E-text prepared by A. Langley
WITH THE ALLIES
RICHARD HARDING DAVIS
I have not seen the letter addressed by President Wilson to the American people calling upon them to preserve toward this war the mental attitude of neutrals. But I have seen the war. And I feel sure had President Wilson seen my war he would not have written his letter.
This is not a war against Germans, as we know Germans in America, where they are among our sanest, most industrious, and most responsible fellow countrymen. It is a war, as Winston Churchill has pointed out, against the military aristocracy of Germany, men who are six hundred years behind the times; who, to preserve their class against democracy, have perverted to the uses of warfare, to the destruction of life, every invention of modern times. These men are military mad. To our ideal of representative government their own idea is as far opposed as is martial law to the free speech of our town meetings.
One returning from the war is astonished to find how little of the true horror of it crosses the ocean. That this is so is due partly to the strict censorship that suppresses the details of the war, and partly to the fact that the mind is not accustomed to consider misery on a scale so gigantic. The loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, the wrecking of cities, and the laying waste of half of Europe cannot be brought home to people who learn of it only through newspapers and moving pictures and by sticking pins in a map. Were they nearer to it, near enough to see the women and children fleeing from the shells and to smell the dead on the battle-fields, there would be no talk of neutrality.
Such lack of understanding our remoteness from the actual seat of war explains. But on the part of many Americans one finds another attitude of mind which is more difficult to explain. It is the cupidity that in the misfortunes of others sees only a chance for profit. In an offer made to its readers a prominent American magazine best expresses this attitude. It promises prizes for the essays on “What the war means to me.”
To the American women Miss Ida M. Tar-bell writes: “This is her time to learn what her own country’s industries can do, and to rally with all her influence to their support, urging them to make the things she wants, and pledging them her allegiance.”
This appeal is used in a periodical with a circulation of over a million, as an advertisement for silk hose. I do not agree with Miss Tarbell that this is the time to rally to the support of home industries. I do not agree with the advertiser that when in Belgium several million women and children are homeless, starving, and naked that that is the time to buy his silk hose. To urge that charity begins at home is to repeat one of the most selfish axioms ever uttered, and in this war to urge civilized, thinking people to remain neutral is equally selfish.
Were the conflict in Europe a fair fight, the duty of every American would be to keep on the side-lines and preserve an open mind. But it is not a fair fight. To devastate a country you have sworn to protect, to drop bombs upon unfortified cities, to lay sunken mines, to levy blackmail by threatening hostages with death, to destroy cathedrals is not to fight fair.
That is the way Germany is fighting. She is defying the rules of war and the rules of humanity. And if public opinion is to help in preventing further outrages, and in hastening this unspeakable conflict to an end, it should be directed against the one who offends. If we are convinced that one opponent is fighting honestly and that his adversary is striking below the belt, then for us to maintain a neutral attitude of mind is unworthy and the attitude of a coward.
When a mad dog runs amuck in a village it is the duty of every farmer to get his gun and destroy it, not to lock himself indoors and toward the dog and the men who face him preserve a neutral mind.
RICHARD HARDING DAVIS.
NEW YORK, Dec. 1st, 1914.
I. The Germans In Brussels
II. “To Be Treated As A Spy”
III. The Burning Of Louvain
IV. Paris In War Time
V. The Battle Of Soissons
VI. The Bombardment Of Rheims
VII. The Spirit Of The English
VIII. Our Diplomats In The War Zone IX. “Under Fire”
X. The Waste Of War
XI. The War Correspondents
The Germans In Brussels
When, on August 4, the Lusitania, with lights doused and air-ports sealed, slipped out of New York harbor the crime of the century was only a few days old. And for three days those on board the Lusitania of the march of the great events were ignorant. Whether or no between England and Germany the struggle for the supremacy of the sea had begun we could not learn.
But when, on the third day, we came on deck the news was written against the sky. Swinging from the funnels, sailors were painting out the scarlet-and-black colors of the Cunard line and substituting a mouse-like gray. Overnight we had passed into the hands of the admiralty, and the Lusitania had emerged a cruiser. That to possible German war-ships she might not disclose her position, she sent no wireless messages. But she could receive them; and at breakfast in the ship’s newspaper appeared those she had overnight snatched from the air. Among them, without a scare-head, in the most modest of type, we read: “England and Germany have declared war.” Seldom has news so momentous been conveyed so simply or, by the Englishmen on board, more calmly accepted. For any exhibition they gave of excitement or concern, the news the radio brought them might have been the result of a by-election.
Later in the morning they gave us another exhibition of that repression of feeling, of that disdain of hysteria, that is a national characteristic, and is what Mr. Kipling meant when he wrote: “But oh, beware my country, when my country grows polite!”
Word came that in the North Sea the English war-ships had destroyed the German fleet. To celebrate this battle which, were the news authentic, would rank with Trafalgar and might mean the end of the war, one of the ship’s officers exploded a detonating bomb. Nothing else exploded. Whatever feelings of satisfaction our English cousins experienced they concealed.
Under like circumstances, on an American ship, we would have tied down the siren, sung the doxology, and broken everything on the bar. As it was, the Americans instinctively flocked to the smoking-room and drank to the British navy. While this ceremony was going forward, from the promenade-deck we heard tumultuous shouts and cheers. We believed that, relieved of our presence, our English friends had given way to rejoicings. But when we went on deck we found them deeply engaged in cricket. The cheers we had heard were over the retirement of a batsman who had just been given out, leg before wicket.
When we reached London we found no idle boasting, no vainglorious jingoism. The war that Germany had forced upon them the English accepted with a grim determination to see it through and, while they were about it, to make it final. They were going ahead with no false illusions. Fully did every one appreciate the enormous task, the personal loss that lay before him. But each, in his or her way, went into the fight determined to do his duty. There was no dismay, no hysteria, no “mafficking.”
The secrecy maintained by the press and the people regarding anything concerning the war, the knowledge of which might embarrass the War Office, was one of the most admirable and remarkable conspiracies of silence that modern times have known. Officers of the same regiment even with each other would not discuss the orders they had received. In no single newspaper, with no matter how lurid a past record for sensationalism, was there a line to suggest that a British army had landed in France and that Great Britain was at war. Sooner than embarrass those who were conducting the fight, the individual English man and woman in silence suffered the most cruel anxiety of mind. Of that, on my return to London from Brussels, I was given an illustration. I had written to The Daily Chronicle telling where in Belgium I had seen a wrecked British airship, and beside it the grave of the aviator. I gave the information in order that the family of the dead officer might find the grave and bring the body home. The morning the letter was published an elderly gentleman, a retired officer of the navy, called at my rooms. His son, he said, was an aviator, and for a month of him no word had come. His mother was distressed. Could I describe the air-ship I had seen?
I was not keen to play the messenger of ill tidings, so I tried to gain time.
“What make of aeroplane does your son drive?” I asked.
As though preparing for a blow, the old gentleman drew himself up, and looked me steadily in the eyes.
“A Bleriot monoplane,” he said.
I was as relieved as though his boy were one of my own kinsmen.
“The air-ship I saw,” I told him, “was an Avro biplane!”
Of the two I appeared much the more pleased.
The retired officer bowed.
“I thank you,” he said. “It will be good news for his mother.”
“But why didn’t you go to the War Office?” I asked.
He reproved me firmly.
“They have asked us not to question them,” he said, “and when they are working for all I have no right to embarrass them with my personal trouble.”
As the chance of obtaining credentials with the British army appeared doubtful, I did not remain in London, but at once crossed to Belgium.
Before the Germans came, Brussels was an imitation Paris– especially along the inner boulevards she was Paris at her best. And her great parks, her lakes gay with pleasure-boats or choked with lily- pads, her haunted forests, where your taxicab would startle the wild deer, are the most beautiful I have ever seen in any city in the world. As, in the days of the Second Empire, Louis Napoleon bedecked Paris, so Leopold decorated Brussels. In her honor and to his own glory he gave her new parks, filled in her moats along her ancient fortifications, laid out boulevards shaded with trees, erected arches, monuments, museums. That these jewels he hung upon her neck were wrung from the slaves of the Congo does not make them the less beautiful. And before the Germans came the life of the people of Brussels was in keeping with the elegance, beauty, and joyousness of their surroundings.
At the Palace Hotel, which is the clearing-house for the social life of Brussels, we found everybody taking his ease at a little iron table on the sidewalk. It was night, but the city was as light as noonday– brilliant, elated, full of movement and color. For Liege was still held by the Belgians, and they believed that all along the line they were holding back the German army. It was no wonder they were jubilant. They had a right to be proud. They had been making history. In order to give them time to mobilize, the Allies had asked them for two days to delay the German invader. They had held him back for fifteen. As David went against Goliath, they had repulsed the German. And as yet there had been no reprisals, no destruction of cities, no murdering of non-combatants; war still was something glad and glorious.
The signs of it were the Boy Scouts, everywhere helping every one, carrying messages, guiding strangers, directing traffic; and Red Cross nurses and aviators from England, smart Belgian officers exclaiming bitterly over the delay in sending them forward, and private automobiles upon the enamelled sides of which the transport officer with a piece of chalk had scratched, “For His Majesty,” and piled the silk cushions high with ammunition. From table to table young girls passed jangling tiny tin milk-cans. They were supplicants, begging money for the wounded. There were so many of them and so often they made their rounds that, to protect you from themselves, if you subscribed a lump sum, you were exempt and were given a badge to prove you were immune.
Except for these signs of the times you would not have known Belgium was at war. The spirit of the people was undaunted. Into their daily lives the conflict had penetrated only like a burst of martial music. Rather than depressing, it inspired them. Wherever you ventured, you found them undismayed. And in those weeks during which events moved so swiftly that now they seem months in the past, we were as free as in our own “home town” to go where we chose.
