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Fighting France by Edith Wharton

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of the German lines, hidden, like ours, on the other side of the
narrowing hollow; and as we stole down and down, the hush and
secrecy of the scene, and the sense of that imminent lurking hatred
only a few branch-lengths away, seemed to fill the silence with
mysterious pulsations. Suddenly a sharp noise broke on them: the rap
of a rifle-shot against a tree-trunk a few yards ahead.

"Ah, the sharp-shooter," said our guide. "No more talking,
please--he's over there, in a tree somewhere, and whenever he hears
voices he fires. Some day we shall spot his tree."

We went on in silence to a point where a few soldiers were sitting
on a ledge of rock in a widening of the "bowel." They looked as
quiet as if they had been waiting for their bocks before a Boulevard

"Not beyond, please," said the officer, holding me back; and I

Here we were, then, actually and literally in the first lines! The
knowledge made one's heart tick a little; but, except for another
shot or two from our arboreal listener, and the motionless
intentness of the soldier's back at the peep-hole, there was nothing
to show that we were not a dozen miles away.

Perhaps the thought occurred to our Captain of Chasseurs; for just
as I was turning back he said with his friendliest twinkle: "Do you
want awfully to go a little farther? Well, then, come on."

We went past the soldiers sitting on the ledge and stole down and
down, to where the trees ended at the bottom of the ravine. The
sharp-shooter had stopped firing, and nothing disturbed the leafy
silence but an intermittent drip of rain. We were at the end of the
burrow, and the Captain signed to me that I might take a cautious
peep round its corner. I looked out and saw a strip of intensely
green meadow just under me, and a wooded cliff rising abruptly on
its other side. That was all. The wooded cliff swarmed with "them,"
and a few steps would have carried us across the interval; yet all
about us was silence, and the peace of the forest. Again, for a
minute, I had the sense of an all-pervading, invisible power of
evil, a saturation of the whole landscape with some hidden vitriol
of hate. Then the reaction of the unbelief set in, and I felt myself
in a harmless ordinary glen, like a million others on an untroubled
earth. We turned and began to climb again, loop by loop, up the
"bowel"--we passed the lolling soldiers, the silent mitrailleuse, we
came again to the watcher at his peep-hole. He heard us, let the
officer pass, and turned his head with a little sign of

"Do you want to look down?"

He moved a step away from his window. The look-out projected over
the ravine, raking its depths; and here, with one's eye to the
leaf-lashed hole, one saw at last ... saw, at the bottom of the
harmless glen, half way between cliff and cliff, a grey uniform
huddled in a dead heap. "He's been there for days: they can't fetch
him away," said the watcher, regluing his eye to the hole; and it
was almost a relief to find it was after all a tangible enemy hidden
over there across the meadow...

The sun had set when we got back to our starting-point in the
underground village. The chasseurs-a-pied were lounging along
the roadside and standing in gossiping groups about the motor. It
was long since they had seen faces from the other life, the life
they had left nearly a year earlier and had not been allowed to go
back to for a day; and under all their jokes and good-humour their
farewell had a tinge of wistfulness. But one felt that this fugitive
reminder of a world they had put behind them would pass like a
dream, and their minds revert without effort to the one reality: the
business of holding their bit of France.

It is hard to say why this sense of the French soldier's
single-mindedness is so strong in all who have had even a glimpse of
the front; perhaps it is gathered less from what the men say than
from the look in their eyes. Even while they are accepting
cigarettes and exchanging trench-jokes, the look is there; and when
one comes on them unaware it is there also. In the dusk of the
forest that look followed us down the mountain; and as we skirted
the edge of the ravine between the armies, we felt that on the far
side of that dividing line were the men who had made the war, and on
the near side the men who had been made by it.


June 19th, 1915.

On the way from Doullens to Montreuil-sur-Mer, on a shining summer
afternoon. A road between dusty hedges, choked, literally strangled,
by a torrent of westward-streaming troops of all arms. Every few
minutes there would come a break in the flow, and our motor would
wriggle through, advance a few yards, and be stopped again by a
widening of the torrent that jammed us into the ditch and splashed a
dazzle of dust into our eyes. The dust was stifling--but through it,
what a sight!

Standing up in the car and looking back, we watched the river of war
wind toward us. Cavalry, artillery, lancers, infantry, sappers and
miners, trench-diggers, road-makers, stretcher-bearers, they swept
on as smoothly as if in holiday order. Through the dust, the sun
picked out the flash of lances and the gloss of chargers' flanks,
flushed rows and rows of determined faces, found the least touch of
gold on faded uniforms, silvered the sad grey of mitrailleuses and
munition waggons. Close as the men were, they seemed allegorically
splendid: as if, under the arch of the sunset, we had been watching
the whole French army ride straight into glory...

Finally we left the last detachment behind, and had the country to
ourselves. The disfigurement of war has not touched the fields of
Artois. The thatched farmhouses dozed in gardens full of roses and
hollyhocks, and the hedges above the duck-ponds were weighed down
with layers of elder-blossom. On all sides wheat-fields skirted with
woodland went billowing away under the breezy light that seemed to
carry a breath of the Atlantic on its beams. The road ran up and
down as if our motor were a ship on a deep-sea swell; and such a
sense of space and light was in the distances, such a veil of beauty
over the whole world, that the vision of that army on the move grew
more and more fabulous and epic.

The sun had set and the sea-twilight was rolling in when we dipped
down from the town of Montreuil to the valley below, where the
towers of an ancient abbey-church rise above terraced orchards. The
gates at the end of the avenue were thrown open, and the motor drove
into a monastery court full of box and roses. Everything was sweet
and secluded in this mediaeval place; and from the shadow of
cloisters and arched passages groups of nuns fluttered out, nuns all
black or all white, gliding, peering and standing at gaze. It was as
if we had plunged back into a century to which motors were unknown
and our car had been some monster cast up from a Barbary shipwreck;
and the startled attitudes of these holy women did credit to their
sense of the picturesque; for the Abbey of Neuville is now a great
Belgian hospital, and such monsters must frequently intrude on its

Sunset, and summer dusk, and the moon. Under the monastery windows a
walled garden with stone pavilions at the angles and the drip of a
fountain. Below it, tiers of orchard-terraces fading into a great
moon-confused plain that might be either fields or sea...

June 20th.

Today our way ran northeast, through a landscape so English that
there was no incongruity in the sprinkling of khaki along the road.
Even the villages look English: the same plum-red brick of tidy
self-respecting houses, neat, demure and freshly painted, the
gardens all bursting with flowers, the landscape hedgerowed and
willowed and fed with water-courses, the people's faces square and
pink and honest, and the signs over the shops in a language half way
between English and German. Only the architecture of the towns is
French, of a reserved and robust northern type, but unmistakably in
the same great tradition.

War still seemed so far off that one had time for these digressions
as the motor flew on over the undulating miles. But presently we
came on an aviation camp spreading its sheds over a wide plateau.
Here the khaki throng was thicker and the familiar military stir
enlivened the landscape. A few miles farther, and we found ourselves
in what was seemingly a big English town oddly grouped about a
nucleus of French churches. This was St. Omer, grey, spacious,
coldly clean in its Sunday emptiness. At the street crossings
English sentries stood mechanically directing the absent traffic
with gestures familiar to Piccadilly; and the signs of the British
Red Cross and St. John's Ambulance hung on club-like facades that
might almost have claimed a home in Pall Mall.

The Englishness of things was emphasized, as we passed out through
the suburbs, by the look of the crowd on the canal bridges and along
the roads. Every nation has its own way of loitering, and there is
nothing so unlike the French way as the English. Even if all these
tall youths had not been in khaki, and the girls with them so pink
and countrified, one would instantly have recognized the passive
northern way of letting a holiday soak in instead of squeezing out
its juices with feverish fingers.

When we turned westward from St. Omer, across the same pastures and
watercourses, we were faced by two hills standing up abruptly out of
the plain; and on the top of one rose the walls and towers of a
compact little mediaeval town. As we took the windings that led up
to it a sense of Italy began to penetrate the persistent impression
of being somewhere near the English Channel. The town we were
approaching might have been a queer dream-blend of Winchelsea and
San Gimignano; but when we entered the gates of Cassel we were in a
place so intensely itself that all analogies dropped out of mind.

It was not surprising to learn from the guide-book that Cassel has
the most extensive view of any town in Europe: one felt at once that
it differed in all sorts of marked and self-assertive ways from
every other town, and would be almost sure to have the best things
going in every line. And the line of an illimitable horizon is
exactly the best to set off its own quaint compactness.

We found our hotel in the most perfect of little market squares,
with a Renaissance town-hall on one side, and on the other a
miniature Spanish palace with a front of rosy brick adorned by grey
carvings. The square was crowded with English army motors and
beautiful prancing chargers; and the restaurant of the inn (which
has the luck to face the pink and grey palace) swarmed with khaki
tea-drinkers turning indifferent shoulders to the widest view in
Europe. It is one of the most detestable things about war that
everything connected with it, except the death and ruin that result,
is such a heightening of life, so visually stimulating and
absorbing. "It was gay and terrible," is the phrase forever
recurring in "War and Peace"; and the gaiety of war was everywhere
in Cassel, transforming the lifeless little town into a romantic
stage-setting full of the flash of arms and the virile animation of
young faces.

