed a
woman bound away from, instead of toward, the river with her big bundle;
and once an open carriage with a family in it driving, with peculiarly
Flemish composure, toward the quay, and as I hurried past the park,
along the Avenue Van Dyck--where fresh craters made by exploding shells
had been dug in the turf--the swans, still floating on the little lake,
placidly dipped their white necks under water as if it were a quiet
morning in May.
Now and then, as the shell's wail swung over its long parabola, there
came with the detonation, across the roofs, the rumble of falling
masonry. Once I passed a house quietly burning, and on the pavement
were lopped-off trees. The impartiality with which those far-off
gunners distributed their attentions was disconcerting. Peering down
one of the up-and-down streets before crossing it, as if a shell were an
automobile which you might see and dodge, you would shoot across and,
turning into a cosey little side street, think to yourself that here at
least they had not come, and then promptly see, squarely in front,
another of those craters blown down through the Belgian blocks.
Presently I found myself under the trees of the Boulevard Leopold, not
far from the British hospital, and recalled that it was about time that
promise was made good. It was time indeed, and help with lifting they
needed very literally. The order had just come to leave the building,
bringing the wounded and such equipment as they could pack into half a
dozen motor-buses and retire--just where, I did not hear--in the
direction of Ghent. As I entered the porte-cochere two poor wrecks of
war were being led out by their nurses--more men burned in the powder
explosion at Waelhem, their seared faces and hands covered with oil and
cotton just as they had been lifted from bed.
The phrase "whistle of shells" had taken on a new reality since
midnight. Now one was to learn something of the meaning of those equally
familiar words, "they succeeded in saving their wounded, although under
None of the wounded could walk, none dress himself; most of them in
ordinary times would have lain where they were for weeks. There were
fractured legs not yet set, men with faces half shot away, men half out
of their heads, and all these had to be dressed somehow, covered up,
crowded into or on top of the buses, and started off through a city
under bombardment toward open country which might already be occupied by
Bundles of uniforms, mud-stained, blood-stained, just as they had come
from the trenches, were dumped out of the storeroom and distributed, hit
British "Tommies" went out as Belgians, Belgians in British khaki; the
man whose broken leg I had lifted the day before we simply bundled in
his bed blankets and set up in the corner of a bus. One healthy-looking
Belgian boy, on whom I was trying to pull a pair of British trousers,
seemed to have nothing at all the matter with him, until it presently
appeared that he was speechless and paralyzed in both left arm and left
leg. And while we were working, an English soldier, shot through the
jaw and throat, sat on the edge of his bed, shaking with a hideous,
The hospital was in a handsome stone building, in ordinary times a club,
perhaps, or a school; a wide, stone stairway led up the centre, and
above it was a glass skylight. This central well would have been a
charming place for a shell to drop into, and one did drop not more than
fifty feet or so away, in or close to the rear court. A few yards down
the avenue another shell hit a cornice and sent a ton or so of masonry
crashing down on the sidewalk. Under conditions like these the nurses
kept running up and down that staircase during the endless hour or two
in which the wounded were being dressed and carried on stretchers to the
street. They stood by the buses making their men comfortable, and when
the first buses were filled they sat in the open street on top of them,
patiently waiting, as calm and smiling as circus queens on their gilt
chariots. The behavior of the men in the trenches was cool enough, but
they at least were fighting men and but taking the chance of war. These
were civilian volunteers, they had not even trenches to shelter them,
and it took a rather unforeseen and difficult sort of courage to leave
that fairly safe masonry building and sit smiling and helpful on top of
a motor-bus during a wait of half an hour or so, any second of which
might be one's last. There was an American nurse there, a tall, radiant
girl, whom they called, and rightly, "Morning Glory," who had been
introduced to me the day before because we both belonged to that curious
foreign race of Americans. What her name was I haven't the least idea,
and if we were to meet to-morrow, doubtless we should have to be
carefully presented over again, but I remember calling out to her,
"Good-by, American girl!" as we passed in the hall during the last
minute or two, and she said good-by, and suddenly reached out and put
her hand on my shoulder and added, "Good luck!" or "God bless you!" or
something like that. And these seemed at the moment quite the usual
things to do and say. The doctor in charge and the general's wife
apologized for running away, as they called it, and the last I saw of
the latter was as she waved back to me from the top of a bus, with just
that look of concern over the desperate ride they were beginning which a
slightly preoccupied hostess casts over a dinner-table about which are
seated a number of oddly assorted guests.
