Constance Elizabeth Maud.

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then look at we others who have starved for four
years ! "

Many brought to the hospital were accidents from
the live shells which are not only collected in dumps
all over the country, but buried deep in the
ground wherever the departing enemy got the chance
of sowing such souvenirs. Characteristic mementoes
" lest they forget," said the Boches already planning
some future return. Ah, there is no fear that the
people of France will forget this time. They know
the foe of their race at last, and recognise him for


just what he is. Never again will they " forget "
and cry an easy-going " Peace, Peace," while the
other side of the Rhine the Boche is breathing " War,

Accidents often occur while working the land.
We heard of a man ploughing his field with a horse
in which he had invested all he possessed, suddenly
the plough struck a buried shell and the horse and
plough were blown to the four winds, the man only
escaped as by a miracle. Little children in these
districts are brought in with hands blown off and faces
damaged for life by the innocent-looking cedar pencils
the Boches specially prepared in Germany, forgetting
none. These were dropped by airmen in village
streets, gardens, fields, and eagerly picked up by little
hands, thinking a treasure had been found. The
moment the point was pressed to paper the deadly
thing spoke. It was not only children who were
repeatedly caught by this mean trick but their
parents too, even as the poor fellows in the trenches
were trapped to the last by the cunningly fabricated
cigarette, which could be smoked halfway down before
it exploded and took away half the face of the smoker.

Blerancourt has been badly knocked about since
I was here in 1917. The inhabitants have got accus-
tomed to bombardments and demenagements, to
say nothing worse, but the capable American women
have them under their wing and no one within their
radius goes uncared for now. The hut where the
people had come for temporary shelter was rather


like a gipsy encampment a strange assortment of
old people and children. One of the women, seeing
my little Red Cross, asked me if I was English " Ah
if Madame is English come then and say a ' Bonjour '
to my old mother, I beg you, for she also is English,"
she assured me.

I found in a big camp bedstead, propped up with
pillows, a very ancient dame most typically French
however quite guiltless of a word of English. Her
father it appeared had borne an English name, it began
with " Gray," but how it ended, the father, long since
gathered to his fathers, alone knows a complicated
and quite incomprehensible series of sounds followed
the Gray, impossible to reproduce with tongue or
pen. The old lady, past her 94th year, held my hand
with extraordinary vigour, and when on getting it
free, I pressed into her palm a small coin as a souvenir
of our meeting, she assured her daughter repeatedly
that I was her father who had come back to comfort
and sustain her ! Evidently my gift recalled the tips
of her father, who, being a fisherman, no doubt after
a successful voyage, treated his family all round. We
parted with difficulty, my hand had again been seized
as that of the long departed English parent, but time
was up, the camion was ready with another load of
patients returning, after treatment, to their homes.
Among these a big peasant woman showed a bandaged
head from a bombarded roof, and several little children
reported a most enjoyable time at the beautiful
hospital, pleasure having so predominated over pain


that their stay is stored in future alongside of memories
of Christmas Fetes and Midsummer Fairs.

This addition to the store of Happy Memories is
what I felt the Dames Anglaises had given "me when
I bade a reluctant farewell the following morning to
the Chateau Ste Anne.


ONCE more she was the Vitte Lumiere, though not
yet emerged into the full light which is hers by right.
Gone were the darkened streets, the closely shuttered
windows, the anxious watch-out on moonlight nights
and the sudden descent from a warm bed to a cold
cellar; but in spite of a wonderful sense of relief
from strain, of deep quiet thankfulness, conditions
retained still much of the aftermath of war. Every-
one was weary to death of the long-drawn Conference
the Armistice not yet resolved into a signed Peace
in spite of nearly eight months' talking. Many were
bitterly disappointed at the results of the talking
as far as France was concerned, nerves getting ragged
at the edge, the cordiality between all entente
nations not quite as spontaneously warm as during
the war. Questions which would then never have
been considered for a moment one heard discussed
and disputed with no little heat the papers reflected
this spirit in their comments on the scuttling of the
German Fleet in Scapa Flow" Ugerete " was the
accusation from certain quarters. We were all ex-
tremely sensitive, and walking on a path narrow as a
razor, and nearly as sharp. It was only war weariness,
the fractiousness of tired children, but one could not



help realising that the time had come to take to heart
the advice of Solomon : " Withdraw thy foot (be-
times) from thy neighbour's house, lest he weary of

No one could doubt there would be a real rejoicing,
a most cordial and hearty " Adieu " the day that
British and American cleared out of France and gave
the French a chance to settle down again to normal
conditions impossible while profiteering was made
so easy by the strangers within their gates.

