WITH THE FRENCH
IN FRANCE AND SALONIKA
RICHARD HARDING DAVIS
AUTHOR OF "WITH THE ALLIES"
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1916
COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Published April, 1916
BOOKS BY RICHARD HARDING DAVIS PUBLISHED BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
"SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE" net $1.00 THE LOST ROAD. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.25 THE RED CROSS GIRL. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.25 THE MAN WHO COULD NOT LOSE. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.25 ONCE UPON A TIME. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.35 THE SCARLET CAR. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.25 RANSON'S FOLLY. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.35 THE LION AND THE UNICORN. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.25 CINDERELLA, AND OTHER STORIES. 12mo net 1.00 GALLEGHER, AND OTHER STORIES. 12mo net 1.00 THE WHITE MICE. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.35 VERA THE MEDIUM. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.35 CAPTAIN MACKLIN. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.35 THE KING'S JACKAL. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.25 SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.35
THE BAR SINISTER. Illustrated. Sq. 12mo net 1.00 THE BOY SCOUT. With Frontispiece. 16mo net .50 THE CONSUL. With Frontispiece. 16mo net .50 STORIES FOR BOYS. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.00 FARCES: "The Galloper," "The Dictator," and "Miss Civilization." Illustrated. 8vo net 1.50 MISS CIVILIZATION. A One-Act Comedy. 12mo net .50
WITH THE FRENCH IN FRANCE AND SALONIKA. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.00 WITH THE ALLIES. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.00 WITH BOTH ARMIES IN SOUTH AFRICA. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.50 THE CUBAN AND PORTO RICAN CAMPAIGNS. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.50 REAL SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.50 THE CONGO AND COASTS OF AFRICA. Illustrated. 12mo net 1.50
TO THE MEMORY
JUSTUS MILES FORMAN
This book was written during the three last months of 1915 and the first month of this year in the form of letters from France, Greece, Serbia, and England. The writer visited ten of the twelve sectors of the French front, seeing most of them from the first trench, and was also on the French-British front in the Balkans. Outside of Paris the French cities visited were Verdun, Amiens, St. Die, Arras, Chalons, Nancy, and Rheims. What he saw served to strengthen his admiration for the French army and, as individuals and as a nation, for the French people, and to increase his confidence in the ultimate success of their arms.
This success he believes would come sooner were all the fighting concentrated in Europe. To scatter the forces of the Allies in expeditions overseas, he submits, only weakens the main attack and the final victory. At the present moment, outside of her armies for defense in England and for offense in Flanders, Great Britain is supporting armies in Egypt, German East Africa, Salonika, and Mesopotamia. No one who has seen in actual being one of these vast expeditions, any one of which in the past would have commanded the interest of the entire world, can appreciate how seriously they cripple the main offensive. Each robs it of hundreds of thousands of men needed in the trenches, of the transports required to carry those men, of war-ships to convoy them, of hospital ships to mend them, of medical men, medical stores, aeroplanes, motor-trucks, ambulances, machine-guns, field-guns, siege-guns, and millions upon millions of rounds of ammunition.
Transports that from neutral ports should be carrying bully beef, grain, and munitions, are lying idle at a rent per day of many hundreds of thousands of pounds, in the harbors of Moudros, Salonika, Aden, Alexandria, in the Persian Gulf, and scattered along both coasts of Africa. They are guarded by war-ships withdrawn from duty in the Channel and North Sea. What, in lives lost, these expeditions have cost both France and Great Britain, we know; what they have cost in millions of money, it would be impossible even to guess.
For these excursions far afield it is not the military who are responsible. There is the highest authority for believing neither General Joffre nor Lord Kitchener approves of them. They are efforts launched for political effect by loyal and well-meaning, but possibly mistaken, members of the two governments. By them these expeditions were sent forth to seize some place in the sun already held by Germany, to prevent other places falling into her hands, or in the hope of turning some neutral power into an ally. It was merely dancing to Germany's music. It postponed and weakened the main attack. This war should be fought in France. If it is, Germany will be utterly defeated; she cannot long survive such another failure as Verdun, or even should she eventually occupy Verdun could she survive such a victory. When she no longer is a military threat all she possessed before the war, and whatever territory she has taken since she began the war, will automatically revert to the Allies. It then will be time enough to restore to Belgium, Serbia, Poland, and other rightful owners the possessions of which Germany has robbed them. If you surprise a burglar, his pockets stuffed with the family jewels, would you first attempt to recover the jewels, or to subdue the burglar? Before retrieving your possessions would it not be better strategy to wait until the burglar is down and out, and the police are adjusting the handcuffs?
In the first chapter of this book is reprinted a letter I wrote from Paris to the papers of the Wheeler Syndicate, stating that in no part of Europe was our country popular. It was a hint given from one American speaking in confidence to another, and as from one friend to another. It was not so received. To my suggestion that in Europe we are losing friends, the answer invariably was: "We should worry!" That is not a good answer. With a nation it surely should be as with the individuals who compose it. If, when an individual is told he has lost the good opinion of his friends, he sings, "I don't care, I don't care!" he exhibits only bad manners.
The other reply made to the warning was personal abuse. That also is the wrong answer. To kill the messenger of ill tidings is an ancient prerogative; but it leads nowhere. If it is true that we are losing our friends we should try to find out whose fault it is that we lost them, and our wish should be to bring our friends back.
Men of different countries of Europe repeatedly told me that all of a century must elapse before America can recover the prestige she has lost since this war began. My answer was that it was unintelligent to judge ninety million people by the acts, or lack of action, of one man, and that to recover our lost prestige will take us no longer than is required to get rid of that man. As soon as we elect a new President and a new Congress, who are not necessarily looking for trouble, but who will not crawl under the bed to avoid it, our lost prestige will return.
In the meantime, that France and her Allies succeed should be the hope and prayer of every American. The fight they are waging is for the things the real, unhyphenated American is supposed to hold most high and most dear. Incidentally, they are fighting his fight, for their success will later save him, unprepared as he is to defend himself, from a humiliating and terrible thrashing. And every word and act of his now that helps the Allies is a blow against frightfulness, against despotism, and in behalf of a broader civilization, a nobler freedom, and a much more pleasant world in which to live.
RICHARD HARDING DAVIS.
April 11, 1916.
I. PRESIDENT POINCARE THANKS AMERICA 3
II. THE MUD TRENCHES OF ARTOIS 35
III. THE ZIGZAG FRONT OF CHAMPAGNE 55
IV. FROM PARIS TO THE PIRAEUS 79
V. WHY KING CONSTANTINE IS NEUTRAL 97
VI. WITH THE ALLIES IN SALONIKA 111
VII. Two Boys Against an Army 152
VIII. THE FRENCH-BRITISH FRONT IN SERBIA 165
IX. VERDUN AND ST. MIHIEL 188
X. WAR IN THE VOSGES 210
XI. HINTS FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO HELP 223
XII. LONDON, A YEAR LATER 245
General Sarrail, commanding the Allied armies in Greece, making his first landing in Salonika
President Poincare on a visit to the front 18
"Of another house the roof only remained, from under it the rest of the building had been shot away" 48
The stone roof over this glass chandelier in the Arras cathedral was destroyed by shells, and the chandelier not touched 50
General Franchet d'Esperay 70
King Constantine of Greece and commander-in-chief of her armies 102
"In Salonika the water-front belongs to everybody" 122
"On one side of the quay, a moving-picture palace, ... on the other a boat unloading fish" 124
Outside the Citadel, which is mediaeval, Salonika is modern and Turkish 126
"The quay supplied every spy—German, Bulgarian, Turk, or Austrian—with an uninterrupted view" 139
"Hills bare of trees, from which the snow that ran down their slopes had turned the road into a sea of mud" 154
American war correspondents at the French front in Serbia 160
Headquarters of the French commander in Gravec, Serbia 172
After the retreat from Serbia 176
The ruined village of Gerbeviller, destroyed after their retreat by the Germans 190
"Through these woods ran a toy railroad" 192
A first-line trench outside of Verdun 200
A valley in Argonne showing a forest destroyed by shells 208
War in the forest 216
A poster inviting the proprietors of restaurants and hotels and their guests to welcome the soldiers who have permission to visit Paris, especially those who come from the districts invaded by the Germans 228
All over France, on Christmas Day and the day after, money was collected to send comforts and things good to eat to the men at the front 232
A poster advertising the fund to bring from the trenches "permissionaires," those soldiers who obtain permission to return home for six days 236
"Very interestin'. You ought to frame it" 252
"They have women policemen now" 262
WITH THE FRENCH IN FRANCE AND SALONIKA
PRESIDENT POINCARE THANKS AMERICA
PARIS, October, 1915.
While still six hundred miles from the French coast the passengers on the Chicago of the French line entered what was supposed to be the war zone.
In those same waters, just as though the reputation of the Bay of Biscay was not sufficiently scandalous, two ships of the line had been torpedoed.
So, in preparation for what the captain tactfully called an "accident," we rehearsed abandoning ship.
It was like the fire-drills in our public schools. It seemed a most sensible precaution, and one that in times of peace, as well as of war, might with advantage be enforced on all passenger-ships.
In his proclamation Commandant Mace of the Chicago borrowed an idea from the New York Fire Department. It was the warning Commissioner Adamson prints on theatre programmes, and which casts a gloom over patrons of the drama by instructing them to look for the nearest fire-escape.
Each passenger on the Chicago was assigned to a life-boat. He was advised to find out how from any part of the ship at which he might be caught he could soonest reach it.
Women and children were to assemble on the boat deck by the boat to which they were assigned. After they had been lowered to the water, the men—who, meanwhile, were to be segregated on the deck below them—would descend by rope ladders.
Entrance to a boat was by ticket only. The tickets were six inches square and bore a number. If you lost your ticket you lost your life. Each of the more imaginative passengers insured his life by fastening the ticket to his clothes with a safety-pin.