The strange procession got away safely at last, and safely, too, so I
was told later, across the river; but where they finally spent the night
I never heard. I hurried down the street and into the Rue Nerviens. It
must have been about four o'clock by that time. The bright October
morning had changed to a chill and dismal afternoon, and up the western
sky in the direction of the river a vast curtain of greasy, black smoke
was rolling. The petrol-tanks along the Scheldt had been set afire. It
looked at the moment as if the whole city might be going, but there was
no time then to think of possibilities, and I slipped down the lee side
of the street to the door with the Red Cross flag. The front of the
hospital was shut tight. It took several pulls at the bell to bring any
one, and inside I found a Belgian family who had left their own house
for the thicker ceilings of the hospital, and the nuns back in the wards
with their nervous men. Their servants had left that morning, the three
or four sisters in charge had had to do all the cooking and housework as
well as look after their patients, and now they were keeping calm and
smiling, to subdue as best they could the fears of the Belgian wounded,
who were ready to jump out of bed, whatever their condition, rather than
fall into the hands of the enemy. Each had no doubt that if he were not
murdered outright he would be taken to Germany and forced to fight in
the east against the Russians. Several, who knew very well what was
going on outside, had been found by the nurses that morning out of bed
and all ready to take to the street.
Lest they should hear that their comrades in the Boulevard Leopold had
been moved, the lay sister--the English lady--and I withdrew to the
operating-room, closed the door, and in that curious retreat talked over
the situation. No orders had come to leave; in fact, they had been told
to stay. They did have a man now in the shape of the Belgian gentleman,
and from the same source an able-bodied servant, but how long these
would stay, where food was to be found in that desolate city, when the
bombardment would cease, and what the Germans would do with them--well,
it was not a pleasant situation for a handful of women. But it was not
of themselves she was thinking, but of their wounded and of Belgium, and
of what both had suffered already and of what might yet be in store. It
was of that this frail little sister talked that hopeless afternoon,
while the smoke in the west spread farther up the sky, and she would now
and then pause in the middle of a syllable while a shell sang overhead,
then take it up again.
Meanwhile the light was going, and before it became quite dark and my
hotel deserted, perhaps, as the rest of Antwerp, it seemed best to be
getting across town. I could not believe that the Germans could treat
such a place and people with anything but consideration and told the
little nurse so. She came to the edge of the glass-covered court,
laughingly saying I had best run across it, and wondering where we, who
had met twice now under such curious circumstances, would meet again.
Then she turned back to the ward--to wait with that roomful of more or
less panicky men for the tramp of German soldiers and the knock on the
door which meant that they were prisoners.
Hurrying across town, I passed, not far from the Hotel St. Antoine, a
blazing four-story building. The cathedral was not touched, and indeed,
in spite of the noise and terror, the material damage was comparatively
slight. Soldiers were clearing the quay and setting a guard directly in
front of our hotel--one of the few places in Antwerp that night where
one could get so much as a crust of bread--and behind drawn curtains we
made what cheer we could. There were two American photographers and a
correspondent who had spent the night before in the cellar of a house,
the upper story of which had been wrecked by a shell; a British
intelligence officer, with the most bewildering way of hopping back and
forth between a brown civilian suit and a spick-and-span new uniform;
and several Belgian families hoping to get a boat down-stream in the
We sat round the great fire in the hall, above which the architect,
building for happier times, had had the bad grace to place a skylight,
and discussed the time and means of getting away. The intelligence
officer, not wishing to be made a prisoner, was for getting a boat of
some sort at the first crack of dawn, and the photographers, who had had
the roof blown off over their heads, heartily agreed with him. I did
not like to leave without at least a glimpse of those spiked helmets nor
to desert my friends in the Rue Nerviens, and yet there was the
likelihood, if one remained, of being marooned indefinitely in the midst
of the conquering army.
