Part 3 out of 4
I looked at Soeur Laurent, who was preparing to answer the summons, much
to the dismay of the soldiers.
"I'll go," I called, and hurried out into the vestibule and down the
wide white marble steps. As I threw back the huge oak door someone
brushed past me, calling "Two men and a stretcher," and there in the
brilliant moonlight I beheld the most ghastly spectacle I had as yet
Thrown forward in his saddle, his arms clasped about the horse's neck,
was the form of a dragoon. The animal that bore him had once been
white, but was now so splashed with blood that it was impossible to tell
what color was his originally. Both man and beast were wounded, badly
wounded, and how they had come here was a miracle.
The alarm had reached the kitchen and hurrying forward, the troopers
soon lifted their comrade from his mount and carried him in. A lance
had pierced his thigh and the horse's flank, which meant that it had
been a hand-to-hand fight, and the blood still flowing freely, proved
that the combat was not an hour old!
Madame Guix and I were doing our best when the white face's of my notary
and his wife appeared at the door of the dispensary.
"Madame Huard, we've come to tell you you must go!"
"Yes, it is two o'clock and the general who was quartered on us slept
four hours and has gone. When leaving he warned us that the battle
would be on here by morning. We who have a motor are safe, but you who
have but horses must flee at once!"
"But I can't leave the wounded!"
"But you must. The worst that can happen to them is to be made
prisoners--more than likely they will be carried away by one of our
emergency ambulances. But think of all the young people who look to you
for protection! You cannot desert them; you must go!"
I looked at Madame Guix.
"Go, Madame Huard, you must. You owe it to the others. None of you
need me and I can be of service here, so if the sisters will keep me
Reluctantly I shook hands with my nurse, and hastened down the steps.
Maitre Baudoin and his wife took leave of me at the comer, and I elbowed
my way between the horses of a cavalry regiment, whose riders were sound
asleep on the hard cobble pavement beside them.
On the further side of the square noisy rolling sounds told me that the
artillery was crossing the city, and mounting a doorstep, I beheld
battery after battery of the famous Seventy-fives clattering out of
sight over the road we had come by in the morning. When I got down, I
found my way blocked by the 18th Chasseurs a cheval, who, four abreast
and lance in hand, were setting out for battle. They were anything but
a beaten army--most of them were softly humming some popular song, while
others were calmly filling their pipes and still others catching forty
winks in their saddles. One or two I noticed wore no caps, and their
heads were bound in blood-stained bandages.
There seemed to be no end to them and I was beginning to get anxious
about our departure. Plunging my hand into my coat pocket I touched a
piece of stale bread and a bit of chocolate, forgotten since the day
before, and hunger having seized me, I began gnawing my crust.
"Say, sister, give us a bite," called one young chap from his horse as
"Are you really hungry?"
Without hesitating I offered my crust.
"Hurray for the girl with the red scarf!" called another. "Come on with
us. We'll make room for you." "We need a mascot," and other similar
jolly phrases passed from mouth to mouth as gaily the flower of young
France went forth to death.
When finally they had disappeared I rushed across the street to find
George and Emile (H.'s messenger) engaged in a conversation with the
driver of an army supply wagon drawn up within an inch of the bakery
steps. Beside him on the seat sat a huge dragoon, his bead done up in a
"We're lost," he was explaining. "Been cut off from our regiment for
"Poor regiment!" I murmured, and calling the boys, I told Emile to wake
the others and come down quickly to help hitch the horses. He was only
gone a second, and I could hear him calling.
"_Allons, allons, Madame part de suite._"
Then he reappeared carrying a lantern.
"Where the devil did you get the light?" growled George.
"In their room."
"Then how in the name of heaven do you expect those people to dress and
roll up their belongings in the dark?" I scolded. "Here, George, go
back with the lantern."
George obeyed orders, and Emile, rather sheepishly, skulked away in the
direction of the stable yard. I heard a sliding door pushed open,
followed by a long low whistle, and a second later Emile reappeared, his
eyes popping out of his head with astonishment.
"There's a horse missing--been stolen!"
"The stable's empty!"
I hurried to the spot, and found that he told the truth.
"George!" I called, as my boy came around the corner of the house.
"George, Cesar's been stolen!"
"Who says so, Madame?"
"Emile--the stable's empty."
Calmly and easily George walked over towards Emile, and taking him by
the collar, shook him violently. "Look here, you! What do you mean by
frightening Madame like that? Are you her servant? No! Well, then,
mind your own business!"
And opening a second door alongside the other, we found Cesar and
Sausage munching their oats.
It was no easy job harnessing in the dark and backing the heavy carts
out of the narrow yard into the still narrower street. But in ten
minutes our caravan was again en route.
We crossed the public square, now almost empty of men, horses and
motors, and took the only road leading south.
The first gray streaks of daylight lighted the east as we turned the
corner, and we were obliged to pull suddenly to the extreme right, for a
heavy Parisian motorbus swung round the bend and rushed on past us.
Straining my eyes, I perceived that there was not one but hundreds of
them, following each other at top speed down the hill. There were armed
men standing inside them, armed men on the platforms and steps, armed
men even on the roofs and it was indeed a strange sight to see
_Madeleine-Bastille_ and the _Galeries Lafayette_ out here in the open
country, jammed full of grim infantrymen preparing for the fray.
Suddenly a tremendous explosion rent the air and shook the ground so
that the horses stopped and trembled.
"There goes the bridge at Nogent!" cried George. "No--the power house
at La Tretoire!"
"_En avant!_" I called, knowing that the signal for battle had now been
We had gone about two miles when the sight of my greyhounds tied behind
the farm cart made me think of my little Boston bull.
"Where's Betsy?" I asked of those perched on the hay.
Julie, Nini and Yvonne grew white.
It took little time to discover that no one had seen her that morning.
It was evident she had been forgotten--left to die tied to the brass
rail inside an abandoned bakery, for it was there I had fastened her on
arriving the night before. Pedaling ahead till I reached Leon who led
"Keep straight on this road. If it should fork, take the direction of
the La Ferte Gauche. I'll be back in no time." Then turning about, I
started a parallel race with an autobus, much to the delight of the
Useless to say that my adversary gained on the up-grade, turned the
corner, was gone, and was followed by another long before I reached the
public square, breathless and full of anxiety.
Rebais was empty--not even a tardy refugee straggled by the wayside, and
before I reached the bakery I could hear the plaintive howls of my
What a joyful welcome I received. What hilarious waggings of that
little screw tail! But, there was no time to be lost, for the problem
now was how Betsy was to catch up with the procession. She was too
heavy for me to carry under my arm, and too old and puffy to be expected
to follow a bicycle--but it was one or the other, and tying her leash to
the handle bar, off we started, after an encouraging pat on the head and
the promise of a lump of sugar if she would only "be a good girl."
On we sped, past the huge lumbering motorbuses, which terrified the poor
animal who tugged vehemently at her string, at times almost choking
In half an hour we had caught up with the caravan, and as I lifted poor
exhausted Betsy on to the hay, Nini roused from her dozing and pointing
to the east, said, "Oh, look! what a big fire!"
"You silly child, it's the sun rising; go back to sleep," I said,
terrified by what I had seen, but unwilling to alarm the others
At the skyline of an immense plain that stretched on our left, huge
columns of flame burst heavenward, covered a moment later by dense black
smoke. Fortunately, however, the sun peeped over the horizon almost
instantly, thereby diminishing the intensity of the conflagration. But
Nini was not to be thus hoodwinked.
"See," she continued, "what funny little fluffy clouds those are!"
"Nini, if you don't go to sleep at once you'll have to get down and
walk, and let one of the boys take your place. They'll be only too glad
to, I know."
Nini obeyed instantly. She had come away with but one pair of shoes (in
spite of my admonition to take all the footwear she possessed) and that
pair of shoes pinched.
Funny little fluffy clouds indeed! The shaking of the earth beneath my
feet and a second of reflection told me, they were not clouds, before
they would be directed westward was but shells--and how long it would be
a question that chilled the blood in my veins.
The town we were heading for--La Ferte Gauche--lay southeast. Though I
had no glass, it was evident that it was now under the enemies' fire,
and we might just as well run our necks into a noose as keep on in that
direction. It was southwest--or nothing.
Without offering any explanation I rode ahead and told Leon to follow
me. Then turning abruptly to the right, I took the first side path that
was wide enough for our cart wheels, and in and out, up and down, we
followed it for over an hour, until coasting down a steep incline, I
found myself in the midst of a delightful little village, nestled
between two hills on the border of a river.
The shops were just opening and people were going about their work as if
nothing unusual were happening. They gazed in astonishment at this
hatless bicyclist, who wore a Red Cross armlet, and when I went into the
baker shop, I was filled with joy at the sight of all the crisp loaves
lined up in their racks ready for delivery.
