THIS is my first joy since the beginning of the War (I don't count the pleasure, too dearly atoned for, of the fugitive success in Alsace) : I am going to be useful in some way! It was about time; I was fretting, like so many others, at having nothing to do.
Yesterday was one of the worst days; hardly any news, and about me growing anxiety and almost distraction. The heads of the School where I say Mass determined to flee into the South; friends I was to spend two days with beyond Versailles were packing up to escape the possible approach of Uhlans. In the afternoon I had been to visit a dying woman; I had once more seen at close quarters what death is, and I had wondered if it were possible that death was being dealt out purposely day by day to tens and tens of thousands. It was almost more than I could bear, and I felt the coming on of that anaesthesia which is our refuge from the excess of moral sufferings as from those of the body.
And, behold, as I got home about six o'clock, I find a card from M. Charles N----- and a letter from the Archbishop's House, asking me to let them know as soon as possible if I would accept the post of Chaplain to the Military Hospital the Americans have just opened at Neuilly-sur-Seine.
If I would consent to serve the cause of God and France by caring for the souls of the wounded, and fulfil such a mission among my friends the Americans ?
For fear a telegram should be too much delayed in transmission, I catch the first train to take my own answer. M. N----- is not at home, but his wife is to be back at eight o'clock and she knows all about the matter. As I have always found with Americans, confidence and sympathy came with the first words. So far we don't know much about what is to be done, or how; but we agree on everything beforehand, and it is arranged that Mme. N----- shall convey my acceptance to the Archbishop's House to-morrow morning.
She tells me that she has just come from the Gare du Nord, where unhappy Belgians, women, children and old men, that the German barbarians have chased away before them, are being welcomed and comforted. The noble-hearted American still shudders over what she has seen and heard; bombardment of open towns; villages pillaged and burnt; mine-shafts shut down over living workmen; young girls carried off by the soldiery; women, children and old men put in front of the lines to be fired on ; mutilations, rapes, murders ;--and these not as an exception, not the act of certain brutes let loose, but as the rule almost everywhere outside the big cities, and as a deliberate system of terrorization
A sad Sunday. If we are holding our own in Lorraine and on the Mézières side, the Germans are making a great advance on the left in the region of the Aisne towards La Fère. That is the wording of the communiqué. But it does not add that La Fère is half-way to Paris, and I hear from a private source that the Prefecture of Laon is moved to Château-Thierry.
What a great part of our territory is thus already invaded, and how many poor wretches are already suffering from the irruption of the savage hordes !
Paris is making ready for the possible, one might say probable, investment. I dare not dwell upon a consoling idea that came to me to-night and that I have just heard expressed by others---that our retreat may be a feint to draw the fight where we wish it to take place.
In any case, we are preparing for the worst. I have heard it said that the Government will retire to Bordeaux ; that is a little far as a beginning. But I know for certain that one of my friends, a custodian at the Louvre Museum, is working at making safe the most precious objects of his collection. And then there is an official order for the evacuation of the military zone of Paris after a wait of four days.
For the last time I have celebrated Mass before our little group of the Institut Notre-Dame. The Mistresses, with the staff and the few children left with them, start for Royan this evening. I had myself advised the exodus; one can't leave Frenchwomen exposed to a meeting with men from the other side of the Rhine.
After the Gospel, I spoke a few words of farewell, recommended the leaving it all to God, begged prayers for the election of the Pope, for France, for the relations and friends we each have on the field of battle. Amongst the congregation there were wives and mothers. I did what I could not to be too pathetic, but there were tears all the same. I think we all prayed well.
Every day increases the troubles of our compatriots or allies, and at the same time augments the menace of our personal misfortunes. Ordinary existence is already torn up by the roots ; all around us things keep changing from hour to hour, and one can never foresee what one will be doing, or where one will be next day. For instance, I don't know if I shall say Mass to-morrow at Meudon, at Bellevue or in Paris, or whether I shall sleep at home or in a Military Hospital. And I am writing these notes at noon, in Paris, at the house of some Americans who had asked me to come at eleven o'clock. I have known them only two days and find it quite natural to wait for them till lunch-time, supposing that they return. Everything else is left to chance.
My new friends come back at one o'clock; with them is a young girl who saw the English Ambassador this morning. In giving her the latest news he could not restrain his emotion. The English are in retreat towards Compiègne ; the left of the Allies is giving way before the irresistible pressure of the masses of the enemy. On the other hand, it seems that General Pau with the Alsatian troops is arriving on this unlucky Left; they were seen passing Fontainebleau. But pessimism is to the fore.
At the Invalides Station, where I go to take the train back to Meudon, there are interminable queues waiting before the inquiry-offices and those for the issue of tickets for the main lines. In the same way, at Montparnasse, the police had difficulty in keeping order amongst a frightened crowd. Every one wanted to get away and had left it till the last minute. One of my friends, who wanted to travel to the South with her children by a somewhat direct train, asked for tickets on Friday, and could only obtain them for the following Thursday.
The suburban line, luckily, is less crowded, and I arrive in time---five o'clock---to listen to General Canongé's lecture on "1870 and 1914," in the same Hall in which I spoke on Sunday.
The comparison, thank God, is more or less reassuring, especially in the matter of Alliances and the moral condition of the country. As for the material preparations and the management of the first operations, discreet critics, for those who understand, did not fail to mitigate the reasons for confidence.
2nd September ; the anniversary of Sedan.
In spite of official anxiety to conceal everything from us, what one gets to know, daily increases our uneasiness.
