|I.||IN WHICH WE BEGIN OUR SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY|
|II.||IN WHICH WE OBSERVE THE "ROCKET'S RED GLARE"|
|III.||IN WHICH WE ENCOUNTER "BOMBS BURSTING IN AIR"|
|IV.||WHEREIN WE FIND THAT "OUR FLAG IS STILL THERE"|
|V.||IN WHICH WE DISCERN THINGS "BY THE DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT"|
|VI.||WHEREIN WE BECOME A TRIO AND JOURNEY TO ITALY|
|VII.||WHEREIN WE CONSIDER THE WOMAN PROPOSITION|
|VIII.||IN WHICH WE DISCOVER "A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH"|
|IX.||IN WHICH WE RETURN TO "THE LAND OF THE FREE"|
By rights Henry, being the hero of this story, should be introduced in the first line. But really there isn't so much to say about Henry--Henry J. Allen for short, as we say in Kansas--Henry J. Allen, editor and owner of the Wichita Beacon. And to make the dramatis personae complete, we may consider me as the editor of the Emporia Gazette, and the two of us as short, fat, bald, middle-aged, inland Americans, from fresh water colleges in our youth and arrived at New York by way of an often devious, yet altogether happy route, leading through politics where it was rough going and unprofitable for years; through business where we still find it easy to sign, possible to float and hard to pay a ninety-day note, and through two country towns; one somewhat less than one hundred thousand population, and Emporia slightly above ten thousand.
We are discovered in the prologue to the play in New York City wearing our new silk suits to give New York a treat on a hot August day. Not that we or any one else ever wears silk suits in any Wichita or Emporia; silk suits are bought by Wichita people and Emporians all over the earth to paralyse the natives of the various New Yorks.
In our pockets we hold commissions from the American Red Cross. These commissions are sending us to Europe as inspectors with a view to publicity later, one to speak for the Red Cross, the other to write for it in America. We have been told by the Red Cross authorities in Washington that we shall go immediately to the front in France and that it will be necessary to have the protective colouring of some kind of an army uniform. The curtain rises on a store in 43rd Street in New York--perhaps the "Palace" or the "Hub" or the "Model" or the "Army and Navy," where a young man is trying to sell us a khaki coat, and shirt and trousers for $17.48. And at that it seems a lot of money to pay for a rig which can be worn at most only two months. But we compromise by making him throw in another shirt and a service hat and we take the lot for $17.93 and go away holding in low esteem the "pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war" as exemplified by these military duds. In our hearts as we go off at R. U. E. will be seen a hatred for uniforms as such, and particularly for phoney uniforms that mean nothing and cost $18.00 in particular.
And then, with a quick curtain, the good ship Espagne, a French liner, is discovered in New York harbour the next day with Henry and me aboard her, trying to distinguish as she crawfishes out of the dock, the faces of our waving friends from the group upon the pier.
The good ship Espagne is all steamed up and scooting through the night, with two or three hundred others of the cast of characters aboard; and there is Europe and the war in the cast of characters, and the Boche, and Fritzie and the Hun, that diabolic trinity of evil, and just back of the boat on the scenery of the first act, splattered like guinea freckles all over the American map for three thousand miles north, south, east and west, are a thousand replicas of Wichita and Emporia. So it really is not of arms and the man that this story is written, nor of Henry and me, and the war; but it is the eternal Wichita and Emporia in the American heart that we shall celebrate hereinafter as we unfold our tale. Of course, that makes it provincial. And people living in New York or Boston, or Philadelphia (but not Chicago, for half of the people there have just come to town and the other half is just ready to leave town) may not understand this story. For in some respects New York is larger than Wichita and Emporia; but not so much larger; for mere numbers of population amount to little. There is always an angle of the particular from which one can see it as a part of the universal; and seen properly the finite is always infinite. And that brings us back naturally to Henry and me, looking out at the scurrying stars in the ocean as we hurried through the black night on the good ship Espagne. We had just folded away a fine Sunday dinner, a French Sunday dinner, beginning with onion soup which was strange; and as ominous of our journey into the Latin world as a blast of trumpets opening a Wagnerian overture. Indeed that onion soup was threaded through our whole trip like a motif. Our dinner that night ended in cheese and everything. It was our first meal aboard the boat. During two or three courses, we had considered the value of food as a two-way commodity--going down and coming up--but later in the dinner we ordered our food on its merits as a one-way luxury, with small thought as to its other uses. So we leaned against the rail in the night and thought large thoughts about Wichita and Emporia.
Here we were, two middle-aged men, nearing fifty years, going out to a ruthless war without our wives. We had packed our own valises at the hotel that very morning in fear and trembling. We realized that probably we were leaving half our things in closets and drawers and were taking the wrong things with us, and checking the right things in our trunks at our hotels in New York. We had some discussion about our evening clothes, and on a toss-up had decided to take our tails and leave our dinner coats in the trunks. But we didn't know why we had abandoned our dinner coats. We had no accurate social knowledge of those things. Henry boasted that his wife had taught him a formula that would work in the matter of white or black ties with evening clothes. But it was all complicated with white vests and black vests and sounded like a corn remedy; yet it was the only sartorial foundation we had. And there we were with land out of sight, without a light visible on the boat, standing in the black of night leaning over the rail, looking at the stars in the water, and wondering silently whether we had packed our best cuff buttons, "with which to harry our foes," or whether we might have to win the war in our $17.93 uniforms, and we both thought and admitted our shame, that our wives would think we had "been extravagant in putting so much money into those uniforms. The admirable French dinner which we had just enveloped, seemed a thousand miles away. It was a sad moment and our thoughts turned naturally to home.
"Fried chicken, don't you suppose?" sighed Henry.
"And mashed potatoes, and lots of thick cream gravy!" came from the gloom beside him.
"And maybe lima beans," he speculated.
"And a lettuce salad with thousand island dressing, I presume!" came out of the darkness.
"And apple dumpling--green apple dumpling with hard sauce," welled up from Henry's heavy heart. It was a critical moment. If it had kept on that way we would have got off the boat, and trudged back home through a sloppy ocean, and let the war take care of itself. Then Henry's genius rose. Henry is the world's greatest kidder. Give him six days' immunity in Germany, and let him speak in Berlin, Munich, Dresden, Leipsic and Cologne and he would kid the divine right of kings out of Germany and the kaiser on to the Chautauqua circuit, reciting his wrongs and his reminiscences!
Henry, you may remember, delivered the Roosevelt valedictory at the Chicago Republican convention in 1912, when he kidded the standpat crowd out of every Republican state in the union but two at the election. Possibly you don't like that word kid. But it's in the dictionary, and there's no other word to describe Henry's talent. He is always jamming the allegro into the adagio. And that night in the encircling gloom on the boat as we started on our martial adventures he began kidding the ocean. His idea was that he would get Wichita to vote bonds for one that would bring tide water to Main Street. He didn't want a big ocean--just a kind of an oceanette with a seating capacity of five thousand square miles was his idea, and when he had done with his phantasie, the doleful dumps that rose at the psychical aroma of the hypothetical fried chicken and mashed potatoes of our dream, had vanished.
And so we fell to talking about our towns. It seems that we had each had the same experience. Henry declared that, from the day it was known he was going to Europe for the Red Cross, the town had set him apart; he was somewhat like the doomed man in a hanging and people were always treating him with distinguished consideration. He had a notion that Henry Lassen, the town boomer, had the memorial services all worked out--who would sing "How Sleep the Brave," who would play Chopin's funeral march on the pipe organ, who would deliver the eulogy and just what leading advertiser they would send around to the Eagle, his hated contemporary, to get the Murdocks to print the eulogy in full and on the first page! Henry employs an alliterative head writer on the Beacon, and we wondered whether he had decided to use "Wichita Weeps," or "State Stands Sorrowing." If he used the latter, it would make two lines and that would require a deck head. We could not decide, so we began talking of serious things.