They hadn't seen any. Someone had heard an unaccustomed movement of
wagons during the night, that was all.
A signpost, as I turned into the square, told me that I was at
Jouy-sur-Morin, and a few moments later, I came upon a group of
gentlemen in frock coats standing talking on an embankment below the
church. If it had been in the afternoon instead of five A. M., I should
have thought this assembly perfectly in harmony with the landscape. In
fact they looked so much like H.'s caricatures of his provincial
compatriots that I couldn't help smiling as I passed. This mutational
gathering of the municipal council was the only outward sign of anxiety
to be found in this picturesque township.
The arrival of our caravan produced quite a sensation among the early
risers at Jouy, thought the enthusiasm for telling their story had
somewhat subsided among my servants. They were footsore, sleepy, and
The gentlemen in frock coats were too busy in their own affairs to give
us much attention, and I was about to leave when one of them called me
over and asked a few questions. Anxious to be off, I answered briefly.
The man probably took me for a poor demented female; how could he think
otherwise down here in his little valley, where not a sound of gun and
shell had penetrated as yet?
History will tell you how, a few hours later, Jouy-sur-Morin was the
scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the Marne.
At the dairy, my appearance aroused much curiosity, and when I brought
out the money to pay for my milk, the woman held up her hand. "No,
never; I couldn't take pay from such forlorn creatures as you!"
This unexpected pity brought the blood to my cheeks. I was hot with
indignation. Until now we had wanted for nothing, and with gold in my
pocket charity was an insult. I straightened my tie, looked at my dusty
boots, and realized for the first time that my face was drawn with
fatigue and anxiety--that my hair, though tidy, was sadly out of curl.
Leaving my change on the table, I turned on my heel and departed.
Explanations were tiresome and useless.
We crossed a railroad track and then the river--the Grand Morin--and in
a grass-grown granite quarry halted for breakfast, sheltering ourselves
from the blistering sun in the shade of the immense rocks.
The boys took the horses down to the river to drink and bathe, and a few
seconds later came back for towels and soap.
What a happy idea! A quarter of a mile higher up the bank I found a
well secluded spot, and plunged into the refreshing current. It was the
first time I had had my boots off since leaving Villiers. Thanks to a
small pocket glass and a fresh white blouse, I made myself quite
presentable and as I approached our camp, the appetizing odor of fresh
fried country sausage tickled my nostrils and made me glad to be alive.
Hot coffee accompanied by buttered toast had been prepared by the girls
during my absence, and we needed no coaxing to persuade us to do the
meal justice. Already accustomed to this gypsy life, George's dry humor
began to show itself, and now and again the silence would be broken by
peals of laughter, caused by some quaint joke.
We lingered lovingly over the repast, and I was trying to decide whether
or not we would push on at once or wait and rest until afternoon when
suddenly my question was answered for me.
While we had been clearing up and loading the carts a long train of
freight cars had noiselessly glided down the rails opposite our quarry,
and had halted without pulling into the station. There was nothing
abnormal in this, and from where we sat a trifle below the level of the
track, we could see but little of what was going on on the opposite
platform. Standing upright in my charette, carefully folding a blanket
so as to take up the least possible space, my eye was attracted by
several red specks scurrying up a steep incline. A moment afterwards my
gaze drifted downward and I realized that from the innocent looking
freight cars hundreds of armed soldiers were disembarking and spreading
themselves out, _en tirailleurs_, preparing an attack in ambush. I had
seen this same pretty feat successfully accomplished at the _grand
manauvres_, the year before, but it was another thing entirely when one
grasped that these men were in dead earnest.
Just then a buggy, containing a disheveled woman and collarless man,
galloped over the crossing and sped westward. The occupants, whom I
hailed, did not deign a reply, but beckoning with their arms, enjoined
me to follow them.
"It's time to break camp," I said, "if we intend to reach the next town
before it gets too hot."
So off we started, preceded by a heavy delivery wagon, a _Familistere_
from the north, which crossed the rails just as we were pulling onto the
road. It was a big covered affair, filled to overflowing with bedding
and household utensils--and even the top was loaded with huge boxes and
baskets of provisions. Behind it walked, or rather trotted, three stout
women and a man, the former half-crazed with heat and anxiety, mopping
their brows and their tears as the _cortege_ advanced.
An hour and a half of steady climbing quite exhausted them, and when we
reached the level, the three graces collapsed by the roadside, still
weeping copiously. I observed this as I approached, and presently saw
their companion mounted on the high hind wheel of their wagon, gazing
intently towards the east through a pair of field glasses.
"What can you see?" I asked as the _charette_ passed by them.
"Come and have a look. It's worth while. My wife and family are too
I halted, and climbing up by the spokes reached the top, and steadying
myself with my left hand, took the proffered glass with my right.
From one extremity to the other of the wide plains, from which we were
separated by the valley of the Grand Morin, those same long columns of
dense black smoke rose lazily in the brilliant sunlight. Into some
determined spot the enemy was pouring a perfect rain of shot and shell,
and the dust rising after each explosion formed a curtain that blotted
out the rest of the landscape. Below, the _Senegalais_ had disappeared
in ambush, but now and again the distant clattering of the
_mitrailleuse_ told us they were at their deadly work. And to think,
all this was happening on ground we had traveled over only a few hours
since! And I had been fool enough to go back to Rebais--alone to
recover my dog!
I shuddered as I got down. What was the use of trying to hurry? We
couldn't go any faster than the horses, and if we overworked them now we
would have to rest longer later on. So, urging our poor old nags, we
trudged along the sun-baked roads between the high grown wheat fields of
the Brie country.
Still another couple of hours and we had reached Choisy-en-Brie, found a
stable for our animals, and we ourselves stretched out on our blankets
beneath the friendly shadow of the big stone church.
I had finished luncheon and was just dozing off when a motor horn roused
me from my lethargy. A second later I recognized Maitre Baudoin and his
wife, the latter holding their four-year-old daughter on her knees, her
grandmother sitting alone in the back seat which was piled high with
important documents, and their maid strapped to the steps of the car.
We set up a shout which stopped them. "We stayed until a shell burst on
the house next door, then we thought it was time to go,"' explained
"What time did you leave Rebais?"
"Forty minutes ago. You'd better be moving, too."
"Sorry, but I can't. The horses must rest."
"Well, don't wait too long. Adieu."
"Adieu," and they were off.
I returned to my blanket and again was just closing my eyes when the
unexpected sound of Gregorian chant made me sit up. Nearer and nearer
it drew, louder and louder rose the priests' voices, and then a
much-befringed and flower-laden hearse, preceded by the clergy and
followed by the mourners (the men in evening dress and the women in
their Sunday clothes), rounded the corner, passed in front of us, and
halted before the main door of the church.
I couldn't help smiling. The incongruity of this pompous _enterrement
de premiere classe, en musique_, when the city was imminently menaced by
a German bombardment, bordered on the pathetic and the ridiculous.
However, the family of the defunct did not think so, and their deceased
parent was chanted to eternity with all the rites and ceremonies that
his will had provided for.
Personally I was delighted at the idea of going to sleep to the sound of
the organ, which pierced the thick granite walls and almost drowned the
rumble of the cannon, to which we had now become so accustomed that we
had ceased to be alarmed.
"_Des soldats!_" cried someone.
In a second I was on my feet.
"Two-on bicycles, going into the hotel opposite."
I reached there as soon as they did. Their story was brief.
"We're the forerunners of a cavalry depot, being transferred to Rozoy
from Montmirail. It's getting too hot down there! How far is it to
I pulled out my map.
And the poor fellows wiped the great beads of perspiration from their
dusty necks and faces.
"Bring up a bottle of wine. I'll stand for the drinks," called a man
from a corner of the cafe.
"What regiment do you belong to?"
"_L'Escadron du train._"
My heart leapt with expectancy.
"Do you know a man named H.?"
My disappointment was even greater than my joy.
"How many horses are you taking to Rozoy?"
"Two hundred and some."
"At what time will they pass here?"
"They're due in half an hour, if they don't get cornered by the Boches
on the way. We had a close call ourselves." And swallowing their
glasses of white wine and water, they were on their bicycles and gone,
before we could get any further details.
I had now had enough experience to know that it was high time to take to
the road if we didn't wish to be captured. Yet it seemed unfair to go
and leave some two-score innocent people praying for the soul of their
dear departed to a long drawn-out musical accompaniment. So while the
boys were harnessing I entered the sanctuary and approaching the chancel
by a side aisle, beckoned an altar boy and whispered in his ear words to
the effect that the curate would better hurry his mass and thereby give
his flock time to escape the invaders.
