The Test: A Chapter in 'Coming of Age'
June 14, 1918.—LONDON! Our leave, Molly’s and mine, came through the tenth and here we are in London. O-o-oh! I’m all out of breath and glad of it. We have n’t stopped a minute since we’ve been here. Dinner at the Savoy and the Troc, and Romano’s and the Picadilly; lunches, matinées, tea at the Army and Navy Club, the theatre, dancing at Murray’s — whee-ee!
Jerry is here, and his Major with him. The Major fell to me. I don’t like him much. I might have liked him better if I had n’t known that Don Gracie is in town. I’ve missed him at every turn. He went to our hotel looking for me the day after we moved to the Nurses’ Club, and the people at the hotel said they did n’t know where I had gone! It makes me sick! I’ll bet I never see him again, and he was such a peach! I’ve got scads of new clothes. I don’t know what on earth I bought them for. My leave lasts two weeks, and I’ll never wear ‘em in France, and by the time I have another leave they ‘ll be all out of style. But it is so nice to wear silk undies again, and to dress for dinner, and to sit in a clean white room having my hair done, and to look in the shop windows and speculate deliciously on what I will buy next. I am young again and alive, and there is no mud.
June 20. — Mr. Blake is in town. I went out to Epsom with him Tuesday to play golf. He plays well, and of course I had to poke my nose in where it did n’t belong to see how he did it. The result was that, standing too close behind him, I got in the way of his swing, and he hit me a crack with his driver that cut clear through to the bone. Being on my forehead, the cut bled enthusiastically and scared him almost to death. He thought he ‘d fractured my skull. I did too, for a little, but I guess he did n’t. He took me to a near-by Canadian Convalescent Camp to have it sewed up, and I had all I could do to keep him from carrying me. They sewed me up with a rusty needle, and I might say that I’ve had things done to me that I enjoyed more. Still, it was n’t too bad, and I don’t think it will leave much of a scar.
Last night Molly and Anne Murray and I had dinner at the Royal Automobile Club with Mr. Blake, John Grant, General Grey, Strong of the International Shipping Board, and the man who is financial advisor to the British War Office.
Strong is a New Hampshire man, and was delighted to find that it was my state. Oh yes, and Jerry was there. I almost forgot him.
I was interested in looking around the table.
With the exception of Jerry, every man there was a power in his own world. They were all men who had ‘done things.’ John Grant was undoubtedly the most interesting. He tells a story magnificently.
They sat there paying three girls all the little foolish attentions that women are supposed to like — the silly, insincere speeches, and anecdotes told in words of one syllable in order that our feeble feminine intellects might grasp the point, and so forth. Not one, except Jerry, gave us credit for having minds of our own. I felt an idle curiosity concerning the women they knew. I should like to see some of them, and to know what part they have played in the lives of these men. Obviously women are to them only a means of amusement, not to be associated with the real things of life. I wonder if all men are like that at heart. They seem to be except when they are very young, like Jerry.
We went to the theatre after dinner, and going home General Grey tried his darnedest to get me alone in a taxi. I would n’t go alone in a wheelbarrow with that man. Every time he looks at me a horrible light comes into his eyes. It gave me cold chills. I attached myself firmly to Molly and Jerry, much to Jerry’s disgust. He did n’t understand. He’s not old enough yet to be rotten. Molly understood at once. Women always do. And all the way home we kicked each other’s shins mirthfully, while Jerry and the General sulked. It was so ridiculous. How can these mighty lords of creation expect us to take them seriously? Here was a young and exceedingly handsome subaltern grumping in one corner of the taxi, and a thin, white-haired General sitting in the other comer gnawing his moustache with a meat-axe expression — and all because they could n’t have their very ownest way. Neither of them spoke a word until the taxi stopped before the Nurses’ Club.
Molly and I simply shrieked when we got upstairs. But I was sorry for Jerry. He does love Molly so. I’ll have to explain to him to-morrow why I spoiled his ride home.
June 24. — I’m beginning to be a little homesick for camp. The excitement of leave in London is beginning to wear thin. It’s not very satisfying. Molly, of course, is willing to stay forever. But she is engaged to Jerry, and he is here, which makes a difference.
June 28. — Home again! I wonder why I went away. We arrived in camp with exactly one shilling between us, as is usual after leave.
London was wonderful, but not so wonderful as my hills, all green in the morning sunlight. It’s so nice to wake up in the morning and hear the old familiar camp-noises. Even the fact that our water supply has given out and we can’t have any baths does n’t seem to matter, it’s so good to be back.
