'A Hilltop on the Marne'
by Mildred Aldrich, 1915


Letters Written to an American Friend in August and September 1914

the author's house



August 2, 1914.

Well, dear, what looked impossible is evidently coming to pass.

Early yesterday morning the garde champetre - who is the only thing in the way of a policeman that we have - marched up the road beating his drum. At every crossroad he stopped and read an order. I heard him at the foot of the hill, but I waited for him to pass. At the top of the hill he stopped to paste a bill on the door of the carriage-house on Pere Abelard's farm. You can imagine me, - in my long studio apron, with my head tied up in a muslin cap, - running up the hill to join the group of poor women of the hamlet, to read the proclamation to the armies of land and sea - the order for the mobilization of the French military and naval forces - headed by its crossed French flags. It was the first experience in my life of a thing like that. I had a cold chill down my spine as I realized that it was not so easy as I had thought to separate myself from Life. We stood there together - a little group of women - and silently read it through - this command for the rising up of a Nation. No need for the men to read it. Each with his military papers in his pocket knew the moment he heard the drum what it meant, and knew equally well his place. I was a foreigner among them, but I forgot that, and if any of them remembered they made no sign. We did not say a word to one another. I silently returned to my garden and sat down. War again! This time war close by - not war about which one can read, as one reads it in the newspapers, as you will read it in the States, far away from it, but war right here - if the Germans can cross the frontier.

It came as a sort of shock, though I might have realized it yesterday when several of the men of the commune came to say au revoir, with the information that they were joining their regiments, but I felt as if some way other than cannon might be found out of the situation. War had not been declared - has not to-day. Still, things rarely go to this length and stop there. Judging by this morning's papers Germany really wants it. She could have, had she wished, held stupid Austria back from the throat of poor Servia, not yet recovered from her two Balkan wars.

I imagine this letter will turn into a sort of diary, as it is difficult to say when I shall be able to get any mail matter off. All our communications with the outside world - except by road - were cut this morning by order of the War Bureau. Our railroad is the road to all the eastern frontiers - the trains to Belgium as well as to Metz and Strasbourg pass within sight of my garden. If you don't know what that means - just look on a map and you will realize that the army that advances, whether by road or by train, will pass by me.

During the mobilization, which will take weeks, - not only is France not ready, all the world knows that her fortified towns are mostly only fortified on the map, - civilians, the mails, and such things must make way for soldiers and war materials. I shall continue to write. It will make me feel in touch still; it will be something to do: besides, any time some one may go up to town by road and I thus have a chance to send it.


August 3, 1914.

Well - war is declared.

I passed a rather restless night. I fancy every one in France did. All night I heard a murmur of voices, such an unusual thing here. It simply meant that the town was awake and, the night being warm, every one was out of doors.

All day to-day aeroplanes have been flying between Paris and the frontier. Everything that flies seems to go right over my roof. Early this morning I saw two machines meet, right over my garden, circle about each other as if signaling, and fly off together. I could not help feeling as if one chapter of Wells's "War in the Air" had come to pass. It did make me realize how rapidly the aeroplane had developed into a real weapon of war. I remember so well, no longer ago than Exposition year, - that was 1900, - that I was standing, one day, in the old Galerie des Machines, with a young engineer from Boston. Over our heads was a huge model of a flying machine. It had never flown, but it was the nearest thing to success that had been accomplished - and it expected to fly some time. So did Darius Green, and people were still skeptical. As he looked up at it, the engineer said: "Hang it all, that dashed old thing will fly one day, but I shall probably not live to see it."

He was only thirty at that time, and it was such a few years after that it did fly, and no time at all, once it rose in the air to stay there, before it crossed the Channel. It is wonderful to think that after centuries of effort the thing flew in my time - and that I am sitting in my garden to-day, watching it sail overhead, like a bird, looking so steady and so sure. I can see them for miles as they approach and for miles after they pass. Often they disappear from view, not because they have passed a horizon line, but simply because they have passed out of the range of my vision-? becoming smaller and smaller, until they seem no bigger than a tiny bird, so small that if I take my eyes off the speck in the sky I cannot find it again. It is awe-compelling to remember how these cars in the air change all military tactics. It will be almost impossible to make any big movement that may not be discovered by the opponent.

Just after breakfast my friend from Voulangis drove over in a great state of excitement, with the proposition that I should pack up and return with her. She seemed alarmed at the idea of my being alone, and seemed to think a group of us was safer. It was a point of view that had not occurred to me, and I was not able to catch it. Still, I was touched at her thoughtfulness, even though I had to say that I proposed to stay right here. When she asked me what I proposed to do if the army came retreating across my garden, I instinctively laughed. It seems so impossible this time that the Germans can pass the frontier, and get by Verdun and Toul. All the same, that other people were thinking it possible rather brought me up stand- ing. I just looked at the little house I had arranged such a little time ago - I have only been here two months.

She had come over feeling pretty glum - my dear neighbor from Voulangis. She went away laughing. At the gate she said, "It looks less gloomy to me than it did when I came. I felt such a brave thing driving over here through a country preparing for war. I expected you to put a statue up in your garden 'To a Brave Lady.'"

I stood in the road watching her drive away, and as I turned back to the house it suddenly took on a very human sort of look. There passed through my mind a sudden realization, that, according to my habit, I had once again stuck my feet in the ground of a new home - and taken root. It is a fact. I have often looked at people who seem to keep foot-free. I never can. If I get pulled up violently by the roots, if I have my earthly possessions pruned away, I always hurry as fast as I can, take root in a new place, and proceed to sprout a new crop of possessions which fix me there. I used, when I was younger, to envy people who could just pack a bag and move on. I am afraid that I never envied them enough to do as they did. If I had I should have done it. I find that life is pretty logical. It is like chemical action - given certain elements to begin with, contact with the fluids of Life give a certain result. After all I fancy every one does about the best he can with the gifts he has to do with. So I imagine we do what is natural to us; if we have the gift of knowing what we want and wanting it hard enough we get it. If we don't, we compromise.

I am closing this up rather hurriedly as one of the boys who joins his regiment at Fontainebleau will mail it in Paris as he passes through. I suppose you are glad that you got away before this came to pass.


August 10,1914.

I have your cable asking me to come "home" as you call it. Alas, my home is where my books are - they are here. Thanks all the same.

It is a week since I wrote you - and what a week. We have had a sort of intermittent communication with the outside world since the 6th, when, after a week of deprivation, we began to get letters and an occasional newspaper, brought over from Meaux by a boy on a bicycle.

After we were certain, on the 4th of August, that war was being declared all around Germany and Austria, and that England was to back France and Russia, a sort of stupor settled on us all. Day after day Amelie would run to the mairie at Quincy to read the telegraphic bulletin - half a dozen lines of facts - that was all we knew from day to day. It is all we know now.

Day after day I sat in my garden watching the aeroplanes flying over my head, and wishing so hard that I knew what they knew. Often I would see five in the day, and one day ten. Day after day I watched the men of the commune on their way to join their classe. There was hardly an hour of the day that I did not nod over the hedge to groups of stern, silent men, accompanied by their women, and leading the children by the hand, taking the short cut to the station which leads over the hill, right by my gate, to Couilly. It has been so thrilling that I find myself forgetting that it is tragic. It is so different from anything I ever saw before. Here is a nation - which two weeks ago was torn by political dissension - suddenly united, and with a spirit that I have never seen before.

I am old enough to remember well the days of our Civil War, when regiments of volunteers, with flying flags and bands of music, marched through our streets in Boston, on the way to the front. Crowds of stay-at-homes, throngs of women and children lined the sidewalks, shouting deliriously, and waving handkerchiefs, inspired by the marching soldiers, with guns on their shoulders, and the strains of martial music, varied with the then popular "The girl I left behind me," or, "When this cruel war is over." But this is quite different. There are no marching soldiers, no flying flags, no bands of music. It is the rising up of a Nation as one man - all classes shoulder to shoulder, with but one idea - "Lift up your hearts, and long live France." I rather pity those who have not seen it.

Since the day when war was declared, and when the Chamber of Deputies - all party feeling forgotten - stood on its feet and listened to Paul Deschanel's terse, remarkable speech, even here in this little commune, whose silence is broken only by the rumbling of the trains passing, in view of my garden, on the way to the frontier, and the footsteps of the groups on the way to the train, I have seen sights that have moved me as nothing I have ever met in life before has done. Day after day I have watched the men and their families pass silently, and an hour later have seen the women come back leading the children. One day I went to Couilly to see if it was yet possible for me to get to Paris. I happened to be in the station when a train was going out. Nothing goes over the line yet but men joining their regiments. They were packed in like sardines. There were no uniforms - just a crowd of men - men in blouses, men in patched jackets, well-dressed men - no distinction of class; and on the platform the women and children they were leaving. There was no laughter, none of the gayety with which one has so often reproached this race - but neither were there any tears. As the crowded train began to move, bare heads were thrust out of windows, hats were waved, and a great shout of "Vive la France" was answered by piping children's voices, and the choked voices of women - "Vive l'Armee"; and when the train was out of sight the women took the children by the hand, and quietly climbed the hill.

Ever since the 4th of August all our crossroads have been guarded, all our railway gates closed, and also guarded - guarded by men whose only sign of being soldiers is a cap and a gun, men in blouses with a mobilization badge on their left arms, often in patched trousers and sabots, with stern faces and determined eyes, and one thought - "The country is in danger."

