My Home In The Field of Honor
Frances Wilson Huard
Part 2 out of 4
Two great tears swelled to Mademoiselle's eyes, which, however, bore a
"Madame--the French flag is flying over Mulhouse--but it cost fifteen
thousand lives! That is official news. I cannot give you further
details nor say how I obtained what I have told you."
Then the armies had met and war was now a bloody reality!
I shuddered. Here was news of a victory and all we could do was weep!
Once again the sons of France had generously shed their blood to
reconquer their righteous belongings!
I left Mademoiselle and rode home in silence. Should I tell the
villagers? Why not? But how?
The question answered itself, for as we approached the town hall I saw
the school master and a number of elderly men seated on the bench beside
the chain. When we pulled up to give Cesar breathing spell, they all
came clustering around the carriage. Did I know anything? Had I heard
"Gentlemen," I said, with a decided huskiness in my throat, "the French
flag flies over, Mulhouse, but fifteen thousand men are _hors de
Joy, followed almost instantaneously by an expression of sorrow,
literally transfigured all their faces. Tears sprang to the eyes of
several, falling silently down their furrowed cheeks, and without
uttering a word, as one man they all uncovered! The respect for the
glorious dead immediately abolished any desire for boisterous triumph.
There was no necessity to add any comment, so I continued my route to
One night towards the end of the following week, I was awakened by the
banging of doors and the shattering of window panes. A violent storm
had suddenly blown up and the wind was working havoc with unfastened
blinds and shutters. There was no use thinking of holding a candle or a
lamp. Besides, the lightning flashed so brightly that I was able to
grope my way through the long line of empty rooms, tighten the
fastenings, and shut the windows. I had reached the second story
without mishap and without hearing the slightest footstep within doors.
All my little servants were so exhausted that even the thunder had not
roused them. Presently, however, the sound of the gate bell broke on my
"Pooh," thought I. "Some tree or branch has fallen on the wire. Catch
me getting wet going out to see what it is."
The ringing continued, but more violently. And at regular intervals. I
went down to the middle window and stuck my head out. At the same
moment, my dogs made one wild rush towards the gate and a woman's voice
called, "_Madame Huard, ouvrez, s'il vous plait!_"
By the light of another flash, I could distinguish a dripping figure in
white. "Bah! someone is ill or dying and wants me to telephone for a
So I pulled the bell communicating with the servants' quarters, threw on
a few warmer clothes, and went below. At the foot of the stairs I came
upon George and Leon much disheveled, but wide awake.
"There is someone in distress at the gate," I hurriedly explained. "Call
off the dogs and go and see who it is. I'll light up in the refectory
and wait for you there."
They obeyed, and in the course of three or four minutes returned,
bringing with them a much-bedraggled but smiling woman on whose coat was
pinned the Red Cross medal.
"I'm the trained nurse. Madame Macherez sent me here to help with your
"Oh! I'm sure you're welcome, Madame--"
"Guix is my name. I received my orders to join you here three days ago,
and communications are so bad that I've come most of the way on foot. I
humbly apologize for arriving at such an hour and in such a state."
I hurried Madame Guix off to her apartment, told the boys to wake Julie
and have her send us a cup of tea and some refreshments in my little
drawing-room. Though it was the middle of August, the rain and dampness
were so penetrating that I did not hesitate to touch a match to a
brushwood fire that is always prepared in my grate. In a short time my
guest reappeared and as she refreshed herself, I busily plied her with
questions concerning the events of the last two weeks.
Madame Guix, a woman but little over thirty, came from Choisy-le-Roi
(the city of famous Rouget de l'Isle). _Merciere_ by trade, on the
death of husband and baby she had adopted the career of _infirmiere_,
and at the outbreak of the war found herself in possession of her
diploma and ready to serve. She had enlisted at the big military
hospital her native town had installed in the school house, and for
three long weeks had sat and waited for something to do.
"Are there no wounded there?"
"Not when I left."
"Have you ever yet had occasion to nurse a soldier?"
"Yes, of course. Four days after the declaration when the Forty-ninth
Territorials came through Choisy on their forced march to the front, we
were suddenly filled up with cases of congestion. You see, that
regiment is Composed of men mostly over forty, and what with the heat,
their guns and their sacs, and unaccustomed to such a life, many of them
couldn't stand the strain. My first patient was a sad little man named
"Bouteron? What Bouteron?"
"Is he dead?"
I breathed again. Thank God! Bouteron, Bouteron, our Jolly little
Bouteron, gaiety itself, who three weeks ago was the very life and soul
of our last house party! Was it possible? Already "down and out!" And
to think that this strange woman should bring me the news. I drew my
chair nearer to Madame Guix and for two long hours we talked, as only
From Choisy she had sought to exercise her _metier_ to better advantage
by approaching the front, so had addressed herself to Madame Macherez in
Soissons. From there she had been sent to me. Did she think there was
any possibility of nursing wounded in our hospital? We were so far
She was confident that we would not be empty long. Bloody battles were
being waged from Alsace throughout the entire north. Belgian territory
had been violated and Liege was putting up a heroic defense.
But our doctor and the pharmaceutical products? From where and when
would they arrive? Food and bedding would go a long way, but were
hardly sufficient to start a hospital!
We were to count on Madame Macherez for both. She had promised to do
her utmost to reach us with our supplies, but the rules of circulation
on the roads were so severe that even Red Cross supply cars had to stand
in line and await permits. In the meantime we must organize as best we
The following morning a few moments' intercourse proved to me that
Madame Guix's competence extended far beyond the bounds of her _metier_.
She was a splendid worker, and no task was too difficult, so long as it
furthered our purpose--namely, that of being ready in case of
By noon we had decided that it would be useless to count upon my
servants to help in the hospital. They already had all they could do.
So I went and asked our mayor if he knew of any women who, _de bonne
volonte_, would come and assist us. Madame Guix volunteered to teach
them the rudiments of bandaging between two and five on the coming
afternoons, and we would establish a _roulement_ so that the little time
that each disposed of might be properly and efficiently utilized.
The drum beat and made the announcement, and at two the same afternoon
we had the satisfaction of welcoming some twenty women. In the meantime
every bit of old linen I possessed was brought down and put on the
dining room table, then measured and torn in _formes rilglementaires_
ready to be sterilized and put aside. Half a dozen bands were left out
as models and it was with these that Madame Guix commenced her
demonstrations. She soon put her listeners at ease, and presently all
were anxious to try a hand at bandaging. The naive clumsiness of these
poor souls was extremely pathetic, but such was their patriotism that
they never considered themselves ridiculous for a single instant, and
stood there fumbling the long linen rolls with bands that were hands
more accustomed to wielding a spade or directing a plough. Again and
again they would recommence certain difficult proceedings, taking turns
at playing the dummy, and offering as models calves and biceps of which
many an athlete might have been proud.
Of the score of women but two or three really acquired any facility, but
we considered that sufficient, for in time of need the others could
easily be put to work at necessary matters which were of less vital
From the windows of the dining-room where the _cours_ was held, we could
look down the driveway and see all the children of the neighborhood
standing on the wall of the moat, craning their necks in the hope of
catching a glimpse of what was going on in the chateau. It was
evidently an interesting diversion, for every afternoon they reappeared,
in spite of George's threats to send for the _gendarmes_. The little
demons seemed to know that the gendarmes were too busy to give them any
attention, and I assure you, they profited by their liberty. Little John
Poupard and his five-year-old brother were the leaders of the band, and
I trembled lest some day their curiosity lead to a tragic end!
Nor were my fears in vain, for one afternoon we beard a shriek and a
splash, followed by cries of terror, and we knew for certain that some
one had fallen into the moat. The embankment is not eight feet high,
and at that season of the year there is more mud than water in the
river, so I was certain that whoever had fallen in was in no danger of
drowning--but nevertheless I hastened with the others to the spot.
George, who had also heard the noise, reached the scene of action before
we did, and on our arrival we found him knee deep in the mud, preparing
to hoist a little limp body on to the bank.
"Good heavens!" thought I. "Decidedly that family had no intention of
letting the village rust for want of dramatic situations!"
"He's merely fainted; more frightened than hurt," declared Madame Guix,
who had literally pounced upon him. "Now then, ladies," she said,
turning towards the women who stood gaping at us, "now then, here's a
splendid opportunity to distinguish yourselves."
And so little John Poupard was carried into the infirmary. As first
patient you may be sure that be received every attention. Some ammonia
was held under his nose. This soon brought him around and after
carefully sounding all his bones, Madame Guix decided that there were no
fractures. And the bandaging began!
It makes me smile when I think of it all now--for the only wounds Johnny
possessed were a few scratches on his bands, knees and head, caused by
his sudden contact with a patch of stinging nettles which had sprung up
on the river banks.
Under ordinary circumstances, the child would probably have picked
himself up and walked home, forgetting his woes an hour later. But real
live models who are actually in pain, are few and far between,
especially at "courses" such as ours, and the amount of professional
skill that was expended on that little urchin ought to have cured six of
his kind. But it all made the women so happy!
At the end of half an hour, Johnny Poupard looked more like an Egyptian
mummy than a human being, so much so that when his grandmother arrived
upon the scene of action, she very nearly fainted and all but became
patient number two at Auxiliary Hospital No. 7!
We had some little difficulty reassuring her, but when her prodigal
grandson sat up and asked for bread and jam, she forgot her anxiety and
began scolding him for daring to give her such a fright, and us so much
* * * *
Towards the end of the third week in August the mobilization was
considered finished and the Eastern Railroad opened again to the public;
its time tables of course being limited and subject to instant change,
the company refusing to be responsible for delays. To us at the chateau
this meant very little, save that we would receive our mail and the
daily papers more frequently. However, several friends who fancied I
was unsafe alone and so far from the capital, kindly ventured to start
to Villiers to try to persuade me to come up to town. It took them seven
hours to reach Meaux (thirty miles from Paris); they were obliged to
sleep there because it was because it was announced that their train
went no further--and worse than all, they were eighteen hours getting
"Wheren't people furious?" I questioned, when afterwards they told me of
"Not in the slightest. Everyone bore it patiently as part of his
tribute to his country. 'The army first' was their motto."
