January 23

Saturday, January 23rd.—Another blue, sunny, frosty morning. Loading up this morning was hard to attend to, as a thrilling Taube chase was going on overhead, the sky peppered with bursting shells, and aeroplanes buzzing around: didn't bring it down though.

The train is full of very painful feet: like a form of large burning chilblain all over the foot, and you can't do anything for them, poor lambs.

It has been a beautiful day with a light southern breeze; have not had a moment's time to myself all day someone being here all the time. It's provoking for I want to study so much. Beal and Parkhurst started for home to-day, Barre, Vt. Lieut. Ezra Stetson has not come yet. Major C. G. Chandler received a letter from Capt. E. Dillingham to-night, who is a prisoner of war at Richmond, Va. Private George G. Brown was detailed this evening in the Company mess house.

Still Saturday, January 23rd.—This is our first journey to Versailles. My only acquaintance with it was on the way up from Le Mans to Villeneuve to join this train. Two kind sisters, living in a sort of little ticket office in the middle of the line, washed and fed me at 6 a.m.in between two trains, but I saw nothing of the glories of Versailles—hope to to-morrow.

I don't think the men will get much sleep, their feet are too bad, but we are going to give them a good chance with drugs, the last thing. We shall do the night in three watches.

January Twenty-Third

I reckon hit's well we wuz all set free,
I s'pose dat's de way folks wuz meant ter be,
But I kain't see w'y dey's no manners lef'
Jes' kase dey happens ter own deyse'f.
I dunno rightly how ol' I is,
Hit mought be eighty, I reckon 'tis,
Yit I nuver gone now'ers, I tells you true,
But I tucken my manners an' breedin', too.
Anne Virginia Culbertson

 

 

January 23, 1864

Saturday. I visited about until train time, and managed to send word home that I would be there at night or before. I took dinner at Jenks' and was scolded for not coming right there the night before. At 2 p. m. when the train came I was on the platform, but no Henry got off. I then gave him up as lost in New York somewhere, but for what reason he had left me as he had I could not imagine. I had seen him enter the Dutchess County House after a lunch, and in ten minutes I was back there looking for him, but he was gone. That is all I could tell Mrs. Gorton, or the lieutenant, when I saw him again. I jumped in with Joe Hull, stopped at the Center and told Mrs. Gorton about Henry, went on, stopping at Mr. Hull's for a short call, and was soon after at home. I found little change in the dear old couple. I thought they looked a little older, but it was the same father and mother who had never been absent from my thoughts since I left them a year and a half before. They had been told I was at Millerton, on my way home. There had been no time to notify them by letter for I left New Orleans before a mail steamer did, after my furlough came. What was said and what was done concerns only us three, and we are not likely to forget it. It is enough to say we were all happy, and that we talked until late bedtime. I found my room just as I left it. So far as I could see, nothing had been disturbed. It was a long time before I slept, but I did at last, and I suppose they did also.

January 23

January 23, 1881.--A tolerable night, but this morning the cough has been frightful. Beautiful weather, the windows ablaze with sunshine. With my feet on the fender I have just finished the newspaper.

At this moment I feel well, and it seems strange to me that my doom should be so near. Life has no sense of kinship with death. This is why, no doubt, a sort of mechanical instinctive hope is forever springing up afresh in us, troubling our reason, and casting doubt on the verdict of science. All life is tenacious and persistent. It is like the parrot in the fable, who, at the very moment when its neck is being wrung, still repeats with its last breath:

"Cela, cela, ne sera rien."

The intellect puts the matter at its worst, but the animal protests. It will not believe in the evil till it comes. Ought one to regret it? Probably not. It is nature's will that life should defend itself against death; hope is only the love of life; it is an organic impulse which religion has taken under its protection. Who knows? God may save us, may work a miracle. Besides, are we ever sure that there is no remedy? Uncertainty is the refuge of hope. We reckon the doubtful among the chances in our favor. Mortal frailty clings to every support. How be angry with it for so doing? Even with all possible aids it hardly ever escapes desolation and distress. The supreme solution is, and always will be, to see in necessity the fatherly will of God, and so to submit ourselves and bear our cross bravely, as an offering to the Arbiter of human destiny. The soldier does not dispute the order given him: he obeys and dies without murmuring. If he waited to understand the use of his sacrifice, where would his submission be?

