TO-DAY, I was able to go in one of our ambulance cars to the clearing-station at Aubervilliers-la-Courneuve, whence come to us the greater number of our wounded.
We arrived at two o'clock. No one knows when an ambulance-train may come, or even if one will appear before the middle of the night. I resign myself to wait, if needs be, till ten o'clock at night.
At first I see nothing but an immense goods-station, to all appearance empty and almost dormant; a few trains at rest ; closed huts ; soldiers in all sort of uniforms, or on duty before a barrier that no one dreams of opening.
What's to be done for a whole half-day in this cold, dull desert ? The two American chauffeurs (or I rather think one is a chauffeur and the other a stretcher-bearer), have pointed out to me a second-class compartment, which is appropriated for the use of the Staff of our hospital, as a refuge, and what is more important, have promised not to start back without me. Moreover, they have introduced me to the station-master turned soldier, or rather the soldier turned station-master, who lauded our hospital, and made me free of everything: "You are at home here. "
A charming welcome, no doubt, but what am I to do with it ?
If I could find the hospital-attendant who came last week from the station to pay us a visit, I should be saved; only I don't even know his name. I know that he is a priest, but priest-soldier is no longer a sufficient description, and here, it seems, under their uniforms, I have three or four colleagues. At last, I manage it; from platform to platform, from ward to ward, from sentry to Red-Cross lady, from nun to soldier, at last I reach my hoped-for guide.
We walk about everywhere together, and I wonder at the welcome given him by all. Despite the greatcoat and the red trousers, despite his fierce moustache and his foraging-cap, civilians and soldiers give him his Monsieur l'Abbé more sympathetically, I conjecture, than did his parishioners in Indre-et-Loire. He is the real Chaplain of the station, and when the trainful of wounded arrives, his two offices of priest and hospital-assistant blend, or rather supplement each other to perfection.
While we are strolling about the courtyard a soldier approaches and gives him a small phial. "The holy oils for Extreme Unction," he explains.
"When I go out, I always give them in charge to another priest."
Soon he will have to leave me, for Benediction and a short sermon in the church at Courneuve in place of the absent Curé. The buildings he shows me before going are very sketchy but of great use. Two canteens are occupied with the re-victualling of the trains, distributing nourishment to the wounded, and sometimes garments of which they are in need. One, the oldest, is managed by the Société de Secours aux Blessés with the assistance of the Sisters of Saint-Vincent de Paul ; the other, called the Press Canteen, is under the management of Mme. Berthoulat. A Red Cross ambulance, worked by ladies of high position, is also kept in readiness to give all needed help and attention.
But all these---without at all depreciating their value---are but auxiliary and supplementary to the military hospital properly so-called.
It entirely fills the immense goods-shed. All the wounded and all the sick in each ambulance-train are taken there ; some to be evacuated to the hospitals in Paris or the suburbs ; others to await the making up of a fresh train, which, having passed the registry station at Bourget, will travel to the stationary hospitals distributed about the provinces.
Those whom the surgeons decide to evacuate, start as soon as possible, in a couple of hours at most ; it is from these that our dear guests are recruited. For the last two days as many as two hundred have been sent to Paris and its suburbs; before that very few were sent there, and everywhere one heard the complaints of willing nurses who were consumed with longing in their empty hospitals.
While waiting, sometimes for hours, sometimes for a day or even two, for the train which is to carry them further, the others receive on the spot the attention their state calls for.
A hundred and fifty beds are kept for them---or rather, as they will not be undressed---a hundred and fifty shake-downs. The far end of this great dormitory is reserved for infectious cases ; blankets and mattresses are baked in the stove.
At the other end, there is a little canteen, and a sort of bureau, with table and chairs round a small cast-iron stove. There, at times for rest, sit the nurses on duty. With the help of gangs of military hospital-orderlies, it is they who do the dressings under the direction of the surgeons. They are much pleased, they tell me, with the Boy-scouts of the Ninth District, who are always at their service when they send for them.
At their head is the wife of a manufacturer of Courneuve, Mme. G-----. Not content with keeping the wives and children of her husband's employés during the War, she undertakes the expenses of the hospital. But her greatest feat has been the organizing of it. Everything now goes on so well that there is no harm in recalling past history for which, moreover, no one seemed responsible. At the beginning, nothing could have been simpler;---there was nothing there. You looked into the carriages and got out the men who could wait no longer, or were dead.
On the 19th September, without warning to himself or any one else, the station-master witnessed the unloading of the enormous crowd of 3,700 wounded. He sent to fetch Mme. G----. She came in haste, bringing with her all the cotton or linen she had at hand, enough for the dressing of twenty or thirty. The shed, badly lighted, was still encumbered with parcels, trunks and barrels. The brave woman said to herself that all this must be altered. Her initiative, appreciated and seconded by competent authorities, brought forth the organization which, I hope, will work under my eyes presently.
"Presently," but I don't quite know when that will be. It was only four o'clock when my guide forsook me. With the idea of resting and taking notes, I climb into the compartment reserved for our hospital. Some of our men are already installed there. We keep cars always at this station to be ready for any occasion. I am pleased to see the one of my travelling companions who was so kind as to sit upon the step that I might have his seat.
Talk begins, and I soon perceive that, under a rather flippant manner, I have to do with perfect gentlemen. Our talk is naturally of the War, its causes, and its consequences ; and here come out views on Cæsar, on Napoleon, on the social and economic contentions of the day, in which I am not a little surprised to come upon general views and exact knowledge that are both a proof of great stability of mind. With my companion, especially, a kindly giant six feet and a half high, it needed no investigation to discover that he was the possessor of a lively intelligence and fine culture. We talked of Boston, of his studies at Harvard, of my lectures at the Lowell Institute, of the pleasure it had given me to meet his master, William James ; of Mr. Elliot, the former President of the University, and of Mr. Lowell, who is now its brilliant Head. We became quite friends, and on our return, his solicitude in protecting me from the cold went, against my will, so far as despoiling himself.
I had taken him for a bachelor, so young he looks, but he is the father of a family and in business. This double tie could not keep him back; War declared, he felt he must cross the Atlantic so as to take his part---it did not matter how---in the great things that were coming. And it is not the worst way he chose in helping towards the aid of the wounded. He willingly goes to fetch the railway convoys; but his soul rejoices much more when his turn comes for transport between the field of battle and the hospitals near the Front. The danger adds a charm to that of the service done.
