Gertrude Atherton
The Living Present

 

X

THE COUNTESS D'HAUSSONVILLE [D]

 

I

Madame la Comtesse d'Haussonville, it is generally conceded, is not only the greatest lady in France but stands at the very head of all women working for the public welfare in her country. That is saying a great deal, particularly at this moment.

Madame d'Haussonville is President of the first, or noblesse, division of the Red Cross, which, like the two others, has a title as distinct as the social status of the ladies who command, with diminishing degrees of pomp and power.

Société Française de Secours aux Blessés Militaires is the name of the crack regiment.

The second division, presided over by Madame Carnot, leader of the grande bourgeoisie, calls itself Association des Dames Françaises, and embraces all the charitably disposed of that haughty and powerful body.

The third, operated by Madame Perouse, and composed of able and useful women whom fate has planted in a somewhat inferior social sphere---in many social spheres, for that matter---has been named (note the significance of the differentiating noun) Union des Femmes de France.

Between these three useful and admirable organizations there is no love lost whatever. That is to say, in reasonably normal conditions. No doubt in that terrible region just behind the lines they sink all differences and pull together for the common purpose.

The Red Cross was too old and too taken-for-granted an organization, and too like our own, for all I knew to the contrary, to tempt me to give it any of the limited time at my disposal in France; so, as it happened, of these three distinguished chiefs the only one I met was Madame d'Haussonville.

She interested me intensely, not only because she stood at the head of the greatest relief organization in the world, but because she is one of the very few women, of her age, at least, who not only is a great lady but looks the rôle.

European women tend to coarseness, not to say commonness, as they advance in age, no matter what their rank; their cheeks sag and broaden, and their stomachs contract a fatal and permanent entente with their busts. Too busy or too indifferent to charge spiteful nature with the daily counter-attacks of art, they put on a red-brown wig (generally sideways) and let it go at that. Sometimes they smudge their eyebrows with a pomade which gives that extinct member the look of being neither hair, skin, nor art, but they contemptuously reject rouge or even powder. When they have not altogether discarded the follies or the ennui of dress, but patronize their modiste conscientiously, they have that "built up look" peculiar to those uncompromisingly respectable women of the first society in our own land, who frown upon the merely smart.

It is only the young women of fashion in France who make up lips, brows, and cheeks, as well as hair and earlobes, who often look like young clowns, and whose years give them no excuse for making up beyond subservience to the mode of the hour.

It is even sadder when they are emulated by ambitious ladies in the provinces. I went one day to a great concert---given for charity, of course---in a town not far from Paris. The Mayor presided and his wife was with him. As I had been taken out from Paris by one of the Patrons I sat in the box with this very well-dressed and important young woman, and she fascinated me so that I should have feared to appear rude if she had not been far too taken up with the titled women from Paris, whom she was meeting for the first time in her life, to pay any attention to a mere American.

She may have been twenty-eight, certainly not over thirty, but she had only one front tooth. It was a very large tooth and it stuck straight out. Her lips were painted an energetic vermillion. Her mouth too was large, and it spread across her dead white (and homely) face like a malignant sore. She smiled constantly---it was her rôle to be gracious to all these duchesses and ambassadresses---and that solitary tooth darted forward like a sentinel on a bridge in the War Zone. But I envied her. She was so happy. So important. I never met anybody who made me feel so insignificant.

 

II

Madame d'Haussonville naturally suggests to the chronicler the sharpest sort of contrasts.

I am told that she devoted herself to the world until the age of fifty, and she wielded a power and received a measure of adulation from both sexes that made her the most formidable social power in France. But the De Broglies are a serious family, as their record in history proves. Madame d'Haussonville, without renouncing her place in the world of fashion, devoted herself more and more to good works, her superior brain and executive abilities forcing her from year to year into positions of heavier responsibility.

I was told that she was now seventy; but she is a woman whose personality is so compelling that she rouses none of the usual vulgar curiosity as to the number of years she may have lingered on this planet. You see Madame d'Haussonville as she is and take not the least interest in what she may have been during the years before you happened to meet her.

Very tall and slender and round and straight, her figure could hardly have been more perfect at the age of thirty. The poise of her head is very haughty and the nostril of her fine French nose is arched and thin. She wears no make-up whatever, and, however plainly she may feel it her duty to dress in these days, her clothes are cut by a master and an excessively modern one at that; there is none of the Victorian built-up effect, to which our own grandes dames cling as to the rock of ages, about Madame d'Haussonville. Her waist line is in its proper place---she does not go to the opposite extreme and drag it down to her knees---and one feels reasonably sure that it will be there at the age of ninety---presupposing that the unthinkable amount of hard work she accomplishes daily during this period of her country's crucifixion shall not have devoured the last of her energies long before she is able to enter the peaceful haven of old age.

She is in her offices at the Red Cross headquarters in the Rue François Ier early and late, leaving them only to visit hospitals or sit on some one of the innumerable committees where her advice is imperative, during the organizing period at least.

Some time ago I wrote to Madame d'Haussonville, asking her if she would dictate a few notes about her work in the Red Cross, and as she wrote a very full letter in reply, I cannot do better than quote it, particularly as it gives a far more comprehensive idea of her personality than any words of mine.

"Paris, March 28th, 1917.

"Dear Mrs. Atherton:

"I am very much touched by your gracious letter and very happy if I can serve you.

"Here are some notes about our work, and about what I have seen since August, 1914. All our thoughts and all our strength are in the great task, that of all French women, to aid the wounded, the ill, those who remain invalids, the refugees of the invaded districts, all the sufferings actually due to these cruel days.

"Some weeks before the war, I was called to the ministry, where they asked me to have two hundred infirmaries ready for all possible happenings. We had already established a great number, of which many had gone to Morocco and into the Colonies. To-day there are fifteen or sixteen thousand volunteer nurses to whom are added about eleven thousand auxiliaries used in accessory service (kitchen, bandages, sterilization, etc.) and also assisting in the wards of the ill and the wounded.

"To the hospitals there have been added since the month of August, 1914, the infirmaries and station cantines where our soldiers receive the nourishment and hot drinks which are necessary for their long journeys.

"At Amiens, for instance, the cantine, an annex of the station infirmary began with the distribution of slices of bread and drinks made by our women as the trains arrived. Then a big room used for baggage was given to us. A dormitory was made of it for tired soldiers, also a reading-room. At any hour French, English or Belgians may receive a good meal---soup, one kind of meat and vegetables, coffee or tea. Civil refugees are received there and constantly aided and fed.

"Our nurses attend to all wants, and above everything they believe in putting their hearts into their work administering to those who suffer with the tenderness of a mother. In the hospital wards nothing touched me more than to see the thousand little kindnesses which they gave to the wounded, the distractions which they sought to procure for them each day.

"In our great work of organization at the Bureau on Rue François Ier, I have met the most beautiful devotion. Our nurses do not hesitate at contagion, nor at bombardments, and I know some of your compatriots (that I can never admire enough), who expose themselves to the same dangers with hearts full of courage.

"I have visited the hospitals nearest the Front, Dunkerque, so cruelly shelled. I have been to Alsace, to Lorraine, then to Verdun from where I brought back the most beautiful impression of calm courage.

"Here are some details which may interest your compatriots:

"June 1916. My first stop was at Châlons, where with Mme. Terneaux-Compans our devoted senior nurse, I visited the hospital Corbineau, former quarters for the cavalry, very well reconstructed by the Service de Santé, for sick soldiers; our nurses are doing service there; generous gifts have enabled us to procure a small motor which carries water to the three stories, and we have been able to install baths for the typhoid patients.

"At the hospital Forgeot (for the officers) I admired the ingeniousness with which our nurses have arranged for their wounded a quite charming assembly-room with a piano, some growing plants and several games.

"I also visited our auxiliary hospital at Sainte-Croix. It would be impossible to find a more beautiful location, a better organization. I have not had, to my great regret, the time to visit the other hospitals, which, however, I already know. That will be, I hope, for another time.

"The same day I went to Revigny. Oh, never shall I forget the impressions that I received there. First, the passage through that poor village in ruins, then the visit to the hospital situated near the station through which most of the wounded from Verdun pass.

"What was, several months ago, a field at the edge of the road, has become one big hospital of more than a thousand beds, divided into baraques. We have twenty-five nurses there. Since the beginning of the battle they have been subjected to frightful work; every one has to care for a number of critically wounded---those who have need of operations and who are not able to travel further. What moved me above everything was to find our nurses so simple and so modest in their courage. Not a single complaint about their terrible fatigue---their one desire is to hold out to the end. When I expressed my admiration, one of them answered: 'We have only one regret: it is that we have too much work to give special attention to each of the wounded, and then above all it is terrible to see so many die.'

"I visited some of the baraques, and I observed that, in spite of the excessive work, they were not only clean but well cared for, and flowers everywhere! I also saw a tent where there were about ten Germans; one of our nurses who spoke their language was in charge; they seemed to me very well taken care of---'well,' because they were wounded, not 'too well' because---we cannot forget.

"I tore myself away from Revigny, where I should have liked to remain longer, and I arrived that night at Jeans d'Heurs, which seemed to me a small paradise. The wounded were admirably cared for in beautiful rooms, with windows opening on a ravishing park; the nurses housed with the greatest care.

"The next day I was at Bar-le-Duc, first at the Central, which is an immense hospital of three thousand beds. Before the war it was a caserne (barrack). They reconstructed the buildings and in the courts they put up sheds; our nurses are at work there---among them the beloved President of our Association---the Mutual Association of Nurses. All these buildings seemed to me perfect. I visited specially the splendidly conducted surgical pavilion and the typhoid pavilion.