False reports of successes by their falseness only increase the effect of real failures that have to be subsequently recognized. On Sunday evening, I was very far from being in a state of excessive optimism. Coming back at nine o'clock from seeing a family in confusion who had asked my advice, I hear in the street that we had won a most important battle at La Fère ; the German Right Wing had been surrounded; 60,000 Bavarians had given themselves up. As I refuse to believe this, they tell me of the people just come back from Versailles, who brought the news, and, in spite of the lateness of the hour, I go to see them, with excuses for my intrusion.
They say they are only too glad to assure me of the truth of the report.
Doubt is no longer possible. At the station, in the trains as well as in the town itself, nothing but songs of victory is to be heard ; and, still more, at the Satory Camp, where people are embracing each other for joy, the Regiments ready to start have received the counter-order. A soldier of the Flying Corps I met later was just as certain ; there too, the order to be ready to start for Lyons had been countermanded. An officer I spoke to shared the general belief, although, as he said, there was no official communiqué yet.
But there was one next morning that I did not fail to go to the station to look at. It shyly announced that the Allies were still falling back to the line of the Seine, the Oise and the Haute-Meuse.
The afternoon of that same day, Monday, 31st August, under the goad of too great anxiety unable to work or to keep still, I go back to Paris without any definite object. Paris wears her accustomed air, which does not appeal to my feelings; this lovely Summer-end on the Terrace of the Tuileries, the Place de la Concorde, the Champs-Élysées, offends the emotions of the hour.
I think I will go to see Lady A----- and the workroom she has set up in her house, in the Avenue Montaigne, with the double object of furnishing the hospitals with linen and giving work to women who are in need of it. She is employing her time like a good Frenchwoman, while her husband is employing his like a good Irishman in encouraging the enlistment of his compatriots. I tell her of my visit to M. X----, with whom she is well acquainted, and as I had found him far from well, we decide to go together to hear how he is.
Thank God, we find him quite recovered, so need have no scruple in enjoying one of those conversations in which one does not know which most to admire, his faith or his good sense, his wit or his cordiality. To-day he appears to me a little pessimistic about what is happening, and the events that brought on the War. But Lady A---- and I insist on the good sides of the situation, especially on the fact that the retreat of the forces on the North is more than made up for by the firm stand of the Eastern Army, in Alsace, Lorraine, and along the Meuse. We are interrupted by the old maidservant announcing two ladies of the Red Cross.
" I thought you were at the Front," says M. X---
" The Front, like us, is getting nearer to Paris."
"Things are going badly in the East, then ?"
"Yes, very badly."
And they tell us how, with the wounded they had just installed, they had been forced to leave Rethel before the German inroad.
"The Germans at Rethel! We thought they were before Namur,"
"Before Namur ? They must be occupying Reims by this time, and in a week they will be before Paris."
We feel the victims of a horrible dream. The Germans at Rethel, at Reims ? But what about the Meuse ? What about Maubeuge ? What about the necessary arrest of the second German flood that ought at any cost to have been prevented from joining that coming from Charleroi ?
It must mean then the invasion of the whole North and the whole North-East, the impotent retreat of our troops.
"Our troops," answer the messengers of disaster "have been in retreat for the last week. From Dinant to Reims our soldiers have fled before the German pursuit, and we don't know where they will stop, except for the great number of those who fall from exhaustion along the roads. They die, actually die, of fatigue and hunger."
"You are sure---you are quite sur?"e
"Listen. Yesterday morning at half-past one the tocsin sounded. Startled out of sleep, all the inhabitants of Rethel were ordered to leave the place in two hours, enough time to dress themselves. And a little earlier, at ten o'clock at night, the Superintendent of Police had been arrested, accused of having warned some of the inhabitants to get ready. Old people, the sick, children, the Red Cross with its wounded---received two days before---everybody was to go, those who could in the train or in carriages, but the greater number on foot. And it is the same all the way from the frontier---all along the roads a fleeing crowd, bewildered, without means, without object, without hope. And from those who have seen one hears frightful things. Murders, fires, rapes, mutilations! the enemy no longer seeks to vanquish an army, it wants to annihilate a people. They cut off the right hand of little boys so that they may not carry arms later on; they kill pregnant women to do away with future Frenchmen. On arriving at a village, the soldiers plunder it first of all, then surround it, set fire to the houses all around, shoot or push back into the flames the inhabitants who try to escape ; and when neither dwellings nor people are left, they resume their march.(3) And it is a rushing torrent; they finish off their own wounded to avoid delay; they advance by forced marches. Once more we say, in eight days they will be before Paris. . . ."
Even making allowance for the excitement of the two travellers, their words were enough to scare us. The War, the War was all the talk, and it drew nearer ; in the shape of these two women in tragic uniform and witnesses of such horrors it had made its appearance.
We leave this interview in a state of dejection such as we have never yet known, and in which our personal fate is far from holding the first place.
Nevertheless it must be thought of.
Lady A---- feels it to be her duty to remain in France and even in Paris : "One doesn't forsake one's mother or one's country in the time of danger," she says. As for me, I express a fear that I shall not be able to take up my post if Paris makes ready for investment and communications are cut off. She offers me a room in her house at any moment that I may find it convenient; and as she is not living there but in a hotel near, she warns her concierge to be ready for me at any time.
Half-past ten. I shall not have to take advantage of that kind offer. Last night, just at nine o'clock, a long-delayed telegram asks me to come to the hospital, where they are expecting wounded at any moment. This morning I go to the station to get information. The 11.16 train will probably run, I am told. I have therefore made my preparations, as has also my maid, whose husband is at the War, and who, with her little girl, will go back to her parents. Never has the child enjoyed herself more; every day there has been some commotion or other.
