The Soul of the War
Part 1 out of 7
What man may lay bare the soul of England as it was stirred during
those days of July when suddenly, without any previous warning, loud
enough to reach the ears of the mass of people, there came the
menace of a great, bloody war, threatening all that had seemed so
safe and so certain in our daily life? England suffered in those
summer days a shock which thrilled to its heart and brain with an
enormous emotion such as a man who has been careless of truth
and virtue experiences at a "Revivalist" meeting or at a Catholic
mission when some passionate preacher breaks the hard crust of his
carelessness and convinces him that death and the judgment are
very near, and that all the rottenness of his being will be tested in the
furnace of a spiritual agony. He goes back to his home feeling a
changed man in a changed world. The very ticking of the clock on the
mantelpiece of his sitting-room speaks to him with a portentous,
voice, like the thunder-strokes of fate. Death is coming closer to him
at every tick. His little home, his household goods, the daily routine of
his toil for the worldly rewards of life, his paltry jealousies of
next-door neighbours are dwarfed to insignificance. They no
longer matter, for the judgment of God is at hand. The smugness
of his self-complacency, his life-long hypocrisy in the shirking of
truth, are broken up. He feels naked, and afraid, clinging only to
the hope that he may yet have time to build up a new character,
to acquire new spiritual strength, and to do some of the things he
has left undone--if only he had his time over again!--before the
enemy comes to grips with him in a final bout.
That, with less simplicity and self-consciousness, was the spirit of
England in those few swift days which followed the Austrian ultimatum
to Serbia, and Germany's challenge to France and Russia. At least in
some such way one might express the mentality of the governing,
official, political, and so-called intellectual classes of the nation who
could read between the lines of diplomatic dispatches, and saw,
clearly enough, the shadow of Death creeping across the fields of
Europe and heard the muffled beating of his drum.
Some of our public men and politicians must have spent tortured
days and nights in those last days of July. They, too, like the sinner at
the mission service, must have seen the judgment of God
approaching them. Of what, avail now were their worldly ambitions
and their jealousies? They too had been smug in their self-
complacency, hypocrites, shirkers of truth and stirrers up of strife,
careless of consequences. If only they could have their time over
again! Great God! was this war with Germany an unavoidable horror,
or, if the worst came, was there still time to cleanse the nation of its
rottenness, to close up its divisions and to be ready for the frightful
All things were changed in England in a day or two. The things that
had mattered no longer mattered. The Arming of Ulster and the
Nationalists, Votes for Women, Easier Divorce, the Craze for Night
Clubs--had any of these questions any meaning now? A truce was
called by the men who had been inflaming the people's passion to the
point of civil war. The differences of political parties seemed futile and
idiotic now that the nation itself might be put to the uttermost test of
endurance by the greatest military power in Europe. In fear, as well as
with a nobler desire to rise out of the slough of the old folly of life,
the leaders of the nation abandoned then-feuds. Out of the past
voices called to them. Their blood thrilled to old sentiments and old
traditions which had seemed to belong to the lumber-room of history,
with the moth-eaten garments of their ancestors. There were no
longer Liberals or Conservatives or Socialists, but only Englishmen,
Scotsmen, Irishmen and Welshmen, with the old instincts of race and
with the old fighting qualities which in the past they had used against
each other. Before the common menace they closed up their ranks.
Yet there was no blood-lust in England, during those days of July.
None of the old Jingo spirit which had inflamed great crowds before
the Boer War was visible now or found expression. Among people of
thoughtfulness there was a kind of dazed incredibility that this war
would really happen, and at the back of this unbelief a tragic
foreboding and a kind of shame--a foreboding that secret forces were
at work for war, utterly beyond the control of European democracies
who desired to live in peace, and a shame that civilization itself, all
the ideals and intellectual activities and democratic progress of
modern Europe, would be thrust back into the primitive barbarities
of war, with its wholesale, senseless slaughter, its bayonet slashings
and disembowellings--"heroic charges" as they are called by the
journalists--and its gospel of hatred. So humanity was still beastlike,
as twenty centuries ago, and the message of Christianity was still
unheard? Socialistic theories, Hague conventions, the progress of
intelligence in modern democracy had failed utterly, and once again,
if this war came upon the world, not by the will of simple peoples, but
by the international intrigues of European diplomats, the pride of a
military caste and the greed of political tradesmen, the fields of
Europe would be drenched with the blood of our best manhood and
Death would make an unnatural harvesting. Could nothing stop this
I think the Middle Classes in England--the plain men and women who
do not belong to intellectual cliques or professional politics--were
stupefied by the swift development of the international "situation," as it
was called in the newspapers, before the actual declarations of war
which followed with a series of thunder-claps heralding a universal
tempest. Was it true then that Germany had a deadly enmity against
us, and warlike ambitions which would make a shambles of Europe?
Or was it still only newspaper talk, to provide sensations for the
breakfast table? How could they tell, these plain, ignorant men who
had always wanted straightforward facts?
For years the newspaper press of England had been divided over
Germany's ambitions, precisely as, according to their political colour,
they had been divided over Tariff Reform or Home Rule for Ireland.
The Liberal Press had jeered at the hair-raising fears of the
Conservative Press, and the latter had answered the jeers by more
ferocious attacks upon German diplomacy and by more determined
efforts to make bad blood between the two nations. The Liberal
Press had dwelt lovingly upon the brotherly sentiment of the German
people for their English cousins. The Conservative Press had
searched out the inflammatory speeches of the war lords and the
junker politicians. It had seemed to the man in the street a
controversy as remote from the actual interests of his own life--as
remote from the suburban garden in which he grew his roses or from
the golf links on which he spent his Saturday afternoons as a
discussion on the canals of Mars. Now and again, in moments of
political excitement, he had taken sides and adopted newspaper
phrases as his own, declaring with an enormous gravity which he did
not really feel that "The German Fleet was a deliberate menace to our
naval supremacy," or joining in the chorus of "We want eight and we
won't wait," or expressing his utter contempt for "all this militarism,"
and his belief in the "international solidarity" of the new democracy.
But there never entered his inmost convictions that the day might
come during his own lifetime when he--a citizen of Suburbia--might
have to fight for his own hearthside and suffer the intolerable horrors
of war while the roses in his garden were trampled down in mud and
blood, and while his own house came clattering down like a pack of
cards--the family photographs, the children's toys, the piano which he
had bought on the hire system, all the household gods which he
worshipped, mixed up in a heap of ruin--as afterwards at
Scarborough and Hartlepool, Ipswich, and Southend.
If such a thing were possible, why had the nation been duped by its
Government? Why had we been lulled into a false sense of security
without a plain statement of facts which would have taught us to
prepare for the great ordeal? The Government ought to have known
and told the truth. If this war came the manhood of the nation would
be unready and untrained. We should have to scramble an army
together, when perhaps it would be too late.
The middle classes of England tried to comfort themselves even at
the eleventh hour by incredulity.
"Impossible!" they cried. "The thing is unbelievable. It is only a
But as the hours passed the shadow of war crept closer, and touched
the soul of Europe.
In Fleet Street, which is connected with the wires of the world, there
was a feverish activity. Walls and tables were placarded with maps.
Photographs, gazetteers, time tables, cablegrams littered the rooms
of editors and news editors. There was a procession of literary
adventurers up the steps of those buildings in the Street of
Adventure--all those men who get lost somewhere between one war
and another and come out with claims of ancient service on the
battlefields of Europe when the smell of blood is scented from afar;
and scores of new men of sporting instincts and jaunty confidence,
eager to be "in the middle of things," willing to go out on any terms so
long as they could see "a bit of fun," ready to take all risks. Special
correspondents, press photographers, the youngest reporters on the
staff, sub-editors emerging from little dark rooms with a new
excitement in eyes that had grown tired with proof correcting, passed
each other on the stairs and asked for their Chance. It was a chance
of seeing the greatest drama in life with real properties, real corpses,
real blood, real horrors with a devilish thrill in them. It was not to be
missed by any self-respecting journalist to whom all life is a stage
play which he describes and criticises from a free seat in the front of
Yet in those newspaper offices in Fleet Street there was no real
certainty. Even the foreign editors who are supposed to have an
inside knowledge of international politics were not definite in their
assertions. Interminable discussions took place over their maps and
cablegrams. "War is certain." "There will be no war as far as England
is concerned." "Sir Edward Grey will arrange an international
conference." "Germany is bluffing. She will climb down at the
eleventh hour. How can she risk a war with France, Russia, and
England?" "England will stand out." "But our honour? What about our
understanding with France?"
There was a profound ignorance at the back of all these opinions,
assertions, discussions. Fleet Street, in spite of the dogmatism of its
leading articles, did not know the truth and had never searched for it
with a sincerity which would lead now to a certain conviction. All its
thousands of articles on the subject of our relations with Germany
had been but a clash of individual opinions coloured by the traditional
policy of each paper, by the prejudice of the writers and by the
influence of party interests. The brain of Fleet Street was but a more
intense and a more vibrant counterpart of the national psychology,
which in these hours of enormous crisis was bewildered by doubt
and, in spite of all its activity, incredulous of the tremendous
possibility that in a few days England might be engaged in the
greatest war since the Napoleonic era, fighting for her life.
On my own lips there was the same incredulity when I said good-bye.
It was on July 29, and England had not yet picked up the gauntlet
which Germany had flung into the face of European peace.
"I shall be back in a few days. Armageddon is still a long way off. The
idea of it is too ridiculous and too damnable!"
I lay awake on the night before I left England with the credentials of a
war correspondent on a roving commission, and there came into my
head a vision of the hideous thing which was being hatched in the
council chambers of Europe, even as the little clock ticked on my
bedroom mantelpiece. I thrust back this vision of blood by old
arguments, old phrases which had become the rag-tags of political
War with Germany? A war in which half the nations of Europe would
be flung against each other in a deadly struggle--millions against
millions of men belonging to the peoples of the highest civilization?
No, it was inconceivable and impossible. Why should England make
war upon Germany or Germany upon England? We were alike in
blood and character, bound to each other by a thousand ties of
tradition and knowledge and trade and friendship. All the best intellect
of Germany was friendly to us.
