Puslapio vaizdai

ufacture, carry an enormous bursting charge, and shot out of small mortar-like guns, into which the steel or wooden 'stem' of the torpedo is inserted-have a range of six or seven hundred yards. On days of attack you can see them, like huge black birds, soar slowly up from behind the trenches, hang poised for an instant, and dart down to make their formidable explosion, which sends clouds of débris, timber, and dirt, high into the air. Their fragments are very badlong, thin, jagged things that come whizzing by and inflict terrible wounds. Many of them are equipped with 'trailers,' which outline their course in a shower of crimson sparks; and on nights of attack the sky is scored with their fiery trails.

A night attack is a wonderful thing to see: the steady solemn thunder of the guns, the sky glaring with starshells and trails, the trenches flaming and roaring with bursting shell. It is like a vast natural phenomenon, Krakatoa or Mont Pelée, too vast and cataclysmic to be man's handiwork; and yet, into the maelstrom of spouting flames, hissing steel, shattering explosions, insignificant little creatures like you and me will presently run offering, with sublime courage, their tender bodies to be burned and pierced and mangled. To me that is war's one redeeming feature-it brings out in men a courage that is of the spirit alone

above all earthly things.

April 26, 1917.

This afternoon the general of the division ordered us to present ourselves at headquarters at four o'clock. From lunch on there was a great shaving and haircutting, brushing and pressing of uniforms, and overhauling of shoes and puttees. Four o'clock found us lined up at the door of the wonderful old château, and next moment a superb

officer, who spoke English,—of the Oxford variety,-stepped out, introduced himself all around with charming courtesy, took our names, and ushered us in.

The general, a hawk-faced man of sixty, straight and slender as an arrow, with sparkling dark eyes, stood surrounded by his resplendent staff. As each name was announced, we walked forward to him, saluted and bowed, and shook hands. This over, we stepped back and mingled with the staff officers, who displayed a wonderful trick of making us feel at home in the first stiffness. Presently orderlies brought in champagne and glasses, and when every one had his glass in hand the buzz stopped while the general spoke.

'Your country, gentlemen,' he said, 'has done France the honor of setting aside this day for her. It is fitting that I should ask you here, in order to tell you how much we appreciate America's friendship, which you and your comrades have been demonstrating by actions rather than words. I am an old man, but I tell you my heart beat like a boy's when the news came that the great Sister Republic-united of old by ideals of human liberty had thrown in her lot with ours. I ask you to drink with me to the future of France and America - the sure future. You have seen France: our brave women, ready to make any sacrifices for the motherland; our little soldiers, invincible in their determination. Let us drink then to France, to America, and to the day of ultimate victory, which is coming as surely as the sun will rise to-morrow.'

[blocks in formation]

through the stately old gardens, chatting with the officers while the band played. The general, while the most military man imaginable, has a very attractive brusque affability. We are a good-sized crowd as Americans run, and the French, who average shorter and stockier, never cease to wonder at our height. The old chap grabbed three or four of us by the shoulders and lined us up.

'Mais vous êtes des gaillards,' he said, smiling; 'see, I am five or six centimetres shorter than any of you. But wait, we have a giant or two.'

With that he called over a grinning captain and pulled him back to back with our biggest man, whom he topped by a full inch.

'But, my general,' laughed the officer, 'it is not good to be so tall too much of one sticks out of a trench.'


The owner of the châteaustately woman of fifty, proud of her name, her race, and her country, and an angel from heaven to the sick and poor for miles around — is an example of the kind of patriotism of which, I fear, we are in need. Her husband is dead; when the war broke out she had a daughter and two sons gallant young officers whose brief lives had been a constant source of satisfaction and pride to their mother. The elder was killed at the Marne, and a while ago, the younger, her special pet, was killed here in an attack. A woman of her kind, to whom the continuance of an old name was almost a religion, could undergo no harder experience. At the graveside she stood erect and dry-eyed, with a little proud smile on her lips, as her last boy was buried. 'Why should I weep?' she asked some one who would have comforted her; 'there is nothing finer my boys could have done if they had lived out their lives.' Her heart must be very nearly broken in two, but never a sign does

she give; going about among her hospitals and peasant families as cheerful, interested, even gay, as if her only cares were for others. There is true courage for you!