These last few days again, twenty-five such young men have come across the Channel to join our ambulances. It will be seen that with this addition we can make up eighty-three cars, of which fifteen are at Neuilly and sixty-eight at the Front.(17)
I like this American fashion of practising neutrality; it proves the sincerity of what they say over there: "We are so neutral, that it does not in the least matter to us to know which nation will beat Germany."
Let us continue yesterday's notes. At six o'clock in the evening, in spite of the attractions of American society and recollections, I got out of my compartment to stroll about and stretch myself a little. The world is so small that, among the soldiers wandering about the courtyard, I found two, friends, one an Abbé from Aurillac, an old pupil of mine, who was impatiently waiting to go to the Front to gather up a crop of wounded. A train taking reinforcements there, from which friendly farewells reached us, still more quickened his desire. At seven there was the relief, and my Auvergnat had to leave me. Alone once more, I take refuge in the corner of the great shed, where the hospital ladies give me a seat by the stove and a cup of tea. Thanks to them I gain a certain amount of information.
Eight o'clock. My two companions want to go back if nothing happens and tell me that, failing their car, I must take that which goes back at midnight. Rather perplexed, I make inquiries and learn that an ambulance-train is due at half-past eight. After that, they don't hesitate about deferring the start.
At half-past eight, truly, here is the train coming in ; and at the same moment, I have the great pleasure of meeting again my valuable guide, the priestly hospital assistant. He explains to me that it is a collecting-train, such as go past pretty regularly every day and that must not be taken for one of those that are made up near the Front after the engagement itself. Into these last, all the wounded who seem fit to be transported, are hastily carried almost without selection.
Our train, which comes from Soissons, contains about two hundred men; some bring six or even eight hundred. From the 19th September to the 10th November there have come into this station seventy thousand. It is true that of this rather striking number, thirty thousand were only slightly crippled.
As soon as the train stops, the military orderlies (there are no others here) open the carriage-door, help the weakest to get out, and gently carry away those lying on stretchers. In a quarter-of-an-hour all are in the shed, standing, sitting, or lying while the nurses pass between the rows pouring out warm drinks and the surgeons make the selection and distribution.
The slightly lamed are directed to the Balcoq factory in Courneuve itself which has been fitted up to receive them, and they go there on foot. The wounded who don't need surgical aid, go to the hospital at Courneuve. The sick and not seriously hurt will wait here for the. making-up of the train which, doubtless to-morrow, will carry them far and wide. Finally those who are most seriously wounded are allotted without delay, and, according to their hurts or their maladies, to the different hospitals in Paris and the suburbs.
We ask for two, who are given to us without any difficulty, but whom I have scarcely time to speak to.
While they are being carried to our car, the priest-orderly exclaims "I forgot to show you the carriage of the dead !"
We rush to it, and, in spite of the feeble glimmer of a distant lamp, when it is opened, I catch sight of the tricoloured stripes that are painted on it; they are ornament enough.
"Happily you see it empty," says my guide; the dead don't stay there long. As soon as there are any, the Curé of Courneuve comes to have the bodies carried away and celebrates the service in his parochial Church. But, as his cemetery would not be large enough, I myself take them to the Aubervilliers Cemetery, and there recite the last prayers, wearing a black stole over my great coat."
As he says this, he brings me back to our car and I give him an affectionate farewell. With this devotion and this cheerful temper, secretly nourished by faith, but to all appearance become second nature, it is no wonder that our priests, chaplains, hospital-attendants, combatants, everywhere win the liking of their companions-in-arms and do them so much good.
I should like to dwell on this consoling thought, but soon it gives place, in spite of myself, to sadder pictures, and while, slowly, for the sake of our precious load, we wind along the dark suburb and through the badly-lighted town, I see again those two hundred men---silent and suffering---waiting patiently in the great station-shed for what will be decided on for them, prepared for everything, resigned beforehand, unheeding henceforth whether it be a little more or a little less pain.
I was especially struck with the sick, less familiar to me than the wounded, weaker, too, paler, more doleful, more weary, as if quite passive, indifferent and unconcerned about living. Exhaustion is the great trouble in a war such as this; it is wonderful that its ravages have not been greater on our side. Thanks for that must be given to the zeal of our administration, which provides for everything, and to the paternal solicitude of commanding officers who are as far as possible considerate of the strength and health of their men; whose spirit also counts for something.
The two wounded we brought back yesterday were struck down at the height of their strength; as I saw them last night on our arrival, and in their beds this morning, they possess reserves of life that will help them to a quick recovery. That fine Moorish corporal with his coal-black beard and fiery eyes, seems in no wise troubled by the splinter of shell that has nevertheless entirely fractured his thigh-bone; for fear he should be bored, for it will be a long affair, he has been put beside a compatriot. That Paris workman, civil engineer and infantry corporal, shows in his look and voice (for good reason he cannot gesticulate) as high spirits as if he were coming back from a fête. A splinter of shrapnel went completely through his arm, while he was struck by another in the leg ; but these little matters don't seem to count in his delight at finding himself once more in Paris and near his family. He is only twenty-six.. We receive very few of that age now; for the most part they are from thirty to forty.
What I must not omit to note, a propos of our Parisian, is that, wounded the day before yesterday in a trench seven kilometres from Soissons, he was already in bed in our hospital yesterday evening. And still better; this very evening I witnessed the arrival of another, wounded only this morning.
I WAS very much astonished when a man told me that they were beginning to light fires in the trenches.
"But the smoke ?" I questioned.
"Oh! it's not very thick, and one takes. precautions. A little straw and small wood, and then some big logs."
I forgot to ask him, but, evidently, the position of that trench must be very unusual, or pretty far from the enemy ; in all the others I hear of they suffer from cold. They suffer outside the trenches, too, and still more ; for the first time I have just seen a patient whose foot had been frost-bitten.
"How can it be helped?" he said; "when you're on duty, you must spend hours of the night without stirring; you can't even stamp with your feet; the smallest movement would draw the enemy's fire on you. I kept there like that with my feet in the snow. There's only one frost-bitten ---but the other is just as painful; they're keeping it in wadding. As to the frozen one, the toes seem dead."
I wonder no one had the idea of getting some sabots for our men, or goloshes big enough to let them put them on over their boots. Anyhow they ought to be given. to those who have to spend the night without stirring.