In Hamburg two years ago I had listened to speeches about all that,
obviously sincere, emotional in their protestations of racial
comradeship. That young poet who had become my friend, who had
taken me home to his house in the country and whose beautiful wife
had plucked roses for me in her garden, and said in her pretty
English, "I send my best love with them to England"--was he a liar
when he spoke fine and stirring words about the German admiration
for English literature and life, and when--it was late in the evening and
we had drunk some wine--he passed his arm through mine and said,
"If ever there were to be a war between our two countries I and all my
friends in Hamburg would weep at the crime and the tragedy."
On that trip to Hamburg we were banqueted like kings, we English
journalists, and the tables were garlanded with flowers in our honour,
and a thousand compliments were paid to us with the friendliest
courtesy. Were they all liars, these smiling Germans who had clinked
glasses with us?
Only a few weeks before this black shadow of war had loomed up
with its deadly menace a great party of German editors had returned
our visit and once again I had listened to speeches about the blood-
brotherhood of the two nations, a little bored by the stale phrases, but
glad to sit between these friendly Germans whom I had met in their
own country. We clinked glasses again, sang "God Save the King"
and the "Wacht am Rhein," compared the character of German and
English literature, of German and English women, clasped hands,
and said, "Auf wiedersehen!" Were we all liars in that room, and did
any of the men there know that when words of friendship were on
their lips there was hatred in their hearts and in each country a
stealthy preparation for great massacres of men? Did any of, those
German editors hear afar off the thunderstrokes of the Krupp guns
which even then were being tested for the war with France and
England? I believe now that some of them must have known.
Perhaps I ought to have known, too, remembering the tour which I
had made in Germany two years before.
It was after the Agadir incident, and I had been sent to Germany by
my newspaper on a dovelike mission of peace, to gather sentiments
of good will to England from prominent public men who might desire
out of their intellectual friendship to us to pour oil on the troubled
waters which had been profoundly stirred by our challenge to
Germany's foreign policy. I had a sheaf of introductions, which I
presented in Berlin and Leipzig, Frankfort and Dusseldorf, and other
The first man to whom I addressed myself with amiable intent was a
distinguished democrat who knew half the members of the House of
Commons and could slap Liberal politicians on the back with more
familiarity than I should dare to show. He had spent both time and
trouble in organizing friendly visits between the working men and
municipalities of both countries. But he was a little restrained and
awkward in his manners when I handed him my letter of introduction.
Presently he left the room for a few minutes and I saw on his desk a
German newspaper with a leading article signed by his name. I read it
and was amazed to find that it was a violent attack upon England,
demanding unforgetfulness and unforgiveness of the affront which we
had put upon Germany in the Morocco crisis. When the man came
back I ventured to question him about this article, and he declared
that his old friendship for England had undergone a change. He could
give me no expression of good will.
I could get no expression of good will from any public man in
Germany. I remember an angry interview with an ecclesiastic in
Berlin, a personal friend of the Kaiser, though for many years an
ardent admirer of England.
He paced up and down the room with noiseless footsteps on a soft
"It is no time for bland words!" he said. "England has insulted us.
Such acts are not to be tolerated by a great nation like ours. There is
only one answer to them, and it is the answer of the sword!"
I ventured to speak of Christian influences which should hold men
back from the brutality of war.
"Surely the Church must always preach the gospel of peace?
Otherwise it is false to the spirit of Christ."
He believed that I intended to insult him, and in a little while he rang
the bell for my dismissal.
Even Edward Bernstein, the great leader of the Social Democrats,
could give me no consoling words for my paper.
"The spirit of nationality," he said--and I have a note of his words--"is
stronger than abstract ideals. Let England make no mistake. If war
were declared to-morrow the Social Democrats would march as one
man in defence of the Fatherland. . . . And you must admit that
England, or rather the English Foreign Office, has put rather a severe
strain upon our pride and patience!"
My mission was a failure. I came back without any expressions of
good will from public men and with an uneasy sense of dangerous
fires smouldering beneath the political life of Germany--fires of hate
not easily quenched by friendly or sentimental articles in the English
Liberal Press. And yet among the ordinary people in railway trains
and restaurants, beer-halls and hotels, I had found no hostility to me
as an Englishman. Rather they had gone out of their way to be
friendly. Some of the university students of Leipzig had taken me to a
public dance, expressed their admiration for English sports, and
asked my opinion about the merits of various English boxers of whom
I had to confess great ignorance. They were good friendly fellows and
I liked them. In various towns of Germany I found myself admiring the
cheerful, bustling gemutlichkeit of the people, the splendid
organization of their civic life, their industry and national spirit.
Walking among them sometimes, I used to ponder over the
possibility of that unvermeidliche krieg--that "unavoidable war"
which was being discussed in all the newspapers. Did these
people want war with England or with anyone? The laughter of the
clerks and shop-girls swarming down the Friedrichstrasse, the
peaceful enjoyment of the middle-class crowds of husbands and
wives, lovers and sweethearts, steaming in the heat of brilliantly lighted
beer-halls seemed to make my question preposterous. The spirit of
the German people was essentially peaceful and democratic. Surely
the weight of all this middle-class common sense would save them
from any criminal adventures proposed by a military caste rattling its
sabre on state occasions? So I came back with a conflict of ideas....
A little bald-headed man came into London about two years ago, and
his arrival was noted in a newspaper paragraph. It appeared that he
was a great statistician. He had been appointed by the Governments
of Canada and the United States jointly to prepare a "statistical
survey of Europe," whatever that may mean. I was sent down to call
upon him somewhere in the Temple, and I was to get him to talk
about his statistics.
But after my introduction he shut the door carefully and, with an air of
anxious inquiry through his gold-rimmed spectacles, asked a strange
"Are you an honest young man and a good patriot?"
I could produce no credentials for honesty or patriotism, but hoped
that I might not fail in either.
"I suppose you have come to talk to me about my statistics," he said.
I admitted that this was my mission.
"They are unimportant," he said, "compared with what I have to tell
you. I am going to talk to you about Germany. The English people
ought to know what I have learnt during a year's experience in that
country, where I have lived all the time in the company of public
officials. Sir, it seems to me that the English people do not know that
the entire genius of intellectual Germany is directed to a war against
England. It dominates their thoughts and dreams, and the whole
activity of their national intelligence."
For an hour the little bald-headed man spoke to me of all he had
heard and learnt of Germany's enmity to England during twelve
months in official circles. He desired to give this information to an
English newspaper of standing and authority. He thought the English
people had a right to know.
I went back to my office more disturbed than I cared to admit even to
myself. There had been a kind of terror in the voice of the little man
who had found time for other interests besides his "statistical survey
of Europe." It seemed that he believed himself in the possession of
an enormous and terrible secret threatening the destiny of our
Empire. Yet nobody would believe him when he told it, however
fervently. My editor would not believe him, and none of his words
were published, in my paper or any other. But sometimes I used to
remember him and wonder whether perhaps in all such warnings that
came to us there were not a horrible truth which one day, when
brutally revealed, would make a mockery of all those men in England
who pooh-poohed the peril, and of the idealists who believed that
friendly relations with Germany could be secured by friendly words.
Meanwhile the Foreign Office did not reveal its secrets or give any
clear guidance to the people as to perils or policy--to the people who
would pay in blood for ignorance.
When I stood on the deck of the Channel boat in Dover Harbour
looking back on England, whose white cliffs gleamed faintly through
the darkness, a sense of tragic certainty came to me that a summons
of war would come to England, asking for her manhood. Perhaps it
would come to-night. The second mate of the boat came to the side
of the steamer and stared across the inky waters, on which there
were shifting pathways of white radiance, as the searchlights of
distant warships swept the sea.
"God!" he said, in a low voice.
"Do you think it will come to-night?" I asked, in the same tone of
voice. We spoke as though our words were dangerous.
"It's likely. The German fleet won't wait for any declaration, I should
say, if they thought they could catch us napping. But they won't. I
fancy we're ready for them--here, anyhow!"
He jerked his thumb at some dark masses looming through the
darkness in the harbour, caught here and there by a glint of metal
reflected in the water. They were cruisers and submarines nosing
towards the harbour mouth.
"There's a crowd of 'em!" said the second mate, "and they stretch
across the Channel. . . . The Reserve men have been called out--
taken off the trams in Dover to-night. But the public has not yet woken
up to the meaning of it."
He stared out to sea again, and it was some minutes before he spoke
"Queer, isn't it? They'll all sleep in their beds to-night as though
nothing out of the way were happening. And yet, in a few hours,
maybe, there'll be Hell! That's what it's going to be--Hell and
damnation, if I know anything about war!"
"What's that?" I asked, pointing to the harbour bar.
From each side of the harbour two searchlights made a straight beam
of light, and in the glare of it there passed along the surface of the
sea, as it seemed, a golden serpent with shining scales.
"Sea-gulls," said the mate. "Scared, I expect, by all these lights. They
know something's in the wind. Perhaps they can smell--blood!"
He spoke with a laugh, but it had a strange sound.
In the saloon were about a dozen men, drinking at the bar. They were
noisy and had already drunk too much. By their accent it was easy to
guess that they came from Manchester, and by their knapsacks,
which contained all their baggage, it was obvious that they were on a
short trip to Paris. A man from Cook's promised them a "good time!"
There were plenty of pretty girls in Paris. They slapped him on the
back and called him "old chap!"
A quiet gentleman seated opposite to me on a leather lounge--I met
him afterwards at the British Embassy in Paris--caught my eye and
"They don't seem to worry about the international situation. Perhaps it
will be easier to get to Paris than to get back again!"
"And now drinks all round, lads!" said one of the trippers.
On deck there were voices singing. It was the hymn of the
Marseillaise. I went up towards the sound and found a party of young
Frenchmen standing aft, waving farewells to England, as the syren
hooted, above a rattle of chains and the crash of the gangway which
dropped to the quayside. They had been called back to their country
to defend its soil and, unlike the Englishmen drinking themselves
fuddled, were intoxicated by a patriotic excitement.
An answer came back from the quayside:
"Vive la France!"
It was to this shout that we warped away from the jetty and made for
the open sea. A yacht with white sails all agleam as it crossed the bar
of a searchlight so that it seemed like a fairy ship in the vision of a
dream, crept into the harbour and then fluttered into the darkness
below the Admiralty pier.
"That's a queer kind of craft to meet to-night!" I said to the second
mate. "What is she doing?"
"I'd like to know. She's got a German skipper and crew. Spies all of
them, I guess. But nobody seems to bother."
