Part 4 out of 4
and "All those brave young officers, modest even in glory, whose
deeds the world knows without knowing their names," and the soldier
heroes who held the frontier "like a wall of steel from Flanders to
Alsace,"--the heroes of Souchez, of Dixmude, of the Maison du
Passeur, of Souain, of Notre Dame de Lorette, and of the great
retreat. It made a long list and I could feel the thrill running all over
the room full of soldiers who, if they live, will be a part of that
triumphal procession, of which no one talks yet except a poet.
But when he had pictured that scene the tempo of the verse
changed: the music began softly to play a Schumann Reverie to the
lines beginning: "But this triumphal cortege is not enough. The return
of the army demands another cortege,"--the triumph of the Mutiles--
the martyrs of the war who have given more than life to the defence
of France--the most glorious heroes of the war.
The picture the poet made of this "other cortege" moved the soldiers
strangely. The music, which blended wonderfully with Brochard's
beautiful voice, was hardly more than a breath, just audible, but
always there, and added greatly to the effect of the recitation. There
was a sigh in the silence which followed the last line--and an almost
whispered "bravo," before the long shouts of applause broke out.
It is the only number on any programme that has ever touched, even
remotely, on war. It came as a surprise--it had not been announced.
But the intense, rather painful, feeling which had swept over the
audience was instantly removed by a comic monologue, and I need
not tell you that these monologues,--intended to amuse the men from
the trenches and give them a hearty laugh,--are usually very La
Scala--that is to say--rosse. But I do love to hear the boys shout with
glee over them.
The scene in the narrow streets of Quincy after the show is very
picturesque. The road mounts a little to Moulignon, and to see the
blue-grey backs of the boys, quite filling the street between the grey
walls of the houses, as they go slowly back to their cantonnements,
makes a very pretty picture.
It does seem a far cry from this to war, doesn't it? Yet isn't it lucky to
know and to see that these boys can come out of such a battle as
Verdun in this condition? This spirit, you see, is the hope of the future.
You know, when you train any kind of a dog to fight, you put him
through all the hard paces and force him to them, without breaking
his spirit. It seems to me that is just what is being done to the men at
March 1, 1917
Well, I have been very busy for some time now receiving the
regiment, and all on account of the flag. It had been going up in the
"dawn's early light," and coming down "with the twilight's last
gleaming" for some weeks when the regiment marched past the gate
again. I must tell you the truth,--the first man who attempted to cry
"Vivent les Etats-Unis" was hushed by a cry of "Attendez-patience--
pas encore," and the line swung by. That was all right. I could afford
to smile,--and, at this stage of the game, to wait. You are always
telling me what a "patient man" Wilson is. I don't deny it. Still, there
The first caller that the flag brought me was on the morning after the
regiment marched by it. I was upstairs. Amelie called up that there
was "un petit soldat" at the door. They are all "les petits soldats" to
her, even when they are six feet tall. She loves to see them coming
into the garden. I heard her say to one of them the other day, when
he "did not wish to disturb madame, if she is busy," "Mais, entrez
donc. Les soldats ne genent jamais ma maitresse."
I went downstairs and found a mere youngster, with a sergeant's
stripe on his sleeve, blushing so hard that I wondered how he had got
up the courage to come inside the gate. He stammered a moment.
Then he pointed to the flag, and, clearing his throat, said:
"You aire an Americaine?"
I owned it.
"I haf seen the flag--I haf been so surprised--I haf had to come in."
I opened the door wide, and said: "Do," and he did, and almost with
tears in his eyes--he was very young, and blonde--he explained that
he was a Canadian.
"But," I said, "you are a French Canadian?"
"Breton," he replied, "but I haf live in Canada since sixteen." Then he
told me that his sister had gone to New Brunswick to teach French
seven years ago, and that he had followed, that, when he was old
enough, he had taken out his naturalization papers, and become a
British subject in order to take up government land; that he had a
wheat farm in Northern Canada--one hundred and sixty acres, all
under cultivation; that he was twenty when the war broke out, and
that he had enlisted at once; that he had been wounded on the
Somme, and came out of the hospital just in season to go through
the hard days at Verdun.
As we talked, part of his accent wore away. Before the interview was
over he was speaking English really fluently. You see he had been
tongue-tied at his own temerity at first. When he was at ease--though
he was very modest and scrupulously well-mannered--he talked well.
The incident was interesting to me because I had heard that the
French Canadians had not been quick to volunteer, and I could not
resist asking him how it happened that he, a British subject, was in
the French army.
He reddened, stammered a bit, and finally said: "After all I am French
at heart. Had England fought any other nation but France in a war in
which France was not concerned it would have been different, but
since England and France are fighting together what difference can it
make if my heart turned to the land where I was born?"
Isn't the naturalization question delicate?