There is a crossroad just above my house, which commands the valley on either side, and leads to a little hamlet on the route nationale from Couilly to Meaux, arid is called "La Demi-Lune" - why "Half-Moon" I don't know. It was there, on the 6th, that I saw, for the first time, an armed barricade. The gate at the railway crossing had been opened to let a cart pass, when an automobile dashed through Saint-Germain, which is on the other side of the track. The guard raised his bayonet in the air, to command the car to stop and show its papers, but it flew by him and dashed up the hill. The poor guard - it was his first experience of that sort - stood staring after the car; but the idea that he ought to fire at it did not occur to him until it was too late. By the time it occurred to him, and he could telephone to the Demi-Lune, it had passed that guard in the same way - and disappeared. It did not pass Meaux. It simply disappeared. It is still known as the "Phantom Car." Within half an hour there was a barricade at the Demi-Lune mounted by armed men - too late, of course. However, it was not really fruitless, - that barricade, - as the very next day they caught three Germans there, disguised as Sisters of Charity - papers all in order - and who would have got by, after they were detected by a little boy's calling attention to their ungloved hands, if it had not been for the number of armed old men on the barricade.

What makes things especially serious here, so near the frontier, and where the military movements must be made, is the presence of so many Germans, and the bitter feeling there is against them. On the night of August 2, just when the troops were beginning to move east, an attempt was made to blow up the railroad bridge at lie de Villenoy, between here and Meaux. The three Germans were caught with the dynamite on them - so the story goes - and are now in the barracks at Meaux. But the most absolute secrecy is preserved about all such things. Not only is all France under martial law: the censorship of the press is absolute. Every one has to carry his papers, and be provided with a passport for which he is liable to be asked in simply crossing a road.

Meaux is full of Germans. The biggest department shop there is a German enterprise. Even Couilly has a German or two, and we had one in our little hamlet. But they've got to get out. Our case is rather pathetic. He was a nice chap, employed in a big fur house in Paris. He came to France when he was fifteen, has never been back, consequently has never done his military service there. Oddly enough, for some reason, he never took out his naturalization papers, so never did his service here. He has no relatives in Germany - that is to say, none with whom he has kept up any correspondence, he says. He earns a good salary, and has always been one of the most generous men in the commune, but circumstances are against him. Even though he is an intimate friend of our mayor, the commune preferred to be rid of him. He begged not to be sent back to Germany, so he went sadly enough to a concentration camp, pretty well convinced that his career here was over. Still, the French do forget easily.

Couilly had two Germans. One of them - the barber - got out quick. The other did not. But he was quietly informed by some of his neighbors - with pistols in their hands - that his room was better than his company.

The barber occupied a shop in the one principal street in the village, which is, by the way, a comparatively rich place. He had a front shop, which was a cafe, with a well-fitted-up bar. The back, with a well-dressed window on the street, full of toilette articles, was the barber and hairdressing-room, very neatly arranged, with modern set bowls and mirrors, cabinets full of towels, well-filled shelves of all the things that make such a place profitable. You should see it now. Its broken windows and doors stand open to the weather. The entire interior has been "efficiently" wrecked. It is as systematic a work of destruction as I have ever seen. Not a thing was stolen, but not an article was spared. All the bottles full of things to drink and all the glasses to drink out of are smashed, so are counters, tables, chairs, and shelving. In the barber shop there is a litter of broken porcelain, broken combs, and smashed-up chairs and boxes among a wreck of hair dyes, perfumes, brillantine, and torn towels, and an odor of aperitifs and cologne over it all.

Every one pretends not to know when it happened. They say, "It was found like that one morning." Every one goes to look at it - no one enters, no one touches anything. They simply say with a smile of scorn, "Good - and so well done."

There are so many things that I wish you could see. They would give you such a new point of view regarding this race - traditionally so gay, so indifferent to many things that you consider moral, so fond of their individual comfort and personal pleasure, and often so rebellious to discipline. You would be surprised - surprised at their unity, surprised at their seriousness, and often touched by their philosophical acceptance of it all.

Amelie has a stepson and daughter. The boy - named Marius - like his father plays the violin. Like many humble musicians his music is his life and he adds handsomely to his salary as a clerk by playing at dances and little concerts, and by giving lessons in the evening. Like his father he is very timid. But he accepted the war without a word, though nothing is more foreign to his nature. It brought it home to me - this rising up of a Nation in self-defense. It is not the marching into battle of an army that has chosen soldiering. It is the marching out of all the people - of every temperament - the rich, the poor, the timid and the bold, the sensitive and the hardened, the ignorant and the scholar - all men, because they happen to be males, called on not only to cry, "Vive la France," but to see to it that she does live if dying for her can keep her alive. It is a compelling idea, isn't it?

Amelie's stepdaughter is married to a big burly chap by the name of Georges Godot. He is a thick-necked, red-faced man - in the dynamite corps on the railroad, the construction department. He is used to hardships. War is as good as anything else to him. When he came to say "good-bye" he said, "Well, if I have the luck to come back - so much the better. If I don't, that will be all right. You can put a placque down below in the cemetery with 'Godot, Georges: Died for the country '; and when my boys grow up they can say to their comrades, 'Papa, you know, he died on the battlefield.' It will be a sort of distinction I am not likely to earn for them any other way"; and off he went. Rather fine for a man of that class.

Even the women make no cry. As for the children - even when you would think that they were old enough to understand the meaning of these partings they make no sign, though they seem to understand all the rest of it well enough. There isn't a boy of eight in our commune who cannot tell you how it all came about, and who is not just now full of stories of 1870, which he has heard from grandma and grandpa, for, as is natural, every one talks of 1870 now. I have lived among these people, loved them and believed in them, even when their politics annoyed me, but I confess that they have given me a surprise.


August 17, 1914.

I have Belgium on my soul. Brave little country that has given new proof of its courage and nobility, and surprised the world with a ruler who is a man, as well as king. It occurs to me more than ever to- day in what a wonderful epoch we have lived. I simply can't talk about it. The suspense is so great. I heard this morning from an officer that the English troops are landing, though he tells me that in London they don't yet know that the Expedition has started. If that is true, it is wonderful. Not a word in the papers yet, but your press is not censored as ours is. I fancy you know these things in New York before we do, although we are now getting a newspaper from Meaux regularly. But there is never anything illuminating in it. The attitude of the world to the Belgian question is a shock to me. I confess to have expected more active indignation at such an outrage.

Everything is very quiet here. Our little commune sent two hundred men only, but to take two hundred able-bodied men away makes a big hole, and upsets life in many ways. For some days we were without bread: bakers gone. But the women took hold and, though the bread is not yet very good, it serves and will as long as flour holds out. No one complains, though we already lack many things. No merchandise can come out yet on the railroads, all the automobiles and most of the horses are gone, and shops are shy of staple things.

Really I don't know which are the more remarkable, the men or the women. You may have read the proclamation of the Minister of Agriculture to the women of France, calling on them to go into the fields and get in the crops and prepare the ground for the sowing of the winter wheat that the men on returning might not find their fields neglected nor their crops lost. You should have seen the old men and the women and the youngsters respond. It is harvest-time, you know, just as it was in the invasion of 1870.

In a few weeks it will be time to gather the fruit. Even now it is time to pick the black currants, all of which go to England to make the jams and jellies without which no English breakfast table is complete.

For days now the women and children have been climbing the hill at six in the morning, with big hats on their heads, deep baskets on their backs, low stools in their hands. There is a big field of black- currant bushes beside my garden to the south. All day, in the heat, they sit under the bushes picking away. At sundown they carry their heavy baskets to the weighing-machine on the roadside at the foot of the hill, and stand in line to be weighed in and paid by the English buyers for Crosse and Blackwell, Beach, and such houses, who have, I suppose, some special means of transportation.

That work is, however, the regular work for the women and children. Getting in the grain is not. Yet if you could see them take hold of it you would love them. The old men do double work. Amelie's husband is over seventy. His own work in his fields and orchard would seem too much for him. Yet he and Amelie and the donkey are in the field by three o'clock every morning, and by nine o'clock he is marching down the hill, with his rake and hoe on his shoulder, to help his neighbors.

There is many a woman working in the fields to-day who was not trained to it. I have a neighbor, a rich peasant, whose two sons are at the front. Her only daughter married an officer in the Engineer Corps. When her husband joined his regiment she came home to her mother with her little boy. I see her every day, in a short skirt and a big hat, leading her boy by the hand, going to the fields to help her mother. If you don't think that is fine, I do. It is only one of many cases right under my eyes.

There are old men here who thought that their days of hard work were over, who are in the fields working like boys. There is our blacksmith - old Pere Marie - lame with rheumatism, with his white- haired wife working in the fields from sunrise to sunset. He cheerfully limps up the hill in his big felt slippers, his wife carrying the lunch basket, and a tiny black-and-tan English dog called "Missy," who is the family baby, and knows lots of tricks, trotting behind, "because," as he says, "she is so much company." The old blacksmith is a veteran of 1870, and was for a long time a prisoner at Konigsburg. He likes nothing better than to rest a bit on a big stone at my gate and talk of 1870. Like all Frenchmen of his type he is wonderfully intelligent, full of humor, and an omnivorous reader. Almost every day he has a bit of old newspaper in his pocket out of which he reads to la dame Americaine as he calls me, not being able to pronounce my name. It is usually something illuminating about the Germans, when it is not something prophetic. It is wonderful how these old chaps take it all to heart.

