As we rode back, and had got as far as the two ruined villages, it began to rain very hard. The rain, as it splashed into the puddles, stippled the farther reaches of the road thickly with dots, and its slanting lines turned everything into one gray etching which you might have labeled Desolation! And you would make no mistake in your labeling. Then—with one of those tricks of deliberate drama by which Nature sometimes shames stage managers—the late afternoon sun came out just after we crossed the frontier, and shone on us; and on the dapper young officers driving out in carriages; and on the peaceful German country places with their formal gardens; and on a crate of fat white German pigs riding to market to be made up into sausages for the placid burghers of Aix-la-Chapelle.
Three Generals and a Cook
To get to the civic midriff of the ancient and honorable French city of Laon you must ascend a road that winds in spirals about a high, steep hill, like threads cut in a screw. Doing this you come at length to the flat top of the screw—a most curiously flat top—and find on this side of you the Cathedral and the market-place, and on that side of you the Hotel de Ville, where a German flag hangs among the iron lilies in the grille-worked arms of the Republic above the front doors. Dead ahead of you is the Prefecture, which is a noble stone building, facing southward toward the River Aisne; and it has decorations of the twentieth century, a gateway of the thirteenth century and plumbing of the third century, when there was no plumbing to speak of.
We had made this journey and now the hour was seven in the evening, and we were dining in the big hall of the Prefecture as the guests of His Excellency, Field Marshal von Heeringen, commanding the Seventh Army of the German Kaiser—dining, I might add, from fine French plates, with smart German orderlies for waiters.
Except us five, and one other, the twenty-odd who sat about the great oblong table were members of the Over-General’s staff. We five were Robert J. Thompson, American consul at Aix-la-Chapelle; McCutcheon and Bennett, of the Chicago Tribune; Captain Alfred Mannesmann, of the great German manufacturing firm of Mannesmann Mulag; and myself. The one other was a Berlin artist, by name Follbehr, who having the run of the army, was going out daily to do quick studies in water colors in the trenches and among the batteries. He did them remarkably well, too, seeing that any minute a shell might come and spatter him all over his own drawing board. All the rest, though, were generals and colonels and majors, and such—youngish men mostly. Excluding our host I do not believe there was a man present who had passed fifty years of age; but the General was nearer eighty than fifty, being one of the veterans of the Franco-Prussian War, whom their Emperor had ordered out of desk jobs in