In a quarter of an hour I shall have given the key to a neighbour and left this new house and all I was going to put into it: furniture, books, and souvenirs, the memories and work of a lifetime. If fire or pillage come to it, at fifty-two I shall not commit the folly of setting up house again for what may remain to me of days in so brittle a world, but shall end my days in detachment. God shows us too clearly the nothingness of things, and, were it not for immortality, the nothingness of men.
Hall-past one. Still at Meudon. I waited for the eleven o'clock train till a quarter-past twelve ; the station-master, interrogated, knows no more about it than I do. I decide to go back to the house, where my maid will still have to be for a couple of hours. She improvises from what is left a war-time meal. Still I must get to Neuilly, where my wounded are expecting me. There is no way of getting a carriage ; the few horses on hire have been requisitioned. It is impossible to count on the trains; most of them are reserved for the carrying of the troops, the reservists called up, the staff and material of the Gévelot Works, which are going South. The manufacture of arms and powder is being worked at steadily ; a special vote has been given for it. For a month past they have been working hard at it; and the Treaty of Frankfort was signed forty-four years ago !
Two o'clock. I return to my personal history; that is better than recriminations.
Before making up my mind to undertake the journey to Neuilly on foot in the company of a sturdy boy of fourteen who, turn and turn about with me, is to push the wheelbarrow with the luggage, I thought I would make a last attempt on the telephone. For a wonder it was still acting and I got on to M. N---- at once. He will come himself in his motor-car to fetch me at five o'clock. It is all right.
A strange rumour is to be heard at the post-office and in the streets. The Forest of Compiègne is said to be on fire, and an army of 50,000 Germans who had been allowed to get into it on purpose is burnt. And to think that, anyhow for the first moment, I rejoice over the thought of this horrible thing! You criminals who command the Germans, to what will you degrade us by your contempt for the rights of others and your violation of all the laws of war ?
Papers I have just bought persistently report the victory of the Russians in Galicia. This seems a more certain thing and the best of news. If this victory is as great a one as is reported, its effects will soon extend to us, and the whole course of the War may be altered by it. Diplomatic reactions will equal the others, and an Austria vanquished, maybe dismembered, will offer great temptations to our sister Italy.
Four o'clock. My maid has just gone; everything is shut up; I have nothing left but my stylographic pen and my note-book, just sufficient to make a few political notes.
The Government has gone as it had decided some days ago. I knew it on Sunday, though not in its confidence, and the people knew nothing of it. It is incredible how easy it is, when once the papers are controlled by the Government, to deceive public opinion or to keep it in ignorance. What is no less surprising is the value set on this secrecy by the authorities. Yet I notice everywhere that the knowledge of the real state of things gives much better results than does error. It is for ever the mistaken idea of treating men like children and children like imbeciles. Heads of the people and teachers time after time have reason to repent, but they remain incorrigible.
If the idea of the exodus, and the reasons which make it a duty as imperious as grievous, had been gradually made clear to the people, they would not look upon it as an ignominious flight. If they had been told in time and without reserve of the advance of the invader, they would not have learnt it by the sudden arrival of distraught fugitives who infected them with their terror. So far panic grows but slowly, but that is thanks to the good sense of the greater number of the citizens ; the artless precautions of the authorities were more calculated to prepare the way for it. A fine gain in truth by concealing reverses and proclaiming successes! We heard of the lucky fight at Dinant, the entrance into Alsace, the entrance into Lorraine---and then, without transition, here are the Government at Bordeaux and the Germans at Compiègne!
But it is nearly five o'clock; I must get ready. Let us hope all the same that M. N----- will be able to come. My close-shut, empty house won't do for a long stay.
A quarter-past five. No one yet. But the weather is delicious ; never was there a more beautiful Summer. Nature insults man ; or rather man insults Nature.
At this time yesterday as I went to Clamart, I was walking along the edge of the wood. The light, the shade, the sunshine, the trees, the soft warmth of the air, the distant view of Paris over the Bois de Boulogne and St. Cloud with its green slopes, formed so strong a contrast with human horrors that I felt intoxicated with it, as it were, and could no longer believe in the oppressive realities of the moment; they took on the look of a dream, a wild imagination.
In this dream I saw eight nations, four of which, the greatest in Europe, and the strongest one in Asia, were already at war, while two or three others still were making ready to join in it. I saw, in all the North and East of France, then on half the vast frontiers dividing Russia, Austria and Germany, battles lasting several days ; battles lasting several weeks, in which millions of men killed each other. I dreamt that New Zealand seized a German island in Oceania, that there was fighting in East Africa, in the Cameroons, in the Congo. I dreamt that Japan bombarded a peninsula in the China sea; I dreamt that great vessels chased each other across the ocean, that in the North Sea as in the Adriatic whole fleets endeavoured to destroy each other. I dreamt that the days of invasion had come back and were accompanied by destruction, rapes, murders and conflagrations such as had not been seen since the days of Attila. I dreamt that the art-filled Flemish towns had been burnt , that Belgium and Northern France were the prey of hordes of barbarians, and that the same scourge was reaching Paris. And, to crown the wildness of my fancies, I dreamt that, unsatisfied by its fields of carnage, the war had spread even to the sky, and that, from above our heads human science, succeeding at last after so many ages in sailing in the air, sent down from thence deadly engines upon great towns, churches, museums, hospitals, palaces of queens and royal children. . . .
The sound of cannon awoke me from this frightful dream; they were fired at German aviators who were throwing down bombs on Paris.