I could not help asking myself how England looked at the matter. I
don't know. She has winked at a lot of things, and a great many more
have happened of late about which no one has ever thought. There
are any number of officers in the English army today, enrolled as
Englishmen, who are American citizens, and who either had no idea
of abandoning their country, or were in too much of a hurry to wait for
formalities. I am afraid all this matter will take on another color after
"this cruel war is over."
This boy looked prosperous, and in no need of anything but kind
words in English. He did not even need cigarettes. But I saw him turn
his eyes frequently towards the library, and it occurred to me that he
might want something to read. I asked him if he did, and you should
have seen his eyes shine,--and he wanted English at that, and
beamed all over his face at a heap of illustrated magazines. So I was
able to send him away happy.
The result was, early the next morning two more of them arrived--a
tall six-footer, and a smaller chap. It was Sunday morning, and they
had real, smiling Sunday faces on. The smaller one addressed me in
very good English, and told me that the sergeant had said that there
was an American lady who was willing to lend the soldiers books. So I
let them loose in the library, and they bubbled, one in English, and the
other in French, while they revelled in the books.
Of course I am always curious about the civil lives of these lads, and
it is the privilege of my age to put such questions to them. The one
who spoke English told me that his home was in London, that he was
the head clerk in the correspondence department of an importing
house. I asked him how old he was, and he told me twenty-two; that
he was in France doing his military service when the war broke out;
that he had been very successful in England, and that his employer
had opposed his returning to France, and begged him to take out
naturalization papers. He said he could not make up his mind to jump
his military service, and had promised his employer to return when his
time was up,--then the war came.
I asked him if he was going back when it was over.
He looked at me a moment, shook his head and said, "I don't think
so. I had never thought of such a thing as a war. No, I am too French.
After this war, if I can get a little capital, I am going into business
here. I am only one, but I am afraid France needs us all."
You see there again is that naturalization question. This war has set
the world thinking, and it was high time.
One funny thing about this conversation was that every few minutes
he turned to his tall companion and explained to him in French what
we were talking about, and I thought it so sweet.
Finally I asked the tall boy--he was a corporal and had been watching
his English-speaking chum with such admiration--what he did in civil
He turned his big brown eyes, on me, and replied: "I, madame? I
never had any civil life."
I looked puzzled, and he added: "I come of a military family. I am an
orphan, and I am an enfant de troupe."
Now did you know that there were such things today as "Children of
the Regiment"? I own I did not. Yet there he stood before me, a
smiling twenty-year old corporal, who had been brought up by the
regiment, been a soldier boy from his babyhood.
In the meantime they had decided what they wanted for books. The
English-speaking French lad wanted either Shakespeare or Milton,
and as I laid the books on the table for him, he told his comrade who
the two authors were, and promised to explain it all to him, and there
wasn't a sign of show-off in it either. As for the Child of the Regiment,
he wanted a Balzac, and when I showed him where they were, he
picked out "Eugenie Grandet," and they both went away happy.
I don't need to tell you that when the news spread that there were
books in the house on the hilltop that could be borrowed for the
asking, I had a stream of visitors, and one of these visits was a very
One afternoon I was sitting before the fire. It was getting towards
dusk. There was a knock at the door. I opened it. There stood a
handsome soldier, with a corporal's stripes on his sleeve. He saluted
me with a smile, as he told me that his comrades had told him that
there was an American lady here who did not seem to be bored if the
soldiers called on her.
"Alors," he added, "I have come to make you a visit."
I asked him in.
He accepted the invitation. He thrust his fatigue cap into his pocket,
took off his topcoat, threw it on the back of a chair, which he drew up
to the fire, beside mine, and at a gesture from me he sat down.
"Hmmm," I thought. "This is a new proposition."
The other soldiers never sit down even when invited. They prefer to
keep on their feet.
Ever since I began to see so much of the army, I have asked myself
more than once, "Where are the fils de famille"? They can't all be
officers, or all in the heavy artillery, or all in the cavalry. But I had
never seen one, to know him, in the infantry. This man was in every
way a new experience, even among the noncommissioned officers I
had seen. He was more at his ease. He stayed nearly two hours. We
talked politics, art, literature, even religion--he was a good Catholic--
just as one talks at a tea-party when one finds a man who is
cultivated, and can talk, and he was evidently cultivated, and he
talked awfully well.
He examined the library, borrowed a volume of Flaubert, and finally,
after he had asked me all sorts of questions--where I came from; how
I happened to be here; and even to "explain Mr. Wilson," I responded
by asking him what he did in civil life.
He was leaning against the high mantel, saying a wood fire was
delicious. He smiled down on me and replied: "Nothing."
"Enfin!" I said to myself. "Here he is--the 'fils de famille' for whom I
have been looking." So I smiled back and asked him, in that case, if it
were not too indiscreet--what he did to kill time?