Meanwhile the flight of shells continued, a dozen or more fires could be
seen from the upper windows of the hotel, and billows of red flame from
the burning petrol-tanks rolled up the southern sky. It had been what
might be called a rather full day, and the wail of approaching
projectiles began to get on one's nerves. One started at the slamming
of a door, took every dull thump for a distant explosion; and when we
finally turned in I carried the mattress from my room, which faced the
south, over to the other side of the building, and laid it on the floor
beside another man's bed. Before a shell could reach me it would have
to traverse at least three partitions and possibly him as well.
After midnight the bombardment quieted, but shells continued to visit us
from time to time all night. All night the Belgians were retreating
across the pontoon bridge, and once--it must have been about two or
three o'clock--I heard a sound which meant that all was over. It was
the crisp tramp--different from the Belgian shuffle--of British
soldiers, and up from the street came an English voice, "Best foot
forward, boys!" and a little farther on: "Look alive, men; they've just
picked up our range!"
I went to the window and watched them tramp by--the same men we had seen
that morning. The petrol fire was still flaming across the south, a
steamer of some sort was burning at her wharf beside the bridge--
Napoleon's veterans retreating from Moscow could scarcely have left
behind a more complete picture of war than did those young recruits.
Morning came dragging up out of that dreadful night, smoky, damp, and
chill. It was almost a London fog that lay over the abandoned town. I
had just packed up and was walking through one of the upper halls when
there was a crash that shook the whole building, the sound of falling
glass, and out in the river a geyser of water shot up, timbers and
boards flew from the bridge, and there were dozens of smaller splashes
as if from a shower of shot. I thought that the hotel was hit at last
and that the Germans, having let civilians escape over the bridge, were
turning everything loose, determined to make an end of the business. It
was, as a matter of fact, the Belgians blowing up the bridge to cover
their retreat. In any case it seemed useless to stay longer, and within
an hour, on a tug jammed with the last refugees, we were starting
Behind us, up the river, a vast curtain of lead-colored smoke from the
petrol-tanks had climbed up the sky and spread out mushroomwise, as
smoke and ashes sometimes spread out from a volcano. This smoke,
merging with the fog and the smoke from the Antwerp fires, seemed to
cover the whole sky. And under that sullen mantle the dark flames of
the petrol still glowed; to the right, as we looked back, was the
blazing skeleton of the ship, and on the left Antwerp itself, the rich,
old, beautiful, comfortable city, all but hidden, and now and then
sending forth the boom of an exploding shell like a groan.
A large empty German steamer, the Gneisenau, marooned here since the
war, came swinging slowly out into the river, pushed by two or three
nervous little tugs--to be sunk there, apparently, in midstream. From
the pontoon bridge, which stubbornly refused to yield, came explosion
after explosion, and up and down the river fires sprang up, and there
were other explosions, as the crushed Belgians, in a sort of rage of
devastation, became their own destroyers.
