Antwerp to Gallipoli
Part 2 out of 4
making beds in hospitals, doing whatever comes along with a childlike
delight in the novelty of work. This young man wore a Red Cross button
now and paused long enough to impart the following--characteristic of
the things we non-combatants hear daily, and which, authentic or not,
help to "make life interesting":
1. An English general just down from the front had told him that four
thousand soldiers had been sent out as a burial party after the fighting
along the Yser, and had buried, by actual count, thirty-nine thousand
2. In a temporary hospital near the front some fifty German and Indian
wounded were put in the same ward. In the night the Indians got up and
cut the Germans' throats.
I climbed up through narrow, cobblestoned streets to the higher part of
the town. It was pleasant up here in the frosty morning--old houses,
archways, and courts, and the bells tolling people to church.
Up the long hill, as I went down, came three hearses in black and
silver, after the French fashion, with drivers in black coats and
black-and-silver cocked hats. People stopped as they passed, a woman
crossed herself, men took off their hats--farther up the hill a French
sentry suddenly straightened and presented arms.
The three caskets were draped in flags--not the tricolor, but the Union
Jack. No mourners followed them, and as the ancient vehicles climbed
over the brow of the hill the people kept looking, feeling, perhaps,
that something was lacking, wondering who the strangers might be who had
given their lives to France.
Paris again--a gray Paris, with bare tree-trunks, dead leaves on the
sidewalk, and in the air the chill of approaching winter.
Across the gray distances one fancies now and then to have seen the
first stray flakes of snow, and in some old street, between tall, gray
houses leaning backward, sidewise, each after its fashion--as some girl,
pale, with shawl wrapped about her shoulders, hurries past with a quick
upcasting of dark eyes, one thinks of Mimi and the third act of "La
Old sentiments, old songs and verses return in this strange, gray
stillness--that spirit so gracious, delicate, penetrating, and personal,
which has drawn so many through the years, becomes more moving and real.
There is more animation in the streets now: shops are opening, cabs
tooting down the Avenue de l'Opera the greater part of the night; but
most of the house-fronts are still shuttered and still. Tourists,
pleasure-seekers, and the banalities they bring are gone--every thought
and energy is with the men fighting on that long line across the north.
It is a Paris of the French--of a France united as never before,
perhaps, purified by fire, ardent, resolute, defending her life and her
The Temporary Capital
A journalist actually protests in print against the big loaves of coarse
bread, long as half a stick of cord-wood and almost as hard--remember
the almost carnivorous joy with which a Frenchman devours bread!--to
which the military government, at the beginning of the war, condemned
The explanation was that rolls and fancy bread took too much time and
there were not enough bakers left to do the work--and inspectors see
that the law is obeyed, whether amiable bakers think they have time or
not. And people want light bread, curly rolls, "pain de fantaisie." All
very well for General Gallieni! says the journalist; he likes hard
bread; but why must several million people go on cracking their teeth
because of that idiosyncrasy?
The government is obdurate. If fancy bread were made, only the big
bakers would have time to make it, little ones would be without clients,
and that this highly centralized, paternal government cannot allow.
Hard bread it is, then, for another while at least--"C'est la guerre!"
We have a dining-car on our Bordeaux express to-day, the first since war
was declared. To-morrow night sleeping-cars go back again--more
significant than one might think who had not seen the France of a few
months ago, when everything was turned over to the army and people sat
up all night in day coaches to cover the usual three hours from Dieppe
Down through the heart of France--Tours, Poitiers, Angouleme--past trim
little French rivers, narrow, winding, still, and deep, with rows of
poplars close to the water's edge, and still a certain air of coquetry,
in spite of bare branches and fallen leaves--past brown fields across
which teams of oxen, one sedate old farm horse in the lead, are drawing
the furrow for next spring's wheat. It's the old men who are ploughing
--except for those in uniform, there is scarce a young man in sight. And
everywhere soldiers--wounded ones bound for southern France, reserves
not yet sent up.
Vines begin to appear, low brown lines across stony fields; then, just
after dark, across the Garonne and into Bordeaux, where the civil
government obligingly fled when the enemy was rolling down on Paris in
the first week of September.
Bordeaux is a day's railroad ride from Paris--twelve hours away from the
German cannon, which even now are only fifty miles north of the
boulevards, twelve hours nearer Spain and Africa. And you feel both
All about you is the wine country--the names of towns and villages round
about read like a wine-card--and, as you are lunching in some little
side-street restaurant, a table is moved away, a trap-door opens, and
monsieur the proprietor looks on while the big casks of claret are
rolled in from the street and lowered to the cellar and the old casks
hauled up again. You are close to the wine country and close to the
sea--to oysters and crabs and ships--and to the hot sun and more
exuberant spirits of the Midi. The pretty, black-eyed Bordelaise--there
are pretty girls in Bordeaux--often seems closer to Madrid than to
Paris; even the Bordelais accent has a touch of the Mediterranean, and
the crisp words of Paris are broken up and even an extra vowel added now
and then, until they ripple like Spanish or Italian. "Pe-tite-a ma-
dame-a !" rattles some little newsboy, ingratiating himself with an
indifferent lady of uncertain age; and the porter will bring your boots
in no time-in "une-a pe-tite-a mi-nute-a."
The war is in everybody's mind, of course--no one in France thinks of
anything else--but there is none of that silence and tenseness, that
emotional tremor, one feels in Paris. The Germans will never come here,
one feels, no matter what happens, and as you read the communiques in La
Petite Gironde and La Liberte du Sud-Ouest the war seems farther away, I
feel pretty sure, than it does in front of the newspaper bill-boards in
In fact, one of the first and abiding impressions of Bordeaux is that it
is a great place for things to eat--oysters from Marennes, lobsters and
langoustes, pears big as cantaloupes, pomegranates, mushrooms--the
little ones and the big cepes of Bordeaux--yellow dates just up from
Tunis. The fruiterers' shops not only make you hungry, but into some of
them you may enter and find a quiet little room up-stairs, where the
proprietor and his wife and daughter, in the genial French fashion, will
serve you with a cosey little dinner with wine for three francs, in
front of the family grate fire, and the privilege of ordering up
anything you want from the shop-window below.
There are attractive little chocolate and pastry shops and cheerful
semi-pension restaurants where whole families, including, in these days,
minor politicians with axes to grind and occasional young women from the
boulevards, all dine together in a warm bustle of talk, smoke, the
gurgle of claret, and tear off chunks of hard French bread, while madame
the proprietress, a handsome, dark-eyed, rather Spanish-looking
Bordelaise, sails round, subduing the impatient, smiling at those who
wish to be smiled at, and ordering her faithful waiters about like a
And then there is the Chapon fin. When you speak to some elderly
gentleman with fastidious gastronomical tastes and an acquaintance with
southern France of your intention of going to Bordeaux, he murmurs
reminiscently: "Ah, yes! There is a restaurant there..." He means the
Chapon fin. It was famous in '70 when the government came here before,
and to-day when the young King of Spain motors over from Biarritz he
dines there. Coming down on the train, I read in the Revue des Deux
Mondes the recollections of a gentleman who was here in '70-'71 and is
here again now. He was inclined to be sarcastic about the present
Chapon fin. In his day one had good food and did not pay exorbitantly;
now "one needs a quasi-official introduction to penetrate, and the
stylish servants, guarding the door like impassable dragons, ask with a
discreet air if monsieur has taken care to warn the management of his
intention of taking lunch."
We penetrated without apparent difficulty--possibly owing to the exalted
position of the two amiable young attaches who entertained me--and the
food was very good. There were diplomats of all sorts to be seen, a
meridional head waiter, and an interesting restaurant cat. One end of
the room is an artificial grotto, and into and out of the canvas rocks
this enormous cat kept creeping, thrusting his round face and blazing
eyes out of unexpected holes in the manner of the true carnivora, as if
he had been trained by the management as an entertainer. The head
waiter would have lured an anchorite into temporary abandon. Toward the
end of the evening we discussed the probable character of a certain
dessert, suggesting some doubt of taking it. You might as well have
doubted his honor. "Mais, monsieur!" He waved his arms. "C'est
delicieux! ... C'est merveilleux! ... C'est quelque chose"--slowly,
with thumb and first finger pressed together--"de r-r-raf-fi-we!"...
It is to this genial provincial city that the President and his
ministers have come. They distributed themselves about town in various
public and private buildings; the Senate chose one theatre for its
future meeting-place and the Chamber of Deputies another. And from
these places, sometimes the most incongruous--one hears, for instance,
of M. Delcasse maintaining his dignity in a bedroom now used as the
office for the minister of foreign affairs--the red tape is unwound
which eventually sends the life-blood of the remotest province flowing
up to its appointed place at the front.
There must be plenty of real work, for an army like that of France,
stretching clear across the country from Switzerland to the Channel,
could not live unless it had a smoothly running civil machine in the
quiet country behind. Neither of the chambers is in session, and except
that the main streets are busy--one is told that one hundred thousand
extra people are in town--you might almost never know that anything out
of the ordinary had occurred. Things must be very different, of course,
from '71, when, beaten to her knees and threatened with revolution,
France had to decide between surrendering Alsace and Lorraine and going
on with the war.
The theatres are closed, but there are moving-picture shows, an
occasional concert, and twice a week, under the auspices of one of the
newspapers, a conference. I went to one of these, given by a French
professor of English literature in the University of Bordeaux, on the
timely subject: "Kipling and Greater England."
You can imagine the piquant interest of the scene--the polite matinee
audience, the row of erudite Frenchmen sitting behind the speaker, the
table, the shaded lamp, and the professor himself, a slender, dark
gentleman with a fine, grave face, pointed black beard, and penetrating
eyes--suggesting vaguely a prestidigitateur--trying, by sheer
intelligence and delicate, critical skill, to bridge the gaps of race
and instinctive thought and feeling and make his audience understand
Said the reporter of one of the Bordeaux papers next day: "Through the
Kipling evoked by M. Cestre we admired the English and those who fight,
in the great winds of the North Sea, that combat rude and brave. We
admired the faithful indigenes, gathering from all her dominions, to put
their muscular arms at the service of the empire..."
It would, indeed, have been difficult to pay a more graceful compliment
to the entente cordiale than to try to run the author of "Soldiers
Three" and the "Barrack Room Ballads," and with him the nation behind
him, into the smooth mould of a conference--that mixture, so curiously
French, of clear thinking and graceful expression, of sensitive
definition and personal charm, all blended into a whole so
intellectually neat and modulated that an audience like this may take it
with the same sense of being cheered, yet not inebriated, with which
their allies across the Channel take their afternoon tea.
A Frenchman of a generation ago would scarcely have recognized the
England pictured by the amiable Bordeaux professor, and I am not sure
that in this entirely altruistic big brother of little nations the
English would have recognized themselves. But, at any rate, polite
flutters of applause punctuated the talk, and at the end M. Cestre
asked his audience to rise as he paid his final tribute to the people
now fighting the common battle with France. They all stood up and,
smiling up at the left-hand proscenium-box, saluted the British
ambassador, Sir Francis Bertie, with long and enthusiastic applause. A
man in the gallery even ventured a "Heep! heep!" and every one drifted
out very content, indeed.
In the foyer I saw one lady carefully spelling out with her lorgnette
one of the words on the list posted there of the subjects for
"Ah!" she said, considerably reassured apparently, "Keepling!" But then
she may have come in late.
The war has been hard on the main business of the neighborhood, of
course--Germany was the heaviest buyer of Bordeaux wine, Russia next,
and not as much as usual is going to England. The vintage this year,
like that of 70, is said to be good, however, and, though the young men
have gone, and the wine-making was not as gay as usual, there were
enough old men and women left to do the work. I visited one of the
older wine houses--nearly two centuries old--and tramped through cellars
which burrow on two levels under a whole city block. There were some
two million bottles down there in the dark and dust.