There were spies watching our own boat as we went across the
Channel, but they were on English vessels. Searchlights from many
warships turned their rays upon us, staring at us from stem to stern,
following us with a far-flung vigilance, transmuting the base metal of
our funnel and brasswork into shining silver and burnished gold. As I
stared back into the blinding rays I felt that the eyes of the warships
could look into my very soul, and I walked to the other side of the boat
as though abashed by this scrutiny. I looked back to the shore, with
its winking lights and looming cliffs, and wished I could see by some
kind of searchlight into the soul of England on this night of fate.
Beyond the cliffs of Dover, in the profound darkness of the night,
England seemed asleep. Did not her people hear the beating of
Death's war drums across the fields of Europe, growing louder and
louder, so that on a cross-Channel boat I heard it booming in my
ears, louder than the wind?
The thunderbolt came out of a blue sky and in the midst of a brilliant
sunshine which gleamed blindingly above the white houses of Paris
and flung back shadows from the poplars across the long straight
roads between the fields of France. The children were playing as
usual in the gardens of the Tuileries, and their white-capped nurses
were sewing and chatting in the shade of the scorched trees. The old
bird man was still calling "Viens! Viens!" to the sparrows who came to
perch on his shoulders and peck at the bread between his lips, and
Punch was still performing his antique drama in the Petit Guignol to
laughing audiences of boys and girls. The bateaux mouches on the
Seine were carrying heavy loads of pleasure-seekers to Sevres and
other riverside haunts. In the Pavilion Bleu at St. Cloud elegant little
ladies of the demi-monde sipped rose-tinted ices and said for a
thousand times; "Ciel, comme il fait chaud!" and slapped the hands of
beaky-nosed young men with white slips beneath their waistcoats
and shiny boots and other symbols of a high civilization. Americans in
Panama hats sauntered down the Rue de Rivoli, staring in the shop
windows at the latest studies of nude women, and at night went in
pursuit of adventure to Montmartre, where the orchestras at the Bal
Tabarin were still fiddling mad tangoes in a competition of shrieking
melody and where troops of painted ladies in the Folies Bergeres still
paraded in the promenoir with languorous eyes, through wafts of
sickly scent. The little tables were all along the pavements of the
boulevards and the terrasses were crowded with all those bourgeois
Frenchmen and their women who do not move out of Paris even in
the dogdays, but prefer the scenery of their familiar streets to that of
Dieppe and Le Touquet. It was the same old Paris--crowded with
Cook's tourists and full of the melody of life as it is played by the hoot
of motor horns, the clang of steam trams, the shrill-voiced camelots
shouting "La Presse! La Presse!" and of the light laughter of women.
Then suddenly the thunderbolt fell with its signal of war, and in a few
days Paris was changed as though by some wizard's spell. Most of
the children vanished from the Tuileries gardens with their white-
capped nurses, and the sparrows searched in vain for their bird man.
Punch gave a final squawk of dismay and disappeared when the
theatre of the Petit Guignol was packed up to make way for a more
tragic drama. A hush fell upon Montmartre, and the musicians in its
orchestras packed up their instruments and scurried with scared
faces--to Berlin, Vienna, and Budapesth. No more boats went up to
Sevres and St. Cloud with crowds of pleasure-seekers. The Seine
was very quiet beneath its bridges, and in the Pavilion Bleu no dainty
creatures sat sipping rose-tinted ices or slapped the hands of the
beaky-nosed boys who used to pay for them. The women were hiding
in their rooms, asking God--even before the war they used to ask
God funny questions--how they were going to live now that their
lovers had gone away to fight, leaving them with nothing but the
memory of a last kiss wet with tears. It was not enough to live on for
During the last days of July and the first days of August Paris was
stunned by the shock of this menace, which was approaching swiftly
and terribly. War! But why? Why, in the name of God, should France
be forced into a war for which she was not prepared, for which she
had no desire, because Austria had issued an ultimatum to Servia,
demanding the punishment of a nation of cut-throats for the murder of
an unnecessary Archduke? Germany was behind the business,
Germany was forcing the pace, exasperating Russia, presenting a
grim face to France and rattling the sword in its scabbard so that it
resounded through Europe. Well, let her rattle, so long as France
could keep out of the whole affair and preserve that peace in which
she had built up prosperity since the nightmare of 1870!
L'annee terrible! There were many people in France who
remembered that tragic year, and now, after forty-four years, the
memory came back, and they shuddered. They had seen the horrors
of war and knew the meaning of it--its waste of life, its sacrifice of
splendid young manhood, its wanton cruelties, its torture of women,
its misery and destruction. France had been brought to her knees
then and had suffered the last humiliations which may be inflicted
upon a proud nation. But she had recovered miraculously, and
gradually even her desire for revenge, the passionate hope that one
day she might take vengeance for all those indignities and cruelties,
had cooled down and died. Not even for vengeance was war worth
while. Not even to recover the lost provinces was it worth the lives of
all those thousands of young men who must give their blood as the
price of victory. Alsace and Lorraine were only romantic memories,
kept alive by a few idealists and hotheads, who once a year went to
the statue in the Place de la Concorde and deposited wreaths and
made enthusiastic speeches which rang false, and pledged their
allegiance to the lost provinces--"Quand meme!" There was a good
deal of blague in these annual ceremonies, laughed at by Frenchmen
of common sense. Alsace and Lorraine had been Germanized. A
Frenchman would find few people there to speak his own tongue. The
old ties of sentiment had worn very thin, and there was not a party in
France who would have dared to advocate a war with Germany for
the sake of this territory. Such a policy would have been a crime
against France itself, who had abandoned the spirit of vengeance,
and had only one ambition--to pursue its ideals and its business in
There was no wild outbreak of Jingo fever, no demonstrations of
blood-lust against Germany in Paris or any town of France, on that
first day of August, when the people waited for the fateful decision
which, if it were for war, would call every able-bodied man to the
colours and arrest all the activities of a nation's normal life, and
demand a dreadful sacrifice in blood and tears. There was only a
sense of stupefaction which seemed to numb the intelligence of men
so that they could not reason with any show of logic, or speak of this
menace without incoherence, but thrust back the awful possibility with
one word, uttered passionately and repeated a thousand times a day:
This word was dinned in my ears. I caught the sound of it as I walked
along the boulevards. It would come like a refrain at the end of
sentences spoken by little groups of men and women sitting outside
the cafes and reading every issue of those innumerable newspapers
which flung out editions at every hour. It was the answer I had from
men of whom I tried to get a clue to the secret movements of
diplomacy, and an answer to that question of war or peace. "C'est
incroyable!" They found it hard to believe--they would not believe--
that without any provocation from France, without any challenge,
Germany would deliberately, force this war upon the Triple Entente
and make a bloody shambles of European civilization. Beneath this
incredulity, this stupefaction, there was among most of the
Frenchmen whom I personally encountered a secret dread that
France was unready for the great ordeal of war and that its outbreak
would find her divided by political parties, inefficient in organization,
corrupt in some of her Government departments. The Socialists and
Syndicalists who had fought against the three years' service might
refuse to march. Only a few months before a deputy had hinted at
grave scandals in the provisioning and equipment of the army.
The history of 1870, with its awful revelations of disorganization and
unreadiness was remembered now and lay heavy upon the hearts of
those educated Frenchmen who, standing outside the political arena,
distrust all politicians, having but little faith in their honesty or
their ability. Who could tell whether France--the new France she
had been called--would rise above her old weaknesses and
confront the peril of this war with a strong, pure, and undivided spirit?
On August 1 there was a run on one of the banks. I passed its doors
and saw them besieged by thousands of middle-class men and
women drawn up in a long queue waiting very quietly--with a strange
quietude for any crowd in Paris--to withdraw the savings of a lifetime
or the capital of their business houses. There were similar crowds
outside other banks, and on the faces of these people there was a
look of brooding fear, as though all that they had fought and struggled
for, the reward of all their petty economies and meannesses, and
shifts and tricks, and denials of self-indulgences and starvings of soul
might be suddenly snatched from them and leave them beggared. A
shudder went through one such crowd when a young man came to
speak to them from the steps of the bank. It was a kind of shuddering
sigh, followed by loud murmurings, and here and there angry
protests. The cashiers had been withdrawn from their desks and
cheques could not be paid.
"We are ruined already!" said a woman. "This war will take all our
money! Oh, my God!"
She made her way through the crowd with a fixed white face and
It was strange how in a day all gold disappeared from Paris. I could
not see the glint of it anywhere, unless I drew it from my own purse.
Even silver was very scarce and everybody was trying to cash notes,
which were refused by the shopkeepers. When I put one of them
down on a table at the Cafe Tourtel the waiter shook his head and
said, "La petite monnaie, s'il vous plait!" At another place where I put
down a gold piece the waiter seized it as though it were a rare and
wonderful thing, and then gave me all my change in paper, made up
of new five franc notes issued by the Government. In the evening an
official notice was posted on the walls prohibiting the export of grain
and flour. People stared at it and said, "That means war!" Another
sign of coming events, more impressive to the imagination of the
Parisian, was the sudden dwindling in size of the evening
newspapers. They were reduced to two sheets, and in some cases to
a single broadside, owing to the possibility of a famine in paper if war
broke out and cut off the supplies of Paris while the railways were
being used for the mobilization of troops.
The city was very quiet and outwardly as calm as on any day in
August. But beneath this normal appearance of things there was a
growing anxiety and people's nerves were so on edge that any
sudden sound would make a man start on his chair on the terrasse
outside the cafe restaurant. Paris was afraid of itself. What uproar or
riot or criminal demonstration might not burst suddenly into this
tranquillity? There were evil elements lurking in the low quarters.
Apaches and anarchists might be inflamed with the madness of blood
which excites men in time of war. The socialists and syndicalists
might refuse to fight, and fight in maintaining their refusal. Some
political crime might set all those smouldering passions on fire and
make a hell in the streets. So people waited and watched the crowds
and listened to the pulse-beat of Paris.
The sharp staccato of revolver shots heard in the rue Montmartre on
the night of July 31 caused a shudder to pass through the city, as
though they were the signal for a criminal plot which might destroy
France by dividing it while the enemy was on the frontier.