I keep to my idea about the goloshes, and to-day submitted it to one of our officers, and even to a general who came to see his wounded son. It appears it is not so new a one as I believed, and that it has been talked about more than once in competent circles. Perhaps talking about it is not enough.
And here, this very afternoon, confirmatory evidence comes which is even stronger than I wished for.
Thirty English soldiers come to us from that fierce and endless battle-field over the region between Ypres and La Bassée. Some of them are sick and we have them taken to suitable hospitals. Among the others, all of whom we keep, three or four are wounded, but the greater number are suffering from frost-bitten feet. If modest sabots might spare these brave men unnecessary suffering and keep more fighters for us, don't let us despise sabots.
In a paper of to-day I see, with emotion, in the list of the winners of the Military Medal, this name, on these grounds: ."Schoeny, sergeant-major in the 5th Field Artillery. Showed quite extraordinary coolness in the night-attack of the 31st October; shockingly wounded in several parts of the body, showed unprecedented courage, in making no complaint, and said to the major of the company, who told him he should recommend him for the Military Medal: 'I have done nothing to deserve that.'"
We have spoken of this hero already (see 10th November).
This time I have succeeded, and my goloshes are to be put before the department for applications ; oh! in a very small way at first; but who knows what example may do ? The day before yesterday I was speaking about them to the Comtesse de C-----:and two of her friends whom I was showing over the hospital. She was so touched that she has already written to me to ask me what she could do against the danger of frost-bite. I have begged her to put herself in communication with the Society for making warm clothes for the soldiers, the directors of which are great friends of mine.
One of these same directors, who also manages the Revue Hebdomadaire, sent me yesterday a very interesting visitor in the person of the Roumanian journalist, M. D-----, who wished to see the hospital. The Revue Hebdomadaire makes a speciality of Roumanian questions, and the lectures it got up at Bucharest won it valuable connexions out there, while at the same time they inspired a love for our country. I could quite trust M. D-----. What brought him was not curiosity nor even a mere feeling of compassion for the wounded. He came to gain knowledge, to see how best to help at home the victims of the coming war. The questions he asked would have made me guess that, if he had not himself owned it as soon as we became confidential. I betray no secrets in putting it down in these notes; it is probable that when they appear events will have begun. Moreover, the signs are plain enough in the language of statesmen, in armaments, in the more and more excitable manifestations of public feeling.
To the four millions of Roumanians under the yoke of Magyar insolence, the first ray of sunshine that shall melt the snow on the Carpathians will herald the approach, so long awaited, of the fraternal liberators ; . . . and at the same time, let us dare hope, at the same moment, Greece and Italy will arise.
From Athens and from Rome, as from Paris, from London, from Brussels and from Petrograd; from the Parthenon and from the Capitol, as from the Kremlin, from Westminster, from Saint-Gudule and from Notre-Dame; from all the great heights of human civilization, a unanimous cry will rise against the German menace; and this time, despite the frightful weapons they have won from the progress of science, the Barbarians will find with amazement that right is also might.
Just now I administered the last Sacraments to a Reservist badly wounded in the head, and that we had believed safe. The recovery was still so partial that a small indiscretion on his part suddenly put him back into a dangerous state, and now he is quite delirious. Reasonable and quite gentle about everything else, he is absolutely determined to rejoin his comrades as quickly as possible at the Front.
I assure him, alas! that he shall soon depart, and besides, knowing him to be a firm Christian, I ask him if he will not, so as to fortify his soul against all dangers, receive Absolution, Communion, and the Sacrament for the Sick. He willingly consents, and, his fixed idea not gainsaid, he fulfils his religious duties with great calmness and lucidity. A few minutes later, as I sit beside his bed, he begins once more to talk to me about going ; he even gets excited, and in an eager voice, encourages the others on to battle. Then, again he says good-bye to me. Without any pretence I accept his adieus, and give him mine; after which I embrace him and leave, lest I should weep.
My Adjutant-Curate being there to give me confidence, I was present last night at an illustrated lecture on " The Battle-Fields of the Marne." M. Gervais-Courtellemont, who gave it in the Gaveau Hall, was a witness of the fighting which took place in the second week of September in the environs of Meaux, and which was the beginning of our deliverance. After the victory, he was able to go over the battle-fields, and thanks to the coloured slides he himself took, to take us there with him.
Before the publishing in the Bulletin des Armées on the 5th December of "Quatre mois de Guerre," we had not understood much about the general uniformity of success which will keep the name of the victory of the Marne ; it was enough for us to know that it had saved Paris from investment, and turned the chances of war in our favour. Coming in contact with wounded men who had taken part in it, I had, moreover, heard many details not given by the press. But these details were disjointed and were given from the inevitably narrow point of view of the individual combatant. On the other, hand, the official résumé of the Bulletin was too concise to give the right appreciation of the facts. Yesterday's lecturer did, in great measure, fill up these gaps.
If, because of certain secrets difficult to fathom or to reveal, he was unable to set forth a complete story, or altogether keep to the language of history, at least his geography left nothing to be desired, and he showed us the most vivid pictures of the theatre of the War ; or rather, by virtue of coloured photography in the hands of a clever artist, he made the theatre itself pass before our eyes. And we seemed to see the real plains where they fought, the hills that were cleared away, the trenches from which the enemy fired, the holes the shells made, the burnt villages, the belfries battered down, the graves above all, the countless graves where our soldiers sleep at the very spot where they died.
Under their mounds, flower-decked by pious hands, with the cross and the flag of France above them, they are not only the most touching and poetic sign of the struggle, but also the most instructive; narrow and dispersed where it was less intense ; large and close together where it raged more furiously. If you care to know how far the German menace advanced, at what precise spots France, with heroic gesture, stood erect in face of the invader and cried to him: "Come no farther! " seek them one by one, those sacred hillocks, and contemplate the windings of their last line.
At its extreme point, between Meaux and Dammartin, you will see it approach within a day and a half from the Capital; there, on the 5th September, fought a Division of the Army of Paris. At five o'clock in the evening, under a hail of bullets, above Villeroy, a company pushing on to the attack approach the ridge where the Germans are intrenched.
