AU COUVENT DE L'ADORATION PERPETUELLE
HÔTEL DE CRILLON, PARIS,
January 14, 1917.
HERE we are in a gray, rainy Paris. The train was an hour and a half late last night; we had missed the morning one on account of delay in the examination of our luggage at Havre, or we should have come with Mr. Simonds. The examination was not troublesome, but that was only because of Helen's papers being so good, and that we were travelling with Mr. Simonds. Travelling is every bit as difficult as people say, but one cannot expect it to be otherwise when one hears of the things that happen that shouldn't.
After writing you at Havre, I spent the beautiful sunny morning walking about the town. As I wrote to J------, his gold has been given to the big hospital which was made out of the Hôtel Frascati. It has, of course, wonderful exposure to sunlight and air, and seems splendidly run. The médecin-chef was sympathetic, and his wife too, who works there all the time. They seemed greatly touched at this gift from the distant J----, and interested to know about him, and if he had ever been in France.
I did n't stay long, as motors were arriving, large numbers of them, filled with poor, weary, suffering wounded. No amount of reading or imagination prepares one for the sight of wounded from the front. One cannot describe it; one must see it to feel it. Apart from the suffering, one's principal, impression is that one has never seen so much mud caked on to human beings! And then one marvels at their great, enduring patience. What blessed relief they must find in bathing and clean linen and beds!
The poor Hôtel Continental has had sad days since we knew it, but now enjoys a resurrected heyday of fame, as practically everyone who passes through Havre eats there, besides many British and French officers. After luncheon, we saw something of a family of refugees from Northern France who were striving, with many difficulties, to rejoin the head of the family. Also an English woman of some important medico-military position; fine and high bred, and speaking beautiful French. It rained all the afternoon, and she sat writing endless reports. She went back last night to England by the "Normannia," which brought us. Then there was a charming Belgian family, husband and wife and her mother. The husband, an engineer of some sort, beginning life again in Paris at forty.
We were alone in the carriage coming up on the Rapide until Rouen, where three Frenchmen got in. Rouen was crowded with soldiers coming and going from the front, Tommies handling huge trucks of supplies, officers, and groups of superb Colonial troops (Moroccans). We had brought a delicious luncheon from London; chicken, potted grouse, wonderful bread and butter, and other goodies, which we could n't finish. There were three Red Cross girls from Scotland off to Salonica in the next carriage; but they had enough, so we couldn't turn it over to them. Helen wanted to give it to the soldiers on the platform, but there was n't time enough to get out. Then a young Corporal passed, and we called him to our window and explained. He was just going back to the front, and took it eagerly. I said to him, that he would know where to place it if it did n't interest him (he was so much of an equal, as it turned out, that we felt in some doubt as to his wanting it). "Mais non, Mademoiselle, pas du tout, ce sera pour moi! Je vous remercie, Mademoiselle, I thank you very much." Then the train pulled out and we called, "Bonne chance "; the last we saw of him he was standing at attention and saluting us. Helen and I were very silent for the rest of the ride, for we were both thinking of the nice, well-bred, fresh-faced boy, and of what the end would most likely be, must be, for the greater proportion of infantry and artillery.
Mr. Simonds met us, and we drove here through streets as dark and as quiet as London; the utter lack of life at night is so strange. Yet nothing seems strange to us now in one way; the war seems to have gotten into us as it has into everyone else, and become a normal state of life. One accepts it, one works, one takes all the pleasure that comes, and one hopes. There is nothing else one can do. . . . This morning I delivered the Clement package, and those for the Embassy. Mr. Simonds leaves on Monday for the French front, and we hope to get off Tuesday. I want to see about giving Leslie's money for the wooden leg first.
HÔPITAL BÉNÉVOLE 88 BIS,
9ième CORPS D'ARMÉE, TOURS,
Here we are at the end of our journey, and the end of our first day's routine. We came down comfortably from Paris yesterday by the 8.40 Bordeaux express. We made only two stops; at each quantities of poilus and at Les Aubray we passed a long, long train going to the front; all new troops we knew, because the carriages were decorated with flowers and green. At St.-Pierre-des-Corps we changed for Tours, a five minute ride. St. Pierre used to be a large garrison town, with infantry and cavalry regiments. Now the garrison is smaller, but there is a large camp for new Belgian troops in training, and many munition factories which employ a great many women and refugees. Coming into Tours we saw a large detachment of Boche prisoners, for there is also a large prison camp here. As in Paris, the streets are full of soldiers, convalescents, disabled, and blinded, and while one does not feel the war as keenly as in Paris, where it is dominant, still there is no getting away from it.