For the war correspondent those were the happy days! Like every one else, from the proudest nobleman to the boy in wooden shoes, we were given a laissez-passer, which gave us permission to go anywhere; this with a passport was our only credential. Proper credentials to accompany the army in the field had been formerly refused me by the war officers of England, France, and Belgium. So in Brussels each morning I chartered an automobile and without credentials joined the first army that happened to be passing. Sometimes you stumbled upon an escarmouche, sometimes you fled from one, sometimes you drew blank. Over our early coffee we would study the morning papers and, as in the glad days of racing at home, from them try to dope out the winners. If we followed La Derniere Heure we would go to Namur; L’Etoile was strong for Tirlemont. Would we lose if we plunged on Wavre? Again, the favorite seemed to be Louvain. On a straight tip from the legation the English correspondents were going to motor to Diest. From a Belgian officer we had been given inside information that the fight would be pulled off at Gembloux. And, unencumbered by even a sandwich, and too wise to carry a field-glass or a camera, each would depart upon his separate errand, at night returning to a perfectly served dinner and a luxurious bed. For the news-gatherers it was a game of chance. The wisest veterans would cast their nets south and see only harvesters in the fields, the amateurs would lose their way to the north and find themselves facing an army corps or running a gauntlet of shell-fire. It was like throwing a handful of coins on the table hoping that one might rest upon the winning number. Over the map of Belgium we threw ourselves. Some days we landed on the right color, on others we saw no more than we would see at state manoeuvres. Judging by his questions, the lay brother seems to think that the chief trouble of the war correspondent is dodging bullets. It is not. It consists in trying to bribe a station-master to carry you on a troop train, or in finding forage for your horse. What wars I have seen have taken place in spots isolated and inaccessible, far from the haunts of men. By day you followed the fight and tried to find the censor, and at night you sat on a cracker-box and by the light of a candle struggled to keep awake and to write deathless prose. In Belgium it was not like that. The automobile which Gerald Morgan, of the London Daily Telegraph, and I shared was of surpassing beauty, speed, and comfort. It was as long as a Plant freight-car and as yellow; and from it flapped in the breeze more English, Belgian, French, and Russian flags than fly from the roof of the New York Hippodrome. Whenever we sighted an army we lashed the flags of its country to our headlights, and at sixty miles an hour bore down upon it.
The army always first arrested us, and then, on learning our nationality, asked if it were true that America had joined the Allies. After I had punched his ribs a sufficient number of times Morgan learned to reply without winking that it had. In those days the sun shone continuously; the roads, except where we ran on the blocks that made Belgium famous, were perfect; and overhead for miles noble trees met and embraced. The country was smiling and beautiful. In the fields the women (for the men were at the front) were gathering the crops, the stacks of golden grain stretched from village to village. The houses in these were white-washed and, the better to advertise chocolates, liqueurs, and automobile tires, were painted a cobalt blue; their roofs were of red tiles, and they sat in gardens of purple cabbages or gaudy hollyhocks. In the orchards the pear-trees were bent with fruit. We never lacked for food; always, when we lost the trail and “checked,” or burst a tire, there was an inn with fruit-trees trained to lie flat against the wall, or to spread over arbors and trellises. Beneath these, close by the roadside, we sat and drank red wine, and devoured omelets and vast slabs of rye bread. At night we raced back to the city, through twelve miles of parks, to enamelled bathtubs, shaded electric light, and iced champagne; while before our table passed all the night life of a great city. And for suffering these hardships of war our papers paid us large sums.
On such a night as this, the night of August 18, strange folk in wooden shoes and carrying bundles, and who looked like emigrants from Ellis Island, appeared in front of the restaurant. Instantly they were swallowed up in a crowd and the dinner-parties, napkins in hand, flocked into the Place Rogier and increased the throng around them.
“The Germans!” those in the heart of the crowd called over their shoulders. “The Germans are at Louvain!”
That afternoon I had conscientiously cabled my paper that there were no Germans anywhere near Louvain. I had been west of Louvain, and the particular column of the French army to which I had attached myself certainly saw no Germans.
“They say,” whispered those nearest the fugitives, “the German shells are falling in Louvain. Ten houses are on fire!” Ten houses! How monstrous it sounded! Ten houses of innocent country folk destroyed. In those days such a catastrophe was unbelievable. We smiled knowingly.
“Refugees always talk like that,” we said wisely. “The Germans would not bombard an unfortified town. And, besides, there are no Germans south of Liege.”
The morning following in my room I heard from the Place Rogier the warnings of many motor horns. At great speed innumerable automobiles were approaching, all coming from the west through the Boulevard du Regent, and without slackening speed passing northeast toward Ghent, Bruges, and the coast. The number increased and the warnings became insistent. At eight o’clock they had sent out a sharp request for right of way; at nine in number they had trebled, and the note of the sirens was raucous, harsh, and peremptory. At ten no longer were there disconnected warnings, but from the horns and sirens issued one long, continuous scream. It was like the steady roar of a gale in the rigging, and it spoke in abject panic. The voices of the cars racing past were like the voices of human beings driven with fear. From the front of the hotel we watched them. There were taxicabs, racing cars, limousines. They were crowded with women and children of the rich, and of the nobility and gentry from the great chateaux far to the west. Those who occupied them were white-faced with the dust of the road, with weariness and fear. In cars magnificently upholstered, padded, and cushioned were piled trunks, hand-bags, dressing-cases. The women had dressed at a moment’s warning, as though at a cry of fire. Many had travelled throughout the night, and in their arms the children, snatched from the pillows, were sleeping.
But more appealing were the peasants. We walked out along the inner boulevards to meet them, and found the side streets blocked with their carts. Into these they had thrown mattresses, or bundles of grain, and heaped upon them were families of three generations. Old men in blue smocks, white-haired and bent, old women in caps, the daughters dressed in their one best frock and hat, and clasping in their hands all that was left to them, all that they could stuff into a pillow-case or flour-sack. The tears rolled down their brown, tanned faces. To the people of Brussels who crowded around them they spoke in hushed, broken phrases. The terror of what they had escaped or of what they had seen was upon them. They had harnessed the plough-horse to the dray or market-wagon and to the invaders had left everything. What, they asked, would befall the live stock they had abandoned, the ducks on the pond, the cattle in the field? Who would feed them and give them water? At the question the tears would break out afresh. Heart-broken, weary, hungry, they passed in an unending caravan. With them, all fleeing from the same foe, all moving in one direction, were family carriages, the servants on the box in disordered livery, as they had served dinner, or coatless, but still in the striped waistcoats and silver buttons of grooms or footmen, and bicyclers with bundles strapped to their shoulders, and men and women stumbling on foot, carrying their children. Above it all rose the breathless scream of the racing-cars, as they rocked and skidded, with brakes grinding and mufflers open; with their own terror creating and spreading terror.
Though eager in sympathy, the people of Brussels themselves were undisturbed. Many still sat at the little iron tables and smiled pityingly upon the strange figures of the peasants. They had had their trouble for nothing, they said. It was a false alarm. There were no Germans nearer than Liege. And, besides, should the Germans come, the civil guard would meet them.
But, better informed than they, that morning the American minister, Brand Whitlock, and the Marquis Villalobar, the Spanish minister, had called upon the burgomaster and advised him not to defend the city. As Whitlock pointed out, with the force at his command, which was the citizen soldiery, he could delay the entrance of the Germans by only an hour, and in that hour many innocent lives would be wasted and monuments of great beauty, works of art that belong not alone to Brussels but to the world, would be destroyed. Burgomaster Max, who is a splendid and worthy representative of a long line of burgomasters, placing his hand upon his heart, said: “Honor requires it.”
To show that in the protection of the Belgian Government he had full confidence, Mr. Whitlock had not as yet shown his colors. But that morning when he left the Hotel de Ville he hung the American flag over his legation and over that of the British. Those of us who had elected to remain in Brussels moved our belongings to a hotel across the street from the legation. Not taking any chances, for my own use I reserved a green leather sofa in the legation itself.
Except that the cafes were empty of Belgian officers, and of English correspondents, whom, had they remained, the Germans would have arrested, there was not, up to late in the afternoon of the 19th of August, in the life and conduct of the citizens any perceptible change. They could not have shown a finer spirit. They did not know the city would not be defended; and yet with before them on the morrow the prospect of a battle which Burgomaster Max had announced would be contested to the very heart of the city, as usual the cafes blazed like open fire-places and the people sat at the little iron tables. Even when, like great buzzards, two German aeroplanes sailed slowly across Brussels, casting shadows of events to come, the people regarded them only with curiosity. The next morning the shops were open, the streets were crowded. But overnight the soldier-king had sent word that Brussels must not oppose the invaders; and at the gendarmerie the civil guard, reluctantly and protesting, some even in tears, turned in their rifles and uniforms.
The change came at ten in the morning. It was as though a wand had waved and from a fete-day on the Continent we had been wafted to London on a rainy Sunday. The boulevards fell suddenly empty. There was not a house that was not closely shuttered. Along the route by which we now knew the Germans were advancing, it was as though the plague stalked. That no one should fire from a window, that to the conquerors no one should offer insult, Burgomaster Max sent out as special constables men he trusted. Their badge of authority was a walking-stick and a piece of paper fluttering from a buttonhole. These, the police, and the servants and caretakers of the houses that lined the boulevards alone were visible. At eleven o’clock, unobserved but by this official audience, down the Boulevard Waterloo came the advance-guard of the German army. It consisted of three men, a captain and two privates on bicycles. Their rifles were slung across their shoulders, they rode unwarily, with as little concern as the members of a touring-club out for a holiday. Behind them, so close upon each other that to cross from one sidewalk to the other was not possible, came the Uhlans, infantry, and the guns. For two hours I watched them, and then, bored with the monotony of it, returned to the hotel. After an hour, from beneath my window, I still could hear them; another hour and another went by. They still were passing.
Boredom gave way to wonder. The thing fascinated you, against your will, dragged you back to the sidewalk and held you there open-eyed. No longer was it regiments of men marching, but something uncanny, inhuman, a force of nature like a landslide, a tidal wave, or lava sweeping down a mountain. It was not of this earth, but mysterious, ghostlike. It carried all the mystery and menace of a fog rolling toward you across the sea. The uniform aided this impression. In it each man moved under a cloak of invisibility. Only after the most numerous and severe tests at all distances, with all materials and combinations of colors that give forth no color, could this gray have been discovered. That it was selected to clothe and disguise the German when he fights is typical of the General Staff, in striving for efficiency, to leave nothing to chance, to neglect no detail.
After you have seen this service uniform under conditions entirely opposite you are convinced that for the German soldier it is one of his strongest weapons. Even the most expert marksman cannot hit a target he cannot see. It is not the blue-gray of our Confederates, but a green-gray. It is the gray of the hour just before daybreak, the gray of unpolished steel, of mist among green trees.
I saw it first in the Grand Place in front of the Hotel de Ville. It was impossible to tell if in that noble square there was a regiment or a brigade. You saw only a fog that melted into the stones, blended with the ancient house fronts, that shifted and drifted, but left you nothing at which to point.
Later, as the army passed under the trees of the Botanical Park, it merged and was lost against the green leaves. It is no exaggeration to say that at a few hundred yards you can see the horses on which the Uhlans ride but cannot see the men who ride them.
If I appear to overemphasize this disguising uniform it is because, of all the details of the German outfit, it appealed to me as one of the most remarkable. When I was near Namur with the rear-guard of the French Dragoons and Cuirassiers, and they threw out pickets, we could distinguish them against the yellow wheat or green corse at half a mile, while these men passing in the street, when they have reached the next crossing, become merged into the gray of the paving-stones and the earth swallowed them. In comparison the yellow khaki of our own American army is about as invisible as the flag of Spain.
