Boston and New York
Houghton Mifflin Company
The Riverside Press Cambridge
Fig. 1. Pont-à-Mousson, the Moselle and the Bois-le-Prêtre before the war.
The Bois-le-Prêtre is the high ridge seen along the skyline
above the church in the foreground.
PROFESSOR CHARLES TOWNSEND COPELAND
OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY
At Verdun I thought of you, and the friendly hearth of Hollis It seemed very far away from the deserted, snow-swept streets of the tragic city. Then suddenly I remembered how you had encouraged me and many others to go over and help in any way that we could; I remembered your keen understanding of the Epic, and the deep sympathy with human beings which you taught those whose privilege it was to be your pupils. And so you did not seem so far away after all, but closer to the heart of the war than any other friend I had.
I dedicate this book to you with grateful affection after many years of friendship.
I HAVE ventured to call this book A Volunteer Poilu principally because we were known to the soldiers of the Bois-le-Prêtre as "les Poilus Américains." Then, too, it was my ambition to do for my comrades, the French private soldiers, what other books have done for the soldiers of other armies. The title chosen, however, was more than complimentary; it was but just. In recognition of the work of the Section during the summer, it was, in October, 1915, formally adopted into the French army; a French officer became its administrative head, and the drivers were given the same papers, pay, and discipline as their French comrades.
I wish to thank many of my old friends of Section II, who have aided me in the writing of this book.
I. THE ROCHAMBEAU S'EN VA-T-EN GUERRE
A war-time voyage --- The Rochambeau ---Loading ammunition and food supplies --- Personalities on board --- The dyestuffs agent --- The machine lathes man --- The Swede from Minnesota who was on his way to the Foreign Legion --- His subsequent history --- The talk aboard --- The French officer --- His philosophy of war --- Ernest Psichari --- Arrival at Bordeaux --- The Arabs at the docks --- The convalescent soldiers ---Across La Beauce ---The French countryside in war-time.
II. AN UNKNOWN PARIS IN THE NIGHT AND RAIN
Paris, rain, and darkness --- The Gardens of the Tuileries --- The dormitory --- The hospital at night --- Beginning of the Champagne offensive --- The Gare de la Chapelle at two in the morning --- The wounded --- The Zouave stretcher-bearers --The Arabs in the abandoned school ---Suburban Paris at dawn --- The home of the deaconesses.
III. THE GREAT SWATHE OF THE LINES
Nancy --- The porter's story --- Getting to the front --- What the phrase "the front" really means ---The sense of the front ---The shell zone --- The zone of quiet --- My quarters in the shelled house ---The fire shells --- Bombarded at night --- Death of the soldier fireman.
IV. LA FORÊT DE BOIS-LE-PRÊTRE
Le Bois-le-Prêtre --- Description-History ---Les Glycines, "Wisteria Villa" -The Road to the trenches --- At the trenches --- The painter's idea of "le sinistre dans l'art" --- The sign post --- The zone of violence --- The Quart-en-Réserve --- The village caught in the torment of the lines --- The dead on the barbed wire --- "The Road to Metz."
V. THE TRENCHES IN THE "WOOD OF DEATH."
The Trenches --- Organization --- Nature of the war --- Food, shelters, clothing, ammunition, etc. ---A typical day in the trenches --- Trench shells or "crapouilots" --- In the abri --- The tunnel --- The doctrinaire lieutenant of engineers.
VI. THE GERMANS ATTACK
The piano at Montauville --- An interrupted concert --- At the Quart --- The battle for the ridge of the Wood --- Fall of the German aeroplane --- Psychology of the men in the trenches --- Religion in the trenches.
VII. THE TOWN IN THE TRENCHES
Poor old " Pont " --- Description of the town --- A civilian's story --- The house of the Captain of the Papal Zouaves --- Church of St. Laurent --- The Cemetery and its guardian.
VIII. MESSIEURS LES POILUS DE LA GRANDE GUERRE
En repos-- -A village of troops --- Manners and morals --- The concert --- The journal of the Bois-le-Prêtre --- Various poilus.
IX. PREPARING THE DEFENSE OF VERDUN
En permission --- State of France --- The France of 1905 and the France of 1915 --The class of 1917 --- Bar-le-Duc: --- The air raid --- Called to Verdun.
X. THE GREAT DAYS OF VERDUN
Verdun in 1912 --- Verdun on the night of the first great attack --- The hospital --- The shelled cross road ---The air shell --The pastry cook's story --- The cultivateur of the Valois and the crater at Douaumont ---The pompiers of Verdun---"Do you want to see an odd sight?"---Verdun in storm and desolation.
Map of area
|PONT-À-MOUSSON, THE MOSELLE, AND THE BOIS-LE-PRÊTRE BEFORE THE WAR|
|BURLAP SCREENS TO HIDE THE ROAD FROM THE GERMANS|
|CARRYING DOWN THE DEAD AFTER THE ATTACK|
|READY FOR GAS --- A BRAZIER AND A BOTTLE OF GASOLENE|
|"A PACKAGE FOR FRITZ"|
|THE ROAD TO METZ|
|THE DÉBRIS OF A FALLEN GERMAN AEROPLANE|
|THE TRENCH JOURNAL OF THE BOIS-LE-PRÊTRE (FRONT)|
|THE TRENCH JOURNAL OF THE BOIS-LE-PRÊTRE (REVERSE)|
A Volunteer Poilu
THE ROCHAMBEAU S'EN VA-T-EN GUERRE
MOORED alongside a great two-storied pier, with her bow to the land, the cargo and passenger boat, Rochambeau, of the Compagnie Générale was being loaded with American supplies for the France of the Great War. A hot August sun struck spots and ripples of glancing radiance from the viscous, oily surface of the foul basin in which she lay inert; the air was full of sounds, the wheezing of engines, the rattling of cog-checks, and the rumble of wheels and hoofs which swept, in sultry puffs of noise and odor, from, the pavements on the land. Falling from the exhausts, a round, silvery-white cascade poured into the dark lane between the wharf and the deck, and sounded a monotonous, roaring underchord to the intermingled dins. At the sun-bathed bow, a derrick gang lowered bags of flour into the open well of the hold; there were commands in French, a chugging, and a hissing of steam, and a giant's dutch of dusty, hundred-kilo flour-bags from Duluth would swing from the wharf to the Rochambeau, sink, and disappear. In some way the unfamiliar language, and the sight of the thickset, French sailor-men, so evidently all of one race, made the Rochambeau, moored in the shadow of the sky-scrapers, seem mysteriously alien. But among the workers in the hold, who could be seen when they stood on the floor of the open hatchway, was a young, red-headed, American longshoreman clad in the trousers part of a suit of brown-check overalls; sweat and grime had befouled his rather foolish, freckled face, and every time that a bunch of flour-bags tumbled to the floor of the well, he would cry to an invisible somebody --- "More dynamite, Joe, more dynamite!"