"Well," he said, "I have a very pretty, altogether charming wife, and I
have three little children. I live part of the time in Paris, and part of
the time at Cannes, and I manage to keep busy."
It seemed becoming for me to say "Beg pardon and thank you," and
he bowed and smiled an "il n'y a pas de quoi," thanked me for a
pleasant afternoon--an "unusual kind of pleasure," he added, "for a
soldier in these times," and went away.
It was only when I saw him going that it occurred to me that I ought to
have offered him tea--but you know the worth of "esprit d'escalier."
Naturally I was curious about him, so the next time I saw the
Canadian I asked him who he was. "Oh," he replied, "he is a nice
chap; he is a noble, a vicomte--a millionaire."
So you see I have found the type--not quite in the infantry ranks, but
almost, and if I found one there must be plenty more. It consoled me
in these days when one hears so often cries against "les
I began to think there was every type in the world in this famous
118th, and I was not far from wrong.
The very next day I got the most delicious type of all--the French-
American--very French to look at, but with New York stamped all over
him--especially his speech. Of all these boys, this is the one I wish
you could see.
Like all the rest of the English-speaking Frenchmen--the Canadian
excepted--he brought a comrade to hear him talk to the lady in
English. I really must try to give you a graphic idea of that
When I opened the door for him, he stared at me, and then he threw
up both hands and simply shouted, "My God, it is true! My God, it is
Then he thrust out his hand and gave me a hearty shake, simply
yelling, "My God, lady, I'm glad to see you. My God, lady, the sight is
good for sore eyes."
Then he turned to his comrade and explained, "J'ai dit a la dame,
'Mon Dieu, Madame,'" etc., and in the same breath he turned back to
me and continued:
"My God, lady, when I saw them Stars and Stripes floating out there, I
said to my comrade, 'If there is an American man or an American
lady here, my God, I am going to look at them,' and my God, lady, I'm
glad I did. Well, how do you do, anyway?"
I told him that I was very well, and asked him if he wouldn't like to
"My God, lady, you bet your life I do," and he shook my hand again,
and came in, remarking, "I'm an American myself--from New York--
great city, New York--can't be beat. I wish all my comrades could see
Broadway--that would amaze them," and then he turned to his
companion to explain, "J'ai dit a Madame que je voudrais bien que
tous les copains pouvaient voir Broadway--c'est la plus belle rue de
New York--ils seront epates--tous," and he turned to me to ask
"N'est-ce pas, Madame?"
I laughed. I had to. I had a vivid picture of his comrades seeing New
York for the first time--you know it takes time to get used to the Great
White Way, and I remembered the last distinguished Frenchman
whom the propaganda took on to the great thoroughfare, and who, at
the first sight and sound and feel of it, wanted to lay his head up
against Times Square and sob like a baby with fright and
amazement. This was one of those flash thoughts. My caller did not
give me time for more than that, for he began to cross-examine me--
he wanted to know where I lived in America.
It did not seem worth while to tell him I did not live there, so I said
"Boston," and he declared it a "nice, pretty slow town," he knew it,
and, of course, he added, "But my God, lady, give me New York
every time. I've lived there sixteen years--got a nice little wife there--
here's her picture--and see here, this is my name," and he laid an
envelope before me with a New York postmark.
"Well," I said, "if you are an American citizen, what are you doing
here, in a French uniform? The States are not in the war."
His eyes simply snapped.
"My God, lady, I'm a Frenchman just the same. My God, lady, you
don't think I'd see France attacked by Germany and not take a hand
in the fight, do you? Not on your life!"
Here is your naturalization business again.
I could not help laughing, but I ventured to ask: "Well, my lad, what
would you have done if it had been France and the States?" He
curled his lip, and brushed the question aside with:
"My God, lady! Don't be stupid. That could never be, never, on your
I asked him, when I got a chance to put in a word, what he did in New
York, and he told me he was a chauffeur, and that he had a sister
who lived "on Riverside Drive, up by 76th Street," but I did not ask
him in what capacity, for before I could, he launched into an
enthusiastic description of Riverside Drive, and immediately put it all
into French for the benefit of his copain, who stood by with his mouth
open in amazement at the spirited English of his friend.
When he went away, he shook me again violently by the hand,
exclaiming: "Well, lady, of course you'll soon be going back to the
States. So shall I. I can't live away from New York. No one ever could
who had lived there. Great country the States. I'm a voter--I'm a
Democrat--always vote the Democratic ticket--voted for Wilson. Well,
As he shook me by the hand again, it seemed suddenly to occur to
him that he had forgotten something. He struck a blow on his
forehead with his fist, and cried: "My God, lady, did I understand that
you have been here ever since the war began? Then you were here
during the battle out there? My God, lady, I 'm an American, too, and
my God, lady, I 'm proud of you! I am indeed." And he went off down
the road, and I heard him explaining to his companion "J'ai dit a
I don't think any comment is necessary on what Broadway does to
the French lad of the people.