July 22. — We are a little busier than we were. Just small casualties. A U. S. troop train passed me in Camiers yesterday — the first American soldiers I’ve seen. Immediately there was a yell of ‘Look, fellers, there’s a Yankee girl!' They howled and waved their hats until the train was out of sight.
I could n’t yell because of the lump in my throat, but I waved back and grinned.
July 30. — To-day we did have a delicious time! The Fourth CavalryField Ambulance, which was billeted at Widem, has been moved to Bernville, and they invited Ruth, Mary, and me over for the day. Which really meant tea, since it takes half a day to get there. They came for us in a strange vehicle which seemed to be a cross between a prairie schooner and a steam-piano wagon, the reason being that there is some vague rule of the British War Office to the effect that Sisters can’t go riding with officers in open wagons. I don’t just get the idea, and I’m not sure that that is the rule. None of us really knew. The War Office issues so many rules. Anyway, in order to be on the safe side they brought this thing to take us out of camp. As soon as we got on to the Widem road we crawled outside, and beyond Frenq Captain Shone met us on horseback. Colonel Pitts had come over on horseback with the wagon, so I borrowed Shone’s horse, and the Colonel and I disappeared down the road in a cloud of dust, leaving Ruth and Mary to ride with Gavin Argo and Shone. Jove, but it was good to be on a horse again!
We stopped for tea in a grove by the roadside and arrived in Bernville just in time for supper. We had a delightful time. And they took us home in an ambulance — which sounds a little odd, but is n’t.
August 8. — We’ve had a fine string of air raids, but not much work. The atmosphere of camp is changing. I can’t put my finger on what’s wrong, exactly. I speak from a social point of view, of course. I don’t know whether it is because we are n’t working hard enough, or because the nervous strain of it all is wearing us down. But there is a vague tension and unrest in the air. People who used to be quiet and not very much interested in the social doings of camp are blossoming out amazingly, and those of us who always were interested are growing more and more hectic. What’s the matter with us?
I have an idea that we are going to be very busy again soon. It has been rumbly all day to-day, and part of yesterday too. And the sky toward the north was very red last night.
August 12. — No new convoys came in during the night, so we got caught up with the work, and quit at five this morning. I’m working with Major Cottis now. Like him very much.
I do so love the atmosphere of the theatre. I noticed it particularly last night because I had a little time to think. Lunch was early, and we were allowed a twenty-minute rest afterward, so we climbed up on the tables and sat, a row of white goblins, in the flare of the primus stove. Except for that one spot of light the theatre was dark. The boys, lying on stretchers around the coal stove, were barelyvisible, just dark blobs that stirred now and then, and coughed. Through the windows, away to the north, the sky was red again, and the rumble of the bombardment came faintly.
After a little we woke up to the fact that we were having recess and began to chase one another around the tables with basins of water. Somebody poured at least a quart down my neck. We talked and sang and hung out the windows watching the light in the north. Major Cranston was like his old self again. His brown eyes gleamed with mischief, and for the first time in many weeks I heard him laugh aloud. I’d almost forgotten he could play. He’s been our chief for so long now that the man was almost lost in the surgeon, and it seemed as though he had always been operating, his eyes intent and his fingers flying.
It’s a great life — this. I’m glad I was n’t bom too late.
August 15. — The push is nearly over for the time being, I think. Anyway we are getting time off again. Day before yesterday Ann and I went down to the beach and spent the day, just lying around. It did Ann a lot of good, for I let her talk about Johnnie as much as she liked, and she just poured it out. She told me all about her engagement, and about her honeymoon of a month, and all the time she was telling me about it there was an unearthly light in her eyes that I did n’t like at all. When she came to the part of the story where she got the telegram from the War Office saying, ‘Captain John Peyton reported missing,’ and told me how she walked the streets of London all night, in agony, her face became so drawn and white I thought she was going to faint.
She is certainly on the verge of a breakdown of some kind unless she hears one way or the other. No reasonable person could believe that the boy was alive, but you can hardly expect the bride of a month to be reasonable about the disappearance of her husband. His squadron officers have told her that what was believed to be his plane was seen coming down in flames, over the German lines. The German reports for that day say that three planes came down behind their lines and that only one was a Bristol Fighter. Johnnie’s plane was a Bristol Fighter, but the German report said that the bodies were so badly burned that identification was impossible.