Walking side by side, like ushers in a wedding procession, two of the ship's officers made interminable rounds of the deck. Now and then they stopped and looked over the rail at the loading operations, and once in low tones they discussed the day's communiqué. "Pas grand' chose" (not much of anything), said he whom I took to be the elder, a bearded, seafaring kind of man. "We have occupied a crater in the Argonne, and driven back a German patrol (une patrouille Boche) in the region of Nomény." The younger, blond, pale, with a wispy yellow mustache, listened casually, his eyes fixed on the turbulence below. The derrick gang were now stowing away clusters of great wooden boxes marked the Something Arms Company. "My brother says that American bullets are filled with powder of a very good quality " (d'une très bonne qualité), remarked the latter. "By the way, how is your brother?" asked the bearded man. "Very much better," answered the other; "the last fragment (éclat) was taken out of his thigh just before we left Bordeaux." They continued their walk, and three little French boys wearing English sailor hats took their places at the rail.
As the afternoon advanced, a yellow summer sun, sinking to a level with the upper fringes of the city haze, gave a signal for farewells; and little groups retired to quieter corners for good-byes. There was a good deal of worrying about submarines; one heard fragments of conversations --- "They never trouble the Bordeaux route" --- "Absolutely safe, je t'assure "; and in the accents of Iowa the commanding advice, "Now, don't worry!" "Good-bye, Jim! Good-bye, Maggie!" cried a rotund, snappy American drummer, and was answered with cheery, honest wishes for "the success of his business." Two young Americans with the same identical oddity of gait walked to and fro, and a little black Frenchman, with a frightful star-shaped scar at the corner of his mouth, paraded lonelily. A middle-aged French woman, rouged and dyed back to the thirties, and standing in a nimbus of perfume, wept at the going of a younger woman, and ruined an elaborate make-up with grotesque traceries of tears. "Give him my love," she sobbed; "tell him that the business is doing splendidly and that he is not to buy any of Lafitte's laces next time he goes to Paris en permission." A little later, the Rochambeau, with slow majesty, backed into the channel, and turned her bow to the east.
The chief interest of the great majority of her passengers was commercial; there were American drummers keen to line their pockets with European profits; there were French commis voyageurs who had been selling articles of French manufacture which had formerly been made by the Germans; there were half-official persons who had been on missions to American ammunition works; and there was a diplomat or two. From the sample trunks on board you could have taken anything from a pair of boots to a time fuse. Altogether, an interesting lot. Palandeau, a middle-aged Frenchman with a domed, bald forehead like Socrates or Verlaine, had been in America selling eau-de-cologne.
"Then you are getting out something new?" I asked.
"Yes, and no," he answered. "Our product is the old-fashioned eau-de-cologne water with the name 'Farina' on it."
"But in America we associate eau-de-cologne with the Germans," said I. "Does n't the bottle say 'Johann Maria Farina'? Surely the form of the name is German."
"But that was not his name, monsieur; he was a Frenchman, and called himself 'Jean Marie.' Yes, really, the Germans stole the manufacture from the French. Consider the name of the article, 'eau-de-cologne,' is not that French?"
"Yes," I admitted.
"Alors," said Palandeau; "the blocus has simply given us the power to reclaim trade opportunities justly ours. Therefore we have printed a new label telling the truth about Farina, and the Boche 'Johann Maria' is 'kapout.'"
"Do you sell much of it?"
"Quantities! Our product is superior to the Boche article, and has the glamour of an importation. I await the contest without uneasiness."
"When Jean Marie meets Johann Maria---après la guerre," said Palandeau with a twinkle in his eye.
In the deck chair next to mine sat a dark, powerfully built young Iowan with the intensely masculine head of a mediaeval soldier. There was a bit of curl to the dark-brown hair which swept his broad, low forehead, his brown eyes were devoid of fear or imagination, his jaw was set, and the big, aggressive head rested on a short, muscular neck. He had been a salesman of machine tools till the "selling end" came to a standstill.
"But did n't the munitions traffic boom the machine-tool industry?" I asked.
"Sure it did. You ought to have seen what people will do to get a lathe. You know about all that you need to make shells is a machine lathe. You can't get a lathe in America for love or money --- for anything" --- he made a swift, complete gesture --- "all making shells. There is n't a junk factory in America that has n't been pawed over by guys looking for lathes --- and my God! what prices! Knew a bird named Taylor who used to make water pipes in Utica, New York --- had a stinking little lathe he paid two hundred dollars for, and sold it last year for two thousand. My firm had so many orders for months ahead that it didn't pay them to have salesmen ---so they offered us jobs inside; but, God, I can't stand indoor work, so I thought I'd come over here and get into the war. I used to be in the State Cavalry. You ought to have seen how sore all those Iowa Germans were on me for going," he laughed. "Had a hell of row with a guy named Schultz."
Limping slightly, an enormous, grizzled man approached us and sat down by the side of the ex-machinist. Possibly a yellow-gray suit, cut in the bathrobe American style, made him look larger than he was, and though heavily built and stout, there was something about him which suggested ill health. One might have thought him a prosperous American business man on his way to Baden-Baden. He had a big nose, big mouth, a hard eye, and big, freckled hands which he nervously opened and closed.
"See that feller over there?" He pointed to a spectacled individual who seemed lost in melancholy speculation at the rail --- "Says he's a Belgian lieutenant. Been over here trying to get cloth. Says he can't get it, the firms over here have n't got the colors. Just think of it, there is n't a pound of Bernheim's blue in the whole country!"
"I thought we were beginning to make dyes of our own," said the Iowan.
"Oh, yes, but we haven't got the hang of it yet. The product is pretty poor. Most of the people who need dyes are afraid to use the American colors, but they've got to take what they can get. Friend of mine, Lon Seeger, of Seeger, Seeger & Hall, the carpet people in Hackensack, had twenty-five thousand dollars' worth of mats spoiled on him last week by using home dyes."
The Belgian lieutenant, still standing by the rail, was talking with another passenger, and some fragments of the conversation drifted to our ears. I caught the words --- "My sister --- quite unexpected --- barely escaped --- no doubt of it --- I myself saw near Malines --perfectly dreadful --- tout-à-fait terrible."