How quickly time has rolled the film since those early autumn days when the man who went to France was a hero in his town's eyes. Processions and parades and pageants interminable have passed down America's main streets, all headed for France. And what proud pageants they were! Walking at the head of the line were the little limping handful of veterans of the Civil War. After them came the middle-aged huskies of the Spanish War, and then, so very young, so boyish and so very solemn, came the soldiers for the great war--the volunteers, the National Guard, the soldiers of the new army; half accoutred, clad in nondescript uniforms, but proud and incorrigibly young. There had been banquets the week before, and speeches and flag rituals in public, but the night before, there had been tears and good-byes across the land. And all this in a few weeks; indeed it began during the long days in which we two sailed through the gulf stream, we two whose departure from our towns had seemed such a bold and hazardous adventure. When one man leaves a town upon an unusual enterprise, it may look foolhardy; but when a hundred leave upon the same adventure, it seems commonplace. The danger in some way seems to be divided by the numbers. Yet in truth, numbers often multiply the danger. There was little danger for Henry and me on the good ship Espagne with Red Cross stenographers and nurses and ambulance drivers and Y. M. C. A. workers. No particular advantage would come to the German arms by torpedoing us. But as the Espagne, carrying her peaceful passengers, all hurrying to Europe on merciful errands, passed down the river and into the harbour that afternoon, we had seen a great grey German monster passenger boat, an interned leviathan of the sea in her dock. We had been told of how cunningly the Germans had scuttled her; how they had carefully relaid electric wires so that every strand had to be retraced to and from its source, how they had turned the course of water pipes, all over the ship, how they had drawn bolts and with blow-pipes had rotted nuts and rods far in the dark places of the ship's interior, how they had scientifically disarranged her boilers so that they would not make steam, and as we saw the German boat looming up, deck upon deck, a floating citadel, with her bristling guns, we thought what a prize she would be when she put out to sea loaded to the guards with those handsome boys whom we had been seeing hustling about the country as they went to their training camps. Even to consider these things gave us a feeling of panic, and the recollection of the big boat in the dock began to bring the war to us, more vividly than it had come before. And then our first real martial adventure happened, thus:
As we leaned over the rail that first night talking of many things, in the blackness, without a glimmer from any porthole, with the decks as dark as Egypt, the ship shot ahead at twenty knots an hour. In peace times it would be regarded as a crazy man's deed, to go whizzing along at full speed without lights. Henry had taken two long puffs on his cigar when out from the murk behind us came a hand that tapped his shoulder, and then a voice spoke:
"You'll have to put out that cigar, sir. A submarine could see that five miles on a night like this!"
So Henry doused his light, and the war came right home to us.
The next day was uniform day on the boat, and the war came a bit nearer to us than ever. Scores of good people who had come on the boat in civilian clothes, donned their uniforms that second day; mostly Red Cross or Y. M. C. A. or American ambulance or Field Service uniforms. We did not don our uniforms, though Henry believed that we should at least have a dress rehearsal. The only regular uniforms on board were worn by a little handful of French soldiers, straggling home from a French political mission to America, and these French soldiers were the only passengers on the boat who had errands to France connected with the destructive side of the war. So not until the uniforms blazed out gorgeously did we realize what an elaborate and important business had sprung up in the reconstructive side of war. Here we saw a whole ship's company--hundreds of busy and successful men and women, one of scores and scores of ship's companies like it, that had been hurrying across the ocean every few days for three years, devoted not to trading upon the war, not to exploiting the war, not even to expediting the business of "the gentle art of murdering," but devoted to saving the waste of war!
As the days passed, and "we sailed and we sailed," a sort of denatured pirate craft armed to the teeth with healing lotions to massage the wrinkled front of war, Henry kept picking at the ocean. It was his first transatlantic voyage; for like most American men, he kept his European experiences in his wife's name. So the ocean bothered him. He understood a desert or a drouth, but here was a tremendous amount of unnecessary and unaccountable water. It was a calm, smooth, painted ocean, and as he looked at it for a long time one day, Henry remarked wearily: "The town boosters who secured this ocean for this part of the country rather overdid the job!"
One evening, looking back at the level floor of the ocean stretching illimitably into the golden sunset, he mused: "They have a fine country here. You kind of like the lay of it, and there is plenty of nice sightly real estate about--it's a gently rolling country, uneven and something like College Hill in Wichita, but there's got to be a lot of money spent draining it; you can tell that at a glance, if the fellow gets anywhere with his proposition!"
A time always comes in a voyage, when men and women begin to step out as individuals from the mass. With us it was the Red Cross stenographers and the American Ambulance boys who first ceased being ladyships and lordships and took their proper places in the cosmos. They were a gay lot--and young. And human nature is human nature. So the decks began to clutter up with boys and girls intensely interested in exploring each other's lives. It is after all the most wonderful game in the world. And while the chaperon fluttered about more or less, trying to shoo the girls off the dark decks at night, and while public opinion on the boat made eminently proper rules against young women in the smoking room, still young blood did have its way, which really is a good way; better than we think, perhaps, who look back in cold blood and old blood. And by the token of our years it was brought to us that war is the game of youth. We were two middle-aged old coots--though still in our forties and not altogether blind to a pretty face--and yet the oldest people on the boat. Even the altruistic side of war is the game of youth.
Perhaps it is the other way around, and maybe youth is the only game in the world worth playing and that the gains of youth, service and success and follies and failures, are only the chips and counters. We were brought to these conclusions more or less by a young person, a certain Miss Ingersoll, or perhaps her name only sounded like that; for we called her the Eager Soul. And she was a pretty girl, too--American pretty: Red hair--lots of blowy, crinkly red hair that was always threatening to souse her face and ears; blue eyes of the serious kind and a colour that gave us the impression that she did exercises and could jab a punching bag. Indeed before we met her, we began betting on the number of hours it would take her to tell us that she took a cold plunge every morning. Henry expected the statement on the second day; as a matter of fact it came late on the first day! She was that kind. But there was no foolishness about her. She was a nurse--a Red Cross nurse, and she made it clear that she had no illusions about men; we suspected that she had seen them cut up and knew their innermost secrets! Nevertheless she was tremendously interesting, and because she, too, was from the middle west, and possibly because she realized that we accepted her for what she was, she often paced the rounds of the deck between us. We teased her more or less about a young doctor of the Johns Hopkins unit who sometimes hovered over her deck chair and a certain Gilded Youth--every boat-load has its Gilded Youth--whose father was president of so many industrial concerns, and the vice-president of so many banks and trust companies that it was hard to look at the boy without blinking at his gilding. Henry was betting on the Gilded Youth; so the young doctor fell to me. For the first three or four days during which we kept fairly close tab on their time, the Doctor had the Gilded Youth beaten two hours to one. Henry bought enough lemonade for me and smoking room swill of one sort and another to start his little old Wichita ocean But it was plain that the Gilded Youth interested her. And in a confidential moment filled with laughter and chaff and chatter she told us why: "He's patronizing me. I mean he doesn't know it, and he thinks I don't know it; but that's what he's doing. I interest him as a social specimen. I mean--I'm a bug and he likes to take me up and examine me. I think I'm the first 'Co-ed' he ever has seen; the first girl who voted and didn't let her skirts sag and still loved good candy! I mean that when he found in one half hour that I knew he wore nine dollar neckties and that I was for Roosevelt, the man nearly expired; he was that puzzled! I'm not quite the type of working girl whom Heaven protects and he chases, but--I mean I think he is wondering just how far Heaven really will protect my kind! When he decides," she confided in a final burst of laughter, and tucking away her overflowing red hair, "I may have to slap him--I mean don't you know--"
And we did know. And being in his late forties Henry began tantalizing me with odds on the Gilded Youth. He certainly was a beautiful boy--tall, chestnut haired, clean cut, and altogether charming. He played Brahms and Irving Berlin with equal grace on the piano in the women's lounge on the ship and an amazing game of stud poker with the San Francisco boys in the smoking room. And it was clear that he regarded the Eager Soul as a social adventure somewhat higher than his mother's social secretary--but of the same class. He was returning from a furlough, to drive his ambulance in France, and the Doctor was going out to join his unit somewhere in France down near the Joan of Arc country. He told us shyly one day, as we watched the wake of the ship together, that he was to be stationed at an old château upon whose front is carved in stone, "I serve because I am served!" When he did not repeat the motto we knew that it had caught him. He had been at home working on a germ problem connected with army life, hardly to be mentioned in the presence of Mrs. Boffin, and he was forever casually discussing his difficulties with the Eager Soul; and a stenographer, who came upon the two at their tete-a-tete one day, ran to the girls in the lounge and gasped, "My Lord, Net, if you'd a heard it, you'd a jumped off the boat!"
