Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Sean Pobuda
MY HOME IN THE FIELD OF HONOUR
BY FRANCES WILSON HUARD
The third week in July found a very merry gathering at the Chateau de
Villiers. (Villiers is our summer home situated near Marne River, sixty
miles or an hour by train to Paris.)
Nothing, I think, could have been farther from thoughts than the idea of
war. Our May Wilson Preston, the artist; Mrs. Chase, the editor of a
well-known woman's magazine; Hugues Delorme, the French artist; and
numerous other guests, discussed the theatre and the "Caillaux case"
from every conceivable point of view, and their conversations were only
interrupted by serious attempts to prove their national superiority at
bridge, and long delightful walks in the park.
As I look back now over those cheerful times, I can distinctly remember
one bright sunny morning, when after a half-hour's climbing we reached
the highest spot on our property. Very warm and a trifle out of breath
we sought shelter beneath a big purple beech, and I can still hear H.
explaining to Mrs. Chase:
"Below you on the right runs the Marne, and over there, beyond those
hills, do you see that long straight line of trees?"
"Well, that's the road that lead's from Paris to Metz!"
At that moment I'm confident he hadn't the slightest _arriere pensee_.
On Monday, the 27th, Mrs. Preston, having decided to take her leave, I
determined to accompany her to Paris. Several members of the house
party joined us, leaving H. and a half-dozen friends at Villiers. We
took an early morning train, and wrapped in our newspapers we were
rolling peacefully towards the capital when someone called out, "For
Heaven's sake, look at those funny soldiers!"
Glancing through the window, I caught sight of numerous gray-haired,
bushy-bearded men stationed at even distances along the line, while here
and there little groups beneath or around a tent were preparing the
What strange looking creatures they were; anything but military in their
dirty white overalls--the only things that betrayed their calling being
their caps and their guns!
"What on earth are they?" queried an American.
"Oh, only some territorials serving their last period of twenty-nine
days. It's not worth while giving them uniforms for so short a time!"
"Bah!" came from the other end of the compartment. "I should think it
was hot enough in the barracks without forcing men that age to mount a
guard in the sun!"
"It's about time for the _Grand manaeuvres_, isn't it?"
And in like manner the conversation rose and dwindled, and we returned
to our papers, paying no more attention to the territorials stationed
along the rails.
A theatre party having been arranged, I decided to stop over in Paris.
The play was _Georgette Lemeunier_ at the Comedie Francaise. The house
was full--the audience chiefly composed of Americans and tourists, and
throughout the entire piece even very significant allusions to current
political events failed to arouse any unwonted enthusiasm on the part of
the French contingent. Outside not even an _edition speciale de la
Presse_ betokened the slightest uneasiness.
The next day, that is, Tuesday, the 28th, I had a business meeting with
my friends, Mr. Gautron and Mr. Pierre Mortier, editor of the _Gil
Blas_. Mr. Gautron was on the minute, but Mr. Mortier kept us waiting
over an hour and when finally we had despaired of his coming I heard
someone hurrying across the court, and the bell was rung impatiently.
Mr. Mortier rushed in, unannounced, very red, very excited, very
"A thousand pardons. I'm horribly late, but you'll forgive me when you
hear the news. I've just come from the Foreign Office. All diplomatic
relations with Germany are suspended. War will be declared Saturday!"
Mr. Gautron and I looked at each other, then at Mr. Mortier, and smiled.
"No, I'm not joking. I'm as serious as I have ever been in my life. The
proof: on leaving the Foreign Office I went and had a neglected tooth
filled, and on my way down, stopped at my shoemaker's and ordered a pair
of good strong boots for Saturday morning. I'll be fit then to join my
Our faces fell.
"But why Saturday?"
"Because Saturday's the first of August, and the idea of keeping the
news back is to prevent a panic on the Bourse, and to let the July
payments have time to be realized."
"You don't really believe it's serious, do you?"
"Yes, really. I'm not fooling, and if I've any advice to give you it's
this: draw out all the money you can from your bank, and take all the
gold they'll give you. You may need it. I've telephoned to the _Gil
Blas_ for them to do as much for us. The worst of all though is, that
every man on my paper is of an age bound to military service. War means
that when I leave, staff, printers and all will have to go the same day
and the _Gil Blas_ shuts its doors. We cease to exist--that's all."
Somewhat disconcerted by this astonishing news, we had some little
difficulty getting down to facts, but when we did business was speedily
dispatched and Mr. Mortier took his leave. Mr. Gautron carried me off
"You must come," he protested when I pleaded an engagement. "You must
come, or my wife and the boys will never believe me."
We found Madame Gautron and her two splendid sons waiting rather
impatiently. We told our news.
"Come, come now. You can't make us take that as an excuse!"
We protested our sincerity, and went in to luncheon which began rather
I questioned the boys as to their military duties. Both were
under-officers in an infantry regiment--bound to join their barracks
within twenty-four hours after the call to arms.
We did not linger over our coffee. Each one seemed anxious to go about
his affairs. I left the Gautron boys at the comer of their street, each
carrying his army shoes under his arm.
"To be greased--in case of accident," they laughingly explained.
That was the last time I ever saw them. They fell "on the Field of
Honour" both the same day, and hardly a month later.
But to return to my affairs.
A trifle upset by what Mr. Mortier had told me, I hurried to the nearest
telephone station and asked for Villiers. When after what seemed an
interminable time I got the connection, I explained to H. what had
"For Heaven's sake leave politics alone and take the five o'clock train
home! We need you to make a second fourth at bridge." H.'s
lightheartedness somewhat reassured me, though for prudence's sake I
went to my bank and asked to withdraw my entire account.
"Why, Madame Huard," said the clerk in surprise, "you mean to say you
I explained what I had heard in the morning.
"_Pensez-vous? Non!_ We would be the first to be notified. We were
ever so much closer to war two years ago--at Agadir! There is no cause
He almost persuaded me, but after hesitating a moment I decided to abide
by my original intentions.
"I can always put my money back in a week or so if all blows over and I
find I don't need it," I argued.
"Certainly, Madame--as you will."
And the twenty-eighth of July the _Societe Generale_ gave me all the
gold I requested.
As the five o'clock express hurried me back home I began to understand
the gravity of the situation--for the "queer looking soldiers" were
nearer together all along the railway line, and it dawned on me that
theirs was a very serious mission--namely, that of safeguarding the
steel artery which leads from Paris to the eastern frontier.
At Charly, our station, I was much surprised to see three French
officers in full uniform get off the train and step into the
taxi-autobus which deposits its travelers at the only hotel in the
At the chateau my story failed to make an impression. The men
pooh-poohed the idea of war, and returned to the evening papers and the
_proces Caillaux_, which was the most exciting question of the moment.
In the pantry the news was greeted with hilarity, and coachman and
gardener declared that they would shoulder their spades and _faire la
guerre en sabots_.
My friend and neighbor, Elizabeth Gauthier, was the only one who took
the matter seriously, and that because she had no less than five
brothers and a husband who would be obliged to serve in case of serious
events. I felt rather ashamed when I saw her countenance darken, for
after all, she was alone in Villiers with two tiny children; her
husband, the well-known archivist, coming down but for the week-end.
"What is the sense of alarming people so uselessly?" I thought.
Wednesday, the 29th, the papers began to talk of "a tension in the
political relations between France and Germany" which, however, did not
quench the gaiety of a picnic luncheon in the grove by our river.
In the afternoon the old _garde-champetre_ asked for H. in the
"In case of mobilization," said he, "you have three horses and your farm
cart to present to the authorities. Your cart must have its awnings
complete. And your horses harnessed with their halters!"
H. laughed and told him that he was giving himself a lot of useless
Thursday, the 30th, market day at Charly, the nearest town to Villiers.
We both drove down in the victoria, and were not surprised to see my
officers of the day before seated in the hotel dining-room, finishing
"What are they down here for?" I queried of the proprietor.
"Oh, they belong to the _Etat Major_ and are out here to verify their
maps. The Mayor has given them an office in the town hall. They go off
on their bicycles early every morning and only return for meals."
"It's rather a treat to see a uniform out here, where hardly an officer
has appeared since last year when we had Prince George of Servia and his
staff for three days."
The general topic on the market place was certainly _not_ war, and we
drove home somewhat reassured.
Friday, the 31st, however, the tone of the newspapers was serious and
our little village began to grow alarmed when several soldiers on
holiday leave received individual official telegrams to rejoin their
regiments immediately. Little knots of peasants could be seen grouped
together along the village street, a thing unheard of in that busy
season when vineyards need so much attention. Towards noon the news ran
like wildfire that men belonging to the youngest classes had received
their official notices and we're leaving to join their corps. Yet there
was no commotion anywhere.
"It will last three weeks and they'll all come home, safe and sound.
It's bothersome, though, that the Government should choose just our
busiest season to take the men out for a holiday!" declared one peasant.
There was less hilarity in the servants' hall when I entered after
luncheon. At least I fancied so. The men had gone about their work
quicker than usual, and the women were silently washing up.
"Does Madame know that the _fils Poupard_ is leaving by the four o'clock
train---and that Cranger and Veron are going too?" asked my faithful
"Yes, Madame--and Honorine is in the wash-house crying as though her
heart would break."
I turned on my heel and walked toward the river. In the wash-house I
found Honorine bending over her linen, the great tears streaming down
her face, in spite of her every effort to control them.
"Why, Honorine, what's the matter?"
