Well, dear, what looked impossible is evidently coming to pass.
Early yesterday morning the garde champetre—who is the only thing in the way of a policeman that we have—marched up the road beating his drum. At every crossroad he stopped and read an order. I heard him at the foot of the hill, but I waited for him to pass. At the top of the hill he stopped to paste a bill on the door of the carriage-house on Pere Abelard’s farm. You can imagine me,—in my long studio apron, with my head tied up in a muslin cap,—running up the hill to join the group of poor women of the hamlet, to read the proclamation to the armies of land and sea—the order for the mobilization of the French military and naval forces—headed by its crossed French flags. It was the first experience in my life of a thing like that. I had a cold chill down my spine as I realized that it was not so easy as I had thought to separate myself from Life. We stood there together—a little group of women—and silently read it through—this command for the rising up of a Nation. No need for the men to read it. Each with his military papers in his pocket knew the moment he heard the drum what it meant, and knew equally well his place. I was a foreigner among them, but I forgot that, and if any of them remembered they made no sign. We did not say a word to one another. I silently returned to my garden and sat down. War again! This time war close by—not war about which one can read, as one reads it in the newspapers, as you will read it in the States, far away from it, but war right here—if the Germans can cross the frontier.
It came as a sort of shock, though I might have realized it yesterday when several of the men of the commune came to say au revoir, with the information that they were joining their regiments, but I felt as if some way other than cannon might be found out of the situation. War had not been declared—has not to-day. Still, things rarely go to this length and stop there. Judging by this morning’s papers Germany really wants it. She could have, had she wished, held stupid Austria back from the throat of poor Servia, not yet recovered from her two Balkan wars.
I imagine this letter will turn into a sort of diary, as it is difficult to say when I shall be able to get any mail matter off. All our communications with the outside world—except by road—were cut this morning by order of the War Bureau. Our railroad is the road to all the eastern frontiers—the trains to Belgium as well as to Metz and Strasbourg pass within sight of my garden. If you don’t know what that means—just look on a map and you will realize that the army that advances, whether by road or by train, will pass by me.
During the mobilization, which will take weeks,—not only is France not ready, all the world knows that her fortified towns are mostly only fortified on the map,—civilians, the mails, and such things must make way for soldiers and war materials. I shall continue to write. It will make me feel in touch still; it will be something to do: besides, any time some one may go up to town by road and I thus have a chance to send it.