From the park on top of the hill we looked down on another picture.
All about us was the plain, its distant rim merged in northern
sea-mist; and through the mist, in the glitter of the afternoon sun,
far-off towns and shadowy towers lay steeped, as it seemed, in
summer quiet. For a moment, while we looked, the vision of war
shrivelled up like a painted veil; then we caught the names
pronounced by a group of English soldiers leaning over the parapet
at our side. "That's Dunkerque"--one of them pointed it out with his
pipe--"and there's Poperinghe, just under us; that's Furnes beyond,
and Ypres and Dixmude, and Nieuport... "And at the mention of
those names the scene grew dark again, and we felt the passing of
the Angel to whom was given the Key of the Bottomless Pit.

That night we went up once more to the rock of Cassel. The moon was
full, and as civilians are not allowed out alone after dark a
staff-officer went with us to show us the view from the roof of the
disused Casino on top of the rock. It was the queerest of sensations
to push open a glazed door and find ourselves in a spectral painted
room with soldiers dozing in the moonlight on polished floors, their
kits stacked on the gaming tables. We passed through a big vestibule
among more soldiers lounging in the half-light, and up a long
staircase to the roof where a watcher challenged us and then let us
go to the edge of the parapet. Directly below lay the unlit mass of
the town. To the northwest a single sharp hill, the "Mont des Cats,"
stood out against the sky; the rest of the horizon was unbroken, and
floating in misty moonlight. The outline of the ruined towns had
vanished and peace seemed to have won back the world. But as we
stood there a red flash started out of the mist far off to the
northwest; then another and another flickered up at different points
of the long curve. "Luminous bombs thrown up along the lines," our
guide explained; and just then, at still another point a white light
opened like a tropical flower, spread to full bloom and drew itself
back into the night. "A flare," we were told; and another white
flower bloomed out farther down. Below us, the roofs of Cassel slept
their provincial sleep, the moonlight picking out every leaf in the
gardens; while beyond, those infernal flowers continued to open and
shut along the curve of death.

June 21st.

On the road from Cassel to Poperinghe. Heat, dust, crowds,
confusion, all the sordid shabby rear-view of war. The road running
across the plain between white-powdered hedges was ploughed up by
numberless motor-vans, supply-waggons and Red Cross ambulances.
Labouring through between them came detachments of British
artillery, clattering gun-carriages, straight young figures on
glossy horses, long Phidian lines of youths so ingenuously fair that
one wondered how they could have looked on the Medusa face of war
and lived. Men and beasts, in spite of the dust, were as fresh and
sleek as if they had come from a bath; and everywhere along the
wayside were improvised camps, with tents made of waggon-covers,
where the ceaseless indomitable work of cleaning was being carried
out in all its searching details. Shirts were drying on
elder-bushes, kettles boiling over gypsy fires, men shaving,
blacking their boots, cleaning their guns, rubbing down their
horses, greasing their saddles, polishing their stirrups and bits:
on all sides a general cheery struggle against the prevailing dust,
discomfort and disorder. Here and there a young soldier leaned
against a garden paling to talk to a girl among the hollyhocks, or
an older soldier initiated a group of children into some mystery of
military housekeeping; and everywhere were the same signs of
friendly inarticulate understanding with the owners of the fields
and gardens.

From the thronged high-road we passed into the emptiness of deserted
Poperinghe, and out again on the way to Ypres. Beyond the flats and
wind-mills to our left were the invisible German lines, and the
staff-officer who was with us leaned forward to caution our
chauffeur: "No tooting between here and Ypres." There was still a
good deal of movement on the road, though it was less crowded with
troops than near Poperinghe; but as we passed through the last
village and approached the low line of houses ahead, the silence and
emptiness widened about us. That low line was Ypres; every monument
that marked it, that gave it an individual outline, is gone. It is a
town without a profile.

The motor slipped through a suburb of small brick houses and stopped
under cover of some slightly taller buildings. Another military
motor waited there, the chauffeur relic-hunting in the gutted

We got out and walked toward the centre of the Cloth Market. We had
seen evacuated towns--Verdun, Badonviller, Raon-l'Etape--but we had
seen no emptiness like this. Not a human being was in the streets.
Endless lines of houses looked down on us from vacant windows. Our
footsteps echoed like the tramp of a crowd, our lowered voices
seemed to shout. In one street we came on three English soldiers who
were carrying a piano out of a house and lifting it onto a
hand-cart. They stopped to stare at us, and we stared back. It
seemed an age since we had seen a living being! One of the soldiers
scrambled into the cart and tapped out a tune on the cracked
key-board, and we all laughed with relief at the foolish noise...
Then we walked on and were alone again.

We had seen other ruined towns, but none like this. The towns of
Lorraine were blown up, burnt down, deliberately erased from the
earth. At worst they are like stone-yards, at best like Pompeii. But
Ypres has been bombarded to death, and the outer walls of its houses
are still standing, so that it presents the distant semblance of a
living city, while near by it is seen to be a disembowelled corpse.
Every window-pane is smashed, nearly every building unroofed, and
some house-fronts are sliced clean off, with the different stories
exposed, as if for the stage-setting of a farce. In these exposed
interiors the poor little household gods shiver and blink like owls
surprised in a hollow tree. A hundred signs of intimate and humble
tastes, of humdrum pursuits, of family association, cling to the
unmasked walls. Whiskered photographs fade on morning-glory
wallpapers, plaster saints pine under glass bells, antimacassars
droop from plush sofas, yellowing diplomas display their seals on
office walls. It was all so still and familiar that it seemed as if
the people for whom these things had a meaning might at any moment
come back and take up their daily business. And then--crash! the
guns began, slamming out volley after volley all along the English
lines, and the poor frail web of things that had made up the lives
of a vanished city-full hung dangling before us in that deathly

We had just reached the square before the Cathedral when the
cannonade began, and its roar seemed to build a roof of iron over
the glorious ruins of Ypres. The singular distinction of the city is
that it is destroyed but not abased. The walls of the Cathedral, the
long bulk of the Cloth Market, still lift themselves above the
market place with a majesty that seems to silence compassion. The
sight of those facades, so proud in death, recalled a phrase used
soon after the fall of Liege by Belgium's Foreign Minister--"_La
Belgique ne regrette rien_ "--which ought some day to serve as the
motto of the renovated city.

We were turning to go when we heard a whirr overhead, followed by a
volley of mitrailleuse. High up in the blue, over the centre of the
dead city, flew a German aeroplane; and all about it hundreds of
white shrapnel tufts burst out in the summer sky like the miraculous
snow-fall of Italian legend. Up and up they flew, on the trail of
the Taube, and on flew the Taube, faster still, till quarry and pack
were lost in mist, and the barking of the mitrailleuse died out. So
we left Ypres to the death-silence in which we had found her.

The afternoon carried us back to Poperinghe, where I was bound on a
quest for lace-cushions of the special kind required by our Flemish
refugees. The model is unobtainable in France, and I had been
told--with few and vague indications--that I might find the cushions
in a certain convent of the city. But in which?

Poperinghe, though little injured, is almost empty. In its tidy
desolation it looks like a town on which a wicked enchanter has laid
a spell. We roamed from quarter to quarter, hunting for some one to
show us the way to the convent I was looking for, till at last a
passer-by led us to a door which seemed the right one. At our knock
the bars were drawn and a cloistered face looked out. No, there were
no cushions there; and the nun had never heard of the order we
named. But there were the Penitents, the Benedictines--we might try.
Our guide offered to show us the way and we went on. From one or two
windows, wondering heads looked out and vanished; but the streets
were lifeless. At last we came to a convent where there were no nuns
left, but where, the caretaker told us, there were cushions--a great
many. He led us through pale blue passages, up cold stairs, through
rooms that smelt of linen and lavender. We passed a chapel with
plaster saints in white niches above paper flowers. Everything was
cold and bare and blank: like a mind from which memory has gone. We
came to a class room with lines of empty benches facing a
blue-mantled Virgin; and here, on the floor, lay rows and rows of
lace-cushions. On each a bit of lace had been begun--and there they
had been dropped when nuns and pupils fled. They had not been left
in disorder: the rows had been laid out evenly, a handkerchief
thrown over each cushion. And that orderly arrest of life seemed
sadder than any scene of disarray. It symbolized the senseless
paralysis of a whole nation's activities. Here were a houseful of
women and children, yesterday engaged in a useful task and now
aimlessly astray over the earth. And in hundreds of such houses, in
dozens, in hundreds of open towns, the hand of time had been
stopped, the heart of life had ceased to beat, all the currents of
hope and happiness and industry been choked--not that some great
military end might be gained, or the length of the war curtailed,
but that, wherever the shadow of Germany falls, all things should
wither at the root.

The same sight met us everywhere that afternoon. Over Furnes and
Bergues, and all the little intermediate villages, the evil shadow
lay. Germany had willed that these places should die, and wherever
her bombs could not reach her malediction had carried. Only Biblical
lamentation can convey a vision of this life-drained land. "Your
country is desolate; your cities are burned with fire; your land,
strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as
overthrown by strangers."

Late in the afternoon we came to Dunkerque, lying peacefully between
its harbour and canals. The bombardment of the previous month had
emptied it, and though no signs of damage were visible the same
spellbound air lay over everything. As we sat alone at tea in the
hall of the hotel on the Place Jean Bart, and looked out on the
silent square and its lifeless shops and cafes, some one suggested
that the hotel would be a convenient centre for the excursions we
had planned, and we decided to return there the next evening. Then
we motored back to Cassel.

