Infomotions, Inc.A Volunteer Poilu / Beston, Henry, 1888-1968



Author: Beston, Henry, 1888-1968
Title: A Volunteer Poilu
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): trenches; pretre; verdun; boches; trench; bois; shells; shell
Contributor(s): Bell, Clara, 1834-1927 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 47,677 words (really short) Grade range: 10-12 (high school) Readability score: 57 (average)
Identifier: etext12330
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The Project Gutenberg EBook of A Volunteer Poilu, by Henry Sheahan

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Title: A Volunteer Poilu

Author: Henry Sheahan

Release Date: May 12, 2004 [EBook #12330]

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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK A VOLUNTEER POILU ***




Produced by A. Langley




A VOLUNTEER POILU

by Henry Sheahan




To Professor Charles Townsend Copeland of Harvard University

Dear Copey,

At Verdun I thought of you, and the friendly hearth of Hollis 15 seemed
very far away from the deserted, snow-swept streets of the tragic city.
Then suddenly I remembered how you had encouraged me and many others to
go over and help in any way that we could; I remembered your keen
understanding of the Epic, and the deep sympathy with human beings which
you taught those whose privilege it was to be your pupils. And so you
did not seem so far away after all, but closer to the heart of the war
than any other friend I had.

I dedicate this book to you with grateful affection after many years of
friendship.

Henry





Topsfield, September, 1916

Preface

I have ventured to call this book A Volunteer Poilu principally because
we were known to the soldiers of the Bois-le-Pretre as "les Poilus
Americains." Then, too, it was my ambition to do for my comrades, the
French private soldiers, what other books have done for the soldiers of
other armies. The title chosen, however, was more than complimentary; it
was but just. In recognition of the work of the Section during the
summer, it was, in October, 1915, formally adopted into the French army;
a French officer became its administrative head, and the drivers were
given the same papers, pay, and discipline as their French comrades.

I wish to thank many of my old friends of Section II, who have aided me
in the writing of this book.

HENRY SHEAHAN




Contents

I. THE ROCHAMBEAU S'EN VA-T-EN GUERRE

I A war-time voyage--The Rochambeau--Loading ammunition and food
supplies--Personalities on board--The dyestuffs agent--The machine
lathes man--The Swede from Minnesota who was on his way to the Foreign
Legion--His subsequent history--The talk aboard--The French officer--His
philosophy of war--Ernest Psichari--Arrival at Bordeaux--The Arabs at
the docks--The convalescent soldiers-- Across La Beauce--The French
countryside in war-time.


II. AN UNKNOWN PARIS IN THE NIGHT AND RAIN.

Paris, rain, and darkness--The Gardens of the Tuileries--The
dormitory--The hospital at night--Beginning of the Champagne
offensive--The Gare de la Chapelle at two in the morning--The
wounded--The Zouave stretcher-bearers--The Arabs in the abandoned
school--Suburban Paris at dawn--The home of the deaconesses.


III. THE GREAT SWATHE OF THE LINES

Nancy--The porter's story--Getting to the front--What the phrase "the
front" really means--The sense of the front--The shell zone--The zone of
quiet--My quarters in the shelled house--The fire shells--Bombarded at
night--Death of the soldier fireman.


IV. LA FORET DE BOIS-LE-PRETRE

Le Bois-le-Pretre--Description--History--Les Glycines, "Wisteria
Villa"--The Road to the trenches--At the trenches--The painter's idea of
"le sinistre dans l'art"--The sign post--The zone of violence--The
Quart-en-Reserve--The village caught in the torment of the lines--The
dead on the barbed wire--"The Road to Metz."


V. THE TRENCHES IN THE "WOOD OF DEATH."

The Trenches--Organization--Nature of the war--Food, shelters, clothing,
ammunition, etc.--A typical day in the trenches--Trench shells or
"crapouilots"--In the abri--The tunnel--The doctrinaire lieutenant of
engineers.


VI. THE GERMANS ATTACK

The piano at Montauville--An interrupted concert--At the Quart--The
battle for the ridge of the Wood--Fall of the German
aeroplane--Psychology of the men in the trenches--Religion in the
trenches--


VII. THE TOWN IN THE TRENCHES

Poor old "Pont"--Description of the town--A civilian's story--The house
of the Captain of the Papal Zouaves--Church of St. Laurent--The Cemetery
and its guardian.


VIII. MESSIEURS LES POILUS DE LA GRANDE GUERRE

En repos--A village of troops--Manners and morals--The concert--journal
of the Bois-le-Pretre--Various poilus.


IX. PREPARING THE DEFENSE OF VERDUN

En permission--State of France--The France of 1905 and the France of
1915--The class of 1917--Bar-le-Duc--The air raid--Called to Verdun.


X. THE GREAT DAYS OF VERDUN

Verdun in 1912--Verdun on the night of the first great attack--The
hospital--The shelled cross road--The air shell--The pastry cook's
story--The cultivateur of the Valois and the crater at Douaumont--The
pompiers of Verdun--"Do you want to see an odd sight?"--Verdun in storm
and desolation.






A Volunteer Poilu

Chapter I

The Rochambeau S'en Va-t-en Guerre

Moored alongside a great two-storied pier, with her bow to the land, the
cargo and passenger boat, Rochambeau, of the Compagnie Generale was
being loaded with American supplies for the France of the Great War. A
hot August sun struck spots and ripples of glancing radiance from the
viscous, oily surface of the foul basin in which she lay inert; the air
was full of sounds, the wheezing of engines, the rattling of cog-checks,
and the rumble of wheels and hoofs which swept, in sultry puffs of noise
and odor, from the pavements on the land. Falling from the exhausts, a
round, silvery-white cascade poured into the dark lane between the wharf
and the deck, and sounded a monotonous, roaring underchord to the
intermingled dins. At the sun-bathed bow, a derrick gang lowered bags of
flour into the open well of the hold; there were commands in French, a
chugging, and a hissing of steam, and a giant's clutch of dusty,
hundred-kilo flour-bags from Duluth would swing from the wharf to the
Rochambeau, sink, and disappear. In some way the unfamiliar language,
and the sight of the thickset, French sailor-men, so evidently all of
one race, made the Rochambeau, moored in the shadow of the sky-scrapers,
seem mysteriously alien. But among the workers in the hold, who could be
seen when they stood on the floor of the open hatchway, was a young,
red-headed, American longshoreman clad in the trousers part of a suit of
brown-check overalls; sweat and grime had befouled his rather foolish,
freckled face, and every time that a bunch of flour-bags tumbled to the
floor of the well, he would cry to an invisible somebody--"More
dynamite, Joe, more dynamite!"

Walking side by side, like ushers in a wedding procession, two of the
ship's officers made interminable rounds of the deck. Now and then they
stopped and looked over the rail at the loading operations, and once in
low tones they discussed the day's communique. "Pas grand' chose"
(nothing of importance), said he whom I took to be the elder, a bearded,
seafaring kind of man. "We have occupied a crater in the Argonne, and
driven back a German patrol (une patrouille Boche) in the region of
Nomeny." The younger, blond, pale, with a wispy yellow mustache,
listened casually, his eyes fixed on the turbulence below. The derrick
gang were now stowing away clusters of great wooden boxes marked the
Something Arms Company. "My brother says that American bullets are
filled with powder of a very good quality" (d'une tres bonne qualite),
remarked the latter. "By the way, how is your brother?" asked the
bearded man. "Very much better," answered the other; "the last fragment
(eclat) was taken out of his thigh just before we left Bordeaux." They
continued their walk, and three little French boys wearing English
sailor hats took their places at the rail.

As the afternoon advanced, a yellow summer sun, sinking to a level with
the upper fringes of the city haze, gave a signal for farewells; and
little groups retired to quieter corners for good-byes. There was a good
deal of worrying about submarines; one heard fragments of
conversations--"They never trouble the Bordeaux route"--"Absolutely
safe, je t'assure"; and in the accents of Iowa the commanding advice,
"Now, don't worry!" "Good-bye, Jim! Good-bye, Maggie!" cried a rotund,
snappy American drummer, and was answered with cheery, honest wishes for
"the success of his business." Two young Americans with the same
identical oddity of gait walked to and fro, and a little black
Frenchman, with a frightful star-shaped scar at the corner of his mouth,
paraded lonelily. A middle-aged French woman, rouged and dyed back to
the thirties, and standing in a nimbus of perfume, wept at the going of
a younger woman, and ruined an elaborate make-up with grotesque
traceries of tears. "Give him my love," she sobbed; "tell him that the
business is doing splendidly and that he is not to buy any of Lafitte's
laces next time he goes to Paris en permission." A little later, the
Rochambeau, with slow majesty, backed into the channel, and turned her
bow to the east.

The chief interest of the great majority of her passengers was
commercial; there were American drummers keen to line their pockets with
European profits; there were French commis voyageurs who had been
selling articles of French manufacture which had formerly been made by
the Germans; there were half-official persons who had been on missions
to American ammunition works; and there was a diplomat or two. From the
sample trunks on board you could have taken anything from a pair of
boots to a time fuse. Altogether, an interesting lot. Palandeau, a
middle-aged Frenchman with a domed, bald forehead like Socrates or
Verlaine, had been in America selling eau-de-cologne.

"Then you are getting out something new?" I asked.

"Yes, and no," he answered. "Our product is the old-fashioned
eau-de-cologne water with the name 'Farina' on it."

"But in America we associate eau-de-cologne with the Germans," said I.
"Doesn't the bottle say 'Johann Maria Farina'? Surely the form of the
name is German."

"But that was not his name, monsieur; he was a Frenchman, and called
himself 'Jean Marie.' Yes, really, the Germans stole the manufacture
from the French. Consider the name of the article, 'eau-de-cologne,' is
not that French?"

"Yes," I admitted.

"Alors," said Palandeau; "the blocus has simply given us the power to
reclaim trade opportunities justly ours. Therefore we have printed a new
label telling the truth about Farina, and the Boche 'Johann Maria' is
'kapout.'"

"Do you sell much of it?"

"Quantities! Our product is superior to the Boche article, and has the
glamour of an importation. I await the contest without uneasiness."

"What contest?"

"When Jean Marie meets Johann Maria--apres la guerre," said Palandeau
with a twinkle in his eye.

In the deck chair next to mine sat a dark, powerfully built young Iowan
with the intensely masculine head of a mediaeval soldier. There was a
bit of curl to the dark-brown hair which swept his broad, low forehead,
his brown eyes were devoid of fear or imagination, his jaw was set, and
the big, aggressive head rested on a short, muscular neck. He had been a
salesman of machine tools till the "selling end" came to a standstill.

"But didn't the munitions traffic boom the machine-tool industry?" I
asked.

"Sure it did. You ought to have seen what people will do to get a lathe.
You know about all that you need to make shells is a machine lathe. You
can't get a lathe in America for love or money--for anything"--he made a
swift, complete gesture--"all making shells. There isn't a junk factory
in America that hasn't been pawed over by guys looking for lathes--and
my God! what prices! Knew a bird named Taylor who used to make water
pipes in Utica, New York--had a stinking little lathe he paid two
hundred dollars for, and sold it last year for two thousand. My firm had
so many orders for months ahead that it didn't pay them to have
salesmen--so they offered us jobs inside; but, God, I can't stand indoor
work, so I thought I'd come over here and get into the war. I used to be
in the State Cavalry. You ought to have seen how sore all those Iowa
Germans were on me for going," he laughed. "Had a hell of row with a guy
named Schultz."

Limping slightly, an enormous, grizzled man approached us and sat down
by the side of the ex-machinist. Possibly a yellow-gray suit, cut in the
bathrobe American style, made him look larger than he was, and though
heavily built and stout, there was something about him which suggested
ill health. One might have thought him a prosperous American business
man on his way to Baden-Baden. He had a big nose, big mouth, a hard eye,
and big, freckled hands which he nervously opened and closed.

"See that feller over there?" He pointed to a spectacled individual who
seemed lost in melancholy speculation at the rail--"Says he's a Belgian
lieutenant. Been over here trying to get cloth. Says he can't get it,
the firms over here haven't got the colors. Just think of it, there
isn't a pound of Bernheim's blue in the whole country!"

"I thought we were beginning to make dyes of our own," said the Iowan.

"Oh, yes, but we haven't got the hang of it yet. The product is pretty
poor. Most of the people who need dyes are afraid to use the American
colors, but they've got to take what they can get. Friend of mine, Lon
Seeger, of Seeger, Seeger & Hall, the carpet people in Hackensack, had
twenty-five thousand dollars' worth of mats spoiled on him last week by
using home dyes."

The Belgian lieutenant, still standing by the rail, was talking with
another passenger, and some fragments of the conversation drifted to our
ears. I caught the words--"My sister--quite unexpected--barely
escaped--no doubt of it--I myself saw near Malines--perfectly
dreadful--tout-a-fait terrible."

"Twenty-five thousand dollars' worth of mats all spoiled, colors ran,
didn't set, no good. This war is raising the devil with the United
States textiles. Maybe the Germans won't get a glad hand when they come
back. We hear that they're going to flood the market with good,
low-priced dyes so as to bust up the new American plants. Haven't you
heard them hollerin' for tariff protection? I'm going over to look up a
new green dye the French are getting out. We hear it's pretty good
stuff. What are you boys doing, looking for contracts?"

The Iowan replied that he hoped to get into an English cavalry regiment,
and I mentioned the corps I had joined.

"Well, don't get killed," exclaimed the dye-stuffs agent paternally, and
settled down in his chair for a nap.

It was the third day out; the ocean was still the salty green color of
the American waters, and big, oily, unrippled waves were rising and
falling under the August sun. From the rail I saw coming toward us over
the edge of the earth, a small tramp steamer marked with two white
blotches which, as the vessel neared, resolved themselves into painted
reproductions of the Swedish flag. Thus passed the Thorvald, carrying a
mark of the war across the lonely seas.

"That's a Swedish boat," said a voice at my elbow.

"Yes," I replied.

A boy about eighteen or nineteen, with a fine, clear complexion, a downy
face, yellow hair, and blue eyes, was standing beside me. There was
something psychologically wrong with his face; it had that look in it
which makes you want to see if you still have your purse.

"We see that flag pretty often out in Minnesota," he continued.

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Oscar Petersen," he answered.

"Going over to enlist?" I hazarded.

"You bet," he replied--and an instant later--"Are you?"

I told him of my intention. Possibly because we were in for the same
kind of experience he later became communicative. He had run away from
home at the age of fourteen, spent his sixteenth year in a reform
school, and the rest of his time as a kind of gangster in Chicago. I
can't imagine a more useless existence than the one he revealed. At
length he "got sick of the crowd and got the bug to go to war," as he
expressed it, and wrote to his people to tell them he was starting, but
received no answer. "My father was a Bible cuss," he remarked
cheerfully,--"never got over my swiping the minister's watch."

A Chicago paper had printed his picture and a "story" about his going to
enlist in the Foreign Legion--"popular young man very well known in
the--th ward," said the article. He showed me, too, an extraordinary
letter he had received via the newspaper, a letter written in pencil on
the cheapest, shabbiest sheet of ruled note-paper, and enclosing five
dollars. "I hope you will try to avenge the Lusitania," it said among
other things. The letter was signed by a woman.

"Do you speak French?" I asked.

"Not a word," he replied. "I want to be put with the Americans or the
Swedes. I speak good Swedish."

Months later, on furlough, I saw in a hospital at Lyons a college
classmate who had served in the Foreign Legion. "Did you know a fellow
named Petersen?" I asked.

"Yes, I knew him," answered my friend; "he lifted a fifty-franc note
from me and got killed before I could get it back."

"How did it happen?"

"Went through my pockets, I imagine."

"Oh, no, I meant how did he get killed?" "Stray shell sailed in as we
were going through a village, and caught him and two of the other boys."

"You must not make your friend talk too much," mumbled an old Sister of
Charity rather crossly.

The two young men with the same identical oddity of gait were salesmen
of artificial legs, each one a wearer and demonstrator of his wares. The
first, from Ohio, had lost his leg in a railroad accident two years
before, and the second, a Virginian with a strong accent, had been done
for in a motor-car smashup. One morning the man from Ohio gave us a kind
of danse macabre on the deck; rolling his trouser leg high above his
artificial shin, he walked, leaped, danced, and ran. "Can you beat
that?" he asked with pardonable pride. "Think what these will mean to
the soldiers." Meanwhile, with slow care, the Virginian explained the
ingenious mechanism.

Strange tatters of conversation rose from the deck. "Poor child, she
lost her husband at the beginning of the war"--"Third shipment of
hosses"--"I was talking with a feller from the Atlas Steel
Company"--"Edouard is somewhere near Arras"; there were disputes about
the outcome of the war, and arguments over profits. A voluble French
woman, whose husband was a pastry cook in a New York hotel before he
joined the forces, told me how she had wandered from one war movie to
another hoping to catch a glimpse of her husband, and had finally seen
"some one who resembled him strongly" on the screen in Harlem. She had a
picture of him, a thin, moody fellow with great, saber whiskers like
Rostand's and a high, narrow forehead curving in on the sides between
the eyebrows and the hair. "He is a Chasseur alpin," she said with a
good deal of pride, "and they are holding his place for him at the
hotel. He was wounded last month in the shoulder. I am going to the
hospital at Lyons to see him." The day's sunset was at its end, and a
great mass of black clouds surged over the eastern horizon, turning the
seas ahead to a leaden somberness that lowered in menacing contrast to
the golden streaks of dying day. The air freshened, salvos of rain fell
hissing into the dark waters, and violet cords of lightning leaped
between sea and sky. Echoing thunder rolled long through unseen abysses.
In the deserted salon I found the young Frenchman with the star-shaped
scar reading an old copy of "La Revue." He had been an officer in the
Chasseurs-a-pied until a fearful wound had incapacitated him for further
service, and had then joined the staff of a great, conservative Parisian
weekly. The man was a disciple of Ernest Psichari, the soldier mystic
who died so superbly at Charleroi in the dreadful days before the Marne.
From him I learned something of the French conception of the idea of
war. It was not uninteresting to compare the French point of view with
the German, and we talked late into the night while the ship was
plunging through the storm. An article in the review, "La Psychologie
des Barbares," was the starting-point of our conversation.

"You must remember that the word 'barbarian' which we apply to the
Germans, is understood by the French intellectually," said he. "Not only
do German atrocities seem barbarous, but their thought also. Consider
the respective national conceptions of the idea of war. To the Germans,
war is an end in itself, and in itself and in all its effects perfect
and good. To the French mind, this conception of war is barbaric, for
war is not good in itself and may be fatal to both victor and
vanquished." (He spoke a beautiful, lucid French with a sort of military
preciseness.)

"It was Ernest Psichari who revealed to us the raison d'etre of arms in
modern life, and taught us the meaning of war. To him, war was no savage
ruee, but the discipline of history for which every nation must be
prepared, a terrible discipline neither to be sought, nor rejected when
proffered. Thus the Boches, once their illusion of the glory of war is
smashed, have nothing to fall back on, but the French point of view is
stable and makes for a good morale. Psichari was the intellectual leader
of that movement for the regeneration of the army which has saved
France. When the doctrines of pacificism began to be preached in France,
and cries of 'A bas l'armee' were heard in the streets, Psichari showed
that the army was the only institution left in our industrialized world
with the old ideals and the power to teach them. Quand on a tout dit,
the military ideals of honor, duty, and sacrifice of one's all for the
common good are the fundamentals of. character. Psichari turned this
generation from a generation of dreamers to a generation of soldiers,
knowing why they were soldiers, glad to be soldiers. The army saved the
morale of France when the Church had lost its hold, and the public
schools had been delivered to the creatures of sentimental doctrinaire
government. Was it not a pity that Psichari should have died so young?"

"Did you know him?" I asked.

"Yes; I saw something of him in Africa. The mystery of the East had
profoundly stirred him. He was a dark, serious fellow with something of
the profile of his grandfather, Ernest Renan. At Charleroi, after an
heroic stand, he and every man of his squad died beside the guns they
served."

Long after, at the Bois-le-Pretre, I went to the trenches to get a young
sergeant. His friends had with clumsy kindness gathered together his
little belongings and put them in the ambulance. "As tu trouve mon
livre?" (Have you found my book?) he asked anxiously, and they tossed
beside the stretcher a trench-mired copy of Psichari's "L'Appel des
Armes."

One morning, just at dawn, we drew near a low, sandy coast, and anchored
at the mouth of the great estuary of the Gironde. A spindly lighthouse
was flashing, seeming more to reflect the sunlight from outside than to
be burning within, and a current the color of coffee and cream with a
dash of vermilion in it, went by us mottled with patches of floating
mud. From the deck one had an extraordinary view, a ten-mile sweep of
the strangely colored water, the hemisphere of the heavens all of one
greenish-blue tint, and a narrow strip of nondescript, sandy coast
suspended somehow between the strange sea and unlovely sky. At noon, the
Rochambeau began at a good speed her journey up the river, passing
tile-roofed villages and towns built of pumice-gray stone, and great
flat islands covered with acres upon acres of leafy, bunchy vines. There
was a scurry to the rail; some one cried, "Voila des Boches," and I saw
working in a vineyard half a dozen men in gray-green German regimentals.
A poilu in a red cap was standing nonchalantly beside them. As the
Rochambeau, following the channel, drew incredibly close to the bank,
the Germans leaned on their hoes and watched us pass, all save one, who
continued to hoe industriously round the roots of the vines, ignoring us
with a Roman's disdain. "Comme ils sont laids" (How ugly they are), said
a voice. There was no surprise in the tone, which expressed the expected
confirmation of a past judgment. It was the pastry cook's voluble wife
who had spoken. The land through which we were passing, up to that time
simply the pleasant countryside of the Bordelais, turned in an instant
to the France of the Great War.

Late in the afternoon, the river, slowly narrowing, turned a great bend,
and the spires of Bordeaux, violet-gray in the smoky rose of early
twilight, were seen just ahead. A broad, paved, dirty avenue, with the
river on one side and a row of shabby houses on the other, led from the
docks to the city, and down this street, marching with Oriental dignity,
came a troop of Arabs. There was a picture of a fat sous-officier
leading, of brown-white rags and mantles waving in the breeze blowing
from the harbor, of lean, muscular, black-brown legs, and dark,
impassive faces. "Algerian recruits," said an officer of the boat. It
was a first glimpse at the universality of the war; it held one's mind
to realize that while some were quitting their Devon crofts, others were
leaving behind them the ancestral well at the edges of the ancient
desert. A faint squeaking of strange pipes floated on the twilight air.

There came an official examination of our papers, done in a businesslike
way, the usual rumpus of the customs, and we were free to land in
France. That evening a friend and I had dinner in a great cafe opening
on the principal square in Bordeaux, and tried to analyze the difference
between the Bordeaux of the past and the Bordeaux of the war. The ornate
restaurant, done in a kind of Paris Exhibition style, and decorated with
ceiling frescoes of rosy, naked Olympians floating in golden mists and
sapphire skies, was full of movement and light, crowds passed by on the
sidewalks, there were sounds--laughter.

"Looks just the same to me," said my friend, an American journalist who
had been there in 1912. "Of course there are more soldiers. Outside of
that, and a lack of taxicabs and motorcars, the town has not changed."

But there was a difference, and a great difference. There was a terrible
absence of youth. Not that youth was entirely absent from the tables and
the trottoirs; it was visible, putty-faced and unhealthy-looking, afraid
to meet the gaze of a man in uniform, the pitiable jeunesse that could
not pass the physical examination of the army. Most of the other young
men who bent over the tables talking, or leaned back on a divan to smoke
cigarettes, were strangers, and I saw many who were unquestionably
Roumanians or Greeks. A little apart, at a corner table, a father and
mother were dining with a boy in a uniform much too large for him;--I
fancied from the cut of his clothes that he belonged to a young squad
still under instruction in the garrisons, and that he was enjoying a
night off with his family. Screened from the rest by a clothes rack, a
larky young lieutenant was discreetly conversing with a "daughter of
joy," and an elderly English officer, severely proper and correct, was
reading "Punch" and sipping red wine in Britannic isolation. Across the
street an immense poster announced, "Conference in aid of the Belgian
Red Cross--the German Outrages in Louvain, Malines, and
Liege--illustrated."

We finished our dinner, which was good and not costly, and started to
walk to our hotel. Hardly had we turned the corner of the Place, when
the life of Bordeaux went out like a torch extinguished by the wind. It
was still early in the evening, there was a sound of an orchestra
somewhere behind, yet ahead of us, lonely and still, with its shops
closed and its sidewalks deserted, was one of the greater streets of
Bordeaux. Through the drawn curtains of second stories over little
groceries and baker-shops shone the yellow light of lamps. What had
happened to the Jean, Paul, and Pierre of this dark street since the war
began? What tragedies of sorrow and loneliness might these silent
windows not conceal? And every French city is much the same; one notices
in them all the subtle lack of youth, and the animation of the great
squares in contrast to the somber loneliness of streets and quarters
which once were alive and gay. At the Place de l'Opera in Paris, the
whirlpool of Parisian life is still turning, but the great streets
leading away from the Place de l'Etoile are quiet. Young and old,
laborer and shopkeeper, boulevardier and apache are far away holding the
tragic lines.

The next morning at the station, I had my first glimpse of that mighty
organization which surrounds the militaire. There was a special entrance
for soldiers and a special exit for soldiers, and at both of these a
long file of blue-clad poilus waited for the countersigning of their
furlough slips and military tickets. The mud of the trenches still
stained the bottom edges of their overcoats, and their steel helmets
were dented and dull. There was something fine about the faces
collectively; there was a certain look of tried endurance and perils
bravely borne. I heard those on furlough telling the names of their home
villages to the officer in charge,--pleasant old names, Saint-Pierre aux
Vignes, La Tour du Roi.

A big, obese, middle-aged civilian dressed in a hideous greenish suit,
and wearing a pancake cap, sat opposite me in the compartment I had
chosen. There was a hard, unfriendly look in his large, fat-encircled
eyes, a big mustache curved straight out over his lips, and the short
finger nails of his square, puffy fingers were deeply rimmed with dirt.
He caught sight of me reading a copy of an English weekly, and after
staring at me with an interest not entirely free from a certain
hostility, retreated behind the pages of the "Matin," and began picking
his teeth. Possibly he belonged to that provincial and prejudiced
handful to whom England will always be "Perfidious Albion," or else he
took me for an English civilian dodging military service. The French
press was following the English recruiting campaign very closely, and
the system of volunteer service was not without its critics.
"Conscription being considered in England" (On discute la conscription
en Angleterre), announced the "Matin" discreetly.

It was high noon; the train had arrived at Angouleme, and was taking
aboard a crowd of convalescents. On the station platform, their faces
relentlessly illumined by the brilliant light, stood about thirty
soldiers; a few were leaning on canes, one was without a right arm, some
had still the pallor of the sick, others seemed able-bodied and hearty.
Every man wore on the bosom of his coat about half a dozen little
aluminum medals dangling from bows of tricolor ribbon. "Pour les
blesses, s'il vous plait," cried a tall young woman in the costume and
blue cape of a Red-Cross nurse as she walked along the platform shaking
a tin collection box under the windows of the train.