Last night I saw one of the most beautiful sights that I have ever
seen. For several evenings I have been hearing artillery practice of
some sort, but I paid no attention to it. We have no difficulty in
distinguishing the far-off guns at Soissons and Rheims, which
announce an attack, from the more audible, but quite different, sound
of the tir d'exercice. But last night they sounded so very near--almost
as if in the garden--that, at about nine, when I was closing up the
house, I stepped out on to the terrace to listen. It was a very dark
night, quite black. At first I thought they were in the direction of
Quincy, and then I discovered, once I was listening carefully, that they
were in the direction of the river. I went round to the north side of the
house, and I saw the most wonderful display--more beautiful than any
fireworks I had ever seen. The artillery was experimenting with signal
lights, and firing colored fusees volantes. I had read about them, but
never seen one. As near as I could make out, the artillery was on top
of the hill of Monthyon--where we saw the battle of the Marne begin,--
and the line they were observing was the Iles-les-Villenoy, in the river
right at the west of us. When I first saw the exercises, there were half
a dozen lovely red and green lights hanging motionless in the sky. I
could hear the heavy detonation of the cannon or gun, or whatever
they use to throw them, and then see the long arc of light like a chain
of gold, which marked the course of the fusee, until it burst into color
at the end. I wrapped myself up, took my field-glasses, and stayed
out an hour watching the scene, and trying to imagine what exactly
the same thing, so far as mere beauty went, meant to the men at the
In the morning I found that everyone else had heard the guns, but no
one had seen anything, because, as it happens, it was from my lawn
only that both Monthyon and the Iles-les-Villenoy could be seen.
March 19, 1917
Such a week of excitement as we have had. But it has been uplifting
excitement. I feel as if I had never had an ache or a pain, and Time
and Age were not. What with the English advance, the Russian
Revolution, and Zeppelins tumbling out of the heavens, every day
has been just a little more thrilling than the day before.
I wonder now how "Willie,"--as we used to call him in the days when
he was considered a joke,--feels over his latest great success--the
democratic conversion, or I suppose I should, to be correct, say the
conversion to democracy, of all Russia? It must be a queer sensation
to set out to accomplish one thing, and to achieve its exact reverse.
Yesterday--it was Sunday--just capped the week of excitement. It was
the third beautiful day in the week,--full of sunshine, air clear, sky
In the morning, the soldiers began to drop in, to bring back books and
get more, to talk a little politics, for even the destruction of the
Zeppelin at Compiegne, and the news that the English were at
Bapaume, was a bit damped by the untimely fall of Briand.
The boys all looked in prime condition, and they all had new uniforms,
even new caps and boots. The Canadian, who usually comes alone,
had personally conducted three of his comrades, whom he formally
introduced, and, as I led the way into the library, I remarked, "Mais,
comme nous sommes chic aujourd'hui," and they all laughed, and
explained that it was Sunday and they were dressed for a formal call.
If any of them guessed that the new equipment meant anything they
made no sign. I imagine they did not suspect any more than I did, for
they all went down the hill to lunch, each with a book under his arm.
Yet four hours later they were preparing to advance.
It was exactly four in the afternoon that news came that the French
had pierced the line at Soissons--just in front of us--and that Noyon
had been retaken--that the cavalry were a cheval (that means that
the 23d Dragoons have advanced in pursuit)--and, only a quarter of
an hour after we got the news, the assemblage general was
sounded, and the 118th ordered sac au dos at half past six.
For half an hour there was a rush up the hill--boys bringing me back
my books, coming to shake hands and present me with little
souvenirs, and bring the news that the camions were coming--which
meant that the 118th were going right into action again. When a
regiment starts in such a hurry that it must take a direct line, and
cannot bother with railroads, the boys know what that means.
I know you'll ask me how they took the order, so I tell you without
waiting. I saw a few pale faces--but it was only for a moment. A group
of them stood in front of me in the library. I had just received from the
front, by post, the silk parachute of a fusee volante, on which was
written: "A Miss Mildred Aldrich Ramasse sur le champ de bataille a
20 metres des lignes Boches. Souvenir de la patrouille de Fevrier 22,
1917," and the signature of the Aspirant, and that was the only way I
knew he had probably been on a dangerous mission.
It was the first time that I had ever seen one any nearer than in the
air, during the exercises by night of which I wrote you, and one of the
boys was explaining it, and its action, and use, and everyone but me
was laughing at the graphic demonstration. I don't know why I didn't
laugh. Usually I laugh more than anyone else.
Sometimes I think that I have laughed more in the last two years than
in all the rest of my life. The demonstrator looked at me, and asked
why I was so grave. I replied that I did not know--perhaps in surprise
that they were so gay.
