On the Edge of the War Zone - novelonlinefull.com
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The nurses and the sisters are falling over one another to take care of him--at least, as I always find one or two of them sitting by his bed whenever I go to see him, I imagine they are.
The amusing thing is that he says he can't understand or speak French, and swears that the only words he knows are:
Oui, oui, oui, Non, non, non, Si, si, si, Et voila, Merci!
which he sings, in his musical southern voice, to the delight of his admiring nurses. All the same, whenever it is necessary for an interpreter to explain something important to him, I find that he has usually got the hang of it already, so I've my doubts if he has as little French as he pretends. One thing is sure his discharge will leave a big void in the daily life of the ambulance.
This is growing into a long letter--in the quiet that has settled on us I seem to have plenty of time--and the mood--so, before I close, I must say something in reply to your sad sentence in your last letter--the reply to mine of December regarding our first big cantonnement. You say "Oh! the pity of this terrible sacrifice of the youth of the world!!
Why aren't the middle-aged sent first--the men who have partly lived their lives, who leave children to continue the race?" Ah, dear old girl --you are indeed too far off to understand such a war as this. Few men of even forty can stand the life. Only the young can bear the strain.
They not only bear it, they thrive on it, and, such of them as survive the actual battles, will come out of it in wonderful physical trim. Of course there are a thousand sides to the question. There are hospitals full of the tuberculous and others with like maladies, but those things existed before the war, only less attention was paid to them. It is also a serious question--? getting more serious the longer the war goes on--as to how all these men will settle into civil life again --how many will stand sedentary pursuits after years in the open, and how they will settle back into the injustices of cla.s.s distinctions after years of the equality of the same duty--fighting for their country.
Still if the victory is decisive, and the army is satisfied with the peace conditions, I imagine all those things will settle themselves.
Well, Congress meets on Monday. There is no doubt in anyone's mind of the final decision. I only hope it won't drag too long. I have taken my flags down just to have the pleasure of putting them up again.
I had this letter closed when I got my first direct news from the front since the advance.
Do you remember how amused I was when I saw the Aspirant equipped for his march in January? I was told afterward that my idea of a light equipment for the cavalry in battle was "theoretically beautiful," but in such a war as this absolutely impracticable. Well I hear today that when the cavalry advanced it advanced in a "theoretically beautiful" manner. It seems that the order was unexpected. It caught the cavalry in the saddle during a man?uvre, and, just as they were, they wheeled into line and flew off in pursuit of the Boches. They had nothing but what was on their backs--and ammunition, of course. The result was that they had forty-eight hours of real suffering. It was harder on the officers than on the men, and hardest of all on the horses. All the soldiers always have a bidon with something in it to drink, and almost invariably they have a bite or so in their sacks. No officer ever has anything on him, and none of them carries a bidon except on a march. For forty-eight hours in the chase they suffered from hunger, and, what was worse still, from thirst. As the weather was nasty and they were without shelters of any kind--not even tents--they tasted all the hardships of war. This must comfort the foot soldiers, who are eternally grumbling at the cavalry. However, the officer who brought back the news says the men bore it with philosophical gaiety, even those who on the last day had nothing as well as those who in forty-eight hours had a quarter of a biscuit. The horses were not so philosophical--some of them just lay down and died, poor beasts. I a.s.sure you I shall never laugh again at a cavalryman's "battle array."
April 8, 1917
The sun shines, and my heart is high. This is a great day. The Stars and Stripes ace flying at my gate, and they are flying over all France.
What is more they will soon be flying--if they are not already--over Westminster, for the first time in history. The mighty, unruly child, who never could quite forgive the parent it defied, and never has been wholly pardoned, is to come back to the family table, if only long enough to settle the future manners of the nations about the board, put in, I suppose, a few "don'ts," like "don't grab"; "don't take a bigger mouthful than you can becomingly chew"; "don't jab your knife into your neighbor--it is not for that purpose"; "don't eat out of your neighbor's plate--you have one of your own,"--in fact "Thou shalt not-- even though thou art a Kaiser--take the name of the Lord thy G.o.d in vain"; "thou shalt not steal"; "thou shalt not kill"; "thou shalt not covet," and so on. Trite, I know, but in thousands of years we have not improved on it.
So the Stars and Stripes are flying over France to greet the long delayed and ardently awaited, long ago inevitable declaration which puts the States shoulder to shoulder with the other great nations in the Defence of the Rights of Man, the Sacredness of Property, the Honor of Humanity, and the news has been received with such enthusiasm as has not been seen in France since war broke over it.