By following the adventures of one individual I have endeavored to
suggest what the bombardment of a modern city was like--what you might
expect if an invading army came to-morrow to New York or Chicago or San
Francisco. I have only coasted along the edges of Belgium's tragedy,
and the rest of the story, of which we were a part for the next two
days--the flight of those hundreds of thousands of homeless people--is
something that can scarcely be told--you must follow it out in
imagination into its countless uprooted, disorganized lives. You must
imagine old people struggling along over miles and miles of country
roads; young girls, under burdens a man might not care to bear, tramping
until they had to carry their shoes in their hands and go barefoot to
rest their unaccustomed feet. You must imagine the pathetic efforts of
hundreds of people to keep clean by washing in wayside streams or
ditches; imagine babies going without milk because there was no milk to
be had; families shivering in damp hedgerows or against haystacks where
darkness overtook them; and you must imagine this not on one road, but
on every road, for mile after mile over a whole countryside. What was to
become of these people when their little supply of food was exhausted?
Where could they go? Even if back to their homes, it would be but to
lift their hats to their conquerors, never knowing but that the next
week or month would sweep the tide of war back over them again.
Never in modern times, not in our generation at least, had Europe seen
anything like that flight--nothing so strange, so overwhelming, so
pitiful. And when I say pitiful, you must not think of hysterical women,
desperate, trampling men, tears and screams. In all those miles one saw
neither complaining nor protestation--at times one might almost have
thought it some vast, eccentric picnic. No, it was their orderliness,
their thrift and kindness, their unmistakable usefulness, which made the
waste and irony of it all so colossal and hideous. Each family had its
big, round loaves of bread and its pile of hay for the horses, the bags
of pears and potatoes; the children had their little dolls, and you
would see some tired mother with her big bundle under one arm and some
fluffy little puppy in the other. You could not associate them with
forty-centimetre shells or burned churches and libraries or anything but
quiet homes and peaceable, helpful lives. You could not be swept along
by that endless stream of exiles and retain at the end of the day any
particular enthusiasm for the red glory of war. And when we crossed the
Dutch border that afternoon and came on a village street full of Belgian
soldiers cut off and forced to cross the line, to be interned here,
presumably until the war was over, one could not mourn very deeply their
lost chances of martial glory as they unslung their rifles and turned
them over to the good-natured Dutch guard. They had held back that
avalanche long enough, these Belgians, and one felt as one would to see
lost children get home again or some one dragged from under the wheels.
Paris Again--And Bordeaux: Journal of a Flight from a London Fogs
These notes began in a London fog and ended in the south of France. I
had hoped, on reaching Calais, to work in toward the fighting along the
Yser, but, finding it impossible, decided to turn about and travel away
from the front instead of toward it--down to see Bordeaux while it was
still the temporary capital, and to see what life might be like in the
French provincial towns in war time.
It was not, so the young woman at the hotel desk in London said, what
you would call a fog, because she could still see the porter at the
street-door--yet day after day the same rain, smoky mist, and unbroken
One breakfasted and tramped the streets by lamplight, as if there were
no such thing as sun---recalled vaguely a world in which it used to be--
woods with the leaves turning, New York on a bright autumn morning,
enchanted tropical dawns.
Through this viscous envelope--a sort of fungi thrown off by it--
newspapers kept appearing--slaughter and more slaughter, hatred, the
hunt for spies, more hysterical and shrill. One looked for fairness
almost as for the sun, and, merely by blackguarding long enough men who
could not answer back and, after all, were flinging their lives away
bravely over there in France, one ended by giving them the very
qualities they were denied.
They faded out as one picture on a stereopticon screen fades into
another--even as one read "Huns" for the thousandth time the Huns turned
into kindly burghers smoking pipes and singing songs. In the same way
the England of tradition--Shakespeare, Dickens, Meredith, jolly old
rumbling London, rides 'cross country, rows on the river--faded into
this nightmare of hate and smoky lamplight. The psychology was very
simple, but too much, it seems, for censors and even editors. And,
unfortunately, at a time like this not the light-hearted, sportsmanlike
fighting men at the front, nor sober people left behind in homes, but
newspapers are likely to be an outsider's most constant companions.