Twenty minutes to six. The car does not come. Shall I stay here alone ? I will go to look at the aeroplanes, French or German, that are whizzing above the house.
Six o'clock. I hear the horn of the motor-car. There is a ring: it must be for me. M. N----- and another member of the committee take me to the hospital.
FROM the first everything was less commonplace than at Meudon.
Arriving last night at six o'clock, I am taken to my room. It is magnificent in the matter of height and width, but there is nothing in it except panes in the windows; the door, supposed to be glazed, has not yet got its glass.
Presently they will bring a bed, and there is a washing-stand in the neighbourhood. With newspapers on the floor I can unpack what is essential from my bag. In war-time. . . .
At dinner I hear of the election of Benedict XV and confirmation of the great defeat of the Austrians. Two pieces of good news. The friendship of Rampolla guarantees the intelligence, wisdom and piety of the new Head of the Church. I shall be able to love my Pope.
This morning's papers tell us nothing of the War, but they give, in three lines, the fine proclamation of General Galliéni, and interesting details concerning Cardinal della Chiesa. These details agree with the little I know of him, and everything gives reason for hope of a most beneficent Pontificate.
There are strange reports about. Some one in an excited group declares that "they have been seen defiling through Paris." At first I thought this meant Germans, so my relief was all the greater on learning that it had to do with Cossacks.
It appears the English Fleet is bringing them from Archangel. Was there ever a war like this!
Other interesting, but less consoling, events must be in preparation, for at eleven o'clock I hear of the evacuation of the Red-Cross Hospital close here. We shall be left; under the American Flag we have nothing to fear but the bombardment. While waiting for the big guns, the Taubes continue their attacks.
"Their bombs have done more damage than is admitted," said one of our hospital-attendants at breakfast; "there are quite nine dead near me, in the quartier de l'Europe."
Some one else declares the Prussians are at St. Denis. This grows exciting.
As we have received no wounded yet, I go to Paris to inquire for my friends and see what preparations for the reception of the invader are being made. They are not very magnificent. The Maillot Gate, which is only a quarter of an hour's walk off, alone displays any war-like appearance with its small garrison, its felled trees, its chevaux-de-frise, and deep enough trenches to protect the troops or perhaps to be furnished with explosives.
If that is the way the German gentlemen propose to enter (and it is a very tempting one; just think---the Avenue de la Grande Armée, the Arc-de-Triomphe, the Champs-Élysées!) instead of a triumphal march they may perhaps find a fine field of battle. In that case I shall be in the stalls.
We went through (I had taken a seat in the car of an unknown American) the Avenue du Bois. In this centre of Parisian fashion I see enormous requisitioned cars, several bearing the names of Belgian shops. But, picturesque and unexpected, I prefer one bearing in big letters Canterbury Laundry. It was always said that French Anglomaniacs had their washing done in London; here are the good people of Kent getting their washing done in the Bois de Boulogne.
My American having to stop at the Rue Pierre Charron, I go on to G. G-----'s who is at the Red Cross and then to Lady A-----'s, to the Archbishop's Palace, to the Abbé L-----'s rooms which look out upon the Square Sainte-Clotilde, and then to see Mme. G----- in the Rue de Lille, coming back past the Tuileries to take the Metropolitan to the Place de la Concorde.
All these wealthy quarters seem very quiet. A good many houses are shut up, but it is the usual season for that; a few more people, perhaps in carriages with luggage. Nowhere do I find real anxiety; beneath everything there is a fine calmness and manly steadiness.
The only sentiment beyond, and which dominates everything almost, is curiosity; I believe that if the Prussians go away without attacking us there will be a certain amount of disappointment.
Still the wounded don't arrive; nevertheless we are ready; the hospital is installed in the Lycée Pasteur whose first pupil ought to have been received in October. It is an immense and splendid building ; the cost of its erection can't have been less than five million francs. Still completely empty and in parts unfinished, it lends itself all the better to transformation. With its great class-rooms, its laboratories, its immense basements, its wide-opened bay-windows, its lofty ceilings, and its electrical and central-heating apparatus, it might be supposed originally intended for the victims of the War. Even its very mottoes, put up a year ago, seemed to have been chosen for the present purpose. PATRIE on the shield over the great Courtyard; L'HEURE FRANÇAISE SONNERA TOUJOURS, on one face of the clock; QUAND L'HEURE SONNE, HOMME, SOIS DEBOUT on the other. Operation and radiography wards, pathological laboratory, room for dentistry, sweating-rooms, isolation rooms, kitchen, linen-room---everything is brought to the highest point of perfection. Big motor-cars, furnished with stretchers and mattresses, are only waiting for a signal to go to fetch the wounded. We have already two hundred and fifty beds ; the number increases every day and may come to five or six hundred. The whole thing is kept up by the charity of Americans; it was the Administrative Council of their hospital in Paris that from the beginning of the War took the initiative in the work. The Colony living in France itself gave almost the whole of the half-million francs subscribed during the first month. New York and the cities of the United States came in later, and despite the severe crisis there as elsewhere, one may feel sure friends will not be wanting. America has its Red Cross, which, as is right, helps the wounded of all nations, but among the belligerents she wished to distinguish the compatriots of La Fayette and Rochambeau ; our hospital is witness to her faithful gratitude. France will not forget it.
In addition to the advantages of a magnificent establishment, there is that of a very healthy and pleasant situation. Without counting the nearness of the Bois de Boulogne, our quarter, built over the ancient park of Louis-Philippe, contains a number of spacious avenues in which the houses are separated from the road by fine gardens. The surroundings this September morning are radiantly charming. It reminds me of the "residences " in the wealthy cities of America where I twice found myself at this same season of the year---this ideal season they call there the Indian Summer. Still the same contrast between glorious Nature and the awful troubles of humanity.