It occurred to me this morning how little we know of each other's physical troubles; even those nearest and dearest to us know nothing of our conversations with the King of Terrors. There are thoughts which brook no confidant: there are griefs which cannot be shared. Consideration for others even bids us conceal them. We dream alone, we suffer alone, we die alone, we inhabit the last resting-place alone. But there is nothing to prevent us from opening our solitude to God. And so what was an austere monologue becomes dialogue, reluctance becomes docility, renunciation passes into peace, and the sense of painful defeat is lost in the sense of recovered liberty.

"Vouloir ce que Dieu veut est la seule science Qui nous met en repos."

None of us can escape the play of contrary impulse; but as soon as the soul has once recognized the order of things and submitted itself thereto, then all is well.

"Comme un sage mourant puissions nous dire en paix: J'ai trop longtemps erré, cherché; je me trompais: Tout est bien, mon Dieu m'enveloppe."

January 23, 1916

Well, I have really been to Paris, and it was so difficult that I ask myself why I troubled.

I had to await the pleasure of the commander of the Cinquième Armée, as the Embassy was powerless to help me, although they did their best with great good will. I enclose you my sauf-conduit that you may see what so important a document is like. Then I want to tell you the funny thing—/ never had to show it once. I was very curious to know just how important it was. I went by the way of Esbly. On buying my ticket I expected to be asked for it, as there was a printed notice beside the window to the ticket-office announcing that all purchasers of tickets must be furnished with a sauf-conduit. No one cared to see mine. No one asked for it on the train. No one demanded it at the exit in Paris. Nor, when I returned, did anyone ask for it either at the ticket-office in Paris or at the entrance to the train. Considering that I had waited weeks for it, had to ask for it three times, had to explain what I was going to do in Paris, where I was going to stay, how long, etc., I had to be amused.

I was really terribly disappointed. I had longed to show it. It seemed so chic to travel with the consent of a big general.

Of course, if I had attempted to go without it, I should have risked getting caught, as, at any time, the train was liable to be boarded and all papers examined.

I learned at the Embassy, where the military attaché had consulted the Ministry of War, that an arrangement was to be made later regarding foreigners, and that we were to be provided with a special book which, while it would not allow us to circulate freely, would give us the right to demand a permission—and get it if the military authorities chose. No great change that.

The visit served little purpose except to show me a sad-looking Paris and make me rejoice to get back.

Now that the days are so short, and it is dark at four o'clock, Paris is almost unrecognizable. With shop-shutters closed, tramway windows curtained, very few street-lights—none at all on short streets—no visible lights in houses, the city looks dead. You 'd have to see it to realize what it is like.

The weather was dull, damp, the cold penetrating, and the atmosphere depressing, and so was the conversation. It is better here on the hilltop, even though, now and then, we hear the guns.

Coming back from Paris there were almost no lights on the platforms at the railway stations, and all the coaches had their curtains drawn. At the station at Esbly the same situation—a few lights, very low, on the main platform, and absolutely none on the platform where I took the narrow-gauge for Couilly. I went stumbling, in absolute blackness, across the main track, and literally felt my way along the little train to find a door to my coach. If it had not been for the one lamp on my little cart waiting in the road, I could not have seen where the exit at Couilly was. It was not gay, and it was far from gay climbing the long hill, with the feeble rays of that one lamp to light the blackness. Luckily Ninette knows the road in the dark.

In the early days of the war it used to be amusing in the train, as everyone talked, and the talk was good. Those days are passed. With the now famous order pasted on every window:

Taisez-vous! Méfiez-vous.
Les oreilles ennemies vous écoutent

no one says a word. I came back from Paris with half a dozen officers in the compartment. Each one, as he entered, brought his hand to salute, and sat down, without a word. They did not even look at one another. It is one of the most marked changes in attitude that I have seen since the war. It is right. We were all getting too talkative, but it takes away the one charm there was in going to Paris. I've had no adventures since I wrote to you Christmas Day, although we did have, a few days after that, five minutes of excitement.

One day I was walking in the garden. It was a fairly bright day, and the sun was shining through the winter haze. I had been counting my tulips, which were coming up bravely, admiring my yellow crocuses, already in flower, and hoping the sap would not begin to rise in the rose bushes, and watching the Marne, once more lying like a sea rather than a river over the fields, and wondering how that awful winter freshet was going to affect the battle-front, when, suddenly, there was a terrible explosion. It nearly shook me off my feet.

The letter-carrier from Quincy was just mounting the hill on his wheel, and he promptly tumbled off it. I happened to be standing where I could see over the hedge, but before I could get out the stupid question, "What was that?" there came a second explosion, then a third and a fourth.