"He's gone, Madame--gone without my seeing him--without even a clean
pair of socks!"
"My son, Madame!"
And the tears burst out afresh, though in silence.
"Yes, Madame, I found this under the door when I came in at noon.--" She
drew a crumpled paper from her apron pocket. I smoothed it out and
"_Je viens de recevior ma feuille. Je pars de suite. Je prends les
deux francs sur la cheminee. Jean._" (I've just received my notice. Am
leaving at once. Have taken the two francs that are on the mantel.
I cannot say what an impression that brief but heroic note made upon me.
In my mind it has always stood as characteristic of that wonderful
national resolution to do one's duty, and to make the least possible
fuss about it.
At tea-time the male contingent of the house-party was decidedly
"Let's go up to Paris and see what's going on."
"There's no use doing that. Elizabeth Gauthier went this morning and
will be back in an hour with all the news. It's too late to go to town,
"Well, if things don't look better to-morrow I've got to go. My
military book is somewhere in my desk at home and it's best to have it
_en regle_ in case of necessity," said Delorme.
"Mine's at home, too," echoed our friend Boutiteron.
"We'll all go to-morrow, and make a day of it," decided H.
Just then the silhouette of the three officers on bicycles passed up the
"Let's go out and ask them what's up," suggested someone.
"Pooh! Do you think they know anything more than we do? And if they do
know something, they wouldn't tell _you!_ Don't make a fool of
Presently Elizabeth Gauthier arrived, placid and cool as though
everything were normal. "Paris is calm; calm as Paris always is in
"But the papers? Your husband? What does he say?"
"There are no extras--Leon doesn't seem over-alarmed, though as captain
in the reserves he would have to leave within an hour after any
declaration of hostilities. He has a special mission to perform. But
he's certain of coming down by the five o'clock train to-morrow."
We went in to dinner but conversation lagged. Each one seemed
preoccupied and no one minded the long silences. We were so quiet that
the Angelus ringing at Charly, some four miles away, roused us with
something of a shock.
Saturday morning, August 1st, the carryall rolled up to the station for
the early train. All made a general rush for the papers which had just
arrived and all of us were equally horrified when a glance showed the
headline-Jaures, the Great Socialist Leader, Assassinated. Decidedly
the plot thickened and naturally we all jumped to the same conclusion--a
"There's a stronger hand than the murderer's back of that felony,"
murmured a plain man from the corner of our compartment.
"What makes you say that?"
"Why, can't you see, Monsieur, that our enemies are counting on the deed
to stir up the revolutionary party and breed discord in the country!
It's as plain as day!"
That was rather opening the door to a lengthy discussion, but our
friends refused to debate, especially as we could hear excited masculine
voices rising high above the ordinary tone in the compartments on either
side of us.
The journey drew to a close without any further remarkable incident. It
seemed to me that we passed more up trains than usual, but were not a
moment overdue. There was nothing to complain of. As we approached La
Villette and drew into the Gare de l'Est everybody noticed the
extraordinary number of locomotives that were getting up steam in the
yards. There were rows and rows of them, just as close together as it
was possible to range them, and as far as the eye could see their
glittering boilers extended down the tracks in even lines. Each one had
a freshly glued yellow label, on which was printed in big black capitals
the name of its home station. That was the most significant preparation
we had witnessed as yet. Presently we observed that the platforms of
freight and express depots had been swept clear of every obstacles and
the usually encumbered Gare de l'Est was clean and empty as the hand of
man could make it.
In the courtyard our party separated, promising to meet for the five
o'clock express--"Unless something serious prevents."
I accompanied H. to the _Caserne des Minimes_ where he went to see if
his military situation was registered up to date in his _livret_, and
all along the streets leading from the station we met women silently
wiping their eyes.
What a sight the courtyard of that barracks presented! Some five or six
thousand men of all ages, classes and conditions who up until that
moment had never thought that the loss of a military book entailed the
slightest consequence, had one and all been pushed by that single
thought, "Be ready for duty." Here they were, boys of twenty and men of
forty, standing in line, braving their all-time enemy, the _gendarme_,
each silently waiting his turn to explain his situation. To the credit
of the _gendarme_ and all those in authority, it must be said that
contrary to their usual custom they acted like loving fathers with these
prodigal sons of the Republic--possible information without the sign of
a grumble, and advising those who were still streaming in at the door to
come back towards five o'clock, when the line should have advanced a
little. It was then scarcely ten A. M.!
H. had finished in no time.
"All I've got to do is to go home and wait until I am called for," he
explained as we walked away at a brisk gait.
Like most country people when they come to town I had numerous errands
to do, so we set off towards the _Bazar de l'Hotel de Ville_, renowned
for its farming implements.
At the corner of the Rue des Archives we met Monsieur Gauthier on his
way to his Museum.
"_Grave--tre's grave--la situation, Monsieur_," was all he could say.
"What would you advise us to do?"
"Well, to speak plainly, I should advise you to shut up the chateau,
leave a guardian, and open your Paris apartment. You're in the east,
you know! I shall go down by the five train and bring back Elizabeth
and the children. I'd be easier in my mind if I knew they were in a big
city! I If you have to leave, Madame Huard would be better off here."
H. was very sober as we left Mr. Gauthier.
"Bah! Cheer up! I'm afraid our friend is an alarmist. You know he has
two young children!"
We entered the Bazar, which is the "biggest" of the big stores in Paris.
Every day in the week, and Sundays included, it is usually so crowded
with buyers and sellers that one has to elbow one's way, and literally
serve one's self. To our amazement it was empty--literally empty. Not
a single customer--not a single clerk to be seen. The long stretches of
floor and counters were vacant as though the store were closed. I
gasped a little in surprise and just as I did so a female voice from
behind a distant desk called out:
"What is your pleasure, Madame?"
I turned, and a little woman in black advanced towards me.
"Yes, I know the place looks queer, but you see all our clerks are young
men and everyone of them has been obliged to join his regiment since
closing time last evening!"
"Leave farming alone and come over to Conard's. He's bound to have some
news," said H. impatiently.
Conard's is a big publishing firm on the boulevard, renowned as a
meeting place for most of the well-known political men.
Conard greeted us in silence. He knew no more than we, and we fell to
talking of the latest events and trying to come to a conclusion. Then
one of the _habitues_ stepped in.
"_Eh bien, Monsieur_, what news?"
The person addressed kept on perusing the titles of the books spread
along the counter, and drawing a long puff from his cigarette and
without lifting his eyes, said, "The mobilization is for four o'clock!
Official. Have you something entertaining to read on my way to the
"It looks very much like it!"
Though almost expected, the news gave us a thrill. We stood spellbound
What to do? There were so many decisions to be made at a moment's
notice! H. was for our coming to Paris, as all the men must necessarily
leave the chateau.
"Mobilization doesn't necessarily mean war, man. Besides if it does
come it can't last long. You'd better go back to your place in the
country, Huard. A big estate like that needs looking after," said
"Where do you live?" questioned the gentleman who had given us the news.
"Villiers--sixty miles _east_ of Paris."
"Well, if you decide to go there I advise you to take the soonest train.
The eastern railway belongs to the army, and only the army, beginning at
H. looked at his watch. It was nearly eleven, and our next train left
at noon sharp. We jumped into a taxi.
"Drive to the Gare de l'Est and on the way stop at Tarides! We must
have maps, good road maps of the entire north and east," said H.,
turning to me.
It seemed as though he had had that thought in common with the entire
Parisian population, for all down the boulevards the bookshops and
stationers were already overflowing with men, chiefly in regimentals,
and as to the shoe-shops and boot-makers--there was a line waiting
outside of each. Yet there was no excitement, no shouting, not even an
What a different sight our station presented to that of two hours
before! The great iron gates were shut, and guarded by a line of
_sergents de ville_. Only men joining their regiments and persons
returning to their legitimate dwellings were allowed to pass. And there
were thousands of both. Around the grillwork hovered dense groups of
women, bravely waving tearless adieux to their men folk.
After assuring himself that there was still a noon train, H. led me to
the restaurant directly opposite the station.
"We'll have a bite here. Heaven knows what time we shall reach home!"
The room was filled to overflowing; the lunchers being mostly officers.
At the table on our right sat a young fellow whose military harnessings
were very new and very stiff, but in spite of the heat, a high collar
and all his trappings he managed to put away a very comfortable repast.
On our left was a party composed of a captain, his wife and two other
_freres d'armes_. That brave little Parisian woman at once won my
admiration, for though, in spite of superhuman efforts, the tears would
trickle down her face, she never gave in one second to her emotion but
played her part as hostess, trying her best to put her guests at ease
and smilingly inquiring after their family and friends as though she
were receiving under ordinary circumstances in her own home.
At a quarter before noon we left them and elbowed our way through the
ever-gathering crowd towards our train.
"The twelve o'clock express--what platform?" H. inquired.
"The ten o'clock train hasn't gone yet, Monsieur!"
"Is there any danger of its _not_ going?"
"Oh, no; but there's every danger of its being the last."
And the man spoke the truth, for as our friend the politician predicted,
at noon military authority took over the station and all those who were
so unfortunate as to have been left behind were obliged to wait in Paris
three mortal weeks. On the Eastern Railway all passenger service was
immediately sacrificed to the transportation of troops.