June 22nd.

My first waking thought was: "How time flies! It must be the
Fourteenth of July!" I knew it could not be the Fourth of that
specially commemorative month, because I was just awake enough to be
sure I was not in America; and the only other event to justify such
a terrific clatter was the French national anniversary. I sat up and
listened to the popping of guns till a completed sense of reality
stole over me, and I realized that I was in the inn of the Wild Man
at Cassel, and that it was not the fourteenth of July but the
twenty-second of June.

Then, what--? A Taube, of course! And all the guns in the place were
cracking at it! By the time this mental process was complete, I had
scrambled up and hurried downstairs and, unbolting the heavy doors,
had rushed out into the square. It was about four in the morning,
the heavenliest moment of a summer dawn, and in spite of the tumult
Cassel still apparently slept. Only a few soldiers stood in the
square, looking up at a drift of white cloud behind which--they
averred--a Taube had just slipped out of sight. Cassel was evidently
used to Taubes, and I had the sense of having overdone my excitement
and not being exactly in tune; so after gazing a moment at the white
cloud I slunk back into the hotel, barred the door and mounted to my
room. At a window on the stairs I paused to look out over the
sloping roofs of the town, the gardens, the plain; and suddenly
there was another crash and a drift of white smoke blew up from the
fruit-trees just under the window. It was a last shot at the
fugitive, from a gun hidden in one of those quiet provincial gardens
between the houses; and its secret presence there was more startling
than all the clatter of mitrailleuses from the rock.

Silence and sleep came down again on Cassel; but an hour or two
later the hush was broken by a roar like the last trump. This time
it was no question of mitrailleuses. The Wild Man rocked on its
base, and every pane in my windows beat a tattoo. What was that
incredible unimagined sound? Why, it could be nothing, of course,
but the voice of the big siege-gun of Dixmude! Five times, while I
was dressing, the thunder shook my windows, and the air was filled
with a noise that may be compared--if the human imagination can
stand the strain--to the simultaneous closing of all the iron
shop-shutters in the world. The odd part was that, as far as the
Wild Man and its inhabitants were concerned, no visible effects
resulted, and dressing, packing and coffee-drinking went on
comfortably in the strange parentheses between the roars.

We set off early for a neighbouring Head-quarters, and it was not
till we turned out of the gates of Cassel that we came on signs of
the bombardment: the smashing of a gas-house and the converting of a
cabbage-field into a crater which, for some time to come, will spare
photographers the trouble of climbing Vesuvius. There was a certain
consolation in the discrepancy between the noise and the damage

At Head-quarters we learned more of the morning's incidents.
Dunkerque, it appeared, had first been visited by the Taube which
afterward came to take the range of Cassel; and the big gun of
Dixmude had then turned all its fury on the French sea-port. The
bombardment of Dunkuerque was still going on; and we were asked, and
in fact bidden, to give up our plan of going there for the night.

After luncheon we turned north, toward the dunes. The villages we
drove through were all evacuated, some quite lifeless, others
occupied by troops. Presently we came to a group of military motors
drawn up by the roadside, and a field black with wheeling troops.
"Admiral Ronarc'h!" our companion from Head-quarters exclaimed; and
we understood that we had had the good luck to come on the hero of
Dixmude in the act of reviewing the marine fusiliers and
territorials whose magnificent defense of last October gave that
much-besieged town another lease of glory.

We stopped the motor and climbed to a ridge above the field. A high
wind was blowing, bringing with it the booming of the guns along the
front. A sun half-veiled in sand-dust shone on pale meadows, sandy
flats, grey wind-mills. The scene was deserted, except for the
handful of troops deploying before the officers on the edge of the
field. Admiral Ronarc'h, white-gloved and in full-dress uniform,
stood a little in advance, a young naval officer at his side. He had
just been distributing decorations to his fusiliers and
territorials, and they were marching past him, flags flying and
bugles playing. Every one of those men had a record of heroism, and
every face in those ranks had looked on horrors unnameable. They had
lost Dixmude--for a while--but they had gained great glory, and the
inspiration of their epic resistance had come from the quiet officer
who stood there, straight and grave, in his white gloves and gala

One must have been in the North to know something of the tie that
exists, in this region of bitter and continuous fighting, between
officers and soldiers. The feeling of the chiefs is almost one of
veneration for their men; that of the soldiers, a kind of
half-humorous tenderness for the officers who have faced such odds
with them. This mutual regard reveals itself in a hundred
undefinable ways; but its fullest expression is in the tone with
which the commanding officers speak the two words oftenest on their
lips: "My men."

The little review over, we went on to Admiral Ronarc'h's quarters in
the dunes, and thence, after a brief visit, to another brigade
Head-quarters. We were in a region of sandy hillocks feathered by
tamarisk, and interspersed with poplar groves slanting like wheat in
the wind. Between these meagre thickets the roofs of seaside
bungalows showed above the dunes; and before one of these we
stopped, and were led into a sitting-room full of maps and aeroplane
photographs. One of the officers of the brigade telephoned to ask if
the way was clear to Nieuport; and the answer was that we might go

Our road ran through the "Bois Triangulaire," a bit of woodland
exposed to constant shelling. Half the poor spindling trees were
down, and patches of blackened undergrowth and ragged hollows marked
the path of the shells. If the trees of a cannonaded wood are of
strong inland growth their fallen trunks have the majesty of a
ruined temple; but there was something humanly pitiful in the frail
trunks of the Bois Triangulaire, lying there like slaughtered rows
of immature troops.

A few miles more brought us to Nieuport, most lamentable of the
victim towns. It is not empty as Ypres is empty: troops are
quartered in the cellars, and at the approach of our motor knots of
cheerful zouaves came swarming out of the ground like ants. But
Ypres is majestic in death, poor Nieuport gruesomely comic. About
its splendid nucleus of mediaeval architecture a modern town had
grown up; and nothing stranger can be pictured than the contrast
between the streets of flimsy houses, twisted like curl-papers, and
the ruins of the Gothic Cathedral and the Cloth Market. It is like
passing from a smashed toy to the survival of a prehistoric

Modern Nieuport seems to have died in a colic. No less homely image
expresses the contractions and contortions of the houses reaching
out the appeal of their desperate chimney-pots and agonized girders.
There is one view along the exterior of the town like nothing else
on the warfront. On the left, a line of palsied houses leads up like
a string of crutch-propped beggars to the mighty ruin of the
Templars' Tower; on the right the flats reach away to the almost
imperceptible humps of masonry that were once the villages of St.
Georges, Ramscappelle, Pervyse. And over it all the incessant crash
of the guns stretches a sounding-board of steel.

In front of the cathedral a German shell has dug a crater thirty
feet across, overhung by splintered tree-trunks, burnt shrubs, vague
mounds of rubbish; and a few steps beyond lies the peacefullest spot
in Nieuport, the grave-yard where the zouaves have buried their
comrades. The dead are laid in rows under the flank of the
cathedral, and on their carefully set grave-stones have been placed
collections of pious images gathered from the ruined houses. Some of
the most privileged are guarded by colonies of plaster saints and
Virgins that cover the whole slab; and over the handsomest Virgins
and the most gaily coloured saints the soldiers have placed the
glass bells that once protected the parlour clocks and
wedding-wreaths in the same houses.

From sad Nieuport we motored on to a little seaside colony where
gaiety prevails. Here the big hotels and the adjoining villas along
the beach are filled with troops just back from the trenches: it is
one of the "rest cures" of the front. When we drove up, the regiment
"au repos" was assembled in the wide sandy space between the
principal hotels, and in the centre of the jolly crowd the band was
playing. The Colonel and his officers stood listening to the music,
and presently the soldiers broke into the wild "chanson des zouaves"
of the --th zouaves. It was the strangest of sights to watch that
throng of dusky merry faces under their red fezes against the
background of sunless northern sea. When the music was over some one
with a kodak suggested "a group": we struck a collective attitude on
one of the hotel terraces, and just as the camera was being aimed at
us the Colonel turned and drew into the foreground a little grinning
pock-marked soldier. "He's just been decorated--he's got to be in
the group." A general exclamation of assent from the other officers,
and a protest from the hero: "Me? Why, my ugly mug will smash the
plate!" But it didn't--

Reluctantly we turned from this interval in the day's sad round, and
took the road to La Panne. Dust, dunes, deserted villages: my memory
keeps no more definite vision of the run. But at sunset we came on a
big seaside colony stretched out above the longest beach I ever saw:
along the sea-front, an esplanade bordered by the usual foolish
villas, and behind it a single street filled with hotels and shops.
All the life of the desert region we had traversed seemed to have
taken refuge at La Panne. The long street was swarming with throngs
of dark-uniformed Belgian soldiers, every shop seemed to be doing a
thriving trade, and the hotels looked as full as beehives.

June 23rd LA PANNE.

