Potterat. " I don't think I should altogether fancy that
electric sort of life. It would make one hard, I think.
. . . They seem now to be trying to wipe out everybody
with their electrical contrivances. . . . No, give me some-
thing natural. All this science and chemistry is devilish
work. To know everything, is to spoil everything. ..."
" But it's a good thing to study life. . . ."
" To study Hfe ! . . . Why ? What will you find in it ?
. . . Life wavers, as you might say, between a note of
exclamation and another of interrogation. The wisest
people are content not to try to know too much. You
can't cure a toothache by watching an aeroplane dance
about in the air. No, Mother Nature's good enough for
me. I'll stick to her."
Potterat returned home after these days of hard work
under the hot sun exhausted to such an extent that one
evening his wife said to him :
** You're doing too much altogether, David. . . . You're
out of breath now when you come up the stairs. . . . And
besides, your clothes smell of the stable continually now.
I saw Madame Sauer make a face the other day when
she came in. . . ."
" I don't care ! . . . Tell her that the smell of cows is
good for anaemia. ... I couldn't possibly leave Louise in
the lurch these two last months . . . the worst of the whole
year. She is worn to a shadow as it is ... a regular August
cat ! . . . But now that the news of this victory on the
Marne is confirmed, and we can breathe more freely,
there won't be so much need for me to kill myself with
work in order to keep from thinking. . . . To-morrow,
I'll go round the registry office again, and as soon as I
can find someone suitable, I'll take a holiday."
A temporary registry office had been established, to
190 POTTERAT AND THE WAR
meet the circumstances of the moment, in a former public
office in the heart of the city. Still proudly displaying
the official shield on its pediment, and the word ' Office '
below, it reminded Potterat pleasurably of the comfort-
ably regular and well defined life of the public service;
the slow and sure movements, the order, the traditions
that he loved. He even rejoiced in the familiar bored
yawn of the concierge, as he pointed the way down a
maze of corridors with extended hand.
This office was being run by voluntary workers, edu-
cated and orthodox people, patriotic students, etc., who
saw in this work an opportunity of helping in. this hour
of national stress. From dawn to dark there passed
before them a procession of Italian masons, seized ap-
parently with a sudden love for farm work; of boy scouts,
anxious to go and take care of cows ; watchmakers ready
to exchange the file for the fork. Behind the counter
sat a benignant-looking individual in a white waistcoat,
kindly and sympathetic.
"You know we are passing through a serious crisis.
Our people are only too anxious to be useful, but they
scarcely know how or where to begin, and they may have
to be shown a little. . . ."
'' Will he be afraid of the bull ? . . ." asked a peasant,
but the genial personage could give no answer to this.
He folded his thin hands on his white waistcoat and was
When Potterat 's turn came, he moved up to the little
" Good-morning, sir ! . . . I come oh my daughter's
behalf. . . . She has a farm at Vidy. . . . Her husband is
mobilized, and one of her farm hands has run away
because of a silly joke. . . . Well, I want a good strong
fellow, not too young, not perfection, for that I know is
not to be had, but trustworthy and honest. A native of
these parts, naturally, if possible. They may be some-
POTTERAT AND THE WAR 191
what less livelj^ but they have cooler heads than people
from farther away."
The chosen one was a man, blind in one eye, fifty-two
years old, who hailed from the Pays-d'Enhaut. He knew
how to wield a pitchfork, anyhow, and spit in his
hands in the usual way, and work not too feverishly,
and chaff and joke.
" ril leave you now," said Potterat to his daughter.
'* This one-eyed fellow can see better than many another
man who's got both his eyes. ... I must give your step-
mother a turn now. She doesn't like my being away
so much. ..."
Louise's eyes shone with gratitude.
"I'm very thankful to you . . . and so is Justin ... he
says so in every letter. ... I wish you understood him
better. . . . He's a bit close and over-cautious, but at heart
he's sound enough. ..."
" That's all right ! . . . Everyone has his own nature.
. . . He can't change himself. ... Til remember this in
" That's right ! . . . Now do you know what I want
you to do ? Carlo will give you a hand. I want you
to take the little cart and a basket and fill them from the
big apple-tree at the bottom of the garden. You must
have something for your trouble. . . ."
" Thank you, I will. And we'll think of you when we
are eating apple fritters. Now then, Carlo ! . . . not to
mention that this Marne victory has put me in quite good
spirits again. ..."