Two days from land there was a full-dress rehearsal, and for the first time we met those with whom we were expected to put to sea in an open boat.
Apparently those in each boat were selected by lot. As one young doctor in the ambulance service put it: "The society in my boat is not at all congenial."
The only other persons originally in my boat were Red Cross nurses of the Post unit and infants. In trampling upon them to safety I foresaw no difficulty.
But at the dress rehearsal the purser added six dark and dangerous-looking Spaniards. It developed later that by profession they were bull-fighters. Any man who is not afraid of a bull is entitled to respect. But being cast adrift with six did not appeal.
One could not help wondering what would happen if we ran out of provisions and the bull-fighters grew hungry. I tore up my ticket and planned to swim.
Some of the passengers took the rehearsal to heart, and, all night, fully dressed, especially as to boots, tramped the deck. As the promenade-deck is directly over the cabins, not only they did not sleep but neither did any one else.
The next day they began to see periscopes. For this they were not greatly to be blamed. The sea approach to Bordeaux is flagged with black buoys supporting iron masts that support the lights, and in the rain and fog they look very much like periscopes.
But after the passengers had been thrilled by the sight of twenty of them, they became so bored with false alarms that had a real submarine appeared they were in a mood to invite the captain on board and give him a drink.
While we still were anxiously keeping watch, a sail appeared upon the horizon. Even the strongest glasses could make nothing of it. A young, very young Frenchman ran to the bridge and called to the officers: "Gentlemen, will you please tell me what boat it is that I see?"
Had he asked the same question of an American captain while that officer was on the bridge, the captain would have turned his back. An English captain would have put him in irons.
But the French captain called down to him: "She is pilot-boat No. 28. The pilot's name is Jean Baptiste. He has a wife and four children in Bordeaux, and others in Brest and Havre. He is fifty years old and has a red nose and a wart on his chin. Is there anything else you would like to know?"
At daybreak, as the ship swept up the Gironde to Bordeaux, we had our first view of the enemy.
We had passed the vineyards and those chateaux the names of which every wine-card in every part of the world helps to keep famous and familiar, and had reached the outskirts of the city. Here the banks are close together, so close that one almost can hail those on shore; but there was a heavy rain and the mist played tricks.
When I saw a man in a black overcoat with the brass buttons wider apart across the chest than at the belt line, like those of our traffic police in summer-time, I thought it was a trick of the mist. Because the uniform that, by a nice adjustment of buttons, tries to broaden the shoulders and decrease the waist, is not being worn much in France. Not if a French sharpshooter sees it first.
But the man in the overcoat was not carrying a rifle on his shoulder. He was carrying a bag of cement, and from the hull of the barge others appeared, each with a bag upon his shoulder. There was no mistaking them. Nor their little round caps, high boots, and field uniforms of gray-green.
It was strange that the first persons we should see since we left the wharf at the foot of Fifteenth Street, North River, the first we should see in France, should not be French people, but German soldiers.
Bordeaux had the good taste to burn down when the architect who designed the Place de la Concorde, in Paris, and the buildings facing it was still alive; and after his designs, or those of his pupils, Bordeaux was rebuilt. So wherever you look you see the best in what is old and the smartest in what is modern.
Certainly when to that city President Poincare and his cabinet moved the government, they gave it a resting-place that was both dignified and charming. To walk the streets and wharfs is a continual delight. One is never bored. It is like reading a book in which there are no dull pages.
Everywhere are the splendid buildings of Louis XV, statues, parks, monuments, churches, great arches that once were the outer gates, and many miles of quays redolent, not of the sea, but of the wine to which the city gives her name.
But to-day to walk the streets of Bordeaux saddens as well as delights. There are so many wounded. There are so many women and children all in black. It is a relief when you learn that the wounded are from different parts of France, that they have been sent to Bordeaux to recuperate and are greatly in excess of the proportion of wounded you would find in other cities.
But the women and children in black are not convalescents. Their wounds heal slowly, or not at all.
At the wharfs a white ship with gigantic American flags painted on her sides and with an American flag at the stern was unloading horses. They were for the French artillery and cavalry, but they were so glad to be free of the ship that their future state did not distress them.
Instead, they kicked joyously, scattering the sentries, who were jet-black Turcos. As one of them would run from a plunging horse, the others laughed at him with that contagious laugh of the darky that is the same all the world over, whether he hails from Mobile or Tangiers, and he would return sheepishly, with eyes rolling, protesting the horse was a "boche."
Officers, who looked as though in times of peace they might be gentlemen jockeys, were receiving the remounts and identifying the brands on the hoof and shoulder that had been made by their agents in America.
If the veterinary passed the horse, he was again marked, this time with regimental numbers, on the hoof with a branding-iron, and on the flanks with white paint. In ten days he will be given a set of shoes, and in a month he will be under fire.
Colonel Count Rene de Montjou, who has been a year in America buying remounts, and who returned on the Chicago, discovered that one of the horses was a "substitut," and a very bad "substitut" he was. His teeth had been filed, but the French officers saw that he was all of eighteen years old.
The young American who, in the interests of the contractor, was checking off the horses, refused to be shocked. Out of the corner of his thin lips he whispered confidentially:
"Suppose he is a ringer," he protested; "suppose he is eighteen years old, what's the use of their making a holler? What's it matter how old he is, if all they're going to do with him is to get him shot?"
That night at the station, as we waited for the express to Paris, many recruits were starting for the front. There seemed to be thousands of them, all new; new sky-blue uniforms, new soup-tureen helmets, new shoes.
They were splendidly young and vigorous looking, and to the tale that France now is forced to call out only old men and boys they gave the lie. With many of them, to say farewell, came friends and family. There was one group that was all comedy, a handsome young man under thirty, his mother and a young girl who might have been his wife or sister.
They had brought him food for the journey; chocolate, a long loaf, tins of sardines, a bottle of wine; and the fun was in trying to find any pocket, bag, or haversack not already filled. They were all laughing, the little, fat mother rather mechanically, when the whistle blew.
It was one of those shrill, long-drawn whistles without which in Europe no train can start. It had a peevish, infantile sound, like the squeak of a nursery toy. But it was as ominous as though some one had fired a siege-gun.
The soldiers raced for the cars, and the one in front of me, suddenly grown grave, stooped and kissed the fat, little mother.
She was still laughing; but at his embrace and at the meaning of it, at the thought that the son, who to her was always a baby, might never again embrace her, she tore herself from him sobbing and fled—fled blindly as though to escape from her grief.
Other women, their eyes filled with sudden tears, made way, and with their fingers pressed to their lips turned to watch her.
The young soldier kissed the wife, or sister, or sweetheart, or whatever she was, sketchily on one ear and shoved her after the fleeing figure.
"Guardez mama!" he said.
It is the tragedy that will never grow less, and never grow old.
One who left Paris in October, 1914, and returned in October, 1915, finds her calm, confident; her social temperature only a little below normal.
A year ago the gray-green tidal wave of the German armies that threatened to engulf Paris had just been checked. With the thunder of their advance Paris was still shaken. The withdrawal of men to the front, and of women and children to Bordeaux and the coast, had left the city uninhabited. The streets were as deserted as the Atlantic City board walk in January. For miles one moved between closed shops. Along the Aisne the lines had not been dug in, and hourly from the front ambulances, carrying the wounded and French and British officers unwashed from the trenches, in mud-covered, bullet-scarred cars, raced down the echoing boulevards. In the few restaurants open, you met men who that morning had left the firing-line, and who after dejeuner, and the purchase of soap, cigarettes, and underclothes, by sunset would be back on the job. In those days Paris was inside the "fire-lines." War was in the air; you smelled it, saw it, heard it.
To-day a man from Mars visiting Paris might remain here a week, and not know that this country is waging the greatest war in history. When you walk the crowded streets it is impossible to believe that within forty miles of you millions of men are facing each other in a death grip. This is so, first, because a great wall of silence has been built between Paris and the front, and, second, because the spirit of France is too alive, too resilient, occupied with too many interests, to allow any one thing, even war, to obsess it. The people of France have accepted the war as they accept the rigors of winter. They may not like the sleet and snow of winter, but they are not going to let the winter beat them. In consequence, the shop windows are again dressed in their best, the kiosks announce comedies, revues, operas; in the gardens of the Luxembourg the beds are brilliant with autumn flowers, and the old gentlemen have resumed their games of croquet, the Champs-Elysees swarms with baby-carriages, and at the aperitif hour on the sidewalks there are no empty chairs. At many of the restaurants it is impossible to obtain a table.
It is not the Paris of the days before the war. It is not "gay Paris." But it is a Paris going about her "business as usual." This spirit of the people awakens only the most sincere admiration. It shows great calmness, great courage, and a confidence that, for the enemy of France, must be disquieting. Work for the wounded and for the families of those killed in action and who have been left without support continues. Only now, after a year of bitter experience, it is no longer hysterical. It has been systematized, made more efficient. It is no longer the work of amateurs, but of those who by daily practise have become experts.
In Paris the signs of war are not nearly as much in evidence as the activities of peace. There are many soldiers; but, in Paris, you always saw soldiers. The only difference is that now they wear bandages, or advance on crutches. And, as opposed to these evidences of the great conflict going on only forty miles distant, are the flower markets around the Madeleine, the crowds of women in front of the jewels, furs, and manteaux in the Rue de la Paix.
It is not that France is indifferent to the war. But that she has faith in her armies, in her generals. She can afford to wait. She drove the enemy from Paris; she is teaching French in Alsace; in time, when Joffre is ready, she will drive the enemy across her borders. In her faith in Joffre, she opens her shops, markets, schools, theatres. It is not callousness she shows, but that courage and confidence that are the forerunners of success.
But the year of war has brought certain changes. The search-lights have disappeared. It was found that to the enemy in the air they were less of a menace than a guide. So the great shafts of light that with majesty used to sweep the skies or cut a path into the clouds have disappeared. And nearly all other lights have disappeared. Those who drive motor-cars claim the pedestrians are careless; the pedestrians protest that the drivers of motor-cars are reckless. In any case, to cross a street at night is an adventure.