To our compartment came three of the convalescents. One was a sturdy,
farmhand sort of fellow, with yellow hair and a yellow mustache--the
kind of man who might have been a Norman; he wore khaki puttees, brown
corduroy trousers, and a jacket which fitted his heavy, vigorous figure
rather snugly. Another was a little soul dressed in the "blue horizon"
from head to foot, a homely little soul with an egg-shaped head,
brown-green eyes, a retreating chin, and irregular teeth. The last,
wearing the old tenue, black jacket and red trousers, was a good-looking
fellow with rather handsome brown eyes. Comfortably stretched in a
corner, the Norman was deftly cutting slices of bread and meat which he
offered to his companions. Catching sight of my English paper, all three
stared at me with an interest and friendliness that was in psychological
contrast to the attitude of the obese civilian.

"Anglais?" asked the Norman.

The civilian watched for my answer.

"Non--Americain," I replied.

"Tiens," they said politely.

"Do you speak English?" asked the homely one.

"Yes," I answered.

The Norman fished a creased dirty letter and a slip of paper from his
wallet and handed them to me for inspection.

"I found them in a trench we shared with the English," he explained.
"These puttees are English; a soldier gave them to me." He exhibited his
legs with a good deal of satisfaction.

I examined the papers that had been given me. The first was a medical
prescription for an anti-lice ointment and the second an illiterate
letter extremely difficult to decipher, mostly about somebody whom the
writer was having trouble to manage, "now that you aren't here." I
translated as well as I could for an attentive audience. "Toujours les
totos," they cried merrily when I explained the prescription. A spirit
of good-fellowship pervaded the compartment, till even the suspicious
civilian unbent, and handed round post-card photographs of his two sons
who were somewhere en Champagne. Not a one of the three soldiers could
have been much over twenty-one, but they were not boys, but men, serious
men, tried and disciplined by war. The homely one gave me one of his
many medals which he wore "to please the good Sisters"; on one side in
an oval of seven stars was the Virgin Mary, and on the other, the
determined features of General Joffre.

Just at sundown we crossed the great plain of La Beauce. Distant
villages and pointed spires stood silhouetted in violet-black against
the burning midsummer sky and darkness was falling upon the sweeping
golden plain. We passed hamlet after hamlet closed and shuttered, though
the harvests had been gathered and stacked. There was something very
tragic in those deserted, outlying farms. The train began to rattle
through the suburbs of Paris. By the window stood the Norman looking out
on the winking red and violet lights of the railroad yard. "This Paris?"
he asked. "I never expected to see Paris. How the war sets one to
traveling!"




Chapter 2

An Unknown Paris in the Night and Rain



It was Sunday morning, the bells were ringing to church, and I was
strolling in the gardens of the Tuileries. A bright morning sun was
drying the dewy lawns and the wet marble bodies of the gods and
athletes, the leaves on the trees were falling, and the French autumn,
so slow, so golden, and so melancholy, had begun. At the end of the
mighty vista of the Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe rose, brown and
vaporous in the exhalations of the quiet city, and an aeroplane was
maneuvering over the Place de la Concorde, a moving speck of white and
silver in the soft, September blue. From a near-by Punch and Judy show
the laughter of little children floated down the garden in outbursts of
treble shrillness. "Villain, monster, scoundrel," squeaked a voice.
Flopped across the base of the stage, the arms hanging downwards, was a
prostrate doll which a fine manikin in a Zouave's uniform belabored with
a stick; suddenly it stirred, and, with a comic effect, lifted its
puzzled, wooden head to the laughing children. Beneath a little Prussian
helmet was the head of William of Germany, caricatured with Parisian
skill into a scowling, green fellow with a monster black mustache turned
up to his eyes. "Lie down!" cried the Zouave doll imperiously. "Here is
a love pat for thee from a French Zouave, my big Boche." And he struck
him down again with his staff.

Soldiers walked in the garden,--permissionnaires (men on furlough) out
for an airing with their rejoicing families, smart young English
subalterns, and rosy-fleshed, golden-haired Flemings of the type that
Rubens drew. But neither their presence nor the sight of an occasional
mutile (soldier who has lost a limb), pathetically clumsy on his new
crutches, quite sent home the presence of the war. The normal life of
the city was powerful enough to engulf the disturbance, the theaters
were open, there were the same crowds on the boulevards, and the same
gossipy spectators in the sidewalk cafes. After a year of war the
Parisians were accustomed to soldiers, cripples, and people in mourning.
The strongest effect of the war was more subtle of definition, it was a
change in the temper of the city. Since the outbreak of the war, the
sham Paris that was "Gay Paree" had disappeared, and the real Paris, the
Paris of tragic memories and great men, had taken its place. An old
Parisian explained the change to me in saying, "Paris has become more
French." Deprived of the foreigner, the city adapted itself to a taste
more Gallic; faced with the realities of war, it exchanged its
artificiality for that sober reasonableness which is the normal attitude
of the nation.

At noon I left the garden and strolled down the Champs Elysees to the
Porte Maillot. The great salesrooms of the German motor-car dealers had
been given by the Government to a number of military charities who had
covered the trade signs with swathes and rosettes of their national
colors. Under the banner of the Belgians, in the quondam hop of the
Mercedes, was an exhibition of leather knickknacks, baskets, and dolls
made by the blind and mutilated soldiers. The articles--children's toys
for the most part, dwarfs that rolled over and over on a set of parallel
bars, Alsatian lasses with flaxen hair, and gay tops--were exposed on a
row of tables a few feet back from the window. By the Porte Maillot,
some of the iron saw-horses with sharpened points, which had formed part
of the barricade built there in the days of the Great Retreat, lay, a
villainous, rusty heap, in a grassy ditch of the city wall; a few stumps
of the trees that had been then cut down were still visible, and from a
railroad tie embedded in the sidewalk hung six links of a massive chain.
Through this forgotten flotsam on the great shore of the war, the quiet
crowds went in and out of the Maillot entrance to the Bois de Boulogne.
There was a sense of order and security in the air. I took a seat on the
terrace of a little restaurant. The garcon was a small man in the
fifties, inclined to corpulence, with a large head, large, blue-gray
eyes, purplish lips, and blue-black hair cut pompadour. As we watched
the orderly, Sunday crowds going to the great park, we fell into
conversation about the calmness of Paris. "Yes, it is calm," he said;
"we are all waiting (nous attendons). We know that the victory will be
ours at the finish. But all we can do is to wait. I have two sons at the
front." He had struck the keynote. Paris is calmly waiting--waiting for
the end of the war, for victory, for the return of her children.

Yet in this great, calm city, with its vaporous browns and slaty blues,
and its characteristic acrid smell of gasoline fumes, was another Paris,
a terrible Paris, which I was that night to see. Early in the afternoon
a dull haze of leaden clouds rose in the southwest. It began to rain.

In a great garret of the hospital, under a high French roof, was the
dormitory of the volunteers attached to the Paris Ambulance Section. At
night, this great space was lit by only one light, a battered electric
reading-lamp standing on a kind of laboratory table in the center of the
floor, and window curtains of dark-blue cambric, waving mysteriously in
the night wind, were supposed to hide even this glimmer from the eyes of
raiding Zeppelins. Looking down, early in the evening, into the great
quadrangle of the institution, one saw the windows of the opposite wing
veiled with this mysterious blue, and heard all the feverish unrest of a
hospital, the steps on the tiled corridors, the running of water in the
bathroom taps, the hard clatter of surgical vessels, and sometimes the
cry of a patient having a painful wound dressed. But late at night the
confused murmur of the battle between life and death had subsided, the
lights in the wards were extinguished, and only the candle of the night
nurse, seen behind a screen, and the stertorous breathing of the many
sleepers, brought back the consciousness of human life. I have often
looked into the wards as I returned from night calls to the station
where we received the wounded, and been conscious, as I peered silently
into that flickering obscurity, of the vague unrest of sleepers, of the
various attitudes assumed, the arms outstretched, the upturned throats,
and felt, too, in the still room, the mystic presence of the Angel of
Pain.

It was late at night, and I stood looking out of my window over the
roofs of Neuilly to the great, darkened city just beyond. From somewhere
along the tracks of the "Little Belt" railway came a series of piercing
shrieks from a locomotive whistle. It was raining hard, drumming on the
slate roof of the dormitory, and somewhere below a gutter gurgled
foolishly. Far away in the corridor a gleam of yellow light shone from
the open door of an isolation room where a nurse was watching by a
patient dying of gangrene. Two comrades who had been to the movies at
the Gaumont Palace near the Place Clichy began to talk in sibilant
whispers of the evening's entertainment, and one of them said, "That war
film was a corker; did you spot the big cuss throwing the grenades?"
"Yuh, damn good," answered the other pulling his shirt over his head. It
was a strange crew that inhabited these quarters; there were idealists,
dreamers, men out of work, simple rascals and adventurers of all kinds.
To my right slept a big, young Westerner, from some totally unknown
college in Idaho, who was a humanitarian enthusiast to the point of
imbecility, and to the left a middle-aged rogue who indulged in secret
debauches of alcohol and water he cajoled from the hospital orderlies.
Yet this obscure and motley community was America's contribution to
France. I fell asleep.

"Up, birds!"

The lieutenant of the Paris Section, a mining engineer with a
picturesque vocabulary of Nevadan profanity, was standing in his pajama
trousers at the head of the room, holding a lantern in his hand. "Up,
birds!" he called again. "Call's come in for Lah Chapelle." There were
uneasy movements under the blankets, inmates of adjoining beds began to
talk to each other, and some lit their bedside candles. The chief went
down both sides of the dormitory, flashing his lantern before each bed,
ragging the sleepy. "Get up, So-and-So. Well, I must say, Pete, you have
a hell of a nerve." There were glimpses of candle flames, bare bodies
shivering in the damp cold, and men sitting on beds, winding on their
puttees. "Gee! listen to it rain," said somebody. "What time is it?"
"Twenty minutes past two." Soon the humming and drumming of the motors
in the yard sounded through the roaring of the downpour.

Down in the yard I found Oiler, my orderly, and our little Ford
ambulance, number fifty-three. One electric light, of that sickly yellow
color universal in France, was burning over the principal entrance to
the hospital, just giving us light enough to see our way out of the
gates. Down the narrow, dark Boulevard Inkerman we turned, and then out
on to a great street which led into the "outer" boulevard of De
Batignolles and Clichy. To that darkness with which the city, in fear of
raiding aircraft, has hidden itself, was added the continuous, pouring
rain. In the light of our lamps, the wet, golden trees of the black,
silent boulevards shone strangely, and the illuminated advertising
kiosks which we passed, one after the other at the corners of great
streets, stood lonely and drenched, in the swift, white touch of our
radiance. Black and shiny, the asphalt roadway appeared to go on in a
straight line forever and forever.

Neither in residential, suburban Neuilly nor in deserted Montmartre was
there a light to be seen, but when we drew into the working quarter of
La Chapelle, lights appeared in the windows, as if some toiler of the
night was expected home or starting for his labor, and vague forms,
battling with the rain or in refuge under the awning of a cafe, were now
and then visible. From the end of the great, mean rue de La Chapelle the
sounds of the unrest of the railroad yards began to be heard, for this
street leads to the freight-houses near the fortifications. Our
objective was a great freight station which the Government, some months
before, had turned into a receiving-post for the wounded; it lay on the
edge of the yard, some distance in from the street, behind a huddle of
smaller sheds and outbuildings. To our surprise the rue de La Chapelle
was strewn with ambulances rushing from the station, and along two sides
of the great yard, where the merchandise trucks had formerly turned in,
six or seven hundred more ambulances were waiting. We turned out of the
dark, rain-swept city into this hurly-burly of shouts, snorting of
engines, clashing of gears, and whining of brakes, illuminated with a
thousand intermeshing beams of headlights across whose brilliance the
rain fell in sloping, liquid rods. "Quick, a small car this way!" cried
some one in an authoritative tone, and number fifty-three ran up an
inclined plane into the enormous shed which had been reserved for the
loading of the wounded into the ambulances.

We entered a great, high, white-washed, warehouse kind of place, about
four hundred feet long by four hundred feet wide, built of wood
evidently years before. In the middle of this shed was an open space,
and along the walls were rows of ambulances. Brancardiers
(stretcher-bearers; from brancard, a stretcher) were loading wounded
into these cars, and as soon as one car was filled, it would go out of
the hall and another would take its place. There was an infernal din;
the place smelled like a stuffy garage, and was full of blue gasoline
fumes; and across this hurly-burly, which was increasing every minute,
were carried the wounded, often nothing but human bundles of dirty blue
cloth and fouled bandages. Every one of these wounded soldiers was
saturated with mud, a gray-white mud that clung moistly to their
overcoats, or, fully dry, colored every part of the uniform with its
powder. One saw men that appeared to have rolled over and over in a
puddle bath of this whitish mud, and sometimes there was seen a sinister
mixture of blood and mire. There is nothing romantic about a wounded
soldier, for his condition brings a special emphasis on our human
relation to ordinary meat. Dirty, exhausted, unshaven, smelling of the
trenches, of his wounds, and of the antiseptics on his wounds, the
soldier comes from the train a sight for which only the great heart of
Francis of Assisi could have adequate pity.

Oiler and I went through an opening in a canvas partition into that part
of the great shed where the wounded were being unloaded from the trains.
In width, this part measured four hundred feet, but in length it ran to
eight hundred. In two rows of six each, separated by an aisle about
eight feet wide, were twelve little houses, about forty feet square,
built of stucco, each one painted a different color. The woodwork of the
exterior was displayed through the plaster in the Elizabethan fashion,
and the little sheds were clean, solidly built, and solidly roofed. In
one of these constructions was the bureau of the staff which assigned
the wounded to the hospitals, in another was a fully equipped
operating-room, and in the others, rows of stretcher-horses, twenty-five
to a side, on which the wounded were laid until a hospital number had
been assigned them. A slip, with these hospital numbers on it, the names
of the patients, and the color of the little house in which they were to
be found, was then given to the chauffeur of an ambulance, who, with
this slip in hand and followed by a number of stretcher-bearers,
immediately gathered his patients. A specimen slip might run thus--"To
Hospital 32, avenue de Iena, Paul Chaubard, red barraque, Jules Adamy,
green barraque, and Alphonse Fort, ochre barraque."

To give a French touch to the scene, this great space, rapidly filling
with human beings in an appalling state of misery, as the aftermath of
the offensive broke on us, was decorated with evergreen trees and shrubs
so that the effect was that of an indoor fair or exhibition; you felt as
if you might get samples of something at each barraque, as the French
termed the little houses. To the side of these there was a platform, and
a sunken track running along the wall, and behind, a great open space
set with benches for those of the wounded able to walk. Some fifty
great, cylindrical braziers, which added a strange bit of rosy, fiery
color to the scene, warmed this space. When the wounded had begun to
arrive at about midnight, a regiment of Zouaves was at hand to help the
regular stretcher-bearers; these Zouaves were all young, "husky" men
dressed in the baggy red trousers and short blue jacket of their classic
uniform, and their strength was in as much of a contrast to the weakness
of those whom they handled as their gay uniform was in contrast to the
miry, horizon blue of the combatants. There was something grotesque in
seeing two of these powerful fellows carrying to the wagons a dirty blue
bundle of a human being.

With a piercing shriek, that cut like a gash through the uproar of the
ambulance engines, a sanitary train, the seventh since midnight, came
into the station, and so smoothly did it run by, its floors on a level
with the main floor, that it seemed an illusion, like a stage train. On
the platform stood some Zouaves waiting to unload the passengers, while
others cleared the barraques and helped the feeble to the ambulances.
There was a steady line of stretchers going out, yet the station was so
full that hardly a bit of the vast floor space was unoccupied. One
walked down a narrow path between a sea of bandaged bodies. Shouldering
what baggage they had, those able to walk plodded in a strange, slow
tempo to the waiting automobiles. All by themselves were about a hundred
poor, ragged Germans, wounded prisoners, brothers of the French in this
terrible fraternity of pain.

About four or five hundred assis (those able to sit up) were waiting on
benches at the end of the hall. Huddled round the rosy, flickering
braziers, they sat profoundly silent in the storm and din that moved
about them, rarely conversing with each other. I imagine that the
stupefaction, which is the physiological reaction of an intense
emotional and muscular effort, had not yet worn away. There were fine
heads here and there. Forgetful of his shattered arm, an old fellow,
with the face of Henri Quatre, eagle nose, beard, and all, sat with his
head sunken on his chest in mournful contemplation, and a fine-looking,
black-haired, dragoon kind of youth with the wildest of eyes clung like
grim death to a German helmet. The same expression of resigned fatalism
was common to all.

Sometimes the chauffeurs who were waiting for their clients got a chance
to talk to one of the soldiers. Eager for news, they clustered round the
wounded man, bombarding him with questions.

"Are the Boches retreating?"

"When did it begin?"

"Just where is the attack located?"

"Are things going well for us?"

The soldier, a big young fellow with a tanned face, somewhat pale from
the shock of a ripped-up forearm, answered the questions good-naturedly,
though the struggle had been on so great a scale that he could only tell
about his own hundred feet of trench. Indeed the substance of his
information was that there had been a terrible bombardment of the German
lines, and then an attack by the French which was still in progress.

"Are we going to break clear through the lines?"

The soldier shrugged his shoulders. "They hope to," he replied.

Just beyond us, in one of the thousand stretchers on the floor, a small
bearded man had died. With his left leg and groin swathed in bandages,
he lay flat on his back, his mouth open, muddy, dirty, and dead. From
time to time the living on each side stole curious, timid glances at
him. Then, suddenly, some one noticed the body, and two
stretcher-bearers carried it away, and two more brought a living man
there in its place.

The turmoil continued to increase. At least a thousand motor-ambulances,
mobilized from all over the region of Paris, were now on hand to carry
away the human wreckage of the great offensive. Ignorant of the ghastly
army at its doors, Paris slept. The rain continued to fall heavily.

"Eh la, comrade."

A soldier in the late thirties, with a pale, refined face, hailed me
from his stretcher.

"You speak French?"

I nodded.

"I am going to ask you to do me a favor--write to my wife who is here in
Paris, and tell her that I am safe and shall let her know at once what
hospital I am sent to. I shall be very grateful."

He let his shoulders sink to the stretcher again and I saw him now and
then looking for me in the crowd. Catching my eye, he smiled.

A train full of Algerian troops came puffing into the station, the
uproar hardly rising above the general hubbub. The passengers who were
able to walk got out first, some limping, some walking firmly with a
splendid Eastern dignity. These men were Arabs and Moors from Algeria
and Tunisia, who had enlisted in the colonial armies. There was a great
diversity of size and racial type among them, some being splendid, big
men of the type one imagines Othello to have been, some chunkier and
more bullet-headed, and others tall and lean with interesting aquiline
features. I fancy that the shorter, rounder-skulled ones were those with
a dash of black blood. The uniform, of khaki-colored woolen, consisted
of a simple, short-waisted jacket, big baggy trousers, puttees, and a
red fez or a steel helmet with the lunar crescent and "R.F." for its
device. We heard rumors about their having attacked a village. Advancing
in the same curious tempo as the French, they passed to the braziers and
the wooden benches. Last of all from the train, holding his bandaged arm
against his chest, a native corporal with the features of a desert
tribesman advanced with superb, unconscious stateliness. As the
Algerians sat round the braziers, their uniforms and brown skins
presented a contrast to the pallor of the French in their bedraggled
blue, but there was a marked similarity of facial expression. A certain
racial odor rose from the Orientals.

My first assignment, two Algerians and two Frenchmen, took me to an
ancient Catholic high school which had just been improvised into a
hospital for the Oriental troops. It lay, dirty, lonely, and grim, just
to one side of a great street on the edge of Paris, and had not been
occupied since its seizure by the State. Turning in through an enormous
door, lit by a gas globe flaring and flickering in the torrents of rain,
we found ourselves in an enormous, dark courtyard, where a half-dozen
ambulances were already waiting to discharge their clients. Along one
wall there was a flight of steps, and from somewhere beyond the door at
the end of this stair shone the faintest glow of yellow light.

It came from the door of a long-disused schoolroom, now turned into the
receiving-hall of this strange hospital. The big, high room was lit by
one light only, a kerosene hand lamp standing on the teacher's desk, and
so smoked was the chimney that the wick gave hardly more light than a
candle. There was just enough illumination to see about thirty Algerians
sitting at the school desks, their big bodies crammed into the little
seats, and to distinguish others lying in stretchers here and there upon
the floor. At the teacher's table a little French adjutant with a trim,
black mustache and a soldier interpreter were trying to discover the
identity of their visitors.

"Number 2215," (numero deux mille deux cent quinze), the officer cried;
and the interpreter, leaning over the adjutant's shoulder to read the
name, shouted, "Mehemet Ali."

There was no answer, and the Algerians looked round at each other, for
all the world like children in a school. It was very curious to see
these dark, heavy, wild faces bent over these disused desks.

"Number 2168" (numero deux mille cent soixante huit), cried the
adjutant.

"Abdullah Taleb," cried the interpreter.

"Moi," answered a voice from a stretcher in the shadows of the floor.

"Take him to room six," said the adjutant, indicating the speaker to a
pair of stretcher-bearers. In the quieter pauses the rain was heard
beating on the panes.

There are certain streets in Paris, equally unknown to tourist and
Parisian--obscure, narrow, cobble-stoned lanes, lined by walls
concealing little orchards and gardens. So provincial is their
atmosphere that it would be the easiest thing in the world to believe
one's self on the fringe of an old town, just where little bourgeois
villas begin to overlook the fields; but to consider one's self just
beyond the heart of Paris is almost incredible. Down such a street, in a
great garden, lay the institution to which our two Frenchmen were
assigned. We had a hard time finding it in the night and rain, but at
length, discovering the concierge's bell, we sent a vigorous peal
clanging through the darkness. Oiler lifted the canvas flap of the
ambulance to see about our patients.

"All right in there, boys?"

"Yes," answered a voice.

"Not cold?"

"Non. Are we at the hospital?"

"Yes; we are trying to wake up the concierge."

There was a sound of a key in a lock, and a small, dark woman opened the
door. She was somewhat spinstery in type, her thin, black hair was
neatly parted in the middle, and her face was shrewd, but not unkindly.

"Deux blesses (two wounded), madame," said I.

The woman pulled a wire loop inside the door, and a far-off bell
tinkled.

"Come in," she said. "The porter will be here immediately."

We stepped into a little room with a kind of English look to it, and a
carbon print of the Sistine Madonna on the wall.

"Are they seriously wounded?" she asked.

"I cannot say."

A sound of shuffling, slippered feet was heard, and the porter, a small,
beefy, gray-haired man in the fifties, wearing a pair of rubber boots,
and a rain-coat over a woolen night-dress, came into the room.

"Two wounded have arrived," said the lady. "You are to help these
messieurs get out the stretchers."

The porter looked out of the door at the tail-light of the ambulance,
glowing red behind its curtain of rain.

"Mon Dieu, what a deluge!" he exclaimed, and followed us forth. With an
"Easy there," and "Lift now," we soon had both of our clients out of the
ambulance and indoors. They lay on the floor of the odd, stiff, little
room, strange intruders of its primness; the first, a big, heavy,
stolid, young peasant with enormous, flat feet, and the second a small,
nervous, city lad, with his hair in a bang and bright, uneasy eyes. The
mud-stained blue of the uniforms seemed very strange, indeed, beside the
Victorian furniture upholstered in worn, cherry-red plush. A middle-aged
servant--a big-boned, docile-looking kind of creature, probably the
porter's wife--entered, followed by two other women, the last two
wearing the same cut of prim black waist and skirt, and the same pattern
of white wristlets and collar. We then carried the two soldiers upstairs
to a back room, where the old servant had filled a kind of enamel
dishpan with soapy water. Very gently and deftly the beefy old porter
and his wife took off the fouled, blood-stained uniforms of the two
fighting men, and washed their bodies, while she who had opened the door
stood by and superintended all. The feverish, bright-eyed fellow seemed
to be getting weaker, but the big peasant conversed with the old woman
in a low, steady tone, and told her that there had been a big action.

When Oiler and I came downstairs, two little glasses of sherry and a
plate of biscuits were hospitably waiting for us. There was something
distinctly English in the atmosphere of the room and in the demeanor of
the two prim ladies who stood by. It roused my curiosity. Finally one of
them said:--

"Are you English, gentlemen?"

"No," we replied; "Americans."

"I thought you might be English," she replied in that language, which
she spoke very clearly and fluently. "Both of us have been many years in
England. We are French Protestant deaconesses, and this is our home. It
is not a hospital. But when the call for more accommodations for the
wounded came in, we got ready our two best rooms. The soldiers upstairs
are our first visitors."

The old porter came uneasily down the stair. "Mademoiselle Pierre says
that the doctor must come at once," he murmured, "the little fellow (le
petit) is not doing well."

We thanked the ladies gratefully for the refreshment, for we were cold
and soaked to the skin. Then we went out again to the ambulance and the
rain. A faint pallor of dawn was just beginning. Later in the morning, I
saw a copy of the "Matin" attached to a kiosk; it said something about
"Grande Victoire."

Thus did the great offensive in Champagne come to the city of Paris,
bringing twenty thousand men a day to the station of La Chapelle. For
three days and nights the Americans and all the other ambulance squads
drove continuously. It was a terrible phase of the conflict to see, but
he who neither sees nor understands it cannot realize the soul of the
war. Later, at the trenches, I saw phases of the war that were
spiritual, heroic, and close to the divine, but this phase was, in its
essence, profoundly animal.




Chapter III

The Great Swathe of the Lines



The time was coming when I was to see the mysterious region whence came
the wounded of La Chapelle, and, a militaire myself, share the life of
the French soldier. Late one evening in October, I arrived in Nancy and
went to a hotel I had known well before the war. An old porter, a man of
sixty, with big, bowed shoulders, gray hair, and a florid face almost
devoid of expression, carried up my luggage, and as I looked at him,
standing in the doorway, a simple figure in his striped black and yellow
vest and white apron, I wondered just what effect the war had had on
him. Through the open window of the room, seen over the dark silhouette
of the roofs of Nancy, shone the glowing red sky and rolling smoke of
the vast munition works at Pompey and Frouard.

"You were not here when I came to the hotel two years ago," said I.

"No," he answered; "I have been here only since November, 1914."

"You are a Frenchman? There was a Swiss here, then."

"Yes, indeed, I am Francais, monsieur. The Swiss is now a waiter in a
cafe of the Place Stanislas. It is something new to me to be a hotel
porter."

"Tiens. What did you do?"

"I drove a coal team, monsieur."

"How, then, did you happen to come here?"

"I used to deliver coal to the hotel. One day I heard that the Swiss had
gone to the cafe to take the place of a garcon whose class had just been
called out. I was getting sick of carrying the heavy sacks of coal, and
being always out of doors, so I applied for the porter's job."

"You are satisfied with the change."