The red-cheeked apples fell with a dull thud into the
outstretched sheet. The bees hummed loudly round the
asters in the sweet perfumed air. And presently the
father and son went off, drawing the little cart. Near
the reeds and the willows where Major Davel had died,
Potterat stopped, and drew his son towards the monu-
192 POTTERAT AND THE WAR
'* Look here, Carlo ! History in class is rather dull,
you know, but out in the open air, it's more interesting.
Just here where we are standing a very brave man, a
native of these parts, a vine-grower, was killed, simply
because he tried to deliver the Canton of Vaud from
slavery. As a matter of fact they cut off his head, and
good Vaudois looked on calmly. It is a good thing to
learn while young to honour great men, but this man |
was a martyr as well. He ought to be honoured even more
than any of the others. Well, one is better than nothing !
. . . Compared with Davel, what poor creatures we are !
He died for an ideal ... a noble death. . . . His disease
doesn't seem to be very catching, does it ? . . ."
The reeds rustled against the stone, and murmured their
eulogy; the evening breeze swept over it the gold and
silver and russet of the first autumn leaves.
" All honour to you !" said Potterat again.
Some crows, a sinister band, with outstretched necks
and great outspread wings, flew across in the direction
of the Jura; Potterat jeered at them.
" You're too late, you devil's grave-diggers ! . . . At
the rate at which J off re is marching. ..."
" Who's Joffre ?" asked the boy.
" He is the grandson of Joan of Arc, and the nephew
of Davel. . . . Come along ! Let's get on with our apples !"
and drawing the little cart, father and son took their way
again along the white road.
Potterat was in his garden with the little cripple when
he suddenly said:
" Robert, shout: ' Long live Joffre ! ' "
Astonished, the child looked up at him.
** Don't you know about Joffre ?"
Possibly the little one may have heard the name, but
it had escaped his memory; he remembered only the
colour of the flowers, the pattern of a wallpaper, anything
POTTERAT AND THE WAR 193
-4hat could bring a gleam of brightness into his stunted
" Well, listen, and I'll tell you about J off re. . . . He
is a rather fat man, like me, but ever so much cleverer.
. . . Such a fine head he's got ! . . . And a big moustache,
and a kind smile ! . . . Everyone runs after him. . . .
And now, this is what he does. . . . Can you understand ?
. . . He retreats, he crosses rivers, and streams, and
canals: and still he retires. And then suddenly, a half-
turn to the right. . . . Forward ! . . . Quick march ! . . .
and then Crash ! there's such a burst of fireworks that the
other leaps back for about fifty miles ! . . . And Paris is
saved ! France is saved ! The world is saved ! . . . Do
you understand ?"
Yes," said the little invalid, terrified.
And I could tell you many other things . . . only we
are neutral. ..."
The thing that most impressed Potterat in this war
â€” ^for with all his common sense he had the vivid senti-
mentality of the man of the people, a creature of instinct
and concrete imagination â€” ^was the conflict between
different nationalities, different attitudes of mind, different
outlooks on life, between the will for oppression and the
will for liberty. For he simplified everything to the utter-
Round heads against square heads/ it is quite simple.
We, thank God, have round heads, so we know in whom
we ought to believe, and with whom to have sympathy.
Children can always find their mothers. . . . Since that
affair of Belgium, it's the duty of every true patriot to
Potterat 's imagination was so vivid that for the time
being he remembered no longer his age, his name, his
nationality. Little by little, however, for no man can
live at such high pressure for long, the waves of glory
ebbed from that over-heated brain, he came back to his
194 POTTER AT AND THE WAR
surroundings.' He saw once more the closed-in court-
yard, the live stories, the balconies mth their cemented
roofs, the puffy face of the nursemaid at the Sauers',
Robert's frail little limbs, and lastly, himself, with his in-
creasing corpulence. He said presently to his wife:
" It doesn't seem right, somehow, to have regular meals,
to fatten oneself systematically. Since the war began,
I can't bear it. . . . I feel as if my blood were on fire, my
thoughts run on nothing else. ... I go with the armies
in imagination. ... I charge with them ! . . . It mad-
dens me, to have to sit here, doing nothing. . , . You see,
I am naturally an active man, a born fighter . . . and then,
too, I can't get this Belgium out of my head. ..."
One day Potterat came in with a mysterious parcel
under his arm.
" What have you got there ?" asked his wife.
