In the Claws of the German Eagle
Albert Rhys Williams
Part 3 out of 3
A week after this incident Van Hee paid his first visit to this
wounded man in the Belgian hospital. He was an honest fellow of
about forty--the type of working-man who had aspired to nothing
beyond a chance to toil and raise a family for the Fatherland.
Weltpolitik, with its vaunting boast of "World-power or Downfall,"
was meaningless to him and his comrades gathered in the beer-
gardens on a Sunday.
Suddenly out of this quiet, uneventful life he was called to the
colors and sent killing and burning through the Belgian villages.
His officers had told him that it would be a sorry thing for any
German soldier to be captured, for these Belgians, maddened by
the pillage of their country, would take a terrible revenge upon any
luckless wretches that fell into their hands. Now, more suddenly
than anything else had ever happened in his life, a bullet had
stabbed him in the throat and he found himself a prisoner at the
mercy of these dreaded Belgians.
"Why are they tending me so carefully during these last seven
days?" "Are they getting me ready for the torturing?" "Are they
making me well in order that I may suffer all the more?" Grim
speculation of that kind must have been running through his
simple mind. For when we opened the door of his room, he slunk
cowering over to his bed, staring at us as if we were inquisitors
about to lead him away to the torture chamber, there to suffer
vicariously for all the crimes of the German army.
His body, already shrunken by overwork, visibly quivered before
us, the perspiration beading on his ashen face.
We had come to apprise him of his present status as a citizen
under the protectorate of America.
Van Hee approached the subject casually with the remark: "You
see, you are not a Frenchman!"
"No, I am not a Frenchman," the quailing fellow mechanically
"And you are not a Belgian," resumed Van Hee.
He was not quite sure about disclaiming that, but he saw what was
expected of him. So he faltered: "No, I am not a Belgian." "And
you are not an Englishman, eh?" According to formula he
answered: "No, I am not an Englishman!" but I sensed a bit more
of emphasis in the disavowal of any English taint to his blood.
Van Hee was taking this process of elimination in order to clear the
field so that his man could grasp the fact that he was to all intents
an American, and at last he said:
"No longer are you a German either."
The poor fellow was in deep seas, and breathing hard. Everything
about him proclaimed the fact that he was a German, even to his
field-gray uniform, and he knew it. But he did not venture to
contradict Van Hee, and he whispered hoarsely: "No, I am not a
He was completely demoralized, a picture of utter desolation.
"If you are not German, or Belgian, or French, or English, what are
The poor fellow whimpered: "0 Gott! I don't know what I am."
"I'll tell you what you are. You're an American!" exclaimed Van Hee
with great gusto. "That's what you are--an American! Get that? An
"Ja, ja ich bin ein Amerikaner!" he eagerly cried ("Yes, yes, I am an
American!"), relieved to find himself no longer a man without a
country. Had he been told that he was a Hindoo, or an Eskimo, he
would have acquiesced as obediently.
But when he was shown an American flag and it began to dawn on
him that he had nothing more to fear from his captors, his
tenseness relaxed. And when Van Hee said: "As the American
consul I shall do what I can for you. What is it you want the most?"
a light shone in the German's eyes and he replied:
"I want to go home. I want to see my wife and children."
"I thought you came down here because you wanted to see the
war," said Van Hee.
"War!" he gasped, and putting hands up to his eyes as if to shut
out some awful sights, he began muttering incoherently about
"Louvain," "children screaming," "blood all over his breast,"
repeating constantly "schrecklich, schrecklich." "I don't want to see
any more war. I want to see my wife and my three children!"
"The big guns! Do you hear them?" he said.
"I don't want to hear them," he answered, shaking his head.
"They're killing you Germans by the thousands down there,"
announced Van Hee. "I should think you would want to get out and
kill the French and the English."
"I don't want to kill anybody," he repeated. "I never did want to kill
anybody. I only want to go home." As we left him he was repeating
a refrain: "I want to go home"--"Schrecklich, schrecklich." "I never
did want to kill anybody."
Every instinct in that man's soul was against the murder he had
been set to do. His conscience had been crucified. A ruthless
power had invaded his domain, dragged him from his hearthside,
placed a gun in his hands and said to him: "Kill!"
Perhaps before the war, as he had drilled along the German
roads, he had made some feeble protest. But then war seemed so
unreal and so far away; now the horror of it was in his soul.
A few days later Van Hee was obliged to return him to the German
lines. Again he was marched out to the shambles to take up the
killings against which his whole nature was in rebellion. No slave
ever went whipped to his task with greater loathing.
Once I saw slowly plodding back into Brussels a long gray line of
soldiers; the sky, too, was gray and a gray weariness had settled
down upon the spirits of these troops returning from the
destruction of a village. I was standing by the roadside holding in
my arms a refugee baby.
Its attention was caught by an officer on horseback and in baby
fashion it began waving its hand at him. Arrested by this sudden
gleam of human sunshine the stern features of the officer relaxed
into a smile. Forgetting for the moment his dignity he waved his
hand at the baby in a return salute, turning his face away from his
men that they might not see the tears in his eyes. But we could
Perhaps through those tears he saw the mirage of his own
fireside. Perhaps for the moment his homing spirit rested there,
and it was only the body from which the soul had fled that was in
the saddle here before us riding through a hostile land. Perhaps
more powerfully than the fulminations of any orator had this
greeting of a little child operated to smite him with the senseless
folly of this war. Who knows but that right then there came flashing
into his mind the thought: "Why not be done with this cruel
orphaning of Belgian babies, this burning down of their homes and
turning them adrift upon the world?"
Brutalizing as may be the effect of militarism in action, fortified as
its devotees may be by all the iron ethics of its code, I cannot help
but believe that here again the ever-recurring miracle of
repentance and regeneration had been wrought by the grace of a
baby's smile; that again this stern-visaged officer had become just
a human being longing for peace and home, revolting against
laying waste the peace and homes of his fellowmen. But to what
avail? All things would conspire to make him conform and stifle the
revolt within. How could he escape from the toils in which he was
held? Next morrow or next week he would again be in the saddle
riding out to destruction.
The irony of history again! It was this German folk who said,
centuries ago: "No religious authority shall invade the sacred
precincts of the soul and compel men to act counter to their
deepest convictions." In a costly struggle the fetters of the church
were broken. But now a new iron despotism is riveted upon them.
The great state has become the keeper of men's consciences.