The first example of abnormal conditions confronted
me on arriving at the Gare du Nord and trying to get
a taxi. There was a marked absence of the former
ready civility for " nos bons Allies."

" Where are you going ? " was demanded by each
driver I approached, and my " course " refused
promptly on hearing the distance. As I could not
put up in the Boulevard Magenta outside, to oblige
these gentlemen, my prospects looked somewhat
depressing till the porter found an enterprising fellow
ready to undertake the twenty minutes drive for the
sum of fifteen francs :

" There exists no tarif after seven o'clock," he
kindly explained to me.

This was a piece of pure romance inspired by original
sin. But I accepted it, having no choice. I had
already looked round vaguely in the direction of a
horse fiacre. The taximan intercepted my wandering
gaze :

" That carriage there," said he, " demands the


same payment precisely as we others, but he will
require perhaps two hours to make the journey his
horse limps the poor beast ! "

He had me there ! In fact he had me so com-
pletely in the hollow of his rapacious hand, I could
only be thankful at his moderation in drawing the
line at fifteen instead of fifty francs.

This same spirit was manifested everywhere. (I
have heard it is not unknown in London !) The fact
of being English had been a passport to a welcoming
smile and readiness to serve you in 1917. Alas ! in
1919 it no longer strewed your path with these fragrant
flowers. " Nos bons Allies " have become foreigners
strangers. This does not perhaps apply to the
Dames Anglaises or the American women quietly
aiding to build up the lives of those in the devastated
regions. There, working with utmost tact, always
in co-operation with French local authorities, they
are at present gladly suffered to remain, but many
in a position to judge, believe that the sooner even
these " withdraw their feet " and hand over their
organisations to French workers with a polite " Bon-
soir la compagnie," the better it will be for the growth
of that delicate plant, the Entente Cordiale.

For though the roots of that plant have struck
down fairly deep during these years of the Great War,
its leaves and blossoms need care, and all plants die
without sun and water.

I saw a nasty "green fly" which I had often
come across before, but never in this particular place,


though I must have passed close to it frequently.
On the Place St Augustin, inscribed beneath the
statue of Jeanne d'Arc, are these words : " Brulee
vive par les Anglais."

If this were a simple historical fact, we might regret
the spirit which put on record for daily remembrance
an act so hideous committed by a people in those
days of gross superstition five hundred years ago,
but we should have no right to protest. If, however,
Jeanne d'Arc was, according to history, tried, con-
demned and burnt, by order of the Catholic Church
under Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, her remorseless
foe though the English who handed their prisoner
over to this evil priest and heartily concurred in the
deed cannot be held guiltless it is a gross misrepresen-
tation of facts to say, " She was burnt alive by the
English." Why not put, " Burnt alive by order of
the Catholic Church ? " and add, to show the evolution
from which fortunately even the Churches are not
immune, " Canonised by the same Church five
hundred years later." But in the interests of truth
as well as Cordial Understanding let us kill this
mischievous " green fly " eating the leaves of the rose-
bush whose health we desire.


A true and permanent Entente Cordiale can only be
achieved by " desiring more love and knowledge "
of each other, not, " hereafter in a better world than
this," but right now. For, if we let slip this pro-
pitious hour, who knows when another such will


come again. " Tout savoir c'est tout pardonner "
" c'est tout comprendre." To this end, however, a
common speech is indispensable. How can we begin
to know anything at all of each other when the
majority of even so-called educated people, either in
England or France, speak no language but their own
with any ease. Perhaps the Channel Tunnel will
help towards this desirable end ; there is nothing
like commercial relations for quickening speech it
is almost as powerful an inducement as love ! But
five years is a long time to wait. The plant needs
water daily, lest it wither before the Tunnel is set
going. And now is the moment when our men, home
from the Front, are contributing their powerful co-
operation. The French are no longer strangers to
them, they have fought side by side with the poilu
and he has won their unstinted admiration and praise.
They " didn't know he was like that such grit
such a sticker And French women Mr Atkins

has lived in the villages and often been touched by
their kindness " real kind those women were and
wouldn't hear of being paid for it," I have heard
again and again. Most of them have learnt a few
sentences of French and taught an equal number of
English words ; but those who have seen the suffer-
ings and the courage of the French people have learnt
more than the language. The mother of an English
Tommy who entered Lille with the victorious armies
showed me a letter from her boy. Here is a short
extract :