The captain is already killed with one of his two lieutenants. The other gives the order. "Lie down and blaze away!" but he himself, in spite of remonstrances, stands upright, defying the guns. A bullet strikes him full in the forehead, and all his men fall after him ; only one lives on, wounded, to serve as witness. Their grave was dug on the spot where they died. For this altar where the country began to see her sacrifice approved of Heaven, distinguished victims were needed; the lieutenant who commanded this handful of heroes was called Charles Péguy; Péguy, the herald of Jeanne d'Arc, the poet who best expressed Christian hope, and who, prophetically, wrote these lines:
Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour la terre charnelle,
Mais pourvu que ce fût dans une juste guerre.
Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour quatre coins de terre,
Heureux ceux qui sont morts d'une mort solennelle.
Heureux ceux qui sont morts dans les grandes batailles,
Couchés dessus la sol à la face de Dieu. . . .
Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour leur âtre et leur feu
Et les pauvres honneurs des maisons paternelles. . . .
Heureux ceux qui sont morts, car ils sont retournés
Dans la première argile et la première terre,
Heureux ceux qui sont morts dans une juste guerre.
Heureux les épis mûrs et les blés moissonnés.(18)
Happy are those who have died for a living world,
Provided it was in a just war.
Happy are those who have died for a corner of earth,
Happy are those who have died a solemn death.
Happy are those who have died in great battles,
As they lie beneath the sod face to face with God.
Happy are those who have died for their hearths and their home
And the poor credit of the paternal house. . . .
Happy those who have died, for they have returned
To the first clay and the first earth ;
Happy are those who have died in a righteous war.
Happy the ripe ears and the gathered corn.
I have the pleasure of having for a neighbour at Neuilly, a both venerable and energetic colleague, M. le Chanoine L----- formerly a naval Chaplain, and formerly a Chaplain in the '70 war, a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and decorated with several medals. On my arrival, he gave me a most brotherly welcome, and I am under many obligations to him. But the greatest of all is that he has been so kind lately as to associate himself with my duties and to visit some of our guests in my place. They were really more than I could manage to see every day and form with them those personal relations of friendship without which I have never been able to work fully upon souls. It is a necessity Saints might dispense with, more perfect intermediaries for grace from above ; as for me, I am obliged to give myself, before I can give God. The danger is that, thinking to give oneself, at times one looks for oneself in others. But one must take oneself as one is. Thanks to the kind Canon, I shall be able to resume my longer individual visits and the more intimate and effective talks. I am all the more glad because Christmas and the New Year are approaching, days on which our soldiers are liable to be saddened by the thought of their absent ones ; festivals when it will need all the human sympathy and the love of God to console them for the separation as well as for so many other troubles.
Thoughts such as these fill all hearts just now. Outside there is talk of nothing but keeping Christmas for soldiers and wounded. With us, at the hospital, there is much thought given to it, and I think it will be well done. For my own part ambitious projects of hymns and ceremonies absorb me, all the more that I have not much experience of such things, and it is a question of making something out of nothing. God will provide, as Pius X used to say.
19th and 20th December.
IT is twenty-nine years (a third of the longest life), since at Saint-Sulpice, just about this time of year, I was ordained and said my first Mass. The anniversary of those solemn joys does not take my mind off my present mission, quite the contrary; even more than usual my thoughts are with our wounded.
My poor friends! How long these December days must seem to them, shortest of the year as they are! What lies most heavy on the sick is the darkness, and nowadays the darkness lasts nearly fifteen hours.
So they are glad enough to see around them the morning stir begin with the dawn. In the half-light, there is the hospital-attendant filling the basins with warm water, the nurse laying brushes and combs, towels and soap upon the tables. At six o'clock, the electric lights are turned on and the toilet begins.
Mother-like, the nurse washes and combs her patient, while questioning him about his night of pain ; to make more sure, she takes hold of his wrist and puts a thermometer under his tongue.
Pulse and temperature are taken morning and evening. The difference, especially that of the temperature, is astonishingly in favour of the morning.
During this time, housemaids clear the room with brooms and damp cloths. There are a great number of them, an army in the larger wards, so that the work may be got through speedily, for it is nearly time for breakfast, and they have to bring it in---bring it in, but not serve it; that, like all the attendance, is the duty of the hospital-attendants and nurses. It is their part, too, to make the beds and render even more material services. Their office is not for show, and it is easy to understand that some of them are at times in need of a holiday. There are others that have taken no rest since the opening of the hospital, and when one remembers that most of them are people in Society, accustomed to an idle life, one is struck with admiration for such self-sacrifice. And, it must be noted that we have always, especially as nurses, even night-nurses, many more offers than we can find room for.
As to the doctors, it is enough to say that in most of the operations they themselves do the dressing. From the officer of the day to the managers of the ordinary or the antiseptic linen; from the head of the transports to the head of the Bureau, there is no such thing as a sinecure, any more than there is in the various posts of administration or superintendence. It is especially a matter for astonishment to me, how, on certain days, the distinguished men who receive all the visitors and supply them with information, can feel equal to the task, and how the management which has superintended the house and its finances from the beginning can endure the fatigue.
Our patient, who has rested a little after his meal of café-au-lait, bread and porridge, at eight o'clock sees the entrance of the day nurses and hospital-attendants, who will be on duty till the same hour in the evening. Soon afterwards the doctor proceeds with the dressings ; those who are able going to be dressed in special wards.
I have already described that moment both wished-for and dreaded; the baring of wounded limbs, the antiseptic cleansings, the changing of draining-tubes. The pain is made up for by prompt relief, and, while the doctor attends to his companions, our soldier, in his freshly-made bed, lets his mind relax a little..
But here is the newspaper---French or English---in which he will be able to follow the events of the War. With what interest he pores over the information, at times mysterious to us, but which recalls to him so many glorious feats of arms or fearful risks ! However great a welcome is given to the hospital-attendants bringing in the papers, a still warmer one awaits him who distributes the correspondence.
Since the day, already far off, of his mobilization, the poor soldier has gone through nightmares of the battle-field, and dreams of victory---so strange a life, that it is ineffably sweet and soothing to him, to recover, in a beloved handwriting, the familiar pictures of his town or his village. Field, workshop, parlour, it matters not; it is the normal and reasonable existence; it is home, it is the family, the persons and things he loves, all the good things whose value he feels the more for being separated from them, for having even just missed losing them at a blow. That is why he is so glad to get letters.
And so as to receive them, he will send them himself, though he is not fond of writing, and still less of dictating. This last is not rare here; you may be too ill; you may have your right arm in a sling or your fingers cut off; you may even---it has been met with---not know how to read. I began, and the nurse went on, teaching reading and writing to an intelligent and docile Zouave, who though living quite near Algiers, had never been to school .