The dragooning of the soul goes on just the same. Only the power
to do it has been transferred from the priests to the officers of the
state. To compel men to kill when their whole beings cry out
against it, is an atrocity upon the souls of men as real as any
committed upon the bodies of the Belgians.
Amidst the wild exploits and wilder rumors of those crucial days
when Belgium was the central figure in the world-war, the
calmness of the natives was a source of constant wonder. In the
regions where the Germans had not yet come they went on with
their accustomed round of eating, drinking and trading with a sang
froid that was distressing to the fevered outsider.
Yet beneath this surface calmness and gayety ran a smoldering
hate, of whose presence one never dreamed, unless he saw it
shoot out in an ugly flare.
I saw this at Antwerp when about 300 of us had been herded into
one of the great halls. As one by one the suspects came up to the
exit gate to be overhauled by the examiners, I thought that there
never could be such a complacent, dead-souled crowd as this.
They had dully waited for two hours with scarce a murmur.
The most pathetic weather-worn old man--a farm drudge, I
surmise--came up to the exit. All I heard were the words of the
officer: "You speak German, eh?"
At a flash this dead throng became an infuriated blood-thirsting
mob. "Allemand! Espion!" it shouted, swinging forward until the
gates sagged. "Kill him! Kill the damned German!"
The mob would have put its own demand into execution but for the
soldiers, who flung the poor quivering fellow into one corner and
pushed back the Belgians, eager to trample him to the station
There was the girl Yvonne, who, while the color was mounting to
her pretty face, informed us that she "wanted the soldiers to keel
every German in the world. No," she added, her dark eyes
snapping fire, "I want them to leave just one. The last one I shall
Yet, every example of Belgian ferocity towards the spoilers one
could match with ten of Belgian magnanimity. We obtained a
picture of Max Crepin, carbinier voluntaire, in which he looks
seventy years of age--he was really seventeen. At the battle of
Melle he had fallen into the hands of the Germans after a bullet
had passed clean through both cheeks. In their retreat the
Germans had left Max in the bushes, and he was now safe with
He could not speak, but the first thing he wrote in the little book the
nurse handed him was, "The Germans were very kind to me."
There was a line about his father and mother; then "We had to lie
flat in the bushes for two days. One German took off his coat and
wrapped it around me, though he was cold himself. Another
German gave me all the water in his canteen." Then came a line
about a friend, and finally: "The Germans were very kind to me." I
fear that Max would not rank high among the haters.
Whenever passion swept and tempted to join their ranks, the
figure of Gremberg comes looming up to rebuke me. He was a
common soldier whose camaraderie I enjoyed for ten days during
the skirmishing before Antwerp. In him the whole tragedy of
Belgium was incarnated. He had lost his two brothers; they had
gone down before the German bullets. He had lost his home; it
had gone up in flames from the German torch. He had lost his
country; it had been submerged beneath the gray horde out of the
"Why is it, Gremberg," I asked, "you never rage against the
Boches? I should think you would delight to lay your hands on
every German and tear him into bits. Yet you don't seem to feel
"No, I don't," he answered. "For if I had been born a Boche, I know
that I would act just like any Boche. I would do just as I was
ordered to do."
"But the men who do the ordering, the officers and the military
caste, the whole Prussian outfit?"
"Well, I have it in for that crowd," Gremberg replied, "but, you see,
I'm a Socialist, and I know they can't help it. They get their orders
from the capitalists."
The capitalists, he explained, were likewise caught in the vicious
toils of the system and could act no differently. Bayonet in hand,
he expounded the whole Marxian philosophy as he had learned it
at the Voorhuit in Ghent. The capitalists of Germany were racing
with the capitalists of England for the markets of the world, so they
couldn't help being pitted against each other. The war was simply
the transference of the conflict from the industrial to the military
plane, and Belgium, the ancient cockpit of Europe, was again the
He emphasized each point by poking me with his bayonet. As an
instrument of argument it is most persuasive. When I was a bit
dense, he would press harder until I saw the light. Then he would
pass on to the next point.
I told him that I had been to Humanite's office in Paris after Jaures
was shot, and the editors, pointing to a great pile of anti-war
posters, explained that so quickly had the mobilization been
accomplished, that there had been no time to affix these to the
"The French Socialists had some excuse for their going out to
murder their fellow workers," I said, "and the Germans had to go or
get shot, but you are a volunteer. You went to war of your own
free-will, and you call yourself a Socialist."
"I am, but so am I a Belgian!" he answered hotly. "We talked
against war, but when war came and my land was trampled,
something rose up within me and made me fight. That's all. It's all
right to stand apart, but you don't know."
I did know what it was to be passion swept, but, however, I went
on baiting him.
"Well, I suppose that you are pretty well cured of your Socialism,
because it failed, like everything else."
"Yes, it did," he answered regretfully, "but at any rate people are
surprised at Socialists killing one another--not at the Christians.
And anyhow if there had been twice as many priests and churches
and lawyers and high officials, that would not have delayed the
war. It would have come sooner; but if there had been twice as
many Socialists there would have been no war."
The free-lance interrupted to call him out for a picture before it was
too dark. Gremberg took his position on the trench, his hand
shading his eyes. It is the famous iron trench at Melle from which
the Germans had withdrawn.
He is not looking for the enemy. If they were near, ten bullets
would have brought him down in as many seconds. He is looking
into the West.
And to me he is a symbol of all the soldiers of Europe, and all the
women of Europe who huddle to their breasts their white-faced,
sobbing children. They are all looking into the West, for there lies
Hope. There lies America. And their prayer is that the young
republic of the West shall not follow the blood-rusted paths of
militarism, but somehow may blaze the way out of chaos into a
Love Among The Ruins
The Beating Op "The General,"
"The saddest sound in all the world," says A Sardou, "is the beating
of the General." On that fateful Saturday afternoon in August,
after nearly fifty years of silence through the length and breadth of
France, there sounded again the ominous throbbing of the drums
calling for the general mobilization of the nation. At its sound the
French industrial army melted into a military one. Ploughshares
and pruning-hooks were beaten into machine-guns and Lebel
rifles. The civilian straightway became a soldier.