He understood at once. Quite simply he said: "Well, my dear
madame, we must be gay. What would we do otherwise? If we
thought too often of the comrades who are gone, if we remembered
too often that we risked our skins every day, the army would be
demoralized. I rarely think of these things except just after an attack.
Then I draw a deep breath, look up at the sky, and I laugh, as I say to
my soul, 'Well, it was not to be this time, perhaps it never will be.' Life
is dear to each of us, in his own way, and for his own reasons. Luckily
it is not so dear to any of us as France or honor."
I turned away and looked out of the window a moment--I could not
trust myself,--and the next minute they were all shaking hands, and
were off down the road to get ready.
The loaded camions began to move just after dark. No one knows
the destination, but judging by the direction, they were heading for
Soissons. They were moving all night, and the first thing I heard this
morning was the bugle in the direction of Quincy, and the news came
at breakfast time that the 65th Regiment--the last of the big fighting
regiments to go into action at Verdun, and the last to leave, was
marching in. The girl from the butcher's brought the news, and "Oh,
madame," she added, "the Americans are with them."
"The what?" I exclaimed.
"A big American ambulance corps--any number of ambulance
automobiles, and they have put their tents up on the common at
You can imagine how excited I was. I sent someone over to Quincy at
once to see if it was true, and word came back that Captain Norton's
American Corps Sanitaire--forty men who have been with this same
division, the 31st Corps--for many months--had arrived from Verdun
with the 65th Regiment, and was to follow it into action when it
This time the cantonnement does not come up to Huiry--only to the
foot of the hill at Voisins.
Of course I have not seen our boys yet, but I probably shall in a few
March 28, 1917
Well, all quiet on the hilltop again--all the soldiers gone--no sign of
more coming for the present. We are all nervously watching the
advance, but controlling our nerves. The German retreat and the
organized destruction which accompanies it just strikes one dumb. Of
course we all know it is a move meant to break the back of the great
offensive, and though we knew, too, that the Allied commanders were
prepared for it, it does make you shiver to get a letter from the front
telling you that a certain regiment advanced at a certain point thirty
kilometres, without seeing a Boche.
As soon as I began to read the account of the destruction, I had a
sudden illuminating realization of the meaning of something I saw
from the car window the last time I came out from Paris. Perhaps I did
not tell you that I was up there for a few days the first of the month?
Of course you don't need to be told that there has been a
tremendous amount of work done on the eastern road all through the
war. Extra tracks have been laid all the way between Paris and
Chelles, the outer line of defenses of the city--and at the stations
between Gagny and Chelles the sidings extend so far on the western
side of the tracks as to almost reach out of sight. For a long time the
work was done by soldiers, but when I went up to Paris, four weeks
ago, the work was being done by Annamites in their saffron-colored
clothes and queer turbans, and I found the same little people cleaning
the streets in Paris. But the surprising thing was the work that was
accomplished in the few days that I was in Paris. I came back on
March 13, and I was amazed to see all those miles and miles of
sidings filled with trucks piled with wood, with great posts, with planks,
with steel rails, and what looked the material to build a big city or two.
I did not wonder when I saw them that we could not get coal, or other
necessities of life, but it was not until I read of the very German-like
idea of defending one's self on the property of other people that I
realized what all that material meant, and that the Allies were
prepared for even this tragic and Boche-like move. I began to get little
cards and letters back from the 118th on the twenty-third. The first
Here we are--arrived last night just behind the line,--with our eyes
strained towards the front, ready to bound forward and join in the
Of course I have seen the Americans--a doctor from Schenectady
and forty men, almost all youngsters in their early twenties. In fact
twenty-two seems to be the popular age. There are boys from
Harvard, boys from Yale, New England boys, Virginia boys, boys from
Tennessee, from Kentucky, from Louisiana, and American boys from
Oxford. It is a first-line ambulance corps,--the boys who drive their
little Ford ambulances right down to the battlefields and receive the
wounded from the brancardiers, and who have seen the worst of
Verdun, and endured the privations and the cold with the army.
When a Virginia man told me that he had not taken cold this winter,
and showed me his little tent on the common, where, from choice, he
is still sleeping under canvas, because he "likes it," I could easily
believe him. Do you know,--it is absurd--I have not had a cold this
winter, either? I, who used to have one tonsilitis per winter, two
bronchitis, half a dozen colds in my head, and occasionally a mild
specimen of grip. This is some record when you consider that since
my coal gave out in February we have had some pretty cold weather,
and that I have only had imitation fires, which cheer the imagination
by way of the eyes without warming the atmosphere. I could fill a
book with stories of "how I made fires in war time," but I spare you
because I have more interesting things to tell you.
On the twenty-sixth we were informed that we were to have the 65th
Regiment cantoned on the hill for a day and a night. They were to
move along a bit to make room for the 35th for a few days. It was
going to be pretty close quarters for one night, and the adjutant who
arranged the cantonnement was rather put to it to house his men.