It seems to me that this was the longest train I have ever seen. The
coaches stretched far out beyond the station into torrid sunlight. Every
carriage was filled up to and beyond its normal capacity. There could
be no question of what class one would travel--it was travel where one
could! Yet no one seemed to mind. I managed to find a seat in it
compartment already occupied by two young St. Cyr students in full
uniform and white gloves, a very portly aged couple and half a dozen men
of the working classes.
"We'll take turns at sitting, Monsieur," said one of them as H. pushed
further on into the corridor.
At the end of five minutes' time the conversation had become general.
Although as yet there had been no official declaration everyone present
was convinced that the news would shortly be made public, and though the
crowd was certainly not a merry one, it was certainly not sad. Most of
the men had received their orders in the morning, and had said good-bye
to their loved ones at home. In consequence, there were no
heart-rending scenes of farewell, no tearful leave-takings from family
and friends, no useless manifestations.
Through the doorway of our stifling compartment, which up until the last
moment was left open for air, we could see the train on the opposite
platform silently, rapidly filling with men, each carrying a new pair of
shoes either slung over the shoulders or neatly tied in a box or paper
parcel. Then without any warning, without any hilarious vociferations
on the part of its occupants, it quietly drew out of the station, to be
instantly replaced by another train of cars.
Five times we watched the same operation recommence ere the ten o'clock
train decided to leave Paris. Then as the guard went along the platform
slamming the doors, a boyish face poked its way into the aperture of our
"Hello, Louis," said he, addressing one of the workmen. "Hello, Louis,
you here, too?"
"_Eh bien, cette fois je crois quon y va! Hein?_"
Our door closed and the trainman whistled.
"_Bon voyage!_" shouted the boy through the window.
"The same to you," replied the other. That was all.
It was not a very eventful journey. It was merely hot and lengthy. We
stopped at every little way station either to let down or take on
passengers. We were side-tracked and forgotten for what seemed hours
at a time, to allow speedy express trains filled with men and bound for
the eastern frontier to pass on and be gone.
At Changis-St. Jean I put my head out of the window and there witnessed
a most touching sight. A youngish man in a well-fitting captain's
uniform, accompanied by his wife and two pretty babies, was preparing to
take his leave. He was evidently well known and esteemed in his little
village, for the curate, the mayor, the municipal council and numerous
friends had come to see him off. The couple bore up bravely until the
whistle blew-then, clasping each other in an almost brutal embrace, they
parted, he to jump into the moving train mid the shouts of well-wishers,
and she, her shoulders shaking with emotion, to return to her empty
Four months later, almost to a day, I again put my head out of the car
window as we stopped at Changis. Imagine my surprise on seeing almost
the same group! I recognized the mayor, the curate and the others, and
a little shiver went down my back as I caught sight of the pretty
captain's wife--her eyes red and swollen beneath the long widow's veil
that covered her face. That same hopeful little assembly of August
first had once again gathered on the station platform to take possession
of and to conduct to their last resting place the mortal remains of
their heroic defunct.
Naturally, as they did not expect us before six at the chateau, there
was no carriage to meet us.
"We'll take the hotel taxi as far as Charly, and from there we'll
telephone home," said H. as we got down from the train.
But there was neither hotel trap nor vehicle of any description at the
station. True it was that our train was nearly two hours late! The idea
of walking some four miles in the broiling sun was anything but amusing,
but there seemed to be nothing else to do. So after a quarter of an
hour uselessly spent in trying to get a carriage about our lonesome
station, we started off on foot. We had scarcely gone two hundred yards
when we caught sight of a PARISIAN taxi! H. hailed him!
"What are you doing down _here?_"
"I brought down a gentleman who was in a hurry. You see there are no
more trains out of Paris on this line since noon! And there are not
likely to be any for some time to come."
"Will you take us as far as Charly?"
"If it's on the way to Paris--yes! I'm in a hurry to get back. I've
got to join my regiment at the Gaxe du Nord before midnight, but I'd
like to ring in another job like this before that. It's worth while at
150 per trip!"
"You've got to cross Charly--there's no other way to Paris."
So we made our price and were whisked into our little market-town.
The inhabitants were on their doorsteps or chatting in little groups,
and we created quite a sensation in our Parisian vehicle. H. went to
the Gendarmerie at once to see if there was any official news by wire
since we had left town.
"You're the one who ought to bring us news, Monsieur," said the
_brigadier_. "What do they say in Paris?"
"The mobilization will be posted at four o'clock."
A hearty peal of laughter, that was most refreshing in the tension of
the moment, burst from all three gendarmes.
"Well, it's five minutes of four now. And if what you say is so, I
should think we'd know something about it by this time! Don't worry.
It's not so bad as you fancy--"
H. shook hands and we left. At the hotel we got the chateau on the wire
and asked for the victoria at once. As the horse had to be harnessed and
there is a two-mile drive down to Charley, we stopped a moment and spoke
to the proprietress of the hotel.
"How does it happen that your motor was not at the station?" said H.
"Oh," she replied, "our officers hired it early this morning and my
husband bad to drive them post-haste to Soissons. He hasn't got back
Before going farther in my narrative I shall say here, lest I forget it,
that two of the supposed officers were caught within the fortnight and
shot at Meaux as German spies--the third managed to make his escape.
Hearing the carriage coming down the hill, we walked towards the
doorway. At that same moment we saw the white-trousered _gendarme_
hastening towards the town hall. Catching might of H., he held up the
sealed envelope he held in his band, and shouted, "You were right,
Monsieur. It has come!"
We jumped into the victoria, but as we crossed the square the
_garde-champetre_ caught the bridle and stopped our turnout.
"One moment, Monsieur."
Then the town-crier appeared, instantly causing the staggering groups to
cluster into one. He had no need to ring his bell. He merely lifted
his hand and obtained instant silence, and then slowly read out in deep,
solemn, measured tones, which I shall never forget until my dying day.
"_Extrme urgence. Ordre de mobilisation generale. Le premier jour de
la mobilization est le dimanche deux aout!_"
That was all! It was enough! The tension of those last two days was
broken. No matter what the news, it was a relief. And we drove away
'mid the rising hum of hundreds of tongues, loosened after the agonizing
The news had not yet reached Villiers when we drove through the village
street. We turned into the chateau and found Elizabeth Gauthier, her
children and almost all the servants, grouped near the entrance ball.
They looked towards us with an appealing gaze.
As H. opened his mouth to answer, the sharp pealing of the _tocsin_,
such as it rings only in cases of great emergency, followed by the
rolling of the drum, told them better than we could that the worst bad
The servants retired in silence and still the bell rang on. Presently
we could hear the clicking of the sabots on the bard road as the
peasants hurried from the fields towards the _Mairie_.
I can see us all now, standing there in the brilliant afternoon
sunlight--Elizabeth murmuring between her sobs, "O God, don't take my
husband!" little Jules clinging to her skirts, amazed at her distress,
and happy, lighthearted, curly-headed baby Colette, chasing butterflies
on the lawn in front of us!
The _tocsin_ ceased, but the drum rolled on.
In a moment we had recovered from the first shock, and all went out to
the highroad to hear the declaration. To H. and me it was already a
thing of the past, but we wanted to see how the peasants would take it.
At Villiers as at Charly, it was the _garde champetre_ who was charged
with this solemn mission, and the old man made a most pathetic figure as
he stood there with his drumsticks in his hand, his spectacles pushed
back, and the perspiration rolling down his tanned and withered cheeks.
"What have you got to say?" queried one woman, who was too impatient to
wait until all had assembled.
"_Bien de bon--_" was the philosophic reply, and our friend proceeded to
clear his throat and make his announcement.
It was received in dead silence. Not a murmur, not a comment rose from
the crowd, as the groups dispersed, and each one returned to his
We followed suit, and I went with H. towards the servants' hall.
"Give me the keys to the wine cellar," said he. "And, Nini," he
continued, addressing my youngest maid, aged ten, "Nini, lay a cloth and
bring out the champagne glasses. The boys shan't go without a last
There were four of them; four of them whose military books ordered them
to reach the nearest railway station, with two days' rations, as soon as
possible after the declaration of mobilization. H. had hardly time to
bring up the champagne before we could bear the men clattering down the
stairs from their rooms. Their luggage was quickly packed--a change of
underclothes and a second pair of shoes composed their trousseaux--and
Julie came hurrying forward with bread, sausages and chocolate! "Put
this into your bags," she said. Though no one had told them, all those
who remained seemed to have guessed what to do, for in like manner
George, one of the younger gardeners, had hitched the horses to the farm
cart and drove up to the kitchen entrance.
A moment later Catherine called me aside and tearfully begged permission
to accompany husband and brother as far as Paris. The circumstances
were too serious to refuse such a request and I nodded my assent.
"Come on, boys," shouted H. "Ring the farm-bell, Nini, and call the
Their faces radiant with excitement, they gathered around the long
table. H. filled up the glasses and then raising his--
"Here's to France, and to your safe return!" said he.
"To France, and our safe return!" they echoed.
We all touched glasses and the frothy amber liquid disappeared as by
magic. Then followed a hearty handshaking and they all piled into the
little cart. George cracked the whip and in a moment they had turned the
comer and were gone.
Gone--gone forever--for in the long months that followed how often did I
recall that joyful toast, and now, a year later, as I write these lines,
I know for certain that none of them will ever make that "safe return."