We were returning from Malmaison, the home where Napoleon
spent with Josephine the happiest moments of his life. Our
Parisian guide and chauffeur were in chatting, cheerful mood
though fully alive to all the rumors of war. They were sons of
France, from their infancy drilled in the idea that some day with
their comrades they were to hear this very drum calling them to
march from their homes; they had even been taught to cherish the
coming of this day when they should redeem the tarnished glory of
France by helping to plant the tricolor over the lost provinces of
Alsace and Lorraine.
But that the dreaded, yet hoped-for day had really arrived, seemed
preposterous and incredible--incredible until we drove into the
village of Reuilly where an eager crowd, gathering around a soldier
with a drum, caused our chauffeur to draw sharply up beside the
curb and we came to a stop twenty feet from the drummer. He was
a man gray enough to have been, if not a soldier, at least a
drummer boy in 1870. The pride that was his now in being the
official herald of portentous news was overcast by an evident
As if conscious of the fact that he was to pound not on the dead
dry skin of his drum, but on living human hearts, he hesitated a
moment before he let the sticks falls. Then sharp and loud
throbbed the drum through the still-hushed street. Clear and
resolute was the voice in which he read the order for mobilization.
The whole affair took little more than a minute. Those who know
how heavily the disgrace and disaster of 1870 lie upon the French
heart will admit that it is fair to say that all their life this crowd had
lived for this moment. Now that it had come, they took it with tense
white looks upon their faces. But not a cheer, not a cry, not a
shaking of the fist.
The only outwardly tragic touch came from our chauffeur. When
he heard the words "la mobilization" he flung down his cap, threw
up his hands, bowed his head a second, then gripped his steering
wheel and, for fifteen miles, drove desperately, accurately, as
though his car were a winged bullet shooting straight into the face
of the enemy. That fifteen-mile run from Reuilly to Paris was
through a long lane of sorrow: for not to one section or class, but
to all France had come the call to mobilize. Every home had been
summoned to the sacrifice of its sons.
We witnessed nowhere any wailings or wringing of hands or
frantic, foolish pleading to stay at home. Long ago the question of
their dear ones going had been settled. Through the years they
had made ready their hearts for this offering and now they gave
with a glad exaltation. How bravely the French woman met the
demand upon her, only those of us who moved in and out among
the homes during those days of mobilization can testify. The
"General" was indeed to these mothers, wives and sweethearts
left behind the saddest sound in all the world.
But if it were so sad as Sardou said in 1870, when 500,000
answered to its call, how infinitely sadder was it in 1914 when ten
times that number responded to its wild alarum, a million never
returning to the women that had loved them. But such statistics
are just the unemotional symbols of misery. We can look at this
colossal sum of human tragedy without being gripped one whit. If
we look into the soul of one woman these figures become invested
with a new and terrible meaning.
Such an opportunity was strangely given me as we stood in a long
queue outside the American embassy waiting for the passports
that would make our personages sacrosanct when the German
raiders took the city. A perspiring line, we shuffled slowly forward,
thanking God that we were not as the Europeans, but had had the
good sense to be born Americans. While in the next breath we
tiraded against the self-same Government for not hurrying the
American fleet to the rescue.
The alien-looking gentleman behind me mopped his brow and
muttered something about wishing that he had not thirsted for
other "joys than those of old St. Louis."
"Pennsylvania has her good points, too," I responded.
That random shot opened wide to me the gates of Romance and
High Adventure. It broke the long silence of the girl just ahead.
"It's comforting just to hear the name of one's own home state,"
she said. "I lived in a little village in the western part of
Pennsylvania," and, incidentally, she named the village where my
father had once been minister of the church. I explained as much
to her and marveled at the coincidence.
"More marvel still," she said, "for we come not only from the same
state and the same village, but from the same house. My father
was minister in that same church."
Nickleville is the prosaic name of that little hamlet in western
Pennsylvania. Any gentle reader with a cynic strain there may
verify this chronicle and find fresh confirmation for the ancient
adage that "Fact is stranger far than Fiction."
That selfsame evening we held reunion in a cafe off the Boulevard
Clichy. There I first discerned the slightness of her frame and
marveled at the spirit that filled it. She was exuberant in the joy of
meeting a countryman and, with the device of laughter, she kept in
check the sadness which never quite came welling up in tears.
She was typical American but let her bear here the name by which
her new friends in France called her--Marie. One might linger upon
her large eyes and golden hair, but this is not the epic of a fair face
but of a fair soul--vigorous and determined, too. To the power
therein even the stolid waiter paid his homage.
"Pardon," he interjected once, "we must close now. The orders are
for all lights out by nine. It is the government. They fear the
"But that's just what I'm afraid of, too," Marie answered. "How can
you turn us out into that darkness filled with Zeppelins?" He
succumbed to this radiant banter and, covering every crevice that
might emit a ray of light, he let us linger on long after closing time.
Marie's was one of those classic souls which by some anomaly,
passing by the older lineages and cultures of the East, find
birthplace in a bleak untutored village of the West. To this bareness
some succumb, and the divine afflatus dies. Still others roam
restlessly up and down, searching until they find their milieu and
then for the first time their spirit glows.
Music had breathed upon this girl's spirit, touched with a vagabond
desire. To satisfy it she must have money. So she gave lessons to
children. Then a publisher bought some little melodies that she
had set to words. And lastly, grave and reverend committeemen,
after hesitating over her youth, made her head of music in a
university of western Montana.
Early in 1914, with her gold reserves grown large enough for the
venture, she set sail for the siege of Paris. To her charm and
sterling worth it had soon capitulated--a quicker victory than she
had dared to hope for. Around her studio in a street off the
Champs Elysees she gathered a coterie of kindred souls. She told
of the idealism and camaraderie of the little circle, while its foibles
she touched upon with much merriment. Behind this outward
jesting I gained a glimpse of the fight she had made for her
"It's been hard," I said, "but what a lot you have found along the
"Yes, far more than you can imagine," she replied; "I have found
Robert le Marchand."
"And who is he?"
"Well, he is an artist and an athlete, and he is just back from
Albania--where he had most wonderful adventures. He has written
them up for 'Gaulois.' His home is in Normandy. And he is heir to a
large estate in Italy in the South--in what looks like the heel on the
map. And he has a degree from the Sorbonne and he is the real
prince of our little court. And, best of all, he loves me."
Then she told the story of her becoming the princess of the little
"From his ancestral place in Italy," she said, "Robert sent me
baskets of fruit gathered in his groves by his own hands. In one he
placed a sprig of orange-blossoms. We laughed about it when we
met again and------"
I saw that after this affairs had ripened to a quick conclusion. In
drives along the boulevards, in walks through the moonlit woods,
at dinners, concerts, dances--these two mingled their dreams for
their home in Normandy. The only discord in this summer
symphony was a frowning father.