To-day I went to a new post for some sick men, and who should be waiting for me but my friend Jean, of whom I wrote you before! His company has been transferred to this place. It was great to see his grinning face and to chatter Spanish with him. As the sick men had not finished lunch, Jean asked me to his mess, and we had a jolly meal with his pals. I have had to give up wine, as it seems to blacken our teeth horribly (all of us have noticed it, and we can trace it to no other source), and the Frenchmen can't get over the joke of seeing one drink water

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

As word had just come from the trenches that a wounded man was on the way in, I got my helmet and we strolled down the boyau to meet the stretcher-bearers. It was, to me, a new section of the front and very interesting. The country is broken and hilly, and the lines zigzag about from crest to valley in the most haphazard way, which really has been painfully worked out to prevent enfilading fire. There is scarcely any fighting here, as neither side has anything to gain by an advance, which would mean giving up their present artillery positions.

In one place the boyau ran down a steep slope, badly exposed, and Jean said, 'Follow me on the run!' We sprinted for twenty yards, and next

moment, tat-tat-tat-tat came from the Boches, and little spurts of dust shot up behind us. They can never shoot quickly enough to hurt any one at this point, Jean said, but after all, 'You can't blame a fellow for trying.'

At the next turn we came on a train of the little grenade donkeys - so small that they make the tiniest Mexican burro seem a huge clumsy brute. They do not show above the shallowest trench, and each one carries two panniers full of grenades. These last are vicious little things of cast iron, checkered so as to burst into uniform square fragments, and about the size and shape of lemons. They make an astonishingly loud bang when they go off, and if close enough, as in a narrow trench, are pretty bad. At a little distance, of course, they are not very dangerous. In the trench warfare - raids, infantry attacks, and so forth-they seem to have supplanted rifles, just as the knife has supplanted the bayonet. May 11, 1917.

Sunday, another lovely day. It is 7 A.M., and already the indefinable Sunday atmosphere has come over the camp. The shower-baths are open and strings of men are coming and going with towels on their arms. Under the trees little groups are shaving and cutting one another's hair, amid much practical joking and raillery.

One becomes very fond of the French soldier. Large floods of rhetoric have been poured out in describing him, and yet nearly every day one discovers in him new and interesting traits. Let me try and sketch for you a composite picture of the French infantryman - the fantassin who is winning the war for France. On the whole, I do not see him as a boy, but as a sturdy middle-aged man - the father of a family. He is short and solidly built, with thick calves and heavy shoulders. His round head,

on which the hair is short, crisp, and black, is surmounted by a battered blue helmet. He wears a long overcoat, looped up and buttoned at the sides, showing evidence, in several places, of home-made patching. It was once horizon blue, but has now faded to an ideally protective shade of blue-green-gray. About his middle is a worn cartridgebelt, and from either shoulder, their straps crossing on breast and back, hang his musettes hang his musettes - bags of brown canvas for carrying extra odds and ends, including everything from a bottle of wine to a dictionary. On his back is his square pack, an affair of formidable weight, to which he has lashed his rolled blanket in the form of a horseshoe, points down. Perched on top of this, he carries his gamelle and quart - the saucepan and cup which serve for both cooking and eating; and beside them you perceive with astonishment that he has strapped a large German trench torpedo a souvenir for the home folks. From his belt hangs the tin box, painted horizon-blue, which contains his gas-mask, and on the other side his long slender bayonet rattles against his thigh.

A large calloused hand, not too clean, holds his shouldered rifle at a most unmilitary angle. The gun has seen hard service, the wood is battered, and in places bright steel shows through the bluing; but look closely and you will see that it is carefully greased, and in the muzzle a little plug of cloth keeps out dust and moisture. In spite of a load which would make a burro groan, he walks sturdily, whistling a march between puffs of a cigarette. Glance at his face. The eyes are dark gray, deepset, and twinkling with good humor; they are the clear decisive eyes of a man who knows what he wants and has set about getting it. The nose is aquiline, the mouth strong and ironically humorous, the unshaven chin positive and

shapely. It is the face of a breed that has been settling to type for many centuries, a race old in cultivation and philosophy.

What is he in civil life? That is hard to say. A lawyer, a farmer, a customhouse clerk, a cook - probably a cook; most of them seem to be cooks, and mighty good ones. Ours at the mess was assistant chef at the Savoy, in London, and when he has the material (for example a hind-quarter of mule, a few potatoes, some dandelions, a tin of lobster, and an egg) he can turn out a dinner hard to equal anywhere-delicious hors d'œuvres, superb soup, roast, sauté potatoes, salad, and so on.

The French soldier's one great joy and privilege is to grumble. Back in billets where he goes to rest, he spends the whole day at it- hour after hour, over a book or a litre of wine, he complains of everything: the food, the uniforms, the trenches, the artillery, the war itself. To hear him, one would suppose that France was on the verge of ruin and disintegration. Let some unwise stranger make the slightest criticism of France and watch the change. The poilu takes the floor with a bound. There is no country like France better citizens or braver soldiers than the French.


Dis donc, mon vieux,' he ends triumphantly, 'where would Europe be now if it were not for us?'