The Captain was to be in my house, and I was asked, if, for two days
--perhaps less--I could have an officers' kitchen in the house and let
them have a place to eat. Well,--there the house was--they were
welcome to it. So that was arranged, and I put a mattress on the floor
in the atelier for the Captain's cook.
We had hardly got that over when the adjutant came back to look
over the ground again, and see if it were not possible to canton a
demi-section in the granges. I went out with him to show him what
there was--a grange on the south side, with a loft, which has already
had to be braced up with posts, and which I believe to be dangerous.
He examined it, and agreed: a grange on the north side, used for
coal, wood, and garden stuff, with a loft above in fair condition, but
only accessible by ladder from the outside. He put up the ladder,
climbed it, unlocked the door, examined it, and decided that it would
do, unless they could find something better.
So soldiers came in the afternoon and swept it out, and brought the
straw in which they were to sleep, and that was arranged.
It was about seven the next morning when they began to arrive. I
heard the tramp of their feet in the road, as they marched, in sections,
to their various cantonnements. I put a clean cap over my tousled
hair, slipped into a wadded gown and was ready just as I heard the
"Halte," which said that my section had arrived. I heard two growly
sounds which I took to be "A droite, marche!"--and by the time I got
the window open to welcome my section I looked down into an Indian
file of smiling bronzed faces, as they marched along the terrace,
knapsacks and guns on their backs, and began mounting the ladder.
Soon after, the Captain's cook arrived with his market baskets and
took possession of the kitchen, and he was followed by orderlies and
the kits, and by the officer who was to be the Captain's table
As Amelie had half a section cantoned in her courtyard she was busy
there, and I simply showed the cook where things were, gave him
table cloths and napkins, and left him to follow his own sweet will, free
to help himself to anything he needed. If you remember what I told
you about my house when I took it, you can guess how small I had to
I can tell you one thing--on the testimony of Amelie--the officers eat
well. But they pay for it themselves, so that is all right. The cook was
never idle a minute while he was in the house. I heard him going up
to bed, in his felt shoes, at ten o'clock--Amelie said he left the kitchen
scrupulously clean--and I heard the kitchen alarm clock, which he
carried with him going off at half past five in the morning.
I had asked the Captain when the regiment was to advance, and he
said probably the next morning, but that the order had not come.
Twice while I was at dinner in the breakfast room, I heard an orderly
come in with despatches, but it was not until nine o'clock that the
order "sac au dos" at half past ten the next morning--that was
yesterday--was official, and it was not until nine in the morning that
they knew that they were leaving in camions--which meant that they
were really starting in the pursuit, and the American division was to
The officers had a great breakfast just after nine--half a dozen
courses. As they did not know when, if ever, they would sit down to a
real meal at a table again they made their possibly last one a feast.
As they began just after nine and had to be on the road at half past
ten I don't need to tell you that the cook had no time to clear up after
himself. He had just time--with his mouth full of food--to throw his
apron on the floor, snatch up his gun and his knapsack and buckle
himself into shape as he sprinted up the hill to overtake his company.
As for me--I threw on a cape and went across the road to the field,
where I could see the Grande Route, and the chemin Madame
leading to it. All along the route nationale, as far as I could see with
my field-glass, stood the grey camions. On the chemin Madame the
regiment was waiting. They had stacked their guns and, in groups,
with cigarettes between their lips, they chatted quietly, as they waited.
Here and there a bicyclist was sprinting with orders.
Suddenly a whistle sounded. There was a rattle of arms as the men
unstacked their guns and fell into line, then hundreds of hobnailed
boots marked time on the hard road, and the 65th swung along to the
waiting camions, over the same route I had seen Captain Simpson
and the Yorkshire boys take, just before sundown, on that hot
September day in 1914.
As I stood watching them all the stupendousness of the times rushed
over me that you and I, who have rubbed our noses on historical
monuments so often, have chased after emotions on the scenes of
past heroism, and applauded mock heroics across the footlights,
should be living in days like these, days in which heroism is the
common act of every hour. I cannot help wondering what the future
generations are going to say of it all; how far-off times are going to
judge us; what is going to stand out in the strong limelight of history? I
know what I think, but that does not help yet.
Do you know that I had a letter from Paris this week which said: "I
was looking over your letters written while we were tied up in London,
in August, 1914, and was amused to find that in one of them you had
written 'the annoying thing is, that, after this is over, Germany will
console herself with the reflection that it took the world to beat her.'"
It is coming truer than I believed in those days,--and then I went
back to dishwashing.