The particular hive that has taken us in is at the extreme end of
the esplanade, where asphalt and iron railings lapse abruptly into
sand and sea-grass. When I looked out of my window this morning I
saw only the endless stretch of brown sand against the grey roll of
the Northern Ocean and, on a crest of the dunes, the figure of a
solitary sentinel. But presently there was a sound of martial music,
and long lines of troops came marching along the esplanade and down
to the beach. The sands stretched away to east and west, a great
"field of Mars" on which an army could have manoeuvred; and the
morning exercises of cavalry and infantry began. Against the brown
beach the regiments in their dark uniforms looked as black as
silhouettes; and the cavalry galloping by in single file suggested a
black frieze of warriors encircling the dun-coloured flanks of an
Etruscan vase. For hours these long-drawn-out movements of troops
went on, to the wail of bugles, and under the eye of the lonely
sentinel on the sand-crest; then the soldiers poured back into the
town, and La Panne was once more a busy common-place _bain-de-mer_.
The common-placeness, however, was only on the surface; for as one
walked along the esplanade one discovered that the town had become a
citadel, and that all the doll's-house villas with their silly
gables and sillier names--"Seaweed," "The Sea-gull," "Mon Repos,"
and the rest--were really a continuous line of barracks swarming
with Belgian troops. In the main street there were hundreds of
soldiers, pottering along in couples, chatting in groups, romping
and wrestling like a crowd of school-boys, or bargaining in the
shops for shell-work souvenirs and sets of post-cards; and between
the dark-green and crimson uniforms was a frequent sprinkling of
khaki, with the occasional pale blue of a French officer's tunic.

Before luncheon we motored over to Dunkerque. The road runs along
the canal, between grass-flats and prosperous villages. No signs of
war were noticeable except on the road, which was crowded with motor
vans, ambulances and troops. The walls and gates of Dunkerque rose
before us as calm and undisturbed as when we entered the town the
day before yesterday. But within the gates we were in a desert. The
bombardment had ceased the previous evening, but a death-hush lay on
the town, Every house was shuttered and the streets were empty. We
drove to the Place Jean Bart, where two days ago we sat at tea in
the hall of the hotel. Now there was not a whole pane of glass in
the windows of the square, the doors of the hotel were closed, and
every now and then some one came out carrying a basketful of plaster
from fallen ceilings. The whole surface of the square was literally
paved with bits of glass from the hundreds of broken windows, and at
the foot of David's statue of Jean Bart, just where our motor had
stood while we had tea, the siege-gun of Dixmude had scooped out a
hollow as big as the crater at Nieuport.

Though not a house on the square was touched, the scene was one of
unmitigated desolation. It was the first time we had seen the raw
wounds of a bombardment, and the freshness of the havoc seemed to
accentuate its cruelty. We wandered down the street behind the hotel
to the graceful Gothic church of St. Eloi, of which one aisle had
been shattered; then, turning another corner, we came on a poor
_bourgeois_ house that had had its whole front torn away. The
squalid revelation of caved-in floors, smashed wardrobes, dangling
bedsteads, heaped-up blankets, topsy-turvy chairs and stoves and
wash-stands was far more painful than the sight of the wounded
church. St. Eloi was draped in the dignity of martyrdom, but the
poor little house reminded one of some shy humdrum person suddenly
exposed in the glare of a great misfortune.

A few people stood in clusters looking up at the ruins, or strayed
aimlessly about the streets. Not a loud word was heard. The air
seemed heavy with the suspended breath of a great city's activities:
the mournful hush of Dunkerque was even more oppressive than the
death-silence of Ypres. But when we came back to the Place Jean Bart
the unbreakable human spirit had begun to reassert itself. A handful
of children were playing in the bottom of the crater, collecting
"specimens" of glass and splintered brick; and about its rim the
market-people, quietly and as a matter of course, were setting up
their wooden stalls. In a few minutes the signs of German havoc
would be hidden behind stacks of crockery and household utensils,
and some of the pale women we had left in mournful contemplation of
the ruins would be bargaining as sharply as ever for a sauce-pan or
a butter-tub. Not once but a hundred times has the attitude of the
average French civilian near the front reminded me of the gallant
cry of Calanthea in _The Broken Heart:_ "Let me die smiling!" I
should have liked to stop and spend all I had in the market of

All the afternoon we wandered about La Panne. The exercises of the
troops had begun again, and the deploying of those endless black
lines along the beach was a sight of the strangest beauty. The sun
was veiled, and heavy surges rolled in under a northerly gale.
Toward evening the sea turned to cold tints of jade and pearl and
tarnished silver. Far down the beach a mysterious fleet of fishing
boats was drawn up on the sand, with black sails bellying in the
wind; and the black riders galloping by might have landed from them,
and been riding into the sunset out of some wild northern legend.
Presently a knot of buglers took up their stand on the edge of the
sea, facing inward, their feet in the surf, and began to play; and
their call was like the call of Roland's horn, when he blew it down
the pass against the heathen. On the sandcrest below my window the
lonely sentinel still watched...

June 24th.

It is like coming down from the mountains to leave the front. I
never had the feeling more strongly than when we passed out of
Belgium this afternoon. I had it most strongly as we drove by a
cluster of villas standing apart in a sterile region of sea-grass
and sand. In one of those villas for nearly a year, two hearts at
the highest pitch of human constancy have held up a light to the
world. It is impossible to pass that house without a sense of awe.
Because of the light that comes from it, dead faiths have come to
life, weak convictions have grown strong, fiery impulses have turned
to long endurance, and long endurance has kept the fire of impulse.
In the harbour of New York there is a pompous statue of a goddess
with a torch, designated as "Liberty enlightening the World." It
seems as though the title on her pedestal might well, for the time,
be transferred to the lintel of that villa in the dunes.

On leaving St. Omer we took a short cut southward across rolling
country. It was a happy accident that caused us to leave the main
road, for presently, over the crest of a hill, we saw surging toward
us a mighty movement of British and Indian troops. A great bath of
silver sunlight lay on the wheat-fields, the clumps of woodland and
the hilly blue horizon, and in that slanting radiance the cavalry
rode toward us, regiment after regiment of slim turbaned Indians,
with delicate proud faces like the faces of Princes in Persian
miniatures. Then came a long train of artillery; splendid horses,
clattering gun-carriages, clear-faced English youths galloping by
all aglow in the sunset. The stream of them seemed never-ending. Now
and then it was checked by a train of ambulances and supply-waggons,
or caught and congested in the crooked streets of a village where
children and girls had come out with bunches of flowers, and bakers
were selling hot loaves to the sutlers; and when we had extricated
our motor from the crowd, and climbed another hill, we came on
another cavalcade surging toward us through the wheat-fields. For
over an hour the procession poured by, so like and yet so unlike the
French division we had met on the move as we went north a few days
ago; so that we seemed to have passed to the northern front, and
away from it again, through a great flashing gateway in the long
wall of armies guarding the civilized world from the North Sea to
the Vosges.


August 13th, 1915.

My trip to the east began by a dash toward the north. Near Rheims is
a little town--hardly more than a village, but in English we have no
intermediate terms such as "bourg" and "petit bourg"--where one of
the new Red Cross sanitary motor units was to be seen "in action."
The inspection over, we climbed to a vineyard above the town and
looked down at a river valley traversed by a double line of trees.
The first line marked the canal, which is held by the French, who
have gun-boats on it. Behind this ran the high-road, with the
first-line French trenches, and just above, on the opposite slope,
were the German lines. The soil being chalky, the German positions
were clearly marked by two parallel white scorings across the brown
hill-front; and while we watched we heard desultory firing, and saw,
here and there along the ridge, the smoke-puff of an exploding
shell. It was incredibly strange to stand there, among the vines
humming with summer insects, and to look out over a peaceful country
heavy with the coming vintage, knowing that the trees at our feet
hid a line of gun-boats that were crashing death into those two
white scorings on the hill.

Rheims itself brings one nearer to the war by its look of deathlike
desolation. The paralysis of the bombarded towns is one of the most
tragic results of the invasion. One's soul revolts at this senseless
disorganizing of innumerable useful activities. Compared with the
towns of the north, Rheims is relatively unharmed; but for that very
reason the arrest of life seems the more futile and cruel. The
Cathedral square was deserted, all the houses around it were closed.
And there, before us, rose the Cathedral--_a_ cathedral, rather, for
it was not the one we had always known. It was, in fact, not like
any cathedral on earth. When the German bombardment began, the west
front of Rheims was covered with scaffolding: the shells set it on
fire, and the whole church was wrapped in flames. Now the
scaffolding is gone, and in the dull provincial square there stands
a structure so strange and beautiful that one must search the
Inferno, or some tale of Eastern magic, for words to picture the
luminous unearthly vision. The lower part of the front has been
warmed to deep tints of umber and burnt siena. This rich burnishing
passes, higher up, through yellowish-pink and carmine, to a sulphur
whitening to ivory; and the recesses of the portals and the hollows
behind the statues are lined with a black denser and more velvety
than any effect of shadow to be obtained by sculptured relief. The
interweaving of colour over the whole blunted bruised surface
recalls the metallic tints, the peacock-and-pigeon iridescences, the
incredible mingling of red, blue, umber and yellow of the rocks
along the Gulf of AEgina. And the wonder of the impression is
increased by the sense of its evanescence; the knowledge that this
is the beauty of disease and death, that every one of the
transfigured statues must crumble under the autumn rains, that every
one of the pink or golden stones is already eaten away to the core,
that the Cathedral of Rheims is glowing and dying before us like a

August 14th.

