So, on the afternoon of the twelfth, the men who had acted as escort the day before led the horses to Meaux, and just before four o’clock the whole body arrived on the hill.
This time I saw men right out of the trenches. They were a sorry sight, in spite of their high spirits. The clayey yellow mud of three weeks’ exposure in the trenches was plastered on them so thick that I wondered how they managed to mount their horses. I never saw a dirtier crowd. Their faces even looked stiff.
They simply tumbled off their horses, left the escort to stable them, and made a dash for the bath-house, which is at the foot of the hill, at Joncheroy. If they can’t get bathed, disinfected, and changed before dark, they have to sleep their first night in the straw with the horses, as they are unfit, in more ways than I like to tell you, to go into anyone’s house until that is done, and they are not allowed.
These new arrivals had twenty-four hours’ rest, and then, on Thursday, they acted as escort to the second division, and with that division went the Aspirant, and the men they relieved arrived Friday afternoon, and now we are settled down for three weeks.
Before the Aspirant left he introduced into the house the senior lieutenant, whom he had been replacing in the command on my hill, a man a little over thirty—a business man in private life and altogether charming, very cultivated, a book-lover and an art connoisseur. He is a nephew of Lepine, so many years prefet de police at Paris, and a cousin of Senator Reynault, who was killed in his aeroplane at Toule, famous not only as a brave patriot, but as a volunteer for three reasons exempt from active service—a senator, a doctor, and past the age.
I begin to believe, on the testimony of my personal experiences, that all the officers in the cavalry are perfect gentlemen. The lieutenant settled into his place at once. He puts the coal on the fire at night. He plays with the animals. He locks up, and is as quiet as a mouse and as busy as a bee.
This is all my news, except that I am hoping to go to Paris for Christmas, and to go by the way of Voulangis. It is all very uncertain. My permission has not come yet.
It is over a year since we were shut in. My friends in Paris call me their permissionaire, when I go to town. In the few shops where I am known everyone laughs when I make my rare appearances and greets me with: “Ah, so they’ve let you out again!” as if it were a huge joke, and I assure you that it does seem like that to me.
The soldiers in the trenches get eight days’ permission every four months. I don’t seem to get much more,—if as much.
January 10, 1917
I went to Paris, as I told you I hoped to do. Nothing new there. In spite of the fact that, in many ways, they are beginning to feel the war, and there is altogether too much talk about things no one can really know anything about, I was still amazed at the gaiety. In a way it is just now largely due to the great number of men en permission. The streets, the restaurants, the tea-rooms are full of them, and so, they tell me, are the theatres.