Major-General von Jarotsky, the German military governor of Brussels, had assured Burgomaster Max that the German army would not occupy the city but would pass through it. He told the truth. For three days and three nights it passed. In six campaigns I have followed other armies, but, excepting not even our own, the Japanese, or the British, I have not seen one so thoroughly equipped. I am not speaking of the fighting qualities of any army, only of the equipment and organization. The German army moved into Brussels as smoothly and as compactly as an Empire State express. There were no halts, no open places, no stragglers. For the gray automobiles and the gray motorcycles bearing messengers one side of the street always was kept clear; and so compact was the column, so rigid the vigilance of the file-closers, that at the rate of forty miles an hour a car could race the length of the column and need not for a single horse or man once swerve from its course.
All through the night, like the tumult of a river when it races between the cliffs of a canyon, in my sleep I could hear the steady roar of the passing army. And when early in the morning I went to the window the chain of steel was still unbroken. It was like the torrent that swept down the Connemaugh Valley and destroyed Johnstown. As a correspondent I have seen all the great armies and the military processions at the coronations in Russia, England, and Spain, and our own inaugural parades down Pennsylvania Avenue, but those armies and processions were made up of men. This was a machine, endless, tireless, with the delicate organization of a watch and the brute power of a steam roller. And for three days and three nights through Brussels it roared and rumbled, a cataract of molten lead. The infantry marched singing, with their iron-shod boots beating out the time. They sang “Fatherland, My Fatherland.” Between each line of song they took three steps. At times two thousand men were singing together in absolute rhythm and beat. It was like the blows from giant pile-drivers. When the melody gave way the silence was broken only by the stamp of iron-shod boots, and then again the song rose. When the singing ceased the bands played marches. They were followed by the rumble of the howitzers, the creaking of wheels and of chains clanking against the cobblestones, and the sharp, bell- like voices of the bugles.
More Uhlans followed, the hoofs of their magnificent horses ringing like thousands of steel hammers breaking stones in a road; and after them the giant siege-guns rumbling, growling, the mitrailleuse with drag-chains ringing, the field-pieces with creaking axles, complaining brakes, the grinding of the steel-rimmed wheels against the stones echoing and re-echoing from the house front. When at night for an instant the machine halted, the silence awoke you, as at sea you wake when the screw stops.
For three days and three nights the column of gray, with hundreds of thousands of bayonets and hundreds of thousands of lances, with gray transport wagons, gray ammunition carts, gray ambulances, gray cannon, like a river of steel, cut Brussels in two.
For three weeks the men had been on the march, and there was not a single straggler, not a strap out of place, not a pennant missing. Along the route, without for a minute halting the machine, the post- office carts fell out of the column, and as the men marched mounted postmen collected post-cards and delivered letters. Also, as they marched, the cooks prepared soup, coffee, and tea, walking beside their stoves on wheels, tending the fires, distributing the smoking food. Seated in the motor-trucks cobblers mended boots and broken harness; farriers on tiny anvils beat out horseshoes. No officer followed a wrong turning, no officer asked his way. He followed the map strapped to his side and on which for his guidance in red ink his route was marked. At night he read this map by the light of an electric torch buckled to his chest.
To perfect this monstrous engine, with its pontoon bridges, its wireless, its hospitals, its aeroplanes that in rigid alignment sailed before it, its field telephones that, as it advanced, strung wires over which for miles the vanguard talked to the rear, all modern inventions had been prostituted. To feed it millions of men had been called from homes, offices, and workshops; to guide it, for years the minds of the high-born, with whom it is a religion and a disease, had been solely concerned.
It is, perhaps, the most efficient organization of modern times; and its purpose only is death. Those who cast it loose upon Europe are military-mad. And they are only a very small part of the German people. But to preserve their class they have in their own image created this terrible engine of destruction. For the present it is their servant. But, “though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small.” And, like Frankenstein’s monster, this monster, to which they gave life, may turn and rend them.
“To Be Treated As A Spy”
This story is a personal experience, but is told in spite of that fact and because it illustrates a side of war that is unfamiliar. It is unfamiliar for the reason that it is seamy and uninviting. With bayonet charges, bugle-calls, and aviators it has nothing in common.
Espionage is that kind of warfare of which, even when it succeeds, no country boasts. It is military service an officer may not refuse, but which few seek. Its reward is prompt promotion, and its punishment, in war time, is swift and without honor. This story is intended to show how an army in the field must be on its guard against even a supposed spy and how it treats him.
The war offices of France and Russia would not permit an American correspondent to accompany their armies; the English granted that privilege to but one correspondent, and that gentleman already had been chosen. So I was without credentials. To oblige Mr. Brand Whitlock, our minister to Belgium, the government there was willing to give me credentials, but on the day I was to receive them the government moved to Antwerp. Then the Germans entered Brussels, and, as no one could foresee that Belgium would heroically continue fighting, on the chance the Germans would besiege Paris, I planned to go to that city. To be bombarded you do not need credentials.
For three days a steel-gray column of Germans had been sweeping through Brussels, and to meet them, from the direction of Vincennes and Lille, the English and French had crossed the border. It was falsely reported that already the English had reached Hal, a town only eleven miles from Brussels, that the night before there had been a fight at Hal, and that close behind the English were the French.
With Gerald Morgan, of the London Daily Telegraph, with whom I had been in other wars, I planned to drive to Hal and from there on foot continue, if possible, into the arms of the French or English. We both were without credentials, but, once with the Allies, we believed we would not need them. It was the Germans we doubted. To satisfy them we had only a passport and a laissez-passer issued by General von Jarotsky, the new German military governor of Brussels, and his chief of staff, Lieutenant Geyer. Mine stated that I represented the Wheeler Syndicate of American newspapers, the London Daily Chronicle, and Scribner’s Magazine, and that I could pass German military lines in Brussels and her environs. Morgan had a pass of the same sort. The question to be determined was: What were “environs” and how far do they extend? How far in safety would the word carry us forward?
On August 23 we set forth from Brussels in a taxicab to find out. At Hal, where we intended to abandon the cab and continue on foot, we found out. We were arrested by a smart and most intelligent-looking officer, who rode up to the side of the taxi and pointed an automatic at us. We were innocently seated in a public cab, in a street crowded with civilians and the passing column of soldiers, and why any one should think he needed a gun only the German mind can explain. Later, I found that all German officers introduced themselves and made requests gun in hand. Whether it was because from every one they believed themselves in danger or because they simply did not know any better, I still am unable to decide. With no other army have I seen an officer threaten with a pistol an unarmed civilian. Were an American or English officer to act in such a fashion he might escape looking like a fool, he certainly would feel like one. The four soldiers the officer told off to guard us climbed with alacrity into our cab and drove with us until the street grew too narrow both for their regiment and our taxi, when they chose the regiment and disappeared. We paid off the cabman and followed them. To reach the front there was no other way, and the very openness with which we trailed along beside their army, very much like small boys following a circus procession, seemed to us to show how innocent was our intent. The column stretched for fifty miles. Where it was going we did not know, but, we argued, if it kept on going and we kept on with it, eventually we must stumble upon a battle. The story that at Hal there had been a fight was evidently untrue; and the manner in which the column was advancing showed it was not expecting one. At noon it halted at Brierges, and Morgan decided Brierges was out of bounds and that the limits of our “environs” had been reached.
“If we go any farther,” he argued, “the next officer who reads our papers will order us back to Brussels under arrest, and we will lose our laissez-passer. Along this road there is no chance of seeing anything. I prefer to keep my pass and use it in ‘environs’ where there is fighting.” So he returned to Brussels. I thought he was most wise, and I wanted to return with him. But I did not want to go back only because I knew it was the right thing to do, but to be ordered back so that I could explain to my newspapers that I returned because Colonel This or General That sent me back. It was a form of vanity for which I was properly punished. That Morgan was right was demonstrated as soon as he left me. I was seated against a tree by the side of the road eating a sandwich, an occupation which seems almost idyllic in its innocence but which could not deceive the Germans. In me they saw the hated Spion, and from behind me, across a ploughed field, four of them, each with an automatic, made me prisoner. One of them, who was an enthusiast, pushed his gun deep into my stomach. With the sandwich still in my hand, I held up my arms high and asked who spoke English. It turned out that the enthusiast spoke that language, and I suggested he did not need so many guns and that he could find my papers in my inside pocket. With four automatics rubbing against my ribs, I would not have lowered my arms for all the papers in the Bank of England. They took me to a cafe, where their colonel had just finished lunch and was in a most genial humor. First he gave the enthusiast a drink as a reward for arresting me, and then, impartially, gave me one for being arrested. He wrote on my passport that I could go to Enghien, which was two miles distant. That pass enabled me to proceed unmolested for nearly two hundred yards. I was then again arrested and taken before another group of officers. This time they searched my knapsack and wanted to requisition my maps, but one of them pointed out they were only automobile maps and, as compared to their own, of no value. They permitted me to proceed to Enghien. I went to Enghien, intending to spend the night and on the morning continue. I could not see why I might not be able to go on indefinitely.
As yet no one who had held me up had suggested I should turn back, and as long as I was willing to be arrested it seemed as though I might accompany the German army even to the gates of Paris. But my reception in Enghien should have warned me to get back to Brussels. The Germans, thinking I was an English spy, scowled at me; and the Belgians, thinking the same thing, winked at me; and the landlord of the only hotel said I was “suspect” and would not give me a bed. But I sought out the burgomaster, a most charming man named Delano, and he wrote out a pass permitting me to sleep one night in Enghien.
“You really do not need this,” he said; “as an American you are free to stay here as long as you wish.” Then he, too, winked.
“But I am an American,” I protested.
“But certainly,” he said gravely, and again he winked. It was then I should have started back to Brussels. Instead, I sat on a moss- covered, arched stone bridge that binds the town together, and until night fell watched the gray tidal waves rush up and across it, stamping, tripping, stumbling, beating the broad, clean stones with thousands of iron heels, steel hoofs, steel chains, and steel-rimmed wheels. You hated it, and yet could not keep away. The Belgians of Enghien hated it, and they could not keep away. Like a great river in flood, bearing with it destruction and death, you feared and loathed it, and yet it fascinated you and pulled you to the brink. All through the night, as already for three nights and three days at Brussels, I had heard it; it rumbled and growled, rushing forward without pause or breath, with inhuman, pitiless persistence. At daybreak I sat on the edge of the bed and wondered whether to go on or turn back. I still wanted some one in authority, higher than myself, to order me back. So, at six, riding for a fall, to find that one, I went, as I thought, along the road to Soignes. The gray tidal wave was still roaring past. It was pressing forward with greater speed, but in nothing else did it differ from the tidal wave that had swept through Brussels.