"The white-washed walls have been decorated by direction of the nurses with great friezes of color, producing a charming effect which ought to please the eyes of our beloved sick.

"I visited also the laboratory where they showed me the chart of the typhoid patients---the loss so high in 1914---so low in 1915. I noted down some figures which I give here for those who are interested in the question of anti-typhoid vaccine: In November 1914, 379 deaths. In November 1915, 22! What a new and wonderful victory for French science! I must add that three of our nurses have contracted typhoid fever; none of them was inoculated; twenty who were inoculated caught nothing.

"While we were making this visit, we heard the whistle which announced the arrival of taubes---we wanted very much to remain outside to see, but we were ordered to go in; I observed that our nurses obeyed the order because of discipline, not on account of fear. 'We can only die once!' one of them said to me, shrugging her shoulders. Their chief concern is for the poor wounded. Many of them now that they are in bed, powerless to defend themselves, become nervous at the approach of danger. They have to be reassured. If the shelling becomes too heavy, they carry them down into the cellars.

"These taubes having gone back this time without causing any damage, we set off for Savonnières, a field hospital of about three hundred beds, established in a little park. It is charming in summer, it may be a little damp in winter, but the nurses do not complain; the nurses never complain!

"Saturday was the most interesting day of my trip. I saw two field hospitals between Bar-le-Duc and Verdun. Oh! those who have not been in the War Zone cannot imagine the impression that I received on the route which leads 'out there,' toward the place where the greatest, the most atrocious struggle that has ever been is going on. All those trucks by hundreds going and coming from Verdun; those poor men breaking stones, ceaselessly repairing the roads, the aeroplane bases, the dépôts of munitions, above all the villages filled with troops, all those dear little soldiers, some of them fresh and clean, going, the others yellow with mud returning---all this spectacle grips and thrills you.

"We breakfasted at Chaumont-sur-Aire; I cannot say how happy I was to share, if only for an hour, the life of our dear nurses! Life here is hard. They are lodged among the natives more or less well. They live in a little peasant's room near a stable; they eat the food of the wounded, not very varied---'boule' every two weeks. How they welcomed the good fresh bread that I brought!

"Their work is not easy, scattered over a wide field; tents, and barns here and there, and then they have been deprived of an 'autocher,' which had to leave for some other destination.

"Many of the wounded from Verdun come there; and what wounded! Never shall I forget the frightful plight of one unfortunate, upon whom they were going to operate without much chance of success alas. He had remained nearly four days without aid, and gangrene had done its work.

"I had tears in my eyes watching the sleep of our heroes who had arrived that morning overcome and wornout, all covered with dust; I would have liked to put them in good beds, all white with soft pillows under their heads. Alas in these hospitals at the front, one cannot give them the comfort of our hospitals in the rear.

"After having assisted at the great spectacle of a procession of taubes going toward Bar-le-Duc, I was obliged to leave Chaumont to go to Vadelaincourt, which is thirteen kilometres from Verdun, the nearest point of our infirmaries. I was there in March at the beginning of the battle.

"What wonderful work has been accomplished! It is not for me to judge the Service de Santé, but I cannot help observing that a hospital like that of Vadelaincourt does honor to the head doctor who organized it in full battle in the midst of a thousand difficulties. It is very simple, very practical, very complete. I found nurses there who for the most part have not been out of the region of Verdun since the beginning of the war. Their task is especially hard. How many wounded have passed through their hands; how have they been able to overcome all their weariness? It is a pleasure to find them always alert and watchful; I admired and envied them.

"It was not without regret that I turned my back on this region whose close proximity to the Front makes one thrill with emotion; I went to calmer places, I saw less thrilling things, but nevertheless, interesting: the charming layout at Void, that at Sorcy, in process of organizing, the grand hospital of Toul which was shelled by taubes. I was able to see the enormous hole dug by the bomb which fell very near the building that sheltered our nurses, who had but one idea, to run to their wounded and reassure them.

"I visited at Nancy a very beautiful hospital, the Malgrange, which is almost unique; it is the Red Cross which houses the military hospital. At the instant of bombardment, most of the hospitals were vacated; ours, situated outside of the city, gathered in the wounded and all the personnel of the military hospital, and it goes very well.

"I finished my journey with the Vosges, Épinal, Belfort, Gerardmer, Bussang, Morvillars; all these hospitals which were filled for a long time with the wounded from the battles of the Vosges (especially our brave Alpines) are quiet now.

"If I congratulated the nurses of the region of Verdun upon their endurance, I do not congratulate less those of the Vosges upon their constancy; Gerardmer has had very full days---days when one could not take a thought to one's self. There is something painful, in a way, in seeing great happenings receding from you. We do not hear the cannon any longer, the wounded arrive more rarely, we have no longer enough to do, we are easily discouraged, we should like to be elsewhere and yet one must remain there at his post ready in case of need, which may come perhaps when it is least expected.

"I shall have many things still to tell you, but I am going to resume my impressions of this little trip in a few words.

"I have been filled with admiration. The word has, I believe, fallen many times from my pen, and it will fall again and again. I have admired our dear wounded, so courageous in their suffering, so gracious to all those who visit them; I have admired the doctors who are making and have made every day, such great efforts to organize and to better conditions; and our nurses I have never ceased to admire. When I see them I find them just as I hoped, very courageous and also very simple. They speak very little of themselves, and a great deal of their wounded; they complain very little of their fatigue, sometimes of not having enough to do. They always meet cheerfully the material difficulties of their existence as they do almost always the moral difficulties which are even more difficult. Self-abnegation, attention to their duty, seem to them so natural that one scarcely dares to praise them.

"There is one thing that I must praise them for particularly---that they always seem to keep the beautiful charming coquetry that belongs to every woman. I often arrived without warning. I never saw hair disarranged or dress neglected. This exterior perfection is, I may say, a distinctive mark of our nurses.

"And then I like the care with which they decorate and beautify their hospital. Everywhere flowers, pictures, bits of stuff to drape their rooms. At Revigny in one of the baraques I saw flowers, simple flowers gathered in the neighboring field, so prettily arranged, portraits of our generals framed in green. When I complimented a nurse, she answered: 'Ah, no; it is not well done; but I hadn't the time to do better.'

"At Vadelaincourt, a little room was set aside for dressings, all done in white with curtains of white and two little vases of flowers. What a smiling welcome for the poor wounded who come there! 'The arrangement of a room has a great deal of influence on the morale of the wounded,' a doctor said to me. All this delights me!

"I have finished, but I shall think for a long time of this journey which has left in my memory unforgettable sights and in my heart very tender impressions.

"In the Somme, also, our nurses have worked with indefatigable ardor, and they go on without relaxation. The poor refugees, which the Germans return to us often sick and destitute of everything, are received and comforted by our women of the Red Cross.

"The three societies of the Red Cross---our Society for the Relief of the Military Wounded, the Union of the Women of France, and the Association of the Ladies of France---work side by side under the direction of the Service de Santé.

"Our Society for the Relief of the Military Wounded has actually about seven hundred hospitals, which represent sixty thousand beds, where many nurses are occupied from morning until night, and many of them serve also at the military hospital at the Front, and in the Orient (three to four thousand nurses).

"Every day new needs make us create new oeuvres, which we organize quickly.

"The making of bandages and compresses has always been an important work with us. Yards of underclothing and linen are continually asked of us by our nurses for their sick. The workshops which we have opened since the beginning of the war assist with work a great number of women who have been left by the mobilization of their men without resources.

"The clubs for soldiers, in Paris especially, give to the convalescents and to the men on leave wholesome amusement and compensate somewhat for their absent families.

"Just now we are trying to establish an anti-tuberculosis organization to save those of our soldiers who have been infected or are menaced. Many hospitals are already opened for them. At Menton, on the Mediterranean, for the blind tubercular; at Hauteville, in the Department of the Aisne, for the officers and soldiers; at La Rochelle, for bone-tuberculosis; but the task is enormous.

"We seek also, and the work is under way, to educate intelligently the mutilated, so that they may work and have an occupation in the sad life which remains to them, and I assure you, chère madame, that so many useful things to be done leave very few leisure hours. If a little weariness has in spite of everything slipped into our hearts, a visit to the hospitals, to the ambulances at the Front, the sight of suffering so bravely, I will even say so cheerfully, supported by our soldiers, very quickly revives our courage, and brings us back our strength and enthusiasm...."

The Countess de Roussy de Sales (an American brought up in Paris) was one of the first of the infirmières to be mobilized by Madame d'Haussonville on the declaration of war. She went to Rheims with the troops, standing most of the time, but too much enthralled by the spirit of the men to notice fatigue. She told me that although they were very sober, even grim, she heard not a word of complaint, but constantly the ejaculation: "It is for France and our children. What if we die, so long as our children may live in peace?"

At Rheims, so impossible had it been to make adequate preparations with the Socialists holding up every projected budget, there were no installations in the hospitals but beds. The nurses and doctors were obliged to forage in the town for operating tables and the hundred and one other furnishings without which no hospital can be conducted. And they had little time. The wounded came pouring in at once. Madame de Roussy de Sales said they were so busy it was some time before it dawned on them, in spite of the guns, that the enemy was approaching. But when women and children and old people began to hurry through the streets in a constant procession they knew it was only a matter of time before they were ordered out. They had no time to think, however; much less to fear.

