If this little book reads more like a memoir than a systematic study of conditions, my excuse is that I remained too long in France and was too much with the people whose work most interested me, to be capable, for a long while, at any rate, of writing a detached statistical account of their remarkable work.
In the first place, although it was my friend Owen Johnson who suggested this visit to France and personal investigation of the work of her women, I went with a certain enthusiasm, and the longer I remained the more enthusiastic I became. My idea in going was not to gratify my curiosity but to do what I could for the cause of France as well as for my own country by studying specifically the war-time work of its women and to make them better known to the women of America.
The average American woman who never has traveled in Europe, or only as a flitting tourist, is firm in the belief that all Frenchwomen are permanently occupied with fashions or intrigue. If it is impossible to eradicate this impression, at least the new impression I hope to create by a recital at first hand of what a number of Frenchwomen (who are merely carefully selected types) are doing for their country in its present ordeal, should be all the deeper.
American women were not in the least astonished at the daily accounts which reached them through the medium of press and magazine of the magnificent war services of the British women. That was no more than was to have been expected. Were they not, then, Anglo-Saxons, of our own blood, still closer to the fountain-source of a nation that has, with whatever reluctance, risen to every crisis in her fate with a grim, stolid, capable tenacity that means the inevitable defeat of any nation so incredibly stupid as to defy her?
If word had come over that the British women were quite indifferent to the war, were idle and frivolous and insensible to the clarion voice of their indomitable country's needs, that, if you like, would have made a sensation. But knowing the race as they did---and it is the only race of which the genuine American does know anything---he, or she, accepted the leaping bill of Britain's indebtedness to her brave and easily expert women without comment, although, no doubt, with a glow of vicarious pride.
But quite otherwise with the women of France. In the first place there was little interest. They were, after all, foreigners. Your honest dyed-in-the-wool American has about the same contemptuous tolerance for foreigners that foreigners have for him. They are not Americans (even after they immigrate and become naturalized), they do not speak the same language in the same way, and all accents, save perhaps a brogue, are offensive to an ear tuned to nasal rhythms and to the rich divergencies from the normal standards of their own tongue that distinguish different sections of this vast United States of America.
But the American mind is, after all, an open mind. Such generalities as, "The Frenchwomen are quite wonderful," "are doing marvelous things for their country during this war," that floated across the expensive cable now and again, made little or no impression on any but those who already knew their France and could be surprised at no resource or energy she might display; but Owen Johnson and several other men with whom he talked, including that ardent friend of France, Whitney Warren, felt positive that if some American woman writer with a public, and who was capable through long practice in story writing, of selecting and composing facts in conformance with the economic and dramatic laws of fiction, would go over and study the work of the Frenchwomen at first hand, and, discarding generalities, present specific instances of their work and their attitude, the result could not fail to give the intelligent American woman a different opinion of her French sister and enlist her sympathy.
I had been ill or I should have gone to England soon after the outbreak of the war and worked with my friends, for I have always looked upon England as my second home, and I have as many friends there as here. If it had not been for Mr. Johnson and Mr. Warren, no doubt I should have gone to England within the next two or three months. But their representations aroused my enthusiasm and I determined to go to France first, at all events.
My original intention was to remain in France for a month, gathering my material as quickly as possible, and then cross to England. It seemed to me that if I wrote a book that might be of some service to France I should do the same thing for a country to which I was not only far more deeply attached but far more deeply indebted.
I remained three months and a third in France---from May 9th, 1916, to August 19th---and I did not go to England for two reasons. I found that it was more of an ordeal to get to London from Paris than to return to New York and sail again; and I heard that Mrs. Ward was writing a book about the women of England. For me to write another would be what is somewhat gracelessly called a work of supererogation.
I remained in France so long because I was never so vitally interested in my life. I could not tear myself away, although I found it impossible to put my material into shape there. Not only was I on the go all day long, seeing this and that oeuvre, having personal interviews with heads of important organizations, taken about by the kind and interested friends my own interest made for me, but when night came I was too tired to do more than enter all the information I had accumulated during the day in a notebook, and then go to bed. I have seldom taken notes, but I was determined that whatever else my book might be it should at least be accurate, and I also collected all the literature (leaflets, pamphlets, etc.) of the various oeuvres (as all these war relief organizations are called) and packed them into carefully superscribed large brown envelopes with a meticulousness that is, alas, quite foreign to my native disposition.
When, by the way, I opened my trunk to pack it and saw those dozen or more large square brown envelopes I was appalled. They looked so important, so sinister, they seemed to mutter of State secrets, war maps, spy data. I knew that trunks were often searched at Bordeaux, and I knew that if mine were those envelopes never would leave France. I should be fortunate to sail away myself.
But I must have my notes. To remember all that I had from day to day gathered was an impossibility. I have too good a memory not to distrust it when it comes to a mass of rapidly accumulated information; combined with imagination and enthusiasm it is sure to play tricks.
But I had an inspiration. The Ministry of War had been exceedingly kind to me. Convinced that I was a "Friend of France," they had permitted me to go three times into the War Zone, the last time sending me in a military automobile and providing an escort. I had been over to the War Office very often and had made friends of several of the politest men on earth.
I went out and bought the largest envelope to be found in Paris. Into this I packed all those other big brown envelopes and drove over to the Ministère de la Guerre. I explained my predicament. Would they seal it with the formidable seal of the War Office and write Propagande across it? Of course if they wished I would leave my garnerings for a systematic search. They merely laughed at this unusual evidence on my part of humble patience and submission. The French are the acutest people in the world. By this time these preternaturally keen men in the War Office knew me better than I knew myself. If I had, however unconsciously and in my deepest recesses, harbored a treacherous impulse toward the country I so professed to admire and to desire to serve, or if my ego had been capable of sudden tricks and perversions, they would long since have had these lamentable deformities, my spiritual hare-lip, ticketed and docketed with the rest of my dossier.
As it was they complied with my request at once, gave me their blessing, and escorted me to the head of the stair---no elevators in this great Ministère de la Guerre and the Service de Santé is at the top of the building. I went away quite happy, more devoted to their cause than ever, and easy in my mind about Bordeaux---where, by the way, my trunks were not opened.
Therefore, that remarkable experience in France is altogether still so vivid to me that to write about it reportorially, with the personal equation left out, would be quite as impossible as it is for me to refrain from execrating the Germans. When I add that during that visit I grew to love the French people (whom, in spite of many visits to France, I merely had admired coolly and impersonally) as much as I abominate the enemies of the human race, I feel that the last word has been said, and that my apology for writing what may read like a memoir, a chronicle of personal reminiscences, will be understood and forgiven.
One of the most striking results of the Great War has been the quickening in thousands of European women of qualities so long dormant that they practically were unsuspected. As I shall tell in a more general article, the Frenchwomen of the middle and lower bourgeoisie and of the farms stepped automatically into the shoes of the men called to the colors in August, 1914, and it was, in their case, merely the wearing of two pairs of shoes instead of one, and both of equal fit. The women of those clearly defined classes are their husbands' partners and co-workers, and although physically they may find it more wearing to do the work of two than of one, it entails no particular strain on their mental faculties or change in their habits of life. Moreover, France since the dawn of her history has been a military nation, and generation after generation her women have been called upon to play their important rôle in war, although never on so vast a scale as now.
Contrary to the prevailing estimate of the French---an estimate formed mainly from sensational novels and plays, or during brief visits to the shops and boulevards of Paris---the French are a stolid, stoical, practical race, abnormally acute, without illusions, and whose famous ebullience is all in the top stratum. There is even a certain melancholy at the root of their temperament, for, gay and pleasure loving as they are on the surface, they are a very ancient and a very wise people. Impatient and impulsive, they are capable of a patience and tenacity, a deep deliberation and caution, which, combined with an unparalleled mental alertness, brilliancy without recklessness, bravery without bravado, spiritual exaltation without sentimentality (which is merely perverted animalism), a curious sensitiveness of mind and body due to over-breeding, and a white flame of patriotism as steady and dazzling as an arc-light, has given them a glorious history, and makes them, by universal consent, preëminent among the warring nations to-day.
They are intensely conservative and their mental suppleness is quite as remarkable. Economy is one of the motive powers of their existence, the solid pillars upon which their wealth and power are built; and yet Paris has been not only the home and the patron of the arts for centuries, but the arbiter of fashion for women, a byword for extravagance, and a forcing-house for a thousand varieties of pleasure. No race is so paradoxical, but then France is the genius among nations. Antiquity, and many invasions of her soil have given her an inviolable solidity, and the temperamental gaiety and keen intelligence which pervades all classes have kept her eternally young. She is as far from decadence as the crudest community in the United States of America.
To the student of French history and character nothing the French have done in this war is surprising; nevertheless it seemed to me that I had a fresh revelation every day during my sojourn in France in the summer of 1916. Every woman of every class (with a few notable exceptions seen for the most part in the Ritz Hotel) was working at something or other: either in self-support, to relieve distress, or to supplement the efforts and expenditures of the Government (two billion francs a month); and it seemed that I never should see the last of those relief organizations of infinite variety known as "oeuvres."