I wish I could give you some impression of Tours, of the curious feeling one has of living back in the Middle Ages; of its quaint streets and of the wonderful beauty of some of the houses. If you have a chance, find some book about Tours, so that you may know it a little along with me. There are endless revelations; of beautiful little gardens, of silent green places, of wonderful gateways, mysterious windows, marvellously lovely carvings, --- but I must get on with the real story!
We found the Red Cross flag with the French flag at 3 rue Descartes, and Madame La Supérieure and all the nuns waiting for us. Helen was so happy, and they were so happy; it was very sweet. Meanwhile I was looking with all my eyes at the most wonderful place I have ever lived in. Parallel to rue Descartes, beyond a little courtyard, is an exquisite sixteenth-century cloister, bordering the large courtyard of the Convent, with its statue and shrine and trees, and clear pebbly pavement. To the left from the cloister one looks across into the kitchen; the door is always open, and it's like a Dutch picture: the white-capped lay sisters moving about, the big oven, the shining brasses, and the steam rising from the huge open boilers, where every bit of water is heated.
There is a still older part of the Convent: we passed through it, out through another court, in again, upstairs through rooms and passages, over a little balcony which overlooks still another court, into our little room. We are very comfy; a nice fireplace; a bureau; a huge armoire à glace, and off the room a little dressing-room, and a funny closet which runs under the eaves and takes care of trunks, shoes, and such like. . . . The food is good, well-cooked, and sufficient, if not varied. So far Tours has not had to be careful about sugar, but butter is scarce and dear, so we only have a little at breakfast. We sit at table with several refugee ladies, and nothing but war, memories of the invasion, and individual experiences of the time, ever comes up. One woman has a brother fighting in the artillery at Salonica; another a brother in the same place in the Engineers; a very pretty woman has lost her husband. Yet their courage and manner and gayety never fail. It is only when they are silent that shadows come into their eyes, and one reads then of things seen, and heard, and thought, that are full of terror and sorrow and suffering. The first time I saw that look was in the face of an officer at the Burlington. I have seen it often since --- it's very dreadful.
The nuns are all sweet. Soeur Aline is in charge of the Hospital, and Soeur Donatienne (infirmière breveté) is at the head of the nursing force. The nuns show a very intelligent grasp of the war, and one is always glad to talk with them; they are so kind and wise and brave. There are twenty-two patients, convalescent officers; two wards and two private rooms. Salle 1, my ward, is on the street, with three big windows, through which the sun pours in by midday. Work begins at eight, when I carry over from the kitchen the tray of coffee, chocolate, bread and toast for my patients' breakfast. Then I open the huge shutters, wake the patients (not always easy, that), and set the table for breakfast. Later comes bedmaking, and general care of the ward. Besides this work, I take care of the officers' dining-room, and of the Salle de Pansements, and with Helen help in the care of the officers' table. I clean all the steel knives, forty-four of them, twice a day. Then I sew; just now I am covering a cushion for a convalescent, a man four times buried by shell fire, and in bad shape from shell shock. He is in one of the private rooms.
I wish you could see the permis de séjour that Helen and I each have to sport here! "Mlle. F. est autorisée à résider durant la guerre à Tours." After a few instructions comes the following: "Elle est prévenue qu'en cas d'infraction aux prescriptions précédentes, elle sera immédiatement arrêtée sous prévention d'espionage."
Yesterday afternoon Helen and I went to a military hospital for the blinded, where we heard helpers were needed. It's called La Torterue, after the owner of the house, a fine big one, with a lovely garden. The government took it over early in the war: it's the saddest place in the world. Nothing but blinded soldiers (though not all are permanently so), many are wounded besides, and conditions of life around them are not inspiring. We cut out eye-dressings most of the afternoon, and had with us a big black Senegalese; sweet and gentle and resigned, but, oh, so tired of it all. There is something infinitely touching in these colored troops, for the cause of the war must seem remote to them, and yet they are so proud of being " Français et s'être battu pour le pays!"