"Oh, yes, indeed, monsieur."

"I suppose you have kinsmen at the front."

"Only my sister's son, monsieur."

"In the active forces?"

"No, he is a reservist. He is a man thirty-five years of age. He was
wounded by a shrapnel ball in the groin early in the spring, but is now
at the front again."

"What does he do en civil?"

"He is a furniture-maker, monsieur."

He showed no sign of unrest at my catechizing, and plodded off down the
green velvet carpet to the landing-stage of the elevator. In the street
below a crowd was coming out of the silky white radiance of the lobby of
a cinema into the violet rays thrown upon the sidewalk from the
illuminated sign over the theater door. There are certain French cities
to which the war has brought a real prosperity, and Nancy was then one
of them. The thousands of refugees from the frontier villages and the
world of military officials and soldier workmen mobilized in the
ammunition factories had added to the population till it was actually
greater than it had been before the war, and with this new population
had come a development of the city's commercial life. The middle class
was making money, the rich were getting richer, and Nancy, hardly more
than eighteen or nineteen miles from the trenches, forgot its danger
till, on the first day of January, 1916, the Germans fired several
shells from a giant mortar or a marine piece into the town, one of which
scattered the fragments of a big five-story apartment house all over
Nancy. And on that afternoon thirty thousand people left the city.

The day on which I was to go across the great swathe of the front to the
first-line trenches dawned cool and sunny. I use the word "swathe"
purposely, for only by that image can the real meaning of the phrase
"the front" be understood. The thick, black line which figures on the
war-maps is a great swathe of country running, with a thousand little
turns and twists that do not interfere with its general regularity, from
the summits of the Vosges to the yellow dunes of the North Sea. The
relation of the border of this swathe to the world beyond is the
relation of sea to land along an irregular and indented coast. Here an
isolated, strategic point, fiercely defended by the Germans, has
extended the border of the swathe beyond the usual limits, and villages
thirteen and fourteen miles from the actual lines have been pounded to
pieces by long-range artillery in the hope of destroying the enemy's
communications; there the trenches cross an obscure, level moor upon
whose possession nothing particular depends, and the swathe narrows to
the villages close by the lines. This swathe, which begins with the
French communications, passes the French trenches, leaps "No Man's
Land," and continues beyond the German trenches to the German
communications, averages about twenty-two miles in width. The territory
within this swathe is inhabited by soldiers, ruled by soldiers, worked
by soldiers, and organized for war.

Sometimes the transition between civilian life and the life of the
swathe is abrupt, as, for instance, at Verdun, where the villages beyond
the lines have been emptied of civilian inhabitants to make room for the
soldiery; but at other times the change is gradual and the peasants
continue to work fields almost in the shadow of the trenches. Since the
line of trenches was organized by the Germans only after a series of
engagements along the front, during which the battle-line oscillated
over a wide territory, the approach to the swathe is often through a
region of desolated villages sometimes far removed from the present
trenches. Such is the state of affairs in the region of the Marne, the
Argonne, and on the southern bank of the Moselle. Moss-overgrown and
silent, these villages often stand deserted in the fields at the
entrance to the swathe, fit heralds of the desolation that lies beyond.

Imagine, then, the French half of the swathe extending from the edge of
the civilian world to the barbed-wire entanglements of No Man's Land.
Within this territory, in the trenches, in the artillery positions, in
the villages where troops are quartered (and they are quartered in every
village of the swathe), and along all the principal turns and corners of
the roads, a certain number of shells fall every twenty-four hours, the
number of shells per locality increasing as one advances toward the
first lines. There are certain disputed regions, that of Verdun in
particular, where literally the whole great swathe has been pounded to
pieces, till hardly one stone of a village remains on another, and
during the recent offensive in the Somme the British are said to have
systematically wiped out every village, hamlet, and road behind the
German trenches to a depth of eighteen miles. Yet, protected from rifle
bullets and the majority of shells by a great wooded hill, the
inhabitants of M------, one mile from the lines of the Bois-le-Pretre,
did a thriving business selling fruit to the soldiers, and I once saw an
old peasant woman, who was digging potatoes in her garden when a small
shell burst about two hundred feet from her, shake her fist toward the
German lines, mutter something, and plod angrily home to her cellar.
There are rarely any children close to the trenches, but in villages
that are only occasionally shelled, the school is open, and the class
hurries to the cellar at the first alarm.

The lieutenant of the American Section, a young Frenchman who spoke
English not only fluently, but also with distinction, came to Nancy to
take me to the front. It was a clear, sunny morning, and the rumble of
the commercial life of Nancy, somewhat later in starting than our own,
was just beginning to be heard. Across the street from the
breakfast-room of the hotel, a young woman wearing a little black cape
over her shoulders rolled up the corrugated iron shutter of a
confectioner's shop and began to set the window with the popular
patriotic candy boxes, aluminum models of a "seventy-five" shell tied
round with a bow of narrow tricolor ribbon; a baker's boy in a white
apron and blue jumpers went by carrying a basket of bread on his head;
and from the nearby tobacconist's, a spruce young lieutenant dressed in
a black uniform emerged lighting a cigarette. At nine in the morning I
was contemplating a side street of busy, orderly, sunlit Nancy; that
night I was in a cellar seeking refuge from fire shells.

"Please give me all your military papers," said my officer. I handed
over all the cards, permits, and licenses that had been given me, and he
examined them closely.

"Allons, let us go," he said to his chauffeur, a young soldier wearing
the insignia of the motor-transportation corps.

"How long does it take us to get to the lines, mon lieutenant?"

"About an hour. Our headquarters are thirty kilometres distant."

The big, war-gray Panhard began to move. I looked round, eager to notice
anything that marked our transition from peace to war. Beyond the Nancy,
built in the Versailles style by the exiled Stanislaus, lay the
industrial Nancy which has grown up since the development of the iron
mines of French Lorraine in the eighties. Through this ugly huddle we
passed first: there were working men on the sidewalks, gamins in the
gutters,--nothing to remind one of the war.

"Halt!"

At a turn in the road near the outskirts of the city, a sentry, a small,
gray-haired man, had stepped out before the car. From the door of a
neighboring wineshop, a hideous old woman, her uncombed, tawny yellow
hair messed round her coarse, shiny face, came out to look at us.

"Your papers, please," said a red-faced, middle-aged sergeant wearing a
brown corduroy uniform, who, walking briskly on enormous fat legs, had
followed the sentry out into the street. The lieutenant produced the
military permit to travel in the army zone--the ordre de mouvement, a
printed form on a blue sheet about the size of a leaf of typewriter
paper.

"Pass," said the sergeant, and saluted. The sentry retired to his post
on the sidewalk. At the door of the wineshop the woman continued to
stare at us with an animal curiosity. Possibly our English-like uniforms
had attracted her attention; the French are very curious about les
Anglais. Over the roof of an ugly row of working men's barracks, built
of mortar and trimmed with dingy brick, came the uproar of a great
industry, the humming clang of saws, the ringing of iron on iron, and
the heart-beat thump of a great hammer that shook the earth. In a vast,
detached building five great furnaces were crowned with tufts of pinkish
fire, workmen were crossing the cindery yard dragging little carts and
long strips of iron, and a long line of open freight cars was being
emptied of coal.

"They are making shells," said the lieutenant in the tone that he might
have said, "They are making candy."

Another sentry held us up at the bridge where the road crosses the
Moselle as it issues from the highlands to the southwest.

Beyond the bridge, running almost directly north to Metz, lay the
historic valley of the Moselle. Great, bare hills, varying between seven
hundred and a thousand feet in height, and often carved by erosion into
strange, high triangles and abrupt mesas, formed the valley wall. The
ground color of the hills was a warm buff-brown with a good deal of
iron-red in it, and the sky above was of a light, friendly blue. A
strange, Egyptian emerald of new wheat, a certain deep cobalt of cloud
shadows, and a ruddy brownness of field and moor are the colors of
Lorraine. Here and there, on the meadows of the river and the steep
flanks of the hills, were ancient, red-roofed villages. Across the
autumnal fields the smoke and flame of squalid Pompey loomed strangely.

There were signs of the war at Marbache, fourteen kilometres from Nancy,
slight signs, to be sure, but good ones--the presence of a military
smithy for the repair of army wagons, several of which stood by on rusty
wheels, and a view of some twenty or thirty artillery caissons parked
under the trees. But it was at B------, sixteen kilometres from Nancy,
and sixteen from the lines, that I first felt the imminence of the war.
The morning train from Nancy had just stopped, to go no farther for fear
of shells, and beyond the station the tracks of the once busy Nancy-Metz
railroad advanced, rusty, unused, and overgrown with grass, into the
danger zone. Far behind now lay civilian Pompey, and Marbache shared by
soldiers and civilians. B------was distinctly a village of the soldiery.
The little hamlet, now the junction where the wagon-trains supplying the
soldiery meet the great artery of the railroad, was built on the banks
of a canal above the river. The color of these villages in Lorraine is
rather lovely, for the walls of the houses, built of the local
buff-yellow stone and ferrous sand, are of a warm, brown tone that goes
well with the roofs of claret-red tile and the brown landscape. A
glorious sky of silvery white cloud masses, pierced with sunlight and
islanded with soft blue, shone over the soldier village. There were no
combatants in it when we passed through, only the old poilus who drove
the wagons to the trenches and the army hostlers who looked after the
animals. There were pictures of soldier grooms leading horses down a
narrow, slimy street between brown, mud-spattered walls to a
drinking-trough; of horses lined up along a house wall being briskly
curry-combed by big, thick-set fellows in blousy white overalls and blue
fatigue caps; and of doors of stables opening on the road showing a
bedding of brown straw on the earthen floor. There was a certain stench,
too, the smell of horse-fouled mud that mixed with that odor I later was
able to classify as the smell of war. For the war has a smell that
clings to everything miltary, fills the troop-trains, hospitals, and
cantonments, and saturates one's own clothing, a smell compounded of
horse, chemicals, sweat, mud, dirt, and human beings. At the guarded
exit of the village to the shell zone was a little military cemetery in
which rows of wooden crosses stood with the regularity of pins in a
paper.

Two kilometres farther on, at Dieulouard, we drew into the shell zone. A
cottage had been struck the day before, and the shell, arriving by the
roof, had blown part of the front wall out into the street. In the
facade of the house, to the left of a door hanging crazily on its
hinges, an irregular oval hole, large enough to drive a motor-car
through, rose from the ground and came to a point just below the
overhang of the roof. The edges of the broken stone were clean and new
in contrast to the time-soiled outer wall of the dwelling.

A pile of this clean stone lay on the ground at the outer opening of the
orifice, mixed with fragments of red tiles.

"They killed two there yesterday," said the lieutenant, pointing out the
debris.

The village, a farming hamlet transformed by the vicinity of a great
foundry into something neither a village nor a town, was full of
soldiers; there were soldiers in the streets, soldiers standing in
doorways, soldiers cooking over wood fires, soldiers everywhere. And
looking at the muddy village-town full of men in uniforms of blue, old
uniforms of blue, muddy uniforms of blue, in blue that was blue-gray and
blue-green from wear and exposure to the weather, I realized that the
old days of beautiful, half-barbaric uniforms were gone forever, and
that, in place of the old romantic war of cavalry charges and great
battles in the open, a new, more terrible war had been created, a war
that had not the chivalric externals of the old.

After Dieulouard began the swathe of stillness.

Following the western bank of the canal of the Moselle the road made a
great curve round the base of a hill descending to the river, and then
mounted a little spur of the valley wall. Beyond the spur the road went
through lonely fields, in which were deserted farmhouses surrounded by
acres of neglected vines, now rank and Medusa-like in their weedy
profusion. Every once in a while, along a rise, stood great burlap
screens so arranged one behind the other as to give the effect of a
continuous line when seen from a certain angle.

"What are those for?"

"To hide the road from the Germans. Do you see that little village down
there on the crest? The Boches have an observatory there, and shell the
road whenever they see anything worth shelling."

A strange stillness pervaded the air; not a stillness of death and
decay, but the stillness of life that listens. The sun continued to
shine on the brown moorland hills across the gray-green river, the world
was quite the same, yet one sensed that something had changed. A village
lay ahead of us, disfigured by random shells and half deserted. Beyond
the still, shell-spattered houses, a great wood rose, about a mile and a
half away, on a ridge that stood boldly against the sky. Running from
the edge of the trees down across an open slope to the river was a
brownish line that stood in a little contrast to the yellower grass.
Suddenly, there slowly rose from this line a great puff of grayish-black
smoke which melted away in the clear, autumnal air.

"See," said our lieutenant calmly, with no more emotion than he would
have shown at a bonfire--"those are the German trenches. We have just
fired a shell into them."

Two minutes more took us into the dead, deserted city of Pont-a-Mousson.
The road was now everywhere screened carefully with lengths of
light-brown burlap, and there was not a single house that did not bear
witness to the power of a shell. The sense of "the front" began to
possess me, never to go, the sense of being in the vicinity of a
tremendous power. A ruined village, or a deserted town actually on the
front does not bring to mind any impression of decay, for the intellect
tends rather to consider t\& means by which the destruction has been
accomplished. One sees villages of the swathes so completely blown to
pieces that they are literally nothing but earthy mounds of rubbish, and
seeing them thus, in a plain still fiercely disputed night and day
between one's own side and the invisible enemy, the mind feels itself in
the presence of force, titanic, secret, and hostile.

Beyond Pont-a-Mousson the road led directly to the trenches of the
Bois-le-Pretre, less than half a mile away. But the disputed trenches
were hidden behind the trees, and I could not see them. Through the
silence of the deserted town sounded the muffled boom of shells and
trench engines bursting in the wood beyond, and every now and then
clouds of gray-black smoke from the explosion would rise above the brown
leaves of the ash trees. The smoke of these explosions rose straight
upwards in a foggy column, such as a locomotive might make if, halted on
its tracks somewhere in the wood, it had put coal on its fires.

With the next day I began my service at the trenches, but the war began
for me that very night.

A room in a bourgeois flat on the third floor of a deserted apartment
house had been assigned me. It was nine o'clock, and I was getting ready
to roll up in my blankets and go to sleep. Beneath the starlit heavens
the street below was black as pitch save when a trench light, floating
serenely down the sky, illuminated with its green-white glow the curving
road and the line of dark, abandoned, half-ruinous villas. There was not
a sound to be heard outside of an occasional rifle shot in the trenches,
sounding for all the world like the click of giant croquet balls. I went
round to the rear of the house and looked out of the kitchen windows to
the lines. A little action, some quarrel of sentries, perhaps, was going
on behind the trees, just where the wooded ridge sloped to the river.
Trench light after trench light rose, showing the disused railroad track
running across the un-harvested fields. Gleaming palely through the
French window at which I was standing, the radiance revealed the
deserted kitchen, the rusty stove, the dusty pans, and the tarnished
water-tap above the stone sink. The hard, wooden crash of grenades broke
upon my ears.

My own room was lit by the yellow flame of a solitary candle, rising,
untroubled by the slightest breath of wind, straight into the air. A
large rug of old-rose covered the floor, an old-rose velvet canopy
draped a long table, hanging down at the corners in straight, heavy
creases, and the wallpaper was a golden yellow with faint stripes of
silvery-gray glaze. By the side of the wooden bed stood a high cabinet
holding about fifty terra-cotta and porcelain figurines, shiny
shepherdesses with shiny pink cheeks, Louis XV peasants with rakes on
their shoulders, and three little dogs made of a material the color of
cocoa. The gem of the collection was an eighteenth-century porcelain of
a youth and a maid sitting on opposite sides of a curved bench over
whose center rose a blossoming bush. The youth, dressed in black, and
wearing yellow stockings, looked with an amorous smile at the girl in
her gorgeous dress of flowering brocade.

A marbly-white fireplace stood in the corner, overhung by a great Louis
XV mirror with a gilt frame of rich, voluptuous curves. On the mantel
lay a scarf of old-rose velvet smelling decidedly musty. Alone, apart,
upon this mantel, as an altar, stood a colored plaster bust of Jeanne
d'Arc, showing her in the beauty of her winsome youth. The pale, girlish
face dominated the shadowy room with its dreamy, innocent loveliness.

There came a knock at the door, and so still was the town and the house
that the knock had the effect of something dramatic and portentous. A
big man, with bulging, pink cheeks, a large, chestnut mustache, and
brown eyes full of philosophic curiosity, stood in the doorway. The
uniform that he was wearing was unusually neat and clean.

"So you are the American I am to have as neighbor," said he.

"Yes," I replied.

"I am the caporal in charge of the depot of the engineers in the
cellar," continued my visitor, "and I thought I'd come in and see how
you were."

I invited him to enter.

"Do you find yourself comfortable here, son?"

"Yes. I consider myself privileged to have the use of the room. Have a
cigarette?"

"Are these American cigarettes?"

"Yes."

"Your American tobacco is fine, son. But in America everybody is a
millionaire and has the best of everything--isn't that so? I should like
to go to America."

"A Frenchman is never happy out of France."

Comfortably seated in a big, ugly chair, he puffed his cigarette and
meditated.

"Perhaps you are right," he admitted. "We Frenchmen love the good
things, and think we can get them in France better than anywhere else.
The solid satisfactions of life--good wine--good cheese." He paused.
"You see, son, all that (tout ca) is an affair of mine--in civilian life
(dans le civil) I am a grocer at Macon in Bourgogne."

For a little while we talked of Burgundy, which I had often visited in
my student days at Lyons. There came another pause, and the Burgundian
said:--

"Well, what do you think of this big racket (ce grand fracas)?"

"I have not seen enough of it to say."

"Well, I think you are going to get a taste of it to-night. I heard our
artillery men (nos artiflots) early this morning firing their long-range
cannon, and every time they do that the Boches throw shells into
Pont-a-Mousson. I have been expecting an answer all day. If they start
in to-night, get up and come down cellar, son. This house was struck by
a shell two weeks ago."

The shadowy, candlelit room and the dark city became at his words more
mysterious and hostile. The atmosphere seemed pervaded by some obscure,
endless, dreadful threat. It was getting toward ten o'clock.

"Is this the only room you have? I have never been in this suite."

"No, there is another room. Would you like to see it?"

He followed me into a small chamber from which everything had been
stripped except a bedside table, a chair, and a crayon portrait of a
woman. The picture, slightly tinted with flesh color, was that of a
bourgeoise on the threshold of the fifties, and the still candle-flame
brought out in distinct relief the heavy, obese countenance, the hair
curled in artificial ringlets, and the gold crucifix which she wore on
her large bosom. The Burgundian's attention centered on this picture,
which he examined with the air of a connoisseur of female beauty.

"Lord, how ugly she is!" he exclaimed. "She might well have stayed. Such
an old dragon would have no reason to fear the Boches." And he laughed
heartily from his rich lips and pulled his mustache.

"Don't forget to hurry to the cellar, son," he called as he went away.

At his departure the lonely night closed in on me again. Far, far away
sounded the booming of cannon.

I am a light sleeper, and the arrival of the first shell awakened me.
Kicking off my blankets, I sat up in bed just in time to catch the swift
ebb of a heavy concussion. A piece of glass, dislodged from a broken
pane by the tremor, fell in a treble tinkle to the floor. For a minute
or two there was a full, heavy silence, and then several objects rolled
down the roof and fell over the gutters into the street. It sounded as
if some one had emptied a hodful of coal onto the house-roof from the
height of the clouds. Another silence followed. Suddenly it was broken
by a swift, complete sound, a heavy boom-roar, and on the heels of this
noise came a throbbing, whistling sigh that, at first faint as the sound
of ocean on a distant beach, increased with incredible speed to a
whistling swish, ending in a HISH of tremendous volume and a roaring,
grinding burst. The sound of a great shell is never a pure bang; one
hears, rather, the end of the arriving HISH, the explosion, and the
tearing disintegration of the thick wall of iron in one grinding
hammer-blow of terrific violence. On the heels of this second shell came
voices in the dark street, and the rosy glow of fire from somewhere
behind. More lumps, fragments of shell that had been shot into the air
by the explosion, rained down upon the roof. I got up and went to the
kitchen window. A house on one of the silent streets between the city
and the lines was on fire, great volumes of smoke were rolling off into
the starlit night, and voices were heard all about murmuring in the
shadows. I hurried on my clothes and went down to the cellar.

The light of two candles hanging from a shelf in loops of wire revealed
a clean, high cellar; a mess of straw was strewn along one wall, and a
stack of shovels and picks, some of them wrapped in paper, was banked
against the other. In the straw lay three oldish men, fully clad in the
dark-blue uniform which in old times had signaled the Engineer Corps;
one dozed with his head on his arm, the other two were stretched out
flat in the mysterious grossness of sleep. A door from the cellar to a
sunken garden was open, and through this opening streamed the intense
radiance of the rising fire. At the opening stood three men, my visitor
of the evening, a little, wrinkled man with Napoleon III whiskers and
imperial, and an old, dwarfish fellow with a short neck, a bullet head,
and close-clipped hair. Catching sight of me, the Burgundian said:--

"Well, son, you see it is hammering away (ca tape) ce soir."

Hearing another shell, he slammed the door, and stepped to the right
behind the stone wall of the cellar.

"Very bad," croaked the dwarf. "The Boches are throwing fire shells."

"And they will fire shrapnel at the poor bougres who have to put out the
fires," said the little man with the imperial.

"So they will, those knaves," croaked the dwarf in a voice entirely free
from any emotion. "That fire must be down on the Boulevard Ney," said
the bearded man.

"There is another beginning just to the right," said the Burgundian in
the tone of one retailing interesting but hardly useful information.

"There will be others," croaked the dwarf, who, leaning against the
cellar wall, was trying to roll a cigarette with big, square, fumbling
fingers. And looking at a big, gray-haired man in the hay, who had
turned over and was beginning to snore, he added: "Look at the new man.
He sleeps well, that fellow" (ce type la).

"He looks like a Breton," said the man with the imperial.

"An Auvergnat--an Auvergnat," replied the dwarf in a tone that was meant
to be final.

The soldier, who had just been sent down from Paris to take the place of
another recently invalided home, snored on, unconscious of our scrutiny.
The light from the fires outside cast a rosy glow on his weather-worn
features and sparse, silvery hair. His own curiosity stirred, the
corporal looked at his list.

"He came from Lyons," he announced. "His name is Alphonse Reboulet."

"I am glad he is not an Auvergnat," growled the dwarf. "We should have
all had fleas."

A shell burst very near, and a bitter odor of explosives came swirling
through the doorway. A fragment of the shell casing struck a window
above us, and a large piece of glass fell by the doorway and broke into
splinters. The first fire was dying down, but two others were burning
briskly. The soldiers waited for the end of the bombardment, as they
might have waited for the end of a thunderstorm.

"Tiens--here comes the shrapnel," exclaimed the Burgundian. And he
slammed the door swiftly.

A high, clear whistle cleaved the flame-lit sky, and about thirty small
shrapnel shells burst beyond us.

"They try to prevent any one putting out the fires," said the Burgundian
confidentially. "They get the range from the light of the flames."

Another dreadful rafale (volley) of shrapnel, at the rate of ten or
fifteen a minute, came speeding from the German lines.

"They are firing on the other house, now."

"Who puts out the fires?"

"The territorials who police and clean up the town. Some of them live
two doors below."

The Burgundian pointed down the garden to a door opening, like our own,
on to an area below the level of the street. Suddenly, a gate opening on
a back lane swung back, and two soldiers entered, one carrying the feet
and the other the shoulders of a third. The body hung clumsily between
them like a piece of old sacking.

"Tiens--someone is wounded," said the Burgundian. "Go, thou, Badel, and
see who it is."

The dwarf plodded off obediently.

"It is Palester," he announced on his return, "the type that had the
swollen jaw last month."

"What's the matter with him?"

"He's been killed."





Chapter IV

La Foret De Bois-Le-Pretre



Beginning at the right bank of the Meuse, a vast plateau of bare,
desolate moorland sweeps eastward to the Moselle, and descends to the
river in a number of great, wooded ridges perpendicular to the
northward-flowing stream. The town of Pont-a-Mousson lies an apron of
meadowland spread between two of these ridges, the ridge of Puvenelle
and the ridge of the Bois-le-Pretre. The latter is the highest of all
the spurs of the valley. Rising from the river about half a mile to the
north of the city, it ascends swiftly to the level of the plateau, and
was seen from our headquarters as a long, wooded ridge blocking the
sky-line to the northwest. The hamlet of Maidieres, in which our
headquarters were located, lies just at the foot of Puvenelle, at a
point where the amphitheater of Pont-a-Mousson, crowding between the two
ridges, becomes a steep-walled valley sharply tilted to the west.

The Bois-le-Pretre dominated at once the landscape and our minds. Its
existence was the one great fact in the lives of some fifty thousand
Frenchmen, Germans, and a handful of exiled Americans; it had dominated
and ended the lives of the dead; it would dominate the imagination of
the future. Yet, looking across the brown walls and claret roofs of the
hamlet of Maidieres, there was nothing to be seen but a grassy slope,
open fields, a reddish ribbon of road, a wreck of a villa burned by a
fire shell, and a wood. The autumn had turned the leaves of the trees,
seemingly without exception, to a leathery brown, and in almost all
lights the trunks of the trees were a cold, purplish slate. Such was the
forest which, battle-areas excepted, has cost more lives than any other
point along the line. The wood had been contested trench by trench,
literally foot by foot. It was at once the key to the Saint-Mihiel
salient and the city of Metz.

The Saint-Mihiel salient--"the hernia," as the French call it--begins at
the Bois-le-Pretre. Pivoting on The Wood, the lines turn sharply inland,
cross the desolate plateau of La Woevre, attain the Meuse at
Saint-Mihiel, turn again, and ascend the river to the Verdunois. The
salient, as dangerous for the Germans as it is troublesome for the
French, represents the limit of a German offensive directed against Toul
in October, 1914. That the French retreated was due to the fact that the
plateau was insufficiently protected, many of the regiments having been
rushed north to the great battle then raging on the Aisne.

Only one railroad center lies in the territory of the salient,
Thiaucourt in Woevre. This pleasant little moorland town, locally famous
for its wine, is connected with Metz by two single-track railroad lines,
one coming via Conflans, and the other by Arnaville on the Moselle. At
Vilcey-sur-Mad, these lines unite, and follow to Thiaucourt the only
practicable railroad route, the valley of the Rupt (brook) de Mad.

Thus the domination of Thiaucourt, or the valley of the Rupt de Mad, by
French artillery would break the railroad communications between the
troops keeping the salient and their base of supplies, Metz. And the
fate of Metz itself hangs on the control of the Bois-le-Pretre.

Metz is the heart of the German organization on the western front: the
railroad center, the supply station, the troop depot. A blow at Metz
would affect the security of every German soldier between Alsace and the
Belgian frontier. But if the French can drive the Germans out of the
Bois-le-Pretre and establish big howitzers on the crest the Germans are
still holding, there will soon be no more Metz. The French guns will
destroy the city as the German cannon destroyed Verdun.