There was a group of officers seated by the road, and as I passed I wished them good morning and they said good morning in return. I had gone a hundred feet when one of them galloped after me and asked to look at my papers. With relief I gave them to him. I was sure now I would be told to return to Brussels. I calculated if at Hal I had luck in finding a taxicab, by lunch time I should be in the Palace Hotel.
“I think,” said the officer, “you had better see our general. He is ahead of us.”
I thought he meant a few hundred yards ahead, and to be ordered back by a general seemed more convincing than to be returned by a mere captain. So I started to walk on beside the mounted officers. This, as it seemed to presume equality with them, scandalized them greatly, and I was ordered into the ranks. But the one who had arrested me thought I was entitled to a higher rating and placed me with the color-guard, who objected to my presence so violently that a long discussion followed, which ended with my being ranked below a second lieutenant and above a sergeant. Between one of each of these I was definitely placed, and for five hours I remained definitely placed. We advanced with a rush that showed me I had surprised a surprise movement. The fact was of interest not because I had discovered one of their secrets, but because to keep up with the column I was forced for five hours to move at what was a steady trot. It was not so fast as the running step of the Italian bersagliere, but as fast as our “double-quick.” The men did not bend the knees, but, keeping the legs straight, shot them forward with a quick, sliding movement, like men skating or skiing. The toe of one boot seemed always tripping on the heel of the other. As the road was paved with roughly hewn blocks of Belgian granite this kind of going was very strenuous, and had I not been in good shape I could not have kept up. As it was, at the end of the five hours I had lost fifteen pounds, which did not help me, as during the same time the knapsack had taken on a hundred. For two days the men in the ranks had been rushed forward at this unnatural gait and were moving like automatons. Many of them fell by the wayside, but they were not permitted to lie there. Instead of summoning the ambulance, they were lifted to their feet and flung back into the ranks. Many of them were moving in their sleep, in that partly comatose state in which you have seen men during the last hours of a six days’ walking match. Their rules, so the sergeant said, were to halt every hour and then for ten minutes rest. But that rule is probably only for route marching.
On account of the speed with which the surprise movement was made our halts were more frequent, and so exhausted were the men that when these “thank you, ma’ams” arrived, instead of standing at ease and adjusting their accoutrements, as though they had been struck with a club they dropped to the stones. Some in an instant were asleep. I do not mean that some sat down; I mean that the whole column lay flat in the road. The officers also, those that were not mounted, would tumble on the grass or into the wheat-field and lie on their backs, their arms flung out like dead men. To the fact that they were lying on their field-glasses, holsters, swords, and water- bottles they appeared indifferent. At the rate the column moved it would have covered thirty miles each day. It was these forced marches that later brought Von Kluck’s army to the right wing of the Allies before the army of the crown prince was prepared to attack, and which at Sezanne led to his repulse and to the failure of his advance upon Paris.
While we were pushing forward we passed a wrecked British air-ship, around which were gathered a group of staff-officers. My papers were given to one of them, but our column did not halt and I was not allowed to speak. A few minutes later they passed in their automobiles on their way to the front; and my papers went with them. Already I was miles beyond the environs, and with each step away from Brussels my pass was becoming less of a safeguard than a menace. For it showed what restrictions General Jarotsky had placed on my movements, and my presence so far out of bounds proved I had disregarded them. But still I did not suppose that in returning to Brussels there would be any difficulty. I was chiefly concerned with the thought that the length of the return march was rapidly increasing and with the fact that one of my shoes, a faithful friend in other campaigns, had turned traitor and was cutting my foot in half. I had started with the column at seven o’clock, and at noon an automobile, with flags flying and the black eagle of the staff enamelled on the door, came speeding back from the front. In it was a very blond and distinguished-looking officer of high rank and many decorations. He used a single eye-glass, and his politeness and his English were faultless. He invited me to accompany him to the general staff.
That was the first intimation I had that I was in danger. I saw they were giving me far too much attention. I began instantly to work to set myself free, and there was not a minute for the next twenty-four hours that I was not working. Before I stepped into the car I had decided upon my line of defence. I would pretend to be entirely unconscious that I had in any way laid myself open to suspicion; that I had erred through pure stupidity and that I was where I was solely because I was a damn fool. I began to act like a damn fool. Effusively I expressed my regret at putting the General Staff to inconvenience.
“It was really too stupid of me,” I said. “I cannot forgive myself. I should not have come so far without asking Jarotsky for proper papers. I am extremely sorry I have given you this trouble. I would like to see the general and assure him I will return at once to Brussels.” I ignored the fact that I was being taken to the general at the rate of sixty miles an hour. The blond officer smiled uneasily and with his single glass studied the sky. When we reached the staff he escaped from me with the alacrity of one released from a disagreeable and humiliating duty. The staff were at luncheon, seated in their luxurious motor-cars or on the grass by the side of the road. On the other side of the road the column of dust-covered gray ghosts were being rushed past us. The staff, in dress uniforms, flowing cloaks, and gloves, belonged to a different race. They knew that. Among themselves they were like priests breathing incense. Whenever one of them spoke to another they saluted, their heels clicked, their bodies bent at the belt line.
One of them came to where, in the middle of the road, I was stranded and trying not to feel as lonely as I looked. He was much younger than myself and dark and handsome. His face was smooth-shaven, his figure tall, lithe, and alert. He wore a uniform of light blue and silver that clung to him and high boots of patent leather. His waist was like a girl’s, and, as though to show how supple he was, he kept continually bowing and shrugging his shoulders and in elegant protest gesticulating with his gloved hands. He should have been a moving- picture actor. He reminded me of Anthony Hope’s fascinating but wicked Rupert of Hentzau. He certainly was wicked, and I got to hate him as I never imagined it possible to hate anybody. He had been told off to dispose of my case, and he delighted in it. He enjoyed it as a cat enjoys playing with a mouse. As actors say, he saw himself in the part. He “ate” it.
“You are an English officer out of uniform,” he began. “You have been taken inside our lines.” He pointed his forefinger at my stomach and wiggled his thumb. “And you know what that means!”
I saw playing the damn fool with him would be waste of time.
“I followed your army,” I told him, “because it’s my business to follow armies and because yours is the best-looking army I ever saw.” He made me one of his mocking bows.
“We thank you,” he said, grinning. “But you have seen too much.”
“I haven’t seen anything,” I said, “that everybody in Brussels hasn’t seen for three days.”
He shook his head reproachfully and with a gesture signified the group of officers.
“You have seen enough in this road,” he said, “to justify us in shooting you now.”
The sense of drama told him it was a good exit line, and he returned to the group of officers. I now saw what had happened. At Enghien I had taken the wrong road. I remembered that, to confuse the Germans, the names on the sign-post at the edge of the town had been painted out, and that instead of taking the road to Soignes I was on the road to Ath. What I had seen, therefore, was an army corps making a turning movement intended to catch the English on their right and double them up upon their centre. The success of this manoeuvre depended upon the speed with which it was executed and upon its being a complete surprise. As later in the day I learned, the Germans thought I was an English officer who had followed them from Brussels and who was trying to slip past them and warn his countrymen. What Rupert of Hentzau meant by what I had seen on the road was that, having seen the Count de Schwerin, who commanded the Seventh Division, on the road to Ath, I must necessarily know that the army corps to which he was attached had separated from the main army of Von Kluck, and that, in going so far south at such speed, it was bent upon an attack on the English flank. All of which at the time I did not know and did not want to know. All I wanted was to prove I was not an English officer, but an American correspondent who by accident had stumbled upon their secret. To convince them of that, strangely enough, was difficult.
When Rupert of Hentzau returned the other officers were with him, and, fortunately for me, they spoke or understood English. For the rest of the day what followed was like a legal argument. It was as cold-blooded as a game of bridge. Rupert of Hentzau wanted an English spy shot for his supper; just as he might have desired a grilled bone. He showed no personal animus, and, I must say for him, that he conducted the case for the prosecution without heat or anger. He mocked me, grilled and taunted me, but he was always charmingly polite.
As Whitman said, “I want Becker,” so Rupert said, “Fe, fo, fi, fum, I want the blood of an Englishman.” He was determined to get it. I was even more interested that he should not. The points he made against me were that my German pass was signed neither by General Jarotsky nor by Lieutenant Geyer, but only stamped, and that any rubber stamp could be forged; that my American passport had not been issued at Washington, but in London, where an Englishman might have imposed upon our embassy; and that in the photograph pasted on the passport I was wearing the uniform of a British officer. I explained that the photograph was taken eight years ago, and that the uniform was one I had seen on the west coast of Africa, worn by the West African Field Force. Because it was unlike any known military uniform, and as cool and comfortable as a golf jacket, I had had it copied. But since that time it had been adopted by the English Brigade of Guards and the Territorials. I knew it sounded like fiction; but it was quite true.
Rupert of Hentzau smiled delightedly.
“Do you expect us to believe that?” he protested.
“Listen,” I said. “If you could invent an explanation for that uniform as quickly as I told you that one, standing in a road with eight officers trying to shoot you, you would be the greatest general in Germany.”
That made the others laugh; and Rupert retorted: “Very well, then, we will concede that the entire British army has changed its uniform to suit your photograph. But if you are not an officer, why, in the photograph, are you wearing war ribbons?”
I said the war ribbons were in my favor, and I pointed out that no officer of any one country could have been in the different campaigns for which the ribbons were issued.
“They prove,” I argued, “that I am a correspondent, for only a correspondent could have been in wars in which his own country was not engaged.”
I thought I had scored; but Rupert instantly turned my own witness against me.
“Or a military attache,” he said. At that they all smiled and nodded knowingly.
He followed this up by saying, accusingly, that the hat and clothes I was then wearing were English. The clothes were English, but I knew he did not know that, and was only guessing; and there were no marks on them. About my hat I was not certain. It was a felt Alpine hat, and whether I had bought it in London or New York I could not remember. Whether it was evidence for or against I could not be sure. So I took it off and began to fan myself with it, hoping to get a look at the name of the maker. But with the eyes of the young prosecuting attorney fixed upon me, I did not dare take a chance. Then, to aid me, a German aeroplane passed overhead, and those who were giving me the third degree looked up. I stopped fanning myself and cast a swift glance inside the hat. To my intense satisfaction I read, stamped on the leather lining: “Knox, New York.”
I put the hat back on my head and a few minutes later pulled it off and said: “Now, for instance, my hat. If I were an Englishman would I cross the ocean to New York to buy a hat?”