Six o'clock in the evening. A consequence of these troubles affected me this afternoon. About three o'clock I received a telegram from the house where my mother lives. "Obliged to leave Clamart. Come as quickly as possible."
I think of what I had heard last week of the sudden evacuations of Rethel and Meaux. I see my old mother forced to start at once, with no means of transport, not knowing where to go, unable to join me or even to write to tell me where she will be.
I tell the Heads of the hospital of my anxiety and ask for a motor-car to go to fetch her, and one is ordered for me without delay. I inquire as to how I can find temporary quarters for my mother, and several ladies at once offer to take her in.
A quarter of an hour later I was rushing along the road to Clamart with a chauffeur and a stretcherbearer. Thanks be to God, my mother was still there; there had been no question of the ordinary and ordered evacuation, but of advice given by the Mayor that aged and infirm persons should be sent away in case of urgent measures being taken. Luckily, also, I had not looked at the date of the telegram. It had been dispatched yesterday. My anxiety would have been a hundred fold worse if I had known.
My mother wished to go to some cousins we have in Paris; we took with us, at the request of the manageress, two infirm ladies, whom she could not otherwise have got away, and who overwhelmed us with thanks. I made the car stop a little before we got to my cousin's house; she has two sons at the War, and must not be upset.
I leave my mother in good hands and hasten back to Neuilly where my services may be needed, But the moment has not yet come.
Eleven o'clock in the morning. Still no wounded. Some of the ladies are getting impatient. Preparations go on increasing; we have nearly three hundred beds. As for me, I get the Chapel ready. Thanks to the Curé of the Parish of Saint Pierre, the Convent of Saint Thomas de Villeneuve and other generous friends, everything is arranged without taking a penny from the funds of the hospital for the purpose. I am none the less grateful to our committee for placing at my disposal the finest room in the Lycée, the Chemistry Lecture Hall. After the War, perhaps, the Chapel will again become a class-room, as the Chaplains of the Army and Navy will lose their temporary posts.
But where Christ has passed there will remain some trace of the Divine.
In the same Lecture-Hall, at the top of the tiers of benches, the Chaplain to the English Embassy is preparing a Protestant Altar. The need for mixed Chapels is admitted by the Church in certain cases; I had only to inform the Archbishop of what would be the different creeds of our Staff and wounded.
Six o'clock in the evening. We have received our first guests: two English soldiers, slightly wounded, and a French Lieutenant suffering from appendicitis. More are announced for to-night.
All the motor-cars are gone to Villeparisis, where we know there are numbers of those wounded in the fight at Montmirail. No doubt that followed the engagements of the Ourcq where the communiqué at three o'clock reported that our army had checked the advance of the Germans. We are all anxiously waiting in the entrance-hall, nurses, doctors; assistants. They talk of fifty soldiers, most of them seriously wounded. Let them come, poor fellows! I think they would be nowhere better welcomed.
Eleven o'clock. We are still waiting, our bodies heavy with fatigue; we have been working so hard at preparations these last days; but our minds are awake and if eyes can't keep from half closing, hearts are wide open.
A quarter past eleven. As I was writing the last of these four lines, there was a telephone call. Everyone was alert at once. The communication is transmitted to us. "At Villeparisis there were only two hundred wounded. When our cars arrived they had already been fetched by other ambulances. So nothing to do, go to bed." We had to resign ourselves to that, a little cast-down, but not too much. It is quite enough in war-time to expect one event for another to happen.
The real work has begun. This afternoon we received ten English soldiers. One has a bullet in his throat; another a crushed foot; the rest are wounded in the hands, the arms, the legs, the poor limbs so blue and frightfully swollen. Except one poor wretch, suffering from acute appendicitis, they are all jolly and good-humoured; we have to insist upon their sitting down, even those with wounded feet. The only thing they complain of, and that with laughter, is that they have not been able to wash for some days, nor to have undressed for weeks.
They are not allowed to talk of the events of the War till a fortnight after; but, as they are right in holding, it is not disobeying this order to give us confirmation---having seen them with their own eyes---of the atrocities of the Germans in Belgium, especially of the fact that they very often, apparently whenever it was possible, put women and children in front of them in battle.
One subject of which they are never weary is the delightful welcome everywhere given to them.
"We might think we were at home," they say in tones of lively gratitude; "we are even received and treated better than in our own country. "
A little popular scene comes just pat for the expression of these sentiments.
A big Highlander has opened a window that looks out upon the street; immediately there is a gathering and the crowd endeavours to express its sympathy by a discreet ovation. The arrival of two Englishwomen and your servant makes conversation possible. I am asked to explain, to recount, to interpret. The talk lasts a full quarter-of-an-hour. One of the Englishwomen offers the day's New York Herald to our hero; he has already read it. She proposes to bring him the next day's to this same window; I answer that he will be on his sick-bed and that it will be better to leave the paper with the Chaplain. This will be done and there will be added an illustrated paper giving war-scenes in which the English army plays a fine part.
Some one hands me a sheet that has just appeared. I read the communiqué aloud. It says: "Thanks to a very vigorous action of our troops, strongly reinforced by the British army, the German forces which, yesterday and the day before, had advanced as far as the region of Coulommiers and Ferté-Gaucher, were obliged to retire slightly."
I allow myself to add that if we may believe more recent reports, our successes increase and that there is good reason for hope as to the battle still going on.