The first batch of mail brought me any number of stale letters, which
had arrived and been held in Paris over three weeks. Invitations to a
house party in Belgium and things of that kind that seemed so strangely
out of place now. The two most important documents, however, came, one
from my cousin, Marie Huard (Superior at the Convent of the Infant Jesus
at Madrid) and the other from Elizabeth Gauthier.
My cousin had taken upon herself to locate and communicate with every
member of the Huard family called to arms (and they are numerous, when
one considers that H. has no less than twelve married uncles!) and she
enclosed me a sort of map, or family tree, indicating the names, ages,
regiments, etc., of some fifty cousins, begging me to write and
encourage them from time to time.
Elizabeth Gauthier's letter bore a black border--and I trembled as I
opened it. She was in Paris alone, and mourning the loss of her eldest
brother, killed at the battle of Mulhouse, the ninth of August. Her
solitude preyed upon her, and she announced her departure for her
sister's chateau in Burgundy.
That was the first real sadness that the war had brought me so far. It
quite upset me, for Jean Bernard was not only a delightful friend, but
one of the most promising engineers of the younger generation in France.
Both family, friends and country might well deplore such a loss.
Even the making and hoisting of a huge Red Cross flag over the chateau
failed to arouse my enthusiasm all that day. The blow was too cruel and
had stimulated fears which heretofore had lain dormant within me.
The next day, however, I was not permitted to brood over my grief, for
Yvonne (she of the poultry farm) fell ill with a severe attack of
sciatica, which kept her in her bed, every movement producing a scream
Of course Madame Guix was there to lend a hand, but that hardly altered
the situation, so I was obliged to ask the boys to give another "pull"
and try to be equal to the work. Lleon accepted with such alacrity
that for the first time it dawned on me that perhaps he had a soft spot
in his heart for my pretty little goose girl, and this unsuspected
romance, interwoven with the joys and anxieties of the moment, seemed
all the more charming.
To cap the climax of misfortune, old Cesar had run a nail into his hoof
and Madame Guix spent most of her time between injections of oxygen on
the first floor, and iodine and flaxseed poultices in the stables. This
of course meant that all errands outside the village must be made on
bicycle, and George was "mustered into service." Towards noon on the
27th he made his first return trip from Charly, bringing the mail and
the papers, and a very excited countenance.
"Madame, I've seen one!" he shouted, as I appeared in the doorway.
"_Un casque a' point!_"
"Yes--a pointed helmet. I was standing by the post office in Charly
when a long line of motors passed by on the road to Paris. I recognized
the Belgium uniform, and one of the soldiers leaned out and held up a
German helmet! What a trophy!"
"The Belgians! What on earth are they doing down here?" thought I. And
George guessed my question.
"Oh," he continued, "you see their regiment was cut in two by the
Germans at Charleville and those who escaped managed to get motors and
are on their way home--by a round-about route to Antrwerp via Havre.
The hotel keeper said so. She offered some wine to one motor full that
If that were true it was an amazing bit of news! Then things were not
going as well as the now very reticent papers led one to suppose. But
it all seemed so very distant that I refused to worry.
However, I was about to seek out Madame Guix and tell her what George
had reported when an amusing sight caught my eye.
From her open window, towards which she had asked that we push her bed,
Yvonne amused herself by calling her ducklings.
Then from the farmyard a good two hundred yards distant, would rise the
reply, "Quack! Quack! Quack!"
Big and small recognized the call of their little mistress and hastened
"Bouree-bour-ree-bouree!" called Yvonne again and again.
Evidently the ducks decided to hold a consultation and send delegates to
see what on earth prevented their friend from caring for them in person
since they could hear her voice. For as I looked across the lawn
towards the door, imagine my surprise on catching sight of some thirty
or forty Rouenese ducks of all sizes waddling up the steps and into the
"Bour-ree, bouree!" Yvonne continued.
"Quack, quack, quack!" came the reply, and when I reached the entrance
hall, I found them all clustered together at the foot of the staircase,
their beads cocked on one side, awaiting a decision of their drake
before undertaking to mount the marble stairway.
That same afternoon the _cour d'infirmieres_ transported itself to the
lawn in front of the chateau. It was too splendid weather to stay
indoors. The demonstrations were finished and most of the women had
retired, when one of those who remained lifted her finger and asked for
silence. "Listen," she said, "the cannon!" She didn't need to go any
further. In less than a second's time we were straining our ears
towards the east!
"There!" she said, "there it goes again!"
Three of us had heard a sound which strangely resembled the popping of a
cork at a very great distance. Remembering my grandmother's Indian
stories, I stretched out on the grass with my ear to the ground. This
time I heard the rolling so distinctly that my face must have altered,
for two of the woman shuddered and took hasty leave.
In a second I guessed that they were off to tell the news--so I made
light of it by declaring that it must be the trying-out of some heavy
artillery at Chalons; but when Madame Guix and I found ourselves alone,
we looked at each other with interrogation points in our eyes.
We thought of our hospital, of our supplies, of our perfect uselessness
unless Soissons could yet reach us--and I resolved to go down to the
druggist at Charly and see what could be done. The following morning,
Saturday, the twenty-ninth--I betook myself to Charly and there managed
to beg the elements of a rudimentary infirmary from the old pharmacist,
who must have thought me crazy. Absorbent cotton I was able to procure
in small rolled packages from the draper, and promising to send the boys
down in the afternoon with a small band cart, I returned home, without
having observed anything abnormal save the frequent passage of autos
towards Paris--all going top speed and loaded with the queerest
occupants and baggage.
On my return great excitement reigned around our gate, for a private
automobile containing wounded had halted on seeing our Red Cross flag,
and Madame Guix welcomed them in.
They were _petit blesses_, all able to travel, probably suffering more
from heat and privation than from their wounds. They had no orders to
stop, but hoped we would let them rest a bit before going further--and
could we give them something to eat?
All this was very fortunate considering our precarious situation and we
gladly did the best we knew how. There were six poor chaps belonging to
different regiments, but all so tired that it seemed cruel to prevent
their snatching a rest by plying them with questions. We could do that
The lads were hardly stretched out when another motor drew up before the
gate. This one contained besides three privates a young officer with his
arm in a sling, and he asked if we could give them water. Leon told
them that they would be very welcome if they would care to come in and
rest--there were already a half-dozen wounded asleep in the house. At
these words the lieutenant jumped down and asked for the _medicin-chef_.
He was rather startled when I appeared, and told him that there was no
military authority as yet installed at the chateau.
"Then I must take all the responsibility of the men," he said very
kindly but firmly. "I'm sorry, but they cannot remain here. I must
deliver them safe at some big center outside the zone of operations."
The time had come for questions--and I learned with amazement that Liege
had fallen, Belgium was invaded, and that hard fighting was going on at
St. Quentin, but eighty miles away. "The cannon of yesterday was no
target practice," thought I. The men all seemed so hopeful, though,
that we never felt a qualm.
"As you will, Monsieur," I said, and the weary boys were wakened and
hurried off before we had time to ask names, addresses or any further
All this had transpired so rapidly that we had had no time to call in
our assistants, and presently Madame Guix and I found ourselves alone in
the empty vestibule.
Nothing further happened that afternoon. Madame Guix's course went on
as usual, with perhaps a little more animation in the conversation, and
much speculation as to when and where those who had stopped at the
chateau had been wounded. No one really knew. To tell the truth,
though later Madame Guix and I had asked them, the soldiers themselves
had but a very indistinct idea of time and date or whereabouts.
That night I was awakened by the low rumbling of heavy carts on the road
in front of the chateau. Fancying that perhaps it was artillery on its
way to the front, I put on my dressing gown and went as far as the gate.
There in the pale moonlight I beheld a long stream of carriages and
wagons of every description piled high with household goods, and filled
with women and children. The men walked beside the horses to prevent
collision, for as far as eye could see, the lamentable _cortege_
extended down the hill.
What did this mean?
"Who are you?" I called to one of the men as they passed.
Refugees! My mind flew back to descriptions of the French Revolution
and the Reign of Terror, when so many people fled for their lives! What
nonsense! Were we not in the twentieth century? Wasn't there a Peace
Palace at The Hague? My thoughts became muddled.
Opening the gate, I went out and accosted another man.
"Won't you come in and rest?"
"No, we can't. We must make our twenty miles by dawn--and rest during
the heat of the day."
"But why do you leave home?"
"Because the savages burned us out!"
Bah, the man must be dreaming!
I turned back and addressed myself to another:
"What's your hurry?" I queried
"They're on our heels!" came the reply.
Surely this one was madder than the other!
A third did not deign to reply, sturdily marching on ahead, his eyes
fixed on the road in front of him.
On top of a farm cart half filled with bay I saw the prostrate form of a
woman with two others kneeling beside her ministering to her wants. In
the trap that followed was the most sorrowful group of old men and
middle-aged women I ever hope to see. All were sobbing. Besides them
rode two big boys on bicycles. I stopped one of these.
"What's the matter with her?" I questioned, pointing to the woman on the
"Yes, lost her mind."
"How, when, where?"
"Two days ago, when we left X. (Try as I may, I cannot recall the name
of the little Belgian town be mentioned.) She was ill in bed with a
fever when the Germans set fire to the place--barely giving us time to
hoist her into the cart. Her husband lingered behind to scrape a few
belongings together. In spite of our efforts, she would stand up on the
cart, and suddenly we heard an explosion and she saw her house burst
into flame. She fainted. Outside in the woods we waited an hour, but
her husband never came. Perhaps it's just as well, for when she woke up
her mind was a blank!"