All the time my heart is out there in the northeast. It is not my country nor my war - yet I feel as if it were both. All my French friends are there, all my neighbors, and any number of English friends will soon be, among them the brother of the sculptor you met at my house last winter and liked so much. He is with the Royal Field Artillery. His case is rather odd. He came back to England in the spring, after six years in the civil service, to join the army. His leave expired just in time for him to reenter the army and see his first active service in this war. Fortunately men seem to take it all as a matter of course. That consoles some, I find.

I have just heard that there are two trains a day on which civilians can go up to Paris IF THERE ARE PLACES LEFT after the army is accommodated. There is no guaranty that I can get back the same day. Still, I am going to risk it. I am afraid to be any longer without money, though goodness knows what I can do with it. Besides, I find that all my friends are flying, and I feel as if I should like to say "good-bye" - I don't know why, but I feel like indulging the impulse. Anyway, I am going to try it. I am going armed with every sort of paper - provisional passport from our consul, permis de sejour from my mayor here, and a local permit to enter and leave Paris, which does not allow me to stay inside the fortifications after six o'clock at night, unless I get myself identified at the prefecture of the arrondissement in which I propose to stay and have my passport vised.


August 24, 1914.

I seem to be able to get my letters off to you much more regularly than I dared to hope.

I went up to Paris on the 19th, and had to stay over one night. The trip up was long and tedious, but interesting. There were soldiers everywhere. It amused me almost to tears to see the guards all along the line. We hear so much of the wonderful equipment of the German army. Germany has been spending fortunes for years on its equipment. French taxpayers have kicked for years against spending public moneys on war preparations. The guards all along the railroad were not a jot better got up than those in our little commune. There they stand all along the track in their patched trousers and blouses and sabots, with a band round the left arm, a broken soldier cap, and a gun on the shoulder. Luckily the uniform and shaved head do not make the soldier.

Just before we reached Chelles we saw the first signs of actual war preparations, as there we ran inside the wire entanglements that protect the approach to the outer fortifications at Paris, and at Pantin we saw the first concentration of trains - miles and miles of made-up trains all carrying the Red Cross on their doors, and line after line of trucks with gray ammunition wagons, and cannons. We were being constantly held up to let trainloads of soldiers and horses pass. In the station we saw a long train being made up of men going to some point on the line to join their regiments. It was a crowd of men who looked the lower laboring class. They were in their working clothes, many of them almost in rags, each carrying in a bundle, or a twine bag, his few belongings, and some of them with a loaf of bread under the arm. It looked as little martial as possible but for the stern look in the eyes of even the commonest of them. I waited on the platform to see the train pull out. There was no one to see these men off. They all seemed to realize. I hope they did. I remembered the remark of the woman regarding her husband when she saw him go: "After all, I am only his wife. France is his mother"; and I hoped these poor men, to whom Fate seemed not to have been very kind, had at least that thought in the back of their minds.

I found Paris quiet, and every one calm - that is to say, every one but the foreigners, struggling like people in a panic to escape. In spite of the sad news - Brussels occupied Thursday, Namur fallen Monday - there is no sign of discouragement, and no sign of defeat. If it were not for the excitement around the steamship offices the city would be almost as still as death. But all the foreigners, caught here by the unexpectedness of the war, seemed to be fighting to get off by the same train and the same day to catch the first ship, and they seemed to have little realization that, first of all, France must move her troops and war material. I heard it said - it may not be true - that some of the consular officers were to blame for this, and that there was a rumor abroad among foreigners that Paris was sure to be invested, and that foreigners had been advised to get out, so that there should be as few people inside the fortifications as possible. This rumor, however, was prevalent only among foreigners. No French people that I saw seemed to have any such feeling. Apart from the excitement which prevailed in the vicinity of the steamship offices and banks the city had a deserted look. The Paris that you knew exists no longer. Compared with it this Paris is a dead city. Almost every shop is closed, and must be until the great number of men gone to the front can be replaced in some way. There are streets in which every closed front bears, under a paper flag pasted on shutter or door, a sign saying, "Closed on account of the mobilization"; or, "All the men with the colors."

There are almost no men in the streets. There are no busses or tramways, and cabs and automobiles are rare. Some branches of the underground are running at certain hours, and the irregular service must continue until women, and men unfit for military service, replace the men so suddenly called to the flag, and that will take time, especially as so many of the organizers as well as conductors and engineers have gone. It is the same with the big shops. However, that is not important. No one is in the humor to buy anything except food.

It took me a long time to get about. I had to walk everywhere and my friends live a long way apart, and I am a miserable walker. I found it impossible to get back that night, so I took refuge with one of my friends who is sailing on Saturday. Every one seems to be sailing on that day, and most of them don't seem to care much how they get away - "ameliorated steerage," as they call it, seems to be the fate of many of them. I can assure you that I was glad enough to get back the next day. Silent as it is here, it is no more so than Paris, and not nearly so sad, for the change is not so great. Paris is no longer our Paris, lovely as it still is.

I do not feel in the mood to do much. I work in my garden intermittently, and the harvest bug (bete rouge we call him here) gets in his work unintermittently on me. If things were normal this introduction to the bete rouge would have seemed to me a tragedy. As it is, it is unpleasantly unimportant. I clean house intermittently; read intermittently; write letters intermittently. That reminds me, do read Leon Daudet's "Fantomes et Vivantes" - the first volumes of his memoirs. He is a terrible example of "Le fils a papa." I don't know why it is that a vicious writer, absolutely lacking in reverence, can hold one's attention so much better than a kindly one can. In this book Daudet simply smashes idols, tears down illusions, dances gleefully on sacred traditions, and I lay awake half the night reading him, - and forgot the advancing Germans. The book comes down only to 1880, so most of the men he writes about are dead, and most of them, like Victor Hugo, for example, come off very sadly.

Well, I am reconciled to living a long time now, - much longer than I wanted to before this awful thing came to pass, - just to see all the mighty good that will result from the struggle. I am convinced, no matter what happens, of the final result. I am sure even now, when the Germans have actually crossed the frontier, that France will not be crushed this time, even if she be beaten down to Bordeaux, with her back against the Bay of Biscay. Besides, did you ever know the English bulldog to let go? But it is the horror of such a war in our times that bears so heavily on my soul. After all, "civilization" is a word we have invented, and its meaning is hardly more than relative, just as is the word "religion."

There are problems in the events that the logical spirit finds it hard to face. In every Protestant church the laws of Moses are printed on tablets on either side of the pulpit. On those laws our civil code is founded. "Thou shalt not kill," says the law. For thousands of years the law has punished the individual who settled his private quarrels with his fists or any more effective weapon, and reserved to itself the right to exact "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." And here we are today, in the twentieth century, when intelligent people have long been striving after a spiritual explanation of the meaning of life, trying to prove its upward trend, trying to beat out of it materialism, endeavoring to find in altruism a road to happiness, and governments can still find no better way to settle their disputes than wholesale slaughter, and that with weapons no so-called civilized man should ever have invented nor any so-called civilized government ever permitted to be made. The theory that the death penalty was a preventive of murder has long ago been exploded. The theory that by making war horrible, war could be prevented, is being exploded to-day.

And yet - I KNOW that if the thought be taken out of life that it is worth while to die for an idea a great factor in the making of national spirit will be gone. I KNOW that a long peace makes for weakness in a race. I KNOW that without war there is still death. To me this last fact is the consolation. It is finer to die voluntarily for an idea deliberately faced, than to die of old age in one's bed; and the grief of parting no one ever born can escape. Still it is puzzling to us simple folk - the feeling that fundamental things do not change: that the balance of good and evil has not changed. We change our fashions, we change our habits, we discover now and then another of the secrets Nature has hidden, that delving man may be kept busy and interested. We pride ourselves that science at least has progressed, that we are cleaner than our progenitors. Yet we are no cleaner than the Greeks and Romans in the days when Athens and Rome ruled the world, nor do we know in what cycle all we know to-day was known and lost. Oh, I can hear you claiming more happiness for the masses! I wonder. There is no actual buying and selling in open slave markets, it is true, but the men who built the Pyramids and dragged the stone for Hadrian's Villa, were they any worse off really than the workers in the mines today? Upon my soul, I don't know. Life is only a span between the Unknown and the Unknowable. Living is made up in all centuries of just so many emotions. We have never, so far as I know, invented any new one. It is too bad to throw these things at you on paper which can't answer back as you would, and right sharply I know.

Nothing going on here except the passing now and then of a long line of Paris street busses on the way to the front. They are all mobilized and going as heroically to the front as if they were human, and going to get smashed up just the same. It does give me a queer sensation to see them climbing this hill. The little Montmartre- Saint-Pierre bus, that climbs up the hill to the funicular in front of Sacre-Coeur, came up the hill bravely. It was built to climb a hill. But the Bastille-Madeleine and the Ternes-Fille de Calvaine, and Saint-Sulpice-Villette just groaned and panted and had to have their traction changed every few steps. I thought they would never get up, but they did.