Some of this work is positively creative, much is original, and all is practical and indispensable. As the most interesting of it centers in and radiates from certain personalities whom I had the good fortune to meet and to know as well as their days and mine would permit, it has seemed to me that the surest way of vivifying any account of the work itself is to make its pivot the central figure of the story. So I will begin with Madame Balli.
To be strictly accurate, Madame Balli was born in Smyrna, of Greek blood; but Paris can show no purer type of Parisian, and she has never willingly passed a day out of France. During her childhood her brother (who must have been many years older than herself) was sent to Paris as Minister from Greece, filling the post for thirty years; and his mother followed with her family. Madame Balli not only was brought up in France, but has spent only five hours of her life in Greece; after her marriage she expressed a wish to see the land of her ancestors, and her husband---who was an Anglo-Greek---amiably took her to a hotel while the steamer on which they were journeying to Constantinople was detained in the harbor of Athens.
Up to the outbreak of the war she was a woman of the world, a woman of fashion to her finger-tips, a reigning beauty always dressed with a costly and exquisite simplicity. Some idea of the personal loveliness which, united to her intelligence and charm, made her one of the conspicuous figures of the capital, may be inferred from the fact that her British husband, an art connoisseur and notable collector, was currently reported deliberately to have picked out the most beautiful girl in Europe to adorn his various mansions.
Madame Balli has black eyes and hair, a white skin, a classic profile, and a smile of singular sweetness and charm. Until the war came she was far too absorbed in the delights of the world---the Paris world, which has more votaries than all the capitals of all the world---the changing fashions and her social popularity, to have heard so much as a murmur of the serious tides of her nature. Although no one disputed her intelligence---a social asset in France, odd as that may appear to Americans---she was generally put down as a mere femme du monde, self-indulgent, pleasure-loving, dependent---what our more strident feminists call parasitic. It is doubtful if she belonged to charitable organizations, although, generous by nature, it is safe to say that she gave freely.
In that terrible September week of 1914 when the Germans were driving like a hurricane on Paris and its inhabitants were fleeing in droves to the South, Madame Balli's husband was in England; her sister-in-law, an infirmière major (nurse major) of the First Division of the Red Cross, had been ordered to the front the day war broke out; a brother-in-law had his hands full; and Madame Balli was practically alone in Paris. Terrified of the struggling hordes about the railway stations even more than of the advancing Germans, deprived of her motor cars, which had been commandeered by the Government, she did not know which way to turn or even how to get into communication with her one possible protector.
But her brother-in-law suddenly bethought himself of this too lovely creature who would be exposed to the final horrors of recrudescent barbarism if the Germans entered Paris; he determined to put public demands aside for the moment and take her to Dinard, whence she could, if necessary, cross to England.
He called her on the telephone and told her to be ready at a certain hour that afternoon, and with as little luggage as possible, as they must travel by automobile. "And mark you," he added, "no dogs!" Madame Balli had seven little Pekinese to which she was devoted (her only child was at school in England). She protested bitterly at leaving her pets behind, but her brother was inexorable, and when he called for her it was with the understanding that all seven were yelping in the rear, at the mercy of the concièrge.
There were seven passengers in the automobile, however, of which the anxious driver, feeling his way through the crowded streets and apprehensive that his car might be impressed at any moment, had not a suspicion. They were in hat boxes, hastily perforated portmanteaux, up the coat sleeves of Madame Balli and her maid, and they did not begin to yelp until so far on the road to the north that it was not worth while to throw them out.
At Dinard, where wounded soldiers were brought in on every train, Madame Balli was turned over to friends, and in a day or two, being bored and lonely, she concluded to go with these friends to the hospitals and take cigarettes and smiles into the barren wards. From that day until I left Paris on the seventeenth of August, 1916, Madame Balli had labored unceasingly; she is known to the Government as one of its most valuable and resourceful aids; and she works until two in the morning, during the quieter hours, with her correspondence and books (the police descend at frequent and irregular intervals to examine the books of all oeuvres, and one mistake means being haled to court), and she had not up to that time taken a day's rest. I have seen her so tired she could hardly go on, and she said once quite pathetically, "I am not even well-groomed any more." I frequently straightened her dress in the back, for her maids work almost as hard as she does. When her husband died, a year after the war broke out, and she found herself no longer a rich woman, her maids offered to stay with her on reduced wages and work for her oeuvres, being so deeply attached to her that they would have remained for no wages at all if she had really been poor. I used to beg her to go to Vichy for a fortnight, but she would not hear of it. Certain things depended upon her alone, and she must remain at her post unless she broke down utterly.[A]
One of her friends said to me: "Hélène must really be a tremendously strong woman. Before the war we all thought her a semi-invalid who pulled herself together at night for the opera, or dinners, or balls. But we didn't know her then, and sometimes we feel as if we knew her still less now."
It was Madame Balli who invented the "comfort package" which other organizations have since developed into the "comfort bag," and founded the oeuvre known as "Réconfort du Soldat." Her committee consists of Mrs. Frederick H. Allen of New York, who has a home in Paris and is identified with many war charities; Mrs. Edward Tuck, who has lived in and given munificently to France for thirty years; Madame Paul Dupuy, who was Helen Brown of New York and has her own oeuvre for supplying war-surgeons with rubber, oil-cloth, invalid chairs, etc.; the Marquise de Noailles, President of a large oeuvre somewhat similar to Madame Dupuy's; the Comtesse de Fels, Madame Brun, and Mr. Holman-Black, an American who has lived the greater part of his life in France. Mrs. Willard sends her supplies from New York by every steamer.
Madame Balli also has a long list of contributors to this and her other oeuvres, who sometimes pay their promised dues and sometimes do not, so that she is obliged to call on her committee (who have a hundred other demands) or pay the deficit out of her own pocket. A certain number of American contributors send her things regularly through Mrs. Allen or Mrs. Willard, and occasionally some generous outsider gives her a donation. I was told that the Greek Colony in Paris had been most generous; and while I was there she published in one of the newspapers an appeal for a hundred pillows for a hospital in which she was interested, and received in the course of the next three days over four hundred.
I went with her one day to one of the éclopé stations and to the Dépôt des Isolés, outside of Paris, to help her distribute comfort packages---which, by the way, covered the top of the automobile and were piled so high inside that we disposed ourselves with some difficulty. These packages, all neatly tied, and of varying sizes, were in the nature of surprise bags of an extremely practical order. Tobacco, pipes, cigarettes, chocolate, toothbrushes, soap, pocket-knives, combs, safety-pins, handkerchiefs, needles-and-thread, buttons, pocket mirrors, post-cards, pencils, are a few of the articles I recall. The members of the Committee meet at her house twice a week to do up the bundles, and her servants, also, do a great deal of the practical work.
It was a long drive through Paris and to the dépôts beyond. A year before we should have been held up at the point of the bayonet every few yards, but in 1916 we rolled on unhindered. Paris is no longer in the War Zone, although as we passed the fortifications we saw men standing beside the upward pointing guns, and I was told that this vigilance does not relax day or night.
Later, I shall have much to say about the éclopés, but it is enough to explain here that "éclopé," in the new adaptation of the word, stands for a man who is not wounded, or ill enough for a military hospital, but for whom a brief rest in comfortable quarters is imperative. The stations provided for them, principally through the instrumentality of another remarkable Frenchwoman, Mlle. Javal, now number about one hundred and thirty, and are either behind the lines or in the neighborhood of Paris or other large cities. The one we visited, Le Bourget, is among the largest and most important, and the Commandant, M. de L'Horme, is as interested as a father in his children. The yard when we arrived was full of soldiers, some about to march out and entrain for the front, others still loafing, and M. de L'Horme seemed to know each by name.
The comfort packages are always given to the men returning to their regiments on that particular day. They are piled high on a long table at one side of the barrack yard, and behind it on the day of my visit stood Madame Balli, Mrs. Allen, Mr. Holman-Black and myself, and we handed out packages with a "Bonne chance" as the men filed by. Some were sullen and unresponsive, but many more looked as pleased as children and no doubt were as excited over their "grabs," which they were not to open until in the train. They would face death on the morrow, but for the moment at least they were personal and titillated.
Close by was a small munition factory, and a large loft had been turned into a rest-room for such of the éclopés as it was thought advisable to put to bed for a few days under medical supervision. To each of these we gave several of the black cigarettes dear to the tobacco-proof heart of the Frenchman, a piece of soap, three picture post-cards, and chocolate. I think they were as glad of the visits as of the presents, for most of them were too far from home to receive any personal attention from family or friends. The beds looked comfortable and all the windows were open.
From there we went to the Dépôt des Isolés, an immense enclosure where men from shattered regiments are sent for a day or two until they can be returned to the front to fill gaps in other regiments. Nowhere, not even in the War Zone, did war show to me a grimmer face than here. As these men are in good health and tarry barely forty-eight hours, little is done for their comfort. Soldiers in good condition are not encouraged to expect comforts in war time, and no doubt the discipline is good for them---although, heaven knows, the French as a race know little about comfort at any time.
There were cots in some of the barracks, but there were also large spaces covered with straw, and here men had flung themselves down as they entered, without unstrapping the heavy loads they carried on their backs. They were sleeping soundly. Every bed was occupied by a sprawling figure in his stained, faded, muddy uniform. I saw one superb and turbaned Algerian sitting upright in an attitude of extreme dignity, and as oblivious to war and angels of mercy as a dead man in the trenches.