Finally the order came to evacuate the hospitals and leave the town, which at that time was in imminent danger of capture. There was little notice. The last train leaves at three o'clock. Be there. Madame de Roussy de Sales and several other nurses begged to go with those of their wounded impossible to transfer by trains, to the civilian hospitals and make them comfortable before leaving them in the hands of the local nurses; and obtained permission. The result was that when they reached the station they saw the train retreating in the distance. But they had received orders to report at a hospital in another town that same afternoon. No vehicles were to be had. There was nothing to do but walk. They walked. The distance was twenty-three kilometres. As they had barely sat down since their arrival in Rheims it may be imagined they would have been glad to rest when they reached their destination. But this hospital too was crowded with wounded. They went on duty at once. C'est la guerre! I never heard any one complain.

  

XI

THE MARQUISE D'ANDIGNÉ

The Marquise d'Andigné, who was Madeline Goddard of Providence, R.I., is President of Le Bien-Être du Blessé, an oeuvre formed by Madame d'Haussonville at the request of the Ministère de la Guerre in May, 1915. She owes this position as president of one of the most important war relief organizations (perhaps after the Red Cross the most important) to the energy, conscientiousness, and brilliant executive abilities she had demonstrated while at the Front in charge of more than one hospital. She is an infirmiére major and was decorated twice for cool courage and resource under fire.

The object of Le Bien-Être du Blessé is to provide delicacies for the dietary kitchens of the hospitals in the War Zone, as many officers and soldiers had died because unable to eat eggs, or drink milk, the only two articles furnished by the rigid military system of the most conservative country in the world. The articles supplied by Le Bien-Être du Blessé are very simple: condensed milk, sugar, cocoa, Franco-American soups, chocolate, sweet biscuits, jams, preserves, prunes, tea. Thousands of lives have been saved by Bien-Être during the past year; for men who are past caring, or wish only for the release of death, have been coaxed back to life by a bit of jam on the tip of a biscuit, or a teaspoonful of chicken soup.

Some day I shall write the full and somewhat complicated history of Le Bien-Être du Blessé, quoting from many of Madame d'Andigné's delightful letters. But there is no space here and I will merely mention that my own part as the American President of Le Bien-Être du Blessé is to provide the major part of the funds with which it is run, lest any of my readers should be tempted to help me out.[E] Donations from ten cents to ten thousand are welcome, and $5 keeps a wounded man for his entire time in one of those dreary hospitals in that devastated region known as "Le Zone des Armées," where relatives nor friends ever come to visit, and there is practically no sound but the thunder of guns without and groans within. Not that the French do groan much. I went through many of these hospitals and never heard a demonstration. But I am told they do sometimes.

To Madame d'Andigné belongs all the credit of building up Le Bien-Être du Blessé from almost nothing (for we were nearly two years behind the other great war-relief organizations in starting). Although many give her temporary assistance no one will take charge of any one department and she runs every side and phase of the work. Last winter she was cold, and hungry, and always anxious about her husband, but she was never absent from the office for a day except when she could not get coal to warm it; and then she conducted the business of the oeuvre in her own apartment, where one room was warmed with wood she had sawed herself.

To-day Le Bien-Être du Blessé is not only one of the most famous of all the war-relief organizations of the fighting powers but it has been run with such systematic and increasing success that the War Office has installed Bien-Être kitchens in the hospitals (before, the nurses had to cook our donations over their own spirit lamp) and delegated special cooks to relieve the hard-worked infirmières of a very considerable tax on their energies. This is a tremendous bit of radicalism on the part of the Military Department of France, and one that hardly can be appreciated by citizens of a land always in a state of flux. There is even talk of making these Bien-Être kitchens a part of the regular military system after the war is over, and if they do commit themselves to so revolutionary an act no doubt the name of the young American Marquise will go down to posterity---as it deserves to do, in any case.

 

XII

MADAME CAMILLE LYON

Madame Lyon committed on my behalf what for her was a tremendous breach of the proprieties: she called upon me without the formality of a letter of introduction. No American can appreciate what such a violation of the formalities of all the ages must have meant to a pillar of the French Bourgeoisie. But she set her teeth and did it. Her excuse was that she had read all my books, and that she was a friend of Mlle. Thompson, at whose École Hôtelière I was lodging.

I was so impressed at the unusualness of this proceeding that, being out when she first called, and unable to receive her explanations, I was filled with dark suspicion and sought an explanation of Mlle. Jacquier. Madame Lyon? Was she a newspaper woman? A secret service agent? Between the police round the corner and Mlle. Jacquier, under whose eagle eye I conformed to all the laws of France in war time, I felt in no further need of supervision.

Mlle. Jacquier was very much amused. Madame Lyon was a very important person. Her husband had been associated with the Government for fourteen years until he had died, leaving a fortune behind him, a year before; and Madame Lyon was not only on intimate terms with the Government but made herself useful in every way possible to them. She was one of the two ladies asked to cooperate with the Government in their great enterprise to wage war on tuberculosis---Le Comité Central d'Assistance aux Militaires Tuberculeux; and was to open ateliers to teach the men how to learn new trades by which they might sit at home in comfort and support themselves.

And she had her own ouvroir---"L'Aide Immédiate"---for providing things for the permissionnaires, who came to the door and asked for them. She ran, with a committee of other ladies, a café in Paris, where the permissionnaires or the réformés could go and have their afternoon coffee and smoke all the cigarettes that their devoted patrons provided. One hundred poilus came here a day, and her ouvroir had already assisted eighteen thousand. And------

But by this time I was more interested to meet Madame Lyon than any one in Paris. As I have said before, a letter or two will open the doors of the noblesse or the "Intellectuals" to any stranger who knows how to behave himself and is no bore, but to get a letter to a member of the bourgeoisie---I hadn't even made the attempt, knowing how futile it would be. If one of them was doing a great work, like Mlle. Javal, I could meet her quite easily through some member of her committee; but when Frenchwomen of this class, which in its almost terrified exclusiveness reminds me only of our own social groups balancing on the very tip of the pyramid and clutching one another lest some intruder topple them off, or cast the faintest shadow on their hard-won prestige, are working in small groups composed of their own friends, I could not meet one of them if I pitched my tent under her windows.

Madame Lyon gave me a naïve explanation of her audacity when we finally did meet. "I am a Jewess," she said, "and therefore not so bound down by conventions. You see, we of the Jewish race were suppressed so long that now we have our freedom reaction makes us almost adventurous."

Besides hastening to tell me of her race she promptly, as if it were a matter of honor, informed me that she was sixty years old! She looked about forty, her complexion was white and smooth, her nose little and straight, her eyes brilliant. She dressed in the smartest possible mourning, and with that white ruff across her placid brow---Oh là là!

She has one son, who was wounded so terribly in the first year of the war, and was so long getting to a hospital where he could receive proper attention, that he was gangrened. In consequence his recovery was very slow, and he was not permitted to go again to the trenches, but was, after his recovery, sent up north to act as interpreter between the British and French troops. He stood this for a few months, and Madame Lyon breathed freely, but there came a time when M. Lyon, although a lawyer in times of peace, could not stand the tame life of interpreter. He might be still delicate, but, he argued, there were officers at the front who had only one arm. At the present moment he is in the stiffest fighting on the Somme.

I saw a great deal of Madame Lyon and enjoyed no one more, she was so independent, so lively of mind, and so ready for anything. She went with me on two of my trips in the War Zone, being only too glad of mental distraction; for like all the mothers of France she dreads the ring of the door-bell. She told me that several times the ladies who worked in her ouvroir would come down with beaming faces and read extracts from letters just received from their sons at the Front, then go home and find a telegram announcing death or shattered limbs.

Madame Lyon has a hôtel on the Boulevard Berthier and before her husband's death was famous for her political breakfasts, which were also graced by men and women distinguishing themselves in the arts. These breakfasts have not been renewed, but I met at tea there a number of the political women. One of these was Madame Ribot, wife of the present Premier. She is a very tall, thin, fashionable looking woman, and before she had finished the formalities with her hostess (and these formalities do take so long!) I knew her to be an American. She spoke French as fluently as Madame Lyon, but the accent, however faint---or was it a mere intonation,---was unmistakable. She told me afterward that she had come to France as a child and had not been in the United States for fifty-two years!

One day Madame Lyon took me to see the ateliers of Madame Viviani---in other words, the workshops where the convalescents who must become réformés are learning new trades and industries under the patronage of the wife of the cabinet minister now best known to us. Madame Viviani has something like ten or twelve of these ateliers, but after I had seen one or two of the same sort of anything in Paris, and listened to long conscientious explanations, and walked miles in those enormous hospitals (originally, for the most part, Lycées) I felt that duplication could not enhance my knowledge, and might, indeed, have the sad effect of blunting it.

Madame Lyon said to me more than once: "Ma chère, you are without exception, the most impatient woman I have ever seen in my life. You no sooner enter a place than you want to leave it." She was referring at the moment to the hospitals in the War Zone, where she would lean on the foot of every bed and have a long gossip with the delighted inmate, extract the history of his wound, and relate the tale of similar wounds, healed by surgery, time and patience---while I, having made the tour of the cots, either opened and shut the door significantly, or walked up and down impatiently, occasionally muttering in her ear.

The truth of the matter was that I had long since cultivated the habit of registering definite impressions in a flash, and after a tour of the cots, which took about seven minutes, could have told her the nature of every wound. Moreover, I knew the men did not want to talk to me, and I felt impertinent hanging round.

But all this was incomprehensible to a Frenchwoman, to whom time is nothing, and who knows how the French in any conditions love to talk.