This morning we went to 7.45 mass before going on duty, la messe des aveugles. Some of them sing upstairs in the balcony, and they almost fill the chapel. Besides, there's just a sprinkling of women in mourning, and the nuns. There is always a nun in adoration before the Sacrament, and she wears a scarlet veil. On Sunday there are two. Helen and I are two of three Americans in this biggish city, and it seemed strange and yet natural to be kneeling there. The service was beautiful but when one saw those brave souls come hesitatingly in, most of them so young, it was almost too much to bear. Indeed, if one did not have plenty of work to do, the contemplation of such suffering and the problems which the nations must deal with after the war would drive one mad. . . . It was very merry in my ward this morning. Much English was attempted, --- always a sign of good spirits. Lieut. Bourseul has a nice tenor, and sings delightfully from the moment he wakes up. Lieut. Coupier, in the Genie, a tall, dark chap, is always the last man up. He says one does not get the good of being in bed while one sleeps, so he stays late on purpose. "C'est qu'il est logique, ce garçon," says Berthet, a fine looking man, also in the Génie. Well, the resting is not long for most of them now.
A lot of évacués from the Ardennes arrived in town Thursday. The Germans allowed only one from each family to leave. Those devils are using all the good flour and make the people subsist on the spoiled stuff.
Did I tell you that before leaving Paris I found just the right man for Leslie's wooden-leg money? Yesterday I left some of Mr. Winslow's money at La Torterue for additional food and sweets. The government does adequately, but these men are young, and in a position to get great benefit from extra nourishment, especially sugar, butter, and eggs, when they are obtainable.
The nuns are wonderfully efficient: with no conveniences everything is beautifully kept, and they never tire of drudgery. They do our washing exquisitely, but we have as little as possible, for everyone is so busy. The arrears of mending here, as all over France, are appalling. Everything is wearing out, --- uniforms, clothes, stockings, sheets, and nothing can keep up with the demands on people's time. Mending is doubly hard when one has so little to mend with.
Mamma's cable came this morning, just after half-past eight. I was so happy to start the day with it, and am glad my scribblings have begun to arrive. . . . Yesterday and to-day have been cold and bright like our weather, but sometimes skies are gray and the air is a damp cold. Many of the nuns have terrible colds, and it's especially hard on the lay nuns, who have such an interminable round of heavy work to do. There are forty-four nuns altogether in the Convent; they are the most absolutely happy and cheerful women one can imagine; not unfeeling either, for the sorrows of their nation oppress them greatly. To-day we are unhappy at the thought of what this cold must mean to prisoners, to the people in the invaded provinces, and to the poor everywhere. It is bad enough in the trenches, but worse for the others. What an irony of fate that, when coal is so scarce, the winter should be unusually severe! Snow in London, at Marseilles, at Toulouse, on the Riviera, and in the North misery and suffering untold. We have with us at table just now a Sergeant-Major who is just out of the eye hospital after a successful operation. Before that he was a prisoner twenty-two months in Westphalia, and endured a life of hell surpassed only by that of British prisoners. Now he is here, but has had no word of his family, who are in the invaded provinces. Mlle. Irma Providence, the infirmière with whom I work, lived through the bombardment of Arras for many days, and took care of sick and civilian wounded, until the end of food was in sight. Then with three hundred others she walked by night eighteen kilometres through wind and rain to the nearest station from which a train could be sent. She has endured all of this, and has no possessions, but she considers herself fortunate, since neither she nor her sister were wounded, and they were even able to save another sister's three little children. The heroism of these people is simply beyond words, and makes some of the problems with which France is grappling (I will not go into them now) all the more hideous.
Yesterday I had a great sensation as we were going into La Torterue. I passed a Boche prisoner there for treatment. I can't describe to you all the sensations that rushed through my mind as that familiar and once-loved uniform brushed me so closely. We found our poor Senegalese very unhappy. The others had teased him about his religion (he is very devout), and finally locked him out in the cold for fun. We had some music at the end of the afternoon; it's not much of a piano, but that did n't seem to matter, and they all loved singing "Madelon" and "Sambre et Meuse."