They sounded in the direction of Paris.

"Zeppelins," was my first thought, but that was hardly the hour for them.

I stood rooted to the spot. I could hear voices at Voisins, as if all the world had rushed into the street. Then I saw Amélie running down the hill. She said nothing as she passed. The postman picked himself up, passed me a letter, shrugged his shoulders, and pushed his wheel up the hill.

I patiently waited until the voices ceased in Voisins. I could see no smoke anywhere. Amélie came back at once, but she brought no explanation. She only brought a funny story.

There is an old woman in Voisins, well on to ninety, called Mère R—-. The war is too tremendous for her localized mind to grasp. Out of the confusion she picks and clings to certain isolated facts. At the first explosion, she rushed, terrorized, into the street, gazing up to the heavens, and shaking her withered old fists above her head, she cried in her shrill, quavering voice: "Now look at that! They told us the Kaiser was dying. It's a lie. It's a lie, you see, for here he comes throwing his cursed bombs down on us."

You know all this month the papers have had Guillaume dying of that ever-recurring cancer of the throat. I suppose the old woman thinks Guillaume is carrying all this war on in person. In a certain sense she is not very far wrong.

For a whole week we got no explanation of that five minutes' excitement. Then it leaked out that the officer of the General Staff, who has been stationed at the Chateau de Condé, halfway between here and Esbly, was about to change his section. He had, in the park there, four German shells from the Marne battlefield, which had not been exploded. He did not want to take them with him, and it was equally dangerous to leave them in the park, so he decided to explode them, and had not thought it necessary to warn anybody but the railroad people.

It is a proof of how simple our life is that such an event made conversation for weeks.

February 16, 1916

Well, we are beginning to get a little light—we foreigners—on our situation. On February 2, I was ordered to present myself again at the mairie. I obeyed the summons the next morning, and was told that the military authorities were to provide all foreigners inside the zone des armées, and all foreigners outside, who, for any reason, needed to enter the zone, with what is called a "carnet d'étrangère," and that, once I got that, I would have the privilege of asking for a permission to circulate, but, until that document was ready, I must be content not to leave my commune, nor to ask for any sort of a sauf-conduit.

I understand that this regulation applies even to the doctors and infirmières, and ambulance drivers of all the American units at work in France. I naturally imagine that some temporary provision must be made for them in the interim.

I had to make a formal petition for this famous carnet, and to furnish the military authorities with two photographs—front view,—size and form prescribed.

I looked at the mayor's secretary and asked him how the Old Scratch —I said frankly diable—I was to get photographed when he had forbidden me to leave my commune, and knew as well as I that there was no photographer here.

Quite seriously he wrote me a special permit to go to Couilly where there is a man who can photograph. He wrote on it that it was good for one day, and the purpose of the trip "to be photographed by the order of the mayor in order to get my carnet d'étrangère," and he solemnly presented it to me, without the faintest suspicion that it was humorous.

Between you and me, I did not even use it. I had still one of the photographs made for my passport and other papers. Amélie carried it to Couilly and had it copied. Very few people would recognize me by it. It is the counterfeit presentment of a smiling, fat old lady, but it is absolutely réglementaire in size and form, and so will pass muster. I have seen some pretty queer portraits on civil papers.

We are promised these carnets in the course of "a few weeks," so, until then, you can think of me as, to all intents and purposes, really interned.

It may interest you to know that on the 9th,—just a week ago—a Zeppelin nearly got to Meaux. It was about half past eleven in the evening when the drums beat "lights out," along the hillside. There weren't many to put out, for everyone is in bed at that hour, and we have no street-lights, but an order is an order. The only result of the drum was to call everyone out of bed, in the hope "to see a Zeppelin." We neither heard nor saw anything.

Amélie said with a grin next morning, "Eh, bien, only one thing is needed to complete our experiences—that a bomb should fall shy of its aim—the railroad down there—and wipe Huiry off the map, and write it in history."

I am sorry that you find holes in my letters. It is your own fault. You do not see this war from my point of view yet—alas! But you will. Make a note of that. The thing that you will not understand, living, as you do, in a world going about its daily routine, out of sight, out of hearing of all this horror, is that Germany's wilful destruction is on a preconceived plan—a racial principle. The more races she can reduce and enfeeble the more room there will be for her. Germany wants Belgium—but she wants as few Belgians as possible. So with Poland, and Servia, and northeast France. She wants them to die out as fast as possible. It is a part of the programme of a people calling themselves the elect of the world—the only race, in their opinion, which ought to survive.