In the face of this Ann insists that Johnnie is alive and in prison somewhere, and she believes that he will get word to her some way. Everybody in camp, being imbued with the English idea of not showing emotion, refuses to let poor Ann talk, and she is repressed almost beyond endurance. It nearly finished me when she said with tears in her eyes, ‘I shall tell Johnnie when he comes back how good you have been to me, and how patiently you have listened to my ravings. He will want to meet you. You will be the very first one.’
I could hardly bear it.
August 22. — I’ve bought a dog! A month-old police-dog pup. I’ve wanted one so long. Bought it in Paris-Plage.
I was a little worried about the Colonel’s attitude. He is getting very tired of all the animals that are springing up around the camp, and I have n’t yet forgotten the day he came into B-2 and my kitten shinned briskly up his leg. But I knew I’d have to have his permission, so I went boldly to his office, the puppy under my arm, hoping that the fat foolishness of it would melt him. I put it on his desk, and it waddled across his blotter and fell plunk into the Colonel’s lap. He grinned like anything, and I said, ‘Please may I keep it, Colonel?’
‘Hell! Yes. Don’t blame you,’ said he, patting the pup. ‘Here, take the damn thing away.’
And I took it, rejoicing. I’ve named it Pat. It’s anything but an original name, but he looks as if his name was Pat. I do like dogs! And the Colonel is a darling.
August 29. — The push is still on, but I’m not doing anything. They’ve taken me out of the theatre! I’m loafing! And everybody else is killed with work.
You see, I must have been more tired than I realized. I had n’t slept for about forty-two hours, but, for that matter, neither had anyone else. The crowd in the theatre were fainting all over the place. Pratt is the nurse in charge of the theatre just now, and she walked up and down between the tables with a bottle of aromatic spirits in one hand and a bottle of brandy in the other, ready to pounce on the next person who wilted.
It must have been about 3 A.M. night before last. I was working with Eddie Welles. I remember it quite distinctly. I was nearly asleep and I suppose I was swaying slightly. But it was from sleepiness. I never faint. Anyhow, I chanced to look up, and there was a canary, in a cage, hanging from the ceiling of the theatre. I grabbed Eddie by the arm and said, ‘ My Lord, Eddie! Look at the canary!’
‘Where?’ said Eddie.
‘Right there, you idiot! Can’t you see it?’ I snapped, pointing at it. ‘Gosh! It’s gone now.’
Eddie looked at me queerly for a moment, and then went on operating. I got sleepier and sleepier, and presently everything in the room faded except the glow of light on our patient’s red blanket, and on the square of flesh we were working on. I looked up at Eddie to see how he was standing it. He had been growing steadily whiter for some time, but when I glanced up at him I was absolutely stunned to see that Major Cranston was standing there, not Eddie at all. I began grabbing sponges and snaps. The Major requires lively assistance. Then I heard Eddie’s voice saying, ‘Whoa there, Troub, what’s the rush?’ And there was Eddie, and I remembered that Major Cranston was up the line.
I grinned rather sheepishly. ‘Sorry, old thing. I thought you were Major Cranston.’
When the op. was finished Eddie went over and talked to the Colonel for a long while. I did n’t care. Some time later — I don’t remember what I was doing — the Colonel walked over to me and said, ‘Look here, Sister, you go off duty and go to bed — and you stay there!’
I started a protest, but it was no good. The Colonel roared at me, ‘Damn it! Go to bed!’ I went.
And I slept all day, all last night, and most of to-day. This noon the Colonel came over to see me and soothed my ruffled pride greatly. He explained that he had sent me off because he had seen for some time that I was working on my nerve and that I was nearly at the breaking-point. And that he did n’t want to see a good operating nurse ruined, and so forth. Anyway, he made me feel a lot better. And he said I could go on duty again as soon as I wanted to, but it would have to be on day duty, and he’d suggest to Matron that I go on a medical ward, where the work was n’t quite so hard.
He’s a dear.
September 1.—The season has reached the uncertain lingering stage between summer and fall. I shall be glad when the fall is really here. I love the blaze of color, and the tang in the air. It creates in me a deep satisfaction in something quite unexplainable — and yet there comes with it a queer haunting pain, a feeling of its being the beginning of the end.
This afternoon we went into a cupshaped hollow in the hills, and I lay down under a tiny lilac-tree and listened dreamily to the chatter of the leaves. I could see the whole range, the wheat and clover fields, the ploughed land, a fragment of camp, the château, and a long stretch of blue that was the sea. The grass was long and soft, and Pat scrambled about in it, whiffling at all manner of things. Every few minutes he came tumbling riotously back to slobber in my ear. When it was nearly tea-time we came down, racing madly over the stubble. Pat’s silky wolf’s ears turned back in the wind, his nose was up, and his fat tail wagged frantically. We tore across the football field and into camp, much to the amusement of everybody on the piazza.