When the Germans, therefore, retired to the trenches after the battles
of September and October, 1914, they took to the ground on the heights
of the Bois-le-Pretre, a terrain far enough ahead of Thiaucourt and Metz
to preserve these centers from the danger of being shelled. On the crest
of the highest ridge along the valley, admirably ambushed in a thick
forest, they waited for the coming of the French. And the French came.

They came, young and old, slum-dweller and country schoolmaster, rich
young noble and Corsican peasant, to the storming of the wood, upheld by
one vision, the unbroken, grassy slope that stretched from behind the
German lines to the town of Thiaucourt. In the trenches behind the slaty
trunks of the great ash trees, Bavarian peasants, Saxons, and
round-headed Wurttem-burgers, the olive-green, jack-booted Boches,
awaited their coming, determined to hold the wood, the salient, and the
city.

A year later the Bois-le-Pretre (the Priest Wood), with its perfume of
ecclesiastical names that reminds one of the odor of incense in an old
church, had become the Bois de la Mort (the Wood of Death).

The house in which our bureau was located was once the summer residence
of a rich ironmaster who had fled to Paris at the beginning of the war.
If there is an architectural style of German origin known as the
"Neo-Classic," which affects large, windowless spaces framed in
pilasters of tile, and decorations and insets of omelet-yellow and
bottle-green glazed brick, "Wisteria Villa" is of that school. It stood
behind a high wall of iron spikes on the road leading from Maidieres to
the trenches, a high, Germano-Pompeian country house, topped by a roof
rich in angles, absurd windows, and unexpected gables. There are huge,
square, French-roofed houses in New England villages built by local
richessimes of Grant's time, and still called by neighbors "the Jinks
place" or the "Levi Oates place"; Wisteria Villa had something of the
same social relation to the commune of Maidieres. Grotesque and ugly, it
was not to be despised; it had character in its way.

Our social center was the dining-room of the villa. Exclusive of the
kitchen range, it boasted the only stove in the house, a queerly shaped
"Salamandre," a kind of Franklin stove with mica doors. The walls were
papered an ugly chocolate brown with a good deal of red in it, and the
borders, doors, and fireplace frame were stained a color trembling
between mission green and oak brown. The room was rectangular and too
high for its width. There were pictures. On each side of the fireplace,
profiles toward the chimney, hung concave plaques of Dutch girls. To the
left of the door was a yellowed etching of the tower of the chateau of
Heidelberg, and to the right a very small oil painting, in an ornate
gilt frame three inches deep, of a beach by moonlight. About two or
three hundred books, bound in boards and red leather, stood behind the
cracked glass of a bookcase in the corner; they were very "jeune fille,"
and only the romances of Georges Ohnet appeared to have been read. The
thousand cupboards of the house were full of dusty knickknacks, old
umbrellas, hats, account-books, and huge boxes holding the debris of
sets of checkers, dominoes, and ivory chessmen. An enlarged photograph
of the family hung on the walls of a bedroom; it had been taken at
somebody's marriage, and showed the group standing on the front steps,
the same steps that were later to be blown to pieces by a shell. One saw
the bride, the groom, and about twenty relatives, including a boy in
short trousers, a wide, white collar, and an old-fashioned, fluffy bow
tie. Anxious to be included in the picture, the driver of the bridal
barouche has craned his neck forward. On the evidence of the costumes,
the picture had been taken about 1902.

Our bureau in the cellar of Wisteria Villa was connected directly with
the trenches. When a man had been wounded, he was carried to the poste
de secours in the rear lines, and it was our duty to go to this trench
post and carry the patient to the hospital at the nearest rail-head. The
bureau of the Section was in charge of two Frenchmen who shared the
labor of attending to the telephone and keeping the books.

A hundred yards beyond Wisteria Villa, at a certain corner, the
principal road to the trenches divided into three branches, and in order
to interfere as much as possible with communications, the Germans daily
shelled this strategic point. A comrade and I had the curiosity to keep
an exact record of a week's shelling. It must be remembered that the
corner was screened from the Germans, who fired casually in the hope of
hitting something and annoying the French. The cannons shelling the
corner were usually "seventy-sevens," the German quick-firing pieces
that correspond to the French "seventy-fives."

Monday, ten shells at 6.30, two at 7.10, five at 11.28, twenty at
intervals between 2.15 and 2.45, a swift rafale of some sixteen at 4.12,
another rafale of twenty at 8, and occasional shells between 9 and
midnight.

Tuesday, two big shells at mid-day.

Wednesday, rafales at 9.14, 11, 2.18, 4.30, and 6.20.

Thursday--no shells.

Friday, twelve at intervals between 10.16 and 12.20. Solitary big shell
at 1.05. Another big shell at 3. Some fifteen stray shells between 5 and
midnight.

Saturday--no shells.

Sunday--About five shells an hour between 4 in the afternoon and
midnight.

I give the number of shells falling at this corner as a concrete
instance of what was happening at a dozen other points along the road.
The fire of the German batteries was as capricious as the play of a
search-light; one week, the corner and three or four other points would
catch it, the next week the corner and another set of localities. And
there were periods, sometimes ten days to two weeks long, when hardly a
shell was fired at any road. Then, after a certain sense of security had
begun to take form, a rafale would come screaming over, blow a horse and
wagon to pieces, and leave one or two blue figures huddled in the mud.
But the French replied to each shell and every rafale, in addition to
firing at random all the day and a good deal of the night. There was
hardly a night that Wisteria Villa did not rock to the sound of French
guns fired at 2 and 3 in the morning. But the average day at
Pont-a-Mousson was a day of random silences. The war had all the
capricious-ness of the sea--of uncertain weather. There were hours of
calm in the day, during which the desolate silence of the front flooded
swiftly over the landscape; there were interruptions of great violence,
sometimes desultory, sometimes beginning, in obedience to a human will,
at a certain hour. The outbreak would commence with the orderliness of a
clock striking, and continue the greater part of the day, rocking the
deserted town with its clamor. Hearing it, the soldiers en repos would
say, talking of The Wood, "It sings (ca chante)," or, "It knocks (ca
tape) up there to-day." The smoke of the bursting shells hung over The
Wood in a darkish, gray-blue fog. But since The Wood had a personality
for us, many would say simply, "Listen to The Wood."

The shell expresses one idea--energy. The cylinder of iron, piercing the
air at a terrific speed, sings a song of swift, appalling energy, of
which the final explosion is the only fitting culmination. One gets,
too, an idea of an unbending volition in the thing. After a certain time
at the front the ear learns to distinguish the sound of a big shell from
a small shell, and to know roughly whether or not one is in the danger
zone. It was a grim jest with us that it took ten days to qualify as a
shell expert, and at the end of two weeks all those who qualified
attended the funeral of those who had failed. Life at The Wood had an
interesting uncertainty.

A quarter of a mile beyond the corner, on the slope of Puvenelle
opposite The Wood, stood Montauville, the last habitable village of the
region. To the south of it rose the wooded slopes of Puvenelle; to the
north, seen across a marshy meadow, were the slope and the ridge of the
Bois-le-Pretre. The dirty, mud-spattered village was caught between the
leathery sweeps of two wooded ridges. Three winding roads, tramped into
a pie of mire, crossed the grassy slope of The Wood, and disappeared
into the trees at the top. Though less than a mile from the first German
line, the village, because of its protection from shells by a spur of
the Bois-le-Pretre, was in remarkably good condition; the only building
to show conspicuous damage being the church, whose steeple had been
twice struck. It was curious to see pigeons flying in and out of the
belfry through the shell rents in the roof. Here and there, among the
uncultivated fields of those who had fled, were the green fields of some
one who had stayed. A woman of seventy still kept open her grocery shop;
it was extraordinarily dirty, full of buzzing flies, and smelled of
spilled wine.

"Why did you stay?" I asked her.

"Because I did not want to leave the village. Of course my daughter
wanted me to come to Dijon. Imagine me in Dijon, I, who have been to
Nancy only once! A fine figure I should make in Dijon in my sabots!"

"And you are not afraid of the shells?"

"Oh, I should be afraid of them if I ever went out in the street. But I
never leave my shop."

And so she stayed, selling the three staples of the French front,
Camembert cheese, Norwegian sardines, and cakes of chocolate. But
Montauville was far from safe. It was there that I first saw a man
killed. I had been talking to a sentry, a small young fellow of
twenty-one or two, with yellow hair and gray-blue eyes full of
weariness. He complained of a touch of jaundice, and wished heartily
that the whole affaire--meaning the war in general--was finished. He was
very anxious to know if the Americans thought the Boches were going to
win. Some vague idea of winning the war just to get even with the Boches
seemed to be in his mind. I assured him that American opinion was
optimistic in regard to the chances of the Allies, and strolled away.
Hardly had I gone ten feet, when a "seventy-seven" shell, arriving
without warning, went Zip-bang, and, turning to crouch to the wall, I
saw the sentry crumple up in the mud. It was as if he were a rubber
effigy of a man blown up with air, and some one had suddenly ripped the
envelope. His rifle fell from him, and he, bending from the waist,
leaned face down into the mud. I was the first to get to him. The young,
discontented face was full of the gray street mud, there was mud in the
hollows of the eyes, in the mouth, in the fluffy mustache. A chunk of
the shell had ripped open the left breast to the heart. Down his sleeve,
as down a pipe, flowed a hasty drop, drop, drop of blood that mixed with
the mire.

Several times a day, at stated hours, the numbers of German missiles
that had fallen into the trenches of the Bois-le-Pretre, together with
French answers to them, would be telephoned to headquarters. The soldier
in charge of the telephone was an instructor in Latin in a French
provincial university, a tall, stoop- shouldered man, with an
indefinite, benevolent smile curiously framed on thin lips. Probably
very much of a scholar by training and feeling, he had accepted his
military destiny, and was as much a poilu as anybody. During his leisure
hours he was busy writing a "Comparison of the Campaign on the Marne and
the Aisne with Caesar's battles against the Belgian Confederacy." He had
a paper edition of the Gallic Wars which he carried round with him. One
day he explained his thesis to me. He drew a plan with a green pencil on
a piece of paper.

"See, mon ami," he exclaimed, "here is the Aisne, Caesar's Axona; here
is Berry-au-Bac; here was Caesar, here were the invaders, here was
General French, here Foch, here Von Kluck. Curious, isn't it--two
thousand years afterward?" His eyes for an instant filled with dreamy
perplexity. A little while later I would hear him mechanically
telephoning. "Poste A--five 'seventy-seven' shells, six mines, twelve
trench shells; answer--ten 'seventy-five' shells, eight mines, eighteen
trench shells; Poste B--two 'seventy-seven' shells, one mine, six
grenades; answer--fifteen 'seventy-five' shells; Poste C--one 'two
hundred and ten' shell, fifty mines; answer--sixty mines; Poste D--"

At Dieulouard I had entered the shell zone; at Pont-a-Mousson, I crossed
the borders of the zone of quiet; at Montauville began the last
zone--the zone of invisibility and violence. Civilian life ended at the
western end of the village street with the abruptness of a man brought
face to face with a high wall. Beyond the village a road was seen
climbing the grassy slope of Puvenelle, to disappear as it neared the
summit of the ridge in a brown wood. It was just an ordinary hill road
of Lorraine, but the fact that it was the direct road to the trenches
invested this climbing, winding, silent length with extraordinary
character. The gate of the zone of violence, every foot of it bore some
scar of the war, now trivial, now gigantic--always awesome in the power
and volition it revealed. One passed from the sight of a brown puddle,
scooped in the surface of the street by an exploding shell, to a view of
a magnificent ash tree splintered by some projectile. It is a very rare
thing to see a sinister landscape, but this whole road was sinister. I
used to discuss this sinister quality with a distinguished French artist
who as a poilu was the infirmier, or medical service man, attached to a
squad of engineers working in a quarry frequently shelled. In this
frightful place we discussed la qualite du sinistre dans l'art (the
sinister in art) as calmly as if we were two Parisian critics sitting on
the benches of the Luxembourg Gardens. As the road advanced into the
wood, there was hardly a wayside tree that had not been struck by a
shell. Branches hung dead from trees, twigs had been lopped off by stray
fragments, great trunks were split apart as if by lightning. "Nature as
Nature is never sinister," said the artist; "it is when there is a
disturbance of the relations between Nature and human life that you have
the sinister. Have you ever seen the villages beyond Ravenna overwhelmed
by the bogs? There you see the sinister. Here Man is making Nature
unlivable for Man." He stroked his fine silky beard meditatively--"This
will all end when the peasants plant again." As we talked, a shell,
intended for the batteries behind, burst high above us.

Skirting the ravine, now wooded, between Puvenelle and the
Bois-le-Pretre, the road continued westward till it emerged upon the
high plateau of La Woevre; the last kilometre being in full view of the
Germans entrenched on the ridge across the rapidly narrowing, rising
ravine. Along this visible space the trees and bushes by the roadside
were matted by shell fire into an inextricable confusion of destruction,
and through the wisps and splinters of this ruin was seen the ridge of
the Bois-le-Pretre rapidly attaining the level of the moor. At length
the forest of Puvenelle, the ravine, and the Bois-le-Pretre ended
together in a rolling sweep of furzy fields cut off to the west and
north by a vast billow of the moor which, like the rim of a saucer,
closed the wide horizon. Continuing straight ahead, the Puvenelle road
mounted this rise, dipped and disappeared. Halfway between the edge of
the forest of Puvenelle and this crest stood an abandoned inn, a
commonplace building made of buff-brown moorland stone trimmed with red
brick. Close by this inn, at right angles to the Puvenelle road, another
road turned to the north and likewise disappeared over the lift in the
moor. At the corner stood a government signpost of iron slightly bent
back, bearing in gray-white letters on its clay-blue plaque the
legend--Thiaucourt, 12 kilometres Metz, 25 kilometres.

There was not a soul anywhere in sight; I was surrounded with evidences
of terrific violence--the shattered trees, the shell holes in the road,
the brown-lipped craters in the earth of the fields, the battered inn;
but there was not a sign of the creators of this devastation. A
northwest wind blew in great salvos across the mournful, lonely plateau,
rippling the furze, and brought to my ears the pounding of shells from
behind the rise. When I got to this rim a soldier, a big, blond fellow
of the true Gaulois type with drooping yellow mustaches, climbed slowly
out of a hole in the ground. The effect was startling. I had arrived at
the line where the earth of France completely swallows up the army. This
disappearance of life in a decor of intense action is one of the most
striking things of the war. All about in the surface of the earth were
little, square, sooty holes that served as chimneys, and here and there
rectangular, grave-like openings in the soil showing three or four big
steps descending to a subterranean hut. Fifty feet away not a sign of
human life could be distinguished. Six feet under the ground, framed in
the doorway of a hut, a young, black-haired fellow in a dark-brown
jersey stood smiling pleasantly up at us; it was he who was to be my
guide to the various postes and trenches that I had need to know. He
came up to greet me.

"Better bring him down here," growled a voice from somewhere in the
earth. "There have been bullets crossing the road all afternoon."

"I am going to show him the Quart-en-Reserve first."

The Quart-en-Reserve (Reserved Quarter) was the section of the
Bois-le-Pretre which, because of its situation on the crest of the great
ridge, had been the most fiercely contested. We crept up on the edge of
the ridge and looked over. An open, level field some three hundred yards
wide swept from the Thiaucourt road to the edges of the Bois-le-Pretre;
across this field ran in the most confused manner a strange pattern of
brown lines that disappeared among the stumps and poles of the haggard
wood to the east. To the northwest of this plateau, on the road ahead of
us, stood a ruined village caught in the torment of the lines. Here and
there, in some twenty or thirty places scattered over the scarred
plateau, the smoke of trench shells rose in little curling puffs of
gray-black that quickly dissolved in the wind.

"The Quart is never quiet," said my guide. "It is now half ours, half
theirs."

Close to the ground, a blot of light flashed swifter than a stroke of
lightning, and a heavier, thicker smoke rolled away.

"That is one of ours. We are answering their trench shells with an
occasional 'one hundred and twenty."

"How on earth is it that everybody is not killed?"

"Because the regiment has occupied the Quart so long that we know every
foot, every turn, every shelter of it. When we see a trench shell
coming, we know just where to go. It is only the newcomers who get
killed. Two months past, when a new regiment occupied the Quart during
our absence en repos, it lost twenty-five men in one day."

The first trench that I entered was a simple trench about seven feet
deep, with no trimmings whatsoever, just such a trench as might have
been dug for the accommodation of a large water conduit. We walked on a
narrow board walk very slippery with cheesy, red-brown mire. From time
to time the hammer crash of a shell sounded uncomfortably near, and bits
of dirt and pebbles, dislodged by the concussion, fell from the wall of
the passage. The only vista was the curving wall of the long
communication trench and the soft sky of Lorraine, lit with the pleasant
sunlight of middle afternoon, and islanded with great golden-white cloud
masses. My guide and I might have been the last persons left in a world
of strange and terrible noises. The boyau (communication trench) began
to turn and wind about in the most perplexing manner, and we entered a
veritable labyrinth. This extraordinary, baffling complexity is due
primarily to the fact that the trenches advance and retreat, rise and
fall, in order to take advantage of the opportunities for defense
afforded by every change in the topography of the region. I remember one
area along the front consisting of two round, grassy hills divided by a
small, grassy valley whose floor rose gently to a low ridge connecting
the two heights. In this terrain the defensive line began on the first
hill as a semicircle edging the grassy slopes presented to the enemy,
then retreated, sinking some forty feet, to take advantage of the
connecting link of upland at the head of the ravine, and took
semicircular form again on the flat, broad summit of the second hill. In
the meadows at the base of these hills a brook flowing from the ravine
had created a great swamp, somewhat in the shape of a wedge pointing
outward from the mouth of the valley. The lines of the enemy, edging
this tract of mire, were consequently in the shape of an open V. Thus
the military situation at this particular point may be pictorially
represented by a salient semicircle, a dash, and another salient
semicircle faced by a wide, open V. Imagine such a situation complicated
by offensive and counter-offensive, during which the French have seized
part of the hills and the German part of the plain, till the whole
region is a madman's maze of barbed wire, earthy lines, trenches,--some
of them untenable by either side and still full of the dead who fell in
the last combat,--shell holes, and fortified craters. Such was something
of the situation in that wind-swept plain at the edge of the
Bois-le-Pretre. I leave for other chapters the account of an average day
in the trenches and the story of the great German attack, preferring to
tell here of the general impressions made by the appearance of the
trenches themselves. Two pictures stand out, particularly, the dead on
the barbed wire, and the village called "Fey au Rats" at night.

"The next line is the first line. Speak in whispers now, for if the
Boches hear us we shall get a shower of hand-grenades."

I turned into a deep, wide trench whose floor had been trodden into a
slop of cheesy, brown mire which clung to the big hobnailed boots of the
soldiers. Every foot or so along the parapet there was a rifle slit,
made by the insertion of a wedge-shaped wooden box into the wall of
brownish sandbags, and the sentries stood about six feet apart. The
trench had the hushed quiet of a sickroom.

"Do you want to see the Boches? Here; come, put your eye to this rifle
slit."

A horizontal tangle of barbed wire lay before me, the shapeless gully of
an empty trench, and, thirty-five feet away, another blue-gray tangle of
barbed wire and a low ripple of the brownish earth. As I looked, one of
the random silences of the front stole swiftly into the air. French
trench and German trench were perfectly silent; you could have heard the
ticking of a watch.

"You never see them?"

"Only when we attack them or they attack us."

An old poilu, with a friendly smile revealing a jagged reef of yellow
teeth, whispered to me amiably:--

"See them? Good Lord, it's bad enough to smell them. You ought to thank
the good God, young man, that the wind is carrying it over our heads."

"Any wounded to-day?"

"Yes; a corporal had his leg ripped up about half an hour ago."

At a point a mile or so farther down the moor I looked again out of a
rifle box. No Man's Land had widened to some three hundred feet of
waving furze, over whose surface gusts of wind passed as over the
surface of the sea. About fifty feet from the German trenches was a
swathe of barbed wire supported on a row of five stout, wooden posts. So
thickly was the wire strung that the eye failed to distinguish the
individual filaments and saw only the rows of brown-black posts filled
with a steely purple mist. Upon this mist hung masses of weather-beaten
blue rags whose edges waved in the wind.

"Des camarades" (comrades), said my guide very quietly.

A month later I saw the ruined village of Fey-en-Haye by the light of
the full golden shield of the Hunters' Moon. The village had been taken
from the Germans in the spring, and was now in the French lines, which
crossed the village street and continued right on through the houses.
"The first village on the road to Metz" had tumbled, in piles and mounds
of rubbish, out on a street grown high with grass. Moonlight poured into
the roofless cottages, escaping by shattered walls and jagged rents, and
the mounds of debris took on fantastic outlines and cast strange
shadows. In the middle of the village street stood two wooden crosses
marking the graves of soldiers. It was the Biblical "Abomination of
Desolation."

Looking at Fey from the end of the village street, I slowly realized
that it was not without inhabitants. Wandering through the grass,
scurrying over the rubbish heaps, running in and out of the crumbling
thresholds were thousands and thousands of rats.

Across the bright sky came a whirring hum, the sound of the motors of
aeroplanes on the way to bombard the railroad station at Metz. I looked
up, but there was nothing to be seen. The humming died away. The bent
signpost at the corner of the deserted moorland road, with its arrow and
its directions, somehow seemed a strange, shadowy symbol of the
impossibility of the attainment of many human aspirations.




Chapter V

The Trenches In The "Wood Of Death"



So great has been the interest in the purely military side of the
struggle that one is apt to forget that the war is worth study as the
supreme occupation of many great nations, whose every energy, physical,
moral, and economic, has been put to its service, and relentlessly
tested in its fiery furnace. A future historian may find the war more
interesting, when considered as the supreme achievement of the
industrial civilization of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, than
as a mere vortex in the age-old ocean of European political strife.
There is something awe-inspiring in the spectacle of all the continuous
and multitudinous activity of a great nation feeding, by a thousand
channels, a thousand rills, to the embattled furrows of the zone of
violence.

By a strange decree of fate, a new warfare has come into being,
admirably adapted to the use and the testing of all our faculties,
organizations, and inventions--trench warfare. The principal element of
this modern warfare is lack of mobility.

The lines advance, the lines retreat, but never once, since the
establishment of the present trench swathe, have the lines of either
combatant been pushed clear out of the normal zone of hostilities. The
fierce, invisible combats are limited to the first-line positions,
averaging a mile each way behind No Man's Land. This stationary
character has made the war a daily battle; it has robbed war of all its
ancient panoply, its cavalry, its uniforms brilliant as the sun, and has
turned it into the national business. I dislike to use the word
"business," with its usual atmosphere of orderly bargaining; I intend
rather to call up an idea more familiar to American minds--the idea of a
great intricate organization with a corporate volition. The war of
to-day is a business, the people are the stockholders, and the object of
the organization is the wisest application of violence to the enemy.

To this end, in numberless secteurs along the front, special
narrow-gauge railroad lines have been built directly from the railroad
station at the edge of the shell zone to the artillery positions. To
this end the trenches have been gathered into a special telephone system
so that General Joffre at Chantilly can talk to any officers or soldiers
anywhere along the great swathe. The food, supplies, clothing, and
ammunition are delivered every day at the gate of the swathe, and calmly
redistributed to the trenches by a sort of military express system.

Only one thing ever disturbs the vast, orderly system. The bony fingers
of Death will persist in getting into the cogs of the machine.

The front is divided, according to military exigencies, into a number of
roughly equal lengths called secteurs. Each secteur is an administrative
unit with its own government and its own system adapted to the local
situation. The heart of this unit is the railroad station at which the
supplies arrive for the shell zone; in a normal secteur, one military
train arrives every day bringing the needed supplies, and one hospital
train departs, carrying the sick and wounded to the hospitals. The
station at the front is always a scene of considerable activity,
especially when the train arrives; there are pictures of old poilus in
red trousers pitching out yellow hay for the horses, commissary officers
getting their rations, and artilleurs stacking shells.

The train not being able to continue into the shell zone, the supplies
are carried to the distributing station at the trenches in a convoy of
wagons, called the ravitaillement. Every single night, somewhere along
the road, each side tries to smash up the other's ravitaillement. To
avoid this, the ravitaillement wagons start at different hours after
dark, now at dusk, now at midnight. Sometimes, close by the trenches on
a clear, still night, the plashing and creaking of the enemy's wagons
can be heard through the massacred trees. I remember being shelled along
one bleak stretch of moorland road just after a drenching December rain.
The trench lights rising over The Wood, three miles away, made the wet
road glow with a tarnished glimmer, and burnished the muddy pools into
mirrors of pale light. The ravitaillement creaked along in the darkness.
Suddenly a shell fell about a hundred yards away, and the wagons brought
up jerkily, the harnesses rattling. For ten minutes the Germans shelled
the length of road just ahead of us, but no shell came closer to us than
the first one. About thirty "seventy-seven" shells burst, some on the
road, some on the edges of the fields; we saw them as flashes of
reddish-violet light close to the ground. In the middle of the melee a
trench light rose, showing the line of halted gray wagons, the
motionless horses, and the helmeted drivers. The whole affair passed in
silence. When it was judged that the last shell had fallen, whips
cracked like pistol shots, and the line lumbered on again.

The food came to us fresh every day in a freight car fitted up like a
butcher's shop, in charge of a poilu who was a butcher in civilian life.
"So many men--so many grammes," and he would cut you off a slice. There
was a daily potato ration, and a daily extra, this last from a list ten
articles long which began again every ten days, and included beans,
macaroni, lentils, rice, and cheese. The French army is very well and
plenteously fed. Coffee, sugar, wine, and even tea are ungrudgingly
furnished. These foods are taken directly to the rear of the trenches
where the regimental cooks have their traveling kitchens. Once the food
is prepared, the cooks--the beloved cuistots--take it to the trenches in
great, steaming kettles and distribute it to the men individually. As
for clothing, every regiment has a regimental tailor shop and supply of
uniforms in the village where they go to repos. I have often seen the
soldier tailor of one of the regiments, a little Alsatian Jew, sewing up
the shell rents in a comrade's greatcoat. He had his shop in a pleasant
kitchen, and used to sit beside the fire sewing as calmly as an old
woman.

The sanitary arrangements of the trenches are the usual army latrines,
and very severe punishments are inflicted for any fouling.

If a man is wounded, the medical service man of his squad (infirmier),
or one of the stretcher-bearers (brancardiers), takes him as quickly as
possible to the regimental medical post in the rear lines. If the trench
is getting heavily shelled, and the wound is slight, the attendant takes
the man to a shelter and applies first aid until a time comes when he
and his patient can proceed to the rear with reasonable safety. At this
rear post the regimental surgeon cleans the wound, stops the bleeding,
and sends for the ambulance, which, at the Bois-le-Pretre, came right
into the heart of the trenches by sunken roads that were in reality
broad trenches. The man is then taken to the hospital that his condition
requires, the slightly wounded to one hospital, and those requiring an
operation to another. The French surgical hospitals all along the front
are marvels of cleanliness and order. The heart of each hospital is the
power plant, which sterilizes the water, runs the electric lights, and
works the X-ray generator. Mounted on an automobile body, it is always
ready to decamp in case the locality gets too dangerous. You find these
great, lumbering affairs, half steamroller, half donkey-engine, in the
courtyards of old castles, schools, and great private houses close by
the front.