Elizabeth Gauthier bore up wonderfully under the strain. She was the
first to admit that after all it would have been too trying to say
good-bye to her husband. H. and I then decided that it was best for her
to bring her children and maid and come over to the chateau where we
would share our lot in common. There was no time for lamenting--for the
sudden disappearance of cook, butler, and the three most important
farm-hands, left a very large breach which had to be filled at once.
There was nothing to do but to "double up," and the girls and women
willingly offered to do their best.
Julie, the only person over thirty, offered to take over the kitchen. To
George and Leon fell the gardens, the stables, the horses, dogs, pigs
and cattle. Yvonne, aged seventeen, offered to milk the cows, make
butter and cheese, look after the chickens and my duck farm, while
Berthe and Nini, aged fourteen and ten, were left to take care of the
chateau! Not a very brilliant equipment to run as large an
establishment as ours, but all so willing and so full of good humour
that things were less neglected than one might imagine.
The excitement of the day had been such that after a very hasty meal we
retired exhausted at an early hour. The night was still--so still that
though four miles from the station we could hear the roar of the trains
as they passed along the river front.
"Hark!" said H. "How close together they are running!"
We timed them. Scarcely a minute between each. Then, our ears becoming
accustomed, we were soon able to distinguish the passenger from the
freight trains, as well as the empty ones returning to Paris.
"Listen! Those last two were for the troops! That one is for the
ammunition. Oh, what a heavy one! It must be for the artillery!" And
we fell asleep before the noise ceased. Indeed for three long weeks
there was no end to it, as night and day the Eastern Railway rushed its
human freight towards the Eastern frontier.
Sunday morning, August second, found us all at our posts as the sun
rose. Elizabeth and I drove down to Charly for eight o'clock mass, and
all along the road met men and boys on their way to the station. The
church was full, but there were only women and elderly men in the
assembly; why, we knew but too well, and many wives and mothers had come
there to hide their grief. Our curate was a very old man, and the news
had given him such a shock that he was unable to say a word after
reaching the pulpit and stood there, tongue-tied, with the tears
streaming down his face for nearly five minutes--finally retiring
without uttering a sound. Not exactly the most fortunate thing that
could have happened, for his attitude encouraged others to give way to
their emotions, and there was a most impressive silence followed by much
sniffling and nose-blowing! All seemed better, though, after the shower,
and the congregation disbanded with a certain sense of relief.
Before leaving home H. told me to seek out the grocer, and to lay in a
stock of everything she dispensed.
"You see," said he, "we're now cut off from all resources. There are no
big cities where we can get supplies, within driving reach, and our
grocers will have nothing to sell once their stock is exhausted. We're
living in the hope that the mobilization will last three weeks. That
will you do if it lasts longer? It never hurts to have a supply on
"All my salt, sugar and gasoline has been put aside for the army. I was
ordered to do that this morning--but come around to the back door and
I'll see what I can do for you," said my amiable grocery-woman.
"That's pleasant," thought I. "No gasoline--no motor--no electricity!
Privation is beginning early. But why grumble! We'll go to bed with
the chickens and won't miss it!"
Madame Leger and I made out a long list of groceries and household
necessities, and she set to work weighing and packing, and finally began
piling the bundles into the trap drawn up close to her side door.
Our dear old Cesar must have been surprised by the load he had to carry
home, but Elizabeth and I decided that a "bird in the hand is worth two
in the bush," and one never could tell what astonishing "order"
to-morrow might bring forth.
How H. laughed when he saw us driving up the avenue.
"I didn't think you'd take me so literally," said he. "Why, war isn't
even declared, and here we are preparing for a siege!"
"Never mind," I returned, "you must remember that there are twelve
persons to feed, and we'll soon get away with all I've got here."
The afternoon was spent in arranging our apartments. For convenience
sake, we decided to close part of the chateau and all live as near
together as possible in one wing. The children and younger servants
seemed to consider the whole as a huge joke--or rather, a prolonged
picnic party, and the house rang with peals of jolly laughter.
Monday, the third, Elizabeth and I tackled the provisions which were
piled high on the table in the servants' hall. A visit to the storeroom
and a little calculation showed that there were sufficient groceries
already on hand to last the month out.
"Very good," said I. "Now, the rest we'll divide into three even parts
--that makes September, October and November assured. By that time
we'll know what precautions to take!"
"Well, I should hope so!" came the smiling reply. And we set to work.
It all recalled the days of my childhood when I used to play at
housekeeping and would measure out on the scales of my dolls' house so
much rice, so much flour, so much macaroni, etc. I could hardly believe
I was in earnest.
We were right in the midst of our task when our gardeners appeared
bearing between them a clothes basket full of plums.
"Madame, they can't wait a day longer. They're ready to cook now."
It was almost a disagreeable surprise, for we were already as busy as we
could be. But there was no way of waiting, or the fruit would be
"Is that all the plums?"
"Ah, no, Madame, there are fully two baskets more. And in a day or two
the blackberries and black currants must be picked or they'll rot on the
"Heaven preserve us!" thought I. "Will we ever come to the end of it
all!" But by four o'clock the first basket of plums was stoned, the
sugar weighed, and a huge copper basin of _confiture_ was merrily
boiling on the stove.
"Where are you going to hide your provisions now you've got them so
beautifully tied up?" enquired H., his eyes twinkling.
"In case of invasion."
We all simply shook with laughter.
"Well, if the Germans ever reach here there won't be much hope for us
all," I returned.
"No, but joking aside; suppose we suddenly get the French troops
quartered on us, are you calmly going to produce your stock, let it be
devoured in a day or so, and remain empty-handed when they depart? You
see, it isn't the little fellows who'll suffer. A big place like this
with all its rooms and its stables is just the spot for a camp!"
That idea had never dawned upon us, and we set to thinking where we
could securely hide our groceries in three different places. Finally it
was agreed that one part should be put back of the piles of sheets in
the linen closet; the second part hidden on the top shelf of a very high
cupboard in my dressing-room with toilet articles grouped in front of
it; while the third was carried up a tiny flight of stairs to the attic
and there pushed through a small opening into the dark space that leads
to the beams and rafters. It was all so infantile that we clapped our
hands and were as happy as kings when we had discovered such a good
Night was coming on as I stood pouring the last of the plum jam into the
glasses lined up along the kitchen table. Berthe had counted nearly a
hundred, and I was seriously thinking of adopting jam-making as a
profession, when with much noise and trumpeting, a closed auto whisked
up the avenue and stopped before the entrance. I hurried to the kitchen
door, untying my apron as I ran, arriving just as an officer jumped from
the motor, and before I had time to recognize him in his new uniform,
Captain Gauthier rushed forward, exclaiming:
"I've come to fetch Elizabeth and the children!"
The others, too, had heard the motor, and in an instant there was quite
an assembly in the courtyard.
"I had great difficulty leaving Paris at all. My passport is only good
until midnight," the captain was explaining as his wife and H. appeared,
and almost without time for greeting. "Make haste," he continued,
turning to Madame Gauthier. "We must be off in a quarter of an hour, or
our machine will never reach town on time."
I hurried with Elizabeth to her apartment, where we woke and dressed two
very astonished children, while the little maid literally threw the
toilet necessities and a few clothes into a huge Gladstone bag.
"Leon evidently doesn't think us safe down here! You'd better come,
too," murmured Elizabeth as we went downstairs.
In the meantime, H. had questioned our friend as to what had transpired
in Paris within the last twenty-four hours.
"England will probably join us--and there is every possibility of
Italy's remaining neutral," he announced, as we made our appearance. And
then--"You must come to Paris. You're too near the front here," he
continued, as he piled wife, babies and servant into the taxi.
And so, with hardly time for an adieu, the motor whisked away as it had
come, leaving H. and me looking beyond it into the night.
When I returned to the pantry, I found Nini weeping copiously. Imagining
she had become frightened by the sudden departure of our friends, I was
collecting my wits to console and reassure her, when she burst forth,
"Oh, Madame--Madame--the _pates--_"
"The lovely _pates!_--all burned to cinders! Such a waste!"
In our excitement we had forgotten to take from the oven two handsome
_Pates de lievre_ of which I was more than duly proud. And as Nini
expressed it, they were burned to cinders. How H. chuckled at our first
"Fine cooks, you are," said he, turning to Berthe and Nini, who hung
their heads and blushed crimson. "And it's to you that I'm going to
entrust Madame when I leave!"
Tuesday, the fourth, the drum rolled at an early hour and the
_garde-champetre_ announced the declaration of war. It was not news to
anyone, for all had considered the mobilization as the real thing.
