LIEGE ON THE LINE OF MARCH
LIEGE ON THE LINE OF MARCH
An American Girl's Experiences When the Germans Came Through Belgium
GLENNA LINDSLEY BIGELOW
New York: John Lane Company London: John Lane, The Bodley Head MCMXVIII
Copyright, 1918, by John Lane Company
TO THE KING OF THE BELGIANS
Multitudes upon multitudes they throng And thicken: who shall number their array? They bid the peoples tremble and obey: Their faces are set forward, all for wrong. They trample on the covenant and are strong And terrible. Who shall dare to say them nay? How shall a little nation bar the way Where that resistless host is borne along?
You never thought, O! gallant King, to bow To overmastering force and stand aside. Safe and secure you might have reigned. But now Your Belgium is transfigured, glorified, The friend of France and England, who avow An Equal here, and thank the men who died.
H. M. London Times, August 14, 1914.
Liege on the Line of March, or An American Girl's Experience When the Germans Came Through Belgium, is a unique story. No other American probably was in the exact position of Miss Bigelow who was at the Chateau d'Angleur, Liege, Belgium, with the family of Monsieur X. at the outbreak of the war and experienced with them and the people of their country those tragic events which, up to the present, have hardly even been sketched for the world.
What the public already knows of armies, guns, trenches, etc., has little to do with the suffering that the people of an invaded country endures, when the white-hot flame of the enemy invasion sweeps over the land scorching every flower and leaving in its wake only desolation and pain and despair. This narrative describes in detail just what might come to any one of its readers if the Germans were victorious in Europe. Let him picture to himself his line of action or even his line of thought if an insolent officer came into his home, took his paintings from the wall, his rugs from the floor, his private papers from his desk and, finally, his sons to—what fate? The most pacific of pacifists would draw a tight breath at such proceedings. And these are the least of things that have happened in Belgium.
But the journal was not written with exhortative design. It is the simple and truthful story of daily events as they occurred; if, at times, the words seem brutal, the circumstances were brutal. Why should one not know them?
The Chateau d'Angleur was respected as far as real pillaging and destroying were concerned for the fact that a cousin of Monsieur X., a Belgian by birth, is the wife of the Count von M. of Germany, at one time Grand Chancellor of the Imperial Court and a trusted friend of Emperor William the Second. As was proven afterwards this relationship, surprisingly enough, had some influence on the side of clemency.
Monsieur X. was one of that family of famous Belgian bankers which has existed for four generations. He was also President of the International Sleeping Car Company of Europe to which honor he was appointed at the death of his brother Monsieur Georges X., the originator and founder of the Company.
Madame X. is a Russian by birth, the great-granddaughter of Prince ——, who was at one time Grand Chancellor of the Court of Russia, and a cousin of Princess ——, a lady in waiting to Her Former Majesty the Czarina of Russia. The daughter of Madame X., Baronne de H., wife of a Belgian nobleman of Brussels, is a personal friend of Their Majesties, the King and Queen of Belgium.
Miss Bigelow, though a neutral subject, was nevertheless a virtual prisoner of the Germans from August to November, 1914, owing to the lack of facility in getting away from Belgium. The railroad was taken over entirely by the German Army; automobiles, horses, carriages, etc., being long since confiscated and appropriated by the Germans. Considerable anxiety was felt as to her safety as no communication with the outside world was possible during those three months of internment. Therefore, her journal was faithfully kept for the benefit of her family and depicts the comfortable luxurious life of the days preceding August, 1914, the shock of the Declaration of War, the terrific battle of Sartilmont, three kilometres from the chateau, which entailed indirectly the death of Monsieur X. in the early morning of the following day while the guns were still booming. It also includes the bombardment of Liege which lasted twelve days, the care of soldiers burned in the forts, the capture of the city by the Prussians, their brutal shooting of civilians, the burning of parts of the town and the taking of citizens as hostages.
The passing of the German army with all its accompanying paraphernalia that went to the front in the first days is described as it was photographed on the brain of the writer, looking down from her window, day after day, onto the highroad.
The journal ends with the attempted withdrawal to Brussels, the final escape to Holland by the aid of the Dutch Consul of Maestricht, the journey from Flushing, Holland, to Folkestone, England, to Calais and to Paris. The last part of this journal will appeal to those who have known and loved Paris in the old days, and portrays her to the world as the flower she is, revealing her truth and her worth tho' stripped of that individual worldliness which was yet a charm.
Note.—All except German names in the Journal are fictitious.
ON THE LINE OF MARCH
LIEGE, ON THE LINE OF MARCH
July 30th, Thursday.
To-day has been warm, very warm and sultry, a day of surprises, beginning with the sudden disappearance of Monsieur X.'s trusted head clerk—a German boy who has been in the office for fifteen years and who knew every phase of the situation. What reason on earth could he have had for vanishing like that with all his personal belongings, not leaving one trace behind to show that such a person had ever been? Odd, but certainly done with studied thoroughness.
This afternoon we sat at the end of the garden by the little lake, listless and content to do nothing. The air was ominously still, as I remember it now, and the sun beat down through a yellow haze. Suddenly, without the slightest warning, huge drops of rain began to fall. You can imagine that we scurried up the path as fast as possible, past the old oak, and reached the terrace just before the very heavens opened in a flood and a great shaft of lightning, like a sword, swept down from the sky straight to the oak tree, crushing it completely. My hand trembles a little as I write tonight—it was the suddenness of the onslaught which unnerved me, I suppose, for it was a curious thing that there were no signs of approaching storm except the dull yellow light which we did not notice then.
There was a small dinner this evening and the table was beautiful as usual with old silver and candles which shed their warm light about—all lovely and luxurious. Monsieur R., M.P., did his best to draw out the political opinions of the party, but conversation, quite contrary to custom, was fitful. I think every one was a little unstrung by the afternoon's experience and the air even yet is full of electricity.
During one of the unwelcome pauses of the dinner a motor came panting up the drive and "Uncle Henri" burst in, virtually hatless and coatless, fairly bristling with political news and very much annoyed that something, anything, had wrecked his normal existence for a moment. But this something which has happened is terribly serious. The French trains are not going beyond the frontier to-night, and part of "Uncle Henri's" agitation was due to this fact as he had been obliged to walk a few hundred yards to get the Belgian train. In the excitement of such an unheard of proceeding he had plunged ponderously along in the dark and mud with his fellow-travellers and incidentally lost his luggage and his valet, the ineradicably English James. Nobody took in the seriousness of such a strange tale at first, for Uncle Henri is, before all, tres comedien. But why was he not in Russia as he was expected to be? Very good reasons indeed, for it appears that Austria and Serbia and Germany and Russia are about to jump down each other's throats, according to widespread rumor. France, too, is writhing in suppressed excitement which one cannot understand, with conditions growing worse every minute. It would seem rather left-handed for Germany and Russia to reach around through France to cross swords.
Timid little Madame N. asked if these things might indicate War. Everybody scouted the idea and ridiculed the thought of the hard-headed, common-sense, Western world doing anything so absurd. So we will leave it to the diplomats to settle the difficulty. I am glad that they can.
July 31st, Friday.
Yesterday was only a preliminary to the seething in the tea-pot which exists as to-day's events show—everybody is bewildered at the tremendous things that have started and the equally tremendous things that have stopped. What does it all mean? There is the greatest excitement aroused by the foreign news in the evening papers, announcing in glaring headlines a diplomatic rupture between Germany and Russia. So it's true! Probably your seismic stock market has already foretold coming disturbance, but for Europe it is a positive bomb. Already here in Liege not more than half of the daily four hundred and eighty trains have passed the city, and it is reported that none of these go beyond the frontier.
August 1st, Saturday.
Today the papers announce the stunning news that Germany has declared war against Russia. The report must be sufficiently authentic, for, as if by magic, the Belgian army is already gathering itself together with an almost superhuman rapidity, proof of which we have had in the masses of troops that have been passing the chateau all day. Yesterday, trouble was a newspaper rumor; today, deadly earnestness. And what excitement all about! The air is positively charged and the whole community is agog; people with anxious faces accost each other in the street; farmers neglect their crops to come into town, bank clerks lay down their pens and shop doors are beginning to close.
August 2nd, Sunday.
The world has suddenly become nothing but people, and the transition from the peaceful, care-free existence of four days ago is so great that I cannot write intelligently, today, because so much is happening. Following on His Majesty King Albert's magnificent discourse [Vive le roi!], the spirit of a great and glorious decision has set the empire in motion. The vast machine moves—though some of the bolts creak and protest a little in their rusty coats and the earth trembles to the rhythm of tramping feet. Hundreds of soldiers and cannon have been passing all night, and this morning routes in every direction are blockaded by detachments from different regiments. There are uniforms of all types and colors, the ensemble looking like a variegated bouquet snatched hurriedly by the wayside; the sorting will come later, one doesn't ask how. The old farm at the end of the garden has been turned into a barracks, and recruits are being drilled among the apple trees in the orchard. The excitement is intense—one treads carefully fearing to be the first to prick the bubble. The newspapers are disquieting, as it appears now that Germany will probably declare war against France, too, and is contemplating passing through Belgium by Namur or Luxembourg to the French frontier. That is a rather offensive threat, as, of course, there is the neutrality of Belgium and one cannot get away with that. We consider ourselves most lucky to be here rather than in France.