A sort of spiritual asphyxiation overtook one at last, in which the mere
stony Briticism of the London hotel seemed to have a part. If you awoke
again into that taste of soft-coal smoke, went down to another of those
staggering lamp-lit breakfasts. But why staggering? "Can you not take
coffee and rolls in London as well as in some Paris cafe"? It would seem
so, yet it cannot be done. The mere sight and sound--or lack of sound--
of that warm, softly carpeted breakfast-room, moving like some gloomy,
inevitable mechanism as it has moved for countless years, attacks the
already weakened will like an opiate. At the first bewildering '"Q?"
from that steely-fronted maid the ritual overpowers you and you bow
before porridge, kippers, bacon and eggs, stewed fruit, marmalade,
toast, more toast, more marmalade, as helpless as the rabbit before the
proverbial boa--except that in this case the rabbit swallows its own
Another breakfast like this, another day of rain and fog, another '"Q?"
--it was in some such state of mind as this that I packed up one night
and took the early train for Folkestone.
Sunshine at last--a delicious autumn afternoon--clean air, quiet, and
the sea. Far below the cliff walk, trawlers crawling slowly in; along
the horizon a streak of smoke from some patrolling destroyer or
battleship. And all along this cliff walk, Belgians--strolling with
their children, sitting on the benches, looking out to sea. Just beyond
that hazy white wall to the east--the cliffs of France--the fight for
Calais is being fought--they can almost hear the cannon.
In the stillness, as they drift by, you catch bits of their talk:
"It was two o'clock in the morning when we left Antwerp."
"And imagine--it was not three metres from our doorstep that the shell
"We walked forty kilometres that night and in the morning-------"
On the balcony of some one's summer-house, now turned into a hospital,
four Belgian soldiers, one with his head bandaged, are playing cards--
jolly, blond youngsters, caps rakishly tipped over one ear, slamming the
cards down as if that were the only thing in the world. In the garden
others taking the sunshine, some with their wheel-chairs pushed through
the shrubbery close to the high iron fence, to be petted by nurse-maids
and children as if they were animals in a sort of zoo.
The Belgians strolling by on the cliff walk smile at this quaint
picture, for sun and space and quiet seem to have wiped out their
terror--that passed through is as far away as that now hidden in the
east. Is it merely quiet and sun? Perhaps it is the look of a "nice
little people" who know that now they have a history. "Refugees," to be
sure, yet one can fancy them looking back some day from their tight
little villages, canals, and beet-fields, on afternoons like this, as on
the days of their great adventure--when they could sit in the sun above
the sea at Folkestone and look across the Channel to the haze under
which their sons and husbands and brothers and King were fighting for
the last corner of their country.
Belgian officers, parks of Belgian military automobiles; up-country a
little way the Germans going down in tens of thousands to win their
"gate to England"--yet we came across on the Channel boat last evening
as usual and had little trouble finding a room. There were tons of Red
Cross supplies on board--cotton, chloroform, peroxide; Belgian soldiers
patched up and going back to fight; and various volunteer nurses,
including two handsome young Englishwomen of the very modern aviatrix
type--coming over to drive motor-cycle ambulances--and so smartly gotten
up in boots and khaki that a little way off you might have taken them
for British officers. At the wharf were other nurses, some of whom I
had last seen that Thursday afternoon in Antwerp as they and their
wounded rolled away in London buses from the hospital in the Boulevard
This morning, strolling round the town, I ran into a couple of English
correspondents. There were yet several hours before they need address
themselves to the arduous task of describing fighting they had not seen,
and they talked, with a good humor one sometimes misses in their
correspondence, of German collectivism and similar things. One had
spent a good deal of time in Germany.
"They're the only people who have solved the problem of industrial
cities without slums--you must say that for them. Of course, in those
model towns of theirs, you've got to brush your teeth at six minutes
past eight and sleep on your left side if the police say so--they're
astonishing people for doing what they're told.