However, it is easy to find secretaries, first of all among comrades who ask nothing better than to be of service, among the nurses and hospital-attendants when they are free; sometimes among the benevolent visitors; almost every day there is to be met in our wards an American of Paris, a quite charming little old man---not so old either---who spends half his time acting as public-scrivener.
Let us add to this some talk from bed to bed of neighbours, a kind word or attention from a nurse, the visit of the officer of the day and the Chaplain, that of the hair-dresser or of companions able to walk, and the time for lunch has come unperceived
At half-past-eleven exactly the cloth is laid. The bedridden patients have each his little private table ; a larger one is placed in the middle of the ward for the others. All diets are in accordance with the doctor's orders; normal stomachs enjoy an ordinary bill-of-fare, generally composed of fish or eggs, meat, vegetables and dessert.
From noon to two o'clock, while those in bed doze, those who are up, if the weather is not too bad, go to take the air on the balconies, which are also accessible at other times, except when reasons of health forbid. Fresh air is welcomed here; the ventilators in every ward are constantly open, and, as often as it is prudent, the windows themselves. To the two big balconies on the first story three small ones have been added on the ground-floor, and on all, in addition to the independent wounded who have got there all by themselves, may be seen infirm men brought in wheeled armchairs, or really bad cases, which a clever mechanism enables to be carried along in their beds.
Means of transport must needs be brought to perfection in such a hospital. It is not on a stretcher that the badly wounded can be carried to the radium-ward, or those for plaster-work or dentistry, or to the surgery for wounds in the head, or to the operating-theatre.
And I perceive that I have made no notes on these most essential services, not even on the last, by far the most important in a house like this, where most of the doctors are surgeons, and we receive scarcely any one but wounded who depend on their skill. Forced, by limited knowledge, to be silent about these many doings of our practitioners, at least I can testify to their great efficiency wherever the wound itself is not mortal, or too inveterate.
I have seen wonderful cures; heads disfigured and swollen brought back to normal lines; broken jawbones renewed and furnished with beautiful teeth; arms and legs which seemed as if they must always be useless, restored. I have seen wrenched from death gangrenous patients it thought its prey, and to whom I have had to give absolution in its briefest form.
A specialist would have marvels to describe here. We may hope it will be done at least for one of the auxiliary services, the laboratory for clinical examination and for pathological research. The immediate aim of that laboratory is to specialize in diagnostics and so direct treatment; it will moreover contribute to the advance of science by the methodical observation of facts rare in normal times, but frequent at the present day.
But let us return to our wounded man and the way he employs his day.
We left him, about two o'clock, resting in his ward or on the balcony. He is growing restless and turning his eyes towards the door or bending over the balustrade to look down into the avenue; he is expecting visitors. Every day from two to four he may be visited by his relations ; on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays by his friends or charitable strangers, who are not, however, admitted without strict references.
One can guess what, on the first day, is the emotion of a father, or mother, a wife, a sister, at the sight of the beloved patient.
Will they have to mourn over a hopeless mutilation, the loss of a leg, an arm or his eyesight ? Are they, still worse, to dread a fatal issue, and are they come only to be present at his death-bed Each case may occur, the last, alas ! like the others but, thank God! the first is much the most frequent, and most of the visitors have the joy of seeing the gradual convalescence of their son, their husband, or their brother.
Whether comforting or mournful, the visit must end at four o'clock. If dressing has to be done again it is done then; temperature and pulse are taken a second time. The patients under diet may take at this time some light refreshment, and soon, about six o'clock, after the washing of face and hands, as in fashionable society, it will be the time for dinner for all.
While waiting for it they talk or play patience, or cards, or draughts or dominoes according to their mood. A good employment for leisure hours is crochet or knitting ; but few have a taste for it. And, by the way, I have surprised our young ex-savage Mouça, in the act of making himself a comforter!
They read, too, almost too much.
The librarian has granted me the run of the library, which I don't abuse, but which has all the same resulted in the substitution of some books for others. None ought to be given out but such as are educative, and by that I don't mean only instructive books, but all, whether amusing or serious, which possess a minimum of literary worth.
Above all to simple and little cultivated minds, with no protection against ugliness and evil, nothing but what is good and beautiful should be offered.
Those who are really bad do not read, except for the papers; neither do they play games, and they speak very little; what they need most is rest; they have enjoyed from time to time in the day time a few good but too short intervals of it ; but the evening brings with it a recrudescence of fever, and the coming of night brings apprehensions of sleeplessness broken by nightmares.
After dinner the electric-lamps are gradually put out, and at eight o'clock only one small shaded one is left on the nurses's table, and the painful nightwatch begins, to many eased by well-remembered prayers and the leaving of all things to God's care.
What comforts them all is the knowledge that at the smallest sign the nurse will come, never weary of turning the pillow, finding the lost handkerchief, or an easier way of lying; giving something to drink, encouraging, petting, scolding maternally. Or perhaps she will administer a tabloid that will make one sleep well.
Sleep well ! The supreme desire, unrealizable for so many weeks, and which, for our poor friend will not be granted even now. He turns and turns about, unless his wound is of such a nature that ,even that alleviation is not possible to him; he sighs, but without grudging, as he hears the regular breathing of his more fortunate neighbour; full of compassion he listens to the moans that come from another bed; at last torpor seizes him and he closes his heavy eyelids.
But it is only, in a dream, to see himself once more in the trenches, many comrades joking over their discomforts, only once more to take his place in that night-march against the which forced them to fall back and Germans, allowed us to gain more than a hundred metres. The cannons roar, the bullets whistle, the big shells heave up heaps of earth ; there is a louder report, a bomb bursts nearer, and here he is lying on the ground in a pool of blood.
With a start, our wounded man wakes up, astonished at his peaceful surroundings; by degrees he remembers where he is, grows calm, and after another hour, closes his eyes again. The exhausting dreams are renewed; this time it is the dressing-station, the painful dressing, the transport, the jolting in the ambulance cars and trains, the midnight arrival at the strange hospital.
But what is this disturbance in the ward? Is he asleep or awake? Is it somebody else being brought in or himself being carried out? Is he, for the fourth or fifth time going to change his bed of pain? His fevered mind can make nothing of it. When will the light of day come to put an end to all this confusion and anguish ?