To be a French general is a terrible responsibility. Their ears must burn continually, for every act is criticized, picked to pieces, and proved a fatal mistake, daily, in a thousand roadside wine-shops. Some celebrity once remarked, that every French soldier was a potential general. He knew them; he was right. They are no carping destructive critics who tear things down but suggest no method of building up. On the contrary, any chance-met poilu will tell you exactly how any manœuvre


or bit of strategy should be carried out - from a trench-raid to an enveloping movement, which will - he is sure of it! net fifty thousand prisoners. In last night's coup de main they caught only three Germans. 'Do you know why, my friend? I will tell you. Our artillery cut the wires all right, and tapped on the front trench. Good. After that they raised their guns for the barrage, but pouf! the Boches had already run back to their dugouts in the second or third lines. Had the gunners made a barrage on the second line from the beginning, the Germans would have been forced to remain in the first line, and instead of three, we would have bagged thirty. Oh, well, we get our extra leave anyhow, and you should have heard them squeal when we dropped grenades down their stovepipes!'

The French infantryman would drive a foreign officer mad until he began to understand him and appreciate his splendid hidden qualities. The only thing he does without grumbling is fight; and, after all, when you come to think of it, that is a rather important part of a soldier's duty.

An officer wants a new boyau dug you never heard such grumbling and groaning and kicking. Finally, a bit put out, he says,

'All right, don't dig it, if you are all sick and tired, and think I make you work simply to keep you busy. It was only a whim of mine anyhow - the Boches put up a new machine-gun last night, which enfilades the old boyau, and when day breaks and you go back to the third lines, they will doubtless put a dozen of us out of our misery.'

As if by magic the new zigzag trench is dug, and the chances are that the officer finds a supply of extra-good firewood in his abri next day.

In an army like France's, one finds many odd birds among the simple sol

diers. I was playing 'shinny' (we introduced it and it has become very popular in our section) the other evening, and, when a soldier took off his coat, four thousand francs in bills dropped out of the breast pocket. Another evening, in a café, a roughly dressed soldier stood up to give us a bit of music-and for an hour the world seemed to stand still while one of the greatest violinists of France (two years at the front, twice wounded, croix de guerre, with several citations) made us forget that anything existed except a flood of clear throbbing sound. It was a rough, drinking crowd a moment before there had been a pandemonium of loud voices and clattering plates; but for an hour the listeners were still as death not a whisper, not even a hand-clap of applause. It was, I think, the finest tribute I ever saw paid a musician. And so it goes: one never knows what variety of man is hidden beneath the uniform of faded horizon-blue.


June 17, 1917.

At last I am free to sit down quietly for a letter to you. It has been a week of rather frenzied running aboutpassing examinations, and the like. I arrived here in the expectation of taking the first boat, crossing the continent, and seeing you.

A talk with some American officers changed the whole aspect of affairs and showed me that, if I was to be of any use, my job was to remain here. At home, it seems, men are a drug on the market the rub is to train them and fit them in. Here, on the other hand, they fairly welcome healthy young men and will train us and put us where we will do the most good, with the least possible delay. Don't let yourself think that flying over here is unduly hazardous-a skillful pilot (as I hope to be) has as good a chance of living to a ripe old age as his comrades

in the infantry. Numbers of them have been at it since 1914. The school where I hope to be is the finest in the world and the machines beyond praise.

Since writing the above, I have received my papers of acceptance in the Foreign Legion, conditional on passing the French physical tests. I have already passed the tests of the FrancoAmerican Committee. Before cabling I took all the tests.


I have passed the French examination and am to leave for the school in a day or two. I have been lucky!

It was interesting at the Paris recruiting office. I stood in line with dozens of other recruits for the Foreign Legion - all of us naked as so many fish, in the dirty corridor, waiting our turns. Each man had a number: mine was seven-lucky, I think! Finally the orderly shouted, 'Numéro sept,' and I separated myself from my jolly polyglot neighbors, marched to the door, did a 'demi-tour à gauche,' and came to attention before a colonel, two captains, and a sergeant.


'Name, Nordhoff, Charles Bernard born at London, 1887 - American citizen unmarried no children desires to enlist in Foreign Legion for duration of war to be detached to the navigating personnel of the Aviation,' read the sergeant, monotonously. In two minutes I had been weighed, measured, stethoscoped, ears and eyes tested, and passed.

The colonel looked at me coldly and turned to the captain.

'Not so bad, this one, hein? He has not the head of a beast.'

I bowed with all the dignity a naked man can muster, and said respectfully, 'Merci, mon colonel.'

'Ah, you speak French,' he rejoined with a smile; 'good luck, then, my American.'

« AnkstesnisTęsti »