A detachment of Belgian soldier boys slept in the stables last night. Monsieur X. sent them his best cigars, and this morning, as soon as they tumbled out, they made a straight line for the kitchen whence they scented hot coffee. The good heart of the old, fat cook, who is a native of Amsterdam, was melted at once and she gave unsparingly until they flattered and coaxed her into such a state of bewilderment that even Dutch patience was at last exhausted when she saw them pouring in and pouring in and boldly attacking her sumptuous pantries en masse.
August 3rd, Monday.
Preparations for war are going on rapidly; scores of automobiles are racing past like mad things, carrying Governmental messages no doubt and the Government itself, by its eternal prerogative, is commandeering for its use everybody's private property—horses, cows, automobiles, pigs, merchandise, provisions, etc. And how one gives for one's country! The men, their goods; the women, their sons. The spirit of the people is magnificent. Huge loads of hay in long processions like caravans are coming in from the country along with immense droves of cattle. In the orchard adjoining the chateau are already domiciled two hundred or more cows and the discordant melody from this hoarse-throated chorus, uninterrupted day or night, is driving us to madness. Indoors, we ourselves are laying in a supply of things in case of necessity and the kitchen is piled high with bags of flour, coffee, beans, tinned goods, etc., and in the pasture is a new cow. Beef will probably be the piece de resistance for many a day.
Monsieur X.'s old coiffeur came out from town today. He is French and by far the most volatile person about the news of the moment that I have seen. It is like a play to hear him declaim on the situation, but, poor man, having endured the Siege of Paris for six months in 1870, he doubtless has recollections. And he makes the most of them as well as of his dramatic ability, describing in an eloquent manner how he fried rats in a saucepan, which with some spice and plenty of onion all around, he admitted, were "pas mal du tout." Madame X. herself was in the "Siege of Paris" in 1870 and is therefore taking thought.
These details of the equipment and provisioning of the army will be as interesting to you as they are engaging to us here in the midst of it, for they are not commonly even included in a rapid conception of "War" though being in reality the biggest part of it.
What masses of convoys and munitions! They must constitute that same impressive "impedimenta" that one used to read about in Caesar's Wars which by its unfailing late arrival constantly threw the old Romans into such a frightful depit. But happily, in this case, it comes first instead of last.
The whole world seems to be changing place like sand on a moving disc and my mind is losing its grip on what is real—it's a curious feeling. Madame X. and her family, like everybody else, are extremely anxious, as one would naturally be with his country, his home and his future in peril, but I, in my superb (what shall I say?) Americanism or optimism, am sure it will come out all right: nevertheless I feel confused.
August 4th, Tuesday.
The situation, already grave, has taken a definite turn. Germany is going to attack France through Belgium. Completely ignoring the neutrality of the latter, she demands to "just pass through peaceably," but being refused permission, so much the worse for those who are in the road. Personally speaking, I should say we are decidedly in the road—Aix-la-Chapelle—Liege—Namur. Don't you think the crow would agree with me?
We saw a charming spectacle this morning if anything connected with war can be so called,—a little company of mitrailleuses-a-chien, that is, small, shrapnel gun carriages drawn by the famous Belgian dogs. It sort of made my heart crinkle up to see those magnificent animals, detailed for fatal duty without doubt, pushing on so joyously. Straining in the traces and really smiling with their great tongues hanging out, they were performing their work, proud as Punch, and eager to get on.
In the afternoon we were suddenly startled by the booming of nearby cannon. I shall never forget the first sound of it! It might have been the Last Trumpet and we didn't know that it was not. My soul turned sick and seemed to be tumbling down a fathomless abyss while a pair of unprejudiced eyes watched its descent. Please do not think I am not serious—it is a moment when one meets things face to face and the inevitable is happening. We hear that the firing is for the purpose of demolishing houses and churches before the forts, which might in any way obstruct the range of the guns. Did I explain that Liege is encircled by twelve forts, built about twenty-eight years ago under the personal direction of General Brialmont? They are on the same principle as those of Namur and Bucharest, and are large affairs of concrete, sunk three stories under ground and furnished with elaborate electrical apparatus. Covering and protecting the cannon are automatic, armored cupolas, rising and falling with the modern, disappearing guns. Here is a tiny, freehand map which will give you an idea of the country as well as the situation of Chateau d'A——, where I am and which is just between the city and the enceinte of forts. A shell overreaching this latter, from the enemy's field cannon, would, I should say, tumble right into our "zone." But we do not even admit of such a possibility in speaking to each other. Isn't it funny how we continue to deceive ourselves and life is a sham to the last throw?
General Brialmont warned the Government when the forts were under construction, that if it could not maintain an army sufficiently strong to defend the open country between them, he was building them for the Germans. That statement revived suddenly, gives rise to an apprehension hitherto unfelt by the Liegeois, who have absolute faith in the impregnability of Liege.
Madame X.'s oldest son, Monsieur S., and his wife, arrived tonight from France by auto. They would never have been able to get here if Monsieur S. had not the royal seal on some state papers which he was bringing from the Belgian Embassy in Paris. Was there ever such a wildly exciting ride, plunging through two battle lines (French and Belgian) into massed formations everywhere? Nevertheless Madame S. said she used to fall asleep from sheer fatigue during the long drives in the blackness of the night or when they were stopped for hours at a time to identify even a king's messenger.
August 5th, Wednesday.
I wonder what you are thinking of events, at home? You will marvel that I can write at such length when the very skies seem to be pressing down upon us. But it is the greatest relaxation possible and a kind of safety valve. It makes me think of some lines of Shakespeare where different conditions "oft make the wise dumb and teach the fool to speak." So I write on. The news we get may not be altogether authentic, as we receive nothing now except by word of mouth. By report it seems that England, France and Russia are prepared to defend the neutrality of Belgium with their armies. Liege is now in a state of siege with the Prussians before the forts. Commerce in the city has ceased completely with the railroad, telegraph, telephone, post, tramcars, newspapers, shops and factories. Can you understand what that means? At one time or another in our lives most of us have been the victim of a social condition called a "strike"—horribly inconvenient circumstances, when the mail-man did not come, for instance, or train service was laid off or the electric light went out for a time. But these instances were all individual, that is, they happened separately, while here the whole Universe has shut down together. I could not make you comprehend the criticalness of our position. I feel as if we were suspended by the finest thread between heaven and earth, for there is nothing very solid under our feet and only a sea of ether over our heads. This description is wholly inadequate to interpret the sensation or the uncertainty. Can you imagine what it would be like? I cannot exactly say I feel "fear"; perhaps I cannot define fear; but a heaven-sent optimism buoys me up. In our journeys 'round, having previously experienced cold plunges in the dark, the fascination of "chance" lets us hope.
"War!" What other lone factor could bring about at the same moment, such circumstances, the absolute cessation of every living element of our existence? I know that you will be amused at my sudden plunging into the psychological realm, but it all makes me wonder. Oh, our dear civilization and the convenient things we are used to! A puff of smoke, a hostile shot and they are gone. And here we are, groping like the veriest savage for a hole to hide in and something to eat. I assure you, nothing else occupies us for the moment. How is it that the whole house of cards falls down together? In all these centuries of Struggle and Learning and Science and Dissent has nobody found a common leaven for bread?
It is not yet decided if we shall go to Brussels considering what is rather sure to happen. Several days ago large quantities of gasoline were buried in the garden under the shrubbery in the event of our leaving quickly by automobile. However, Brussels is an open city and it is a question if we would be as well off there as here in this strongly fortified place.
But Dieu! If they do come—? There is the sub-cellar of the chateau whose fine arches and solid vaulting two hundred years old, would hold even if the house were burned down about our ears. But no! To be suffocated under burning ruins, no, no! We will not think of that!
A moment of reckless mirth assails me: I want to scream! I feel like the fair Dido mounting her funeral pyre.
One other hiding place has been thought of. Up in the woods on the hill-side is a long tunnel about four feet in diameter which conducts a tiny mountain stream down to the lake. It is dark and wet. Could we stay there on our knees in the water for many hours, perhaps days? Heavens! It is unthinkable. Let us die in the open, if die we must.
I am writing this morning in my room, which looks out on the highroad and the hurrying troops. It is not a time that one would choose for composition, but I want you to get as vivid an impression as possible of events as they occur, et enfin, I must do something. The booming of cannon has commenced again, which is sufficiently frequent and of a certain terrifying decision to assure us that fighting has really begun.
This ceased during the early evening and we went to bed in peace. That is, we went to bed. Madame X.'s oldest son was detailed for sentinel duty on the little road at the side of the chateau leading up to the plateau from where the sound of guns came during the day. Monsieur J., the other son, with a friend of his, was carrying messages from one fort to another in his auto, miraculously scooting between the shots.
