The cemetery is filled with new graves against the wall, for many of the officers are buried here—nearly all of the regiment of Zouaves, which was almost wiped out in the charge before the position was finally carried,—it was taken and lost several times.
From here we turned east again towards Vareddes, along a fine road lined with enormous old trees, one of the handsomest roads of the department. Many of these huge trees have been snapped off by shells as neatly as if they were mere twigs. Along the road, here and there, were isolated graves.
Vareddes had a tragic experience. The population was shockingly abused by the Germans. Its aged priest and many other old men were carried away, and many were shot, and the town badiy damaged.
We had intended to go through Vareddes to the heights beyond, where the heroes of the 133d, 246th, 289th, and of the regiment which began the battle at Villeroy—the 276th—are buried. But the weather had changed, and a cold drizzle began to fall, and I saw no use in going on in a closed car, so we turned back to Meaux.
It was still light when we reached Meaux, so we gave a look at the old mills—and put up a paean of praise that they were not damaged beyond repair—on our way to the station.
As we came back to Esbly I strained my eyes to look across to the hill on which my house stands,—I could just see it as we crawled across the bridge at the Iles-les-Villenoy,—and felt again the miracle of the battle which swept so near to us.
In my innermost heart I had a queer sensation of the absurdity of my relation to life. Fate so often shakes its fist in my face, only to withhold the blow within a millimetre of my nose. Perhaps I am being schooled to meet it yet.
I brought back one fixed impression—how quickly Time had laid its healing hand on this one battlefield. I don’t know what will be the effect out there where the terrible trench war is going on. But here, where the fighting turned, never to return—at least we believe it never will—it has left no ugly traces. The fields are cleaned, the roads are repaired. Rain has fallen on ruins and washed off all the marks of smoke. Even on the road to Vareddes the thrifty French have already carried away and fagotted the wrecked trees, and already the huge, broken trunks are being uprooted, cut into proper length, and piled neatly by the roadside to be seasoned before being carted away. There was nothing raw about the scene anywhere. The villages were sad, because so silent and empty.
I had done my best to get a tragic impression. I had not got it. I had brought back instead an impression heroic, uplifting, altogether inspiring.
By the time you come over, and I lead you out on that pilgrimage, it will be even more beautiful. But, alas, I am afraid that day is a long way off.
December 30, 1914