A stone and brick chateau in a flat park with a stream running
through it. Pampas-grass, geraniums, rustic bridges, winding paths:
how _bourgeois_ and sleepy it would all seem but for the sentinel
challenging our motor at the gate!

Before the door a collie dozing in the sun, and a group of
staff-officers waiting for luncheon. Indoors, a room with handsome
tapestries, some good furniture and a table spread with the usual
military maps and aeroplane-photographs. At luncheon, the General,
the chiefs of the staff--a dozen in all--an officer from the General
Head-quarters. The usual atmosphere of _camaraderie_, confidence,
good-humour, and a kind of cheerful seriousness that I have come to
regard as characteristic of the men immersed in the actual facts of
the war. I set down this impression as typical of many such luncheon
hours along the front...

August 15th.

This morning we set out for reconquered Alsace. For reasons
unexplained to the civilian this corner of old-new France has
hitherto been inaccessible, even to highly placed French officials;
and there was a special sense of excitement in taking the road that
led to it.

We slipped through a valley or two, passed some placid villages with
vine-covered gables, and noticed that most of the signs over the
shops were German. We had crossed the old frontier unawares, and
were presently in the charming town of Massevaux. It was the Feast
of the Assumption, and mass was just over when we reached the square
before the church. The streets were full of holiday people,
well-dressed, smiling, seemingly unconscious of the war. Down the
church-steps, guided by fond mammas, came little girls in white
dresses, with white wreaths in their hair, and carrying, in baskets
slung over their shoulders, woolly lambs or blue and white Virgins.
Groups of cavalry officers stood chatting with civilians in their
Sunday best, and through the windows of the Golden Eagle we saw
active preparations for a crowded mid-day dinner. It was all as
happy and parochial as a "Hansi" picture, and the fine old gabled
houses and clean cobblestone streets made the traditional setting
for an Alsacian holiday.

At the Golden Eagle we laid in a store of provisions, and started
out across the mountains in the direction of Thann. The Vosges, at
this season, are in their short midsummer beauty, rustling with
streams, dripping with showers, balmy with the smell of firs and
braken, and of purple thyme on hot banks. We reached the top of a
ridge, and, hiding the motor behind a skirt of trees, went out into
the open to lunch on a sunny slope. Facing us across the valley was
a tall conical hill clothed with forest. That hill was
Hartmannswillerkopf, the centre of a long contest in which the
French have lately been victorious; and all about us stood other
crests and ridges from which German guns still look down on the
valley of Thann.

Thann itself is at the valley-head, in a neck between hills; a
handsome old town, with the air of prosperous stability so oddly
characteristic of this tormented region. As we drove through the
main street the pall of war-sadness fell on us again, darkening the
light and chilling the summer air. Thann is raked by the German
lines, and its windows are mostly shuttered and its streets
deserted. One or two houses in the Cathedral square have been
gutted, but the somewhat over-pinnacled and statued cathedral which
is the pride of Thann is almost untouched, and when we entered it
vespers were being sung, and a few people--mostly in black--knelt in
the nave.

No greater contrast could be imagined to the happy feast-day scene
we had left, a few miles off, at Massevaux; but Thann, in spite of
its empty streets, is not a deserted city. A vigorous life beats in
it, ready to break forth as soon as the German guns are silenced.
The French administration, working on the best of terms with the
population, are keeping up the civil activities of the town as the
Canons of the Cathedral are continuing the rites of the Church. Many
inhabitants still remain behind their closed shutters and dive down
into their cellars when the shells begin to crash; and the schools,
transferred to a neighbouring village, number over two thousand
pupils. We walked through the town, visited a vast catacomb of a
wine-cellar fitted up partly as an ambulance and partly as a shelter
for the cellarless, and saw the lamentable remains of the industrial
quarter along the river, which has been the special target of the
German guns. Thann has been industrially ruined, all its mills are
wrecked; but unlike the towns of the north it has had the good
fortune to preserve its outline, its civic personality, a face that
its children, when they come back, can recognize and take comfort

After our visit to the ruins, a diversion was suggested by the
amiable administrators of Thann who had guided our sight-seeing.
They were just off for a military tournament which the --th dragoons
were giving that afternoon in a neighboring valley, and we were
invited to go with them.

The scene of the entertainment was a meadow enclosed in an
amphitheatre of rocks, with grassy ledges projecting from the cliff
like tiers of opera-boxes. These points of vantage were partly
occupied by interested spectators and partly by ruminating cattle;
on the lowest slope, the rank and fashion of the neighbourhood was
ranged on a semi-circle of chairs, and below, in the meadow, a
lively steeple-chase was going on. The riding was extremely pretty,
as French military riding always is. Few of the mounts were
thoroughbreds--the greater number, in fact, being local cart-horses
barely broken to the saddle--but their agility and dash did the
greater credit to their riders. The lancers, in particular, executed
an effective "musical ride" about a central pennon, to the immense
satisfaction of the fashionable public in the foreground and of the
gallery on the rocks.

The audience was even more interesting than the artists. Chatting
with the ladies in the front row were the General of division and
his staff, groups of officers invited from the adjoining
Head-quarters, and most of the civil and military administrators of
the restored "Departement du Haut Rhin." All classes had turned out
in honour of the fete, and every one was in a holiday mood.
The people among whom we sat were mostly Alsatian property-owners,
many of them industrials of Thann. Some had been driven from their
homes, others had seen their mills destroyed, all had been living
for a year on the perilous edge of war, under the menace of
reprisals too hideous to picture; yet the humour prevailing was that
of any group of merry-makers in a peaceful garrison town. I have
seen nothing, in my wanderings along the front, more indicative of
the good-breeding of the French than the spirit of the ladies and
gentlemen who sat chatting with the officers on that grassy slope of

The display of _haute ecole_ was to be followed by an exhibition of
"transportation throughout the ages," headed by a Gaulish chariot
driven by a trooper with a long horsehair moustache and mistletoe
wreath, and ending in a motor of which the engine had been taken out
and replaced by a large placid white horse. Unluckily a heavy rain
began while this instructive "number" awaited its turn, and we had
to leave before Vercingetorix had led his warriors into the ring...

August 16th.

Up and up into the mountains. We started early, taking our way along
a narrow interminable valley that sloped up gradually toward the
east. The road was encumbered with a stream of hooded supply vans
drawn by mules, for we were on the way to one of the main positions
in the Vosges, and this train of provisions is kept up day and
night. Finally we reached a mountain village under fir-clad slopes,
with a cold stream rushing down from the hills. On one side of the
road was a rustic inn, on the other, among the firs, a chalet
occupied by the brigade Head-quarters. Everywhere about us swarmed
the little "chasseurs Alpins" in blue Tam o'Shanters and leather
gaiters. For a year we had been reading of these heroes of the
hills, and here we were among them, looking into their thin
weather-beaten faces and meeting the twinkle of their friendly eyes.
Very friendly they all were, and yet, for Frenchmen, inarticulate
and shy. All over the world, no doubt, the mountain silences breed
this kind of reserve, this shrinking from the glibness of the
valleys. Yet one had fancied that French fluency must soar as high
as Mont Blanc.

Mules were brought, and we started on a long ride up the mountain.
The way led first over open ledges, with deep views into valleys
blue with distance, then through miles of forest, first of beech and
fir, and finally all of fir. Above the road the wooded slopes rose
interminably and here and there we came on tiers of mules, three or
four hundred together, stabled under the trees, in stalls dug out of
different levels of the slope. Near by were shelters for the men,
and perhaps at the next bend a village of "trappers' huts," as the
officers call the log-cabins they build in this region. These
colonies are always bustling with life: men busy cleaning their
arms, hauling material for new cabins, washing or mending their
clothes, or carrying down the mountain from the camp-kitchen the
two-handled pails full of steaming soup. The kitchen is always in
the most protected quarter of the camp, and generally at some
distance in the rear. Other soldiers, their job over, are lolling
about in groups, smoking, gossiping or writing home, the "Soldiers'
Letter-pad" propped on a patched blue knee, a scarred fist
laboriously driving the fountain pen received in hospital. Some are
leaning over the shoulder of a pal who has just received a Paris
paper, others chuckling together at the jokes of their own French
journal--the "Echo du Ravin," the "Journal des Poilus," or the
"Diable Bleu": little papers ground out in purplish script on
foolscap, and adorned with comic-sketches and a wealth of local

Higher up, under a fir-belt, at the edge of a meadow, the officer
who rode ahead signed to us to dismount and scramble after him. We
plunged under the trees, into what seemed a thicker thicket, and
found it to be a thatch of branches woven to screen the muzzles of a
battery. The big guns were all about us, crouched in these sylvan
lairs like wild beasts waiting to spring; and near each gun hovered
its attendant gunner, proud, possessive, important as a bridegroom
with his bride.