I poked Pat into his kennel — at which he swore horribly — and then went off to tea feeling one hundred per cent.
I wonder what goes on inside Pat’s furry head. I wish I knew.
September 5. — The Hindenburg line has broken!
Camp is wild with the excitement of it. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end. And if it is — what will happen to us? I had forgotten that there might be an end. That some day I might be back in America, and it would be peace-time once more.
We got our first stretcher-convoy in months, yesterday, and since then they have been coming in steadily. The tales the boys tell are magnificent, but how worn-out the poor dears are! This morning I arrived at one youngster’s bedside just in time to prevent a lively attack of hysteria. They come out to France younger and younger. This lad was n’t a day over seventeen.
No air raids since the push started.
September 7. — Still very busy. We have some very heavy dressings now. One that I did to-day almost made me cry — and I’m not a crying person.
The lad was a Canadian, about twenty-two, with a frightful arm. Elbow joint smashed, swollen stiff, and full of gas gangrene. In getting off the dressing I had to move it some, and though I was as careful as I could be I could hear the bones scrunching and grating inside. Then I had to pull off hard, dry sponges, and pull out yards of packing that kept catching on the splintered bone. That lad just turned his head away, and never made a sound — did n’t even grit his teeth. Once, accidentally touching a raw nerve with my forceps, I hurt him terribly, and he turned his head to see what I was doing. I saw that his eyes were full of tears, and the pupils enormously dilated, but not a word out of him. No groaning, no ‘Please wait a minute, Sister.’ Just silence. I choked for an instant, and then burst out, ‘Oh, I’m awfully sorry, lad!’ And he said, so gently, ‘It’s quite all right, Sister. Carry on.’
When I’d finished, and was tucking him in, he looked up at me with a charming smile, and said, ‘You’re very gentle, Sister. Thank you very much.’
I could n’t say a single word.
September 12. — Lovely long letter from Daddy. He is such a good sport! If he only knew how much he helps.
One of my boys, — only sixteen, — with a gunshot wound in his leg, made a frightful fuss while I was doing his dressing this morning. I don’t think I hurt him much. I know when things really hurt. But I had n’t the heart to scold him, he was such a child. When I was through he looked up with an ashamed grin and said, ‘I’m sorry, Sister. I’m awful, are n’t I?’
I told him no, I thought he did very well. Which was the truth, and he was so pleased it was pathetic. ‘I’ll be good to-morrow. Sister. See if I’m not,’ said he earnestly. He won’t, of course, but it does n’t matter. They are such dears.
We had a dance last night. Jack Macpherson was there. He’s Argyle and Sutherland, and their uniform is stunning. He was wearing dress uniform last night — complete even to the jeweled dagger in his sock. Oh yes, and he was wearing a monocle. It was too funny. He danced with me a lot, and the monocle kept falling out and whacking me on the head, so at last he left it out altogether. He is a beautiful dancer, but not too strong on brains. Not that it matters, however. I can find people enough to talk to when I want to talk, and not everybody can dance like Jack.
September 16. — The French and Americans are doing a lot of heavy and successful fighting, we hear, but the Northern Front has been comparatively quiet since the rains, so we’re not working very hard. It’s interesting to realize that the backs of our minds are concentrated day and night on the Front. Yet consciously we go about thinking of almost everything else.
For example, deep inside me I wait with a strained intentness for the least bit of news from the war. I don’t notice that I’m doing it until the news comes, and then I fairly snap at it. Meantime my conscious mind is tremendously interested in my own little world. I took Pat to the ward to-day, and he promptly immersed his entire head in a tin of orange marmalade. I had a fearful time getting it off. I could have wrung his fat neck, until I got a good look at him after the tin was removed. Then the heart of me melted into laughter. The marmalade dripped from his whiskers and eyebrows, a piece of orange was hanging to his ear and wagged slowly and ruminatively while his little pink tongue ran back and forth over his nose. He was satisfied with himself and the world.
September 20. — I had the P.M. yesterday, so took Pat and we went over the hills and back into the country. We had a nice day. At least I did. I don’t know how Pat feels about it. I suspect that he finds the world an alarming place. First he tried to walk on water — a mill stream four feet deep. He rose to the surface, well smeared with slime, clambered out philosophically, and shook himself under the nose of a highly indignant goat. The goat butted him briskly, and he fled to me, whimpering, like the baby that he is. Ten minutes later a rooster tried to pick his eye out. Pat braced up to him bravely, though he was badly scared, and, seeing that there would be real trouble in a moment, I interfered, and carried him the rest of the way. He’ll soon be too big to carry.