However, to return to Madame Viviani.

After one futile attempt, when I got lost, I met Madame Lyon and her distinguished but patient friend out in one of the purlieus of Paris where the Lycée of Arts and Crafts has been turned into a hospital for convalescents.

Under the direction of a doctor each convalescent was working at what his affected muscles most needed or could stand. Those that ran sewing-machines exercised their legs. Those that made toys and cut wood with the electric machines got a certain amount of arm exercise. The sewing-machine experts had already made fifty thousand sacks for sand fortifications and breastworks.

From this enormous Lycée (which cost, I was told, five million francs) we drove to the Salpêtrière, which in the remote ages before the war, was an old people's home. Its extent, comprising, as it does, court after court, gardens, masses of buildings which loom beyond and yet beyond, not only inspired awed reflections of the number of old that must need charity in Paris but made one wonder where they were at the present moment, now that the Salpêtrière had been turned into a hospital. Perhaps, being very old, they had conveniently died.

Here the men made wooden shoes with leather tops for the trenches, cigarette packages, ingenious toys---the airships and motor ambulances were the most striking; baskets, chairs, lace.

The rooms I visited were in charge of an English infirmière and were fairly well aired. Some of the men would soon be well enough to go back to the Front and were merely given occupation during their convalescence. But in the main the object is to prepare the unfortunates known as réformés for the future.

Since the fighting on the Somme began Madame Lyon has gone several times a month to the recaptured towns, in charge of train-loads of installations for the looted homes of the wretched people. In one entire village the Germans had left just one saucepan. Nothing else whatever.

 

XIII

BRIEF ACCOUNTS OF GREAT WORK

 

THE DUCHESSE D'UZÈS

The Duchesse d'Uzès (jeune) was not only one of the reigning beauties of Paris before the war but one of its best-dressed women; nor had she ever been avoided for too serious tendencies. She went to work the day war began and she has never ceased to work since. She has started something like seventeen hospitals both at the French front and in Saloniki, and her tireless brain has to its credit several notable inventions for moving field hospitals.

Near Amiens is the most beautiful of the duc's castles, Lucheux, built in the eleventh century. This she turned into a hospital during the first battle of the Somme in 1915, and as it could only accommodate a limited number she had hospital tents erected in the park. Seven hundred were cared for there. Lucheux is now a hospital for officers.

She herself is an infirmière major and not only goes back and forth constantly to the hospitals in which she is interested, particularly Lucheux, but sometimes nurses day and night.

I was very anxious to see Lucheux, as well as Arras, which is not far from Amiens, and, a vast ruin, is said to be by moonlight the most beautiful sight on earth. We both besieged the War Office. But in vain. The great Battle of the Somme had just begun. They are so polite at the Ministère de la Guerre! If I had only thought of it a month earlier. Or if I could remain in France a month or two longer? But hélas! They could not take the responsibility of letting an American woman go so close to the big guns. And so forth. It was sad enough that the duchess risked her life, took it in her hand, in fact, every time she visited the château, but as a Frenchwoman, whose work was of such value to France, it was their duty to assist her in the fulfillment of her own duty to her country. Naturally her suggestion to take me on her passport as an infirmière was received with a smile. So I must see Arras with a million other tourists after the war.

The duchess prefers for reasons of her own to work, not with the noblesse division of the Red Cross, but with the Union des Femmes de France. As she is extremely independent, impatient, and enterprising, with a haughty disdain of red tape, the reasons for this uncommon secession may be left to the reader.

And if she is to-day one of the most valued of the Ministère de la Guerre's coöperators, she has on the other hand reason to be grateful for the incessant demands upon her mind, for her anxieties have been great---no doubt are still. Not only is the duc at the front, but one of two young nephews who lived with her was killed last summer, and the other, a young aviator, who was just recovering from typhoid when I was there, was ill-concealing his impatience to return to the Front. Her son, a boy of seventeen---a volunteer of course---in the sudden and secret transfers the army authorities are always making, sometimes could not communicate with her for a fortnight at a time, and meanwhile she did not know whether he was alive or "missing." Since then he has suffered one of those cruel misfortunes which, in this war, seem to be reserved for the young and gallant. She writes of it in that manner both poignant and matter-of-fact that is so characteristic of the French mother these days:

"I have just gone through a great deal of anguish on account of my oldest son, who, as I told you, left the cavalry to enter the chasseurs à pied at his request.

"The poor boy was fighting in the splendid (illegible) affair, and he was buried twice, then caught by the stifling gases, his mask having been torn off. He insisted upon remaining at his post, in spite of the fact that he was spitting blood. Fortunately a lieutenant passed by and saw him. He gave orders to have him carried away. As soon as he reached the ambulance he fainted and could only be brought to himself with the greatest difficulty. His lungs are better, thank God, but his heart is very weak, and even his limbs are affected by the poison. Many weeks will be required to cure him. I don't know yet where he will be sent to be attended to, but of course I shall accompany him.... The duc is always in the Somme, where the bombardment is something dreadful. He sleeps in a hut infested with rats. Really it is a beautiful thing to see so much courage and patience among men of all ages in this country."

In the same letter she writes: "I am just about to finish my new Front hospital according to the desiderata expressed by our President of the Hygiène Commission. I hope it will be accepted as a type of the surgical movable ambulances."

Before it was generally known that Roumania was "coming in" she had doctors and nurses for several months in France in the summer of 1916 studying all the latest devices developed by the French throughout this most demanding of all wars. The officials sent with them adopted several of the Duchesse d'Uzès' inventions for the movable field hospital.

She has never sent me the many specific details of her work that she promised me, or this article would be longer. But, no wonder! What time have those women to sit down and write? I often wonder they gave me as much time as they did when I was on the spot.

 

THE DUCHESSE DE ROHAN

Before the war society used to dance once a week in the red and gold salon of the historic "hôtel" of the Rohans' in the Faubourg St. Germain, just behind the Hôtel des Invalides. Here the duchess entertained when she took up her residence there as a bride; and, as her love of "the world" never waned, she danced on with the inevitable pauses for birth and mourning, until her daughters grew up and brought to the salon a new generation. But the duchess and her own friends continued to dance on a night set apart for themselves, and in time all of her daughters, but one, married and entertained in their own hôtels. Her son, who, in due course, became the Duc de Rohan, also married; but mothers are not dispossessed in France, and the duchess still remained the center of attraction at the Hôtel de Rohan.

Until August second, 1914.

The duchess immediately turned the hôtel into a hospital. When I arrived last summer it looked as if it had been a hospital for ever. All the furniture of the first floor had been stored and the immense dining-room, the red and gold salon, the reception rooms, all the rooms large and small on this floor, in fact, were lined with cots. The pictures and tapestries have been covered with white linen, four bathrooms have been installed, and a large operating and surgical-dressing room built as an annex. The hall has been turned into a "bureau," with a row of offices presided over by Maurice Rostand.

Behind the hôtel is the usual beautiful garden, very large and shaded with splendid trees. During fine weather there are cots or long chairs under every tree, out in the sun, on the veranda; and, after the War Zone, these men seemed to me very fortunate. The duchess takes in any one sent to her, the Government paying her one-franc-fifty a day for each. The greater part of her own fortune was invested in Brussels.

She and her daughters and a few of her friends do all of the nursing, even the most menial. They wait on the table, because it cheers the poilus---who, by the way, all beg, as soon as they have been there a few days, to be put in the red and gold salon. It keeps up their spirits! Her friends and their friends, if they have any in Paris, call constantly and bring them cigarettes. Fortunately I was given the hint by the Marquise de Talleyrand, who took me the first time, and armed myself with one of those long boxes that may be carried most conveniently under the arm. Otherwise, I should have felt like a superfluous intruder, standing about those big rooms looking at the men. In the War Zone where there were often no cigarettes, or anything else, to be bought, it was different. The men were only too glad to see a new face.

The duchess trots about indefatigably, assists at every operation, assumes personal charge of infectious cases, takes temperatures, waits on the table, and prays all night by the dying. Mr. Van Husen, a young American who was helping her at that time, told me that if a boy died in the hospital and was a devout Catholic, and friendless in Paris, she arranged to have a high mass for his funeral service at a church in the neighborhood.

The last time I saw her she was feeling very happy because her youngest son, who had been missing for several weeks, had suddenly appeared at the hôtel and spent a few days with her. A week later the Duc de Rohan, one of the most brilliant soldiers in France, was killed; and since my return I have heard of the death of her youngest. Such is life for the Mothers of France to-day.

 

COUNTESS GREFFULHE

The Countess Greffulhe (born Princesse de Chimay and consequently a Belgian, although no stretch of fancy could picture her as anything but a Parisian) offered her assistance at once to the Government and corresponded with hundreds of Mayors in the provinces in order to have deserted hotels made over into hospitals with as little delay as possible. She also established a dépôt to which women could come privately and sell their laces, jewels, bibelots, etc. Her next enterprise was to form a powerful committee which responsible men and women of the allied countries could ask to get up benefits when the need for money was pressing.

Upon one occasion when a British Committee made this appeal she induced Russia to send a ballet for a single performance; and she also persuaded the manager of the Opera House to open it for a gala performance for another organization. There is a romantic flavor about all the countess's work, and just how practical it was or how long it was pursued along any given line I was unable to learn.

 

MADAME PAQUIN

Madame Paquin, better known to Americans, I fancy, than any of the great dressmakers of Europe, offered her beautiful home in Neuilly to the Government to be used as a hospital, and it had accommodated up to the summer of 1916 eight thousand, nine hundred soldiers.