The first-line trenches, in a position at all contested, are very apt
still to preserve the hurried arrangement of their first plan, which is
sometimes hardly any plan at all. It must be admitted that the Germans
have the advantage in the great majority of places, for theirs was the
first choice, and they entrenched themselves, as far as possible, along
the crests of the eastern hills of France, in a line long prepared for
just such an exigency. It has been the frightfully difficult task of the
Allies, these two years, not only to hold the positions at the foot of
these hills, in which they were at a tactical disadvantage, all their
movements being visible to the Boches on the crests above them, but also
to attack an enemy entrenched in a strong position of his own choosing.
To-day at one point along the line, the French and Germans may share the
dominating crest of a position, at another point, they may be equally
matched, and at another, such as Les Eparges, the French, after fearful
losses, have carried the coveted eminence. One phase of the business of
violence is the work of the military undertaker attached to each
secteur, who writes down in his little red book the names of the day's
dead, and arranges for the wooden cross at the head of each fresh grave.
Every day along the front is a battle in which thousands of men die.

The eastern hills of France, those pleasant rolling heights above
Rheims, Verdun, and old, provincial Pont-a-Mousson, have been literally
gorged with blood. It being out of the question to strengthen or rectify
very much the front-line trenches close to the enemy, the effort has
taken place in the rear lines. Wherever there is a certain security, the
rear lines of all the important strategic points have been converted
into veritable subterranean fortresses. The floor plan of these trenches
is an adaptation of the military theory of fortification--with its
angles, salients, and bastions--to the topography of the region. The
gigantic concrete walls of the bomb-proof shelters, the little forts to
shelter the machine guns, and the concrete passages in the rear-line
trenches will appear as heavy and massive to future generations as Roman
masonry appears to us. There are, of course, many unimportant little
links of the trench system, upon whose holding nothing depends and for
whose domination neither side cares to spend the life of a single
soldier, that have only an apology for a second position. The war needs
the money for the preparation of important places. At vital points there
may be the tremendously powerful second line, a third line, and even a
fourth line. The region between Verdun and the lines, for instance, is
the most fearful snarl of barbed wire, pits, and buried explosives that
could be imagined. The distance would have to be contested inch by inch.

The trench theory is built about the soldier. It must preserve him as
far as possible from artillery and from an infantry attack. The defenses
begin with barbed wire; then come the rifles and the machine guns; and
behind them the light artillery, the "seventy-fives," and the heavy
artillery, the "one hundred and twenties," "two hundred and twenties,"
and, now, an immense howitzer whose real caliber has been carefully
concealed. To take a trench position means the crossing of the
entanglements of No Man's Land under fire from artillery, rifles, and
machine guns, an almost impossible proceeding. An advance is possible
only after the opposing trenches have been made untenable by the
concentration of artillery fire. The great offensives begin by blowing
the first lines absolutely to pieces; this accomplished, the attacking
infantry advances to the vacated trenches under the rifle fire of those
few whom the terrible deluge of shells has not killed or crazed, works
toward the strong second position under a concentrated artillery fire of
the retreating enemy as terrible as its own, fights its way heroically
into the second position, and stops there. The great line has been bent,
has been dented, but never broken. An offensive must cover at least
twenty miles of front, for if the break is too narrow the attacking
troops will be massacred by the enemy artillery at both ends of the
broken first lines. If the front lines are one mile deep, the artillery
must put twenty-five square miles of trenches hors de combat, a task
that takes millions of shells. By the time that the first line has been
destroyed and the troops have reached the second line, the shells and
the men are pretty well used up. A great successful offensive on the
western front is theoretically possible, given millions of men, but
practically impossible. Outside of important local gains, the great
western offensives have been failures. Champagne was a failure, the
Calais drive was a failure, Verdun was a failure, and the drive on the
Somme has only bent the lines. The Germans may shorten their lines
because of a lack of men, but I firmly believe that neither their line
nor the Allies' line will ever be broken. What will be the end if the
Allies cannot wrest from Germany, Belgium and that part of northern
France she is holding for ransom--to obtain good terms at the peace
congress? Is Germany slowly, very slowly going under, or are we going to
witness complete European exhaustion? Whatever happens, poor, mourning,
desolated France will hold to the end.

In localities where no great offensive is contemplated, and the business
of violence has become a routine, the object of the commander is to keep
the enemy on the qui-vive, demoralize him by killing and wounding his
soldiers, and prevent him from strengthening his first lines. Relations
take on the character of an exchange; one day the French throw a
thousand mines (high-explosive trench shells) into the German lines, and
the next day the Germans throw a thousand back. The French smash up a
village where German troops are en repos; while it is being done, the
Germans begin to blow a French village to pieces. In the trenches the
individual soldiers throw grenades at each other, and wish that the
whole tiresome business was done with. They have two weeks in the
trenches and two weeks out of them in a cantonment behind the lines. The
period in the trenches is divided between the first lines and the rear
lines of the first position. Often on my way to the trenches at night I
would pass a regiment coming to repos. Silent, vaguely seen, in broken
step the regiment passed. Sometimes a shell would come whistling in.

There was one part of the Bois-le-Pretre region upon which nothing
depended, and the war had there settled into the casual exchange of
powder and old iron that obtains upon two thirds of the front. At the
entrance to this position, in the shadow of a beautiful clump of ash
trees, stood the rustic shelters of the regimental cooks. From behind
the wall of trees came a terrifying crash. The war-gray, iron field
kitchen, which the army slang calls a contre-torpilleur (torpedo-boat
destroyer), stood in a little clearing of the wood; there was nothing
beautiful to the machine, which was simply an iron box, two feet high
and four feet square, mounted on big wheels, and fitted with a high oval
chimney. A halo of kitcheny smell floated about it, and the open door of
its fire-box, in which brands were burning furiously, and a jet of vapor
from somewhere, gave it quite the appearance of an odd steam engine.
Beside the contre-torpilleur stood the two cooks, both unusually small
in stature. One was about thirty-two or three years old, chunky, and
gifted with short, strong, hairy arms; the other was much slighter,
younger, and so juvenile of face that his downy mustache was almost
invisible. I knew these men very well; one, the older, was a farmhand in
a village of Touraine, and the other, an errand boy in a bookbinding
works at Saint-Denis. The war had turned them into regimental cooks,
though it was the older man who did most of the cooking, while the boy
occupied himself with gathering wood and distributing the food. The
latter once confessed to me that when he heard that Americans were
coming to the Bois-le-Pretre, he had expected to see Indians, and that
he and his comrades had joked, half in jest, half in earnest, about the
Boches going to lose their scalps. The other was famous for an episode
of the July attacks: cornered in the trench by a Boche, he had emptied
his kettle of hot soup over the man's head and finished him off with a
knife. They waved friendlily at me. The farmhand, in particular, was one
of the pleasantest fellows who ever breathed; and still fond, like a
true good man of Touraine, of a Rabelaisian jest.

The road now entered the wood, and continued straight ahead down a
pleasant vista of young ash trees. Suddenly a trench, bearing its name
in little black, dauby letters on a piece of yellow board the size of a
shingle, began by the side of the forest road, and I went down into it
as I might have gone down cellar. The Boyau Poincare--such was its
title--began to curve and twist in the manner of trenches, and I came
upon a corner in the first line known as "Three Dead Men," because after
the capture of the wood, three dead Germans were found there in
mysterious, lifelike attitudes. The names of trenches on the French
front often reflect that deep, native instinct to poetry possessed by
simple peoples--the instinct that created the English ballads and the
exquisite mediaeval French legends of the saints. Other trench names
were symbolic, or patriotic, or political; we had the "Trench of the
Great Revenge," the "Trench of France," the "Trench of Aristide"
(meaning Briand), and the "Boulevard Joffre."

Beyond "Les Trois Morts," began the real lines of the position, and as I
wound my way through them to the first lines, the pleasant forest of
autumnal branches thinned to a wood of trees bare as telegraph poles. It
had taken me half an hour to get from the cook's shelters to the first
lines, and during that time I had not heard one single explosion. In the
first trench the men stood casually by their posts at the parapet, their
bluish coats in an interesting contrast to the brown wall of the trench.
Behind the sentries, who peered through the rifle slits every once in a
while, flowed the usual populace of the first-line trench, passing as
casually as if they were on a Parisian sidewalk, officers as miry as
their men, poilus of the Engineer Corps with an eye to the state of the
rifle boxes, and an old, unshaven soldier in light-brown corduroy
trousers and blue jacket, who volunteered the information that the
Boches had thrown a grenade at him as he turned the corner "down
there"--"It didn't go off." So calm an atmosphere pervaded the cold,
sunny, autumnal afternoon that the idea "the trenches" took on the
proportions of a gigantic hoax; we might have been masqueraders in the
trenches after the war was over. And the Germans were only seventy-five
feet away, across those bare poles, stumps, and matted dead brown
leaves!

"Attention!"

The atmosphere of the trench changed in a second. Every head in sight
looked up searchingly at the sky. Just over the trees, distinctly seen,
was a little, black, cylindrical package somersaulting through the air.
In another second everybody had calculated the spot in which it was
about to land, and those whom it threatened had swiftly found shelter,
either by continuing down the trench to a sharp turn, running into the
door of an abri (shelter), or simply snuggling into a hole dug in the
side of the trench. There was a moment of full, complete silence between
the time when everybody had taken refuge and the explosion of the trench
shell. The missile burst with that loud hammer pound made by a
thick-walled iron shell, and lay smoking in the withered leaves.

"It begins--it begins," said an old poilu, tossing his head. "Now we
shall have those pellets all afternoon."

An instant after the burst the trench relaxed; some of the sentries
looked back to see where the shell had fallen, others paid no attention
to it whatsoever. Once again the quiet was disturbed by a muffled boom
somewhere ahead of us, and everybody calculated and took refuge exactly
as before. The shells began to come, one on the heels of the other with
alarming frequency; hardly had one burst when another was discovered in
the air. The poilus, who had taken the first shells as a matter of
course, good-naturedly even, began to get as cross as peevish
schoolboys. It was decidedly too much of a good thing. Finally the order
was given for every one except the sentinels, who were standing under
the occasional shelters of beams and earth bridged across the trench, to
retire to the abris. I saw one of the exposed sentinels as I withdrew, a
big, heavily built, young fellow with a face as placid as that of a farm
animal; his rifle leaned against the earth of the trench, and the shadow
of the shelter fell on his expressionless features. The next sentinel
was a man in the late thirties, a tall, nervous soldier with a fierce,
aggressive face.

The abri to which we retired was about twenty-five feet long and eight
feet wide, and had a door at either end. The hut had been dug right in
the crude, calcareous rock of Lorraine, and the beams of the roof were
deeply set into these natural walls. Along the front wall ran a corridor
about a foot wide, and between this corridor and the rear wall was a
raised platform about seven feet wide piled with hay. Sprawled in this
hay, in various attitudes, were about fifteen men, the squad that had
just completed its sentry service. Two candles hung from the massive
roof and flickered in the draughts between the two doors, revealing, in
rare periods of radiance, a shelf along the wall over the sleepers'
heads piled with canteens, knapsacks, and helmets. In the middle of the
rock wall by the corridor a semicircular funnel had been carved out to
serve as a fireplace, and at its base a flameless fire of beautiful,
crumbling red brands was glowing. This hearth cut in the living rock was
very wonderful and beautiful. Suddenly a trench shell landed right on
the roof of the abri, shaking little fragments of stone down into the
fire on the hearth. The soldiers, who sat hunched up on the edge of the
platform, their feet in the corridor, gave vent to a burst of anger that
had its source in exasperation.

"This is going too far."--"Why don't they answer?"--"Are those dirty
cows (the classic sales vaches) going to keep this up all afternoon?"

"Really, now, this is getting to be a real nuisance." Suddenly two forms
loomed large in the left doorway, and the stolid sentry of whom I have
spoken limped in on the arm of an infirmier. Voices murmured in the
obscurity, "Who is wounded?"--"Somebody wounded?" And dreamy-eyed ones
sat up in the straw. The stolid one--he could not have been much over
twenty-one or two--sat down on the edge of the straw near the fireplace,
his face showing no emotion, only a pallor. He had a painful but not
serious wound; a small fragment of iron, from a shell that had fallen
directly into the trench, had lodged in the bones of his foot. He took
off his big, ugly shoe and rested the blood-stained sock on the straw.
Voices like echoes traveled the length of the shelter--"Is it thou,
Jarnac?"--"Art thou wounded, Jarnac?" "Yes," answered the big fellow in
a bass whisper. He was a peasant of the Woevre, one of a stolid,
laborious race.

"The lieutenant has gone to the telephone shelter to ring up the
batteries," said the infirmier. "Good," said a vibrant, masculine voice
somewhere in the straw.

A shell coming toward you from the enemy makes a good deal of noise, but
it is not to be compared to the noise made by one's own shells rushing
on a slant just over one's head to break in the enemy's trenches
seventy-five feet away. A swift rafale of some fifty "seventy-five"
shells passed whistling like the great wind of the Apocalypse, which is
to blow when the firmament collapses. Looking through the rifle slit,
after the rafale was over, I could see puffs of smoke apparently rising
out of the carpet of dead leaves. The nervous man, the other sentry,
held up his finger for us not to make the slightest noise and
whispered,--

"I heard somebody yell."

"Where?"

"Over there by that stump."

We strained our ears to catch a sound, but heard nothing.

"I heard the yell plainly," replied the sentry.

The news seemed to give some satisfaction. At any rate, the Germans
stopped their trench shells. The quiet hush of late afternoon was at
hand. Soon the cook came down the trench with kettles of hot soup.

Five months have passed since I last saw the inhabitants of this abri,
the tenants of the "Ritz-Marmite." How many are still alive? What has
happened to this fine, brave crowd of Frenchmen, gentlemen all, bons
camarades? I have seen them on guard in a heavy winter snowstorm, when
the enemy was throwing grenades which, exploding, blew purplish-black
smudges on the snow; I have seen them so bemired in mud and slop that
they looked like effigies of brownish earth; I have watched them wading
through communication trenches that were veritable canals. And this is
the third year of the war.

The most interesting of the lot mentally was a young Socialist named
Hippolyte. He was a sous-lieutenant of the Engineers, and had quarters
of his own in the rear of the trenches, where one was always sure to
find books on social questions lying round in the hay. When the war
began he was just finishing his law course at the University of
Montpellier. A true son of the South, he was dark, short, but well
proportioned, with small hands and feet. The distinguishing features of
his countenance were his eyes and mouth--the eyes, eloquent, alert,
almost Italian; the mouth, full, firm, and dogmatic. The great orators
of the Midi must have resembled him in their youth. He was a Socialist
and a pacifist a outrance, continuing his dream of universal fraternity
in the midst of war. His work lay in building a tunnel under the
Germans, by which he hoped to blow part of the German trenches, Teutons
and all, sky-high.

The tunnei (sape) began in the third line, at a door hi the wall of the
trench strongly framed in wooden beams the size of railroad ties. At
occasional intervals along the passage the roof was reinforced by a
frame of these beams, so that the sape had the businesslike,
professional look of a gallery in a coal mine. Descending steeply to a
point twelve feet beyond the entrance, it then went at a gentle incline
under No Man's Land, and ended beneath the German trenches. It was the
original intention to blow up part of the German first line, but it
being one day discovered that the Germans were building a tunnel
parallel to the French one, it was decided to blow up the French safe so
that the explosion would spend its force underground, and cause the
walls of the German tunnel to cave in on its makers. I happened to see
the tunnel the morning of the day it was blown up. The French had
stopped working for fear of being overheard by the Germans. It was a
ticklish situation. Were the Germans aware of the French tunnel? If so,
they would blow up their own at once. Were they still continuing their
labor? The earth of the French might burst apart anyminute and rain down
again in a dreadful shower of clods, stones, and mangled bodies.

Alone, quiet, at the end of the passage under the German lines sat an
old poilu, the sentinel of the tunnel. He was an old coal miner of the
North. The light of a candle showed his quiet, bearded face, grave as
the countenance of some sculptured saint on the portico of a Gothic
church, and revealed the wrinkles and lines of many years of labor. The
sentinel held a microphone to his ears; the poles of it disappearing
into the wall of damp earth separating us from the Boches.

Hippolyte whispered, "You hear them?"

The old man nodded his head, and gave the microphone to his officer. I
saw Hippolyte listen. Then, without a word, he handed it to me. All that
I could hear was a faint tapping.

"The Boches," whispered Hippolyte.

The French blew up the sape early in the afternoon, at a time when they
felt sure the Germans were at work in their tunnel. I saw the result the
next day. A saucer-shaped depression about twenty-five feet in diameter,
and perhaps two feet deep, had appeared in No Man's Land. Even the
stumps of two trees had sunk and tilted.

It was Hippolyte who had turned on the electricity. I once talked the
matter over with him. He became at once intense, Latin, doctrinaire.

"How do you reconcile your theories of fraternity to what you have to
do?"

"I do not have to reconcile my theories to my office; I am furthering my
theories."

"How so?"

"By combating the Boches. Without them we might have realized our idea
of universal peace and fraternity. Voila l'ennemi! The race is a
poisonous race, serpents, massacreurs! I wish I could smother as many of
them every day as I did yesterday."

During my service I did not meet another soldier whose hatred of the
Germans was comparable to that of this advocate of universal love.

I left the trenches just at dusk. Above the dreadful depression in No
Man's Land shone a bronzy sky against which the trees raised their
haggard silhouettes. There was hardly a sound in the whole length of The
Wood. A mist came up making haloes round the rising winter stars.




Chapter VI

The Germans Attack


The schoolmaster (instituteur) and the schoolmistress (institutrice) of
Montauville were a married couple, and had a flat of four rooms on the
second story of the schoolhouse. The kitchen of this fiat had been
struck by a shell, and was still a mess of plaster, bits of stone, and
glass, and a fragment had torn clear through the sooty bottom of a
copper saucepan still hanging on the wall. In one of the rooms, else
quite bare of furniture, was an upright piano. Sometimes while stationed
at Montauville, I whiled away the waits between calls to the trenches in
playing this instrument.

It was about nine o'clock in the morning, and thus far not a single call
had come in. The sun was shining very brightly in a sky washed clear by
a night of rain, the morning mists were rising from the wood, and up and
down the very muddy street walked little groups of soldiers. I drew up
the rickety stool and began to play the waltz from "The Count of
Luxembourg." In a short time I heard the sound of tramping on the stairs
voices. In came three poilus--a pale boy with a weary, gentle expression
in his rather faded blue eyes; a dark, heavy fellow of twenty-five or
six, with big wrists, big, muscular hands, and a rather unpleasant,
lowering face; and a little, middle-aged man with straightforward,
friendly hazel eyes and a pointed beard. The pale, boyish one carried a
violin made from a cigar box under his arm, just such a violin as the
darkies make down South. This violin was very beautifully made, and
decorated with a rustic design. I stopped playing.

"Don't, don't," cried the dark, big fellow; "we haven't heard any music
for a long time. Please keep on. Jacques, here, will accompany you."

"I never heard the waltz," said the violinist; "but if you play it over
for me once or twice, I'll try to get the air--if you would like to have
me to," he added with a shy, gentle courtesy.

So I played the rather banal waltz again, till the lad caught the tune.
He hit it amazingly well, and his ear was unusually true. The dark one
had been in Canada and was hungry for American rag-time. "'The Good Old
Summer Time'--you know that? 'Harrigan'--you know that?" he said in
English. The rag-time of "Harrigan" floated out on the street of
Montauville. But I did not care to play things which could have no
violin obligato, so I began to play what I remembered of waltzes dear to
every Frenchman's heart--the tunes of the "Merry Widow." "Sylvia" went
off with quite a dash. The concert was getting popular. Somebody wanted
to send for a certain Alphonse who had an occarina. Two other poilus,
men in the forties, came up, their dark-brown, horseshoe beards making
them look like brothers. Side by side against the faded paper on the
sunny wall they stood, surveying us contentedly. The violinist, who
turned out to be a Norman, played a solo--some music-hall fantasy, I
imagine. The next number was the ever popular "Tipperaree," which every
single poilu in the French army has learned to sing in a kind of
English. Our piano-violin duet hit off this piece even better than the
"Merry Widow." I thanked Heaven that I was not called on to translate
it, a feat frequently demanded of the American drivers. The song is
silly enough in the King's English, but in lucid, exact French, it sinks
to positive imbecility.

"You play, don't you?" said the violinist to the small bearded man.

"A little," he replied modestly.

"Please play."

The little man sat down at the piano, meditated a minute, and began to
play the rich chords of Rachmaninof's "Prelude." He got about half
through, when Zip-bang! a small shell burst down the street. The dark
fellow threw open the French window. The poilus were scurrying to
shelter. The pianist continued with the "Prelude."

Zip-bang! Zip-bang! Zshh--Bang--Bang. Bang-Bang!

The piano stopped. Everybody listened. The village was still as death.
Suddenly down the street came the rattle of a volley of rifle shots.
Over this sound rose the choked, metallic notes of a bugle-call. The
rifle shots continued. The ominous popping of machine guns resounded.
The village, recovering from its silence, filled with murmurs. Bang!
Bang! Bang I Bang! went some more shells. The same knowledge took
definite shape in our minds.

"An attack!"

The violinist, clutching his instrument, hurried down the stairs
followed by all the others, leaving the chords of the uncompleted
"Prelude" to hang in the startled air. Shells were popping
everywhere--crashes of smoke and violence--in the roads, in the fields,
and overhead. The Germans were trying to isolate the few detachments en
repos in the village, and prevent reinforcements coming from Dieulouard
or any other place. To this end all the roads between Pont-a-Mousson and
the trenches, and the roads leading directly to the trenches, were being
shelled.

"Go at once to Poste C!"

The winding road lay straight ahead, and just at the end of the village
street, the Germans had established a tir de barrage. This meant that a
shell was falling at that particular point about once every fifty
seconds. I heard two rafales break there as I was grinding up the
machine. Up the slope of the Montauville hill came several of the other
drivers. Tyler, of New York, a comrade who united remarkable bravery to
the kindest of hearts, followed close behind me, also evidently bound
for Poste C. German bullets, fired wildly from the ridge of The Wood
over the French trenches, sang across the Montauville valley, lodging in
the trees of Puvenelle behind us with a vicious tspt; shells broke here
and there on the stretch leading to the Quart-en-Reserve, throwing the
small rocks of the road surfacing wildly in every direction. The French
batteries to our left were firing at the Germans, the German batteries
were firing at the French trenches and the roads, and the machine guns
rattled ceaselessly. I saw the poilus hurrying up the muddy roads of the
slope of the Bois-le-Pretre--vague masses of moving blue on the brown
ways. A storm of shells was breaking round certain points in the road
and particularly at the entrance to The Wood. I wondered what had become
of the audience at the concert. Various sounds, transit of shells,
bursting of shells, crashing of near-by cannon, and rat-tat-tat-tat! of
mitrailleuses played the treble to a roar formed of echoes and
cadences--the roar of battle. The Wood of Death (Le Bois de la Mort) was
singing again.

That day's attack was an attempt by the Germans to take back from the
French the eastern third of the Quart-en-Reserve and the rest of the
adjoining ridge half hidden in the shattered trees. At the top of the
plateau, by the rise in the moorland I described in the preceding
chapter, I had an instant's view of the near-by battle, for the focus
was hardly more than four hundred yards away. There was a glimpse of
human beings in the Quart--soldiers in green, soldiers in blue--the very
fact that anybody was to be seen there was profoundly stirring. They
were fighting in No Man's Land. Tyler and I watched for a second,
wondering what scenes of agony, of heroism, of despair were being
enacted in that dreadful field by the ruined wood.

We hurried our wounded to the hospital, passing on our way detachments
of soldiers rushing toward The Wood from the villages of the region.
Three or four big shells had just fallen in Dieulouard, and the village
was deserted and horribly still. The wind carried the roar of the attack
to our ears. In three quarters of an hour, I was back again at the same
moorland poste, to which an order of our commander had attached me.
Montauville was full of wounded. I had three on stretchers inside, one
beside me on the seat, and two others on the front mudguards. And The
Wood continued to sing. From Montauville I could hear the savage yells
and cries which accompanied the fighting.

Half an hour after the beginning of the attack, the war invaded the sky,
with the coming of the German reconnoitering aeroplanes. One went to
watch the roads leading to The Wood along the plateau, one went to watch
the Dieulouard road, and the other hovered over the scene of the combat.
The sky was soon dotted with the puffs of smoke left by the exploding
shells of the special anti-aircraft "seventy- fives." These puffs
blossomed from a pin-point of light to a vaporous, gray-white puff-ball
about the size of the full moon, and then dissolved in the air or blew
about in streaks and wisps. These cloudlets, fired at an aviator flying
along a certain line, often were gathered by the eye into arrangements
resembling constellations. The three machines were very high, and had a
likeness to little brown and silver insects.

The Boche watching the conflict appeared to hang almost immobile over
the Quart. With a striking suddenness, another machine appeared behind
him and above him. So unexpected was the approach of this second
aeroplane that its appearance had a touch of the miraculous. It might
have been created at that very moment in the sky. The Frenchman--for it
was an aviator from the parc at Toul, since killed at Verdun, poor
fellow--swooped beneath his antagonist and fired his machine gun at him.
The German answered with two shots of a carbine. The Frenchman fired
again. Suddenly the German machine flopped to the right and swooped
down; it then flopped to the left, the tail of the machine flew up, and
the apparatus fell, not so swiftly as one might expect, down a thousand
feet into The Wood. When I saw the wreckage, a few days afterwards, it
looked like the spilt contents of a waste-paper basket, and the
aviators, a pilot and an observer, had had to be collected from all over
the landscape. The French buried them with full military honors.

Thanks to the use of a flame machine, the Germans succeeded in regaining
the part of the ridge they had lost, but the French made it so hot for
them that they abandoned it, and the contested trenches now lie in No
Man's Land. All that night the whole Wood was illuminated, trench light
after trench light rising over the dark branches. There would be a
rocket like the trail of bronze-red powder sparks hanging for an instant
in the sky, then a loud Plop! and the French light would spread out its
parachute and sail slowly down the sky toward the river. The German
lights (fusees eclairantes), cartridges of magnesium fired from a gun
resembling a shotgun, burned only during their dazzling trajectory. At
midnight the sky darkened with low, black rain clouds, upon whose
surface the constant cannon fire flashed in pools of violet-white light.
Coming down from the plateau at two in the morning, I could see sharp
jabs of cannon fire for thirty miles along the front on the other side
of the Moselle.

Just after this attack a doctor of the army service was walking through
the trenches in which the French had made their stand. He noticed
something oddly skewered to a tree. He knocked it down with a stone, and
a human heart fell at his feet.