Coming home across the fields, with the wind from the sea in my face, poor tired Pat sleeping heavily on my arm, and the dusk closing down around us, a deep contentment grew up within me. It seemed to me that there was nothing more that I wanted than just what I had at that moment.
September 29. — Had dinner with Jack as usual, last night. I took the dog along and he behaved beautifully except for one thing, which was so delicious I must tell it. Jack is so easy to tease.
We had dinner at the Lac and, as it happened, Jack forgot to send his orderly down to get one of the little rooms for us, so we had to eat in the big dining-room. Suzanne was very much upset — we go there nearly every night — and wanted to know if the Captain would mind the big room. We told her no, it did n’t matter, so she gave us a table near the door. Pat, being well trained, slipped under my chair and lay down without anyone seeing him.
There was an English V.A.D. at the table next ours, with an Australian colonel, and a little farther along were four officers from Jack’s regiment.
When Suzanne appeared with our dinner it was too much for Pat’s selfcontrol, and from under the table he planted two wet and muddy paws beseechingly on my knee. Just at that moment there was a silence, and I remarked in urgent tones, ‘Darling, take your dirty paws off my knee!’
Jack turned a dull purple. Every one of those officers turned to look at him and grin. The V.A.D. strangled in her napkin.
I promptly kicked Pat under the chair, and fed him things furtively to keep him from showing himself — Jack meantime imploring me to let him come out where he could be seen. I laughed so I could hardly eat, and every time I looked at Jack I went off into another fit. He was crimson. ‘Damn you, Troub, you ‘re a devil! ‘ he said feelingly, from time to time, and assured me that the whole thing would be regiment property by to-morrow.
Whenever one of the officers grinned at anything, Jack turned green, and once when the V.A.D. giggled I thought he was going to burst into tears.
All I have to do now, to set him off, is to say sweetly, ‘Darling — your dirty paws!’
October 10. — Dinner with Jack on Tuesday.
October 18. — Walked down the beach road this morning with Pat. He wagged along beside me, looking up every few steps with adoring brown eyes and gurgling in his throat whenever I noticed him. I talk to him a great deal — mostly any nonsense that comes into my head — and, though he can’t understand, it is very obvious that he feels flattered. He’s very pretty in the sunlight. Almost all his fluffiness is gone, and the sun glistens on the short black hairs on his back and turns his eyes to amber. If I sit down he clambers into my lap and sits there, perfectly contented. He scarcely ever leaves me now, even to investigate things, as he used to. I think he must be getting neurotic. But all the same I feel rather flattered myself at such persistent and ardent attention.
October 22. — Pat is dead.
It must be so. I saw him lying by his kennel, quite stiff, but I can’t realize it. He crawled out, trying to reach my room, and there he was — dead.
He ate something on the beach —I don’t know what. And he was very sick for two days. I stayed up with him both nights and tried not to look too often at his imploring eyes. I was on duty when he died, and Matron came over for me. I knew the instant I saw her face that he was dead, but I could n’t ask her and she simply could n’t tell me. I learned afterward that she and Joy found him, but Joy funked telling me, and waited by him until Matron came for me.
Kipling says, ‘Don’t give your heart to a dog to tear.’ I agree.
I went over and picked him up in my arms, and something caught me inside and almost strangled me. I laid his limp little body down gently, and went back to the ward. Neither Joy nor Matron spoke a single word — for which I was very grateful. Once on the ward I went to the office and shut the door. I had n’t known it would hurt so.
After a while the door opened and one of the boys came in, a Canadian lad, about nineteen. He took a look at me and said, ‘For God’s sake, Sister, what’s happened?'
I told him and he sat down beside me, with his eyes full. That was the last straw. I put my head down on the blotter and tried not to let go, but it was hard work. Presently he put his hand on my shoulder and said gently, ‘Gee! I’m sorry, Sister. I know how it is. I had a dog once.’
And then he went away.
That’s all. My little brown comrade is gone. The next thing is to forget about him. There is no sense in letting it hurt so much.
October 24. — We had a meeting tonight, to discuss the prospects of a Halloween masquerade. I’m chairman of the entertainment committee, so have to provide the music — thank the Lord.