Wilson's last pipe-dream exasperates Helen and me. Why does n't he come over and see what he is talking about? He writes as if we were still dealing with the world as it was before the war. We are not --- it's gone, over, and before the United States tries to make any further progress, that fact must be registered once for all. We find here a very appreciative, sympathetic and intelligent interest as regards the situation at home. They are tolerant and anxious to make every allowance for the difficulty of our position. It is felt, however, that Wilson must be under German influence; House is suggested, and there is even a canard that the present Mrs. Wilson is a Boche! . . .
Ask Lebon to tell me where he lived here, so I may go and say Howdy to his house. This is surely a town of incomparable beauty, and I suppose altogether it's the most wonderful place historically I've ever seen. You know it's one of the first Roman settlements in Gaul, and there are still traces of the wall. The Cathedral is beautiful, and all the quarter about it. There is a marvelous old cedar tree in the garden of the Musée near the Cathedral; Lebon is sure to remember it.
General LaCotte, who is on the staff here, came to the Convent to-day. He asked to have us presented when he heard that we were Americans, "Se dévouant pour la France." He said, "Je vous félicite, et au nom de la France, je vous remercie." Note that the felicitations came first! The General was a bit of all right.
It is only two weeks to-day since we went to work, yet I have grave doubts whether I have ever lived any other way; so quickly have we become a part of our picturesque clerico-military environment.... This afternoon we have been to Les Tilleuls; the walk was lovely, bright sunshine, and the streets at their most enchanting. We met funny yellow trolleys, with women conductors, wearing a becoming sort of Scotch cap; and tiny carts, drawn by shaggy ponies and good-humored donkeys. We saw one of the smallest donkeys imaginable, drawing a cart filled with long loaves of war bread, and driven by a rosy-cheeked boy in a blue blouse. Lots of Serbian refugees were out (they live in cantonments by the Loire, and many work in munitions), Moroccan convalescents, and many, many legless and armless and blinded soldiers, but everyone was happy. Crossing the Loire, we looked with interest at the slowly flowing river filled with thick cakes of ice, almost round in shape. The river has not been frozen for forty years, and people come from miles away to see it. The view of Tours from Les Tilleuls was lovely, particularly when we were leaving at sunset. We found Mme. Sourdillon an admirable and charming woman. She has two sons at the front, one in artillery and one in aviation. We met her young and beautiful daughter, who is very high-brow (mathematics) without seeming so. There was also a lady there whose husband, an infantry officer, is at present on staff duty, but longs to rejoin his regiment. There was a delicious tea, but we partook sparingly, as befits war parties. Mme. Sourdillon still has a small normal school, but has turned her big school building into a hospital of one hundred and fifty beds. She has mostly convalescents, and many shell-shock patients who have partly lost their memories, and who are learning to walk, talk, speak, and live again. Mrs. Bob Bliss and a few other Americans gave the hospital its start, and it's now affiliated with L'Union des Femmes de France, and acts as an auxiliary to Descartes, the big military hospital here. Mme. Sourdillon needed money for shoes badly, so we each left a hundred francs (mine was. from Edith).
Helen's trunk came last night, so in the evening she was occupied in sorting and planning. She means to send a lot of stuff to Pont-Aven in Brittany., It was lucky she was busy, for I was up late, sewing endless buttons on khaki flannel shirts, and doing all sorts of military mending.
We are having very exciting days just now, as the Supérieur Général of the Order, Père Silvain, has just arrived here on a tour of inspection of all the houses. The Mère-Supérieure Générale is at the Mother House in Paris, but Père Silvain is at Courtrai in Belgium, and is only out on parole. The King of Spain was instrumental in making the journey possible, for there is a house of the Order in Spain. (Also many in South America, and some in the United States.) Of course the Convent is all aflutter at our distinguished guest. When we came back from La Torterue yesterday afternoon, we couldn't imagine what had happened, for all the lay nuns were in their white habits, and yet it was not Sunday, the day they usually blossom forth from their black aprons, which cover all the glory of the white. Presently the mystery was solved, when Soeur Mastidia came in to tell us the news. All the evening the big court was alive with figures scurrying about, each carrying a wondrous old-fashioned but very efficacious lantern, and the little new moon and our same dear winter stars over all. It was a scene never to be forgotten; but then every minute of our every day is a picture here, and I'm never so busy that the pictures don't sink into my brain to be remembered and told and recounted over with you later.