I said this calmly, and hoped he would follow my example in delivering
my message, but imagine if you can the effect produced by this
frightened individual, who, lifting his hands in the air, cried out in
terror, "_Vite, vite, Monsieur le Cure'! Voila' les Prussiens!_"
I didn't wait to see what happened, but went out and joined my group,
which was making ready to start. How far advanced was mass when I
entered the church I did not observe, but what I do know is that it
finished abruptly after my warning, and the poor hearse horse never
before galloped towards the cemetery of Choisy at such a pace nor in
such an undignified manner. As to the mourners, they fairly flew beside
it, greatly diminished in number, the others scattering like chaff
before the wind.
The half-hour's interval allowed by the cyclists for the horses to
arrive was far overlapped by the time we once again took the road, but
the sound of the cannonade had gradually grown closer.
Wearied by this constant changing of camp, I made up my mind to go far
enough in this next move to be able to really rest for a day or so.
Consulting my map, I discovered Jouyle-Chatel to be at what I judged a
safe distance--nearly thirty kilometres and considerably south of Paris.
The afternoon was still young, so we would have time to make the town
before dark. At any rate, I told George to accompany me and explained
that he and I would ride ahead full speed, and arrange for beds and a
dinner by the time the others should arrive. They were instructed not
to let the dark halt them, but to come on. Secretly I hoped that this
would be our last stretch and that we would be able to remain at Jouy
until it was wise to start homeward.
It was an uneventful trip from Choisy to Jouy. The roads were
excellent, though very undulating and the only incident that marked our
journey was an intoxicated individual who jumped across our path and,
putting his hand on my handle bar, demanded tearfully what I had done
with his wife and children.
I declared myself innocent in the matter, which angered him
"Now I know you're a spy! Get down--" George did not give him time to
finish the phrase, but with a well-measured blow, sent him sprawling in
the brambled ditch and we beat a hasty retreat without looking back.
It was night by the time we reached Jouy, and at the entrance of the
city I enquired for the best hotel.
"_Le Grand Turc_--but the proprietress is closing up, making ready to
"What! Here? You don't mean to say the scare has reached this place,
"Well, we've had so many refugees these days that the women got
frightened and want to go."
George and I parted company, he to see what he could find since the best
hotel was denied us, and I, undaunted, started off to try to persuade
the proprietress to let us in.
After much rattling at the door handles and pounding on the shutters, an
acrid female voice enjoined me to be gone.
"I'm closing up and leaving."
"Leaving? What for?"
"To escape the Germans!"
"How foolish! They'll never reach here. I've just come from the Marne
and expected to find board and lodgings for my staff until the war is
That encouraged her and cracking the door, she put her head out.
"I belong to the Red Cross. Here's my badge and my _carte didentite_.
Don't you think you could find room for me?"
"Well, we're packing up, but we'll have to wait for our horses, which
are at a farm seven miles from here. The farmer said he'd come if there
was any danger."
"Well, you see there isn't or he'd be here by now."
My hostess seemed convinced and opening the door a little wider, let me
"How many of you are there?"
"Good heavens! Fourteen rooms? Never!"
"I don't ask that, my good woman. If you can find a bed for me and
happen to have a bay loft or covered shed, the others will be glad
enough to sleep there. As to the meals, we have our own provisions and
will cook outside. It's a little late to-night, however, so if you
could manage to give them a cup of hot soup and an omelet when they
arrive, I'd make it worth your while."
She consented to the compromise, and sent one of her daughters to
prepare my room. I then dispatched George, whose bicycle bell I heard
ringing in the street, to the city gate to await and conduct the
remainder of our party. In the hour that elapsed before their arrival I
gained in the hostess's good graces by lancing a festered finger and
bandaging her small daughter's skinned knee.
When the others arrived, George, who had not been idle during his wait,
told me that Jouy was almost empty of inhabitants, and that most of the
people from Mery-sur-Marne, a village near Villiers, were lodging for
the night on bales of hay in the school house and town hall.
Our meal over, none of us needed persuading to retire and the idea of a
bed lured me early to my room.
Naturally a light sleeper, I was constantly awakened by the coming and
going and the conversation of our proprietress, who kept on packing
right through the night. Another time I was roused by a bell ringing up
and down the street, which passed beneath my window, and a deep
masculine voice that enjoined all the people from Mery to hurry to the
town hall. The wagons were leaving in a quarter of an hour.
"Poor fools," thought I, and rolled over in my bed.
As it grew light, I could gee the interminable stream of refugees
passing up the road, and when I had dressed and hastened to the
courtyard I found the others had already kindled a fire and tea was
"At what time should we start, Madame?"
"I haven't the slightest intention of going any farther. Haven't you
all had enough of this kind of traveling?"
The reply was affirmative and unanimous!
"The noise of the cannon is hardly audible this morning, which is a very
encouraging sign, I'm sure, so we'll try to make ourselves comfortable
until it's safe to go home."
And leaving Julie in charge, I set off by myself, glad of a moment's
In my wanderings I found the church door open, and entering, rejoiced in
the peace that reigned within. It calmed my anxiety and as I withdrew
my thoughts were clearer, and the burden of my responsibility seemed
On my way to the hotel I was accosted by a woman who, with a baby in her
arms, was leading a cow behind her.
"Don't you want some milk?"
"I hardly think so."
"Please take it. You see, I've only saved my baby and my cow, and I
have to milk the latter twice a day. I can't carry all she gives, so I
keep what's necessary and throw the rest away. It seems like such a
I agreed with her, and directed her towards the hotel court. She would
take no remuneration and thanking me, hastened on her way.
As I watched her go someone touched me on the arm and asked me if I
would go to the town hall; there were two refugees who needed
assistance. There I found a very old couple, brother and sister, the
eldest aged ninety-two, the other two years younger. They were from
Mery, had lodged in a private house in Jouy, and were so decrepit that
they had not arisen in time to catch the wagons which bore away their
fellow townsmen the night before. That had so upset the old man that he
had broken down and lay moaning on the straw, while the mild little
woman explained that the being left behind was not what troubled her,
but it was her purse and belongings that had been carried off in the
I comforted them as best I could, promising to send them hot milk and
biscuits, and wondering what else I could do for them. Any way they
should not starve, as long as we remained in Jouy.
Luncheon was well under way when I returned to the hotel. In a pot,
standing on an iron tripod in the middle of the paved court, a rabbit
was gently stewing. In another, a fricassee of chicken smelled
temptingly good. The women and girls were peeling potatoes and onions,
which were to cook in the sauce and a peal of laughter went up from the
merry group when a few moments later George and Emile appeared, covered
with flour and dough from head to foot, and each bearing a bottle of
white wine under his arm.
"What on earth have you boys been up to?"
"Behold in us the city bakers!" said George with a wave of the hand and
he and his companion struck an attitude which again drew forth much
hilarity from the onlookers.
"It's no joke--there wasn't a baker left in the place, so we found an
old fellow who said he'd show us how, and the dough is now setting. By
three o'clock we'll have fresh bread, you see if we don't!"
From the window the proprietress and her daughters watched our impromptu
kitchen with interest. We formed such an amusing group that, handing my
kodak to Leon, I told him to catch us as I bent over to taste the sauce.
Snap went the shutter!
At that same instant a shriek rose from the interior of the hotel.
Looking up I saw that the proprietress and her two daughters had
"_Au secours! Au secours!_"
The boys and I made a rush for the house. As we entered the _grande
sale_, we saw a man bearing a human form in his arms staggering through
the door. Through the blood and dust that smeared the unfortunate boy's
clothing, I recognized the uniform of a chasseur. Not even an emergency
bandage stopped the stream that was flowing from his cheek.
"Quick--a mattress!" I shouted.
The proprietress stood as though nailed to the doorway leading to the
"Is he wounded?"
"No matter--a mattress!"
"But he might soil it--"
"Then I'll pay for it--but for the love of heaven, be quick!"
Just then the boy's head lurched forward and the blood poured from his
mouth. Leon jumped to help the old man who was holding him, and I had
just time to catch the proprietress as she swooned on the floor.
"Put the boy on the billiard table and stuff this blanket under his
head," I said, grabbing the article mentioned from the top of a bundle
near by. "Come in here!" I called to the two daughters who were
blubbering in the next room, terrified at what they had seen. "Come in
here--lay her flat, loosen her clothes, and dash some cold water over
her. She's not dead and I've no time to bother with her."
While others laid the wounded man out on the table, I rushed for my
emergency case which I had fortunately thought to bring along.
With a sharp pair of scissors, I cut away the bloody garments and with a
little warm water washed my patient so I could see what was the matter.
He was but half conscious, and his eyes rolled wildly and his hand
grasped mine and wrung it in agony.
I discovered a tiny cheek wound and was congratulating myself that
perhaps the bullet had lodged in the flesh, when on turning his head
gently to one side, I was almost nauseated by the terrible wound that
greeted my eyes.
Either a Mauser pistol or an explosive bullet fired at but short
distance had entered the cheek and gouged its way through the lad's
head, carrying away part of the ear and well--let us not go any further.