There is something patriarchal and princely about such a house, almost
unknown in our businesses at home--from the portraits of the founders,
from the caskmakers, at lunch-time, broiling their own fish over a huge
fireplace and drawing wine from the common cask as they have done for
generations; the stencils in the shipping-room--"Baltimore," "Bogota,"
"Buenos Aires," "Chicago," "Calcutta," "Christiania," "Caracas"--from
things like these to the personality and point of view of the men who
have the business in charge.
"Now, wine," began the charming gentleman who showed us round, "is a
living thing." And though you could see that he had showed many people
about in his day--and was not unaware of what might interest them--that
he was, in short, an advertiser of the most accomplished kind, yet one
could also see that he liked his work and believed in it, and grew wine
as an amateur grows fancy tulips and not as a mere salesman.
To be sure, he was inclined to slur over the importance of white wine,
while champagne and its perfidious makers didn't interest him in the
least; but of the red wine of Bordeaux, its lightness, bouquet, and
general beneficence, and the delicate and affectionate care with which
it was handled, one could have heard him talk all day. Now and then
younger houses discovered things that were going to revolutionize the
"Of course," he said, "we examine such things. We look in our books,
where records of all our experiments are kept, and there we find that we
tried that new thing in 1856--or 1756, perhaps."
Far underground we came on some of the huge majorums, big as nine
ordinary bottles. "The King of Spain ran over to Bordeaux one day, and
came to us and said: 'I've got two hours; what can you show me?' We
said: 'We can show you our cellars.' 'Very well,' said he; 'go ahead.'
When he came to the majorums he said: 'What on earth do you do with
those ?' 'They are used when there is a christening or a wedding or some
great event, and when a king visits us we give him two.'"
So they sent the majorums to the young King, and the King sent back a
polite note, just as if he were anybody else, and that is all of that
Most of the newspapers which followed the government to Bordeaux have
returned to the capital, but that intransigeant government-baiter, the
venerable Georges Clemenceau, still continues his bombardment from close
range. His paper was formerly L'Homme Libre--The Free Man--but on being
suppressed this fall by the censor its octogenarian editor gayly changed
its name to The Chained Man--L'Homme Enchaine--and continued fire.
The mayor of a Paris commune in '71, prime minister from 1906-9, the
editor of various papers, and senator now, Clemenceau is properly
feared; and he was offered, it is said, a place in the present
government, but would accept no post but the highest. He preferred his
role of political realist and critical privateer, a sort of Mr. Shaw of
French politics, hitting a head wherever he sees one.
The imperfections of the French army sanitary service, the censorship,
and the demoralization of the postal service since the war have been
favorite targets recently. There has been much complaint of the
difficulty of getting news from men at the front. M. Viviani, the
premier, in an address at Reims, ventured to say that it was his duty to
"organize, administer, and intensify the national defense." On this
innocent phrase the eye of M. Clemenceau fell the other day, and he now
flings off a characteristic three-and-a-half-column front-page salvo so
adroitly combining the premier's remark with the actual, pitiful facts
that the reader almost feels that "intensifying" the suffering of
parents and friends of men fighting for their country is something in
which the present government takes delight.
I wish there was space to quote the editorial. I may, at any rate,
quote from one or two of the letters written to M. Clemenceau, to
suggest a stay-at-home aspect of the war of which we do not hear much.
This is from the mayor of Pont-en-Royans:
"Officially," he writes, "on September 29 I was asked to notify the
family of the soldier Regnier of his death. In the midst of their cries
and tears, the family showed me the last letter, received that very
morning, and dated the 27th September, two days before. Now, the notice
of his death was dated September 7, and I said to the father:
"'I would not give you too much hope; your son probably died the 27th,
suddenly, perhaps, and the secretary charged with writing the letter I
have received forgot a figure--instead of 27 he put 7. Meanwhile, as a
doubt exists, I will do what I can to clear the matter up.'
"The Administrative Counsel replied to me: 'There has been no error. The
notice of decease is dated September 27. If, then, the soldier wrote
the 27th, he is not dead. We shall inform the ministry, and you, on
your side, should write to the hospital where he is being treated.'
"I wrote to the chief doctor at Besancon. No response. I sent him a
telegram with the reply prepaid. No response. I wrote him a third
letter, this time a trifle sarcastic. I received finally a despatch:
'Regnier is not known at this hospital.'
"I still had the telegram in my hand when to my house came the sister of
the dead soldier, in mourning, and beaming, and gave me a letter. 'It
is my brother who has written us.' So there was no mistake. The dead
man wrote on the 2d October.
"'Very well,' said I to the family. 'Are you sufficiently reassured
"Some days after I received from the Red Cross hospital at Besancon a
letter giving me news of Regnier and explaining that there were several
hospitals in the town, that they had only just received my letter, etc.,
"I did not think more of the matter until October 23, when I received a
circular from the prefecture of Isere, asking me to advise the Regnier
family that the soldier Regnier, wounded, was being treated at the
hospital of Besancon.
"At last I thought the affair was closed, when, to-day, October 30, I
received the enclosed despatch, sent by I know not whom, informing me
that the soldier Regnier is unknown in the hospital of Besancon!
"Oh, my head, my head!"
You can imagine what this slashing old privateer would do with a letter
like this. The censor will not permit him to make any comment. Very
well--he wishes to make none. "You see, Mr. Viviani, it isn't one of
those execrable parliamentarians who makes these complaints. It is a
mayor, a humble mayor, officially designated by you to transmit to his
people the striking results of your 'organization,' of your
'administration,' of your 'intensification' in the cruelly delicate
matter of giving news to families. He supplies the picture, and you see
in plain daylight your 'intensification' at work. What do you think of
it? What can you say about it? Do you believe that because you have
given to your censor the right--pardon me, the power--to make white
spaces in the columns of newspapers that that is going to suppress the
fact? Do you believe," etc., etc.
In the same editorial was a letter from a father whose two sons, on the
firing-line, had received none of the family letters since the beginning
of the war and wrote pathetically asking if their parents and little
sister were ill, or how they had offended. A wife enclosed a letter
from her husband, telling how he was suffering from the cold because of
insufficient clothing; a doctor wrote protesting because there was not a
single bottle of antitetanic serum in his field-hospital.
We found M. Clemenceau in his lodgings late one afternoon--a leonine old
gentleman bundled up in cap and overcoat before a little grate fire,
while a secretary ran through the big heap of letters piled on the bed.
In the corner of the room was a roll-top desk--the sanctum, evidently,
of The Chained Man.
As M. Clemenceau was insistent that he should not be interviewed, I may
not repeat the exceedingly lively talk on all sorts of people and things
with which he regaled us once--and it didn't take long--he "got going."
One purely personal little bit of information may be passed on, however,
in the hope that it may be as interesting to other practitioners of a
laborious trade as it was to me.
We were talking of the facility with which he reeled off, day after day,
columns of lively, finished prose, and I asked whether he wrote in
longhand, dictated, or used a typewriter.
This question seemed to amuse and interest the old war-horse greatly. He
went to his desk and brought back a sheet of paper, half of which was
covered with a small, firm handwriting. It was his next day's
broadside, not yet finished.
"There is nothing mysterious about it," he said. "I get up at half past
three every morning. I am at that desk most of the day; I go to bed at
nine o'clock. If I had to write a banal note, it might take time, but
there are certain ideas which I have worked with all my life. I worked
a good many years without expressing them; they are all in my head, and
when I want them I've only got to take them out. I am eighty-three
years old, and if I couldn't express myself by this time"--the old
gentleman lifted his eyebrows, smiled whimsically, and, with a quick
movement of shoulders and hands, concluded--"it would be a public
calamity--a malheur public!"
I thought of the padded lives of some of our literary charlatans and
editorial gold bricks at home, of the clever young artists ruined as
painters by becoming popular illustrators, the young writers content to
substitute overpaid banality and bathos for honest work, and I must
confess that the sight of this indomitable old fighter, who had known
great men and held high place in his day, and now at eighty-three got up
before daylight to pound out in longhand his columns of vivid prose,
stirred every drop of what you might call one's intellectual sporting
blood. Of his opinions I know little, of the justice of his attacks
less, and, to be quite frank, I suspect he is something of a
trouble-maker. But as he stood there, bundled up in his overcoat and
cap, in that chilly lodging-house room, witty, unsubdued, full of fight
and of charm, he seemed to stand for that wonderful French spirit--for
its ardor and penetration, its fusion of sense and sensibility, its
tireless intelligence and unquenchable fire.
The consul of Cognac! It sounded like a musical comedy when we met on
the steamer last August; not quite so odd when we bumped into each other
in Bordeaux; and now it turns out to mean, in addition to being a young
University of Virginia man, thoroughly acquainted with the people he has
to deal with, living in a town where the towers of Francis I's castle
still stand, rowing on a charming old river in the summer, and in these
days hearing a charming old French gentleman, vice-consul, tell how he
fought against the Prussians in '70. Cognac is a real place, it
appears--an old town of twenty thousand people or so, and it is really
where cognac comes from, all other brandies being, of course, as one
will learn here, mere upstart eaux-de-vie. We went through some of the
cellars to-day, as venerable and vast as the claret cellars in Bordeaux,
although not quite as interesting, perhaps, because not so "alive." For
wine is a living thing, as the man said in Bordeaux, and it must be
ignobly boiled and destroyed before turning into a distilled spirit. To
some this pale spiritual essence may possess a finer poetry--the cellars
are more fragrant, at any rate.
All the young men had gone to the front--their wages continued as usual
--and the work was carried on by women and old servitors, scarcely one
of the latter under seventy. They were pointed out as examples of the
beneficent effect of the true cognac--these old boys who had inhaled the
slightly pungent fragrance of the cellars and bottling-rooms all their
lives. You get this perfume all over Cognac. It comes wandering down
old alleyways, out from under dark arches, people live literally in a
fine mist of it. The very stones are turned black by the faint fumes.
There must be scores of towns south of Paris which look more or less
like this--the young men gone or drilling in the neighborhood, the
schools turned into hospitals, the little old provincial hotels
sheltering families fled from Paris. There are several such at our
hotel, nice, comfortable people--you might think you were in some
semi-summer-resort hotel at home--Ridgefield, Conn., for instance,
in winter time.
The making of cognac occupies nearly every one, one way or another, and
it has made the place next to the richest town of its size in France.
They make the cognac, and they make the bottles for it in a glass
factory on a hill overlooking the town--about as airy and pleasant a
place for a factory as one could imagine. The molten glass is poured
into moulds, the moulds closed--psst! a stream of compressed air turned
in, the bottles blown, and there you are--a score or so of them turned
out every minute. As we came out of the furnace-room into the chilly
afternoon a regiment of reservists tramped in from a practise march in
the country. Some were young fellows, wearing uniforms for the first
time, apparently; some looked like convalescents drafted back into the
army. They took one road and we another, and half an hour later swung
down the main street of Cognac behind a chorus of shrilling bugles. All
over France, south of Paris, they must be marching like this these
Coming up from Bordeaux the other night we missed the regular connection
and had to spend the night at Saintes. The tall, quizzical, rather grim
old landlady of the neat little Hotel de la Gare--characteristic of that
rugged France which tourists who only see a few streets in Paris know
little about--was plainly puzzled. There we were, two able-bodied men,
and P------, saying nothing about being consul, merely remarked that he
lived in Cognac. "In Cognac!" the old woman repeated, looking from one
to the other, and then added, as one putting an unanswerable question:
"But you are not soldiers?"