She also kept all her girls at work from the first. As no one ordered a gown for something like eighteen months they made garments for the soldiers, or badges for the numerous appeal days---we all decorated ourselves, within ten minutes after leaving the house, like heroes and heroines on the field, about three times a week---and upon one occasion this work involved a three months' correspondence with all the Mayors of France. It further involved the fastening of ribbons and pins (furnished by herself) upon fifteen million medallions. Madame Paquin is also on many important committees, including "L'Orphelinat des Armées," so well known to us.

 

MADAME PAUL DUPUY

Madame Dupuy was also an American girl, born in New York and now married to the owner of Le Petit Parisien and son of one of the wealthiest men in France. She opened in the first days of the war an organization which she called "Oeuvre du Soldat Blessé ou Malade," and from her offices in the Hôtel de Crillon and her baraque out at the Dépôt des Dons (where we all have warehouses), she supplies surgeons at the Front with wheeling-chairs, surgical dressings, bed garments, rubber for operating tables, instruments, slippers, pillows, blankets, and a hundred and one other things that harassed surgeons at the Front are always demanding. The oeuvre of the Marquise de Noailles, with which a daughter of Mrs. Henry Seligman, Madame Henri van Heukelom, is closely associated, is run on similar lines.

I have alluded frequently in the course of these reminiscences to Madame Dupuy, who was of the greatest assistance to me, and more than kind and willing. I wish I could have returned it by collecting money for her oeuvre when I returned to New York, but I found that Le Bien-Être du Blessé was all I could manage. Moreover, it is impossible to get money these days without a powerful committee behind you. To go to one wealthy and generous person or another as during the first days of the war and ask for a donation for the president of an oeuvre unrepresented in this country is out of the question. It is no longer done, as the English say.

 

XIV

ONE OF THE MOTHERLESS

Versailles frames in my memory the most tragic of the war-time pictures I collected during my visit to France. That romantic and lovely city which has framed in turn the pomp and glory of France, the iconic simplicities of Marie Antoinette, the odious passions of a French mob, screeching for bread and blood, and the creation of a German Empire, will for long be associated in my mind with a sad and isolated little picture that will find no niche in history, but, as a symbol, is as diagnostic as the storming of the palace gates in 1789.

There is a small but powerful oeuvre in Paris, composed with one exception of Americans devoted to the cause of France. It was founded by its treasurer, Mr. Frederic Coudert. Mr. August Jaccaci, of New York, is President; Mrs. Cooper Hewett, Honorary President; Mrs. Robert Bliss, Vice-President; and the Committee consists of the Comtesse de Viel Castel, Mrs. Francis G. Shaw, and Mrs. William H. Hill, of Boston. It is called "The Franco-American Committee for the Protection of the Children of the Frontier."

This Committee, which in May, 1916, had already rescued twelve hundred children, was born of one of those imperative needs of the moment when the French civilians and their American friends, working behind the lines, responded to the needs of the unfortunate, with no time for foresight and prospective organization.

In August, 1914, M. Cruppi, a former Minister of State, told Mr. Coudert that in the neighborhood of Belfort there were about eighty homeless children, driven before the first great wind of the war, the battle of Metz; separated from their mothers (their fathers and big brothers were fighting) they had wandered, with other refugees, down below the area of battle and were huddled homeless and almost starving in and near the distracted town of Belfort.

Mr. Coudert immediately asked his friends in Paris to collect funds, and started with M. Cruppi for Belfort. There they found not eighty but two hundred and five children, shelterless, hungry, some of them half imbecile from shock, and all physically disordered.

To leave any of these wretched waifs behind, when Belfort itself might fall at any moment, was out of the question, and M. Cruppi and Mr. Coudert crowded them all into the military cars allotted by the Government and took them to Paris. Some money had been raised. Mr. Coudert cabled to friends in America, Mrs. Bliss (wife of the First Secretary of the American Embassy) and Mrs. Cooper Hewett contributed generously, Valentine Thompson gave her help and advice for a time, and Madame Pietre, wife of the sous-préfet of Yvetot, installed the children in an old seminary near her home and gave them her personal attention. Later, one hundred were returned to their parents and the rest placed in a beautiful château surrounded by a park.

Every day of those first terrible weeks of the war proved that more and more children must be cared for by those whom fortune had so far spared. It was then that Mr. Jaccaci renounced all private work and interests, and that Mrs. Hill, Mrs. Shaw and the Comtesse de Viel Castel volunteered. The organization was formed and christened, Mrs. Bliss provided Relief Dépôts in Paris, and Mr. Coudert returned to New York for a brief visit in search of funds.

During the bombardment of the Belgian and French towns these children came into Paris on every train. They were tagged like post-office packages, and it was as well they were, not only because some were too little to know or to pronounce their names correctly, but even the older ones were often too dazed to give a coherent account of themselves; although the more robust quickly recovered. The first thing to do with this human flotsam was to wash and disinfect and feed it, clip its hair to the skull, and then, having burned the rags of arrival, dress it in clean substantial clothes. While I was in Paris Mr. Jaccaci and Mrs. Hill were meeting these trains; and, when the smaller children arrived frightened and tearful they took them in their arms and consoled them all the way to the Relief Dépôts. The result was that they needed the same treatment as the children.

It was generally the Curé or the Mayor of the bombarded towns that had rounded up each little parentless army and headed it toward Paris. When the larger children were themselves again they all told the same bitter monotonous stories. Suddenly a rain of shrapnel fell on their village or town. They fled to the cellars, perhaps to the one Cave Voûtée (a stone cellar with vaulted roof) and there herded in indescribable filth, darkness, fear, hunger for weeks and even months at a time. The shelling of a village soon stopped, but in the larger towns, strategic points desired of the enemy, the bombarding would be incessant. Mothers, or older children, would venture out for food, returning perhaps with enough to keep the pale flame of life alive, as often as not falling a huddled mass a few feet from the exit of the cellar. Mothers died of typhoid, pneumonia, in childbirth; others never had reached the cellar with their own children in the panic; one way or another these children arrived in Paris in a state of orphanhood, although later investigations proved them to have been hiding close to their mother (and sometimes father; for all men are not physically fit for war) by the width of a street, in a town where the long roar of guns dulled the senses and the affections, and the constant hail of shrapnel precluded all search for anything but food.

Moreover, many families had fled from villages lying in the path of the advancing hordes to the neighboring towns, and there separated, crowding into the nearest Caves Voûtées. Most of these poor women carried a baby and were distraught with fear besides; the older children must cling to the mother's skirts or become lost in the mêlée.

When one considers that many of these children, in Rheims or Verdun, for instance, were in cellars not for weeks but for months, without seeing the light of day, with their hunger never satisfied, with corpses unburied for days until a momentary lull encouraged the elders to remove the sand bags at the exit and thrust them out, with their refuge rocking constantly and their ear-drums splitting with raucous sounds, where the stenches were enough to poison what red blood they had left and there were no medicines to care for the afflicted little bodies, one pities anew those mentally afflicted people who assert at automatic intervals, "I can't see any difference between the cruelty of the British blockade and the German submarines." The resistant powers of the human body, given the bare chance of remaining alive, are little short of phenomenal. But then, when Nature compounded the human frame it was to fling it into a newborn world far more difficult to survive than even the awful conditions of modern warfare.

Some of these children were wounded before they reached the cellars. In many cases the families remained in their homes until the walls, at first pierced by the shrapnel, began to tumble about their ears. Then they would run to the homes of friends on the other side of the town, staying there until the guns, aided by the air scouts, raked such houses as had escaped the first assault. Often there were no Caves Voûtées in the villages. The mothers cowered with their children under the tottering walls or lay flat on the ground until the German guns turned elsewhere; then they ran for the nearest town. But during these distracted transfers many received wounds whose scars they are likely to carry through life. The most seriously wounded were taken to the military hospitals, where they either died, or, if merely in need of bandages, were quickly turned out to make room for some poilu arriving in the everlasting procession of stretchers.

Sometimes, flat on their stomachs, the more curious and intelligent of the children watched the shells sailing overhead to drop upon some beautiful villa or château and transpose it into a heap of stones. Where there were English or Americans in these bombarded towns, or where the Curés or the Mayors of those invaded had not been shot or imprisoned, the children were sent as quickly as possible to Paris, the mothers, when there were any, only too content to let them go and to remain behind and take their chances with the shells.

One little Belgian named Bonduelle, who, with two brothers, reached Paris in safety, is very graphic: "We are three orphans," he replied in answer to the usual questions. "Our uncle and aunt took the place of our dear parents, so soon taken from us.... It was towards the evening of Wednesday, 6th September, 1914, that I was coming back to my uncle's house from Ypres, when all at once I heard shrieks and yells in the distance. I stopped, for I was like one stunned. On hearing behind me, on the highway, German cavalry, I ran into a house where I spent the night. I could not close my eyes when I thought of the anxiety of my uncle and aunt and of the fate of my two small brothers, Michael and Roger. Early the following day I rushed to our house. Everybody was in the cellar. We shed tears on meeting again. I found two of my cousins wounded by a shell which had exploded outside our door. Soon another shell comes and smashes our house. I was wounded. Dazed with fear, my cousin and myself got out through a window from the cellar, we ran across fields and meadows to another uncle, where the rest of the family followed us soon. We remained there the whole winter, but what a sad winter! We have not taken off our clothes, for at every moment we feared to have to run away again.