Ye gods! I rubbed my eyes. It couldn't be possible that all this was
true! I was asleep! It was merely a horrible nightmare. But no--the
carts rolled on in the pale moonlight carrying their heavy burdens of
It was more than I could stand. All thought of sleep had vanished, so I
went and woke Madame Guix. We dressed and descended to the kitchen,
where with a few smoldering embers, we soon managed to light a good
fire. Water was set to boil and in half an hour's time we carried out
to the bridge two huge pails of hot coffee, a pail of cold water, and
one of wine. No one refused our offerings, and the hearty "God bless
you's" of those kindly souls brought tears to our eyes more than once.
Dawn, Monday, August 31st, found us still at our posts. I rang the farm
bell, assembled my servants, and told them we would abandon all but the
most necessary farm work and minister to the wants of the refugees. By
eight o'clock they had peeled and prepared vegetables enough to fill two
huge copper pots, and the soup was set to boil. And still the long line
of heavy vehicles followed one another down the road: moving vans,
delivery wagons, huge drays, and even little three-wheeled carts drawn
by dogs, rolled on towards the south.
When asked where they were going, most of the people replied, "Straight
ahead of us, _a' la grace de Dieu_."
By the morning the heat had grown intolerable and a splendid looking man
got down from a cart and came towards me. Might he turn his party into
the drive and rest a bit in the shade?
I was only too willing, and gladly offered hot soup and stewed fruit to
any who would accept.
Two long heavy drays each drawn by a pair of the handsomest big bay
horses with creamy manes that I have ever seen, pulled up in the
courtyard. Impromptu seats had been arranged in the wagons and from
these climbed down some twenty or thirty old women, children and men,
worn out by the fatigue, anxiety, and want of sleep. My heart went out
to them, and in a generous moment I was about to offer them my beds so
they could get a good rest before starting off again, but on second
thought it dawned on me that I must keep them for the army! What a
pretty thing it would be if another auto full of wounded suddenly
appeared and found all my wards occupied!
I explained my position. They grasped it at once. It was too good of
me. They were all well and needed no beds--would I let them sleep in
the bay for a few hours?
But better still, I suggested, if the boys would carry a dozen or so
extra mattresses I possessed into the harness room, the women might lie
there, and the men could take to the hay.
They had food, plenty of it, bought on the way from village dealers who
had not yet been seized with panic and shut up shop. So I told them
that instead of building individual fires they might cook their noonday
meal on my huge range. They might also use my kitchen utensils and china
if they would wash up, and thus save unpacking their own. Apparently
this was unheard of generosity and I cannot tell you how many times that
morning my soul was recommended to the tender protection of the Blessed
While the women prepared the meal, George had taken the men to the
wash-house, where soap and water worked miracles on their dusty faces;
one by one all the members of the group disappeared in that direction
and when they gathered around the long table in the refectory, it was
altogether a different company to that of an hour before.
As they sat down it came over me that none of us had eaten since the
night before, and dropping onto a chair, I suddenly realized that I was
tired. Berthe and Nini, however, wanted to know where I would lunch,
and were rather startled when I informed them to lay a cloth on the
kitchen table and to bring out all the cold meat, cheese, bread, butter
and jam in the larder. It would be a stand-up picnic lunch for everyone
to-day, and what was more, it was very likely to be picnic dinner; so
Julie was ordered to put two chickens to roast and some potatoes to
boil--both needed but little attention and would always be ready when we
might need them.
The meal passed in silence in both rooms, and the "washing up" was done
in no time. Then as they all retired to take their naps, the man who
had first asked me if they might turn into the chateau, and who seemed
to be the leader of the party, came into the kitchen and, hat in hand,
begged a word or so with me.
He had come not only to express the gratitude of his compatriots, but
also his astonishment that I should welcome strangers so cordially. I
tried to side-track the conversation which was very embarrassing, but he
would hear none of it.
"We are not gypsies, you know, Madame." I smiled and told him that that
was more than evident. "Look at our horses and our dogs!" And the good
fellow proceeded to inform me that he was the keeper of a big estate
that belonged to Madame Pyrme (sister of the senator of that name),
situated in the little village of Hanzinell, Belgium. He even offered
to show his papers, but I shook my head. His open-hearted sincerity
and frank countenance were sufficient.
But why had they come away? That was what interested me.
Because their country was invaded and one by one the towns and villages
had been bombarded, looted and burned until little or nothing remained.
Because all men under fifty were carried away as hostages or prisoners;
because he had seen little children slain, and young girls tortured;
because anything was better than falling helpless into the hands of such
"Madame, at Charleroi I've seen the blood running in the gutters like
rain after a storm and that not a week ago!"
It was impossible not to believe him. His eye was not that of a coward.
He told his story simply; he was almost reticent, and I had even to
encourage him at times to make him finish a phrase. Finally I asked him
where he intended going, and why so far away. Didn't he think he was
No--_jamais!_ Yesterday in the night they had heard the cannon growing
closer and closer. They knew the sound. The Germans were advancing. It
was Paris they wanted and nothing would stop them till they reached
"Except the French army," I said, with pride.
"God grant you speak the truth, Madame!" But in the meantime he seemed
to consider that one was far safer in the way of some gigantic
mowing-machine than on the path of the German army. He had come to tell
me the truth and to warn me that I ought to make ready to leave.
"You are helpless here, Madame. Three women, three little girls, and
two boys! It's tempting fate."
I couldn't seem to see it his way, however. The papers though very
mysterious, had given us no cause for alarm. As yet we had not seen a
single trooper. If it were true that the French were retreating we
would leave when the army appeared. That would be time enough.
"Why, my good fellow," I said reassuringly, "if the Germans ever reach
here Paris is doomed--and the war will be over!"
"Besides, I can't go. I've got a hospital on my hands, though the
wounded are lacking. Haven't you seen our Red Cross flag? And if that
isn't sufficient, I can prove that I'm an American born. That ought to
be protection enough for anyone!"
I must admit that the incredulous smile that rose to his lips rather
angered me, and I sought still another excuse.
"Furthermore, one of my little maids is too ill to move, and I don't see
us walking off with folded arms, and that's what would happen if I
followed your advice, for the only horse the Army has left me is over
twenty and so lame that he can't walk two steps. If he could I'd have
had to present him for the second inspection at Chateau Thierry on
The poor fellow shook his head at my apparent foolhardiness, but was too
polite to argue further. He said that his party would be off in an hour
and asked me if I possessed a road-map that he might consult. I gladly
showed him the one we had bought with H. the day of our hasty trip from
Paris, since then pinned to the wall of the refectory. I noticed that
he studied it very carefully, noting all the little sidetracks where he
thought his drays could pass, and thus avoid following in line behind
the thousands of other vehicles that encumbered the main roads.
Again he thanked me for all I had done, caressed my beautiful
greyhounds, and left me his card so that we might meet when all was
over. Afterwards when I went into the court, I heard someone in the
stable with George, and looking in, I saw my friend of a few moments
before examining my horse's hoof and telling my boy what would make the
sore heal quickly. He was bound to do his best for me!
By five o'clock the stables and grounds were empty, and our friends
gone. Hanzinell had joined the column which had slackened a bit during
the heat of the day, but had redoubled in volume since the sun had gone
behind the hills.
We had a moment's breathing space, during which we gave our entire
attention to Yvonne, who was writhing with agony on her bed next my
room. For three days now Madame Guix had administered mild doses of
morphine, but that treatment could not continue very long. Water bags,
friction and massage had proved fruitless against sciatica, so we
resolved to try a warm bath, with the result that our patient was almost
immediately eased but too weak to support the heat. She fainted in the
tub and had to be carried back to bed. We were still working over her
when Nini appeared and said I was wanted below. When Yvonne's eyelashes
began to flutter, I left Madame Guix and regained the kitchen, now
become the head-quarters.
More refugees! Would I let them come in? They were traveling without a
map or guide and dared not venture along the roads at night.
Of course they were welcome, and the same hospitalty that had greeted
the refugees from Hanzinell was offered to those from Thuilly-the whole
village was there!--mayor, curate, smith and baker, all accompanied by
different members of their immediate families, driven from home by the
cruel invaders. Terrified by the horrors they had witnessed, exhausted
by their perilous journey, they were disinclined to talk; and as for
myself, I was so busy, preoccupied and thoroughly spent, that curiosity
was forgotten. Here were people in need of what comforts I could offer.
I gave and asked no questions.
What was most evident at present was the fact that rations were shorter
among this party than among those who had stopped in the morning, and
certainly not for the lack of funds. All of them had money--gold
They had found less to buy--_voila tout_. They were glad to accept the
vegetable soup, rabbit stew and cooked fruit that we had prepared but
insisted on paying for their portions, which of course I refused, much
to their dismay, and I am certain the servants were well repaid for
And what were their plans? To go as far south as possible. Perhaps
they would eventually cross to Morocco or Canada. Why not? The whole
village was there--all the men had their trades. They would colonize,
for it was useless to think of going "home." They no longer possessed
one, and who could tell--the war might last a year or more?
At that assertion I protested. A year? Never! Why, the finances of
the country couldn't stand it, and I went on to state how, when in
England during the Agadir crisis three years previous, I had heard
competent authorities state that three months was the very limit for the
duration of hostilities! That somewhat cheered them--especially as I
announced the Russian advance, and on the map we noted the rapid
progress of the famous "steam roller," which, if it continued as it had
begun, would certainly reach Berlin by Christmas! (I offer these
statements without comment.)