In fact for three days past I have felt much more confident, not only confident of the final success I have always believed in, but confident of approaching victories, of the defeat of the German army before reaching Paris, or at later before Paris itself.
This comes perhaps from my receiving more information, thanks to the commandant of our transport service. Perhaps, too, I owe this optimism to an atmosphere in which one lives closer to the atmosphere of battle. I understand better the meaning and the import of what we hear on all sides---that the spirit of the Army is excellent. If it remains such as I can now testify to it among our wounded, our ambulance men, in myself, victory is assured. It is not possible that the spirit of the Teutons should be the same, after six weeks of marching without rest or truce in an enemy country, night and day harassed by an adversary whom they had been led to despise, and when they must give up the steadfastly promised entry into the fascinating city of Paris.
And then, how is the tremendous lie about Italian co-operation, English neutrality, Belgian friendship, to be kept up? However German they may be, they must have taken count of the welcome of the Belgians; they must have discovered, were it only amongst the prisoners or the dead, soldiers of England!
I HAVE just come back from our English ward. One of the men was begging for his military medal which had been put into the strong-box and which he was afraid he had lost. He was seriously uneasy, and I was delighted to give it back to him.
All our wounded, in their comfortable beds and taken the greatest care of, look better than they did yesterday.
I have had some news. It seems good, and anyhow it is of great importance. The great battle has really begun, as this morning's communiqué gave us to understand. It extends from the region of Meaux as far as Verdun---in Brie and Champagne. Nowadays it needs the names of two provinces to localize a battle!
It is truly the greatest encounter in the history of the human race. I remember how, in my childish lessons, I was attracted by the names of Aetius and Attila and the Catalaunian battles. At the same spot, at the very moment I write, a similar battle, a greater battle, is being fought, a battle which will see, which is seeing, the working out of issues as serious, and the mutual slaughter by more efficacious means, of armies four times as large.
Who will be the winner this time, Attila or we? ---the two most civilized nations in the world, or those that the whole human race, beholding their doings, calls Barbarians?
The service of general intercession this afternoon at Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, in front of the shrine where the Patron-Saint of Paris lies, must have been beautiful. And neither the speaker nor the hearers could have been unmoved, if, after the passing of fourteen centuries, they considered the analogy of events. Geneviève, Jeanne d'Arc, gentle shepherdesses sent from God, save the flock of your people!
Ten o'clock at night. All our ambulances have just started for Meaux, where we heard at about nine o'clock that there were hundreds of unaided wounded. We sent doctors, nurses, dressings, in the ambulance-wagons, while our wealthy Americans carried provisions in their private motors. Meaux itself, evacuated last week and the centre of the present battle, must be totally without resources. I beg to go too, but am told that it will be better for me to stay where I am; they must have priests there, and the hospital must not be left without one at such a time.
The last motor-cars grunt under my window; they are off at top-speed, eating up the road, casting the brilliance of their lamps through the darkness of the night, as our friends unconsciously cast the beauty of their service over so many horrors, so many hecatombs!
But this time, at least, it appears as if they had bought our deliverance; our advantage increases. An American officer, come from near Meaux, says that the Germans fell back eight miles yesterday. If this might only be the beginning of their complete defeat, and the nearer ending of the War!
Six o'clock in the evening. I have a free moment, though it would need hours to tell the story of this day.
Our cars returned from Meaux at eight o'clock this morning.
I thought I had caught a glimpse of the War in the coming and the testimony of the fugitives from Rethel and the frantic rush to get away at Paris stations; but those were only, as I may say, reflected effects. Now, I have before my eyes its direct and immediate effects. One by one, on stretchers, under funereal-looking coverings, the victims of the fights of the day before yesterday are brought in.
From these bloody packages, which we open with infinite care, emerge big bodies with mutilated limbs and the suffering, patient faces of poor Africans. They are all skirmishers. There are two Frenchmen among them; the twenty others are Arabs or Negroes---Tunisians, Algerians, Moors and Senegalese. Their registered number, for the most part, is all the French they know; it is by that we identify them. Two of a higher grade, a private in the first line and a corporal are a little less ignorant and help us with their comrades.
I don't know if it is in order to call a private in the first line of a higher grade; anyhow it ought to be in this case for the Arab I am thinking of. His company, he tells us, charged too soon under the fire of the German artillery, long before the French had prepared the way (always the same waste of heroism!) and all but three fell. Our hero, being in the first line, rallied his two comrades and led them to another company. Wounded in the thigh, he went on fighting till a splinter of shell broke his arm.
Another skirmisher, a native of Drome, who has just arrived alone, had his right hand broken. No longer able to fight, he set off on his bicycle to look for some place where he could find aid, and did not find any till he got to Paris!
In the English ward, where the patients are already better, I recount the story of the coming of the wounded Africans and the Battle of Meaux."It was from round about Meaux, " I say, " that the Germans began to fall back, and that was thanks to you who stopped them there."
Their eyes shone with joy, especially when I added that the same movement had been going on for two days. If Paris is saved, they are quite happy.
Eleven o'clock at night. Two of our most comfortable cars have each just brought in an English officer from Nangis. They had been temporarily cared-for by private people; it had been intended to bring back a third, but he was found dead. The Curé of that little town had valiantly kept up its courage and organized assistance. Bombs from aeroplanes had done a good deal of harm around it; a woman had had her leg broken and a little nine-years'-old boy had been killed. Another woman had been killed outright with her child in her arms while the baby was unhurt.