" You'll soon see . . . or rather hear," said he. And
from that time might be heard every evening after supper
the strains of a gramophone coming from the dining-room,
where Potterat shut himself up with it. Over and over
again he played the selection of airs he had chosen:
' Roulez Tambours ' ; the ' Cantique Suisse ' ; the * Ranz
des Vaches ' ; the ' Marche Lorraine ' ; ' Sambre et Meuse ' ;
the ' Petit Alsacien ' ; and Deroulede's ' Clairon.' A sort
of intoxication possessed him ; as the trumpets brayed out
the warlike strains, he marched round and round the table,
his walking-stick on his shoulder by way of a rifle. " War
in a room isn't quite the same thing as war in the open
air, certainly, but it's something. ... If I only close my
e^^es for a minute, I can see the flags flying. .... I can
hear the thunder of the guns, the bullets whistling through
the air. ..." Potterat's martial enthusiasm quite carried
him away at these times. He lived in turn through
terror, horror, and the intoxication of actual battle. . . .
He charged an armchair with his walking-stick bayonet.
. . . Ah-h ! . . . Then he saw himself wounded, a limb
POTTERAT AND THE WAR 195
amputated, decorated, . . . and then, multiplying himself,
he was by turns the crowd which applauded, the General
who decorated him, and the wounded hero. ... It was
Nasillard, the well-known baritone, who sang in the
gramophone the adventures of the ' Petit Alsacien ' ; a
volunteer, engaged in fighting for his beloved province,
its storks, its blue skies, its birch woods, its churches. . . .
Suddenly a cry . . . and the Petit Alsacien falls to the
ground, mortally wounded. . . . Potterat, his chin sunk
on his breast as he listened, shed real tears of sympathy.
He gesticulated. And in the quiet of the well-protected
room, he spoke:
" Me be silent ! . . . Never ! Never ! . . . Let them
come and surround me with fifty policemen, and a thousand
soldiers, I should still shout : ' Bravo, Belgium ! . . .
Bravo, Luxemburg ! . . . Justice and freedom for ever !
. . . France for ever ! . . . Serbia for ever ! . . . Monte-
negro for ever ! . . . England for ever ! . . . All those who
have fought and died for Belgium, for the independence
of little nations ! . . .' "
Then he changed the record, and listened gravely to the
" Cantique Suisse," echoing in his heart the line ' God will
bless us from the heavens.' ** The true, good God,
naturally," he said to himself. " As for the other ... as
for the other. . . . Well, there is no other. ..."
Madame Potterat was not so enthusiastic. '* I can't
think how you can enjoy those old tunes so much," she
" Oh, it cheers me up, raises my spirits. ..."
" Sometimes I wonder if you're Swiss at all now. ..."
Potterat fell back a step at this libel.
'* What ? . . . What's that you say ? . . . V/ho are you
talking to ? . . . I'm a pure-bred Vaudois, Swiss through
and through. Listening to the songs of those who fight
in a noble cause doesn't mean that a man is a traitor
to his own country. Now I'll put it to you: Suppose
196 POTTERAT AND THE WAR
it had been ourselves who had been invaded and destroyed
instead of these other people, and that you heard from
somebody that, away over there in Belgium, someone
listened to our patriotic songs on the gramophone, out of
sympathy, you wouldn't say he was a traitor to Belgium,
would you ? . . .' It's just because I love my country so
much that the account of that invasion has upset me so.
It's those who take it all calmly who are false to the
traditions of their forefathers. . . . And then you, at any
rate, can do something to help, . . . you are knitting for
the soldiers, for the wounded. . . . But Fm like a great
bumble-bee, droning about. . . . This gramophone makes
me feel for the moment as if I were in the middle of it
all. . . . How's the knitting going on ? . . ."
" I've done two pairs of socks for Ernest, two pairs for
Schmid, one pair for Cousin Auguste, four pairs for the
Red Cross, and six shirts; and this evening I start on
some things for the men in the trenches. ..."
" Make some more of those affairs that keep the stomach
warm. There are three places where a man feels the cold
most: â€” ^his stomach, his feet, and between his shoulders.
. . . Knit away, you women, as hard as you can. . . .
You may hold thousands of lives at the ends of your
needles. . . . Now, here in Switzerland, women are of
more account than men, thanks to this knitting. . . . We
men can only look on."
Every evening, while her knitting-needles flashed back
the light, singing the gay song of workers with a clear con-
science, Potterat read aloud the news of the day to his wife.