We climbed and climbed again, reaching at last a sun-and-wind-burnt
common which forms the top of one of the highest mountains in the
region. The forest was left below us and only a belt of dwarf firs
ran along the edge of the great grassy shoulder. We dismounted, the
mules were tethered among the trees, and our guide led us to an
insignificant looking stone in the grass. On one face of the stone
was cut the letter F., on the other was a D.; we stood on what, till
a year ago, was the boundary line between Republic and Empire. Since
then, in certain places, the line has been bent back a long way; but
where we stood we were still under German guns, and we had to creep
along in the shelter of the squat firs to reach the outlook on the
edge of the plateau. From there, under a sky of racing clouds, we
saw outstretched below us the Promised Land of Alsace. On one
horizon, far off in the plain, gleamed the roofs and spires of
Colmar, on the other rose the purplish heights beyond the Rhine.
Near by stood a ring of bare hills, those closest to us scarred by
ridges of upheaved earth, as if giant moles had been zigzagging over
them; and just under us, in a little green valley, lay the roofs of
a peaceful village. The earth-ridges and the peaceful village were
still German; but the French positions went down the mountain,
almost to the valley's edge; and one dark peak on the right was
already French.

We stopped at a gap in the firs and walked to the brink of the
plateau. Just under us lay a rock-rimmed lake. More zig-zag
earthworks surmounted it on all sides, and on the nearest shore was
the branched roofing of another great mule-shelter. We were looking
down at the spot to which the night-caravans of the Chasseurs Alpins
descend to distribute supplies to the fighting line.

"Who goes there? Attention! You're in sight of the lines!" a voice
called out from the firs, and our companion signed to us to move
back. We had been rather too conspicuously facing the German
batteries on the opposite slope, and our presence might have drawn
their fire on an artillery observation post installed near by. We
retreated hurriedly and unpacked our luncheon-basket on the more
sheltered side of the ridge. As we sat there in the grass, swept by
a great mountain breeze full of the scent of thyme and myrtle, while
the flutter of birds, the hum of insects, the still and busy life of
the hills went on all about us in the sunshine, the pressure of the
encircling line of death grew more intolerably real. It is not in
the mud and jokes and every-day activities of the trenches that one
most feels the damnable insanity of war; it is where it lurks like a
mythical monster in scenes to which the mind has always turned for

We had not yet made the whole tour of the mountain-top; and after
luncheon we rode over to a point where a long narrow yoke connects
it with a spur projecting directly above the German lines. We left
our mules in hiding and walked along the yoke, a mere knife-edge of
rock rimmed with dwarf vegetation. Suddenly we heard an explosion
behind us: one of the batteries we had passed on the way up was
giving tongue. The German lines roared back and for twenty minutes
the exchange of invective thundered on. The firing was almost
incessant; it seemed as if a great arch of steel were being built up
above us in the crystal air. And we could follow each curve of sound
from its incipience to its final crash in the trenches. There were
four distinct phases: the sharp bang from the cannon, the long
furious howl overhead, the dispersed and spreading noise of the
shell's explosion, and then the roll of its reverberation from cliff
to cliff. This is what we heard as we crouched in the lee of the
firs: what we saw when we looked out between them was only an
occasional burst of white smoke and red flame from one hillside, and
on the opposite one, a minute later, a brown geyser of dust.

Presently a deluge of rain descended on us, driving us back to our
mules, and down the nearest mountain-trail through rivers of mud. It
rained all the way: rained in such floods and cataracts that the
very rocks of the mountain seemed to dissolve and turn into mud. As
we slid down through it we met strings of Chasseurs Alpins coming
up, splashed to the waist with wet red clay, and leading pack-mules
so coated with it that they looked like studio models from which the
sculptor has just pulled off the dripping sheet. Lower down we came
on more "trapper" settlements, so saturated and reeking with wet
that they gave us a glimpse of what the winter months on the front
must be. No more cheerful polishing of fire-arms, hauling of
faggots, chatting and smoking in sociable groups: everybody had
crept under the doubtful shelter of branches and tarpaulins; the
whole army was back in its burrows.

August 17th.

Sunshine again for our arrival at Belfort. The invincible city lies
unpretentiously behind its green glacis and escutcheoned gates; but
the guardian Lion under the Citadel--well, the Lion is figuratively
as well as literally _a la hauteur._ With the sunset flush
on him, as he crouched aloft in his red lair below the fort, he
might almost have claimed kin with his mighty prototypes of the
Assarbanipal frieze. One wondered a little, seeing whose work he
was; but probably it is easier for an artist to symbolize an heroic
town than the abstract and elusive divinity who sheds light on the
world from New York harbour.

From Belfort back into reconquered Alsace the road runs through a
gentle landscape of fields and orchards. We were bound for
Dannemarie, one of the towns of the plain, and a centre of the new
administration. It is the usual "gros bourg" of Alsace, with
comfortable old houses in espaliered gardens: dull, well-to-do,
contented; not in the least the kind of setting demanded by the
patriotism which has to be fed on pictures of little girls singing
the Marseillaise in Alsatian head-dresses and old men with operatic
waistcoats tottering forward to kiss the flag. What we saw at
Dannemarie was less conspicuous to the eye but much more nourishing
to the imagination. The military and civil administrators had the
kindness and patience to explain their work and show us something of
its results; and the visit left one with the impression of a slow
and quiet process of adaptation wisely planned and fruitfully
carried out. We _did_, in fact, hear the school-girls of Dannemarie
sing the Marseillaise--and the boys too--but, what was far more
interesting, we saw them studying under the direction of the
teachers who had always had them in charge, and found that
everywhere it had been the aim of the French officials to let the
routine of the village policy go on undisturbed. The German signs
remain over the shop-fronts except where the shop-keepers have
chosen to paint them out; as is happening more and more frequently.
When a functionary has to be replaced he is chosen from the same
town or the same district, and even the _personnel_ of the civil and
military administration is mainly composed of officers and civilians
of Alsatian stock. The heads of both these departments, who
accompanied us on our rounds, could talk to the children and old
people in German as well as in their local dialect; and, as far as a
passing observer could discern, it seemed as though everything had
been done to reduce to a minimum the sense of strangeness and
friction which is inevitable in the transition from one rule to
another. The interesting point was that this exercise of tact and
tolerance seemed to proceed not from any pressure of expediency but
from a sympathetic understanding of the point of view of this people
of the border. I heard in Dannemarie not a syllable of lyrical
patriotism or post-card sentimentality, but only a kindly and
impartial estimate of facts as they were and must be dealt with.

August 18th.

Today again we started early for the mountains. Our road ran more to
the westward, through the heart of the Vosges, and up to a fold of
the hills near the borders of Lorraine. We stopped at a
Head-quarters where a young officer of dragoons was to join us, and
learned from him that we were to be allowed to visit some of the
first-line trenches which we had looked out on from a high-perched
observation post on our former visit to the Vosges. Violent fighting
was going on in that particular region, and after a climb of an hour
or two we had to leave the motor at a sheltered angle of the road
and strike across the hills on foot. Our path lay through the
forest, and every now and then we caught a glimpse of the high-road
running below us in full view of the German batteries. Presently we
reached a point where the road was screened by a thick growth of
trees behind which an observation post had been set up. We scrambled
down and looked through the peephole. Just below us lay a valley
with a village in its centre, and to the left and right of the
village were two hills, the one scored with French, the other with
German trenches. The village, at first sight, looked as normal as
those through which we had been passing; but a closer inspection
showed that its steeple was shattered and that some of its houses
were unroofed. Part of it was held by German, part by French troops.
The cemetery adjoining the church, and a quarry just under it,
belonged to the Germans; but a line of French trenches ran from the
farther side of the church up to the French batteries on the right
hand hill. Parallel with this line, but starting from the other side
of the village, was a hollow lane leading up to a single tree. This
lane was a German trench, protected by the guns of the left hand
hill; and between the two lay perhaps fifty yards of ground. All
this was close under us; and closer still was a slope of open ground
leading up to the village and traversed by a rough cart-track. Along
this track in the hot sunshine little French soldiers, the size of
tin toys, were scrambling up with bags and loads of faggots, their
ant-like activity as orderly and untroubled as if the two armies had
not lain trench to trench a few yards away. It was one of those
strange and contradictory scenes of war that bring home to the
bewildered looker-on the utter impossibility of picturing how the
thing _really happens._

While we stood watching we heard the sudden scream of a battery
close above us. The crest of the hill we were climbing was alive
with "Seventy-fives," and the piercing noise seemed to burst out at
our very backs. It was the most terrible war-shriek I had heard: a
kind of wolfish baying that called up an image of all the dogs of
war simultaneously tugging at their leashes. There is a dreadful
majesty in the sound of a distant cannonade; but these yelps and
hisses roused only thoughts of horror. And there, on the opposite
slope, the black and brown geysers were beginning to spout up from
the German trenches; and from the batteries above them came the puff
and roar of retaliation. Below us, along the cart-track, the little
French soldiers continued to scramble up peacefully to the
dilapidated village; and presently a group of officers of dragoons,
emerging from the wood, came down to welcome us to their

We continued to climb through the forest, the cannonade still
whistling overhead, till we reached the most elaborate trapper
colony we had yet seen. Half underground, walled with logs, and
deeply roofed by sods tufted with ferns and moss, the cabins were
scattered under the trees and connected with each other by paths
bordered with white stones. Before the Colonel's cabin the soldiers
had made a banked-up flower-bed sown with annuals; and farther up
the slope stood a log chapel, a mere gable with a wooden altar under
it, all tapestried with ivy and holly. Near by was the chaplain's
subterranean dwelling. It was reached by a deep cutting with
ivy-covered sides, and ivy and fir-boughs masked the front. This
sylvan retreat had just been completed, and the officers, the
chaplain, and the soldiers loitering near by, were all equally eager
to have it seen and hear it praised.