Two English girls, the Miss Gracies, had opened a cantine at this dépôt. Women have these cantines in all the éclopé and isolé stations where permission of the War Office can be obtained, and not only give freely of hot coffee and cocoa, bread, cakes and lemonade, to those weary men as they come in, but also have made their little sheds look gaily hospitable with flags and pictures. The Miss Gracies had even induced some one to build an open air theater in the great barrack yard where the men could amuse themselves and one another if they felt inclined. A more practical gift by Mrs. Allen was a bath house in which were six showers and soap and towels.
It was a dirty yard we stood in this time, handing out gifts, and when I saw Mrs. Allen buying a whole wheelbarrow-load of golden-looking doughnuts, brought by a woman of the village close by, I wondered with some apprehension if she were meaning to reward us for our excessive virtue. But they were an impromptu treat for the soldiers standing in the yard---some already lined up to march---and the way they disappeared down those brown throats made me feel blasée and over-civilized.
I did not hand out during this little fête, my place being taken by Mrs. Thayer of Boston, so I was better able to appreciate the picture. All the women were pretty, and I wondered if Madame Balli had chosen them as much for their esthetic appeal to the exacting French mind as for their willingness to help. It was a strange sight, that line of charming women with kind bright eyes, and, although simply dressed, stamped with the world they moved in, while standing and lying about were the tired and dirty poilus---even those that stood were slouching as if resting their backs while they could---with their uniforms of horizon blue faded to an ugly gray, streaked and patched. They had not seen a decent woman for months, possibly not a woman at all, and it was no wonder they followed every movement of these smiling benefactresses with wondering, adoring, or cynical eyes.
But, I repeat, to me it was an ill-favored scene, and the fact that it was a warm and peaceful day, with a radiant blue sky above, merely added to the irony. Although later I visited the War Zone three times and saw towns crowded with soldiers off duty, or as empty as old gray shells, nothing induced in me the same vicious stab of hatred for war as this scene. There is only one thing more abominable than war and that is the pacificist doctrine of non-resistance when duty and honor call. Every country, no doubt, has its putrescent spots caused by premature senility, but no country so far has shown itself as wholly crumbling in an age where the world is still young.
A few days later I went with Madame Balli and Mr. Holman-Black to the military hospital, Chaptal, devoted to the men whose faces had been mutilated. The first room was an immense apartment with an open space beyond the beds filled to-day with men who crowded about Madame Balli, as much to get that personal word and smile from her, which the French soldier so pathetically places above all gifts, as to have the first choice of a pipe or knife.
After I had distributed the usual little presents of cigarettes, chocolate, soap, and post-cards among the few still in bed, I sat on the outside of Madame Balli's mob and talked to one of the infirmières. She was a Frenchwoman married to an Irishman who was serving in the British navy, and her sons were in the trenches. She made a remark to me that I was destined to hear very often:
"Oh, yes, we work hard, and we are only too glad to do what we can for France; but, my God! what would become of us if we remained idle and let our minds dwell upon our men at the Front? We should go mad. As it is, we are so tired at night that we sleep, and the moment we awaken we are on duty again. I can assure you the harder we have to work the more grateful we are."
She looked very young and pretty in her infirmière uniform of white linen with a veil of the same stiff material and the red cross on her breast, and it was odd to hear that sons of hers were in the trenches.
After that nearly all the men in the different wards we visited were in bed, and each room was worse than the last, until it was almost a relief to come to the one where the men had just been operated on and were so bandaged that any features they may have had left were indistinguishable.
For the uncovered faces were horrible. I was ill all night, not only from the memory of the sickening sights with which I had remained several hours in a certain intimacy---for I went to assist Madame Balli and took the little gifts to every bedside---but from rage against the devilish powers that unloosed this horror upon the world. One of the grim ironies of this war is that the Hohenzollerns and the junkers are so constituted mentally that they never will be haunted with awful visions like those that visited the more plastic conscience of Charles IX after St. Bartholomew; but at least it will be some compensation to picture them rending the air with lamentations over their own downfall and hurling curses at their childish folly.
It is the bursting of shrapnel that causes the face mutilations, and although the first room we visited at Chaptal was a witness to the marvelous restorative work the surgeons are able to accomplish---sometimes---many weeks and even months must elapse while the face is not only red and swollen, but twisted, the mouth almost parallel with the nose---and often there is no nose---a whole cheek missing, an eye gone, or both; sometimes the whole mouth and chin have been blown away; and I saw one face that had nothing on its flat surface but a pipe inserted where the nose had been. Another was so terrible that I did not dare to take a second look, and I have only a vague and mercifully fading impression of a hideousness never before seen in this world.
On the other hand I saw a man propped up in bed, with one entire side of his face bandaged, his mouth twisted almost into his right ear, and a mere remnant of nose, reading a newspaper with his remaining eye and apparently quite happy.
The infirmière told me that sometimes the poor fellows would cry---they are almost all very young---and lament that no girl would have them now; but she always consoled them by the assurance that men would be so scarce after the war that girls would take anything they could get.
In one of the wards a young soldier was sitting on the edge of his cot, receiving his family, two women of middle age and a girl of about seventeen. His face was bandaged down to the bridge of his nose, but the lower part was uninjured. He may or may not have been permanently blind. The two older women---his mother and aunt, no doubt---looked stolid, as women of that class always do, but the girl sat staring straight before her with an expression of bitter resentment I shall never forget. She looked as if she were giving up every youthful illusion, and realized that Life is the enemy of man, and more particularly of woman. Possibly her own lover was in the trenches. Or perhaps this mutilated boy beside her was the first lover of her youth. One feels far too impersonal for curiosity in these hospitals and it did not occur to me to ask.
Madame Balli had also brought several boxes of delicacies for the private kitchen of the infirmières, where fine dishes may be concocted for appetites still too weak to be tempted by ordinary hospital fare: soup extract, jellies, compotes, cocoa, preserves, etc. Mr. Holman-Black came staggering after us with one of these boxes, I remember, down the long corridor that led to the private quarters of the nurses. One walks miles in these hospitals.
A number of American men in Paris are working untiringly for Paris, notably those in our War Relief Clearing House---H.O. Beatty, Randolph Mordecai, James R. Barbour, M.P. Peixotto, Ralph Preston, Whitney Warren, Hugh R. Griffen, James Hazen Hyde, Walter Abbott, Charles R. Scott, J.J. Hoff, Rev. Dr. S.N. Watson, George Munroe, Charles Carroll, J. Ridgeley Carter, H. Herman Harges---but I never received from any the same sense of consecration, of absolute selflessness as I did from Mr. Holman-Black. He and his brother have a beautiful little hôtel, and for many years before the war were among the most brilliant contributors to the musical life of the great capital; but there has been no entertaining in those charming rooms since August, 1914. Mr. Holman-Black is parrain (godfather) to three hundred and twenty soldiers at the Front, not only providing them with winter and summer underclothing, bedding, sleeping-suits, socks, and all the lighter articles they have the privilege of asking for, but also writing from fifteen to twenty letters to his filleuls daily. He, too, has not taken a day's vacation since the outbreak of the war, nor read a book. He wears the uniform of a Red Cross officer, and is associated with several of Madame Balli's oeuvres.
A few days later Madame Balli took me to another hospital---Hôpital Militaire Villemin---where she gives a concert once a week. Practically all the men that gathered in the large room to hear the music, or crowded before the windows, were well and would leave shortly for the front, but a few were brought in on stretchers and lay just below the platform. This hospital seemed less dreary to me than most of those I had visited, and the yard was full of fine trees. It was also an extremely cheerful afternoon, for not only was the sun shining, but the four artists Madame Balli had brought gave of their best and their efforts to amuse were greeted with shouts of laughter.
Lyse Berty---the most distinguished vaudeville artist in France and who is certainly funnier than any woman on earth---had got herself up in horizon blue, and was the hit of the afternoon. The men forgot war and the horrors of war and surrendered to her art and her selections with an abandon which betrayed their superior intelligence, for she is a very plain woman. Miss O'Brien, an Irish girl who has spent her life in Paris and looks like the pictures in some old Book of Beauty---immense blue eyes, tiny regular features, small oval face, chestnut hair, pink-and-white skin, and a tall "willowy" figure---was second in their critical esteem, because she did not relieve their monotonous life with fun, but sang, instead, sweet or stirring songs in a really beautiful voice. The other two, young entertainers of the vaudeville stage, were not so accomplished but were applauded politely, and as they possessed a liberal share of the grace and charm of the Frenchwoman and were exquisitely dressed, no doubt men still recall them on dreary nights in trenches.
I sat on the platform and watched at close range the faces of these soldiers of France. They were all from the people, of course, but there was not a face that was not alive with quick intelligence, and it struck me anew---as it always did when I had an opportunity to see a large number of Frenchmen together at close range---how little one face resembled the other. The French are a race of individuals. There is no type. It occurred to me that if during my lifetime the reins of all the Governments, my own included, were seized by the people, I should move over and trust my destinies to the proletariat of France. Their lively minds and quick sympathies would make their rule tolerable at least. As I have said before, the race has genius.