We were breakfasting when we heard a strange rumbling up the road. It
was such a funny noise--midway between that of a steam roller and a
threshing machine--that we both went out towards the lodge to see what
was passing by. We were not a little surprised on perceiving our
gendarmes sitting in an antiquated motor, whose puffing and wheezing
betokened its age. They stopped when they saw us, and after exchanging
greetings, laughingly poked fun at their vehicle--far less imposing than
their well-groomed horses, but the only thing that could cover between
seventy and eighty miles a day! From them we learned that the
mobilization was being carried out in perfection, and in all their tours
to outlying villages and hamlets not a single delinquent had been found
--not a single man was missing! All had willingly answered the call to
Between the excitement and all the work that had to be done at Villiers,
time passed with phenomenal rapidity. As yet we had had no occasion to
perceive the lack of mail and daily papers, and though I had always had
a sub-conscious feeling that H. would eventually receive his marching
orders, it was rather a shock when they came. Being in a frontier
department he was called out earlier than expected. And instead of
being sent around-circuit way to reach his regiment south of Paris, he
was ordered to gain _Chateau Thierry_ at once, and there await
Of course I packed and unpacked his bag for the twentieth time since
Sunday, in the hope of finding a tiny space to squeeze in one more
useful article--and then descending, I jumped into the cart and waited
for him to join me. In spite of the solemnity of the moment, I couldn't
help laughing when he appeared, for disdaining the immaculate costume I
had carefully laid out, he had put on a most disreputable-looking pair
of trousers, and an old paint-stained Norfolk jacket. A faded flannel
shirt and a silk bandanna tied about his throat completed this weird
accoutrement, which was topped by a long-vizored cap and a dilapidated
canvas gunny sack, the latter but half full and slung lightly over one
shoulder. Anticipating my question, he explained that it was useless to
throw away a perfectly new suit of clothes. When he should receive his
uniform, his civilian outfit ought to be put in safe keeping for his
return. This was customary in time of peace, but who could tell?--he
might never even get a uniform, let alone hoping to see the clothes
And then, when I began examining the paltry contents of his sack, he
made light of my disappointment, saying that his father, who had served
in the campaign of 1870, had always told him that a ball of strong
string and a jackknife were sufficient baggage for any soldier. I
supposed he ought to know, and was just going to ask another question,
"Listen," he said, as he put his foot on the step. "Listen--before I
forget. My will is at my notary's in Paris, and on your table is a
letter to your father--if anything happens to me you know what to do."
We drove away in silence.
I let the horses walk almost all the way home and my thoughts were busy,
very busy along the way. Here I was alone--husband and friends had
vanished as by magic. My nearest relatives over five thousand miles
away--and communication with the outside world entirely cut off, for
Heaven knew how long. Evidently there was nothing to do but to face the
situation, especially as all those in my employ save Julie were under
twenty, and looked to me for moral support. This was no time to
collapse. If I broke down anarchy would reign at once.
But what to do? Go on living like a hermit on that great big estate?
The idea appalled me. It seemed such a useless existence--and in a few
moments' time I had decided to turn the place into a hospital. But how
and to whom should I offer it?
I stopped at the _Gendarmerie_, where our friends were able to give me
"The nearest sanitary formation was Soissons--the Red Cross Society. The
president would probably be able to help me--" So I thanked the
_gendarme_ and left there, having decided to drive thence on the morrow.
Soissons is but twenty miles as a bird flies, but almost double that by
the winding roadway, and I was calculating what time I should start and
where I would rest the span, as I entered the yard.
"Anything new, George?" I said, as he took the bridle.
"Nothing, Madame, save that we have received orders that all the horses
must be presented at Chateau Thierry for the revision to-morrow before
"All the horses?"
"Yes, Madame, with full harnessing, halters and the farm carts."
That was a surprise! Suppose they are all taken, thought I, I shall be
almost a prisoner. And my trip to Soissons?
"Don't unharness!" I called, as George drove towards the stable. "I'm
going back to Charly."
In our little township I managed to buy a lady's bicycle. "It may come
in handy," I thought. It was the last machine that was left. From the
shop I went to the hotel.
"Where's your husband?" I said to the proprietress.
"Why, he's gone with the chauffeur to take our motorbuses and taxi to
the requisition committee."
"But I wanted him to motor me over to Soissons to-morrow!"
"Well, if he gets back to-night and they leave him a single machine,
I'll let you know, Madame."
In the afternoon the drum beat anew and I learned that all the bakers in
the village (there were three of them) having been called to the front,
we were likely to be without the staff of life. In the presence,
therefore, of the impending calamity, the village government had decided
to take over the bakery--it had found an old man and a very young
apprentice who would do the work, but each citizen was requested to
declare the number of persons composing his household and in order to
economize flour, so much bread would be allowed per bead and each family
must come and fetch his supply at the town hall between eleven and
Needless to say, it must be paid for in cash, though the Board reserved
the right to look after the village poor. In like manner, all the salt
had been reserved for the army, and we were to be rationed to
seventy-five grammes a week per person! It all sounded rather terrible,
but when put into practice it was proved that the rations were very
generous and no one had reason to complain.
By four o'clock the next morning there was a perpetual stream of farm
carts down the road leading towards Chateau Thierry. I dressed and went
to the stables where George and Leon were already harnessing. More than
once I had a tight feeling in my throat as I patted the glossy backs of
dear old Cesar and my lovely span.
The girls had decorated the carts with huge bunches of poppies, daisies
and corn-flowers and in addition to these tri-color bouquets, a little
branch of laurel was stuck up over each horse's bridle. There was a
generous distribution of sugar, and each horse was kissed on the tip of
his nose, and then the boys joined the procession on the highroad.
I watched them out of sight. "Shall we ever get through saying
'good-bye'? When will these departures cease?" thought I, as I turned
from the gate. But I was given no time to muse, for a most amazing
clamor arose from a gateway a little higher up the road, and glancing in
that direction, I saw old father Poupard leading his horse and cart into
the open. He was followed by his wife and daughter-in-law, two brawny
peasant women, who were loudly lamenting the departure of their steed!
"No, no!" literally howled mother Poupard.
"This is the last straw! Both sons gone, and now our horse! Who's
going to bring in our crop? The Lord is unjust."
"And brother's babies--poor motherless things--in an orphan asylum at
Epernay! How can we get to them now? Oh, no! Oh, no--" wailed Julia.
"Poupard!" exclaimed his wife, drying her tears on the corner of her
apron and fixing her sharp blue eyes on her husband, "Poupard, no
loitering! If they pay you for your horse, remember, no foolishness.
You bustle back here with the money--we need you to help in the
"This is no time for sprees," wept Julia.
"Father Poupard," admonished his irate mate, brandishing a spade,
"Father Poupard, mind what I say!"
And then in a more moderate tone, but which was distinctly audible some
thirty yards away, "I've put a bottle into your lunch basket. You won't
need to buy anything more."
There was a distinct emphasis on the word _buy_, which told me that
mother Poupard, evidently accustomed to her husband's ways, had provided
plentifully for his journey but had carefully emptied his pockets before
I went back to my preserves, but as the day wore on the lack of all
communication with the outside world began to prey on me. Towards four
o'clock I took my bicycle and started down to Charly. A quarter of a
mile from our gate, in front of the town hall, a mason had driven two
huge posts, into the ground on either side of the road, and was swinging
a heavy chain between them.
I looked askance at the schoolmaster who stood in the doorway surveying
the work. He explained that he had received instructions to the effect
that all passers-by unknown to this village were to be stopped and asked
for their papers. The men and boys who remained were to take turns
mounting guard, and thus to help to eradicate the circulation of spies.
Two suspicious motors and a man on a bicycle had already been signaled.
Should they appear and fail to produce their papers, immediate arrest
would follow. Should they offer the slightest opposition or attempt
escape, the sentinels had orders to shoot.
I enquired if it would be necessary for we to have a _sauf-conduit,_
being bound for Charly, and possibly the station at Nogent, where I
hoped that the soldiers of a passing train would throw me a newspaper.
Mr. Duguey replied that he would gladly present me with the first
passport, and seemed wonderfully taken with my idea about the papers. He
admitted that living in darkness was beginning to get on his nerves,
too, and asked me, in case my plan should prove successful, if I would
be willing to put it on the public sign board so all could see the news.
I acquiesced willingly, and after he had asked a few questions as to
names, age, characteristics and destination, he stamped the seal on my
paper, and I departed.
At Charly the same preparations had been made, and two elderly men,
leaning on their guns, smiled as I presented my paper for their
At the hotel, the proprietor had just returned after having waited
nearly twenty-four hours in line to present his machines. All save one
had been bought for the army. But with his double-seated taxi he
promised to drive me to Soissons the following morning.
I continued my road, and reached Nogent to find that I was not alone in
my idea about begging the papers. Several others from neighboring
villages, so I heard, had already succeeded in obtaining a sheet, and
had driven off hastily with their trophies. My proceeding was very
simple. It consisted of crossing the rails to the up-train platform, to
stand in line with the other women already assembled, there to wait like
birds on a fence until a train coming from Paris passed by. Then as it
whizzed through the station, we shouted in chorus, "_Les journaux! Les
It worked like magic. We had hardly been there two minutes when a train
As it approached, we could see that engine and cars were decorated with
garlands of flowers, and trailing vines, while such inscriptions as,
"_Train de Plaisir pour Berlin,_" and numerous caricatures had been
chalked on the varnished sides of the carriages.
Our appeals were not in vain. With joyful shouts, the boys gladly threw
us the papers which were welcomed like the rain of manna in the desert.
I managed to collect two, _L'Action Franfaise_, and _Le Bonnet Rouge_.
Until others and fresher were procured, the Royalist and the
Revolutionary sheets hung side by side on the public sign board at
Villiers, proving that under the Third Republic, _Liberte', Egalite',
Fraternite_ are not vain words.
The news of the violation of Luxembourg and Belgian territory created
less sensation than one might have expected. In the circumstances news
of any kind seemed a blessing.
There was still quite a gathering in front of the town hall when the
first carts began to return from the revision. They were few and far
between, compared with the double line that had driven past in the
morning. My heart leapt with joy, as I saw George, driving Cesar, turn
into the court.
"Too old, Madame," he said, his eyes shining. "Though still so game
that they nearly kept him. He's reserved for a second call."
"And Florentin and Cognac?"