The commanding officer, having done the honours of the camp, led us
about a quarter of a mile down the hillside to an open cutting which
marked the beginning of the trenches. From the cutting we passed
into a long tortuous burrow walled and roofed with carefully fitted
logs. The earth floor was covered by a sort of wooden lattice. The
only light entering this tunnel was a faint ray from an occasional
narrow slit screened by branches; and beside each of these
peep-holes hung a shield-shaped metal shutter to be pushed over it
in case of emergency.

The passage wound down the hill, almost doubling on itself, in order
to give a view of all the surrounding lines. Presently the roof
became much higher, and we saw on one side a curtained niche about
five feet above the floor. One of the officers pulled the curtain
back, and there, on a narrow shelf, a gun between his knees, sat a
dragoon, his eyes on a peep-hole. The curtain was hastily drawn
again behind his motionless figure, lest the faint light at his back
should betray him. We passed by several of these helmeted watchers,
and now and then we came to a deeper recess in which a mitrailleuse
squatted, its black nose thrust through a net of branches. Sometimes
the roof of the tunnel was so low that we had to bend nearly double;
and at intervals we came to heavy doors, made of logs and sheeted
with iron, which shut off one section from another. It is hard to
guess the distance one covers in creeping through an unlit passage
with different levels and countless turnings; but we must have
descended the hillside for at least a mile before we came out into a
half-ruined farmhouse. This building, which had kept nothing but its
outer walls and one or two partitions between the rooms, had been
transformed into an observation post. In each of its corners a
ladder led up to a little shelf on the level of what was once the
second story, and on the shelf sat a dragoon at his peep-hole.
Below, in the dilapidated rooms, the usual life of a camp was going
on. Some of the soldiers were playing cards at a kitchen table,
others mending their clothes, or writing letters or chuckling
together (not too loud) over a comic newspaper. It might have been a
scene anywhere along the second-line trenches but for the lowered
voices, the suddenness with which I was drawn back from a slit in
the wall through which I had incautiously peered, and the presence
of these helmeted watchers overhead.

We plunged underground again and began to descend through another
darker and narrower tunnel. In the upper one there had been one or
two roofless stretches where one could straighten one's back and
breathe; but here we were in pitch blackness, and saved from
breaking our necks only by the gleam of the pocket-light which the
young lieutenant who led the party shed on our path. As he whisked
it up and down to warn us of sudden steps or sharp corners he
remarked that at night even this faint glimmer was forbidden, and
that it was a bad job going back and forth from the last outpost
till one had learned the turnings.

The last outpost was a half-ruined farmhouse like the other. A
telephone connected it with Head-quarters and more dumb dragoons sat
motionless on their lofty shelves. The house was shut off from the
tunnel by an armoured door, and the orders were that in case of
attack that door should be barred from within and the access to the
tunnel defended to the death by the men in the outpost. We were on
the extreme verge of the defences, on a slope just above the village
over which we had heard the artillery roaring a few hours earlier.
The spot where we stood was raked on all sides by the enemy's lines,
and the nearest trenches were only a few yards away. But of all this
nothing was really perceptible or comprehensible to me. As far as my
own observation went, we might have been a hundred miles from the
valley we had looked down on, where the French soldiers were walking
peacefully up the cart-track in the sunshine. I only knew that we
had come out of a black labyrinth into a gutted house among
fruit-trees, where soldiers were lounging and smoking, and people
whispered as they do about a death-bed. Over a break in the walls I
saw another gutted farmhouse close by in another orchard: it was an
enemy outpost, and silent watchers in helmets of another shape sat
there watching on the same high shelves. But all this was infinitely
less real and terrible than the cannonade above the disputed
village. The artillery had ceased and the air was full of summer
murmurs. Close by on a sheltered ledge I saw a patch of vineyard
with dewy cobwebs hanging to the vines. I could not understand where
we were, or what it was all about, or why a shell from the enemy
outpost did not suddenly annihilate us. And then, little by little,
there came over me the sense of that mute reciprocal watching from
trench to trench: the interlocked stare of innumerable pairs of
eyes, stretching on, mile after mile, along the whole sleepless line
from Dunkerque to Belfort.

My last vision of the French front which I had traveled from end to
end was this picture of a shelled house where a few men, who sat
smoking and playing cards in the sunshine, had orders to hold out to
the death rather than let their fraction of that front be broken.


Nobody now asks the question that so often, at the beginning of the
war, came to me from the other side of the world: "_What is France
like?"_ Every one knows what France has proved to be like: from
being a difficult problem she has long since become a luminous

Nevertheless, to those on whom that illumination has shone only from
far off, there may still be something to learn about its component
elements; for it has come to consist of many separate rays, and the
weary strain of the last year has been the spectroscope to decompose
them. From the very beginning, when one felt the effulgence as the
mere pale brightness before dawn, the attempt to define it was
irresistible. "There _is_ a tone--" the tingling sense of it was in
the air from the first days, the first hours--"but what does it
consist in? And just how is one aware of it?" In those days the
answer was comparatively easy. The tone of France after the
declaration of war was the white glow of dedication: a great
nation's collective impulse (since there is no English equivalent
for that winged word, _elan_ ) to resist destruction. But at that
time no one knew what the resistance was to cost, how long it would
have to last, what sacrifices, material and moral, it would
necessitate. And for the moment baser sentiments were silenced:
greed, self-interest, pusillanimity seemed to have been purged from
the race. The great sitting of the Chamber, that almost religious
celebration of defensive union, really expressed the opinion of the
whole people. It is fairly easy to soar to the empyrean when one is
carried on the wings of such an impulse, and when one does not know
how long one is to be kept suspended at the breathing-limit.

But there is a term to the flight of the most soaring _elan_. It is
likely, after a while, to come back broken-winged and resign itself
to barn-yard bounds. National judgments cannot remain for long above
individual feelings; and you cannot get a national "tone" out of
anything less than a whole nation. The really interesting thing,
therefore, was to see, as the war went on, and grew into a calamity
unheard of in human annals, how the French spirit would meet it, and
what virtues extract from it.

The war has been a calamity unheard of; but France has never been
afraid of the unheard of. No race has ever yet so audaciously
dispensed with old precedents; as none has ever so revered their
relics. It is a great strength to be able to walk without the
support of analogies; and France has always shown that strength in
times of crisis. The absorbing question, as the war went on, was to
discover how far down into the people this intellectual audacity
penetrated, how instinctive it had become, and how it would endure
the strain of prolonged inaction.

There was never much doubt about the army. When a warlike race has
an invader on its soil, the men holding back the invader can never
be said to be inactive. But behind the army were the waiting
millions to whom that long motionless line in the trenches might
gradually have become a mere condition of thought, an accepted
limitation to all sorts of activities and pleasures. The danger was
that such a war--static, dogged, uneventful--might gradually cramp
instead of enlarging the mood of the lookers-on. Conscription, of
course, was there to minimize this danger. Every one was sharing
alike in the glory and the woe. But the glory was not of a kind to
penetrate or dazzle. It requires more imagination to see the halo
around tenacity than around dash; and the French still cling to the
view that they are, so to speak, the patentees and proprietors of
dash, and much less at home with his dull drudge of a partner. So
there was reason to fear, in the long run, a gradual but
irresistible disintegration, not of public opinion, but of something
subtler and more fundamental: public sentiment. It was possible that
civilian France, while collectively seeming to remain at the same
height, might individually deteriorate and diminish in its attitude
toward the war.

The French would not be human, and therefore would not be
interesting, if one had not perceived in them occasional symptoms of
such a peril. There has not been a Frenchman or a Frenchwoman--save
a few harmless and perhaps nervous theorizers--who has wavered about
the military policy of the country; but there have naturally been
some who have found it less easy than they could have foreseen to
live up to the sacrifices it has necessitated. Of course there have
been such people: one would have had to postulate them if they had
not come within one's experience. There have been some to whom it
was harder than they imagined to give up a certain way of living, or
a certain kind of breakfast-roll; though the French, being
fundamentally temperate, are far less the slaves of the luxuries
they have invented than are the other races who have adopted these

There have been many more who found the sacrifice of personal
happiness--of all that made life livable, or one's country worth
fighting for--infinitely harder than the most apprehensive
imagination could have pictured. There have been mothers and widows
for whom a single grave, or the appearance of one name on the
missing list, has turned the whole conflict into an idiot's tale.
There have been many such; but there have apparently not been enough
to deflect by a hair's breadth the subtle current of public
sentiment; unless it is truer, as it is infinitely more inspiring,
to suppose that, of this company of blinded baffled sufferers,
almost all have had the strength to hide their despair and to say of
the great national effort which has lost most of its meaning to
them: "Though it slay me, yet will I trust in it." That is probably
the finest triumph of the tone of France: that its myriad fiery
currents flow from so many hearts made insensible by suffering, that
so many dead hands feed its undying lamp.

This does not in the least imply that resignation is the prevailing
note in the tone of France. The attitude of the French people, after
fourteen months of trial, is not one of submission to unparalleled
calamity. It is one of exaltation, energy, the hot resolve to
dominate the disaster. In all classes the feeling is the same: every
word and every act is based on the resolute ignoring of any
alternative to victory. The French people no more think of a
compromise than people would think of facing a flood or an
earthquake with a white flag.