I did not hear those shots but only the newspaper reports which
followed them almost as loudly in the soul of Paris. And yet it was only
the accidental meeting of a friend which diverted my attention of
dining in the Croissant Restaurant in which the crime took place at
the very hour when I should have been there. Some years before in
Paris, when France was in the throes of a railway strike which
developed almost to the verge of revolution, I had often gone to the
Croissant at two, three or four in the morning, because it had police
privileges to keep open all night for the comfort of journalists. Other
night birds had found this roost--ladies who sleep by day, and some
of the queer adventurers of the city which never goes to bed. One
night I had come into the midst of a strange company--the inner circle
of Parisian anarchists who were celebrating a victory over French
law. Their white faces had eyes like live coals. They thrust long thin
fingers through shaggy hair and spoke passionate orations nose to
nose. Their sluttish women shrieked with mirth and gave their kisses
to the leader of the gang, who had the face of Christ as painted by
It was in this interesting place, on the very velvet cushions where I
used to sit to watch the company, that Jaures was killed on the eve of
the war. The veteran orator of French socialism, the man who could
stir the passions of the mob--as I had seen more than once--so that
at his bidding they would declare war against all the powers of
Government, was struck down as he sat with his back to an open
window divided from the street by a thin curtain. The young assassin
--a patriot he called himself--had been excited to an hysteria of hate
for a man who had tried to weaken the military power of France by
opposing the measure for a three years' service. It was the madness
of war which had touched his brain, and although Jaures had called
upon the Socialists of France to march as one man in defence of "La
Patrie," this young neurasthenic made him the first victim of that
enormous sacrifice of blood which has since reeked up to God.
Jaures, an honest man, perhaps, in spite of all his theatrical appeals
to mob passion--honest at least in his desire to make life more
tolerable for the sweated workers of France--was mortally wounded
by those shots through the window blind, and the crimson cushions of
his seat were dyed with deeper stains.
For twenty-four hours France was scared by the murder. It seemed
possible that the crime might let loose a tide of passion among the
followers of the Socialist leader. Placards were hastily posted on the
walls by the military governor of Paris professing abhorrence of the
assassination of a great Frenchman, promising a just punishment of
the crime, and calling upon the people to remain calm in this great
national crisis which would decide the destiny of France.
The appeal was not challenged. By a strange irony of fate the death
of Jaures strengthened the Government which he bad attacked
throughout his life, and the dead body of the man of strife became, on
its way to the grave, the symbol of a united France, of obedience to
its laws, and of a martial fervour which in the old days of rebellion he
had ridiculed and denounced. On a gusty day I saw the Red Flag of
revolutionary socialism fluttering across the Place de la Concorde in
front of the coffin containing the corpse of its leader. Blood red, flag
after flag streamed past, all aglow in the brilliant sunshine, and behind
walked the representatives of every party in the State, including all
those who had denounced Jaures in life as a traitor, a revolutionist,
and the most evil influence in France. For the first time in history the
aristocrats and the monarchists, the Conservative Republicans and
the Clericals walked in procession behind the blood-red rag.
Part of the active army of France was already on the frontiers. Before
the first whisper of war had reached the ears of the people, large
bodies of troops had been sent to the frontier towns to strengthen the
already existing garrisons. But the main army of the nation was
pursuing the ordinary pursuits of civil life. To resist the might of
Germany, the greatest military Power in Europe, already approaching
the frontiers in vast masses of men and machines, France would
have to call out all her manhood which had been trained in military
Aux armes, citoyens!
Formez vos bataillons!
The call to arms came without any loud clamour of bugles or orations.
Unlike the scenes in the early days of 1870, there were no street
processions of civil enthusiasts. No painted beauty of the stage
waved the tricolour to the shout of "A Berlin!" No mob orators jumped
upon the cafe tables to wave their arms in defiance of the foe and to
prophesy swift victories.
The quietness of Paris was astounding, and the first mobilization
orders were issued with no more publicity than attends the delivery of
a trade circular through the halfpenny post. Yet in hundreds of
thousands of houses through France and in all the blocks and
tenements of Paris there was a drama of tragic quietude when the
cards were delivered to young men in civilian clothes, men who sat at
table with old mothers or young wives, or in lowly rooms with some
dream to keep them company, or with little women who had spoilt the
dream, or fostered it, or with comrades who had gone on great
adventures with them between the Quartier Latin and the Mountain of
Montmartre. "It has come!"
Fate had come with that little card summoning each man to join his
depot, and tapped him on the shoulder with just a finger touch. It was
no more than that--a touch on the shoulder. Yet I know that for many
of those young men it seemed a blow between the eyes, and, to
some of them, a strangle-grip as icy cold as though Death's fingers
were already closing round their throats.
I seem to hear the silence in those rooms when for a moment or two
young men stared at the cards and the formal words on them, and
when, for just that time, all that life and death, means, came before
their souls. Was this the summons, Death itself? Somewhere on the
German side was a little steel bullet or a bit of shell waiting for the
Frenchman to whom it was destined. How long would it have to wait
to find its billet? Perhaps only a day or two--a question of hours,
slipping away now towards eternity as the clock ticked on. From the
old mother, or the young wife, from the little woman whose emotions
and quarrels, greediness or self-denial, had seemed all that mattered
in life, all that life meant to a young man of twenty-five or so, there
came perhaps a cry, a name spoken with grief, or no word at all but
the inarticulate expression of foreboding, terror, and a woman's
"Jean! Mon petit! O, mon pauvre petit!" "C'est pour la patrie... mon
devoir... je reviendrai bientot... Courage, ma femme!"
Courage! How many million times was the word spoken that night of
mobilization by women who saw the sudden pallor of their men, by
men who heard the cry of their women? I heard it in the streets,
spoken quite brutally sometimes, by men afraid of breaking down,
and with a passionate tenderness by other men, sure of their own
strength but pitiful for those whose spirit fainted at the spectre of
death which stood quite close.
In the days that followed the Second of August I saw the whole
meaning of mobilization in France--the call of a nation to arms--from
Paris to the Eastern frontier, and the drama of it all stirs me now as I
write, though many months have passed since then and I have seen
more awful things on the harvest fields of death. More awful, but not
more pitiful. For even in the sunshine of that August, before blood
had been spilt and the brooding spectre of war had settled drearily
over Europe, there was a poignant tragedy beneath the gallantry and
the beauty of that squadron of cavalry that I had seen riding out of
their barrack gates to entrain for the front. The men and the horses
were superb--clean-limbed, finely trained, exquisite in their pride of
life. As they came out into the streets of Paris the men put on the little
touch of swagger which belongs to the Frenchman when the public
gaze is on him. Even the horses tossed their heads and seemed to
realize the homage of the populace. Hundreds of women were in the
crowd, waving handkerchiefs, springing forward out of their line to
throw bunches of flowers to those cavaliers, who caught them and
fastened them to kepi and jacket. The officers--young dandies of the
Chasseurs--carried great bouquets already and kissed the petals in
homage to all the womanhood of France whose love they symbolized.
There were no tears in that crowd, though the wives and sweethearts
of many of the young men must have stood on the kerbstone to
watch them pass.
At those moments, in the sunshine, even the sting of parting was
forgotten in the enthusiasm and pride which rose up to those splendid
ranks of cavalry who were on their way to fight foi France and to
uphold the story of their old traditions. I could see no tears then but
my own, for I confess that suddenly to my eyes there came a mist of
tears and I was seized with an emotion that made me shudder icily in
the glare of the day. For beyond the pageantry of the cavalcade I saw
the fields of war, with many of those men and horses lying mangled
under the hot sun of August. I smelt the stench of blood, for I had
been in the muck and misery of war before and had seen the death
carts coming back from the battlefield and the convoys of wounded
crawling down the rutty roads--from Adrianople--with men, who had
been strong and fine, now shattered, twisted and made hideous by
pain. The flowers carried by those cavalry officers seemed to me like
funeral wreaths upon men who were doomed to die, and the women
who sprang out of the crowds with posies for their men were offering
the garlands of death.
In the streets of Paris in those first days of the war I saw many
scenes of farewell. All day long one saw them, so that at last one
watched them without emotion, because the pathos of them became
monotonous. It was curious how men said good-bye, often, to their
wives and children and comrades at a street corner, or in the middle
of the boulevards. A hundred times or more I saw one of these
conscript soldiers who had put on his uniform again after years of
civilian life, turn suddenly to the woman trudging by his side or to a
group of people standing round him and say: "Alors, il faut dire Adieu
et Au revoir!" One might imagine that he was going on a week-end
visit and would be back again in Paris on Monday next. It was only by
the long-drawn kiss upon the lips of the woman who raised a dead
white face to him and by the abruptness with which the man broke
away and walked off hurriedly until he was lost in the passing crowds
that one might know that this was as likely as not the last parting
between a man and a woman who had known love together and that
each of them had seen the vision of death which would divide them
on this side of the grave. The stoicism of the Frenchwomen was
wonderful. They made no moan or plaint. They gave their men to "La
Patrie" with the resignation of religious women who offer their hearts
to God. Some spiritual fervour, which in France permeates the
sentiment of patriotism, giving a beauty to that tradition of nationality
which, without such a spirit, is the low and ignorant hatred of other
peoples, strengthened and uplifted them.
Sometimes when I watched these scenes I raged against the villainy
of a civilization which still permits these people to be sent like sheep
to the slaughter. Great God! These poor wretches of the working
quarters in Paris, these young peasants from the fields, these
underpaid clerks from city offices had had no voice in the declaration
of war. What could they know about international politics? Why
should they be the pawns of the political chessboard, played without
any regard for human life by diplomats and war lords and high
financiers? These poor weedy little men with the sallow faces of the
clerical class, in uniforms which hung loose round their undeveloped
frames, why should they be caught in the trap of this horrible machine
called "War" and let loose like a lot of mice against the hounds of
death? These peasants with slouching shoulders and loose limbs and
clumsy feet, who had been bringing in the harvest of France, after
their tilling and sowing and reaping, why should they be marched off
into tempests of shells which would hack off their strong arms and
drench unfertile fields with their blood? They had had to go, leaving all
the things that had given a meaning and purpose to their days, as
though God had commanded them, instead of groups of politicians
among the nations of Europe, damnably careless of human life. How
long will this fetish of international intrigue be tolerated by civilized
democracies which have no hatred against each other, until it is
inflamed by their leaders and then, in war itself, by the old savageries
of primitive nature?
I went down to the East frontier on the first day of mobilization. It was
in the evening when I went to take the train from the Gare de l'Est.