One of our Englishmen has a bullet-wound through the lung; our doctors hope to save him. My last task on this exciting day was to make an inventory of his effects so as to put any valuable object in the strong-box. His poor tunic is pierced with two holes towards the middle; one at the entrance of the bullet, the other at its exit. All around there are big red stains.
Last night we were expecting an English superior officer, General Snow, whom they had gone to fetch from Coulommiers. This shows that our Headquartershave left that town, no doubt in order to advance to the North-East; that is another good sign.
General Snow did not arrive till this morning. I am told his wounds are not serious; his horse fell upon him; it will be a case of only a few days, luckily, for he himself had had to replace another general, and commanding officers are precious.
Last night two German wounded arrived, whom I have not yet seen; I have only made an inventory of what they brought with them this morning. Their belongings were soiled with mud and blood. We put under seal what was worth the trouble without examining too closely if it was brought from Germany or stolen in France. I can't say that as to a green apple found in a pocket; but there was a note-book bearing the heading of the little Seminary of Saint-Riquier that left me thoughtful.
In spite of all, I have not to make the slightest effort to feel drawn to them by a sincere feeling of pity, especially since I was told that when they arrived they were shaking all over.
A great part of my visits, up to now, is spent in writing letters for the illiterate or for those who can't use their hands. If they don't know how to dictate, I supply them with ideas, and I often add some reassuring words from the Chaplain-Secretary. A Moor, who knows three words of French, pronounced for me as address on the envelope a certain number of guttural syllables which would astonish me if they carried the letter to its destination. For serious news we sent the letters through the Regiment, which has the addresses of the families.
Yesterday I was able to get away for a couple of hours to go to see my mother, whom I had the pleasure of finding well and contented at our cousin's. She is very anxious; of her two sons in the Army, the younger, my godson, an Algerian skirmisher, has sent no news since he left; I dare not say no sign of being alive. And before the War he used to write very often. I did my best to comfort the poor mother by explaining to her that that proved nothing. I did not add what I know of the ordeal undergone by that valiant army, nor that one of our wounded, near Meaux, had seen all the men of his company but three fall.
One could never repeat too often how many individual griefs go to make up a great war. Still we must think of it; we must fathom it to its depths; we must draw from it a lasting horror of this unspeakable carnage, so that the present sacrifices---if we must carry them out to the end while we are in it---may guarantee a real peace, a durable peace, a pacific peace; from the disturbers, the murderers, of to-day, and from those who in the future might be tempted to do likewise, we must take away the means of doing harm.(4)
The news becomes really good. Along the whole line, the immense line, in Brie, in Champagne, in Lorraine, the enemy at last is falling back; and at several points, notably on the right wing, where he counted on turning us and rushing on Paris, a real retreat has begun.
The superhuman fatigue of six weeks of fighting; the uninterrupted march over hostile country; the waste of munitions; the first attacks of hunger---it is too much for the endurance of these troops, however strong they be, and even their horses are exhausted.
A few days more, a few hours, perhaps, and the historic Battle of the Marne (it is always these gigantic names!) checks the invasion, or even forces it back; destroys the plans of Germany; reverses to our advantage the course of the War; changes it (mon Dieu, is it possible?) into a victory for France.... How that would soothe our sufferings and our mourning! For after all---it makes one shudder to think of it---we might have lost these thousands and thousands of human lives and yet have been vanquished. But, while greeting with immense longing and a joy ready to burst forth, this growing dawn of victory, I see, I can't help seeing, what gives their tints to the clouds around it, by what precious colour, what blood the horizon is reddened.
Last night, in horrible wind and rain, our ambulances, in the forsaken villages about Meaux, were still gleaning wounded left uncared-for for several days. They brought back a dozen in the middle of the night, and at six o'clock this morning they set forth to look for others. The battle-fields after a battle are a piteous sight, they tell me, especially when they are so endless, and one can't tell in what wood, in what solitary barn, or in what church, the most wretched will be discovered.
With a mind bent upon the pitiful goal, as the motor flies along, one scarce gives a look to the broken-down trees, the burnt houses, the remains of equipments, the horses dead and already swollen-up, or to those that stand erect upon the hills, starving, motionless, like great skeletons.
At last one makes out a piteous group; one stoops over the blood-stained grass, ministers to soul and body; distributes drink, nourishment, dressings; revives strength and hope.
Very gently the poor wounded are wrapped up, lifted, laid on the mattresses of the ambulance or on the cushions of the private car; and here they are off for the home of science and kindness, where the hideous crimes of war will find amends, if amends be possible. There is a science that kills and a science that cures, as there are good and evil, and God and devils....
The wounded arrive in even greater numbers. The other ambulances and hospitals are complaining at not getting any. We have no lack of them becausewe have cars to go to fetch them in ourselves. They are still the victims of the beginning of the great battle, of the great victory; for since yesterday afternoon, the good news has been confirmed. Victory---that is the sovereign remedy for our wounded. And what a joy it is to take them the announcement, and between the beds, from which they raise themselves to listen better, to read them the bulletins that report it!
We need it, too, to endure the sight of their sufferings. Once bathed, shaved, clothed in clean linen, eased by the first attentions, refreshed by sleep and good food, it is delightful to look at them in their little white beds, with quiet faces and eyes full of gratitude and mild wonder.
But how affecting is their arrival!
Those who came in on Saturday night---Frenchmen---brought from Montereau, had received some attention, and they were very nearly clean; but their wounds, already four or five days old, and dressed once hurriedly and too late, made them suffer cruelly. But of the twelve none made any complaint; only one amidst the twinges of his pain shut his eyes and pressed his lips together; the others had strength enough to command their feelings.