Marie was the epitome of all charms and graces. Yes. But she
came undowered--that was all. And firm he stood against any
breach in the long established code of his class. But they did not
suffer this to disturb their plans and reveries, and through those
soft July days they roamed together in their lotus-land. Then
suddenly thundered that dream-shattering cannon out of the north.
"I was out of town for the week end," Marie continued; "I heard the
beating of the 'General' and at call for mobilization I flew back here
as quickly as I could. It was too late. There was only a note saying
that he had gone, and how hard it was to go without one farewell."
"Now what are you going to do?"
"What can I do with Robert gone and all his friends in the army
"Let me do what I can. Let me play substitute," I volunteered.
"Do you really mean what you just said?" she queried.
"I really do," I answered.
"Well, then, do you paddle a canoe?"
"Yes, but what has that to do with the question?" I replied
"Everything," she responded. "Robert is stationed at Corbeille,
fifteen miles below here on the Seine. I have the canoe and
tomorrow I want you to go with me down the river to Robert.".
My mind made a swift diagnosis of the situation. All exits from
Paris carefully watched; suspicion rife everywhere--strangers off in
a canoe; a sentinel challenge and a shot from the bank.
"Let us first consider------" I began.
"We can do that in the canoe to-morrow," she interrupted.
And I capitulated, quite as Paris had.
We stepped out into the darkness that cloaked the silent city from
its aerial ravagers. As we walked I mused upon this modern
maiden's Iliad. While a thousand hug the quiet haven, what was it
that impelled the one to cut moorings and range the deep? A
chorus of croaking frogs greeted our turn into a park.
"Funny," said Marie, "but frogs drove me out of Nickleville! There
was nothing to do at home but to listen to their eternal noise; to
save my nerves I simply had to break away."
The prospect of that canoe trip was not conducive to easy
slumber. The frog chorus in that Pennsylvania swamp, why had it
not been less demonstrative? Still lots could happen before
morning. One might develop appendicitis or the Germans might
get the city. With these two comforting hopes I fell asleep. Morning
realizing neither of them, I walked over to Marie's studio.
"Well, then, all ready for the expedition?" I said, masking my
pessimism with a smile.
For reply she handed this note which read:
"Dear Marie: I have been transferred from Corbeille to Melun. It
makes me ill to be getting ever farther and farther away.--Robert."
With the river trip cancelled, life looked more roseate to me. "And
now we can't go after all," I said, mustering this time the
appearance of sadness.
"Oh, don't look so relieved," she laughed, "because we're going
"But what's the use? He has gone."
"Well, we are going where he has gone, that's all," she retorted.
I pointed out the facts that only military trains were running to
Melun; that we weren't soldiers; that the river was out of the
question; that we had no aeroplane and that we couldn't go
overland in a canoe.
"But we can with our wits," Marie added.
I explained how lame my wits were in French, and that two
consecutive sentences would bring on trial for high treason to the
"Oh, but you don't furnish the wits," Marie retorted. "You just
furnish the body."
In her plan of campaign I gathered that I was to act as a kind of
convoy, from which she was to dart forth, torpedoing all obstacles.
I was quite confident of her torpedoing ability but not of my fitness
to play a star part as a dour and fear-inspiring background. She
packed her bag and presently we were making our way to the
station through a blighted city.
At the Gare du Nord a cordon of soldiers had been thrown about
the station; crowds surged up against the gates, a few frantically
pleading and even crying to get through. The guards, to every plea
and threat returned a harsh "C'est impossible." Undaunted by the
despair of others, she looked straight into the eyes of the somber
gate-keeper and, with every art, told the story of Robert le
Marchand, brave young officer of France; of his American girl and
his deep longing for her. When she had stirred this lethargic
functionary into a show of interest in this girl, with a revealing
gesture she said: "And here she is; please, Monsieur, let me go."
"Ah, Mademoiselle, I would like to," he replied, "but are not all the
soldiers of France longing for wives and sweethearts! Mon Dieu! if
they all rode there would be no room for the militaire. The Boches
would take us in the midst of our farewells. There is never any end
"But, Monsieur, I did not have one good-by."
"No, Mademoiselle. C'est impossible."
The guardian of the second gate took her plea in a way that did
more credit to his heart than to his knowledge of geography. He
thought (and we made no effort to disillusionize him) that she had
come all the way from America since the outbreak of war. It nearly
moved him to tears. Was he surrendering? Almost. But recovering
his official negative head-shake and trusting not to words, he fell
back upon the formula: "No, Madame, c'est impossible."
The truth had failed and so had the half-truth. To the next
forbidding guard Marie came as a Red Cross nurse, hurrying to
"Your uniform, Madame," he interposed.
"No time to get a uniform; no time to get a permission," she
"Take time, Madame," was his brusque dismissal.
Each time rebuffed, she tried again, but against the full battery of
her blandishments the line was adamant.
"It's no use," I said. "We may as well go home."
"No retreat until we've tried our last reserves," she responded,
clinking some coins together in her hand. "We'll try a change of
We reconnoitered and decided that an opening might be made
through guardian number two. He had almost surrendered in the
first engagement. This time, along with the smile, she flashed a
coin. Perchance he had already repented of his first refusal.
Anyhow, if an officer of France could be made happy with his
sweetheart and at the same time a brave gendarme could be
made richer by a five-franc piece, would not La Belle France fight
so much the better? The logic was incontestable. "This way,
Mademoiselle, Monsieur, and be quick, please."
We had passed through the lines into a riot of red and blue
uniforms. Soldiers were everywhere sprawled over the platforms,
knotted up in sleep, yawning, stretching their limbs, eating,
smoking and swearing. No one knew anything about tickets, trains
or aught else.
Swirled about in an eddying tide of entraining troops, we were
flung up against a stationary being garbed as a railway dispatcher.
He bluffed and blustered a bit. Our story, however, supplemented
by some hard cash, procured calm and presently we found
ourselves in a compartment with two tickets marked Melun, a few
rations and sundry admonitions not to converse with fellow-
passengers until the train started.