About 10 P. M. we were violently awakened by furious sounds of shots in the distance which must have been rifle fire and which grew more and more distinct, gradually becoming incessant like a long, uninterrupted drum roll—the machine guns, I suppose. These frightful noises, increased in volume by the minute and coming on and on in our direction, were shortly right over the hill above us. The bullets rained like hail and shells shrieked and split the universe from end to end. We lay in our beds, trembling, while utter terror seized us as the fracas would subside a little and then roll nearer and nearer in a perfect deluge of horrible sounds. Suddenly in the middle of it all a terrific blast rent the air; the forts had entered into this hideous contest! Oh the joy of it! I hardly breathed between their shots which seemed centuries apart and in reality were only a few minutes, for I thought, now, surely the struggle must end; no enemy can long withstand their mighty will. But the battle lasted all night with increasing fury. The roar and din were beyond words, the concerted effort of four forts, the giant field cannon, machine guns and rifles. My heart stands still when I remember the thundering of those forts, the premeditated destruction, the finality which each boom! bespoke, and the thousands of human beings up there fighting like madmen. The latter, in the wild confusion of fire, battle and the blackness of the night, finished by shooting into each other by mistake as their officers were cut down in their midst.
About 2 A. M. we all gathered in Madame X.'s sitting-room. Suddenly, quite unconscious of any definite purpose, I remember pulling on the light. Monsieur X., aghast, said, "Mademoiselle, put it out quickly. They might see it through the dark and aim for it."
What a night! and what visions we conjured up of the invincible Prussians, drunk with blood and battle ready for any atrocity, plunging down the hill into our own garden. The sound of the guns was so near that Monsieur X. thought the battle must be in the open on his own property just above the hill. As a matter of fact it was only three kilometres away, on the plain of Sartilmont.
August 6th, Thursday.
Rain came with the light. That gentle pattering on the sod, after the tumult of the night, was the sweetest sound I ever heard. It was just as if Nature had put out Her mother's hand over the earth to soothe its troubled breast. Was she pleading for that mercy which drops as Her own gentle tears from Heaven?
During the morning the road in front of the chateau was filled with Belgian troops, bedraggled with mud, trying to regain order. And there they halted for hours and hours in the rain—an absolute picture of dejection. Even the horses imbibed the general despair as they stood there, heads drooping, their manes stirring in the wind. That must be the hard part of it—waiting for orders; but they did it well, no impatience nor fretting, just obeying the command, their very immobility carving them a niche in the landscape. These men had been fighting for several days and, bowed down as they were with the wet and misery of it all, made a shocking contrast to fresh troops of cavalry which passed at the same time, brandishing long, dramatic looking lances. And Felix, the second gardener, who is one of these "lanciers," came to say good-bye in the elegant uniform of his regiment and looking very smart in white trousers and short blue jacket—in fact, a man transformed.
I had always seen him in wooden sabots and blue apron coaxing this flower and that into bloom, but he had never been a great success at it. When his elder brother died, he had wished, so much, to replace him as head-gardener, so his master let him try for a little and he had failed, indifferently. But here was a soldier-man, stout heart and valiant sword, eager to serve his King. This time he will not fail but will meet his opportunity more than half way. All day Red Cross ambulances and every kind of vehicle were hurrying by, bringing the wounded from the battlefield. Madame X.'s family physician stopped in on one of his trips for a moment's respite from the awfulness up there—his description of those scenes is too terrible to write about. The carnage was awful—pieces of bodies scattered about everywhere, the wounded writhing in their death agony and the dead standing up straight against masses of dead.
In the evening, indistinct sounds of a far off battle could be heard as the struggle moved on to another quarter. Nearer, we heard the trailing of heavy artillery down the mountain and against our will the thought formulated itself, "Will that wave of terror roll back to us?" Our ears have developed an abnormal acuteness, so that almost a pin falling will make taut nerves scream, though in reality nobody moves—a glance is enough to both ask and answer a question. A marvelous new self-possession seems to have come to everybody which bridges over a natural despair and forms, at least, a skeleton framework by which we keep each other up.
 Not heard of again.
August 7th, Friday.
More or less booming from the forts all day. As communications of every kind have been cut off, we cannot know what is happening. But where is the assistance so direfully needed, promised by both France and England to poor little Belgium with the great German army moving on Liege? Everybody has faith, however, in the Allies, and in the streets it is pathetic to hear people assuring each other, "O, oui, les Francais viennent ce soir" (Oh, yes, the French are coming to-night). There are many German troops in town already, who somehow have pushed their way in between the firing, but the city will not cede the forts, so the bombardment may begin at any moment. I cannot define my impressions—some day I may be able to, but just now I do not know what they are. Happily the chateau is on the edge of the city and there is a certain quiet at present, but in town pandemonium reigns. Men, women and children are fleeing in all directions with their few most precious possessions tied up in a bundle. And where are they going to, the poor things, with all roads in the country choked up, soldiers and trenches everywhere?
August 8th, Saturday.
This morning we walked through the garden to service in the little village church. For a short moment a welcome calm stole over us in the quiet of those walls, but how sinister to hear the eternal boom of cannon between the words of the Mass. All the bridges of the city are mined and guarded. The five days given Liege by the Prussians to surrender are up tonight. What will tomorrow bring forth? The Belgians have blown up the tunnel at Trois Ponts, near the German frontier, as well as the railroad in many places, which will impede the enemy's advance considerably, and great trees have been cut down across the roads in all the country roundabout.
Mere Gavin came hobbling down the path from the top of the hill this evening to tell us of the astonishing experience she had this afternoon when a peasant came to her old hut and offered to buy her cow. Now as her cow is her most precious possession and her sole support she refused at once, tho' frightened at her own boldness. The stranger, however, was rather insistent and asked if she would rent the cow, then, for fifty francs an hour? Was there ever a queerer offer? Of course fifty francs was a gold-mine to Mere Gavin, so she accepted, and was fairly overcome when the man laid down three hundred francs on the table and told her to keep them for him. Then he drove the cow away over the hills while Mere G. sat staring stupidly at her gold. After a time he came back (with the cow) and said, "Old One, three hours after I have gone, you can tell your people that the red pantalons (French soldiers) will be here in forty-eight hours." Was that not a clever way for a French Scout to find out the lie of the land?
August 9th, Sunday.
Some of the Prussians have succeeded in penetrating into the city, tho' the forts have not surrendered, and are already establishing martial rule. Aeroplanes, with the wings turned back, Taubes, have been flying about all the morning. In the afternoon we went up over the hill to the plain of Sartilmont, the battlefield of Wednesday night. All along the road were heaps of uniforms, some quite new, probably taken from the dead. Those horrid limp things made me shiver with their lifelessness, and the spirit of death, everywhere, seemed to close us in. Countless numbers of haversacks were strewn about, doubtless cast away by the soldiers to disencumber themselves in falling quickly back from one position to another. In them, generally, was a change of underwear, light boots, hard biscuit, canned meats and confiture. Already a flock of human ravens was collected about the piles of debris, sorting out what was good to take and collecting fragments of bread for a happy repast. It was sickening to see, when possibly some of those brave, dead soldiers were lying, yet unburied, in the nearby hedges and ravines. Arrived at the little village we saw destruction a plenty. The inhabitants all had terror-stricken countenances and yet in their desire to please, literally fell over each other in haste to tell and show. Some of the buildings were entirely demolished, others with doors hacked up and windows broken, while everywhere houses and trees were riddled with bullets. One old peasant woman told me that she and fifty others were imprisoned for twenty-four hours by the Germans in a tiny stable, without food or drink, and for no apparent reason.
The battlefield on the top of a ridge of hills between the Ourthe and the Meuse is a large plain, around the edges of which lay scores of magnificent trees cut down in haste to give unobstructed range. Their branches had been previously soaked in petrole and set on fire. The effect of those prostrate, charred monsters added to the desolation all around. Across the end of the plain were those famous open trenches of "two stories," that is, with about a two-foot elevation of earth in the bottom against the front wall of the ditch, forming a kind of platform for the soldiers when taking aim.
These were dug by the soldiers and men from the factories of Liege. In front of the trenches were constructed those marvellous, barbed wire fences, about one and one half metres apart and perhaps five rows deep, with the wire twisted and wound in every conceivable fashion. Thirty feet in front of this barrier was buried a string of mines, connected with the trenches by an electric wire, to be exploded at a given moment. Dark as the night was, the enemy found and severed some of these communications so that most of the mines were rendered ineffective. We saw the cut wire in several places. What hope can those poor soldiers have, enemy or no, the advance guard of the besiegers, who are pushed forward often at the point of the bayonet, armed only with huge scissors to cut through such an almost impenetrable defense?
A most touching sight was the graves of thirty Belgians in one end of these trenches. Does that not seem a terrible irony to be buried in one's own trenches? A few common, wayside flowers were strewn on the graves, in front of which was an old prayer-stool and a wooden cross surmounted with a Belgian kepi (military cap). This cap seemed a living thing almost and reminded me of the red fez so often seen on the Moslem tombs in the cemeteries of Constantinople, which seemingly strives to evoke a vital spirit from the frigid marble. Nailed to the cross was a fragment of those well-known lines of the Immortal Caesar, "Of all the peoples of Gaul, the Belgians are the bravest." You see, the old warrior knew that long ago.