The most interesting question of the whole business is, "How do the
soldiers stand it?" At the beginning of my own service, I thought
Pont-a-Mousson, with its ruins, its danger, and its darkness, the most
awful place on the face of the earth. After a little while, I grew
accustomed to the decor, and when the time came for me to leave it, I
went with as much regret as if I were leaving the friendliest, most
peaceful of towns. First the decor, growing familiar, lost the keener
edges of its horror, and then the life of the front--the violence, the
destruction, the dying and the dead--all became casual, part of the
day's work. A human being is profoundly affected by those about him;
thus, when a new soldier finds himself for the first time in a trench,
he is sustained by the attitude of the veterans. Violence becomes the
commonplace; shells, gases, and flames are the things that life is made
of. The war is another lesson in the power of the species to adapt
itself to circumstances. When this power of adaptability has been
reinforced by a tenacious national will "to see the thing through," men
will stand hell itself. The slow, dogged determination of the British
cannot be more powerful than the resolution of the French. Their
decision to continue at all costs has been reached by a purely
intellectual process, and to enforce it, they have called upon those
ancient foundations of the French character, the sober reasonableness
and unbending will they inherit from Rome.

And a new religion has risen in the trenches, a faith much more akin to
Mahomet than to Christ. It is a fatalism of action. The soldier finds
his salvation in the belief that nothing will happen to him until his
hour comes, and the logical corollary of this belief, that it does no
good to worry, is his rock of ages. It is a curious thing to see
poilus--peasants, artisans, scholars--completely in the grip of this
philosophy. There has been a certain return to the Church of Rome, for
which several reasons exist, the greatest being that the war has made
men turn to spiritual things. Only an animal could be confronted with
the pageant of heroism, the glory of sacrifice, and the presence of
Death, and not be moved to a contemplation of the fountain-head of these
sublime mysteries. But it is the upper class which in particular has
returned to the Church. Before the war, rationalist and genial skeptic,
the educated Frenchman went to church because it was the thing to do,
and because non-attendance would weaken an institution which the world
was by no means ready to lay aside. This same educated Frenchman,
brought face to face with the mystery of human existence, has felt a
real need of spiritual support, and consequently returned to the Church
of his fathers.

The religious revival is a return of upper-class prodigals to the fold,
and a rekindling of the chilled brands of the faith of the amiably
skeptical. The great mass of the nation has felt this spiritual force,
but because the mass of the nation was always Catholic, nothing much has
changed. I failed to find any trace of conversions among the still
hostile working men of the towns, and the bred-in-the-bone Socialists.
The rallying of the conservative classes about the Cross is also due to
the fact that the war has exposed the mediocrity and sterile windiness
of the old socialistic governments; this misgovernment the upper classes
have determined to end once they return from the trenches, and
remembering that the Church of Rome was the enemy of the past
administrations, cannot help regarding her with a certain friendliness.
But this issue of past misgovernment will be fought out on purely
secular grounds, and the Church will be only a sympathizer behind the
fray. The manner in which the French priests have fought and died is
worthy of the admiration of the world. Never in the history of any
country has the national religion been so closely enmeshed in the
national life. The older clergy, as a rule, have been attached to the
medical services of the front, serving as hospital orderlies and
stretcher-bearers, but the younger priests have been put right into the
army and are fighting to-day as common soldiers. There are hundreds of
officer-priests--captains and lieutenants of the regular army.

But the real religion of the front is the philosophy of Mahomet. Life
will end only when Death has been decreed by Fate, and the Boches are
the unbelievers. After all, Islam in its great days was a virile faith,
the faith of a race of soldiers.




Chapter VII

The Town In The Trenches



At the beginning of the war the German plan of campaign was to take
France on the flank by marching through Belgium, and once the success of
this northern venture assured, strike at the Verdun-Belfort line which
had baffled them in the first instance. Had they not lost the battle of
the Marne, this second venture might have proved successful, for the
body of the French army was fighting in the north, and the remaining
troops would have been discouraged by the capture of Paris. On the eve
of the battle of the Marne the campaign seeming to be well in hand in
the north, a German invasion of Lorraine began, one army striking at the
defenses of the great plateau which slopes from the Vosges to the
Moselle, and the other attempting to ascend the valley of the river. It
was this second army which entered Pont-a-Mousson.

Immediately following the declaration of hostilities the troops who had
been quartered in the town were withdrawn, and the town was left open to
the enemy who, going very cautiously, was on his way from Metz. For
several weeks in August, this city, almost directly on the frontier, saw
no soldiers, French or German. It was a time of dramatic suspense. The
best recital of it I ever heard came from the lips of the housekeeper of
Wisteria Villa, a splendid, brave French woman who had never left her
post. She was short, of a clear, tanned complexion, and always had her
hair tightly rolled up in a little classic pug. She was as fearless of
shells as a soldier in the trenches, and once went to a deserted
orchard, practically in the trenches, to get some apples for Messieurs
les Americains. When asked why she did not get them at a safer place,
she replied that she did not have to pay for these apples as the land
belonged to her father! Her ear for shells was the most accurate of the
neighborhood, and when a deafening crash would shake the kettles on the
stove and rattle the teacups, she could tell you exactly from what
direction it had come and the probable caliber. I remember one morning
seeing her wash dishes while the Germans were shelling the corner I have
already described. The window over the sink opened directly on the
dangerous area, and she might have been killed any minute by a flying
eclat. Standing with her hands in the soapy water, or wiping dry the
hideous blue-and-white dinner service of Wisteria Villa, she never even
bothered to look up to see where the shells were landing. Two
"seventy-sevens" went off with a horrid pop; "Those are only
'seventy-sevens,'" she murmured as if to herself. A fearful swish was
next heard and the house rocked to the din of an explosion. "That's a
'two hundred and ten'--the rogues--oh, the rogues!" she exclaimed in the
tone she might have used in scolding a depraved boy.

At night, when the kitchen was cleared up, she sat down to write her
daily letter to her soldier son, and once this duty finished, liked
nothing better than a friendly chat. She knew the history of
Pont-a-Mousson and Montauville and the inhabitants thereof by heart; she
had tales to tell of the shrewdness of the peasants and diverting
anecdotes of their manners and morals. These stories she told very well
and picturesquely.

"The first thing we saw was the President's poster saying not to be
alarmed, that the measures of military preparation were required by
circumstances (les evenements) and did not mean war. Then over this bill
the maire posted a notice that in case of a real mobilization (une
mobilisation serieuse) they would ring the tocsin. At eleven o'clock the
tocsin rang, oh, la la, monsieur, what a fracas! All the bells in the
town, Saint-Martin, Saint-Laurent, the hotel de ville. Immediately all
our troops went away. We did not want to see them go. 'We shall be back
again,' they said. They liked Pont-a-Mousson. Such good young fellows!
The butcher's wife has heard that only fifty-five of the six hundred who
were here are alive. They were of the active forces (de l'active). A
great many people followed the soldiers. So for two weeks we were left
all alone, wondering what was to become of us. And all the time we heard
frightful stories about the villages beyond Nancy. On the nth of August
we heard cannon for the first time, and on the 12th and the 14th we were
bombarded. On the 4th of September, at five o'clock in the evening, the
bells began to ring again. Everybody ran out to find the reason. Les
Allemands--they were not then called Boches--were coming. Baoum! went
the bridge over the Moselle. Everybody went into their houses, so that
the Germans came down streets absolutely deserted. I peeked from my
window blind. The Boches came down the road from Norroy, les Uhlans, the
infantry--how big and ugly they all were. And their officers were so
stiff (raide). They were not like our bons petits soldats Francais. In
the morning I went out to get some bread.

"'Eh la, good woman' (bonne femme), said a grand Boche to me.

"'What do you want?' said I.

"'Are there any soldats francais in the town?' said the Boche.

"'How should I know?' I answered.

"'You do not want to tell, good woman.'

"'I do not know.'

"'Are there any francs-tireurs (civilian snipers) in this town?'

"'Don't bother me; I'm going for some bread.'

"During the night all the clocks had been changed to German time. Many
of the Boches spoke French. There were Alsatians and Lorrains who did
not like the fracas at all. Yes, the Boches behaved themselves all right
at Pont-a-Mousson--there were some vulgarities (grossieretes). One of
the soldiers, a big blond, went down the street wearing an ostrich
feather hat and a woman's union suit and chemise. It was a scandale. But
uncle laughed to kill himself; he was peeping out through the blinds.
Right in front of my door were ten cannon, and all the street was full
of artillery. Well we had four days of this, hearing never a word from
the French side.

"On the night of the 9th I heard a good deal of noise, and somebody woke
up the Boches sous-officiers who were quartered in a house across the
street. I saw lights and heard shouts. I was peeping out of my window
all the time. The dark street filled with soldiers. I saw their officers
lashing them to make them hurry. They harnessed the artillery horses to
the guns, and at four o'clock in the morning there was not a single
Boche in Pont-a-Mousson. They had all gone away in the night, taking
with them the German flag on the city hall. You know, monsieur, on the
night of the 9th they received news of the battle of the Marne.

"For five days more we saw neither Francais nor Boches. Finally some
French dragoons came down the road from Dieulouard, and little by little
other soldiers came too. But, helas, monsieur, the Boches were waiting
for them in the Bois-le-Pretre."

Such was the way that Pont-a-Mousson did not become Mussenbruck. The
episode is an agreeable interlude of decency in the history of German
occupations, for that atrocities were perpetrated in Nomeny, just across
the river, is beyond question. I have talked with survivors. At
Pont-a-Mousson everything was orderly; six miles to the east, houses
were burned over the heads of the inhabitants, and women and children
brutally massacred.

I best remember the little city as it was one afternoon in early
December. The population of 17,000 had then shrunk to about 900, and
only a little furtive life lingered in the town. My promenade began at
the river-bank by the wooden footbridge crossing from the shore to the
remaining arches of the graceful eighteenth-century stone bridge blown
up in September, 1914. There is always something melancholy about a
ruined bridge, perhaps because the structure symbolizes a patient human
victory over the material world. There was something intensely tragic in
the view of the wrecked quarter of Saint-Martin, seen across the deep,
greenish, wintry river, and in the great curve of the broad flood
sullenly hurrying to Metz. At the end of the bridge, ancient and gray,
rose the two round towers of the fifteenth-century parish church, with
that blind, solemn look to them the towers of Notre Dame possess, and
beyond this edifice, a tile-roofed town and the great triangular hill
called the Mousson. It was dangerous to cross the bridge, because German
snipers occasionally fired at it, so I contented myself with looking
down the river. Beyond the Bois-le-Pretre, the next ridge to rise from
the river was a grassy spur bearing the village of Norroy on its back.
You could see the hill, only four kilometres away, the brown walls of
the village, the red roofs, and sometimes the glint of sunlight on a
window; but for us the village might have been on another planet. All
social and economic relations with Norroy had ceased since September,
1914, and reflecting on this fact, the invisible wall of the trenches
became more than a mere military wall, became a barrier to every human
relation and peaceful tie.

A sentry stood by the ruined bridge, a small, well-knit man with
beautiful silver-gray hair, blue eyes, and pink cheeks; his uniform was
exceptionally clean, and he appeared to be some decent burgher torn from
his customary life. I fell into conversation with him. He recollected
that his father, a veteran of 1870, had prophesied the present war.

"'We shall see them again, the spiked helmets (les casques a pointe),'
said my father--'we shall see them again.'

"'Why?' I asked him.

"'Because they have eaten of us, and will be hungry once more.'"

The principal street of the town led from this bridge to a great square,
and continued straight on toward Maidieres and Montauville. The
sidewalks around this square were in arcades under the houses, for the
second story of every building projected for seven or eight feet over
the first and rested on a line of arches at the edge of the street. To
avoid damage from shells bursting in the open space, every one of these
arcades, and there were perhaps a hundred all told, had been plugged
with sandbags, so that the square had an odd, blind look. A little life
flickered in the damp, dark alleys behind these obstructions. There was
a tobacco shop, kept by two pretty young women whom the younger soldiers
were always jollying, a wineshop, a tailorshop, and a bookstore, always
well supplied with the great Parisian weeklies, which one found later in
odd corners of shelters in the trenches. Occasionally a soldier bought a
serious book when it was to be found in the dusty files of the
"Collection Nelson"; I remember seeing a young lieutenant of artillery
buying Segur's "Histoire de la Grande Armee en 1812," and another taking
Flaubert's "Un coeur simple." But the military life, roughly lived, and
shared with simple people, appears to make even the wisest boyish, and
after a while at the front the intellect will not read anything
intellectual. It simply won't, perhaps because it can't. The soldier
mind delights in rough, genial, and simple jokes. A sergeant, whom I
knew to be a distinguished young scholar in civilian life, was always
throwing messages wrapped round a stone into the German trenches; the
messages were killingly funny, amiably indecent, and very jejune.
Invariably they provoked a storm of grenades, and sometimes epistles in
the same vein from the Boches. In spite of the vicious pang of the
grenades, there was an absurd "Boys-will-be-boys" air to the whole
performance. Conversation, however, did not sink to this boyish level,
and the rag-tag and bob-tail of one's cultivation found its outlet in
speech.

At the end of this street was the railroad crossing, the passage a
niveau, and the station in a jungle of dead grass and brambles. Like the
bridge, its rustiness and weediness was a dreadful symbol of the
cessation of human activity, and the blue enamel signpost lettered in
white with the legend, "Metz--32 kilometres," was another reminder of
the town to which the French aspired with all the fierce intensity of
crusaders longing for Jerusalem. It was impossible to get away from the
omnipresence of the name of the fated city--it stared at you from
obscure street corners, and was to be found on the covers of printed
books and post-cards. I saw the city once from the top of the hill of
the Mousson; its cathedral towers pierced the blue mists of the brown
moorlands, and it appeared phantasmal and tremendously distant. Yet for
those towers countless men had died, were dying, would die. A French
soldier who had made the ascent with me pointed out Metz the much
desired.

"Are you going to get it?" I asked. "Perhaps so," he replied gravely.
"After so many sacrifices." (Apres tant de sacrifices.) He made no
gesture, but I know that his vision included the soldiers' cemetery at
the foot of the Mousson hill. It lay, a rust-colored field, on the steep
hillside just at the border of the town, and was new, raw, and dreadful.
The guardian of the cemetery, an old veteran of 1870, once took me
through the place. He was a very lean, hooped-over old man with a big,
aquiline nose, blue-gray eyes framed in red lids, and a huge,
yellowish-white mustache. First he showed me the hideous picture of the
civilian cemetery, in which giant shells had torn open the tombs, hurled
great sarcophagi a distance of fifty feet, and dug craters in the rows
of graves. Though the civilian authorities had done what they could to
put the place in order, there were still memories of the disturbed dead
to whom the war had denied rest. Coming to the military cemetery, the
guardian whispered, pointing to the new mounds with his rustic cane, "I
have two colonels, three commandants, and a captain. Yes, two colonels"
(deux colonels). Following his staff, my eye looked at the graves as if
it expected to see the living men or their effigies. Somewhat apart lay
another grave. "Voila un colonel boche," said the sexton; "and a
lieutenant boche--and fifty soldats boches."

The destroyed quarter of Pont-a-Mousson lay between the main street and
the flank of the Bois-le-Pretre. The quarter was almost totally
deserted, probably not more than ten houses being inhabited out of
several thousand. The streets that led into it had grass growing high in
the gutters, and a velvety moss wearing a winter rustiness grew packed
between the paving-stones. Beyond the main street, la rue Fabvrier went
straight down this loneliness, and halted or turned at a clump of
wrecked houses a quarter of a mile away. Over this clump, slately-purple
and cold, appeared the Bois-le-Pretre, and every once in a while a puffy
cloud of greenish-brown or gray-black would float solemnly over the
crests of the trees. This stretch of la rue Fabvrier was one of the most
melancholy pictures it was possible to see. Hardly a house had been
spared by the German shells; there were pock-marks and pits of shell
fragments in the plaster, window glass outside, and holes in walls and
roofs. I wandered down the street, passing the famous miraculous statue
of the Virgin of Pont-a-Mousson. The image, only a foot or two high and
quite devoid of facial expression, managed somehow to express emotion in
the outstretched arms, drooping in a gesture at once of invitation and
acceptance. A shell had maculated the wall on each side and above the
statue, but the little niche and canopy were quite untouched. The heavy
sound of my soldier boots went dump! clump! down the silence.

At the end of the road, in the fields on the slope, a beautiful
eighteenth-century house stood behind a mossy green wall. It was just
such a French house as is the analogue of our brick mansions of Georgian
days; it was two stories high and had a great front room on each side of
an entry on both floors, each room being lighted with two
well-proportioned French windows. The outer walls were a golden brown,
and the roof, which curved in gently from the four sides to central
ridge, a very beautiful rich red. The house had the atmosphere of the
era of the French Revolution; one's fancy could people it with soberly
dressed provincial grandees. A pare of larches and hemlocks lay about
it, concealing in their silent obscurity an artificial lake heavily
coated with a pea-soup scum.

Beyond the house lay the deserted rose-garden, rank and grown to weeds.
On some of the bushes were cankered, frozen buds. In the center of the
garden, at the meeting-point of several paths, a mossy fountain was
flowing into a greenish basin shaped like a seashell, and in this basin
a poilu was washing his clothes. He was a man of thirty-eight or nine,
big, muscular, out-of-doors looking; whistling, he washed his gray
underclothes with the soap the army furnishes, wrung them, and tossed
them over the rose-bushes to dry.

"Does anybody live in this house?"

"Yes, a squad of travailleurs."

A regiment of travailleurs is attached to every secteur of trenches.
These soldiers, depending, I believe, on the Engineer Corps, are
quartered just behind the lines, and go to them every day to put them in
order, repair the roads, and do all the manual labor. Humble folk these,
peasants, ditch-diggers, road-menders, and village carpenters. Those at
Pont-a-Mousson were nearly all fathers of families, and it was one of
the sights of the war most charged with true pathos to see these
gray-haired men marching to the trenches with their shovels on their
shoulders.

"Are you comfortable?"

"Oh, yes. We live very quietly. I, being a stonemason and a carpenter,
stay behind and keep the house in repair. In summer we have our little
vegetable gardens down behind those trees where the Boches can't see
us."

"Can I see the house?"

"Surely; just wait till I have finished sousing these clothes."

The room on the ground floor to the left of the hallway was imposing in
a stately Old-World way. The rooms in Wisteria Villa were rooms for
personages from Zola; this room was inhabited by ghosts from the pages
of Balzac. It was large, high, and square; the walls were hung with a
golden scroll design printed on ancient yellow silk; the furniture was
of some rich brown finish with streaks and lusters of bronzy yellow, and
a glass chandelier, all spangles and teardrops of crystal, hung from a
round golden panel in the ceiling. Over a severe Louis XVI mantel was a
large oil portrait of Pius IX, and on the opposite wall a portrait head
of a very beautiful young girl. Chestnut hair, parted in the fashion of
the late sixties, formed a silky frame round an oval face, and the
features were small and well proportioned. The most remarkable part of
the countenance were the curiously level eyes. The calm,
apart-from-the-world character of the expression in the eyes was in
interesting contrast to the good-natured and somewhat childish look in
the eyes of the old Pope.

"Who lived here?"

"An old man (un vieux). He was a captain of the Papal Zouaves in his
youth. See here, read the inscription on the portrait--'Presented by His
Holiness to a champion (defenseur) of the Church.'"

"Is he still alive?"

"He died three months ago in Paris. I should hate to die before I see
how the war is going to end. I imagine he would have been willing to
last a bit longer."

"And this picture on the right, the jeune fille?"

"That was his daughter, an only child. She became a nun, and died when
she was still young. The old man's gardener comes round from time to
time to see if the place is all right. It is a pity he is not here; he
could tell you all about them."

"You are very fortunate not to have been blown to pieces. Surely you are
very near the trenches."

"Near enough--yes, indeed. A communication trench comes right into the
cellar. But it is quiet in this part of The Wood. There is a regiment of
old Boches in the trenches opposite our territorials, fathers of
families (peres de familles), just as they are. We fire rifles at each
other from time to time just to remember it is war (c'est la guerre). We
share the crest together here; nothing depends on it. What good should
we do in killing each other? Besides it would be a waste of shells."

"How do you know that the Boches opposite you are old?"

"We see them from time to time. They are great hands at a parley. The
first thing they tell you is the number of children they have. I met an
old Boche not long ago down by the river. He held up two fingers to show
that he had two children, put his hand out just above his knee to show
the height of his first child, and raised it just above his waist to
show the height of the second. So I held up five fingers to show him I
had five children, when the Lord knows I have only one. But I did not
want to be beaten by a Boche."

A sound of voices was heard beneath us, and the clang of the shovels
being placed against the stone walls of the cellar.

"Those are the travailleurs. The sergeant will be coming in and I must
report to him. Good-bye, American friend, and come again."

A melancholy dusk was beginning as I turned home from the romantic
house, and the deserted streets were filling with purplish shadows. The
concussion of exploding shells had blown almost all the glass out of the
windows of the Church of St. Laurent, and the few brilliant red and
yellow fragments that still clung to the twisted leaden frames reminded
me of the autumn leaves that sometimes cling to winter-stricken trees.
The interior of the church was swept and garnished, and about twenty
candles with golden flames, slowly waving in the drafts from the ruined
windows, shone beneath a statue of the Virgin. There was not another
soul in the church. A terrible silence fell with the gathering darkness.
In a little wicker basket at the foot of the benignant mother were about
twenty photographs of soldiers, some in little brassy frames with spots
of verdigris on them, some the old-fashioned "cabinet" kind, some on
simple post-cards. There was a young, dark Zouave who stood with his
hand on an ugly little table, a sergeant of the Engineer Corps with a
vacant, uninteresting face, and two young infantry men, brothers, on the
same shabby finger-marked post-card. Pious hands had left them thus in
the care of the unhappy mother, "Marie, consolatrice des malheureux."

The darkness of midnight was beginning at Pont-a-Mousson, for the town
was always as black as a pit. On my way home I saw a furtive knife edge
of yellow light here and there under a door. The sentry stood by his
shuttered lantern. Suddenly the first of the trench lights flowered in
the sky over the long dark ridge of the Bois-le-Pretre.




Chapter VIII

Messieurs Les Poilus De La Grande Guerre



The word "poilu," now applied to a French soldier, means literally "a
hairy one," but the term is understood metaphorically. Since time
immemorial the possession of plenty of bodily hair has served to
indicate a certain sturdy, male bearishness, and thus the French, long
before the war, called any good, powerful fellow--"un veritable poilu."
The term has been found applied to soldiers of the Napoleonic wars. The
French soldier of to-day, coming from the trenches looking like a
well-digger, but contented, hearty, and strong, is the poilu par
excellence.

The origin of the term "Boche," meaning a German, has been treated in a
thousand articles, and controversy has raged over it. The probable
origin of the term, however, lies in the Parisian slang word "caboche,"
meaning an ugly head. This became shortened to "Boche," and was applied
to foreigners of Germanic origin, in exactly the way that the
American-born laborer applies the contemptuous term "square-head" to his
competitors from northern Europe. The word "Boche" cannot be translated
by anything except "Boche," any more than our word "Wop," meaning an
Italian, can be turned into French. The same attitude, half banter, half
race contempt, lies at the heart of both terms.

When the poilus have faced the Boches for two weeks in the trenches,
they march down late at night to a village behind the lines, far enough
away from the batteries to be out of danger of everything except
occasional big shells, and near enough to be rushed up to the front in
case of an attack. There they are quartered in houses, barns, sheds, and
cellars, in everything that can decently house and shelter a man. These
two weeks of repos are the poilus' elysium, for they mean rest from
strain, safety, and comparative comfort. The English have behind their
lines model villages with macadam roads, concrete sidewalks, a water
system, a sewer system, and all kinds of schemes to make the soldiers
happy; the French have to be contented with an ordinary Lorraine
village, kept in good order by the Medical Corps, but quite destitute of
anything as chic as the British possess.

The village of cantonnement is pretty sure to be the usual brown-walled,
red-roofed village of Lorraine clumped round its parish church or
mouldering castle. In such a French village there is always a hall,
usually over the largest wineshop, called the "Salle de Fetes," and this
hall serves for the concert each regiment gives while en repos. The
Government provides for, indeed insists upon, a weekly bath, and the
bathhouse, usually some converted factory or large shed, receives its
daily consignments of companies, marching up to the douches as solemnly
as if they were going to church. Round the army continues the often busy
life of the village, for to many such a hamlet the presence of a
multitude of soldiers is a great economic boon. Grocery-shops, in
particular, do a rushing business, for any soldier who has a sou is glad
to vary the government menu with such delicacies as pates de foie gras,
little sugar biscuits, and the well- beloved tablet of chocolate.

While the grocery-man (l'epicier) is fighting somewhere in the north or
in the Argonne, madame l'epiciere stays at home and serves the
customers. At her side is her own father, an old fellow wearing big
yellow sabots, and perhaps the grocer's son and heir, a boy about twelve
years old. Madame is dressed entirely in black, not because she is in
mourning, but because it is the rural fashion; she wears a knitted
shoulder cape, a high black collar, and moves in a brisk, businesslike
way; the two men wear the blue-check overalls persons of their calling
affect, in company with very clean white collars and rather dirty,
frayed bow ties of unlovely patterns. Along the counter stand the
poilus, young, old, small, and large, all wearing various fadings of the
horizon blue, and helmets often dented. "Some pate de foie gras, madame,
s'il vous plait." "Oui, monsieur." "How much is this cheese, maman?"
cries the boy in a shrill treble. In the barrel-haunted darkness at the
rear of the shop, the old man fumbles round for some tins of jelly. The
poilu is very fond of sweets. Sometimes swish bang! a big shell comes in
unexpectedly, and shopkeepers and clients hurry, at a decent tempo, to
the cellar. There, in the earthy obscurity, one sits down on empty
herring-boxes and vegetable cases to wait calmly for the exasperating
Boches to finish their nonsense. There is a smell of kerosene oil and
onions in the air. A lantern, always on hand for just such an emergency,
burns in a corner. "Have you had a bad time in the trenches this week,
Monsieur Levrault?" says the epiciere to a big, stolid soldier who is a
regular customer.

"No, quite passable, Madame Champaubert."

"And Monsieur Petticollot, how is he?"

"Very well, thank you, madame. His captain was killed by a rifle grenade
last week."

"Oh, the poor man."

Crash goes a shell. Everybody wonders where it has fallen. In a few
seconds the eclats rain down into the street.

"Dirty animals," says the voice of the old man in the darkest of all the
corners.

Madame Champaubert begins the story of how a cousin of hers who keeps a
grocery-shop at Mailly, near the frontier, was cheated by a Boche
tinware salesman. The cellar listens sympathetically. The boy says
nothing, but keeps his eyes fixed on the soldiers. In about twenty
minutes the bombardment ends, and the bolder ones go out to ascertain
the damage. The soldier's purchases are lying on the counter. These he
stuffs into his musette, the cloth wallet beloved of the poilu, and
departs. The colonel's cook comes in; he has got hold of a good ham and
wants to deck it out with herbs and capers. Has madame any capers? While
she is getting them, the colonel's cook retails the cream of all the
regimental gossip.