Another day it was the automobile delivery wagons of the Louvre, the Bon Marche, the Printemps, Petit-Saint-Thomas, La Belle Jardiniere, Potin - all the automobiles with which you are so familiar in the streets of Paris. Of course those are much lighter, and came up bravely. As a rule they are all loaded. It is as easy to take men to the front, and material, that way as by railroad, since the cars go. Only once have I seen any attempt at pleasantry on these occasions. One procession went out the other day with all sorts of funny inscriptions, some not at all pretty, many blackguarding the Kaiser, and of course one with the inevitable "A Berlin" the first battle-cry of 1870. This time there has been very little of that. I confess it gave me a kind of shiver to see "A Berlin - pour notre plaisir" all over the bus. "On to Berlin!" I don't see that that can be hoped for unless the Germans are beaten to a finish on the Rhine and the allied armies cross Germany as conquerors, unopposed. If they only could! It would only be what is due to Belgium that King Albert should lead the procession "Under the Lindens." But I doubt if the maddest war optimist hopes for anything so well deserved as that. I don't dare to, sure as I am of seeing Germany beaten to her knees before the war is closed.


September 8, 1914.

Oh, the things I have seen and felt since I last wrote to you over two weeks ago. Here I am again cut off from the world, and have been since the first of the month. For a week now I have known nothing of what was going on in the world outside the limits of my own vision. For that matter, since the Germans crossed the frontier our news of the war has been meager. We got the calm, constant reiteration - "Left wing - held by the English - forced to retreat a little." All the same, the general impression was, that in spite of that, "all was well." I suppose it was wise.

On Sunday week, - that was August 30, - Amelie walked to Esbly, and came back with the news that they were rushing trains full of wounded soldiers and Belgian refugies through toward Paris, and that the ambulance there was quite insufficient for the work it had to do. So Monday and Tuesday we drove down in the donkey cart to carry bread and fruit, water and cigarettes, and to "lend a hand."

It was a pretty terrible sight. There were long trains of wounded soldiers. There was train after train crowded with Belgians - well- dressed women and children (evidently all in their Sunday best) - packed on to open trucks, sitting on straw, in the burning sun, without shelter, covered with dust, hungry and thirsty. The sight set me to doing some hard thinking after I got home that first night. But it was not until Tuesday afternoon that I got my first hint of the truth. That afternoon, while I was standing on the platform, I heard a drum beat in the street, and sent Amelie out to see what was going on. She came back at once to say that it was the garde champetre calling on the inhabitants to carry all their guns, revolvers, etc., to the mairie before sundown. That meant the disarming of our departement, and it flashed through my mind that the Germans must be nearer than the official announcements had told us.

While I stood reflecting a moment, - it looked serious, - I saw approaching from the west side of the track a procession of wagons. Amelie ran down the track to the crossing to see what it meant, and came back at once to tell me that they were evacuating the towns to the north of us.

I handed the basket of fruit I was holding into a coach of the train just pulling into the station, and threw my last package of cigarettes after it; and, without a word, Amelie and I went out into the street, untied the donkey, climbed into the wagon, and started for home.

By the time we got to the road which leads east to Montry, whence there is a road over the hill to the south, it was full of the flying crowd. It was a sad sight. The procession led in both directions as far as we could see. There were huge wagons of grain; there were herds of cattle, flocks of sheep; there were wagons full of household effects, with often as many as twenty people sitting aloft; there were carriages; there were automobiles with the occupants crowded in among bundles done up in sheets; there were women pushing overloaded handcarts; there were women pushing baby-carriages; there were dogs and cats, and goats; there was every sort of a vehicle you ever saw, drawn by every sort of beast that can draw, from dogs to oxen, from boys to donkeys. Here and there was a man on horseback, riding along the line, trying to keep it moving in order and to encourage the weary. Every one was calm and silent. There was no talking, no complaining.

The whole road was, however, blocked, and, even had our donkey wished to pass, - which she did not, - we could not. We simply fell into the procession, as soon as we found a place. Amelie and I did not say a word to each other until we reached the road that turns off to the Chateau de Conde; but I did speak to a man on horseback, who proved to be the intendant of one of the chateaux at Daumartin, and with another who was the mayor. I simply asked from where these people had come, and was told that they were evacuating Daumartin and all the towns on the plain between there and Meaux, which meant that Monthyon, Neufmortier, Penchard, Chauconin, Barcy, Chambry, - in fact, all the villages visible from my garden were being evacuated by order of the military powers.

One of the most disquieting things about this was to see the effect of the procession as it passed along the road. All the way from Esbly to Montry people began to pack at once, and the speed with which they fell into the procession was disconcerting.

When we finally escaped from the crowd into the poplar-shaded avenue which leads to the Chateau de Conde, I turned to look at Amelie for the first time. I had had time to get a good hold of myself.

"Well, Amelie?" I said.

"Oh, madame," she replied, "I shall stay."

"And so shall I," I answered; but I added, "I think I must make an effort to get to Paris to-morrow, and I think you had better come with me. I shall not go, of course, unless I am sure of being able to get back. We may as well face the truth: if this means that Paris is in danger, or if it means that we may in our turn be forced to move on, I must get some money so as to be ready."

"Very well, madame," she replied as cheerfully as if the rumble of the procession behind us were not still in our ears.

The next morning - that was September 2 - I woke just before daylight. There was a continual rumble in the air. At first I thought it was the passing of more refugies on the road. I threw open my blinds, and then realized that the noise was in the other direction - from the route nationale. I listened. I said to myself, "If that is not artillery, then I never heard any."


British troops disembarking at Boulogne


Sure enough, when Amelie came to get breakfast, she announced that the English soldiers were at the Demi-Lune. The infantry was camped there, and the artillery had descended to Couilly and was mounting the hill on the other side of the Morin - between us and Paris.

I said a sort of "Hm," and told her to ask Pere to harness at once. As we had no idea of the hours of the trains, or even if there were any, it was best to get to Esbly as early as possible. It was nine o'clock when we arrived, to find that there should be a train at half past. The station was full. I hunted up the chef de gare, and asked him if I could be sure of being able to return if I went up to Paris.

He looked at me in perfect amazement.

"You want to come back?" he asked.

"Sure," I replied.

"You can," he answered, "if you take a train about four o'clock. That may be the last."

I very nearly said, "Jiminy-cricket!"

The train ran into the station on time, but you never saw such a sight. It was packed as the Brookline street-cars used to be on the days of a baseball game. Men were absolutely hanging on the roof; women were packed on the steps that led up to the imperials to the third-class coaches. It was a perilous-looking sight. I opened a dozen coaches - all packed, standing room as well as seats, which is ordinarily against the law. I was about to give it up when a man said to me, "Madame, there are some coaches at the rear that look as if they were empty."


wounded British sodiers after the battle


I made a dash down the long platform, yanked open a door, and was about to ask if I might get in, when I saw that the coach was full of wounded soldiers in khaki, lying about on the floor as well as the seats. I was so shocked that if the station master, who had run after me, had not caught me I should have fallen backward.

"Sh! madame," he whispered, "I'll find you a place"; and in another moment I found myself, with Amelie, in a compartment where there were already eight women, a young man, two children, and heaps of hand-luggage - bundles in sheets, twine bags just bulging, paper parcels, and valises. Almost as soon as we were in, the train pulled slowly out of the station.

I learned from the women that Meaux was being evacuated. No one was remaining but the soldiers in the barracks and the archbishop. They had been ordered out by the army the night before, and the railroad was taking them free. They were escaping with what they could carry in bundles, as they could take no baggage. Their calm was remarkable-not a complaint from any one. They were of all classes, but the barriers were down.

The young man had come from farther up the line-a newspaper chap, who had given me his seat, and was sitting on a bundle. I asked him if he knew where the Germans were, and he replied that on this wing they were at Compiegne, that the center was advancing on Coulommier, but he did not know where the Crown Prince's division was.

I was glad I had made the effort to get to town, for this began to look as if they might succeed in arriving before the circle of steel that surrounds Paris, and God knows what good that seventy-five miles of fortifications will be against the long-range cannon that battered down Liege. I had only one wish - to get back to my hut on the hill; I did not seem to want anything else.


British soldiers in field-dress


Just before the train ran into Lagny - our first stop - I was surprised to see British soldiers washing their horses in the river, so I was not surprised to find the station full of men in khaki. They were sleeping on the benches along the wall, and standing about, in groups. As to many of the French on the train this was their first sight of the men in khaki, and as there were Scotch there in their kilts, there was a good deal of excitement.

The train made a long stop in the effort to put more people into the already overcrowded coaches. I leaned forward, wishing to get some news, and the funny thing was that I could not think how to speak to those boys in English. You may think that an affectation. It wasn't. Finally I desperately sang out: -

"Hulloa, boys."

You should have seen them dash for the window. I suppose that their native tongue sounded good to them so far from home.

"Where did you come from?" I asked.

"From up yonder - a place called La Fere," one of them replied.

"What regiment?" I asked.

"Any one else here speak English?" he questioned, running his eyes along the faces thrust out of the windows.

I told him no one did.

"Well," he said, "we are all that is left of the North Irish Horse and a regiment of Scotch Borderers."

"What are you doing here?"

"Retreating - and waiting for orders. How far are we from Paris?"

I told him about seventeen miles. He sighed, and remarked that he thought they were nearer, and as the train started I had the idea in the back of my head that these boys actually expected to retreat inside the fortifications. La! la!

Instead of the half-hour the train usually takes to get up from here to Paris, we were two hours.

I found Paris much more normal than when I was there two weeks ago, though still quite unlike itself; every one perfectly calm and no one with the slightest suspicion that the battle line was so near - hardly more than ten miles beyond the outer forts. I transacted my business quickly - saw only one person, which was wiser than I knew then, and caught the four o'clock train back - we were almost the only passengers.