Before they retired Madame Guix asked if there were any who felt the
slightest ill, for it were better to nip sickness in the bud, and she
cheerfully lanced festers and pricked blisters, bathed, powdered and
bandaged the feet of some dozen old and decrepit men and young children
unaccustomed to such forced marching and unable to take proper care of
themselves for want of time and hot water! At that moment I felt she
was heroic and I must say I admired her patience and endurance, for the
sights witnessed were anything but agreeable. Poor souls! And they
hoped to reach Marseilles on foot.
The Kaiser and his entire army might have ridden over us rough shod and
we would have felt nothing, so soundly did we sleep for the first couple
of hours after we touched our beds. By two A. M. (September first),
however, there was much moving about in the barns and stables, and my
dogs, who were restless, began scratching at my door to be released.
Anxious that no one leave without a cup of hot coffee, Madame Guix and I
repaired to the kitchen as dawn broke, and an hour later we bade
farewell to our "lodgers for a night." I bethought me of my kodak, and
as the sun peeped through the clouds I caught a snapshot of my departing
guests as they turned the corner of the chateau.
They joined in behind the stream of other carts which we were now
accustomed to seeing. In fact, this general exodus no longer astonished
us. It seemed as if the panic had spread over the whole of Flanders
like a drop of oil on a sheet of paper. To us, who consider ourselves
as living in the suburbs of Paris, Belgium is so far away!
I wound off my film and was returning towards the house, when two very
distinguished looking girls stepped off their bicycles and asked for
directions. I gave them with pleasure and in turn ventured a few
They were from St. Quentin! That startled me. They had been _en route_
two days. They had not seen the Germans, but the town had been
officially evacuated. A man on a bicycle had sped by them the day
before and announced the bombardment and destruction of their native
city! Hard fighting at La Fere.
St. Quentin! Then the Germans were on our soil! The Belgians were
right--they were evidently advancing rapidly. But why worry? We were
safe as long as we had the French army between us and them.
Thought as yet the day was but a couple of hours old, I was weary. This
business of hotel-keeping on so large it scale with so little
assistance was beginning to tell on my strength. I opened the gate and
told George and Leon to welcome any who wished to come in, and then
repairing to the kitchen, I sat down and began helping the others
prepare vegetables. The discovery that in spite of all their good will
guests had necessarily left many traces of their passage, brought me to
my feet again, and we were all hard at work when a haggard female face
looked in at the kitchen window.
"Is there a doctor here?"
The woman burst into tears. Madame Guix and I hurried out into the
court. "My baby--I can't seem to warm her," moaned the poor mother.
"She hasn't eaten anything since yesterday."
And stretching out her arms, the woman showed us an infant that she had
been carrying in her apron. It was dead.
I had difficulty in overcoming my emotion, but Madame Guix took the poor
little corpse into her arms, and I helped the mother to an arm chair in
A cup of strong coffee brought back a little color to her wan cheeks and
she told us she was from Charleville. The Taubes had got in their
sinister work to good advantage among the civil population but they were
merely the forerunners of another and heavier bombardment. The
townspeople had fled in their night clothes.
"Are you alone?"
"Yes--I'm not a native of Charleville. My husband and I have only been
married a year. He left the second of August and the baby was born the
tenth. She's only three weeks old."
No wonder the mother looked haggard--one hundred and fifty miles on
foot, with a newborn infant in her arms, fleeing for her life before the
I pressed another cup of coffee with a drop of brandy in it upon her.
She looked appealingly at both of us and then drank.
"Was your husband good to you?" asked Madame Guix.
"Ah, yes, Madame."
"Do you love him well enough to endure another sacrifice like a true
wife and mother that you are?"
And then we told her that her baby bad gone--gone to a brighter Country
where war is unknown. She looked at us in amazement, and burying her
head on her arm, sobbed silently but submissively.
"Come, come, you must sleep--and when you are rested we will help you to
find room in a cart which will take you towards your parents."
She cast a long, loving look at her first born, and let herself be led
All we could do was to make an official declaration of the death at the
town hall. A small linen sheet served as shroud, a clean, flower-lined
soap box formed that baby's coffin, and Greorge and I were the grave
diggers and chief mourners, who laid the tiny body at rest in the little
vine-grown churchyard. War willed it thus.
When I got back from the cemetery I found another load of refugees
installed in the courtyard. This time they proved to be a hotel keeper
and her servants from the Ardennes. They, however, had foreseen that
flight was imminent and had carefully packed a greater part of their
household belongings and valuables onto several wagons, taking care that
all were well balanced and properly loaded so as to carry the maximum
weight without tiring the horses. They needed less attention than the
others had required, for when I explained that the house was theirs,
they went about their work swiftly and silently, getting in no one's way
and attending to every want of their mistress, who sat in her coupe and
Later on they were joined by the occupants of numerous other equipages,
all from the same district--but with whom I had but little intercourse.
From one poor woman, however, I learned that her two daughters, aged
sixteen and seventeen, had been lost from the party for two days. They
were in the cart with the curate who had stopped to water his horse,
thus losing his place in line. When they had reached the spot where the
road forked, which direction had he taken? What had become of them? She
pinned her name and route on the refectory wall, begging me to give it
to them if they ever inquired for her. To my knowledge they never
At luncheon Madame Guix announced that Yvonne was better. Far from
well, but better. That was a load off my mind.
The mother of the poor little infant we had buried was peacefully
slumbering on a cot in the hospital, and presently Leon came in to say
that old Cesar had put his hoof on the ground for the first time in four
days. Bravo! I felt much relieved.
And still the carts rolled down the valley, their noise echoing between
the hills. To-day there was no respite: right on through the heat of
noon they rumbled past, thicker and faster it seemed to me.
"Bother them!" I thought. "They make so much noise that we couldn't
hear the cannon if it were only a mile distant." And hoping that
perhaps I might seek some assurance from that sound, I was about to set
off for the highest spot in the park to listen. At the door, however, I
was accosted by one of the two men who, for several days had been
bundling my hay in the stable lofts. He pleaded illness. Would I pay
him and let him go? He would come back to-morrow and finish if he felt
As there was nothing unusual in his request, I settled his account and
told him to go and rest. I now know that he was a German spy, and have
recently learned that a fortnight later he was caught and shot at
I wonder what possessed me to make that long weary climb. Evidently I
found out what I wanted to know, but the news was anything but
reassuring. I heard the cannon distinctly: so distinctly that I was a
trifle unnerved. Not only had my ears caught the long ever-steady
rolling (already observed three days since) but I had been able to make
out a difference in the caliber of each piece that fired, and added to
it all was a funny clattering sound, as when one drags a wooden stick
along an iron barred fence. _La Fere_ is putting up a heroic defense, I
thought, blissfully unconscious of the fact that it is utterly
impossible to hear a cannon at that distance--at half, no, even a
quarter of that distance. Judge then for yourselves what was its
proximity to Villiers!
For two days now the course in nursing had been abandoned, not for lack
of enthusiasm but because each housewife had more than she could attend
to at home. The chateau was not the only place where refugees halted,
and all the villagers had done their best to make the travelers
comfortable. From where I stood overlooking the two valleys, I could
see the interminable line of carts on all roads within scope of my view,
and in every farm yard as well as on the side of the main thoroughfares,
vehicles were drawn up and thin columns of blue smoke rising heavenward,
told that the evening meal was under way.
The population of my own courtyard had quadrupled by five o'clock.
People from St. Quentin, Ternier, Chauny--each with a tale of horror and
sorrow--sought refuge for the night. Madame Guix was permanently
established in the dispensary, and a line was formed as in front of the
city clinics, each one waiting his turn, hoping that she might be able
to relieve his suffering. At dusk a cart turned into the drive and a
gray-haired man asked if we had a litter on which to carry his son to
"What was the matter?" I inquired.
"A cough--such a bad cough."
I went with him towards the wagon, and there beheld the sad spectacle of
a youth in the last stages of tuberculosis. Thin beyond description, a
living skeleton, the poor boy turned his great glassy eyes towards me in
supplication. I drew the father aside. It was best to be frank. I
shook my head and said it would be useless to move his son. We had no
doctor, and his illness was beyond our competence. Cover him well, and
try to reach a big city as soon as possible.
As I turned away, a sturdy youth tapped me gently on the arm, begging
shelter for his great-grandmother, a woman ninety-three years old, whom
he had carried on his back all the way from St. Quentin. A cot in the
entrance hall was all prudence permitted me to offer, and it was
charming to see how tenderly the young fellow bore the poor little
withered woman to her resting-place. She was so dazed that I fear she
hardly realized what was happening, but tears of gratitude streamed down
her cheeks when her boy appeared with a bowl of hot soup, coaxing her to
drink, like a child, and finally curling up on the rug beside her bed.
Five times that evening the great refectory table was surrounded by
hungry men and women; five times I ladled out soup and vegetables to
forty persons, and five times we all helped to wash up. So when all was
finally cleaned away, and Madame Guix and I fell exhausted onto two
kitchen chairs, it was well onto eleven P. M.
My clever nurse informed me that she had arranged for the departure in a
cart of the mother whose baby we had buried, and I in turn told her of
my climb in the park and the approach of the cannon. It was evident
that the Germans were bearing down on us, and swiftly. When we looked
at the map and saw the names of the cities, towns and villages whose
populations had succeeded each other down the road, it was clear that
the French must be beating a forced retreat, or (and this was unlikely)
panic had spread so quickly that the whole north of France was now
moving south on a fool's errand. We cast this second hypothesis aside.
We had heard too many tales of woe and seen too much misery to believe
anything of the sort. Well, and then what? Our case was simple--either
the Germans would be stopped before they reached us, or the French army
would put in an appearance, in which latter case it would be time enough
to leave, unless we were officially evacuated before! Having adopted
this simple line of conduct, we retired, quite satisfied and not in the
In the cool gray dawn of Wednesday morning, September second, when I
opened my shutters and looked out into the little square that faces the
chateau, I was amazed to see that the refugees who had halted there were
in carts and wagons whose signs were most familiar. They came from
"Hello," thought I, "I'll go and see what they have to say! Things must
be getting very bad if a big city like Soissons suddenly takes to its
heels." (Soissons is but little over twenty miles from Villiers.) As I
came down stairs I heard the drum roll, and George, who just then
appeared with the milk, announced that the requisition of horses which
should have taken place at Chateau-Thierry that morning, was
indefinitely postponed. That was hardly reassuring, especially as it
was the first official news we had received in a long time.