" . . . I thank God He has spared me to be one
of those to make these dear people free, for they will
never forget us and we have a good name over it.
I now realise that all our pain of leaving our loved
ones and the hardships we have been through are all
for a great cause, and if ever anything happens to
me you should all be proud to think you have given
me for such a cause. All you have read is not enough
to tell you people at home of how the Huns have
treated the people out here. I was talking to a
woman and her daughter, they were in tears, and by
jove I was mad when they told me how they treated
them because they would not let the Square Heads
do as they wished to them a dear girl she is too,
and I just thought of your being in her place, but
thank God England has not been overrun by those
pigs and never will be thank God she is free.
Keep well, dear, and soon the war will be over and
then we shall all burst with excitement French and
English too keep up heart ! . . ."

Hundreds of thousands of Englishmen and of men
from the great Dominions have come into close touch,
have seen with their eyes and heard with their ears,
what the French have gone through. Not all may
have the fine sympathy and understanding of the
boy who wrote this letter, but the greater number
have had their hearts touched and their horizons
immensely widened. " I just thought of you being
in her place " there is the crux of the whole matter.

Another incident in connection with Lille made an


unforgettable impression on our French friends. It
was the happily-inspired act of the English General
who, though arriving first, gave place to the Com-
mander of the French army that he and his troops
might be the first to enter the rescued city. Again
and again I heard the appreciative comment :
" Ah ! mais a c'etait un beau geste." The warm
glow of that approval was not restricted to the
English General himself, it radiated to the whole
nation, and I have felt its pleasant rays even on as
remote a figure as myself. So quickly do they
respond to a gallant action, a sympathetic movement,
our warm-hearted French friends.

Lille ! The name recalled that artillery officer I
met in the train in those dire days of stress in 1917.
Happily he is now re-united to his wife and child,
and that nightmare of French guns his own gun
bringing death to his own beloved ones, is over for
ever. But . . . who knows ? The fate of the people
in Lille does not bear thinking about during the
Hun occupation. We read how one hundred women
of all classes from Lille and Laon were taken off to
Germany on the night of January 12th, 1918 a journey
that lasted seventy hours under unspeakable con-
ditions, a trumped up pretext of " reprisals," the
reason alleged and there endured such treatment
as made a French Missionary from Africa write :

" I know many savage tribes. I know none that
would do some of the things that have been done by
the Germans in France."


Let us hope, however, that the poor artillery officer
was spared more suffering, he had gone through so
much of that worst kind of all suspense and anxiety,
and that his wife was among those women who flocked
round the rescuing troops as they entered Lille,
embracing and blessing them with tears and smiles
of joy.

The statue of Lille on the Place de la Concorde
has put off her crape and is garlanded with flowers.
In her hand this restored daughter holds aloft the
victorious flag of France, her Mother.

The Champs Elysees is a grand sight a sight for
the healing of heart wounds. " Cheeks that are white
with weeping Allah paints red again." There is a new
light in French eyes now. From the Arc de Triomphe
to the Place de la Concorde on either side of the wide
avenue stand German guns. Oh yes, the big guns
of the Boche are in Paris miles and miles of them,
but what a different entry they made from that planned
by the All-Highest- War-Lord ! Captives they stand,
covered with their grotesque camouflage daubings,
while the little street urchins of Paris make sport of
them and ride on their dumb muzzles.

I saw no signs of big Bertha's outrages, except
in that loved haunt of other days, the church of St
Gervais, scene of the grim tragedy on Good Friday
1918. Half the church is boarded up. The destruc-
tion wrought by the huge obus from big Bertha is not
yet repaired, and still the long black veils are being
worn for the hundreds of inoffensive worshippers


who perished that day. A day, be it remembered,
when the Boches had appealed to the Pope to inter-
vene that they might be exempted from all attacks
from the Allies by land or air on account of their
own religious observances a petition scrupulously
respected by the guileless Allies. How the Boche
chuckled! Nothing divides people so much as a
different sense of humour. Poor Saint Gervais !
disfigured mutilated like the disfigured, mutilated
heroes still under repairs at the " Val de Grace."
Though services are again held there she is unable
to take her place as of old with her incomparable
choir of the famous chanteurs.

