Part 3 out of 4
taking no notice of things that happen. I notice fast enough, and I am
so interested that I hope to see the condemnation, already passed in
England, against Kaiser, Kronprinz and Company, for "wilful murder,"
executed, even if I cannot live to see Germany invaded.
This is what you get for saying, "You make no comment on the
overrunning of Servia or the murder of Edith Cavell, or the failure of
the Gallipoli adventure." After all, these are only details in the great
undertaking. As we say of every disaster, "They will not affect the final
result." It is getting to be a catch-word, but it is true.
Germany is absolutely right in considering Great Britain her greatest
enemy. She knows today that, even if she could get to Paris or
Petrograd, it would not help her. She would still have Britain to settle
with. I wonder if the Kaiser has yet waked up to a realization of his
one very great achievement--the reawakening of Greater Britain? He
dreamed of dealing his mother's country a mortal blow.
The blow landed, but it healed instead of killing.
This war is infernal, diabolical--and farcical--if we look at the deeds
that are done every day. Luckily we don't and mustn't, for we all know
that there are things in the world a million times worse than death,
and that there are future results to be aimed at which make death
gloriously worth while. Those are the things we must look at.
I have always told you that I did not find the balance of things much
changed, and I don't. I am afraid that you cannot cultivate, civilize,
humanize--choose your word--man to such a point that, so long as he
is not emasculated, his final argument in the cause of honor and
justice will not be his fists--with or without a weapon in them--which is
equivalent to saying, I am afraid, that so long as there are two men
on earth there will always be the chance of a fight.
Thus far February has been a droll month. I have seen Februaries in
France which have been spring-like, with the chestnut trees in bud,
and the primroses in flower, and lilacs in leaf. This February has been
a strange mixture of spring awkwardly slipping out of the lap of winter
and climbing back again. There have been days when the sun was
so warm that I could drive without a rug, and found furs a burden;
there have been wonderful moonlit nights; but the most of the time,
so far, it has been nasty. On warm days flowers began to sprout and
the buds on the fruit-trees to swell. That made Pere sigh and talk
about the lune rousse. We have had days of wind and rain which be-
longed in a correct March. I am beginning to realize that the life of a
farmer is a life of anxiety. If I can take Pere's word for it, it is always
cold when it should not be; the hot wave never arrives at the right
moment; when it should be dry it rains; and when the earth needs
water the rain refuses to fall. In fact, on his testimony, I am convinced
that the weather is never just right, except to the mere lover of nature,
who has nothing to lose and nothing to gain by its caprices.
The strange thing is that we all stand it so well. If anyone had told me
that I could have put up with the life I have been living for two winters
and be none the worse for it, I should have thought him heartless.
Yet, like the army, I am surely none the worse for it, and, in the army,
many of the men are better for it. The youngsters who come home on
leave are as rugged as possible. They have straightened up and
broadened their chests. Even the middle-aged are stronger. There is
a man here who is a master mason, a hard-working, ambitious,
honest chap, very much loved in the commune. He worked on my
house, so I know him well. Before the war he was very delicate. He
had chronic indigestion, and constantly recurring sore throats. He
was pale, and his back was beginning to get round. As he has five
children, he is in an ammunition factory. He was home the other day.
I asked him about his health, he looked so rosy, so erect, and strong.
He laughed, and replied: "Never so well in my life. I haven't had a
cold this winter, and I sleep in a board shanty and have no fire, and I
eat in a place so cold my food is chilled before I can swallow it. My
indigestion is a thing of the past. I could digest nails!"
You see I am always looking for consolations in the disaster. One
must, you know.
March 2, 1916
We are living these days in the atmosphere of the great battle of
Verdun. We talk Verdun all day, dream Verdun all night--in fact, the
thought of that great attack in the east absorbs every other idea. Not
in the days of the Marne, nor in the trying days of Ypres or the Aisne
was the tension so terrible as it is now. No one believes that Verdun
can be taken, but the anxiety is dreadful, and the idea of what the
defence is costing is never absent from the minds even of those who
are firmly convinced of what the end must be.
I am sending you a Forain cartoon from the Figaro, which exactly
expresses the feeling of the army and the nation.
You have only to look on a map to know how important the position is
at Verdun, the supposed-to-be-strongest of the four great fortresses--
Verdun, Toul, Epinay, and Belfort--which protect the only frontier by
which the Kaiser has a military right to try to enter France, and which
he avoided on account of its strength.
Verdun itself is only one day's march from Metz. If you study it up on
a map you will learn that, within a circuit of thirty miles, Verdun is
protected by thirty-six redoubts. But what you will not learn is that this
great fortification is not yet connected with its outer redoubts by the
subterranean passages which were a part of the original scheme. It is
that fact which is disturbing. Every engineer in the French army
knows that the citadel at Metz has underground communications with
all its circle of outer ramparts. Probably every German engineer
knows that Verdun's communication passages were never made.
Isn't it strange (when we remember that, even in the days of walled
cities, there were always subterraneans leading out of the fortified
towns beyond the walls--wonderful works of masonry, intact today,
like those of Provins, and even here on this hill) that a nation which
did not want war should have left unfinished the protection of such a
You probably knew, as usual, before we did, that the battle had
begun. We knew nothing of it here until February 23, three days after
the bombardment began, with the French outer lines nine miles
outside the city, although only twenty-four hours after was the full
force of the German artillery let loose, with fourteen German divisions
waiting to march against the three French divisions holding the
position. Can you wonder we are anxious?
We have been buoyed up for weeks by the hope of an Allied
offensive--and instead came this!
The first day's news was bad, so was that of the 24th. I have never
since the war began felt such a vibrant spirit of anxiety about me. To
add to it, just before midnight on the 24th snow began to fall. In the
morning there was more snow on the ground than I had ever seen in
France. It was a foot deep in front of the house, and on the north
side, where it had drifted, it was twice that depth. This was so unusual
that no one seemed to know what to do. Amelie could not get to me.
No one is furnished with foot-gear to walk in snow, except men who
happen to have high galoshes. I looked out of the window, and saw
Pere shovelling away to make a path to the gate, but with an iron
shovel it was a long passage. It was nine o'clock before he got the
gate open, and then Amelie came slipping down. Pere was busy all
day keeping that path open, for the snow continued to fall.
This meant that communications were all stopped. Trains ran slowly
on the main lines, but our little road was blocked. It continued to snow
for two days, and for two days we had no news from the outside
On the morning of the 27th one of our old men went to the Demi-
Lune and watched for a military car coming in from Meaux. After
hours of waiting, one finally appeared. He ran into the road and hailed
it, and as the chauffeur put on his brakes, he called:
"Elle tient," was the reply, and the auto rushed on.
That was all the news we had in those days.
When communications were opened the news we got was not
consoling. First phase of the battle closed six days ago--with the
Germans in Douaumont, and the fighting still going on--but the spirit
of the French not a jot changed. Here, among the civilians, they say:
"Verdun will never fall," and out at the front, they tell us that the
poilus simply hiss through their clenched teeth, as they fight and fall,
"They shall not pass." And all the time we sit inactive on the hilltop
holding that thought. It's all we can do.
We were livened up a bit last week because the village clown was on
his home leave. He is a lad of twenty-three with a young wife and a
little three-year-old girl, who has learned to talk since "dada" saw her,
and is her father right over--full of fun, good-humor, and laughter.
I have told you that we almost never hear war talk. We did hear some
while our local clown was home, but how much was true and how
much his imagination I don't know. Anyway, his drollery made us all
laugh. His mother-in-law had died since he left, and when his wife
wept on his shoulder, he patted her on the back, and winked over his
shoulder at his admiring friends, as he said: "Chut, ma fille, if you are
going to cry in these days because someone dies, you'll have no time
to sleep. Only think of it, the old lady died in bed, and that is
everything which is most aristocratic in these days."
I regret to say that this did not console wife one bit.
As he never can tell anything without acting it out, he was very comic
when he told about the battle in which the Prussian Guard was wiped
out. He is in the artillery, and he acted out the whole battle. When he
got to the point where the artillery was ordered to advance, he gave
an imitation of himself scrambling on to his gun, and swaying there,
as the horses struggled to advance over the rough road ploughed
with shell, until they reached the field where the Guard had fallen.
Then he imitated the gesture of the officer riding beside the guns, and
stopping to look off at the field, as, with a shrug, he said: "Ah, les
beaux gars" then swung his sabre and shouted: "En avant!"
Then came the imitation of a gunner hanging on his gun as the gun-
carriage went bumping over the dead, the sappers and petrole
brigade coming on behind, ready to spray and fire the field, shouting:
"Allez aux enfers, beaux gars de Prusse, et y attendre votre kaiser!"
It was all so humorous that one was shocked into laughter by the
meeting of the comic and the awful. I laughed first and shuddered
afterward. But we do that a great deal these days.
I don't think I told you that I had found a wonderful woman to help me
one day in the week in the garden. Her name is Louise, and she was
born in the commune, and has worked in the fields since she was
nine years old. She is a great character, and she is handsome--very
tall and so straight--thirty-three, married, with three children,--never
been sick in her life. She is a brave, gay thing, and I simply love to
see her striding along the garden paths, with her head in the air,
walking on her long legs and carrying her body as steadily as though
she had a bucket of water on her head. It is beautiful.
Well, Louise has a brother named Joseph, as handsome as she is,
and bigger. Joseph is in the heavy artillery, holding a mountain-top in
Alsace, and, would you believe it, he has been there twenty months,
and has never seen a German.
Of course, when you think of it, it is not so queer, really. The heavy
artillery is miles behind the infantry, and of course the gunners can't
see what they are firing at--that is the business of the officers and the
eyes of the artillery--the aeroplanes. Still, it is queer to think of
firing big guns twenty months and never seeing the targets. Odder
still, Joseph tells me he has never seen a wounded or a dead
soldier since the war began. Put these little facts away to ponder on.
It is a war of strange facts.
April 28, 1916
I have lived through such nerve-trying days lately that I rarely feel in
the humor to write a letter.
Nothing happens here.