Near by was a small, shrapnel gun carriage, by which stood a toothless, old man who told, in that excruciating Wallon tongue, a pathetic story of one of the dogs which had probably drawn it. His mate doubtless was killed in battle, but he returned three days later, lay down beside the broken wheels and defied anyone to approach.
Monday, August 10th.
Monsieur S. came home to-day laden down with bags of gold like Ali Baba. How he is going to do away with it so that the ferret eyes of the enemy will not spy it out, is a problem to me. And I do not want it explained for I am sure I should look right into the forbidden corner at the wrong moment and give the secret away.
Although there are thousands of German soldiers who have come into the city and who control it, they are like rats in a trap. On account of the twelve surrounding forts they cannot leave it and for the same reason no one can come to their aid. So they have mounted machine guns in corner houses of many streets and it is horrible to see those deadly mouths gaping out of the windows. In case of an uprising among the civilians the soldiers' revenge will be to kill the women and children. But no! that is not possible in these days, from men who are neither savages nor Turks.
A heavy cannonading began at 4.30 A. M.—it literally tore us from sleep, for it seemed as if the very house were tumbling down about our ears and the singing and whizzing of those big shells was bizarre, to put it mildly. One did not know whether to get up or efface one's self in the blankets. I remember having the utmost confidence in the headboard of my bed, which was toward the window. But that did not obliterate the siren whistle of those big shells and the moment of suspense between the lightning and the thunder. After each deafening burst I kept reiterating to myself, "Saved again," as one would repeat a chronological table of something important. About 8.00 A. M. we straggled into the breakfast room—all of us rather lifeless and with very white faces and little appetite for either eating or talking. There seemed to be only one thing to say, which was, "Did you hear that?" It was the same sensation again of the thread between heaven and earth. I wonder if it will break!
This afternoon we took a little walk into the city along the river, Madame X., her two sons—Monsieur S. and Monsieur J., her daughter, Baronne de H., and myself. We passed several Prussian guards on the bridges and Monsieur S. talked with one of them. It appears that the men are very disheartened. This man said he had started with a company of seven hundred soldiers and entered Liege with sixty four. That's what it means to "take cities without difficulty"—and nobody remembers the seven hundred mothers, or wives, or children that are left. The burgomaster has received some most sensational news from Brussels, but it is too ridiculous to be believed.
Tonight is still and Nature is beautiful in the moonlight. Is it the calm before the storm? Here in the chateau we are comfortable with plenty to eat and faithful servants. In town one is not so lucky as a cousin of Madame X. is quartering forty soldiers and ten officers at table who are not—or rather, who are a little argumentative, and we have heard of some instances where the "host" and "hostess" have had to sleep in the garret or the cellar or wherever they could, while the best rooms are appropriated by the militaires. Blankets, etc., are also being requisitioned from many houses.
It is reported that General Leman narrowly escaped being captured recently when he was lunching in the court of the Cafe —— in town. His companions-in-arms suddenly became aware of four men in strange uniform who were approaching, and gave the alarm. General Leman succeeded in getting over the wall of the garden while the others engaged the spies in a hand-to-hand fight and overcame them.
August 11th, Tuesday.
Invincible Liege! People are still firm in their faith, encouraged by the peace of the morning. The day was quiet until 6.00 P. M., when furious shooting into the valley began. We saw the great shells bursting in the air and between the clouds of smoke we could distinguish an old monastery on the other side of the valley which was being shot to pieces by the enemy's field-cannon. The structure changed shape half a dozen times before our eyes and the setting sun concentrated, as if purposely, all its rays on the windows which made them blaze forth through all that fury like the veritable Hand of God, writing in fire. It seemed almost like a premonition.
Pressure from those tremendous guns could remodel mountains, and Nature herself, sometimes, cannot hold out against the fiendish ingenuity of man. And the city, itself! Can it hold out?
In the garden, very near the foot of the mountain, is the old farmhouse, in one corner of which is a little chapel whose door stands open the year round. It is of particular interest to the peasants, being the last relic of a certain superstitious legend of the countryside. The people come from miles around, crossing the fields by a little path which they themselves have beaten down, to kneel before this tiny altar; and on the last Sunday in May, the annual fete, the priests, leading a religious procession which starts from the church, say Mass there. This year, May 31st, 1914, the head gardener, who is the indisputable authority on floral subjects in the village, borrowed everything from the conservatory and gardens that he could lay his hands on in the way of decoration. He arranged the semi-circle in front of the little chapel very artistically with branches of leaves, palms and hundreds of pansies which the day before had been uprooted from the terraces of the chateau to make room for the red, summer geraniums.
At ten o'clock this Sunday morning the usual fusillade and tolling of bells announced the departure of the procession from the church. It passed slowly along by the highroad and presently we heard a chorus of young voices singing hymns—the girls and boys of the village: the music was soft and illusive in the distance, developing a sweet crescendo as they turned into the pasture, fairly plowing their way through a sea of daisies. Behind them came two little acolytes, fair as angels, swinging their golden incense lamps; then followed six choir boys, chanting the Mass, like veritable della Robbias, in their red soutanes and exquisite, white, lace surplices. Next were the clergy, in robes of cloth of gold and rare Flemish lace, carrying the Host under a purple velvet canopy. The village people followed on in quiet devoutness and, arrived at the chapel, placed lighted candles in the sconces at each side of the grille door. When the Mass was said and the last plaintive notes had died away, little children came forward and heaped their thousand-colored bouquets before the altar. It was an impressive ceremony and must, by its charming simplicity, leave a mark on many a worldly heart.
Today, August 11th, 1914, at dusk, as the cannon had ceased firing, we took a little recreation, following the paths on the mountainside; looking down from a height of perhaps one hundred feet through the trees, we saw the little chapel gleaming like a beacon in the dark, dozens of blinking candles pinioned against the black walls. The grille door was woven with nosegays, making a curtain of flowers which partially concealed the altar beyond.
Before it, stretching up supplicating hands, many women knelt, bowed down with grief and despair, and children, awed by recent memories, stood immovable in their places. Poor, poor people! Some of them in spite of their unwavering faith must drink the bitter cup so near at hand.
August 13th, Thursday.
It is true that one gets inured to danger (particularly if one has not so far been hit) and after a week of the bombardment, we have a distinct feeling of annoyance at being disturbed at an unearthly hour every morning by the screeching and bursting of shells.
About four A. M. we were awakened by another terrifying whizzing and exploding of bombs as if we were in the very midst of a battlefield. This lasted about three hours and all we could do was wait. I often wonder if it's as hard for the men to go off to war as it is for the women to stay. The battle was inconceivably furious this morning. If you could imagine five hundred of the worst thunderstorms, shaken up together, that you ever experienced, you would arrive at a mild notion of the tumult, not counting the apprehension, the danger and that terrifying voice in the whistling trail of every shell which sings, "This time I'll get you." At four this afternoon the Fort of Chaudefontaine fell, blown up by the Prussians. Between four and six o'clock the firing ceased.
It was an evening of ineffable beauty and the garden looked so lovely in its mantle of roses, the little lake at the foot with its white swans and the wooded mountain rising up almost from its waters—a picture of calm and contentment. We were there taking a long breath after the nightmare of the day, when the young gardener rushed in from the village with the news that thirty of the soldiers in the fort, wounded and burned beyond recognition, were being brought into the Sisters' Convent, which had been turned into a Red Cross Ambulance hospital.
The shells from the great field pieces of the enemy falling upon the forts had shattered the cupolas and had caused them to fall in upon the Belgians who were thus imprisoned and barely escaped suffocation from the poisonous gases of the exploding shells. The electric wires were cut immediately so that the poor things who were entrapped three stories underground groped about in the dark some time before they at last found the stairs which led them up through shot and flame and gas to the air.
Gathering some old linen together we fairly flew across the field to the convent and stopped short, staggered by what we saw. Never on this earth could one imagine so horrible a sight as those thirty charred bodies with no suggestion of faces—just a flat, swollen, black surface, with no eyes, nose nor mouth. Some of the wounded lay on beds, others in the middle of the floor or wherever there was space, and each was holding up hands burned to the bone. The room was dimly lighted, a hushed quiet reigned except for an occasional stifled groan of pain or a sigh of concern from the villagers or the swish of the black garments of those ministering angels, the nuns, as they fluttered about among the suffering; their white coifs, like a halo, contrasting them with that other Angel, whose black wings, indeed visible, already shadowed his chosen.
August 14th, Friday.
One has hoped against hope, but the worst has happened and the people are despondent. Liege is certainly in the hands of the Prussians. They have been pouring into the city all day and most of the forts have either been destroyed by the German field artillery or been blown up by their defenders rather than surrender. We nursed the soldiers all day—if last night was horrible I could not find the words to describe what the daylight revealed, or the awful odor of burned flesh when the wounds were redressed. It was pitiful to see the courage of the poor men—the Belgians are brave not only on the battle field. With lips too seared to articulate, they would try to speak and one could occasionally catch an indistinct "de l'eau," or a half-formed "Merci, chere Soeur," but never a moan or a groan.