We went out for a walk in the frosty air before turning in. There was
scarce a soul in the streets, but at the other end of the town a handful
of young fellows passed on the other side singing. They were boys of
the 1915 class who had been called out and in a few days would be
getting ready for war. In Paris you will see young fellows just like
them, decorated with flags and feathers, driving round town in
rattle-trap wagons like picnic parties returning on a summer night at
home. Arm in arm and keeping step, these boys of Saintes were singing
as they marched:
"Il est rouge et noir et blanc, Et fendu au derriere--d."
"He's red, white, and black, And split up the back!"
They saw themselves, doubtless, marching down the streets of Berlin as
now they were marching down the streets of Saintes--and they kept
flinging back through the frosty dark:
"Il est rouge--et noir--et blanc--Et fendu--au derriere--d..."
"The Great Days"
They were playing "The Categorical Imperative" that evening at the
Little Theatre in Unter den Linden. It is an old-fashioned comedy laid
in the Vienna of 1815--two love-stories, lightly and quaintly told,
across which, through the chatter of a little Viennese salon, we dimly
see Napoleon return from Elba and hear the thunder of Waterloo. A young
cub of a Saxon schoolmaster, full of simple-hearted enthusiasm and
philosophy, comes down to the Austrian capital, and, taken up by a
kindly, coquettish young countess, becomes the tutor of her cousin, a
girl as simple as he. The older woman with her knowing charm, the
younger with her freshness, present a dualism more bewildering than any
he has ever read about in his philosophy books, and part of the fun
consists in seeing him fall in love with the younger in terms of pure
reason, and finally, when the motherly young countess has quietly got
him a professorship at Konigsberg, present to his delighted Elise his
You can imagine that thoroughly German mixture of sentiment and
philosophy, the quaint references to a Prussia not yet, in its present
sense, begun to exist; how to that audience--nearly every one of whom
had a son or husband or brother at the front--the century suddenly
seemed to close up and the Napoleonic days became part of their own
"grosse Zeit." You can imagine the young schoolmaster and the frivolous
older man going off to war, and the two women consoling each other, and
with what strange eloquence the words of that girl of 1815, watching
them from the window, come down across the years:
"Why is it that from time to time men must go and kill each other?
There it stands in the paper--two thousand more men--it writes itself so
easily! But that every one of them has a wife or mother or sister or a--
... And when they cry their eyes out that means that it is a victory,
and when some brave young fellow has fallen, he is only one of the
'forces'--so and so many men--and nobody even knows his name..."
You must imagine them coming back from the war, and pale, benign,
leaning on their canes as returning heroes do in plays, talk across the
footlights to real young soldiers you have just seen limping in with
real wounds--pink-cheeked boys with heads and feet bandaged and Iron
Crosses on black-and-white ribbons tucked into their coats, home from
East Prussia or the Aisne. Then between the acts you must imagine them
pouring out to the refreshment-room for a look at each other and
something to eat--will they never stop eating?--fathers and mothers and
daughters with their Butterbrod and Schinken and big glasses of beer in
the genial German fashion, beaming on the young heroes limping by or,
with heads bandaged like schoolboys with mumps, grinning in spite of
And when they drift out into the street at last, softened and brought
together by the play--the street with its lights and flags, officers in
long, blue-gray overcoats and soldiers everywhere, and a military
automobile shooting by, perhaps, with its gay "Ta-tee! Ta-td!"--the
extras are out with another Russian army smashed and two more ships sunk
in the Channel. The old newspaper woman at the Friedrichsstrasse corner
is chanting it hoarsely, "Zwei englische Dampfer gesunken!"--and they
read that "the sands have run, the prologue is spoken, the curtain risen
on the tragedy of England's destiny."
Great days, indeed! Days of achievement, of utter sacrifice, and
flinging all into the common cause. Round the corner from Unter den
Linden, under the dark windows of the Information Bureau, you may see
part of the price. It is still and deserted there, except for a lone
woman with a shawl over her head, trying to read, by the light of the
street-lamp, the casualty lists. You must imagine a building like the
Post Office in New York, for instance, or the Auditorium Hotel in
Chicago, with a band of white paper, like newspapers, spread out and
pasted end to end, running along one side, round the corner, and down
the other. Not inches, but yards, rods, two city blocks almost, of
microscopic type; columns of names, arranged in the systematic German
way--lightly wounded, badly wounded--schwer verwundet--gefallen. Some
have died of wounds--tot--some dead in the enemy's country--in
Feindesland gefallen. Rank on rank, blurring off into nothingness,
endless files of type, pale as if the souls of the dead were crowding
One tried to think of the "Categorical Imperative" in a New York
playhouse--of the desperate endeavor to make the young schoolmaster
really look simple and boyish, and yet as if he might have heard of
Kant, and of convincing the two ladies that they lost their sweet
comfortableness by dressing like professional manikins; how the piece
might succeed with luck, or if it could somehow be made fashionable; and
how here, with all the unaffected and affectionate intelligence with
which it was played--and watched--it was but part of the week's work.
And, in spite of the desperation of the time, you might have seen a
dozen such audiences in Berlin, that night--and yet tourists generally
speak of Berlin, compared with some of the German provincial cities, as
a rather graceless, new sort of place, full of bad sculpture and
Prussian arrogance. You might have seen them at the opera or symphony
concerts, at Shakespeare, Strindberg, or the German classics we used to
read in college, or standing in line at six o'clock, sandwiches in hand,
so that they might sit through a performance of "Peer Gynt," with the
Grieg music, beginning at seven and lasting till after eleven. A
wonderful night, with poetry and music and splendid scenes and acting,
and a man's very soul developing before you all the time--sandwiches and
beer and more music and poetry, until that tragedy of the egoist is no
longer a play but a part of you, so many years of living, almost, added
to one's life. Yes, it is all here, along with the forty-two-centimetre
shells--good music and good beer and good love of both; simplicity,
homely kindness, and Gemutlichkeit.
Mere talk about plays would not be much encouraged in Germany nowadays.
In one of the Cologne papers the other day there were two imaginary
letters--one signed "One Who Means Well," asking that there be a little
relief from war poems, war articles, and the like; and the other signed
"One Who Means Better," demanding if it were possible for any German to
waste time in artistic hair-splitting when the Germanic peoples, in
greater danger than in their entire history, stood with their back to
the wall, facing and holding back the world. A Berlin dramatic critic,
going through the motions of reviewing a new performance of "Hedda
Gabler" the other morning, finally dismissed the matter as "Women's
troubles--if anybody can be interested in that nowadays!" Yet a woman,
asking at the same time that the "finer and sweeter voices of peaceful
society" be not forgotten, concluded her letter with "East and west the
cannon thunder, but in men's souls sound many bells, and it is not
necessary that they should always and forever be drowned out."
I mention the theatre only as an easy illustration of that many-sided
vitality one feels at once on entering Germany, that development of all
a people's capabilities, material and spiritual, which is summed up, I
suppose, in that hapless word Kultur.
You may not like German learning or German art, and consider the one
pedantic and the other heavy and uninspired. A Frenchman wrote very
feelingly the other day, in the Revue des Deux Mondes, about a return to
the old French culture, an escape from what he described as the German
habit of accumulating mere facts to something that, in addition to
feeding the brain, nourished the taste as well--carried with it, so to
speak, a certain spiritual fragrance.
You may be of this persuasion. The thing one cannot escape, however, in
Germany, whether one likes its manifestations or not, is the vitality,
the moral and intellectual force, everywhere apparent, whether it be
applied to smashing forts or staging a play. When a people can hold
back England and France with one hand and the Russian avalanche with the
other, and, cut off from oversea trade and living on rations almost,
yet, to take but one of the first examples, maintain the art of the
theatre at a level which makes that of New York or London in the most
spacious time of peace seem crude and infantile, one is confronted with
a fact which a reporter in his travels must record--a force which, as
the saying goes, "must be reckoned with."
So far as the special business of keeping the war going is concerned,
this vitality, after seven months of fighting, in spite of those lists
in Dorotheenstrasse, seems ample. Here in Berlin, which is an all day's
express journey from either front, you see thousands of fit young men
marching through the streets, singing and whistling; you are told of
millions ready and waiting to go. Every one seems confident that
Germany will win--indeed, with a unity and resolution which could
scarcely be more complete if they were defending their last foot of
territory, determined that Germany must win.
When I was in London in the autumn a man who had made a flying trip to
Berlin said that the German capital made him think of a man with his
feet on the table smoking a cigar and pretending to be unconcerned
although he knew all the time in his heart that he was doomed. I find
little to suggest such a picture. The thing that at once impresses the
stranger, along with the apparent reserve strength, is the moral
earnestness behind that strength, the passionate conviction that they
are fighting a defensive fight, that they are right. I shall not
attempt to explain this here, but merely record it as a fact. Possibly
all people in all great wars believe they are right--and that is why
there are great wars.
Crossing the frontier from Rotterdam, I stopped for a day or two at
Cologne. The proprietor of the hotel, a typical, big, hearty German of
the commercial class, such as you might expect to find running a brewery
at home or a bank or coffee plantation in South America, came out of his
office when he heard English spoken. There are no "loose Englishmen" in
"I suppose you are surprised to see the Dom, yes?" he laughed, pointing
toward the cathedral towers in whose shadow we stood. And then--"What
do you think about the war?" I asked him what he thought.
"Well," he said, and with the air of brushing aside what was taken for
granted before considering more doubtful issues, "of course we win!"
He showed me a photograph of his son, just made an officer. "In a few
weeks," he said, "maybe I volunteer myself." He was fifty-five years
old, but thoroughly fit. He doubled up a big right arm and laughingly
gripped it. "Like iron!" he boomed. "And there are five million men
like me. Not men--soldiers!"
I found myself the other evening, after zigzagging all over Berlin with
an address given me at a typewriter agency, in a little apartment on the
outskirts of the town. The woman who lived there had been a
stenographer in the city until the war cut off her business, and she was
now supporting herself with the six marks (one dollar and fifty cents)
weekly war benefit given by the municipality and by making soldiers'
shirts for the War Department at fifty pfennigs (twelve and one-half
cents) a shirt. She was glad to get typewriting, and without words on
either side at once got to work. So we proceeded for a page or two
until something was said about an Iron Cross stuck inside a soldier's
"That is the Iron Cross of the second class," she interrupted; "they put
that inside. The first class they wear outside," and, as if she could
keep still no longer, she suddenly flung out, almost without a pause:
"My brother has the Iron Cross. I have seven brothers in the army.
Three are in the east and three are in the west, and one is in the
hospital. He was shot three times in the leg--here--and here--and here.
They hope to save his leg, but he will always be lame. He got the Iron
Cross. He was at Dixmude. They marched up singing 'Deutschland ueber
Alles.' They were all shot down. There were three hundred of them, and
every one fell. They knew they must all be shot, but they marched on
just the same, singing 'Deutschland ueber Alles.' They knew they were
going against the English, and nothing could stop them."
Her brother would go back if he had to crawl back--if only she could go
and not have to sit here and wait!
"I told you," she said, "when you first came in, that I was German. And
I asked you if you were an American, because I know that dreadful things
have been said in America about our Kaiser, and I will not have such
things said to me. Our Kaiser did not want the war--he did everything
he could to prevent the war--no ruler in the world ever did more for his
people than our Kaiser has done, and there is not a man, woman, or child
in Germany who would not fight for him." And this, you must remember,
was from a woman whose support was cut off by the war and who was making
a living by sewing shirts at twelve and a half cents a shirt.