The spring has been as changeable as even that which New England
knows. We had four fairly heavy snowstorms in the first fortnight of
the awful fighting of Verdun. Then we had wet, and then unexpected
heat--the sort of weather in which everyone takes cold. I get up in the
morning and dress like a polar bear for a drive, and before I get back
the sun is so hot I feel like stripping.
There is nothing for anyone to do but wait for news from the front. It is
the same old story--they are see-sawing at Verdun, with the Germans
much nearer than at the beginning--and still we have the firm faith
that they will never get there. Doesn't it seem to prove that had
Germany fought an honest war she could never have invaded
Now, in addition, we've all this strain of waiting for news from Dublin.
The affairs of the whole world are in a mess.
There are many aspects of the war which would interest you if you
were sitting down on my hilltop with me--conditions which may seem
more significant than they are. For example, the Government has
sent back from the front a certain number of men to aid in the farm
work until the planting is done. Our commune does not get many of
these. Our old men and boys and women do the work fairly well, with
the aid of a few territorials, who guard the railway two hours each
night and work in the fields in the daytime. The women here are used
to doing field work, and don't mind doing more than their usual stunt.
I often wonder if some of the women are not better off than in the
days before the war. They do about the same work, only they are not
bothered by their men.
In the days before the war the men worked in the fields in the
summer, and in the carriere de platre, at Mareuil-les-Meaux, in the
winter. It was a hard life, and most of them drank a little. It is never
the kind of drunkenness you know in America, however. Most of them
were radical Socialists in politics--which as a rule meant "ag'in' the
government." Of course, being Socialists and French, they simply
had to talk it all over. The cafe was the proper place to do that--the
provincial cafe being the workingman's club. Of course, the man
never dreamed of quitting until legal closing hour, and when he got
home, if wife objected, why he just hit her a clip,--it was, of course, for
her good,--"a woman, a dog, and a walnut tree,"--you know the
Almost always in these provincial towns it is the woman who is thrifty,
and often she sees but too little of her man's earnings. Still, she is, in
her way, fond of him, tenacious in her possession of him, and
Sundays and fete days they get on together very handsomely.
All the women here, married or not, have always worked, and worked
hard. The habit has settled on them. Few of them actually expect their
husbands to support them, and they do not feel degraded because
their labor helps, and they are wonderfully saving. They spend almost
nothing on their clothes, never wear a hat, and usually treasure, for
years, one black dress to wear to funerals. The children go to school
bareheaded, in black pinafores. It is rare that the humblest of these
women has not money put aside.
You don't have to look very deep into the present situation to discover
that, psychologically, it is queer. Marriage is, after all, in so many
classes, a habit. Here are the women of the class to which I refer
working very little harder than in the days before the war. Only, for
nearly two years they have had no drinking man to come home at
midnight either quarrelsome or sulky; no man's big appetite to cook
for; no man to wash for or to mend for. They have lived in absolute
peace, gone to bed early to a long, unbroken sleep, and get twenty-
five cents a day government aid, plus ten cents for each child. As
they all raise their own vegetables, keep chickens and rabbits, and
often a goat, manage to have a little to take to market, and a little time
every week to work for other people, and get war prices for their
time,--well, I imagine you can work out the problem yourself.'
Mind you, there is not one of these women, who, in her way, will not
assure you that she loves her husband. She would be drawn and
quartered before she would harm him. If anything happens to him she
will weep bitterly. But, under my breath, I can assure you that there is
many a woman of that class a widow today who is better off for it, and
so are her children. The husband who died "en hero," the father dead
for his country, is a finer figure in the family life than the living man
ever was or could have been.
Of course, it is in the middle classes, where the wives have to be
kept, where marriage is less a partnership than in the working classes
and among the humbler commercial classes, that there is so much
suffering. But that is the class which invariably suffers most in any
I do not know how characteristic of the race the qualities I find among
these people are, nor can I, for lack of experience, be sure in what
degree they are absolutely different from those of any class in the
States. For example--this craving to own one's home. Almost no one
here pays rent. There is a lad at the foot of the hill, in Voisins, who
was married just before the war. He has a tiny house of two rooms
and kitchen which he bought just before his marriage for the sum of
one hundred and fifty francs--less than thirty dollars. He paid a small
sum down, and the rest at the rate of twenty cents a week. There is a
small piece of land with it, on which he does about as intensive
farming as I ever saw. But it is his own.
The woman who works in my garden owns her place. She has been
paying for it almost ever since she was married,--sixteen years ago,--
and has still forty dollars to pay. She cultivates her own garden, raises
her own chickens and rabbits, and always has some to sell. Her
husband works in the fields for other people, or in the quarries, and
she considers herself prosperous, as she has been able to keep her
children in school, and owes no one a penny, except, of course, the
sum due on her little place. She has worked since she was nine, but
her children have not, and, when she dies, there will be something for
them, if it is no more than the little place. In all probability, before
that time comes, she will have bought more land--to own ground is
the dream of these people, and they do it in such a strange way.
I remember in my girlhood, when I knew the Sandy River Valley
country so well, that when a farmer wanted to buy more land he
always tried, at no matter what sacrifice, to get a piece adjoining what
he already owned, and put a fence around it. It is different here.
People own a piece of land here, and a piece there, and another
piece miles away, and there are no fences.
For example, around Pere Abelard's house there is a fruit garden and
a kitchen garden. The rest of his land is all over the place. He has a
big piece of woodland at Pont aux Dames, where he was born, and
another on the route de Mareuil. He has a field on the route de
Couilly, and another on the side of the hill on the route de Meaux, and
he has a small patch of fruit trees and a potato field on the chemin
Madame, and another big piece of grassland running down the hill
from Huiry to Conde.
Almost nothing is fenced in. Grain fields, potato patches, beet fields
belonging to different people touch each other without any other
barrier than the white stones, almost level with the soil, put in by the
Of course they are always in litigation, but, as I told you, a lawsuit is a
cachet of respectability in France.
As for separating a French man or woman from the land--it is almost
impossible. The piece of woodland that Abelard owns at Pont aux
Dames is called "Le Paradis." It is a part of his mother's estate, and
his sister, who lives across the Morin, owns the adjoining lot. It is of
no use to anyone. They neither of them ever dream of cutting the
wood. Now and then, when we drive, we go and look at it, and Pere
tells funny stories of the things he did there when he was a lad. It is
full of game, and not long ago he had an offer for it. The sum was not
big, but invested would have added five hundred francs a year to his
income. But no one could make either him or his sister resolve to part
with it. So there it lies idle, and the only thing it serves for is to add
to the tax bill every year. But they would rather own land than have
money in the bank. Land can't run away. They can go and look at it,
press their feet on it, and realize that it is theirs.
I am afraid the next generation is going to be different, and the
disturbing thing is that it is the women who are changing. So many of
them, who never left the country before, are working in the
ammunition factories and earning unheard-of money, and spending it,
which is a radical and alarming feature of the situation.
You spoke in one of your recent letters of the awful cost of this war in
money. But you must remember that the money is not lost. It is only
redistributed. Whether or not the redistribution is a danger is
something none of us can know yet; that is a thing only the future can
show. One thing is certain, it has forcibly liberated women.
You ask how the cats are. They are remarkable. Khaki gets more
savage every day, and less like what I imagined a house cat ought to
be. He has thrashed every cat in the commune except Didine, and
never got a scratch to show for it. But he has never scratched me. I
slapped him the other day. He slapped back,--but with a velvet paw,
never even showed a claw.
Didn't you always think a cat hated water? I am sure I did. He goes
out in all weathers. Last winter he played in the snow like a child, and
rolled in it, and no rainstorm can keep him in the house. The other
day he insisted on going out in a pouring rain, and I got anxious about
him. Finally I went to the door and called him, and, after a while, he
walked out of the dog's kennel, gave me a reproachful look as if to
say, "Can't you leave a chap in peace?" and returned to the kennel.
The one thing he really hates is to have me leave the house. He goes
where his sweet will leads him, but he seems to think that I should be
always on the spot.
May 23, 1916
I begin to believe that we shall have no normal settled weather until
all this cannon play is over. We've had most unseasonable hailstorms
which have knocked all the buds off the fruit-trees, so, in addition to
other annoyances, we shall have no fruit this year.
There is nothing new here except that General Foch is in the
ambulance at Meaux. No one knows it; not a word has appeared in
the newspapers. It was the result of a stupid, but unavoidable,
automobile accident. To avoid running over a woman and child on a
road near here, the automobile, in which he was travelling rapidly in
company with his son-in-law, ran against a tree and smashed. Luckily
he was not seriously hurt, though his head got damaged.
On Thursday Poincare passed over our hill, with Briand, en route to
meet Joffre at the General's bedside. I did not see them, but some of
the people at Quincy did. It was a lucky escape for Foch. He would
have hated to die during this war of a simple, unmilitary automobile
accident, and the army could ill afford just now to lose one of the
heroes of the Marne. Carefully as the fact has been concealed, we
knew it here through our ambulance, which is a branch of that at
Meaux, where he is being nursed.
Three months since the battle at Verdun began, and it is still going
on, with the Germans hardly more than four miles from the city, and
yet it begins to look as if they knew themselves that the battle--the
most terrible the world has ever seen--was a failure. Still, I have
changed my mind. I begin to believe that had Germany centred all
her forces on that frontier in August, 1914, when her first-line troops
were available, and their hopes high, she would probably have
passed. No one can know that, but it is likely, and many military men
think so. Isn't it a sort of poetic justice to think that it is even
possible that had Germany fought an honorable war she might have
got to Paris? "Whom the gods destroy, they first make mad."
I do nothing but work in the garden on rare days when it does not
rain, and listen to the cannon. That can't be very interesting stuff to
make a letter of. The silence here, which was so dear to me in the
days when I was preparing the place, still hangs over it. But, oh, the
difference! Now and then, in spite of one's self, the very thought of all
that is going on so very near us refuses to take its place and keep in
the perspective, it simply jumps out of the frame of patriotism and the
welfare of the future. Then the only thing to do is to hunt for the visible
consolations--and one always finds them.