"One day in Dresden I walked across a bit of grass the public weren't
supposed to cross. An old gentleman fairly roared the instant he saw
me. He was ready to explode at the mere suggestion that any one could
think of disobeying a rule made for all of them.
"'Das kann man nicht thun! Es ist verboten!'"
The other quoted the answer of an English factory-owner to some of his
employees who did not want to enlist. "They've done a lot for working
men over there," the man said. "Accident-insurance, old-age pensions,
and all that--what do we want to fight the Kaiser for? We'd just about
as soon be under Billy as George." And X------said to them: "If you were
under Kaiser Billy, you'd enlist right enough, there's no doubt of
He sat in the corner of our compartment coming down from Calais this
afternoon, an old Algerian soldier, homeward bound, with a big, round
loaf of bread and a military pass. He had a blue robe, bright-red, soft
boots, a white turban wound with a sort of scarf of brown cord and baggy
corduroy underneath, concealing various mysterious pockets.
"Paris? To-night?" he grunted in his queer French. The big Frenchman
next him, who had served in Africa in his youth and understood the
dialect, shook his head. "To-morrow morning!" he said. He laid his
head on his hand to suggest a man sleeping, and held up three fingers.
"Three days--Marseilles!" The old goumier's dark eyes blazed curiously,
and he opened and shut his mouth in a dry yawn--like a tiger yawning.
Wounded? No--he pointed to his eyes, which were bloodshot, patted his
forehead to suggest that it was throbbing, rubbed his legs, and scowled.
"Rheumatism!" said the Frenchman. The Algerian pressed his palms
together six times, then held up two fingers. "He's sixty-two years
old!" said the Frenchman, and the old warrior obligingly opened his jaws
and pointed to two or three lone brown fangs to prove it. They talked
for a moment in the vernacular, and the Frenchman explained again,
"Volunteer!" and then, "Scout!"
The old Arab made the motion of sighting along a rifle, then of brushing
something over, and tapped himself on the chest.
"Deux!" he said. "Two Germans--me!" Evidently he was going back to the
Train after train passed us, northward bound, some from Boulogne, some
from the trenches north of Paris evidently, bringing artillery caked
with mud--all packed with British soldiers leaning from doors of their
cattle-cars, hats pushed back, pipes in their faces, singing and joking.
At the end of each train, in passenger-coaches, their officers--tall,
slim-legged young Olympians in leather puttees and short tan greatcoats,
with their air of elegant amateurs embarking on some rather superior
sort of sport.
The same cars filled with French soldiers equally brave, efficient,
light-hearted would be as different as Corneille and Shakespeare, as
Dickens and Dumas--and in the same ways!
An Englishman had been telling me in a London club a few nights before
of the "extraordinary detachment" of Tommy Atkins.
"Take almost any of those little French soldiers--they've got a pretty
good idea what the war is about--at any rate, they've got a sentiment
about it perfectly clear and conscious, and they'll go to their death
shouting for la patrie. Now, Tommy Atkins isn't the least like that.
He doesn't fight--and you know how he does fight--for patriotism or
glory, at least not in the same conscious way. He'd fight just as well
against another of his own regiments--if you know what I mean. He's
just--well, look at the soldiers' letters. The Germans are sentimental
--they are all martyrs. The Frenchmen are all heroes. But Tommy Atkins
--well, he's just playing football!"
The idea this Englishman was trying to express was put in another way by
a British sailor at the time of the sinking of the Aboukir, Cressy, and
Imagine, for a moment, that scene--the three great ships going over like
stricken whales, men slipping down their slimy flanks into the sea,
boats overturned and smashed, in the thick of it the wet nose of the
German submarine coming up for a look round, and then, out of that
hideous welter, the voice of a sailor, the unalterable Briton in the
face of all this modern science and sea magic, grabbing an anchor or
whatever it was he saw first, and bellowing:
"Smash the blighter's head!"