As the passenger list began to resolve itself into familiar faces and figures and friends we became gradually aware of a pair of eyes--a pair of snappy black, female, French eyes. Speaking broadly and allowing for certain Emporia and Wichita exceptions, eyes were no treat to us. Yet we fell to talking blithely of those eyes. Henry said if he had to douse his cigar on deck at night, the captain should make the Princess wear dimmers at night or stay indoors. We were not always sure she was a Princess. At times she seemed more like a Duchess or a Countess, according to her clothes. We never had seen such clothes! And millinery! We were used to Broadway; Michigan Avenue did not make us shy, and Henry had been in the South. But these clothes and the hats and the eyes--all full dress--were too many for us. And we fell to speculating upon exactly what would happen on Main Street and Commercial Street in Wichita and Emporia if the Duchess could sail down there in full regalia. Henry's place at table was where he got the full voltage of the eyes every time the Princess switched them on. And whenever he reached for the water and gulped it down, one could know he had been jolted behind his ordinary resisting power. And he drank enough to float a ship! As we wended our weary way over the decks during the long lonely hours of the voyage, we fell to theorizing about those eyes and we concluded that they were Latin--Latin chiefly engaged in the business of being female eyes. It was a new show to us. Our wives and mothers had voted at city elections for over thirty years and had been engaged for a generation in the business of taming their husbands; saving the meat from dinner for the hash for breakfast, and betimes for diversion, working in their clubs for the good of their towns; and their eyes had visions in them, not sex. So these female eyes showed us a mystery! And each of us in his heart decided to investigate the phenomena. And on the seventh day we laid off from our work and called it good. We had met the Princess. Our closer view persuaded us that she might be thirty-five but probably was forty, though one early morning in a passage way we met her when she looked fifty, wan and sad and weary, but still flashing her eyes. And then one fair day, she turned her eyes from us for ever. This is what happened to me. But Henry himself may have been the hero of the episode. Anyway, one of us was walking the deck with the Countess investigating the kilowat power of the eyes. He was talking of trivial things, possibly telling the lady fair of the new ten-story Beacon Building or of Henry Ganse's golf score on the Emporia Country Club links--anyway something of broad, universal human interest. But those things seemed to pall on her. So he tried her on the narrow interests that engage the women at home--the suffrage question; the matter of the eight-hour day and the minimum wage for women; and national prohibition. These things left her with no temperature. She was cold; she even shivered, slightly, but grace fully withal, as she went swinging along on her toes, her silk sweater clinging like an outer skin to her slim lithe body, walking like a girl of sixteen. And constantly she was at target practice with her eyes with all her might and main. She managed to steer the conversation to a place where she could bemoan the cruel war; and ask what the poor women would do. Her Kansas partner suggested that life would be broader and better for women after the war, because they would have so much more important a part to do than before in the useful work of the world. "Ah, yes," she said, "perhaps so. But with the men all gone what shall we do when we want to be petted?" She made two sweet unaccented syllables of petted in her ingenue French accent and added: "For you know women were made to be pet-ted." There was a bewildered second under the machine gun fire of the eyes when her companion considered seriously her theory. He had never cherished such a theory before. But he was seeing a new world, and this seemed to be one of the pleasant new things in it--this theory of the woman requiring to be pet-ted!
Then the French Colonel hove in sight and she said: "Oh, yes--come on, Col-o-nel"--making three unaccented syllables of the word--"and we shall have une femme sandweech." She gave the Colonel her arm. The miserable Kansan had not thought to take it, being busy with the Beacon Building or the water hazard at the Emporia Country Club, and then, as the Col-o-nel took her arm she lifted the Eyes to the stupid clod of a Kansan and switched on all the joyous incandescence of her lamps as she said, addressing the Frenchman but gazing sweetly at the American, "Col-o-nel, will you please carry my books?" They must have weighed six or eight ounces! And she shifted them to the Col-o-nel as though they weighed a ton!
So the Kansan walked wearily to the smoking room to find his mate. They two then and there discussed the woman proposition in detail and drew up strong resolutions of respect for the Wichita and Emporia type, the American type that carries its own books and burdens and does not require of its men a silly and superficial chivalry and does not stimulate it by the everlasting lure of sex! Men may die for the Princess and her kind and enjoy death. We were willing that they should. We evinced no desire to impose our kultur on others. But after that day on the deck the Princess lost her lure for Henry and me! So we went to the front stoop of the boat and watched the Armenians drill. A great company of them was crowded in the steerage and all day long, with a sergeant major, they went through the drill. They were returning to Europe to fight with the French army and avenge the wrongs of their people. When they tired of drilling, they danced, and when they tired of dancing, they sang. It was queer music for civilized ears, the Armenian songs they sang. It was written on a barbaric scale with savage cadences and broken time; but it was none the less sweet for being weird. It had the charm and freedom of the desert in it, and was as foreign as the strange brown faces that lifted toward us as they sang.
"What is that music?" asked the Kansans of a New England boy in khaki who had been playing Greig that day for them on the piano. "That," nodded the youth toward the Armenians. "Oh, that--why that's the 'Old Oaken Bucket!'" His face did not relax and he went away whistling! So there we were. The Col-o-nel and the lady with their idea on the woman question, the Armenians with their bizarre music, the Yankee with his freaky humour, and the sedentary gold dust twins from Kansas, and a great boat-load of others like them in their striking differences of ideals and notions, all hurrying across the world to help in the great fight for democracy which, in its essence, is only the right to live in the world, each man, each cult, each race, each blood and each nation after its own kind. And about all the war involves is the right to live, and to love one's own kind of women, one's own kind of music, one's own kind of humour, one's own kind of philosophy; knowing that they are not perfect and understanding their limitations; trusting to time and circumstance to bring out the fast colours of life in the eternal wash. Thinking thoughts like these that night, Henry's bunk-mate could not sleep. So he slipped on a grey overcoat over his pajamas and put on a grey hat and grey rubber-soled shoes, and went out on deck into the hot night that falls in the gulf stream in summer. It was the murky hour before dawn and around and around the deck he paced noiselessly, a grey, but hardly gaunt spectre in the night. The deck chairs were filled with sleepers from the berths below decks. At last, wearying of his rounds, the spectre stopped to gaze over the rail at the water and the stars when he heard this from a deck chair behind him, "Wake up, Net--for God's sake wake up!" whispered a frightened woman's voice. "There's that awful thing again that scared me so awhile ago!"
Even at the latter end of the journey the ocean interested us. An ocean always seems so unreasonable to inlanders. And that morning when there was "a grey mist on the sea's face and a grey dawn breaking," Henry came alongside and looked at the seascape, all twisting and writhing and tossing and billowing, up and down and sideways. He also looked at his partner who was gradually growing pale and wan and weary. And Henry heard this: "She's on a bender; she's riz about ten feet during the night. I guess there's been rain somewhere up near the headwaters or else the fellow took his finger out of the hole in the dyke. Anyway, she'll be out of her banks before breakfast. I don't want any breakfast; I'm going to bed for the day." And he went.
During the day Henry brought the cheerful information that the Doctor was down and that the Eager Soul and the Gilded Youth were wearing out the deck. Henry also added that her slapping was scheduled for that night.
"Has her hair slopped over yet?" This from me.
"No," answered Henry, "but it's getting crinklier and crinklier and she looks pinker and pinker, and prettier and prettier, and you ought to see her in her new purple sweater. She sprang that on the boat this afternoon! It's laying 'em out in swaths!" Henry's affinity was afraid to turn off his back. But he turned a pale face toward his side-kick and whispered: "Henry, you tell her," he gulped before going on, "that if she can't find anyone else to slap, there's a man down here who can't fight back!"