Something else that has disappeared is the British soldier. A year ago he swarmed, now he is almost entirely absent. Outside of the hospital corps, a British officer in Paris is an object of interest. In their place are many Belgians, almost too many Belgians. Their new khaki uniforms are unsoiled. Unlike the French soldiers you see, few are wounded. The answer probably is that as they cannot return to their own country, they must make their home in that of their ally. And the front they defend so valiantly is not so extended that there is room for all. Meanwhile, as they wait for their turn in the trenches, they fill the boulevards and cafes.
This is not true of the French officers. The few you see are convalescents, or on leave. It is not as it was last October, when Paris was part of the war zone. Up to a few days ago, until after seven in the evening, when the work of the day was supposed to be finished, an officer was not permitted to sit idle in a cafe. And now when you see one you may be sure he is recovering from a wound, or is on the General Staff, and for a few hours has been released from duty.
It is very different from a year ago when every officer was fresh from the trenches—and, fresh is not quite the word, either—and he would talk freely to an eager, sympathetic group of the battle of the night before. Now the wall of silence stretches around Paris. By posters it is even enforced upon you. Before the late minister of war gave up his portfolio, by placards he warned all when in public places to be careful of what they said. "Taisez-vous! Mefiez-vous. Les oreilles ennemies vous ecoutent." "Be silent. Be distrustful. The ears of the enemies are listening." This warning against spies was placed in tramways, railroad-trains, cafes. A cartoonist refused to take the good advice seriously. His picture shows one of the women conductors in a street-car asking a passenger where he is going. The passenger points to the warning. "Silence," he says, "some one may be listening."
There are other changes. A year ago gold was king. To imagine any time or place when it is not is difficult. But to-day an American twenty-dollar bill gives you a higher rate of exchange than an American gold double-eagle. A thousand dollars in bills in Paris is worth thirty dollars more to you than a thousand dollars in gold. And to carry it does not make you think you are concealing a forty-five Colt. The decrease in value is due to the fact that you cannot take gold out of the country. That is true of every country in Europe, and of any kind of gold. At the border it is taken from you and in exchange you must accept bills. So, any one in Paris, wishing to travel, had best turn over his gold to the Bank of France. He will receive not only a good rate of exchange but also an engraved certificate testifying that he has contributed to the national defense.
Another curious vagary of the war that obtains now is the sudden disappearance of the copper sou or what ranks with our penny. Why it is scarce no one seems to know. The generally accepted explanation is that the copper has flown to the trenches where millions of men are dealing in small sums. But whatever the reason, the fact remains. In the stores you receive change in postage-stamps, and, on the underground railroad, where the people have refused to accept stamps in lieu of coppers, there are incipient riots. One night at a restaurant I was given change in stamps and tried to get even with the house by unloading them as his tip on the waiter. He protested eloquently. "Letters I never write," he explained. "To write letters makes me ennui. And yet if I wrote for a hundred years I could not use all the stamps my patrons have forced upon me."
These differences the year has brought about are not lasting, and are unimportant. The change that is important, and which threatens to last a long time, is the difference in the sentiment of the French people toward Americans.
Before the war we were not unduly flattering ourselves if we said the attitude of the French toward the United States was friendly. There were reasons why they should regard us at least with tolerance. We were very good customers. From different parts of France we imported wines and silks. In Paris we spent, some of us spent, millions on jewels and clothes. In automobiles and on Cook's tours every summer Americans scattered money from Brittany to Marseilles. They were the natural prey of Parisian hotel-keepers, restaurants, milliners, and dressmakers. We were a sister republic, the two countries swapped statues of their great men—we had not forgotten Lafayette, France honored Paul Jones. A year ago, in the comic papers, between John Bull and Uncle Sam, it was not Uncle Sam who got the worst of it. Then the war came and with it, in the feeling toward ourselves, a complete change. A year ago we were almost one of the Allies, much more popular than Italians, more sympathetic than the English. To-day we are regarded, not with hostility, but with amazed contempt.
This most regrettable change was first brought about by President Wilson's letter calling upon Americans to be neutral. The French could not understand it. From their point of view it was an unnecessary affront. It was as unexpected as the cut direct from a friend; as unwarranted, as gratuitous, as a slap in the face. The millions that poured in from America for the Red Cross, the services of Americans in hospitals, were accepted as the offerings of individuals, not as representing the sentiment of the American people. That sentiment, the French still insist in believing, found expression in the letter that called upon all Americans to be neutral, something which to a Frenchman is neither fish, fowl, nor good red herring.
We lost caste in other ways. We supplied France with munitions, but, as a purchasing agent for the government put it to me, we are not losing much money by it, and, until the French Government protested, and the protest was printed all over the United States, some of our manufacturers supplied articles that were worthless. Doctor Charles W. Cowan, an American who in winter lives in Paris and Nice and spends his summers in America, showed me the half section of a shoe of which he said sixty thousand pairs had been ordered, until it was found that part of each shoe was made of brown paper. Certainly part of the shoe he showed me was made of brown paper.
When an entire people, men, women, and children, are fighting for their national existence, and their individual home and life, to have such evidences of Yankee smartness foisted upon them does not make for friendship. It inspired contempt. This unpleasant sentiment was strengthened by our failure to demand satisfaction for the lives lost on the Lusitania, while at the same time our losses in dollars seemed to distress us so deeply. But more harmful and more unfortunate than any other word or act was the statement of President Wilson that we might be "too proud to fight." This struck the French not only as proclaiming us a cowardly nation, but as assuming superiority over the man who not only would fight, but who was fighting. And as at that moment several million Frenchmen were fighting, it was natural that they should laugh. Every nation in Europe laughed. In an Italian cartoon Uncle Sam is shown, hat in hand, offering a "note" to the German Emperor and in another shooting Haitians.
The legend reads: "He is too proud to fight the Kaiser, but not too proud to kill niggers." In London, "Too Proud to Fight" is in the music-halls the line surest of raising a laugh, and the recruiting-stations show pictures of fat men, effeminates, degenerates, and cripples labelled: "These Are Too Proud to Fight! Are You?"
The change of sentiment toward us in France is shown in many ways. To retail them would not help matters. But as one hears of them from Americans who, since the war began, have been working in the hospitals, on distributing committees, in the banking-houses, and as diplomats and consuls, that our country is most unpopular is only too evident.
It is the greater pity because the real feeling of our people toward France in this war is one of enthusiastic admiration. Of all the Allies, Americans probably hold for the French the most hearty good-feeling, affection, and good-will. Through the government at Washington this feeling has been ill-expressed, if not entirely concealed. It is unfortunate. Mr. Kipling, whose manners are his own, has given as a toast: "Damn all neutrals." The French are more polite. But when this war is over we may find that in twelve months we have lost friends of many years. That over all the world we have lost them.
That does not mean that for the help Americans have given France and her Allies, the Allies are ungrateful. That the French certainly are not ungrateful I was given assurance by no less an authority than the President of the republic. His assurance was conveyed to the American people in a message of thanks. It is also a message of good-will.
It recognizes and appreciates the sympathy shown to France in her present fight for liberty and civilization by those Americans who remember that when we fought for our liberty France was not neutral, but sent us Lafayette and Rochambeau, ships and soldiers. It is a message of thanks from President Poincare to those Americans who found it less easy to be neutral than to be grateful.
It was my good fortune to be presented by Paul Benazet, a close personal friend of the President, and both an officer of the army and a deputy. As a deputy before the war he helped largely in passing the bills that called for three years of military service and for heavier artillery. As an officer he won the Legion of Honor and the Cross of War. Besides being a brilliant writer, M. Benazet is also an accomplished linguist, and as President Poincare does not express himself readily in English, and as my French is better suited to restaurants than palaces, he acted as our interpreter.
The arrival of important visitors, M. Cambon, the former ambassador to the United States, and the new prime minister, M. Briand, delayed our reception, and while we waited we were escorted through the official rooms of the Elysee. It was a half-hour of most fascinating interest, not only because the vast salons were filled with what, in art, is most beautiful, but because we were brought back to the ghosts of other days.
What we actually saw were the best of Gobelin tapestries, the best of Sevres china, the best of mural paintings. We walked on silken carpets, bearing the fleur-de-lis. We sat on sofas of embroidery as fine as an engraving and as rich in color as a painting by Morland. The bright autumn sunshine illuminated the ormulu brass of the First Empire, gilt eagles, crowns, cupids, and the only letter of the alphabet that always suggests one name.
Those which we brought back to the rooms in which once they lived, planned, and plotted were the ghosts of Mme. de Pompadour, Louis XVI, Murat, Napoleon I, and Napoleon III. We could imagine the first Emperor standing with his hands clasped behind him in front of the marble fireplace, his figure reflected in the full-length mirrors, his features in gold looking down at him from the walls and ceilings. We intruded even into the little room opening on the rose garden, where for hours he would pace the floor.
But, perhaps, what was of greatest interest was the remarkable adjustment of these surroundings, royal and imperial, to the simple and dignified needs of a republic.
France is a military nation and at war, but the evidences of militarism were entirely absent. Our own White House is not more empty of uniforms. One got the impression that he was entering the house of a private gentleman—a gentleman of great wealth and taste.
We passed at last through four rooms, in which were the secretaries of the President, and as we passed, the majordomo spoke our names, and the different gentlemen half rose and bowed. It was all so quiet, so calm, so free from telephones and typewriters, that you felt that, by mistake, you had been ushered into the library of a student or a Cabinet minister.
Then in the fourth room was the President. Outside this room we were presented to M. Sainsere, the personal secretary of the President, and without further ceremony M. Benazet opened the door, and in the smallest room of all, introduced me to M. Poincare. His portraits have rendered his features familiar, but they do not give sufficiently the impression I received of kindness, firmness, and dignity.