** Bravo ! Give me the scissors !" he would exclaim
on reading of some touching or some heroic incident.
And he would cut out these, and add them to other
cuttings already stored in a big yellow envelope, labelled
' Records of Brave Men.'
" Just listen to this ! Doesn't it bring the tears to
your eyes ? . . . It's the last letter of a soldier at the
POTTERAT AND THE WAR 197
front : ' Tell my comrades not to weep for me. I die
happy, because I've done what I could. . . . Tell the
boys to stick to it, and to have patience. When a cause
is just it always wins. The great thing is to carry on.
. . . I salute the flag. ... I'm going to sleep. . . . Good-bye !
. . .' It's almost too fine to be quite true, I'm afraid. But
it's beautiful all the same. ..." He continued his reading :
" * The condition of things in Switzerland. . . . Sugar is
rising in price rapidly. Our housewives had a disagreeable
surprise this morning in learning that this commodity,
so necessary to our daily needs, had gone up another ten
centimes the kilo. . . .' How annoying ! . . . Let's see what
else it says. . . . Oh, good ! Splendid ! That's something
like ! . . . Oh, I will certainly take some, a whole band
of them ! . . . We'll put beds in Carlo's room, in the
drawing-room, everywhere ! . . . Since one can't fight in
reality, one can at least engage in the field of charity. ..."
"What is it? . . . What's the matter ?"
*' The matter is that they're bringing some of these
Belgians, who have been turned out of their homes, into
Switzerland. ... A committee has been appointed, and
asks for the names of those who are willing to put some
of them up. . . . We'll take some, shan't we ? . . . You'd
like to, wouldn't you ? . . ."
Madame Potterat let her knitting fall on her lap; the
tears shone in her kind blue eyes.
" Poor things ! . . . Of course, I'd like to take some of
" Oh, how jolly !" cried Carlo excitedly.
" Jolly ? . . . What do you mean by jolly ? . . . W^hen
you see these poor old men and women, in rags, tired out,
perhaps irritable and cross â€” as you'd be if you had lost
everything you had possessed â€” ^these poor children,
flying before their enemies, you won't feel like shouting
' How jolly !' This is not a picnic, you know, it's a sad
duty. . . . Everyone has his work cut out. Some have
igS POTTERAT AND THE WAR
to die, some have to have their legs cut off, we have to
play the Good Samaritan. . . . Those who reckoned on
our showing some spirit were disappointed. . . . Well,
we may win back some of their respect by our charity;
we will nurse and care for the old men and women, and
the poor little babies without father or mother, and the
terrified children. . . . All is not yet lost. . . . Now, shall
we offer to take four ? or do you think we could manage
six ? . . /'
" My dear ! . . . Where do you think we are going to
put them ? . . . No, we can only take two, anyhow, to
" And children, of course ? . . . Orphans, if possible. ..."
" Of course."
" All right ! . . . Oh, this will set me up again ! . . .
Those poor little children ! We'll teach them to like
Swiss jam. . . . We'll right ourselves in the eyes of Europe.
Others kill, but we save life. . . . Well, I must see some
of these Belgians here. ... I shall tell them, too, what I
think about things altogether. ..."
Presently, when Carlo had gone to bed, and Madame
Potterat's knitting-needles were once more clicking under
the lamp, Potterat, his chin almost on the table, his
tongue between his teeth, wrote laboriously as follows:
' To THE President of the Belgian Reception
* The undersigned and his wife, of 5, Avenue des
Roses, the father and mother of a boy of nine, having
room and a liking for children, and a strong desire to show
their sympathy with the suffering Belgians, apply for
two refugees, if possible children, and preferably orphans.
They \\ill be lodged, fed, and surrounded with the loving
care of a family which will do its best to supply the place
of those they have lost. An early and favourable reply
POTTER AT AND THE WAR 199
will oblige. Please state where, when, and how, we are to
take delivery of these orphans. Switzerland for ever !
Belgium for ever ! From one who has a round head, and
his heart in the right place, and who begs to remain,
* Respectfully yours,
* David Potterat.
(' Late of the Police, now retired.)
' P.S. â€” ^If there should be three of a family, or even four
brothers and sisters, we should try and manage to put
' I remain,
* As before.*
Having finished and addressed his letter, Potterat said
" Let's go to bed. For once, I shall get a good night's
sleep. . . ."
" This evening, at ten minutes to eight."
" Are you sure ? . . . You've already gone up three
times for nothing. . . .''