"Is there a doctor in the place still?" I called to the cook who stood
looking in at the door. "Run and see if you can get him--for I'm
incompetent here. Quick! It's life or death!"
And while she was gone I stuffed cotton and iodine into the tremendous
cavity, hoping to stop the hemorrhage. As I bandaged, I questioned the
man who had brought him.
"Where did you pick him up?"
"Amillis--a mile and a half from here. The Uhlans fired into me, too,
when they saw me help him. Look at the sole of my shoe! They're
following close on behind."
I stepped to the window. "George and Leon! Quick! Drop everything.
Hitch and get out of here like lightning! I'll follow in this man's
cart. Hitch and I'll tell you where to go."
Fricasseed chicken and rabbit stew were forgotten and I could hear my
people running wildly about the court, obeying orders.
The doctor appeared. I explained. "Shall I unbandage?"
"Then don't say so out loud, as he's not yet unconscious."
The poor fellow gripped my hand as proof. The physician blushed
"I'll give him an injection of ether and then you take him in your cart
to the nearest hospital--it's Provins--twenty miles from here."
He jabbed in the needle, and then handing it with a phial to me:
"Here--take this. I'm clearing out. Got a wife and baby to save. Keep
his heart going--there's a ghost of a chance. Adieu!"
I stood petrified.
"Take him away, I'm closing up! Take him away--" screamed the hostess,
who had recovered from her swoon.
I looked at the old man who had brought the boy.
"Where are you going with your cart?"
"To Coulommiers--to save my sister-in-law and her children."
"Good God, man! Can't you see that if this boy was wounded at Amillis
your road to Coulommiers is cut off!"
"It may not be."
"There's no time to argue. My wagons are full to overflowing. Are you
going to let this boy stay and be finished by the Germans, or are you
going to let me put him in your cart and drive to a hospital?"
"But Provins must be occupied by this time. It's east of here."
"I never had any intention of going there. I'm heading for Melun."
"Good heavens! That's seventy kilometers! My poor sister-in-law! My
horse!" wailed the old fellow.
"Now then--one, two, three--" said I, gently patting my Browning which I
had drawn from my outside pocket. "Will you do it gracefully? That's
right. Now stop your crying. I'll release you as soon as I can find
someone else to take me on. The important thing is to get out of here
and quick! It may be too late now."
The boys had fetched a mattress, had found pillows and a sheet,
somewhere, and gently we laid the dying man on the old farm cart.
"You boys take your bikes and go ahead. Tell the refugees you meet to
pull to the right and not encumber the whole road. We're rushing a
wounded man to the hospital. When I think you've got the way clear I'll
drive on full speed. Tell our carts to head for Melun and keep on going
till they get there. I can't bother with them. We'll meet at the first
bridge over the Seine."
They departed, and climbing in beside my patient, who writhed in agony,
now lurching from one side, now rolling to the other, I tried to make
him as comfortable as possible. All the other carts had departed ere we
got away, and my tearful driver kept on grumbling and lamenting.
Two hundred yards from the hotel, where the road makes a sharp turn, we
halted abruptly, for we had come upon a group composed of my boy George
and three French chasseurs. Two were on horseback, their naked swords
glittering in the sunlight; the third on a bicycle--and all three, as
well as George, were shrieking excitedly at a phlegmatic Tommy Atkins
who, seated on a milestone, was calmly smoking his pipe. Behind him,
his horse was peacefully nibbling grass. At the sight of my armlet and
the agitated white sheet in the wagon, the chasseurs approached in
"What have you got there? Our comrade, Ballandreau?"
"Yes." (I had seen the boy's name in his military book.)
"Is he dead?"
"_Parlez-vous anglais?_" they fairly bawled, all three at once.
"Then, for God's sake, tell that blockhead sitting on the stone and
whose horse has gone lame, to seize the bicycle of that peasant standing
there, and follow us."
I translated politely.
"Why?" queried the Englishman, drawing on his pipe.
"Why?" I demanded of the chasseurs.
"Why? Do you see that?" said one on a bicycle, wheeling around and
pointing down the road behind us. "Do you see that? That's the Uhlans.
The ones that got Ballandreau a half-hour ago, the ones that got my
horse and the ones that will get us all if we stop here much longer."
"The Uhlans!" I cried to Tommy, showing him the advancing forms of a
half-dozen cavalrymen, whose black leather helmets shone in the sun a
mile up the road.
"There are seven of them--on patrol--seven hundred following! Come, old
fellow, it's now or never!"
"And I--where shall I go?" I said, jumping into the cart, George
"To the devil if you like, but quick!"
The warning came none too soon. We had been seen, and sharp, whizzing
noises in the grass, and over our beads told us that our German pursuers
had no intention of letting us get away.
"Down on your knees, man!" I yelled, pulling the old fellow with me as
we ducked to the level of the dashboard. And unfastening a breastpin, I
jabbed it mercilessly into the flanks of our nag, who bounded forward,
nearly, throwing us out.
Whizz! Whizz! Whizz!
It was as if a cloud of locusts were bumming about us.
Then when I lifted my eyes, on top of the steep incline we were
ascending, I could see several uniformed horsemen and back of them a
huge column of smoke.
"Heavens!" I gasped, "we're caught this time--but it's too late now to
turn about. We're prisoners for sure!"
Two cavalrymen then appeared and calmly started down the road in our
direction. A second later I recognized the British uniform and breathed
"Go back!" I yelled. "Go back! The Germans are on our heels!"
Astonished at bearing their native tongue, the men approached.
"Thank heaven, here's someone to direct us," they said as they came
alongside and saluted.
I replied with a nod.
"We're lost," they said, "cut off from our brigade."
"That's nothing. How many of you are there? Enough to fight? The
Germans are coming on hard and fast."
"We're only two and our horses are done for. We were driven out of
Coulommiers this morning."
My driver threw up his hands and sobbed.
"Our friend John's horse went lame and we left him at the bottom of the
hill while we came up to reconnoiter. We can't leave him down there all
"He's gone--gone--I swear it. Followed the French chasseurs on my
bicycle, leading his mount!"
"Now then, how far the Germans will come is a question. They'll
probably go in and occupy the town, and there's just one thing for us to
Whizz! Whizz! Whizz--the lead fairly splashed around us!
Leon and Emile rode back to say that the road ahead was clear.
"Les Boches," I said, pointing down the hill.
"Come on, you cowards!" yelled my boys defiantly, George brandishing the
rifle of my wounded man.
"Oh, Madame, ask the Englishmen for their revolvers. They've got their
rifles--that's five of us armed, and Monsieur's revolver makes six!
It's almost man to man. Ah, please, Madame!" they implored.
In the excitement of the moment I nearly lost my head and consented. I
was worked to such a point that any solution would have seemed a relief.
The Britishers saw me put my hand in my pocket.
"No! No!" they pleaded. "You can't--if we're caught you won't be
killed--but murdered, tortured! We're the only ones who have a right to
"But they've been peppering my cart regardless of my sex!"
"That's perhaps their way of waging war, but not ours. Now then, off
We disappeared behind a clump of trees and tore down the clear road as
fast as our horses would carry us. George sneaked back on his wheel to
see if our aggressors were following, and came back radiant to announce
that after coming halfway up the bill, they had turned about and were
cantering to take possession of Jouy--as I had predicted.
"Where's our nearest barracks?" enquired one of the Scotsmen. (I now
saw that I had to do with the Scots a little.) We slowed down a little.
"Where is our nearest barracks?" enquired one of the Scotsmen.
"How on earth do you expect me to know? Up until I met you I hardly
realized there were any British troops on the continent!"
"Where are you bound for?"
"Melun. There's a big French garrison there in time of peace. You'll
always be sure of getting orders there--unless we meet someone on the
They thought that was the best idea, and fell back, cantering behind my
caravan with which I had now caught up.
On we trotted-up hill and down dale for several hours, my poor wounded
boy still writhing on his bed of agony.
Towards four o'clock we had reached a long smooth stretch where we could
see right and left for several miles over the plains. Presently, on a
crossroad that ran perpendicular to ours, I spied a motor wagon. It was
soon followed by another and then another, and pressing forward we
reached the crossing in time to see Harrods' Stores, Whitley's, Swan &
Edgar, and an interminable number of English Army supply motors coming
straight towards us.
Knowing that it would be impossible to pass before the whole long line
had gone by, I crossed over and now saw that the Scots Grays would soon
find friends. I called Leon and pulling out a card, told him to pedal
back and dig out a bottle of champagne I had hidden in our hay cart, and
to present it to our soldier friends as a bracer and a souvenir. And
then we pushed ahead.
Two minutes later, to my utter surprise, a heavy motor horn tooted on
the road behind me and looking back, I saw a private car emerge from
behind one of the English motors, and whirl down in our direction. It
was a four-seater affair with but two occupants, a chauffeur and a woman
wearing a streaming white veil.
