Comment is unnecessary!
December 6, 1916
Well, at last, the atmosphere on the hilltop is all changed. We have a cantonnement de regiment again, and this time the most interesting that we have ever had,—the 23d Dragoons, men on active service, who are doing infantry work in the trenches at Tracy-le-Val, in the Foret de Laigue, the nearest point to Paris, in the battle-front.
It is, as usual, only the decorative and picturesque side of war, but it is tremendously interesting, more so than anything which has happened since the Battle of the Marne.
As you never had soldiers quartered on you—and perhaps you never will have—I wish you were here now.
It was just after lunch on Sunday—a grey, cold day, which had dawned on a world covered with frost—that there came a knock at the salon door. I opened it, and there stood a soldier, with his heels together, and his hand at salute, who said: “Bon jour, madame, avez-vous un lit pour un soldat?”
Of course I had a bed for a soldier, and said so at once.
You see it is all polite and formal, but if there is a corner in the house which can serve the army the army has a right to it. Everyone is offered the privilege of being prettily gracious about it, and of letting it appear as if a favor were being extended to the army, but, in case one does not yield willingly, along comes a superior officer and imposes a guest on the house.
However, that sort of thing never happens here. In our commune the soldiers are loved. The army is, for that matter, loved all over France. No matter what else may be conspue, the crowd never fails to cry “Vive l’Armee!” although there are places where the soldier is not loved as a visitor.
I asked the adjutant in, and showed him the room. He wrote it down in his book, saluted me again with a smiling, “Merci bien, madame,” and went on to make the rounds of the hamlet, and examine the resources of Voisins, Joncheroy, and Quincy.
The noncommissioned officers, who arrange the cantonnements, are very clever about it. They seem to know, by instinct, just what sort of a man to put in each house, and they rarely blunder.
All that Sunday afternoon they were running around in the mud and the cold drizzle that was beginning to fall, arranging, not only quarters for the men, but finding shelter for three times as many horses, and that was not easy, although every old grange on the hilltop was cleaned out and put in order.
For half an hour the adjutant tried to convince himself that he could put four horses in the old grange on the north side of my house. I was perfectly willing, only I knew that if one horse kicked once, the floor of the loft would fall on him, and that if four horses kicked once, at least three walls would fall in on them. That would not be so very important to me, but I’d hate to have handsome army horses killed like that on my premises.