"The big guns rumbled very much and the shells whistled over our heads. Every one heard: 'So-and-so is killed' or 'wounded, by a shell.' 'Such-and-such-a-house is ruined by a shell.'

"After having spent more than seven months in incredible fear, my brothers and myself have left the village, at the order of the gendarmes, and the English took us to Hazebrouck, from where we went to Paris."

In some cases the parents, or, as was most generally the case, the mother, after many terrifying experiences in her village, passed and repassed by the Germans, having heard of the relief stations in Paris, sent their children, properly tagged, to be cared for in a place of comparative safety until the end of the war. Young Bruno Van Wonterghem told his experience in characteristically simple words:

"Towards the evening of September 6th, 1914, the Germans arrived at our village with their ammunition. One would have thought the Last Judgment was about to begin. All the inhabitants were hiding in their houses. I was hiding in the attic, but, desirous to see a German, I was looking through a little window in the roof. Nobody in the house dared to go to bed. It was already very late when we heard knocks at the door of our shop. It was some Germans who wanted to buy chocolate. Some paid but the majority did not. They left saying, 'Let us kill the French.' The following morning they marched away toward France. In the evening one heard already the big guns in the distance.

"Turned out of France the Germans came to St. Eloi, where they remained very long. Then they advanced to Ypres. The whole winter I heard the rumbling of the big guns, and the whistling of the shells. I learned also every day of the sad deaths of the victims of that awful war. I was often very frightened and I have been very happy to leave for France with my companions."

While I was in Paris the refugee children, of course, were from the invaded districts of France; the Belgian stream had long since ceased. Already twelve hundred little victims of the first months of the war, both Belgian and French, either had been returned to their mothers or relatives by the Franco-American Committee, or placed for the educational period of their lives in families, convents, or boys' schools. The more recent were still in the various colonies established by Mrs. Hill and the other members of the Committee, where they received instruction until such time as their parents could be found, or some kind people were willing to adopt them.

It was on my first Sunday in Paris that Mr. Jaccaci and Mrs. Hill asked me to drive out with them to Versailles and visit a sanitorium for the children whose primary need was restoration to health. It was on the estate of Madame Philip Berard, who had contributed the building, while the entire funds for its upkeep, including a trained nurse, were provided by Mrs. Bliss.

Versailles was as green and peaceful as if a few miles away the shells were not ripping up a field a shot. After lunch in the famous hotel ordinarily one of the gayest in France at that time of the year, we first visited the rest hospital of Miss Morgan, Miss Marbury and Miss de Wolfe, and then drove out into the country to Madame Berard's historical estate. Here, in the courtyard of a good-sized building, we were greeted by about forty children in pink-and-white gingham aprons, and heads either shaved or finished off with tightly braided pigtails. It seemed to me then that they were all smiling, and---for they had been there some weeks---that most of them looked round and healthy. But I soon found that some were still too languid to play. One lying in a long chair on the terrace at the back of the house and gazing vacantly out at the beautiful woods was tubercular, the victim of months in a damp cellar. Another, although so excessively cheerful that I suspect she was not "all there" was also confined to a long chair, with a hip affection of some sort, but she was much petted, and surrounded by all the little luxuries that the victims of her smile had remembered to send her. One beautiful child had the rickets, and several suffered from intestinal prolapsus and other internal complaints, but were on the road to recovery.

While their Swedish nurse was putting them through their gymnastic exercises I studied their faces. At first my impression was one of prevailing homeliness; scrubbed, flat, peasant faces, for the most part, without the features or the mental apparatus that provides expression. But soon I singled out two or three pretty and engaging children, and rarely one whose face was devoid of character. And they stood well and went through their exercises with precision and vigor.

It was just before we left that my wandering attention was directed toward the scene to which I alluded in my first paragraph. The greater number of the children were shouting at play in a neighboring field. The preternaturally happy invalid was smiling at the lovely woods beyond the terrace, woods where little princes had frolicked, and older princes had wooed and won. Mr. Jaccaci was still petting the beautiful little boy who looked like the bambino on the celebrated fresco of Florence; Mrs. Hill was kissing and hugging several little girls who had clung to her skirts. It was, in spite of its origin, a happy scene.

I had been waiting by the door for these ceremonies of affection to finish, when I happened to glance at the far end of the wide stone terrace. There, by the balustrade, in the shadow of the leafy woods, stood a girl of perhaps eight or ten. Her arms hung at her sides and she was staring straight before her while she cried as I never have seen a child cry; silently, bitterly, with her heavy plain face hardly twisted in its tragic silent woe.

I called Mrs. Hill's attention to her, for I, a stranger, could not intrude upon a grief like that, and the idol of all those children immediately ran over to the desolate figure. She questioned her, she put her arms about her. She might as well have addressed one of the broken stone nymphs in the woods. That young mind, startled from the present, it may be, by witnessing the endearments lavished upon prettier and smaller children, had traveled far. She was in the past, a past that anteceded even that past of death and thundering guns and rocking walls and empty stomachs; a past when the war, of whose like she had never heard, was still in the sleepless brains of the monster criminals of history, when she lived in a home in a quiet village with the fields beyond; where she had a mother, a father, sisters, brothers; where her tears had been over childish disappointments, and her mother had dried them. Small and homely and insignificant she stood there in her tragic detachment the symbol of all the woe of France, and of the depraved brutality of a handful of ambitious men who had broken the heart of the world.

 

 

XV

THE MARRAINES

It is hardly too much to say that every woman in France, from noblesse to peasant, has her filleul (godson) in the trenches; in many cases, when she still has a considerable income in spite of taxes, moratoriums, and all the rest of it, she is a marraine on the grand scale and has several hundred. Children have their filleul, correspond with him, send him little presents several times a month and weep bitterly when word comes that he is deep in his last trench.

Servants save their wages so that when the filleuls of their mistresses come home on their six days' leave they at least can provide the afternoon wine and entertain them royally in the kitchen. Old maids, still sewing in their attic for a few sous a day, have found a gleam of brightness for the first time in their somber lives in the knowledge that they give a mite of comfort or pleasure to some unknown man, offering his life in the defence of France, and whose letters, sentimental, effusive, playful, almost resign these poor stranded women to the crucifixion of their country.

Busy women like Madame d'Andigné sit up until two in the morning writing to their grateful filleuls. Girls, who once dreamed only of marrying and living the brilliant life of the femme du monde spend hours daily not only on cheerful letters, but knitting, sewing, embroidering, purchasing for humble men who will mean nothing to their future, beyond the growth of spirit they unconsciously induced. Poor women far from Paris, where, at least, thousands of these permissionnaires linger for a few hours on their way home, toil all night over their letters to men for whom they conceive a profound sentiment but never can hope to see. Shop girls save their wages and lady's maids pilfer in a noble cause.

It was Madame Berard (who was a Miss Dana of Boston) who organized this magnificent spirit into a great oeuvre, so that thousands of men could be made happy whom no kindly woman so far had been able to discover.

Madame Berard, who has three sons in the army herself, nursed at the Front for several months after the war broke out. Even officers told her that they used to go off by themselves and cry because they never received a letter, or any sort of reminder that they were anything but part of a machine defending France. These officers, of course, were from the invaded district, and in addition to their isolation, were haunted by fears for their women now in the power of men who were as cruel as they were sensual and degenerate.

When she returned to her home she immediately entered upon the career of marraine, corresponding with several hundred of the men she either had known or whose names were given to her by their commanding officers. Naturally the work progressed beyond her capacity and she called upon friends to help her out. Out of this initial and purely personal devotion grew the great oeuvre, Mon Soldat, which has met with such a warm response in this country.

Madame Berard's headquarters are in a villa in the Parc Monceau. Here is conducted all the correspondence with the agents in other cities, here come thousands of letters and presents by every mail to be forwarded to the Front, and here come the grateful---and hopeful---permissionnaires, who never depart without a present and sometimes leave one, generally an ingenious trinket made in the trenches.

When I visited the villa last summer the oeuvre had eight thousand marraines, and no doubt the number has doubled to-day. Fifteen hundred of these were American, marshalled by Madame Berard's representative in New York, Mr. R.W. Neeser. Some of these fairy godmothers had ten filleuls. Packages were dispatched to the Front every week. Women that could not afford presents wrote regularly. There were at that time over twenty thousand filleuls.

The letters received from these men of all grades must be a source of psychologic as well as sympathetic interest to the more intelligent marraines, for when the men live long enough they reveal much of their native characteristics between the formalities so dear to the French. But too many of them write but one letter, and sometimes they do not finish that.

 

 

XVI

PROBLEMS FOR THE FUTURE

 

I

What the bereft mothers of France will do after this war is over and they no longer have the mutilated sons of other mothers to nurse and serve and work for, is a problem for themselves; but what the younger women will do is a problem for the men.

Practically every day of the three months I spent in Passy I used one of the three lines of tramcars that converge at La Muette (it is almost immoral to take a taxi these days); and I often amused myself watching the women conductors. They are quick, keen, and competent, but, whether it was owing to the dingy black uniforms and distressingly unbecoming Scotch military cap or not, it never did occur to me that there would be any mad scramble for them when the men of France once more found the leisure for love and marriage.

Grim as these women looked, however, "on their job," I often noticed them laughing and joking when, off duty for a few moments, they rested under the trees at the terminus. No doubt there is in them that ineradicable love of the home so characteristic of the French race, and as there is little beauty in their class at the best, they may appeal more to the taste of men of that class than they did to mine. And it may be that those who are already provided with husbands will cheerfully renounce work in their favor and return to the hearthstone. Perhaps, however, they will not, and wise heads of the sex which has ruled the world so long are conferring at odd moments upon these and other females who have taken up so many of the reins laid down by men and driven the man-made teams with a success that could not be more complete if they had been bred to it, and with a relish that has grown, and shows no sign of retroaction.