He returned to his desk and spoke in a low voice of peculiar charm. As though the better to have the stranger understand, he spoke slowly, selecting his words.
"I have a great admiration," he said, "for the effectiveness with which Americans have shown their sympathy with France. They have sent doctors, nurses, and volunteers to drive the ambulances to carry the wounded. I have visited the hospitals at Neuilly and other places; they are admirable.
"The one at Juilly was formerly a college, but with ingenuity they have converted it into a hospital, most complete and most valuable. The American colony in Paris has shown a friendship we greatly appreciate. Your ambassador I have met several times. Our relations are most pleasant, most sympathetic."
I asked if I might repeat what he had said. The President gave his assent, and, after a pause, as though, now that he knew he would be quoted, he wished to emphasize what he had said, continued:
"My wife, who distributes articles of comfort, sent to the wounded and to families in need, tells me that Americans are among the most generous contributors. Many articles come anonymously—money, clothing, and comforts for the soldiers, and layettes for their babies. We recognize and appreciate the manner in which, while preserving a strict neutrality, your country men and women have shown their sympathy."
The President rose and on leaving I presented a letter from ex-President Roosevelt. It was explained that this was the second letter for him I had had from Colonel Roosevelt, but that when I was a prisoner with the Germans, I had judged it wise to swallow the first one, and that I had requested Colonel Roosevelt to write the second one on thin paper. The President smiled and passed the letter critically between his thumb and forefinger.
"This one," he said, "is quite digestible."
I carried away the impression of a kind and distinguished gentleman, who, in the midst of the greatest crisis in history, could find time to dictate a message of thanks to those he knew were neutrals only in name.
THE MUD TRENCHES OF ARTOIS
AMIENS, October, 1915.
In England it is "business as usual"; in France it is "war as usual." The English tradesman can assure his customers that with such an "old-established" firm as his not even war can interfere; but France, with war actually on her soil, has gone further and has accepted war as part of her daily life. She has not merely swallowed, but digested it. It is like the line in Pinero's play, where one woman says she cannot go to the opera because of her neuralgia. Her friend replies: "You can have neuralgia in my box as well as anywhere else." In that spirit France has accepted the war. The neuralgia may hurt, but she does not take to her bed and groan. Instead, she smiles cheerfully and goes about her duties—even sits in her box at the opera.
As we approached the front this was even more evident than in Paris, where signs of war are all but invisible. Outside of Amiens we met a regiment of Scots with the pipes playing and the cold rain splashing their bare legs. To watch them we leaned from the car window. That we should be interested seemed to surprise them; no one else was interested. A year ago when they passed it was "Roses, roses, all the way"—or at least cigarettes, chocolate, and red wine. Now, in spite of the skirling bagpipes, no one turned his head; to the French they had become a part of the landscape.
A year ago the roads at every two hundred yards were barricaded. It was a continual hurdle-race. Now, except at distances of four or five miles, the barricades have disappeared. One side of the road is reserved for troops, the other for vehicles. The vehicles we met—for the most part two-wheeled hooded carts—no longer contained peasants flying from dismantled villages. Instead, they were on the way to market with garden-truck, pigs, and calves. On the drivers' seat the peasant whistled cheerily and cracked his whip. The long lines of London buses, that last year advertised soap, mustard, milk, and music-halls, and which now are a decorous gray; the ambulances; the great guns drawn by motor-trucks with caterpillar wheels, no longer surprise him.
The English ally has ceased to be a stranger, and in the towns and villages of Artois is a "paying guest." It is for him the shop-windows are dressed. The names of the towns are Flemish; the names of the streets are Flemish; the names over the shops are Flemish; but the goods for sale are marmalade, tinned kippers, The Daily Mail, and the Pink 'Un.
"Is it your people who are selling these things?" I asked an English officer.
The question amused him.
"Our people won't think of it until the war is over," he said, "but the French are different.
"They are capable, adaptable, and obliging. If one of our men asks these shopkeepers for anything they haven't got they don't say, 'We don't keep it'; they get him to write down what it is he wants, and send for it."
It is the better way. The Frenchman does not say, "War is ruining me"; he makes the war help to support him, and at the same time gives comfort to his ally.
A year ago in the villages the old men stood in disconsolate groups with their hands in their pockets. Now they are briskly at work. They are working in the fields, in the vegetable-gardens, helping the Territorials mend the roads. On every side of them were the evidences of war—in the fields abandoned trenches, barbed-wire entanglements, shelters for fodder and ammunition, hangars for repairing aeroplanes, vast slaughter-houses, parks of artillery; and on the roads endless lines of lorries, hooded ambulances, marching soldiers.
To us those were of vivid interest, but to the French peasant they are in the routine of his existence. After a year of it war neither greatly distresses nor greatly interests him. With one hand he fights; with the other he ploughs.
We had made a bet as to which would see the first sign of real war, and the sign of it that won and that gave general satisfaction, even to the man who lost, was a group of German soldiers sweeping the streets of St. Pol. They were guarded only by one of their own number, and they looked fat, sleek, and contented. When, on our return from the trenches, we saw them again, we knew they were to be greatly envied. Between standing waist-high in mud in a trench and being drowned in it, buried in it, blown up or asphyxiated, the post of crossing-sweeper becomes a sinecure.
The next sign of war was more thrilling. It was a race between a French aeroplane and German shrapnel. To us the bursting shells looked like five little cotton balls. Since this war began shrapnel, when it bursts, has invariably been compared to balls of cotton, and as that is exactly what it looks like, it is again so described. The balls of cotton did not seem to rise from the earth, but to pop suddenly out of the sky.
A moment later five more cotton balls popped out of the sky. They were much nearer the aeroplane. Others followed, leaping after it like the spray of succeeding waves. But the aeroplane steadily and swiftly conveyed itself out of range and out of sight.
To say where the trenches began and where they ended is difficult. We were passing through land that had been retrieved from the enemy. It has been fought for inch by inch, foot by foot. To win it back thousands of lives had been thrown like dice upon a table. There were vast stretches of mud, of fields once cultivated, but now scarred with pits, trenches, rusty barbed-wires. The roads were rivers of clay. They were lined with dugouts, cellars, and caves. These burrows in the earth were supported by beams, and suggested a shaft in a disused mine. They looked like the tunnels to coal-pits. They were inhabited by a race of French unknown to the boulevards—men, bearded, deeply tanned, and caked with clay. Their uniforms were like those of football players on a rainy day at the end of the first half. We were entering what had been the village of Ablain, and before us rose the famous heights of Mont de Lorette. To scale these heights seemed a feat as incredible as scaling our Palisades or the sheer cliff of Gibraltar. But they had been scaled, and the side toward us was crawling with French soldiers, climbing to the trenches, descending from the trenches, carrying to the trenches food, ammunition, and fuel for the fires.
A cold rain was falling and had turned the streets of Ablain and all the roads to it into swamps. In these were islands of bricks and lakes of water of the solidity and color of melted chocolate. Whatever you touched clung to you. It was a land of mud, clay, liquid earth. A cold wind whipped the rain against your face and chilled you to the bone. All you saw depressed and chilled your spirit.
To the "poilus," who, in the face of such desolation, joked and laughed with the civilians, you felt you owed an apology, for your automobile was waiting to whisk you back to a warm dinner, electric lights, red wine, and a dry bed. The men we met were cavemen. When night came they would sleep in a hole in the hill fit for a mud-turtle or a muskrat.
They moved in streets of clay two feet across. They were as far removed from civilization, as in the past they have known it, as though they had been cast adrift upon an island of liquid mud. Wherever they looked was desolation, ruins, and broken walls, jumbles of bricks, tunnels in mud, caves in mud, graves in mud.
In other wars the "front" was something almost human. It advanced, wavered, and withdrew. At a single bugle-call it was electrified. It remained in no fixed place, but, like a wave, enveloped a hill, or with galloping horses and cheering men overwhelmed a valley. In comparison, this trench work did not suggest war. Rather it reminded you of a mining-camp during the spring freshet, and for all the attention the cavemen paid to them, the reports of their "seventy-fives" and the "Jack Johnsons" of the enemy bursting on Mont de Lorette might have come from miners blasting rock.
What we saw of these cave-dwellers was only a few feet of a moat that for three hundred miles like a miniature canal is cut across France. Where we stood we could see of the three hundred miles only mud walls, so close that we brushed one with each elbow. By looking up we could see the black, leaden sky. Ahead of us the trench twisted, and an arrow pointed to a first-aid dressing-station. Behind us was the winding entrance to a shelter deep in the earth, reinforced by cement and corrugated iron, and lit by a candle.
From a trench that was all we could see of the war, and that is all millions of fighting men see of it—wet walls of clay as narrow as a grave, an arrow pointing to a hospital, earthen steps leading to a shelter from sudden death, and overhead the rain-soaked sky and perhaps a great bird at which the enemy is shooting snowballs.
In northern France there are many buried towns and villages. They are buried in their own cellars. Arras is still uninterred. She is the corpse of a city that waits for burial, and day by day the German shells are trying to dig her grave. They were at it yesterday when we visited Arras, and this morning they will be hammering her again.
Seven centuries before this war Arras was famous for her tapestries, so famous that in England a piece of tapestry was called an arras. Now she has given her name to a battle—to different battles—that began with the great bombardment of October a year ago, and each day since then have continued. On one single day, June 26, the Germans threw into the city shells in all sizes, from three to sixteen inches, and to the number of ten thousand. That was about one for each house.
This bombardment drove 2,700 inhabitants into exile, of whom 1,200 have now returned. The army feeds them, and in response they have opened shops that the shells have not already opened, and supply the soldiers with tobacco, post-cards, and from those gardens not hidden under bricks and cement, fruit and vegetables. In the deserted city these civilians form an inconspicuous element. You can walk for great distances and see none of them. When they do appear in the empty streets they are like ghosts. Every day the shells change one or two of them into real ghosts. But the others still stay on. With the dogs nosing among the fallen bricks, and the pigeons on the ruins of the cathedral, they know no other home.