Judging by the cables the same enthusiasm which has set the air throbbing here is mounting to the skies on your side of the ocean. We are a strangely lucky nation--we are the first to go into the great fight to the shouts of the populace; to be received like a star performer, with "thunders of applause."
"G.o.d's in his heaven, All's right with the world."--and--we are no longer in the war zone. As soon as a few formalities are filled, and I can get a carte d'ident.i.te, I shall be once more free to circulate. After sixteen months of a situation but one step removed from being interned, it will be good to be able to move about--even if I don't want to.
To give you some idea how the men at the front welcome the news, here is a letter which has just come,--written before Congress had voted, but when everyone was sure of the final decision.
At the Front, April 4, 1917 Dear Madame:
It has been a long time since I sent you my news. The neglect has not been my fault, but due to the exceptional circ.u.mstances of the war.
At last we have advanced, and this time as real cavalry. We have had the satisfaction of pursuing the Boches--keeping on their flying heels until we drove them into St. Quentin. From the 18th to the 28th of March the war became once more a battle in the open, which was a great relief to the soldiers and permitted them to once more demonstrate their real military qualities. I lived through a dozen days filled to overflowing with emotions--sorrow, joy, enthusiasm. At last I have really known what war is--with all its misery and all its beauty.
What joy it was for us of the cavalry to pa.s.s over the trenches and fly across the plains in the pursuit of the Germans! The first few days everything went off wonderfully. The Boches fled before us, not daring to turn and face us. But our advance was so rapid, our impetuosity such, that, long before they expected us, we overtook the main body of the enemy. They were visibly amazed at being caught before they could cross the ca.n.a.l at St. Quentin, as was their plan, and they were obliged to turn and attempt to check our advance, in order to gain sufficient time to permit their artillery to cross the ca.n.a.l and escape complete disaster.
It was there that we fought, forcing them across the ca.n.a.l to entrench themselves hastily in unprepared positions, from which, at the hour I write, our wonderful infantry and our heavy artillery, in collaboration with the British, are dislodging them.
Alas! The battles were costly, and many of our comrades paid with their lives for our audacious advance. Be sure that we avenged them, and cruel as are our losses they were not in vain. They are more than compensated by the results of the sacrifice--the strip of our native soil s.n.a.t.c.hed from the enemy. They died like heroes, and for a n.o.ble cause.
Since then we have been resting, but waiting impatiently to advance and pursue them again, until we can finally push them over their own frontier.
Today's paper brings us great and comforting news. At last, dear madame! At last your marvellous country is going to march beside us in this terrible war. With a full heart I present to you my heartiest congratulations. At last Wilson understands, and the American people--so n.o.ble, and always so generous--will no longer hesitate to support us with all their resources. How wonderfully this is going to aid us to obtain the decisive victory we must have, and perhaps to shorten the war.
Here, in the army, the joy is tremendous at the idea that we have behind us the support of a nation so great, and all our admiration, all our grat.i.tude goes out to your compatriots, to the citizens of the great Republic, which is going to enter voluntarily into this Holy War, and so bravely expose itself to its known horrors.
Bravo! et vivent les Etats-Unis!
My greetings to Amelie and Papa: a caress for Khaki and Didine, and a pat for d.i.c.k.
Receive, madame, the a.s.surance of my most respectful homage.
I am feeling today as if it were no matter that the winter had been so hard; that we have no fuel but twigs; that the winter wheat was frozen; that we have eaten part of our seed potatoes and that another part of them was frost-bitten; that b.u.t.ter is a dollar a pound (and none to be had, even at that price, for days at a time); that wood alcohol is sixty- five cents a litre, and so on and so forth. I even feel that it is not important that this war came, since it could not be escaped, and that what alone is important is--that the major part of the peoples of the world are standing upright on their feet, lifting their arms with a great shout for Liberty, Justice, and Honor; that a war of brute force for conquest has defeated itself, and set free those who were to have been its victims. It is not, I know, today or tomorrow that it will all end; it is not next year, or in many years, that poor Poland's three mutilated parts can be joined and healed into harmony; and oh! how long it is going to be before all the sorrow and hatred that Germany has brought on the world can be either comforted or forgotten! But at least we are sure now of the course the treatment is going to take--so the sun shines and my heart is high, and I do believe that though joy may lead nowhere, sorrow is never in vain.