A sense of security comes to one who churns along seven days on a calm sea on an eventless voyage. And the French, by easy-going ways, stimulate that sense of security; we had heard weird stories of boat-drills at daybreak, of midnight alarms and of passengers sleeping on deck in their life preservers, and we were prepared for the thrills which Wichita and Emporia expected us to have. They never came. One afternoon, seven or eight days out, we had notice at noon that we would try on our life preservers that afternoon. The life preservers were thrown on our beds by the stewards and at three o'clock each passenger appeared beside the life-boat assigned to him, donned his life-belt which gave him a ridiculously stuffed appearance, answered to a roll-call, guyed those about him after the manner of old friends, and waited for something else. It never came. The ship's officers gradually faded from the decks and the passengers, after standing around foolishly for a time, disappeared one by one into their cabins and bloomed out again with their life-belts moulted! That was the last we heard of the boat-drill or the life-belts. The French are just that casual.
But one evening at late twilight the ship went a-flutter over a grisly incident that brought us close up to the war. We were gathered in the dusk looking at a sailing ship far over to the south--a mere speck on the horizon's edge. Signals began to twinkle from her and we felt our ship give a lurch and turn north zigzagging at full speed. The signals of the sailing ship were distress signals, but we sped away from her as fast as our engines would take us, for, though her signals may have been genuine, also they may have been a U-boat lure. Often the Germans have used the lure of distress signals on a sailing ship and when a rescuer has appeared, the U-boat has sent to death the Good Samaritan of the sea! It is awful. But the German has put mercy off the sea!
Some way the average man goes back to his home environment for his moral standards, and that night as we walked the deck, Henry broke out with this: "I've been thinking about this U-boat business; how it would be if we had the German's job. I have been trying to think if there is any one in Wichita who could go out and run a U-boat the way these Germans run U-boats, and I've been trying to imagine him sitting on the front porch of the Country Club or down at the Elks Club talking about it, telling how he lured the captain of a ship by his distress signal to come to the rescue of a sinking ship and then destroyed the rescuer, and I've been trying to figure out how the fellows sitting around him would take it. They'd get up and leave. He would be outcast as unspeakable and no brag or bluff or blare of victory would gloss over his act. We simply don't think the German way. We have a loyalty to humanity deeper than our patriotism. There are certain things self-respecting men can't do and live in Wichita. But there seem to be no restrictions in Germany. The U-boat captain using the distress signal as a lure probably holds about such a place in his home town as Charley Carey, our banker, or Walter Innes, our dry goods man. He is doubtless a leading citizen of some German town; doubtless a kind father, a good husband and maybe a pillar of the church. And I suppose town and home and church will applaud him when he goes back to Germany to brag about his treachery. In Wichita, town and home and church would be ashamed of Charley Carey and Walter Innes if they came back to brag about killing men who were lured to death by responding to the call of distress."
And so, having disposed of the psychology of the enemy, we turned in for the night. We were entering the danger zone and the night was hot. A few passengers slept on deck; but most of the ship's company went to their cabins. We didn't seem to be afraid. We presumed that our convoy would appear in the morning. But when it failed to appear we assumed that there was no danger. No large French passenger boat had been sunk by the Germans; this fact we heard a dozen times that day. It soothed us. The day passed without bringing our convoy. Again we went to bed, realizing rather clearly that the French do take things casually; and believing firmly that the convoys would come with the dawn. But dawn came and brought no convoy. We seemed to be nearing land. The horizon was rarely without a boat. The day grew bright. We were almost through the danger zone. We went to lunch a gay lot, all of us; but we hurried back to the deck; not uneasily, not in fear, understand, but just to be on deck, looking landward. And then at two o'clock it appeared. Far off in the northeast was a small black dot in the sky. It looked like a seabird; but it grew. In ten minutes the whole deck was excited. Every glass was focused on the growing black spot. And then it loomed up the size of a baseball; it showed colour, a dull yellow in the distance and then it swelled and took form and glowed brighter and came rushing toward us, as large as a moon, as large as a barrel, and then we saw its outlines, and it came swooping over us, a great beautiful golden thing and the whole deck burst into cheers. It was our convoy, a dirigible balloon--vivid golden yellow, trimmed with blue! How fair it seemed. How graceful and how surely and how powerfully it circled about the ship like a great hovering bird, and how safe we felt; and as we cheered and cheered the swirling, glowing, beautiful thing, we knew how badly frightened we really had been. With danger gone, the tension lifted and we read the fear in our hearts. A torpedo boat destroyer came lumbering across the sky line. It also was to convoy us, but it had a most undramatic entrance; and besides we had sighted land. The deck cheered easily, so we cheered the land. And everyone ran about exclaiming to everyone else about the wonder and splendour of the balloon, and everyone took pictures of everyone else and promised to send prints, and the land waxed fat and loomed large and hospitable while Henry paced the deck with his hands clasped reflectively behind him. He was deeply moved and language didn't satisfy him much. Finally he took his fellow Kansan by the arm and pointed to the magnificence of the hovering spectre in yellow and blue that circled about the ship:
"Bill," he said, solemnly, "isn't she a peach!" He paused, then from his heart he burst out: "'How beautiful upon the mountain are the feet of them that bring glad tidings!' I wish the fellows in Wichita could get this thing for the wheat show!"
And thus we came to the shores of sunny France, a land that was to remind us over and over again of our own sunny land of Kansas.
We landed after dark. Every one was going about vowing deathless friendship to every one else, and so far as the stenographers and the ambulance boys were concerned, it came to Henry and me that we meant it; for they were a fine lot, just joyous, honest, brave young Americans going out to do their little part in a big enterprise. While we were bidding good-bye to our boys and girls, we kept a weather eye on the Eager Soul. She had hooked the Gilded Youth fairly deeply. He saw that her trunk came up from the hold, but we noticed that while he was gone, the Doctor showed up and went with her to sort out her hand-baggage from the pile on the deck. The gang plank was let down under a pair of smoky torches. And the Gilded Youth had paid a fine tip some place to be permitted to be the first passenger off the boat that he might get one of the two taxis in sight for the Eager Soul. She followed him, but she made him let the Doctor come along. And so the drinks--lemon squash and buttermilk--were equally on Henry and me. We hurried down the gang plank after the happy trio. They were young--so infinitely and ineffably young, it seemed to us. And the girl's face was flushed and joyous, and her hair--why it didn't shake out and drown her we never knew; certainly it surged out from under her hat like ripples of youth incarnate. We saw them stacking their valises in the taxi and over the taxi and around the taxi and the last we saw of her was when she bent out of the cab window and waved and smiled at us, two sedate old parties alone there in the crowd, with the French language rising to our ears as we teetered unsteadily into it.
What an adventure they were going into--what a new adventure, the new and beautiful adventure of youth, the old and inexplicable adventure of life! So we waved back at them so long as they were in sight, and the white handkerchief of the Eager Soul fluttered back from the disappearing cab. When it was gone, Henry turned to a sad-looking cabman with a sway-backed carriage and explained with much eloquence that we wanted him to haul us a la hotel France--toot sweet!
Bordeaux is the "Somewhere in France" from which cablegrams from passengers on the French liners usually are sent. This will be no news to the Germans, nor to Americans who read the advertisements of the French liners, but it may be news to Americans who receive the mysterious cablegrams "from a French port," after their friends have landed. It is a dear old town, mouldy, and weather-beaten, and mediaeval, this Bordeaux, with high, mysterious walls along the street's over which hang dusty branches of trees or vines sneaking mischievously out of bounds. A woe-begone trolley creaks through the narrow streets and heart-broken cabmen mourning over the mistakes of misspent lives, larrup disconsolate horses over stony streets as they creak and jog and wheeze ahead of the invisible crows that seem always to be hovering above ready to batten upon their rightful provender. For an hour in the morning before our train left for Paris we chartered one of the ramshackle cabs of the town and took in Bordeaux. It was vastly unlike either Emporia or Wichita, or anything in Kansas, or anything in America; or so far as that goes, to Henry and me, it was unlike anything else in the wide and beautiful world. "All this needs," said Henry, as he lolled back upon the moth-eaten cushions of the hack that banged its iron rims on the cobbles beneath us, and sent the thrill of it into our teeth, "all this needs is Mary Pickford and a player organ to be a good film!" The only thing we saw that made us homesick was the group of firemen in front of the engine house playing checkers or chess or something. But the town had an historic interest for us as the home of the Girondists of the French Revolution; so we looked up their monument and did proper reverence to them. They were moderate idealists who rose during the first year of the revolution; we thought them much like the Bull Moosers. So we did what homage we could to the Girondists who were run over by the revolutionary band wagon and sent to the guillotine during the Terror. For we knew; indeed into the rolly-poly necks of Henry and me, in our own politics, the knife had bitten many times. So we stood before what seemed to be the proper monument with sympathetic eyes and uncovered heads for a second before we took the train for Paris.