I walked down the busy High Street that night in Cologne, and the bright
shop-windows with their chocolates and fruit--apples from Canada and
Hood River--crowded cafes, people overflowing sidewalks into the narrow
streets somehow reminded me of the cheerful Bordeaux I tramped through
in November. There are, indeed, many French suggestions in Cologne, and
in the shops they still sometimes call an umbrella a parapluie.
An American who lives in Cologne told me that the decrease in the number
of young men was noticeable, and that eleven sons of his friends had
been killed. To a stranger the city looked normal, with the usual
crowds. One did notice the people about the war bulletin-boards. They
were not boys and street loungers, but grave-looking citizens and their
wives and daughters, people who looked as if they might have sons or
brothers at the front.
The express from Cologne to Berlin passed through Essen, where the Krupp
guns are made, the coal and iron country of Westphalia, and the plains
of the west. It is a country of large cities whose borders often almost
touch, where some tall factory chimney is almost always on the horizon.
All these chimneys were pouring out smoke; there is a reason, of course,
why iron-works should be busy and manufacturing going on--if not as
usual, at any rate going on.
The muddy plains between the factory towns were green with winter wheat,
the crop which is to carry the country through another year. Meanwhile,
one was told, the railroad rights of way would be planted, and land not
needed for beets--for with no sugar going out Germany can produce more
now than she needs--also be seeded to wheat.
Here in Berlin we are, it seems, being starved out, but in the complex
web of a modern city it is rather hard to tell just what that means: In
ordinary times, for instance, Germany imports thirty-five million
dollars' worth of butter and eggs from Russia, which, of course, is not
coming in now, yet butter seems to appear, and at a central place like
the Victoria Cafe, at the corner of Unter den Linden and
Friedrichsstrasse, two soft-boiled eggs cost fifty pfennigs, or twelve
and a half cents, which is but two and a half cents more than they cost
before the war, and that includes a morning paper and a window from
which to see Berlin going by. Even were Berlin, in a journalistic
sense, "starving," one presumes the cosmopolitans in the tea-rooms of
the Kaiserhof or Adlon or Esplanade would still have their trays of
fancy cakes to choose from and find no difficulty in getting plenty to
eat at a--for them--not unreasonable price.
For weeks white bread has had to contain a certain amount of rye flour
and rye bread a certain amount of potato--the so-called war bread--and,
except in the better hotels, one was served, unless one ordered
specially, with only two or three little wisps of this "Kriegsbrod." For
Frenchmen this would mean a real privation, but Germans eat so little
bread, comparatively speaking, that one believes the average person
scarcely noticed the difference. Every one must have his bread-card
now, with coupons entitling him to so many grams a day--about four
pounds a week--which the waiter or baker tears off when the customer
gets his bread. Without these cards not so much as a crumb can be had
for love or money. Yet with all this stiff and not unamusing red tape
your morning coffee and bread and butter costs from thirty pfennigs
(seven and one-half cents) in one of the Berlin "automats" to one mark
fifty pfennigs (thirty-seven cents) in the quiet of the best hotels.
Meat is plentiful and cheap, particularly beef, and in any of the big,
popular "beer restaurants," so common in Berlin, an ordinary steak for
one person costs from thirty-five to fifty cents. Pork, the mainstay of
the poorer people, is comparatively expensive, because hogs have been
made into durable hard sausages for the army, and potatoes, also
expensive, have been bought up in large quantities by the government, to
be sold in the public markets to the poor, a few pounds to each person,
at a moderate price. There are said to be eight hundred thousand
prisoners now in Germany, and the not entirely frivolous suggestion has
been made that the hordes of hungry Russians captured in the east are
more dangerous now than they were with guns in their hands. Yet there
are no visible signs of such poverty as one will see in certain parts of
London or Chicago in times of peace, and a woman in charge of one of the
soup-kitchens where people pinched by the war get one substantial meal a
day at ten pfennigs told me there was no reason for any one in Berlin
going hungry. Meanwhile, the scarcity of flour only adds fuel to the
people's patriotism, and they are told everywhere on red placards that
England never can starve them out if every German does his economical
duty. Where so much thinking is done for the people, and done so
efficiently, it is difficult not to feel that everything is somehow
"arranged," and one finds it difficult to become acutely anxious while
the hundreds of crowded cafes are running full blast until one o'clock
every morning and the seal in the Tiergarten has the bottom of his tank
covered with fresh fish he is too indolent to eat.
"Society," in its more visible, decorative sense, is as forgotten as it
is in France, as it must be in such a time. There are no dances or
formal parties; every one who is not going about his civil business has
in one way or another "gone to the war." The gay young men are at the
front, the idle young women knitting or nursing or helping the poor, and
it is an adventure uncommon enough to be remembered to meet on the
street a pretty young lady merely out to take the air, with hands in her
muff and trotting in front of her the timorous dachshund, muzzled like a
ravening tiger and looking at the world askance with his rueful eyes.
The apparent quietness and gravity is partially due to the lack of a
"yellow" or, in the British or American sense of the word, popular
press. There is none of that noisy hate continually dinned into one's
ears in London by papers which, to be sure, represent neither the
better-class English civilians nor the light-hearted fighting man at the
front, yet which are entertainingly written, do contain the news, and
get themselves read.
The German papers print comparatively little of what we call "news."
They hide unpleasant truths and accent pleasant ones, and are working
all the time to create a definite public opinion; but their partisanship
is that of official proclamation rather than that of overworked and
underpaid reporters striving to please their employers with all the
desperation of servants working for a tip. The yelping after spies, the
heaping of adjectives on every trifling achievement of British arms, the
ill-timed talk of snatching the enemy's trade in a war theoretically
fought for a high principle, all that journalistic vulgarity--which
might be as characteristic of our own papers under similar
circumstances--one is mercifully spared.
This taciturnity is astonishing toward the work of the men at the front.
A few days ago flags were flung out all over Berlin at the news of
Hindenburg's victory; military attaches were saying that there had been
nothing like this since Napoleon; up and down the streets the newswomen
were croaking: "Sechsund-zwanzig tausend Russen gefangen... Hindenburg
zahlt noch immer..." ("Twenty-six thousand Russians captured... and
Hindenburg's still counting..."). And all you could find in the papers
was the General Staff report that "at one place the fighting has been
very severe; up to the present we have made some twenty-six thousand
prisoners," etc., and even this laconic sentence lost in the middle of
the regular communique beginning: "Yesterday on the Belgian coast, after
a period of inactivity..."
The picturesqueness and personalities of the war are left to the stage
and the innumerable weeklies and humorous papers, yet even here there is
little or no tendency to group achievements around individual
commanders--it is "our army," not the man, although even German
collectivism cannot keep Hindenburg's dependable old face off the
post-cards nor regiments of young ladies from sending him letters and
In the theatre you see the Feldgrau heroes in dugouts in Flanders or in
Galician trenches; see the audience weep when the German mother sends
off her seven sons or the bearded father meets his youngest boy, schwer
verwundet, on the battle-field; or cheer when the curtain goes down on
noble blond giants in spiked helmets dangling miniature Frenchmen by the
scruff of the neck and forcing craven Highlanders to bite the dust.
You may even see a submarine dive down into green water, see the torpedo
slid into the tube, breech-block closed, and--"Now--for Kaiser and
fatherland!"--by means of an image thrown on a screen from the
periscope, see the English cruiser go up in a tower of water and
In all this comment there is a very different feeling for each of the
three allies. The Russians "don't count," so to speak. They are
dangerous because of their numbers and must be flung back, but the
feeling toward them is not unlike that toward a herd of stampeded range
Toward the French there is no bitterness either, rather a sort of pity
and the wish to be thought well of. One is reminded now and then of the
German captain quartered at Sedan, in Zola's "Debacle," who, while
conscious of the strength behind him, yet wanted his involuntary hosts
to know that he, too, had been to Paris and knew how to be a galant
homme. Men tell you "they've put up a mighty good fight, say!" or
speaking of the young French sculptor allowed to go on with his work in
the prison camp at Zossen, or the flower-beds in front of the French
barracks there--"but, of course, the French are an artistic people. You
can allow them liberties like that." Every now and then in the papers
one runs across some anecdote from France in which the Frenchman is
permitted to make the retort at the expense of the English.
Toward John Bull there is no mercy. He is shown naked, trying to hide
himself with neutral flags; he is sprawled in his mill with a river of
French blood flowing by from the battle-fields of France, while the
cartoonist asks France if she cannot see that she is doing his grinding
for him; he is hobnobbing cheek by jowl with cannibals and black men,
and he is seriously discussed as a traitor to the Germanic peoples and
the white race.
A German woman told me the other day that in her house it was the custom
to fine everybody in the family ten pfennigs if they came down to
breakfast without saying: "Gott strafe die Englander!" ("God punish the
English!") In a recent Ulk there is a cartoon of a young mother holding
up her baby to his proud father with the announcement that he has spoken
his first words. "And what did he say?" "Gott strafe England!"
America is criticised for supplying the Allies with arms--shades of
South American revolutions and the old "Ypiranga"!--while permitting
itself, without sufficient protest, to be shut off from sending food to
Germany. Yet, in spite of this and the extremely difficult situation
created by the submarine blockade, the individual American is not
embarrassed unless mistaken for an Englishman or unless he finds some
supersensitive patriot in a restaurant or theatre who objects even to
At the frontier the honest customs inspector landed, first thing, on a
copy of "Tartarin sur les Alpes," which I had picked up at the railroad
news-stand in the Hague.
"Franzosisch!" he declared, flapping over the pages. Next it was a
bundle of letters of introduction, the top one of which happened to be
in English. "Englische Briefe!" and forthwith he bellowed for help. A
young officer sauntered out from the near-by office, saluted, and said,
"Good morning!" glanced at "Tartarin" with a smile, and tossed it back
into the bag, at letters and passport, said it must be very interesting
to see both sides, and so, after a question or two, to the train for
On the way to Berlin from Koln, that rainy afternoon, I went into the
dining-car toward five o'clock attired in a pepper-and-salt tweed suit
and heavy tan boots, and, speaking German with evident pain, tactfully
asked--everybody else drinking beer--for tea. The man across the way
whispered to his companion and stared; a middle-aged man farther up the
aisle stood stock-still and stared; a young woman at the other end of
the car turned round and, gazing over the back of her chair, whispered
aghast to her companion: "Englaender!"
Not particularly enlivened by the cup that cheers, I regained my
compartment presently and glared out at the sodden landscape, with now
and then a shot at the other occupant who had got on at Essen or one of
the western stations and sat the day out without a word. One of those
disagreeable Prussians evidently--until, actually needing to know, I
broke the silence by asking which station we arrived at in Berlin. He
answered with perfect good humor, and we began to talk. I mentioned the
"Ignorant people!" he said, dismissing them with a wave of the hand.
They ought to have seen my little flag--he had--and, anyhow, a gentleman
was a gentleman, and they were fighting England, not individual
Englishmen. Then, reverting to my apologies for my German, he amiably
shifted into French, and so we talked until reaching Berlin, when,
hoping that I would get what I came for, he shook hands and wished me
"Bon voyage!" So you never can tell.
The militarism which any man in the street-car at home can tell you all
about, and which Cramb and Bernhardi make so interesting and
understandable, is here on the spot not so easy to put one's finger on.
Apparently nobody ever heard of Bernhardi, and you might talk with every
man you meet for a fortnight without finding any one who could tell you
--as any young girl who happens to sit next you at dinner can tell you at
home--about the German belief in war as a great blessing, because it is
the only way of asserting your own superior ideas over the other man's
inferior ideas, and thus getting a world ahead.