The boy put his hand into his pocket and held out a slip of paper. I
took it and read, "_Bon pour 1,200 francs, prix de 2 chevaux, etc._"
"Well, thank God, we've got one left anyhow," thought I as I entered the
hall. Just then the gate creaked and I could vaguely distinguish in the
deepening twilight the forms of mother Poupard and Julia hurrying
towards the stables. I followed.
"George! George!" called Julia.
"Well?" came the answer from within.
"George--where's the old man?" queried mother Poupard in excited tones.
"How do I know?"
"Was our horse taken? Can you tell us that?"
"I think so; yes."
"Then why didn't Poupard come back with you and Leon in the cart? Did
you see him?"
"Where was he?"
"In front of a cafe as we drove past."
"Oh, the old villain! The wretch! Oh, _mon Dieu,_ what shall we do!
Oh, the wicked old man--if I had him here, I'd thrash him good!"
And mother Poupard began brandishing a pitch-fork with such violence
that I commenced to fear that failing her delinquent spouse, she would
fall upon George to wreak vengeance.
"Oh, the old devil! Oh--"
"Look here, I'm not his nurse--now clear out, the lot of you!"
The injunction served its purpose, for remembering they were "not at
home," the two women retired in high dudgeon, wailing and lamenting in
such audible tones that their neighbors came out to see what was the
matter, and laughed at mother Poupard's threat of what she would do if
ever she got _le vieux_ into her clutches.
By six A. M. on the Friday I had breakfasted and was ready to leave for
Soissons. The taxi from the Hotel du Balcon made its appearance a few
moments later, and after a visit to the town hall, where we secured the
necessary passports, we set off on our journey.
At the entrance to every little village we were obliged to halt and
exhibit our papers--after which formality the chain would be let down
and we allowed to go our way.
Half an hour later as we crossed Chateau Thierry we could see the rows
of horses that had not yet been examined lined up along the square. The
commissaries had worked all night and their task was still far from
Until we reached Oulchy-le-Chateau, the chains were the only outward
signs that betokened the belligerent state of the country, and even then
as those who mounted guard were not in uniform, it seemed rather as
though we were passing a series of toll-gates. However, as we ran along
the splendid roads between the great fertile plains, I observed that the
harvesting was being done chiefly by women, and that the roads
themselves were empty of any vehicle. Evidently only those who had an
important errand were allowed on the _routes nationals_, thus kept clear
for the transport of troops or ammunition.
At Oulchy, half-way to Soissons, we halted at a railway crossing to let
a long, lazy train drag out of the station. When at length the bars
were drawn up, much excitement reigned on the little platform which we
had been unable to see from the other side of the rails. Young girls
with pails and dippers in their hands stood chattering with women in
wrappers, whose disheveled appearance told plainly that they had been
hastily awakened and had hurried thence without thinking of their
"What is it?" I asked of the _garde-barriere_.
"Yes--the first. Not badly wounded and they are able to travel, but
unable to hold a gun. And they were all so thirsty!"
Poor fellows, thought I, already out of the ranks and the first week is
not yet passed.
More persuaded than ever of the utility of my mission, I did not stop
longer but pushed on towards Soissons. Half a mile further up the road,
an elderly man carrying a package, hailed the motor. We slowed down,
and hat in hand he approached.
"I beg pardon for the liberty I'm taking,"' he said, "but might I ask
where you're bound?"
"You would be rendering a great service to the municipality if you would
allow me to ride with you in the empty seat. You see, the youngsters
who are left to reap the crops have broken the only machine in the
community, and we can't go on harvesting until it is repaired or
replaced. There are no mechanics left, and moreover, no horses that
could take us to Soissons to find one, so I've offered to go on
foot--but that means at least two full days lost before we can continue
"Get in at once," I said, and we rolled off.
It was not long before I had drawn his history from this village
alderman, an Alsatian by birth, and his tales of the war of 1870 helped
to wile away the time we were obliged to spend idling along the roadside
while our chauffeur repaired our first puncture. The emergency wheel
clapped on, we were soon en route again. My companion duly uncovered as
we passed the monument to the soldiers of the Franco-Prussian War,
almost hidden in a lovely chestnut grove, in the heart of the forest of
On the outskirts of Soissons we came upon a squadron of the Ninth
Territorial Regiment, resting after the morning exercises. These
soldiers much resembled the "bushy-bearded" creatures whom I had seen
guarding the Eastern Railway, save that they were even more picturesque,
for most of them wore straw sombreros. As we passed the captain on his
horse, my companion lifted his hat and the officer replied with a
"A friend of yours?" I ventured.
"No. Never saw him before."
"But you bowed, I thought."
"Certainly. He's an officer on duty in time of war, and all civilians
owe him that courtesy."
I liked that and fancied it were old-time urbanity, though often since I
have seen it proved that the custom is not obsolete.
A little further on we came to a very jolly squadron, the cooks, who
were peeling fresh vegetables and pouring them into immense
wash-boilers, which, when filled, two privates seized by the handles and
carried towards a big barracks some hundred yards distant.
Presently we hit a cobbled road which must have been a joy to all heavy
machines, but which nearly jolted us out of our light vehicle. Patience
and good humor were very rapidly disappearing when we rounded a curve,
struck the good macadam, and I saw the twin spires of St. Jean rising
majestically against the clear blue summer sky.
At our right I noticed the entrance gate to a chateau over which hung a
big Red Cross, such as I coveted for my home, and then in a moment we
were already in a _faubourg_ of Soissons. It was not unlike the
entrance to any other provincial city in ordinary times, save that there
were many red-trousered men mixed in with the other population. There
were no chains across the road, but four soldiers in uniform mounted
guard. We showed _patte blanche_ and proceeded to ask for the Red Cross
"Madame Macherez is the president. You must go to her. Cross the city
and go out east towards St. Paul. Her chateau is there."
Naturally we headed straight for our destination, but were stopped every
other minute by police who side-tracked us into back streets. The big
thoroughfares must be kept clear for the army!
I set down my old friend near the town hall, and told him that I should
be returning about noon. If he were ready, I would be glad to give him
a lift. Would he meet us in front of the _Hotel du Soleil d'Or?_
He was delighted, and promised to be on time.
We crossed the Aisne; I must say rather heedlessly, little dreaming that
in so short a time it would be the object of such desperate and bloody
disputes--nor so historically famous.
The Chateau de St. Paul sits, or rather, sat back from the road,
surrounded by its lovely garden and a high wall. I left my motor and
entered the grounds, preceded by a servant who had opened the gate. In
a small drawing room I presented myself to a very charming young person
already installed behind a desk, though it was scarcely half-past eight,
and explained the object of my visit.
"Madame Macherez will be delighted. I'm her secretary, and I can assure
you she will do all she can to further your plans. Would you mind
waiting just a few moments? She'll be down presently. You see," she
continued, "we have been up all night. We suddenly had part of a
regiment quartered on us, and the officers who slept here were coming
and going most of the time. I beg you will excuse the dust, but they
haven't been gone long enough for us to make things tidy. There were
twenty here, and two hundred men in the outbuildings which makes quite a
Just then the president of the _Association des Dames Franpaises_ came
Madame Macherez, a fine looking, elderly woman with iron-gray hair and
clear blue eyes, is the widow of former Senator Macherez. Her keen
understanding and wonderful business ability have won her the respect
and esteem of two entire nations; both friend and enemy are united in
their praises of this wonderful person.
I was not long in explaining my intentions--I could supply sixty beds,
with room for the double; would take all the management of a hospital,
gladly help with the nursing, but must have a doctor and other
Madame Macherez accepted my proposition, knew just the person I needed,
and taking off her badge pinned it on to the lapel of my coat and made
me a member of her society.
"Now, then, let's get through with the formalities at once. Here is
your _carte d'identite_. You must paste your photo on to it. With that
and an armlet stamped from the War Department you will have free access
to all the roads and you won't have to be bothered with other papers.
Let us go at once to the city hall, where they will stamp their seal on
your card, which makes it valid for your identity. From there we must
hunt out the colonel in command and get his seal. That makes it valid
with military authorities."
The president's motor was waiting outside the door.
"How long shall we be?"
"Ah, an hour at least."
I turned to my chauffeur who was tampering with his punctured tire.
"Go and see if you can't find a new inner tube, and meet me at the
_Hotel du Soled d'Or_ where I will lunch, at eleven."
"But I just put in a new inner tube."
"Have you got an extra one?"
"No, but I've my emergency wheel--"
"Never mind. Another inner tube may come in handy."
"Very well, Madame."
Madame Maeberez was waiting, so I jumped in next her and we drove to the
town ball. Though the war was scarcely a week old her office was
already installed in the Hotel de Ville, and several hospitals were well
on the way towards complete organization. In a big room white-capped
women (the first I had seen of the kind) were counting bandages, linen
and underclothing, laying out huge piles for such and such a hospital.
While Madame M. was answering numerous questions which besieged her on
her entrance, her secretary took note of what was lacking in my
ambulance, promised to forward it at once by motor, and gave me an
agreement to sign.
In the meantime, someone had carried my card to the mayor who affixed
his seal, and my armlet appeared as though by magic.
Now, then, for the colonel! And we hastened away again at a moment's
As we drove through the quaint little city, my eye was attracted more
than once by a splendid bit of Louis XIV architecture. The college, the
convent, the churches and even some private residences were wonderful
examples of that exquisitely decorative period. As it was my first
visit to Soissons I regretted not having brought my kodak, but when I
spoke of this to Madame Macherez she expressed her delight at my
admiration of her native city, but was extremely glad that I had not
ventured out alone with a camera. Unknown persons with photographic
paraphernalia were suspicious these times. It was best to leave such
things at home.