It was all like that. They would move away and whisper together, and I would try to guess what questions they were preparing. I had to arrange my defence without knowing in what way they would try to trip me, and I had to think faster than I ever have thought before. I had no more time to be scared, or to regret my past sins, than has a man in a quicksand. So far as I could make out, they were divided in opinion concerning me. Rupert of Hentzau, who was the adjutant or the chief of staff, had only one simple thought, which was to shoot me. Others considered me a damn fool; I could hear them laughing and saying: “Er ist ein dummer Mensch.” And others thought that whether I was a fool or not, or an American or an Englishman, was not the question; I had seen too much and should be put away. I felt if, instead of having Rupert act as my interpreter, I could personally speak to the general I might talk my way out of it, but Rupert assured me that to set me free the Count de Schwerin lacked authority, and that my papers, which were all against me, must be submitted to the general of the army corps, and we would not reach him until midnight.
“And then!–” he would exclaim, and he would repeat his pantomime of pointing his forefinger at my stomach and wiggling his thumb. He was very popular with me.
Meanwhile they were taking me farther away from Brussels and the “environs.”
“When you picked me up,” I said, “I was inside the environs, but by the time I reach ‘the’ general he will see only that I am fifty miles beyond where I am permitted to be. And who is going to tell him it was you brought me there? You won’t!”
Rupert of Hentzau only smiled like the cat that has just swallowed the canary.
He put me in another automobile and they whisked me off, always going farther from Brussels, to Ath and then to Ligne, a little town five miles south. Here they stopped at a house the staff occupied, and, leading me to the second floor, put me in an empty room that seemed built for their purpose. It had a stone floor and whitewashed walls and a window so high that even when standing you could see only the roof of another house and a weather-vane. They threw two bundles of wheat on the floor and put a sentry at the door with orders to keep it open. He was a wild man, and thought I was, and every time I moved his automatic moved with me. It was as though he were following me with a spotlight. My foot was badly cut across the instep and I was altogether forlorn and disreputable. So, in order to look less like a tramp when I met the general, I bound up the foot, and, always with one eye on the sentry, and moving very slowly, shaved and put on dry things. From the interest the sentry showed it seemed evident he never had taken a bath himself, nor had seen any one else take one, and he was not quite easy in his mind that he ought to allow it. He seemed to consider it a kind of suicide. I kept on thinking out plans, and when an officer appeared I had one to submit. I offered to give the money I had with me to any one who would motor back to Brussels and take a note to the American minister, Brand Whitlock. My proposition was that if in five hours, or by seven o’clock, he did not arrive in his automobile and assure them that what I said about myself was true, they need not wait until midnight, but could shoot me then.
“If I am willing to take such a chance,” I pointed out, “I must be a friend of Mr. Whitlock. If he repudiates me, it will be evident I have deceived you, and you will be perfectly justified in carrying out your plan.” I had a note to Whitlock already written. It was composed entirely with the idea that they would read it, and it was much more intimate than my very brief acquaintance with that gentleman justified. But from what I have seen and heard of the ex-mayor of Toledo I felt he would stand for it.
The note read:
“I am detained in a house with a garden where the railroad passes through the village of Ligne. Please come quick, or send some one in the legation automobile.
The officer to whom I gave this was Major Alfred Wurth, a reservist from Bernburg, on the Saale River. I liked him from the first because after we had exchanged a few words he exclaimed incredulously: “What nonsense! Any one could tell by your accent that you are an American.” He explained that, when at the university, in the same pension with him were three Americans.
“The staff are making a mistake,” he said earnestly. “They will regret it.”
I told him that I not only did not want them to regret it, but I did not want them to make it, and I begged him to assure the staff that I was an American. I suggested also that he tell them, if anything happened to me there were other Americans who would at once declare war on Germany. The number of these other Americans I overestimated by about ninety millions, but it was no time to consider details.
He asked if the staff might read the letter to the American minister, and, though I hated to deceive him, I pretended to consider this.
“I don’t remember just what I wrote,” I said, and, to make sure they would read it, I tore open the envelope and pretended to reread the letter.
“I will see what I can do,” said Major Wurth; “meanwhile, do not be discouraged. Maybe it will come out all right for you.”
After he left me the Belgian gentleman who owned the house and his cook brought me some food. She was the only member of his household who had not deserted him, and together they were serving the staff-officers, he acting as butler, waiter, and valet. The cock was an old peasant woman with a ruffled white cap, and when she left, in spite of the sentry, she patted me encouragingly on the shoulder. The owner of the house was more discreet, and contented himself with winking at me and whispering: “Ca va mal pour vous en bas!” As they both knew what was being said of me downstairs, their visit did not especially enliven me. Major Wurth returned and said the staff could not spare any one to go to Brussels, but that my note had been forwarded to “the” general. That was as much as I had hoped for. It was intended only as a “stay of proceedings.” But the manner of the major was not reassuring. He kept telling me that he thought they would set me free, but even as he spoke tears would come to his eyes and roll slowly down his cheeks. It was most disconcerting. After a while it grew dark and he brought me a candle and left me, taking with him, much to my relief, the sentry and his automatic. This gave me since my arrest my first moment alone, and, to find anything that might further incriminate or help me, I used it in going rapidly through my knapsack and pockets. My note-book was entirely favorable. In it there was no word that any German could censor. My only other paper was a letter, of which all day I had been conscious. It was one of introduction from Colonel Theodore Roosevelt to President Poincare, and whether the Germans would consider it a clean bill of health or a death-warrant I could not make up my mind. Half a dozen times I had been on the point of saying: “Here is a letter from the man your Kaiser delighted to honor, the only civilian who ever reviewed the German army, a former President of the United States.”
But I could hear Rupert of Hentzau replying: “Yes, and it is recommending you to our enemy, the President of France!”
I knew that Colonel Roosevelt would have written a letter to the German Emperor as impartially as to M. Poincare, but I knew also that Rupert of Hentzau would not believe that. So I decided to keep the letter back until the last moment. If it was going to help me, it still would be effective; if it went against me, I would be just as dead. I began to think out other plans. Plans of escape were foolish. I could have crawled out of the window to the rain gutter, but before I had reached the rooftree I would have been shot. And bribing the sentry, even were he willing to be insulted, would not have taken me farther than the stairs, where there were other sentries. I was more safe inside the house than out. They still had my passport and laissez- passer, and without a pass one could not walk a hundred yards. As the staff had but one plan, and no time in which to think of a better one, the obligation to invent a substitute plan lay upon me. The plan I thought out and which later I outlined to Major Wurth was this: Instead of putting me away at midnight, they would give me a pass back to Brussels. The pass would state that I was a suspected spy and that if before midnight of the 26th of August I were found off the direct road to Brussels, or if by that hour I had not reported to the military governor of Brussels, any one could shoot me on sight. As I have stated, without showing a pass no one could move a hundred yards, and every time I showed my pass to a German it would tell him I was a suspected spy, and if I were not making my way in the right direction he had his orders. With such a pass I was as much a prisoner as in the room at Ligne, and if I tried to evade its conditions I was as good as dead. The advantages of my plan, as I urged them upon Major Wurth, were that it prevented the General Staff from shooting an innocent man, which would have greatly distressed them, and were he not innocent would still enable them, after a reprieve of two days, to shoot him. The distance to Brussels was about fifty miles, which, as it was impossible for a civilian to hire a bicycle, motor-car, or cart, I must cover on foot, making twenty-five miles a day. Major Wurth heartily approved of my substitute plan, and added that he thought if any motor-trucks or ambulances were returning empty to Brussels, I should be permitted to ride in one of them. He left me, and I never saw him again. It was then about eight o’clock, and as the time passed and he did not return and midnight grew nearer, I began to feel very lonely. Except for the Roosevelt letter, I had played my last card.
As it grew later I persuaded myself they did not mean to act until morning, and I stretched out on the straw and tried to sleep. At midnight I was startled by the light of an electric torch. It was strapped to the chest of an officer, who ordered me to get up and come with him. He spoke only German, and he seemed very angry. The owner of the house and the old cook had shown him to my room, but they stood in the shadow without speaking. Nor, fearing I might compromise them–for I could not see why, except for one purpose, they were taking me out into the night–did I speak to them. We got into another motor-car and in silence drove north from Ligne down a country road to a great chateau that stood in a magnificent park. Something had gone wrong with the lights of the chateau, and its hall was lit only by candles that showed soldiers sleeping like dead men on bundles of wheat and others leaping up and down the marble stairs. They put me in a huge armchair of silk and gilt, with two of the gray ghosts to guard me, and from the hall, when the doors of the drawing-room opened, I could see a long table on which were candles in silver candlesticks or set on plates, and many maps and half-empty bottles of champagne. Around the table, standing or seated, and leaning across the maps, were staff-officers in brilliant uniforms. They were much older men and of higher rank than any I had yet seen. They were eating, drinking, gesticulating. In spite of the tumult, some, in utter weariness, were asleep. It was like a picture of 1870 by Detaille or De Neuville. Apparently, at last I had reached the headquarters of the mysterious general. I had arrived at what, for a suspected spy, was an inopportune moment. The Germans themselves had been surprised, or somewhere south of us had met with a reverse, and the air was vibrating with excitement and something very like panic. Outside, at great speed and with sirens shrieking, automobiles were arriving, and I could hear the officers shouting: “Die Englischen kommen!”
To make their reports they flung themselves up the steps, the electric torches, like bull’s-eye lanterns, burning holes in the night. Seeing a civilian under guard, they would stare and ask questions. Even when they came close, owing to the light in my eyes, I could not see them. Sometimes, in a half circle, there would be six or eight of the electric torches blinding me, and from behind them voices barking at me with strange, guttural noises. Much they said I could not understand, much I did not want to understand, but they made it quite clear it was no fit place for an Englishman.
When the door from the drawing-room opened and Rupert of Hentzau appeared, I was almost glad to see him.
Whenever he spoke to me he always began or ended his sentence with “Mr. Davis.” He gave it an emphasis and meaning which was intended to show that he knew it was not my name. I would not have thought it possible to put so much insolence into two innocent words. It was as though he said: “Mr. Davis, alias Jimmy Valentine.” He certainly would have made a great actor.
“Mr. Davis,” he said, “you are free.”
He did not look as disappointed as I knew he would feel if I were free, so I waited for what was to follow.