People want to smash England, of course, because, as they explain, she
brought on the war and is trying to starve them, and they roar with the
applause when the lightning-change man at the Wintergarten impersonates
Hindenburg, because Hindenburg is a grand old scout who is keeping those
millions of slovenly Russians from overrunning our tidy, busy,
well-ordered Germany. But Treitschke--who was he?
And then, of course, it is not always easy to put one's finger on just
what people mean by militarism. Some have objected to militarism
because they didn't like the manners of the German waiters at the Savoy,
and some because--"Well, those people somehow rub you the wrong way!" It
is not universal conscription, because many nations have that, nor the
amount spent per capita on soldiers and ships, for we ourselves spend
almost as much as the Germans, and the French even more.
One of our old-school cattlemen, used to shooting all the game, cutting
all the timber, and using all the water he wanted to, would doubtless
say, without seeing a soldier, that it was "their damned police!" No,
when people think they are talking about German militarism, they are
quite as likely to be talking about the way German faces are made or
about German collectivism--the uncanny ability Germans have for taking
orders, for team-work, for turning every individual energy into the
One may, however, run across a certain feeling toward war, quite local
and unconscious, yet very different from the French love of "gloire" and
the English keenness for war as a sort of superior fox-hunting or
football. You are, let us say, watching one of the musical comedies
which the war has inspired.
The curtain rises on a darkened stage, through whose blackness you
presently discover, twinkling far below, as if you were looking down
from an aeroplane, the lights of Paris, the silver thread of the Seine
and its bridges. There is a faint whirring, and two faces emerge
vaguely from the dark--the hero and heroine swinging along in a Taube.
And as they fly they sing a wistful little waltz song, a sort of cradle
"Ich glau-u-be... Ich glau-u-be Da oben fliegt... 'ne Taube..."
They are thinking, so the song runs, that there is a Taube overhead; it
has flown here out of its German nest, and let's hope it will not let
anything fall on them. And, as they sing, the young man makes a motion
with his hand, there is a sort of glowworm flash, and a few seconds
later, away down there among the Paris roofs a puff of red smoke and
fire. The illusion is perfect, and the audience is enchanted--that ride
through the velvet night, so still, so quaint, so roguish in its way,
and the flash far below, that has flung some unsuspecting citizen on the
cobblestones like a bundle of old rags.
And, whirring gently, the Taube sails on through the night:
'Ich glaube.. Da oben fliegt Ich glaube.. 'ne Taube'
Again the glowworm flash, and a moment later, over on the left bank, not
far from the Luxembourg, apparently, another of those eloquent little
puffs of fire. The crowd is as delighted as children would be with
Or we are, let us say, at "Woran Wir Denken" ("What We're Thinking Of")
with delightful music and such verses as we rarely enough hear in
musical comedies at home. In the spotlight there is a square young man
dressed in a metallic coat and conical helmet, so as to suggest the
famous forty-two-centimetre shell--the shell which makes a hole like a
cellar and smashed the Belgian forts as if an earthquake had struck
them. And singing with him an exquisite, nun-like creature in a
dove-colored robe, typifying the Taube. They are singing to each other:
"I am delicate and slender And made for the salon..." "And I am the
biggest smasher In all the present season..." "High up above the clouds
I fly at heart's desire..." "And I'm a child of Krupp's, Whom nobody
knew about..." "I fly, trackless as a breath..." "I slash on with smoke
They are in love with each other, you see, the Taube and the
forty-two-centimetre shell, the "Brummer," or "Grumbler," as they call
it in Germany--could anything be more piquant? You should hear them--the
chaste, chic, nun-like Taube and the thick-chested old Brummer, singing
that he is her dear old Grumbler and she his soft, swift Dove:
"Suesser, dicker Brummer... Du mein Taubchen, zart und flink..."
There is a sort of poetry about this--a new sort of poetry about a new
sort of war. And it might possibly be proved that such poetry could
only come from a people so bred to arms that they do not shrink, even in
imagination, from the uses to which arms must be put--a people in love
with war, having a mystical feeling for its instruments, such as their
remote ancestors had for their battle-axes and double-edged swords.
I shall not attempt to do this--heaven preserve Americans from being
judged by their musical comedies !--and doubtless the children even of
our most devoted advocates of universal peace have played with lead
cannon and toy soldiers. I merely speak of it, this curious mixture of
refinement and brutality, as something which, it struck me, we
Americans--who always do everything exactly right--would not have
thought of doing in just that way.
Many of the ways of this people are not our ways. You have heard, let
us say, of the German parade step, sometimes laughed at as the "goose
step" in England and at home. I was lunching the other day with an
American military observer, and he spoke of the parade step and the
effect it had on him.
"Did you ever see it?" he demanded. "Have you any idea of the moral
effect of that step? You see those men marching by, every muscle in
their bodies taut and tingling as steel wire, every eye on the Emperor,
and when they bring those feet down--bing! bang!--the physical fitness
it stands for, the unity, determination--why, it's the whole German
idea--nothing can stop 'em!"
"Did you ever see one of these soldiers salute?" Yes, I had seen
hundreds of them, and I had been made extremely ill at ease one day in
my hotel when a young officer with whom I had started, in the American
fashion, comfortably to shake hands suddenly whacked his heels together
like a couple of Indian clubs and, stiff as a ramrod, snapped his hand
to his cap.
"Did you ever see them salute? They don't do it like a baggage porter--
there's nothing servile about it. They square off and bring that hand
to their heads and look that officer square in the eyes as if to say:
'Now, damn you, salute me!' And he gets his salute, too--like a man!"
You may not like this salute or you may not like the parade step, but
you can be very sure of one thing--that it is not the militarism that
pushes civilians off the sidewalk nor permits an officer to strike his
subordinate--though these things have happened in Germany--that is
holding back England and France and driving the Russian millions out of
East Prussia. It is something bigger than that. Peasants and princes,
these men are dying gladly, backed up by fitness, discipline, and a
passionate unity such as the world has not often seen. This, and not
the futile nurses' tales with which the American public permitted itself
to be diverted during the early weeks of the war, is what strikes one in
Germany. It is a fact, like the Germans being in Belgium, which you
have got to face and think about, whether you like it or not. Berlin,
Two German Prison Camps
Visiting a prison camp is somewhat like touching at an island in the
night--one of those tropical islands, for instance, whose curious and
crowded life shows for an instant as your steamer leaves the mail or
takes on a load of deck-hands, and then fades away into a few twinkling
lights and the sound of a bell across the water. You may get permission
to see a prison camp, but may not stay there, and you are not expected,
generally, to talk to the prisoners. You can but walk past those rows
of eyes, with all their untold stories, much as you might go into a
theatre in the midst of a performance, tramp through the audience and
It is a strange experience and leaves one hoping that somebody--some
German shut away in the south of France, one of those quick-eyed
Frenchmen in the human zoo at Zossen--is keeping a diary. For while
there have always been prison camps, have there ever been--at least,
since Rome--such menageries as these! Behind the barbed-wire fence at
Zossen--Zossen is one of the prisons near Berlin--there are some fifteen
thousand men. The greater number are Frenchmen, droves of those long
blue turned-back overcoats and red trousers, flowing sluggishly between
the rows of low barracks, Frenchmen of every sort of training and
temperament, swept here like dust by the war into common anonymity. I
do not remember any picture of the war more curious, and, as it were,
uncanny than the first sight of Zossen as our motor came lurching down
the muddy road from Berlin--that huge, forgotten eddy, that slough of
idle, aimless human beings against the gray March sky, milling slowly
round and round in the mud.
But the French are only part of Zossen. There are Russians--shaggy
peasants such as we see in cartoons or plays at home, and Mongol
Russians with flat faces and almond eyes, who might pass for Chinamen.
There are wild-eyed "Turcos" from the French African provinces,
chattering untamed Arabs playing leap-frog in front of their German
commandant as impudently as street boys back in their native bazaars.
There are all the tribes and castes of British Indians--"I've got twenty
different kinds of people in my Mohammedan camp," said the lieutenant
who was showing me about--squat Gurkhas from the Himalayas, minus their
famous knives--tall, black-bearded Sikhs, with the faces of princes.
There are even a few lone Englishmen, though most of the British
soldiers in this part of Germany are at Doberitz. Whether or not Zossen
could be called a "show" camp, it seemed, at any rate, about as well
managed as such a place could be. The prisoners were housed in new,
clean, one-story barracks; well fed, so far as one could tell from their
appearance and that of the kitchens and storerooms; they could write and
be written to, and they were compelled to take exercise. The Roman
Catholics had one chapel and the Greek Catholics another, and there was
an effort to permit Indian prisoners to observe their rules of caste.
As we tramped through barracks where chilly Indians, Russians with
broad, high cheek-bones, sensitive-looking Frenchmen with quick, liquid
eyes, jumped to their feet and stiffened at attention as the commandant
passed, a young officer, who had lived in England before the war and was
now acting as interpreter, volunteered his guileless impressions. The
Turcos were a bad lot--fighting, gambling, and stealing from each other
--there was trouble with some of, them every day. The Russians were
dirty, good-natured, and stupid.
The English--well, frankly, he was surprised at their lack of discipline
and general unruliness--all except some of the Indians, and those, he
must say, were well-trained--fine fellows and good soldiers. One could
surmise the workings of his mind as one thought of the average
happy-go-lucky Tommy Atkins, and then came across one of those tall,
straight, hawk-eyed Sikhs and saw him snap his heels together and his
arms to his sides and stand there like a bronze statue.
It was a dreadful job getting the Frenchmen to take exercise--"they
can't understand why any one should want to work, merely to keep himself
fit!" Aside from this idiosyncrasy they were, of course, the pleasantest
sort of people to get along with. We saw Frenchmen sorting mail in the
post-office, painting signs for streets, making blankets out of pasted-
together newspapers--everywhere they were treated as intelligent men to
whom favors could be granted. And, of course, there was this difference
between the French and English of the early weeks of the war--the French
army is one of universal conscription like the German, and business men
and farmers, writers, singers, and painters were lumped in together.
There was one particularly good-looking young man, a medical officer,
who flung up his head to attention as we came up.
"He helped us a lot--this man!" said the commandant, and laid his hand
on the young man's shoulder. The Frenchman's eyes dilated a trifle and
a smile flashed behind rather than across his face--one could not know
whether it was gratitude or defiance.
A sculptor who had won a prize at Rome and several other artists had had
a room set aside for them to work in. Some were making post-cards, some
more ambitious drawings, and in the sculptor's studio was the head of
the young doctor we had just seen and an unfinished plaster group for a
camp monument. On the wall was a sign in Latin and French--"Unhappy the
spirit which worries about the future," a facetious warning that any one
who loafed there longer than three minutes was likely to be killed, and
the following artistic creed from "La Fontaine:"
"Ne for fans point noire talent. Nous ne ferions rien avec grace. Jamais
un lourdaud quoiqu'il fosse, ne saurait passer pour gallant."
("Don't strain your talent or you'll do nothing gracefully. The boor
won't pass for a gallant gentleman, no matter what he does.")
The Germans, at different times in their history, have conquered the
French and humbly looked up to and imitated them. Generally speaking,
they study and try to understand the French, and their own
intellectuality and idealism are things French-men might be expected to
like or, at any rate, be interested in. Yet it is one of history's or
geography's ironies that the Frenchman goes on his way, neither knowing
nor wanting to know the blond beasts over the Rhine--"Jamais un lourdaud
quoiqu'il fasse" . . the young sculptor must have smiled when he tacked
that verse on the wall of his prison!
Ruhleben is a race-track on the outskirts of Berlin, and a detention
camp for English civilians. This is quite another sort of menagerie.