At night, as we were wearily returning home, the young footman, with ashen face, met us half-way down the steps and announced that there would be Prussian officers at dinner who were already quartered in the chateau. We were nearly too tired to be impressed at this as one naturally would, at least, be moved in one sense or another, but we did inwardly wonder what the keynote might be at table.
At eight o'clock dinner was served. Madame X.'s daughter and I, after such a scrubbing and disinfecting, came down the last ones and stepped into a veritable playworld of the Middle Ages with the most beautiful setting—a large salon, opening out onto the terrace, with old, Flemish-wood fire-place and raftered ceiling, Japanese bronzes, rugs from the Orient, soft lamps and portraits of dear grandmothers, in the beauty of their youth, smiling out from their golden frames on the walls. As we came into the room from the brightly lighted hall, a semi-circle of gray-green coats rose right up out of the dimness and we were blinded by a vision of shining buttons, polished boots, gleaming swords and a military salute accompanied by clinking spurs. At the end of the room stood Madame X. and her sons waiting for us. Naturally there were no presentations and the moment was unique in the extreme—nobody moved for a second which seemed like a decade and nobody spoke, so all there remained to do was to acknowledge the salute with a semi-circular bow.
Dinner was an odd affair tho' it went off not so badly. Madame X., in her proud Russian beauty and her admirable control of the conditions, was superb. I never admired anybody so much, for it is not easy to entertain at one's board an enemy who has just usurped home and country, but her extraordinary charm and dignity gave the situation its note and the "guests" were everything that was agreeable. We talked of generalities, as well as "War," in four languages (Russian, French, English and German) with much the same sang-froid as the juggler who tosses knives and, when the meal was done, thanked Heaven that nobody had launched a tactless bomb which might have plunged us into a boiling sea. There was nothing particularly boastful in their conversation, though at times a certain assured reference to "Paris in a fortnight" crept in, which we found difficult to digest—in fact I was furious. Paris, indeed! Beautiful Paris! My neighbor at table on the right was a man of perhaps fifty-eight years, rather gray and grandfatherly, with such nice, blue eyes. Prefacing all his remarks with a nervous little cough to fix my attention, he would launch with difficulty one or two phrases in restricted French followed by a few straggling words in English and finally finished up with a burst of voluble German. It was a work of art to understand him, but I arrived panting—at least I had that sensation, and it is not the first time I have given thanks for a woman's natural intuition. Then I decided to lead out next—anyway I wanted to get him started on "War" without precipitating an international difficulty and I asked him as stupidly as possible (perhaps I did not need to simulate that) if he liked "War." He hesitated just a second and I was prepared for the usual self-respecting denial when he horrified me by answering a simple "Yes." Voila, le sentiment prusse!
Afterward when we went into the salon all the officers, commencing with the superior, came up to Madame X. and kicking their spurs together with the habitual "Danke, Frau," kissed our hands all around. The youngest soldier among them was a handsome boy of about twenty-two years, who interested me rather, because he was different—even his boots were different and he truly had a striking manner, though very gracious. I am convinced that he was a prince of a reigning house. The atmosphere had a way of parting in rapid waves when he came in and dropping behind him like an impervious shield when he went out. Fair, young Achilles! Will a fatal arrow attain his charmed person?
August 15th, Saturday.
We took care of the wounded all day: it is the most heartrending spectacle to see those poor, black heads lying there on their pillows. They were so shapeless and immovable, I had almost begun to look upon them as without life like charred logs, when, after finishing a dressing this morning, I was startled by a hearty, "Merci, chere Soeur." Oh, the joy of it! That brightened the whole scene and flooded me with hope. Then they have not lost their intelligences, they aren't mere pieces of wood and one day when their poor flesh has rejuvenated itself, they will be given back to real life—and their country, again.
The village people and the Sisters were so ardent in their desire to help that dressings well covered with ointment sometimes fell from their eager fingers onto grimy blankets or flopped, butter side down, so to speak, upon the floor; which did not disconcert anyone but me, whose modern prophylactic soul rattled and shook with horror as the recalcitrant bandage was gaily redeemed from its dusty resting-place and applied as originally intended.
It seemed as if I must remonstrate, but the dear whole-hearted helper was so sure that her dressing would cure and the patient was so overwhelmingly grateful for the trouble she took to pick it up for him, that I was dumb before their exquisite faith.
Here was something too big for my stilted aseptic advice and it occurred to me, suddenly, that perhaps there are many things yet undreamed of in our philosophy.
All day long the troops in an endless chain have been passing on the highroad before the chateau. The air was full of mingled sounds, as, for example, the singing of the soldiers in the distance, which sounds like the droning of bees far away and always heralds an advance of troops; the rhythmic shuffling of feet, the thud of horses' hoofs, the chugging of autos which carry the superior officers, and the heavy wheels of the gun carriages with their clanking chains. Their order, equipment and discipline are admirable to see.
All their apparel is new, as one of the officers told Monsieur D. at Spa. Uniforms, boots, belts, saddles, bridles and even buttons—all new and spic and span for a triumphal entry into Paris. Each man carries two sets of buttons, one for field service (negligible) and the other, shining brass ones, for the review down the Champs Elysees.
All the officers wear a tiny card-board map of Belgium about (3" x 4"), hung on their coat buttons and every soldier has embossed on his belt plate "Gott mit Uns." At dinner the officers were very entertaining; the ice was somewhat broken, at least, we knew better what piece was safe clinging to and we managed to exchange some ideas. It is rather odd how few of these educated men speak French. In fact, it is so odd that it makes us suspicious and cautious. Monsieur J. attacked the captain with this question, as a leader, "when he thought the war would be over?" (This being the second week of it.) His answer was net and forbade argument—"We shall be 'home' by Christmas, or Easter at the latest." But he did have the grace to congratulate the Belgian army on its stout defense of Liege, for instead of the two days given the Germans by their Emperor to capture it, they had been constrained to take nearly two weeks at it.
August 16th, Sunday.
A warm, beautiful morning. As Madame de H. and I walked through the garden and the wood to the little convent ambulance, it was difficult not to contrast smiling Nature with the frightful scenes of which, in a few minutes, we would be a part. The awful stench of burned flesh met us half a block away and congealed my courage as I walked, for it permeates everything. We can even taste it, it clings in our hair when we go home and we are obliged to hang our nursing clothes out of the window all night. I felt as if I must run away from it and those terrible dressings, reeking with purulence, where ears and eyelids and lips come off and fingers and hands peel like a glove.
Then I thought of the patience of those brave fellows and the pain and awfulness of living it. The fortitude and devotion of the village men and women are beyond praise—they come day after day to help in the nursing, some spending the night, turn and turn about. Especially the tenderness of the men for their "camarades" is one of the sweetest things I ever saw, for they are as gentle and capable in their care as any woman could possibly be.
Prussian troops continue to pass and it is a wonderfully impressive sight; infantry in gray-green khaki, singing, always singing their famous "Wacht am Rhein" and other folk songs: the Uhlans, on beautiful prancing horses, with their long lances and gray-blue capes fluttering in the wind; chasseurs in light green; "Hussars de la Mort" with the death's head emblem in the front of their high fur hats and endless companies of artillery with their huge field cannon, each drawn by six magnificent horses. On the gun carriages sit four gunners back to back, still as statues, with arms folded as if on parade. It was for all the world like a circus when the procession goes twice around the ring before commencing the serious business of the entertainment.
Dinner was gay tonight (one is obliged to make the best of a bad affair) and the officers as men of the world were interesting and in unusually good spirits.
The Captain, a little facetiously, took up the menu and, drawing a tiny note-book and pencil from his pocket, proceeded to copy it in French, soliciting Madame X.'s aid en passant.
A curious fact occurred to me as I sat there looking down both sides of the table, how much alike they were—it seems as if they must even think the same thoughts to resemble each other so much. As their heads were closely cropped, outlines were baldly apparent, low forehead sloping back to a narrow crown and all set upon a bulwark of neck. They must surely have been struck in the same mould. Though forceful, none of them were good-looking except the young one, of whom I have spoken, and his face in repose was shockingly cruel. They are expecting marching orders in the morning and are probably eager to ride on to victory (?). They bade us good night and good-bye by kissing our hands as usual, a click of spurs, a military bow and very gracious thanks to Madame X. for her hospitality.
August 17th, Monday.
About half-past three in the morning I was wakened from a sound sleep by a commotion in the court under my window. Impatient horses were pawing the ground and a voice exactly like a snarling dog was hurling out orders—I peeped out cautiously and saw that the snarling dog was the amiable captain who copied the menu last night.
The officers left at four A. M. Fort Lancin fell today and General Leman, commander-in-chief of the army here, was taken prisoner. Thousands of soldiers have passed as usual. In the afternoon a company of Prussians arrived, whose captain had mistaken the route, which put him in an abominable humor, having made his men march fifty miles out of their way and also risking a court-martial on his own account. He ordered Monsieur S. to open the garage door, in the hope of lodging his men there for the night. Unluckily the chauffeur, being absent, had the key, which plunged his Military Highness into a towering rage and he placed Monsieur S. at once under arrest between two soldiers, baionnette-au-canon, while the others battered in the door with the butt of their guns. Not finding sufficient quarters for two hundred men, he marched Monsieur S. away, as guide, half a mile down the road to a neighbor's.