"Quick!" I shrieked, grabbing the reins and pulling our cart full into
the middle of the road. "They've got to take me and the boy to Melun!"
Seeing his deliverance so near, my old friend obeyed at once.
The motor, stupefied by our actions, slowed down.
"Get out of the way!" yelled the chauffeur. "Are you crazy! Out or
I'll run you down!"
"Never! Look here. I don't care where you're bound for, but you've got
to make room for me and a dying man in your machine. It's Melun--or
"Wounded! Heaven, the Germans! We're caught! Go on, quick, quick, I
say!" shrieked the woman.
The chauffeur made a movement as though to skid past us.
"No, you don't," I said, once again producing my trusty Browning.
The woman hid her face in her hands.
"Now then, either you can make room for us or I'll blow off your tires
and you'll have to get down and walk like all the rest of us!"
My gray-headed driver was jubilant.
"That's right, Madame, you've hit it!" he encouraged.
There just wasn't any choice. The chauffeur got down and began piling
the gasoline cans behind on the back seat to one side. Then, each of us
grabbing a corner of the mattress, we hoisted the sufferer onto the
machine, covering him with a sheet. Try as we would, though, we could
not get him to bend his knees, and in consequence all during the trip
the poor chauffeur received constant kicks from the agonized soul we
were rushing towards surgical aid.
"Now then," I said, turning to my old driver. "Thank you for your cart,
and bon voyage to Coulommiers. George, tell my people to meet me in
And hatless, coatless, with but one golden louis in my pocket (I had
confided my bag to Julie when the wounded man had arrived at Jouy), I
started on our record-breaking trip to Melun.
It was an exciting trip, that race for life and death--for every moment
I knew my wounded boy was growing weaker, and every convulsive kick
meant the disappearance of so much life blood. During the numerous
adventures which befell us between the time we left Jouy-le-Chatel and
our encountering the motor, my hypodermic needle had received such
violent treatment that it refused service. So when we turned into
Mormont at top speed, I was obliged to ask my driver to slow down and
inquire for a doctor. We were directed by a couple of gaping women on
the borders of the little city, who didn't quite understand our mission.
However, they must have been soon enlightened, for as we crossed the
public square the British Red Cross ambulances were pouring in and
lining up in battle array. Behind them came a steady stream of
ammunition wagons, both horse and motor trucks, and from Mormont to
Melun the line was unbroken.
The doctor was absent, but his wife willingly filled his place and with
new hope dawning we backed out of the yard and sped southward.
What was the landscape we passed through I really couldn't say. I had a
dreamy sensation of having run down a refugee's dog, and hearing its
owner wishing us in warmer climes--as well as the feeling that my
blood-stained apron and the agitated white sheet beside me created much
curiosity among the drivers and occupants of the A. S. C. motors that
took up all one side of the road.
One by one the mile posts whizzed past and finally we came into Melun.
"Where's the nearest hospital?" I enquired of a group of soldiers
loitering outside a barracks.
"Give it up! All evacuated!"
Our driver needed no more--and so we pushed on into the town, while I
pantomimed to those behind that I had a wounded man in my arms.
In front of the city hall stood a noisy gathering, and in reply to our
questions, a middle-aged man jumped on to the step.
"Go ahead--I'll guide you. All the seven hospitals in Melun were
transferred to Orleans this morning. The mixed hospital is all that is
After what seemed an interminable time we finally pulled up a long hill
and after much parleying I succeeded in turning over my patient to the
Through the half open door of the little stuffy office where I was
conducted I could see a white-aproned doctor and a nurse properly
bandaging my boy. When my _compagnons de route_ had departed, I walked
out into the ward and straight up to the bedside.
"Is there any hope?"
"Not one chance in a million! Would to heaven we had the right to spare
them such suffering! Morphine is no longer helpful in his case!"
It was a shock to hear this. The lad, who a couple of hours before was
unknown to me, suddenly became very dear. I turned about to hide my
emotion, but was startled out of it by the double line of white beds on
which were writhing men and boys in the most awful agony, yet not a
sound broke from their lips. In the middle of the room a second doctor,
a slight man with a pointed beard, stood washing his hands and then
began drawing on a pair of long rubber gloves. He crossed over to a
basin and, after sterilizing his instruments, looked around for an aid.
"Can I do anything for you, doctor?"
Not in the least surprised by my audacity he asked, "Are you a nurse?"
"Have you ever seen an operation."
"Have you a good temperament?"
"Then come over here and hold this basin." I obeyed, and then Doctor
Jean Masbrennier began a series of operations which will remain graven
in my memory forever.
As he worked he talked--and informed me that the Red Cross Society had
been hastily evacuated in the morning, doctors and all. Only those who
were unable to be moved had been left behind, and only two civilian
doctors were left to attend them. But one nurse remained to do all the
bandaging. That was why I had been rung into service. It took but
little time to find a mutual acquaintance in the person of Elizabeth
Gauthier, and the doctor had long been familiar with H.'s work.
It would be useless to describe the horrors that I witnessed, or try to
do justice to the heroic way those first glorious wounded of this
lengthy war accepted their fate. I cannot, however, resist mentioning
the endurance of a big black Senegalais, who won the admiration of both
doctors and neighbors by refusing morphine or cocaine, and insisting on
having the seven bullets that were lodged in his neck and throat
withdrawn thus--never uttering a murmur!
When it was over, and we finally laid him back on his pillow, the tears
were rolling down his cheeks and he squeezed my hand in his big black
paw and then gently drew it to his lips.
How many wounded were there? I did not count. All I remember was that
I promised to come the next day and write letters to wives, mothers and
sweethearts of at least a dozen men and boys.
It was late when the last basin was emptied and Dr. Masbrennier untied
As we were washing up, I asked if he would be good enough to guide me
out of the hospital and tell me where there was a respectable restaurant
to which a woman might go alone.
"I have neither hat, coat, nor gloves. They're coming in the carts."
"That's so; perhaps you haven't had anything since lunch and I've been
making you work on an empty stomach!"
"Worse than that!" I laughed.
"Nothing since breakfast at Jouy-le-Chatel."
"Good God, woman!" And taking me by the arm, he hurried me down the
As we passed out of the entrance door, a superior officer stopped Dr.
Masbrennier and though I advanced out of earshot the words, "evacuation"
and "to-night" were distinctly audible. A second later my companion
caught up with me.
"So sorry I can't accompany you, but the whole hospital goes to Orleans
immediately. Must make room for the new-comers! I'll 'phone home. The
_gouvernante_ will make you comfortable." And he continued to give me
explicit directions how to reach his house.
"You'd better come to Orleans where we can look after you."
"Sorry, but I've gone far enough south."
"_Alors au revoir et grand merci._"
And a second later I found myself outside in the chilly darkness.
For the first time in my life I had the sensation of being utterly
alone. No one on earth knew where I was and if I had not had faith in
Dr. Masbrennier's promise of a warm dinner, I should gladly have
indulged in a little fit of despair. And so I wandered on down the
dingy, black streets of Melun, where not a lamp post nor shop window was
lighted, not a human being seemed astir. Where was my little troupe?
How and when would we all meet?
Thus ruminating I came to a bridge. A sentry flashed a pocket lamp in
"_On ne passe pas!_"
I showed my armlet and he stepped aside.
Halfway across I distinguished two human forms leaning over the railing,
and following their example I perceived a half-dozen _hommes du genie_
hard at work mining the foundation of the center arch. So these bridges
were to be blown up, too! What was I to do? Stay on the other side and
wait for my caravan or cross over and risk my chances alone? A
reflector from below swung upward, illuminating the bridge.
"George!" I gasped.
One of the two figures straightened abruptly! In a second the boys had
recognized me. "What are you doing here? Where are the others?"
I poured out a dozen eager questions, not giving them time to reply.
When almost breathless I stopped and they explained that the caravan had
been halted on the outskirts of Melun. No refugees were allowed in
after nightfall. Fortunately the boys bethought themselves of my wounded
man's clothes and arms, and thanks to these they were allowed to pass
and deliver them to the gendarmerie. Remembering that I had friends at
Barbizon they had sent the others there by a round-about route, and had
come on to find me.
"But how did you get here?"
"Cesar brought us."
"Where is he? And Betsy?"
"Oh, we found a dentist who had an empty stable. He took them in. Betsy
refused to leave the cart. She's never had such a picnic in her life:
been traveling all day in a ten pound box of lump sugar!"
All worry had vanished, now that I found my line of conduct traced for
me. The chief thing at present was to get something to eat. So we
pushed ahead up the hill in the ever-deepening obscurity. We walked on
in silence for what seemed an interminable distance. Once I fancied I
had mistaken directions and was about to despair when the tramp of feet
coming toward us revived hope. A second later a brawny arm turned a
lantern into my face and a huge police dog growled close to my heels.