After we had distributed the usual gifts, I concluded to drive home in the car of the youngest of the vaudeville artists, as taxis in that region were nonexistent, and Madame Balli and Mr. Holman-Black would be detained for another hour. Mademoiselle Berty was with us, and in the midst of the rapid conversation---which never slackened!---she made some allusion to the son of this little artist, and I exclaimed involuntarily:
"You married? I never should have imagined it."
Why on earth I ever made such a banal remark to a French vaudevilliste, whose clothes, jewels, and automobile represented an income as incompatible with fixed salaries as with war time, I cannot imagine. Automatic Americanism, no doubt.
Mlle. Berty lost no time correcting me. "Oh, Hortense is not married," she merely remarked. "But she has a splendid son---twelve years old."
Being the only embarrassed member of the party, I hastened to assure the girl that I had thought she was about eighteen and was astonished to hear that she had a child of any age. But twelve! She turned to me with a gentle and deprecatory smile.
"I loved very young," she explained.
Chaptal and Villemin are only two of Madame Balli's hospitals. I believe she visits others, carrying gifts to both the men and the kitchens, but the only other of her works that I came into personal contact with was an oeuvre she had organized to teach convalescent soldiers, mutilated or otherwise, how to make bead necklaces. These are really beautiful and are another of her own inventions.
Up in the front bedroom of her charming home in the Avenue Henri Martin is a table covered with boxes filled with glass beads of every color. Here Madame Balli, with a group of friends, sits during all her spare hours and begins the necklaces which the soldiers come for and take back to the hospital to finish. I sat in the background and watched the men come in---many of them with the Croix de Guerre, the Croix de la Legion d'Honneur, or the Medaille Militaire pinned on their faded jackets. I listened to brief definite instructions of Madame Balli, who may have the sweetest smile in the world, but who knows what she wants people to do and invariably makes them do it. I saw no evidence of stupidity or slackness in these young soldiers; they might have been doing bead-work all their lives, they combined the different colors and sizes so deftly and with such true artistic feeling.
Madame Balli has sold hundreds of these necklaces. She has a case at the Ritz Hotel, and she has constant orders from friends and their friends, and even from dressmakers; for these trinkets are as nearly works of art as anything so light may be. The men receive a certain percentage of the profits and will have an ample purse when they leave the hospital. Another portion goes to buy delicacies for their less fortunate comrades---and this idea appeals to them immensely---the rest goes to buy more beads at the glittering shops on the Rue du Rivoli. The necklaces bring from five to eight or ten dollars. The soldiers in many of the hospitals are doing flat beadwork, which is ingenious and pretty; but nothing compares with these necklaces of Madame Balli, and some of the best dressed American women in Paris are wearing them.
On the twentieth of July (1916) Le Figaro devoted an article to Madame Balli's Réconfort du Soldat, and stated that it was distributing about six hundred packages a week to soldiers in hospitals and éclopé dépôts, and that during the month of January alone nine thousand six hundred packages were distributed both behind the lines and among the soldiers at the Front. This may go on for years or it may come to an abrupt end; but, like all the Frenchwomen to whom I talked, and who when they plunged into work expected a short war, she is determined to do her part as long as the soldiers do theirs, even if the war marches with the term of her natural life. She not only has given a great amount of practical help, but has done her share in keeping up the morale of the men, who, buoyant by nature as they are, and passionately devoted to their country, must have many discouraged moments in their hospitals and dépôts.
Once or twice when swamped with work---she is also a marraine (godmother) and writes regularly to her filleuls---Madame Balli has sent the weekly gifts by friends; but the protest was so decided, the men declaring that her personal sympathy meant more to them than cigarettes and soap, that she was forced to adjust her affairs in such a manner that no visit to a hospital at least should be missed.
It is doubtful if any of these men who survive and live to tell tales of the Great War in their old age will ever omit to recall the gracious presence and lovely face of Madame Balli, who came so often to make them forget the sad monotony of their lives, even the pain in their mutilated limbs, the agony behind their disfigured faces, during those long months they spent in the hospitals of Paris. And although her beauty has always been a pleasure to the eye, perhaps it is now for the first time paying its great debt to Nature.
Madame Paquin, the famous French dressmaker, told me casually an incident that epitomizes the mental inheritance of the women of a military nation once more plunged abruptly into war.
Her home is in Neuilly, one of the beautiful suburbs of Paris, and for years when awake early in the morning it had been her habit to listen for the heavy creaking of the great wagons that passed her house on their way from the gardens and orchards of the open country to the markets of Paris. Sometimes she would arise and look at them, those immense heavy trucks loaded high above their walls with the luscious produce of the fertile soil of France. On the seats were always three or four sturdy men: the farmer, and the sons who would help him unload at the "Halles."
All these men, of course, were reservists. Mobilization took place on Sunday. On Monday morning Madame Paquin, like many others in that anxious city, was tossing restlessly on her bed when she heard the familiar creaking of the market wagons which for so many years had done their share in feeding the hungry and fastidious people of Paris. Knowing that every able-bodied man had disappeared from his usual haunts within a few hours after the Mobilization Order was posted, she sprang out of bed and looked through her blinds.
There in the dull gray mist of the early morning she saw the familiar procession. There were the big trucks drawn by the heavily built cart horses and piled high with the abundant but precisely picked and packed produce of the market gardens. Paris was to be fed as usual. People must eat, war or no war. In spite of the summons which had excited the brains and depressed the hearts of a continent those trucks were playing their part in human destiny, not even claiming the right to be five minutes late. The only difference was that the seats on this gloomy August morning of 1914 were occupied by large stolid peasant women, the wives and sisters and sweethearts of the men called to the colors. They had mobilized themselves as automatically as the Government had ordered out its army when the German war god deflowered our lady of peace.
These women may have carried heavy hearts under their bright coifs and cotton blouses, but their weather-beaten faces betrayed nothing but the stoical determination to get their supplies to the Halles at the usual hour. And they have gone by every morning since. Coifs and blouses have turned black, but the hard brown faces betray nothing, and they are never late.
Up in the Champagne district, although many of the vineyards were in valleys between the two contending armies, the women undertook to care for the vines when the time came, risking their lives rather than sacrifice the next year's vintage. Captain Sweeney of the Foreign Legion told me that when the French soldiers were not firing they amused themselves watching these women pruning and trimming as fatalistically as if guns were not thundering east and west of them, shells singing overhead. For the most part they were safe enough, and nerves had apparently been left out of them; but once in a while the Germans would amuse themselves raking the valley with the guns. Then the women would simply throw themselves flat and remain motionless---sometimes for hours---until "Les Boches" concluded to waste no more ammunition.
In Rheims the women have never closed their shops. They have covered their windows with sandbags, and by the light of lamp or candle do a thriving business while the big guns thunder. The soldiers, both British and French, like their trinkets and post-cards, to say nothing of more practical objects, and, admiring their inveterate pluck, not only patronize them liberally but sit in their coverts and gossip or flirt with the pretty girls for whom shells bursting in the street are too old a story for terror.
Many of the women of the industrial classes who have been accustomed all their hard dry lives to live on the daily wage of father or husband have refused to work since the war began, preferring to scrape along on the Government allocation (allowance) of one-franc-twenty-five a day for the wives of soldiers, plus fifty centimes for each child (seventy-five in Paris). These notable exceptions will be dealt with later. France, like all nations, contains every variety of human nature, and, with its absence of illusions and its habit of looking facts almost cynically in the face, would be the last to claim perfection or even to conceal its infirmities. But the right side of its shield is very bright indeed, and the hands of many millions of women, delicate and toil-hardened, have labored to make it shine once more in history.
The Mayoress of a small town near Paris told me of three instances that came within her personal observation, and expressed no surprise at one or the other. She probably would not have thought them worth mentioning if she had not been asked expressly to meet me and give me certain information. One was of a woman whose husband had been a wage-earner, and, with six or eight children, had been able to save nothing. The allocation was not declared at once and this woman lost no time bewailing her fate or looking about for charitable groups of ladies to feed her with soup. She simply continued to run her husband's estaminet (wine-shop), and, as the patronage was necessarily diminished, was one of the first to apply when munition factories invited women to fill the vacant places of men. She chose to work at night that she might keep the estaminet open by day for the men too old to fight and for the rapidly increasing number of "réformés": those who had lost a leg or arm or were otherwise incapacitated for service.
A sister, who lived in Paris, immediately applied for one of the thousand vacant posts in bakeries, cut bread and buttered it and made toast for a tea-room in the afternoon, and found another job to sweep out stores. This woman had a son still under age but in training at the Front. He had been in the habit of paying her periodical visits, until this woman, already toiling beyond her strength to support her other children, sat down one day and wrote to the boy's commanding officer asking him to permit no more leaves of absence, as the ordeal was too much for both of them.
The third story was of a woman whom the Mayoress had often entertained in her homes, both official and private. When this woman, who had lived a life of such ease as the mother of eleven children may, was forced to take over the conduct of her husband's business (he was killed immediately) she discovered that he had been living on his capital, and when his estate was settled her only inheritance was a small wine-shop in Paris. She packed her trunks, spent what little money she had left on twelve railway tickets for the capital, and settled her brood in the small quarters behind the estaminet---fortunately the lessee, who was unmarried, had also been swept off to the Front.
