The Germans have entered Belgium, in spite of the convention of neutrality. I don’t think this will surprise anybody. But what does astonish us, and what must also astonish the enemy, is the fierce resistance the Belgians are making.
The Germans have just failed in a massed attack on Liege. If the Belgian Army alone has managed to worst them, what hopes dare we not entertain?
England is joining us. That is now certain. With the French, English, Russians, Belgians, and Serbians allied, we ought soon to see the last of this military Power which is supposed to be so formidable. The news, official this time, made us all the more impatient to leave Le Mans and the wearying quarters in which we live.
On the Paris-Brest railway trains full of infantry, cavalry, and equipment have been passing incessantly. Grinding and screeching they laboriously roll over the bridge which spans the Avenue de Pontlieue, and which is heroically guarded by obese Territorials, wearing dirty canvas suits, and armed with Gras rifles with fixed bayonets. A crowd of women with children in their arms or clinging to their skirts are waiting there beneath the noontide sun. They stand for hours on end, watching the procession of military trucks decorated with greenery and illustrated with crude chalk drawings. Clusters of soldiers are to be seen on the foot-boards, and in the brake and guards’ vans. In the avenue clouds of dust are raised by commandeered horses which, harnessed to forage wagons, are being tried there, and which, under the unaccustomed yoke, become refractory, lash out, and finally get entangled in the traces. The women separate hurriedly, dragging their children with them, in order to avoid a prancing horse or the on-coming wheel of a wagon. But nevertheless, obstinate, excited, and as if intoxicated with the noise, light, and continual movement, they stay there in spite of all discomfort. When-ever a train passes a broadside of shrill cries rises from their groups, which collect, separate, disperse, and are again encompassed by the dangers of the avenue.
In front of the Toublanc cider-brewery flowers and ribbons in bunches, sprays, and cascades carpet the pavement and smother the gun-carriages, ammunition wagons, and limbers. Women and girls arrive with armfuls of hortensias, iris, and roses. Their faces lit up by the sun and by the excitement of the moment, appear and disappear among the flowers. As the sentinels are not allowed to let any one approach too close, they throw their bouquets from a distance. Artillerymen, who have nearly finished loading up their trucks, thank them by blowing kisses which put them to flight.
I saw one girl fastening a huge tricolour bunch on the bayonet of one of the sentinels — evidently her lover. The steel shone amid the blossoms.
Women timidly bar the way to the horse-men in order to decorate their bridles and saddle-bags with garlands. And overhead the splendid August sun beats down, shedding a golden light on the dust of the roadway and the green of the trees, and lighting up the faces of the women and the flowers.