DELIVERING THE POST

DELIVERING THE POST

The French women of the people, however, unlovely to look upon, toil-worn, absorbed from childhood in petty economics, have little to tempt men outside of the home in which they reign, so for those that do return the problem ends. But it is an altogether different matter with the women of the leisure classes. The industrial women who have proved so competent in the positions occupied for centuries by men merely agitate the economic brain of France, but the future of the women of the upper strata of the bourgeoisie is shaking the very soul of the social psychologist.

 

II

At the outbreak of the war hundreds of girls belonging to the best families volunteered as nurses. Some quickly retired to committee work in disgust, or because their pampered bodies rebelled under the strain.

Others have never faltered, doing the most repulsive and arduous work day by day, close to the thunder of guns, or under the constant menace of the taube whose favorite quarry is the hospital full of ill and wounded, and of pretty women whose torn bodies even in imagination satisfy the perversities of German lust; but if they ever go home to rest it is under the peremptory orders of their médecin major, who has no use for shattered nervous systems these days.

While these girls may have lost their illusions a little earlier than they would in matrimony, the result is not as likely to affect the practical French mind toward the married state as it might that of the more romantic and self-deluding American or English woman. There is little doubt that they will marry if they can, for to marry and marry early has been for too many centuries a sort of religious duty with well-born French women to be eradicated by one war; and as they will meet in hospital wards many officers who might not otherwise cross their narrow paths, their chances, if the war ends soon enough, will be reasonably increased.

Moreover, many a man who was a confirmed bachelor will, after the acute discomfort of years of warfare, look upon the married state as a greater reward than the medals on his breast; and on the other hand many girls will be glad to marry men old enough to be a parent of the young husband they once dreamed of; for hardly since the Thirty Years' War will men when peace comes be so scarce and women so many.

There has even been talk from time to time of bringing the Koranic law across the Mediterranean and permitting each able-bodied Frenchman of any class to have three registered wives besides the one of his choice, the additional expense and responsibility being borne by the State.

But of all the countries in Europe polygamy is most unthinkable in France. The home is as perfected and as sacred an economic institution as the State. To reign over one of those important units, even if deep in the shadow of the expansive male, to maintain it on that high level of excellence which in the aggregate does so much to maintain France at the very apex of civilization, in spite of another code which shocks Anglo-Saxon morality---this, combined with the desire to gratify the profoundest instincts of woman, is the ambition of every well-conditioned French girl.

She would far rather, did the demand of the State for male children become imperative, give it one or more outside the law rather than forfeit her chance to find one day a real husband and to be a component part of that great national institution, The Family. She would not feel in the same class for a moment with the women who live to please men and refrain from justifying themselves by fulfilling at the same time a duty to their depleted State.

 

III

The women of the noblesse, like the aristocracies of any country, and whatever the minor shadings and classifications, are divided into two classes: the conservative, respectable, home-loving, no matter what the daily toll to rank; and the devotees of dress, pleasure, sex, subdivided, orchestrated, and romanticized. As these women move in the most brilliant society in the world and can command the willing attendance of men in all circles; as their husbands are so often foraging far afield; and as temptation is commonly proportionate to opportunity, little wonder that the Parisian femme du monde is the most notable disciple of Earth's politer form of hedonism.

This is true to only a limited extent in the upper circles of the bourgeoisie. Some of the women of the wealthier class dress magnificently, have their lovers and their scandals (in what class do they not?), and before the war danced the night away. But the great majority rarely wandered far from their domestic kingdom, quite content with an occasional ball, dinner, or play. A daughter's marriage was the greatest event in their lives, and the endless preparations throughout the long engagement, a subdued but delicious period of excitement. Their social circles, whatever their birth, were extremely restricted, and they were, above all things, the mates of their husbands.

 

IV

But the war has changed all that. France has had something like a war a generation from time immemorial, but in modern times, since woman has found herself, they have been brief. Feminism, whether approved by the great mass of Frenchwomen or not, has done its insidious work. And for many years now there has been the omnipresent American woman with her careless independence; and, still more recently, the desperate fight of the English women for liberty.

It was quite natural when this war swept across Europe like a fiery water-spout, for the French woman of even the bourgeoisie to come forth from her shell (although at first not to the same degree as the noblesse) and work with other women for the men at the Front and the starving at home. Not only did the racing events of those first weeks compel immediate action, but the new ideas they had imbibed, however unwillingly, dictated their course as inevitably as that of the more experienced women across the channel. The result was that these women for the first time in their narrow intensive lives found themselves meeting, daily, women with whom they had had the most distant if any acquaintance; sewing, knitting, talking more and more intimately over their work, running all sorts of oeuvres, founding homes for refugees, making up packages for prisoners in Germany (this oeuvre was conceived and developed into an immense organization by Madame Wallestein), serving on six or eight committees, becoming more and more interdependent as they worked for a common and unselfish cause; their circle of acquaintances and friends as well as their powers of usefulness, their independent characteristics which go so far toward the making of personality, rising higher and higher under the impetus of deprisoned tides until they flowed gently over the dam of the centuries; the flood, be it noted, taking possession of wide pastures heretofore sacred to man.

Naturally these women spent very little time at home; although, such is the incomparable training of those practical methodical minds, even with a diminished staff of servants the domestic machinery ran as smoothly as when they devoted to it so many superfluous hours.

And with these new acquaintances, all practically of their own class, they talked in time not only of the war and their ever augmenting duties, but, barriers lowered by their active sympathies, found themselves taking a deep interest in other lives, and in the things that had interested other women of more intelligence or of more diversified interests than their own.

Insensibly life changed, quite apart from the rude shocks of war; lines were confused, old ideals were analyzed in many instances as hoary conventions, which had decayed inside until a succession of sharp quick contacts caused the shell to cave in upon emptiness.

 

V

A year passed. During that time husbands did not return from the front unless ill or maimed (and thousands of husbands are even to-day quite intact). Then came Chapter Two of the domestic side of the War, which should be called "Les Permissionnaires." Officers and soldiers were allowed a six days' leave of absence from the front at stated intervals.

The wives were all excitement and hope. They snatched time to replenish their wardrobes, and once more the thousand corridors of the Galeries Lafayette swarmed, the dressmakers breathed again. Shop windows blossomed with all the delicate fripperies with which a Frenchwoman can make old garments look new. Hotel keepers emerged from their long night like hibernates that had overslept, and rubbing their hands. The men were coming back. Paris would live again. And Paris, the coquette of all the ages, forgot her new rôle of lady of sorrows and smiled once more.

The equally eager husband (to pass over "les autres") generally sneaked into his house or apartment by the back stairs and into the bathtub before he showed himself to his adoring family; but after those first strenuous hours of scrubbing and disinfecting and shaving, and getting into a brand new uniform of becoming horizon blue, there followed hours of rejoicing unparalleled by anything but a victory over "Les Boches."

For two days husband and wife talked as incessantly as only Gauls can; but by degrees a puzzled look contracted the officer's brow, gradually deepening into a frown. His fluent wife, whose animation over trifles had always been a source of infinite refreshment, was talking of things which he, after a solid year of monotonous warfare far from home, knew nothing. He cared to know less. He wanted the old exchange of personalities, the dear domestic gabble.

The wife meanwhile was heroically endeavoring to throw off a feeling of intolerable ennui. How was it that never before had she found the hearthstone dull? The conversation of her life partner (now doubly honored) induced a shameful longing for the seventh day.

So it was. During that year these two good people had grown apart. The wife's new friends bored the husband, and the gallant soldier's stories of life at the Front soon became homogeneous. Whether he will accept his wife's enlarged circle and new interests after the war is over is one of the problems, but nothing is less likely than that she will rebuild the dam, recall the adventurous waters of her personality, empty her new brain cells, no matter how much she may continue to love her husband and children.

 

VI

Nor to give up her new power. In those divisions of the bourgeoisie where the wife is always the husband's partner, following a custom of centuries, and who to-day is merely carrying on the business alone, there will be no surrender of responsibilities grown precious, no sense of apprehension of loss of personal power. But in those more leisured circles where, for instance, a woman has been for the first time complete mistress of all expenditures, domestic or administrative, and of her childrens' destinies; has learned to think and act for herself as if she were widowed in fact; and in addition has cultivated her social sense to an extreme unprecedented in the entire history of the bourgeoisie, she will never return to the old status, even though she disdain feminism per se and continue to prefer her husband to other men---that is to say, to find him more tolerable.

A young woman of this class, who until the war widowed her had been as happy as she was favored by fortune: wealthy, well-bred, brilliantly educated, and "elle et lui" with her husband, told me that no American could understand the peculiarly intensive life led by a French couple who found happiness in each other and avoided the fast sets. And whereas what she told me would have seemed natural enough in the life of a petite bourgeoisie, I must confess I was amazed to have it from the lips of a clever and beautiful young woman whom life had pampered until death broke loose in Europe.

The husband, she told me, did the thinking. Before he left home in the morning he asked his wife what she intended to order for dinner and altered the menu to his liking; also the list of guests, if it had been thought well to vary their charming routine with a select company.

Before his wife bought a new gown she submitted the style and colors to what seems literally to have been her other half, and he solemnly pondered over both before pronouncing his august and final opinion.