"Twenty-five thousand dollars' worth of mats all spoiled, colors ran, did n't set, no good. This war is raising the devil with the United States textiles. Maybe the Germans won't get a glad hand when they come back. We hear that they're going to flood the market with good, low-priced dyes so as to bust up the new American plants. Have n't you heard them hollerin' for tariff protection? I'm going over to look up a new green dye the French are getting out. We hear it's pretty good stuff. What are you boys doing, looking for contracts?"
The Iowan replied that he hoped to get into an English cavalry regiment, and I mentioned the corps I had joined.
"Well, don't get killed," exclaimed the dyestuffs agent paternally, and settled down in his chair for a nap.
It was the third day out; the ocean was still the salty green color of the American waters, and big, oily, unrippled waves were rising and falling under the August sun. From the rail I saw coming toward us over the edge of the earth, a small tramp steamer marked with two white blotches which, as the vessel neared, resolved themselves into painted reproductions of the Swedish flag. Thus passed the Thorvald, carrying a mark of the war across the lonely seas.
"That's a Swedish boat," said a voice at my elbow.
"Yes," I replied.
A boy about eighteen or nineteen, with a fine, clear complexion, a downy face, yellow hair, and blue eyes, was standing beside me. There was something psychologically wrong with his face; it had that look in it which makes you want to see if you still have your purse.
"We see that flag pretty often out in Minnesota," he continued.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Oscar Petersen," he answered.
"Going over to enlist?" I hazarded.
"You bet," he replied ---and an instant later --- "Are you?"
I told him of my intention. Possibly because we were in for the same kind of experience he later became communicative. He had run away from home at the age of fourteen, spent his sixteenth year in a reform school, and the rest of his time as a kind of gangster in Chicago. I can't imagine a more useless existence than the one he revealed. At length he "got sick of the crowd and got the bug to go to war," as he expressed it, and wrote to his people to tell them he was starting, but received no answer. " My father was a Bible cuss," he remarked cheerfully, --- "never got over my swiping the minister's watch."
A Chicago paper had printed his picture and a "story" about his going to enlist in the Foreign Legion --- "popular young man very well known in the ---th ward," said the article. He showed me, too, an extraordinary letter he had received via the newspaper, a letter written in pencil on the cheapest, shabbiest sheet of ruled note-paper, and enclosing five dollars. "I hope you will try to avenge the Lusitania," it said among other things. The letter was signed by a woman.
"Do you speak French?" I asked.
"Not a word," he replied. "I want to be put with the Americans or the Swedes. I speak good Swedish."
Months later, on furlough, I saw in a hospital at Lyons a college classmate who had served in the Foreign Legion. "Did you know a fellow named Petersen?" I asked.
"Yes, I knew him," answered my friend; "he lifted a fifty-franc note from me and got killed before I could get it back."
"How did it happen?"
"Went through my pockets, I imagine."
" Oh, no, I meant how did he get killed?"
"Stray shell sailed in as we were going through a village, and caught him and two of the other boys."
"You must not make your friend talk too much," mumbled an old Sister of Charity rather crossly.
The two young men with the same identical oddity of gait were salesmen of artificial legs, each one a wearer and demonstrator of his wares. The first, from Ohio, had lost his leg in a railroad accident two years before, and the second, a Virginian with a strong accent, had been done for in a motor-car smashup. One morning the man from Ohio gave us a kind of danse macabre on the deck; rolling his trouser leg high above his artificial shin, he walked, leaped, danced, and ran. "Can you beat that? " he asked with pardonable pride. "Think what these will mean to the soldiers." Meanwhile, with slow care, the Virginian explained the ingenious mechanism.
Strange tatters of conversation rose from the deck. "Poor child, she lost her husband at the beginning of the war " --- "Third shipment of bosses " --- "I was talking with a feller from the Atlas Steel Company" --- "Édouard is somewhere near Arras"; there were disputes about the outcome of the war, and arguments over profits. A voluble French woman, whose husband was a pastry cook in a New York hotel before he joined the forces, told me how she had wandered from one war movie to another hoping to catch a glimpse of her husband, and had finally seen "some one who resembled him strongly" on the screen in Harlem. She had a picture of him, a thin, moody fellow with great, saber whiskers like Rostand's and a high, narrow forehead curving in on the sides between the eyebrows and the hair. "He is a Chasseur alpin," she said with a good deal of pride, " and they are holding his place for him at the hotel. He was wounded last month in the shoulder. I am going to the hospital at Lyons to see him." The day's sunset was at its end, and a great mass of black clouds surged over the eastern horizon, turning the seas ahead to a leaden somberness that lowered in menacing contrast to the golden streaks of dying day. The air freshened, salvos of rain fell hissing into the dark waters, and violet cords of lightning leaped between sea and sky. Echoing thunder rolled long through unseen abysses. In the deserted salon I found the young Frenchman with the star-shaped scar reading an old copy of "La Revue." He had been an officer in the Chasseurs-à-pied until a fearful wound had incapacitated him for further service, and had then joined the staff of a great, conservative Parisian weekly. The man was a disciple of Ernest Psichari, the soldier mystic who died so superbly at Charleroi in the dreadful days before the Marne. From him I learned something of the French conception of the idea of war. It was not uninteresting to compare the French point of view with the German, and we talked late into the night while the ship was plunging through the storm. An article in the review, "La Psychologie des Barbares," was the starting-point of our conversation.
"You must remember that the word 'barbarian' which we apply to the Germans, is understood by the French intellectually," said he. "Not only do German atrocities seem barbarous, but their thought also. Consider the respective national conceptions of the idea of war. To the Germans, war is an end in itself, and in itself and in all its effects perfect and good. To the French mind, this conception of war is barbaric, for war is not good in itself and may be fatal to both victor and vanquished." (He spoke a beautiful, lucid French with a sort of military preciseness.)
"It was Ernest Psichari who revealed to us the raison d'être of arms in modern life, and taught us the meaning of war. To him, war was no savage ruée, but the discipline of history for which every nation must be prepared, a terrible discipline neither to be sought, nor rejected when proffered. Thus the Boches, once their illusion of the glory of war is smashed, have nothing to fall back on, but the French point of view is stable and makes for a good morale. Psichari was the intellectual leader of that movement for the regeneration of the army which has saved France. When the doctrines of pacificism began to be preached in France, and cries of 'A bas l'armée' were heard in the streets, Psichari showed that the army was the only institution left in our industrialized world with the old ideals and the power to teach them. Quand on a tout dit, the military ideals of honor, duty, and sacrifice of one's all for the common good are the fundamentals of character. Psichari turned this generation from a generation of dreamers to a generation of soldiers, knowing why they were soldiers, glad to be soldiers. The army saved the morale of France when the Church had lost its hold, and the public schools had been delivered to the creatures of sentimental doctrinaire government. Was it not a pity that Psichari should have died so young?"