“You are free,” he said, “under certain conditions.” The conditions seemed to cheer him. He recited the conditions. They were those I had outlined to Major Wurth. But I am sure Rupert of Hentzau did not guess that. Apparently, he believed Major Wurth had thought of them, and I did not undeceive him. For the substitute plan I was not inclined to rob that officer of any credit. I felt then, and I feel now, that but for him and his interceding for me I would have been left in the road. Rupert of Hentzau gave me the pass. It said I must return to Brussels by way of Ath, Enghien, Hal, and that I must report to the military governor on the 26th or “be treated as a spy”–“so wird er als Spion behandelt.” The pass, literally translated, reads:
“The American reporter Davis must at once return to Brussels via Ath, Enghien, Hal, and report to the government at the latest on August 26th. If he is met on any other road, or after the 26th of August, he will be handled as a spy. Automobiles returning to Brussels, if they can unite it with their duty, can carry him.”
“CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF.”
“VON GREGOR, Lieutenant-Colonel.”
Fearing my military education was not sufficient to enable me to appreciate this, for the last time Rupert stuck his forefinger in my stomach and repeated cheerfully: “And you know what that means. And you will start,” he added, with a most charming smile, “in three hours.”
He was determined to have his grilled bone.
“At three in the morning!” I cried. “You might as well take me out and shoot me now!”
“You will start in three hours,” he repeated.
“A man wandering around at that hour,” I protested, “wouldn’t live five minutes. It can’t be done. You couldn’t do it.” He continued to grin. I knew perfectly well the general had given no such order, and that it was a cat-and-mouse act of Rupert’s own invention, and he knew I knew it. But he repeated: “You will start in three hours, Mr. Davis.”
I said: “I am going to write about this, and I would like you to read what I write. What is your name?”
He said: “I am the Baron von”–it sounded like “Hossfer”–and, in any case, to that name, care of General de Schwerin of the Seventh Division, I shall mail this book. I hope the Allies do not kill Rupert of Hentzau before he reads it! After that! He would have made a great actor.
They put me in the automobile and drove me back to Ligne and the impromptu cell. But now it did not seem like a cell. Since I had last occupied it my chances had so improved that returning to the candle on the floor and the bundles of wheat was like coming home. Though I did not believe Rupert had any authority to order me into the night at the darkest hour of the twenty-four, I was taking no chances. My nerve was not in a sufficiently robust state for me to disobey any German. So, lest I should oversleep, until three o’clock I paced the cell, and then, with all the terrors of a burglar, tiptoed down the stairs. There was no light, and the house was wrapped in silence.
Earlier there had been everywhere sentries, and, not daring to breathe, I waited for one of them to challenge, but, except for the creaking of the stairs and of my ankle-bones, which seemed to explode like firecrackers, there was not a sound. I was afraid, and wished myself safely back in my cell, but I was more afraid of Rupert, and I kept on feeling my way until I had reached the garden. There some one spoke to me in French, and I found my host.
“The animals have gone,” he said; “all of them. I will give you a bed now, and when it is light you shall have breakfast.” I told him my orders were to leave his house at three.
“But it is murder!” he said. With these cheering words in my ears, I thanked him, and he bid me bonne chance.
In my left hand I placed the pass, folded so that the red seal of the General Staff would show, and a match-box. In the other hand I held ready a couple of matches. Each time a sentry challenged I struck the matches on the box and held them in front of the red seal. The instant the matches flashed it was a hundred to one that the man would shoot, but I could not speak German, and there was no other way to make him understand. They were either too surprised or too sleepy to fire, for each of them let me pass. But after I had made a mark of myself three times I lost my nerve and sought cover behind a haystack. I lay there until there was light enough to distinguish trees and telegraph-poles, and then walked on to Ath. After that, when they stopped me, if they could not read, the red seal satisfied them; if they were officers and could read, they cursed me with strange, unclean oaths, and ordered me, in the German equivalent, to beat it. It was a delightful walk. I had had no sleep the night before and had eaten nothing, and, though I had cut away most of my shoe, I could hardly touch my foot to the road. Whenever in the villages I tried to bribe any one to carry my knapsack or to give me food, the peasants ran from me. They thought I was a German and talked Flemish, not French. I was more afraid of them and their shotguns than of the Germans, and I never entered a village unless German soldiers were entering or leaving it. And the Germans gave me no reason to feel free from care. Every time they read my pass they were inclined to try me all over again, and twice searched my knapsack.
After that happened the second time I guessed my letter to the President of France might prove a menace, and, tearing it into little pieces, dropped it over a bridge, and with regret watched that historical document from the ex-President of one republic to the President of another float down the Sambre toward the sea. By noon I decided I would not be able to make the distance. For twenty-four hours I had been without sleep or food, and I had been put through an unceasing third degree, and I was nearly out. Added to that, the chance of my losing the road was excellent; and if I lost the road the first German who read my pass was ordered by it to shoot me. So I decided to give myself up to the occupants of the next German car going toward Brussels and ask them to carry me there under arrest. I waited until an automobile approached, and then stood in front of it and held up my pass and pointed to the red seal. The car stopped, and the soldiers in front and the officer in the rear seat gazed at me in indignant amazement. The officer was a general, old and kindly looking, and, by the grace of Heaven, as slow-witted as he was kind. He spoke no English, and his French was as bad as mine, and in consequence he had no idea of what I was saying except that I had orders from the General Staff to proceed at once to Brussels. I made a mystery of the pass, saying it was very confidential, but the red seal satisfied him. He bade me courteously to take the seat at his side, and with intense satisfaction I heard him command his orderly to get down and fetch my knapsack. The general was going, he said, only so far as Hal, but that far he would carry me. Hal was the last town named in my pass, and from Brussels only eleven miles distant. According to the schedule I had laid out for myself, I had not hoped to reach it by walking until the next day, but at the rate the car had approached I saw I would be there within two hours. My feelings when I sank back upon the cushions of that car and stretched out my weary legs and the wind whistled around us are too sacred for cold print. It was a situation I would not have used in fiction. I was a condemned spy, with the hand of every German properly against me, and yet under the protection of a German general, and in luxurious ease, I was escaping from them at forty miles an hour. I had but one regret. I wanted Rupert of Hentzau to see me. At Hal my luck still held. The steps of the Hotel de Ville were crowded with generals. I thought never in the world could there be so many generals, so many flowing cloaks and spiked helmets. I was afraid of them. I was afraid that when my general abandoned me the others might not prove so slow-witted or so kind. My general also seemed to regard them with disfavor. He exclaimed impatiently. Apparently, to force his way through them, to cool his heels in an anteroom, did not appeal. It was long past his luncheon hour and the restaurant of the Palace Hotel called him. He gave a sharp order to the chauffeur.
“I go on to Brussels,” he said. “Desire you to accompany me?” I did not know how to ask him in French not to make me laugh. I saw the great Palace of Justice that towers above the city with the same emotions that one beholds the Statue of Liberty, but not until we had reached the inner boulevards did I feel safe. There I bade my friend a grateful but hasty adieu, and in a taxicab, unwashed and unbrushed, I drove straight to the American legation. To Mr. Whitlock I told this story, and with one hand that gentleman reached for his hat and with the other for his stick. In the automobile of the legation we raced to the Hotel de Ville. There Mr. Whitlock, as the moving-picture people say, “registered” indignation. Mr. Davis was present, he made it understood, not as a ticket-of-leave man, and because he had been ordered to report, but in spite of that fact. He was there as the friend of the American minister, and the word “Spion” must be removed from his papers.
And so, on the pass that Rupert gave me, below where he had written that I was to be treated as a spy, they wrote I was “not at all,” “gar nicht,” to be treated as a spy, and that I was well known to the American minister, and to that they affixed the official seal.
That ended it, leaving me with one valuable possession. It is this: should any one suggest that I am a spy, or that I am not a friend of Brand Whitlock, I have the testimony of the Imperial German Government to the contrary.
The Burning Of Louvain
After the Germans occupied Brussels they closed the road to Aix-la- Chapelle. A week later, to carry their wounded and prisoners, they reopened it. But for eight days Brussels was isolated. The mail-trains and the telegraph office were in the hands of the invaders. They accepted our cables, censored them, and three days later told us, if we still wished, we could forward them. But only from Holland. By this they accomplished three things: they learned what we were writing about them, for three days prevented any news from leaving the city, and offered us an inducement to visit Holland, so getting rid of us.
The despatches of those diplomats who still remained in Brussels were treated in the same manner. With the most cheerful complacency the military authorities blue-pencilled their despatches to their governments. When the diplomats learned of this, with their code cables they sent open cables stating that their confidential despatches were being censored and delayed. They still were delayed. To get any message out of Brussels it was necessary to use an automobile, and nearly every automobile had taken itself off to Antwerp. If a motor-car appeared it was at once commandeered. This was true also of horses and bicycles. All over Brussels you saw delivery wagons, private carriages, market carts with the shafts empty and the horse and harness gone. After three days a German soldier who did not own a bicycle was poor indeed.
Requisitions were given for these machines, stating they would be returned after the war, by which time they will be ready for the scrap- heap. Any one on a bicycle outside the city was arrested, so the only way to get messages through was by going on foot to Ostend or Holland, or by an automobile for which the German authorities had given a special pass. As no one knew when one of these automobiles might start, we carried always with us our cables and letters, and intrusted them to any stranger who was trying to run the lines.
No one wished to carry our despatches, as he feared they might contain something unfavorable to the Germans, which, if he were arrested and the cables read, might bring him into greater trouble. Money for himself was no inducement. But I found if I gave money for the Red Cross no one would refuse it, or to carry the messages.
Three out of four times the stranger would be arrested and ordered back to Brussels, and our despatches, with their news value departed, would be returned.
An account of the Germans entering Brussels I sent by an English boy named Dalton, who, after being turned back three times, got through by night, and when he arrived in England his adventures were published in all the London papers. They were so thrilling that they made my story, for which he had taken the trip, extremely tame reading.
Hugh Gibson, secretary of the American legation, was the first person in an official position to visit Antwerp after the Belgian Government moved to that city, and, even with his passes and flag flying from his automobile, he reached Antwerp and returned to Brussels only after many delays and adventures. Not knowing the Belgians were advancing from the north, Gibson and his American flag were several times under fire, and on the days he chose for his excursion his route led him past burning towns and dead and wounded and between the lines of both forces actively engaged.
He was carrying despatches from Brand Whitlock to Secretary Bryan. During the night he rested at Antwerp the first Zeppelin air-ship to visit that city passed over it, dropping one bomb at the end of the block in which Gibson was sleeping. He was awakened by the explosion and heard all of those that followed.
The next morning he was requested to accompany a committee appointed by the Belgian Government to report upon the outrage, and he visited a house that had been wrecked, and saw what was left of the bodies of those killed. People who were in the streets when the air-ship passed said it moved without any sound, as though the motor had been shut off and it was being propelled by momentum.