Just then we were winding up a narrow street and the chauffeur was
tooting in vain, trying to persuade a half-dozen soldiers carrying bales
of bay on their backs, to make room for us to get by. With much evident
reluctance the first man drew a bit to the right, the second vociferated
something in a picturesque patois, and just as we passed the third, I
leaned forward and grabbed the driver by the collar.
"Stop, stop a minute!" I gasped.
He must have thought I was mad, and Madame M. probably imagined I had
suddenly lost my wits, when she saw me plunge out of the motor, race
towards one of the bales, tear it from the carrier's back with a
violence that nearly upset the man, and then, throwing my arms about his
neck, embrace him.
"You? Already?" gasped H., and then as we realized that we were making
a public spectacle of ourselves, the color rose to our cheeks.
A hasty explanation followed, in which I told my plans.
"And you, what on earth are you doing here?" I questioned.
"Well--just what you see. All of us from Villiers have been sent to
bring horses to the front, and a fine job it is. I wish you could see
the nags! None of them rideable!"
"But after they're delivered--what?"
"I wish I knew myself."
"And when can we meet?"
"I'm afraid that's impossible. We're off again to-night for God knows
And H. seeing that he was already far behind his companions, threw me a
hasty adieu and was gone!
The colonel was absent, but would return _tout de suite,_ and Madame
Macberez and I lost nearly an hour waiting. When he appeared, however,
he was most gracious, excused himself very politely and immediately
stamped my card. Then having all the necessary papers, I begged Madame
to drop me at the hotel, and to return to her bureau, where I knew there
was work enough for a half-dozen such as she. She did as I requested,
and we parted--she promising to visit Villiers as soon as she could
dispose of an afternoon.
I was the only woman in the hotel dining room for luncheon. The food
was good, but the service impossible, as there were some forty men,
mostly officers, very hungry, and only one decrepit waiter to do the
work. Good humor prevailed, each diner making allowances, and here for
the first time I heard that expression, destined to become so popular as
an excuse for almost anything: _Cest la guerre!_
My chauffeur kept me waiting, but my friend the alderman was on time.
Finally the motor made its appearance. Something had happened on
leaving St. Paul in the morning and the poor _hotelier_ had searched the
entire city for a mechanic, but to no avail. All were _au service de
l'armee_. Finally he had had to patch up things as best he could. As
to an extra inner tube--such a thing didn't exist. We would have to take
our chances with the wheel he had.
We started, but hadn't gone two hundred yards when a back tire blew off!
Well, thank goodness, we hadn't left town. So I returned to the hotel,
and while Huberson and the alderman were fixing up damages and adjusting
the emergency wheel, I had time to read all the back numbers of
_Illustration,_ which the _Soled d'Or_ possessed, and commence a
conversation with the proprietress, who sat in the court shelling peas
for dinner. She was certain that the war would be over in three months
at the utmost!
At length I went out to see if I couldn't be of some assistance in the
motor business, but Huberson said it would be ready in a few moments. As
far as I could make out, my alderman friend was mostly a decorative
personality, for he stood there with his hat on the back of his head,
gesticulating vehemently, but never deigning to help my chauffeur in the
slightest manner. When I asked him if he knew Soissons well and
inquired if he could direct me to certain grocers where I could perhaps
obtain a few provisions, he insisted on showing me the shops, with an
alacrity which proved his incompetence at motor repairing.
During that short promenade on foot, we encountered the whole Ninth
Territorial Regiment--not under arms but _au repos_. The men were
seated in front of the barracks reading the papers or idly smoking their
pipes, and all yearning for "something to do." Their wish, I fear, has
been more than satisfied.
Start number two proved successful and we sped along very comfortably
until we hit that long cobbled road. The day was exceedingly warm, the
stones sun-baked, and after the first mile or so I saw Huberson looking
nervously at his fore wheel. His anxiety was well founded, for half a
minute later, whizz!--I could feel the rubber splitting!
We stopped and all climbed out.
"It's all up!" he exclaimed. "Not one--but two tires are burst, and the
shoe of the emergency wheel is flapping like an old dirty rag!"
"Now, in my time--" began the alderman.
"Never mind about your time, old man. If you want to get back to Oulchy
and that mowing machine before Christmas, you've got to pitch in and
help," cut in Huberson, whose nerves could no longer stand the strain.
Our friend took the hint and began stripping off his coat. We were
eight miles from Soissons, on the upgrade of a cobbled road, full in the
sun. It was three P. M. on a stifling August day!
The men must have spent an hour trying to make impossible repairs--they
knew it was no use walking back to Soissons where aid had already been
refused, and it was evident from the condition of the tubes that there
was no hope of mending them.
What to do?
"I'll tell you," said I (and I must admit that I spoke for the sake of
saying something), "I'll tell you! Suppose you take out the inner tubes
and stuff the shoes with grass!"
The men looked at me as if I had suddenly gone out of my mind. Their
contempt was so apparent that it wilted me.
And then arose a series of protestations which common sense bade me
heed, but which didn't advance our cause in the slightest. When we had
lost a full half-hour more arguing the question, I once again
proclaimed my original idea.
The driver glanced at me in despair and shrugged his shoulders. "The
least we can do is try."
So saying, we fell to work tearing up grass and weeds. And that is how
I came to ride over thirty miles on three grass-stuffed tires, which,
thanks to the heat, towards the end of the journey began sending forth
little jets of green liquid much to the astonishment of all those who
saw us pass.
The next few days following my eventful trip to Soissons were spent
superintending the installation of my hospital. For convenience's sake
I decided to utilize the entire ground floor, first because there were
fewer and more spacious apartments, each one being large enough to hold
ten or twelve beds, thus forming a ward; second, because it would be
better to avoid carrying the wounded up a flight of stairs. The rooms
above could be used in case of emergency. All this of course
necessitated the moving of most of my furniture and _objets d'art_, as
well as the emptying of H.'s much encumbered studio--I having determined
to keep but a small apartment in the east wing for private use. It was
really a tremendous undertaking, far worse than any "spring cleaning" I
had ever experienced, especially as I was but poorly seconded by my
much-depleted domestic staff, already more than busy trying to keep the
From the boys--George and Leon--I learned that old father Poupard had
not yet put in his appearance since his departure three days before with
his nag, and that mother Poupard had abandoned her belligerent attitude
and had resorted to tears. She could be seen three times a day, on her
return from the fields, standing by the bridge corner, wailing her
distress to any passerby who had time enough to stop and listen. Poupard
now possessed all the qualities of mankind and it was probably through
his noble soft-heartedness that some ill had befallen him. What a
misfortune, especially as the vines needed so much attention.
Sunday, the ninth, I was preparing to go to early service at Charly (our
own curate had been called to join his regiment) when on crossing the
bridge, a bicycle whisked by the victoria.
"He's coming--he's coming!" called the rider, as he passed us.
"Who?" I said, rising, as George drew up.
"Father Poupard!" called the boy. "I'm going to tell his wife!"
It was evident that the news had spread like wildfire, for looking up
the street, I could see the villagers hurrying from their cottages.
Already the hum of voices reached my ears, and anxious not to miss what
promised to be a most dramatic meeting, I told George to drive to one
side of the road and stop, and there we would await developments.
In less than a minute mother Poupard appeared. She was as good as her
word, for now that she knew her lord and master was no longer in danger,
she had cast sentiment to the winds and was actually brandishing that
"Ah, the good-for-nothing old drunkard!" she vociferated as she ran.
"Just let me lay hands on him!"
Around the bend of the road came the excited peasants. They pressed so
closely about someone that until they were almost upon us I could not
distinguish who it might be. Then as mother Poupard pushed her way
through the crowd, it parted and displayed her husband; drunk, but with
pride; delirious, but with glory--proudly bearing his youngest grandson
in his arms, leading the other by the hand.
"Oh, Joseph--" gasped his astonished wife, every bit of anger gone from
And then followed a very touching family scene in which the delinquent
was forgiven, and during which time one of the bystanders explained that
father Poupard had walked from Chateau-Thierry to Epernay, to fetch his
orphan grandchildren, and had returned on foot, carrying first one and
then the other accomplishing the hundred miles in not quite four days! A
heroic undertaking for a man over seventy!
The sun rose and set several times ere my interior arrangements were
completed and nothing extraordinary happened to break the monotony of my
new routine. On Tuesday, the eleventh, the strange buzzing of a motor
told us that an aeroplane was not far distant. Our chateau lies in the
valley between two hills, so to obtain a clear view of the horizon, I
hurried to the roof with a pair of field glasses.
Presently a tiny black speck appeared and as it grew within the scope of
my glass, it was easy to recognize the shape of a _Taube_. That was my
introduction to the enemy.
Without waiting a second I rushed to the telephone and asked central at
Charly (the telephones now belonged to the army) to pass on the message
that a German aeroplane had been sighted from the Chateau de Villiers,
and was flying due west, head on for Paris. The noise had grown louder
and louder, and when I returned to my post of observation, I found most
of the servants assembled, all craning their necks. On came the
_Taube_, and there we stood, gaping, never realizing an instant that we
were running the slightest risk. The machine passed directly over our
heads, not low enough, however, for us to distinguish its contents with
the naked eye.