All day long we rode through the only peaceful part of France we were to see in our martial adventures. It was fair and fat and smiling--that France that lay between the river Gironde and Paris, and all day we rode through its beauty and its richness. The thing which we missed most from the landscape, being used to the American landscape, was the automobile. We did not see one in the day's journey. In Kansas alone there are 190,000 continually pervading the landscape. We had yet to learn that there are no private automobiles in France, that the government had commandeered all automobiles and that even the taxis of Paris have but ten gallons of gasoline a day allotted to each of them. So we gazed at the two-wheeled carts, the high, bony, strong white oxen, the ribbons of roads, hard-surfaced and beautiful, wreathing the gentle hills, and longed for a car to make the journey past the fine old châteaux that flashed in and out of our vision behind the hills. War was a million miles away from the pastoral France that we saw coming up from Bordeaux.
But in Paris war met us far out in the suburbs, where at dusk a great flock of airplanes from a training camp buzzed over us and sailed along with the train, distancing us and returning to play with us like big sportive birds. The train was filled with our shipmates from the boat and we all craned our necks from the windows to look at the wonderful sight of the air covey that fluttered above us. Even the Eager Soul, our delicious young person with her crinkly red hair and serious eyes, disconnected herself long enough from the Gilded Youth and the Young Doctor "for to admire and for to see," the airplanes.
But the airplanes gave us the day's first opportunity to talk to the Eager Soul. Until dusk the Gilded Youth had kept her in his donjon---a first class compartment jammed with hand-baggage, and where she had insisted that the Young Doctor should come also. We knew that without being told; also it was evident as we passed up and down the car aisle during the day that she was acting as a sort of human Baedeker to the Young Doctor, while the Gilded Youth, to whom châteaux and French countryside were an old, old story, sat by and hooted. But the airplanes pulled him out of his donjon keep and the Young Doctor with him. He wasn't above showing the Young Doctor how much a Gilded Youth really knows about mechanics and airplanes, and we slipped in and chatted with the Eager Soul. We had a human interest in the contest between the Gilded Youth and the Young Doctor, and a sporting interest which centered in the daily score. And we gathered this: That it was the Young Doctor's day. For he was in France to help the greatest cause in the world; and the Gilded Youth affected to be in France--to enjoy the greatest outdoor game in the world. But he had made it plain that day to the Eager Soul that working eighteen hours a day under shell fire, driving an ambulance, was growing tame. He was going back, of course, but he was thinking seriously of the air service. The Doctor wanted no thrills. He was willing to boil surgical instruments or squirt disinfectant around kitchens to serve. And the Eager Soul liked that attitude, though it was obvious to us, that she was in the war game as a bit of a sport and because it was too dull in her Old Home Town, "somewhere in the United States." And we knew also what she did not admit, even if she recognized it, that in the Old Home Town, men of the sort to attract women of her spirit and intelligence were scarce--and she was out looking for her own Sir Galahad, as he went up and down the earth searching for the Holy Grail. The war to her, we knew, was a great opportunity to enjoy the new freedom of her sex, to lose her harem veil, to breathe free air as an achieving human creature--but, alas! one's forties are too wise. Pretty as she was, innocent as she was, and eager as her soul was in high emprise of the conflict of world ideals into which she was plunging, we felt that, after all, hidden away deeply in the secret places of her heart, were a man and a home and children.
We whizzed through the dusk in the suburbs of Paris that night, seeing the gathering implements of war coming into the landscape for the first time--the army trucks, the horizon blue of the French uniform, the great training camps, the Red Cross store houses, the scores and scores of hospitals that might be seen in the public buildings with Red Cross flags on them, the munition plants pouring out their streams of women workers in their jumpers and overalls.
The girl porters came through and turned on the lights in the train. No lights outside told us that we were hurrying through a great city. Paris was dark. We went through the underground where there was more light than there was above ground. The streets seemed like tunnels and the tunnels like streets. We came into the dingy station and a score of women porters and red capped girls came for our baggage. They ran the trucks, they moved the express; they took care of the mail, and through them we edged up the stairway into the half-lighted station and looked out into the night--black, lampless, engulfing--and it was Paris!
It was nine o'clock as we stood on the threshold of the station peering into the murk. Not a taxi was in the stand waiting; but from afar we could hear a great honking of auto-horns, that sounded like the night calls of monster birds flitting over the city. The air was vibrant with these wild calls. We were an hour waiting there in the gloom for a conveyance. But when we left the wide square about the station, and came into the streets of Paris, we understood why the auto horns were bellowing so. For the automobiles were running lickety-split through the darkness without lights and the howls of their horns pierced the night. The few street lights burning a low candle power at the intersections of the great boulevards were hooded and cast but a pale glow on the pavements. And as we rode from our station and passed the Tuileries and the Rue de Rivoli, save for the dim outline of the iron railings of the Gardens ten feet from our cab window, we had no sign to mark our way. Yet our cab whizzed along at a twenty-five mile gait, and every few seconds a great blatting devil would honk out of the darkness, and whirl past us, and sometimes we would be abreast of another and the fiendish horns of us would go screaming in chorus as we raced and passed and repassed one another on the broad street. The din was nerve racking--but highly Parisian. One fancied that Paris, being denied its lights, made up its quota of sensation by multiplying its sound!
We went to the Ritz---now smile; the others did! Not that the Ritz is an inferior hotel. We went there because it was really the grandee among Paris hotels. Yet every day we were in Paris when we told people we were at the Ritz, they smiled. The human mind doesn't seem to be able to associate Henry and me with the Ritz without the sense of the eternal fitness of things going wapper-jawed and catawampus. We are that kind of men. Wichita and Emporia are written large and indelibly upon us; and the Ritz, which is the rendezvous of the nobility, merely becomes a background for our rusticity--the spotlight which reveals the everlasting jay in us! We went to the Ritz largely because it seemed to me that as a leading American orator, Henry should have proper European terminal facilities. And the Ritz looked to me like the proper setting for an international figure. There, it seemed to me, the rich and the great would congregate to invite him to dinners, and to me, at least, who had imagination, there seemed something rather splendid in fancying the gentry saying, "Ah, yes--Henry J. Allen, of Wichita--the next governor of Kansas, I understand!" Henry indicated his feeling about the Ritz thus: The night we arrived he failed, for the first time in two weeks, to demand a dress rehearsal in our $17.93 uniforms from 43rd Street in New York. The gold braided uniforms that we saw in the corridors of the Ritz that night made us pause and consider many things. When we unpacked our valises, there were the little bundles just as they had come from 43rd Street. Henry tucked his away with a sigh, and just before he went to sleep he called across the widening spaces between sleep and wakening: "I suppose we might have bought that $23.78 outfit, easy enough!"
It was in the morning that the veneer of the Ritz began to wear off for Henry. He had pulled a bath and found it cold; they were conserving fuel and no hot water was allowed in the hotels of Paris excepting Friday and Saturday nights. The English, who are naturally mean, declare that the French save seventy-five per cent of the use of their hot water by putting the two hot water nights together, as no living Frenchman ever took a bath two consecutive days. But it did not seem that way to Henry and me. And anyway we heard these theories later. But that morning Henry, who doesn't really mind a cold bath, was ready for it when he happened to look around the bathroom and found there wasn't a scrap of soap. There he was, as one might say, au natural, or perhaps better--if one should include the dripping from his first plunge--one might say he was au jus! And what is more, he was au mad. He jabbed the bell button that summoned the valet, and when the boy appeared Henry had his speech ready for him. "Donnez moi some soap here and be mighty blame toot sweet about it!" The valet explained that soap was not furnished with the room. It took some time to get that across in broken French and English; then Henry, talking very slowly and in his best oratorical voice, with his foot on the fortissimo, cried: "Say! We are paying," at the dazed look in the valet's face Henry repeated slower and louder, "We are paying, I say, fifteen-dollars--fif-teen dollars a day for these rooms. You go ask Mrs. Ritz if she will furnish soap for twenty?" And he waved the valet grandly out.