I had told Pere not to come after us - it was so uncertain when we could get back, and I had always been able to get a carriage at the hotel in Esbly.

We reached Esbly at about six o'clock to find the stream of emigrants still passing, although the roads were not so crowded as they had been the previous day. I ran over to the hotel to order the carriage - to be told that Esbly was evacuated, the ambulance had gone, all the horses had been sold that afternoon to people who were flying. There I was faced with a walk of five miles - lame and tired. Just as I had made up my mind that what had to be done could be done, - die or no die, - Amelie came running across the street to say: -

"Did you ever see such luck? Here is the old cart horse of Cousine Georges and the wagon!"

Cousine Georges had fled, it seems, since we left, and her horse had been left at Esbly to fetch the schoolmistress and her husband. So we all climbed in. The schoolmistress and her husband did not go far, however. We discovered before we had got out of Esbly that Couilly had been evacuated during the day, and that a great many people had left Voisins; that the civil government had gone to Coutevroult; that the Croix Rouge had gone. So the schoolmistress and her husband, to whom all this was amazing news, climbed out of the wagon, and made a dash back to the station to attempt to get back to Paris. I do hope they succeeded.

Amelie and I dismissed the man who had driven the wagon down, and jogged on by ourselves. I sat on a board in the back of the covered cart, only too glad for any sort of locomotion which was not "shank's mare."

Just after we left Esbly I saw first an English officer, standing in his stirrups and signaling across a field, where I discovered a detachment of English artillery going toward the hill. A little farther along the road we met a couple of English officers - pipes in their mouths and sticks in their hands - strolling along as quietly and smilingly as if there were no such thing as war. Naturally I wished to speak to them. I was so shut in that I could see only directly in front of me, and if you ever rode behind a big cart horse I need not tell you that although he walks slowly and heavily he walks steadily, and will not stop for any pulling on the reins unless he jolly well chooses> As we approached the officers, I leaned forward and said, "Beg your pardon," but by the time they realized that they had been addressed in English we had passed. I yanked at the flap at the back of the cart, got it open a bit, looked out to find them standing in the middle of the road, staring after us in amazement.

The only thing I had the sense to call out was: -

"Where 'd you come from?"

One of them made an emphatic gesture with his stick, over his shoulder in the direction from which they had come.

"Where are you going?" I called.

He made the same gesture toward Esbly, and then we all laughed heartily, and by that time we were too far apart to continue the interesting conversation, and that was all the enlightenment I got out of that meeting. The sight of them and their cannon made me feel a bit serious. I thought to myself: "If the Germans are not expected here - well, it looks like it." We finished the journey in silence, and I was so tired when I got back to the house that I fell into bed, and only drank a glass of milk that Amelie insisted on pouring down my throat.


a bridge over the Marne blown up


September 8, 1914.

You can get some idea of how exhausted I was on that night of Wednesday, September 2, when I tell you that I waked the next morning to find that I had a picket at my gate. I did not know until Amelie came to get my coffee ready the next morning - that was Thursday, September 3 - can it be that it is only five days ago! She also brought me news that they were preparing to blow up the bridges on the Marne; that the post-office had gone; that the English were cutting the telegraph wires.

While I was taking my coffee, quietly, as if it were an everyday occurrence, she said: "Well, madame, I imagine that we are going to see the Germans. Pere is breaking an opening into the underground passage under the stable, and we are going to put all we can out of sight. Will you please gather up what you wish to save, and it can be hidden there?"

I don't know that I ever told you that all the hill is honeycombed with those old subterranean passages, like the one we saw at Provins. They say that they go as far as Crecy-en-Brie, and used to connect the royal palace there with one on this hill.

Naturally I gave a decided refusal to any move of that sort, so far as I was concerned. My books and portraits are the only things I should be eternally hurt to survive. To her argument that the books could be put there, - there was room enough, - I refused to listen. I had no idea of putting my books underground to be mildewed. Besides, if it had been possible I would not have attempted it - and it distinctly was impossible. I felt a good deal like the Belgian refugies I had seen, - all so well dressed; if my house was going up, it was going up in its best clothes. I had just been uprooted once - a horrid operation - and I did not propose to do it again so soon. To that my mind was made up.

Luckily for me - for Amelie was as set as I was - the argument was cut short by a knock at the front door. I opened it to find standing there a pretty French girl whom I had been seeing every day, as, morning and evening, she passed my gate to and from the railway station. Sooner or later I should have told you about her if all this excitement had not put it out of my mind and my letters. I did not know her name. I had never got to asking Amelie who she was, though I was a bit surprised to find any one of her type here where I had supposed there were only farmers and peasants.

She apologized for presenting herself so informally: said she had come, "de la parte de maman," to ask me what I proposed to do. I replied at once, "I am staying."

She looked a little surprised: said her mother wished to do the same, but that her only brother was with the colors; that he had confided his young wife and two babies to her, and that the Germans were so brutal to children that she did not dare risk it.

"Of course, you know," she added, "that every one has left Couilly; all the shops are closed, and nearly every one has gone from Voisins and Quincy. The mayor's wife left last night. Before going she came to us and advised us to escape at once, and even found us a horse and cart - the trains are not running. So mother thought that, as you were a foreigner, and all alone, we ought not to go without at least offering you a place in the wagon - the chance to go with us."

I was really touched, and told her so, but explained that I should stay. She was rather insistent - said her mother would be so distressed at leaving me alone with only a little group of women and children about me, who might, at the last moment, be panic- stricken.

I explained to her as well as I could that I was alone in the world, poor myself, and that I could not see myself leaving all that I valued, - my home; to have which I had made a supreme effort, and for which I had already a deep affection, - to join the band of refugies, shelterless, on the road, or to look for safety in a city, which, if the Germans passed here, was likely to be besieged and bombarded. I finally convinced her that my mind was made up. I had decided to keep my face turned toward Fate rather than run away from it. To me it seemed the only way to escape a panic - a thing of which I have always had a horror.

Seeing that nothing could make me change my mind, we shook hands, wished each other luck, and, as she turned away, she said, in her pretty French: "I am sorry it is disaster that brought us together, but I hope to know you better when days are happier"; and she went down the hill.

When I returned to the dining-room I found that, in spite of my orders, Amelie was busy putting my few pieces of silver, and such bits of china from the buffet as seemed to her valuable, - her ideas and mine on that point do not jibe, - into the waste-paper baskets to be hidden underground.

I was too tired to argue. While I stood watching her there was a tremendous explosion. I rushed into the garden. The picket, his gun on his shoulder, was at the gate.

"What was that?" I called out to him.

"Bridge," he replied. "The English divisions are destroying the bridges on the Marne behind them as they cross. That means that another division is over."

I asked him which bridge it was, but of course he did not know. While I was standing there, trying to locate it by the smoke, an English officer, who looked of middle age, tall, clean-cut, rode down the road on a chestnut horse, as slight, as clean-cut, and well groomed as himself. He rose in his stirrups to look off at the plain before he saw me. Then he looked at me, then up at the flags flying over the gate, - saw the Stars and Stripes, - smiled, and dismounted.

"American, I see," he said.

I told him I was.

"Live here?" said he.

I told him that I did.

"Staying on?" he asked.

I answered that it looked like it.

He looked me over a moment before he said, "Please invite me into your garden and show me that view."

I was delighted. I opened the gate, and he strolled in and sauntered with a long, slow stride - a long-legged stride - out on to the lawn and right down to the hedge, and looked off.

"Beautiful," he said, as he took out his field-glass, and turned up the map case which hung at his side. "What town is that?" he asked, pointing to the foreground.

I told him that it was Mareuil-on-the-Marne.

"How far off is it?" he questioned.

I told him that it was about two miles, and Meaux was about the same distance beyond it.

"What town is that?" he asked, pointing to the hill.

I explained that the town on the horizon was Penchard - not really a town, only a village; and lower down, between Penchard and Meaux, were Neufmortier and Chauconin.

All this time he was studying his map.

"Thank you. I have it," he said. "It is a lovely country, and this is a wonderful view of it, the best I have had."

For a few minutes he stood studying it in silence - alternatively looking at his map and then through his glass. Then he dropped his map, put his glasses into the case, and turned to me - and smiled. He had a winning smile, sad and yet consoling, which lighted up a bronzed face, stern and weary. It was the sort of smile to which everything was permitted.

"Married?" he said.

You can imagine what he was like when I tell you that I answered right up, and only thought it was funny hours after - or at least I shook my head cheerfully.

"You don't live here alone?" he asked.

"But I do," I replied.

He looked at me bravely a moment, then off at the plain.

"Lived here long?" he questioned.

I told him that I had lived in this house only three months, but that I had lived in France for sixteen years.

Without a word he turned back toward the house, and for half a minute, for the first time in my life, I had a sensation that it looked strange for me to be an exile in a country that was not mine, and with no ties. For a penny I would have told him the history of my life. Luckily he did not give me time. He just strode down to the gate, and by the time he had his foot in the stirrup I had recovered.

"Is there anything I can do for you, captain?" I asked.

He mounted his horse, looked down at me. Then he gave me another of his rare smiles.

"No," he said, "at this moment there is nothing that you can do for me, thank you; but if you could give my boys a cup of tea, I imagine that you would just about save their lives." And nodding to me, he. said to the picket, "This lady is kind enough to offer you a cup of tea," and he rode off, taking the road down the hill to Voisins.