One bomb fell so near the palace where the Belgian Queen was sleeping as to destroy the glass in the windows and scar the walls. The bombs were large, containing smaller bombs of the size of shrapnel. Like shrapnel, on impact they scattered bullets over a radius of forty yards. One man, who from a window in the eighth story of a hotel watched the air-ship pass, stated that before each bomb fell he saw electric torches signal from the roofs, as though giving directions as to where the bombs should strike.
After my arrest by the Germans, I found my usefulness in Brussels as a correspondent was gone, and I returned to London, and from there rejoined the Allies in Paris.
I left Brussels on August 27th with Gerald Morgan and Will Irwin, of Collier’s, on a train carrying English prisoners and German wounded. In times of peace the trip to the German border lasts three hours, but in making it we were twenty-six hours, and by order of the authorities we were forbidden to leave the train.
Carriages with cushions naturally were reserved for the wounded, so we slept on wooden benches and on the floor. It was not possible to obtain food, and water was as scarce. At Graesbeek, ten miles from Brussels, we first saw houses on fire. They continued with us to Liege.
Village after village had been completely wrecked. In his march to the sea Sherman lived on the country. He did not destroy it, and as against the burning of Columbia must be placed to the discredit of the Germans the wiping out of an entire countryside.
For many miles we saw procession after procession of peasants fleeing from one burning village, which had been their home, to other villages, to find only blackened walls and smouldering ashes. In no part of northern Europe is there a countryside fairer than that between Aix-la-Chapelle and Brussels, but the Germans had made of it a graveyard. It looked as though a cyclone had uprooted its houses, gardens, and orchards and a prairie fire had followed.
At seven o’clock in the evening we arrived at what for six hundred years had been the city of Louvain. The Germans were burning it, and to hide their work kept us locked in the railroad carriages. But the story was written against the sky, was told to us by German soldiers incoherent with excesses; and we could read it in the faces of women and children being led to concentration camps and of citizens on their way to be shot.
The day before the Germans had sentenced Louvain to become a wilderness, and with German system and love of thoroughness they left Louvain an empty, blackened shell. The reason for this appeal to the torch and the execution of non-combatants, as given to Mr. Whitlock and myself on the morning I left Brussels by General von Lutwitz, the military governor, was this: The day before, while the German military commander of the troops in Louvain was at the Hotel de Ville talking to the burgomaster, a son of the burgomaster, with an automatic pistol, shot the chief of staff and German staff surgeons.
Lutwitz claimed this was the signal for the civil guard, in civilian clothes on the roofs, to fire upon the German soldiers in the open square below. He said also the Belgians had quick-firing guns, brought from Antwerp. As for a week the Germans had occupied Louvain and closely guarded all approaches, the story that there was any gun-running is absurd.
“Fifty Germans were killed and wounded,” said Lutwitz, “and for that Louvain must be wiped out–so!” In pantomime with his fist he swept the papers across his table.
“The Hotel de Ville,” he added, “was a beautiful building; it is a pity it must be destroyed.”
Were he telling us his soldiers had destroyed a kitchen-garden, his tone could not have expressed less regret.
Ten days before I had been in Louvain, when it was occupied by Belgian troops and King Albert and his staff. The city dates from the eleventh century, and the population was forty-two thousand. The citizens were brewers, lace-makers, and manufacturers of ornaments for churches. The university once was the most celebrated in European cities and was the headquarters of the Jesuits.
In the Louvain College many priests now in America have been educated, and ten days before, over the great yellow walls of the college, I had seen hanging two American flags. I had found the city clean, sleepy, and pretty, with narrow, twisting streets and smart shops and cafes. Set in flower gardens were the houses, with red roofs, green shutters, and white walls.
Over those that faced south had been trained pear-trees, their branches, heavy with fruit, spread out against the walls like branches of candelabra. The town hall was an example of Gothic architecture, in detail and design more celebrated even than the town hall of Bruges or Brussels. It was five hundred years old, and lately had been repaired with taste and at great cost.
Opposite was the Church of St. Pierre, dating from the fifteenth century, a very noble building, with many chapels filled with carvings of the time of the Renaissance in wood, stone, and iron. In the university were one hundred and fifty thousand volumes.
Near it was the bronze statue of Father Damien, priest of the leper colony in the South Pacific, of whom Robert Louis Stevenson wrote.
On the night of the 27th these buildings were empty, exploded cartridges. Statues, pictures, carvings, parchments, archives–all these were gone.
No one defends the sniper. But because ignorant Mexicans, when their city was invaded, fired upon our sailors, we did not destroy Vera Cruz. Even had we bombarded Vera Cruz, money could have restored that city. Money can never restore Louvain. Great architects and artists, dead these six hundred years, made it beautiful, and their handiwork belonged to the world. With torch and dynamite the Germans turned those masterpieces into ashes, and all the Kaiser’s horses and all his men cannot bring them back again.
When our troop train reached Louvain, the entire heart of the city was destroyed, and the fire had reached the Boulevard Tirlemont, which faces the railroad station. The night was windless, and the sparks rose in steady, leisurely pillars, falling back into the furnace from which they sprang. In their work the soldiers were moving from the heart of the city to the outskirts, street by street, from house to house.
In each building they began at the first floor and, when that was burning steadily, passed to the one next. There were no exceptions– whether it was a store, chapel, or private residence, it was destroyed. The occupants had been warned to go, and in each deserted shop or house the furniture was piled, the torch was stuck under it, and into the air went the savings of years, souvenirs of children, of parents, heirlooms that had passed from generation to generation.
The people had time only to fill a pillowcase and fly. Some were not so fortunate, and by thousands, like flocks of sheep, they were rounded up and marched through the night to concentration camps. We were not allowed to speak to any citizen of Louvain, but the Germans crowded the windows of the train, boastful, gloating, eager to interpret.
In the two hours during which the train circled the burning city war was before us in its most hateful aspect.
In other wars I have watched men on one hilltop, without haste, without heat, fire at men on another hill, and in consequence on both sides good men were wasted. But in those fights there were no women or children, and the shells struck only vacant stretches of veldt or uninhabited mountain sides.
At Louvain it was war upon the defenceless, war upon churches, colleges, shops of milliners and lace-makers; war brought to the bedside and the fireside; against women harvesting in the fields, against children in wooden shoes at play in the streets.
At Louvain that night the Germans were like men after an orgy.
There were fifty English prisoners, erect and soldierly. In the ocean of gray the little patch of khaki looked pitifully lonely, but they regarded the men who had outnumbered but not defeated them with calm, uncurious eyes. In one way I was glad to see them there. Later they will bear witness. They will tell how the enemy makes a wilderness and calls it war. It was a most weird picture. On the high ground rose the broken spires of the Church of St. Pierre and the Hotel de Ville, and descending like steps were row beneath row of houses, roofless, with windows like blind eyes. The fire had reached the last row of houses, those on the Boulevard de Jodigne. Some of these were already cold, but others sent up steady, straight columns of flame. In others at the third and fourth stories the window curtains still hung, flowers still filled the window-boxes, while on the first floor the torch had just passed and the flames were leaping. Fire had destroyed the electric plant, but at times the flames made the station so light that you could see the second-hand of your watch, and again all was darkness, lit only by candles.
You could tell when an officer passed by the electric torch he carried strapped to his chest. In the darkness the gray uniforms filled the station with an army of ghosts. You distinguished men only when pipes hanging from their teeth glowed red or their bayonets flashed.
Outside the station in the public square the people of Louvain passed in an unending procession, women bareheaded, weeping, men carrying the children asleep on their shoulders, all hemmed in by the shadowy army of gray wolves. Once they were halted, and among them were marched a line of men. These were on their way to be shot. And, better to point the moral, an officer halted both processions and, climbing to a cart, explained why the men were to die. He warned others not to bring down upon themselves a like vengeance.
As those being led to spend the night in the fields looked across to those marked for death they saw old friends, neighbors of long standing, men of their own household. The officer bellowing at them from the cart was illuminated by the headlights of an automobile. He looked like an actor held in a spotlight on a darkened stage.
It was all like a scene upon the stage, unreal, inhuman. You felt it could not be true. You felt that the curtain of fire, purring and crackling and sending up hot sparks to meet the kind, calm stars, was only a painted backdrop; that the reports of rifles from the dark ruins came from blank cartridges, and that these trembling shopkeepers and peasants ringed in bayonets would not in a few minutes really die, but that they themselves and their homes would be restored to their wives and children.
You felt it was only a nightmare, cruel and uncivilized. And then you remembered that the German Emperor has told us what it is. It is his Holy War.
Paris In War Time
Those who, when the Germans approached, fled from Paris, described it as a city doomed, as a waste place, desolate as a graveyard. Those who run away always are alarmists. They are on the defensive. They must explain why they ran away.
Early in September Paris was like a summer hotel out of season. The owners had temporarily closed it; the windows were barred, the furniture and paintings draped in linen, a caretaker and a night- watchman were in possession.
It is an old saying that all good Americans go to Paris when they die. Most of them take no chances and prefer to visit it while they are alive. Before this war, if the visitor was disappointed, it was the fault of the visitor, not of Paris. She was all things to all men. To some she offered triumphal arches, statues, paintings; to others by day racing, and by night Maxims and the Rat Mort. Some loved her for the book- stalls along the Seine and ateliers of the Latin Quarter; some for her parks, forests, gardens, and boulevards; some because of the Luxembourg; some only as a place where everybody was smiling, happy, and polite, where they were never bored, where they were always young, where the lights never went out and there was no early call. Should they to-day revisit her they would find her grown grave and decorous, and going to bed at sundown, but still smiling bravely, still polite.
You cannot wipe out Paris by removing two million people and closing Cartier’s and the Cafe de Paris. There still remains some hundred miles of boulevards, the Seine and her bridges, the Arc de Triomphe, with the sun setting behind it, and the Gardens of the Tuilleries. You cannot send them to the store-house or wrap them in linen. And the spirit of the people of Paris you cannot crush nor stampede.
Between Paris in peace and Paris to-day the most striking difference is lack of population. Idle rich, the employees of the government, and tourists of all countries are missing. They leave a great emptiness. When you walk the streets you feel either that you are up very early, before any one is awake, or that you are in a boom town from which the boom has departed.
On almost every one of the noted shops “Ferme” is written, or it has been turned over to the use of the Red Cross. Of the smaller shops those that remain open are chiefly bakeshops and chemists, but no man need go naked or hungry; in every block he will find at least one place where he can be clothed and fed. But the theatres are all closed. No one is in a mood to laugh, and certainly no one wishes to consider anything more serious than the present crisis. So there are no revues, operas, or comedies.