I don’t know what I’m going to wear yet. Jack and I thought we’d hop a lorry into Boulogne, Tuesday, and do our shopping and that of the crowd. It is going to be great fun.
Peace talk is growing. The end seems near. The French have reached the Danube, and if they ever get into Germany I can find it in my heart to be sorry for the Germans. Yet, one can’t exactly blame the French.
The hospital, meantime, is overflowing with flu. We’ve had it every year, of course, but nothing like this. The boys are dying like flies. Those of us that have been here so long and had it before are n’t very sick, but the new unit which has just come over has it badly. We hear, vaguely, that it is spreading all over the world.
Incidentally I’m running a temperature. But it’s very likely a return of my old friend, trench fever. I had it all last winter, and this does n’t feel like flu. Anyhow, this is no time to be sick. I’m going to that masquerade.
October 31. — Still running a temperature — about 102 or 103, daily. I’ve got a sore throat, too, which is a bit off the programme. But it is n’t very sore. I’m keeping the temp down with asperin and quinine.
November 6. — Well!!!!!
Here I am, in #46 General Hospital at Étaples, with diphtheria.
It was n’t the flu after all. But anyhow I went off with a blaze of glory, so to speak.
The masquerade was a grand success. I took quantities of quinine, and I felt gorgeous. I never had such a good time in my life. The costumes were all good — every single one. I have never danced better. And oh, how young I felt, and how alive! It was worth it. Quinine and all!
Once, between dances, the band began, very softly, to play over something they were going to play for the next dance. I, standing at one end of the room with Jack, in my pierrot costume and soft slippers, started to clog a little, gently. The band saw what was going on and struck up, and I clogged. Golly, how I clogged!
After everything was over I had a fierce chill, and Jack, scared stiff, carried me down to my hut in his arms.
Next day I went on duty, became delirious on the ward, and was lugged off by my orderly.
So here I am. I’ve developed a heart and a liver, and I’m as yellow’ as a cow lily. Have to lie flat on my back and be fed. For three days I lay motionless all day long, not wanting to move or speak. I was content to watch the tips of the pine trees swaying against the sky outside the hospital window. Then Ann Peyton joined me, also with diphtheria. We have n’t an idea in the world where we got it, and the camp is in a panic. Everybody has to have throat cultures taken every day, and poor Jardine has to do it all. I ‘ll bet she’s cursing me!
Since Ann came I’ve come to life again. We are shut up in a room by ourselves, and we spend the day shrieking with mirth. The girls write us every day, gay letters containing cartoons — that’s Molly — and odes — that’s Joy — and humorous skits — that’s Mary. Jack has wangled permission to see me, and comes over every afternoon, either on horseback or motor bike, and tells us all the news and gossip. He’s a dear old thing if he is stupid. Molly and Jerry have been over once and talked to me through the window, bless their hearts.
The peace talk continues. The German navy is to be dismantled, all submarines are to be sent to England, Alsace-Lorraine goes back to France, the German army is to be disorganized, and twenty miles are to be taken off the German frontier. Sounds great, but I wonder how much of it they ‘ll really do. It does n’t seem to me this is the time to stop. However —
Meanwhile the Allied armies are carrying on. The searchlights still sweep the sky at night, and long lines of weary lads still trudge out of camp and back to the line.
November 11. — In ten minutes the war will be over. I say it — just like that. Hostilities are to cease at 11 A.M. and it is ten minutes to eleven now. It is incredible that one can measure the coming of peace in actual units of time.
I lay awake all last night, thinking. What are we all to do now? How can we go home to the commonplaces of civilian life — the never-ending, nevervarying petty routine?
And #22 General Hospital — that vital, living thing, saturated with the heights and depths of humanity — will become a slowly fading memory of our youth, of the days when we really lived. My brain reels.
And there go the bells! And the sirens! And drums, and bugles! And cheering that swells louder and louder. The war is over — and I never felt so sick in my life. Everything is over! But it shan’t be. I won’t stop living! I will make my life what I want it to be!
November 19. — I have n’t felt much like writing lately. My temperature has been up and down, up and down. My doctor Major says, ‘Trench fever.’ But he is planning to get me out so that I can be back in camp for Thanksgiving, and then, if #22 is not leaving for America right away, I am to have leave in the South of France.
They move me out of doors in my bed, now, and I lie for hours, thinking, trying to readjust myself to the change I shall find in camp. And to the change that I find in myself. The war has done strange things to me. It has given me a lot — and taken away a lot. It has taught me that nothing matters, really. That people do not matter, and places do not matter, and things do not matter, except for a minute. And the minute is always now. And there will be another right along.