For example--wouldn't it seem logical that such a warfare would
brutalize the men who are actually in it? It doesn't. It seems to have
just the contrary effect. I can't tell you how good the men are to one
another, or how gentle they are to the children. It is strange that it
should be so, but it is. I don't try to understand it, I merely set it down
June 16, 1916
You can imagine how trying and unseasonable the weather is when I
tell you that I not only had a fire yesterday, but that I went to bed with
a hotwater bottle. Imagine it! I have only been able to eat out-of-doors
once so far.
This is not a letter--just a line, lest you worry if you do not hear that I
am well. I am too anxiously watching that see-saw at Verdun, with the
German army only four miles from the city, at the end of the fourth
month, to talk about myself, and in no position to write about things
which you know. One gets dumb, though not hopeless. To add to our
anxieties the crops are not going to be good. It was continually wet at
planting time, and so cold, and there has been so little sun that
potatoes are rotting in the fields already, and the harvest will be
meagre. The grain, especially that planted last fall, is fairly good, but,
as I told you, after the tempest we had, there is to be no fruit. When I
say none, I absolutely mean none. I have not one cherry. Louise
counted six prunes on my eight trees, and I have just four pears and
not a single apple. Pere's big orchard is in the same condition. In
addition, owing to the terrible dampness,--the ground is wet all the
time,--the slugs eat up all the salad, spoil all the strawberries, and
chew off every young green thing that puts its head above the
ground, and that in spite of very hard work on my part. Every morning
early, and every afternoon, at sundown, I put in an hour's hard work,--
hard, disgusting work,--picking them up with the tongs and dropping
them into boiling water. So you see every kind of war is going on at
the same time. Where is the good of wishing a bad harvest on
Germany, when we get it ourselves at the same time? However, I
suppose that you in the States can help us out, and England has jolly
well fixed it so that no one can easily help Germany out.
August 4, 1916
Well, here we are in the third year of the war, as Kitchener foresaw,
and still with a long way to go to the frontier.
Thanks, by the way, for the article about Kitchener. After all, what can
one say of such an end for such a man, after such a career, in which
so many times he might have found a soldier's death--then to be
drowned like a rat, doing his duty? It leaves one simply speechless. I
was, you see. I hadn't a comment to throw at you.
It's hot at last, I'm thankful to say, and equally thankful that the news
from the front is good. It is nothing to throw one's hat in the air about,
but every inch in the right direction is at least prophetic.
Nothing to tell you about. Not the smallest thing happens here. I do
nothing but read my paper, fuss in the garden, which looks very
pretty, do up a bundle for my filleul once in a while, write a few letters,
and drive about, at sundown, in my perambulator. If that is not an
absurd life for a lady in the war zone in these days, I 'd like to know
what it is.
I hope this weather will last. It is good for the war and good for the
crops. But I am afraid I shall hope in vain.
September 30, 1916
This has been the strangest summer I ever knew. There have been
so few really summer days. I could count the hot days on my fingers.
None of the things have happened on which I counted.
What a disappointment poor Russia has been to the big world, which
knew nothing about her except that she could put fifteen millions of
men in the field. However, as we say, "all that is only a detail." We are
learning things every day. Nothing has opened our eyes more than
seeing set at naught our conviction that, once the Rumanian frontier
was opened to the Russians, they would be on the Danube in no
Do you remember how glibly we talked of the "Russian steam-roller,"
in September, 1914? I remember that, at that time, I had a letter from
a very clever chap who told me that "expert military men" looked to
see the final battle on our front, somewhere near Waterloo, before the
end of October, and that even "before that, the Russian steam-roller
would be crushing its way to Berlin." How much expert military men
have learned since then!
Still, wasn't it, in a certain sense, lucky that, in spite of the warning
of Kitchener, we did not, in the beginning, realize the road we had
to travel? As I look back on the two years, it all looks to me more
and more remarkable, seen even at this short perspective, that the
Allied armies, and most of all, the civilians behind the lines have, in
the face of the hard happenings of each day, stood up, and taken
it as they have, and hoped on.
I have got into a mood where it seems simply stupid to talk about it,
since I am, as usual, only eternally a spectator. I only long to keep my
eyes raised in a wide arc towards the end, to live each day as I can,
and wait. So why should I try to write to you of things which I do not
see, and of which only the last, faint, dying ripples reach us here?
You really must not pity me, as you insist upon doing, because
military restrictions draw a line about me, which I may not cross at my
own sweet will. I am used to it. It is not hard. For that matter, it is
much more trying to my French neighbors than it is to me.
I seem never to have told you that even they may not leave the
commune without a sauf-conduit. To be sure, they have only to go to
the mairie, and ask for it, to get it.
For months now the bridge over the Marne, at Meaux, has been
guarded, and even those going to market cannot cross without
showing their papers. The formality is very trying to them, for the
reason that the mairie opens at eight, and closes at twelve not to
reopen again until three and close at six. You see those hours are
when everyone is busiest in the fields. The man or woman who has to
go to market on Saturday must leave work standing and make a long
trip into Quincy--and often they have three or four miles to go on foot
to do it--just at the hour when it is least easy to spare the time.
To make it harder still, a new order went out a few weeks ago. Every
man, woman, and child (over fifteen) in the war zone has to have,
after October 1, a carte d'identite, to which must be affixed a
This regulation has resulted in the queerest of embarrassments. A
great number of these old peasants--and young ones too--never had
a photograph taken. There is no photographer. The photographer at
Esbly and the two at Meaux could not possibly get the people all
photographed, and, in this uncertain weather, the prints made, in the
delay allowed by the military authorities. A great cry of protestation
went up. Photographers of all sorts were sent into the commune. The
town crier beat his drum like mad, and announced the places where
the photographers would be on certain days and hours, and ordered
the people to assemble and be snapped.
One of the places chosen was the courtyard at Amelie's, and you
would have loved seeing these bronzed old peasants facing a
camera for the first time. Some of the results were funny, especially
when the hurried and overworked operator got two faces on the
same negative, as happened several times.
Real autumn weather is here, but, for that matter, it has been more
like autumn than summer since last spring. The fields are lovely to
see on days when the sun shines. I drove the other day just for the
pleasure of sitting in my perambulator, on the hillside, and looking
over the slope of the wide wheat fields, where the women, in their
cotton jackets and their wide hats, were reaping. The harvesting
never looked so picturesque. I could pick out, in the distance, the tall
figure of my Louise, with a sheaf on her head and a sickle in her
hand, striding across the fields, and I thought how a painter would
have loved the scene, with the long rays of the late September
sunset illuminating the yellow stretch.
Last Wednesday we had a little excitement here, because sixteen
German prisoners, who were working on a farm at Vareddes,
escaped--some of them disguised as women.
I wasn't a bit alarmed, as it hardly seemed possible that they would
venture near houses in this district, but Pere was very nervous, and
every time the dog barked he was out in the road to make sure that I
was all right.
Oddly enough, it happened on the very day when two hundred
arrived at Meaux to work in the sugar refinery. The next day there
was a regular battue, as the gendarmes beat up the fields and woods
in search of the fugitives.
If they caught them, they don't tell, but we have been ordered to
harbor no strangers under a severe penalty. But that condition has
really existed since the war broke out, as no one is even allowed to
engage a workman whose papers have not been vise at the mairie.
I have had to have a wood fire today--it is alarming, with winter
ahead, and so little fuel, to have to begin heating up at the end of
September--three weeks or a month earlier than usual.
November 25, 1916
It is raining,--a cold and steady downpour. I don't feel in the least like
writing a letter. This is only to tell you that I have got enough
anthracite coal to go to the end of February, and that the house is
warm and cosy, and I am duly thankful to face this third war-winter
free from fear of freezing. It cost thirty-two dollars a ton. How does
that sound to you?
I have planted my tulip bulbs, cleaned up the garden for winter and
settled down to life inside my walls, with my courage in both hands,
and the hope that next spring's offensive will not be a great
In the meantime I am sorry that Franz Josef did not live to see this
war of his out and take his punishment. I used to be so sorry for him
in the old days, when it seemed as if Fate showered disasters on the
heads of the Hapsburgs. I wasted my pity. The blows killed everyone
in the family but father. The way he stood it and never learned to be
kind or wise proved how little he needed pity.
All the signs say a cold winter. How I envy hibernating animals! I want
to live to see this thing out, but it would be nice to crawl into a hole,
like a bear, and sleep comfortably until the sun came out in the
spring, and the seeds began to sprout, and the army was thawed out,
and could move. In the silence on this hilltop, where nothing happens
but dishwashing and bedmaking and darning stockings, it is a long
way to springtime, even if it comes early.
I amused myself last week by defying the consign. I had not seen a
gendarme on the road for weeks. I had driven to Couilly once or
twice, though to do it I had to cross "the dead line." I had met the
garde champetre there, and even talked to him, and he had said
nothing. So, hearing one day that my friend from Voulangis had a
permission to drive to the train at Esbly, and that she was returning
about nine in the morning, I determined to meet her on the road, and
at least see how she was looking and have a little chat. I felt a longing
to hear someone say: "Hulloa, you,"--just a few words in English.
So if you could have seen the road, just outside of Couilly, Thursday
morning, just after nine, you would have seen a Southern girl sitting in
a high cart facing east, and an elderly lady in a donkey cart facing
west, and the two of them watching the road ahead for the coming of
a bicycle pedalled by a gendarme with a gun on his back, as they
talked like magpies. It was all so funny that I was convulsed with
laughter. There we were, two innocent, harmless American women,
talking of our family affairs and our gardens, our fuel, our health, and
behaving like a pair of conspirators. We didn't dare to get out to
embrace each other, for fear--in case we saw a challenge coming--
that I could not scramble back and get away quickly enough, and we
only stayed a quarter of an hour. We might just as well have carried
our lunch and spent the day so far as I could see--only if anyone had
passed and had asked for our papers there would have been trouble.
However, we had our laugh, and decided that it was not worth while
to risk it again. But I could not help asking myself how, with all their
red tape, they ever caught any real suspect.