The thing you missed perhaps most were the children in the Avenue des Champs Elysees. For generations over that part of the public garden the children have held sway. They knew it belonged to them, and into the gravel walks drove their tin spades with the same sense of ownership as at Deauville they dig up the shore. Their straw hats and bare legs, their Normandy nurses, with enormous head-dresses, blue for a boy and pink for a girl, were, of the sights of Paris, one of the most familiar. And when the children vanished they left a dreary wilderness. You could look for a mile, from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe, and not see a child. The stalls, where they bought hoops and skipping-ropes, the flying wooden horses, Punch- and-Judy shows, booths where with milk they refreshed themselves and with bonbons made themselves ill, all were deserted and boarded up.
The closing down of the majority of the shops and hotels was not due to a desire on the part of those employed in them to avoid the Germans, but to get at the Germans.
On shop after shop are signs reading: “The proprietor and staff are with the colors,” or “The personnel of this establishment is mobilized,” or “Monsieur——informs his clients that he is with his regiment.”
In the absence of men at the front, Frenchwomen, at all times capable and excellent managers, have surpassed themselves. In my hotel there were employed seven women and one man. In another hotel I visited the entire staff was composed of women.
An American banker offered his twenty-two polo ponies to the government. They were refused as not heavy enough. He did not know that, and supposed he had lost them. Later he learned from the wife of his trainer, a Frenchwoman, that those employed in his stables at Versailles who had not gone to the front at the approach of the Germans had fled, and that for three weeks his string of twenty-two horses had been fed, groomed, and exercised by the trainer’s wife and her two little girls.
To an American it was very gratifying to hear the praise of the French and English for the American ambulance at Neuilly. It is the outgrowth of the American hospital, and at the start of this war was organized by Mrs. Herrick, wife of our ambassador, and other ladies of the American colony in Paris, and the American doctors. They took over the Lycee Pasteur, an enormous school at Neuilly, that had just been finished and never occupied, and converted it into what is a most splendidly equipped hospital. In walking over the building you find it hard to believe that it was intended for any other than its present use. The operating rooms, kitchens, wards, rooms for operating by Roentgen rays, and even a chapel have been installed.
The organization and system are of the highest order. Every one in it is American. The doctors are the best in Paris. The nurses and orderlies are both especially trained for the work and volunteers. The spirit of helpfulness and unselfishness is everywhere apparent. Certain members of the American colony, who never in their lives thought of any one save themselves, and of how to escape boredom, are toiling like chambermaids and hall porters, performing most disagreeable tasks, not for a few hours a week, but unceasingly, day after day. No task is too heavy for them or too squalid. They help all alike–Germans, English, major-generals, and black Turcos.
There are three hundred patients. The staff of the hospital numbers one hundred and fifty. It is composed of the best-known American doctors in Paris and a few from New York. Among the volunteer nurses and attendants are wives of bankers in Paris, American girls who have married French titles, and girls who since the war came have lost employment as teachers of languages, stenographers, and governesses. The men are members of the Jockey Club, art students, medical students, clerks, and boulevardiers. They are all working together in most admirable harmony and under an organization that in its efficiency far surpasses that of any other hospital in Paris. Later it is going to split the American colony in twain. If you did not work in the American ambulance you won’t belong.
Attached to the hospital is a squadron of automobile ambulances, ten of which were presented by the Ford Company and ten purchased. Their chassis have been covered with khaki hoods and fitted to carry two wounded men and attendants. On their runs they are accompanied by automobiles with medical supplies, tires, and gasolene. The ambulances scout at the rear of the battle line and carry back those which the field-hospitals cannot handle.
One day I watched the orderlies who accompany these ambulances handling about forty English wounded, transferring them from the automobiles to the reception hall, and the smartness and intelligence with which the members of each crew worked together was like that of a champion polo team. The editor of a London paper, who was in Paris investigating English hospital conditions, witnessed the same performance, and told me that in handling the wounded it surpassed in efficiency anything he had seen.
The Battle Of Soissons
The struggle for the possession of Soissons lasted two days. The second day’s battle, which I witnessed, ended with the city in the possession of the French. It was part of the seven days’ of continuous fighting that began on September 6th at Meaux. Then the German left wing, consisting of the army of General von Kluck, was at Claye, within fifteen miles of Paris. But the French and English, instead of meeting the advance with a defence, themselves attacked. Steadily, at the rate of ten miles a day, they drove the Germans back across the Aisne and the Marne, and so saved the city.
When this retrograde movement of the Germans began, those who could not see the nature of the fighting believed that the German line of communication, the one from Aix-la-Chapelle through Belgium, had proved too long, and that the left wing was voluntarily withdrawing to meet the new line of communication through Luxembourg. But the fields of battle beyond Meaux, through which it was necessary to pass to reach the fight at Sois-sons, showed no evidence of leisurely withdrawal. On both sides there were evidences of the most desperate fighting and of artillery fire that was wide-spread and desolating. That of the Germans, intended to destroy the road from Meaux and to cover their retreat, showed marksmanship so accurate and execution so terrible as, while it lasted, to render pursuit impossible.
The battle-field stretched from the hills three miles north of Meaux for four miles along the road and a mile to either side. The road is lined with poplars three feet across and as high as a five-story building. For the four miles the road was piled with branches of these trees. The trees themselves were split as by lightning, or torn in half, as with your hands you could tear apart a loaf of bread. Through some, solid shell had passed, leaving clean holes. Others looked as though drunken woodsmen with axes from roots to topmost branches had slashed them in crazy fury. Some shells had broken the trunks in half as a hurricane snaps a mast.
That no human being could survive such a bombardment were many grewsome proofs. In one place for a mile the road was lined with those wicker baskets in which the Germans carry their ammunition. These were filled with shells, unexploded, and behind the trenches were hundreds more of these baskets, some for the shells of the siege-guns, as large as lobster-pots or umbrella-stands, and others, each with three compartments, for shrapnel. In gutters along the road and in the wheat-fields these brass shells flashed in the sunshine like tiny mirrors.
The four miles of countryside over which for four days both armies had ploughed the earth with these shells was the picture of complete desolation. The rout of the German army was marked by knapsacks, uniforms, and accoutrements scattered over the fields on either hand as far as you could see. Red Cross flags hanging from bushes showed where there had been dressing stations. Under them were blood-stains, bandages and clothing, and boots piled in heaps as high as a man’s chest, and the bodies of those German soldiers that the first aid had failed to save.
After death the body is mercifully robbed of its human aspect. You are spared the thought that what is lying in the trenches among the shattered trees and in the wheat-fields staring up at the sky was once a man. It appears to be only a bundle of clothes, a scarecrow that has tumbled among the grain it once protected. But it gives a terrible meaning to the word “missing.” When you read in the reports from the War Office that five thousand are “missing,” you like to think of them safely cared for in a hospital or dragging out the period of the war as prisoners. But the real missing are the unidentified dead. In time some peasant will bury them, but he will not understand the purpose of the medal each wears around his neck. And so, with the dead man will be buried his name and the number of his regiment. No one will know where he fell or where he lies. Some one will always hope that he will return. For, among the dead his name did not appear. He was reported “missing.”
The utter wastefulness of war was seldom more clearly shown. Carcasses of horses lined the road. Some few of these had been killed by shell-fire. Others, worn out and emaciated, and bearing the brand of the German army, had been mercifully destroyed; but the greater number of them were the farm horses of peasants, still wearing their head-stalls or the harness of the plough. That they might not aid the enemy as remounts, the Germans in their retreat had shot them. I saw four and five together in the yards of stables, the bullet-hole of an automatic in the head of each. Others lay beside the market cart, others by the canal, where they had sought water.
Less pitiful, but still evidencing the wastefulness of war, were the motor-trucks, and automobiles that in the flight had been abandoned. For twenty miles these automobiles were scattered along the road. There were so many one stopped counting them. Added to their loss were two shattered German airships. One I saw twenty-six kilometres outside of Meaux and one at Bouneville. As they fell they had buried their motors deep in the soft earth and their wings were twisted wrecks of silk and steel.
All the fields through which the army passed had become waste land. Shells had re-ploughed them. Horses and men had camped in them. The haystacks, gathered by the sweat of the brow and patiently set in trim rows were trampled in the mud and scattered to the winds. All the smaller villages through which I passed were empty of people, and since the day before, when the Germans occupied them, none of the inhabitants had returned. These villages were just as the Germans had left them. The streets were piled with grain on which the soldiers had slept, and on the sidewalks in front of the better class of houses tables around which the officers had eaten still remained, the bottles half empty, the food half eaten.
In a chateau beyond Neufchelles the doors and windows were open and lace curtains were blowing in the breeze. From the garden you could see paintings on the walls, books on the tables. Outside, on the lawn, surrounded by old and charming gardens, apparently the general and his staff had prepared to dine. The table was set for a dozen, and on it were candles in silver sticks, many bottles of red and white wine, champagne, liqueurs, and coffee-cups of the finest china. From their banquet some alarm had summoned the officers. The place was as they had left it, the coffee untasted, the candles burned to the candlesticks, and red stains on the cloth where the burgundy had spilled. In the bright sunlight, and surrounded by flowers, the deserted table and the silent, stately chateau seemed like the sleeping palace of the fairy-tale.
Though the humor of troops retreating is an ugly one, I saw no outrages such as I saw in Belgium. Except in the villages of Neuf- chelles and Varreddes, there was no sign of looting or wanton destruction. But in those two villages the interior of every home and shop was completely wrecked. In the other villages the destruction was such as is permitted by the usages of war, such as the blowing up of bridges, the burning of the railroad station, and the cutting of telegraph-wires.
Not until Bouneville, thirty kilometres beyond Meaux, did I catch up with the Allies. There I met some English Tommies who were trying to find their column. They had no knowledge of the French language, or where they were, or where their regiment was, but were quite confident of finding it, and were as cheerful as at manoeuvres. Outside of Chaudun the road was blocked with tirailleurs, Algerians in light-blue Zouave uniforms, and native Turcos from Morocco in khaki, with khaki turbans. They shivered in the autumn sunshine, and were wrapped in burnooses of black and white. They were making a turning movement to attack the German right, and were being hurried forward. They had just driven the German rear-guard out of Chaudun, and said that the fighting was still going on at Soissons. But the only sign I saw of it were two Turcos who had followed the Germans too far. They lay sprawling in the road, and had so lately fallen that their rifles still lay under them. Three miles farther I came upon the advance line of the French army, and for the remainder of the day watched a most remarkable artillery duel, which ended with Soissons in the hands of the Allies.
Soissons is a pretty town of four thousand inhabitants. It is chiefly known for its haricot beans, and since the Romans held it under Caesar it has been besieged many times. Until to-day the Germans