You can imagine the different kinds of Englishmen who would be caught in
Germany by the storm--luxurious invalids taking the waters at
Baden-Baden; Gold Coast negro roust-abouts from rusty British tramps at
Hamburg; agents, manufacturers, professors, librarians, officers from
Channel boats, students of music and philosophy.
All these luckless civilians--four thousand of them--had been herded
together in the stables, paddock, and stands of the Ruhleben track. The
place was not as suited for a prison as the high land of Zossen, the
stalls with their four bunks were dismal enough, and the lofts overhead,
with little light and ventilation, still worse.
Some had suffered, semi-invalids, for instance, unable to get along with
the prison rations, but the interesting thing about Ruhleben was not its
discomfort, but the remarkable fashion in which the prisoners had
contrived to make the best of a bad matter.
The musicians had their instruments sent in and organized an orchestra.
The professors began to lecture and teach until now there was a sort of
university, with some fifty different classes in the long room under the
grand stand. And on the evening when we had the privilege of visiting
Ruhleben it was to see a dramatic society present Bernard Shaw's
"Androcles and the Lion."
The play began at six o'clock, for the camp lights are out at nine, and
it was in the dusk of another one of Berlin's rainy days, after
slithering through the Tiergarten and past the endless concrete
apartment-houses of Charlottenburg, that our taxicab swung to the right,
lurched down the lane of mud, and stopped at the gate of Ruhleben.
Inside was a sort of mild morass, overspread with Englishmen--
professional-looking men with months-old beards, pink-cheeked young
fellows as fresh as if they had just stepped off Piccadilly, men in
faded knicker-bockers and puttees, men in sailor blue and brass buttons,
men with flat caps and cockney accent, one with a Thermos bottle, and
crisp "Right you are!"--a good-natured, half-humorous, half-tragic
cross-section of the London streets, drifting about here in the German
There were still a few minutes before the play began, and we walked
through some of the barracks with the commandant, a tall, bronzed
officer of middle age, with gracious manners, one of those Olympian
Germans who resemble their English cousins of the same class. Each
barrack had its captain, and over these was a camp-captain--formerly an
English merchant of Berlin--who went with us on our rounds.
The stables were crowded with bunks and men--like a cattleship
forecastle. One young man, fulfilling doubtless his English ritual of
"dressing for dinner," was punctiliously shaving, although it was now
practically dark; in another corner the devotee of some system of how to
get strong and how to stay so, stripped to the skin, was slowly and with
solemn precision raising and lowering a pair of light dumb-bells. Some
saluted as private soldiers would; some bowed almost as to a friend,
with a cheery "Guten Abend, Herr Baron!" There seemed, indeed, to be a
very pleasant relation between this gentleman soldier and his gentlemen
prisoners, and the camp-captain, lagging behind, told how one evening
when they had sung "Elijah," the men had stood up and given three
English cheers for the commandant, while his wife, who had come to hear
the performance, stood beside him laughing and wiping her eyes.
As you get closer to war you more frequently run across such things. The
fighting men kill ruthlessly, because that, they think, is the way to
get their business over. But for the most part they kill without hate.
For that, in its noisier and more acrid forms you must go back to the
men who are not fighting, to the overdriven and underexercised
journalists, sizzling and thundering in their swivel-chairs.
The dimly lit hall under the grand stand was already crowded as we were
led to our seats on a rostrum facing the stage with the commandant and
one of his officers. There was a red draw curtain, footlights made with
candles and biscuit tins, and so strung on a wire that at a pull,
between the acts, they could be turned on the spectators. A programme
had been printed on the camp mimeograph, the camp orchestra was tuning
up, and a special overture had been composed by a young gentleman with
the beautiful name of "Quentin Morvaren."
You will doubtless recall Mr. Shaw's comedy, and the characteristic
"realistic" fun he has with his Romans and Christian martyrs, and the
lion who, remembering the mild-mannered Androcles, who had once pulled a
sliver from his foot, danced out of the arena with him instead of eating
him. And you can imagine the peculiarly piquant eloquence given to the
dialogue between Mr. Shaw's meek but witty Christians and their
might-is-right Roman captors, spoken by British prisoners in the spring
of 1915, in a German prison camp before a German commandant sitting up
like a statue with his hands on his sword!
The Roman captain was a writer, the centurion a manufacturer, Androcles
a teacher of some sort, the call-boy for the fights in the arena a
cabin-boy from a British merchant ship, and the tender-hearted lion some
genius from the "halls." Even after months of this sodden camp it was
possible to find a youth to play Lavinia, with so pretty a face, such a
velvet voice, such a pensive womanliness that the flat-capped, ribald
young cockneys in the front row blushed with embarrassment. A professor
of archaeology, or something, said that he had never seen more accurate
reproductions of armor, though this was made but of gilded and silvered
cardboard--in short, if Mr. Shaw's fun was ever better brought out by
professional players, they must have been very good indeed.
It was an island within an island that night, there under the Ruhleben
grand stand--English speech and Irish wit in that German sea. You
should have seen the two young patricians drifting in, with the
regulation drawl of the Piccadilly "nut"--"I say! He-ah's some
Christians--let's chaff them!" The crowd was laughing, the commandant
was laughing, the curtain closed in a whirl of applause, one had
forgotten there was a war. The applause continued, the players straggled
out, faltering back from the parts in which they had forgotten
themselves into normal, self-conscious Englishmen. There was a moment's
embarrassed pause, then the rattle of a sabre as the tall man in
gray-blue rose to his feet.
"Danke Ihnen, meine Herren! Aeusserst nett!" he said briskly. ("Thanks,
gentlemen! Very clever indeed!") He turned to us, nodded in stiff
soldierly fashion. "Sehr nett! Sehr nett!" he said, and led the way out
between a lane of Englishmen suddenly become prisoners again.
In The German Trenches At La Bassee
We had come down from Berlin on-one of those excursions which the German
General Staff arranges for the military observers and correspondents of
neutral countries. You go out, a sort of zoo--our party included four
or five Americans, a Greek, an Italian, a diminutive Spaniard, and a
tall, preoccupied Swede--under the direction of some hapless officer of
the General Staff. For a week, perhaps, you go hurtling through a
closely articulated programme almost as personally helpless as a package
in a pneumatic tube--night expresses, racing military motors, snap-shots
at this and that, down a bewildering vista of long gray capes, heel
clickings, stiff bows from the waist, and military salutes. You are
under fire one minute, the next shooting through some captured palace or
barracks or museum of antiques. At noon the guard is turned out in your
honor; at four you are watching distant shell-fire from the Belgian
dunes; at eleven, crawling under a down quilt in some French hotel,
where the prices of food and wines are fixed by the local German
commandant. Everything is done for you--more, of course, than one would
wish--the gifted young captain-conductor speaks English one minute,
French or Italian the next, gets you up in the morning, to bed at night,
past countless sentries and thick-headed guards demanding an Ausweis,
contrives never to cease looking as if he had stepped from a band-box,
and presently pops you into your hotel in Berlin with the curious
feeling of never having been away at all.
It isn't, of course, an ideal way of working--not like putting on a hat
and strolling out to war, as one sometimes could do in the early weeks
in Belgium and France. The front is a big and rather accidental place,
however--you can scarcely touch it anywhere without bringing back
something to help complete the civilian's puzzle picture of the war.
Our moment came in the German trenches before La Bassee, when, with the
English so near that you could have thrown a baseball into their
trenches, both sides began to toss dynamite bombs at each other.
We had come across to Cologne on the regular night express, shifted to a
military train, and so on through Aix, Louvain, Brussels, and by the
next morning's train down to Lille. Armentieres was only eight miles
away, Ypres fifteen, and a little way to the south Neuve Chapelle, where
the English offensive had first succeeded, then been thrown back only a
few days before.
Spring had come over night, the country was green, sparkling with canals
and little streams, and the few Belgian peasants left were trying to put
it in shape for summer. A few were ploughing with horses, others
laboriously going over their fields, foot by foot, with a spade; once we
passed half a dozen men dragging a harrow. Every tree in this country,
where wood is grown like any other crop, was speckled with white spots
where branches had been trimmed away, and below the timber was piled--
heavy logs for lumber, smaller ones cut into firewood--the very twigs
piled as carefully as so many stacks of celery.
So fresh and neat and clean-swept did it seem .in that soft sunshine
that one forgot how empty it was--so empty and repressed that one awoke
startled to see three shaggy farm horses galloping off as the train
rolled by, kicking up their heels as if they never had heard of war. It
seemed frivolous, almost impertinent, and the landsturm officer, leaning
in the open window beside me in the passageway, thinking perhaps of his
own home across the Rhine, laughed and breathed a deep-chested
"Kolossal!" We passed Enghien, Leuze, Tournai, all with that curious
look of a run-down clock. On the outskirts of one town, half a dozen
little children stopped spinning tops in the road to demand tribute from
the train. They were pinched little children, with the worried,
prematurely old faces of factory children, and they begged insistently,
almost irritably, as if payment was long overdue. Good-natured soldiers
tossed them chocolate and sausage and slices of buttered Kriegsbrod,
which they took without thanks, still repeating in a curious jumble of
German and French, "Pfennig venir! Pfennig--Pfennig--Pfennig venir!"'
Two officers from division headquarters were waiting for us in the
station at Lille--one, a tall, easy-going young fellow in black
motor-gauntlets, who looked as if he might, a few years before, have
rowed on some American college crew; the other, in the officers'
gray-blue frock overcoat with fur collar, a softer type, with quick,
dark eyes and smile, and the pleasant, slightly languid manners of a
young legation secretary.
We had just time to glance at the broken windows in the station roof,
the two or three smashed blocks around it, and be hurried to that most
empty of places--a modern city hotel without any guests--when three gray
military motor-cars, with the imperial double eagle in black on their
sides, whirled up. The officers took the lead, our happy family
distributed itself in the others, and with cut-outs drumming, a soldier
beside each chauffeur blowing a warning, and an occasional gay "Ta-ta
ta-ta!" on a silver horn, we whirled out into the open country.
We passed a church with a roof smashed by an aeroplane a few days
before--and caught at the same time the first "B-r-r-rurm!" from the
cannonading to the west--a supply-train, an overturned motor-van, and
here and there packed ammunition wagons and guns. Presently, in the lee
of a little brick farmhouse a short distance from the village of Aubers,
we alighted, and, with warnings that it was better not to keep too close
together, walked a little farther down the road. Not a man was in
sight, nor a house, nor gun, not even a trench, yet we were, as a matter
of fact, in the middle of a battle-field. From where we stood it was
not more than a mile to the English trenches and only two miles to Neuve
Chapelle; and even as we stood there, from behind us, from a battery we
had passed without seeing, came a crash and then the long spinning roar
of something milling down aisles of air, and a far-off detonation from
the direction of Neuve Chapelle.
Tssee-ee-rr... Bong! over our heads from the British lines came an
answering wail, and in the field, a quarter of a mile beyond us, there
was a geyser of earth, and slowly floating away a greenish-yellow cloud
of smoke. From all over the horizon came the wail and crash of shells--
an "artillery duel," as the official reports call it, the sort of thing
that goes on day after day.
Somebody wanted to walk on to the desolate village which raised its
smashed walls a few hundred yards down the road. The tall young officer
said that this might not be done--it would draw the enemy's fire, and as
if to accent this advice there was a sudden Bang! and the corner of one
of the houses we were looking at collapsed in a cloud of dust.
Under these wailing parabolas, swinging invisibly across from horizon to
horizon, we withdrew behind the farmhouse for lunch--sandwiches,
frankfurters kept hot in a fireless cooker, and red wine--when far
overhead a double-decker English aeroplane suddenly sailed over us. It
seemed to be about six thousand feet above us, so high that the sound of
its motors was lost, and its speed seemed but a lazy, level drifting
across the blue. Did it take those three motor-cars and those little
dots for some reconnoitring division commander and his staff? Aeroplanes
not only drop bombs, but signal to their friends; there was an
uncomfortable amount of artillery scattered about the country, and we
watched with peculiar interest the movements of this tiny hawk.