The station was filled with a seething crowd of civilians and soldiers,
struggling to get to the booking-offices, vainly seeking information as
to the times of departure to distant towns of France. The railway
officials were bewildered and could give no certain information. The
line was under military control. Many trains had been suppressed and
the others had no fixed time-table. I could only guess at the purpose
animating the individuals in these crowds. Many of them, perhaps,
were provincials, caught in Paris by the declaration of war and
desperately anxious to get back to their homes before the lines were
utterly choked by troop trains. Others belonged to neutral countries
and were trying to escape across the frontier before the gates were
closed. One of the "neutrals" spoke to me--in German, which was a
dangerous tongue in Paris. He was a Swiss who had come to Paris
on business for a few days, leaving his wife in a village near Basle. It
was of his wife that he kept talking.
"Ach, mein armes Weib! Sie hat Angst fur mich."
I pitied this little man in a shoddy suit and limp straw hat who had
tears in his eyes and no courage to make inquiries of station officials
because he spoke no word of French. I asked on his behalf and after
jostling for half an hour in the crowd and speaking to a dozen porters
who shrugged their shoulders and said, "Je n'en sais rien!" came
back with the certain and doleful news that the last train had left that
night for Basle. The little Swiss was standing between his packages
with his back to the wall, searching for me with anxious eyes, and
when I gave him the bad news tears trickled down his face.
"Was kann ich thun? Mein armes Weib hat Angst fur mich."
There was nothing he could do that night, however anxious his poor
wife might be, but I did not have any further conversation with him, for
my bad German had already attracted the notice of the people
standing near, and they were glowering at me suspiciously, as though
I were a spy.
It was an hour later that I found a train leaving for Nancy, though
even then I was assured by railway officials that there was no such
train. I had faith, however, in a young French officer who pledged his
word to me that I should get to Nancy if I took my place in the
carriage before which he stood. He was going as far as Toul himself.
I could see by the crimson velvet round his kepi that he was an army
doctor, and by the look of sadness in his eyes that he was not glad to
leave the beautiful woman by his side who clasped his arm. They
spoke to me in English.
"This war will be horrible!" said the lady. "It is so senseless and so
unnecessary. Why should Germany want to fight us? There has been
no quarrel between us and we wanted to live in peace."
The young officer made a sudden gesture of disgust.
"It is a crime against humanity--a stupid, wanton crime!"
Then he asked a question earnestly and waited for my answer with
"Will England join in?"
I said "Yes!" with an air of absolute conviction, though on that night
England had not yet given her decision. During the last twenty-four
hours I had been asked this question a score of times. The people of
Paris were getting impatient of England's silence. Englishmen in Paris
were getting very anxious. If England did not keep her unwritten
pledge to France, it would be dangerous and a shameful thing to be
an Englishman in Paris. Some of my friends were already beginning
to feel their throats with nervous fingers.
"I think so too!" said the officer, when he heard my answer. "England
will be dishonoured otherwise!"
The platform was now thronged with young men, many of them being
officers in a variety of brand-new uniforms, but most of them still in
civilian clothes as they had left their workshops or their homes to
obey the mobilization orders to join their military depots. The young
medical officer who had been speaking to me withdrew himself from
his wife's arm to answer some questions addressed to him by an old
colonel in his own branch of service. The lady turned to me and
spoke in a curiously intimate way, as though we were old friends.
"Have you begun to realize what it means? I feel that I ought to weep
because my husband is leaving me. We have two little children. But
there are no tears higher than my heart. It seems as though he were
just going away for a week-end--and yet he may never come back to
us. Perhaps to-morrow I shall weep."
She did not weep even when the train was signalled to start and
when the man put his arms about her and held her in a long
embrace, whispering down to her. Nor did I see any tears in other
women's eyes as they waved farewell. It was only the pallor of their
faces which showed some hidden agony.
Before the train started the carriage in which I had taken my seat was
crowded with young men who, excepting one cavalry officer in the
corner, seemed to belong to the poorest classes of Paris. In the
corner opposite the dragoon was a boy of eighteen or so in the
working clothes of a terrassier or labourer. No one had come to see
him off to the war, and he was stupefied with drink. Several times he
staggered up and vomited out of the window with an awful violence of
nausea, and then fell back with his head lolling sideways on the
cushions of the first-class carriage. None of the other men--except
the cavalry officer, who drew in his legs slightly--took the slightest
interest in this poor wretch--a handsome lad with square-cut features
and fair tousled hair, who had tried to get courage out of absinthe
before leaving for the war.
In the corner opposite my own seat was a thin pallid young man, also
a little drunk, but with an excited brain in which a multitude of strange
and tragic thoughts chased each other. He recognized me as an
Englishman at once, and with a shout of "Camarade!" shook hands
with me not once but scores of times during the first part of our
He entered upon a monologue that seemed interminable, his voice
rising into a shrill excitement and then sinking into a hoarse whisper.
He belonged to the "apache" type, and had come out of one of those
foul lairs which lie hidden behind the white beauty of Paris--yet he
spoke with a terrible eloquence which kept me fascinated. I
remember some of his words, though I cannot give them his white
heat of passion, nor the infinite pathos of his self-pity.
"I have left a wife behind, the woman who loves me and sees
something more in me than vileness. Shall I tell you how I left her,
Monsieur? Dying--in a hospital at Charenton. I shall never see her
again. I shall never again take her thin white face in my dirty hands
and say, 'You and I have tasted the goodness of life, my little one,
while we have starved together!' For life is good, Monsieur, but in a
little while I shall be dead in one place and my woman in another. That
is certain. I left a child behind me--a little girl. What will happen to
her when I am killed? I left her with the concierge, who promised to
take care of her--not for money, you understand, because I had none
to give. My little girl will never see me again, and I shall never see her
grow into a woman. Because I am going to be killed. Perhaps in a
day or two there will be no more life for me. This hand of mine--you
see I can grasp things with it, move it this way and that, shake hands
with you--camarade!--salute the spirit of France with it--comme ca!
But tomorrow or the next day it will be quite still. A dead thing--like my
dead body. It is queer. Here I sit talking to you alive. But to-morrow or
the next day my corpse will lie out on the battlefield, like a bit of
earth. I can see that corpse of mine, with its white face and staring eyes.
Ugh! it is a dirty sight--a man's corpse. Here in my heart something
tells me that I shall be killed quite soon, perhaps at the first shot. But
do you know I shall not be sorry to die. I shall be glad, Monsieur! And
why glad, you ask? Because I love France and hate the Germans
who have put this war on to us. I am going to fight--I, a Socialist and a
syndicalist--so that we shall make an end of war, so that the little ones
of France shall sleep in peace, and the women go without fear. This
war will have to be the last war. It is a war of Justice against
Injustice. When they have finished this time the people will have no
more of it. We who go out to die shall be remembered because we
gave the world peace. That will be our reward, though we shall know
nothing of it but lie rotting in the earth--dead! It is sad that to-morrow,
or the next day, I shall be dead. I see my corpse there-----"
He saw his corpse again, and wept a little at the sight of it.
A neurotic type--a poor weed of life who had been reared in the dark
lairs of civilization. Yet I had no contempt for him as he gibbered with
self-pity. The tragedy of the future of civilization was in the soul of
that pallid, sharp-featured, ill-nourished man who had lived in misery
within the glitter of a rich city and who was now being taken to his
death--I feel sure he died in the trenches even though no bullet may
have reached him--at the command of great powers who knew
nothing of this poor ant. What did his individual life matter? ... I stared
into the soul of a soldier of France and wondered at the things I saw
in it--at the spiritual faith which made a patriot of that apache.
There was a change of company in the carriage, the democrats being
turned into a third-class carriage to make way for half a dozen officers
of various grades and branches. I had new types to study and was
surprised by the calmness and quietude of these men--mostly of
middle age--who had just left their homes for active service. They
showed no signs of excitement but chatted about the prospects of the
war as though it were an abstract problem. The attitude of England
was questioned and again I was called upon to speak as the
representative of my country and to assure Frenchmen of our
friendship and co-operation. They seemed satisfied with my
statements and expressed their belief that the British Fleet would
make short work of the enemy at sea.
One of the officers took no part in the conversation. He was a
handsome man of about forty years of age, in the uniform of an
infantry regiment, and he sat in the corner of the carriage, stroking his
brown moustache in a thoughtful way. He had a fine gravity of face
and once or twice when his eyes turned my way I saw an immense
sadness in them.
As our train passed through France on its way to Nancy, we heard
and saw the tumult of a nation arming itself for war and pouring down
to its frontiers to meet the enemy. All through the night, as we passed
through towns and villages and under railway bridges, the song of the
Marseillaise rose up to the carriage windows and then wailed away
like a sad plaint as our engine shrieked and raced on. At the sound of
the national hymn one of the officers in my carriage always opened
his eyes and lifted his head, which had been drooping forward on his
chest, and listened with a look of puzzled surprise, as though he
could not realize even yet that France was at war and that he was on
his way to the front. But the other officers slept; and the silent man,
whose quiet dignity and sadness had impressed me, smiled a little in
his sleep now and then and murmured a word or two, among which I
seemed to hear a woman's name.
In the dawn and pallid sunlight of the morning I saw the soldiers of
France assembling. They came across the bridges with glinting rifles,
and the blue coats and red trousers of the infantry made them look in
the distance like tin soldiers from a children's playbox. But there were
battalions of them close to the railway lines, waiting at level crossings,
and with stacked arms on the platforms, so that I could look into their
eyes and watch their faces. They were fine young men, with a certain
hardness and keenness of profile which promised well for France.
There was no shouting among them, no patriotic demonstrations, no
excitability. They stood waiting for their trains in a quiet, patient way,
chatting among themselves, smiling, smoking cigarettes, like soldiers
on their way to sham fights in the ordinary summer manoeuvres. The
town and village folk, who crowded about them and leaned over the
gates at the level crossings to watch our train, were more
demonstrative. They waved hands to us and cried out "Bonne
chance!" and the boys and girls chanted the Marseillaise again in
shrill voices. At every station where we halted, and we never let one
of them go by without a stop, some of the girls came along the
platform with baskets of fruit, of which they made free gifts to our
trainload of men. Sometimes they took payment in kisses, quite
simply and without any bashfulness, lifting their faces to the lips of
bronzed young men who thrust their kepis back and leaned out of the
"Come back safe and sound, my little one," said a girl. "Fight well for
"I do not hope to come back," said a soldier, "but I shall die fighting."