The next morning she reopened the doors and stood smiling behind the counter. The place was well stocked. It was a long while before she was obliged to spend any of her intake on aught but food and lights. So charming a hostess did she prove that her little shop was never empty and quickly became famous. She had been assured of a decent living long since.
When I arrived in Paris in May (1916) a little girl had just been decorated by the President of the Republic. Her father, the village baker, had made one of those lightning changes from citizen to soldier and her mother had died a few weeks before. She was an only child. The bakery had supplied not only the village but the neighboring inn, which had been a favorite lunching place for automobilists. Traveling for pleasure stopped abruptly, but as the road that passed the inn was one of the direct routes to the Front, it still had many hasty calls upon its hospitality.
Now, bread-making in France is a science, the work of the expert, not of the casual housewife. The accomplished cook of the inn knew no more about mixing and baking bread than he did of washing clothes; and there was but this one bakery, hitherto sufficient, for the baker and his wife had been strong and industrious. The inn was in despair. The village was in despair. A Frenchman will go without meat, but life without bread is unthinkable.
No one thought of the child.
It is possible that in her double grief she did not think of herself---for twenty-four hours. But the second day after mobilization her shop window was piled high with loaves as usual. The inn was supplied. The village was supplied. This little girl worked steadily and unaided at her task, until her father, a year later, returned minus a leg to give her assistance of a sort.
The business of the bakery was nearly doubled during that time. Automobiles containing officers, huge camions with soldiers packed like coffee-beans, foot-weary marching regiments, with no time to stop for a meal, halted a moment and bought the stock on hand. But with only a few hours' sleep the girl toiled on valiantly and no applicant for bread was turned empty-handed from the now famous bakery.
How she kept up her childish strength and courage without a moment's change in her routine and on insufficient sleep can only be explained by the twin facts that she came of hardy peasant stock, and, like all French children, no matter how individual, was too thoroughly imbued with the discipline of "The Family" to shirk for a moment the particular task that war had brought her. This iron discipline of The Family, one of the most salient characteristics of the French, is largely responsible for the matter-of-fact way in which every soldier of France, reservist or regular, and whatever his political convictions, has risen to this ordeal. And in him as been inculcated from birth patience and perseverance as well as loyalty to his beloved flag.
The wives of hotel and shop keepers as well as the women of the farms have by far the best of it in time of war. The former are always their husband's partners, controlling the money, consulted at ever step. When the tocsin rings and the men disappear they simply go on. Their task may be doubled and they may be forced to employ girls instead of men, but there is no mental readjusting.
The women of the farms have always worked as hard as the men. Their doubled tasks involve a greater drain on their physical energies than the petite bourgeoise suffers, especially in those districts devastated by the first German invasion---the valley of the Marne. But they are very hardy, and they too hang on, for stoicism is the fundamental characteristic of the French.
This stoicism as well as the unrivaled mental suppleness was illustrated early in the war by the highly typical case of a laundress whose business was in one of the best districts of Paris.
In France no washing is done in the house. This, no doubt, is one of the reasons why one's laundry bills, even on a brief visit, are among the major items, for les blanchisseuses are a power in the land. When I was leaving Paris the directrice of the École Feminine in Passy, which had been my home for three months, suggested delicately that I leave a tip for the laundress, for, said this practical person, herself a sufferer from many forms of imposition, "she has been extremely complaisante in coming every week for Madame's wash." I remarked that the laundress might reasonably feel some gratitude to me for adding weekly to her curtailed income; but my smiling directrice shook her head. The favor, it appeared, was all on the other side. So, although I had tipped the many girls of my unique boarding-place with pleasure I parted with the sum designated for my patronizing laundress with no grace whatever.
But to return to the heroine of the story told me by Mrs. Armstrong Whitney, one of the many American women living in Paris who are working for France.
This laundress had a very large business, in partnership with her husband. Nobody was expected to bring the family washing to her door, nor even to send a servant. The linen was called for and delivered, for this prosperous firm owned several large trucks and eight or ten strong horses.
War was declared. This woman's husband and all male employees were mobilized. Her horses were commandeered. So were her trucks. Many of her wealthier patrons were already in the country and remained there, both for economy's sake and to encourage and help the poor of their villages and farms. The less fortunate made shift to do their washing at home. Nevertheless there were patrons who still needed her services at least once a fortnight.
This good woman may have had her moments of despair. If so, the world never knew it. She began at once to adjust herself to the new conditions and examine her resources. She importuned the Government until, to be rid of her, they returned two of her horses. She rented a cart and employed girls suddenly thrown out of work, to take the place of the vanished men. The business limped on but it never ceased for a moment; and as the months passed it assumed a firmer gait. People returned from the country, finding that they could be more useful in Paris as members of one or other of a thousand oeuvres; and they were of the class that must have clean linen if the skies fall. Also, many Americans who had fled ignominiously to England returned and plunged into work. And Americans, with their characteristic extravagance in lingerie, are held in high esteem by les blanchisseuses.
Further assaults upon the amiable Government resulted in the return of more horses and one or two trucks. To-day, while the business by no means swaggers, this woman, thanks to her indomitable courage and energy, combined with the economical habit and the financial genius of the French, has ridden safely over the rocks into as snug a little harbor as may be found in any country at war.
Aside from the industrial class the women who suffered most at the outbreak of the war were those that worked in the shops. Paris is a city of little shops. The average American tourist knows them not, for her hectic experiences in the old days were confined to the Galeries Lafayette, the Louvre, the Bon Marché, and the Trois Quartiers. But during the greater part of 1915 street after street exhibited the dreary picture of shuttered windows, where once every sort of delicate, solid, ingenious, costly, or catch-penny ware was displayed. Some of these were closed because the owner had no wife, many because the factories that supplied them were closed, or the workmen no longer could be paid. To-day one sees few of these wide iron shutters except at night, but the immediate consequence of the sudden change of the nation's life was that thousands of girls and women were thrown out of work: clerks, cashiers, dressmakers' assistants, artificial flower makers, florists, confectioners, workers in the fancy shops, makers of fine lingerie, extra servants and waitresses in the unfashionable but numerous restaurants. And then there were the women of the opera chorus, and those connected with the theater; and not only the actresses' and the actors' families, but the wives of scene shifters sent off to the trenches, and of all the other humble folk employed about theaters, great and small.
The poor of France do not invest their money in savings' banks. They buy bonds. On the Monday after mobilization the banks of France announced that they would buy no bonds. These poor bewildered women would have starved if the women of the more fortunate classes had not immediately begun to organize relief stations and ouvroirs.
Madame Lepauze, better known to the reading public of France as Daniel Lesauer, who is also the wife of the curator of the Petit Palais, was the first to open a restaurant for soup, and this was besieged from morning until night even before the refugees from Belgium and the invaded districts of France began to pour in. Her home is in the Petit Palais, and in the public gardens behind was Le Pavillion, one of the prettiest and most popular restaurants of Paris. She made no bones about asking the proprietor to place the restaurant and all that remained of his staff at her disposal, and hastily organizing a committee, began at once to ladle out soup. Many other dépôts were organized almost simultaneously (and not only in Paris but in the provincial towns), and when women were too old or too feeble to come for their daily ration it was left at their doors by carts containing immense boilers of that nourishing soup only the French know how to make.
Madame Lepauze estimates that her station alone fed a million women and children. Moreover, she and all the other women engaged in this patriotic duty had soon depleted their wardrobes after the refugees began streaming down from the north; it was generally said that not a lady in Paris had more than one useful dress left and that was on her back.
Many of these charitable women fled to the South during that breathless period when German occupation seemed inevitable, but others, like Madame Pierre Goujon, of whom I shall have much to say later, and the Countess Greffuhle (a member of the valiant Chimay family of Belgium), stuck to their posts and went about publicly in order to give courage to the millions whose poverty forced them to remain.
The next step in aiding this army of helpless women was to open ouvroirs, or workrooms. Madame Paquin never closed this great branch of her dressmaking establishment, and, in common with hundreds of other ouvroirs that sprang up all over France, paid the women a wage on which they could exist (besides giving them one meal) in return for at least half a day's work on necessary articles for the men in the trenches: underclothing, sleeping bags, felt slippers, night garments; sheets and pillow-cases for the hospitals. As the vast majority of the peasant farmers and petite bourgeoisie had been used to sleeping in airtight rooms they suffered bitterly during that first long winter and spring in the open. If it had not been for these bee-hive ouvroirs and their enormous output there would have been far more deaths from pneumonia and bronchitis, and far more cases of tuberculosis than there were.
A good many of these ouvroirs are still in existence, but many have been closed; for as the shops reopened the women not only went back to their former situations but by degrees either applied for or were invited to fill those left vacant by men of fighting age.
And then there were the munition factories! The manager of one of these Usines de Guerre in Paris told me that he made the experiment of employing women with the deepest misgiving. Those seeking positions were just the sort of women he would have rejected if the sturdy women of the farms had applied and given him any choice. They were girls or young married women who had spent all the working years of their lives stooping over sewing-machines; sunken chested workers in artificial flowers; confectioners; florists; waitresses; clerks. One and all looked on the verge of a decline with not an ounce of reserve vitality for work that taxed the endurance of men. But as they protested that they not only wished to support themselves instead of living on charity, but were passionately desirous of doing their bit while their men were enduring the dangers and privations of active warfare, and as his men were being withdrawn daily for service at the Front, he made up his mind to employ them and refill their places as rapidly as they collapsed.