It is hard to explain why any one should want to communicate in
German to an American girl in a French railway compartment in
wartime. But explain why some people want to play with trip-
hammers and loaded guns. We know they do. And so, though
aware that there were spy-hunting listeners all around, a mad
desire to utter the forbidden tongue obsessed me. Wry faces from
Marie, emphasized by repeated pinches at each threatened
outbreak, brought me back to my senses and to Anglo-Saxon.
Not only one who spoke, but even one who understood the hated
tongue was a suspect. For the least knowledge of the enemy's
language was to some the hall-mark of a spy. The game played
throughout France and Belgium was to fling a sudden command at
the suspect, catching the unwary fellow off-guard, and thus trap
him into self-betrayal.
An official would say sharply: "Nehmen Sie ihre Hutte ab" (Take off
your hat). Or there would come a sudden challenge on the street,
"Wohin gehen Sie?" (Where are you going?) If instinctively one
obeyed or replied in German, he was there caught with the goods.
Our major domo under the influence of the coin, or what he had
procured at the vintner's in exchange therefor, grew a bit playful.
He suddenly flung open the door and cried, "Steigen Sie auf." If I
had comprehended his meaning involuntarily I would have
obeyed, but luckily my brain has a slow shifting language gear. By
the time it began dawning upon me that we had been told to
vacate the car Marie had fixed me with her eyes and gripped me
like a vise with her hand so that I knew that I was to stay put. One
man involuntarily started and then checked himself. He was so
patently a Frenchman though that everybody laughed. The major
domo chuckled and marched away, much pleased with his playful
At last, with much jolting, we started on our crawling journey.
Sometimes the snail-pace would be accelerated; our hopes would
then expand, only to collapse again with a bang. Again we would
be sidetracked to let coal-cars, cattle cars and flat cars with guns
go by. Civilians were ciphers in the new order, and if it served any
military purpose to dump us into the river, in we would have gone
with no questions asked. We sat about, a wilted and dispirited lot.
Occasionally some one would thrust his head out the window to
observe progress. He was generally rewarded by a view of the
Eiffel Tower from a new angle, for it seemed that we were simply
being shunted in and about and all around the city.
The most icy reserve must find itself cracked and thawing in the
intimacies which a jerking railway car precipitates. There is no
dignity which is proof against a sound bump upon the head. Thus
our irritations and suspicions gave way to laughter, and laughter
brings all the barriers down. The compartment became a confessional.
The anxious looking man opposite was hoping to get to his estate
and to bury a few of his most treasured things before the Germans
came. The two young fellows with scraggly beards were brothers,
given five days' leave to see a dying father; three days had been
spent in a vain effort to get started there. Another man had a half
telegram which read, "Accident at home you------" Not another word
had he been able to get through. The silent young man in the corner
smiled pleasantly when his turn came but volunteered no information.
I likewise passed.
Marie, wishing to fortify herself with all possible help in her venture,
told her tale in full. An immediate proffer came from the hitherto
taciturn young man in the corner. "Why, this is romance in earnest.
I do wish that I might be of some help," he said with genuine
Our new friend we found had for a grandfather no less a dignitary
than Alexander Dumas. His name he told us was Louis Dumas, an
artist, not yet called to the colors, and bound now for Villeneuve,
"and before we can really get acquainted, here we are," he said as
the train came to a stop.
As he stepped to the door it was flung open by an officer who
shouted, "Everybody out! This car is for the military." We
protested. We displayed our tickets. The officer laughed and,
seizing one reluctant passenger, dragged him out. A quickly
ejected and much dejected band, we found ourselves upon the
street of a little outlying village nine miles from Paris. It had taken
half as many hours to get there.
We fell upon the one village gendarme with a volley of questions.
By pitching her voice above the hubbub, Marie got in her inquiry
about the distance to Melun.
"Thirty kilometers by the main road," he answered.
This, then, was the issue of that tense day of strategy and daring:
to be stranded in this suburb from which it was impossible to go
forward to Melun and almost as difficult to return to Paris. Marie
crumpled under the blow and then I realized how much it had cost
her to maintain that calm outward demeanor.
By sheer will-power she had kept the tears from her eyes and the
tremor from her limbs. Long held in leash, they now leaped out to
Dumas ran hither and thither, hunting conveyance but in vain.
Three of his friends had automobiles. He called them by
telephone. All cars had been commandeered. He stood with head
drooping in real dejection.
"Ah, I have it!" he exclaimed, "my friend Veilleau, he has an
aeroplane and he will do it."
This was quite too much even for Marie's soaring spirit; but she
scarcely had time to picture herself ranging the sky when Dumas
was back again, sorrowfully confessing failure. Aeroplanes likewise
had heard the tocsin; they had sterner business than wafting
lovers through the sky; they were carrying explosives and
messages in the service of France. Dumas looked almost as
disappointed as the wilted little figure he was trying to help.
When the villagers understood her plight, they were full of
sympathy, full of condolences, but also full of tales of arrest for
those traveling on the main road.
"Where was this road, anyhow?"
"Out there," they replied.
Turning a corner, we looked down the long row of poplars that
lined the main road to Melun.
America In The Arms Op France
Any poplar-fringed road in France holds its strange lure. Dignity
and grace lie in these tall swaying trees sentinelling the way on
either side. To the poet, it is at all times the way to Arcady. But at
eventide when the mystic light comes streaming from the west,
touching the billowing green into gold, then even to the prosaic
there is a call from the whispering, wind-stirred leaves to go a-
grailing and to find at the end the palace or the princess. This time
it was the prince who was calling. This little sad-featured girl was a-
tune to hear his call. Perhaps in the purple mist she could even
see her prince and feel the pleading of those outstretched arms.
Wistfully she looked down her road to Arcady; but how far away
the end and so bestrewn with terrors.
Are psychic forces subject to ordinary physical laws, and do they
act most powerfully along unobstructed ways? At any rate the
voltage was high in the psychic currents that swept the straight
road to Melun that afternoon, for when this saddened girl turned
from her long gaze down the road to Melun it was with a
transfigured face. Her tear-dimmed eyes shone with a calm
resolve and the uplifted chin foreboded, I perceived, no good to
my dreams of rest and resignation.
To know the worst I ventured: "Well, how are we going to get to
"You mean Melun?" she gently smiled.
"Sheer madness," I replied. "A carriage is out of the question, and
if we had one there would be a hundred guards to turn us back."
We stepped aside while two military trucks in their gray war-paint
went lurching by. She followed them with her eyes until they disappeared
into the distant haze where poplar and purple sky melted into one.