The fields were swept with the golden light of the sun, and the heavy
foliage of the trees sang through every note of green. The white
roads of France stretched away straight between the fields and the
hills, with endless lines of poplars as their sentinels, and in clouds of
greyish dust rising like smoke the regiments marched with a steady
tramp. Gun carriages moved slowly down the roads in a glare of sun
which sparkled upon the steel tubes of the field artillery and made a
silver bar of every wheel-spoke. I heard the creak of the wheels and
the rattle of the limber and the shouts of the drivers to their teams;
and I thrilled a little every time we passed one of these batteries
because I knew that in a day or two these machines, which were
being carried along the highways of France, would be wreathed with
smoke denser than the dust about them now, while they vomited forth
shells at the unseen enemy whose guns would answer with the roar
Guns and men, horses and wagons, interminable convoys of
munitions, great armies on the march, trainloads of soldiers on all the
branch lines, soldiers bivouacked in the roadways and in market
places, long processions of young civilians carrying bundles to
military depots where they would change their clothes and all their
way of life--these pictures of preparation for war flashed through the
carriage windows into my brain, mile after mile, through the country of
France, until sometimes I closed my eyes to shut out the glare and
glitter of this kaleidoscope, the blood-red colour of all those French
trousers tramping through the dust, the lurid blue of all those soldiers'
overcoats, the sparkle of all those gun-wheels. What does it all mean,
this surging tide of armed men? What would it mean in a day or two,
when another tide of men had swept up against it, with a roar of
conflict, striving to overwhelm this France and to swamp over its
barriers in waves of blood? How senseless it seemed that those mild-
eyed fellows outside my carriage windows, chatting with the girls while
we waited for the signals to fall, should be on their way to kill other
mild-eyed men, who perhaps away in Germany were kissing other
girls, for gifts of fruit and flowers.
It was at this station near Toul that I heard the first words of hatred.
They were in a conversation between two French soldiers who had
come with us from Paris. They had heard that some Germans had
already been taken prisoners across the frontier, and they were angry
that the men were still alive.
"Prisoners? Pah! Name of a dog! I will tell you what I would do with
It was nothing nice that that man wanted to do with German
prisoners. He indulged in long and elaborate details as to the way in
which he would wreath their bowels about his bayonet and tear out
their organs with his knife. The other man had more imagination. He
devised more ingenious modes of torture so that the Germans should
not die too soon.
I watched the men as they spoke. They had the faces of murderers,
with bloodshot eyes and coarse features, swollen with drink and vice.
There was a life of cruelty in the lines about their mouths, and in their
husky laughter. Their hands twitched and their muscles gave
convulsive jerks, as they worked themselves into a fever of blood-
lust. In the French Revolution it was such men as these who leered
up at the guillotine and laughed when the heads of patrician women
fell into the basket, and who did the bloody Work of the September
massacre. The breed had not died out in France, and war had
brought it forth from its lairs again.
These men were not typical of the soldiers of France. In the
headquarters at Nancy, where I was kept waiting for some time in
one of the guard-rooms before being received by the commandant, I
chatted with many of the men and found them fine fellows of a good,
clean, cheery type. When they heard that I was a war correspondent,
they plied me with greetings and questions. "You are an English
journalist? You want to come with us? That is good! Every
Englishman is a comrade and we will give you some fine things to
They showed me their rifles and their field kit, asked me to feel the
weight of their knapsacks, and laughed when I said that I should faint
with such a burden. In each black sack the French soldier carried--in
addition to the legendary baton of a field-marshal--a complete change
of underclothing, a second pair of boots, provisions for two days,
consisting of desiccated soup, chocolate and other groceries, and a
woollen night-cap. Then there were his tin water-bottle, or bidon (filled
with wine at the beginning of the war), his cartridge belt, rifle, military
overcoat strapped about his shoulders, and various other
"It's not a luxury, this life of ours," said a tall fellow with a fair
moustache belonging to the famous 20th Regiment of the line, which
was the first to enter Nancy after the German occupation of the town
He pointed to the rows of straw beds on which some of his comrades
lay asleep, and to the entire lack of comfort in the whitewashed room.
"Some of you English gentlemen," he said, "would hardly like to lie
down here side by side with the peasants from their farms, smelling of
their barns. But in France it is different. We have aristocrats still, but
some of them have to shake down with the poorest comrades and
know no distinction of rank now that all wear the same old uniform."
It seemed to me a bad uniform for modern warfare--the red trousers
and blue coat and the little kepi made famous in many great battle
pictures--but the soldier told me they could not fight with the same
spirit if they wore any other clothes than those which belong to the
glorious traditions of France.
When I was taken to Colonel Duchesne, second-in-command to
General Foch, he gave me a smiling greeting, though I was a
trespasser in the war zone, and he wanted to know what I thought of
his "boys," what was my opinion of the mobilization, and what were
my impressions of the way in which France had responded to the call.
I answered with sincerity, and when I spoke of the astonishing way in
which all classes seemed to have united in defence of the nation,
Colonel Duchesne had a sudden mist of tears in his eyes which he
did not try to hide.
"It is sublime! All politics have been banished. We are one people,
with one ideal and one purpose--La France!"
Then he came to the business of my visit--to obtain a permit to march
with the French troops.
"It is very difficult," said the Colonel. "General Foch would do all he
could for you--he loves the English--but no French correspondents
are allowed on the frontier, and we can hardly make a distinction in
your favour. Still, I will put your appeal before the general. The answer
shall be sent to your hotel."
It was while waiting for this reply that I was able to explore Nancy and
to see the scenes of mobilization. The town was under martial law. Its
food-supplies were under strict supervision by the commandant.
Every motor-car and cart had been commandeered for the use of the
army, and every able-bodied citizen had been called to the colours. I
was the only guest in the Grand Hotel and the manager and his wife
attended to my wants themselves. They were astounded to see me in
"You are the only foreigner left," they said, "except those who are
under armed guard, waiting to be taken to the Swiss frontier. Look!
there go the last of them!"
Through the glass windows of the hotel door I saw about two hundred
men marching away from the square surrounded by soldiers with
fixed bayonets. They carried bundles and seemed to droop under the
burden of them already. But I fancy their hearts were heaviest, and I
could see that these young men--waiters and hairdressers and
tradesmen mostly of Swiss nationality--were unwilling victims of this
tragedy of war which had suddenly thrust them out of their business
and smashed their small ambitions and booted them out of a country
which had given them a friendly welcome. On the other side of the
fixed bayonets were some women who wept as they called out
"Adieu!" to their fair-haired fellows. One of them held up a new-born
baby between the guards as she ran alongside, so that its little
wrinkled face touched the cheek of a young man who had a look of
agony in his eyes.
That night I heard the shrill notes of bugle calls and going to my
bedroom window listened to the clatter of horses' hoofs and saw the
dim forms of cavalry and guns going through the darkness--towards
the enemy. No sound of firing rattled my window panes. It still
seemed very quiet--over there to the East. Yet before the dawn came
a German avalanche of men and guns might be sweeping across the
frontier, and if I stayed a day or two in the open town of Nancy I might
see the spiked helmets of the enemy glinting down the streets. The
town was not to be defended, I was told, if the French troops had to
fall back from the frontier to the fortresses of Belfort and Toul.
A woman's voice was singing outside in the courtyard when I
awakened next day. How strange that any woman should sing in an
undefended town confronted by such a peril. But none of the girls
about the streets had any fear in their eyes. German frightfulness had
not yet scared them with its nameless horrors.
I did not stay in Nancy. It was only the French War Office in Paris who
could give permission for a correspondent to join the troops. This
unfortified town has never echoed in the war to the tramp of German
feet, and its women's courage has not been dismayed by the worst
horrors. But since those days of August 1914, many women's faces
have blanched at the sight of blood--streams of blood sopping the
stretchers in which the wounded have been carried back from the
frontier, which seemed so quiet when I listened at the open window.
Those soldiers I talked to in the general headquarters--how many of
them are now alive? They were the men who fought in Alsace and
Lorraine, when whole battalions were decimated under a withering
shell-fire beyond the endurance of human courage, and who
marched forward to victories, and backward in retreats, and forward
again over the dead bodies of their comrades and corrupting heaps
of German dead, in an ebb and flow of warfare which made the fields
and the woods one great stench of horror, from which there came
back madmen and maimed creatures, and young men, lucky with
slight wounds, who told the tale of things they had seen as though
they had escaped from hell. I met some of them afterwards and
turned sick and faint as I listened to their stories; and afterwards on
the western side of the French front, three hundred miles from Nancy,
I came upon the dragoons of Belfort who had ridden past me in the
sunshine of those August days. Then they had been very fine to see
in their clean uniforms and on their glossy horses, garlanded with
flowers. At the second meeting they were stained and warworn, and
their horses limped with drooping heads, and they rode as men who
have seen many comrades fall and have been familiar with the ways
of death. They were fine to see again, those dirty, tired, grim-faced
men. But it was a different kind of beauty which sent a queer thrill
through me as I watched them pass.
The Secret War
It was the most astounding thing in modern history, the secrecy
behind which great armies were moving and fighting. To a civilization
accustomed to the rapid and detailed accounts of news, there was
something stupefying in the veil of silence which enshrouded the
operations of the legions which were being hurled against each other
along the frontiers. By one swift stroke of the military censorship
journalism was throttled. All its lines of communication were cut,
suddenly, as when, in my office, I spoke from Paris to England, and
found myself with a half-finished sentence before a telephone which
would no longer "march," as they say across the Channel. Pains and
penalties were threatened against any newspaper which should dare
to publish a word of military information beyond the official
communiques issued in order to hide the truth. Only by a careful
study of maps from day to day and a microscopic reading between
the lines could one grope one's way to any kind of clear fact which
would reveal something more than the vague optimism, the patriotic
fervour, of those early dispatches issued from the Ministry of War.
Now and again a name would creep into these communiques which
after a glance at the map would give one a cold thrill of anxiety and
doubt. Was it possible that the enemy had reached that point? If so,
then its progress was phenomenal and menacing. But M. le Marquis
de Messimy, War Minister of France, was delightfully cheerful. He
assured the nation day after day that their heroic army was making
rapid progress. He omitted to say in what direction. He gave no
details of these continual victories. He did not publish lists of
casualties. It seemed, at first, as though the war were bloodless.