So busy were we helping those who had slept at the chateau to depart,
that I had no time to put my first intentions into execution, and when
finally I had a moment, I looked out of the window and saw that my
friends from Soissons had vanished. They, too: well, well, well!
I was not astonished; in fact I gave the matter but little heed. We had
taken our resolutions the night before and had no time to stop every
five minutes and question as to whether we were right or wrong. At
noon, however, when an old peasant woman called me through the kitchen
window and announced that all Charly was leaving post haste, I must
admit that I winced, but only for a second. If I had listened to all
the different rumors that had been noised abroad within the last week I
would have been a fit subject for a lunatic asylum by then!
Resolved, however, to get at the core of the matter, I sent George to
Charly (our market town, four miles away) to see what he could find out.
He returned on his bicycle at luncheon time, bearing the following
The hotel keeper and his wife, alarmed by the arrival of the Soissonais,
had taken their auto and started for that city in quest of news.
They had returned an hour later, having been unable to pass
Oulchy-le-Chateau, fifteen miles from Charly, where all the bridges were
cut or blown up! They were making their preparations for departure.
"And," continued George, in an excited tone, "as I came past the
_Gendarmerie_ the _brigadier_ called to me and said good-bye. All the
_gendarmes_ had received orders to leave at once for their depot at--."
(The name of some town the other side of the Marne, which I cannot
Instead of frightening me this information stimulated my nerves, which
were beginning to be depressed by much work and little news.
"Good," I said. "Now then, we can expect the soldiers at any minute.
Poke up the fire, Julie, and we'll fall to work to have hot soup ready
when our boys arrive."
Then we were really going to be in the excitement. How glorious to be
able to help--for in my mind ours was the only solution possible to the
I set to work with renewed vigor and, as on the day before, we were
constantly in demand by refugees requiring treatment and attention. How
well I remember a group of four, two men and two women, who staggered
into the court and timidly knocked at the window. Three of them were
glad to accept soup and wine, but the fourth, a middle-aged woman, sank
down on the steps and buried her head in her hands.
"Why doesn't one of you men relieve her of that heavy parcel she has
strapped to her shoulders?" I asked.
"She won't let us touch it. She's never put it aside a minute since we
left home six days ago!"
"Is it as precious as all that?" I queried, eyeing the huge flat package
which might have been the size of the double sheet of some daily paper.
"It's her son's picture. He's gone to the army and she's alone in the
"But why on earth is she carrying frame, glass, and all? It must be
nearly killing her in this heat!"
"Madame," said the woman's friend solemnly, "she worked six months and
put all her savings into that frame! Do you wonder she did not wish to
leave it behind!"
I opened a side door and showed them a foot path across the hills, a
short cut which carriages could not take, and was just turning the key
in the lock when the telephone rang.
That was the first time since the second of August! What could it mean?
Probably the arrival of wounded. I literally flew to answer the call.
I had some little difficulty recognizing Mademoiselle Mauxpoix' voice:
it was trembling with emotion. She greeted me politely and then begging
me not to be too alarmed, she announced that she had just received
official orders to put all her telephones and telegraphic apparatus out
of working order--to damage them so that repairs would be impossible.
"I have ten minutes more left," she continued. "A government motor is
coming at four o'clock to take me, my employees and my books to Tours."
She did not heed my interruption. "You cannot stay, Madame Huard! You
must not! No woman is safe on their path. I know this better than you,
for I have been receiving official reports for more than a month! The
worst is true! For the love of heaven, go--you've still got a chance
though there's hard fighting going on in the streets of Chateau Thierry!
For God's sake, don't hesitate. Adieu."
She was gone! And I stood there dazed!
"Hard fighting at Chateau-Thierry! That's only seven miles from here,"
Go? Go where? How? Go and abandon my post, with Yvonne still too ill
to move, and all the others depending on my help? Go? By what means,
when my only horse was too lame to cross the courtyard! It was far
better to stay and defend one's belongings!
And then as I slowly returned through the corridors, it occurred to me
that in spite of my desire to stay I might be forced out. Suppose the
chateau should suddenly become the target for the German guns? Well, we
could all take to the cellars, as the others had done in 1870. But--and
here was the point--suppose the French took possession and gave us women
but a few minutes to leave before the battle began. Then what! Here
was food for reflection. I resolved to take Madame Guix and the two
boys into my confidence. Four heads were better than one!
They received the news calmly, and I almost caught a glimpse of a
twinkle in George's and Leon's eyes. The excitement pleased them.
If what Mademoiselle Mauxpoix had said was true, the Germans were now on
their way to Villiers. It was evident that the French were putting up a
stubborn resistance, but there was little hope of their stopping them
before they reached our vicinity. Battle meant destruction of lives and
property. Well, since we still possessed the former, it was high time
to think of saving the latter. The sun was fast sinking behind the pine
trees. In an hour it would be dark. What I decided to do must be done
"George and Leon, bring down my two big trunks, and tell Nini to hitch
the donkey to his flat cart and drive to the side door." I had resolved
to save what I could of H.'s work, and going to the studio closet, I
began selecting the portfolios containing mounted drawings and etchings.
It was useless to think of the paintings. They were too big. The
trunks were full in no time. I had no other receptacles, so reluctantly
closed the but half empty cupboards, consoling myself with the thought
that all this was possibly useless preparation, and praying Heaven that
I had made a good choice among the portfolios in case the worst came.
The boys put the trunks onto the cart and set off in the direction of a
sand quarry, where I knew we could dig in safety, and easily cause a
miniature landslide, which would cover all traces of our hidden
treasure. I promised to join them in an hour--the time I judged it
would take them to make so large an excavation, and returning to my
room, gathered my jewels and papers into a little valise, and put them
beside my fur coat and my kodak. A few other trinkets and innumerable
photographs were locked away in my desk, and perceiving that it would be
utterly impossible to carry them with me, I wondered how on earth I
might protect them. Suddenly I bethought me of a tiny silk American
flag that my mother had given me years before, when as a child I left
home for my first trip to Europe. I found it where I hoped, and
shutting one edge of it into the drawer, I let the stripes hang downward
and pinned the following inscription into its folds:
"I swear that the contents of this desk are purely personal and can be
of value to no one but myself. I therefore leave it under the
protection of my country's flag."
I felt very proud when I had done this and then hurried into my
dressing-room where I hastily filled my suit-case with a few warm
underclothes, a change of costume, and an extra pair of shoes. I had
about finished and was heartily glad that this useless job was over,
when on glancing out of the window I caught sight of fuzzy-haired Madame
La Miche driving up the avenue in her dog cart.
Madame La Miche and her husband run a big stock farm near Neuilly St.
Front, some fifteen miles from Villiers. I had often seen her at
poultry and agricultural shows, where their farm products usually
carried off any number of prizes. It was she who sold me my cows hardly
a year since.
"You?" I said, as she drew up to the steps.
"Yes. En route--like all the others. Our entire fortune is in live
stock and I'm going to try to save as much as I can. May we come in?"
Certainly--and a half-hour later one of the largest farms in France had
been moved bodily into my pasture land! The whole thing was conducted
in a very orderly manner by M. La Miche, who on horseback drew up the
rear of this immense cavalcade composed of some two hundred white oxen,
hitched two abreast, seventy or eighty horses, as many mares with young
colts, and heaven knows how many cows and calves; all accompanied by the
stable bands. Poor tired beasts, how greedily they drank the cool water
of our spring, and how willingly the cunning little colts, whose tender
hoofs had been worn to the quick by their unheard-of journey, allowed
the men to tie up their feet in coarse linen bandages with strips of old
carpet for protection.
Madame La Miche had been officially evacuated at noon, so I did not
hesitate to tell her what I had heard. She was not surprised, and said
she intended leaving at midnight, but her animals, unaccustomed to such
exercise, must have a few hours' rest.
In the kitchen I found George and Leon, who had accomplished their task
sooner than I expected. Relying on their word that it was impossible to
tell where they had buried the trunks, I did not go back to the sand
quarry. Half a mile was a distance to be considered, under the
While all this had been going on, Madame Guix had taken Julie into her
confidence and asked her if she would follow us if we were obliged to
leave. Julie is a native of Villiers, and her husband and children live
in a little house near by. She had consulted her lord and they were
willing to lend their big dray horse if they could all join our party.
Of course we agreed and while it was light, we decided to put some bags
of oats into the bottom of our hay cart, to cover these with hay, and
then all the servants could pile on, the boys taking turns at walking
since Yvonne must have room to be stretched out.
How I hated all this business! Madame Guix then counted the number of
persons composing our party, and sent Nini to fetch as many blankets and
pillows. These, with a box containing salt, sugar, chocolate, and other
dry provisions, a valise packed with a few bandages and a little
medicine, were put onto a little light farm-cart to which we might
harness Cesar in case of great emergency.
The two vehicles when loaded were run into an empty carriage house,
whose door I locked, rather ashamed of my precautions.
Night had fallen and the incoming stream of refugees demanded our every
attention. Madame Guix was occupied with two women whose physical
condition was such that it was impossible to refuse them beds, come what
might--and as I crossed the vestibule in search of some instruments, the
shadow of a woman and two little girls came up the steps. "Could I give
them lodgings?" begged the poor soul. I looked at her--she was so
frightened that it was most pathetic, and the two curly-beaded children
clung to her skirts and shivered.