That excitement had hardly quieted down when another batch of officers arrived at dusk, demanding lodgings for the night. These men were a rough type, altogether different from the preceding ones. About eight o'clock as we, the women, were waiting in the library for dinner to be announced, we heard a tremendous stamping of heavy boots and spurs and a snarl of angry voices just over our heads. Baronne de H., brave little woman as she always proved herself to be, flew up the stairs in a flash and found her brothers at the end of the hall between two orderlies with fixed bayonets, trying to pacify seven officers who were disputing angrily and were just about to enter one of the private apartments—in fact their father's room. She addressed them in a few vehement words—"I forbid you to enter the room of my father, who has been dead only a week." Then she added that the other soldiers who had been here were gentlemen and that she expected them to be. They were cowed at once and all humility, begging pardon properly. They pleaded fatigue for their rudeness and said "certainly they expected to be gentlemen, too." Wasn't that comical? They were ill at ease and rather sullen at dinner: and such a dinner as we had!—glacial does not express it. The captain of the band spoke English, French, Russian and German, but he could not coax anybody into conversation, for we clung to "Oui," or "Non," and stopped there. More than that, a kind of rigid fascination fixed our attention on one of their number—the tallest and lankiest, who sat down at least two feet from the table and endeavored to serve himself like that. Every mouthful was fraught with tense anxiety (for us). Happily they went to bed early, the captain kissing our hands and asking Madame X. if she were used to that, it being the custom in Germany.
Hardly had they got under cover and we were alone again, when a hoarse cry arose in the court—it was blood-curdling to us, as every sound these days is full of terror and possibilities. But it turned out to be only the cry of the sentry. There had been promiscuous shooting along the railroad in the village and all our brave soldiers tumbled out of bed, fell down the stair-case one after the other, buckling on swords as they went. It is the greatest wonder to me that we were not all shot on the spot when we stood there staring up, as one very young lieutenant descended three steps at a time with a revolver in one wobbly hand which was shaking like an aspen leaf, and a pair of field glasses in the other. I think the sudden excitement may have unnerved him and there is no doubt, this time, that the gods favored the innocent. That was the last we saw of our guests.
August 18th, Tuesday.
This morning one of them came back for some personal things, principally his watch, which, in the true, novel style, could not be found anywhere. So the Herr leutnant ordered a thorough search and said, with a grand air, to the housekeeper that if it could not be found he would be obliged to take one of the servant's as a forfeit. Fancy!
I can see the butler's poor, old, bowed legs, now, flying up the stair-case, with a bayonet stuck in his back to expedite matters. I do not know if this threat lent an added zest to the search, but fortunately someone had the happy thought to look under the mattress (where the officer had put it himself) and there was the ill-fated timepiece calmly ticking off German minutes. I think I forgot to tell you that since the invasion we retire at ten instead of eleven o'clock, having been advised to adopt Celtic time.
Prussian troops in khaki continue to pass; will they never cease? One's spine shivers at the sight of the endless, green snake which crawls along, insinuating its greedy length into the gardens of plenty. This morning four new officers came to the chateau; three of them were nondescript, but the fourth, to all appearances, was an Englishman, pure blood. He spoke English absolutely without accent and had a perfect English drawing-room air. It was as funny as an impersonation and as he had appeared on the scene alone, I believe his brothers-in-arms were almost suspicious of him. After a little the story came out. He is really a German, but has lived fifteen years in London. At the debut of the war he had been obliged to take up arms against a sea of troubles, or relinquish forever his right to go back to Baden, where his parents live. Naturally he chose the former (also probably thinking that "War" was a word only) and allowed himself to be bored by circumstances. He told us some amusing tales of his having been already arrested three times for an English spy. Everybody here likes him very much and I welcomed him personally as the nearest approach to an Anglo-Saxon that I have seen in many months.
Monsieur J. and several of the representative men of the village, including Monsieur le Cure (a little, fat, rosy-cheeked man, adored by his flock), were taken as hostages for twenty-four hours and had to sleep in the railroad station. It was nervously comical to see Monsieur J. starting off, his valet following with a mattress on his back and a box of sandwiches in his hand against the misery of the night. But it is not so amusing to be the victim of even a threat which at any moment may take the form of a sudden reality for no reason except to terrorize honest people who are defending their homes. The enemy's way of punishing and evading future insurrection among the civilians is to take people as hostages and shoot them if necessary, or burn the houses. This they have already done in several quarters in Liege. A few nights ago several students fired on some German officers in a cafe and the latters' revenge was instantaneous and terrible; they just stood eighteen men up in front of the University and shot them like dogs—then burned that section for blocks around.
Austrian artillery was passing today with their great cannon drawn by automobiles. The wheels of the gun carriages are enormous and the cannon are the biggest things we have yet seen.
August 19th, Wednesday.
Such an odd picking little noise, like a mouse, disturbed us at breakfast this A. M. Madame X. opened the door and was astonished to see a German soldier unscrewing the telephone from the wall. Her obvious surprise moved the man to explain, which was unqualifiedly this—"Madame, permit me, but we need your telephone for field service."
I suppose he may as well have it anyway for nothing so modern and useful as telephones has existed for us since August 3rd.
A group of very surly officers have "taken over" Madame R.'s chateau down in the country. The moment they arrived night before last, the Colonel ordered her to bring out all her best wine, throwing her his soiled gloves to wash at the same time.
The patients at the Convent are beginning to show a little life now, though their poor, black faces are more grotesque than ever as an eye, here and there, begins to peep out from a crack in the crusted surface. They have begun to talk after a fashion, though their poor, dried lips can hardly accomplish the task. Jean, the big fellow who jumped seven metres into the ditch from Fort Chaudefontaine when it blew up, died this morning, the result of a fractured skull.
French and German aeroplanes alike have been flying over the city, dropping the most sensational circulars of the victories of their particular armies. But the news is "trop beau"—one cannot believe it and probably it is only destined to encourage the soldiers. It appears that the officers tell their men all kinds of extraordinary tales, to give them heart for the fight, and the poor things believe (hearing French spoken here) that they are already in France, for yesterday one of them in a passing train was heard demanding the Eiffel Tower. An officer admitted to Monsieur S. that Germany prints three newspapers—one for the officers, one for the soldiers, and one for imbeciles. I suppose the latter means us.
August 22nd, Saturday.
Bread is being rationed out now in the village and we are allowed only two small pieces at a meal. It seems to me that I never wanted one more slice so much in my life. The soldiers have cleared out the baker's supply and he cannot get any more flour.
Monsieur S. has bought a bicycle and goes into town every morning to find out about things. Sometimes it seems as if we could hardly wait until he gets back to lunch for the news. And oh! such terrible things are happening. Some funny incidents too, intersperse themselves from time to time. During the recounting of some of these awful tales of violence and revenge which we are hearing from the little villages the young footman's knees doubled right up and nearly let him down while he was serving the table and he is getting greener and greener from day to day. He becomes absolutely petrified when the officers address him and whispers out an unintelligible something as he vanishes through a door.
The horrible carnage at Namur has begun and we already have heard sickening accounts of it. The story, as we have had it by word of mouth, is that one of the seven forts capitulated (the city was evacuated), allowing the enemy to enter in over a tract of land which was literally sown with this famous, new Poudre Turpin which exploded under the feet of whole regiments at once, and the forts completed the slaughter.
Troops, troops, always troops plodding along. Their attitude could not be called determined for there is not enough mental action in it, though there does exist an indisputable tenacity which is appalling. How they lack that infectious ardeur, that splendid elan which characterizes every little poilu! But they just plod on like a great machine, lacking intelligence in its parts, each vital, however, to the perfectly-fitted whole.
Madame X. and I felt as if we could not sit still another minute this afternoon and, safe, or no, we decided to take a walk on the mountainside. We could hear regiments approaching first by a faint buzzing in the distance which rounded out into song as it drew near; as an officer told us, the men often sing in four voices which is quite beautiful. Then, we became aware of a different noise, a sort of loose rumble, as if cohesion would presently not exist for the thing, whatever it was, that caused this new note. But it was not a note, it was a disturbance which grew and grew in proportions. Madame X. and I scurried up and down the paths trying to find a vista through the trees that would disclose this monster which was moving so protestingly along the road.
I imagined it would be snorting flame and its eyes smouldering fires, but instead its eyes were neat little windows with tidy curtains, for the monster turned out to be three diminutive houses on wheels drawn by a huge motor. What their end and purpose might be, is imaginable. If it is for the comfort of the High Command en campagne, the great clumsy procession rivaling the speed of a snail is a heap of trouble for a little luxury.
August 24th, Monday.
Namur is taken by the Germans. Practically nothing remains of the city. A German major who was brought, wounded, to Liege, said the battle was too frightful to narrate. He entered the city with one thousand men and left it with sixty-five. Just outside the forts, where he had been stationed with two hundred horses, three bombs fell upon them at the same moment and only seven of the poor beasts remained. His admiration for the pointing and firing of the Belgian and French cannon was unlimited.
