Outside the window where I am writing this, Fifth Avenue, New York, has just left its churches and is flaunting its spring finery in the sun. Across the sea, such a little way as measured by time, people are in the churches also. The light comes through the ancient, stained-glass windows and falls, not on spring finery, not on orchids and gardenias, but on thousands of tiny candles burning before the shrine of the Mother of Pity.
It is so near. And it is so terrible. How can we play? How can we think of anything else? But for the grace of God, your son and mine lying there in the spring sunlight on the muddy battlefield of Ypres!
IN THE LINE OF THE “MITRAILLEUSE”
I was taken to see the battlefield of Ypres by Captain Boisseau, of the French War Academy, and Lieutenant Rene Puaux, of the staff of General Foch. It was a bright and sunny day, with a cold wind, however, that set the water in the wayside ditches to rippling.
All the night before I had wakened at intervals to heavy cannonading and the sharp cracking of mitrailleuse. We were well behind the line, but the wind was coming from the direction of the battlefield.
The start was made from in front of General Foch’s headquarters. He himself put me in the car, and bowed an au revoir.
“You will see,” he said, “the French soldier in the field, and you will see him cheerful and well. You will find him full also of invincible courage and resolution.”
And all that he had said, I found. I found the French soldiers smiling and cheerful and ruddy in the most wretched of billets. I found them firing at the enemy, still cheerful, but with a coolness of courage that made my own shaking nerves steady themselves.
Today, when that very part of the line I visited is, as was expected when I was there, bearing the brunt of the German attack in the most furious fighting of the war, I wonder, of those French soldiers who crowded round to see the first woman they had beheld for months, how many are lying on that muddy battlefield? What has happened on that road, guarded by buried quick-firers, that stretched to the German trenches beyond the poplar trees? Did the “rabbit trap” do its work? Only for a time, I think, for was it not there that the Germans broke through? Did the Germans find and silence that concealed battery of seventy-five-millimetre guns under its imitation hedge? Who was in the tree lookout as the enemy swarmed across, and did he get away?
Except for the constant road repairing there was little to see during the first part of the journey. Here in a flat field, well beyond the danger zone, some of the new British Army was digging practice trenches in the mud. Their tidy uniforms were caked with dirt, their faces earnest and flushed. At last the long training at Salisbury Plain was over, and here they were, if not at the front, within hearing distance of the guns. Any day now a bit of luck would move them forward, and there would be something doing.