March 1, 1917
Well, I have been very busy for some time now receiving the regiment, and all on account of the flag. It had been going up in the “dawn’s early light,” and coming down “with the twilight’s last gleaming” for some weeks when the regiment marched past the gate again. I must tell you the truth,—the first man who attempted to cry “Vivent les Etats-Unis” was hushed by a cry of “Attendez-patience— pas encore,” and the line swung by. That was all right. I could afford to smile,—and, at this stage of the game, to wait. You are always telling me what a “patient man” Wilson is. I don’t deny it. Still, there are others.
The first caller that the flag brought me was on the morning after the regiment marched by it. I was upstairs. Amelie called up that there was “un petit soldat” at the door. They are all “les petits soldats” to her, even when they are six feet tall. She loves to see them coming into the garden. I heard her say to one of them the other day, when he “did not wish to disturb madame, if she is busy,” “Mais, entrez donc. Les soldats ne genent jamais ma maitresse.”
I went downstairs and found a mere youngster, with a sergeant’s stripe on his sleeve, blushing so hard that I wondered how he had got up the courage to come inside the gate. He stammered a moment. Then he pointed to the flag, and, clearing his throat, said:
“You aire an Americaine?”
I owned it.
“I haf seen the flag—I haf been so surprised—I haf had to come in.”
I opened the door wide, and said: “Do,” and he did, and almost with tears in his eyes—he was very young, and blonde—he explained that he was a Canadian.
“But,” I said, “you are a French Canadian?”
“Breton,” he replied, “but I haf live in Canada since sixteen.” Then he told me that his sister had gone to New Brunswick to teach French seven years ago, and that he had followed, that, when he was old enough, he had taken out his naturalization papers, and become a British subject in order to take up government land; that he had a wheat farm in Northern Canada—one hundred and sixty acres, all under cultivation; that he was twenty when the war broke out, and that he had enlisted at once; that he had been wounded on the Somme, and came out of the hospital just in season to go through the hard days at Verdun.
As we talked, part of his accent wore away. Before the interview was over he was speaking English really fluently. You see he had been tongue-tied at his own temerity at first. When he was at ease—though he was very modest and scrupulously well-mannered—he talked well.
The incident was interesting to me because I had heard that the French Canadians had not been quick to volunteer, and I could not resist asking him how it happened that he, a British subject, was in the French army.