As we entered Arras the silence fell like a sudden change of temperature. It was actual and menacing. Every corner seemed to threaten an ambush. Our voices echoed so loudly that unconsciously we spoke in lower tones. The tap of the captain's walking-stick resounded like the blow of a hammer. The emptiness and stillness was like that of a vast cemetery, and the grass that had grown through the paving-stones deadened the sound of our steps. This silence was broken only by the barking of the French seventy-fives, in parts of the city hidden to us, the boom of the German guns in answer, and from overhead by the aeroplanes. In the absolute stillness the whirl of their engines came to us with the steady vibrations of a loom.
In the streets were shell holes that had been recently filled and covered over with bricks and fresh earth. It was like walking upon newly made graves. On either side of us were gaping cellars into which the houses had dumped themselves or, still balancing above them, were walls prettily papered, hung with engravings, paintings, mirrors, quite intact. These walls were roofless and defenseless against the rain and snow. Other houses were like those toy ones built for children, with the front open. They showed a bed with pillows, shelves supporting candles, books, a washstand with basin and pitcher, a piano, and a reading-lamp.
In one house four stories had been torn away, leaving only the attic sheltered by the peaked roof. To that height no one could climb, and exposed to view were the collection of trunks and boxes familiar to all attics. As a warning against rough handling, one of these, a woman's hat-box, had been marked "Fragile." Secure and serene, it smiled down sixty feet upon the mass of iron and bricks it had survived.
Of another house the roof only remained; from under it the rest of the building had been shot away. It was as though after a soldier had been blown to pieces, his helmet still hung suspended in mid-air.
In other streets it was the front that was intact, but when our captain opened the street door we faced a cellar. Nothing beside remained. Or else we stepped upon creaky floors that sagged, through rooms swept by the iron brooms into vast dust heaps. From these protruded wounded furniture—the leg of a table, the broken arm of a chair, a headless statue.
From the debris we picked the many little heirlooms, souvenirs, possessions that make a home. Photographs with written inscriptions, post-cards bearing good wishes, ornaments for the centre-table, ornaments for the person, images of the church, all crushed, broken, and stained. Many shop-windows were still dressed invitingly as they were when the shell burst, but beyond the goods exposed for sale was only a deep hole.
The pure deviltry of a shell no one can explain. Nor why it spares a looking-glass and wrecks a wall that has been standing since the twelfth century.
In the cathedral the stone roof weighing hundreds of tons had fallen, and directly beneath where it had been hung an enormous glass chandelier untouched. A shell loves a shining mark. To what is most beautiful it is most cruel. The Hotel de Ville, which was counted among the most presentable in the north of France, that once rose in seven arches in the style of the Renaissance, the shells marked for their own.
And all the houses approaching it from the German side they destroyed. Not even those who once lived in them could say where they stood. There is left only a mess of bricks, tiles, and plaster. They suggest the homes of human beings as little as does a brickyard.
We visited what had been the headquarters of General de Wignacourt. They were in the garden of a house that opened upon one of the principal thoroughfares, and the floor level was twelve feet under the level of the flower-beds. To this subterranean office there are two entrances, one through the cellar of the house, the other down steps from the garden. The steps were beams the size of a railroad-tie. Had they not been whitewashed they would look like the shaft leading to a coal-pit.
A soldier who was an artist in plaster had decorated the entrance to the shaft with an ornamental facade worthy of any public building. Here, secure from the falling walls and explosive shells, the general by telephone directed his attack. The place was as dry, as clean, and as compact as the admiral's quarters on a ship of war. The switchboard connected with batteries buried from sight in every part of the unburied city, and in an adjoining room a soldier cook was preparing a most appetizing luncheon.
Above us was three yards of cement, rafters, and earth, and crowning them grass and flowers. When the owner of the house returns he will find this addition to his residence an excellent refuge from burglars or creditors.
Personally we were glad to escape into the open street. Between being hit by a shell and buried under twelve feet of cement the choice was difficult.
We lunched in a charming house, where the table was spread in the front hall. The bed of the officer temporarily occupying the house also was spread in the hall, and we were curious to know, but too proud to ask, why he limited himself to such narrow quarters. Our captain rewarded our reticence. He threw back the heavy curtain that concealed the rest of the house, and showed us that there was no house. It had been deftly removed by a shell.
The owner of the house had run away, but before he fled, fearing the Germans might enter Arras and take his money, he had withdrawn it and hidden it in his garden. The money amounted to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. He placed it in a lead box, soldered up the opening, and buried the box under a tree. Then he went away and carelessly forgot which tree.
During a lull in the bombardment, he returned, and until two o'clock in the morning dug frantically for his buried treasure. The soldier who guarded the house told me the difference in the way the soldiers dig a trench and the way our absent host dug for his lost money was greatly marked. I found the leaden box cast aside in the dog-kennel. It was the exact size of a suitcase. As none of us knows when he may not have to bury a quarter of a million dollars hurriedly, it is a fact worth remembering. Any ordinary suitcase will do. The soldier and I examined the leaden box carefully. But the owner had not overlooked anything.
When we reached the ruins of the cathedral, we did not need darkness and falling rain to depress us further, or to make the scene more desolate. One lacking in all reverence would have been shocked. The wanton waste, the senseless brutality in such destruction would have moved a statue. Walls as thick as the ramparts of a fort had been blown into powdered chalk. There were great breaches in them through which you could drive an omnibus. In one place the stone roof and supporting arches had fallen, and upon the floor, where for two hundred years the people of Arras had knelt in prayer, was a mighty barricade of stone blocks, twisted candelabra, broken praying-chairs, torn vestments, shattered glass. Exposed to the elements, the chapels were open to the sky. The rain fell on sacred emblems of the Holy Family, the saints, and apostles. Upon the altars the dust of the crushed walls lay inches deep.
The destruction is too great for present repair. They can fill the excavations in the streets and board up the shattered show-windows, but the cathedral is too vast, the destruction of it too nearly complete. The sacrilege must stand. Until the war is over, until Arras is free from shells, the ruins must remain uncared for and uncovered. And the cathedral, by those who once came to it for help and guidance, will be deserted.
But not entirely deserted. The pigeons that built their nests under the eaves have descended to the empty chapels, and in swift, graceful circles sweep under the ruined arches. Above the dripping of the rain, and the surly booming of the cannon, their contented cooing was the only sound of comfort. It seemed to hold out a promise for the better days of peace.
THE ZIGZAG FRONT OF CHAMPAGNE
PARIS, October, 1915.
In Artois we were "personally conducted." In a way, we were the guests of the war department; in any case, we tried to behave as such. It was no more proper for us to see what we were not invited to see than to bring our own wine to another man's dinner.
In Champagne it was entirely different. I was alone with a car and a chauffeur and a blue slip of paper. It permitted me to remain in a "certain place" inside the war zone for ten days. I did not believe it was true. I recalled other trips over the same roads a year before which finally led to the Cherche-Midi prison, and each time I showed the blue slip to the gendarmes I shivered. But the gendarmes seemed satisfied, and as they permitted us to pass farther and farther into the forbidden land, the chauffeur began to treat me almost as an equal. And so, with as little incident as one taxis from Madison Square to Central Park, we motored from Paris into the sound of the guns.
At the "certain place" the general was absent in the trenches, but the chief of staff asked what I most wanted to see. It was as though the fairy godmother had given you one wish. I chose Rheims, and to spend the night there. The chief of staff waved a wand in the shape of a second piece of paper, and we were in Rheims. To a colonel we presented the two slips of paper, and, in turn, he asked what was wanted. A year before I had seen the cathedral when it was being bombarded, when it still was burning. I asked if I might revisit it.
"And after that?" said the colonel.
It was much too good to be real.
I would wake and find myself again in Cherche-Midi prison.
Outside, the sounds of the guns were now very close. They seemed to be just around the corner, on the roof of the next house.
"Of course, what I really want is to visit the first trench."
It was like asking a Mason to reveal the mysteries of his order, a priest to tell the secrets of the confessional. The colonel commanded the presence of Lieutenant Blank. With alarm I awaited his coming. Did a military prison yawn, and was he to act as my escort? I had been too bold. I should have asked to see only the third trench.
At the order the colonel gave, Lieutenant Blank expressed surprise But his colonel, with a shrug, as though ridding himself of all responsibility, showed the blue slip. It was a pantomime, with which by repetition, we became familiar. In turn each officer would express surprise; the other officer would shrug, point to the blue slip, and we would pass forward.
The cathedral did not long detain us. Outside, for protection, it was boarded up, packed tightly in sand-bags; inside, it had been swept of broken glass, and the paintings, tapestries, and the carved images on the altars had been removed. A professional sacristan spoke a set speech, telling me of things I had seen with my own eyes—of burning rafters that spared the Gobelin tapestries, of the priceless glass trampled underfoot, of the dead and wounded Germans lying in the straw that had given the floor the look of a barn. Now it is as empty of decoration as the Pennsylvania railroad-station in New York. It is a beautiful shell waiting for the day to come when the candles will be relit, when the incense will toss before the altar, and the gray walls glow again with the colors of tapestries and paintings. The windows only will not bloom as before. The glass destroyed by the Emperor's shells, all the king's horses and all the king's men cannot restore.
The professional guide, who is already so professional that he is exchanging German cartridges for tips, supplied a morbid detail of impossible bad taste. Among the German wounded there was a major (I remember describing him a year ago as looking like a college professor) who, when the fire came, was one of these the priests could not save, and who was burned alive. Marks on the gray surface of a pillar against which he reclined and grease spots on the stones of the floor are supposed to be evidences of his end, a torture brought upon him by the shells of his own people. Mr. Kipling has written that there are many who "hope and pray these signs will be respected by our children's children." Mr. Kipling's hope shows an imperfect conception of the purposes of a cathedral. It is a house dedicated to God, and on earth to peace and good-will among men. It is not erected to teach generations of little children to gloat over the fact that an enemy, even a German officer, was by accident burned alive.