One picture of Paris, in those first days of August, comes to my mind
now. In a great room to the right of the steps of the War Office a
number of men in civilian clothes sit in gilded chairs with a strained
look of expectancy, as though awaiting some message of fate. They
have interesting faces. My fingers itch to make a sketch of them, but
only Steinlen could draw these Parisian types who seem to belong to
some literary or Bohemian coterie. What can they be doing at the
Ministry of War? They smoke cigarettes incessantly, talk in whispers
tete-a-tete, or stare up at the steel casques and cuirasses on the
walls, or at the great glass candelabra above their heads as though
they can only keep their patience in check by gazing fixedly at some
immovable object. Among the gilded chairs and beneath the Empire
mirrors which reflect the light there are three iron bedsteads with
straw mattresses, and now and again a man gets up from one of
these straight-backed chairs and lies at full length on one of the beds.
But a minute later he rises silently again and listens intently,
nervously, to the sound of footsteps coming sharply across the
polished boards. It seems to be the coming of the messenger for
whom all these men have been waiting. They spring to their feet and
crowd round a table as a gentleman comes in with a bundle of papers
from which he gives a sheet to every outstretched hand. The Parisian
journalists have received the latest bulletin of war. They read it
silently, devouring with their eyes those few lines of typewritten words.
Here is the message of fate. Those slips of paper will tell them
whether it goes well or ill with France. One of them speaks to his
"Tout va bien!"
Yes, all goes well, according to the official bulletin, but there is not
much news on that slip of paper, not enough for men greedy for
every scrap of news. Perhaps the next dispatch will contain a longer
story. They must come again, these journalists of France, to smoke
more cigarettes, to stare at the steel armour, to bridle their impatience
with clenched hands. This little scene at the Ministry of War is played
four times a day, and there is a tremendous drama behind the
quietude of those waiting men, whose duty it is to tell France and the
world what another day of war has done for the flag.
Another little scene comes to my mind as I grope back to those first
days of war. At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on the Quai d'Orsay,
there is more quietude. It is difficult to realise that this house has been
the scene of a world-drama within the last few days, and that in one
of its reception-rooms a German gentleman spoke a few quiet words,
before asking for some papers, which hurled millions of men against
each other in a deadly struggle involving all that we mean by
civilization. I went to that house and waited for a while in an ante-
chamber where the third Napoleon once paced up and down before a
war which ended disastrously for France. Presently a footman came
through the velvet curtains and said, "Monsieur le President vous
attend." I was taken into another room, a little cabinet overlooking a
garden, cool and green under old trees through which the sunlight
filtered. A stone goddess smiled at me through the open windows. I
saw her out of the corner of my eye as I bowed to M. Doumergue,
Minister of Foreign Affairs, and, for a time, Prime Minister of France.
For some reason my imagination was touched by that garden of
peace where a Greek goddess smiled in the green twilight.
But M. Doumergue was smiling, too, with that expression of tout va
bien which masked the anxiety of every statesman who had seen
behind the veil. After a few preliminary words he spoke of the
progress of the war and of its significance to the world.
"Civilization itself," he said, "depends upon the success of our arms.
For years Germany has played the part of a bully, basing her policy
upon brute force, and thrusting her sword before the eyes of men.
She was swollen-headed with her military pride. She preached the
gospel of the swashbuckler. And now, after the declaration of this
war, which was none of our seeking, how are they behaving, these
Germans? Like barbarians. They have treated our Ambassador with
infamous discourtesy. They have behaved with incredible insolence
and boorishness to our Consuls. The barbaric nature of the enemy is
revealed in a way which will never be forgotten. Fortunately, we have
European civilization on our side. All the cultured races sympathize
with us. They know that Europe would be lost if the German Empire,
with its policy of blood and iron, with its military caste and tyranny,
should become more dominant and stride across the frontiers of
civilized States. But of the ultimate issue of this war there can be no
doubt. With Great Britain fighting side by side with France, with
Russia attacking on the Eastern front, what hopes can Germany
nourish now? The war may be a long struggle; it may lead to many
desperate battles; but in the end the enemy must be doomed. Where
is her boasted organization? Already our prisoners tell us that they
were starving when they fought. It seems as though these critics of
French military organization were demoralized at the outset. Ils ont
bluffe tout le temps! I can assure you that we are full of confidence,
and perfectly satisfied with the way in which the war is progressing."
This Minister of France was "perfectly satisfied." His optimism
cheered me, though all his words had not told me the things I wanted
to know, nor lifted the corner of that veil which hid the smoke and
flash of guns. But the French had taken prisoners and somewhere or
other masses of men were fighting and dying. ... As I came back from
the Quai d'Orsay and a stroll in the Champs Elysees through the
golden twilight of a splendid day, when the lamps of Paris began to
gleam like stars through the shimmering haze and the soft foliage of
the most beautiful highway in the world, there came a clatter of hoofs
and the music of soldiers' harness. It was a squadron of the Garde
Republicaine riding on the last patrol of the day round the ramparts of
Paris. I watched them gallop through the Arc de Triomphe, their black
crinieres streaming backwards like smoke from their helmets. They
rode towards the setting sun, a crimson bar across the blue of the
sky, and when I walked back slowly to the heart of Paris the
boulevards were already quiet, and in the velvety darkness which
overtook me there was peace and order. Only the silence of the
streets told me that France was at war.
Obviously it was hopeless to stay in Paris waiting for official
permission to follow the armies as a correspondent and to penetrate
more deeply into the heart of that mystery which was fogged more
deeply by the words that came forth every day from the Ministry of
War. The officials were very polite and took great trouble to soothe
the excited emotions of would-be war correspondents. "In a few days,
gentlemen, if all continues to go well." They desired our photographs,
in duplicate, a medical certificate of health, recommendations as to
our mental and moral qualities, formal applications and informal
interviews. But meanwhile the war was being fought and we were
News of great victory came to Paris when the bulletins announced
the advance of French troops in Alsace and the capture of Mulhouse
and Altkirch. Instantly there were joyous scenes in the streets.
Boulevards, which had been strangely quiet, became thronged with
men and women called out from the twilight of their rooms by this
burst of sunlight, as it seemed. The news held the magic thrill of an
Alsace restored to France. ... It was long afterwards that Paris heard
strange and evil rumours of reverses down there, of a regiment which
flung down its rifles and fled under a tempest of shells, of officers shot
by their own guns, of a general cashiered for grievous errors.
From Liege there came more news. The imagination of Paris,
deprived of all sustenance as regards its own troops, fed greedily
upon the banquet of blood which had been given to it by the gallant
Belgians. In messages coming irregularly through the days and
nights, three or four lines at a time, it was possible to grasp the main
facts of that heroic stand against the German legions. We were able
to perceive from afar the raking fire of the forts around the city, which
swept the ground so that the most famous regiments of the German
army were mowed down as they advanced with desperate courage.
"If Liege holds out the German troops are in a hopeless position."
These words were repeated along the boulevards of Paris, and
because Liege held out so long the spirit of Paris was exalted.
But, as a journalist out to see things, I was depressed. It was useless
to wait in Paris while the days were slipping by and history was being
made. Official permission was delayed, by fair and courteous words. I
decided to go in search of the war without permission and to get
somehow or other behind the scenes of its secrecy. So my
adventures began, and in a little while my eyes became seared with
the sight of tragedy and my soul filled with the enormous woe of war.
It was a strange kind of melodrama that experience in the first two
months of the war. Looking back upon it now, it has just the effect of
a prolonged nightmare stimulated by hasheesh or bang--fantastic, full
of confused dreams, changing kaleidoscopically from one scene to
another, with vivid clear-cut pictures, intensely imagined, between
gulfs of dim twilight memories, full of shadow figures, faces seen a
little while and then lost, conversations begun abruptly and then
ended raggedly, poignant emotions lasting for brief moments and
merging into others as strong but of a different quality, gusts of
laughter rising between moods of horrible depression, tears
sometimes welling from the heart and then choked back by a brutal
touch of farce, beauty and ugliness in sudden clashing contrasts, the
sorrow of a nation, the fear of a great people, the misery of women
and children, the intolerable anguish of multitudes of individuals each
with a separate agony, making a dark background to this too real
dream from which there was no awakening.
I was always travelling during those eight or nine weeks of history--for
the most time I had two companions with me--dear fellows whose
comradeship was a fine personal pleasure, in spite of all the pain into
which we plunged. Together we journeyed continually and
prodigiously, covering thousands of miles during those weeks, in all
sorts of directions, by all sorts of ways, in troop trains and cattle
trucks, in motor-cars and taxi-cabs, and on Shanks's nag. There were
no couriers in those days between France and England, and to get
our dispatches home we often had to take them across the Channel,
using most desperate endeavours to reach a port of France in time
for the next boat home and staying in Fleet Street only a few hours
before hurrying back to Dover or Folkestone in order to plunge again
into the fever of invaded France. Later Paris was our goal, and we
would struggle back to it along lines choked with munitions of war or
completely held for the transport of great masses of troops, arriving,
at night as a rule, weary for lack of sleep, dirty from the filth of cattle
trucks crowded with unwashed men and women, hungry after
meagre rations of biscuits and cheese, mentally and physically
exhausted, so that one such night I had to be carried upstairs to my
room, so weak that I could not drag one leg after the other nor lift a
hand from the coverlet. On another day one of my companions--the
Strategist--sat back, rather quiet, in a taxi-cab which panted in a
wheezy way along the interminably straight roads of France, through
villages from which all their people had fled under the shadow of a
great fear which followed them, until when the worn-out vehicle could
go no further, but halted helplessly on a lonely highway remote as it
seemed from any habitation, my friend confessed that he was weak
even as a new-born babe and could not walk a hundred yards to
save his life. Yet he is a strong man who had never been in a doctor's
hands since childhood.
His weakness, the twist of pain about his mouth, the weariness in his
eyes, scared us then. The Philosopher, who had not yet begun to feel
in his bones the heat of the old tropical fever which afterwards made
him toss at nights and call out strange words, shook his head and
spoke with the enormous gravity which gives an air of prophecy and
awful wisdom to a man whose sense of humour and ironic wit have
often twisted me into painful knots of mirth. But there was no glint of
humour in the Philosopher's eyes when he stared at the greyness of
"The pace has been too hot," he said. "We seem to forget that there's
a limit to the strain we can put on the human machine. It's not only
the physical fatigue. It's the continual output of nervous energy. All
this misery, all that damn thing over there"--he waved his paw at the
darkening hills beyond which was a great hostile army--"the sight of
all these refugees spilt out of their cities and homes as though a great
hand had tipped up the earth, is beginning to tell on us, my lads. We
are spending our reserve force, and we are just about whacked!"