"There's another!" shouted someone. And turning our backs on the enemy,
we gave our entire attention to a second speck that had suddenly risen
on the horizon.
It was four o'clock in the afternoon and the armored head of the
ever-on-coming aeroplane glittered splendidly in the golden rays of the
"_Cest un francais!_" cried George.
Allowing that an aeroplane flies at the rate of a mile a minute, one can
easily imagine that we had not long to wait before number two sped over
us. Through my glass I was able to recognize the tri-color cockade
painted underneath the plane, and when I announced this there went up a
wild shriek of joy.
At that moment a loud report in the west announced that the Germans had
begun their deadly work on undefended territory.
"That's a bomb for the railway crossing at Nanteuil, I'll bet!" said
Leon, and while I was realizing that that projectile might just as well
have been for us, the others were gesticulating and bowling
encouragement to their compatriot some few hundred yards above them, as
though he could bear every word they said:
"Go it, old man!"
"Bring down that cursed blackbird!" "_Vive la France!_" and other
similar ejaculations were drowned by the noise of the motor.
The chase was on! It was more exciting than any horserace I ever
witnessed. The Frenchman was rapidly gaining on the other, but would
they come into combat before they vanished from our horizon? That was
the question that filled us with anguish.
On, on they sped, growing smaller and smaller every second. Presently
it became impossible to distinguish them apart, but we knew that they
had come within range of each other, for the two specks rose and fell by
turns now soaring high, now dipping precipitately, seeming almost to
touch at times. Then, just as they were about to disappear, one of them
suddenly collapsed and fell. Which one, we never knew.
Towards dusk the _garde-champtre_ appeared and left orders that George
and Leon must take their turns at mounting guard. Four hours right out
of the sleep of a peasant boy especially when he is overworked, is
likely to leave him useless the next day. It provoked me a little, but
then it was duty and they must obey. The boys came on at eleven and
having decided it would be better to get in an hour or so of rest
beforehand, they retired to the hay loft. I promised to look in on them
in case they should fail to waken, and at the appointed time I put on my
sweater and went down to find, as I had expected, both youths slumbering
peacefully, blissfully unconscious of the time. Poor little chaps, it
seemed a pity to wake them, but what was to be done? Presently an idea
of replacing them myself dawned upon me: a second later it so enchanted
me that I wouldn't have had them wake for anything. The whole thing was
beginning to be terribly romantic.
Slipping quietly away, I went to my room and got my revolver, and then
going to the south front of the chateau, I softly whistled for my dogs.
Three big greyhounds, a shepherd dog and a setter responded immediately,
and just as I was about to shut the little yellow door, old Betsy, my
favorite Boston bull, came panting around the corner of the house. With
these five as bodyguard I sauntered up the road in the brilliant
moonlight, arriving in front of the town hall just as the clock was
striking eleven. I must say that my appearance and announcement rather
shocked two elderly men who had been on the watch since seven o'clock.
Monsieur Demarcq protested that such a thing as a woman mounting guard
had never been beard of, but I swiftly argued him out of that idea. What
was required of me? That I stop every passer-by and every vehicle?
Didn't he think me capable of doing so? And I pointed to my dogs and my
revolver. The weight of the argument was so evidently on my side that
they had nothing to do but to submit, and laughingly Mr. Foeter put me
in possession of a heavy old gun, three packages of cartridges, and the
lantern. Then once again they asked if I couldn't be dissuaded, to
which I jokingly replied that I would set my dogs after them and drive
them home if they didn't make haste to go there at once. That admonition
proved more efficacious than I had dared hope, and assured me that my
faithful beasts rejoiced in a ferocious reputation.
All sorts of fantastic ideas flitted through my brain as I took
possession of my post. I began, however, by setting the lantern in the
middle of the road, exactly in the center of the chain, as a warning to
any on-comer. Then by the moonlight, I proceeded to examine my gun. It
was a very primitive arm, and after carefully weighing it in my hands, I
decided to abandon all thought of stalking up and down the road with
such an implement on my shoulder. That kind of glory was not worth the
morrow's ache, so I deposited the antiquated weapon in the hallway of
the school house and resolved to rely on my Browning.
Afterwards I came out and seating myself on the bench with my back
against the wall, waited for something to happen. My dogs seemed to
have comprehended the gravity of my mission, and crouched close to my
feet, cocking their ears at the slightest sound.
Little by little the great harvest moon climbed high behind our old
Roman church, perched on the embankment opposite, bathing everything in
molten silver, and causing the tall pine-trees in the little cemetery
adjacent to cast long black shadows on the road. Down towards the
Marne, the frogs were croaking merrily somewhere in the distance a night
locust buzzed, and alarmed by the striking of midnight the owls who
nested in the belfry, fluttered out into the night and settling on the
church top, began their plaintive hooting. Still no one passed.
Such calm reigned that it was almost impossible to believe that over
there, beyond those distant hills, battle and slaughter were probably
Presently a shiver warned me that I had been seated long enough; so,
marking a hundred steps, I began to pace slowly up and down, watching
the ever-changing firmament. The first gray streaks of dawn were
beginning to lighten the east when a growl from Tiger made me face about
very abruptly. I must admit that my heart began beating abnormally, and
the hand in my pocket gripped my revolver as though it were a live
animal and likely to escape.
A second later all the dogs repeated the growl, and then I could hear
the clicking of a pair of sabots on the road. The noise approached, and
my guardians looked towards me, every muscle in their bodies straining,
waiting for the single word, "_Apporte!_"
"_Couchez!_" I hissed, and awaited developments.
The footsteps drew nearer and nearer, and in a moment the stooping
figure of an old peasant came over the brow of the hill. The gait was
too familiar to be mistaken. But what on earth was father Poupard doing
on the highroad at that hour?
When he was within speaking distance I came out from the shadow of the
wall and put the question. If he had suddenly been confronted with a
spook I do not think the old man could have been more astonished. He
stopped dead still, as though not knowing whether to turn about and run,
or to advance and take the consequences. Realizing his embarrassment, I
hastily proffered a few words of greeting, and then he chose the latter
"-Vous?_" he said, when at length he found his tongue. "_Vous?_"
"Who's with you?"
He seemed more embarrassed than ever. Evidently he hadn't yet "caught
"What can I do for you?" I continued.
He still hesitated, looking first at me and then at a bottle he carried
in his hand. Finally he resolved to make a clean breast of it.
"Why," he said, "I didn't expect to find a woman here, least of all _une
chatelaine_. It rather startled me! You see, I've got into the habit
of coming round towards dawn. The boys begin to get chilly about that
time, and are glad enough to have a go at my fruit brandy. They say I'm
too old to mount guard, so I must serve my country as best I can. Will
you have some--my own brew?"
I declined, but he was not offended; yet he seemed reluctant to go.
"Sit down," I said. "It won't belong before some of the men will be
passing by on their way to the fields, and then you won't have made your
journey for nothing."
Pere Potipard gladly accepted, and after a generous swig at his brandy,
began telling me about what happened at Villiers during the German
invasion in 1870. As he talked on, night gradually disappeared, and when
the clock in the belfry tolled three A. M. my successors came to relieve
me. I blew out the lantern and walked home in broad daylight.
The boys looked very sheepish when they learned what had happened, but
as I did not boast of my exploit, merely taking it as a matter of
course, they had no way of approaching the subject, and like many other
things of the kind, it was soon forgotten in the pursuing of our
onerous daily tasks, and the moral anxiety we were experiencing.
There seemed to be no end to the fruit season that summer. The lengthy
table in the servants' hall was literally covered with glasses
containing jam and jelly of every description, awaiting their paper
lids. Nini said there were over five hundred--to me it seemed
thousands, and I was heartily glad of a lull before the hospital should
open. And I remember distinctly that the last thing I prepared was some
thirty quarts of black currant brandy; that is to say, I had poured the
raw alcohol on to the fruit and set the jars aside to await completion
six months later! Shortly afterwards I received word by a roundabout
route from Soissons that I might expect my trained nurses and supplies
at any moment. In the meantime I was without word from H. since that
eventful meeting a week before.
Saturday, the fifteenth of August, was as little like a religious fete
day as one can imagine. At an early hour the winnowing machine rumbled
up the road to the square beside the chateau. Under the circumstances
each one must take his turn at getting in his wheat and oats, and there
was no choice of day or hour. Besides, the village had already been
called on to furnish grain and fodder for the army, and the harvest must
be measured and declared at once. This only half concerned me, for my
hay was already in the lofts before the war began, and two elderly men
who had applied for work as bunchers, had been engaged for the last week
After service at Charly, I walked across to the post office. The post
mistress and telegraph operator, a delightful provincial maiden lady,
always welcomes me most cordially, and at present I fancied she might
have some news that had not yet reached Villiers. (Mind you, since the
second of August we had had but two newspapers, and those obtained with
what difficulty!) The _bureau_ now belonged to the army, and for a
fortnight Mademoiselle Maupoix and her two young girl assistants had
hardly had time to sleep, so busy were they transmitting ciphered
dispatches, passing on orders, etc. It was to this physical exhaustion
that I attributed the swollen countenance of my little friend when she
opened the door to her private sitting-room. It was evident she had
something to tell, but her exquisite breeding forbade that she go
headlong into her subject, before having graciously inquired for my
health, my husband and news of us both since last we met.
"And the war, Mademoiselle, do you know anything about what has