"Going straight to Robert," she cried, clasping her hands, "and if
they only knew how much I want to go, I don't believe they would
Preposterous as it was, if they could indeed have seen the longing
in her eyes I felt certain they wouldn't either. Discreetly I refrained
from saying so.
We walked slowly back to the partial barricade which compelled
the motors to slow down. A siren heralded the approach of a car. I
drew her aside into the ditch. Wrenching her hand loose she cried:
"I don't care what happens. I'm going to stop this car!" Planting
herself squarely in the path of the great gray thing, she signaled
wildly for it to stop. The goggled driver bore straight down upon the
little figure, then swerving sharply to one side jammed on the
brakes and came to a sudden halt.
"What's the trouble?" said the other occupant of the car, a thick-
set swarthy fellow in a captain's uniform. "Washout, bombs or
"No, it's Robert!" Marie exclaimed.
"Robert?" he cried, angered at this delay.
His aroused curiosity took the sting out of his words as he
exclaimed, "Who the devil is Robert?"
She told him who Robert was, told it with her soul naming in her
face. Her voice implored. Her eyes entreated. The black cloud that
had overcast the captain's countenance at the impertinence of her
action melted slowly away into a genial smile. And yet had fortune
been unkind she might have brought us some calculating routinist
with pride in strict obedience to the letter of the military law.
"It's a plain infraction of all the regulations," he said, "but if you can
risk all this for him, I can risk this much for you. Step up," he
added, lifting her into a seat, and giving me a place behind with the
baggage. It had happened all too swiftly for comprehension. We
were on the road to Arcady again--and this time in high estate.
With fifty horses racing away under the hood of our royal car, we
were speeding forward like a bullet.
Adown this road in the days of chivalry traveled oft the noble
chevaliers and knights. In shining cavalcades they rode forth for
glory in their lady's name. But never was there truer tribute to the
spirit of High Romance than when down this same road, athrone
upon a war-gray car, came this little Pennsylvania music-teacher.
All the way we rode exalted, with hearts too full for speech. And
our benefactor gave us no occasion for it. His eyes were fixed
straight ahead upon the speeding road, alert for obstacles or rapt
in visions of his own dear ones; or, more probable still, deep in
reconsideration of his rashness in harboring two strangers who
might turn out to be traitors.
"Ten spies were shot here in the last two days," was his one
laconic communication. As the Romanesque towers of Melun's
Notre Dame came into view, he drew up by a post which marked a
mile from the city, saying,
"The rest of the way I believe you had better go on foot." With a
polite bow and a smile he bade us adieu and was off, leaving us
quite non-plussed. But the swift ride had driven refreshment and
resolution into us. After some spirited passages with a few
astounded sentries, we found ourselves in the city of our quest.
It was a small garrison center. Into it now from every side had
poured rivulets of soldiers until the street shimmered with its red
and blue. Melun had changed roles with Paris. A desert quiet
brooded over the gay capital, while this drab provincial place was
now athrum with activity--not the activity of parade but of the
workshop. The air was vibrant with the clangor of industry.
Everywhere soldiers were cleaning guns, grooming horses, piling
sacks. The only touch to lighten this depressing dead-in-
earnestness came from a group of soldiers engaged in filling a
huge bolster. They playfully tried to push one of their number in
with the straw. In one doorway two men were seeking to render
their uniforms less of a target by inking their brass-buttons black,
while two rollicking fellows perched high upon a bread-wagon were
making the welkin ring with vociferous demands for passage way.
That was what everybody wanted. We, too, pressed forward into
Enough other civilians were scattered amidst the masses of
soldiery to render us not too conspicuous. And such a weltering
anarchy it was: men, horses, and guns jammed together in one
grand promiscuous jumble. Who was to organize discipline and
victory out of such a turmoil? But that there was a directing mind
moving through this democratic chaos, the Germans later learned
to know full well. Likewise, the two strangers congratulating
themselves on being lost in the vast confusion.
To get our bearings we seated ourselves in a small cafe, and were
intently poring over a map when a shuffling noise made us look up.
A detachment of soldiers was entering the cafe. Much to our
astonishment, they came to attention in front of us. They
constituted the spy-hunting squad. All day they walked the city on
the trail of suspects. To trap a prospective victim, and just as they
were relishing the shooting of him to be compelled to release him,
and then to drag on to the next prospect, and to repeat the
process was not inspiriting. Apparently luck had gone against
them, but at sight of us a new hope lit their eyes.
Two officers, bowing politely, said: "Pardon, Monsieur; pardon,
Madame! Your papers."
Being held up as a spy, however nerve-racking, contributes
considerably to one's sense of self-importance. It's a rare thrill for a
civilian to be waited on by a reception committee in full dress
But this was by all odds the most imposing array of military yet. I
remember being distinctly impressed by the comic opera setting;
the gay costumed soldiers in a crowded French cafe, the big
American and the little heroine. In a moment the soldier chorus
would go rollicking off singing some ditty like:
"Let high respect come to their station, For they are members of a
I deliberated for a few seconds, for presently our papers like
talismen would exorcise all dangers. With a gesture suitably
sweeping for the close of this act, I smiled assuringly, reached into
that inner right-hand pocket, and felt a terrific thump of the heart as
I clutched an empty void and forthwith drew out an empty hand.
The smile turned a little sickly. I repeated. Likewise a third time.
The smile died and a cold sweat gathered on my brow. It was now
more like a Turkish bath than a comic opera. The rollicking soldier
chorus began to look curiously like a band of assassins.
I was positive that I had tucked these papers in that pocket. Had
some evil spirit whisked them away? I conducted a frantic and
furious search through every pocket. As one after another they
turned out empty an increasing gloom settled down upon my face,
and upon the faces of the assassins was registered a corresponding
increment of joy.
Reader, have you ever been warden of the theater tickets? As
your party thronged up to the entrance, do you remember the
stand-still of your heart when you found that the tickets weren't in
the pocket that you put them, followed by the discovery that they
weren't in any other pocket? Do you remember spasmodically
ramming your hands into all your pockets until your arms took on
the motions of a sailor at the pump, trying to save the old ship at
sea? Remember the black looks insinuating you were an idiot and
the growing conviction on your part that they were not far wrong?
Multiply and intensify all these sensations a thousandfold and you
will get a faint idea of how one feels when he is trying to locate his
passports and the officials are hoping that he can't.