Ordinarily the night is spent more peacefully, but at times it is disturbed by still more troublous visions.
In one of his too frequent awakings, he perceives that screens have been placed round the bed of his neighbour, one of the worst cases.
Into this impromptu little room slip cautiously shadows: he thinks he recognizes as the doctor, the Chaplain, and a visitor who has spent the whole day there in silence, and who now has great difficulty in stilling her sobs.
What are they doing and whispering about ? Our patient turns round, so as to see and hear less. But after an hour or two the little party disperses, a first group more rapidly, the second more slowly and as if, in the half-darkness, they were carrying away a sacred burden.
When our friend wakes for good in the morning, his neighbour is no longer there. He thinks, he tries to think, that ---he has been taken to another ward.
OUR preparations for Christmas, music and decoration, are getting on better than I could have believed. Still I must interrupt them for a moment to note down a very original arrival: that of a sergeant of Zouaves and his dog "Fend-l'Air," who, for a time, was called "Tue-Boches."
Their story has been told in the papers with the addition of far from accurate details. It is quite pretty enough to stand by itself. I am going to give it as I heard it from the Zouave this morning. If there are gaps in it, it is because I did not want him to talk too much; he is very weak still.
It was on the 12th December he was wounded, at Roclincourt, near Arras, in a trench, or rather a branch of a trench, on the first line. Branches are the passages which connect the trenches. A bomb burst near him, killing his neighbours and covering him with earth, the displacement of air having made the planks that supported the wall give way. Badly hurt, three-parts covered with earth, with no one near him but dead comrades, he was giving way to despondency, when his dog, which had not left him during the course of the War, came up to him, eager to do what he could and uttering the most loving lamentations.
"It is not true that he dug me out, but he revived my spirits. I began to disengage my arms, my head, and the rest of my body ; and, seeing this, he began himself to scratch his best all round me and then to fawn upon me and lick my wounds. The lower part of my right leg was torn off, the left struck in the calf, a splinter of shell in the thigh, two fingers gone and my left arm burnt. I dragged myself all bleeding as far as the trench where I waited for an hour for the stretcher-bearers. They took me to the dressing-station at Roclincourt, where they took off my foot with its boot; it was held on only by a sinew. From there I was carried on a stretcher to Anzin ; then in a car to another dressing-station, where they cut some more off me ; then to the hospital at Houvin-Hauvigneul, where I stayed five or six days. An ambulance-train took me after that to Aubervilliers, from where I came here. My dog had been present at the first dressing, and came to meet me at Anzin; he was allowed to be with me at the hospital and in the ambulance-train."
At the Aubervilliers station they were obliged to be separated; seeing how serious the case of the poor Zouave was, the military surgeon ordered his evacuation to us.
"May my dog go with me ? " asked the wounded man.
Much touched as he was, the surgeon could not take it upon himself to send a dog to the military hospital.
"But what will become of him ? and how shall I find him again ?"
The lady at the head of the canteen promised to keep him and to take care of him.
"Thank you, Madame; but hold him well in, or he would burst himself if he couldn't follow the ambulance."
In fact it was not without difficulty that, after the two friends had said farewell to each other, the one that was left was held back.
More than one of the nurses were moved to tears at the sight.
The editor of a newspaper writes: "Safely tied-up in the canteen-van, overwhelmed with dainties he would not touch, he stayed there two days. Having forgotten to ask his name, they ingeniously called him Tue-Boches.
"My little Tue-Boches ! Dear Tue-Boches, eat your soup. Your master is going on well! you'll soon see him again ! Here's a bit of sugar. . .' But Tue-Boches kept silent, refused everything, like to die of grief.
"The whole canteen was in despair; they could not stand it.
" ' Come, Tue-Boches,' said the directress, ' we will try to get you back to your friend.'
"And they went to the American Hospital and told the story of the saving of the Zouave ; and the dog, duly combed and washed with the most refined antiseptics, was admitted to the hospital where he found his master and his appetite once again. Admired by all, resplendent and happy, Fend-l'Air never quits the bedside of his recovered friend. Both are doing wonderfully well; they will shortly go back to the Front to become once more together, as heartily as before, valiant Tue-Boches."
These last words, to be perfectly correct, require a few little alterations. it is quite true that Fend-l'Air is admired and looked after as if he were a King's dog, but not that he is perfectly happy, nor that he spends the whole of his time with his master. It is not true, either, that his master is already well again, nor that, with a foot amputated, there is any question of his going back to the Front. Fend-l'Air understands all this, and during the short visits he is allowed to make every morning, after a tender and discreet greeting, he knows perfectly well that it is best to sit very quietly at the foot of the bed, his eyes fixed on his sick friend.
Our Christmas festivities went off admirably from every point of view, and I should like to have described them sooner, but the night of the festival I was overcome with sleep, and yesterday we had fifteen badly wounded men brought in.
Compassion for the sufferings of these new-comers did not need, even on this morning of the festival, any great change of sentiments ; it had been but too easy to keep a grave and melancholy note in our rejoicings. But they had their charms none the less, and I think that in more than one mind they will leave beautiful memories. When presently, on the shores of the lakes of Scotland or Ireland, on the Breton heaths, among the mountains of Auvergne, in the African deserts, our guests think of the gigantic war in which they just escaped death, a gentle vision---as in a dream of light and harmony and flowers---will show out against that terrible phase of their existence, and it will be the vision of the Christmas celebrated in the American Hospital.
To begin with, the preparations were interesting. While the nurses hung great branches of mistletoe from the ceiling, or tied great bunches of holly bound with red ribbons to the window-catches, the slightly wounded soldiers gladly handed them the evergreens or held the ladders for them, and the patients from their beds watched their doings, and saw the tables being covered with flowers and pretty trifles and the electric lamps being draped in many-coloured silks. Every window even, in every corridor, had its share of greenery, and no one knows the full length of our corridors or the exact number of our windows.
The flags of the Allied Nations and that of the United States hung everywhere; big ones were nailed above the doors and along the walls, and little ones were stuck even into the boxes of medicines and the corks of the bottles of sterilized water.
A final effort after the morning's dressings, and, on the 24th December, everything was ready at lunch-time. But it was not until three o'clock in the afternoon that, in the linen-room, the ceremony of the Christmas-tree began.