"I've never been alone before," she explained, and her teeth fairly
chattered with terror. "I can pay, and pay well--I've thirty thousand
francs in gold on me."
"Then, for Heaven's sake, don't let anyone know it!" I said, very
abruptly. "I don't want money, but there are others who may. Be
careful--a fortune like that may lead to your destruction. Hide it!"
She stared at me in amazement. Evidently the idea that dishonesty
existed never occurred to her. She thanked me for the advice and hoped
she had not offended me, and begged me to take pity on her.
"Did anyone see you come in here?"
She thought not.
"For if they did I fear you will have to share the common lot. I have
no reason to give you preference. The others might protest."
I stuck my head out of the doorway. When I turned around, those three
helpless creatures stood clinging to one another in the big empty
vestibule, making a most pitiable group.
"Go up two flights of stairs--turn to your left and follow the corridor
to the end. The last door on your left opens into a room with a huge
double bed. It was too big for our hospital. That's the only reason we
didn't bring it down. It's at your disposal. Don't thank me.
When I got a moment I went to Yvonne's room. "Did she think she could
get up a little: long enough to take some dinner? Perhaps she might put
on a few clothes and make an effort to walk around her room." Ten days
in bed had made her very weak. She must try to gain a little strength.
She promised and I departed. The idea of carrying her out bodily was
anything but encouraging!
At six-thirty the public distribution of soup recommenced. Who my
guests were I have no idea. There were more than a hundred of them.
That was clear enough from the dishes that were left. Just as the last
round had been served, George came in to say that the village was
beginning to get uneasy--people from Neuilly St. Front and
Lucy-le-Bocage and Essommes had already passed down the road, and the
peasants looked to the chateau for a decision!
I went out to the gate. Yes, true enough, our neighbors from Lucy (five
miles distant) had joined the procession. Then there was a break, and a
lull, such as had not occurred for two days, and in the silence I again
recognized the same clattering sound that had caught my ear on the hill
top the afternoon before. This time it was much more distinct, but was
soon drowned out by the rumbling of heavy wheels on the road.
Surely this time it was artillery!
I wrapped my shawl closer about me and sat down on the low stone wall
that borders the moat, while little groups of peasants, unable to sleep,
clustered together on the roadside.
Nearer and nearer drew the clanking noise and presently a whole regiment
of perambulators, four abreast, swung around the corner into the
Domptin, our neighboring village, one mile up the road, had caught the
fever and was moving out wholesale, transporting its ill and decrepit,
its children and chattels, in heaven knows how many baby carriages!
I had never seen so many in all my life. The effect was altogether
comic, and Madame Guix and I could not resist laughing--much to the
dismay of these poor souls who saw little amusement at being obliged to
leave home scantily clad in night clothes.
They passed on, without further comment, and the last man had hardly
turned the corner when a scream coming from up the road drew us to our
feet, and sent us running in that direction. Almost instantly, the
figure of an old white-capped peasant woman appeared in the distance.
She was wringing her hands and crying aloud. When we were within ear
shot, I caught the word, "Uhlans!"
"_Dans le bois de la Mazure!_" (A half-mile from Villiers.)
"How do you know?"
"Saw their helmets glittering in the moonlight!"
"What rot! They're Frenchmen--dragoons. You don't know your own
countrymen when you see them! Did you approach them?"
"Then what in the name of common sense sent you flying down here to
scare us like that? You've got no business spreading panic broadcast.
If you don't turn around and scamper home, the way you came, I'll have
you arrested. _Allez!_"
My nerves had stood the strain as long as possible. This false alarm
had roused my anger and in a jiffy I could see how thousands of people
had been deceived, and were now erring homeless along the roads of
"You can do what you like," I said, turning to the others, "but I've had
enough of this for one day--I'm going to bed. Good-night, gentlemen."
"The _chatelaine_ is going to bed, the _chatelaine_ is going to bed!"
"Let all go to bed," and similar phrases were echoed among the groups
and presently we all separated, after many cordial _a demain_.
The clock in the village church was striking midnight when I finally
retired, after calling my greyhounds and Betsy into my room, and
assuring myself that they all had on their collars, and that their
leashes were hanging on my bed post.
Nini, the little traitor, had evidently told Yvonne of my preparations
for departure, and the two girls, whose beds were in the next room to
mine, had been unable to close their eyes, for as I blew out my lamp, I
could hear their childish voices repeating the rosary:
"Hail Mary full of Grace--the Lord is with Thee..."
* * * * *
I may have slept an hour. Then I can dimly remember hearing a wild yelp
from my dogs, and when I found myself in the middle of my room rubbing
my eyes, Yvonne was calling, "Madame! Madame!" in terrified tones. My
pets were mad with excitement, and the sound of the farm bell was
ringing in my ears!
"Silence!" I yelled.
Everything but the bell ceased.
Heedless of my attire, I rushed to a back window and repeated my
The bell stopped.
"Who are you that you dare wake us like that!" I scolded.
A boy between eighteen and nineteen let go the rope and stepped beneath
the window. I could see his blond hair in the moonlight.
"Are you Madame Huard?"
"I've come with a message from your husband."
I grew cold as ice. Good God, what had happened?
In a bound I was down stairs and had opened the front door.
"Is H. wounded?" I gasped.
I breathed again.
"Where was he when you saw him?"
"On the road between Villers-Cotterets and La Ferte Milon."
"What's your message?"
The boy put his hand to his breast pocket and drew forth a slip of
paper. The full moon shining on the white facade of the chateau threw
such a brilliant reflection that I recognized a sheet from a sketch
book, and could distinguish the following words scribbled in pencil:
"Give bearer fifty francs, then in the name of the love you bear me,
evacuate now; go south, not Paris."
The last words were underscored three or four times.
"What time was it when H. gave you this?"
"Noon or thereabouts."
"How did you come? On foot?"
"But it's after midnight!"
"I know, but I got lost and had three bad punctures."
Here were marching orders for fair, and if I intended obeying enough
time had already been lost. To stay in spite of everything was to be
responsible for all the young lives that looked to me, for protection.
Could I promise it? No. Then go it was!
At that same moment and as though to reinforce my decision, the strange
clattering noise I had observed growing nearer and nearer during the
last two days broke on the night air.
"Hark!" said the boy. "_La mitrailleuse!_"
"The machine guns!" I echoed.
That sufficed. "We'll be leaving in ten minutes. Go to the kitchen.
I'll send someone to look after you and we'll go together."
All this had transpired in less time than it takes to tell it. Awakened
by the bell, the refugees in the stables came pouring into the
courtyard. A second later, George, lantern in hand, came running
"Tell Leon to harness Cesar--then go and wake Julie and say that we are
leaving in ten minutes. I expect her, and her family, with their horse,
to be ready. The courtyard in ten minutes. Mind!"
On the landing I met Madame Guix already fully dressed.
"_Nous partons,_" was all I said. She understood and followed me
towards Yvonne's room.
The two children, their teeth chattering, looked towards us in terror.
"Nini, put on the warmest clothes you possess and help Madame Guix to
dress Yvonne. Then go to the kitchen and wait there without moving."
My own toilet was brief, and five minutes later, lamp in hand, I was
pounding on all the doors of the long corridors, fearful lest some one
be forgotten and locked in the house. When I reached the second floor I
bethought me of the woman and her two children, and as I advanced I
called, "Don't be frightened. This is merely a warning!"
The poor soul must have been dreaming, for when I touched her door she
screamed, and as I opened it and held the lamp over my head, I could see
the two little creatures clinging to their mother, who on her knees
begged, "Take me, but spare my babies!"
I had some difficulty in reassuring her, but finally succeeded, and left
her to go below to the hospital.
At the first alarm, the women who were sleeping there had fled in
terror, and when assured that all were gone, for safety's sake I went up
into the vestibule and standing at the foot of' the stairs, called, "All
out! All out! I'm closing up and leaving!"
No one answering, I judged that my summons had been obeyed, and so
hurried back to my own room to fetch jewels, kodak and pets. On my way
down I opened H.'s wardrobe and grabbed several overcoats, confident
that the boys would forget theirs and need them.
In the courtyard I found Julie and her family already perched on the
hay-cart, where Yvonne had been hoisted and lay moaning, well covered in
a blanket. Both horses were hitched and my servants waiting orders.
Beside ours, other big drays were being prepared for flight, yet there
was no confusion--no loud talking--no lamenting. I then told the boys
to hurry to the farm yard and open all the gates so that the poultry and
cows could have free access to the entire estate, which is closed in by
a wall. I was thus certain that though they might feel hungry they,
would not die for want of food or water during the short time I intended
to be gone.
This done, I went to the kitchen where I found Nini, who had obeyed
orders not to move but who had presence of mind enough to lay out bread
and jam and wine for the famished youth who had brought the message.
In the lamplight I caught sight of my road maps on the refectory wall,
and setting my jewel box on the table I began unpinning and carefully
folding them and put them in the pocket of my motor coat. Almost at the
same instant, the lamp flickered and Leon came in to say that all the
dogs were found save the beagle hound and three fox terrier puppies,
who, frightened by the bell and the commotion, had hidden in the hay
lofts. We went out, and I called and whistled in vain--none of them
All this had taken more time than I expected. The wagons full of
refugees had disappeared, and we were alone.
"_En route!_" I called, climbing into the _charette_, a big lump rising
in my throat.
"_En route!_" called George.
Once again I counted our party to be sure all were there, and then
slowly the heavy-laden hay-cart pulled out of the courtyard onto the
The first ten steps that my horse took he limped so painfully that my
heart sank in my boots.
What nonsense, this departure! The poor beast would break down and we'd
have to shoot him by the wayside, and other similar cheerful thoughts
fled through my brain as we jogged up the narrow village street.