Several months elapsed in as many seconds. To break the
appalling silence, I began gibbering away in a jargon compound of
gesticulation, English and remnants of High School French. Why,
oh, why wouldn't somebody say something? At last the commissionaire,
hitherto impassive, said:
"Vielleicht Sie konnen Deutsch sprechen." ("Perhaps you can
speak German.") It was so kind of him that I plunged headlong into
the net. "Ja ich kann Deutsch sprechen," I fairly shouted.
("Yes, I can speak German.") I would have confessed to Chinese
or Russian, so anxious was I to get on speaking terms with some
"So you speak German," said the commissionaire significantly; "I
thought as much." The soldiers looked at their Lebel rifles as
though the not unpleasant duty of making them speak for France
would soon be theirs. In their eyes now I was a German spy and
Marie was my accomplice. I began to be almost convinced of it
Now if this were fiction and not just a straight setting down of facts
the papers might here be produced by a breathless courier or
dropped from an aeroplane. But they weren't.
At this crisis when all seemed lost, Marie rallied. She said: "Look in
the lining of your coat."
I was unaware of any hole in the lining but, duly obedient, I
reached inside and found an opening. Some papers rustled in my
hand. I clutched them like a madman, violently drew them forth
and, perceiving that they were the precious documents, waved
them about like a dancing dervish. The soldiers were distinctly
disappointed and cast an evil eye on Marie, as though holding her
personally responsible for cheating them out of a little target-
The commissionaires examined the papers, smiled as graciously
as before they had frowned and, with the crestfallen soldiers
resuming their old look of boredom, they disappeared as
mysteriously as they had come.
Out into the gathering gloom we followed too, and trudged to the
barracks upon the hill.
At the entrance the familiar "Qui va la?" (Who goes there?) rang a
challenge to our approach. We informed the subaltern that it was
Sergeant le Marchand that we sought.
A confusion of calls echoed through the court. An orderly then
announced that Robert le Marchand was sick; this was followed by
the report that he was out; then some more conflicting reports,
followed by Robert le Marchand himself. A new-lit lantern in the
archway diffused a wan light around his pale face while he peered
forward into the dusk. He could not see at first, but as by a dream-
voice out of the mist came his name, twice repeated: "Robert,
Was this some torturing hallucination? Before he had time to
consider that, the reality flung herself into his arms. Again and
again he clasped the nestling figure, as if to assure himself that it
was not an apparition that he held but his very own sweetheart.
They stood there in the archway, quite oblivious to the passing
soldiers. The soldiers seemed to understand and, smiling approval
of this new entente--America in the arms of France--they silently
The first transports of surprise and joy being over, he begged for
an explanation of this miracle. Briefly I sketched the doings of the
day, and as he saw this wisp of a girl braving all dangers for love's
sake, he was in one moment terror-stricken at the risks she had
run, and in the next aglow with admiration for her splendid daring.
Dangers had haloed her and he sat silent like a worshiper.
"Instead of a tragedy," he exclaimed, "it's like a story with a happy
ending. But let me tell how narrowly we escaped a tragic ending,"
he added, drawing Marie closer to him.
On the fifth of August it seems that his squad had been stationed
upon the bridge over the Seine at Corbeille. The orders were to
prevent any passage over the bridge and under the bridge--
particularly the latter, as the authorities suspected an attempt upon
the part of enemy plotters to use the waterways in and out of Paris.
Traffic had been suspended and orders had been explicit: "Shoot
any water-craft, without challenge, as it turns the bend at the
Corbeille had been the objective of our proposed canoe journey.
There had been abundant warrant then in the very constitution of
things for my psychic shivers at the first broaching of that canoe-
Our escape had been by a narrow margin. If that telegram, "Left
Corbeille and gone to Melun," had missed us, Robert le Marchand's
first shot might have meant death, not to his enemy but to his own
life and soul. On the eve of the great war he might have embraced
his dearest one cold and lifeless. But instead of that somber ending,
here she was, warm, radiant and laughing--doubly precious by the
trials through which she had passed and the death from which
she had been delivered.
The movements of the 231ier Regiment d'Infanterie were publicly
announced. It was scheduled to entrain on the morrow for the front
between Metz and Nancy. Robert le Marchand needed not to go.
Pronounced unfit by the regimental doctor, his name had been
placed upon the hospital list. Amidst the bustle of preparation for
departure he spent the day in quietude, and Marie played nurse to
Her little tale about being a Red Cross worker told at the Gare du
Nord turned out to be the truth and not the fable that she had
fancied. Robert's recovery was so rapid that the doctor was
astonished. He was understanding, however; also he was a very
kindly doctor. He came and smiled and nodded his approval.
Then he went away, still leaving Robert on the sick list.
A long season of such delightful convalescence was now his for
the taking. Golden days they promised to be to him and to Marie,
but to France those early August days held portents of defeat and
disaster. So one gathered from the ugly rumors from the frontier.
The great battle raging in the north had its miniature in their souls.
Theirs to choose days of ease and dalliance or the call to duty.
When the 231st regiment formed into line the afternoon of August
7th, the sergeant, radiant and happy, was with them again. But the
tears in his eyes? That perplexed his comrades. Those who knew
the secret let the romance lose none of its glamour in the telling
until Marie became, forsooth, the heroine of the regiment.
At four o'clock the regimental band struck up the Marseillaise and
the regiment moved down the road. The sergeant's feet kept time
with his marching men, while his eyes turned to the blue figure on
a balcony, whose hand was fluttering a limp white handkerchief.
She was striving her best to wave a cheerful farewell. The
repeated strains: "Ye sons of France awake to glory," came each
time more faintly as the regiment moved steadily away. There is
always pain in such a growing distance. But it was not all pain to
the tear-stained girl upon the balcony. She had her part in that
glory. Had she not, too, made her sacrifice.
It was quite as if the regiment had sailed away under sealed
orders. Metz and Nancy had been broadcasted about as the
objective of the 231st. But that had been just a blind for German
informers. For the next communique mentioning the regiment
came from far to the west, where it had been hurried to hold up the
grave threat upon Paris. At Soissons the gray-green advance
rolled itself up against the red and blue of the 231st.