An hour later we sallied forth to see Paris in war time. Our way lay through the lonely Vendôme, out by the empty Rue Castiglione, down the Rue de Rivoli. So we came into the great beautiful Place de la Concorde; and what a wide and magnificent waste it was. Now and then a wayfarer might be seen crossing its splendid distances, or a taxicab spinning along through the statuesque grandeur of the place. But the few moving objects in the white stretch of marble and cement only accented its lonely aspect. The circle of the French provinces was as desolate as the Pompeiian Forum, and save for the bright colours of the banks of flowers that were heaped upon the monuments to Alsace and Lorraine, the place might have been an excavation rather than the heart of a great world metropolis. Before the war, to cross the Place de la Concorde and go into the Champs Elysées was an adventure of a life time. One took one's chances. One survived, but he had his thrills. But that morning we might have walked safely with bowed head and hands clasped behind us through the Place, across the Elysian fields; there we sat for a moment in one of the Babylonian cafes and saw nothing more shocking than the beautiful women of France gathering in the abandoned cafes and music halls to assemble surgical dressings for the French wounded.
In due course, in that first day of our pilgrimage in Europe, we came to the headquarters of the American Red Cross in the Place de la Concorde. The five floors of a building once used for a man's club are now filled with bustling, hustling Americans. Those delicately tinted souls in Europe who are homesick for Broadway may find it in the office of the American Red Cross; but they will find lower Broadway, not the place of the bright lights. The click and clatter of typewriters punctuate the air. Natty stenographers, prim office women, matronly looking heads of departments, and assistants from perhaps the tubercular department, the reconstruction department, the bureau of home relief in Paris, or what not, move briskly through the corridors. In the reception rooms are men from the ends of the earth--Rumanians, Serbians, Armenians, Belgians, Boers, Russians, Japs--every nation at peace with America has some business sometime in that Paris office of the American Red Cross. For there abides the commissioner of the Red Cross for all Europe. At that time he was a spare, well made man in his late thirties,--Major Grayson M. P. Murphy; a West Pointer who left the army fifteen years ago after service in the Philippines, started "broke" in New York peddling insurance, and quit business last June vice-president of the largest trust company in the world, making the climb at considerable speed, but without much noise. He was the quietest man in Paris. He was so quiet that he had to have a muffler cut-out on his own great heart to keep it from drowning his voice! There is a soft lisp in his speech which might fool strangers who do not know about the steel of his nerves and the keenness of his eye. He sat in a roomy office with a clean desk, toyed with a paper knife and made quick, sure, accurate decisions in a low hesitant voice that never backed track nor weakened before a disagreeable situation. He is the man who more than anyone else has laid out the spending of the major part of the first one hundred millions gathered in America by the Red Cross drive last summer. He held his rank as Major in the United States army, and wore his uniform as though it were his skin, clean, unwrinkled and handsome, with that gorgeous quality of unconscious pride that is, after all, the West Pointer's real grace.
As we sat in that noble room, looking out across the Place de la Concorde, past the Obelisk to the House of Deputies beyond the Seine, it was evident that Henry was thinking hard. The spectacle of Major Murphy's young men in their habiliments of service, Red Cross military uniforms that made them look like lilies of the valley and bright and morning stars, gave us both something to think about. The recollection of those $17.93 uniforms of ours in the rooms at the Ritz was disquieting. We had service hats; these young gods wore brown caps with leather visors and enameled Red Crosses above the leather. We had cotton khaki tunics unadorned, and of a vintage ten years old. They had khaki worsted of a cut to conform to the newest general order. They had Sam Browne belts of high potency, and we had no substitute even for that insignia of power. They had shiny leather puttees. We had tapes. They had brown shoes--we had not given a fleeting thought to shoes. We might as well have had congress gaiters! So when the conversation with Major Murphy turned to a point where he said that he expected us to go with him to the French front immediately he took a look at our Sunday best Emporia and Wichita civilian clothes and asked casually, "Have you gentlemen uniforms?" For me right there the cock crowed three times. Henry heard it also, and answered slowly, "Well, no--not exactly."
"Mr. Hoppen," said the Major, "take these gentlemen down the street and show them where to get uniforms!" Which Mr. Hoppen went and did. Now Mr. Hoppen is related to the Morgans---the J. Pierpont Morgans---and he has small notion of Emporia and Wichita. So he took us to a tailorshop after his own heart. We chose a modest outfit, with no frills. We ordered one pair of riding breeches each, and one tunic each, and one American army cap each. The tunic was to conform to the recent Army regulation for Red Cross tunics, and the trousers were to match; Henry looked at me and received a distress signal, but he ignored it and said nonchalantly, "When can we have them?" The tailor told us to call for a fitting in two weeks, but we were going to the front before that. That made no difference; and then Henry came to the real point. "How much," he asked, "will these be?" The tailor answered in francs and we quickly divided the sum into dollars. It made $100. "For both?" asked Henry hopefully. "For each," answered the tailor firmly. There stood Mr. Hoppen, of Morgans. There also stood Wichita and Emporia. Henry's eyes did not bat; Mr. Hoppen wore a shimmering Sam Browne belt. Looking casually at it Henry asked:
"Shall we require one of those?"
"Gentlemen are all wearing them, sir," answered the tailor.
"How much?" queried Henry.
"Well, you gentlemen are a trifle thick, sir, and we'll have to have them specially made, but I presume we may safely say $14 each, sir!"
Henry did not even look at me, but lifted the wormwood to his lips and quaffed it. "Make two," he answered.
The world should not be unsafe for democracy if Wichita and Emporia could help it!
We went to a show that night with the feeling of guilt and shame one has who has betrayed his family. That $114 with ten more to come for brown shoes, flickered in the spot light and babbled on the lips of the singers. They danced it in the ballet. Each of us was thinking with guilty horror of how he would break the news of that uniform bargain to his wife. So we went home tired that first night, through the grim dark streets of Paris and to our rooms. And there were those 43rd street uniforms still unwrapped in the bureau drawer. Henry again demanded a dress rehearsal. He insisted that as we were going to have to wear them to the front we ought to know how we looked inside of them. But we were weary and again put off the dread hour. The next morning we bought our ten dollar brown shoes, and concluded that there was a vast amount of foolishness connected with this war.
During the long fair days while we waited for Major Murphy to take us to the front, we wandered about Paris, puffing and spluttering through the French language. Henry never was sure of anything but toot sweet and some devilish perversion was forever sticking sophomore German into my mouth, when French should have risen. The German never actually broke out. If it had, we should have been shot as spies. But it was so close that it always seemed to be snooping around ready to jump out. That made it hard for me to shine in French.
These adventures with the French language were not exactly the martial adventures that Charley Chandler, of Wichita, and Warren Finney, of Emporia, thought we would be having at the Front, when they trundled us out to win the war. Yet these adventures were serious. They were adventures in lonesomeness. We could imagine how the American soldier boy would feel and what he would say when this language began to wash about his ears and submerge him in its depths. We could fancy American soldiers wandering through the French villages, unable to buy things, because they couldn't understand the prices. We could understand the dreary, bleak, isolated lives of these American boys, with all the desolation of foreigners hungering always for human companionship, outside of the everlasting camp. And we came to know the misery of homesickness that hides in the phrase, "a stranger in a strange land!"
So we were glad to summon the Eager Soul to dine with us, and we let her order a dinner so complicated that it tasted like a lexicon! We learned much about the Eager Soul that night. She told us of her two college degrees, her year's teaching experience, her four years' nursing, and her people in the old home town. Bit by bit, we picked out her status from the things she dropped inadvertently. And that night in our rooms we assembled the parts of the puzzle thus; one rambling Bedford limestone American castle in the Country Club district; two cars, with garage to match; a widowed mother, a lamented father who made all kinds of money, so naturally some of it was honest money; two brothers, a married sister; a love for Henry James, and Galsworthy; substantial familiarity with Ibsen, Hauptman, Bergsen, Wagner, Puccini, Brahms, Freud, Tschaikovsky, and Bernard Shaw; a whole-hearted admiration for Barrie; and a record as organizer in the suffrage campaign which won in her state three years ago, plus a habit of buying gloves by the dozen and candy in five pound boxes! We could not prove it, but we agreed that she probably bossed her mother and that the brothers' wives hated her and the sister's husband loved her to death! She was one of those socially assured persons in the Old Home Town who are never afraid of themselves out of it! She confessed that she had seen more or less of the Gilded Youth, before he left for Verdun, and in a pyrotechnic display of dimples, she admitted that she had gone to the station to bid the Young Doctor good-bye. She had been assigned to a hospital near the Verdun sector, and was going out the following day. When we left her at the door of the Hotel Vouillemont, we plunged back into the encircling gloom of the French language with real regret.