He took me over his great establishment and showed me the result. It was one of the astonishing examples not only of the grim courage of women under pressure but of that nine-lived endowment of the female in which the male never can bring himself to believe save only when confronted by practical demonstration.
In the correspondence and card-indexing room there was a little army of young and middle-aged women whose superior education enabled them to do a long day's work with the minimum output of physical energy, and these for the most part came from solid middle-class families whose income had been merely cut by the war, not extinguished. It was as I walked along the galleries and down the narrow passages between the noisy machinery of the rest of that large factory that I asked the superintendent again and again if these women were of the same class as the original applicants. The answer in every case was the same.
The women had high chests and brawny arms. They tossed thirty-and forty-pound shells from one to the other as they once may have tossed a cluster of artificial flowers. Their skins were clean and often ruddy. Their eyes were bright. They showed no signs whatever of overwork. They were almost without exception the original applicants.
I asked the superintendent if there were no danger of heart strain. He said there had been no sign of it so far. Three times a week they were inspected by women doctors appointed by the Government, and any little disorder was attended to at once. But not one had been ill a day. Those that had suffered from chronic dyspepsia, colds, and tubercular tendency were now as strong as if they had lived their lives on farms. It was all a question of plenty of fresh air, and work that strengthened the muscles of their bodies, developed their chests and gave them stout nerves and long nights of sleep.
As I looked at those bare heavily muscled arms I wondered if any man belonging to them would ever dare say his soul was his own again. But as their heads are always charmingly dressed (an odd effect surmounting greasy overalls) and as they invariably powder before filing out at the end of the day's work, it is probable that a comfortable reliance may still be placed upon the ineradicable coquetry of the French woman. And the scarcer the men in the future the more numerous, no doubt, will be the layers of powder.
I asked one pretty girl if she really liked the heavy, dirty, malodorous work, and she replied that making boutonnières for gentlemen in a florist-shop was paradise by contrast, but she was only too happy to be doing as much for France in her way as her brother was in his. She added that when the war was over she should take off her blue linen apron streaked with machine grease once for all, not remain from choice as many would. But meanwhile it was not so bad! She made ten francs a day. Some of the women received as high as fifteen. Moreover, they bossed the few men whose brawn was absolutely indispensable and must be retained in the usine at all costs.
These men took their orders meekly. Perhaps they were amused. The French are an ironic race. Perhaps they bided their time. But they never dreamed of disobeying those Amazons whose foot the Kaiser of all the Boches had placed on their necks.
One of the greatest of these Usines de Guerre is at Lyons, in the buildings of the Exposition held shortly before the outbreak of the war. I went to this important Southern city (a beautiful city, which I shall always associate with the scent of locust-blossoms[B]) at the suggestion of James Hazen Hyde. He gave me a letter to the famous Mayor, M. Herriot, who was a member of the last Briand Cabinet.
M. Herriot was also a Senator, and as he was leaving for Paris a few hours after I presented my letter he turned me over to a friend of his wife, Madame Castell, a native of Lyons, the daughter of one silk merchant and the widow of another. This charming young woman, who had spent her married life in New York, by the way, took me everywhere, and although we traversed many vast distances in the Mayor's automobile, it seemed to me that I walked as many miles in hospitals, factories, ateliers (workrooms for teaching the mutilated new trades), and above all in the Usine de Guerre.
Here not only were thousands of women employed but a greater variety of classes. The women of the town, unable to follow the army and too plucky to live on charity, had been among the first to ask for work. The directeur beat his forehead when I asked him how they behaved when not actually at the machines, but at least they had proved as faithful and skillful as their more respectable sisters.
Lyons was far more crowded and lively than Paris, which is so quiet that it calls to mind the lake that filled the crater of Mont Pelée before the eruption of 1902. But this fine city of the South---situated almost as beautifully as Paris on both sides of a river---is not only a junction, it not only has industries of all sorts besides the greatest silk factories in the world, but every train these days brings down wounded for its many hospitals, and the next train brings the family and friends of these men, who, when able to afford it, establish themselves in the city for the period of convalescence. The restaurants and cafés were always crowded and this handsome city on the Rhône was almost gay.
There were practically no unemployed. The old women of the poor went daily to an empty court-room where they sat in the little amphitheater sewing or knitting. In countless other ouvroirs they were cutting and making uniforms with the same facility that men had long since acquired, or running sleeping bags through sewing-machines at the rate of thousands a day. M. Herriot "mobilized" Lyons early in the war, and its contribution to the needs of the Front has been enormous.
The réformés (men too badly mutilated to be of further use at the front) are being taught many new trades in the ateliers: toy-making, wooden shoes with leather tops for the trenches, cigarette packages, baskets, typewriting, stenography, weaving, repairing. In one of the many ateliers I visited with Madame Castell I saw a man who had only one arm, and the left at that, and only a thumb and little finger remaining of the ten he had taken into war, learning to write anew. When I was shown one of his exercises I was astounded. He wrote far better than I have ever done, and I can recall few handwritings so precise and elegant. One may imagine what a man accomplishes who still has a good hand and arm. It was both interesting and pathetic to see these men guiding their work with their remaining hand and manipulating the machinery with the stump of the other arm. Those who come out from the battlefields with health intact will be no charge to the state, no matter what their mutilations.
One poor fellow came in to the École Joffre while I was there. He was accompanied by three friends of the Mayor's, who hoped that some one of the new occupations might suit his case. He was large and strong and ruddy and he had no hands. Human ingenuity had not yet evolved far enough for him. He was crying quietly as he turned away. But his case is by no means hopeless, for when his stumps are no longer sensitive he will be fitted with a mechanical apparatus that will take the place of the hands he has given to France.
Madame Castell's work is supplying hospitals with anything, except food, they may demand, and in this she has been regularly helped by the Needlework Guild of Pennsylvania.
Madame Harriot's ouvroir occupies the magnificent festal salon of the Hôtel de Ville, with its massive chandeliers and its memories of a thousand dinners and balls of state from the days of Louis XIV down to the greatest of its mayors. She supplies French prisoners in Germany with the now famous comfort packages. Some of them she and her committee put up themselves; others are brought in by members of the family or the friends of the unfortunate men in Germany. The pièce de résistance had always been a round loaf of bread, but on the day I first visited the salon consternation was reigning. Word had come from Germany that no more bread nor any sort of food stuff should be sent in the packages, and hundreds were being unpacked. Crisp loaves of bread that would have brought comfort to many a poor soul were lying all over the place.
The secret of the order was that civilian Germans were begging bread of the French prisoners, and this, of course, was bad for the tenderly nursed German morale.
Mlle. Javal, unlike Madame Balli, was not a member of the fashionable society of Paris, a femme du monde, or a reigning beauty. But in certain respects their cases were not dissimilar. Born into one of the innumerable sets-within-sets of the upper bourgeoisie, living on inherited wealth, seeing as little as possible of the world beyond her immediate circle of relatives and friends, as curiously indifferent to it as only a haughty French bourgeoisie can be, growing up in a large and comfortable home---according to French ideas of comfort---governing it, when the duty descended to her shoulders, with all the native and practised economy of the French woman, but until her mother's illness without a care, and even then without an extra contact, Mlle. Javal's life slipped along for many years exactly as the lives of a million other girls in that entrenched secluded class slipped along before the tocsin, ringing throughout the land on August 2, 1914, announced that once more the men of France must fight to defend the liberty of all classes alike.
Between wars the great central mass of the population in France known as the bourgeoisie---who may be roughly defined as those that belong neither to the noblesse at one end nor to the industrials and peasant proprietors at the other, but have capital, however minute, invested in rentes or business, and who, beginning with the grande bourgeoisie, the haughty possessors of great inherited fortunes, continuing through the financial and commercial magnates, down to the petite bourgeoisie who keep flourishing little shops, hotels, etc.---live to get the most out of life in their narrow, traditional, curiously intensive way. They detest travel, although at least once in their lives they visit Switzerland and Italy; possibly, but with no such alarming frequency as to suggest an invasion, England.
The most aspiring read the literature of the day, see the new plays (leaving the jeune fille at home), take an intelligent interest in the politics of their own country, visit the annual salons, and if really advanced discuss with all the national animation such violent eruptions upon the surface of the delicately poised art life, which owes its very being to France, as impressionism, cubism, etc. Except among the very rich, where, as elsewhere, temptations are many and pressing, they have few scandals to discuss, but much gossip, and there is the ever recurrent flutter over births, marriages, deaths. They have no snobbery in the climber's sense. When a bourgeois, however humble in origin, graduates as an "intellectual" he is received with enthusiasm (if his table manners will pass muster) by the noblesse; but it is far more difficult for a nobleman to enter the house of a bourgeois. It is seldom that he wants to, but sometimes there are sound financial reasons for forming this almost illegitimate connection, and then his motives are penetrated by the keen French mind---a mind born without illusions---and interest alone dictates the issue. The only climbers in our sense are the wives of politicians suddenly risen to eminence, and even then the social ambitions of these ladies are generally confined to arriving in the exclusive circles of the haute bourgeoisie.