Do you remember that I told you some time ago about Louise's
brother, Joseph, in the heavy artillery, who had never seen a Boche?
Well, he is at home again for his eight days. He came to see me
yesterday. I said to him: "Well, Joseph, where did you come from this
"From the same place--the mountains in Alsace. We've not budged
for nearly two years."
"How long are you going to stay there?"
"To the end of the war, I imagine."
"But why?" I asked.
"What can we do, madame?" he replied. "There we are, on the top of
a mountain. We can't get down. The Germans can't get up. They are
across the valley on the top of a hill in the same fix."
"But what do you do up there?" I demanded.
"Well," he replied, "we watch the Germans, or at least the aeroplanes
do--we can't see them. They work on their defenses. They pull up
new guns and shift their emplacements. We let them work. Then our
big guns destroy their work."
"But what do they do, Joseph?"
"Well, they fire a few shots, and go to work again. But I'll tell you
something, madame, as sure as that we are both living, they would
not do a thing if we would only leave them in peace,--but we don't."
"Well, Joseph," I asked, "have you seen a Boche yet?"
"Oh, yes, madame, I've seen them. I see them, with a glass, working
in the fields, ploughing, and getting ready to plant them."
"And you don't do anything to prevent them?"
"Well, no. We can't very well. They always have a group of women
and children with every gang of workmen. They know, only too well,
that French guns will not fire at that kind of target. It is just the same
with their commissary trains--always women at the head, in the
middle, and in the rear."
Comment is unnecessary!
December 6, 1916
Well, at last, the atmosphere on the hilltop is all changed. We have a
cantonnement de regiment again, and this time the most interesting
that we have ever had,--the 23d Dragoons, men on active service,
who are doing infantry work in the trenches at Tracy-le-Val, in the
Foret de Laigue, the nearest point to Paris, in the battle-front.
It is, as usual, only the decorative and picturesque side of war, but it
is tremendously interesting, more so than anything which has
happened since the Battle of the Marne.
As you never had soldiers quartered on you--and perhaps you never
will have--I wish you were here now.
It was just after lunch on Sunday--a grey, cold day, which had
dawned on a world covered with frost--that there came a knock at the
salon door. I opened it, and there stood a soldier, with his heels
together, and his hand at salute, who said: "Bon jour, madame, avez-
vous un lit pour un soldat?"
Of course I had a bed for a soldier, and said so at once.
You see it is all polite and formal, but if there is a corner in the house
which can serve the army the army has a right to it. Everyone is
offered the privilege of being prettily gracious about it, and of letting
it appear as if a favor were being extended to the army, but, in case
one does not yield willingly, along comes a superior officer and
imposes a guest on the house.
However, that sort of thing never happens here. In our commune the
soldiers are loved. The army is, for that matter, loved all over France.
No matter what else may be conspue, the crowd never fails to cry
"Vive l'Armee!" although there are places where the soldier is not
loved as a visitor.
I asked the adjutant in, and showed him the room. He wrote it down
in his book, saluted me again with a smiling, "Merci bien, madame,"
and went on to make the rounds of the hamlet, and examine the
resources of Voisins, Joncheroy, and Quincy.
The noncommissioned officers, who arrange the cantonnements, are
very clever about it. They seem to know, by instinct, just what sort of
a man to put in each house, and they rarely blunder.
All that Sunday afternoon they were running around in the mud and
the cold drizzle that was beginning to fall, arranging, not only quarters
for the men, but finding shelter for three times as many horses, and
that was not easy, although every old grange on the hilltop was
cleaned out and put in order.
For half an hour the adjutant tried to convince himself that he could
put four horses in the old grange on the north side of my house. I was
perfectly willing, only I knew that if one horse kicked once, the floor of
the loft would fall on him, and that if four horses kicked once, at least
three walls would fall in on them. That would not be so very important
to me, but I'd hate to have handsome army horses killed like that on
He finally decided that I was right, and then I went with him up to
Amelie's to see what we could do. I never realized what a ruin of a
hamlet this is until that afternoon. By putting seven horses in the old
grange at Pere's,--a tumble-down old shack, where he keeps lumber
and dead farm wagons,--he never throws away or destroys anything--
we finally found places for all the horses. There were eleven at
Pere's, and it took Amelie and Pere all the rest of the afternoon to run
the stuff out of the old grange, which stands just at the turn of the
road, and has a huge broken door facing down the hill.
I often mean to send you a picture of that group of ruins--there are
five buildings in it. They were originally all joined together, but some of
them have had to be pulled down because they got too dangerous to
stand, and in the open spaces there is, in one place, a pavement of
red tiles, and in another the roof to a cellar, with stone steps leading
up to it. Not a bit of it is of any use to anyone, though the cellars
under them are used to store vegetables, and Amelie keeps rabbits
It was while we were arranging all this, and Amelie was assuring them
that they were welcome, but that she would not guarantee that the
whole group of ruins would not fall on their heads (and everything
was as gay as if we were arranging a week-end picnic rather than a
shelter for soldiers right out of the trenches), that the adjutant
explained how it happened that, in the third year of the war, the
fighting regiments were, for the first time, retiring as far as our
hill for their repos.
He told us that almost all the cavalry had been dismounted to do
infantry work in the trenches, but their horses were stalled in the rear.
It had been found that the horses were an embarrassment so near to
the battle-front, and so it had been decided to retire them further
behind the line, and send out part of the men to keep them exercised
and in condition, giving the men in turn three weeks in the trenches
and three weeks out.
They had first withdrawn the horses to Nanteuil-le-Haudrouin a little
northwest of us, about halfway between us and the trenches in the
Foret de Laigue. But that cantonnement had not been satisfactory, so
they had retired here.
By sundown everything was arranged--four hundred horses along the
hilltop, and, they tell us, over fifteen thousand along the valley. We
were told that the men were leaving Nanteuil the next morning, and
would arrive during the afternoon.
It was just dusk on Monday when they began riding up the hill, each
mounted man leading two riderless horses.
It was just after they passed that there came a knock at the salon
I opened it with some curiosity. When you are to lodge a soldier in a
house as intimately arranged as this one is, I defy anyone not to be
curious as to what the lodger is to be like.
There stood a tall, straight lad, booted and spurred, with a crop in one
gloved hand, and the other raised to his fatigue cap in salute, and a
smile on his bonny face,--as trig in his leather belted bleu de ciel tunic
as if ready for parade, and not a sign of war about him but his
"Bon jour, madame" he said. "Permit me to introduce myself. Aspirant
B------, 23d Dragoons."
"Regular army?" I said, for I knew by the look of him that this was a
"St. Cyr," he replied. That is the same as our West Point.
"You are welcome, Aspirant," I said. "Let me show you to your room."
"Thank you," he smiled. "Not yet. I only came to present myself, and
thank you in advance for your courtesy. I am in command of the
squad on your hill, replacing an officer who is not yet out of the
hospital. I must see my men housed and the horses under shelter.
May I ask you, if my orderly comes with my kit, to show him where to
put it, and explain to him how he may best get in and out of the
house, when necessary, without disturbing your habits?"
I had to laugh as I explained to him that locking up, when soldiers
were in the hamlet, was hardly even a formality, and that the orderly
could come and go at his will.
"Good," he replied. "Then I'll give myself the pleasure of seeing you
after dinner. I hope I shall in no way disturb you. I am always in before
nine," and he saluted again, backed away from the door, and
marched up the hill. He literally neither walked nor ran, he marched.
I wish I could give you an idea of what he looks like. At first sight I
gave him nineteen years at the outside, in spite of his height and his
soldierly bearing and his dignity.
Before he came in at half past eight his orderly had brought his kit,
unpacked and made himself familiar with the lay of the house, and
made friends with Amelie. So the Aspirant settled into an armchair in
front of the fire--having asked my permission--to chat a bit, and
account for himself, and it was evident to me that he had already
been asking questions regarding me--spurred, as usual, by the
surprise of finding an American here. As the officers' mess is at the
foot of the hill, at Voisins, that had been easy.
So, knowing intuitively, just by his manner and his words, that he had
asked questions about me--he even knew that I had been here from
the beginning of the war--I, with the privilege of my white hairs, asked
him even how old he was. He told me he was twenty--a year older
than I thought--that he was an only son, that his father was an officer
in the reserves and they lived about forty-five miles the other side of
Rheims, that his home was in the hands of the Germans, and the
house, which had been literally stripped of everything of value, was
the headquarters of a staff officer. And it was all told so quietly, so
simply, with no sign of emotion of any sort.
At exactly nine o'clock he rose to his feet, clicked his heels together,
made me a drawing-room bow, of the best form, as he said: "Eh,
bien, madame, je vous quitte. Bon soir et bonne nuit." Then he
backed to the foot of the stairs, bowed again, turned and went up
lightly on the toes of his heavy boots, and I never heard another
sound of him.
Of course in twenty-four hours he became the child of the house. I
feel like a grandmother to him. As for Amelie, she falls over herself
trying to spoil him, and before the second day he became "Monsieur
Andre" to her. Catch her giving a boy like that his military title, though
he takes his duties most seriously.
The weather is dreadful--cold, damp, drizzly, but he is in and out, and
the busiest person you can imagine. There isn't a horse that has to
have his feet washed that he isn't on the spot to see it done properly.
There isn't a man who has a pain that he isn't after him to see if he
needs the doctor,--and I don't need to tell you that his men love him,
and so do the horses.
I am taking a full course in military habits, military duties, and military
etiquette. I smile inside myself sometimes and wonder how they can
keep it up during these war times. But they do.
This morning he came down at half past seven ready to lead his
squad on an exercise ride. I must tell you that the soldier who comes
downstairs in the morning, in his big coat and kepi, ready to mount his
horse, is a different person from the smiling boy who makes me a
ballroom bow at the foot of the stairs in the evening. He comes down
the stairs as stiff as a ramrod, lifts his gloved hand to his kepi, as he
says, "Bon jour, madame, vous allez bien ce matin?"
This morning I remarked to him as he was ready to mount: "Well,
young man, I advise you to turn up your collar; the air is biting."