Yet we went on, mixed up always in refugee rushes, in masses of
troops moving forward to the front or backwards in retreat, getting
brief glimpses of the real happenings behind the screen of secrecy,
meeting the men who could tell us the hidden truth, and more than
once escaping, by the nick of time only, from a death-trap into which
we had tumbled unwittingly, not knowing the whereabouts of the
enemy, nor his way of advance.
In the early days of the war, the first stampede which overwhelmed
us had a touch of comedy unless one's imagination were shocked by
the panic of great crowds, in which always and for whatever cause
there is something degrading to the dignity of human nature. It was
the panic rush of the world's tourists suddenly trapped by war in the
pleasure haunts of Europe. They had come out to France,
Switzerland, Italy and Egypt with well-lined purses, for the most part,
and with the absolute conviction not disturbed by any shadow of
doubt, that their ways would be made smooth by Cook's guides, hotel
managers, British and American consuls, and foreigners of all classes
eager to bow before them, to show them the sights, to carry their
baggage, to lick, if need be, their boots. They had money, they
belonged to the modern aristocracy of the well-to-do. Was not Europe
their garden of pleasure, providing for them, in return for the price of a
season ticket, old monuments, famous pictures, sunsets over Swiss
mountains, historic buildings starred by Baedeker, peculiar customs
of aborigines, haunts of vice to be viewed with a sense of virtue, and
good hotels in which there was a tendency to over-eat?
The pleasure of these rich Americans and comfortable English
tourists was suddenly destroyed by the thunderbolt of war. They were
startled to find that strong laws were hastily enacted against them and
put in force with extraordinary brutality. Massed under the name of
etrangers--they had always looked upon the natives as the only
foreigners--they were ordered to leave certain countries and certain
cities within twenty-four hours, otherwise they would be interned in
concentration camps under armed guards for the duration of the war.
But to leave these countries and cities they had to be provided with a
passport--hardly an American among them had such a document--
and with a laisser-passer to be obtained from the police and
countersigned by military authorities, after strict interrogation.
The comedy began on the first day of mobilization, and developed
into real tragedy as the days slipped by. For although at first there
was something a little ludicrous in the plight of the well-to-do, brought
down with a crash to the level of the masses and loaded with paper
money which was as worthless as Turkish bonds, so that the
millionaire was for the time being no richer than the beggar, pity
stirred in one at the sight of real suffering and anguish of mind.
Outside the commissariats de police in Paris and provincial towns of
France, like Dijon and Lyons, and in the ports of Calais, Boulogne
and Dieppe, there were great crowds of these tourists lined up in
queue and waiting wearily through the hours until their turn should
come to be measured with their backs to the wall and to be
scrutinized by'police officers, sullen after a prolonged stream of
entreaty and expostulation, for the colour of their eyes and hair, the
shape of their noses and chins, and the "distinctive marks" of their
physical beauty or ugliness.
"I guess I'll never come to this Europe again!" said an American lady
who had been waiting for five hours in a side street in Paris for this
ordeal. "It's a cruel shame to treat American citizens as though they
were thieves and rogues. I wonder the President of the United States
don't make a protest about it. Are people here so ignorant they don't
even know the name of Josiah K. Schultz, of Boston, Massachusetts?"
The commissary's clerk inside the building was quite unmoved by the
name of Josiah K. Schultz, of Boston, Massachusetts. It held no
magic for him, and he seemed to think that the lady-wife of that
distinguished man might be a German spy with American papers. He
kept her waiting, deliberately, though she had waited for five hours in
the street outside.
The railway time-tables ceased to have a meaning after the first hour
of mobilization. Bradshaw became a lie and civil passengers were
only allowed on the rare trains which ran without notice at any hour of
the day or night, at the discretion of military officers, according to the
temporary freedom of the line from troop trains and supply trains.
Those tourist crowds suffered intolerable things, which I shared with
them, though I was a different kind of traveller. I remember one such
scene at Dijon, typical of many others. Because only one train was
starting on that day to the capital, and the time of it was utterly
unknown to the railway officials, three or four hundred people had to
wait hour after hour, for half a night, penned up in a waiting-room,
which became foul with the breath and heat of so many people. In
vain did they appeal to be let out on to the platform where there would
be more air and space. A sentry with fixed bayonet stood with his
back to them and barred the way. Old ladies sat down in despair on
their baggage, wedged between legs straddled across their bags. A
delicate woman near me swooned in the stifling atmosphere. I had
watched her grow whiter and whiter and heard the faintness of her
sighs, so that when she swayed I grasped her by the arm and held
her up until her husband relieved me of her weight. A Frenchwoman
had a baby at her breast. It cried with an unceasing wail. Other
babies were crying; and young girls, with sensitive nerves, were
exasperated by this wailing misery and the sickening smell which
pervaded this closed room.
When the train came in, the door was opened and there was a wild
rush for the carriages, without the English watchword of "women and
children first." Thrust on one side by sharp elbows, I and my two
friends struggled at last into the corridor, and for nineteen hours sat
there on the sharp edges of our upturned trunks, fixed rigidly between
the bodies of other travellers. To the left of us was a French peasant,
a big, quiet man, with a bovine gift of patience and utterly taciturn.
After the first five minutes I suspected that somewhere concealed
about his person was a ripe cheese. There was a real terror in the
malodorous vapours which exhaled from him. In a stealthy way they
crept down the length of the corridor, so that other people, far away,
flung open windows and thrust out heads, in spite of the night air with
a bite of frost in it. I dozed uneasily with horrid dreams as I sat on
three inches of hard box, with my head jogging sideways. Always I
was conscious of the evil smell about me, but when the peasant was
still I was able to suffer' it, because of sheer weariness, which
deadened my senses. It was when he moved, disturbing invisible
layers of air, that I awakened horribly.
For the nice people of the world whom fate had pampered, there was
a cruelty in this mode of travel. Hunger, with its sharp tooth, assailed
some of them for the first time. We stopped at wayside stations--still
more often between the stations--but American millionaires and
English aristocrats were stupefied to find that not all their money
could buy a sandwich. Most of the buffets had been cleaned out by
the army passing to the front. Thirst, intolerable and choking, was a
greater pain in those hot dog-days and in those tedious interminable
Yet it is only fair to say that on the whole those tourists chased across
the Continent by the advancing spectre of war, behaved with pluck
and patience. Some of them had suffered grievous loss. From Bale
and Geneva to Paris and Boulogne the railways were littered with
their abandoned luggage, too bulky to be loaded into overcrowded
trains. On the roads of France were broken-down motor-cars which
had cost large sums of money in New York and London. But because
war's stupendous evil makes all other things seem trivial, and the gifts
of liberty and life are more precious than wealth or luxury, so these
rich folk in misfortune fraternized cheerfully in the discussion of their
strange adventures and shared the last drop of hot tea in a Thermos
flask with the generous instincts of shipwrecked people dividing their
rations on a desert isle.
This flight of the pleasure-seekers was the first revelation of the way
in which war would hurt the non-combatant and sacrifice his business
or his comfort to its supreme purpose. Fame was merely foolishness
when caught in the trap of martial law. I saw a man of European
reputation flourish his card before railway officials, to be thrust back
by the butt end of a rifle, No money could buy a seat in a railway
carriage already crowded to suffocation. No threat to write a letter to
the Times would avail an old-fashioned Englishman when his train
was shunted for hours on to a side line to make way for troop trains,
passing, passing, through the day and night. Nations were at war,
and whatever stood in the way of the war's machine would be
trampled underfoot or thrust on one side with brutal indifference. Their
fame did not matter nor their struggles to escape from a closing net.
Neither the beauty of women nor the weakness of children nor the
importance of the world's great somebodies mattered a jot. Nothing
mattered except fighting-men, and guns, and food for guns and men.
The French soldiers who were being sent towards the unknown front
--not knowing their own destination and forbidden to ask--had
recovered from the shock of the sudden call to the colours and the
tragedy of their hurried partings from wives, and sweethearts, and old
mothers, who are always dearest to Frenchmen's hearts. The thrill of
a nation's excitement brought a sparkle to their eyes and a flush to
their cheeks. The inherent gaiety of the French race rose triumphant
above the gloom and doubt which had preceded the declaration of
war. Would they never tire of singing the Marseillaise? Would all this
laughter which came in gusts through the open doors of cattle trucks
and the windows of third-class carriages change into the moan of the
wounded at their journey's end? It was hard to look forward to that
inevitable fate as I watched them pass. They had tied flowers to the
handles of their trains and twisted garlands round the bars. There
were posies in their kepis, and bouquets were pinned by the plump
hands of peasant girls to the jackets of the soldiers of the line,
gunners, cuirassiers, dragoons, and fusiliers marins. Between the
chorus of the Marseillaise came snatches of songs learnt in the
cabarets of Montmartre and the cafes chantants of provincial towns.
They swarmed like bees--in blue coats and red trousers--upon those
enormous troop trains which passed through Gournai and Pontoise,
Rouen and Amiens. Rows of them, grinning down under peaks at
freakish angles, dangled their legs over as they squatted on the roofs
of the wooden trucks. They hung on to the iron ladders of the guards'
vans. Sometimes six of them would be installed on the ledge behind
the funnel of the engine, with their russet faces to the wind. In the
argot of Paris slums, or in the dialects of seaport towns, they hurled
chaff at comrades waiting on the platforms with stacked arms, and
made outrageous love to girls who ran by the side of their trains with
laughing eyes and saucy tongues and a last farewell of "Bonne
chance, mes petits! Bonne chance et toujours la victoire!" At every
wayside halt artists were at work with white chalk drawing grotesque
faces on the carriage doors below which they scrawled inscriptions
referring to the death of "William," and banquets in Berlin, and
invitations for free trips to the Rhine. In exchange for a few English
cigarettes, too few for such trainloads, they gave me ovations of
enthusiasm, as though I stood for England.
"Vive l'Angleterre! Vos soldats, ou sont ils, camarade?" Where were
the English soldiers? It was always that question which sprang to their
lips. But for a little while I could not answer. It was strange. There was
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