As we went further into the life about us, we felt that all the men were in uniform and all the women in mourning. The French mourn beautifully. France today is the world's tragedy queen whose suffering is all genuine, but all magnificently done. In the shop windows of the Boulevards, and along the Avenue of the Opera are no bright colours--excepting for men's uniforms. In the windows of the millinery shops, purple is the gayest colour--purple and lavender and black prevail. On every street are blind windows of departed shops. Some bear signs notifying customers that they are closed for the duration of the war; others simply stare blankly and piteously at passersby who know the story without words.
Yet if it is not a gay Paris, it is anything but a sad Paris. Rather it is a busy Paris; a Paris that stays indoors and works. For an hour or two after twilight the crowds come out; Sunday also they throng the boulevards. And the theatres are always well filled; and there the bright dress uniforms of the men overcome the sombre gowns of the women and the scenes in lobbies and foyers are not far from brilliant. Bands and orchestras play in the theatres, but the music lacks fire. It is beautiful music, carefully done, artistically executed, but the orchestras are made up for the most part of men past the military age. We heard "La Tosca" one afternoon and in the orchestra sat twenty men with grey hair and the tenor was fat! As the season grew old, we heard "Louise," "Carmen," "Aphrodite," "Butterfly" (in London), and "Aida" (in Milan), and always the musical accompaniment to the social vagaries of these ladies who are no better than they should be, was music from old heads and old hearts. The "other lips and other hearts whose tales of love" should have been told ardently through fiddle and clarinet are toying with the great harp of a thousand strings that plays the dance of death. That is the music the young men are playing in Europe today. But in Paris, busy, drab, absent-minded Paris, the music that should be made from the soul of youth, crying into reeds and strings and brass is an echo, an echo altogether lovely but passionless!
Finally our season of waiting ended. We came home to the Ritz at midnight from a dinner with Major Murphy, where we had been notified that we were to start for the front the next morning. We told him that the new uniforms were not yet ready and confessed to him that we had the cheap uniforms; he looked resigned. He had been entertaining a regular callithumpian parade of Red Cross commissioners from America, and he probably felt that he had seen the worst and that this was just another cross. But when we reached our rooms that midnight, Henry lifted his voice, not in pleading, but in command. For we were to start at seven the next morning, and it was orders. So each went to his bedroom and began unwrapping his bundles. In ten minutes Henry appeared caparisoned like a chocolate divinity! With me there was trouble. Someone had blundered. The shirt went on easily; the tunic went on cosily, but the trousers--someone had shuffled those trousers on me. Even a shoe spoon and foots-case wouldn't get them to rise to their necessary height. Inspection proved that they were 36; now 36 doesn't do me much good as a waist line! There is a net deficit of eight tragic inches, and eight inches short in one waistband is a catastrophe. Yet there we were. It was half past twelve. In six hours more we must be on our way to the front--to the great adventure. Uniforms were imperative. And there was the hiatus! Whereupon Henry rose. He rang for the valet; no response. He rang for the tailor; he was in bed. He rang for the waiter; he was off duty. There was just one name left on the call card; so Henry hustled me into an overcoat and rang for the chambermaid! And she appeared as innocent of English as we were of French. It was an awful moment! But Henry slowly began making gestures and talking in clear-ly e-nun-ci-a-ted tones. The gestures were the well-known gestures of his valedictory to the Republican party at the Chicago Auditorium in 1912--beautiful gestures and impressive. The maid became interested. Then he took the recalcitrant trousers, placed them gently but firmly against his friend's heart--or such a matter, showing how far from the ideal they came. Then he laid on the bed a brown woollen shirt, and in the tail of it marked out dramatically a "V" slice about the shape of an old-fashioned slice of pumpkin pie--a segment ten or a dozen inches wide that would require two hands in feeding. Then he pointed from the shirt to the trousers and then to the ample bosom of his friend, indicating with emotion that the huge pie-slice was to go into the rear corsage of the breeches. It was wonderful to see intelligence dawn in the face of that chambermaid. The gestures of that Bull Moose speech had touched her heart. Suddenly she knew the truth, and it made her free, so she cried, "Wee wee!" And oratory had again risen to its proper place in our midst! At two o'clock she returned with the pumpkin pie slice from the tail of the brown shirt, neatly, but hardly gaudily inserted into the rear waist line of the riding trousers, and we lay down to pleasant dreams; for we found that by standing stiffly erect, by keeping one's tunic pulled down, and by carefully avoiding a stooping posture, it was possible to conceal the facts of one's double life. So we went forth with Major Murphy the next morning as care-free as "Eden's garden birds." We looked like birds, too--scarecrows!
Our business took us to the American Ambulance men who were with the French army. Generally when they were at work they were quartered near a big base hospital; and their work took them from the large hospital to the first aid stations near the front line trenches. Our way from Paris to these men led across the devastated area of France. As the chief activity of the French at the time of our visit was in the Verdun sector, we spent most of our first week at the front near Verdun. And one evening at twilight we walked through the ruined city. The Germans had just finished their evening strafe; two hundred big shells had been thrown over from their field guns into the ruins. After the two hundredth shell had dropped it was as safe in Verdun as in Emporia until the next day. For the Germans are methodical in all things, and they spend just so many shells on each enemy point, and no more. The German work of destruction is thorough in Verdun. Not a roof remains intact upon its walls; not a wall remains uncracked; not a soul lives in the town; now and then a sentinel may be met patrolling the wagon road that winds through the streets. This wagon road, by the way, is the object of the German artillery's attention. Upon this road they think the revitalment trains pass up to the front. But the sentinels come and go. The only living inhabitants we saw in the place were two black cats. It must have been a beautiful city before the war--a town of sixty thousand and more. It contained some old and interesting Gothic ecclesiastical buildings--a cloister, a bishop's residence, a school--or what not--that, even crumbled and shattered by the shells, still show in ruins grace and charm and dignity. And battered as these mute stones were, it seemed marvellous that mere stone could translate so delicately the highest groping of men's hearts toward God, their most unutterable longing. And the broken stones of the Gothic ruin, in the freshness and rawness of their ruin, seemed to be bleeding out human aspiration, spilling it footlessly upon the dead earth. And of course all about these ecclesiastical ruins were the ruins of homes, and shops and stores--places just as pitifully appealing in their appalling wreck--where men had lived and loved and striven and failed and risen again and gone on slowly climbing through the weary centuries to the heights of grace toward which the tendrils of their hearts, pictured in the cloister and the apse and the tower, were so blindly groping. A dust covered chromo on a tottering wall; a little round-about hanging beside a broken bed, a lamp revealed on a table, a work bench deserted, a store smashed and turned to debris and left to petrify as the shell wrecked it--a thousand little details of a life that had gone, the soul vanished from a town, leaving it stark and dead, mere wood and stone and iron--this was the Verdun that we saw in the twilight after the Germans had finished their evening strafe.
From Verdun we hurried through the night, past half a dozen ruined villages to a big base hospital. We came there in the dark before moonrise, and met our ambulance men--mostly young college boys joyously flirting with death under the German guns. They were stationed in a tent well outside the big hospital building. They gave us a dinner worth while--onion soup, thick rare steak with peas and carrots, some sort of pasta--perhaps macaroni or raviolli, a jelly omelet soused in rum, and served burning blue blazes, and cheese and coffee--and this from a camp kitchen from a French cook on five minutes' notice, an hour after the regular dinner. The ambulance men were under the direct command of a French lieutenant--a Frenchman of a quiet, gentle, serious type, who welcomed us beautifully, played host graciously and told us many interesting things about the work of the army around him; and told it so simply--yet withal so sadly, that it impressed his face and manner upon us long after we had left him. Three or four times a day we were meeting French lieutenants who had charge of our ambulance men at the front. But this one was different. He was so gentle and so serious without being at all solemn. He had been in the war for three years, and said quite incidentally, that under the law of averages his time was long past due and he expected to go soon. It didn't seem to bother him. He passed the rum omelet with a steady hand. But his serious mien had attracted the ambulance boys and upon the room of his office in the big brick hospital they had scrawled in chalk, "Defense absolutement de rire!" "It's absolutely forbidden to laugh." Evidently American humour got on his nerves. As we dined in the tent, the boys outside sang trench songs, and college songs with trench words, and gave other demonstrations of their youth.