You never saw such a looking kitchen as I found. Leon, the officers'
cook--a pastry cook before he was a soldier--was a nice, kindly, hard-
working chap, but he lacked the quality dear to all good house-
keepers--he had never learned to clean up after himself as he went
along. He had used every cooking utensil in the house, and such a
pile of plates and glasses! It took Amelie and me until two o'clock to
clean up after him, and when it was done I felt that I never wanted to
see food again as long as I lived. Of course we did not mind, but
Amelie had to say, every now and then, "Vive l'armee!" just to keep
her spirits up. Anyway it was consoling to know that they have more
to eat than we do.
The American corps had to leave one of their boys behind in our
ambulance, very ill with neuritis--that is to say, painfully ill. As the
boys of the American corps are ranked by the French army as
officers this case is doubly interesting to the personnel of our
modest hospital. First he is an American--a tall young Southerner
from Tennessee. They never knew an American before. Second,
he is not only an honorary officer serving France, he is really a
lieutenant in the officers' reserve corps of his own State, and
our little ambulance has never sheltered an officer before.
The nurses and the sisters are falling over one another to take care
of him--at least, as I always find one or two of them sitting by his bed
whenever I go to see him, I imagine they are.
The amusing thing is that he says he can't understand or speak
French, and swears that the only words he knows are:
Oui, oui, oui,
Non, non, non,
Si, si, si,
which he sings, in his musical southern voice, to the delight of his
admiring nurses. All the same, whenever it is necessary for an
interpreter to explain something important to him, I find that he has
usually got the hang of it already, so I've my doubts if he has as little
French as he pretends. One thing is sure his discharge will leave a
big void in the daily life of the ambulance.
This is growing into a long letter--in the quiet that has settled on us I
seem to have plenty of time--and the mood--so, before I close, I must
say something in reply to your sad sentence in your last letter--the
reply to mine of December regarding our first big cantonnement. You
say "Oh! the pity of this terrible sacrifice of the youth of the world!!
Why aren't the middle-aged sent first--the men who have partly lived
their lives, who leave children to continue the race?" Ah, dear old girl
--you are indeed too far off to understand such a war as this. Few men
of even forty can stand the life. Only the young can bear the strain.
They not only bear it, they thrive on it, and, such of them as survive
the actual battles, will come out of it in wonderful physical trim. Of
course there are a thousand sides to the question. There are
hospitals full of the tuberculous and others with like maladies, but
those things existed before the war, only less attention was paid to
them. It is also a serious question--? getting more serious the longer
the war goes on--as to how all these men will settle into civil life again
--how many will stand sedentary pursuits after years in the open, and
how they will settle back into the injustices of class distinctions after
years of the equality of the same duty--fighting for their country.
Still if the victory is decisive, and the army is satisfied with the
peace conditions, I imagine all those things will settle themselves.
Well, Congress meets on Monday. There is no doubt in anyone's
mind of the final decision. I only hope it won't drag too long. I have
taken my flags down just to have the pleasure of putting them up
I had this letter closed when I got my first direct news from the front
since the advance.
Do you remember how amused I was when I saw the Aspirant
equipped for his march in January? I was told afterward that my idea
of a light equipment for the cavalry in battle was "theoretically
beautiful," but in such a war as this absolutely impracticable. Well I
hear today that when the cavalry advanced it advanced in a
"theoretically beautiful" manner. It seems that the order was
unexpected. It caught the cavalry in the saddle during a manoeuvre,
and, just as they were, they wheeled into line and flew off in pursuit of
the Boches. They had nothing but what was on their backs--and
ammunition, of course. The result was that they had forty-eight hours
of real suffering. It was harder on the officers than on the men, and
hardest of all on the horses. All the soldiers always have a bidon with
something in it to drink, and almost invariably they have a bite or so in
their sacks. No officer ever has anything on him, and none of them
carries a bidon except on a march. For forty-eight hours in the chase
they suffered from hunger, and, what was worse still, from thirst. As
the weather was nasty and they were without shelters of any kind--not
even tents--they tasted all the hardships of war. This must comfort
the foot soldiers, who are eternally grumbling at the cavalry. However,
the officer who brought back the news says the men bore it with
philosophical gaiety, even those who on the last day had nothing as
well as those who in forty-eight hours had a quarter of a biscuit. The
horses were not so philosophical--some of them just lay down and
died, poor beasts. I assure you I shall never laugh again at a
cavalryman's "battle array."
April 8, 1917
The sun shines, and my heart is high. This is a great day. The Stars
and Stripes ace flying at my gate, and they are flying over all France.
What is more they will soon be flying--if they are not already--over
Westminster, for the first time in history. The mighty, unruly child, who
never could quite forgive the parent it defied, and never has been
wholly pardoned, is to come back to the family table, if only long
enough to settle the future manners of the nations about the board,
put in, I suppose, a few "don'ts," like "don't grab"; "don't take a bigger
mouthful than you can becomingly chew"; "don't jab your knife into
your neighbor--it is not for that purpose"; "don't eat out of your
neighbor's plate--you have one of your own,"--in fact "Thou shalt not--
even though thou art a Kaiser--take the name of the Lord thy God in
vain"; "thou shalt not steal"; "thou shalt not kill"; "thou shalt not
covet," and so on. Trite, I know, but in thousands of years we
have not improved on it.
