At last we have received orders to entrain. Our first taste of war has been a sort of flower-show. A crowd of women and grey-haired men were waiting for us under the trees on the other side of the avenue. Children, their tiny arms full of flowers, ran up to us; their mothers waved their hands and smiled. But how sad the smiles of these women were! Their swollen eyes told a tale of tears, and the lines lurking round their lips, despite their smiles, showed that another breakdown was not far off. The younger children — and quite tiny ones came toddling across the street — were obviously finding the day’s proceedings finer than a circus. They laughed and clapped their hands with dehght.
We passed the fag-end of the morning getting the limbers and wagons ready and furbishing up the harness. Twelve o’clock struck. As the hour of departure approached the tumult in the avenue calmed down, and the crowd waiting in the shade became gradually quiet.
There was almost complete silence when the Captain gave the order, in clear resonant tones:
Like an echo there rose from the crowd a loud hurrah, through which I nevertheless distinctly heard two heartrending sobs.
Never was there a brighter August day. The limber-boxes and gun-wheels, the straps and hooks of the harness — even the muzzles of the guns themselves — were festooned with flowers and ribbons, the bright hues of which were blended together in a harmony of colour against the iron-grey background of the guns.
This morning the Captain, Bernard de Brisoult, said to us :
“Take the flowers they offer you, and decorate your guns with them. They are the only send-off the women can give you. And, whatever you do, keep calm! Then they’ll be much braver when you go off.”
The streets, through which we proceeded at a walking pace, were gay with flags and bunting. The departure of the soldiers, many of whom would never return, was attended with a degree of composure and good order which was really admirable. The gunners, sitting motionless on the limber-boxes or walking beside the horses, smiled and laughed merrily as the women by the wayside waved them farewell. We felt moved, of course, but it was rather the emotion of the crowd in the street which affected us than any feeling born in our inner selves.
Entraining was effected easily and expeditiously. As it was very hot, the gunners hoisting the material on to the trucks had discarded their vests, and, with red faces, their shoulders to the gun-wheels, they united their efforts whenever the gun-commanders gave the word “Together!” which was echoed down the whole length of the train. The drivers had great difficulty in getting their teams into the boxes. The old battery horses were used to the manoeuvre, but the commandeered animals resisted obstinately. Girths were slung round them, two by two, and they were hauled by force on to the foot-bridges.
Once in the vans they had to be turned round and backed into position so that four could stand on each side. This operation was ccompanied by a deafening din of iron-shod hoofs on the wooden floors and partitions. The horses once safely installed and secured face to face in their places by picket-lines, the stable-pickets began to arrange the harness and forage in the space between the two lines.
Just as the train was starting I was attacked by a sort of dizziness. Something in my chest seemed to snap, and I felt almost choked by a sudden feeling of weakness and fear. Should I ever come back? Yes! I felt sure of it! And yet, I wonder why I felt so sure!
Connerre-Beille. I am sitting on a truss of hay between my eight horses. At every moment, in spite of my whip, they bite at the forage and nearly pull away my seat. The door of the van is opened wide on the sunny country.