Personally, I feel the sooner those who introduced "frightfulness" to France, Belgium, and the coasts of England are hunted down and destroyed the better. But the stone-mason should get to work, and remove those stains from the Rheims cathedral. Instead, for our children's children, would not a tablet to Edith Cavell be better, or one to the French priest, Abbe Thinot, who carried the wounded Germans from the burning cathedral, and who later, while carrying French wounded from the field of battle, was himself hit three times, and of his wounds died?
I hinted to the lieutenant that the cathedral would remain for some time, but that the trenches would soon be ploughed into turnip-beds.
So, we moved toward the trenches. The officer commanding them lived in what he described as the deck of a battleship sunk underground. It was a happy simile. He had his conning-tower, in which, with a telescope through a slit in a steel plate, he could sweep the countryside. He had a fire-control station, executive offices, wardroom, cook's galley, his own cabin, equipped with telephones, electric lights, and running water. There was a carpet on the floor, a gay coverlet on the four-poster bed, photographs on his dressing-table, and flowers. All of these were buried deep underground. A puzzling detail was a perfectly good brass lock and key on his door. I asked if it were to keep out shells or burglars. And he explained that the door with the lock in tact had been blown off its hinges in a house of which no part was now standing. He had borrowed it, as he had borrowed everything else in the subterranean war-ship, from the near-by ruins.
He was an extremely light-hearted and courteous host, but he frowned suspiciously when he asked if I knew a correspondent named Senator Albert Beveridge. I hastily repudiated Beveridge. I knew him not, I said, as a correspondent, but as a politician who possibly had high hopes of the German vote. "He dined with us," said the colonel, "and then wrote against France." I suggested it was at their own risk if they welcomed those who already had been with the Germans, and who had been received by the German Emperor. This is no war for neutrals.
Then began a walk of over a mile through an open drain. The walls were of chalk as hard as flint. Unlike the mud trenches in Artois, there were no slides to block the miniature canal. It was as firm and compact as a whitewashed stone cell. From the main drain on either side ran other drains, cul-de-sacs, cellars, trap-doors, and ambushes. Overhead hung balls of barbed-wire that, should the French troops withdraw, could be dropped and so block the trench behind them. If you raised your head they playfully snatched off your cap. It was like ducking under innumerable bridges of live wires.
The drain opened at last into a wrecked town. Its ruins were complete. It made Pompeii look like a furnished flat. The officer of the day joined us here, and to him the lieutenant resigned the post of guide. My new host wore a steel helmet, and at his belt dangled a mask against gas. He led us to the end of what had been a street, and which was now barricaded with huge timbers, steel doors, like those to a gambling house, intricate cat's cradles of wire, and solid steel plates.
To go back seemed the only way open. But the officer in the steel cap dived through a slit in the iron girders, and as he disappeared, beckoned. I followed down a well that dropped straight into the very bowels of the earth. It was very dark, and only crosspieces of wood offered a slippery footing. Into the darkness, with hands pressed against the well, and with feet groping for the log steps, we tobogganed down, down, down. We turned into a tunnel, and, by the slant of the ground, knew we were now mounting. There was a square of sunshine, and we walked out, and into a graveyard. It was like a dark change in a theatre. The last scene had been the ruins of a town, a gate like those of the Middle Ages, studded with bolts, reinforced with steel plates, guarded by men-at-arms in steel casques, and then the dark change into a graveyard, with grass and growing flowers, gravel walks, and hedges.
The graves were old, the monuments and urns above them moss-covered, but one was quite new, and the cross above it said that it was the grave of a German aviator. As they passed it the French officers saluted. We entered a trench as straight as the letter Z. And at each twist and turn we were covered by an eye in a steel door. An attacking party advancing would have had as much room in which to dodge that eye as in a bath-tub. One man with his magazine rifle could have halted a dozen. And when in the newspapers you read that one man has captured twenty prisoners, he probably was looking at them through the peep-hole in one of those steel doors.
We zigzagged into a cellar, and below the threshold of some one's front door. The trench led directly under it. The house into which the door had opened was destroyed; possibly those who once had entered by it also were destroyed, and it now swung in air with men crawling like rats below it, its half-doors banging and groaning; the wind, with ghostly fingers, opening them to no one, closing them on nothing. The trench wriggled through a garden, and we could see flung across the narrow strip of sky above us, the branch of an apple-tree, and with one shoulder brushed the severed roots of the same tree. Then the trench led outward, and we passed beneath railroad tracks, the ties reposing on air, and supported by, instead of supporting, the iron rails.
We had been moving between garden walls, cellar walls; sometimes hidden by ruins, sometimes diving like moles into tunnels. We remained on no one level, or for any time continued in any one direction. It was entirely fantastic, entirely unreal. It was like visiting a new race of beings, who turn day into night; who, like bats, molochs, and wolves, hide in caves and shun the sunlight.
By the ray of an electric torch we saw where these underground people store their food. Where, against siege, are great casks of water, dungeons packed with ammunition, more dungeons, more ammunition. We saw, always by the shifting, pointing finger of the electric torch, sleeping quarters underground, dressing stations for the wounded underground. In niches at every turn were gas-extinguishers. They were as many, as much as a matter of course, as fire-extinguishers in a modern hotel. They were exactly like those machines advertised in seed catalogues for spraying fruit-trees. They are worn on the back like a knapsack. Through a short rubber hose a fluid attacks and dissipates the poison gases.
The sun set, and we proceeded in the light of a full moon. It needed only this to give to our journey the unreality of a nightmare. Long since I had lost all sense of direction. It was not only a maze and labyrinth, but it held to no level. At times, concealed by walls of chalk, we walked erect, and then, like woodchucks, dived into earthen burrows. For a long distance we crawled, bending double through a tunnel. At intervals lamps, as yet unlit, protruded from either side, and to warn us of these from the darkness a voice would call, "attention a gauche," "attention a droite." The air grew foul and the pressure on the ear-drums like that of the subway under the North River. We came out and drew deep breaths as though we had been long under water.
We were in the first trench. It was, at places, from three hundred to forty yards distant from the Germans. No one spoke, or only in whispers. The moonlight turned the men at arms into ghosts. Their silence added to their unreality. I felt like Rip Van Winkle hemmed in by the goblin crew of Hendrik Hudson. From somewhere near us, above or below, to the right or left the "seventy-fives," as though aroused by the moon, began like terriers to bark viciously. The officer in the steel casque paused to listen, fixed their position, and named them. How he knew where they were, how he knew where he was himself, was all part of the mystery. Rats, jet black in the moonlight, scurried across the open places, scrambled over our feet, ran boldly between them. We had scared them, perhaps, but not half so badly as they scared me.
We pushed on past sentinels, motionless, silent, fatefully awake. The moonlight had turned their blue uniforms white and flashed on their steel helmets. They were like men in armor, and so still that only when you brushed against them, cautiously as men change places in a canoe, did you feel they were alive. At times, one of them thinking something in the gardens of barb-wire had moved, would loosen his rifle, and there would be a flame and flare of red, and then again silence, the silence of the hunter stalking a wild beast, of the officer of the law, gun in hand, waiting for the breathing of the burglar to betray his presence.
The next morning I called to make my compliments to General Franchet d'Esperay. He was a splendid person—as alert as a steel lance. He demanded what I had seen.
"Nothing!" he protested. "You have seen nothing. When you return from Serbia, come to Champagne again and I myself will show you something of interest."
I am curious to see what he calls "something of interest."
"I wonder what's happening in Buffalo?"
There promised to be a story for some one to write a year after the war. It would tell how quickly Champagne recovered from the invasion of the Germans. But one need not wait until after the war. The story can be written now.
We know that the enemy was thrown back across the Aisne.
We know that the enemy drove the French and English before him until at the Forest of Montmorency, the Hun was within ten and at Claye within fifteen miles of Paris.
But to-day, by any outward evidence, he would have a hard time to prove it. And that is not because when he advanced he was careful not to tramp on the grass or to pick the flowers. He did not obey even the warnings to automobilists: "Attention les enfants!"
On the contrary, as he came, he threw before him thousands of tons of steel and iron. Like a cyclone he uprooted trees, unroofed houses; like a tidal wave he excavated roads that had been built by the Romans, swept away walls, and broke the backs of stone bridges that for hundreds of years had held their own against swollen rivers.
A year ago I followed the German in his retreat from Claye through Meaux, Chateau Thierry to Soissons, where, on the east bank of the Aisne, I watched the French artillery shell his guns on the hills opposite. The French then were hot upon his heels. In one place they had not had time to remove even their own dead, and to avoid the bodies in the open road the car had to twist and turn.
Yesterday, coming back to Paris from the trenches that guard Rheims, I covered the same road. But it was not the same. It seemed that I must surely have lost the way. Only the iron signs at the crossroads, and the map used the year before and scarred with my own pencil marks, were evidences that again I was following mile by mile and foot by foot the route of that swift advance and riotous retreat.
A year before the signs of the retreat were the road itself, the houses facing it, and a devastated countryside. You knew then, that, of these signs, some would at once be effaced. They had to be effaced, for they were polluting the air. But until the villagers returned to their homes, or to what remained of their homes, the bloated carcasses of horses blocked the road, the bodies of German soldiers, in death mercifully unlike anything human and as unreal as fallen scarecrows, sprawled in the fields.
But while you knew these signs of the German raid would be removed, other signs were scars that you thought would be long in healing. These were the stone arches and buttresses of the bridges, dynamited and dumped into the mud of the Marne and Ourcq, chateaux and villas with the roof torn away as deftly as with one hand you could rip off the lid of a cigar-box, or with a wall blown in, or out, in either case exposing indecently the owner's bedroom, his wife's boudoir, the children's nursery.