In front of the town hall I halted, first of all to rest my steed,
secondly to await George and Leon, who had remained behind to shut the
entrance doors and bolt the gate, and finally because I was astonished
to see all the windows illuminated.
I Jumped down and approaching one of the panes looked through and saw
the entire municipal council seated in a semi-circle, their faces grave
with anxiety. Presently the boys, accompanied by H.'s messenger, rode up
on their bicycles and handed me the keys. I entered the room where Mr.
Duguey, the schoolmaster and town clerk, greeted me.
"Gentlemen, I've come to give you the keys to my estate. I've received
a message from my husband begging me to leave at once."
"Then make haste, Madame, while there is still time. We are just about
to beat the call to arms and warn the population that those who hope to
escape must leave at once. Though we have no official orders to do this
we have taken it on ourselves, for we now know for certain that the
Uhlans have surrounded the village and are awaiting daylight to take
possession. They are probably bivouacking on the heights in your park."
Then the old peasant woman had not lied! Those were really Uhlans she
had seen in the _bois de la Mazure_. Ye gods, and here I was trying to
get away with a lame horse! Thank heaven, the Marne was not far! I
would cross it and then await developments.
The clock in the little church struck two and an owl hooted mournfully
in the belfry as silently our cortege plodded up the steep incline. When
we reached the summit I could not resist turning around and casting a
long affectionate glance on my lovely home-shining like a fairy palace
in its setting of wonderful trees. Who could tell? I might never see
George, too, must have been penetrated with the same sentiment, for he
rode up close to the cart and grasping the mud guard, turned on his
saddle and wistfully shaking his bead, gave vent to his feelings by the
following very inelegant but extremely expressive ejaculation:
"_Quels cochons! vous chasser d'une propriete parcille!_"
A long shiver of emotion crept down my spine, and though it was but the
second of September I instinctively drew the fur collar of my coat
closer about my throat.
In front of me I could bear the wheels of our heavy-laden hay-cart
creaking as the big farm horse plodded on. Its occupants were silent,
and thanks to the moon and the lantern which hung up high behind, I
could see Julie and Madame Guix nodding with sleep.
My own poor beast limped on and besides thinking of all that I had left
undone at the chateau and planning how and where we could go, I had the
constant vision of his silent suffering in front of me. At every little
incline I would get down and throwing the reins over the neck of Betsy,
my bull dog, who occupied the seat beside me, I would give Cesar his
head and take my place with the boys behind. He seemed to be grateful.
Let it be said, however, that as our journey advanced the hoof, at first
so tender from much poulticing, became firmer and firmer, and instead of
increasing, the lameness rather grew less.
We crossed our little market town of Charly amid dead silence. Not a
light in a single window, not a sound anywhere. We seemed to be the
only souls astir, and the foolhardiness of this midnight departure when
everyone else was tucked up snug in his bed, angered me. I was seized
with a mad desire to turn about and go home.
Just then George asked me which direction I intended taking, and
remembering H.'s imperative "Go south," we turned sharp and headed for
the first bridge across the Marne.
High in front of me rose the dark wooded hills of Pavant, descending
abruptly to that narrow strip of fertile plain which borders the river
on both sides, but now half-veiled in a heavy blue mist. Below me the
swift current sped onward like a silver arrow, and before so impressive
a spectacle I could not help thinking how meager is the art of the scene
painter and dramatist which tries to depict a real battlefield. For
battlefield I felt this was, and my overstrained nerves no longer
holding my imagination in check, I could already see human forms
writhing in agony, and hear the moaning of souls on the brink of
Eternity. As though to vivify this hallucination, the dying moon
suddenly plunged behind a cloud, lighting the landscape but by strange
lugubrious streaks, and in the distance behind us a long low rumble
warned me that my dream might soon be a terrible reality.
The Marne crossed, a weight was lifted from my shoulders, and settling
back against the pile of blankets in my rig, I let the horse follow his
own sweet will and we started to zig-zag up a steep incline. At the end
of five minutes' time I was so benumbed by the cold that sleep was
impossible, so I left my seat and joined the others who, all save
Yvonne, had been obliged to descend to relieve their horse. What a
climb that was--seven long kilometers from right to left, winding around
that hill, as about a mountain, ever and again finding ourselves on a
narrow ledge overlooking the valley. The fog had spread until literally
choked up between the bills and I could hardly persuade myself that it
was not the sea that rolled below me. Even the signal lamps on the
distant railway line rose out of the labyrinth like a lighthouse in
mid-ocean, making the illusion complete.
Dawn was breaking as we reached the summit and pausing for a moment's
breath, we could see people with bundles hurrying from cottages and farm
yards, while the fields seemed dotted with horses and carts that sprang
out of the semi-darkness like specters, following one another to the
highway. In less than no time the long caravan had re-formed and was
again under way.
We brought up the rear, preceded by five hundred snow-white oxen. There
was no way of' advancing faster than the _cortege_. It was stay in line
or lose your place, and as the sun rose over the plains, I was so
impressed by the magnificence of our procession that I forgot the real
cause of our flight and never for an instant realized that I now formed
an intimate part of that column which but a few hours since inspired me
with such genuine pity.
As we passed through a small agglomeration of houses that one might
hardly call a village, I recognized several familiar faces on the
doorsteps, and presently comprehended why Charly was so dark and silent
the night before. It was empty--evacuated--and the greater part of its
inhabitants were here on the roadside, preparing to continue their
Where were we going? I think none of us had a very definite idea. We
were following in line on the only road that crossed this wonderfully
fertile country. The monotony of the landscape, the warmth of the sun,
added to the gentle swing of my cart calmed my nerves and I fell back
into a heavy sleep.
When I opened my eyes I could hear water running over a dam, and see
below me and but a very short distance away, a river flowing through a
valley. Someone said it was the Petit Morin; another announced that we
had come seventeen kilometers and a third proffered that it was 6:30 A.
M.--time for breakfast. We ought not to attack the opposite hill on
Accordingly we crossed the Petit Morin and broke ranks in front of two
little cottages that bordered the river at the entrance of an electric
power house. At the same time, a small covered gig halted beside our
big cart and from it descended the mother of the two little girls she
who had so much gold.
Did I mind if she followed in our wake?
Of course not.
She was still as timid and frightened as the night before, and it didn't
take much questioning to learn that she had never had a pair of reins in
her hands before in her life.
The boys took all the horses down to the river and carefully bathed
their knees and legs. In the meantime, coffee had been found and
ground, someone had scurried about and found a house where milk could be
had, and on an iron tripod that I had sense enough to bring along, water
was set to boiling.
It was very amusing that first picnic breakfast, and my! what appetites
we had. The summer lodgers in one of the cottages gazed upon us in
amazement--all save one little girl who, so it seems, had had a
presentiment that some ill would befall her and for two days had not
The meal over, each one went to my cart and taking possession of a
blanket and pillow, rolled up in it and went fast asleep in the
brilliant sunshine. How we blessed those warm, penetrating rays, for we
had suffered much from the damp cold all night.
Left alone, I overhauled my wagon and made the discovery that my jewel
box was missing. That did not alarm me much, for I was confident that I
had left it on the refectory table, and would find it--like my silver
chests--just where I had left them.
My road map showed us to be at La Tretoire, midway between Charly and
Rebais, but as there were no provisions to be had in so small a place, I
decided to push on to the township where we might be able to get
lodgings. This, however, must be done before noon, or we would be
obliged to sleep out of doors again, for it would be impossible to
travel through the heat of the day. Accordingly, at half past eight, I
roused the boys and we started up the hill, bag and baggage.
It was much the same kind of scene as at Pavant, only we were less
excited and far more exhausted than at the outset of our trip. Each one
stalked on, gritting his teeth and wiping the big beads of perspiration
from his brow. By ten we reached the top and calling George, who had
been walking beside the leader since we left home, I told him to take my
place in the _charette_ and I would mount my bicycle.
Leaving orders to follow the straight road to Rebais, I pushed on ahead,
promising to do my best, and an hour later found myself on the outskirts
of the little town--very weary and almost overcome by the heat. In the
hurry of my departure from Villiers I had wrapped a scarlet chiffon
scarf about my head, never thinking that a hat would be a very useful
article in the daytime. For sixty minutes, then, as I had pedaled along
that endless road, the sun had beaten down upon my head and shoulders,
and when I came upon a public pump, I dropped down in the grass beside
it, after wringing out my handkerchief in its refreshing water and
bathing my burning face and arms.
When I finally made my entrance into Rebais, I found that thousands of
other persons had probably had the same idea as I and it took but little
time to discover that all rooms, whether private or public, were
occupied. The place was overflowing with refugees. The line outside
the baker's shop warned me that I had a dozen hungry mouths dependent
upon me and yesterday's supply of bread was well nigh exhausted, let
alone being stale. I took my place among the others and stood for a
good hour waiting for the second ovenful to finish baking.
Certainly no greasy pig at a county fair was ever more difficult to
manage than that long nine-pound loaf of red hot bread. There was no
way of handling it--it burned everything it touched. No sooner did I
put it under one arm than I was obliged to change it to the other post
haste. Add to this the fact that I had not ridden a bicycle since a
child, and realize that whether walking or riding the bread was equally
hot and equally cumbersome. It was too long to fit into the handlebars,
besides how could I hold it there? Too soft to be tied with string that
I might buy. At one moment I thought seriously of picking up my skirt
and carrying the bread as peasant women do grass and fodder, but alas, a
1914 skirt was too narrow to permit this. At length when almost
disheartened and I had stood my loaf against the side of a house to
cool, I recognized a familiar voice back of me, and George appeared on
his wheel to announce that my party had camped in a young orchard two
miles outside of Rebais, neither man nor beast being capable of going
any farther. We clapped our loaf into an overcoat that was strapped to
the back of his machine, and swinging it between us, soon joined the
Our noonday repast was composed of cold bam and fried potatoes. I think
I never ate better, though I must confess that the latter were stolen
from a neighboring field. By two o'clock a dozen weary inhabitants of
Villiers were stretched out on their rugs and peacefully dreaming! We
had decided to rest before determining what to do for the night.