The bourgeoisie are as proud of their class as the noblesse of theirs, and its top stratum regards itself as the real aristocracy of the Republique Française, the families bearing ancient titles as anachronistic; although oddly enough they and the ancient noblesse are quite harmonious in their opinion of the Napoleonic aristocracy! One of the leaders in the grande bourgeoisie wrote me at a critical moment in the affairs of Greece: "It looks as if Briand would succeed in placing the lovely Princess George of Greece on the throne, and assuredly it is better for France to have a Bonaparte there than no one at all!"
It is only when war comes and the men and women of the noblesse rise to the call of their country as automatically as a reservist answers the tocsin or the printed order of mobilization, that the bourgeoisie is forced to concede that there is a tremendous power still resident in the prestige, organizing ability, social influence, tireless energy, and self-sacrifice of the disdained aristocracy.
During the war oeuvres have been formed on so vast a scale that one sees on many committee lists the names of noblesse and bourgeois side by side. But it is a defensive alliance, bred of the stupendous necessities of war, and wherever possible each prefers to work without the assistance of the other. The French Army is the most democratic in the world. French society has no conception of the word, and neither noblesse nor bourgeoisie has the faintest intention of taking it up as a study. There is no active antagonism between the two classes---save, to be sure, when individual members show their irreconcilable peculiarities at committee meetings---merely a profound indifference.
Mlle. Javal, although living the usual restricted life before the war, and far removed from that section of her class that had begun to astonish Paris by an unprecedented surrender to the extravagancies in public which seemed to obsess the world before Europe abruptly returned to its normal historic condition of warfare, was as highly educated, as conversant with the affairs of the day, political, intellectual, and artistic, as any young woman in Europe. But the war found her in a semi-invalid condition and heartbroken over the death of her mother, whom she had nursed devotedly through a long illness; her girlhood intimacies broken up not only by the marriage of her friends, but also by her own long seclusion; and---being quite French---feeling too aged, at a little over thirty, ever to interest any man again, aside from her fortune. In short she regarded her life as finished, but she kept house dutifully for her brother---her only close relation---and surrendered herself to melancholy reflections.
Then came the war. At first she took merely the languid interest demanded by her intelligence, being too absorbed in her own low condition to experience more than a passing thrill of patriotic fervor. But she still read the newspapers, and, moreover, women in those first anxious days were meeting and talking far more frequently than was common to a class that preferred their own house and garden to anything their friends, or the boulevards, or even the parks of Paris, could offer them. Mlle. Javal found herself seeing more and more of that vast circle of inherited friends as well as family connections which no well-born bourgeoise can escape, and gradually became infected with the excitement of the hour; despite the fact that she believed her poor worn-out body never would take a long walk again.
Then, one day, the thought suddenly illuminated her awakening mind: "How fortunate I am! I have no one to lose in this terrible war!" (Her brother was too delicate for service.) "These tears I see every day after news has come that a father, a brother, a husband, a son, has fallen on the battlefield or died of horrible agony in hospital, I shall never shed. Almost alone of the many I know, and the millions of women in France, I am mercifully exempt from an agony that has no end. If I were married, and were older and had sons, I should be suffering unendurably now. I am fortunate indeed and feel an ingrate that I have ever repined."
Then naturally enough followed the thought that it behooved her to do something for her country, not only as a manifest of thanksgiving but also because it was her duty as a young woman of wealth and leisure.
Oddly enough considering the delicate health in which she firmly believed, she tried to be a nurse. There were many amateurs in the hospitals in those days when France was as short of nurses as of everything else except men, and she was accepted.
But nursing then involved standing all day on one's feet and sometimes all night as well, and her pampered body was far from strong enough for such a tax in spite of her now glowing spirit. While she was casting about for some work in which she might really play a useful and beneficent rôle a friend invited her to drive out to the environs of Paris and visit the wretched éclopés, to whom several charitable ladies occasionally took little gifts of cigarettes and chocolate.
Then, at last, Mlle. Javal found herself; and from a halting apprehensive seeker, still weary in mind and limb, she became almost abruptly one of the most original and executive women in France---incidentally one of the healthiest. When I met her, some twenty months later, she had red cheeks and was the only one of all those women of all classes slaving for France who told me she never felt tired; in fact felt stronger every day.
The éclopés, in the new adaptation of the word, are men who are not ill enough for the military hospitals and not well enough to fight. They may have slight wounds, or temporary affections of the sight or hearing, the effect of heavy colds; or rheumatism, debilitating sore throat, or furiously aching teeth; or they may be suffering too severely from shock to be of any use in the trenches.
There are between six and seven thousand hospitals in France to-day (possibly more: the French never will give you any exact military figures; but certainly not less); but their beds are for the severely wounded or for those suffering from dysentery, fevers, pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis. In those first days of war before France, caught unprepared in so many ways, had found herself and settled down to the business of war; in that trying interval while she was ill equipped to care for men brought in hourly to the base hospitals, shattered by new and hideous wounds; there was no place for the merely ailing. Men with organic affections, suddenly developed under the terrific strain, were dismissed as Réformés Numéro II---unmutilated in the service of their country; in other words, dismissed from the army and, for nearly two years, without pension. But the large number of those temporarily out of condition were sent back of the lines, or to a sort of camp outside of Paris, to rest until they were in a condition to fight again.
If it had not been for Mlle. Javal it is possible that more men than one cares to estimate would never have fought again. The éclopés at that time were the most abject victims of the war. They remained together under military discipline, either behind the lines or on the outskirts of Paris, herded in barns, empty factories, thousands sleeping without shelter of any sort. Straw for the most part composed their beds, food was coarse and scanty; they were so wretched and uncomfortable, so exposed to the elements, and without care of any sort, that their slight ailments developed not infrequently into serious and sometimes fatal cases of bronchitis, pneumonia, and even tuberculosis.
This was a state of affairs well known to General Joffre and none caused him more distress and anxiety. But---this was between August and November, 1914, it must be remembered, when France was anything but the magnificent machine she is to-day---it was quite impossible for the authorities to devote a cell of their harassed brains to the temporarily inept. Every executive mind in power was absorbed in pinning the enemy down, since he could not be driven out, feeding the vast numbers of men at the Front, reorganizing the munition factories, planning for the vast supplies of ammunition suddenly demanded, equipping the hospitals---when the war broke out there were no installations in the hospitals near the Front except beds---obtaining the necessary amount of surgical supplies, taking care of the refugees that poured into the larger cities by every train not only from Belgium but from the French towns invaded or bombarded---to mention but a few of the problems that beset France suddenly forced to rally and fight for her life, and, owing to the Socialist majority in the Chamber of Deputies, criminally unprepared.
There were plenty of able minds in France that knew what was coming; months before the war broke out (a year, one of the infirmière majors told me; but, as I have said, it is difficult to pin a French official down to exact statements) the Service de Santé (Health Department of the Ministry of War) asked the Countess d'Haussonville, President of the Red Cross, to train as many nurses as quickly as possible, for there was not an extra nurse in a military hospital of France---in many there was none at all. But these patriotic and far-sighted men were powerless. The three years' service bill was the utmost result of their endeavors, and for six months after the war began they had not a gun larger than the famous Seventy-fives but those captured at the Battle of the Marne.
As for the poor éclopés, there never was a clearer example of the weaker going to the wall and the devil taking the hindmost. They had been turned out to grass mildly afflicted, but in a short time they were progressing rapidly toward the grave or that detestable status known as Réformés Numéro II. And every man counts in France. Quite apart from humanity it was a terribly serious question for the Grand Quartier Général, where Joffre and his staff had their minds on the rack.
The Curé of St. Honoré d'Eylau was the first to discover the éclopés, and not only sent stores to certain of the dépôts where they were herded, but persuaded several ladies of Paris to visit and take them little presents. But practically every energetic and patriotic woman in France was already mobilized in the service of her country. As I have explained elsewhere, they had opened ouvroirs, where working girls suddenly deprived of the means of livelihood could fend off starvation by making underclothing and other necessaries for the men at the Front. Upon these devoted women, assisted by nearly all the American women resident in Paris, fell to a great extent the care of the refugees; and many were giving out rations three times a day, not only to refugees but to the poor of Paris, suddenly deprived of their wage earners. It was some time before the Government got round to paying the daily allowance of one-franc-twenty-five to the wives and seventy-five centimes (fifty outside of Paris) for each child, known as the allocation. Moreover, in those dread days when the Germans were driving straight for Paris, many fled with the Government to Bordeaux (not a few Americans ignominiously scampered off to England) and did not return for three weeks or more; during which time those brave enough to remain did ten times as much work as should be expected even of the nine-lived female.
They knew at this critical time as well as later when they were breathing normally again that the poor éclopés beyond the barrier were without shelter in the autumn rains and altogether in desperate plight; but it was only now and again that a few found time to pay them a hasty visit and cheer them with those little gifts so dear to the imaginative heart of the French soldier. Sooner or later, of course, the Government would have taken them in hand and organized them as meticulously as they have organized every conceivable angle of this great struggle; but meanwhile thousands would have died or shambled home to litter the villages as hopeless invalids. Perhaps hundreds of thousands is a safer computation, and these hundreds of thousands Mlle. Javal saved for France.