Back and forth the battle line surged through the old streets, now
lurid with the light of blazing houses. A shell falling on the town-hall
fired this ancient land-mark. A great flame-fountain burst up from
the heart of the city. "Rescue the archives!" was the cry. For this,
volunteers were called. The dash of a sergeant and his men into
the burning hall and back again through the bullet-spattered
streets is related in the Journal Officiel. It tells of the safe return of
the archives, but of few survivors. For impetuous valor in this
exploit, the name of Sergeant le Marchand was changed to
Lieutenant le Marchand.
That was my last tidings of Marie and Robert, until a year later a
letter came to me in a shaky but familiar hand. It had the post-
mark of Hornell Sanitarium, New York. It was from Marie, and one
glance revealed the tragedy. Briefly it was this:
In the attempted Champagne drive of 1915 the 231st regiment
was ordered to rush the barbed wire barricade and drive a wedge
into the enemy's line. At command Lieutenant le Marchand leaped
from cover to lead the charge of his men. Scarcely had he uttered
his cry, "En avant!" when he was dropped in his tracks, a bullet
through his brain. Over his body, with revenge adding to their fury,
the regiment swept like mad. The trenches, a quarry of prisoners,
and the thrill of high praise from the general were theirs--a triumph
with a bitter taste, for some, creeping back, had found their young
lieutenant crumpled where he fell, the moonlight cold upon his
blood-stained face. "In order that France might live he was willing
to close his eyes upon her forever." Curiously his sword was
sticking upright just as it had dropped from his hand. They buried
him where he lay upon the edge of No-Man's-Land. Tears were
showered on his grave, and on that fatal bullet many bitter curses.
But this does not complete the tale of murder wrought by that slug
of lead. Each plunging bullet blazes its black trail of the spirit-killed.
A month later and three thousand miles away this German missile
struck the heart of an American girl with a more cruel impact than it
had struck the brain of this lieutenant of France. She, too,
crumpled and fell upon the thorns. His had been a speedy,
painless death; one sharp electric stroke and then the closing
night. A like oblivion would have been sweet to her. But she had to
face it out alone. Upon her torn heart were beaten a thousand
hammer-strokes, and through the endless nights she bore the
anguish of a thousand deaths.
The death-lists of Europe hold 5,000,000 other names besides
Lieutenant le Marchand's. Behind each name there marches with
springless steps one or more figures shrouded in black.
A year later one of these figures arose from her burial alive, a
whitened shadow of her former self.
"I know that I ought not to have collapsed, just as I know that I
ought not to hate the Germans," Marie wrote. "I'm pulling myself
together now, and I am trying to work and to forgive. But my
thoughts are always wandering out to just one spot--that is where
Robert lies. When peace comes I'm going straight over there and
with my own hands I shall dig through every trench until I find him."
Tragic futility indeed! One recompense for the colossal slaughter
and the long war; few shall ever find their dead.
On a recent Sunday morning I stepped into a church of a Lake
City of the West. The organ was filling the large structure with its
sounds; gradually out of the dim light came the face of the player.
A hard road had she traveled since last I saw her, a trim little blue-
clad figure waving good-by from that balcony in Melun. It was not
strange that her face was white. There was nothing strange either
in the passion of that music.
These experiences of Gethsemane and Calvary had been first
enacted in her own soul. The organ was but giving voice to them.
There was a plaintive touch in the minor chords, as if pleading for
days that were gone. It climbed to a closing rapture, as if two who
had parted here had, for the moment, hailed each other in the
world of Souls.
It seems sometimes as if the torch of civilization had been almost
extinguished in this deluge of blood. This darkening of the face of
the earth has cost more than the blood and treasure of the race--it
has involved a terrific strain on the mind and soul of man.
The blasting of hundreds of villages, the sinking of thousands of
ships, and the killing of millions of men is no small monument to
the power of the human will. Deplore as we may the sanguinary
ends to which this will has been bent, it has at any rate shown itself
to be no weakling. We must marvel at the grim tenacity with which
it has held to its goal through the long red years.
But now it is challenged by an infinitely bigger task.
The great nations sundered apart by this hideous anarchy have
become hissings and by-words to each other. One group has
been cast outside the Pale to become the Ishmaels of the
universe. The purpose is to keep them there.
Yet try as we may we cannot live upon a totally disrupted planet
without bringing a common disaster upon us all. It may be a matter
of decades and generations but eventually the reconciliation must
To start civilization on the upward path again, to make the world
into a neighborhood anew, to achieve the moral unity of humanity,
is that infinitely bigger task with which the human will is challenged.
As in the last years it has relentlessly concentrated its energies
upon the Great War, now through the next decades and generations
it must as steadfastly hold them to the Great Reconciliation. The
tragedy of it all is that humanity must go at this crippled by a hatred
like acid eating into the soul.
Villages will arise again from their ruins, the plow shall turn anew
the shell-pitted fields into green meadow-lands, a kindly nature will
soon obliterate the scars upon the landscape, but not the deep
searings on the soul. Europe must grapple with this work of
reconstruction handicapped by this black devil poisoning the mind
and vitiating every effort. The worst curse bequeathed to the
coming generations is not the mountain of debt but this heritage of
It does not behoove Americans to stand on inviolate shores and
prate of the wickedness of wrath. Moreover, this evil is not to be
exorcised by a pious wish for it not to be. It is. And there is every
excuse under the arch of heaven for its existence.
If we had felt the eagles' claws tearing at our flesh; if, like Europe,
our soil was crimsoned with the blood of our murdered; if millions
of our women were breaking their hearts in anguish--we too would
consider it a gratuitous bit of impertinence to be told not to cherish
rancor towards those who had unleashed the hellhounds of lust
and carnage upon us.
As it is, we are not sacrosanct. Three thousand miles have not
sufficed to keep the deadly virus out of our system. The violation of
Belgium kindled a fire against the invaders which the successive
cruelties served to fan into a flaming resentment.
Then came our own losses--a mere grazing of the skin alongside
of the bleeding white of Europe. But it has touched us deep
enough to rouse even a sense of vindictiveness. This kept to
ourselves will do injury to ourselves alone. But when we shout or
whisper across the seas that we too despise the barbarians we
help no one. We simply help to render the heartbreaking task of
reconciliation well-nigh impossible by lashing to a wilder fury the
people already blinded, embittered and frenzied by their own hate.
Those who, above the luxury of giving full rein to their own
passions, put the welfare of the French, English, Belgians and
other broken peoples of earth, will do everything in their power to
eradicate this gangrene from their souls.
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