She had a forty-four years' start of the rest of the world in preparing her programme. It is not in two years, or in three, that the rest of the world can overtake her. That advantage is going to carry her a long way. Some people still believe that advantage will exist to the end. I don't. Still, one of the overwhelming facts of this war is to me that: Germany held Belgium and northeast France at the end of 1914, and yet, all along the Allied fronts, with Germany fighting on invaded territory, they cried: "She is beaten!" So, indeed, her strategy was. At the end of 1915 she had two new allies, and held all of Servia, Montenegro, and Russian Poland, and still the Allies persisted: "She is licked, but she does not know it yet." It is one of the finest proofs of the world's faith in the triumph of the Right that so many believe this to be true.

You are going to come some day to the opinion I hold—that if we want universai peace we must first get rid of the race that does not want it or believe in it. Forbidden subject? I know. But when I resist temptation you find holes in my letters, and seem to imagine that I am taking no notice of things that happen. I notice fast enough, and I am so interested that I hope to see the condemnation, already passed in England, against Kaiser, Kronprinz and Company, for "wilful murder," executed, even if I cannot live to see Germany invaded.

This is what you get for saying, "You make no comment on the overrunning of Servia or the murder of Edith Cavell, or the failure of the Gallipoli adventure." After all, these are only details in the great undertaking. As we say of every disaster, "They will not affect the final result." It is getting to be a catch-word, but it is true.

Germany is absolutely right in considering Great Britain her greatest enemy. She knows today that, even if she could get to Paris or Petrograd, it would not help her. She would still have Britain to settle with. I wonder if the Kaiser has yet waked up to a realization of his one very great achievement—the reawakening of Greater Britain? He dreamed of dealing his mother's country a mortal blow.

The blow landed, but it healed instead of killing.

This war is infernal, diabolical—and farcical—if we look at the deeds that are done every day. Luckily we don't and mustn't, for we all know that there are things in the world a million times worse than death, and that there are future results to be aimed at which make death gloriously worth while. Those are the things we must look at.

I have always told you that I did not find the balance of things much changed, and I don't. I am afraid that you cannot cultivate, civilize, humanize—choose your word—man to such a point that, so long as he is not emasculated, his final argument in the cause of honor and justice will not be his fists—with or without a weapon in them—which is equivalent to saying, I am afraid, that so long as there are two men on earth there will always be the chance of a fight.

Thus far February has been a droll month. I have seen Februaries in France which have been spring-like, with the chestnut trees in bud, and the primroses in flower, and lilacs in leaf. This February has been a strange mixture of spring awkwardly slipping out of the lap of winter and climbing back again. There have been days when the sun was so warm that I could drive without a rug, and found furs a burden; there have been wonderful moonlit nights; but the most of the time, so far, it has been nasty. On warm days flowers began to sprout and the buds on the fruit-trees to swell. That made Père sigh and talk about the lune rousse. We have had days of wind and rain which be- longed in a correct March. I am beginning to realize that the life of a farmer is a life of anxiety. If I can take Père's word for it, it is always cold when it should not be; the hot wave never arrives at the right moment; when it should be dry it rains; and when the earth needs water the rain refuses to fall. In fact, on his testimony, I am convinced that the weather is never just right, except to the mere lover of nature, who has nothing to lose and nothing to gain by its caprices.

The strange thing is that we all stand it so well. If anyone had told me that I could have put up with the life I have been living for two winters and be none the worse for it, I should have thought him heartless. Yet, like the army, I am surely none the worse for it, and, in the army, many of the men are better for it. The youngsters who come home on leave are as rugged as possible. They have straightened up and broadened their chests. Even the middle-aged are stronger. There is a man here who is a master mason, a hard-working, ambitious, honest chap, very much loved in the commune. He worked on my house, so I know him well. Before the war he was very delicate. He had chronic indigestion, and constantly recurring sore throats. He was pale, and his back was beginning to get round. As he has five children, he is in an ammunition factory. He was home the other day. I asked him about his health, he looked so rosy, so erect, and strong. He laughed, and replied: "Never so well in my life. I haven't had a cold this winter, and I sleep in a board shanty and have no fire, and I eat in a place so cold my food is chilled before I can swallow it. My indigestion is a thing of the past. I could digest nails!"

You see I am always looking for consolations in the disaster. One must, you know.