I was awakened by a stiff feeling in my neck, and opened my eyes to find
that the sun was rapidly disappearing in the west. I had slept soundly
four hours and was much refreshed, though the bumps in the ground had
bruised me, and I could hardly move my head.
Yvonne had stood the journey so far very well though unable as yet to
walk, but as the cool of the evening came on I began to worry lest a
night out of doors set her screaming with pain. So as I laced my boots,
I decided to go back to Rebais and make another desperate attempt to
lodge her at least.
"Did Madame see Maitre Baudoin this morning," asked Leon, to whom I
imparted my plans.
I gasped! What a fool I was! My mind was so upset that I had forgotten
that my own notary was a prominent personality in Rebais.
A quarter of an hour later I turned into the public square and beheld
Maitre Baudoin and his wife standing on the doorstep watching the exodus
of numerous refugees.
"Madame Huard!" they exclaimed. "You? What on earth has happened?"
I explained in a few words.
"Why, come right in. We were just going to sit down to dinner."
I said I was not alone, and must first look after the others. Without
waiting a second, Maitre Baudoin crossed over to the town hall and soon
returned with a key in his hand.
"Here, here's the key to a bakery--there are rooms above. Your people
can lodge there and you come in with us. All this will be over in a day
or so; the news is good to-day. The Germans will never reach the
I went and fetched our delighted caravan, and after safely depositing
them in their new residence, I was crossing the main street to join my
friends, when a big military auto whisked into the middle of the square
and halted. Ten seconds later it was followed by a dozen others, and by
the time I had reached the Baudoins' the place was literally lined with
motors, containing officers and orderlies. We were just sitting down
when some one pounded on the door and a deep authoritative voice called
out, "You're to lodge a general and two officers!" And we could hear
the man hastily chalking the names on the door.
Madame Baudoin looked from me to her husband, her eyes wide open with
astonishment. The meal was forgotten and we hurried out into the
twilight to seek news. The _Etat Major_ of a cavalry division was to
bivouac at Rebais, would be leaving at midnight.
My friends understood, and they who had not as yet seen a soldier since
the war began, realized for the first time that they were now in the
midst of the retreating army. I begged them to make ready for flight
and they hurried homewards while I returned to the bakery to hold
As I reached the door, someone touched me on the shoulder and an
officer, pointing to the Red Cross armlet I was wearing, said:
"Go to the hospital at once. We need your services. Wounded."
"Very well, sir," I replied, and stepped inside.
"Madame Guix! Madame Guix!" I called in the stairway from the shop.
The others came clattering down all excitement, saying that Madame Guix
had been recognized by her uniform and sent flying to the hospital.
Just then a shadow barred the entrance door and turning I saw an army
chauffeur standing there.
"A piece of bread for God's sake," he begged.
"Yes, I'm nearly dead of hunger. We've had no time to cook our food,
and bread has been lacking for two days."
I looked about me--the bread boxes were empty. I had no right to do so,
but I opened all the cupboards. The least I could do was pay, if the
bakers appeared. I found a stale loaf and chopped it in four with the
big knife near the counter. The way that poor fellow bit into it brought
tears to my eyes.
"Wait a minute," I said as he turned away, and I rushed out to the court
where my cart was standing. In a moment I was back with a slice of ham
and some sweet chocolate and Julie came up with a glass of water.
I was about to ask questions when another form appeared, followed by
"Bread--oh, for heaven's sake, bread!" they implored. Apparently there
was no reason why I should not go on with my new trade until all the
hungry chauffeurs in the army were satisfied. But remembering the
wounded, I turned over my job to Julie, with orders to deal out the
bread as long as it lasted and to go lightly with the chocolate, as my
provision was not endless.
What a different aspect the main square presented to that of an hour
before! Motors were lined up four deep on all sides, and I was obliged
to elbow my way through the crowds of gapers, refugees, and officers
that thronged the street.
"Have you come for the wounded?" questioned a white-capped sister as I
closed the convent door and strode up the steps.
"Heaven be praised! Come this way, quickly. Your nurse is here, but
cannot suffice alone. We're of no use--there are only five of us to
look after the almshouse, and a hundred refugees. We know nothing of
surgery or bandaging."
All this was said sweetly and quietly as we hurried down a long
corridor. In the middle of a big, well-lighted room stood Madame Guix
bandaging the arm of a fine looking fellow, who shut his eyes and grated
his teeth as she worked. On a half-dozen chairs sat as many men, some
holding their heads in their hands, some doubled in two, others
clenching their fists in agony. Not a murmur escaped them. The floor in
several places was stained with great red patches.
"Quick, Madame Huard. We must stop the hemorrhages at all costs. The
wounds are not bad, since the men have come on foot, but one never can
tell with this heat."
A sister tied a white apron around me and in a second I had washed my
hands and begun. The first shirt I split, my heart leapt to my lips. I
was neither a novice nor a coward, but the sight of human blood flowing
so generously and given so ungrudgingly, gave me a queer feeling in my
throat. A second later that had all passed over and as I worked I
questioned the young fellows as to home and family and finally at what
place they had been wounded. Some did not know, others named unfamiliar
corners, but La Tretoire startled me. Our morning halt! Then the
invaders had crossed the Marne? For these were not wounds from
exploding shell but Mauser bullets and pistol shots!
Meanwhile the sisters brought iron beds and soft mattresses into the
next room, and each boy in turn was put to rest. Fortunately there was
nothing very serious, for we had no doctor and knew not where to find
one. When we reached our last patient he was so limp that we feared he
would faint. Imagine, if you can, what it is to cut away a stout pair
of trooper's boots, and undress an almost helpless man whose clothes are
fairly glued to the skin with blood, dirt and perspiration.
"Hold the ammonia closer to his nose," said Madame Guix, tugging at a
wire that served as boot lace.
"I'm afraid he's exhausted. There he goes--" I had just time to catch
the body as it slid from the chair.
Madame Guix grasped his wrist.
"His pulse is good. Hold fast till I get my needle."
The boy's lips parted and a familiar sound filled the room.
"He's not fainted!" I gasped. "He's asleep! Snoring!"
Poor little fellow, a bullet in the shoulder and one in the shin, and
yet fatigue had overcome the pain! When we finally had to wake him, he
apologized so nicely for the trouble he had given us, and sighed with
delight when he touched the cool linen sheets.
"You must have found me a pretty mess. I haven't been out of my saddle
for three weeks, and we've been fighting every minute since we left
Our patients all asleep, Madame Guix and I sought a moment's rest in the
open. A door in the corridor led out into a lovely old-world garden,
surrounded on four sides by a delicately plastered cloister. The harvest
moon shone down, covering everything with a silver sheen, and such quiet
and calm reigned that it was almost impossible to believe that we were
not visitors to some famous landscape, leisurely enjoying a long-planned
We were given no time to dream, however, for hasty footsteps in the
corridor and the appearance of a white-robed sister carrying a gun, told
us that our task was not yet finished.
On a bench in the cloister, his head buried in one arm, the other tied
up in an impromptu sling, we found a blue-coated soldier. He was the
image of despair, and though we gently questioned him, he only shook his
head from side to side without answering. Finally I sat down on the
bench beside him and gently stroking his well arm, pleaded that he would
tell us his trouble so that we might help him. He drew his head up with
a jerk, and turning on me with an almost furious look in his big black
eyes, he snapped, "Are you married?"
"Then you know what it is. My God, my wife and babies, shut up in
Valenciennes. It isn't this that's killing me," he continued, slapping
his bandaged arm. "It's only a flesh wound in the shoulder. But it's
the other--the other thoughts. I've seen them at their work, the pack
of cursed cowards! but if they ever touch my wife! Perhaps they have,
the dirty blackguards, and I'm not there to defend her. Curse them all!"
And he beat his fist on his knees in rage. Then anger, and agony having
reached paroxysm, his lips trembled, his mouth twitched, and brusquely
throwing his arm around my neck, he buried his head on my shoulder and
burst into tears.
The first instant of surprise over, it would have been stupid to be
offended. The circumstances were such that it was impossible not to be
I had never seen a man weep before; I never want to again. For a full
quarter-hour he sobbed like a child--this great sturdy fellow of
thirty-five, and through the mist in my eyes I could see that my
companion had turned her back on us and was fumbling for her
handkerchief in her pocket.
Then little by little the choking sound disappeared, his shoulders
ceased to heave and shake, and a moment later our soldier lifted his
head and blubbered an apology.
"Forgive me--you've done me so much good. I know I'm a fool, but it had
to come--I just couldn't stand it another minute--" and other similar
phrases, which we nipped in the bud by asking if he would like a cup of
hot soup, or come into the dispensary when we could bandage his wound.
"Anywhere where it's light. I want you to see her picture--she'd think
And so before he would let us touch his wound, we had to feel in his
breast pocket and draw forth a wallet from which he produced the
At length we completed his bandaging and I left Madame Guix to add the
finishing touches and went to the kitchen where Soeur Laurent was
standing over a huge range, ladling soup from two immense copper
boilers. There were men, women and children holding out cups and mugs,
a half-dozen dusty cavalrymen were skinning two rabbits in one corner,
and as many other soldiers were peeling vegetables which they threw into
another pot full of boiling water.
This was no time to ask permission. The poor sister was already half
distracted by the demands of the famished refugees and combatants, so
taking a ladle from the wall, I dipped into the pot and strained some
bouillon into a few cups that I found in a cupboard. I intended giving
this to our patients should they wake and call for drink, and I was just
lifting my tray to go when a loud thumping on the front door made me set
it down in haste.
Back to Full Books