Today there are over one hundred and thirty Éclopé Dépôts in France; two or three are near Paris, the rest in the towns and villages of the War Zone. The long baraques are well built, rain-proof and draught-proof, but with many windows which are open when possible, and furnished with comfortable beds. In each dépôt there is a hospital baraque for those that need that sort of rest or care, a diet kitchen, and a fine large kitchen for those that can eat anything and have appetites of daily increasing vigor.
These dépôts are laid out like little towns, the streets of the large ones named after famous generals and battles. Down one side is a row of low buildings in which the officers, doctors and nurses sleep; a chemist shop; a well-fitted bathroom; storerooms for supplies; and consulting offices. There is also, almost invariably, a cantine set up by young women---English, American, French---where the men are supplied at any time with cocoa, coffee, milk, lemonade, cakes; and the little building itself is gaily decorated to please the color-loving French eye.
Mlle. Javal took me out to the environs of Paris to visit one of the largest of these dépôts, and there the men in hospital were nursed by Sisters of Charity. There was a set of well-filled bookshelves and a stage in the great refectory, where the men could sit on rainy days, read, write letters, sing, smoke, recite, and get up little plays. I saw a group of very contented looking poilus in the yard playing cards and smoking under a large tree.
The surroundings were hideous---a railroad yard if I am not mistaken---but the little "town" itself was very pleasing to the eye, and certainly a haven of refuge for soldiers whose bodies and minds needed only repose, care, and kind words to send them back to the Front sounder by far than they had been in their unsanitary days before the war.
Here they are forced to sleep with their windows open, to bathe, eat good food, instead of mortifying the body for the sake of filling the family stocking; and they are doctored intelligently, their teeth filled, their tonsils and adenoids taken out, their chronic indigestion cured. Those who survive the war will never forget the lesson and will do missionary work when they are at home once more.
All that was dormant in Mlle. Javal's fine brain seemed to awake under the horrifying stimulus of that first visit to the wretches herded like animals outside of Paris, where every man thought he was drafted for death and did not care whether he was or not; where, in short, morale, so precious an asset to any nation in time of war, was practically nil.
The first step was to get a powerful committee together. Mlle. Javal, although wealthy, could not carry through this gigantic task alone. The moratorium had stopped the payment of rents, factories were closed, tenants mobilized. Besides, she had already given right and left, as everybody else had done who had anything to give. It was growing increasingly difficult to raise money.
But nothing could daunt Mlle. Javal. She managed to get together with the least possible delay a committee of three hundred, and she obtained subscriptions in money from one thousand five hundred firms, besides donations of food and clothing from eight hundred others, headed by the King of Spain.
Her subscription list was opened by President Poincaré with a gift of one thousand francs; the American War Relief Clearing House gave her four thousand three hundred francs, Madame Viviani contributed four thousand francs; the Comédie Française one thousand, and Raphael Weill of San Francisco seven thousand seven hundred and fifty; Alexander Phillips of New York three thousand; and capitalists, banks, bank clerks, civil servants, colonials, school children, contributed sums great and small.
Concerts were given, bazaars hastily but successfully organized, collections taken up. There was no end to Mlle. Javal's resource, and the result was an almost immediate capital of several hundred thousand francs. When public interest was fairly roused, les pauvres éclopés became one of the abiding concerns of the French people, and they have responded as generously as they did to the needs of the more picturesque refugee or the starving within their gates.
This great organization, known as "L'Assistance aux Dépôts d'Éclopés, Petits Blessés et Petites Malades, et aux Cantonments de Repos," was formally inaugurated on November 14, 1914, with Madame Jules Ferry as President, and Madame Viviani as Vice-President. Mlle. Javal shows modestly on the official list as Secrétaire Genérale.
The Government agreed to put up the baraques, and did so with the least possible delay. Mlle. Javal and her Committee furnish the beds (there were seven hundred in one of the dépôts she showed me), support the dietary kitchen and the hospital baraques, and supply the bathrooms, libraries, and all the little luxuries. The Government supports the central kitchen (grand régime), the doctors, and, when necessary, the surgeons.
Mlle. Javal took me twice through the immense establishment on the Champs Élysées, where she has not only her offices but workrooms and storerooms. In one room a number of ladies---in almost all of these oeuvres women give their services, remaining all day or a part of every day---were doing nothing but rolling cigarettes. I looked at them with a good deal of interest. They belonged to that class of French life I have tried to describe, in which the family is the all important unit; where children rarely play with other children, sometimes never; where the mother is a sovereign who is content to remain within the boundaries of her own small domain for months at a time, particularly if she lives not in an apartment, but in an hôtel with a garden behind it. Thousands of these exemplary women of the bourgeoisie---hundreds of thousands---care little or nothing for "society." They call at stated intervals, upon which ceremonious occasion they drink coffee and eat pastry; give their young people dances when the exact conventional moment has arrived for putting them on the market, and turn out in force at the great periodicities of life, but otherwise to live and die in the bosom of The Family is the measure of their ambition.
I shall have a good deal to say later of the possible results of the vast upheaval of home life caused by this war; but of these women sitting for hours on end in a back room of Mlle. Javal's central establishment in Paris it is only necessary to state that they looked as intent upon making cigarettes in a professional manner, beyond cavil by the canny poilu, as if they were counting the family linen or superintending one of the stupendous facts of existence, a daughter's trousseau. Only the one to whom I was introduced raised her eyes, and I should not have been expected to distract her attention for a moment had not she told Mlle. Javal that she had read my books (in the Tauchnitz edition) and would like to meet me when I called.
It seemed to me that everything conceivable was in those large storerooms. I had grown used to seeing piles of sleeping-suits, sleeping-bags, trench slippers, warm underclothes, sabots, all that is comprised in the word vêtement; but here were also immense boxes of books and magazines, donated by different firms and editors, about to be shipped to the dépôts; games of every sort; charming photogravures, sketches, prints, pictures, that would make the baraques gay and beloved---all to be interspersed, however, with mottoes from famous writers calculated to elevate not only the morale but the morals of the idle.
Then there were cases of handkerchiefs, of pens and paper, pencils, songs with and without music, knives, pipes, post-cards, razors, parasiticides, chocolate, vaseline, perfumes (many of these articles are donations from manufacturers), soap in vast quantities; books serious and diverting; pamphlets purposed to keep patriotism at fever pitch, or to give the often ignorant peasant soldier a clear idea of the designs of the enemy.
In small compartments at one end of the largest of the rooms were exhibited the complete installations of the baraques, the portable beds, kitchen and dining-room utensils and dishes, all extraordinarily neat and compact. In another room was a staff engaged in correspondence with officers, doctors and surgeons at the Front, poilus, or the hundred and one sources that contribute to the great oeuvre. Girls, young widows, young and middle-aged married women whose husbands and sons were fighting, all give their days freely and work far harder and more conscientiously than most women do for hire.
All of these presents, when they arrive at the dépôts, are given out personally by the officers, and this as much as the genuine democracy of the men in command has served to break down the suspicious or surly spirit of the French peasant on his first service, to win over the bumptious industrial, and even to subdue the militant anarchist and predatory Apache. This was Mlle. Javal's idea, and has solved a problem for many an anxious officer.
She said to me with a shrug: "My brother and I are now run by our servants. I have quite lost control. Our home is like a bachelor apartment. After the war is over I must turn them all out and get a new staff."
And this is but one of the minor problems for men and women the Great War has bred.
Magic lanterns and cinemas are also among the presents sent to the éclopé dépôts in the War Zone; some of which, by the way, are charmingly situated. I visited one just outside of a town which by a miracle had escaped the attention of the enemy during the retreat after the Battle of the Marne. The buildings of the dépôt have been built in the open fields but heavily ambushed by fine old trees. Near by is a river picturesquely winding and darkly shaded. Here I saw a number of éclopés fishing as calmly as if the roar of the guns that came down the wind from Verdun were but the precursor of an evening storm.
In the large refectory men were writing home; reading not only books but the daily and weekly newspapers with which the dépôts are generously supplied by the editors of France. Others were exercising in a gymnasium or playing games with that childish absorption that seems to be as natural to a soldier at the Front when off duty as the desire for a bath or a limbering of the muscles when he leaves the trenches.
Another of Mlle. Javal's ideas was to send to the War Zone automobiles completely equipped with a dental apparatus in charge of a competent dentist. These automobiles travel from dépôt to dépôt and even give their services to hospitals where there are no dental installations.
Other automobiles have a surgeon and the equipment for immediate facial operations; and there are migratory pedicures, masseurs, and barbers. So heavy has been the subscription, so persistent and intelligent the work of all connected with this great oeuvre, so increasingly fertile the amazing brain of Mlle. Javal, that practically nothing is now wanted to make these Dépôts d'Éclopés perfect instruments for saving men for the army by the hundred thousand. I once heard the estimate of the army's indebtedness placed as high as a million and a half.
The work of M. Frederic Masson must not be ignored, and Madame Balli assisted him for a short time, until compelled to concentrate on her other work; but it is not comparable in scope to that of Mlle. Javal. Hers is unprecedented, one of the greatest achievements of France behind the lines, and of any woman at any time.