He gave me a queer look as he replied: "Merci,--pas reglementaire,"--
but he had to laugh, as he shook his head at me, and marched out to
You do not need to be told how all this changes our life here, and yet
it does not bring into it the sort of emotion I anticipated. Thus far I
have not heard the war mentioned. The tramping of horses, the
moving crowd of men, simply give a new look to our quiet hamlet.
This cantonnement is officially called a "repos" but seems little like
that to me. It seems simply a change of work. Every man has three
horses to groom, to feed, to exercise, three sets of harness to keep in
order, stables to clean. But they are all so gay and happy, and as this
is the first time in eighteen months that any of them have, slept in
beds they are enjoying it.
Of course, I have little privacy. You know how my house is laid out--
the front door opens into the salon, and the staircase is there also.
When the Aspirant is not on duty outside he has to be here where he
can be found, so he sits at the salon desk to do his writing and fix up
his papers and reports, and when he is not going up and down stairs
his orderly is. There seems always to be a cleaning of boots, brushing
of coats, and polishing of spurs and rubbing up of leather going on
It did not take the men long to discover that there was always hot
water in my kitchen, and that they were welcome to it if they would
keep the kettles filled, and that I did not mind their coming and going--
and I don't, for a nicer crowd of men I never saw. They are not only
ready, they are anxious, to do all sorts of odd jobs, from hauling coal
and putting it in, to cleaning the chimneys and sweeping the terrace.
When they groom the horses they always groom Gamin, our dapple-
grey pony, and Ninette, which were never so well taken care of in
their lives--so brushed and clipped that they are both handsomer than
I knew. Though the regiment has only been here three days every
day has had its special excitement.
The morning after they got here we had a royal ten minutes of
laughter and movement.
In the old grange at the top of the hill, where they stabled seven
horses, there had been a long bar across the back wall, fixed with
cement into the side walls, and used to fasten the wagons. They
found it just right to tie the horses. It was a fine morning, for a wonder.
The sun was shining, and all the barn doors were open to it. The
Aspirant and I were standing on the lawn just before noon--he had
returned from his morning ride--looking across the Marne at the
battlefield. The regiment had been in the battle,--but he was, at that
time, still at St. Cyr. Suddenly we heard a great rumpus behind us,
and turned just in season to see all the horses trotting out of the
grange. They wheeled out of the wide door in a line headed down the
hill, the last two carrying the bar to which they had been attached, like
the pole of a carriage, between them. They were all "feeling their
oats," and they thundered down the hill by us, like a cavalry charge,
and behind them came half a dozen men simply splitting with
Amelie had been perfectly right. The old grange was not solid, but
they had not pulled the walls down on themselves, they had simply
pulled the pole to which they were attached out of its bed.
The Aspirant tried not to smile--an officer in command must not, I
suppose, even if he is only twenty. He whistled gently, put up his
hand to stop the men from running, and walked quietly into the road,
still whistling. Five of the horses, tossing their heads, were thundering
on towards the canal. The span, dragging the long pole, swerved on
the turn, and swung the pole, which was so long that it caught on the
bank. I expected to see them tangle themselves all up, what with the
pole and the halters. Not a bit of it. They stopped, panting, and still
trying to toss their heads, and the Aspirant quietly picked up a halter,
and passed the horses over to the men, saying, in a most nonchalant
manner: "Fasten that pole more securely. Some of you go quietly
down the hill. You'll meet them coming back," and he returned to the
garden, and resumed the conversation just where it had been
It had been a lively picture to me, but to the soldiers, I suppose, it had
only been an every day's occurrence.
My only fear had been that there might be children or a wagon on the
winding road. Luckily the way was clear.
An hour later, the men returned, leading the horses. They had
galloped down to the river, and returned by way of Voisins, where
they had stopped right in front of the house where the Captain was
quartered, and the Captain had been in the garden and seen them.
This time the Aspirant had to laugh. He slapped one of the horses
caressingly on the nose as he said: "You devils! Couldn't you go on a
lark without telling the Captain about it, and getting us all into
To make this all the funnier, that very night three horses stabled in a
rickety barn at Voisins, kicked their door down, and pranced and
neighed under the Captain's bedroom window.
The Captain is a nice chap, but he is not in his first youth, and he is
tired, and, well--he is a bit nervous. He said little, but that was to the
point. It was only: "You boys will see that these things don't happen,
or you will sleep in the straw behind your horses."
This is the first time that I have seen anything of the military
organization, and I am filled with admiration for it. I don't know how it
works behind the trenches, but here, in the cantonnement, I could set
my clocks by the soup wagon--a neat little cart, drawn by two sturdy
little horses, which takes the hill at a fine gallop, and passes my gate
at exactly twenty-five minutes past eleven, and twenty-five minutes
past five every day. The men wait, with their gamelles, at the top of
the hill. The soup looks good and smells delicious. Amelie says that it
tastes good. She has five soldiers in her house, and she and Pere
often eat with them, so she knows.
From all this you can guess what my life is like, and probably will be
like until the impatiently awaited spring offensive. But what you will
find it hard to imagine is the spirit and gaiety of these men. It is hard
to believe that they have been supporting the monotony of trench life
for so long, and living under bombardment,--and cavalry at that,
trained and hoping for another kind of warfare. There is no sign of it
December 17, 1916
Well, we did not keep our first division of dragoons as long as we
expected. They had passed part of their three weeks out of the
trenches at Nanteuil, and on the journey, so it seemed to us as
though they were hardly settled down when the order came for them
to return. They were here only a little over a week.
I had hardly got accustomed to seeing the Aspirant about the house,
either writing, with the cat on his knees, or reading, with Dick sitting
beside him, begging to have his head patted, when one evening he
came in, and said quietly: "Well, madame, we are leaving you in a
day or two. The order for the releve has come, but the day and hour
are not yet fixed."
But during the week he was here I got accustomed to seeing him sit
before the fire every evening after dinner for a little chat before
turning in. He was more ready to talk politics than war, and full of
curiosity about "your Mr. Wilson," as he called him. Now and then he
talked military matters, but it was technique, and the strategy of war,
not the events. He is an enthusiastic soldier, and to him, of course,
the cavalry is still "la plus belle arme de France." He loved to explain
the use of cavalry in modern warfare, of what it was yet to do in the
offensive, armed as it is today with the same weapons as the infantry,
carrying carbines, having its hand-grenade divisions, its mitrailleuses,
ready to go into action as cavalry, arriving like a flash au galop, over
ground where the infantry must move slowly, and with difficulty, and
ready at any time to dismount and fight on foot, to finish a pursuit
begun as cavalry. It all sounded very logical as he described it.
He had been under bombardment, been on dangerous scouting
expeditions, but never yet in a charge, which is, of course, his
ambitious dream. There was an expression of real regret in his voice
when he said one evening: "Helas! I have not yet had the smallest
real opportunity to distinguish myself."
I reminded him that he was still very young.
He looked at me quite indignantly as he replied: "Madame forgets that
there are Aspirants no older than I whose names are already
inscribed on the roll of honor."
You see an elderly lady, unused to a soldier's point of view, may be
very sympathetic, and yet blunder as a comforter.
The releve passed off quietly. It was all in the routine of the soldiers'
lives. They did not even know that it was picturesque. It was late last
Friday night that an orderly brought the news that the order had come
to move on the morning of the eleventh--three days later,--and it was
not until the night of the fifteenth that we were again settled down to
The squad we had here moved in two divisions. Early Monday
morning--the eleventh--the horses were being saddled, and at ten
o'clock they began to move. One half of them were in full equipment.
The other half acted as an escort as far as Meaux, from which place
they led back the riderless horses.
The officers explained it all to me. The division starting that day for the
trenches dismounted at Meaux, and took a train for the station
nearest to the Foret de Laigue. There they had their hot soup and
waited for night, to march into the trenches under cover of the
darkness. They told me that it was not a long march, but it was a hard
one, as it was up hill, over wet and clayey ground, where it was
difficult not to slip back as fast as they advanced.
On arriving at the trenches they would find the men they were to
relieve ready to march out, to slip and slide down the hill to the
railway, where they would have their morning coffee, and await the
train for Meaux, where they were due at noon next day--barring
So, on the afternoon of the twelfth, the men who had acted as escort
the day before led the horses to Meaux, and just before four o'clock
the whole body arrived on the hill.
This time I saw men right out of the trenches. They were a sorry sight,
in spite of their high spirits. The clayey yellow mud of three weeks'
exposure in the trenches was plastered on them so thick that I
wondered how they managed to mount their horses. I never saw a
dirtier crowd. Their faces even looked stiff.
They simply tumbled off their horses, left the escort to stable them,
and made a dash for the bath-house, which is at the foot of the hill, at
Joncheroy. If they can't get bathed, disinfected, and changed before
dark, they have to sleep their first night in the straw with the horses,
as they are unfit, in more ways than I like to tell you, to go into
anyone's house until that is done, and they are not allowed.
These new arrivals had twenty-four hours' rest, and then, on
Thursday, they acted as escort to the second division, and with that
division went the Aspirant, and the men they relieved arrived Friday
afternoon, and now we are settled down for three weeks.
Before the Aspirant left he introduced into the house the senior
lieutenant, whom he had been replacing in the command on my hill, a
man a little over thirty--a business man in private life and altogether
charming, very cultivated, a book-lover and an art connoisseur. He is
a nephew of Lepine, so many years prefet de police at Paris, and a
cousin of Senator Reynault, who was killed in his aeroplane at Toule,
famous not only as a brave patriot, but as a volunteer for three
reasons exempt from active service--a senator, a doctor, and past
I begin to believe, on the testimony of my personal experiences, that
all the officers in the cavalry are perfect gentlemen. The lieutenant
settled into his place at once. He puts the coal on the fire at night. He
plays with the animals. He locks up, and is as quiet as a mouse and
as busy as a bee.
This is all my news, except that I am hoping to go to Paris for
Christmas, and to go by the way of Voulangis. It is all very uncertain.
My permission has not come yet.