These people of Lorraine who have stayed behind, "Lorrains," the French
term them, are thoroughly French, though there is some German blood in
their veins. This Teuton addition is of very ancient date, being due to
the constant invasions which have swept up the valley of the Moselle.
This intermingling of the races, however, continued right up to 1870,
but since then the union of French and German stock has been rare. It
was most frequent, perhaps, during the years between 1804 and 1850, when
Napoleon's domination of the principalities and states along the Rhine
led to a French social and commercial invasion of Rhenish Germany, an
invasion which ended only with the growth of German nationalism. The
middle classes in particular intermarried because they were more apt to
be engaged in commerce. But since 1870, two barriers, one geographic
--annexed Lorraine, and one intellectual--hatred, have kept the
neighbors apart. The Lorrain of to-day, no matter what his ancestors
were, is a thorough Frenchman. These Lorrains are between medium height
and tall, strongly built, with light, tawny hair, good color, and a
brownish complexion.

The poilus who come to the village en repos are from every part of
France, and are of all ages between nineteen and forty-five. I remember
seeing a boy aged only fourteen who had enlisted, and was a regular
member of an artillery regiment. The average regiment includes men of
every class and caste, for every Frenchman who can shoulder a gun is in
the war. Thus the dusty little soldier who is standing by Poste A, may
be So-and-So the sculptor, the next man to him is simple Jacques who has
a little farm near Bourges, and the man beyond, Emile, the notary's
clerk. It is this amazing fraternity that makes the French army the
greatest army in the world. The officers of a regiment of the active
forces (by l'armee active you are to understand the army actually in the
garrisons and under arms from year to year) are army officers by
profession; the officers of the reserve regiments are either retired
officers of the regular army or men who have voluntarily followed the
severe courses in the officers' training-school. Thus the colonel and
three of the commandants of a certain regiment were ex-officers of the
regular army, while all the other officers, captains, lieutenants, and
so forth, were citizens who followed civilian pursuits. Captain X was a
famous lawyer, Captain B a small merchant in a little known provincial
town, Captain C a photographer. Any Frenchman who has the requisite
education can become an officer if he is willing to devote more of his
time, than is by law required, to military service. Thus the French army
is the soul of democracy, and the officer understands, and is understood
by, his men. The spirit of the French army is remarkably fraternal, and
this fraternity is at once social and mystical. It has a social origin,
for the poilus realize that the army rests on class justice and equal
opportunity; it has a mystical strength, because war has taught the men
that it is only the human being that counts, and that comradeship is
better than insistence on the rights and virtues of pomps and prides.
After having been face to face with death for two years, a man learns
something about the true values of human life.

The men who tramp into the village at one and two o'clock in the morning
are men who have for two weeks been under a strain that two years of
experience has robbed of its tensity. But strain it is, nevertheless, as
the occasional carrying of a maniac reveals. They know very well why
they are fighting; even the most ignorant French laborer has some idea
as to what the affair is all about. The Boches attacked France who was
peacefully minding her own business; it was the duty of all Frenchmen to
defend France, so everybody went to the war. And since the war has gone
on for so long, it must be seen through to the very end. Not a single
poilu wants peace or is ready for peace. And the French, unlike the
English, have continually under their eyes the spectacle of their
devastated land. Yet I heard no ferocious talk about the Germans, no
tales of French cruelty toward German prisoners.

Nevertheless, a German prisoner who had been taken in the Bois-le-Pretre
confessed to me a horror of the French breaking through into Germany.
Looking round to see if any one was listening, he said in English, for
he was an educated man--"Just remember the French Revolution. Just
remember the French Revolution. God! what cruelties. You remember
Carrier at Nantes, don't you, my dear sir? All the things we are said to
have done in Belgium--" But here the troop of prisoners was hurried to
one side, and I never saw the man again. An army will always have all
kinds of people in it, the good, the bad, the degenerate, the depraved,
the brutal; and these types will act according to their natures. But I
can't imagine several regiments of French poilus doing in little German
towns what the Germans did at Nomeny. The backbone of the French army,
as he is the backbone of France, is the French peasant. In spite of De
Maupassant's ugly tales of the Norman country people, and Zola's studies
of the sordid, almost bestial, life of certain unhappy, peasant
families, the French peasant (cultivateur) is a very fine fellow. He has
three very good qualities, endurance, patience, and willingness to work.
Apart from these characteristics, he is an excellent fellow by himself;
not jovial, to be sure, but solid, self-respecting, and glad to make
friends when there is a chance that the friendship will be a real one.
He does not care very much for the working men of the towns, the
ouvriers, with their fantastic theories of universal brotherhood and
peace, and he hates the depute whom the working man elects as he hates a
vine fungus. A needless timidity, some fear of showing himself off as a
simpleton, has kept him from having his just influence in French
politics; but the war is freeing him from these shackles, and when peace
comes, he will make himself known: that is, if there are any peasants
left to vote.

Another thing about the peasantry is that trench warfare does not weary
them, the constant contact with the earth having nothing unusual in it.
A friend of mine, the younger son of a great landed family of the
province of Anjou, was captain of a company almost exclusively composed
of peasants of his native region; he loved them as if they were his
children, and they would follow him anywhere. The little company, almost
to a man, was wiped out in the battles round Verdun. In a letter I
received from this officer, a few days before his death, he related this
anecdote. His company was waiting, in a new trench in a new region, for
the Germans to attack. Suddenly the tension was relieved by a fierce
little discussion carried on entirely in whispers. His soldiers appeared
to be studying the earth of the trench. "What's the trouble about?" he
asked. Came the answer, "They are quarreling as to whether the earth of
this trench would best support cabbages or turnips."

It is rare to find a French workman (ouvrier) in the trenches. They have
all been taken out and sent home to make shells.

The little group to which I was most attached, and for whose hospitality
and friendly greeting I shall always be a debtor, consisted of Belin, a
railroad clerk; Bonnefon, a student at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts; Magne,
a village schoolmaster in the Dauphine; and Gretry, proprietor of a
butcher's shop in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Belin and Magne had
violins which they left in the care of a cafe-keeper in the village, and
used to play on them just before dinner. The dinner was served in the
house of the village woman who prepared the food of these four, for
sous-officiers are entitled to eat by themselves if they can find any
one kind enough to look after the cooking. If they can't, then they have
to rely entirely on the substantial but hardly delicious cuisine of
their regimental cuistot. However, at this village, Madame Brun, the
widow of the local carpenter, had offered to take the popotte, as the
French term an officer's mess. We ate in a room half parlor, half
bedchamber, decorated exclusively with holy pictures. This was a good
specimen menu--bread, vermicelli soup, apple fritters, potato salad,
boiled beef, red wine, and coffee. Of this dinner, the Government
furnished the potatoes, the bread, the meat, the coffee, the wine, and
the condiments; private purses paid for the fritters, the vermicelli,
and the bits of onion in the salad. Standing round their barns the
private soldiers were having a tasty stew of meat and potatoes cooked by
the field kitchen, bread, and a cupful of boiled lentils (known in the
army as "edible bedbugs"), all washed down with the army pinard, or red
wine.

This village in which the troops were lodged revealed in an interesting
way the course of French history. Across the river on a rise was a cross
commemorating the victory of the Emperor Jo vin over the invading
Germans in 371, and sunken in the bed of the Moselle were still seen
lengths of Roman dikes. The heart of the village, however, was the
corpse of a fourteenth-century castle which Richelieu had dismantled in
1630. Its destiny had been a curious one. Dismantled by Richelieu,
sacked in the French Revolution, it had finally become a kind of
gigantic mediaeval apartment house for the peasants of the region. The
salle d'honneur was cut up into little rooms, the room of the seigneur
became a haymow, and the cellars of the towers were used to store
potatoes in. About twenty little chimneys rose over the old, dilapidated
battlements. A haymow in this castle was the most picturesque thing I
ever saw in a cantonment. It was the wreck of a lofty and noble
fifteenth-century room, the ceiling, still a rich red brown, was
supported on beautiful square beams, and a cross-barred window of the
Renaissance, of which only the stonework remained, commanded a fine view
over the river. The walls of the room were of stone, whitewashed years
before, and the floor was an ordinary barn floor made of common planks
and covered with a foot of new, clean hay. In the center of the southern
wall was a Gothic fireplace, still black and ashy within. On the corners
of this mantel hung clusters of canteens, guns were stacked by it, and a
blue overcoat was rolled up at its base. An old man, the proprietor of
the loft, followed us up, made signs that he was completely deaf, and
traced in the dust on the floor the date, 1470.

The concerts were held in the "Salle de Fetes," a hall in which, during
peace time, the village celebrates its little festivals. It was an ugly,
bare shed with a sloping roof resting on iron girders painted clay
white, but the poilus had beautified it with a home-made stage and
rustic greenery. The proscenium arch, painted by Bonnefon, was
pearl-gray in color and decorated with panels of gilt stripes; and a
shield showing the lictor's rods, a red liberty cap and the letters "R.
F." served as a headpiece. The scenery, also the work of Bonnefon,
represented a Versailles kind of garden full of statues and very watery
fountains. There was no curtain. Just below the stage a semicircle of
chairs had been arranged for the officers of the regiment, and behind
these were wooden benches and a large space for standing room. By the
time the concert was supposed to begin, every bench was filled, and
standing room was at a premium. Suddenly there were cries of "Le
Colonel," and everybody stood up as the fine-looking old colonel and his
staff took their places. The orchestra, composed of a pianist, a few
violinists, and a flute-player, began to play the "Marseillaise." When
the music was over, and everybody decently quiet, the concert began.

"Le Camarade Tollot, of the Theatre des Varietes de Paris will recite
'Le Dernier Drapeau,'" shouted the announcer. Le Camarade Tollot walked
on the stage and bowed, a big, important young man with a lion's mane of
dark hair. Then, striking an attitude, he recited in the best French,
ranting style, a rhymed tale of a battle in which many regiments charged
together, flags flying. One by one the flags fell to the ground as the
bearers were cut down by the withering fire of the enemy; all save one
who struggled on. It was a fine, old-fashioned, dramatic
"will-he-get-there-yes-he-will-he-falls" sort of thing. "Il tombe," said
le Camarade Tollot, in what used to be called the "oratorical
orotund"--"il tombe." There was a full pause. He was wounded. He rose
staggering to his feet. All the other flags were down. He advanced--the
last flag (le dernier drapeau) reached the enemy--and died just as his
comrades, heartened by his courage, had rallied and were charging to
victory. A tremendous storm of applause greeted the speaker, who favored
us with the recital of a short, sentimental poem as an encore.

The next number was thus announced: "Le Camarade Millet will sound,
first, all the French bugle-calls and then the Boche ones." Le Camarade
Millet, a big man with a fine horseshoe beard, stood at the edge of the
stage, said, "la Charge francais" and blew it on the bugle; then "la
Charge boche," and blew that. "La Retraite francais--La Retraite boche,"
etc. Another salvo of applause was given to le Camarade Millet.

"Le Camarade Roland."

Le Camarade Roland was about twenty-one or two years old, but his eyes
were old and wise, and he had evidently seen life. He was dark-haired
and a little below medium height. The red scar of a wound appeared just
below his left ear. After marking time with his feet, he began a kind of
patter song about having a telephone, every verse of which ended, "Oh,
la la, j'ai le telephone chez moi" (I've a telephone in my house). "I
know who is unfaithful now--who have horns upon their brow," the singer
told of surprising secrets and unsuspected affaires de coeur. The silly,
music-hall song may seem banal now, but it amused us hugely then. "Le
Camarade Duclos."

"Oh, if you could have seen your son, My mother, my mother, Oh, if you
could have seen your son, With the regiment"--sang Camarade Duclos,
another old-eyed youngster. There was amiable adventure with an amiable
"blonde" (oh, if you could have seen your son); another with a "jolie
brune" (oh, ma mere, ma mere); and still another lecon d'amour. The
refrain had a catchy lilt to it, and the poilus began humming it.

"Le Camarade Salvatore."

The newcomer was a big, obese Corsican mountaineer, with a pleasant,
round face and brown eyes. He advanced quietly to the side of the stage
holding a ten-sou tin flute in his hand, and when he began to play, for
an instant I forgot all about the Bois-le-Pretre, the trenches, and
everything else. The man was a born musician. I never heard anything
more tender and sweet than the little melody he played. The poilus
listened in profound silence, and when he had finished, a kind of sigh
exhaled from the hearts of the audience.

There followed another singer, a violinist, and a clown whose song of a
soldier on furlough finished with these appreciated couplets:--

"The Government says it is the thing To have a baby every spring; So
when your son Is twenty-one, He'll come to the trenches and take papa's
place. So do your duty by the race."

In the uproar of cheers of "That's right," and so on, the concert ended.

The day after the concert was Sunday, and at about ten o'clock that
morning a young soldier with a fluffy, yellow chin beard came down the
muddy street shouting, "le Mouchoir, le Mouchoir." About two or three
hundred paper sheets were clutched tightly in his left hand, and he was
selling them for a sou apiece. Little groups of poilus gathered round
the soldier newsboy; I saw some of them laughing as they went away. The
paper was the trench paper of the Bois-le-Pretre, named the "Mouchoir"
(the handkerchief) from a famous position thus called in the Bois. The
jokes in it were like the jokes in a local minstrel show, puns on local
names, jests about the Boches, and good-humored satire. The spirit of
the "Mouchoir" was whole-heartedly amateur. Thus the issue which
followed a heavy snowfall contained this genuine wish:--

"Oh, snow, Please go, Leave the trench Of the French; Cross the band Of
No Man's Land To where the Boche lies. Freeze him, Squeeze him, Soak
him, Choke him, Cover him, Smother him, Till the beggar dies."

This is far from an exact translation, but the idea and the spirit have
been faithfully preserved. The "Mouchoir" was always a bit more
squeamish than the average, rollicking trench journal, for it was issued
by a group of medical service men who were almost all priests. Indeed,
there were some issues that combined satire, puns, and piety in a
terrifying manner. Its editors printed it in the cellar of the church,
using a simple sheet of gelatine for their press.

I wandered in to see the church. The usual number of civilians were to
be seen, and a generous sprinkling of soldiers. Through the open door of
the edifice the sounds of a mine-throwing competition at the Bois
occasionally drifted. The abbe, a big, dark man of thirty-four or five,
with a deep, resonant voice and positive gestures, had come to the
sermon.

"Brethren," said he, "in place of a sermon this morning, I shall read
the annual exposition of our Christian faith" (exposition de la foi
chretienne). He began reading from a little book a historical account of
the creation and the temptation, and so concise was the language and so
certain his voice that I had the sensation of listening to a series of
events that had actually taken place. He might have been reading the
communique. "Le premier homme was called Adam, and la premiere femme,
Eve. Certain angels began a revolt against God; they are called the bad
angels or the demons." (Certains anges se sont mis en revolte contre
Dieu; il sont appelles les mauvais anges ou les demons.) "And from this
original sin arrives all the troubles, Death to which the human race is
subjected." Such was the discourse I heard in the church by the trenches
to the accompaniment of the distant chanting of The Wood.

Going by again late in the afternoon, I saw the end of an officer's
funeral. The body, in a wooden box covered with the tricolor, was being
carried out between two files of muddy soldiers, who stood at attention,
bayonets fixed. A peasant's cart, a tumbril, was waiting to take the
body to the cemetery; the driver was having a hard time con-trolling a
foolish and restive horse. The colonel, a fine-looking man in the
sixties, came last from the church, and stood on the steps surrounded by
his officers. The dusk was falling.

"Officiers, sous-officiers, soldats.

"Lieutenant de Blanchet, whose death we deplore, was a gallant officer,
a true comrade, and a loyal Frenchman. In order that France might live,
he was willing to close his eyes on her forever."

The officer advanced to the tumbril and holding his hand high said:--

"Farewell--de Blanchet, we say unto thee the eternal adieu."

The door of the church was wide open. The sacristan put out the candles,
and the smoke from them rose like incense into the air. The tumbril
rattled away in the dusk. My mind returned again to the phrases of the
sermon,--original sin, death, life, of a sudden, seemed strangely
grotesque.

It would be hard to find any one more courteous and kind than the French
officer. A good deal of the success of the American Ambulance Field
Sections in France is due to the hospitality and bon acceuil of the
French, and to the work of the French officers attached to the Sections.
In Lieutenant Kuhlman, who commanded at Pont-a-Mousson, every American
had a good friend and tactful, hard-working officer; in Lieutenant Maas,
who commanded at Verdun, the qualities of administrative ability and
perfect courtesy were most happily joined.

The principal characteristic of the French soldier is his
reasonableness.




Chapter IX

Preparing The Defense Of Verdun



Every three months, if the military situation will allow of it and every
other man in his group has likewise been away, the French soldier gets a
six days' furlough. The slips of paper which are then given out are
called feuilles de permission, and the lucky soldier is called a
permissionnaire. When the combats that gave the Bois-le-Pretre its
sinister nickname began to peter out, the poilus who had done the
fighting were accorded these little vacations, and almost every
afternoon the straggling groups of joyous permissionnaires were seen on
the road between the trenches and the station. The expression on the
faces was never that of having been rescued from a living hell; it
expressed joy and prospect of a good time rather than deliverance.

When I got my permission, a comrade took me to the station at a certain
rail-head where a special train started for Paris, and by paying extra I
was allowed to travel second class. I shall not dwell on the journey
because I did not meet a single human being worth recording during the
trip. At eight at night I arrived in Paris. So varied had been my
experiences at the front that had I stepped out into a dark and deserted
city I should not have been surprised. The poilu, when he sees the city
lights again, almost feels like saying, "Why, it is still here!" Many of
them look frankly at the women, not in the spirit of gallant adventure,
but out of pure curiosity. In spite of the French reputation for roguish
licentiousness, the sex question never seems to intrude very much along
the battle-line, perhaps because there is so little to suggest it.
Certainly conversation at the front ignores sex altogether, and speech
there is remarkably decent and clean. Of course, when music-hall songs
are sung at the concerts, the other sex is sometimes more than casually
mentioned. It is the comic papers which are responsible for the myth
that the period of furlough is spent in a Roman orgy; this is, of
course, true of some few, but for the great majority the reverse rules,
and une permission is spent in a typically French way, paying formal
calls to the oldest friends of the family, being with the family as much
as possible, and attending to such homely affairs as the purchase of
socks and underclothes. In the evening brave Jacques or Georges or
Francois is visited by all his old cronies, who gather round the hero
and ask him questions, and he is solemnly kissed by all his relatives.
One evening is sure to be consecrated to a grand family reunion at a
restaurant.

I determined to observe, during my permission, the new France which has
come into being since the outbreak of the war, and the attitude of the
French toward their allies. I knew the old France pretty well. Putting
any ridiculous ideas of French decadence aside, the France of the last
ten years did not have the international standing of an older France.
The Delcasse incident had revealed a France evidently untaught by the
lesson of 1870, and if the Moroccan question ended in a French victory,
it was frankly won by getting behind the petticoats of England. The
nation was unprepared for war, torn by political strife, and in a
position to be ruthlessly trampled on by the Germans. The France of
1900-13 is not a very pleasant France to remember.

For one thing, the bitter strife aroused by the breaking of the
Concordat and the seizure of the property of the Church was slowly
crystallizing into an icy hatred, the worst in the world, the hatred of
a man who has been robbed. The Church Separation Law may have been right
in theory, and with the liberal tendencies of the reformers one may have
every sympathy, but the fact remains that the sale and dispersion of the
ecclesiastical property passed in a storm of corruption and graft.
Properties worth many thousands of dollars were juggled among political
henchmen, sold for a song, and sold again at a great profit. Even as the
Southerners complain of the Reconstruction rather than of the Civil War,
so do the French Catholics complain, not of the law, but of its
aftermath. The Socialist- Labor Party exultant, the Catholic Party
wronged and revengeful, and all the other thousand parties of the French
Government at one another's throats, there seemed little hope for the
real France. The tragedy of the thing lay in the fact that this disunion
and strife was caused by the excess of a good quality; in other words,
that the remarkable ability of every Frenchman to think for himself was
destroying the national unity.

Meanwhile, what was the state of the army and navy?

The Minister of War of the radicals who had triumphed was General Andre,
a narrow, bigoted doctrinaire. The force behind the evil work of this
man can be hardly realized by those who are unfamiliar with the passion
with which the French invest the idea. There are times when the French,
the most brilliant people in the world as a nation, seem to lack mental
brakes--when the idea so obsesses them, that they become fanatics,--not
the emotional, English type of fanatic, but a cold, hard-headed,
intellectual Latin type. The radical Frenchman says, "Are the Gospels
true?" "Presumably no, according to modern science and historical
research." "Then away with everything founded on the Gospels," he
replies; and begins a cold-blooded, highly intellectual campaign of
destruction. Thus it is that the average French church or public
building of any antiquity, whether it be in Paris or in an obscure
village, has been so often mutilated that it is only a shadow of itself.
France is strewn with wrecks of buildings embodying disputed ideas. And
worst of all, these buildings were rarely sacked by a mob; the
revolutionary commune, in many cases, paying laborers to smash windows
and destroy sculpture at so much a day.

Andre believed it his mission to extirpate all conservatism, whether
Catholic or not, from the army. In a few short months, by a campaign of
delation and espionage, he had completely disorganized the army, the
only really national institution left in France. Officers of standing,
suspected of any reactionary political tendency, were discharged by the
thousand; and officers against whom no charge could be brought were
refused ammunition, even though they were stationed at a ticklish point
on the frontier. At the same time a like disorganization was taking
place in the navy, the evil genius of the Marine being the Minister
Camille Pelletan.

Those who saw, in 1912, the ceremonies attendant on the deposition of
the bones of Jean Jacques Rousseau in the Pantheon were sick at heart.
Never had the Government of France sunk so low. The Royalists shouted,
the extreme radicals hooted, and when the carriage of Fallieres passed,
it was seen that humorists had somehow succeeded in writing jocose
inscriptions on the presidential carriage. The head of the French
nation, a short, pudgy man, the incarnation of pontifying mediocrity,
went by with an expression on his face like that of a terrified,
elderly, pink rabbit. The bescrawled carriage and its humiliated
occupant passed by to an accompaniment of jeering. Everybody--parties
and populace--was jeering. The scene was disgusting.

The election of Poincare, a man of genuine distinction, was a sign of
better times. Millerand became Minister of War, and began the
reorganization of the army, thus making possible the victory of the
Marne. But a petty intrigue led by a group of radicals caused the
resignation of this minister at a time when the First Balkan War
threatened to engulf Europe. The maneuver was inexcusable. Messimy, an
attache of the group who had led the attack, took Millerand's place.
When the war broke out, Messimy was invited to make himself scarce, and
Millerand returned to his post. Thanks to him, the army was as ready as
an army in a democratic country can be.

The France of 1915-16 is a new France. The nation has learned that if it
is to live it must cease tearing itself to pieces, and all parties are
united in a "Holy Union" (l'Union Sacree). Truce in the face of a common
danger or a real union? Will it last? Alarmists whisper that when the
war is over, the army will settle its score with the politicians. Others
predict a great victory for the radicals, because the industrial classes
are safe at home making shells while the conservative peasants are being
killed off in the trenches. Everybody in France is saying, "What will
happen when the army comes home?" There is to-day only one man in France
completely trusted by all classes--General Joffre, and if by any chance
there should be political troubles after the war, the army and the
nation will look to him.

The French fully realize what the English alliance has meant to them,
and are grateful for Engish aid. As the titanic character of England's
mighty effort becomes clearer, the sympathy with England will increase.
Of course one cannot expect the French to understand the state of mind
which insists upon a volunteer system in the face of the deadliest and
most terrible foe. The attitude of the English to sport has rather
perplexed them, and they did not like the action of some English
officers in bringing a pack of hounds to the Flanders front. It was
thought that officers should be soldiers first and sportsmen afterward,
and the knowledge that dilettante English officers were riding to hounds
while the English nation was resisting conscription and Jean, Jacques,
and Pierre were doing the fighting and dying in the trenches, provoked a
secret and bitter disdain.

But since the British have got into the war as a nation, this secret
disdain has been forgotten, and the poilu has taken "le Tommie" to his
heart.

I heard only the friendliest criticism of the Russians.

It is a rather delicate task to say what the French think of the
Americans, for the real truth is that they think of us but rarely. Our
quarrel with Germany over the submarines interested them somewhat, but
this interest rapidly died away when it became evident that we were not
going to do anything about it. They see our flag over countless charity
depots, hospitals, and benevolent institutions, and are grateful. The
poilu would be glad to see us in the fray simply because of the aid we
should bring, but he is reasonable enough to know that the United States
can keep out of the melee without losing any moral prestige. The only
hostile criticism of America that I heard came from doctrinaires who saw
the war as a conflict between autocracy and democracy, and if you grant
that this point of view is the right one, these thinkers have a right to
despise us. But the Frenchman knows that the Allies represent something
more than "virtue-on-a-rampage."

In Lyons I saw a sight at once ludicrous and pathetic. Two little
dragoons of the class of 1917, stripling boys of eighteen or nineteen at
the most, walked across the public square; their uniforms were too large
for them, the skirts of their great blue mantles barely hung above the
dust of the street, and their enormous warlike helmets and flowing
horse-tails were ill-suited to their boyish heads. As I looked at them,
I thought of the blue bundles I had seen drying upon the barbed wire,
and felt sick at the brutality of the whole awful business. The sun was
shining over the bluish mists of Lyons, and the bell of old Saint-Jean
was ringing. Two Zouaves, stone blind, went by guided by a little, fat
infirmier. At the frontier, the General Staff was preparing the defense
of Verdun.

One great nation, for the sake of a city valueless from a military point
of view, was preparing to kill several hundred thousand of its citizens,
and another great nation, anxious to retain the city, was preparing
calmly for a parallel hecatomb. There is something awful and dreadful
about the orderliness of a great offensive, for while one's imagination
is grasped by the grandeur and the organization of the thing, all one's
faculties of intellect are revolted by the stark brutality of death en
masse.

Early in February we were called to Bar-le-Duc, a pleasant old city some
distance behind Verdun. Several hundred thousand men were soon going to
be killed and wounded, and the city was in a feverish haste of
preparation. So many thousand cans of ether, so many thousand pounds of
lint, so many million shells, so many ambulances, so many hundred
thousand litres of gasoline. Nobody knew when the Germans were going to
strike.

During the winter great activity in the German trenches near Verdun had
led the French to expect an attack, but it was not till the end of
January that aeroplane reconnoitering made certain the imminence of an
offensive. As a first step in countering it, the French authorities
prepared in the villages surrounding Bar-le-Duc a number of depots for
troops, army supplies, and ammunition. Of this organization, Bar-le-Duc
was the key. The preparations for the counter-attack were there
centralized. Day after day convoys of motor-lorries carrying troops
ground into town and disappeared to the eastward; big mortars mounted on
trucks came rattling over the pavements to go no one knew where; and
khaki-clad troops, troupes d'attaque, tanned Marocains and chunky,
bull-necked Zouaves, crossed the bridge over the Ornain and marched
away. At the turn in the road a new transparency had been erected, with
VERDUN printed on it in huge letters. Now and then a soldier, catching
sight of it, would nudge his comrade.