"Are you the person who is going to Dr. Masbrennier's?"
"_Tres bien_. Are these boys with you?"
"Then follow me. We're closing up the doctor's house, but I'll look
Without further ado we trudged on behind our guide, who after another
hundred yards, turned into a gateway and led us up the stone steps of a
sumptuous dwelling. Opening the door, he lit the electric light and
stepped into the vestibule.
"Come in," he said. "I'll be back in a moment." And he disappeared.
There we stood, Leon, George and myself, waiting for something to
happen, for someone to appear. Five--ten--fifteen minutes must have
elapsed--still not a sound anywhere. I was just beginning to wonder if
we had not been the dupes of some practical joke, when from a room
opening into the vestibule a light shone forth. The curtains parted and
our friend of the highroad appeared.
"Isn't much--but such as it is you're welcome. Sit down and make
yourselves comfortable." And again he disappeared.
On a snowy white table cloth three covers were laid and a tempting
supper composed of bread and butter, cheese, a bottle of white wine, and
a huge basket of most luscious hothouse grapes and pears--gladdened our
hungry gaze. We did not need a second invitation! We fell to with a
vengeance and at the end of a quarter-hour hardly a crumb remained.
"When you've finished, come upstairs; Madame will take the first door to
the right. You boys come up a flight higher," called a voice from
We obeyed, and before retiring I waited a good half-hour hoping our
friend would reappear. But no one came--so bolting my door, I offered
up a prayer of thanks and was soon fast asleep.
Sunday morning, September sixth, the sun was high in the heavens when I
peeped from beneath my lace-bordered sheets and cocked my ear at the
familiar sound of the cannon. It was a long continuous roar, and now
that I had become accustomed to distancing I estimated that the battle
was on at Mormont. And I was not mistaken. A little later official
news confirmed my guess.
Finding no bell in my room, I opened the door to see a pitcher of hot
water sitting before it, and on a chair beside it, a new comb, a clean
linen duster, and a pocket handkerchief. A brief note told me that I
would find breakfast in the dining-room, and requested that I leave word
on the table saying at what time I would be in for luncheon. Decidedly
the mystery deepened--for not a sound could be heard save in the garden
where I spied George and Leon, who informed me that the house was empty,
and "a gorgeous house, Madame!" they ejaculated in admiration.
Though partially abandoned, Melun was full of life, thanks to the
presence of numerous British troops and that same long line of A. S.
C.'s now quadrupled on the highroad--two lines going, two lines coming.
As I picked my way between them, and crossed the street, my attention
was arrested by a French peasant who was conversing by means of the sign
language with the handsome driver of one of those vans, while several
children were clamoring to be allowed to sit on the seat a moment, "just
to see how it seemed."
"Can I be of any assistance?"
"Rather! Seems good to hear English, thank you."
"Yes. Might I ask where you come from?"
"Do you know Cleveland?"
"Well, I've got a mother and three brothers buried in that cemetery.
Colonials, you know. I'm English--from Bath--oldest son. Couldn't see
things their way. Done better perhaps if I'd joined the others out
I smiled at this unexpected and impromptu confession. The boy saw it
"Is there anything particular you want me to say to this man for you?"
said I quickly, to cover his embarrassment.
"No, thank you. But there's one thing you might be able to tell me."
"Do you think we'll be 'home' in time to eat Christmas dinner?"
"Thank you so much! Good-bye."
"Good-bye and good luck to you."
And after snapping his photograph I started on down the street in haste,
for I could see George and Leon, who had gone on ahead, now running
"_Vite_, Madame. They need you!"
"The English. They can't make people understand."
I pressed forward, and came upon a crowd of gapers standing outside a
shop. Within two English officers were arguing in their native tongue
with an irate butcher, who waved one arm wildly in the air, and
brandished a huge knife in the other, shouting frantically all the
"La' voila-la voila!" said George and Leon, almost dragging me forward,
proud to exhibit my accomplishments. "_La voila! Vous etes sauves._"
My greatest desire was to turn about and run, but the crowd parted to
let me through.
"Would you mind, Madame?" pleaded the lieutenant. "We need your
assistance to make this man understand that we're drafting meat for the
army. We'll pay cash, but be might just as well give it gracefully, for
we have the right to force his ice box if he refuses."
I explained gently, and when things were calm was about to slip away.
The officer touched me on the shoulder.
"I'm sorry, Madame, but I'm afraid we'll have to draft you, too. Our
time is limited and if a scene like this happen at every shop we'll be
punished for tardiness! Here's my order to draft an interpreter," and
he put his hand into his pocket.
I was somewhat abashed.
"Might I ask when you will release me?"
"Just as soon as we've the supply we need."
"Will you give me ten minutes to arrange my affairs here?"
"Certainly. But remember you're on parole!"
Outside I explained the situation to George and Leon, and scribbling a
note to friends in Barbizon, told the boys to drive over and reassure
the others--make them comfortable at the _Clef d'Or,_ and tell them to
expect me that evening.
"Whatever happens, wait there until I come. There's no danger of the
Germans reaching Barbizon, I fancy!"
And that is how from nine in the morning until late in the afternoon I
sat perched on the front of a British Army Supply truck, much to the
amusement of the other Tommy Atkins we encountered in Melun and the
My officer friends very courteously drove me to the hospital where I
learned that my poor wounded _chasseur_ Ballandreau had passed away in
the night, and towards five o'clock, when their task was completed, they
offered me tea and proposed to drive me to Barbizon. As we jolted down
the hill towards the railway crossing our attention was attracted by a
huge gathering of citizens and soldiers, and above the roar of our
motor, we could hear the rolling of a drum. Silence reigned instantly
and an officer in uniform in the middle of the group read out a short
message from a paper he held in his hand. What he said we could not
hear, but the mad shout of joy that went up when he had finished made us
eager to learn the news. Like lightning "Paris saved--the Germans
retreating" ran from mouth to mouth, and the delirious excitement that
seized that crowd was absolutely indescribable. Young and old, English,
and French, peasant and bourgeois, fell on each other's necks and
exchanged a joyous embrace. The awful tension of the last month was
broken and the word victory was uttered by thousands of throats,
suddenly grown husky with emotion.
My arrival and the news I bore created a sensation among my servants and
the remaining inhabitants of Millet's famous village. Barbizon was
dead--literally deserted, for not a single member of that delightful
summer colony remained, several hotels were closed, and the others as
empty as in the heart of winter. The proprietress of the _Clef d'Or_
made me a very tempting offer for a _sejour_, but I judged, and rightly,
that since the German retreat had begun, we would best follow on close
behind the victorious army, for if we waited until order was restored,
patrols would be organized and we who had no papers to identify us would
not be allowed to pass.
Before retiring I announced my intention of starting homeward, and the
joy that illuminated those anxious faces somewhat calmed my own
misgivings, for now that our adventure was safely over, I couldn't help
worrying about the absent.
When I touched my bed, I bethought me of my lodging the night before,
and realized that I knew neither the name nor address of the generous
person in whose sumptuous domicile I had been so cordially received and
graciously cared for. How and whom was I to thank?
Leon, Emile and a sturdy butcher boy from Charly who had joined the
others on the road, had now determined to enlist--so I could but
encourage their patriotic sentiments, and went with them to the
recruiting office to furnish proof of their identity.
Evidently many other youths under military age had been inspired with
the same idea, for there was a long line outside the door, and as we
stood and waited, we examined with interest the mounts of the English
cavalry regiment lined up in the street awaiting their riders. George
and Leon were eagerly fingering a long coil of rope thrown on the pommel
of one saddle, when a deep voice from behind them ejaculated,
"Guess you ain't ever seen the likes of that before. That's a lasso."
I explained, and then looking round, beheld a long, lanky individual,
his hands on his hips, literally taking us all in.
"Do you think you can tell 'em what that is, sister?"
"I fancy so."
"Then you must be from home!"
"If you mean the States--yes."
"To h--with the States! The State--Texas!"
I didn't find it necessary to translate that. "Say, you haven't by any
chance got a razor about you?" he inquired. I replied that I was not in
the habit of carrying such articles on my person.
"No offense meant--but since you speak this language, perhaps you could
persuade one of them kids to go and buy me one."
I said I thought I might, and my compatriot producing an American double
eagle, enjoined Leon to be quick and he'd make it worth his while.
"You see," he explained, "a razor is all I need to complete my outfit.
Got a Winchester, two revolvers, a Bowie knife, a lance and a lasso.
Razor's flat and easy to carry. Might be useful, too. Nothing like
being properly armed. If I've got to sell my hide you bet I'll sell it
Leon returned and I was about to ask my friend to give us a little
exhibition of his skill with the rope, when the call to arms obliged him
to leave. So enjoining me to give his regards to Broadway, he departed
much pleased with the world in general and himself in particular.