"Did you know him?" I asked.
"Yes; I saw something of him in Africa. The mystery of the East had profoundly stirred him. He was a dark, serious fellow with something of the profile of his grandfather, Ernest Renan. At Charleroi, after an heroic stand, he and every man of his squad died beside the guns they served."
Long after, at the Bois-le-Prêtre, I went to the trenches to get a young sergeant. His friends had with clumsy kindness gathered together his little belongings and put them in the ambulance. "As tu trouvé mon livre?" (Have you found my book?) he asked anxiously, and they tossed beside the stretcher a trench-mired copy of Psichari's "L'Appel des Armes."
One morning, just at dawn, we drew near a low, sandy coast, and anchored at the mouth of the great estuary of the Gironde. A spindly lighthouse was flashing, seeming more to reflect the sunlight from outside than to be burning within, and a current the color of coffee and cream with a dash of vermilion in it, went by us mottled with patches of floating mud. From the deck one had an extraordinary view, a ten-mile sweep of the strangely colored water, the hemisphere of the heavens all of one greenish-blue tint, and a narrow strip of nondescript, sandy coast suspended somehow between the strange sea and unlovely sky. At noon, the Rochambeau. began at a good speed her journey up the river, passing tile-roofed villages and towns built of pumice-gray stone, and great flat islands covered with acres upon acres of leafy, bunchy vines. There was a scurry to the rail; some one cried, "Voilà des Boches," and I saw working in a vineyard half a dozen men in gray-green German regimentals. A poilu in a red cap was standing nonchalantly beside them. As the Rochambeau, following the channel, drew incredibly close to the bank, the Germans leaned on their hoes and watched us pass, all save one, who continued to hoe industriously round the roots of the vines, ignoring us with a Roman's disdain. "Comme ils sont laids" (How ugly they are), said a voice. There was no surprise in the tone, which expressed the expected confirmation of a past judgment. It was the pastry cook's voluble wife who had spoken. The land through which we were passing, up to that time simply the pleasant countryside of the Bordelais, turned in an instant to the France of the Great War.
Late in the afternoon, the river, slowly narrowing, turned a great bend, and the spires of Bordeaux, violet-gray in the smoky rose of early twilight, were seen just ahead. A broad, paved, dirty avenue, with the river on one side and a row of shabby houses on the other, led from the docks to the city, and down this street, marching with Oriental dignity, came a troop of Arabs. There was a picture of a fat sous-officier leading, of brown-white rags and mantles waving in the breeze blowing from the harbor, of lean, muscular, black-brown legs, and dark, impassive faces. "Algerian recruits," said an officer of the boat. It was a first glimpse at the universality of the war; it held one's mind to realize that while some were quitting their Devon crofts, others were leaving behind them the ancestral well at the edges of the ancient desert. A faint squeaking of strange pipes floated on the twilight air.
There came an official examination of our papers, done in a businesslike way, the usual rumpus of the customs, and we were free to land in France. That evening a friend and I had dinner in a great café opening on the principal square in Bordeaux, and tried to analyze the difference between the Bordeaux of the past and the Bordeaux of the war. The ornate restaurant, done in a kind of Paris Exhibition style, and decorated with ceiling frescoes of rosy, naked Olympians floating in golden mists and sapphire skies, was full of movement and light, crowds passed by on the sidewalks, there were sounds --- laughter.
"Looks just the same to me," said my friend, an American journalist who had been there in 1912. "Of course there are more soldiers. Outside of that, and a lack of taxicabs and motorcars, the town has not changed."
But there was a difference, and a great difference. There was a terrible absence of youth. Not that youth was entirely absent from the tables and the trottoirs; it was visible, putty-faced and unhealthy-looking, afraid to meet the gaze of a man in uniform, the pitiable jeunesse that could not pass the physical examination of the army. Most of the other young men who bent over the tables talking, or leaned back on a divan to smoke cigarettes, were strangers, and I saw many who were unquestionably Roumanians or Greeks. A little apart, at a corner table, a father and mother were dining with a boy in a uniform much too large for him; ---I fancied from the cut of his clothes that he belonged to a young squad still under instruction in the garrisons, and that he was enjoying a night off with his family. Screened from the rest by a clothes rack, a larky young lieutenant was discreetly conversing with a "daughter of joy," and an elderly English officer, severely proper and correct, was reading "Punch" and sipping red wine in Britannic isolation. Across the street an immense poster announced, "Conference in aid of the Belgian Red Cross --- the German--- Outrages in Louvain, Malines, and Liège --illustrated."
We finished our dinner, which was good and not costly, and started to walk to our hotel. Hardly had we turned the corner of the Place, when the life of Bordeaux went out like a torch extinguished by the wind. It was still early in the evening, there was a sound of an orchestra somewhere behind, yet ahead of us, lonely and still, with its shops closed and its sidewalks deserted, was one of the greater streets of Bordeaux. Through the drawn curtains of second stories over little groceries and baker-shops shone the yellow light of lamps. What had happened to the Jean, Paul, and Pierre of this dark street since the war began? What tragedies of sorrow and loneliness might these silent windows not conceal? And every French city is much the same; one notices in them all the subtle lack of youth, and the animation of the great squares in contrast to the somber loneliness of streets and quarters which once were alive and gay. At the Place de l'Opéra in Paris, the whirlpool of Parisian life is still turning, but the great streets leading away from the Place de l'Étoile are quiet. Young and old, laborer and shopkeeper, boulevardier and apache are far away holding the tragic lines.
The next morning at the station, I had my first glimpse of that mighty organization which surrounds the militaire. There was a special entrance for soldiers and a special exit for soldiers, and at both of these a long file of blue-clad poilus waited for the countersigning of their furlough slips and military tickets. The mud of the trenches still stained the bottom edges of their overcoats, and their steel helmets were dented and dull. There was something fine about the faces collectively; there was a certain look of tried endurance and perils bravely borne. I heard those on furlough telling the names of their home villages to the officer in charge, ---pleasant old names, Saint-Pierre aux Vignes, La Tour du Roi.