It is over a year since we were shut in. My friends in Paris call me
their permissionaire, when I go to town. In the few shops where I am
known everyone laughs when I make my rare appearances and
greets me with: "Ah, so they've let you out again!" as if it were a huge
joke, and I assure you that it does seem like that to me.
The soldiers in the trenches get eight days' permission every four
months. I don't seem to get much more,--if as much.
January 10, 1917
I went to Paris, as I told you I hoped to do. Nothing new there. In spite
of the fact that, in many ways, they are beginning to feel the war, and
there is altogether too much talk about things no one can really know
anything about, I was still amazed at the gaiety. In a way it is just now
largely due to the great number of men en permission. The streets,
the restaurants, the tea-rooms are full of them, and so, they tell me,
are the theatres.
Do you know what struck me most forcibly? You'll never guess. It was
that men in long trousers look perfectly absurd. I am so used to
seeing the culotte and gaiters that the best-looking pantaloons I saw
on the boulevards looked ugly and ridiculous.
I left the officer billeted in my house to take care of it. The last I saw
of him he was sitting at the desk in the salon, his pipe in his mouth,
looking comfortable and cosy, and as if settled for life. I only stayed a
few days, and came home, on New Year's Eve, to find that he had
left the night before, having been suddenly transferred to the staff of
the commander of the first army, as officier de la liaison, and I had in
his place a young sous-officier of twenty-two, who proves to be a
cousin of the famous French spy, Captain Luxe, who made that
sensational escape, in 1910, from a supposed-to-be-impregnable
German military prison. I am sure you remember the incident, as the
American papers devoted columns to his unprecedented feat. The
hero of that sensational episode is still in the army. I wonder what the
Germans will do with him if they catch him again? They are hardly
likely to get him alive a second time.
I wonder if the German books on military tactics use that escape as a
model in their military schools? Do you know that in every French
military school the reconnaisance which Count Zeppelin made in
Alsace, in the days of 1870, when he was a cavalry officer, is given
as a model reconnaissance both for strategy and pluck? I did not,
until I was told. Oddly enough, not all that Zeppelin has done since to
offend French ideas of decency in war can dull the admiration felt by
every cavalry officer for his clever feat in 1870.
Last Thursday,--that was the 4th,--we had our second releve.
The night before they left some of the officers came to say au revoir,
and to tell me that the Aspirant, who had been with me in December,
would be quartered on me again--if I wanted him. Of course I did.
Then the senior lieutenant told me that the regiment had suffered
somewhat from a serious bombardment the days after Christmas,
that the Aspirant had not only shown wonderful courage, but had had
a narrow escape, and had been cite a l'ordre du jour, and was to
have his first decoration.
We all felt as proud of him as if he belonged to us. I was told that he
had been sent into the first-line trenches--only two hundred yards
from the German front--during the bombardment, "to encourage and
comfort his men" (I quote), and that a bomb had exploded over the
trench and knocked a hole in his steel helmet.
I don't know which impressed me most--the idea of a lad of twenty
having so established the faith in his courage amongst his superior
officers as to be safe as a comfort and encouragement for the men,
or the fact that, if the army had had those steel casques at the
beginning of the war, many lives would have been saved.
The Aspirant came in with the second detachment the night before
last--the eighth. The regiment was in and all quartered before he
We had begun to fear something had happened to him, when he
turned up, freshly shaved and clean, but with a tattered overcoat on
his arm, and a battered helmet in his hand.
Amelie greeted him with: "Well, young man, we thought you were
He laughed, as he explained that he had been to make a toilet, see
the regimental tailor, and order a new topcoat.
"I would not, for anything in the world, have had madame see me in
the state I was in an hour ago. She has to see my rags, but I spared
her the dirt," and he held up the coat to show its rudely sewed-up
rents, and turned over his helmet to show the hole in the top.
"And here is what hit me," and he took out of his pocket a rough
piece of a shell, and held it up, as if it were very precious. Indeed, he
had it wrapped in a clean envelope, all ready to take up to Paris and
show his mother, as he is to have his leave of a week while he is
I felt like saying "Don't," but I didn't. I suppose it is hard for an
ambitious soldier of twenty to realize that the mother of an only son,
and that son such a boy as this, must have some feeling besides
pride in her heart as she looks at him.
So now we are settled again, and used to the trotting of horses, the
banging of grenades and splitting of mitrailleuses. From the window
as I write--I am up in the attic, which Amelie calls the "atelier,"
because it is in the top of the house and has a tiny north light in the
roof--that being the only place where I am sure of being undisturbed--
I can see horses being trained in the wide field on the side of the hill
between here and Quincy. They are manoeuvring with all sorts of
noises about them--even racing in a circle while grenades and guns
In spite of all that, there came near being a lovely accident right in
front of the gate half an hour ago.
The threshing-machine is at work in front of the old grange on the
other side of the road, just above my house. The men had come
back from breakfast, and were starting the machine up just as two
mounted soldiers, each leading two horses, rode out of the grange at
Amelie's, and started down the hill at a trot. The very moment the
horses were turning out to pass the machine,--and the space was
barely sufficient between the machine and the bank--a heedless man
blew three awful blasts on his steam whistle to call his aids. The
cavalry horses were used to guns, and the shrill mouth whistles of the
officers, but that did not make them immune to a steam siren, and in
a moment there was the most dangerous mix-up I ever saw. I
expected to see both riders killed, and I don't know now why they
were not, but neither man was thrown, even in spite of having three
frightened horses to master.
It was a stupid thing for the man on the machine to do. He would
have only had to wait one minute and the horses would have been by
with a clear road before them if they shied. But he "didn't think." The
odd thing was that the soldiers did not say an ugly word. I suppose
they are used to worse.
You have been reproaching me for over a year that I did not write
enough about the war. I do hope that all this movement about me
interests you. It is not war by any means, but the nearest relation to it
that I have seen in that time. It is its movements, its noise, its clothes.
It is gay and brave, and these men are no "chocolate soldiers."
January 30, 1917
My, but it is cold here! Wednesday the 24th it was 13 below zero, and
this morning at ten o'clock it was 6 below. Of course this is in
Centigrade and not Fahrenheit, but it is a cold from which I suffer
more--it is so damp--than I ever did from the dry, sunny, below zero
as you know it in the States. Not since 1899 have I seen such cold as
this in France. I have seen many a winter here when the ground has
hardly frozen at all. This year it began to freeze a fortnight ago. It
began to snow on the 17th, a fine dry snow, and as the ground was
frozen it promises to stay on. It has so far, in spite of the fact that
once or twice since it fell the sun has shone. It looks very pretty, quite
unnatural, very reminiscent of New England.
It makes life hard for us as well as the soldiers, but they laugh and
say, "We have seen worse." They prefer it to rain and mud. But it
makes roading hard; everything is so slippery, and if you ever
happened to see a French horse or a French person "walking on ice"
I don't need to say more.
Well, the unexpected has happened--the cavalry has moved on.
They expected--as much as a soldier ever expects anything--to have
divided their time until March between our hill and the trenches in the
Foret de Laigue. But on the twenty-second orders began to rush in
from headquarters, announcing a change of plan; a move was
ordered and counter-ordered every few hours for three days, until
Thursday afternoon, the twenty-fifth, the final order came--the whole
division to be ready to mount at seven-thirty the next morning, orders
for the direction to come during the night.
You never saw such a rushing about to collect clothes and get them
dried. You see it has been very hard to get washing done. The Morin,
where the wash-houses are, is frozen, and even when things are
washed, they won't dry in this air, and there is no coal to heat the
However, it was done after a fashion. Everyone who had wood kept a
fire up all night.
On Wednesday afternoon I had a little tea-party for some of the sous-
officiers--mere boys--a simple goodbye spread of bread and butter
and dry cookies,--nothing else to be had. I could not even make
cake, as we have had no fine sugar for months. However, the tea
was extra good--sent me from California for Christmas--and I set the
table with all my prettiest things, and the boys seemed to enjoy
They told me before leaving that never since they were at the front
had they been anywhere so well received or so comfortable as they
have been here, and that it would be a long time before they "forgot
Huiry." Well, we on our side can say that we never dreamed that a
conscript army could have a whole regiment of such fine men. So you
see we are all very much pleased with each other, and if the 23d
Dragoons are not going to forget us, we are as little likely to forget
Thursday evening, before going to bed, the Aspirant and I sat at the
kitchen table and made a lot of sandwiches, as they are carrying
three days' provisions. They expected a five hours' march on the first
day, and a night under the tents, then another day's march, during
which they would receive their orders for their destination. When the
sandwiches were done, and wrapped up ready for his orderly to put in
the saddlebags, with his other provisions, he said: "Well, I am going
to say goodbye to you tonight, and thank you for all your kindness."
"Not at all," I answered. "I shall be up in the morning to see you start."
He protested. It was so cold, so early, etc. But my mind was made
I assure you that it was cold,--18 below,--but I got up when I heard
the orderly arrive in the morning. I had been awake for hours, for at
three o'clock the horses were being prepared. Every man had three
to feed and saddle, and pack. Orderlies were running about doing the
last packing for the officers, and carrying kits to the baggage-wagons.
Amelie came at six. When I got downstairs I found the house warm
and coffee ready. The Aspirant was taking his standing. It was more
convenient than sitting in a chair. Indeed, I doubt if he could have sat.
I had to laugh at the picture he made. I never regretted so much that I
have not indulged in a camera. He was top-booted and spurred. He
had on his new topcoat and his mended helmet--catch a young
soldier who has been hit on the head by his first obus having a new
and unscarred one. He was hung over with his outfit like a Santa
Claus. I swore he could never get into the saddle, but he scorned my
To the leather belt about his waist, supported by two straps over his
shoulders, were attached his revolver, in its case with twenty rounds
of cartridges; his field glasses; his map-case; his bidon--for his wine;
square document case; his mask against asphyxiating gas; and, if
you please, his kodak! Over one shoulder hung a flat, half-circular
bag, with his toilet articles, over the other its mate, with a change, and
a few necessary articles.
He looked to me as if he would ride two hundred pounds heavy, and
he hasn't an ounce of extra flesh on him.