I ran into the house, put on the kettle, ran up the road to call Amelie, and back to the arbor to set the table as well as I could. The whole atmosphere was changed. I was going to be useful.

I had no idea how many men I was going to feed. I had only seen three. To this day I don't know how many I did feed. They came and came and came. It reminded me of hens running toward a place where another hen has found something good. It did not take me many minutes to discover that these men needed something more substantial than tea. Luckily I had brought back from Paris an emergency stock of things like biscuit, dry cakes, jam, etc., for even before our shops were closed there was mighty little in them. For an hour and a half I brewed pot after pot of tea, opened jar after jar of jam and jelly, and tin after tin of biscuit and cakes, and although it was hardly hearty fodder for men, they put it down with a relish. I have seen hungry men, but never anything as hungry as these boys.

I knew little about military discipline - less about the rules of active service; so I had no idea that I was letting these hungry men - and evidently hunger laughs at laws - break all the regulations of the army. Their guns were lying about in any old place; their kits were on the ground; their belts were unbuckled. Suddenly the captain rode up the road and looked over the hedge at the scene. The men were sitting on the benches, on the ground, anywhere, and were all smoking my best Egyptian cigarettes, and I was running round as happy as a queen, seeing them so contented and comfortable.

It was a rude awakening when the captain rode up the street.

There was a sudden jumping up, a hurried buckling up of belts, a grab for kits and guns, and an unceremonious cut for the gate. I heard a volley from the officer. I marked a serious effort on the part of the men to keep the smiles off their faces as they hurriedly got their kits on their backs and their guns on their shoulders, and, rigidly saluting, dispersed up the hill, leaving two very straight men marching before the gate as if they never in their lives had thought of anything but picket duty.

The captain never even looked at me, but rode up the hill after his men. A few minutes later he returned, dismounted at the gate, tied his horse, and came in. I was a bit confused. But he smiled one of those smiles of his, and I got right over it.

"Dear little lady," he said, "I wonder if there is any tea left for me?"

Was there! I should think so; and I thought to myself, as I led the way into the dining-room, that he was probably just as hungry as his men.

While I was making a fresh brew he said to me: -

"You must forgive my giving my men Hades right before you, but they deserved it, and know it, and under the circumstances I imagine they did not mind taking it. I did not mean you to give them a party, you know. Why, if the major had ridden up that hill - and he might have - and seen that party inside your garden, I should have lost my commission and those boys got the guardhouse. These men are on active service."

Then, while he drank his tea, he told me why he felt a certain indulgence for them - these boys who were hurried away from England without having a chance to take leave of their families, or even to warn them that they were going.

"This is the first time that they have had a chance to talk to a woman who speaks their tongue since they left England; I can't begrudge it to them and they know it. But discipline is discipline, and if I had let such a breach of it pass they would have no respect for me. They understand. They had no business to put their guns out of their hands. What would they have done if the detachment of Uhlans we are watching for had dashed up that hill - as they might have?"

Before I could answer or remark on this startling speech there was a tremendous explosion, which brought me to my feet, with the inevitable, -

"What's that?"

He took a long pull at his tea before he replied quietly,-

"Another division across the Marne."

Then he went on as if there had been no interruption: -

"This Yorkshire regiment has had hard luck. Only one other regiment in the Expedition has had worse. They have marched from the Belgian frontier, and they have been in four big actions in the retreat - Mons, Cambrai, Saint-Quentin, and La Fere. Saint- Quentin was pretty rough luck. We went into the trenches a full regiment. We came out to retreat again with four hundred men - and I left my younger brother there."

I gasped; I could not find a word to say. He did not seem to feel it necessary that I should. He simply winked his eyelids, stiffened his stern mouth, and went right on; and I forgot all about the Uhlans: -

"At La Fere we lost our commissary on the field. It was burned, and these lads have not had a decent feed since - that was three days ago. We have passed through few towns since, and those were evacuated, - drummed out and fruit from the orchards on the roadsides is about all they have had - hardly good feed for a marching army in such hot weather. Besides, we were moving pretty fast - but in order - to get across the Marne, toward which we have been drawing the Germans, and in every one of these battles we have been fighting with one man to their ten."

I asked him where the Germans were.

"Can't say," he replied.

"And the French?"

"No idea. We've not seen them - yet. We understood that we were to be reinforced at Saint-Quentin by a French detachment at four o'clock. They got there at eleven - the battle was over - and lost. But these boys gave a wonderful account of themselves, and in spite of the disaster retreated in perfect order."

Then he told me that at the last moment he ordered his company to lie close in the trench and let the Germans come right up to them, and not to budge until he ordered them to give them what they hate - the bayonet. The Germans were within a few yards when a German automobile carrying a machine gun bore down on them and discovered their position, but the English sharpshooters picked off the five men the car carried before they could fire a shot, and after that it was every man for himself - what the French call "sauve qui peut."

The Uhlans came back to my mind, and it seemed to me a good time to ask him what he was doing here. Oddly enough, in spite of the several shocks I had had, and perhaps because of his manner, I was able to do it as if it was the sort of tea-table conversation to which I had always been accustomed.

"What are you doing here?" I said.

"Waiting for orders," he answered.

"And for Uhlans?"

"Oh," replied he, "if incidentally while we are sitting down here to rest, we could rout out a detachment of German cavalry, which our aeroplane tells us crossed the Marne ahead of us, we would like to. Whether this is one of those flying squads they are so fond of sending ahead, just to do a little terrorizing, or whether they escaped from the battle of La Fere, we don't know. I fancy the latter, as they do not seem to have done any harm or to have been too anxious to be seen."

I need not tell you that my mind was acting like lightning. I remembered, in the pause, as I poured him another cup of tea, and pushed the jam pot toward him, that Amelie had heard at Voisins last night that there were horses in the woods near the canal; that they had been heard neighing in the night; and that we had jumped to the conclusion that there were English cavalry there. I mentioned this to the captain, but for some reason it did not seem to make much impression on him; so I did not insist, as there was something that seemed more important which I had been getting up the courage to ask him. It had been on my lips all day. I put it.

"Captain," I asked, "do you think there is any danger in my staying here?"

He took a long drink before he answered: -

"Little lady, there is danger everywhere between Paris and the Channel. Personally - since you have stayed until getting away will be difficult - I do not really believe that there is any reason why you should not stick it out. You may have a disagreeable time. But I honestly believe you are running no real risk of having more than that. At all events, I am going to do what I can to assure your personal safety. As we understand it - no one really knows anything except the orders given out - it is not intended that the Germans shall cross the Marne here. But who knows? Anyway, if I move on, each division of the Expeditionary Force that retreats to this hill will know that you are here. If it is necessary, later, for you to leave, you will be notified and precautions taken for your safety. You are not afraid?"

I could only tell him, "Not yet," but I could not help adding, "Of course I am not so stupid as to suppose for a moment that you English have retreated here to amuse yourselves, or that you have dragged your artillery up the hill behind me just to exercise your horses or to give your gunners a pretty promenade."

He threw back his head and laughed aloud for the first time, and I felt better.

"Precautions do not always mean a battle, you know"; and as he rose to his feet he called my attention to a hole in his coat, saying, "It was a miracle that I came through Saint-Quentin with a whole skin. The bullets simply rained about me. It was pouring - I had on a mackintosh - which made me conspicuous as an officer, if my height had not exposed me. Every German regiment carries a number of sharpshooters whose business is to pick off the officers. However, it was evidently not my hour."

As we walked out to the gate I asked him if there was anything else I could do for him.

"Do you think," he replied, "that you could get me a couple of fresh eggs at half-past seven and let me have a cold wash-up?"

"Well, rather," I answered, and he rode away.

As soon as he was gone one of the picket called from the road to know if they could have "water and wash."

I told them of course they could - to come right in.

He said that they could not do that, but that if they could have water at the gate - and I did not mind - they could wash up in relays in the road. So Pere came and drew buckets and buckets of water, and you never saw such a stripping and such a slopping, as they washed and shaved - and with such dispatch. They had just got through, luckily, when, at about half-past six, the captain rode hurriedly down the hill again. He carried a slip of white paper in his hand, which he seemed intent on deciphering.

As I met him at the gate he said: -

"Sorry I shall miss those eggs - I've orders to move east," and he began to round up his men.

I foolishly asked him why. I felt as if I were losing a friend.

"Orders," he answered. Then he put the slip of paper into his pocket, and leaning down he said: -

"Before I go I am going to ask you to let my corporal pull down your flags. You may think it cowardly. I think it prudent. They can be seen a long way. It is silly to wave a red flag at a bull. Any needless display of bravado on your part would be equally foolish."

So the corporal climbed up and pulled down the big flags, and together we marched them off to the stable. When I returned to the gate, where the captain was waiting for the rest of the picket to arrive, I was surprised to find my French caller of the morning standing there, with a pretty blonde girl, whom she introduced as her sister-in-law. She explained that they had started in the morning, but that their wagon had been overloaded and broken down and they had had to return, and that her mother was "glad of it." It was perfectly natural that she should ask me to ask the "English officer if it was safe to stay." I repeated the question. He looked down at them, asked if they were friends of mine. I explained that they were neighbors and acquaintances only.

"Well," he said, "I can only repeat what I said to you this morning - I think you are safe here. But for God's sake, don't give it to them as coming from me. I can assure your personal safety, but I cannot take the whole village on my conscience." I told him that I would not quote him.

