The third week in July found a very merry gathering at the Chateau de Villiers. (Villiers is our summer home situated near Marne River, sixty miles or an hour by train to Paris.)
Nothing, I think, could have been farther from thoughts than the idea of war. Our May Wilson Preston, the artist; Mrs. Chase, the editor of a well-known woman’s magazine; Hugues Delorme, the French artist; and numerous other guests, discussed the theatre and the “Caillaux case” from every conceivable point of view, and their conversations were only interrupted by serious attempts to prove their national superiority at bridge, and long delightful walks in the park.
As I look back now over those cheerful times, I can distinctly remember one bright sunny morning, when after a half-hour’s climbing we reached the highest spot on our property. Very warm and a trifle out of breath we sought shelter beneath a big purple beech, and I can still hear H. explaining to Mrs. Chase:
“Below you on the right runs the Marne, and over there, beyond those hills, do you see that long straight line of trees?”
“Well, that’s the road that lead’s from Paris to Metz!”
At that moment I’m confident he hadn’t the slightest arriere pensee.
On Monday, the 27th, Mrs. Preston, having decided to take her leave, I determined to accompany her to Paris. Several members of the house party joined us, leaving H. and a half-dozen friends at Villiers. We took an early morning train, and wrapped in our newspapers we were rolling peacefully towards the capital when someone called out, “For Heaven’s sake, look at those funny soldiers!”
Glancing through the window, I caught sight of numerous gray-haired, bushy-bearded men stationed at even distances along the line, while here and there little groups beneath or around a tent were preparing the morning meal.
What strange looking creatures they were; anything but military in their dirty white overalls—the only things that betrayed their calling being their caps and their guns!
“What on earth are they?” queried an American.
“Oh, only some territorials serving their last period of twenty-nine days. It’s not worth while giving them uniforms for so short a time!”
“Bah!” came from the other end of the compartment. “I should think it was hot enough in the barracks without forcing men that age to mount a guard in the sun!”
“It’s about time for the Grand manaeuvres, isn’t it?”
And in like manner the conversation rose and dwindled, and we returned to our papers, paying no more attention to the territorials stationed along the rails.
A theatre party having been arranged, I decided to stop over in Paris. The play was Georgette Lemeunier at the Comedie Francaise. The house was full—the audience chiefly composed of Americans and tourists, and throughout the entire piece even very significant allusions to current political events failed to arouse any unwonted enthusiasm on the part of the French contingent. Outside not even an edition speciale de la Presse betokened the slightest uneasiness.