If they had children, the interest was naturally extended. His concern in health and in illness, in play and in study, was nothing short of meticulous. I asked my informant if Frenchwomen would ever again submit to a man's making such an infernal nuisance of himself, and, sad as she still was at her own great loss, she replied positively that they would not. They had tasted independence and liked it too well ever to drop back into insignificance.

"Nor," she added, "will we be content with merely social and domestic life in the future. We will love our home life none the less, but we must always work at something now; only those who have lost their health, or are natural parasites will ever again be content to live without some vital personal interest outside the family."

Words of tremendous import to France, those.

 

VII

I caught a glimpse more than once of the complete submergence of certain Frenchwomen by husbands too old for war, but important in matters of State. They bored me so that I only escaped betraying acute misery by summoning all my powers of resistance and talking against time until I could make a graceful exit. They were, these women (who looked quite happy), mere echoes of the men to whom their eyes wandered in admiration and awe. The last thing I had imagined, however, was that the men would concern themselves about details that, in Anglo-Saxon countries at least, have for centuries been firmly relegated to the partner of the second part. How many American women drive their husbands to the club by their incessant drone about the iniquities of servants and the idiosyncrasies of offspring?

And much as the women of our race may resent that their rôle in matrimony is the one of petty detail while the man enjoys the "broader interests," I think few of us would exchange our lot for one of constant niggling interference. It induces a certain pleasure to reflect that so many Frenchwomen have reformed. Frenchmen, with all their conservatism, are the quickest of wit, the most supple of intellect in the world. No doubt after a few birth-pains they will conform, and enjoy life more than ever. Perhaps, also, they will cease to prowl abroad for secret entertainment.

 

VIII

Nothing, it is safe to say, since the war broke out, has so astonished Frenchwomen---those that loved their husbands and those that loved their lovers---as the discovery that they find life quite full and interesting without men. At the beginning all their faculties were put to so severe a strain that they had no time to miss them; as France settled down to a state of war, and life was in a sense normal again, it was only at first they missed the men---quite aside from their natural anxieties. But as time went on and there was no man always coming in, husband or lover, no man to dress for, scheme for, exercise their imaginations to please, weep for when he failed to come, or lapsed from fever heat to that temperature which suggests exotic fevers, they missed him less and less.

Unexpected resources were developed. Their work, their many works, grew more and more absorbing. Gradually they realized that they were looking at life from an entirely different point of view.

Voilà!

Is the reign of the male in the old countries of Europe nearing its end, even as Kings and Kaisers are reluctantly approaching the vaults of history? An American woman married to a Frenchman said to me one day:

"Intelligent Frenchwomen complain to me that they never win anything on their merits. They must exert finesse, seduction, charm, magnetism. For this reason they are always in a state of apprehension that some other woman equally feminine, but more astute and captivating, will win their man away. The result is the intense and unremitting jealousies in French society. They see in this war their opportunity to show men not only their powers of individual usefulness, often equal if not superior to that of their husband or lover, but their absolute indispensability. They are determined to win respect as individuals, rise above the rank of mere females."

 

IX

Moreover, this war is bringing a liberty to the French girl which must sometimes give her the impression that she is living in a fantastic dream. Young people already had begun to rebel at the old order of matrimonial disposition by parental authority, but it is doubtful if they will ever condescend to argument again, or even to the old formal restrictions during the period of the long engagement. Not only will husbands be too scarce to dicker about, but these girls, too, are living their own lives, going to and coming from hospital work daily (unless at the Front), spending long hours by convalescent cots, corresponding with filleuls, attending half a dozen clubs for work; above all, entertaining their brothers' friend during those oases known as permission, or six days' leave. And very often the friends of their brothers are young men of a lower rank in life, whose valor or talents in the field have given them a quick promotion.

The French army is the one perfect democracy in the world. Its men, from duke to peasant-farmer, have a contemptuous impatience for social pretense when about the business of war, and recognition is swift and practical. As the young men of the aristocracy and haute bourgeoisie have lost more and more of their old friends they have replaced them with men they like for good masculine reasons alone, and these they have taken to bringing home, when permissionnaires at the same time. Nothing can be more certain than that girls, once haughty and exacting, will marry these young men and be glad to get them.

A student of his race said to me one day: "France is the most conservative country in Europe. She goes on doing the same thing generation after generation paying no attention to rebellious mutters, hardly hearing them in fact. She believes herself to have been moulded and solidified long since. Then, presto! Something sudden and violent happens. Old ideas are uprooted. New ones planted. Is there a struggle? Not for a moment. They turn an intellectual somersault and are immediately as completely at home with the new as the old."

During the second year of the war a feminist was actually invited to address the graduation class of a fashionable girls' school. She told them that the time had come when girls of all classes should be trained to earn their living. This war had demonstrated the uncertainty of human affairs. Not a family in France, not even the haute finance, but would have a curtailed income for years to come, and many girls of good family could no longer count on a dot if the war lasted much longer. Then there was the decrease in men. Better go out into the world and make any sort of respectable career than be an old maid at home. She gave them much practical advice, told them that one of the most lucrative employments was retouching photographs, and implored them to cultivate any talent they might have and market it as soon as possible.

The girls sat throughout this discourse as stunned as if a bomb had dropped on the roof. They were still discussing it when I left Paris. No doubt it is already beginning to bear fruit. Few of them but have that most dismal of all fireside ornaments, a half-effaced old-maid sister, one of the most tragic and pitiable objects in France. The noble attributes which her drab and eventless life sometimes leave un-withered were superbly demonstrated to the American audience some years ago by Nance O'Neil in "The Lily."

 

X

One of the new officers I happened to hear of was a farmer who not only won the Croix de Guerre and the Croix de la Legion d'Honneur very early in the war but rose in rank until, when I heard the story, he was a major. One day a brother officer asked him if he should remain in the army after peace was declared.

"No," he replied, and it was evident that he had thought the matter over. "My wife is not a lady. She is wholly unfitted to take her place in the officers' class. There is no democracy among women. Better for us both that I return whence I came."

This is a fair sample of the average Frenchman's ironic astuteness, that clear practical vision that sees life without illusions. But if the war should drag on for years the question is, would he be willing to surrender the position of authority to which he had grown accustomed, and which satisfies the deepest instincts of a man's nature after youth has passed? After all there may be a new "officers' class."

I heard another story, told me by a family doctor, equally interesting. The son of a wealthy and aristocratic house and his valet were mobilized at the same time. The young patrician was a good and a gallant soldier but nothing more. The valet discovered extraordinary capacities. Not only did he win the coveted medals in the course of the first few months, but when his shattered regiment under fire in the open was deprived of its officers he took command and led the remnant to victory. A few more similar performances proving that his usefulness was by no means the result of the moment's exaltation but of real however unsuspected gifts, he was rapidly promoted until he was captain of his former employer's company. There appears to have been no mean envy in the nature of the less fortunate aristocrat. Several times they have received their permission together and he has taken his old servant home with him and given him the seat of honor at his own table. His mother and sisters have made no demur whatever, but are proud that their ménage should have given a fine soldier to France. Perhaps only the noblesse who are unalterably sure of themselves would have been capable of rising above the age-old prejudices of caste, war or no war.

 

XI

French women rarely emigrate. Never, if they can help it. Our servant question may be solved after the war by the manless women of other races, but the Frenchwoman will stay in her country, if possible in her home. All girls, the major part of the young widows (who have created a panic among the little spinsters) will marry if they can, not only because marriage is still the normal career of woman but because of their sense of duty to the State. But that social France after the war will bear more than a family resemblance to the France that reached the greatest climax in her history on August second, nineteen-fourteen, has ceased to be a matter of speculation.


Although I went to France to examine the work of the Frenchwomen only, it would be ungracious, as well as a disappointment to many readers, not to give the names at least of some of the many American women who live in France or who spend a part of the year there and are working as hard as if this great afflicted country were their own. Some day their names will be given to the world in a full roll of honor. I do not feel sure that I know of half of them, but I have written down all I can recall. The list, of course, does not include the names of Americans married to Frenchmen:

Mrs. Sharp, Miss Anne Morgan, Mrs. Tuck, Mrs. Bliss, Miss Elisabeth Marbury, Miss Elsie de Wolfe, Mrs. Robert Bacon, Mrs. W.K. Vanderbilt, Mrs. Whitney Warren, Mrs. Wharton, Mrs. Canfield Fisher, Miss Grace Ellery Channing, Mrs. Blake, Mrs. Carroll of Carrollton, Mrs. Sherman, Mrs. Cooper Hewett, Miss Holt, Mrs. William H. Hill, Mrs. Shaw, Mrs. Frederick H. Allen, Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, Miss Fairchild, Mrs. Younger, Mrs. Morton Mitchell, Mrs. Fleury, Mrs. Sales, Mrs. Hyde, Mrs. William Astor Chanler, Mrs. Ridgeley Carter, Miss Ethel Crocker, Miss Daisy Polk, Miss Janet Scudder, Mrs. Lathrop, Miss Vail, Mrs. Samuel Watson, Mrs. Armstrong Whitney, Mrs. Lawrence Slade, Miss Yandell, Mrs. Greene, Mrs. Duryea, Mrs. Depew, Mrs. Marion Crocker, Miss Mary Eyre, Mrs. Gros, Mrs. Van Heukelom, Mrs. Tarn McGrew, Mrs. Schoninger, Miss Grace Lounsbery, Mrs. Lawrence, the Princess Poniatowska, and Isadora Duncan.


Book Two

Table of Contents