William Blake says: —
Doth the wingèd life destroy.
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.
I guess he’s right.
Ann Peyton went to Blighty Tuesday. As soon as she heard that the prisoners in Germany were to be returned within ten days she almost went crazy. She must get back to England, in case Johnnie should arrive before her. Over and over she said to me, ‘Oh, Trouble, what if he should be waiting in Waterloo Station when I get there! It does n’t seem as if I deserve so much happiness.’
What could I say?
I got hold of the Major, told him the situation, and he agreed with me that she would be better off with her people when the final crash of realization came. He sent her home at once.
December 2. — I arrived in camp in time for the Thanksgiving celebration, and could n’t resist going to a dance. And I danced till four in the morning. Joy gave me the devil. I don’t blame her. It was an idiotic thing to do. But it apparently has n’t hurt me any.
Jack got into a fight with an Irish major who quite innocently asked me to dance twice. Can’t have that. Where does Jack get that idea that I am his private property? And after all he does n’t care a hang about me, really. It is only his vanity. And he likes dancing with me the whole evening, and feeling that he is a devil of a fellow, and that other men would like to dance with his girl but don’t dare ask because he’s such a grand big strong man. Huh!
Camp has already taken on a different air. There’s a gradually increasing undercurrent of excitement, an uncertain clinging to all the old familiar ways. I suspect that this is only a forerunner of a much worse feeling that is going to come upon us later. But we are afraid to look ahead.
My leave to the South of France is due the sixth. I shall be glad to go — to get away from crowds of people, and the rain and mud, into warm summer sunshine.
December 7. — Am writing this on the train. I left Paris last night at eight o’clock, after having almost missed the train at Boulogne.
There are twelve other nurses also going to convalescent places in the South of France. There are three Australians and an English V. A. D. who seem awfully good scouts, but the rest appear more dead than alive.
December 9. — The Australians have gone to another villa, and the English V. A. D., whose name is Kendall, and myself are stuck with the ancients. Kendall is a peach. I like her a lot.
We went in to Mentone for tea yesterday. It was n’t nearly so attractive as I’d expected. Besides, they did n’t give us anything to eat for tea, and the service was rotten.
December 11. — We went to Gorbia, a tiny village far up the mountain, and had our lunch there. In the square was a tiny café, over the door of which was placed a sign reading, ‘Hôtel de New York’! We heard a piano being played inside, so we entered the one room in the place and were greeted volubly by an excited French girl. At the piano, to our amazement, was sitting a tiny withered old woman, ninety years old easily — a blackened cigarette stub between her lips, and her gnarled hands pounding the keys. The instant we appeared she struck up ‘God Save the King.’ We stood it as long as we could with straight faces and then Kendall tried to save the situation by asking her to play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ pointing to me as the American. And my soul! What she let me in for! Both the old lady and the girl fairly swamped me, weeping and kissing my hands. I could have died, if I had n’t wanted to get Kendall outside and kill her first. Then I must dance with them. And oh golly, I did! It was awful.
December 12. — I spent a very quiet day to-day, reading in the garden. I can’t seem to get sun enough. And I’m so tired of these females, with their endless chatter about their hospitals. I ‘m interested in hospitals myself, but not to the exclusion of everything else.
They — the females, I mean—think I’m a little off in the head. I don’t tear around madly seeing all the things that one should see. I spend a great deal of time reading, or loitering in the garden among the roses and orange trees, and I don’t trouble to talk with them beyond ordinary civilities. Disagreeable? Of course I am. But what difference does it make? I’m satisfied. The one difficulty is that they think I must be depressed. And so, with the meaningwellness of all meddlers, they follow me about trying to cheer me up. And here I am, perfectly happy, and just gloating over the warmth and beauty and sunshine. I only ask them to let me alone, but that they can’t do.
Kendall told me last night that they were having fits because I stayed out in the garden in the moonlight until ten o’clock. They were sure I was contemplating throwing myself over the cliff and were considering coming out to look for my body. And all the while I was sitting under a tree gorging myself with tangerines, and watching the moonlight on the water.
December 13. — Kendall is tremendously excited. Her only brother, whom sheadores, and who, she told me proudly, is already a colonel, regular army, is coming to-morrow to spend his leave with her. He is to stay at the Officers’ Villa, at Cap Martin. She has seen very little of him for years, — he’s been in India and Africa, — but he has just been very sick with flu and is coming here to recuperate.