On the 18th we were told to be in readiness to go at any minute and
permissions to leave the barrack yard were recalled.

The attack began with an air raid on Bar-le-Duc. I was working on my
engine in the sunlit barrack yard when I heard a muffled Pom! somewhere
to the right. Two French drivers who were putting a tire on their car
jumped up with a "Qu'est-ce que c'est que ca?" We stood together looking
round. Beyond a wall on the other side of the river great volumes of
brownish smoke were rolling up, and high in the air, brown and silvery,
like great locusts, were two German aeroplanes.

"Nom d'un chien, il y'en a plusieurs," said one of the Frenchmen,
pointing out four, five, seven, nine aeroplanes. One seemed to hang
immobile over the barrack yard. I fancy we all had visions of what would
happen if a bomb hit the near-by gasoline reserve. Men ran across the
yard to the shelter of the dormitories; some, caught as we were in the
open, preferred to take a chance on dropping flat under a car. A
whistling scream, a kind of shrill, increasing shriek, sounded in the
air and ended in a crash. Smoke rolled up heavily in another direction.
Another whistle, another crash, another and another and another. The
last building struck shot up great tongues of flame. "C'est la gare,"
said somebody. Across the yard a comrade's arm beckoned me, "Come on,
we've got to help put out the fires!"

The streets were quite deserted; horses and wagons abandoned to their
fate were, however, quietly holding their places. Faces, emotionally
divided between fear and strong interest, peered at us as we ran by,
disappearing at the first whistle of a bomb, for all the world like
hermit-crabs into their shells. A whistle sent us both scurrying into a
passageway; the shell fell with a wicked hiss, and, scattering the
paving-stones to the four winds, blew a shallow crater in the roadway. A
big cart horse, hit in the neck and forelegs by fragments of the shell,
screamed hideously. Right at the bridge, the sentry, an old territorial,
was watching the whole scene from his flimsy box with every appearance
of unconcern.

Not the station itself, but a kind of baggage-shed was on fire. A hose
fed by an old-fashioned seesaw pump was being played on the flames.
Officials of the railroad company ran to and fro shouting unintelligible
orders. For five minutes more the German aeroplanes hovered overhead,
then slowly melted away into the sky to the south-east. The raid had
lasted, I imagine, just about twenty minutes.

That night, fearing another raid, all lights were extinguished in the
town and at the barracks. Before rolling up in my blankets, I went out
into the yard to get a few breaths of fresh air. Through the night air,
rising and falling with the wind, I heard in one of the random silences
of the night a low, distant drumming of artillery.




Chapter X



The Great Days of Verdun

The Verdun I saw in April, 1913, was an out-of-the-way provincial city
of little importance outside of its situation as the nucleus of a great
fortress. There were two cities--an old one, la ville des eveques, on a
kind of acropolis rising from the left bank of the Meuse, and a newer
one built on the meadows of the river. Round the acropolis Vauban had
built a citadel whose steep, green-black walls struck root in the mean
streets and narrow lanes on the slopes. Sunless by-ways, ill-paved and
sour with the odor of surface drainage, led to it. Always picturesque,
the old town now and then took on a real beauty. There were fine,
shield-bearing doorways of the Renaissance to be seen, Gothic windows in
greasy walls, and here and there at a street corner a huddle of
half-timbered houses in a high contrast of invading sunlight and
retreating shade. From the cathedral parapet, there was a view of the
distant forts, and a horizontal sweep of the unharvested, buff-brown
moorlands.

"Un peu morte," say the French who knew Verdun before the war. The new
town was without distinction. It was out of date. It had none of the
glories that the province copies from Paris, no boulevards, no grandes
aerteres. Such life as there was, was military. Rue Mazel was bright
with the gold braid and scarlet of the fournisseurs militaires, and in
the late afternoon chic young officers enlivened the provincial
dinginess with a brave show of handsome uniforms. All day long squads of
soldiers went flick! flack! up and down the street and bugle-calls
sounded piercingly from the citadel. The soldiery submerged the civil
population.

With no industries of any importance, and becoming less and less of an
economic center as the depopulation of the Woevre continued, Verdun
lived for its garrison. A fortress since Roman days, the city could not
escape its historic destiny. Remembering the citadel, the buttressed
cathedral, the soldiery, and the military tradition, the visitor felt
himself to be in a soldier's country strong with the memory of many
wars.

The next day, at noon, we were ordered to go to M------, and at 12.15 we
were in convoy formation in the road by the barracks wall. The great
route nationale from Bar-le-Duc to Verdun runs through a rolling,
buff-brown moorland, poor in villages and arid and desolate in aspect.
Now it sinks through moorland valleys, now it cuts bowl-shaped
depressions in which the spring rains have bred green quagmires, and
now, rising, leaps the crest of a hill commanding a landscape of
ocean-like immensity.

Gray segments of the road disappear ahead behind fuzzy monticules; a
cloud of wood-smoke hangs low over some invisible village in a fold of
the moor, and patches of woodland lie like mantles on the barren slopes.
Great swathes of barbed wire, a quarter of a mile in width, advancing
and retreating, rising and falling with the geographical nature of the
defensive position, disappear on both sides to the horizon. And so thick
is this wire spread, that after a certain distance the eye fails to
distinguish the individual threads and sees only rows of stout black
posts filled with a steely, purple mist.

We went though several villages, being greeted in every one with the
inevitable error, Anglais! We dodged interminable motor-convoys carrying
troops, the poilus sitting unconcernedly along the benches at the side,
their rifles tight between their knees. At midnight we arrived at
B------, four miles and a half west of Verdun. The night was clear and
bitter cold; the ice-blue winter stars were westering. Refugees tramped
past in the darkness. By the sputtering light of a match, I saw a woman
go by with a cat in a canary cage; the animal moved uneasily, its eyes
shone with fear. A middle-aged soldier went by accompanying an old woman
and a young girl. Many pushed baby carriages ahead of them full of
knick-knacks and packages.

The crossroad where the ambulances turned off was a maze of beams of
light from the autos. There was shouting of orders which nobody could
carry out. Wounded, able to walk, passed through the beams of the lamps,
the red of their bloodstains, detached against the white of the
bandages, presenting the sharpest of contrasts in the silvery glare. At
the station, men who had died in the ambulances were dumped hurriedly in
a plot of grass by the side of the roadway and covered with a blanket.
Never was there seen such a bedlam! But on the main road the great
convoys moved smoothly on as if held together by an invisible chain. A
smouldering in the sky told of fires in Verdun.

From a high hill between B------and Verdun I got my first good look at
the bombardment. From the edge of earth and sky, far across the
moorlands, ray after ray of violet-white fire made a swift stab at the
stars. Mingled with the rays, now seen here, now there, the
reddish-violet semicircle of the great mortars flared for the briefest
instant above the horizon. From the direction of this inferno came a
loud roaring, a rumbling and roaring, increasing in volume--the sound of
a great river tossing huge rocks through subterranean abysses. Every
little while a great shell, falling in the city, would blow a great hole
of white in the night, and so thundering was the crash of arrival that
we almost expected to see the city sink into the earth.

Terrible in the desolation of the night, on fire, haunted by specters of
wounded men who crept along the narrow lanes by the city walls, Verdun
was once more undergoing the destinies of war. The shells were falling
along rue Mazel and on the citadel. A group of old houses by the Meuse
had burnt to rafters of flickering flame, and as I passed them, one
collapsed into the flooded river in a cloud of hissing steam.

In order to escape shells, the wounded were taking the obscure by-ways
of the town. Our wounded had started to walk to the ambulance station
with the others, but, being weak and exhausted, had collapsed on the
way. They were waiting for us at a little house just beyond the walls.
Said one to the other, "As-tu-vu Maurice?" and the other answered
without any emotion, "II est mort."

The 24th was the most dreadful day. The wind and snow swept the heights
of the desolate moor, seriously interfering with the running of the
automobiles. Here and there, on a slope, a lorry was stuck in the slush,
though the soldier passengers were out of it and doing their best to
push it along. The cannonade was still so intense that, in intervals
between the heavier snow-flurries, I could see the stabs of fire in the
brownish sky. Wrapped in sheepskins and muffled to the ears in knitted
scarves that might have come from New England, the territorials who had
charge of the road were filling the ruts with crushed rock. Exhaustion
had begun to tell on the horses; many lay dead and snowy in the frozen
fields. A detachment of khaki-clad, red-fezzed colonial troops passed
by, bent to the storm. The news was of the most depressing sort. The
wounded could give you only the story of their part of the line, and you
heard over and over again, "Nous avons recules." A detachment of cavalry
was at hand; their casques and dark-blue mantles gave them a crusading
air. And through the increasing cold and darkness of late afternoon,
troops, cannons, horsemen, and motor-trucks vanished toward the edge of
the moor where flashed with increasing brilliance the rays of the
artillery.

I saw some German prisoners for the first time at T---, below Verdun.
They had been marched down from the firing-line. Young men in the
twenties for the most part, they seemed even more war-worn than the
French. The hideous, helot-like uniform of the German private hung
loosely on their shoulders, and the color of their skin was unhealthy
and greenish. They were far from appearing starved; I noticed two or
three who looked particularly sound and hearty. Nevertheless, they were
by no means as sound-looking as the ruddier French.

The poilus crowded round to see them, staring into their faces without
the least malevolence. At last--at last--voila enfin des Boches! A
little to the side stood a strange pair, two big men wearing an odd kind
of grayish protector and apron over their bodies. Against a near-by wall
stood a kind of flattish tank to which a long metallic hose was
attached. The French soldiers eyed them with contempt and disgust. I
caught the words, "Flame-throwers!"

I do not know what we should have done at Verdun without Lieutenant
Roeder, our mechanical officer. All the boys behaved splendidly, but
Lieutenant Roeder had the tremendously difficult task of keeping the
Section going when the rolling-stock was none too good, and fearful
weather and too constant usage had reduced some of the wagons to wrecks.
It was all the finer of him because he was by profession a
bacteriologist. Still very young, he had done distinguished work. Simply
because there was no one else to attend to the mechanical department, he
had volunteered for this most tiresome and disagreeable task. There is
not a single driver in Section II who does not owe much to the friendly
counsel, splendid courage, and keen mind of George Roeder.

A few miles below Verdun, on a narrow strip of meadowland between the
river and the northern bluffs, stood an eighteenth-century chateau and
the half-dozen houses of its dependents. The hurrying river had flooded
the low fields and then retreated, turning the meadows and pasturages to
bright green, puddly marshes, malodorous with swampy exhalations. Beyond
the swirls and currents of the river and its vanishing islands of
pale-green pebbles, rose the brown, deserted hills of the Hauts de
Meuse. The top of one height had been pinched into the rectangle of a
fortress; little forests ran along the sky-line of the heights, and a
narrow road, slanting across a spur of the valley, climbed and
disappeared.

The chateau itself was a huge, three-story box of gray-white stone with
a slate roof, a little turret en poivriere at each corner, and a
graceless classic doorway in the principal facade. A wide double gate,
with a coronet in a tarnished gold medallion set in the iron arch-piece,
gave entrance to this place through a kind of courtyard formed by the
rear of the chateau and the walls of two low wings devoted to the
stables and the servants' quarters. Within, a high clump of dark- green
myrtle, ringed with muddy, rut-scarred turf, marked the theoretical
limits of a driveway. Along the right-hand wall stood the rifles of the
wounded, and in a corner, a great snarled pile of bayonets, belts,
cartridge-boxes, gas-mask satchels, greasy tin boxes of anti-lice
ointment, and dented helmets. A bright winter sunlight fell on walls
dank from the river mists, and heightened the austerity of the
landscape. Beyond a bend in the river lay the smoke of the battle of
Douaumont; shells broke, pin-points of light, in the upper fringes of
the haze.

The chateau had been a hospital since the beginning of the war. A heavy
smell of ether and iodoform lay about it, mixed with the smell of the
war. This effluvia of an army, mixed with the sharper reek of
anaesthetics, was the atmosphere of the hospital. The great rush of
wounded had begun. Every few minutes the ambulances slopped down a miry
byway, and turned in the gates; tired, putty-faced hospital attendants
took out the stretchers and the nouveaux clients; mussy bundles of blue
rags and bloody blankets turned into human beings; an overworked,
nervous medecin chef shouted contradictory orders at the brancardiers,
and passed into real crises of hysterical rage.

"Avancez!" he would scream at the bewildered chauffeurs of the
ambulances; and an instant later, "Reculez! Reculez!"

The wounded in the stretchers, strewn along the edges of the driveway,
raised patient, tired eyes at his snarling.

Another doctor, a little bearded man wearing a white apron and the red
velvet kepi of an army physician, questioned each batch of new arrivals.
Deep lines of fatigue had traced themselves under his kindly eyes; his
thin face had a dreadful color. Some of the wounded had turned their
eyes from the sun; others, too weak to move, lay stonily blinking.
Almost expressionless, silent, they resigned themselves to the
attendants as if these men were the deaf ministers of some inexorable
power.

The surgeon went from stretcher to stretcher looking at the diagnosis
cards attached at the poste de secours, stopping occasionally to ask the
fatal question, "As-tu crache du sang?" (Have you spit blood?) A thin
oldish man with a face full of hollows like that of an old horse,
answered "Oui," faintly. Close by, an artilleryman, whose cannon had
burst, looked with calm brown eyes out of a cooked and bluish face.
Another, with a soldier's tunic thrown capewise over his naked torso,
trembled in his thin blanket, and from the edges of a cotton and
lint-pad dressing hastily stuffed upon a shoulder wound, an occasional
drop of blood slid down his lean chest.

A little to one side, the cooks of the hospital, in their greasy aprons,
watched the performance with a certain calm interest. In a few minutes
the wounded were sorted and sent to the various wards. I was ordered to
take three men who had been successfully operated on to the barracks for
convalescents several miles away.

A highway and an unused railroad, both under heavy fire from German guns
on the Hauts de Meuse, passed behind the chateau and along the foot of
the bluffs. There were a hundred shell holes in the marshes between the
road and the river, black-lipped craters in the sedgy green; there were
ugly punches in the brown earth of the bluffs, and deep scoops in the
surface of the road. The telephone wires, cut by shell fragments, fell
in stiff, draping lines to the ground. Every once in a while a shell
would fall into the river, causing a silvery gray geyser to hang for an
instant above the green eddies of the Meuse. A certain village along
this highway was the focal point of the firing. Many of the houses had
been blown to pieces, and fragments of red tile, bits of shiny glass,
and lumps of masonry were strewn all over the deserted street.

As I hurried along, two shells came over, one sliding into the river
with a Hip! and the other landing in a house about two hundred yards
away. A vast cloud of grayish-black smoke befogged the cottage, and a
section of splintered timber came buzzing through the air and fell into
a puddle. From the house next to the one struck, a black cat came
slinking, paused for an indecisive second in the middle of the street,
and ran back again. Through the canvas partition of the ambulance, I
heard the voices of my convalescents. "No more marmites!" I cried to
them as I swung down a road out of shell reach. I little knew what was
waiting for us beyond the next village.

A regiment of Zouaves going up to the line was resting at the crossroad,
and the regimental wagons, drawn up in waiting line, blocked the narrow
road completely. At the angle between the two highways, under the four
trees planted by pious custom of the Meuse, stood a cross of thick
planks. From each arm of the cross, on wine-soaked straps, dangled, like
a bunch of grapes, a cluster of dark-blue canteens; rifles were stacked
round its base, and under the trees stood half a dozen clipped-headed,
bull-necked Zouaves. A rather rough-looking adjutant, with a bullet head
disfigured by a frightful scar at the corner of his mouth, rode up and
down the line to see if all was well. Little groups were handing round a
half loaf of army bread, and washing it down with gulps of wine.

"Hello, sport!" they cried at me; and the favorite "All right," and
"Tommy!"

The air was heavy with the musty smell of street mud that never dries
during winter time, mixed with the odor of the tired horses, who stood,
scarcely moving, backed away from their harnesses against the
mire-gripped wagons. Suddenly the order to go on again was given; the
carters snapped their whips, the horses pulled, the noisy, lumbering,
creaky line moved on, and the men fell in behind, in any order.

I started my car again and looked for an opening through the melee.

Beyond the cross, the road narrowed and flanked one of the southeastern
forts of the city. A meadow, which sloped gently upward from the road to
the abrupt hillside of the fortress, had been used as a place of
encampment and had been trodden into a surface of thick cheesy mire.
Here and there were the ashes of fires. There were hundreds of such
places round the moorland villages between Verdun and Bar-le-Duc. The
fort looked squarely down on Verdun, and over its grassy height came the
drumming of the battle, and the frequent crash of big shells falling
into the city.

In a corner lay the anatomical relics of some horses killed by an
air-bomb the day before. And even as I noted them, I heard the muffled
Pom! Pom! Pom! of anti-aircraft guns. My back was to the river and I
could not see what was going on.

"What is it?" I said to a Zouave who was plodding along beside the
ambulance.

"Des Boches--crossing the river."

The regiment plodded on as before. Now and then a soldier would stop and
look up at the aeroplanes.

"He's coming!" I heard a voice exclaim.

Suddenly, the adjutant whom I had seen before came galloping down the
line, shouting, "Arretez! Arretez! Pas de mouvement!"

A current of tension ran down the troop with as much reality as a
current of water runs down hill. I wondered whether the Boche had seen
us.

"Is he approaching?" I asked.

"Yes."

Ahead of me was a one-horse wagon, and ahead of that a wagon with two
horses carrying the medical supplies. The driver of the latter, an
oldish, thick-set, wine-faced fellow, got down an instant from his
wagon, looked at the Boche, and resumed his seat. A few seconds later,
there sounded the terrifying scream of an air-bomb, a roar, and I found
myself in a bitter swirl of smoke. The shell had fallen right between
the horses of the two-horse wagon, blowing the animals to pieces,
splintering the wagon, and killing the driver. Something sailed swiftly
over my head, and landed just behind the ambulance. It was a chunk of
the skull of one of the horses. The horse attached to the wagon ahead of
me went into a frenzy of fear and backed his wagon into my ambulance,
smashing the right lamp. In the twinkling of an eye, the soldiers
dispersed. Some ran into the fields. Others crouched in the wayside
ditch. A cart upset. Another bomb dropped screaming in a field and
burst; a cloud of smoke rolled away down the meadow.

When the excitement had subsided, it was found that a soldier had been
wounded. The bodies of the horses were rolled over into the ditch, the
wreck of the wagon was dragged to the miry field, and the regiment went
on. In a very short time I got to the hospital and delivered my
convalescents.

My way home ran through the town of S------, an ugly, overgrown village
of the Verdunois, given up to the activities of the staff directing the
battle. The headquarters building was the hotel de ville, a large
eighteenth-century edifice, in an acre of trampled mud a little distance
from the street. Before the building flowed the great highway from
Bar-le-Duc to Verdun; relays of motor lorries went by, and gendarmes,
organized into a kind of traffic squad, stood every hundred feet or so.
The atmosphere of S------at the height of the battle was one of calm
organization; it would not have been hard to believe that the
motor-lorries and unemotional men were at the service of some great
master-work of engineering. There was something of the holiday in the
attitude of the inhabitants of the place; they watched the motor show
exactly as they might have watched a circus parade.

"Les voila," said somebody.

A little bemedaled group appeared on the steps of the hotel de ville.
Dominating it was Joffre. Above middle height, silver-haired, elderly,
he has a certain paternal look which his eye belies; Joffre's eye is the
hard eye of a commander-in-chief, the military eye, the eye of an Old
Testament father if you will. De Castelnau was speaking, making no
gestures--an old man with an ashen skin, deep-set eye and great hooked
nose, a long cape concealed the thick, age-settled body. Poincare stood
listening, with a look at once worried and brave, the ghost of a sad
smile lingering on a sensitive mouth. Last of all came Petain, the
protege of De Castelnau, who commanded at Verdun--a tall, square-built
man, not un-English in his appearance, with grizzled hair and the sober
face of a thinker. But his mouth and jaw are those of a man of action,
and the look in his gray eyes is always changing. Now it is speculative
and analytic, now steely and cold.

In the shelter of a doorway stood a group of territorials, getting their
first real news of the battle from a Paris newspaper. I heard "Nous
avons recule--huit kilometres--le general Petain--" A motor-lorry
drowned out the rest.

That night we were given orders to be ready to evacuate the chateau in
case the Boches advanced. The drivers slept in the ambulances, rising at
intervals through the night to warm their engines. The buzz of the
motors sounded through the tall pines of the chateau park, drowning out
the rumbling of the bombardment and the monotonous roaring of the flood.
Now and then a trench light, rising like a spectral star over the lines
on the Hauts de Meuse, would shine reflected in the river. At intervals
attendants carried down the swampy paths to the chapel the bodies of
soldiers who had died during the night. The cannon flashing was
terrific. Just before dawn, half a dozen batteries of "seventy-fives"
came in a swift trot down the shelled road; the men leaned over on their
steaming horses, the harnesses rattled and jingled, and the cavalcade
swept on, outlined a splendid instant against the mortar flashes and the
streaks of day.

On my morning trip a soldier with bandaged arm was put beside me on the
front seat. He was about forty years old; a wiry black beard gave a
certain fullness to his thin face, and his hands were pudgy and short of
finger. When he removed his helmet, I saw that he was bald. A bad cold
caused him to speak in a curious whispering tone, giving to everything
he said the character of a grotesque confidence.

"What do you do en civil?" he asked.

I told him.

"I am a pastry cook," he went on; "my specialty is Saint-Denis apple
tarts."

A marmite intended for the road landed in the river as he spoke.

"Have you ever had one? They are very good when made with fresh cream."
He sighed.

"How did you get wounded?" said I.

"Eclat d'obus," he replied, as if that were the whole story. After a
pause he added, "Douaumont--yesterday."

I thought of the shells I had seen bursting over the fort.

"Do you put salt in chocolate?" he asked professionally.

"Not as a rule," I replied.

"It improves it," he pursued, as if he were revealing a confidential
dogma. "The Boche bread is bad, very bad, much worse than a year ago.
Full of crumbles and lumps. Degoutant!"

The ambulance rolled up to the evacuation station, and my pastry cook
alighted.

"When the war is over, come to my shop," he whispered benevolently, "and
you shall have some tartes aux pommes a la mode de Saint-Denis with my
wife and me."

"With fresh cream?" I asked.

"Of course," he replied seriously.

I accepted gratefully, and the good old soul gave me his address.

In the afternoon a sergeant rode with me. He was somewhere between
twenty-eight and thirty, thick-set of body, with black hair and the
tanned and ruddy complexion of outdoor folk. The high collar of a
dark-blue sweater rose over his great coat and circled a muscular
throat; his gray socks were pulled country-wise outside of the legs of
his blue trousers. He had an honest, pleasant face; there was a certain
simple, wholesome quality about the man. In the piping times of peace,
he was a cultivateur in the Valois, working his own little farm; he was
married and had two little boys. At Douaumont, a fragment of a shell had
torn open his left hand.

"The Boches are not going to get through up there?"

"Not now. As long as we hold the heights, Verdun is safe." His simple
French, innocent of argot, had a good country twang. "But oh, the people
killed! Comme il y a des gens tues!" He pronounced the final s of the
word gens in the manner of the Valois.

"Ca s'accroche aux arbres," he continued.

The vagueness of the ca had a dreadful quality in it that made you see
trees and mangled bodies. "We had to hold the crest of Douaumont under a
terrible fire, and clear the craters on the slope when the Germans tried
to fortify them. Our 'seventy-fives' dropped shells into the big craters
as I would drop stones into a pond. Pauvres gens!"

The phrase had an earth-wide sympathy in it, a feeling that the
translation "poor folks" does not render. He had taken part in a strange
incident. There had been a terrible corps-a-corps in one of the craters
which had culminated in a victory for the French; but the lieutenant of
his company had left a kinsman behind with the dead and wounded. Two
nights later, the officer and the sergeant crawled down the dreadful
slope to the crater where the combat had taken place, in the hope of
finding the wounded man. They could hear faint cries and moans from the
crater before they got to it. The light of a pocket flash-lamp showed
them a mass of dead and wounded on the floor of the crater--"un tas de
mourants et de cadavres," as he expressed it.

After a short search, they found the man for whom they were looking; he
was still alive but unconscious. They were dragging him out when a
German, hideously wounded, begged them to kill him.

"Moi, je n'ai plus jambes," he repeated in French; "pitie, tuez-moi."

He managed to make the lieutenant see that if he went away and left
them, they would all die in the agonies of thirst and open wounds. A
little flickering life still lingered in a few; there were vague rales
in the darkness. A rafale of shells fell on the slope; the violet glares
outlined the mouth of the crater.

"Ferme tes yeux" (shut your eyes), said the lieutenant to the German.
The Frenchmen scrambled over the edge of the crater with their
unconscious burden, and then, from a little distance, threw
hand-grenades into the pit till all the moaning died away.

Two weeks later, when the back of the attack had been broken and the
organization of the defense had developed into a trusted routine, I went
again to Verdun. The snow was falling heavily, covering the piles of
debris and sifting into the black skeletons of the burned houses.
Untrodden in the narrow streets lay the white snow. Above the Meuse,
above the ugly burned areas in the old town on the slope, rose the
shell-spattered walls of the citadel and the cathedral towers of the
still, tragic town. The drumming of the bombardment had died away. The
river was again in flood. In a deserted wine-shop on a side street well
protected from shells by a wall of sandbags was a post of territorials.

To the tragedy of Verdun, these men were the chorus; there was something
Sophoclean in this group of older men alone in the silence and ruin of
the beleaguered city. A stove filled with wood from the wrecked houses
gave out a comfortable heat, and in an alley-way, under cover, stood a
two-wheeled hose cart, and an old-fashioned seesaw fire pump. There were
old clerks and bookkeepers among the soldier firemen--retired gendarmes
who had volunteered, a country schoolmaster, and a shrewd peasant from
the Lyonnais. Watch was kept from the heights of the citadel, and the
outbreak of fire in any part of the city was telephoned to the shop. On
that day only a few explosive shells had fallen.

"Do you want to see something odd, mon vieux?" said one of the pompiers
to me; and he led me through a labyrinth of cellars to a cold, deserted
house. The snow had blown through the shell-splintered window-panes. In
the dining-room stood a table, the cloth was laid and the silver spread;
but a green feathery fungus had grown in a dish of food and broken
straws of dust floated on the wine in the glasses. The territorial took
my arm, his eyes showing the pleasure of my responding curiosity, and
whispered,--

"There were officers quartered here who were called very suddenly. I saw
the servant of one of them yesterday; they have all been killed."

Outside there was not a flash from the batteries on the moor. The snow
continued to fall, and darkness, coming on the swift wings of the storm,
fell like a mantle over the desolation of the city.


The End





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