But already other guns, as hidden as those that might be threatening us,
had come, as it were, to the rescue. A little ball of black smoke
suddenly puffed out behind that sailing bird, and presently a sharp
crack of a bursting shrapnel shell came down to our ears. Another puff
of smoke, closer, one in front, above, below. They chased round him
like swallows. In all the drab hideousness of modern warfare there is
nothing so airy, so piquant, so pretty as this.
Our bird and his pursuers disappeared in the north; over the level
country to the south floated a German observation balloon, and presently
we rumbled over a canal and through the shattered village of La Bassee.
La Bassee had been in the war despatches for months, and looked it. Its
church, used as a range-finder, apparently, was a gray honeycomb from
which each day a few shells took another bite. Roofs were torn off,
streets strewn with broken glass and brick; yet it is in such houses and
their cellars that soldiers fighting in the trenches in a neighborhood
like this come back for a rest, dismal little islands which mask the
armies one does not see at the front.
The custom of billeting soldiers in houses--possible in territory so
closely built up--adds to the vagueness of modern warfare. Americans
associate armies with tents. When we mobilized ten thousand men at San
Antonio, you were in a city of soldiers. Ten thousand men in this war
disappear like water in sand. Some of them are in the trenches, some in
villages like this, out of the zone of heavier fire, but within a few
minutes' walk of their work, so to speak. Others are distributed
farther back, over a zone perhaps ten miles deep, crisscrossed with
telephone-wires, and so arranged with assembling stations, reserves, and
sub-reserves that the whole is a closely knit organism all the way up to
the front. There is continual movement in this body--the men in the
trenches go back after forty-eight hours to the near-by village, after
days or weeks of this service, back clear out of the zone of fire; fresh
men come up to take their places, and so on. All you see as you whirl
through is a sentry here, a soldier's head there at a second-story
window, a company shuffling along a country road.
Women watched us from the doors of La Bassee--still going on living
here, somehow, as human beings will on the volcano's very edge--and
children were playing in the street. Husbands gone, food gone, the
country swept bare--why did they not go, too? But where? Here, at any
rate, there was a roof overhead--until a shell smashed it--and food
soldiers were glad to share. There must be strange stories to tell of
these little islands on the edge of the battle, where the soldiers who
are going out to be killed, and the women whose husbands, perhaps, are
going to help kill them, huddle together for a time, victims of a common
We whirled past them down the road a bit, then walked up a gentle slope
to the right. Over this low ridge, from the English trenches,
rifle-bullets whistled above our heads. In the shelter of a brick
farmhouse a dozen or so German soldiers were waiting, after trench
service, to go back to La Bassee. They were smallish, mild-looking men,
dusted with the yellow clay in which they had burrowed--clothes, boots,
faces, and hands---until they looked like millers.
"How are the English?" some one asked. "Do they know how to shoot?"
A weary sort of hoot chorused out from the dust-covered men.
"Gut genug!" they said. The house was strewn with rusty cartridge clips
and smashed brick. We waited while our chaperon brought the battalion
commander--a mild-faced little man, more like a school-teacher than a
soldier--and it was decided that, as the trenches were not under fire at
the moment, we might go into them. He led the way into the
communication trench--a straight-sided winding ditch, shoulder-deep, and
just wide enough to walk in comfortably. Yellow clay was piled up
overhead on either side, and there was a wooden sidewalk. The ditch
twisted constantly as the trenches themselves do, so as not to be swept
by enfilading fire, and after some hundreds of yards of this twisting,
we came to the: first-line trench and the men's dugouts.
It was really a series of little caves, with walls of solid earth and
roofs of timber and sand-bags, proof against almost anything but the
plunging flight of heavy high-explosive shells. The floors of these
caves were higher than the bottom of the trench, so that an ordinary
rain would not flood them, and covered with straw. And they were full
of men, asleep, working over this and that--from one came the smell of
frying ham. The trench twisted snakelike in a general north and south
direction, and was fitted every few feet with metal firing-shields,
loopholed for rifles and machine guns. In each outer curve facing the
enemy a firing platform, about waist-high, had been cut in the earth,
with similar armored port-holes.
The Germans had been holding this trench for three months, and its whole
outer surface was frosted a sulphurous yellow from the smoke of exploded
shells. Shrapnel-casings and rusted shell-noses were sticking
everywhere in the clay, and each curve exposing a bit of surface to
the enemy was honeycombed with bullet holes. In one or two places
sand-bags, caves, and all had been torn out.
Except for an occasional far-off detonation and the more or less
constant and, so to speak, absent-minded cracking of rifles, a mere
keeping awake, apparently, and letting the men in the opposite trenches
know you are awake, the afternoon was peaceful. Pink-cheeked youngsters
in dusty Feldgrau, stiffened and clapped their hands to their sides as
officers came in sight, heard English with an amazement not difficult to
imagine, and doubtless were as anxious to talk to these strange beings
from a world they'd said good-by to, as we were to talk to them.
At one of the salient angles, where a platform had been cut, we stopped
to look through a periscope: one cannot show head or hand above the
trench, of course, without drawing fire, and looks out of this curious
shut-in world as men do in a submarine--just as the lady in the
old-fashioned house across from us in New York sits at her front window
and sees in a slanting mirror everything that happens between her and
We had not been told just where we were going (in that shut-in ditch one
had no idea), and there in the mirror, beyond some straggling barbed
wire and perhaps seventy-five yards of ordinary grass, was another clay
bank--the trenches of the enemy! Highlanders, Gurkhas, Heaven knows
what--you could see nothing--but--over there was England!
So this was what these young soldiers had come to--here was the real
thing. Drums beat, trumpets blare, the Klingelspiel jingles at the
regiment's head, and with flowers in your helmet, and your wife or
sweetheart shouldering your rifle as far as the station--and you should
see these German women marching out with their men!--you go marching out
to war. You look out of the windows of various railway trains, then
they lead you through a ditch into another ditch, and there, across a
stretch of mud which might be your own back yard, is a clay bank, which
is your enemy. And one morning at dawn you climb over your ditch and
run forward until you are cut down. And when you have, so to speak,
been thrown in the stream for the others to cross over, and the trench
is taken, and you are put out of the way under a few inches of French
earth, then, perhaps, inasmuch as experience shows that it isn't worth
while to try to keep a trench unless you have captured more than three
hundred yards of it, the battalion retires and starts all over again.
We had walked on down the trenches, turned a bend where two trees had
been blown up and flung across it, when there was a dull report near by,
followed a moment later by a tremendous explosion out toward the enemy's
trench. "Unsere Minen!" ("One of our bombs!") laughed a young soldier
beside me, and a crackle of excitement ran along the trench. These
bombs were cylinders, about the size of two baking-powder tins joined
together, filled with dynamite and exploded by a fuse. They were thrown
from a small mortar with a light charge of powder, just sufficient to
toss them over into the opposite trench. The Germans knew what was
coming, and they were laughing and watching in the direction of the
There was a dull report and at the same moment something shot up from
the English trenches and, very clear against the western sky, came
flopping over and over toward us like a bottle thrown over a barn.
"Vorsicht! Vorsicht!" It sailed over our heads behind the trench, there
was an instant's silence, and then "Whong!" and a pile of dirt and black
smoke was flung in the air. Again there was a dull report, and we sent
a second back--this time behind their trench--and again--"Vorsicht!
Vorsicht!"--they sent an answer back. Four times this was repeated. A
quainter way of making war it would be hard to imagine. They might have
been boys playing "anty-over" over the old house at home.
Bombs of this sort have little penetrating power. If thrown in the open
they go off on the surface much like a gigantic firecracker. They are
easy to dodge by daylight, when you can see them coming, but thrown at
night as part of a general bombardment, including shrapnel and heavy
explosive shells, or exploding directly in the trench, they must be
The bomb episode had divided us, two officers and myself waiting on one
side of the bend in the trench toward which the bombs were thrown, the
others going ahead. It was several minutes before I rejoined them, and
I did not learn until we were outside that they had been taken to
another periscope through which they saw a space covered with English
dead. There were, perhaps, two hundred men in khaki lying there, they
said, some hanging across the barbed-wire entanglements at the very foot
of the German trench, just as they had been thrown back in the attack
which had succeeded at Neuve Chapelle. Several Englishmen had got clear
into the German trench before they were killed. Here was another
example of the curious localness of this dug-in warfare, that one could
pass within a yard or two of such a battle-field and not know even that
it was there.
By another communication trench we returned to the little house. The
sun was low by this time and the line of figures walking down the-road
toward the automobiles in its full light. Perhaps the glasses of some
British lookout picked us up--at any rate the whisper of bullets became
uncomfortably frequent and near, and we had just got to the motors when
--Tssee--ee--rr... BONG! a shell crashed into the church of La Bassee,
only three hundred yards in front of us.
Before ours had started, another, flying on a lower trajectory, it
seemed, shrieked over our heads and burst beside the road so close to
the first motor that it threw mud into it. Apparently we were both
observed and sought after, and as the range of these main highways, up
and down which troops and munitions pass, is perfectly known, there was
a rather uncomfortable few minutes ere we had whirled through La Bassee,
with the women watching from their doors--no racing motors for them to
run away in!--and down the tree-arched road to ordinary life again.
No, not exactly ordinary, though we ourselves went back to a comfortable
hotel, for the big city of Lille, which had shown trolley-cars and a
certain amount of animation earlier in the day, was now, at dusk, like a
city of the dead. The chambermaid shrugged her shoulders with something
about a "punition" and, when asked why they were punished, said that
some French prisoners had been brought through Lille a week or two
before, and "naturally, the people shouted 'Vive la France!'"
So the military governor, as we observed next morning in a proclamation
posted on the blank wall across the street, informing the inhabitants
that they "apparently did not, as yet, understand the seriousness of the
situation," ordered the city to pay a 'fine of five hundred thousand
francs, and the citizens for two weeks to go within doors at sundown and
not stir abroad before seven next morning. Another poster warned people
that two English aviators had been obliged to come down within the city,
that they were still at large, and that any one who hid them or helped
them escape would be punished with death, in addition to which the
commune would be punished, too.
It was through black and silent streets, therefore, that our troop was
led from the hotel in which we were lodged to one in which we dined.
Here everything was warm and light and cheerful enough. Boyish
lieutenants, with close-clipped heads after the German fashion, were
telling each other their adventures, and here and there were older
officers, who looked as if war had worn them a bit, and they had come
here to forget for a moment over a bottle of champagne and the talk of
some old friend. The bread was black and hard, but the other food as
usual in France, with wine plenty and cheap, and even some of the
round-shelled, coppery oysters--captured somehow, in spite of blockades
and bombardments--just up from Ostend. It was bedtime when we emerged
into the black streets again, to discover, with something like surprise,
a sky full of stars and a pale new moon.
The rest of that civilian tour was very civil, indeed--a sort of
loop-the-loop of Belgium, with scarce a pause for breath. You can
imagine _that cosmopolitan menagerie trooping next morning up the stone
stairs of the castle of the Counts of Flanders in Ghent; at noon
inspecting old lace in Bruges, and people coming home from church, the
German guard changing, and the German band playing in the central
square; at two o'clock lunching in one of the Ostend summer hotels, now
full of German officers; at four pausing for a tantalizing moment in
Middelkerk, while the German guns we were not allowed to see on the edge
of the town were banging away at the British at Nieuport down the beach.