Yesterday was one hectic day: the excitement of Père Supérieur still held, and endless matters came up to be attended to. However, by three we were established at La Torterue; Helen had taken over all the flannel which came in her trunk, and with Mme. Pierracini and Mme. Batard, we cut, basted, and got partly stitched sixteen shirts which the hospital needed badly. We were too busy to suit Doyé, our Senegalese, and besides, we had other company, which vexed him, for he likes to be the only one: Pierre, a man who has lost both eyes and both hands, and René, a most charming little person, who calls himself Pierre's ordonnance; he is devoted to him, and is indeed a good genius for the whole ward. It was the day for the distribution of new clothes, and René had drawn a képi much too large for him; he consulted with me about cutting it over, was quite sure he could do it, and did do it most handily and successfully. "C'est épatant," he said, and was as pleased as a child. Pierre had just received a splendid letter from the son of his Colonel; the son is also wounded, and is a contemporary and neighbor of Pierre's. It was a superb letter in feeling and expression, but the reason I speak of it is not because of that, but because it echoes what we hear on every side, no hope of peace, and a long pull to come.
We got home about five; Helen was to have her interview with Révérend Père, and then I. He is a fine simple man, about sixty-six years old, and comes from the Midi. He has been through a great deal; I shall remember it all to tell you. I don't know how he will get into Belgium again, but if he does, he says we must come there and work with him. He gave me his blessing before I left him, but we were to meet again. Soeur Aline and I were taking off the bedspreads in Salle 1 when he came in with all the officers, to speak to them a little. It was a picturesque sight, --- the long panelled room, dimly lighted, the rows of beds on either side, at one end the French and Allied colors and a Red Cross flag, and under them, the Révérend Père, surrounded by a group of brilliantly uniformed, in many cases stunning-looking, men.
Soeur Cléonide, the oldest, and a very suffering sister, died last night; Soeur Marie-Ange, who is the portress at the back door, told me this morning that she read a little English, so I have given her Madame Cotter's card. She is delighted.
This morning, at la messe des aveugles, our aumonier militaire volontaire said mass. He has been at the front since the beginning, is now tired out, has a bad heart and has come here for rest. There are many priests like him with the army. He wears a regular soutane, only it is short, and his leather leggings look oddly under his beautiful silk and lace vestments. The news of the attack on Verdun yesterday was very exciting, and bears out the rumors of an early start. I hope it will not be too hard for me to get away to work in England for April and part of May, on my way home. I am devoted to my children, Messieurs les officiers and poilus alike, only my heart is true to England and Tommy, and I should like to do a bit over there before going home.
Our patients are all getting on, but complete recovery is slow. Lieut. Raffy in my ward has just sent in an application for duty in Salonica. He had a bullet in his knee, and will never have free use of it again, but he can be very useful in staff work and so on. He's a nice fellow, très sérieux, a student, and a great rider and swimmer. Another of my men, only twenty-one, having already lived through five days of the inferno of Verdun, hopes shortly to go back to the Western front; he has a father serving, and a brother of nineteen has just enlisted in the navy. Lt. Bourseul was singing " Le Rêve " from "Manon" this morning. What memories it awoke! He has never studied, but his voice has a charming quality and is perfectly placed. It seems to me that as a race the French have a great talent for singing. We have all ages and types in the ward, but every man really loves music and sings more or less well. I hear an aeroplane whirring overhead as I write; there is an aviation school not far away.
So much-happens here, and yet it's all so tiny! just now there is great excitement at La Torterue, for Secch, the other Senegalese, minus one arm and one eye, has been appointed infirmier and is tickled to pieces. He is so different from Doyé, who is moody, though always gentle. Secch is full of dash, rather a "case," in fact, but always biddable at heart. There's one poilu over there who seems to have been cast for hard lines in life. Before the war he was a coal-miner, like all his people before him. He has been wounded three times before this last time, an explosion in an ammunition wagon of which he was in charge. Now he can distinguish light, and there's some hope that he will regain more sight. However, he is cheerful, and remains quite normal, always acknowledging it might have been worse. Little René has been home en permission; he learned there definitely that his father had been killed on the Somme. René is the eldest, and much needed at home, but he must return into La Fournaise, as his sight is almost completely restored.