I laughed even harder when I saw him mounted. In one side of the
holster was his gamelle; in the other, ammunition. The saddlebags
contained on one side twenty pounds of oats for the horse; on the
other three days' provisions for himself. I knew partly what was in that
bag, and it was every bit as heavy as the horse's fodder, for there
were sandwiches, sugar, coffee, chocolate, tinned meat, peas, corn,
fruit, etc. Behind the saddle was rolled his blanket, inside his section
of tent cover,--it takes six of them to make a real tent. They are
arranged to button together.
I was sitting in the bedroom window when he rode on to the terrace. I
had to laugh as I looked down at him.
"And why does madame laugh?" he asked, trying to keep a sober
"Well," I replied, "I am only wondering if that is your battle array?"
"Certainly," he answered. "Why does it surprise you?"
I looked as serious as I could, as I explained that I had supposed,
naturally, that the cavalry went into action as lightly equipped as
He looked really indignant, as he snapped: "That would be quite
unnatural. What do you suppose that Peppino and I are going to do
after a battle? Wait for the commissary department to find us? No,
madame, after a battle it will not be of my mother nor home, nor even
of you, that we will be thinking. We shall think of something to eat and
drink." Then he added, with a laugh, "Alas! We shan't have all these
nice things you have given us. They will have been eaten by
I apologized, and said I'd know better another time, and he patted his
horse, as he backed away, and said to him: "Salute the lady,
Peppino, and tell her prettily that you had the honor of carrying Teddy
Roosevelt the day he went to the review." And the horse pawed and
bowed and neighed, and his rider wheeled him carefully as he saluted
and said: "Au revoir, I shall write, and, after the war, I shall give
myself the pleasure of seeing you," and he rode carefully out of the
gate--a very delicate operation, as only half of it was open. Laden
as the horse was, he just made it, and away he galloped down the
hill to Voisins, where the cavalry was assembling.
I stayed in the window a few minutes to wave a goodbye to the men
as they led each their three horses down the hill. Then I put on my
heaviest coat, a polo cap, all my furs and mittens, thrust my felt shoes
into my sabots, and with one hand in my muff, I took the big French
flag in the other and went through the snow down to the hedge to
watch the regiment pass, on the road to Esbly.
Even before I got out of the house the news came that the 118th
Regiment of infantry, the boys who retook Vaux in the great battle at
Verdun, had been marching in from Meaux, and were camped,
waiting to take up the billets the 23d Dragoons were vacating.
I stood in the snow for nearly half an hour, holding up the heavy flag,
which flapped bravely in the icy wind, and watching the long grey line
moving slowly along the road below. I could see half a mile of the line
--grey, steel-helmeted men, packed horses, grey wagons--winding
down the hill in the winter landscape, so different from the France I
had always known. Hardly a sound came back--no music, no colors--
the long, grey column moved in a silent, almost colorless world. I
shifted the heavy flag from one hand to the other as my fingers got
stiff, but, alas! I could not shift my feet. Long before the line had
passed I was forced to fasten the flag to a post in the hedge and
leave it to float by itself, and limp into the house. As a volunteer color-
bearer I was a failure. I had to let Amelie take off my shoes and rub
my feet, and I had hard work not to cry while she was doing it. I was
humiliated, especially as I remembered that the boys had a five
hours' march as their first etape, and a bivouac at the end of it.
I had intended to go out later on the route Madame to watch the
cavalry coming down from the hills on the other side of the Morin, but
I could not face the cold. There is nothing heroic about me. So I
contented myself with helping Amelie set the house in order.
Needless to tell you that no one knows what this unexpected big
movement of troops means.
It is inevitable that we should all imagine that it concerns the coming
spring offensive. At any rate, the cavalry is being put back into its
saddles, and the crack regiments are coming out of Verdun--the
famous corps which has won immortal fame there, and written the
name of Verdun in letters of flame in the list of the world's great
battles, and enshrined French soldiers in the love of all who can be
stirred by courage in a noble cause, or know what it means to have
the heart swell at the thought of the "sacred love of home and
Although I have sworn--and more than once--that I will not talk politics
with you again, or discuss any subject which can be considered as its
most distant blood relation, yet every time you reiterate "Aren't the
French wonderfully changed? Aren't you more and more surprised at
them?" it goes against the grain.
Does it never occur to you that France held her head up wonderfully
after the terrible humiliation of 1870? Does it never occur to you what
it meant to a great nation, so long a centre of civilization, and a great
race, so long a leader in thought, to have found herself without a
friend, and to have had to face such a defeat,--a defeat followed by a
shocking treaty which kept that disaster forever before her? Do you
never think of the hidden shame, the cankering mortification of the
consciousness of that nation across the frontier, which had battened
on its victory, and was so strong in brute force, that, however brave a
face one might put on, there was behind that smiling front always a
hidden fear of Germany--an eternal foe, ever gaining in numbers and
eternally shaking her mailed fist.
No nation so humiliated ever rose out of her humiliation as France
did, but the hidden memory, the daily consciousness of it, set its
outward mark on the race. It bred that sort of bravado which was
eternally accusing itself, in the consciousness that it had taken a
thrashing it could never hope to avenge. Count up the past dares that
France has had to take from Germany, so strong in mere numbers
and physical strength that to attempt to fight her alone, as she did in
1870, meant simply to court annihilation, and fruitlessly. That does not
mean that France was really afraid, but only that she was too wise to
dare attempt to prove that she was not afraid. So many things in the
French that the world has not understood were the result of the
cankering wound of 1870. This war has healed that wound. Germany
is not invincible, and the chivalrous, loving aid that rallied to help
France is none the less comforting simply because since 1914 all
nations have learned that the trend of Germany's ambition was a
menace to them as well as to France.
February 2, 1917
I had hardly sent my last letter to the post when news came that the
23d Dragoons had arrived safely at their new cantonnement, but here
is the letter, which will tell the story. Sorry that you insist on having
these things in English--they are so very much prettier in French.
With the Army, January 29
Bravo for the pretty idea you had in flinging to the winter breezes the
tri-colored flag in honor of our departure. All the soldiers marching out
of Voisins saw the colors and were deeply touched. Let me bear
witness to their gratitude.
How I regret La Creste. One never knows how happy he is until
afterward. I am far from comfortably installed here. I am lodged in an
old deserted chateau. There are no fires, and we are literally
refrigerated. However, we shall not stay long, as I am returning to the
trenches in a day or two. It will hardly be warm there, but I shall have
less time to remember how much more than comfortable I was at
We made a fairly decent trip to this place, but I assure you that, in
spite of my "extreme youth," I was near to being frozen en route. We
were so cold that finally the whole regiment had to dismount and
proceed on foot in the hope of warming up a bit. We were all, in the
end, sad, cross, and grumbly. You had spoiled us all at Huiry and
Voisins. For my part I longed to curse someone for having ordered
such a change of base as this, in such weather. Wasn't I well enough
off where I was, toasting myself before your nice fire, and drinking my
tea comfortably every afternoon?
However, we are working tremendously for the coming offensive. And
I hope it will be the final one, for the Germans are beginning to show
signs of fatigue. News comes to us from the interior, from a reliable
source, which indicates that the situation on the other side of the
Rhine is anything but calm. More than ever now must we hang on, for
the victory is almost within our clutch.
Accept, madame, the assurance of my most respectful homage,
So you see, we were all too previous in expecting the offensive. The
cavalry is not yet really mounted for action. But we hope all the same.
The 118th is slowly settling down, but I'll tell you about that later.
February 10, 1917
Well, the 118th has settled down to what looks like a long
cantonnement. It is surely the liveliest as well as the biggest we ever
had here, and every little town and village is crowded between here
and Coulommier. Not only are there five thousand infantry billeted
along the hills and in the valleys, but there are big divisions of
artillery also. The little square in front of our railway station at
Couilly is full of grey cannon and ammunition wagons, and there
are military kitchens and all sorts of commissary wagons along
all the roadsides between here and Crecy-en-Brie, which is the
distributing headquarters for all sorts of material.
As the weather has been intolerably cold, though it is dry and often
sunny, the soldiers are billeted in big groups of fifty or sixty in a room
or grange, where they sleep in straw, rolled in their blankets, packed
like sardines to keep warm.
They came in nearly frozen, but they thawed out quickly, and now
they don't mind the weather at all.
Hardly had they got thawed out when an epidemic of mumps broke
out. They made quick work of evacuating those who had it, and stop
its spreading, to the regret, I am afraid, of a good many of the boys.
One of them said to me the day after the mumpy ones were taken
over to Meaux: "Lucky fellows. I wish I had the mumps. After Verdun
it must be jolly to be in the hospital with nothing more dangerous than
mumps, and a nice, pretty girl, in a white cap, to pet you. I can't think
of a handsomer way to spend a repos than that."
When I tell you that these soldiers say, "Men who have not been at
Verdun have not seen the war yet," and then add that the life of the
118th here looks like a long picnic, and that they make play of their
work, play of their grenade practice, which they vary with football, play
of their twenty miles hikes, I give you leave to laugh at my way of
seeing the war, and I'll even laugh with you.
That reminds me that I never see a thousand or so of these boys on
the big plain playing what they call football that I don't wish some
American chaps were here to teach them the game. All they do here
is to throw off their coats and kick the ball as far, and as high, as
possible, and run like racers after it, while the crowd, massed on the
edge of the field, yells like mad. The yelling they do very well indeed,
and they kick well, and run well. But, if they only knew the game--
active, and agile, and light as they are--they would enjoy it, and play it
I had one of the nicest thrills I have had for many a day soon after the
It was a sunny afternoon. I was walking in the road, when, just at the
turn above my house, two officers rode round the corner, saluted me,
and asked if the road led to Quincy. I told them the road to the right at
the foot of the hill, through Voisins, would take them to Quincy. They
thanked me, wheeled their horses across the road and stood there. I
waited to see what was going to happen--small events are interesting
here. After a bit one of them said that perhaps I would be wise to step
out of the road, which was narrow, as the regiment was coming.