There was one especially, a man of the people, whose look will never fade from my memory. I saw him come in on a stretcher, rolled up in the covering, his poor body, so long, so thin, so bruised; I saw his face, nearly black, with high cheek-bones; his eyes shining with fever---and his smile, yes, his smile, so beautiful, so full of resignation and sweetness, that it brought to one's mind the Christian martyrs looking up to Heaven amidst their tortures.
The doctor told me he had been wounded in the head, the leg, and the arm.
"Are you in great pain?" I asked, as I took his hand I should like to have kissed.
"No," he answered; "a little tired by the car."
That same night we received an officer of twenty-one, who had left Saint-Cyr for the Front, with two wounds. I won't give other indications. But I may tell of one of his trials. Picked up on the field of battle by German orderlies, he was taken, with their own wounded, to a neighbouring village and into the sole room of a forsaken house. There were only two mattresses for the eight of them, and he had to spend two nights and a day lying near these coarse, dirty creatures, smelling of tobacco and getting tipsy on the wine in the house.
All their rage was against the English; there was to be no quarter for them any more than for the blacks. As to the French, they were brave adversaries; besides they would soon make an end of them, and then it would be the turn of the Russians ---poor soldiers---and of the English, who had no army.
Two days later, our Lieutenant was allowed to join other wounded men, his compatriots, in a neighbouring house. A few hours after, the enemy began its retreat, and left them, as they did their own save the officers, to the French troops that re-took the village.
Several of our wounded have gone through the same experience of captivity and deliverance. They bear witness to the honourable behaviour of the German medical officers. For example, here is one of the stories I heard.
"After the battle, I found myself in a ditch, incapable of moving. A German surgeon passed by. He gave me bread and coffee, and promised to come back in the evening, if he could, or on the next day. The night andthe next day passed without my seeing any one; it seemed very long. That night he came again; 'I did not forget you, ' he said, 'but I had no time,' and he had me taken away and took good care of me."
Such facts deserve to be put on record. In this letting loose of horror and hatred, we must dwell on the few features capable of softening hearts.
When I think that this morning, at the head of one of the most-read papers, an article was allowed to pass which advised that no prisoners should betaken in future battles, but that enemies should be cut down "like unchained wild beasts," should be "strangled like swine!"
Nothing, not even the sacking of Senlis, which gave rise to them, can justify such explosions of fury.
I know well that the present German atrocities pass all limits, and that they often assume a general and official character which peculiarly increases their import.(5)
But surely does not that alone prove the inferiority of our adversary.
Far from us for ever be the idea of giving ourselves up to so monstrous a rivalry!
And let us not attribute the testimony I have heard to exceptional or ingenuous leniency. It comes from soldiers wounded in different engagements and for the most part greatly exasperated with the enemy. If they do justice to the German Medical Service, and in general to the Reserves--- "They are men like ourselves, married, fathers of families, reasonable "---they are never tired of hurling reproaches against the active Army, that which really represents---without the correctives that normal existence brings later---the military formation of Prussia.
For instance, here are some of the stories told me, taken from the life, and in all their native confusedness.
"The regular soldiers are no good," said a brave peasant-reservist. "They bumped my wound with the butt-ends of their rifles. They broke and threw about everything I had. When the Reserve came up, it was very different; they looked after me. My comrade, wounded in the chest, was dying of thirst, he did die soon afterwards. I dragged myself along to go to fetch him some water; the youngsters took aim at me, so I was forced to turn back and lie down again."
Another, who began by praising the German surgeons, had seen soldiers of the active army strip completely naked one of our men who had been shot through the lung and whom they had taken prisoner after he had been wounded." When they saw that they would have to leave him behind they stripped him of everything, even his shirt; and it was from pure spite, for they took nothing away with them."
Here is a third story, word for word: "My arm was broken and I was losing a great deal of blood; I crawled out of the trench on all-fours, or rather on all-threes. They arrived and took everything away from me. I crawled on. The trench was about 60 metres from the village. I dragged myself into a house where everything had been pillaged; there was nothing left but scraps. I caught sight of a chap going on all-fours, too; I called to him and he came and lay down beside me. The German surgeon came, looked after us and gave us some coffee and bread. From there, early in the morning, I got to the Church, and found M. le Curé; he took care of us. All the other people were gone. There wasn't a house that hadn't been pillaged except the Presbytery and the Church. It was there that your ambulance came to fetch us. It's five days to-day since I was wounded late in the afternoon. My captain was the first to be killed. They never miss an officer they can see. We did for a good many, too, those three days. But of over two hundred of the Company there are not twenty left."
Another: "We fought that day from eight o'clock in the morning till eleven o'clock at night; I was wounded at four o'clock, two fingers cut off my left hand. It wasn't serious, but I lost a lot of blood and my hands were dirty with earth and rifle-grease. I walked six miles at night, so as not to be taken by the Germans; we were told they were coming back. The active army is brutal, but not the Reserve."
The better to understand these stories and others we shall give, it must be remembered that they have to do with the battles that marked the check to the German Right Wing and following which the enemy had to make a precipitate retreat.
"A splinter of shell knocked me down and wounded me in the side. I was two days without its being dressed. The Germans arrived. There was a Saint-Cyrien beside me; they took away his money. They didn't search me; they only took my haversack with the bread and chocolate. They took me off and made me follow them. We got to the Church. The surgeon looked after us and gave us soup. We were going to be taken away by the Germans, but they didn't have the time. They went away and left us in the Church and twenty of their own men in a house; they only took their officers. We were taken to Crouy, where your ambulance found us."
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