Yesterday we had a beautiful afternoon. It was cold, but bright, and after our work was done, we took the tram on the Rue Nationale; it was rather fun waiting for it; the whole town was out, being Sunday afternoon, and we saw all kinds and classes. Among other things that were interesting, we met a lot of Moroccans wearing the fez and cord, which shows they have made a pilgrimage to Mecca. And great quantities of dogs, both workers and flâneurs, were out. Animals seem happy in Touraine; certainly horses, ponies and donkeys are better treated than in Paris. Our tram came presently, and we ran out through St. Symphorien to Ste. Radegonde; Vouvray lies beyond. The road runs right along the Loire, the land rising steeply on one side, and there are innumerable little and big villas, Les Mimosas, Aux Lilas Blancs, Mon Repos. Then on the other side, between the road and the river, are fields; a small golf club and course, covered a number; but the fair greens at this season seem given up to an erratic game of football. Part of the river was frozen solidly, and many people were solemnly walking across, to be able to say they had done it. We found Madame Dreux, the mother of Helen's godson, awaiting us at Ste. Radegonde. We walked up with her past enchanting little shops and discreetly hidden villas, and a hill on which stood a lovely old ruined church; up, up the narrow little road with ivy-hung walls on either side, until we came, after half a mile or so, into open country, --- rather like our part of New Hampshire in character, only less wooded and more built up. The planting was vineyards (how long since I have seen any) and winter wheat. As we walked, aeroplanes in numbers buzzed overhead, for the aviation school was very near. From the plateau upon which Les Chaussons lies, we had a wonderful view of our own city. The cathedral towers and our three towers never looked lovelier than yesterday in the clear frosty light. just as we turned in at the gate of Les Chaussons, we saw a poilu approaching; it turned out to be Helen's godson, back for an unexpected and final permission before leaving for the front. He is such a nice boy, full of confidence and enthusiasm. We spent a delightful hour with the Dreux and Madame Coudray, Madame Dreux's mother (Les Chaussons is the Coudray homestead), and a delightful old gentleman, who was spending the afternoon with them. We listened to letters from another son who is in Salonica, and saw all the animals; Papa, a cat; Milor, a bulldog; Tango, a fox-terrier; Bichette, a Percheron mare; a goat, and many rabbits (these last for eating). The friend, too, had a dear little dog, sixteen years old, very wise, whom he called Montagne.
Then Helen and I walked back to the tram, and so home to find the great news of the Rupture. It is great news; you can't imagine how great unless you live here, and realize how long and how patiently the Allies have been waiting for us to take notice. I hope it is not going to be an anxious and difficult time for you both; on that account I should love dearly to be at home.... Of course everyone here is tremendously excited by the news, and our little world particularly so, and there's no end of rejoicing and congratulations in our ward. The shell-shock victim, Captain Billion-Bourbon, is simply beside himself. He's Helen's patient; a great sufferer, but he retains his charming and cultivated personality. There are to be American flags added to the colors of the Allies in each ward.
The coal situation is terrible everywhere. Here one sees daily pitiful lines of people with bags and baskets, waiting for the coal to be given out; alas, that many must be disappointed every day. There is plenty of coal, but it can't be moved by water, owing to the frozen waterways. Meanwhile, hotels in Paris and other cities are having a dreadful time, for they must give up their furnaces and often have no other provision for heating. This is the case, too, with many of the modern apartment houses.
We have lost another nun, Soeur Marie de la Croix, a brilliant and delightful woman, though very old. She suffered greatly, but retained completely her grasp on affairs. I spent an hour with her last week, and we had a very interesting talk. Mlle. Irma is ill in bed but her sister is back from her leave, and she and I get on well with the work. I wish you knew my patients, for they are such dears. Sometime I'll tell you all about them. We have added a little English instruction to the breakfast hour, and I take the Illustrated London News for myself and them and the other ward; they all enjoy it immensely, and eventually it goes to the front. There is to be an entertainment at La Torterue shortly; I am to sing, and there will be choruses by the poilus, and all sorts of things. You see there are many sides to life here!
Last night one of the German prisoners at the Camp killed himself; in his pocket was found a letter from a friend at home, saying that the prisoner's wife and children were dead, practically from starvation. . . .
France, February 3, 1917
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