Since I wrote you I have been across to the battlefield again, to accompany a friend who came out from Paris. It was all like a new picture. The grain is beginning to sprout in tender green about the graves, which have been put in even better order than when I first saw them. The rude crosses of wood, from which the bark had not even been stripped, have been replaced by tall, carefully made crosses painted white, each marked with a name and number. Each single grave and each group of graves has a narrow footpath about it, and is surrounded by a wire barrier, while tiny approaches are arranged to each. Everywhere military signs are placed, reminding visitors that these fields are private property, that they are all planted, and entreating all politely to conduct themselves accordingly, which means literally, “keep off the wheat.”
The German graves, which, so far as I remember, were unmarked when I was out there nearly four months ago, have now black disks with the number in white.
You must not mind if I am dull these days. I have been studying a map of the battle-front, which I got by accident. It is not inspiring. It makes one realize what there is ahead of us to do. It will be done—but at what a price!
Still, spring is here, and in spite of one’s self, it helps.
May 18, 1915
All through the month of April I intended to write, but I had not the courage.
All our eyes were turned to the north where, from April 22 to Thursday, May 13—five days ago—we knew the second awful battle at Ypres was going on. It seems to be over now.
What with the new war deviltry, asphyxiating gas—with which the battle began, and which beat back the line for miles by the terror of its surprise—and the destruction of the Lusitania on the 7th, it has been a hard month. It has been a month which has seen a strange change of spirit here.
I have tried to impress on you, from the beginning, that odd sort of optimism which has ruled all the people about me, even under the most trying episodes of the war. Up to now, the hatred of the Germans has been, in a certain sense, impersonal. It has been a racial hatred of a natural foe, an accepted evil, just as the uncalled-for war was. It had wrought a strange, unexpected, altogether remarkable change in the French people. Their faces had become more serious, their bearing more heroic, their laughter less frequent, and their humor more biting. But, on the day, three weeks ago, when the news came of the first gas attack, before which the Zouaves and the Turcos fled with blackened faces and frothing lips, leaving hundreds of their companions dead and disfigured on the road to Langtmarck, there arose the first signs of awful hatred that I had seen.