Other signs of the German were villages with houses wrecked, the humble shops sacked, garden walls levelled, fields of beets and turnips uprooted by his shells, or where he had snatched sleep in the trampled mud, strewn with demolished haystacks, vast trees split clean in half as though by lightning, or with nothing remaining but the splintered stump. That was the picture of the roads and countryside in the triangle of Soissons, Rheims, and Meaux, as it was a year ago.
And I expected to see the wake of that great retreat still marked by ruins and devastation.
But I had not sufficiently trusted to the indomitable spirit of the French, in their intolerance of waste, their fierce, yet ordered energy.
To-day the fields are cultivated up to the very butts of the French batteries. They are being put to bed, and tucked in for the long winter sleep. For miles the furrows stretch over the fields in unbroken lines. Ploughs, not shells, have drawn them.
They are gray with fertilizers, strewn with manure; the swiftly dug trenches of a year ago have given way to the peaked mounds in which turnips wait transplanting. Where there were vast stretches of mud, scarred with intrenchments, with the wheel tracks of guns and ammunition carts, with stale, ill-smelling straw, the carcasses of oxen and horses, and the bodies of men, is now a smiling landscape, with miles of growing grain, green vegetables, green turf.
In Champagne the French spirit and nature, working together, have wiped out the signs of the German raid. It is as though it had never been. You begin to believe it was only a bad dream, an old wife's tale to frighten children.
The car moved slowly, but, look no matter how carefully, it was most difficult to find the landfalls I remembered.
Near Feret Milton there was a chateau with a lawn that ran to meet the Paris road. It had been used as a German emergency hospital, and previously by them as an outpost. The long windows to the terrace had been wrecked, the terrace was piled high with blood-stained uniforms, hundreds of boots had been tossed from an upper story that had been used as an operating-room, and mixed with these evidences of disaster were monuments of empty champagne-bottles.
That was the picture I remembered. Yesterday, like a mantle of moss, the lawn swept to the road, the long windows had been replaced and hung with yellow silk, and, on the terrace, where I had seen the blood-stained uniforms, a small boy, maybe the son and heir of the chateau, with hair flying and bare legs showing, was joyfully riding a tricycle.
Neufchelles I remembered as a village completely wrecked and inhabited only by a very old man, and a cat, that, as though for company, stalked behind him.
But to-day Neufchelles is a thriving, contented, commonplace town. Splashes of plaster, less weather-stained than the plaster surrounding them, are the only signs remaining of the explosive shells. The stone-mason and the plasterer have obliterated the work of the guns, the tiny shops have been refilled, the tide of life has flowed back, and in the streets the bareheaded women, their shoulders wrapped in black woollen shawls, gather to gossip, or, with knitting in hand, call to each other from the doorways.
There was the stable of a large villa in which I had seen five fine riding-horses lying on the stones, each with a bullet-hole over his temple. In the retreat they had been destroyed to prevent the French using them as remounts.
This time, as we passed the same stable-yard, fresh horses looked over the half-doors, the lofts were stuffed with hay; in the corner, against the coming of winter, were piled many cords of wood, and rival chanticleers, with their harems, were stalking proudly around the stable-yard, pecking at the scattered grain. It was a picture of comfort and content. It continued like that all the way.
Even the giant poplars that line the road for four miles out of Meaux to the west, and that had been split and shattered, are now covered with autumn foliage, the scars are overgrown and by doctor nature the raw spots have been cauterized and have healed.
The stone bridges, that at Meaux and beyond the Chateau Thierry sprawled in the river, again have been reared in air. People have already forgotten that a year ago to reach Soissons from Meaux the broken bridges forced them to make a detour of fifty miles.
The lesson of it is that the French people have no time to waste upon post mortems. With us, fifty years after the event, there are those who still talk of Sherman's raid through Columbia, who are so old that they hum hymns of hate about it. How much wiser, how much more proud, is the village of Neufchelles!
Not fifty, but only one year has passed since the Germans wrecked Neufchelles, and already it has been rebuilt and repopulated—not after the war has for half a century been at an end, but while war still endures, while it is but twenty miles distant! What better could illustrate the spirit of France or better foretell her final victory?
FROM PARIS TO THE PIRAEUS
ATHENS, November, 1915.
At home we talk glibly of a world war. But beyond speculating in munitions and as to how many Americans will be killed by the next submarine, and how many notes the President will write about it, we hardly appreciate that this actually is a war of the world, that all over the globe, every ship of state, even though it may be trying to steer a straight course, is being violently rocked by it. Even the individual, as he moves from country to country, is rocked by it, not violently, but continuously. It is in loss of time and money he feels it most. And as he travels, he learns, as he cannot learn from a map, how far-reaching are the ramifications of this war, in how many different ways it affects every one. He soon comes to accept whatever happens as directly due to the war—even when the deck steward tells him he cannot play shuffle-board because, owing to the war, there is no chalk.
In times of peace to get to this city from Paris did not require more than six days, but now, owing to the war, in making the distance we wasted fifteen. That is not counting the time in Paris required by the police to issue the passport, without which no one can leave France. At the prefecture of police I found a line of people—French, Italians, Americans, English—in columns of four and winding through gloomy halls, down dark stairways, and out into the street. I took one look at the line and fled to Mr. Thackara, our consul-general, and, thanks to him, was not more than an hour in obtaining my laisser-passer. The police assured me I might consider myself fortunate, as the time they usually spent in preparing a passport was two days. It was still necessary to obtain a vise from the Italian consulate permitting me to enter Italy, from the Greek consulate to enter Greece, and, as my American passport said nothing of Serbia, from Mr. Thackara two more vises, one to get out of France, and another to invade Serbia. Thanks to the war, in obtaining all these autographs two more days were wasted. In peace times one had only to go to Cook's and buy a ticket. In those days there was no more delay than in reserving a seat for the theatre.
War followed us south. The windows of the wagon-lit were plastered with warnings to be careful, to talk to no strangers; that the enemy was listening. War had invaded even Aix-les-Bains, most lovely of summer pleasure-grounds. As we passed, it was wrapped in snow; the Cat's Tooth, that towers between Aixe and Chambery, and that lifts into the sky a great cross two hundred feet in height, was all white, the pine-trees around the lake were white, the streets were white, the Casino des Fleurs, the Cercle, the hotels. And above each of them, where once was only good music, good wines, beautiful flowers, and baccarat, now droop innumerable Red Cross flags. Against the snow-covered hills they were like little splashes of blood.
War followed us into Italy. But from the war as one finds it in England and France it differed. Perhaps we were too far west, but except for the field uniforms of green and the new scabbards of gun-metal, and, at Turin, four aeroplanes in the air at the same time, you might not have known that Italy was one of the Allies. For one thing, you saw no wounded. Again, perhaps, it was because we were too far south and west, and that the fighting in Tyrol is concentrated. But Bordeaux is farther from the battle-line of France than is Naples from the Italian front, and the multitudes of wounded in Bordeaux, the multitudes of women in black in Bordeaux, make one of the most appalling, most significant pictures of this war. In two days in Naples I did not see one wounded man. But I saw many Germans and German signs, and no one had scratched Mumm off the wine-card. A country that is one of the Allies, and yet not at war with Germany, cannot be taken very seriously. Indeed, in England the War Office staff speak of the Italian communiques as the "weather reports."
In Naples the foreigners accuse Italy of running with the hare and the hounds. They asked what is her object in keeping on friendly terms with the bitterest enemy of the Allies. Is there an understanding that after the war she and Germany will together carve slices off of Austria? Whatever her ulterior object may be, her present war spirit does not impress the visitor. It is not the spirit of France and England. One man said to me: "Why can't you keep the Italian-Americans in America? Over there they earn money, and send millions of it to Italy. When they come here to fight, not only that money stops, but we have to feed and pay them."
It did not sound grateful. Nor as though Italy were seriously at war. You do not find France and England, or Germany, grudging the man who returns to fight for his country his rations and pay. And Italy pays her soldiers five cents a day. Many of the reservists and volunteers from America who answered the call to arms are bitterly disappointed. It was their hope to be led at once to the firing-line. Instead, after six months, they are still in camp. The families some brought with them are in great need. They are not used to living on five cents a day. An Italian told me the heaviest drain upon the war-relief funds came from the families of these Italian-Americans, stranded in their own country. He also told me his chief duty was to meet them on their arrival.
"But haven't they money when they arrive from America?" I asked.
"That's it," he said naively. "I'm at the wharf to keep their countrymen from robbing them of it."
At present in Europe you cannot take gold out of any country that is at war. As a result, gold is less valuable than paper, and when I exchanged my double-eagles for paper I lost.
On the advice of the wisest young banker in France I changed, again at a loss, the French paper into Bank of England notes. But when I arrived in Salonika I found that with the Greeks English bank-notes were about as popular as English troops, and that had I changed my American gold into American notes, as was my plan, I would have been passing rich. That is what comes of associating with bankers.
At the Italian frontier, a French gentleman had come to the door of the compartment, raised his hat to the inmates, and asked if we had any gold. Forewarned, we had not; and, taking our word for it, he again raised his hat and disappeared. But, on leaving Naples, it was not like that. In these piping times of war your baggage is examined when you depart as well as when you arrive. You get it coming and going. But the Greek steamer was to weigh anchor at noon, and at noon all the port officials were at dejeuner; so, sooner than wait a week for another boat, the passengers went on board and carried their bags with them. It was unpardonable. It was an affront the port officials could not brook. They had been disregarded. Their dignity had been flouted. What was worse, they had not been tipped. Into the dining-saloon of the Greek steamer, where we were at luncheon, they burst like Barbary pirates. They shrieked, they yelled. Nobody knew who they were, or what they wanted. Nor did they enlighten us. They only beat upon the tables, clanked their swords, and spoiled our lunch. Why we were abused, or of what we were accused, we could not determine. We vaguely recognized our names, and stood up, and, while they continued to beat upon the tables, a Greek steward explained they wanted our gold. I showed them my bank-notes, and was allowed to return to my garlic and veal. But the English cigarette king, who each week sends some millions of cigarettes to the Tommies in the trenches, proposed to make a test case of it.