A fir-tree brilliant with little lamps of course occupied the centre of the room, and beside it stood a majestic Father Christmas, with hoary beard and in his traditional costume of crimson and ermine. All our wounded who were able to walk---perhaps half---passed before him in succession and received a present from his hands. Most of us were present at this march-past, and at first it pleased us, it even cheered us by the pleasure the presents gave ; but by degrees other feelings took possession of us at the sight of that long line of mutilated men, and I was left almost alone, having wished to shake hands with each, when the two-hundredth in his turn passed by, hopping on his crutches.
Those who were kept to their beds, although worse, were really a less saddening sight, their infirmities being hidden. Father Christmas took care not to forget them ; he passed through each ward, he stopped beside each bed, accompanied by a choir of nurses who all the while sang beautiful hymns; French cantiques, English and American Christmas Carols. I like especially the "Come, all ye Faithful," adapted note by note, to our magnificent words: Adeste Fideles.
About four o'clock, a concert was held, a part in a large ward and a part in the angle of two corridors, so that as many as possible should hear it. A talented singer sang a touching song from La Vivandière, another from Carmen and the Marseillaise.
And then silence and order held sway once more. At six o'clock, as usual, dinner was eaten and soon the lamps were shaded into night-lights. It was not a day to be over-tired if you wished to come to Midnight Mass.
And did they wish to come ? Verily, I don't think that of those who got permission one was wanting, and permission was refused only to those patients for whom it would have been really imprudent. And with them were present, almost in full number, the staff in all its branches, from the officer of the day, who came back from Paris on purpose, to the housemaids who would have to begin their work at six o'clock in the morning. Among the nurses and hospital-attendants none were absent save such as had the care of the bedridden. There was not an empty place in the Chapel or the galleries. I don't say that all had come with the same religious belief ; many were not Catholics; some even may have had no faith at all, but all behaved with perfect reverence, and if one may believe what was said next day, no one left without a feeling of profound emotion.
The Chapel was all decorated with wreaths and boughs ; on the Altar the sober light of the candles shone upon a mass of green plants, brightened too by white lilac and guelder-roses. A magnificent palm framed with its foliage the tabernacle and even the crucifix, and higher still, on the wall at the end, a sheaf of flags of the Allies and America put the work of our hospital under the Heavenly protection.
But the real ornament of our Chapel was the presence of the many wounded. The picturesque variety of the costumes and the difference of races was not that which struck one most, but their wounds themselves, told but too clearly by the bandages that bound their heads or covered their hands; the slings that supported their arms .. the crutches on which they leaned; the armchairs even in which some of them had had themselves brought in. Round about the Christ, truly present on the Altar, it was such a scene as was marvelled at in Galilee nineteen-hundred years ago. And at the moment of the Communion held out to many of them by my trembling hands, the melodious voice at the far end of the Chapel was not mistaken when it divinely sang:
Heaven has visited the Earth.
All our solo-singers, all our chorus, all the accompaniments, were provided by the hospital itself ; to our nurses and hospital-attendants who had cared for the pains of the body was given the power of touching the heart and of expressing its noblest feelings. Both at the Midnight Mass and at Benediction in the afternoon, they all sang; the only exception was the wife of one of our most seriously wounded patients. She represented all those who, from afar, on this day of customary joy, were mentally watching at the bedside of those they loved and grieved at not being able to care for, perhaps never to see again.
But of all the great memories of our Christmas, that which will remain with me the greatest of all, is to have that morning carried the joy and strength of Communion to about forty wounded men in their beds of pain, some of them, all unknowing, in danger of death.
If God had never used me for anything else, I should thank Him for having created me and made me a priest.
Several of those who listened to my short sermon at the Midnight Mass, having asked to read it, I will venture with humbleness to reproduce it here.
MES CHERS AMIS,
Of all the Christmases we have celebrated since our infancy, this year's, despite the delightful festivities of the afternoon, will not be the most joyful, you well know why; but perchance. it may remain in your memory as the most touching, the greatest and the most Divine. This would be suggested by the sight alone of our Hospital Chapel, so beautifully adorned with flowers and lights, with hymns and greenery, but especially adorned with what our Lord looks upon as a thousand times greater---your numerous and devout attendance.
Yes; it is touching, this Christmas of 1914, the Christmas of the terrible year; or, no, not the terrible year but as some one has said in view of so much self-sacrifice, so much devotion and so many hopes, the Christmas of the sublime year.
It is a touching one, this Christmas of 1914, in the bosom of the families where the old mother and the young wife, choking back their tears, say to the children, grown serious themselves, "Pray to Jesus for Papa or the big brother, who is fighting out there."
It is touching in the snow-clad woods, in the freezing trenches, where those we love suffer and fight with their noble courage for us. On their beds of straw---which so well recall the stable at Bethlehem---they are dreaming of us as we dream of them, our poor, our splendid soldiers; they are praying with us at this sacred hour of Minuit, Chrétiens! and, like Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds long ago---from their ill-protected shelter, they are gazing at the Winter stars, listening to hear if the Choir of Angels will sing its hymn once more: "Glory to God in the Highest and Peace on Earth (and peace on earth!) to Men of Good Will."
Glory to God in the Highest! Peace on Earth to men! Ah! how far we are from that! Glory to God ? On the contrary, how badly is He obeyed, who so insistently commanded, "Therefore love one another!" And as for Peace on Earth, all you who listen to me, know but too well what that is ; you dear wounded victims of the War, you admirable women, men of heart and knowledge, whose whole effort is given to repairing its evils.
And yet, as ever for nineteen centuries, this year again resounds that angelic song: "Glory to God in the Highest! Peace to Men!" And in one way it rings true, more true than it ever did.
"Glory to God!" Faith is rekindling, piety is being born anew, morals are amending; devotion purifying hearts, courage growing higher, voluntary self-sacrifice breeding heroes, resignation under suffering multiplying saints.
"Peace on Earth to Men Beyond the blood-filled rivers, behind the burning villages, a dawn can be foretold, a rising hope of a better and more enduring peace, a really pacific peace ; dearly-bought, it is true, but more beautiful, more fruitful, truer than the bellicose peace which was but lately stifling the world. Our generation will have borne the brunt, but our descendants will be happier than we; all this crimson of war, all this crimson of blood, is a beam from the dawn, and soon the Sun of Justice will arise. Noël, Noël! Here is Redemption.