All this time he had been searching in a letter-case, and finally selected an envelope from which he removed the letter, passing me the empty cover.

"I want you," he said, "to write me a letter - that address will always reach me. I shall be anxious to know how you came through, and every one of these boys will be interested. You have given them the only happy day they have had since they left home. As for me - if I live - I shall some time come back to see you. Good-bye and good luck." And he wheeled his horse and rode up the hill, his boys marching behind him; and at the turn of the road they all looked back and I waved my hand, and I don't mind telling you that I nodded to the French girls at the gate and got into the house as quickly as I could - and wiped my eyes. Then I cleared up the tea- mess. It was not until the house was in order again that I put on my glasses and read the envelope that the captain had given me: -

Capt. T. E. Simpson, King's Own Yorkshire L. I. VIth Infantry Brigade, 15th Division, British Expeditionary Force.

And I put it carefully away in my address book until the time should come for me to write and tell "how I came through"; the phrase did disturb me a little.

I did not eat any supper. Food seemed to be the last thing I wanted. I sat down in the study to read. It was about eight when I heard the gate open. Looking out I saw a man in khaki, his gun on his shoulder, marching up the path. I went to the door.

"Good-evening, ma'am," he said. "All right?"

I assured him that I was.

"I am the corporal of the guard," he added. "The commander's compliments, and I was to report to you that your road was picketed for the night and that all is well."

I thanked him, and he marched away, and took up his post at the gate, and I knew that this was the commander's way of letting me know that Captain Simpson had kept his word. I had just time while the corporal stood at the door to see "Bedford" on his cap, so I knew that the new regiment was from Bedfordshire.

I sat up awhile longer, trying to fix my mind on my book, trying not to look round constantly at my pretty green interior, at all my books, looking so ornamental against the walls of my study, at all the portraits of the friends of my life of active service above the shelves, and the old sixteenth-century Buddha, which Oda Neilson sent me on my last birthday, looking so stoically down from his perch to remind me how little all these things counted. I could not help remembering at the end that my friends at Voulangis had gone - that they were at that very moment on their way to Marseilles, that almost every one else I knew on this side of the water was either at Havre waiting to sail, or in London, or shut up in Holland or Denmark; that except for the friends I had at the front I was alone with my beloved France and her Allies. Through it all there ran a thought that made me laugh at last - how all through August I had felt so outside of things, only suddenly to find it right at my door. In the back of my mind - pushed back as hard as I could - stood the question - what was to become of all this?

Yet, do you know, I went to bed, and what is more I slept well. I was physically tired. The last thing I saw as I closed up the house was the gleam of the moonlight on the muskets of the picket pacing the road, and the first thing I heard, as I waked suddenly at about four, was the crunching of the gravel as they still marched there.


an old bridge destroyed


I got up at once. It was the morning of Friday, the 4th of September. I dressed hurriedly, ran down to put the kettle on, and start the coffee, and by five o'clock I had a table spread in the road, outside the gate, with hot coffee and milk and bread and jam. I had my lesson, so I called the corporal and explained that his men were to come in relays, and when the coffee-pot was empty there was more in the house; and I left them to serve themselves, while I finished dressing. I knew that the officers were likely to come over, and one idea was fixed in my mind: I must not look demoralized. So I put on a clean white frock, white shoes and stockings, a big black bow in my hair, and I felt equal to anything - in spite of the fact that before I dressed I heard far off a booming-could it be cannon ? - and more than once a nearer explosion, - more bridges down, more English across.

It was not much after nine when two English officers strolled down the road - Captain Edwards and Major Ellison, of the Bedfordshire Light Infantry. They came into the garden, and the scene with Captain Simpson of the day before was practically repeated. They examined the plain, located the towns, looked long at it with their glasses; and that being over I put the usual question, "Can I do anything for you?" and got the usual answer, "Eggs."

I asked how many officers there were in the mess, and he replied "Five"; so I promised to forage, and away they went.

As soon as they were out of sight the picket set up a howl for baths. These Bedfordshire boys were not hungry, but they had retreated from their last battle leaving their kits in the trenches, and were without soap or towels, or combs or razors. But that was easily remedied. They washed up in relays in the court at Amelie's - it was a little more retired. As Amelie had put all her towels, etc., down underground, I ran back and forward between my house and hers for all sorts of things, and, as they slopped until the road ran tiny rivulets, I had to change shoes and stockings twice. I was not conscious till afterward how funny it all was. I must have been a good deal like an excited duck, and Amelie like a hen with a duckling. When she was not twitching my sash straight, she was running about after me with dry shoes and stockings, and a chair, for fear "madame was getting too tired"; and when she was not doing that she was clapping my big garden hat on my head, for fear "madame would get a sunstroke." The joke was that I did not know it was hot. I did not even know it was funny until afterward, when the whole scene seemed to have been by a sort of dual process photographed unconsciously on my memory.

When the boys were all washed and shaved and combed, - and they were so larky over it, - we were like old friends. I did not know one of them by name, but I did know who was married, and who had children; and how one man's first child had been born since he left England, and no news from home because they had seen their mail wagon burn on the battlefield; and how one of them was only twenty, and had been six years in the army, - lied when he enlisted; how none of them had ever seen war before; how they had always wanted to, and "Now," said the twenty-years older, "I've seen it - good Lord - and all I want is to get home," and he drew out of his breast pocket a photograph of a young girl in all her best clothes, sitting up very straight.

When I said, "Best girl?" he said proudly, "Only one, and we were to have been married in January if this hadn't happened. Perhaps we may yet, if we get home at Christmas, as they tell us we may."

I wondered who he meant by "they." The officers did not give any such impression.

While I was gathering up towels and things before returning to the house, this youngster advanced toward me, and said with a half-shy smile, "I take it you're a lady."

I said I was glad he had noticed it - I did make such an effort.

"No, no," he said, "I'm not joking. I may not say it very well, but I am quite serious. We all want to say to you that if it is war that makes you and the women you live amongst so different from English women, then all we can say is that the sooner England is invaded and knows what it means to have a fighting army on her soil, and see her fields devastated and her homes destroyed, the better it will be for the race. You take my word for it, they have no notion of what war is like; and there ain't no English woman of your class could have, or would have, done for us what you have done this morning. Why, in England the common soldier is the dirt under the feet of women like you."

I had to laugh, as I told him to wait and see how they treated them when war was there; that they probably had not done the thing simply because they never had had the chance.

"Well," he answered, "they'll have to change mightily. Why, our own women would have been uncomfortable and ashamed to see a lot of dirty men stripping and washing down like we have done. You haven't looked as if you minded it a bit, or thought of anything but getting us cleaned up as quick and comfortable as possible."

I started to say that I felt terribly flattered that I had played the role so well, but I knew he would not understand. Besides, I was wondering if it were true. I never knew the English except as individuals, never as a race. So I only laughed, picked up my towels, and went home to rest.

Not long before noon a bicycle scout came over with a message from Captain Edwards, and I sent by him a basket of eggs, a cold chicken, and a bottle of wine as a contribution to the breakfast at the officers' mess; and by the time I had eaten my breakfast, the picket had been changed, and I saw no more of those boys.

During the afternoon the booming off at the east became more distinct. It surely was cannon. I went out to the gate where the corporal of the guard was standing, and asked him, "Do I hear cannon?" "Sure," he replied. "Do you know where it is?" I asked. He said he hadn't an idea - about twenty-five or thirty miles away. And on he marched, up and down the road, perfectly indifferent to it.

When Amelie came to help get tea at the gate, she said that a man from Voisins, who had started with the crowd that left here Wednesday, had returned. He had brought back the news that the sight on the road was simply horrible. The refugies had got so blocked in their hurry that they could move in neither direction; cattle and horses were so tired that they fell by the way; it would take a general to disentangle them. My! wasn't I glad that I had not been tempted to get into that mess!

Just after the boys had finished their tea, Captain Edwards came down the road, swinging my empty basket on his arm, to say "Thanks" for his breakfast. He looked at the table at the gate.

"So the men have been having tea - lucky men - and bottled water! What extravagance!"

"Come in and have some, too," I said.

"Love to," he answered, and in he came.

While I was making the tea he walked about the house, looked at the pictures, examined the books. Just as the table was ready there was a tremendous explosion. He went to the door, looked off, and remarked, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, "Another division across. That should be the last."

"Are all the bridges down?" I asked.

"All, I think, except the big railroad bridge behind you - Chalifert. That will not go until the last minute."

I wanted to ask, "When will it be the 'last minute' - and what does the 'last minute' mean?" - but where was the good? So we went into the dining-room. As he threw his hat on to a chair and sat down with a sigh, he said, "You see before you a very humiliated man. About half an hour ago eight of the Uhlans we are looking for rode right into the street below you, in Voisins. We saw them, but they got away. It is absolutely our own stupidity."

"Well," I explained to him, "I fancy I can tell you where they are hiding. I told Captain Simpson so last night." And I explained to him that horses had been heard in the woods at the foot of the hill since Tuesday; that there was a cart road, rough and winding, running in toward Conde for over two miles; that it was absolutely screened by trees, had plenty of water, and not a house in it, - a shelter for a regiment of cavalry. And I had the impertinence to suggest that if the picket had been extended to the road below it would have been impossible for the Germans to have got into Voisins.

"Not enough of us," he replied. "We are guarding a wide territory, and cannot put our pickets out of sight of one another." Then he explained that, as far as he knew from his aeroplane men, the detachment had broken up since it was first discovered on this side of the Marne. It was reported that there were only about twenty-four in this vicinity; that they were believed to be without ammunition; and then he dropped the subject, and I did not bother him with questions that were bristling in my mind.

