Project Gutenberg's My Home In The Field of Honor, by Frances Wilson Huard
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Title: My Home In The Field of Honor
Author: Frances Wilson Huard
Release Date: April 28, 2004 [EBook #12185]
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Produced by Sean Pobuda
MY HOME IN THE FIELD OF HONOUR
BY FRANCES WILSON HUARD
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.
The next day, that is, Tuesday, the 28th, I had a business meeting with my friends, Mr. Gautron and Mr. Pierre Mortier, editor of the Gil Blas. Mr. Gautron was on the minute, but Mr. Mortier kept us waiting over an hour and when finally we had despaired of his coming I heard someone hurrying across the court, and the bell was rung impatiently. Mr. Mortier rushed in, unannounced, very red, very excited, very apologetic.
"A thousand pardons. I'm horribly late, but you'll forgive me when you hear the news. I've just come from the Foreign Office. All diplomatic relations with Germany are suspended. War will be declared Saturday!"
Mr. Gautron and I looked at each other, then at Mr. Mortier, and smiled.
"No, I'm not joking. I'm as serious as I have ever been in my life. The proof: on leaving the Foreign Office I went and had a neglected tooth filled, and on my way down, stopped at my shoemaker's and ordered a pair of good strong boots for Saturday morning. I'll be fit then to join my regiment."
Our faces fell.
"But why Saturday?"
"Because Saturday's the first of August, and the idea of keeping the news back is to prevent a panic on the Bourse, and to let the July payments have time to be realized."
"You don't really believe it's serious, do you?"
"Yes, really. I'm not fooling, and if I've any advice to give you it's this: draw out all the money you can from your bank, and take all the gold they'll give you. You may need it. I've telephoned to the Gil Blas for them to do as much for us. The worst of all though is, that every man on my paper is of an age bound to military service. War means that when I leave, staff, printers and all will have to go the same day and the Gil Blas shuts its doors. We cease to exist—that's all."
Somewhat disconcerted by this astonishing news, we had some little difficulty getting down to facts, but when we did business was speedily dispatched and Mr. Mortier took his leave. Mr. Gautron carried me off to luncheon.
"You must come," he protested when I pleaded an engagement. "You must come, or my wife and the boys will never believe me."
We found Madame Gautron and her two splendid sons waiting rather impatiently. We told our news.
"Come, come now. You can't make us take that as an excuse!"
We protested our sincerity, and went in to luncheon which began rather silently.
I questioned the boys as to their military duties. Both were under-officers in an infantry regiment—bound to join their barracks within twenty-four hours after the call to arms.
We did not linger over our coffee. Each one seemed anxious to go about his affairs. I left the Gautron boys at the comer of their street, each carrying his army shoes under his arm.
"To be greased—in case of accident," they laughingly explained.
That was the last time I ever saw them. They fell "on the Field of
Honour" both the same day, and hardly a month later.
But to return to my affairs.
A trifle upset by what Mr. Mortier had told me, I hurried to the nearest telephone station and asked for Villiers. When after what seemed an interminable time I got the connection, I explained to H. what had happened.
"For Heaven's sake leave politics alone and take the five o'clock train home! We need you to make a second fourth at bridge." H.'s lightheartedness somewhat reassured me, though for