But the peace between men, this fraternal concord, it is not only in the future that it may be contemplated. Don't you feel, my brothers and sisters, that it reigns amongst us here? Is it not that which in this hospital unites us from all the corners of the Earth, the Old World and the New in our beautiful mission of pity, in that care of body and soul which it is sweet to receive after so many trials, and sweeter still to give ?
Is it not this peace, this concord which gathers us together at the foot of the Altar we have just left, to adore the Divine Child in His Mother's arms and to pray to Him with hearts in unison ?
Let us pray to Him therefore, with our homage to grant our ardent desires. Let us ask Him to support the combatants and heal the wounded; to take to Himself those that are dead and to comfort those who mourn; and lastly to shorten this frightful war, or at least to let us, enemies as well as Allies, profit by it for the good of our souls and our countries, for the progress of the human race.
Let us ask it by our public hymns and our private prayers; let us ask it by the communion in which the happiest among you will presently take part; let us ask it by the sacred Sacrifice of the Mass, in which Jesus the Redeemer, as at Bethlehem, as on Calvary, is about to offer Himself to thank and glorify our Heavenly Father for the remission of our sins, for the salvation and peace of the world.
One of those who received Holy Communion in their beds, the Irishman X---- who has been suffering martyrdom here for three months, showed some gladness this morning when he showed me the pretty gifts sent him by the Queen as to all the English wounded. The men at the Front receive rather different ones.
Our sick man asks me to take from his shelf a gilt box whose cover bears the portrait of the Queen, surrounded by inscriptions ; at the top, Imperium Britannicum; at the bottom, Christmas, 1914; on the left, France; on the right, Russia; at the four corners, Belgium, Serbia, Montenegro, Japan. I open the pretty box and find inside a pipe, a packet of cigarettes and a packet of tobacco ; and, besides these substantial presents, a charming little card bearing the words: "The best wishes of Princess Mary and friends in the country for a happy Christmas and a victorious New Year."
Another card bears the portraits of the two Sovereigns, with these words in facsimile of the King's handwriting on the back: "Our best wishes for Christmas 1914. May you soon be restored to health !---George."
All these gracious details give to the Royal gift a personal and intimate character which is surely not what touches the poor wounded men the least.
Neither in France are the fighters or wounded forgotten. From the whole nation, from the children even, innumerable evidences of affection and gratitude have reached them. And no doubt the other countries have done the same. In all history there has perhaps been no Christmas so sorrowful as that of 1914; but perhaps there has never been another so beautiful. Once more the Star of Bethlehem has shed its soft light amid the blackness of the night, and of the God made Man it can be said, "His light shineth in darkness."
At half-past four o'clock this morning I closed the eyes of the admirable Charles Marée, the man who won the medal for having in the middle of the night thrown himself and his car across the road to stop two German armoured cars. In him the Christian equalled the soldier. Twice a week, at the end of the large ward, he edified his companions and the nurses by receiving with touching piety the Holy Communion. During the nearly three months in which he suffered constant tortures, never did he utter complaints. It could be said of him that, literally, he had shed all his blood for France. Since the first flood of it he lost from his wound on that night of heroic encounter, how many hæmorrhages had, drop by drop, drained his strength away! Yesterday morning, there was so great a one that he asked for me without delay, and after having given him once again the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, I administered also Extreme Unction.
We spoke of his possible death, I, perhaps, more moved than he, but both of us with quiet and serenity. I promised him that, if he should die, I would say Mass for him the next day; I did not think that it would be the very next. He gave me his last messages, especially one telling his own people that he had died "like a good patriot and a good Christian."
What could be added to such words? Spoken by his lips, they kept their full significance.
We buried him to-day. His loss is felt by all, and all vied in showing sympathy to his family, by which I mean his uncles and aunts. His father and mother are in a part of the country occupied by the German army, and during the three months since he was wounded, no attempt to put him in communication with them has succeeded. And he was their only son, and such a son!
"He was their all," his uncle said to me, "and their support as well, for he had taken the place of his sick father as the head of their business."
When the news reaches them----May his prayers obtain for them the power to bear it, as he did, like patriots and good Christians " !
With him we carried to the cemetery two other poor soldiers, and there are three at the point of death. We had been less tried for a few weeks past. The year 1914 desired a retinue worthy of it---a retinue of dying and dead. It has even had suitable weather of storms and icy rain; it was only blood that was wanting. But no; blood mingles with the mire on the plains of Flanders and Poland, with the snow on the slopes of the Vosges, the Carpathians and the Caucasus; its crimson traces are to be seen in the fields, amid the ruined villages, in the streets of bombarded towns, in the waters of disputed rivers, on the wreckage the sea casts back. Oh! how frightful a year!
But still, the wonderful year, the "sublime year"!(19) the year of self-sacrifice, of reconciliation and heroism.
God alone knows the good that has come out of all this suffering, the still greater good that will come; it is why He has permitted it, and why He has not put an end to the unbridling of criminal, but free, wills to which it is due.
We, too, will some day recognize this good so dearly bought. We shall enjoy it, not only, like our beloved dead, in that invisible world where each of us harvests in fruits of joy or grief that which he sowed of goodness or evil; we shall enjoy it even in this world, where the Divine Justice which unbelievers also worship as we do, only under another name, always ends by portioning out to the peoples, according to their conduct, prosperity or failure, glory or dishonour.
May the year that begins to-morrow bring forth without too much delay the precious gifts we hope for! May it soon bring us peace, not an unwieldy and menacing peace like that which for a long time past has held this war concealed within it, but a real and durable peace, firmly guaranteed by the agreement of the majority of the finest nations ; a peace in which humanity, cured of its errors by hard experience, will have no other care but to remedy past evils, and to respect the rights of all.
And how great the joy to think that in that nearing future of reparation our country will be one of the most favoured ! With her lost boundaries she will recover honour and independence ; not only will her enemies no longer have power to harm her, but given over as they are to the worship of strength, they will respect her because of her victory.
Her friends will treat her, as they do already, as a queen of grace and valour. The children given back to her after half a century of captivity, will form on her new frontier a rampart of love and devotion. And as for those who did not leave her, but who too often grieved her with their dissensions, they will have recognized themselves in the hour of danger as indissoluble members of one family. After having shed their blood for the same heritage, for the same ideal, they will not be found ready to compromise the result of such sacrifices, to disconcert their faithful Allies and awake hopes of revenge in the vanquished enemy, by rending each other afresh.
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