So the Stars and Stripes are flying over France to greet the long
delayed and ardently awaited, long ago inevitable declaration which
puts the States shoulder to shoulder with the other great nations in
the Defence of the Rights of Man, the Sacredness of Property, the
Honor of Humanity, and the news has been received with such
enthusiasm as has not been seen in France since war broke over it.
Judging by the cables the same enthusiasm which has set the air
throbbing here is mounting to the skies on your side of the ocean. We
are a strangely lucky nation--we are the first to go into the great fight
to the shouts of the populace; to be received like a star performer,
with "thunders of applause."
"God's in his heaven, All's right with the world."--and--we are no
longer in the war zone. As soon as a few formalities are filled, and I
can get a carte d'identite, I shall be once more free to circulate. After
sixteen months of a situation but one step removed from being
interned, it will be good to be able to move about--even if I don't want
To give you some idea how the men at the front welcome the news,
here is a letter which has just come,--written before Congress had
voted, but when everyone was sure of the final decision.
At the Front, April 4, 1917
It has been a long time since I sent you my news. The neglect has
not been my fault, but due to the exceptional circumstances of the
At last we have advanced, and this time as real cavalry. We have
had the satisfaction of pursuing the Boches--keeping on their flying
heels until we drove them into St. Quentin. From the 18th to the 28th
of March the war became once more a battle in the open, which was
a great relief to the soldiers and permitted them to once more
demonstrate their real military qualities. I lived through a dozen days
filled to overflowing with emotions--sorrow, joy, enthusiasm. At last I
have really known what war is--with all its misery and all its beauty.
What joy it was for us of the cavalry to pass over the trenches and fly
across the plains in the pursuit of the Germans! The first few days
everything went off wonderfully. The Boches fled before us, not
daring to turn and face us. But our advance was so rapid, our
impetuosity such, that, long before they expected us, we overtook the
main body of the enemy. They were visibly amazed at being caught
before they could cross the canal at St. Quentin, as was their plan,
and they were obliged to turn and attempt to check our advance, in
order to gain sufficient time to permit their artillery to cross the canal
and escape complete disaster.
It was there that we fought, forcing them across the canal to entrench
themselves hastily in unprepared positions, from which, at the hour I
write, our wonderful infantry and our heavy artillery, in collaboration
with the British, are dislodging them.
Alas! The battles were costly, and many of our comrades paid with
their lives for our audacious advance. Be sure that we avenged them,
and cruel as are our losses they were not in vain. They are more than
compensated by the results of the sacrifice--the strip of our native soil
snatched from the enemy. They died like heroes, and for a noble
Since then we have been resting, but waiting impatiently to advance
and pursue them again, until we can finally push them over their own
Today's paper brings us great and comforting news. At last, dear
madame! At last your marvellous country is going to march beside us
in this terrible war. With a full heart I present to you my heartiest
congratulations. At last Wilson understands, and the American
people--so noble, and always so generous--will no longer hesitate to
support us with all their resources. How wonderfully this is going to
aid us to obtain the decisive victory we must have, and perhaps to
shorten the war.
Here, in the army, the joy is tremendous at the idea that we have
behind us the support of a nation so great, and all our admiration, all
our gratitude goes out to your compatriots, to the citizens of the great
Republic, which is going to enter voluntarily into this Holy War, and so
bravely expose itself to its known horrors.
Bravo! et vivent les Etats-Unis!
My greetings to Amelie and Papa: a caress for Khaki and Didine, and
a pat for Dick.
Receive, madame, the assurance of my most respectful homage.
I am feeling today as if it were no matter that the winter had been so
hard; that we have no fuel but twigs; that the winter wheat was frozen;
that we have eaten part of our seed potatoes and that another part of
them was frost-bitten; that butter is a dollar a pound (and none to be
had, even at that price, for days at a time); that wood alcohol is sixty-
five cents a litre, and so on and so forth. I even feel that it is not
important that this war came, since it could not be escaped, and that
what alone is important is--that the major part of the peoples of the
world are standing upright on their feet, lifting their arms with a great
shout for Liberty, Justice, and Honor; that a war of brute force for
conquest has defeated itself, and set free those who were to have
been its victims. It is not, I know, today or tomorrow that it will all
end; it is not next year, or in many years, that poor Poland's three
mutilated parts can be joined and healed into harmony; and oh! how
long it is going to be before all the sorrow and hatred that Germany
has brought on the world can be either comforted or forgotten! But at
least we are sure now of the course the treatment is going to take--so
the sun shines and my heart is high, and I do believe that though joy
may lead nowhere, sorrow is never in vain.