A big, obese, middle-aged civilian dressed in a hideous greenish suit, and wearing a pancake cap, sat opposite me in the compartment I had chosen. There was a hard, unfriendly look in his large, fat-encircled eyes, a big mustache curved straight out over his lips, and the short finger nails of his square, puffy fingers were deeply rimmed with dirt. He caught sight of me reading a copy of an English weekly, and after staring at me with an interest not entirely free from a certain hostility, retreated behind the pages of the "Matin," and began picking his teeth. Possibly he belonged to that provincial and prejudiced handful to whom England will always be "Perfidious Albion," or else he took me for an English civilian dodging military service. The French press was following the English recruiting campaign very closely, and the system of volunteer service was not without its critics. "Conscription being considered in England" (On discute la conscription en Angleterre), announced the "Matin" discreetly.
It was high noon; the train had arrived at Angoulême, and was taking aboard a crowd of convalescents. On the station platform, their faces relentlessly illumined by the brilliant light, stood about thirty soldiers; a few were leaning on canes, one was without a right arm, some had still the pallor of the sick, others seemed able-bodied and hearty. Every man wore on the bosom of his coat about half a dozen little aluminum medals dangling from bows of tricolor ribbon. "Pour les blessés, s'il vous plaît," cried a tall young woman in the costume and blue cape of a Red-Cross nurse as she walked along the platform shaking a tin collection box under the windows of the train.
To our compartment came three of the convalescents. One was a sturdy, farmhand sort of fellow, with yellow hair and a yellow mustache --- the kind of man who might have been a Norman; he wore khaki puttees, brown corduroy trousers, and a jacket which fitted his heavy, vigorous figure rather snugly. Another was a little soul dressed in the "blue horizon" from head to foot, a homely little soul with an egg-shaped head, brown-green eyes, a retreating chin, and irregular teeth. The last, wearing the old tenue, black jacket and red trousers, was a good-looking fellow with rather handsome brown eyes. Comfortably stretched in a corner, the Norman was deftly cutting slices of bread and meat which he offered to his companions. Catching sight of my English paper, all three stared at me with an interest and friendliness that was in psychological contrast to the attitude of the obese civilian.
" Anglais? " asked the Norman.
The civilian watched for my answer.
"Non --- Américain," I replied.
"Tiens," they said politely.
"Do you speak English? " asked the homely one. "Yes," I answered.
The Norman fished a creased dirty letter and a slip of paper from his wallet and handed them to me for inspection.
"I found them in a trench we shared with the English," he explained. "These puttees are English; a soldier gave them to me." He exhibited his legs with a good deal of satisfaction.
I examined the papers that had been given me. The first was a medical prescription for an antilice ointment and the second an illiterate letter extremely difficult to decipher, mostly about somebody whom the writer was having trouble to manage, "now that you are n't here." I translated as well as I could for an attentive audience. "Toujours les totos," they cried merrily when I explained the prescription. A spirit of good fellowship pervaded the compartment, till even the suspicious civilian unbent, and handed round post-card photographs of his two sons who were somewhere en Champagne. Not a one of the three soldiers could have been much over twenty-one, but they were not boys, but men, serious men, tried and disciplined by war. The homely one gave me one of his many medals which he wore "to please the good Sisters"; on one side in an oval of seven stars was the Virgin Mary, and on the other, the determined features of General Joffre.
Just at sundown we crossed the great plain of La Beauce. Distant villages and pointed spires stood silhouetted in violet-black against the burning midsummer sky and darkness was falling upon the sweeping golden plain. We passed hamlet after hamlet closed and shuttered, though the harvests had been gathered and stacked. There was something very tragic in those deserted, outlying farms. The train began to rattle through the suburbs of Paris. By the window stood the Norman looking out on the winking red and violet lights of the railroad yard. "This Paris?" he asked. "I never expected to see Paris. How the war sets one to traveling!"
AN UNKNOWN PARIS IN NIGHT AND RAIN
IT was Sunday morning, the bells were ringing to church, and I was strolling in the gardens of the Tuileries. A bright morning sun was drying the dewy lawns and the wet marble bodies of the gods and athletes, the leaves on the trees were falling, and the French autumn, so slow, so golden, and so melancholy, had begun. At the end of the mighty vista of the Champs Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe rose, brown and vaporous in the exhalations of the quiet city, and an aeroplane was maneuvering over the Place de la Concorde, a moving speck of white and silver in the soft, September blue. From a near-by Punch and Judy show the laughter of little children floated down the garden in outbursts of treble shrillness. "Villain, monster, scoundrel," squeaked a voice. Flopped across the base of the stage, the arms hanging downwards, was a prostrate doll which a fine manikin in a Zouave's uniform belabored with a stick; suddenly it stirred, and, with a comic effect, lifted its puzzled, wooden head to the laughing children. Beneath a little Prussian helmet was the head of William of Germany, caricatured with Parisian skill into a scowling, green fellow with a monster black mustache turned up to his eyes. "Lie down! " cried the Zouave doll imperiously. "Here is a love pat for thee from a French Zouave, my big Boche." And he struck him down again with his staff.
Soldiers walked in the garden, --- permissionnaires (men on furlough) out for an airing with their rejoicing families, smart young English subalterns, and rosy-fleshed, golden-haired Flemings of the type that Rubens drew. But neither their presence nor the sight of an occasional mutilé (soldier who has lost a limb), pathetically clumsy on his new crutches, quite sent home the presence of the war. The normal life of the city was powerful enough to engulf the disturbance, the theaters were open, there were the same crowds on the boulevards, and the same gossipy spectators in the sidewalk cafés. After a year of war the Parisians were accustomed to soldiers, cripples, and people in mourning. The strongest effect of the war was more subtle of definition, it was a change in the temper of the city. Since the outbreak of the war, the sham Paris that was "Gay Paree" had disappeared, and the real Paris, the Paris of tragic memories and great men, had taken its place. An old Parisian explained the change to me in saying, "Paris has become more French." Deprived of the foreigner, the city adapted itself to a taste more Gallic; faced with the realities of war, it exchanged its artificiality for that sober reasonableness which is the normal attitude of the nation.