There are phrases like these which could only have been said by the
people who say them; they are like windows suddenly opening down cycles
of racial history and difference. At a Regent Street moving-picture
show a few evenings ago two young Frenchwomen sat behind us, girls
driven off the Paris boulevards by the same impartial force which has
driven grubbing peasant women from the Belgian beet-fields. One spoke a
little English, and as the pictures changed she translated for her
There were pictures of the silk industry in Japan--moths emerging from
cocoons, the breeding process, the hatching of the eggs, the life
history of these anonymous little specks magnified until for the moment
they almost had a sort of personality. And one murmured:
"Comme c'est drole, la nature!"
It was dusk when we reached Boulogne last night--frosty dusk, with the
distant moan of a fog-horn, and under the mist hilly streets busy with
soldiers and bright with lights. It made one think of a college town at
home on the eve of the great game, so keen and happy seemed all these
fit young men--officers swinging by with their walking-sticks, soldiers
spinning yarns in smoky cafes--for the great game of war.
The hotels were full of wounded or officers--to Boulogne comes the
steady procession of British transports--but an amiable porter led me to
a little side street and a place kept by a retired English
merchant-marine officer who had married a Frenchwoman. Paintings, such
as sailor-artists make, of the ships he had served in were on the walls,
a photograph of himself and his mates taken in the sunshine of some
tropical port; and with its cheerful hot stove, the place combined the
air of a French cafe with the cosiness of an English inn.
Very comfortable, indeed, I leaned over one of the tables that ran along
the wall, while two British soldiers alongside gossiped and sipped their
beer, and ran over the columns of La Boulonnaise. Here, too, war seemed
a jolly man's game, and I came to "Military Court Sitting at Boulogne,"
and beneath it the following:
Seventh, eighth, and ninth cases. Thefts by German prisoners of war.
The accused are Antoine Michels, twenty-five years, native of Treves,
Twenty-seventh German Chasseurs, made prisoner at Lens. Henriede Falk,
twenty-seven years, native of Landenheissen (Grand Duchy of Hesse),
Fourth Regiment Dragoons, made prisoner at Lille. Max Benninghoven,
twenty-two years, Seventh German Chasseurs, made prisoner at Bailleul.
"The three had in their possession at the moment of their capture:
Michels, two pairs of earrings, a steel watch, two medals representing
the town of Arras, and a cigar-holder; Falk, a woman's watch and chain
in addition to his own; Benninghoven, a pocketbook, a pack of cards, and
money that did not belong to him.
"All were subjected to a severe examination and condemned: Michels, to
five years in prison and a fine of five hundred francs; Falk, to twenty
years at forced labor..."
And these few words of newspaper type, which nobody else seemed to be
noticing, somehow--as if one had stubbed one's toe--disturbed the
picture. They did not fit in with the rakish gray motor-car, labelled
"Australia," I saw after dinner, nor the young infantryman I ran across
on a street corner who had been in the fighting ever since Mons and was
but down "for a rest" before jumping in again, nor the busy streets and
buzzing cafes. But across them, for some reason, all evening, one
couldn't help seeing Henriede Falk, twenty-seven years old, of
Landenheissen, starting down toward Paris last August, singing
"Deutschland uber Alles!" and wondering what he might be thinking about
the great game of war fifteen years from now.
While I was taking coffee this morning my mariner-host walked up and
down the cafe, delivering himself on the subject of mines in the North
Sea. The Germans began it, now the English must take it up; but as for
him, speaking as one who had followed the sea, it was poor business. Why
couldn't people knock each other out in a stand-up fight like men in a
ring, instead of strewing the open road with explosives?
Walking about town after breakfast, I ran into a young man whom I had
last seen in a white linen uniform, waiting patiently on the orderlies'
bench of the American Ambulance at Neuilly. The ambulance is as hard to
get into as an exclusive club, for the woods are full these days of
volunteers who, leading rather decorative lives in times of peace, have
been shaken awake by the war into helping out overtaxed embassies,