He told me how sad it was to see the ruin of the beautiful country through which they had passed, and what a mistake it had been from his point of view not to have foreseen the methods of Germans and drummed out all the towns through which the armies had passed. He told me one or two touching and interesting stories. One was of the day before a battle, I think it was Saint-Quentin. The officers had been invited to dine at a pretty chateau near which they had bivouacked. The French family could not do too much for them, and the daughters of the house waited on the table. Almost before the meal was finished the alerte sounded, and the battle was on them. When they retreated by the house where they had been so prettily entertained such a few hours before, there was not one stone standing on another, and what became of the family he had no idea.

The other that I remember was of the way the Germans passed the river at Saint-Quentin and forced the battle at La Fere on them. The bridge was mined, and the captain was standing beside the engineer waiting to give the order to touch off the mine. It was a nasty night - a Sunday (only last Sunday, think of that!) - and the rain was coming down in torrents. Just before the Germans reached the bridge he ordered it blown up. The engineer touched the button. The fuse did not act. He was in despair, but the captain said to him, "Brace up, my lad - give her another chance." The second effort failed like the first. Then, before any one could stop him, the en- gineer made a dash for the end of the bridge, drawing his revolver as he ran, and fired six shots into the mine, knowing that, if he succeeded, he would go up with the bridge. No good, and he was literally dragged off the spot weeping with rage at his failure - and the Germans came across.

All the time we had been talking I had heard the cannonade in the distance - now at the north and now in the east. This seemed a proper moment, inspired by the fact that he was talking war, of his own initiative, to put a question or two, so I risked it.

"That cannonading seems much nearer than it did this morning," I ventured.

"Possibly," he replied.

"What does that mean?" I persisted.

"Sorry I can't tell you. We men know absolutely nothing. Only three men in this war know anything of its plans, - Kitchener, Joffre, and French. The rest of us obey orders, and know only what we see. Not even a brigade commander is any wiser. Once in a while the colonel makes a remark, but he is never illuminating."

"How much risk am I running by remaining here?"

He looked at me a moment before he asked, "You want to know the truth?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Well, this is the situation as near as I can work it out. We infer from the work we were given to do - destroying bridges, railroads, telegraphic communications - that an effort is to be made here to stop the march on Paris; in fact, that the Germans are not to be allowed to cross the Marne at Meaux, and march on the city by the main road from Rheims to the capital. The communications are all cut. That does not mean that it will be impossible for them to pass; they've got clever engineers. It means that we have impeded them and may stop them. I don't know. Just now your risk is nothing. It will be nothing unless we are ordered to hold this hill, which is the line of march from Meaux to Paris. We have had no such order yet. But if the Germans succeed in taking Meaux and attempt to put their bridges across the Marne, our artillery, behind you there on the top of the hill, must open fire on them over your head. In that case the Germans will surely reply by bombarding this hill." And he drank his tea without looking to see how I took it.

I remember that I was standing opposite him, and I involuntarily leaned against the wall behind me, but suddenly thought, "Be careful. You'll break the glass in the picture of Whistler's Mother, and you'll be sorry." It brought me up standing, and he didn't notice. Isn't the mind a queer thing?

He finished his tea, and rose to go. As he picked up his cap he showed me a hole right through his sleeve - in one side, out the other-and a similar one in his puttee, where the ball had been turned aside by the leather lacing of his boot. He laughed as he said, "Odd how near a chap comes to going out, and yet lives to drink tea with you. Well, good-bye and good luck if I don't see you again."

And off he marched, and I went into the library and sat down and sat very still.

It was not more than half an hour after Captain Edwards left that the corporal came in to ask me if I had a window in the roof. I told him that there was, and he asked if he might go up. I led the way, picking up my glasses as I went. He explained, as we climbed the two flights of stairs, that the aeroplane had reported a part of the Germans they were hunting "not a thousand feet from this house." I opened the skylight. He scanned in every direction. I knew he would not see anything, and he did not. But he seemed to like the view, could command the roads that his posse was guarding, so he sat on the window ledge and talked. The common soldier is far fonder of talking than his officer and apparently he knows more. If he doesn't, he thinks he does. So he explained to me the situation as the "men saw it." I remembered what Captain Edwards had told me, but I listened all the same. He told me that the Germans were advancing in two columns about ten miles apart, flanked in the west by a French division pushing them east, and led by the English drawing them toward the Marne. "You know," he said, "that we are the sacrificed corps, and we have known it from the first - went into the campaign knowing it. We have been fighting a force ten times superior in numbers, and retreating, doing rear-guard action, whether we were really outfought or not - to draw the Germans where Joffre wants them. I reckon we've got them there. It is great strategy-Kitchener's, you know."

Whether any of the corporal's ideas had any relation to facts I shall never know until history tells me, but I can assure you that, as I followed the corporal downstairs, I looked about my house - and, well, I don't deny it, it seemed to me a doomed thing, and I was sorry for it. However, as I let him out into the road again, I pounded into myself lots of things like "It hasn't happened yet"; "Sufficient unto the day"; and, "What isn't to be, won't be"; and found I was quite calm. Luckily I did not have much time to myself, for I had hardly sat down quietly when there was another tap at the door and I opened to find an officer of the bicycle corps standing there.

"Captain Edwards's compliments," he said, "and will you be so kind as to explain to me exactly where you think the Uhlans are hidden?"

I told him that if he would come down the road a little way with me I would show him.

"Wait a moment," he said, holding the door. "You are not afraid?"

I told him that I was not.

"My orders are not to expose you uselessly. Wait there a minute."

He stepped back into the garden, gave a quick look overhead, - I don't know what for, unless for a Taube. Then he said, "Now, you will please come out into the road and keep close to the bank at the left, in the shadow. I shall walk at the extreme right. As soon as I get where I can see the roads ahead, at the foot of the hill, I shall ask you to stop, and please stop at once. I don't want you to be seen from the road below, in case any one is there. Do you understand ?"

I said I did. So we went into the road and walked silently down the hill. Just before we got to the turn, he motioned me to stop and stood with his map in hand while I explained that he was to cross the road that led into Voisins, take the cart track down the hill past the washhouse on his left, and turn into the wood road on that side. At each indication he said, "I have it." When I had explained, he simply said, "Rough road?"

I said it was, very, and wet in the dryest weather.

"Wooded all the way?" he asked.

I told him that it was, and, what was more, so winding that you could not see ten feet ahead anywhere between here and Conde.

"Humph," he said. "Perfectly clear, thank you very much. Please wait right there a moment."

He looked up the hill behind him, and made a gesture in the air with his hand above his head. I turned to look up the hill also. I saw the corporal at the gate repeat the gesture; then a big bicycle corps, four abreast, guns on their backs, slid round the corner and came gliding down the hill. There was not a sound, not the rattle of a chain or a pedal.

"Thank you very much," said the captain. "Be so kind as to keep close to the bank."

When I reached my gate I found some of the men of the guard dragging a big, long log down the road, and I watched them while they attached it to a tree at my gate, and swung it across to the opposite side of the road, making in that way a barrier about five feet high. I asked what that was for? "Captain's orders," was the laconic reply. But when it was done the corporal took the trouble to explain that it was a barricade to prevent the Germans from making a dash up the hill.

"However," he added, "don't you get nervous. If we chase them out it will only be a little rifle practice, and I doubt if they even have any ammunition."

As I turned to go into the house, he called after me, -

"See here, I notice that you've got doors on all sides of your house. Better lock all those but this front one."

As all the windows were barred and so could be left open, I didn't mind; so I went in and locked up. The thing was getting to be funny to me, - always doing something, and nothing happening. I suppose courage is a cumulative thing, if only one has time to accumulate, and these boys in khaki treated even the cannonading as if it were all "in the day's work."

It was just dusk when the bicycle corps returned up the hill. They had to dismount and wheel their machines under the barricade, and they did it so prettily, dismounting and remounting with a precision that was neat.

"Nothing," reported the captain. "We could not go in far, - road too rough and too dangerous. It is a cavalry job."

All the same, I am sure the Uhlans are there.


September 8, 1914.

I had gone to bed early on Friday night, and had passed an uneasy night. It was before four when I got up and opened my shutters. It was a lovely day. Perhaps I have told you that the weather all last week was simply perfect.

I went downstairs to get coffee for the picket, but when I got out to the gate there was no picket there. There was the barricade, but the road was empty. I ran up the road to Amelie's. She told me that they had marched away about an hour before. A bicyclist had evidently brought an order. As no one spoke English, no one understood what had really happened. Pere had been to Couilly - they had all left there. So far as any one could discover there was not an English soldier, or any kind of a soldier, left anywhere in the commune.

This was Saturday morning, September 5, and one of the loveliest days I ever saw. The air was clear. The sun was shining.

The birds were singing. But otherwise it was very still. I walked out on the lawn. Little lines of white smoke were rising from a few chimneys at Joncheroy and Voisins. The towns on the plain, from Monthyon and Penchard on the horizon to Mareuil in the valley, stood out clear and distinct. But after three days of activity, three days with the soldiers about, it seemed, for the first time since I came here, lonely; and for the first time I realized that I was actually cut off from the outside world. All the bridges in front of me were gone, and the big bridge behind me. No communication possibly with the north, and none with the south except by