Most churches in Paris it seemed to me were ringing
marriage bells and vibrating to the sound of wedding
marches every day in the week so many had waited
for June ; May, and the season of Lent preceding it,
not being considered propitious. At Ste Clotilde I
sat and listened again to Cavaill6-ColPs wonderful
organ, that " quasi -super natural being," as M. d'Indy
truly named it when it drew life from the inspired
Cesar Franck, as it pealed out joyous music for a
young naval officer and his bride. Just the right sort
of bride, pretty as a flower, tall and slender, with a
little dark head crowned with orange blossoms, and
a fine old lace veil which in no way hid " the sweetest
eyes were ever seen " and the smiling happiness be-
hind them. These two had waited for this wonderful
day apres la guerre, and it had come actually
come at last. He had won safely through all those in-


credible dangers ! No wonder these weddings have a
radiance peculiarly their own the brides rejoicing as
though receiving their beloved back from the grave.

The spirit of C6sar Franck must have been hovering
very near that day, for after the ceremony, slowly
the organ began to breathe out his divine music
inspired by the Beatitude :

" Blessed are they that mourn, blessed ! For they
shall be comforted." These had mourned they were

It was Franck's message to the bridal pair given out
by the very organ on which it had been composed
forty years before.

My friends in Paris I found again as of old. Quite
untouched by any atmospheric disturbances, or
differences of opinion going on at Versailles. Poli-
ticians and Peacemakers may come and may go,
but our old friendship flows on like the river, in-
creasing in depth and volume as it makes for the
sea. To have lived through the Great War side by
side has woven still stronger ties between us, and
now we share the blessing of Peace and rejoice in a
common Victory.

In a little sky-high flat where, often in years gone
by, I have sat and listened to a select group of dis-
tinguished musicians who were wont to meet once a
week and " make music," literally " faire de la
musique," there I sat again in my privileged little
corner of the adjoining salon, on the evening of that


memorable day when Peace was signed in the Hall
of Mirrors. And again those exquisite artists made
music. " To-day," they said, " we will play the music
of Peace."

In this category was included a joyous quartette
of Mozart, and I thought of my poor little old lady
of the green- shuttered house in Noyon, how she had
insisted on claiming Mozart as a " good Frenchman."
And here he was representing the music of Peace on
the great Peace day.

A very undeniable Frenchman, however, was Ernest
Chausson, whose Quarto, among the rare works that
can never die, they played at my special request.
And so, quite irrespective of nationality, the Peace
music flowed on, bringing healing and strength to
weary, war-worn spirits and heralding the dawn of a
New Day.

" How much more suitable is music than cannon
for announcing Peace to the world," said an old
gentleman, a privileged guest like myself. " The
sound of those salvos of guns, which rattled round Paris
at five o'clock in the afternoon, is so inextricably
interwoven with the air-raid that never is it possible
to dissociate them from those little black specks of
the Boche in the sky. The announcing of Peace by
explosions of gun-powder ! The good God did not
send a thunderstorm on that first Christmas morn-
ing. He sent the Angels to make music announcing
Peace on Earth."

But in spite of the guns Paris was good to see that


night, for without going mad she rejoiced, singing and
dancing wherever the crowd was not too great to
start a lively ball on the asphalte. Everyone carried
a flag and musical instrument of some sort, and all
walked together, old and young, with beaming faces.
Torchlight processions promenaded the streets in
every direction, and gorgeous illuminations made it
look like a city in a fairy tale.

Monsieur Poilu was greatly to the fore. It was
his night of honour, for without him where would
the politicians and their famous Peace have been !
Honneur aux Poilus written in great stars of light
from the Galeries Lafayettes found an echo in every

And arm in arm with smiling wives, mothers and
sweethearts, sometimes a petit gosse perched on their
shoulders, were the blind poilus. No faces more
shining than theirs in all that throng, seeing the Vision
of Peace with that sixth sense so often quickened into
being by the loss of bodily sight, and rejoicing that
they had survived for this Day of Days. In the street
cafes British and American khaki sat side by side
with horizon bleu, they at least will never forget
the Entente Cordiale they felt that night, sharing at
last even as they had shared in past years sorrow
and death and all the horrors of war Victory and





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Online LibraryConstance Elizabeth MaudMy French year → online text (page 16 of 17)