So we ate and listened to the singing, while the moon rose, and with it came a fog--more than a fog--a cloud of heavy mist that hid the moon. We moved our baggage from the tent to a vacant room in a vacant ward in the big hospital. We saw in the misty moonlight a great brick structure running around a compound. The compound was over 200 feet square, and in the centre of the compound was a big Red Cross made of canvas, painted red, on a background of whitewashed stones. It was 100 feet square. On each side of the compound a Red Cross blazed from the roof of the buildings, under the Geneva lights--lights which the Germans had agreed should mark our hospitals and protect them from air raids.
At midnight we left the hospital to visit those ambulance men who were stationed at the first aid posts, up near the battle line. It was an eery sort of night ride in the ambulance, going without lights, up the zigzags of the hill to the battle front of Verdun. The white clay of the road was sloppy and the car wobbled and skidded along and we passed scores of other vehicles going up and coming down--with not a flicker of light on any of them. The Red Cross on our ambulance gave us the right of way over everything but ammunition trucks, so we sped forward rapidly. It was revitalment time. Hundreds of motor trucks and horsecarts laden with munitions, food, men and the thousand and one supplies needed to keep an army going, were making their nightly trip to the trenches. When we reached a point near the top of the long hill, which we had been climbing, we got out of the ambulance and found that we were at a first aid dugout just back of the hill from whose top one could see the battle. The first aid post was a cave tunnelled a few yards into the hillside covered with railroad iron and sandbags. In the dugout was a little operating room where the wounded were bandaged before starting them down the hill in the ambulance to the hospital, and three doctors and half a dozen stretcher bearers were standing inside out of the misty rain.
As we had been climbing the hill in the ambulance, the roar of the big guns grew louder and louder. We believed it was French cannon. But when we got out of the car we heard an angry whistle and a roar which told us that German shells were coming in near us. As we stood before the dugout shivering in the mist we saw beyond us, over the hill, the glare of the French trench rockets lighting up the clouds above us weirdly, and spreading a sickly glow over the white muddy road before us. On the road skirting the very door of the dugout passed a line of motor trucks and carts--the revitalment train. The mist walled us in. Every few seconds out of the mist came a huge grey truck or a lumbering two-wheeled cart; and then, creaking heavily past the dugout door, plunged into the mist again. Never did the procession stop. At regular intervals the German shells crashed into the woods farther up the hill beyond us. But the silent procession before us--looming out of the mist, passing us, and fading into the mist, kept constantly moving. In the ghostly light of the misty moonshine, the procession seemed to be spectral--like a line of passing souls. A doctor came out of the dugout and started up the hill. He, too, was swallowed in the mist. Ahead of us up the road were noises that told us the Germans were landing bombs there, not half a mile--perhaps not much more than a quarter of a mile away. The stretcher bearers told us that the Germans were shelling a cross-road. They shelled it every night at midnight to smash the revitalment train. The shells were landing right in the road whereon all these trucks and horse carts were passing. The doctor who left us returned in a few minutes in an ambulance--wounded. Another ambulance came up with four or five wounded. A shell had crashed in and wiped out a truck load of men. But the procession under the misty moon never stopped--never even hesitated. No driver spoke. No teams or trucks cluttered up the road. As fast as a bomb shattered the road out there behind the mist, or made debris of a truck, the engineers hurried up, cleared the way, removed the debris and the ceaseless procession in the ghostly moonlight moved on. Another ambulance brought in two more wounded.
After one o'clock the bombing stopped. Some other cross-road was taking its turn. Five men were buried that night in the little cemetery there by the dugout. We stood or sat about for a while! no one had much to say. The grey mist thickened and enveloped us. And we became as very shadows ourselves. Somewhere in the mist up the hill, near where the rocket's red glare flushed on the dim horizon, a man began whistling the intermezzo from "Thais." It fitted the unreality of the scene, and soon two of us were whistling together. He heard me and paused. Then we walked toward one another whistling and met. It was the Gilded Youth from the ship--the Gilded Youth whose many millions had made him shimmer. He was not shimmering there on the sloppy hillside. He was a field service man, and we went back to his machine and sat on it and talked music--music that seemed to be the only reality there in the midst of death, and the spirit that was moving men in the moonlight to forget death for something more real than death. And so it came about that the crescendo of our talk ran thus:
And courage--that thing which the Germans thought was their special gift from Heaven, bred of military discipline, rising out of German kultur--we know now is the commonest heritage of men. It is the divine fire burning in the souls of us that proves the case for democracy. For at base and underneath we are all equals. In crises the rich man, the poor man, the thief, the harlot, the preacher, the teacher, the labourer, the ignorant, the wise, all go to death for something that defies death, something immortal in the human heart. Those truck-drivers, those mule whackers, those common soldiers, that doctor, these college men on the ambulances are brothers tonight in the democracy of courage. Upon that democracy is the hope of the race, for it bespeaks a wider and deeper kinship of men.
So then we knew that under the gilding of the Gilded Youth was fine gold. He was called for a wounded man. As he cranked up his car he asked rather too casually, "Have you seen our friend from the boat--the pretty nurse?" We started to answer; the stretcher bearer called again and in an instant he went buzzing away and we returned to the hospital.
We slept that night in a hospital bed. The week before three thousand men had passed through that hospital--some upon the long journey, so we rose early the next morning. For some way to Henry and me there seemed a curious disquietude about those hospital beds.
In the early morning just after dawn we saw them taking out the dead from the hospital. The stretcher bearers moved as quickly as they could with their burden through the yard. A dozen soldiers and orderlies were in the hospital compound, but no one turned a head toward the bearers and their burden. There were indeed, in sad deed, "a dearth of woman's nursing and a lack of woman's tears." No one knew who the dead man was. He wore his identification tag about him. No one cared except that it should be registered. If he was an officer he went to one part of the little graveyard just outside the fence; if he was a private he went inside. It was a lonely, heart-breaking sight. And it occurred to Henry and me--we had been among the ghosts on the hill the night before and had slept uneasily with the ghosts in the hospital--that we should give one poor fellow a funeral. So we lined up in the chill dawn, and followed the stretcher bearers and marched after some poor Frenchman to his tomb. It was probably the only funeral that the hospital yard ever had seen, for the soldiers and orderlies and attendants turned and gaped at the wonder, and nurses peered from the windows.
Four days later we were sitting in the courtyard of a little tavern in St. Dizier. A young French soldier came up, and tried his English on us. He found that we had been to Verdun. And he asked, "Have you heard the news from the big base hospital?" We had not. Then he told us that the night before the German airmen had come to the hospital early in the night and had dropped their eggs--incendiary bombs. An hour later they came and dropped some high explosives. They came again at midnight and because there were no anti-aircraft guns near by--the allies until those August and September German raids never had dreamed that hospitals would be raided--they came again swooping low and turned their machine guns on the doctors and the nurses in the compound who were taking the wounded out of the burning building. Then toward morning they came and dropped handbills which declared, "If you don't want your hospitals bombed, move them back further from the front!"
The Germans were not acting in the heat of passion. They were fighting scientifically, even if barbarously. For every mile a hospital is moved back of the line makes it that much harder to stop gangrene in the wounded. And by checking gangrene we are saving a great majority of our wounded to return to battle.
Nine doctors and fifteen nurses and many wounded were killed that night at Vlaincourt. "And the French officer de liason between the French army and the American ambulance, what of him?" we asked.
"He slept in the hospital and was killed by a bomb," answered the Frenchman.
So our serious faced French lieutenant knew all too well why "It is absolutely forbidden to laugh" in war!