"I have on me," he whispered, "four English sovereigns. I am not taking them out of Italy, because until they crossed the border in my pocket, they were not in Italy, and as I am now leaving Italy, one might say they have never been in Italy. It's as though they were in bond. I am a British subject, and this is not Italian, but British, gold. I shall refuse to surrender my four sovereigns. I will make it a test case."
The untipped port officials were still jangling their swords, so I advised the cigarette king to turn in his gold. Even a Greek steamer is better than an Italian jail.
"I will make of it a test case," he repeated.
"Let George do it," I suggested.
At that moment, in the presence of all the passengers, they were searching the person of another British subject, and an Ally. He was one of Lady Paget's units. He was in uniform, and, as they ran itching fingers over his body, he turned crimson, and the rest of us, pretending not to witness his humiliation, ate ravenously of goat's cheese.
The cigarette king, breathing defiance, repeated: "I will make of it a test case."
"Better let George do it," I urged.
And when his name was called, a name that is as well known from Kavalla to Smyrna in tobacco-fields, sweetmeat shops, palaces, and mosques, as at the Ritz and the Gaiety, the cigarette king wisely accepted for his four sovereigns Italian lire. At their rate of exchange, too.
Later, off Capri, he asked: "When you advised me to let George make a test case of it, to which of our fellow passengers did you refer?"
In the morning the Adriaticus picked up the landfall of Messina, but, instead of making fast to the quay, anchored her length from it. This appeared to be a port regulation. It enables the boatman to earn a living by charging passengers two francs for a round trip of fifty yards. As the wrecked city seems to be populated only by boatmen, rowing passengers ashore is the chief industry.
The stricken seaport looks as though as recently as last week the German army had visited it. In France, although war still continues, towns wrecked by the Germans are already rebuilt. But Messina, after four years of peace, is still a ruin. But little effort has been made to restore it. The post-cards that were printed at the moment of the earthquake show her exactly as she is to-day. With, in the streets, no sign of life, with the inhabitants standing idle along the quay, shivering in the rain and snow, with for a background crumbling walls, gaping cellars, and hills buried under acres of fallen masonry, the picture was one of terrible desolation, of neglect and inefficiency. The only structures that had obviously been erected since the earthquake were the "ready-to-wear" shacks sent as a stop-gap from America. One should not look critically at a gift-house, but they are certainly very ugly. In Italy, where every spot is a "location" for moving-pictures, where the street corners are backgrounds for lovers' trysts and assassinations, where even poverty is picturesque, and each landscape "composes" into a beautiful and wondrous painting, the zinc shacks, in rigid lines, like the barracks of a mining-camp, came as a shock.
Sympathetic Americans sent them as only a temporary shelter until Messina rose again. But it was explained, as there is no rent to pay, the Italians, instead of rebuilding, prefer to inhabit the ready-to-wear houses. How many tourists the mere view of them will drive away no one can guess.
People who linger in Naples, and by train to Reggio join the boat at Messina, never admit that they followed that route to avoid being seasick. Seasickness is an illness of which no one ever boasts. He may take pride in saying: "I've an awful cold!" or "I've such a headache I can't see!" and will expect you to feel sorry. But he knows, no matter how horribly he suffers from mal de mer, he will receive no sympathy. In a Puck and Punch way he will be merely comic. So, the passengers who come over the side at Messina always have an excuse other than that they were dodging the sea. It is usually that they lost their luggage at Naples and had to search for it. As the Italian railroads, which are operated by the government, always lose your luggage, it is an admirable excuse. So, also, is the one that you delayed in order to visit the ruins of Pompeii. The number of people who have visited Pompeii solely because the Bay of Naples was in an ugly mood will never be counted.
Among those who joined at Messina were the French princess, who talked American much too well to be French, and French far too well to be an American, two military attaches, the King's messenger, and the Armenian, who was by profession an olive merchant, and by choice a manufacturer and purveyor of rumors. He was at once given an opportunity to exhibit his genius. The Italians held up our ship, and would not explain why. So the rumor man explained. It was because Greece had joined the Germans, and Italy had made a prize of her. Ten minutes later, he said Greece had joined the Allies, and the Italians were holding our ship until they could obtain a convoy of torpedo-boats. Then it was because two submarines were waiting for us outside the harbor. Later, it was because the Allies had blockaded Greece, and our Greek captain would not proceed, not because he was detained by Italians, but by fear.
Every time the rumor man appeared in the door of the smoking-room he was welcomed with ironic cheers. But he was not discouraged. He would go outside and stand in the rain while he hatched a new rumor, and then, in great excitement, dash back to share it. War levels all ranks, and the passengers gathered in the smoking-room playing solitaire, sipping muddy Turkish coffee, and discussing the war in seven languages, and everybody smoked—especially the women. Finally the military attaches, Sir Thomas Cunningham and Lieutenant Boulanger, put on the uniforms of their respective countries and were rowed ashore to protest. The rest of us paced the snow-swept decks and gazed gloomily at the wrecked city. Out of the fog a boat brought two Sisters of the Poor, wrapped in the black cloaks of their order. They were petitioners for the poor of Messina, and everybody in the smoking-room gave them a franc. Because one of them was Irish and because it was her fate to live in Messina, I gave her ten francs. Meaning to be amiable, she said: "Ah, it takes the English to be generous!"
I said I was Irish.
The King's messenger looked up from his solitaire and, also wishing to be amiable, asked: "What's the difference?"
The Irish sister answered him.
"Nine francs," she said.
After we had been prisoners of war for twenty-four hours John Bass of the Chicago Daily News suggested that if we remained longer at Messina our papers would say we thought the earthquake was news, and had stopped to write a story about it. So, we sent a telegram to our consul.
The American consul nearest was George Emerson Haven at Catania, by train three hours distant. We told him for twenty-four hours we had been prisoners, and that unless we were set free he was to declare war on Italy. The telegram was written not for the consul to read, but for the benefit of the port authorities. We hoped it might impress them. We certainly never supposed they would permit our ultimatum to reach Mr. Haven. In any case, the ship was allowed to depart. But whether the commandant of the port was alarmed by our declaration of war, or the unusual spectacle of the British attache, "Tommy" Cunningham, in khaki while three hundred miles distant from any firing-line, we will never know.[A] But the rumor man knew, and explained.
[Footnote A: Later we were sorry we had not been held longer in captivity. The telegram reached our consul, and that gentleman at once journeyed to Messina not only to rescue us, but to invite us to a Thanksgiving Day dinner. A consul like that is wasted on the Island of Sicily. The State Department is respectfully urged to promote him to the mainland.]
"We had been delayed," he said, "because Italy had declared war on Greece, and did not want the food on board our ship to enter that country."
The cigarette king told him if the food on board was the same food we had been eating, to bring it into any country was a proper cause for war.
At noon we passed safely between Scylla and Charybdis, and the following morning were in Athens.
WHY KING CONSTANTINE IS NEUTRAL
ATHENS, November, 1915.
We are not allowed to tell what the situation is here. But, in spite of the censor, I am going to tell what the situation is. It is involved. That is not because no one will explain it. In Greece at present, explaining the situation is the national pastime. Since arriving yesterday I have had the situation explained to me by members of the Cabinet, guides to the Acropolis, generals in the army, Teofani, the cigarette king, three ministers plenipotentiary, the man from St. Louis who is over here to sell aeroplanes, the man from Cook's, and "extra people," like soldiers in cafes, brigands in petticoats, and peasants in peaked shoes with tassels. They asked me not to print their names, which was just as well, as I cannot spell them. They each explained the situation differently, but all agree it is involved.
To understand it, you must go back to Helen of Troy, take a running jump from the Greek war for independence and Lord Byron to Mr. Gladstone and the Bulgarian atrocities, note the influence of the German Emperor at Corfu, appreciate the intricacies of Russian diplomacy in Belgrade, the rise of Enver Pasha and the Young Turks, what Constantine said to Venizelos about giving up Kavalla, and the cablegram Prince Danilo, of "Merry Widow" fame, sent to his cousin of Italy. By following these events, the situation is as easy to grasp as an eel that has swallowed the hook and cannot digest it.
For instance, Mr. Poneropolous, the well-known contractor who sells shoes to the army, informs me the Greeks as one man want war. They are even prepared to fight for it. On the other hand, Axon Skiadas, the popular barber of the Hotel Grande Bretagne, who has just been called to the colors, assures me no patriot would again plunge this country into conflict.
The diplomats also disagree, especially as to which of them is responsible for the failure of Greece to join the Allies. The one who is to blame for that never is the one who is talking to you. The one who is talking is always the one who, had they followed his advice, could have saved the "situation." They did not, and now it is involved, not to say addled. The military attache of Great Britain volunteered to set the situation before me in a few words. After explaining for two hours, he asked me to promise not to repeat what he had said. I promised. Another diplomat, who was projected into the service by William Jennings Bryan, said if he told all he knew about the situation "the world would burst." Those are his exact words. It would have been an event of undoubted news value, and as a news-gatherer I should have coaxed his secret from him, but it seemed as though the world is in trouble enough as it is, and if it must burst I want it to burst when I am nearer home. So I switched him off to the St. Louis convention, where he was probably more useful than he will ever be in the Balkans.
While every one is guessing, the writer ventures to make a guess. It is that Greece will remain neutral, or will join the Allies. Without starving to death she cannot join the Germans. Greece is non-supporting. What she eats comes in the shape of wheat from outside her borders, from the grain-fields of Russia, Egypt, Bulgaria, France, and America. When Denys Cochin, the French minister to Athens, had his interview with the King, the latter became angry and said, "We can get along without France's money," and Cochin said: "That is true, but you cannot get along without France's wheat."