From various sources, though none of them official, I learned that the
road as far as Coulommiers was clear. That was all we wanted to know,
so after seeing the boys off for Orleans, a very much diminished caravan
started on its homeward journey. The horses, after two days' rest, were
quite giddy, and the carts being light, they carried us on the new road
north as far as Pezarches with but few halts. The country we passed
through, though abandoned by its inhabitants, showed no traces of
invasion. The Germans had not been able to push so far west. I counted
on making Coulonimiers to sleep, but night closed in early and with it
came a chilly drizzle, which sent us in search of lodgings. Not a soul
was to be seen anywhere, and as all the houses were shut, I deemed it
unwise to force a door. So we pushed ahead into the border of the
forest, hoping that the rain would soon cease.
Presently someone discovered an abandoned hermitage, through whose low
doorway we crept, and spreading out our blankets on the floor, prepared
to make a night of it--glad of shelter from the dampness.
"Hark!" hissed George, just as we were dropping off to sleep.
We all sat up.
"There! That's the third bullet that's landed on this roof!"
Ra-ta-pan-Ratapan! There was no mistaking the sound--even through the
wind and rain that raged outside.
George crawled on his knees toward the opening, and a second later
jumped back, clapping his hand to his head with a low shriek.
"He's shot!" cried Julie.
I leaped forward, grabbed the lantern, and holding it to the spot,
opened the boy's clenched fingers. As they parted, a heavy horse
chestnut burr fell to the floor with a loud thump!
We were too nervous to appreciate the humor of the situation, and had
some little difficulty composing ourselves to rest.
As we approached Coulommiers the next morning the horrors of war became
more and more evident. On both sides of the roadway the fields were
strewn with bay and straw. Every ten paces the earth was burned or
charred, and in some places the smoke still rose from dying campfires.
Bones, bottles and tin preserve cans in extraordinary quantities were
strewn in every direction, and a half mile before we reached the town
itself, a dead horse lay abandoned in a ditch.
At this point we were hailed by a party of bedraggled refugees who
warned us that it would be useless to try to enter Coulommiers.
"We're from Neuilly--St. Front, on our way home, but there doesn't seem
much chance of our getting any further. The place is in the hands of
the military authorities--with orders to let no one pass."
We halted, and George went on ahead and interviewed a sentry, returning
with a negative reply, and the information that Coulommiers was in a
pretty mess after the looting.
"It can't be worse than _La Ferte Gauche._" And above the almost
deafening roar of the cannon an elderly man told us bow his caravan had
been caught by the Germans, stripped of everything they possessed,
separated from their women folk, and with armed sentries back of them
had been forced to work at the building of a temporary bridge to replace
the one the French had blown up.
"I got off easy--with only a few welts from a raw-hide," he murmured,
"but my brother (and he pointed to a very stout masculine figure rolled
in a blanket and sitting motionless on the steps of an abandoned road
house)--"my brother's nearly done for! You see he's near-sighted and
not used to manual labor, and every time he missed his nail with the
hammer, the German coward would jab him in the ribs with the point of
his bayonet. Seventy-two wounds!"
"And your women?"
"God knows what they did to them! My wife hasn't stopped sobbing since
we met. She's dazed--I can't make her talk."
As he rambled on with his haphazard story, glad of fellow sympathy, I
spied a line of British Army Supply carts advancing up the road. The
leader came to a halt and getting down, the driver entered the first of
the abandoned dwellings before which we were standing. Presently he
"Just my luck! I say"--(and this addressed to our group with a sort of
blank, hopeless expression) "I don't suppose any of you Frenchies know
where I could get a cup of tea!"
I laughed outright, much to his astonishment.
"Not anywhere around here, unless you're willing to wait until I can
build fire enough to make you one!"
The man blushed crimson.
"Ah--I couldn't think--"
"No trouble. Get one of your men to make a blaze, and, boasting aside,
I'll brew you a cup such as you haven't had since you left England."
No sooner said than done, and quarter of an hour later, a half-dozen
Tommy Atkins were sipping hot Kardomah with sugar and condensed milk
from tin mugs.
"You're certainly right--the French don't know how to do it, at least in
these parts. I had a teapotful yesterday morning that was as near a
mixture of stewed herbs and Hunyadi water I ever hope to taste. And
now, isn't there something we can do for you?"
"Tell me where you're bound for?"
The man brought out a note-book and pointed to a name.
"Yes, that's it. I wouldn't dare tackle it."
"Is the road clear? Can we go there? It's only fifteen kilometers from
"I don't know if they'll let you by--but if you're clever and follow on
close behind us with your Red Cross armlet, there's just a
I didn't need a second bidding and after warning my people not to talk
if we met sentries but to have faith in me, we pushed ahead. Our army
friends with better horses soon left us in the rear, but undaunted we
proceeded, finally reaching the heights that overlooked La Ferte--and
led into the village, Jouarre, perched on the side of the hill running
towards the Marne.
Oh, the pitiful sights that met our gaze as we wended our way along
those glorious roads, now full of ruts and knee-deep in mud! As far as
eye could see the entire country had served as a huge camp for the
invader, and when forced to flee he had sacked and destroyed everything
within his reach. The wonderful fertile fields had been soiled,
polluted, and among other damning evidences of their fury, the smoking
ruins of every farm house stood like specters in the brilliant sunshine.
At the entrance to La Ferte our road was barred by two sentinels,
elderly peasants, by their looks. I played mum and tapped my Red Cross
"_Non, on ne passe pas!_"
I beckoned them and fumbled among my papers for my _carte d'identite_.
They approached the cart, but as they did so, my faithful Betsy let
forth an angry growl.
"Down!" I commanded in English. "Down! I say! They're not going to
Those phrases were my undoing!
"Oh, ho!" said my interlocutors. "And after that you think you're going
to get past us? We've had enough Boches in this place. You can come
in--but between us!"
And jumping up on either side of me, one of them took the reins and
started forward. This being taken for a spy was an altogether new and
very disagreeable sensation.
"But, gentlemen," I protested calmly, "I'm known in this place. If
there's an inhabitant left I'll be identified in a second. How green
you'll feel if you drag me before an officer and find you're mistaken!"
They were unrelenting.
I invoked my identity card.
No, they had heard me speak in a foreign tongue and all foreign tongues
to them were German!
And so we entered La Ferte.
Doors and windows no longer existed--the former had been dashed to
splinters by the butt ends of guns, while the latter were shattered to
powder and from their apertures swung bed clothing, personal adornment
and household belongings in shreds and tatters--all willfully soiled by
mud and filth.
It was useless to try to drive our cart up the main street, so calling a
passing comrade, my detainers bid him hold my horse until they returned
after having _fait leur affaire_, as they expressed it.
The plate glass windows of every store lay in thousands of pieces below
their sashes, and the entire stock of merchandise whether furniture or
drapery, groceries or dairy products, had been hurled through them into
the middle of the thoroughfare. Above these were piled pell-mell
bedding and chairs, wardrobes and wash basins, all splintered and
broken--the whole making the most pitiable conglomeration I ever hope to
witness. One plucky dealer was already boarding up the great yawning
cavities that were once show windows, and here and there a frightened
female face peeped out from behind the ruins of her commerce.
"Madame Huard!" cried a familiar voice behind me. "_Mon Dieu_--you!"
I turned and recognized my pastry baker's wife.
"_Oui, moi; arretee._"
"Yes, unless you will be good enough to inform these gentlemen who I
"_Est-il possible! Est-il possible!_ Why, of course, I know you--how
"You see," I said, turning to the _auxilaires_.
But they were inflexible, bidding my friend follow on if she could swear
to my identity. She obeyed, but our group had attracted the attention
of a couple of small boys who darted out of an alley way like rats from
a cellar, calling, "_L'espionne--l'espionne!_"
Thank fortune, at that instant we came upon an officer, whom I accosted
at a distance, explained my case and produced my card and my pastry
baker. He understood in a moment, and hastily discharged my custodians.
"I cannot scold them. They're over zealous, but we've been so horribly
betrayed all along. You understand, I'm sure. Please accept my
I bowed and he departed. Then I turned to my friend.
"You've heard the news, I suppose, Madame?"
She suddenly grew white.
"Quick--out with it, woman!"
"_Non_, not that, Madame, but a quarter of an hour ago it was noised
about that the enemy are still retreating, and that we were pounding
into their headquarters--le chateau de Villiers."
I felt myself whitening. The woman saw it, and catching me by the arm.
"Come, come," she said. "You're tired; perhaps it isn't true, so many
false alarms have been launched. Come and have a cup of coffee--you'll
excuse our back room--it's all we have left."
I gladly followed her, picking my way through what had once been one of
the most enticing of provincial pastry shops, the good soul apologizing
all the time, as if she had been responsible for the damage. As she
prattled on, though my own brain was swimming I now and then grasped
such phrases as three days of looting, two days' bombardment. As she
passed me a cup of coffee, she explained that the invaders had not been
satisfied with violently appropriating all personal articles which they
had found to their liking, but after having drunk all the wine in the
cellars, they had willfully cut open the bags of flour and thrown it
pell-mell in every direction.