At noon I left the garden and strolled down the Champs Élysées to the Porte Maillot. The great salesrooms of the German motor-car dealers had been given by the Government to a number of military charities who had covered the trade signs with swathes and rosettes of their national colors. Under the banner of the Belgians, in the quondam hop of the Mercedes, was an exhibition of leather knickknacks, baskets, and dolls made by the blind and mutilated soldiers. The articles --- children's toys for the most part, dwarfs that rolled over and over on a set of parallel bars, Alsatian lasses with flaxen hair, and gay tops --- were exposed on a row of tables a few feet back from the window. By the Porte Maillot, some of the iron saw-horses with sharpened points, which had formed part of the barricade built there in the days of the Great Retreat, lay, a villainous, rusty heap, in a grassy ditch of the city wall; a few stumps of the trees that had been then cut down were still visible, and from a railroad tie embedded in the sidewalk hung six links of a massive chain. Through this forgotten flotsam on the great shore of the war, the quiet crowds went in and out of the Maillot entrance to the Bois de Boulogne. There was a sense of order and security in the air. I took a seat on the terrace of a little restaurant. The garçon was a small man in the fifties, inclined to corpulence, with a large head, large, blue-gray eyes, purplish lips, and blue-black hair cut pompadour. As we watched the orderly, Sunday crowds going to the great park, we fell into conversation about the calmness of Paris. "Yes, it is calm," he said; "we are all waiting (nous attendons). We know that the victory will be ours at the finish. But all we can do is to wait. I have two sons at the front." He had struck the keynote. Paris is calmly waiting --- waiting for the end of the war, for victory, for the return of her children.
Yet in this great, calm city, with its vaporous browns and slaty blues, and its characteristic acrid smell of gasoline fumes, was another Paris, a terrible Paris, which I was that night to see. Early in the afternoon a dull haze of leaden clouds rose in the southwest. It began to rain.
In a great garret of the hospital, under a high French roof, was the dormitory of the volunteers attached to the Paris Ambulance Section. At night, this great space was lit by only one light, a battered electric reading-lamp standing on a kind of laboratory table in the center of the floor, and window curtains of dark-blue cambric, waving mysteriously in the night wind, were supposed to hide even this glimmer from the eyes of raiding Zeppelins. Looking down, early in the evening, into the great quadrangle of the institution, one saw the windows of the opposite wing veiled with this mysterious blue, and heard all the feverish unrest of a hospital, the steps on the tiled corridors, the running of water in the bathroom taps, the hard clatter of surgical vessels, and sometimes the cry of a patient having a painful wound dressed. But late at night the confused murmur of the battle between life and death had subsided, the lights in the wards were extinguished, and only the candle of the night nurse, seen behind a screen, and the stertorous, breathing of the many sleepers, brought back the consciousness of human life. I have often looked into the wards as I returned from night calls to the station where we received the wounded, and been conscious, as I peered silently into that flickering obscurity, of the vague unrest of sleepers, of the various attitudes assumed, the arms outstretched, the upturned throats, and felt, too, in the still room, the mystic presence of the Angel of Pain.
It was late at night, and I stood looking out of my window over the roofs of Neuilly to the great, darkened city just beyond. From somewhere along the tracks of the "Little Belt" railway came a series of piercing shrieks from a locomotive whistle. It was raining hard, drumming on the slate roof of the dormitory, and somewhere below a gutter gurgled foolishly. Far away in the corridor a gleam of yellow light shone from the open door of an isolation room where a nurse was watching by a patient dying of gangrene. Two comrades who had been to the movies at the Gaumont Palace near the Place Clichy began to talk in sibilant whispers of the evening's entertainment, and one of them said, "That war film was a corker; did you spot the big cuss throwing the grenades?" "Yuh, damn good," answered the other pulling his shirt over his head. It was a strange crew that inhabited these quarters; there were idealists, dreamers, men out of work, simple rascals and adventurers of all kinds. To my right slept a big, young Westerner, from some totally unknown college in Idaho, who was a humanitarian enthusiast to the point of imbecility, and to the left a middle-aged rogue who indulged in secret debauches of alcohol and water he cajoled from the hospital orderlies. Yet this obscure and motley community was America's contribution to France. I fell asleep.
The lieutenant of the Paris Section, a mining engineer with a picturesque vocabulary of Nevadan profanity, Was standing in his pajama trousers at the head of the room, holding a lantern in his hand. "Up, birds!" he called again. "Call's come in for Lah Chapelle." There were uneasy movements under the blankets, inmates of adjoining beds began to talk to each other, and some lit their bedside candles. The chief went down both sides of the dormitory, flashing his lantern before each bed, ragging the sleepy. "Get up, So-and-So. Well, I must say, Pete, you have a hell of a nerve." There were glimpses of candle flames, bare bodies shivering in the damp cold, and men sitting on beds, winding on their puttees. "Gee! listen to it rain," said somebody. "What time is it?" "Twenty minutes past two." Soon the humming and drumming of the motors in the yard sounded through the roaring of the downpour.
Down in the yard I found Oller, my orderly, and our little Ford ambulance, number fifty-three. One electric light, of that sickly yellow color universal in France, was burning over the principal entrance to the hospital, just giving us light enough to see our way out of the gates. Down the narrow, dark Boulevard Inkerman we turned, and then out on to a great street which led into the "outer" boulevard of De Batignolles and Clichy. To that darkness with which the city, in fear of raiding aircraft, has hidden itself, was added the continuous, pouring rain. In the light of our lamps, the wet, golden trees of the black, silent boulevards shone strangely, and the illuminated advertising kiosks, which we passed, one after the other at the corners of great streets, stood lonely and drenched, in the swift, white touch of our radiance. Black and shiny, the asphalt roadway appeared to go on in a straight line forever and forever.
Neither in residential, suburban Neuilly nor in deserted Montmartre was there a light to be seen, but when we drew into the working quarter of La Chapelle, lights appeared in the windows, as if some toiler of the night was expected home or starting for his labor, and vague forms, battling with the rain or in refuge under the awning of a café, were now and then visible. From the end of the great, mean rue de La Chapelle the sounds of the unrest of the railroad yards began to be heard, for this street leads to the freight-houses near the fortifications. Our objective was a great freight station which the Government, some months before, had turned into a receiving-post for the wounded; it lay on the edge of the yard, some distance in from the street, behind a huddle of smaller sheds and outbuildings. To our surprise the rue de La Chapelle was strewn with ambulances rushing from the station, and along two sides of the great yard, where the merchandise trucks had formerly turned in, six or seven hundred more ambulances were waiting. We turned out of the dark, rain-swept city into this hurly-burly of shouts, snorting of engines, clashing of gears, and whining of brakes, illuminated with a thousand intermeshing beams of headlights across whose brilliance the rain fell in sloping, liquid rods. "Quick, a small car this way!" cried some one in an authoritative tone, and number fifty-three ran up an inclined plane into the enormous shed which had been reserved for the loading of the wounded into the ambulances.