Just before lunch this morning, two very ragged-looking individuals (Belgian civilians) came to the chateau. They were travel-stained indeed, just having made the journey on foot from Brussels and in a calmer era would have had some success in the role of common ordinary tramps. As it was, they excited a little curiosity by the suspicious way they had of looking about, and our first thought was spies until one of them, edging toward the outside of the group, made Baronne de H. understand that he had something to communicate to her. Inquiring if it were safe, he suddenly leaned down and drew out from the sole of his shoe, a piece of paper on which was written, "A banker of Brussels sends greetings—all are well." The little woman burst into a flood of tears for she realized that it was a message from her husband, one of the Garde Civique of Brussels. During the three, long, anxious weeks of devotion to others, I had often remarked and wondered at her courage in never mentioning her own longing and apprehension for her husband and three little children. Before we had recovered from the first onslaught of the army, she must have known, after it left here, that it would pass their chateau three kilometres the other side of Brussels and what would it leave in its wake? Can you imagine her anxiety, when every day we were hearing frightful stories of children having their hands chopped off and people's heads being paraded on bayonets? But I never remember her uttering a single "I wonder," or an "I wish." Does this not bear out what the illustrious Roman said about the "Belgians," which certainly did not exclude the women? It is the grandest thing that ever could be—this response of the women to the Nation's call, for it is not just passive self-sacrifice, but impassioned co-operation.
In the afternoon Madame de H. and I went to Liege to arrange her passport for Brussels. Two of the officers who are here offered to go with us in order to facilitate an entrance into the "Kommandantur," which is the general headquarters and is in that ancient and beautiful place of the Princes-Eveques, onetime feudal lords of the principality of Liege. I wanted to rebel openly when I saw that wonderful court, world-famous for its beauty, which has been turned into a depot of supplies and barracks with horses stabled under those delicate, Gothic arches, models of purity and beauty. But to what good? Will anything ever expiate the offense? There are also horses in the theatre and machine guns in all the upper windows.
While Madame de H. was waiting to see Count Moltke in his office, I walked about the court with one of the soldier attendants who came with us and had an opportunity of peeking through many doors which would otherwise have been closed to me. My companion, who is a wholesale grain merchant in peace times, enjoyed his authority immensely and dragged his sword, half unbuckled, on the ground, which clanked behind us and made merry music in his ears, I am sure. The whole place was a perfect beehive though there was little confusion. The soldiers were diligently counting supplies, feeding horses and sorting Belgian cannon and shells which had been captured.
On the road from Angleur to Liege we were obliged to give way to some troops which were returning from Namur. The auto stopped right in the middle of a column, which, as we heard, was a conglomeration of the tag ends of different regiments and I was almost afraid—the men peered in at us so maliciously. I have never seen such a frightening spectacle of humanity, for it was the personification of a rogues' gallery with every kind of cut-throat, brigand and robber mixed up into a grand ensemble, toiling and perspiring, limping and crawling along in the dust and heat.
Does battle blot out the soul of a man in one savage conflict? Obviously, it is before a weary march that one finds exalted faces. But perhaps they were not desperadoes—only tired and dirty and unshaven.
It is said, however, that when war was declared, the enemy opened the doors of all the prisons and that the front ranks of the attacking forces (which were sure to be lost) were entirely composed of convicts and prisoners. And also, the officers in the regular army are so hated by their men that when they started out to conquer the world every officer was changed to a different regiment.
This evening we sat on the terrace enjoying the afterglow of the setting sun and the calmness of the garden, listening to the soldiers singing in the orchard, next. This singing in the twilight is heartbreaking and particularly melancholy, as the music is slow and has more consolation in it than the usual soul-inspiring quality of battle hymns. At intervals we heard the captain speaking with great force and enthusiasm, the hurrahs of the men, an occasional "Vaterland, Vaterland," and again and ever, "Die Wacht am Rhein."
August 26th, Wednesday.
Two new officers (not Prussians) of the Landstuerm arrived this morning—men of fifty to fifty-five years of age. One is a hardware merchant en civil and has a brown beard and the asthma; the other is a lawyer, with big, blinking eyes—and they both looked as if they hated war. The "Englishman" is still here—his department is looking after supplies at the depot. He has borrowed all the English books in the house and sits reading all day up in the signal box at the station, so the family have named him "Monsieur Seegnal Box," which, with a tiny, French accent, sounds quite attractive.
We are so enthusiastic about our patients at the Convent, for they are all improving and developing personalities now. Every morning at eight-thirty we rush over there as quickly as we can to see how the poor children are getting on and who has another eye open. Nature has begun her restorative work and oh! what a satisfaction it is to see the new skin stretching out tiny shreds to bridge over the martyred flesh.
The atmosphere of the ward is gay. 'Most everybody can laugh, at least with their hearts, for stiffened lips do not all respond yet. The work has arranged itself in admirable routine, where humanity is not entirely swallowed up in duty. There are young girls and boys who fetch basins of water, old women who roll bandages, faithful, sweet-faced matrons who bind up dreadful wounds, and strong, young men who lift, so tenderly, pain-racked bodies and who can toss a joke or a word of encouragement with equal discretion, which never fails to infuse the down-hearted with their own priceless vitality. Then there is the Mere Superieure, of thin, aesthetic face, who comes with a gentle word of the "Faith" for each one; the austere Soeur Felicite, who counts the cups and searches your soul and brings in hot coffee and a steaming ragout; and the pretty, young Soeur Monique, with her uplifted face, who cannot conceal a shy admiration for big, blond Henri who rails at everything and is as lovable as a baby. Then the villagers: in the middle of the room, Monsieur B. (Secretary and Treasurer, I should say) cuts off gauze with a calculating eye at one end of a long table and at the other, rosy-cheeked Monsieur R. (painter of every house and barn in the village) stands all day long with a spatula in his hand and slaps on the ointment for dressings. There is a sort of professional twist in the gesture and his merry, little eyes glance around, not seeking but rather gathering in approval, and from under his bristling, white moustache will burst a salute for one, a joke for another, or a reproach for another.
Here, there and everywhere he is needed, is Monsieur F., whose great, dark eyes are acquainted with pain; he is a frail, little person and the substantial man of the village, a living paradox. Just when Monsieur R. announces—dramatically waving his spatula—that that is the last ounce of boric ointment and no more peroxide in the cupboard and we are raving around and denouncing the pharmacist, Monsieur F. steps up and inquires what the trouble is, knowing full well the difficulty and also "his moment," wise man that he is. While we are swamping the situation with words, he quietly dispatches a boy to his house, who quickly reappears with huge bottles of this and that. Oh, blessed Monsieur F., who long since had made a corner in peroxide and everything else we shall need until after the war. But the despair of the moment, the heat and three, long hours of unremitting "dressings" effect a faintness of soul and a "queer" feeling we did not realize was there, until that dear, roly-poly Soeur Anastasie appears with a bottle of red wine, half concealed under her cape, and with a motherly, "Ca vous fera du bien," (that will do you good) pours us out a generous glassful. That puts the blue in the sky again and keeps the shafts of golden sunshine from creating zigzag patterns in our brain. Oh, Shades of my New England Ancestors! Would you say, "Better to slip down in a swoon?"—and give everybody a lot of trouble—
August 27th, Thursday.
Madame de H. and I again went to Liege early this morning about her passports. The hotels and cafes were just seething humanity, beds improvised in every corner, and I saw officers paying their hotel bills with cheques and notes. The poor proprietor blinked and swallowed hard for a moment and said nothing. The city was literally packed with troops going in all directions. Uhlans, chasseurs, artillery and the infantry, singing and executing that foolish-looking goose-step—it probably has its advantages, but at eight A. M. in the pouring rain it did appear ridiculous.
In the afternoon we took a walk into the country, following the railroad. The soldiers were working everywhere, putting up temporary buildings for any emergency. We saw one of those open dining halls—only three walls with a shed roof where a regiment can step out of a train to eat while another jumps quickly in and no time lost. We passed the lovely chateau of the Marquis de T. who is Minister Plenipotentiary from Costa Rica. Of course, this is neutral property and flies a neutral flag, but the place is filled with officers and, according to the maitre d'hotel, the wine cellar is undergoing a thorough inventory.
August 28th, Friday.
This morning there was excitement at the Convent; someone was reading a three weeks' old journal to the soldiers and for a moment everybody forgot his particular aches and black heads lifted themselves from their pillows and gaunt forms swayed to and fro on shaky elbows. The lust of battle lit up wooden countenances, fire sprang from eyes yet heavily veiled by crusted lids and a fervent "bien fait" or "vivent les Belges," trembled from heretofore silent corners.
Madame Andre, who comes to see her boy every day, remarked my looking at her dress which was all darned and mended in the most unaccountable places, "O, Mademoiselle," she said. "I suppose you are wondering about my waist? But wasn't it lucky I was here with Andre when the troops passed through our village? The soldiers fired haphazard in the windows and the wardrobe in which my clothes were hanging caught seven bullets and the headboard of my bed, four."