" Ten minutes to eight ..." repeated Potterat. '' I
had it from one of the chief officials."
The moon-like electric light globes of the square out-
side the railway-station shone down on a closely packed
crowd. Here and there someone stood on tiptoe; others
tried to peep between the ever-moving figures in front of
them ; no one spoke much, for fear of dispensing any of
their pent-up sympathy too soon. Everyone waited.
Some trains came in, and presently went out again with
the louder rumbling of empty carriages. And still nothing
happened. A railway official passing, who recognized
Potterat, whispered to him :
'* It's no use standing about here any longer. They've
sent them out by the little south staircase. ..."
** By the south stairs ? . . . By those dark passages where
you can't see your hand before you ? . . . that cut-throat
place ! . . ." and Potterat rushed off at once, followed by
his wife and son, saying as he went, " They've gone out
by the other side." The whole crowd ran too, portly
gentlemen with their sticks under their arms, workmen
in tweed caps, old men, bareheaded women, schoolboys,
and schoolgirls with long plaits; a miscellaneous crowd,
kicking up a dust that made a halo round the lamp
globes. Through that December night a sad procession
wound its way slowly towards the new school-house
with its brilliantly lighted windows. At the spot where
POTTERAT AND THE WAR 201
Potterat was standing, between a piece of waste ground,
and the tree-shaded promenade, it was too dark to see
anything clearly. But soon one's eyes grew accustomed
to it, and then one could begin to distinguish, between
the helmets of the policemen, three flags mingling their
folds â€” ^the French, Belgian, and Swiss flags â€” ^and behind
these, some old men and women, their mouths a little awry
from carrying packages too heavy for their strength, but
which, nevertheless, they would not give up to anyone, be-
cause these were all they had left in the world. And many,
many women with little children hanging to their skirts.
. . . This procession seemed as if it would never come to
an end. . . . On and on they went, these poor people who
had seen those red stains made by blood which has sunk
into the dust; the stiff forms of the dead, their glassy
eyes staring into the distance ; the red curtain of smoke
from villages in flames, these people who had fled across
their fields, running madly, leaping over the hedges.
..." There they are !" . . . They turn round and
run still more madly in another direction. . . . The more
feeble fall exhausted at the foot of a hill . . . and always in
their ears is the sound of the big guns, and sometimes that
sound as of tearing calico, the monotonous tack-tack-tack
of the mitrailleuses. . . . And now they seem to have come
to an end of feeling, they know nothing of what is going on
round them, they think of nothing, their mouths are
half open, their eyes are fixed, their muscles stand out
under their grey skin, and they march on, and on, and on,
pell-mell, like a flock of sheep, with their wheelbarrows,
their perambulators, and their little hand-carts . . . pell-
mell with their cows, and sheep, and goats ; and when the
animals give out, they throw them into the ditches, and
go on, and on, and on, too tired even to weep. . . . On
and on, first to this little village, then to that, a little
farther on, then to some little town, driven farther and
farther each day, by the guns which come ever nearer. . . .
202 POTTERAT AND THE WAR
Why run away, when everything is lost ? . . . Their
homes a heap of smoking cinders ; their harvests trampled
down, ruined, pillaged; the grandmother, too old to run,
left in that hell, saying: "I'd rather die here !" . . .
husbands and sons prisoners, or shot perhaps. ..." Here
they are !" And then they are crowded into a train in
the drizzling rain ; the windows are dim ; they start on
what seems an endless journey ; now and then when
someone tries to look out of a window after rubbing it with
the hand, all they can see across the veil of rain hanging
from sky to earth, are leafless trees, a red clock-tower
occasionally, a road zigzagging across the track, and on
it a dark ribbon, with glittering points in it here and
there : and these were men who were going to fight ; then
night falls; and always they go on and on. Now when
one looks out there is nothing but blackness, a menacing
blackness, just now and then a glimpse of a lighted
window. So there are still peaceful firesides in the world ?
. . . And still they go on, and on, through the night . . .
they stop . . . they go on again ; always they hold fast their
bundles under their feet. Suddenly, someone tells them
that they are in another country, a fact to which they are
indifferent, since they have no longer a country of their own.
All these people, who have seen those rusty stains made
by blood in the dust, who have been rushed here and there,
who have glued their faces to the dim windows of railway
carriages, and seen lights flashing for a moment through
the night, are now walking whither they know not â€” ^if they
did know, it would make no difference to them â€” and people