We entered a great, high, white-washed, warehouse kind of place, about four hundred feet long by four hundred feet wide, built of wood evidently years before. In the middle of this shed was an open space, and along the walls were rows of ambulances. Brancardiers (stretcher-bearers; from brancard, a stretcher) were loading wounded into these cars, and as soon as one car was filled, it would go out of the hall and another would take its place. There was an infernal din; the place smelled like a stuffy garage, and was full of blue gasoline fumes; and across this hurly-burly, which was increasing every minute, were carried the wounded, often nothing but human bundles of dirty blue cloth and fouled bandages. Every one of these wounded soldiers was saturated with mud, a gray-white mud that clung moistly to their overcoats, or, fully dry, colored every part of the uniform with its powder. One saw men that appeared to have rolled over and over in a puddle bath of this whitish mud, and sometimes there was seen a sinister mixture of blood and mire. There is nothing romantic about a wounded soldier, for his condition brings a special emphasis on our human relation to ordinary meat. Dirty, exhausted, unshaven, smelling of the trenches, of his wounds, and of the antiseptics on his wounds, the soldier comes from the train a sight for which only the great heart of Francis of Assisi could have adequate pity. Oller and I went through an opening in a canvas partition into that part of the great shed where the wounded were being unloaded from the trains. In width, this part measured four hundred feet, but in length it ran to eight hundred. In two rows of six each, separated by an aisle about eight feet wide, were twelve little houses, about forty feet square, built of stucco, each one painted a different color. The woodwork of the exterior was displayed through the plaster in the Elizabethan fashion, and the little sheds were clean, solidly built, and solidly roofed. In one of these constructions was the bureau of the staff which assigned the wounded to the hospitals, in another was a fully equipped operating-room, and in the others, rows of stretcher-horses, twenty-five to a side, on which the wounded were laid until a hospital number had been assigned them.. A slip, with these hospital numbers on it, the names of the patients, and the color of the little house in which they were to be found, was then given to the chauffeur of an ambulance, who, with this slip in hand and followed by a number of stretcher-bearers, immediately gathered his patients. A specimen slip might run thus --- "To Hospital 32, avenue de l'Iéna, Paul Chaubard, red barraque, Jules Adamy, green barraque, and Alphonse Fort, ochre barraque." To give a French touch to the scene, this great space, rapidly filling with human beings in an appalling state of misery, as the aftermath of the offensive broke on us, was decorated with evergreen trees and shrubs so that the effect was that of an indoor fair or exhibition; you felt as if you might get samples of something at each barraque, as the French termed the little houses. To the side of these there was a platform, and a sunken track running along the wall, and behind, a great open space set with benches for those of the wounded able to walk. Some fifty great, cylindrical braziers, which added a strange bit of rosy, fiery color to the scene, warmed this space. When the wounded had begun to arrive at about midnight, a regiment of Zouaves was at hand to help the regular stretcher-bearers; these Zouaves were all young, "husky" men dressed in the baggy red trousers and short blue jacket of their classic uniform, and their strength was in as much of a contrast to the weakness of those whom they handled as their gay uniform was in contrast to the miry, horizon blue of the combatants. There was something grotesque in seeing two of these powerful fellows carrying to the wagons a dirty blue bundle of a human being.
With a piercing shriek, that cut like a gash through the uproar of the ambulance engines, a sanitary train, the seventh since midnight, came into the station, and so smoothly did it run by, its floors on a level with the main floor, that it seemed an illusion, like a stage train. On the platform stood some Zouaves waiting to unload the passengers, while others cleared the barraques and helped the feeble to the ambulances. There was a steady line of stretchers going out, yet the station was so full that hardly a bit of the vast floor space was unoccupied. One walked down a narrow path between a sea of bandaged bodies. Shouldering what baggage they had, those able to walk plodded in a strange, slow tempo to the waiting automobiles. All by themselves were about a hundred poor, ragged Germans, wounded prisoners, brothers of the French in this terrible fraternity of pain.
About four or five hundred assis (those able to sit up) were waiting on benches at the end of the hall. Huddled round the rosy, flickering braziers, they sat profoundly silent in the storm and din that moved about them, rarely conversing with each other. I imagine that the stupefaction, which is the physiological reaction of an intense emotional and muscular effort, had not yet worn away. There were fine heads here and there. Forgetful of his shattered arm, an old fellow, with the face of Henri Quatre, eagle nose, beard, and all, sat with his head sunken on his chest in mournful contemplation, and a fine-looking, black-haired, dragoon kind of youth with the wildest of eyes clung like grim death to a German helmet. The same expression of resigned fatalism was common to all.
Sometimes the chauffeurs who were waiting for their clients got a chance to talk to one of the soldiers. Eager for news, they clustered round the wounded man, bombarding him with questions.
"Are the Boches, retreating?"
"When did it begin?"
"Just where is the attack located?"
"Are things going well for us?"
The. soldier, a big young fellow with a tanned face, somewhat pale from the shock of a ripped-up forearm, answered the questions good-naturedly, though the struggle had been on so great a scale that he could only tell about his own hundred feet of trench. Indeed the substance of his information was that there had been a terrible bombardment of the German lines, and then an attack by the French which was still in progress.
"Are we going to break clear through the lines?"
The soldier shrugged his shoulders. "They hope to," he replied.
Just beyond us, in one of the thousand stretchers on the floor, a small bearded man had died. With his left leg and groin swathed in bandages, he lay flat on his back, his mouth open, muddy, dirty, and dead. From time to time the living on each side stole curious, timid glances at him. Then, suddenly, some one noticed the body, and two stretcher-bearers carried it away, and two more brought a living man there in its place.
The turmoil continued to increase. At least a thousand motor-ambulances, mobilized from all over the region of Paris, were now on hand to carry away the human wreckage of the great offensive. Ignorant of the ghastly army at its doors, Paris slept. The rain continued to fall heavily.
"Eh la, comrade."
A soldier in the late thirties, with a pale, refined face, hailed me from his stretcher.
"You speak French?"
"I am going to ask you to do me a favor --- write to my wife who is here in Paris, and tell her that I am safe and shall let her know at once what hospital I am sent to. I shall be very grateful."
He let his shoulders sink to the stretcher again and I saw him now and then looking for me in the crowd. Catching my eye, he smiled.
A train full of Algerian troops came puffing into the station, the uproar hardly rising above the general hubbub. The passengers who were able to walk got out first, some limping, some walking firmly with a splendid Eastern dignity. These men were Arabs and Moors from Algeria and Tunisia, who had enlisted in the colonial armies. There was a great diversity of size and racial type among them, some being splendid, big men of the type one imagines Othello to have been, some chunkier and more bullet-headed, and others tall and lean with interesting aquiline features. I fancy that the shorter, rounder-skulled ones were those with a dash of black blood. The uniform, of khaki-colored woolen, consisted of a simple, short-waisted jacket, big baggy trousers, puttees, and a red fez or a steel helmet with the lunar crescent and "R.F." for its device. We heard rumors about their having attacked a village. Advancing in the same curious tempo as the French, they passed to the braziers and the wooden benches. Last of all from the train, holding his bandaged arm against his chest, a native corporal with the features of a desert tribesman advanced with superb, unconscious stateliness. As the Algerians sat round the braziers, their uniforms and brown skins presented a contrast to the pallor of the French in their bedraggled blue, but there was a marked similarity of facial expression. A certain racial odor rose from the Orientals.