All the afternoon troops were coming back from Namur in evident haste and apparent rout, for they had such a tired, bedraggled look. About five o'clock a company with ammunition wagons, Red Cross ambulances and baggage trucks dashed madly into the orchard among the apple trees, nearly wrecking themselves and everything else. Immediately after, three officers came to the house to beg lodging for the night. They were frightful-looking individuals covered with mud and dirt, with half-grown beards and one could not tell what uniforms. They asked the most humble apartment—a corner, the floor—anything, "and, Madame, a little hot water, s'il vous plait." We were sitting on the terrace tonight just before dinner when down came the three new arrivals, beautiful as the morning, shaven and shining in their gray-green uniforms, polished boots and bracelets set with precious stones—officers of the "Emperor's Own," though these men did not seem like Germans, but were much more the lighter build and elegant type of the Austrians.
They were a bit haughty at first, but dinner thawed them out and then what tales they told us; the most promising imagination could not rival their flights in the air. They acted like people who walk in their sleep and had that same vague expression of the eye. But it is not to be wondered at, coming as they did from a frightful battlefield and fatigued by a hard march. It must be true that battle intoxicates men for these latter, being of a sensible age, did say very ridiculous things. Hitherto the officers who have been here were fairly modest though always showing an undeniable confidence, while these three openly bragged. The young lieutenant who sat next to me spoke French fluently and never stopped talking all the evening. Among countless other things, he said, "We are being sent back from Namur as Paris is taken" (ejaculation from me "I cannot believe it") "and they have no more need of us in that direction," he went on without turning a hair. "So we are en route for England or Russia, in the morning, to conquer the seven nations (he included Monaco in the list) who have declared war against our beloved Vaterland."
"And, Mademoiselle," he continued, "they fired on our ambulances!"
"Ah?" I answered, nonchalantly, "the Germans have already done that here."
He was a bit taken aback at this rejoinder; then with a prodigiously sorrowful look he exclaimed in a hushed voice, "Oui, la guerre est terrible."
The victories they exploited on land and sea were fantastic and the funny part is, they believed thoroughly all they said. It is strange to hear serious people fabricate such yarns as they did, with as much dexterity as a spider spins its web.
August 29th, Saturday.
The ambulance was as busy as a beehive this A. M. Except for one or two, the patients are all feeling better. Andre, the third on the left, whose sonorous "Merci, chere Soeur" nearly frightened me to pieces one day, seems to be the wit and authority on all subjects—a real leader, I should say, and drole! Augustin, four beds from him, is our difficult child, the only one of the twenty-nine who is spoiled and fights his dressings, but we must be patient with him for he has been very sick and that drawn look about the nose and a certain, startled expression of the eyes, worry me. But the little Soeur Victoire says comfortingly that he will soon be well, though he does not wish to eat and his jaws are a little stiff. O, chere Soeur, in your sweet faith, are stiffened jaws such a trivial circumstance?
Next Augustin is Sylvestre, le beau. He was the splendid pointeur of Fort Chaudefontaine and was the least burned of the men; that is why I know he is beautiful; also I catch many glimpses of him in the little mirror in which he is constantly regarding himself, but he is bon garcon, nevertheless—his honest blue eyes attest it.
At the end of the row is the big Flamand, who was always two feet too long for his bed. He is sitting up now and that great, black head, with features swollen three times their normal size, is a sight to frighten the boldest. If he should roar at me I would drop everything and flee. But he doesn't; nobody roars; for they are all the finest gentlemen in the world, even in their trying moments.
At ten o'clock this evening, right out of the silence, issued sounds of heavy, rolling carts, and horses' hoofs. Madame de H. and I stole out into the court to see what it might be and, almost as if by magic, whole regiments came pouring along in the greatest haste and disorder. A wing of the servants' quarters hid the approach of the soldiers from us and the strange, non-resonant quality of the atmosphere tonight deceived us as to their nearness. In a moment they were upon us—not three feet away, for some of the troops had taken, not the usual highroad two hundred feet distant, but a short cut by the narrow path which directly passes the court yard. Happily we had hidden ourselves behind the grille, in the foliage, or we might have been shot without ceremony, as by order of the military governor of the city "every civilian shall be indoors and lights out at eight P. M."
We enjoyed the danger a little at first because we did not realize it; all the same we obliterated ourselves as much as possible, though hardly daring to move or breathe. Not an arm's length away, their nearness oppressed us and the waves of heat which reeked from their toiling bodies sickened us. But there we crouched in our light dresses, easily seen if one had chanced to look, and separated only by an iron fence with sparse, fluttering vines from a mass of tired, quarrelsome, desperate men. Why! any of them might have run us through in a flash as one would lunge at a white rag for the amusement of his companions. Indoors the family were frantic, not daring to open a crack of the door for fear of violent consequences to us.
The night was full of dull noises; even the clanking chains of the gun carriages seemed muffled and the thud of horses' hoofs in the mud added to the air of secrecy which pervaded the scene, while the moonlight threw out shadows and drew crazy perspectives and showed up silhouettes of men positively falling from their seats with fatigue. Some one was twirling a French soldier's cap on a bayonet, we heard smothered yawns, the words "Russland," "Vaterland," and finally the infantry whistling in unison as they limped along.
August 30th, Sunday.
At two o'clock in the morning the whole family was aroused by a thundering rap from the butt of a gun on the big front entrance. The poor old butler, who has been in service thirty-five years, was aghast to open the door and find the Burgomaster, in white kid gloves, standing between two Prussian soldiers, with fixed bayonets. They demanded Monsieur J. (for the second time) as hostage. What could have happened among the people, we could only guess. Had they been rash enough to protest against strength and did they want to share the fate of the pitiful Vise?
The forenoon brought us no news; after lunch we walked in the broiling sun to the little railroad station at Kinklepois, to see Monsieur J. (he had aged ten years over night) where he was under guard with several others, including Monsieur le Vicaire of A. and Monsieur l'Abbe of K. We sat around the table in the Concierge's tiny dining room and listened to some amusing anecdotes told by the Vicar, while the gentle old Abbot sent out to the vicarage for a bottle of his good old Burgundy. To be sure, no one was much in the mood to be amused, but it lessened the tension of the moment; the least unusual sound from the street—and it was full of soldiers and horses—brought the tale to a sudden end and we listened with blanched faces for perhaps—the worst.
August 31st, Monday.
Monsieur J. was released as hostage at seven o'clock P. M. and returned to the fold. This evening, as all was still, we played a little game of Bridge, as in the old days when life was a pleasant dream. Suddenly a dozen rifle shots, in quick succession, rang out in the air and the cards fell from our nerveless fingers as a stray ball rattled against the iron shutters of our windows. Instinctively we crouched into sheltered corners and waited; another volley and another followed, until finally Monsieur S. whispered in a hoarse voice, "A la cave." The household, including the servants, delighted to be any place where we were not, made a lightning dash, Indian file, for the cellar. Quite unperturbed and loath to leave her cozy, warm kitchen, the old, fat cook was the last to waddle down the stairs, repeating her usual "They cannot hurt me. I am Dutch." She was the calmest of us all, for those intermittent shots and the possibility of retrieving lost balls had raised a tremor of excitement as well as our hasty descent into the realms of Bacchus, in common words—the wine cellar. By the thin rays of a candle the scene was comic; there we were, fourteen of us huddled together in a twelve by twenty foot vault, earthen floor and stone walls. Expecting at any moment an onslaught of we did not know what, each one was bracing himself for the blow, in different attitudes of mind and body. Madame X. was pale, her daughter stolid and ready for the defensive—the true, fighting blood of the Belgians on fire: the old butler, attentive to the slightest sound, was shaking his gray head with ominous pessimism and one of the maids was weeping hysterically and audibly in the arms of her husband, the young footman. At first we just stood and looked at each other as periodic volleys resounded now and again. Then we relaxed as well as we could on dusty cases and rounding barrels or whatever was at hand. An hour passed before the shooting ceased and then we discovered that we were cramped and uncomfortable and cold—chilled through with that deathlike dampness which pervades subterranean chambers. What misery for those who had to live in them for days! Another hour elapsed before the danger was really over and we dared to come out from cover; then we crawled upstairs to bed on our hands and knees to keep below the level of the window ledges.
Madame de H. made an attempt to go to Brussels by a military train which, however, was derailed ten kilometres from here. Some disagreeable officers took the second automobile for military service, in spite of the signed permission which Count Moltke has given the family. Did I tell you that Madame X.'s children are related by marriage to a high official of the Imperial Court? I do not know at all if this fact accounts for the extreme courtesy which they have always received from the soldiers, but at any rate some of their friends have not been so favored.
Madame T., who had a charming Villa at S., was one of the unfortunate ones. She was obliged to entertain the officers of some passing troops at lunch recently, after which they had coffee in the garden. The Captain glanced around at the flowers and said, "Madame, very pretty, very pretty, tomorrow, nothing." That night her villa and several other neighboring ones were burned to the ground.
The Germans are constantly forcing the Belgian old men, women and children to march in front of their attacking armies. What kind of soldiers can it be that does these things, but brutes and barbarians?