Next day Brussels--out to Waterloo, in a cloud of dust--the Congo
Museum--the King's palace at Laaken, an old servitor with a beard like
the tall King Leopold's leading these vandals through it, and looking
unutterable things--a word with the civil governor, here--a charming
lunch at a barracks, there--in short, a wild flight behind the man with
the precious "Ausweis."
We saw and sometimes met a good many German officers in a rather
familiar way. Many of the younger men reminded one of our university
men at home; several of the older men resembled their well-set-up
English cousins. This seemed particularly true of the navy, which has
acquired a type--lean, keen, firm-lipped young men, with a sense of
humor--entirely different from the German often seen in cafes, with no
back to his head, and a neck overflowing his collar. Particularly
interesting were those who, called back 'into uniform from responsible
positions in civil life, were attacking, as if building for all time,
the appallingly difficult and delicate task of improvising a government
for a complex modern state, and winning the tolerance, if not the
co-operation, of a conquered people confident that their subjection
was but for the day.
Our progress everywhere was down a continuous aisle of heel-clickings
and salutes. Sometimes, when we had to pass through three rows of
passport examiners between platform and gate, these formalities seemed
rather excessive. In the grenadier barracks in Brussels we had been
taken through sleeping-rooms, cool storerooms with their beer barrels
and loops of sausages--"all made by the regiment"--and were just
entering the kitchen when a giant of a man, seeing his superior
officers, snapped stiff as a ramrod and, as it is every German
subordinate's duty to do, bellowed out his "Meldung"--who and what the
men in his room were, and that they were going to have meat and noodle
soup for dinner.
No Frenchman, Englishman, or American could be taught, let alone achieve
of his own free will, the utter self-forgetfulness with which this vast
creature, every muscle tense, breathing like a race-horse, roared, or
rather exploded: "Herr Hauptmann! Mannschafts-Kuche-desten-Landwehr-
Regiments! Belegt-mit-einem-Unter-offizier-und-zehn-Mann! Wir essen
heute Suppe mit Nudeln und Fleisch! Zu Befehl!"
He had stepped down a century and a half from the grenadiers of the
Great Frederic, and even our hosts may have smiled. It was different
with the soldiers' salute, or the ordinary coming to attention, which we
saw repeated scores of times a day. Whatever men might be doing,
however awkward or inconvenient it might be, whether any one saw them or
not, they stopped short at the sight of these long, gray-blue coats and
stiffened, chin up, eyes on their superior, hands at their sides. If
they were talking, they became silent; if laughing, their faces smoothed
out, and into their eyes came an expression which, when you have seen it
repeated hundreds of times, you will not forget. It is a look of
seriousness, self-forgetfulness, of almost religious devotion, not to
the individual, but to the idea for which he stands. I saw a soldier
half-dressed, through a barracks window under which we passed, sending
after his officer, who did not even see him, that same look, the look of
a man who has just volunteered to charge the enemy's trench, or who sees
nothing absurd in saying the Germans fear God and nothing else in the
One seemed to see the soul of Germany, at least of this "great time," in
these men's eyes. The Belgian soul we did not see much of, but there
came glimpses of it now and then.
In Antwerp we stopped in a little cafe for a cup of chocolate. It was a
raw, cheerless morning, with occasional snowflakes whipping by on the
damp north wind, the streets were all but deserted, and in the room that
used to be full of smoke and talk there were only empty tables, and you
could see your breath.
A man was scrubbing behind the bar, and a pale girl in black came out
from behind the cashier's counter to make our chocolate. It was good
chocolate, as Antwerp chocolate is likely to be, and as we were getting
ready to go out again I asked her how things were. She glanced around
the room and answered that they used to have a good business here, but
the good times were gone--"les beaux jours sont partis." Two others
drifted over and asked questions about the bombardment. She answered
politely enough, with the air of one to whom it was an old story now--
she had left on the second day, when the building across the way was
smashed, and walking, catching rides, stumbling along with the other
thousands, had got into Holland. As to why the city fell so quickly--
she pulled her shawl about her shoulders and murmured that there were
things people did not know, if they did they did not talk about them.
And the Germans--how were they? They had no complaints to make, the girl
said; the Germans were well behaved--"tres correct." Possibly, then--it
was our young Italian who put the question--the Belgians would just as
soon... I did not catch the whole sentence, but all at once something
flashed behind that non-committal cafe proprietress's mask. "Moi, je
suis fiere d'etre Belge!" said the girl, and as she spoke you could see
the color slowly burning through her pale face and neck--she was proud
to be a Belgian--they hoped, that one could keep, and there would come a
day, we could be sure of that--"un jour de revanche!"
But business is business, and people who run cafes must, as every one
knows, not long indulge in the luxury of personal feelings. The
officers turned up their fur collars, and we buttoned up our coats, and
she was sitting behind the counter, the usual little woman in black at
the cafe desk, as we filed out. Our captain paused as we passed, gave a
stiff little bow from the waist, touched his cap gallantly, and said:
"Bon jour, mademoiselle!" And the girl nodded politely, as cafe
proprietresses should, and murmured, blank as the walls in the Antwerp
streets: "Bon jour, monsieur!"
The Road To Constantinople
Rumania and Bulgaria
The express left Budapest in the evening, all night and all next day
rolled eastward across the Hungarian plain, and toward dusk climbed up
through the cool Carpathian pines and over the pass into Rumania.
Vienna and the waltzes they still were playing there, Berlin and its
iron exaltation, slow-rumbling London--all the West and the war as we
had thought of it for months was, so to speak, on the other side of the
earth. We were on the edge of the East now, rolling down into the
Balkans, into that tangle of races and revenges out of which the first
spark of the war was flung.
Since coffee that morning the lonely train had offered nothing more
nourishing than the endless Hungarian wheat-fields, with their rows of
peasants, men and women, working comfortably together, and rows of
ploughs creeping with almost incredible leisure behind black
water-buffalo cattle; but as we rolled down into Predeal through the
rain, there, at last, in the dim station lamps, glittered the brass
letters and brown paint of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons
Lits--and something to eat.
The cars of this beneficent institution--survivors of a Europe that once
seemed divided between tourists and hotel-keepers--outdash the most
dashing war correspondents, insinuate themselves wherever civilians are
found at all, and once aboard you carry your oasis with you as you do in
a Pullman through our own alkali and sage-brush. The steward (his
culture is intensive, though it may not extend beyond the telegraph-
poles, and includes the words for food in every dialect between Ostend
and the Golden Horn) had just brought soup and a bottle of thin
Hungarian claret, when the other three chairs at my table were taken by
a Rumanian family returning from a holiday in Budapest--an urbane
gentleman of middle age, a shy little daughter, and a dark-eyed wife,
glittering with diamonds, who looked a little like Nazimova.
"Monsieur is a stranger?" said the Rumanian presently, speaking in
French as Rumanians are likely to do, and we began to talk war. I
asked--a question the papers had been asking for weeks--if Rumania would
be drawn into it.
"Within ten days we shall be in," he said.
"And on which side?"
"Oh!" he smiled, "against Austria, of course!"
That was in April. When I came through Rumania three months later
soldiers were training everywhere in the hot fields; Bucarest was full
of officers, the papers and cafes still buzzing with war talk. Rumania
was still going in, but since the recapture of Lemberg and the Russian
retreat the time was not so sure--not, it seemed, "until after the
harvest" at any rate.
I asked the Rumanian what he thought about Italy. "Italy began as a
coquette. She will end"--he made the gesture of counting money into his
hand--"she will end as a cocotte." He waved a forefinger in front of his
"Elle n'est plus vierge!" he said.
The wife demurred. Italy was poor and little, she must needs coquette.
After all, il faut vivre--one must live.
Something was said of America and the feeling there, and the wife
announced that she would like of all things to see America, but--she did
not wish to go there with her husband. I suggested that she come with
me--an endeavor to rise to the Rumanian mood which was received with
tolerant urbanity by her husband, and by the lady who looked like
Nazimova with very cheering expressions of assent.
"When you return from Constantinople," she flashed back as they left the
table, "don't forget!"
These were the first Rumanians I had met. They were amiable, they spoke
French--it almost seemed as if they had heard the tales that are usually
told of their little capital, and were trying to play the appropriate
introduction to Bucarest.
Here it is, this little nation, only a trifle larger than the State of
Pennsylvania, a half-Latin island in an ocean of Magyars and Slavs. On
the north is Russia, on the south the grave and stubborn Bulgars (Slav
at any rate in speech), on the west Hungary, and here, between the
Carpathians and the Black Sea, this Frenchified remnant of the empire of
ancient Rome. Their speech when it is not French is full of Latin
echoes, and a Rumanian, however mixed his blood, is as fond of thinking
himself a lineal and literal descendant of the Roman colonists as a New
Englander is of ancestors in the Mayflower. At the Alhambra in Bucarest
next evening, after the cosmopolite artistes had done then-perfunctory
turns and returned to their street clothes and the audience, to begin
the more serious business of the evening, the movie man in the gallery
threw on the screen--no, not some military hero nor the beautiful Queen
whose photograph you will remember, but the head of the Roman Emperor
Trajan! And the listless crowd, drowsing cynically in its tobacco smoke,
broke into obedient applause, just as they would at home at the sight of
the flag or a picture of the President.
Bucarest, like all the capitals of Spanish America, is another "little
Paris," but the Rumanians, possibly because unhampered by sombre Spanish
tradition or perhaps any traditions at all, succeed more completely in
borrowing the vices and escaping the virtues of the great capital they
are supposed to imitate. It would be more to the point to call Bucarest
a little Buenos Aires. There is much the same showiness; a similar
curious mixture of crudeness and luxury. But Buenos Aires is one of the
world's great cities, and always just beyond the asphalt you can somehow
feel the pampa and its endless cattle and wheat. The Rumanian capital
is a town of some three hundred thousand people in a country you could
lose in the Argentine, and there is nothing, comparatively speaking, to
offset its light-mindedness, to suggest realities behind all this life
You should see the Calea Vittorei on one of these warm summer evenings
between five and eight. It is a narrow strip of asphalt winding through
the centre of the town, with a tree-shaded drive at one end, and the
hotels, sidewalk cafes, and fashionable shops at the other, and up and
down this narrow street, in motors, in open victorias driven by Russian
coachmen in dark-blue velvet gowns reaching to their heels, all Bucarest
crowds to gossip, flirt, and see.
Down the centre in the open carriages flows a stream of women--and many
look like Nazimova--social distinctions so ironed out with enamel,
paint, and powder that almost all might be cafe chantant singers or
dressmakers' marionettes. Some cities have eagles on their crests, and
some volcanoes. If you were going to design a postage-stamp for
Bucarest, it struck me that the natural thing would be a woman in the
corner of an open victoria--after seeing scores of them all alike, you
feel as though you could do it in a minute: one slashing line for the
hat, two coal-black holes, and a dash of carmine in a patch of marble
white, and a pair of silk-covered ankles crossed and pointed in a way
that seems Parisian enough after one has become used to the curious
boxes in which women enclose their feet in Berlin. Coming up from
Bulgaria, which is not unlike coming from Idaho or Montana; or from
Turkey, where women as something to be seen of men in public do not
exist; or even across from the simple plains of Hungary, these enamelled
orchids flowing forever down the asphalt seem at the moment to sum up
the place--they are Bucarest.
Officers in light blue, in mauve and maroon--mincing butterflies, who
look as if an hour's march in the sun would send them to the hospital,
ogle them from the sidewalk. Along with them are many young bloods out
of uniform, barbered and powdered like chorus men made up for their
work. You will see few young men in Europe with whom the notion of
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