I asked, of course, "What regiment?" and "What are they coming
for?" and he answered "The 118th," and that it was simply "taking a
So I sauntered back to my garden, and down to the corner by the
hedge, where I was high above the road, and could see in both
directions. I had hardly got there when the head of the line came
round the corner. In columns of four, knapsacks on their backs, guns
on their shoulders, swinging at an easy gait, all looking so brown, so
hardy, so clear-eyed, the men from Verdun marched by.
I had thought it cold in spite of the sun, and was well wrapped up, with
my hands thrust into my big muff, but these men had beads of
perspiration standing on their bronzed faces under their steel
Before the head of the line reached the turn into Voisins, a long shrill
whistle sounded. The line stopped. Someone said: "At last! My, but
this has been a hot march," and in a second every man had slipped
off his knapsack and had a cigarette in his mouth.
Almost all of them dropped to the ground, or lay down against the
bank. A few enterprising ones climbed the bank, to the field in front of
my lawn, to get a glimpse of the view, and they all said what everyone
says: "I say, this is the best point to see it."
I wondered what they would say to it if they could see it in summer
and autumn if they found it fine with its winter haze.
But that is not what gave me my thrill.
The rest was a short one. Two sharp whistles sounded down the hill.
Instantly everyone slipped on his sac, shouldered his gun, and at that
minute, down at the corner, the military band struck up "Chant du
Depart." Every hair on my head stood up. It is the first time I have
heard a band since the war broke out, and as the regiment swung
down the hill to the blare of brass--well, funnily enough, it seemed
less like war than ever. Habit is a deadly thing. I have heard that
band--a wonderful one, as such a regiment deserves,--many times
since, but it never makes my heart thump as it did when, so
unexpectedly, it cut the air that sunny afternoon.
I had so often seen those long lines marching in silence, as the
English and the French did to the Battle of the Marne, as all our
previous regiments have come and gone on the hillside, and never
seen a band or heard military music that I had ceased to associate
music with the soldiers, although I knew the bands played in the
battles and the bugle calls were a part of it.
We have had all sorts of military shows, which change the
atmosphere in which the quiet about us had been for months and
months only stirred by the far-off artillery.
One day, we had a review on the broad plain which lies along the
watershed between the Marne and the Grande Morin, overlooking the
heights on the far side of both valleys, with the Grande Route on one
side, and the walls to the wooded park of the handsome Chateau de
Quincy on the other. It was an imposing sight, with thousands of
steel-helmeted figures sac au dos et bayonnette au canon, marching
and counter-marching in the cold sunshine, looking in the distance
more like troops of Louis XIII than an evolution from the French
conscript of the ante-bellum days of the pantalon rouge.
Two days later we had the most magnificent prise d'armes on the
same plain that I have ever seen, much more stirring--though less
tear-moving--than the same ceremony in the courtyard of the
Invalides at Paris, where most foreigners see it. At the Invalides one
sees the mutiles and the ill. Here one only saw the glory. In Paris, the
galleries about the court, inside the walls of the Soldiers' Home, are
packed with spectators. Here there were almost none. But here the
heroes received their decorations in the presence of the comrades
among whom they had been won, in the terrible battles of Verdun. It
was a long line of officers, and men from the ranks, who stood so
steadily before the commander and his staff, inside the hollow
square, about the regimental colors, to have their medals and
crosses fastened on their faded coats, receive their accolade, and
the bravos of their companions as their citations were read. There
were seven who received the Legion d'Honneur.
It was a brave-looking ceremony, and it was a lovely day--even the
sun shone on them.
There was one amusing episode. These celebrations are always a
surprise to the greater part of the community, and, in a little place like
this, it is only by accident that anyone sees the ceremony. The
children are always at school, and the rest of the world is at work, so,
unless the music attracts someone, there are few spectators. On the
day of the prise d'armes three old peasants happened to be in a field
on the other side of the route nationale, which skirts the big plain on
the plateau. They heard the music, dropped their work and ran
across the road to gape. They were all men on towards eighty--too
old to have ever done their military service. Evidently no one had
ever told them that all Frenchmen were expected to uncover when
the flag went by. Poor things, they should have known! But they
didn't, and you should have seen a colonel ride down on them. I
thought he was going to cut the woollen caps off their heads with his
sabre, at the risk of decapitating them. But I loved what he said to
"Don't you know enough to uncover before the flag for which your
fellow citizens are dying every day?"
Isn't that nice? I loved the democratic "fellow citizens"--so pat and
I flung the Stars and Stripes to the French breezes on the 7th in
honor of the rupture. It was the first time the flag has been unfurled
since Captain Simpson ordered the corporal to take it down two years
ago the third of last September. I had a queer sensation as I saw it
flying over the gate again, and thought of all that had happened since
the little corporal of the King's Own Yorks took it down,--and the
Germans still only forty-two miles away.
February 26, 1917
What do you suppose I have done since I last wrote to you?
I have actually been to the theatre for the first time in four years.
Would you ever have believed that I could keep out of the theatre
such a long time as that? Still, I suppose going to the theatre--to a
sort of variety show--seems to you, who probably continue to go once
or twice a week, a tame experience. Well, you can go to the opera,
which I can't do if I like, but you can't see the heroes of Verdun not
only applauding a show, but giving it, and that is what I have been
doing not only once but twice since I wrote you.
I am sure that I have told you that our ambulance is in the salle de
recreation of the commune, which is a small rectangular room with a
stage across one end. It is the only thing approaching a theatre which
the commune boasts. It is well lighted, with big windows in the sides,
and a top-light over the stage. It is almost new, and the walls and
pointed ceiling are veneered with some Canadian wood, which looks
like bird's-eye maple, but isn't.
It is in that hall that the matinees, which are given every other Sunday
afternoon, take place. They are directed by a lieutenant-colonel, who
goes into it with great enthusiasm, and really gets up a first-class
The boys do all the hard work, and the personnel of the ambulance
aids and abets with great good humor, though it is very upsetting. But
then it is for the army--and what the army wants these days, it must
Luckily the men in our ambulance just now are either convalescent,
or, at any rate, able to sit up in bed and bear excitement. So the beds
of the few who cannot be dressed are pushed close to the stage, and
around their cots are the chairs and benches of their convalescent
comrades. The rest of the beds are taken out. The big military band is
packed into one corner of the room. Chairs are put in for the officers
of the staff and their few invited guests--there are rarely more than
half a dozen civilians. Behind the reserved seats are a few benches
for the captains and lieutenants and the rest of the space is given up
to the poilus, who are allowed to rush when the doors are opened.
Of course the room is much too small, but it is the best we have. The
wide doors are left open. So are the wide windows, and the boys are
even allowed to perch on the wall opposite the entrance, from which
place they can see the stage.
The entire programme is given by the poilus; only one performer had
a stripe on his sleeve, though many of them wore a decoration. What
seems to me the prettiest of all is that all the officers go, and applaud
like mad, even the white-haired generals, who are not a bit backward
in crying "Bis, bis!" like the rest.
The officers are kind enough to invite me and the card on my chair is
marked "Mistress Aldrich." Isn't that Shakesperian? I sit among the
officers, usually with a commandant on one side and a colonel on the
other, with a General de Division, and a General de Brigade in front of
me, and all sorts of gilt stripes about me, which I count with curiosity,
now that I have learned what they mean, as I surreptitiously try to
discover the marks that war has made on their faces--and don't find
The truth is, the salle is fully as interesting to me as the performance,
good as that is--with a handsome, delicate-looking young professor of
music playing the violin, an actor from the Palais Royale showing a
diction altogether remarkable, two well-known gymnasts doing
wonderful stunts on horizontal bars, a prize pupil from the
Conservatory at Nantes acting, as only the French can, in a well-
known little comedy, two clever, comic monologists of the La Scala
sort, and as good as I ever heard even there, and a regimental band
which plays good music remarkably. There is even a Prix de Rome in
the regiment, but he is en conge, so I 've not heard him yet. I wonder
if you take it in? Do you realize that these are the soldiers in the ranks
of the French defence? Consider what the life in the trenches means
They even have artists among the poilus to paint back drops and
make properties. So you see it is one thing to go to the theatre and
quite another to see the soldiers from Verdun giving a performance
before such a public--the men from the trenches going to the play in
the highest of spirits and the greatest good humor.
At the first experience of this sort I did long to have you there. It was
such a scene as I could not have believed possible in these days and
under these conditions if I had not actually taken part in it.
As soon as the officers had filed in and taken their seats the doors
and windows were thrown open to admit "la vague," and we all stood
up and faced about to see them come. It was a great sight.
In the aisle down the centre of the hall--there is only one,--between
the back row of reserved seats, stood Mlle. Henriette, in her white
uniform, white gloved, with the red cross holding her long white veil to
the nurse's coiffe which covered her pretty brown hair. Her slight, tall,
white figure was the only barrier to prevent "la vague" from sweeping
right over the hall to the stage. As they came through the door it did
not seem possible that anything could stop them--or even that they
could stop themselves--and I expected to see her crushed. Yet two
feet from her, the mass stopped--the front line became rigid as steel
and held back the rest, and, in a second, the wave had broken into
two parts and flowed into the benches at left and right, and, in less
time than it takes you to read this, they were packed on the benches,
packed in the windows, and hung up on the walls. A queer murmur,
half laugh and half applause, ran over the reserved seats, and the
tall, thin commandant beside me said softly, "That is the way they
came out of the trenches at Verdun." As I turned to sit down I had
impressed on my memory forever that sea of smiling, clean-shaven,
keen-eyed, wave on wave of French faces, all so young and so gay--
yet whose eyes had looked on things which will make a new France.
I am sending you the programme of the second matinee--I lost that of
I do wish, for many reasons, that you could have heard the recitation
by Brochard of Jean Bastia's "L'Autre Cortege," in which the poet
foresees the day "When Joffre shall return down the Champs
Elysees" to the frenzied cries of the populace saluting its victorious
army, and greeting with wild applause "Petain, who kept Verdun
inviolated," "De Castelnau, who three times in the fray saw a son fall
at his side," "Gouraud, the Fearless," "Marchand, who rushed on the
Boches brandishing his cane," "Mangin, who retook Douaumont,"