"And, Madame, they got into my reserve of eggs--five thousand of them--"
she wept, "five thousand! All my winter's store. I wouldn't have
minded if they had eaten them but to see them purposely crushed and
wasted. Two of those wretches spent half a day bringing them up from
the cellar in their helmets, and then dragging me out, would hurl them
at the walls and windows, savagely rejoicing in my distress!"
I couldn't remain indoors--I had but one thought--get to Villiers or see
someone who knew for certain what had happened there.
Again I crossed the shop, paddling through that sticky yellow slime in
which bits of furniture and clothing floated like croutons in a gigantic
Outside, towards the end of the street that opened on to the quay, great
animation reigned. A bugle sounded and I could hear the tramp of
"Look!" cried my friend. "Look, all that is left of the Institut St.
Joseph, the pride of La Ferte."
Across the river between the broken spans of the bridge, my eye fell
upon the gutted remains of what had once been a most exquisite bit of
eighteenth century architecture. The mansion which had sheltered Louis
XVI and Marie Antoinette on their eventful return from Varennes, was now
a smoking pile of ashes!
"And to think we had to do it! Oh, curse their hides!" muttered an
elderly man close to my elbow.
"Why, when they had to get out of here they crossed the Marne, destroyed
the bridge and entrenched themselves in the houses along the bank. The
English caught them like rats in a cage, but at what a price! One
fellow that's rowed across says he can bear them moaning, but you bet
they can rot there before we'll go to 'em. Begging your pardon for the
A dozen men of the _genie_ were busy constructing a temporary arch
between two spans, and just as soon as a plank was laid a regiment from
Cherbourg (almost all reservists) filed over one by one. The population
gave them an ovation, and it was a curious sight to see these care-worn,
haggard-faced people simply going mad with joy, while around them was
"I hope you haven't come for your tea service, Madame?"
I turned and recognized my china dealer, who smiled cynically as he
motioned towards his shop.
"It doesn't pay to be a glass merchant these days. It only took two
shells to send twenty years' earnings into splinters! There's not a
whole goblet or plate in the entire establishment! But I wouldn't have
cared if they hadn't maltreated the women. I--"
"Come and see!" cried another. "Durant's house has tumbled down and his
wife and family are smothering in the cellar. Quick!"
There was a general rush in that direction, but I pushed on towards the
bridge. It was evident my carts could not cross, but there was just a
hope that they would let George and me through with our bicycles.
I accosted the sentry who stood mounting guard beside a motor which was
thrown up on the side of the road, twisted and distorted like a tin toy
one has walked on.
No, the bridge was for the army only.
An officer came to my rescue, but could only confirm the sentry's
"You're not safe even here. This is the firing line. We don't know yet
for certain whether we are going to hold the ground we gained. Villiers?
Still in the Germans' hands."
I sighed and was about to turn away. "Then where's the nearest bridge
"But that's thirty kilometres west! I'm only fifteen from home here!"
"I wish I could help you, but there's no use trying to leave here unless
you go that way."
Then Meaux it must be, and though our trip was considerably lengthened,
anything was better than inaction.
It was with much reluctance that we turned our backs on La Ferte the
following morning and headed our horses westward.
Naturally the right of way was reserved for the army, and the roads
bordering the Marne were now lined with soldiers, guns, ambulances and
supply vans rushing to the front. After being side-tracked and halted
no less than two score times, we finally reached Trilport, where the
invaders had done but little material damage. The terrified civil
population was even exultant, for two nights previously an automobile
containing four German officers sped through the town, in the direction
of Paris, and ignorant of the fact that the English had destroyed the
bridge, had been precipitated into the river. The affair seemed to be
considered as a huge joke, and the chief amusement now consisted in
hanging over the broken side and contemplating the gruesome spectacle of
a half-submerged motor, and four human bodies lying inanimate on some
rocks, rapidly swelling, thanks to heat and the current.
"When we're sure they're good and dead, we'll bury 'em," explained a man
whom I questioned.
As I write this phrase, now that more than a year has elapsed, it seems
cruel and heartless, but on the spur of the moment, and after all that
each one had endured, it was but justice.
Though barges were being rapidly brought into position so as to form a
temporary bridge, I felt it would be a good two days before we could get
across, and so following the course of the river, we wended our way in
and out, round about, this time through peaceful country, until we
My heart leaped with joy when on approaching I saw the cathedral
standing unharmed, like a guardian above the peaceful little city.
The Germans had made but a brief stay here, merely an _entree_ and
_sortie_, and had been received by Bishop Marbeau, in such a fashion as
is likely to be recorded in history and place his name beside that of
his famous predecessor, Bossuet.
One or two stray shells had fallen into the place, but the harm done was
insignificant. The most picturesque and melancholy sight was along the
river front, where to head off the enemy's approach the French had been
obliged to blow up those ancient bridges, landmarks of the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries, for, like the Ponte Vecchio at Florence, they were
lined with houses and mills, whose pointed roofs and apparent beams had
weathered nearly five hundred years! Strange as it may seem, it was
they that resisted the most, and, though the dynamite had severed their
connection with land and shattered their pale-blue window panes, not a
house had collapsed, and as they stood in the sun's dying blaze, they
seemed to say, "Touch me, if you dare!"
Washboats, rowboats, barges and every available means of navigation had
been sunk or put out of working order and though the enemy was hardly
ten miles distant, men and women were busily engaged in setting them
Once again all we could do was to stand and gaze at the opposite bank
and after assuring ourselves that there was no possible way of crossing,
we hastily departed for Lagny.
That night we slept in a shed hospitably offered by a lone peasant
woman, and the next morning triumphantly crossed the river and set our
Branching northward into the open country we chose all the by-roads and
short cuts where our carts would pass, in order to avoid the long
streams of ambulances and ammunition vans, as well as in the hope of
finding better thoroughfares. A drizzling rain had set in the night
before, making the roads, which up until now had been covered with a
thick layer of dust, slippery and uncomfortable. Highways which
heretofore had been seldom trodden, were full of ruts and bumps, and
from Langy to Villiers there was hardly a corner but what showed signs
of the invaders' passage. Over these green and fertile fields whose
crops had proudly waved their heads about the lovely Marne, were strewn
straw and empty bottles in unimaginable quantities. Thousands of
blackened or charred spots dotting the countryside, told of campfires
and hasty bivouacs, and as we silently plodded on towards Charny, the
growing evidences of recent battle met our saddened gaze.
Here a shell had burst on the road, in the midst of a bicycle squadron,
scattering men and machines to the four winds of Heaven. A little
mound, a rough-hewn cross, marked the spot where some sixty soldiers lay
in their last peaceful sleep, while the _melee_ of tangled wire and iron
which had once been machines, as well as blood-stained garments, bits of
shell, and even human flesh, made a gruesome and indescribable picture.
Souvenirs? The idea never entered my head. And my kodak, which I had
been so prompt to use to commemorate various events, seemed a vulgar,
inquisitive instrument, and was left unheeded in the bottom of the cart.
Each step brought us face to face with the horrors of warfare. Towards
Villeroy a number of battered Parisian taxicabs gave us the first hint
of General Gallieni's clever maneuver which helped save the capital--and
then the wind brought towards us a nauseating odor, which paralyzed our
appetites, and sent us doggedly onwards: the stench of the battlefield.
The girls in the cart drew closer together, shivering, though the air
was warm and muggy. Even old Cesar seemed to feel the awe of that
Valley of Shadow, and no one murmured as we passed the first bloated
carcasses of dead horses and came upon that far more horrid sight--human
bodies--swelled to twice their natural size, lying as death had met
them, some in piles, others farther apart--all unrecognizable, but once
proud mothers' petted darlings. I think they were our enemies. I did
not stop to investigate; the flies bothered us so terribly, and long low
mounds with red kepis piled upon them told of the graves of France's
defenders. Far ahead I could discover groups of men with shovels,
hastily burying those who remained. To the right a lazy column of dense
smoke rose reluctantly in the heavy air. I fancied it came from a
funeral pyre; we certainly smelled tar and petrol. The ground beneath
rocked with the thundering of the distant cannon, and as one peal burst
louder a flock of jet black crows mounted heavenward, mournfully cawing
in the semi-twilight.
So we continued, a silent, foot-sore, rain-soaked community. With the
growing remoteness of imminent danger came the reaction of all we had
passed through, and deep down in our hearts we welcomed the idea of
entering a village.
A village! Alas! As we reached the road leading to Barcy, there was a
rift in the clouds, and a long golden ray shot through an enormous
breach in the church tower, flickered a moment upon a group of roofless
houses, and was gone. Night closed in.