My first assignment, two Algerians and two Frenchmen, took me to an ancient Catholic high school which had just been improvised into a hospital for the Oriental troops. It lay, dirty, lonely, and grim, just to one side of a great street on the edge of Paris, and had not been occupied since its seizure by the State. Turning in through an enormous door, lit by a gas globe flaring and flickering in the torrents of rain, we found ourselves in an enormous, dark courtyard, where a half-dozen ambulances were already waiting to discharge their clients. Along one wall there was a flight of steps, and from somewhere beyond the door at the end of this stair shone the faintest glow of yellow light.
It came from the door of a long-disused schoolroom, now turned into the receiving-hall of this strange hospital. The big, high room was lit by one light only, a kerosene hand lamp standing on the teacher's desk, and so smoked was the chimney that the wick gave hardly more light than a candle. There was just enough illumination to see about thirty Algerians sitting at the school desks, their big bodies crammed into the little seats, and to distinguish others lying in stretchers here and there upon the floor. At the teacher's table a little French adjutant with a trim, black mustache and a soldier interpreter were trying to discover the identity of their visitors.
" Number 2215," (numéro deux mille deux cent quinze), the officer cried; and the interpreter, leaning over the adjutant's shoulder to read the name, shouted, "Méhémet Ali."
There was no answer, and the Algerians looked round at each other, for all the world like children in a school. It was very curious to see these dark, heavy, wild faces bent over these disused desks.
"Number 2168" (numéro deux mille cent soixante huit), cried the adjutant.
"Abdullah Taleb," cried the interpreter.
" Moi," answered a voice from a stretcher in the shadows of the floor.
"Take him to room six," said the adjutant, indicating the speaker to a pair of stretcher-bearers. In the quieter pauses the rain was heard beating on the panes.
There are certain streets in Paris, equally unknown to tourist and Parisian --- obscure, narrow, cobble-stoned lanes, lined by walls concealing little orchards and gardens. So provincial is their atmosphere that it would be the easiest thing in the world to believe one's self on the fringe of an old town, just where little bourgeois villas begin to overlook the fields; but to consider one's self just beyond the heart of Paris is almost incredible. Down such a street, in a great garden, lay the institution to which our two Frenchmen were assigned. We had a hard time finding it in the night and rain, but at length, discovering the concierge's bell, we sent a vigorous peal clanging through the darkness. Oller lifted the canvas flap of the ambulance to see about our patients.
"All right in there, boys?"
"Yes," answered a voice.
"Non. Are we at the hospital?"
"Yes; we are trying to wake up the concierge."
There was a sound of a key in a lock, and a small, dark woman opened the door. She was somewhat spinstery in type, her thin, black hair was neatly parted in the middle, and her face was shrewd, but not unkindly.
"Deux blessés (two wounded), madame," said I.
The woman pulled a wire loop inside the door, and a far-off bell tinkled.
"Come in," she said. "The porter will be here immediately."
We stepped into a little room with a kind of English look to it, and a carbon print of the Sistine Madonna on the wall.
"Are they seriously wounded?" she asked.
"I cannot say."
A sound of shuffling, slippered feet was heard, and the porter, a small, beefy, gray-haired man in the fifties, wearing a pair of rubber boots, and a rain-coat over a woolen night-dress, came into the room.
"Two wounded have arrived," said the lady. "You are to help these messieurs get out the stretchers. "
The porter looked out of the door at the taillight of the ambulance, glowing red behind its curtain of rain.
"Mon Dieu, what a deluge! " he exclaimed, and followed us forth. With an "Easy there," and "Lift now," we soon had both of our clients out of the ambulance and indoors. They lay on the floor of the odd, stiff, little room, strange intruders of its primness; the first, a big, heavy, stolid, young peasant with enormous, flat feet, and the second a small, nervous, city lad, with his hair in a bang and bright, uneasy eyes. The mud-stained blue of the uniforms seemed very strange, indeed, beside the Victorian furniture upholstered in worn, cherry-red plush. A middle-aged servant --- a big-boned, docile-looking kind of creature, probably the porter's wife --- entered, followed by two other women, the last two wearing the same cut of prim black waist and skirt, and the same pattern of white wristlets and collar. We then carried the two soldiers upstairs to a back room, where the old servant had filled a kind of enamel dishpan with soapy water. Very gently and deftly the beefy old porter and his wife took off the fouled, blood-stained uniforms of the two fighting men, and washed their bodies, while she who had opened the door stood by and superintended all. The feverish, bright-eyed fellow. seemed to be getting weaker, but the big peasant conversed with the old woman in a low, steady tone, and told her that there had been a big action.
When Oller and I came downstairs, two little glasses of sherry and a plate of biscuits were hospitably waiting for us. There was something distinctly English in the atmosphere of the room and in the demeanor of the two prim ladies who stood by. It roused my curiosity. Finally one of them said: --
"Are you English, gentlemen?"
"No," we replied; "Americans."
"I thought you might be English," she replied in that language, which she spoke very clearly and fluently. "Both of us have been many years in England. We are French Protestant deaconesses, and this is our home. It is not a hospital. But when the call for more accommodations for the wounded came in, we got ready our two best rooms. The soldiers upstairs are our first visitors."
The old porter came uneasily down the stair. "Mademoiselle Pierre says that the doctor must come at once," he murmured, "the little fellow (le petit) is not doing well."
We thanked the ladies gratefully for the refreshment, for we were cold and soaked to the skin. Then we went out again to the ambulance and the rain. A faint pallor of dawn was just beginning. Later in the morning, I saw a copy of the "Matin" attached to a kiosk; it said something about "Grande Victoire."
Thus did the great offensive in Champagne come to the city of Paris, bringing twenty thousand men a day to the station of La Chapelle. For three days and nights the Americans and all the other ambulance squads drove continuously. It was a terrible phase of the conflict to see, but he who neither sees nor understands it cannot realize the soul of the war. Later, at the trenches, I saw phases of the war that were spiritual, heroic, and close to the divine, but this phase was, in its essence, profoundly animal.