Two questions are likely to be put to any observer of the struggle
who risks such assertions. What, one may be asked, are the proofs of
this national tone? And what conditions and qualities seem to
minister to it?

The proofs, now that "the tumult and the shouting dies," and
civilian life has dropped back into something like its usual
routine, are naturally less definable than at the outset. One of the
most evident is the spirit in which all kinds of privations are
accepted. No one who has come in contact with the work-people and
small shop-keepers of Paris in the last year can fail to be struck
by the extreme dignity and grace with which doing without things is
practised. The Frenchwoman leaning in the door of her empty
_boutique_ still wears the smile with which she used to calm the
impatience of crowding shoppers. The seam-stress living on the
meagre pay of a charity work-room gives her day's sewing as
faithfully as if she were working for full wages in a fashionable
_atelier_, and never tries, by the least hint of private
difficulties, to extract additional help. The habitual cheerfulness
of the Parisian workwoman rises, in moments of sorrow, to the finest
fortitude. In a work-room where many women have been employed since
the beginning of the war, a young girl of sixteen heard late one
afternoon that her only brother had been killed. She had a moment of
desperate distress; but there was a big family to be helped by her
small earnings, and the next morning punctually she was back at
work. In this same work-room the women have one half-holiday in the
week, without reduction of pay; yet if an order has to be rushed
through for a hospital they give up that one afternoon as gaily as
if they were doing it for their pleasure. But if any one who has
lived for the last year among the workers and small tradesmen of
Paris should begin to cite instances of endurance, self-denial and
secret charity, the list would have no end. The essential of it all
is the spirit in which these acts are accomplished.

The second question: What are the conditions and qualities that have
produced such results? is less easy to answer. The door is so
largely open to conjecture that every explanation must depend
largely on the answerer's personal bias. But one thing is certain.
France has not achieved her present tone by the sacrifice of any of
her national traits, but rather by their extreme keying up;
therefore the surest way of finding a clue to that tone is to try to
single out whatever distinctively "French" characteristics--or those
that appear such to the envious alien--have a direct bearing on the
present attitude of France. Which (one must ask) of all their
multiple gifts most help the French today to be what they are in
just the way they are?

_Intelligence!_ is the first and instantaneous answer. Many French
people seem unaware of this. They are sincerely persuaded that the
curbing of their critical activity has been one of the most
important and useful results of the war. One is told that, in a
spirit of patriotism, this fault-finding people has learned not to
find fault. Nothing could be more untrue. The French, when they have
a grievance, do not air it in the _Times:_ their forum is the cafe
and not the newspaper. But in the cafe they are talking as freely as
ever, discriminating as keenly and judging as passionately. The
difference is that the very exercise of their intelligence on a
problem larger and more difficult than any they have hitherto faced
has freed them from the dominion of most of the prejudices,
catch-words and conventions that directed opinion before the war.
Then their intelligence ran in fixed channels; now it has overflowed
its banks.

This release has produced an immediate readjusting of all the
elements of national life. In great trials a race is tested by its
values; and the war has shown the world what are the real values of
France. Never for an instant has this people, so expert in the great
art of living, imagined that life consisted in being alive.
Enamoured of pleasure and beauty, dwelling freely and frankly in the
present, they have yet kept their sense of larger meanings, have
understood life to be made up of many things past and to come, of
renunciation as well as satisfaction, of traditions as well as
experiments, of dying as much as of living. Never have they
considered life as a thing to be cherished in itself, apart from its
reactions and its relations.

Intelligence first, then, has helped France to be what she is; and
next, perhaps, one of its corollaries, _expression_. The French are
the first to laugh at themselves for running to words: they seem to
regard their gift for expression as a weakness, a possible deterrent
to action. The last year has not confirmed that view. It has rather
shown that eloquence is a supplementary weapon. By "eloquence" I
naturally do not mean public speaking, nor yet the rhetorical
writing too often associated with the word. Rhetoric is the
dressing-up of conventional sentiment, eloquence the fearless
expression of real emotion. And this gift of the fearless expression
of emotion--fearless, that is, of ridicule, or of indifference in
the hearer--has been an inestimable strength to France. It is a sign
of the high average of French intelligence that feeling well-worded
can stir and uplift it; that "words" are not half shamefacedly
regarded as something separate from, and extraneous to, emotion, or
even as a mere vent for it, but as actually animating and forming
it. Every additional faculty for exteriorizing states of feeling,
giving them a face and a language, is a moral as well as an artistic
asset, and Goethe was never wiser than when he wrote:

"A god gave me the voice to speak my pain."

It is not too much to say that the French are at this moment drawing
a part of their national strength from their language. The piety
with which they have cherished and cultivated it has made it a
precious instrument in their hands. It can say so beautifully what
they feel that they find strength and renovation in using it; and
the word once uttered is passed on, and carries the same help to
others. Countless instances of such happy expression could be cited
by any one who has lived the last year in France. On the bodies of
young soldiers have been found letters of farewell to their parents
that made one think of some heroic Elizabethan verse; and the
mothers robbed of these sons have sent them an answering cry of

"Thank you," such a mourner wrote me the other day, "for having
understood the cruelty of our fate, and having pitied us. Thank you
also for having exalted the pride that is mingled with our
unutterable sorrow." Simply that, and no more; but she might have
been speaking for all the mothers of France.

When the eloquent expression of feeling does not issue in action--or
at least in a state of mind equivalent to action--it sinks to the
level of rhetoric; but in France at this moment expression and
conduct supplement and reflect each other. And this brings me to the
other great attribute which goes to making up the tone of France:
the quality of courage. It is not unintentionally that it comes last
on my list. French courage is courage rationalized, courage thought
out, and found necessary to some special end; it is, as much as any
other quality of the French temperament, the result of French

No people so sensitive to beauty, so penetrated with a passionate
interest in life, so endowed with the power to express and
immortalize that interest, can ever really enjoy destruction for its
own sake. The French hate "militarism." It is stupid, inartistic,
unimaginative and enslaving; there could not be four better French
reasons for detesting it. Nor have the French ever enjoyed the
savage forms of sport which stimulate the blood of more apathetic or
more brutal races. Neither prize-fighting nor bull-fighting is of
the soil in France, and Frenchmen do not settle their private
differences impromptu with their fists: they do it, logically and
with deliberation, on the duelling-ground. But when a national
danger threatens, they instantly become what they proudly and justly
call themselves--"a warlike nation"--and apply to the business in
hand the ardour, the imagination, the perseverance that have made
them for centuries the great creative force of civilization. Every
French soldier knows why he is fighting, and why, at this moment,
physical courage is the first quality demanded of him; every
Frenchwoman knows why war is being waged, and why her moral courage
is needed to supplement the soldier's contempt of death.

The women of France are supplying this moral courage in act as well
as in word. Frenchwomen, as a rule, are perhaps less instinctively
"courageous," in the elementary sense, than their Anglo-Saxon
sisters. They are afraid of more things, and are less ashamed of
showing their fear. The French mother coddles her children, the boys
as well as the girls: when they tumble and bark their knees they are
expected to cry, and not taught to control themselves as English and
American children are. I have seen big French boys bawling over a
cut or a bruise that an Anglo-Saxon girl of the same age would have
felt compelled to bear without a tear. Frenchwomen are timid for
themselves as well as for their children. They are afraid of the
unexpected, the unknown, the experimental. It is not part of the
Frenchwoman's training to pretend to have physical courage. She has
not the advantage of our discipline in the hypocrisies of "good
form" when she is called on to be brave, she must draw her courage
from her brains. She must first be convinced of the necessity of
heroism; after that she is fit to go bridle to bridle with Jeanne

The same display of reasoned courage is visible in the hasty
adaptation of the Frenchwoman to all kinds of uncongenial jobs.
Almost every kind of service she has been called to render since the
war began has been fundamentally uncongenial. A French doctor once
remarked to me that Frenchwomen never make really good sick-nurses
except when they are nursing their own people. They are too
personal, too emotional, and too much interested in more interesting
things, to take to the fussy details of good nursing, except when it
can help some one they care for. Even then, as a rule, they are not
systematic or tidy; but they make up for these deficiencies by
inexhaustible willingness and sympathy. And it has been easy for
them to become good war-nurses, because every Frenchwoman who nurses
a French soldier feels that she is caring for her kin. The French
war-nurse sometimes mislays an instrument or forgets to sterilize a
dressing; but she almost always finds the consoling word to say and
the right tone to take with her wounded soldiers. That profound
solidarity which is one of the results of conscription flowers, in
war-time, in an exquisite and impartial devotion.

This, then, is what "France is like." The whole civilian part of the
nation seems merged in one symbolic figure, carrying help and hope
to the fighters or passionately bent above the wounded. The
devotion, the self-denial, seem instinctive; but they are really
based on a reasoned knowledge of the situation and on an unflinching
estimate of values. All France knows today that real "life" consists
in the things that make it worth living, and that these things, for
France, depend on the free expression of her national genius. If
France perishes as an intellectual light and as a moral force every
Frenchman perishes with her; and the only death that Frenchmen fear
is not death in the trenches but death by the extinction of their
national ideal. It is against this death that the whole nation is
fighting; and it is the reasoned recognition of their peril which,
at this moment, is making the most intelligent people in the world
the most sublime.


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