December 14. — Kendall’s brother is here. He came to lunch with us to-day. He’s not so much on looks, but he is really charming, and by the gods — he is intelligent!
After lunch he and Olive asked me to go over to Mentone with them, and he telephoned to Cap Martin for a Major Williams, whom he met on the train. Major Williams, though married, does not let it deter him, and he fell, hard and flat, for Olive. I don’t blame him. She is one of the prettiest and most attractive girls I’ve met in a long while.
We prowled about Mentone, in and out of the shops, and, after a little, Colonel Kendall and I lost Olive and Williams. How or where I could n’t say, but it did n’t seem to matter. I, for one, was perfectly content.
December 15. — I’ve had a priceless day. I’ve been playing in the Casino at Monte Carlo. We are n’t allowed in, of course, if we are of ‘ the military,’ but Olive discovered that if you are an officer’s wife you can get in without a passport if the officer himself vouches for you. So this morning we put on civilian clothes, hid the effect under trench coats, put civilian hats into a paper bag, and departed first of all for lunch at Cap Martin. This Colonel person is becoming interested, very. I’m getting rather that way myself. After lunch we hired a barouche and set out for Monte Carlo, changing our hats on the way. When we arrived at the Hôtel de Paris we shed our trench coats and emerged as perfectly good civilians. I was Mrs. Kendall and Olive was Mrs. Williams. We went across to the Casino shaking in our shoes, but everything went off smoothly and without any questionings. I went in with fifty francs of my own money and fifty of Colonel Kendall’s and I came out with four hundred francs! Olive, poor dear, had rotten luck and lost everything she had. I mean, by that, everything she took in with her to play with. It was n’t much.
We left the Casino, greatly thrilled, and went over to the Hôtel for tea. I had n’t the faintest idea whether Olive and Williams were there or not. I don’t remember a thing about them. Colonel Kendall and I sat among the palms, listening to the orchestra playing ‘Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix.’ I did n’t know I was capable of such absorption. It would seem that I am falling in love again.
December 16. — To-day the four of us went to Nice. We saw the town, shopped, and took three hours over our lunch. After lunch Allen shoved Olive off to the movies with Williams* and he and I went down and sat on the beach. He told me all about India, and Africa, and asked me if I’d like to go there. I certainly would. Things are moving rather fast. He is getting a bit out of hand. But he is such a dear.
December 17. — To-day Major Williams insisted on ‘communing with nature,’so we went up the Funicular with our lunch, and roamed about over the mountain all day.
Allen and I went away after a little, and sat on a high pinnacle overlooking the valley and the range, and he told me tales of Tanganyika until my mouth watered. I watched him as I listened, and tried to see him in the scenes he described. He fitted in beautifully. There is strength about him that is by no means entirely physical. One could see that he knew how to handle men, and that he would be fair about it. He has a straightforward mind, and warm human sympathy which is saved from being sentimental by his sense of humor. I can’t tell how much originality and imagination he has, for he talks of places and things unknown to me. But I think he has more imagination than the average because he reacts so strongly to beauty in any form. He would be a delightful comrade, kind and tender and humorous.
We talked for a long time. Then he said that he was going back to Tanganyika and, without the slightest warning, without any change of expression, he asked me if I would marry him and go back with him.
I could hardly say, ‘This is so sudden.’ But it was. I’d rather thought it might be coming, but I was n’t prepared for it so soon. I admit that I am in love with him, and that I should like nothing better than to go back to Tanganyika with him. But — I can’t marry a man right off the bat when I ‘ve only known him a week, and I’m not at all sure that I want to get married. I said so, frankly, and suggested that we let the matter drop until we have known each other longer.
December 21. —Olive and I left for Paris this morning. I’m very low in my mind. Why does one have to fall in love?
Yesterday being our last day, we spent it on the rocks at Cap Martin. Williams and Olive did all the talking. I wish things did n’t have to end. It is true that Allen will follow us in another week — but where shall I be by that time? Maybe halfway across the Atlantic. I wish I’d met him before.
To-day Allen and the Major came with us on the train as far as Nice. Allen wanted awfully to come with us for another hour anyway, but Olive said sensibly that it would be foolish, and Williams, being concerned chiefly about his lunch, could n’t see the point at all. I said nothing. And they got off at Nice. The last I saw of Allen was when he was running along beside the train as it moved out of the station, and I reached down and grabbed his hand for one second.
That’s the end of that. Oh yes, I know it is. That’s the way these things always end.
Oh, well —
BOSTON.One year later. — After my last entry in this, the day we left the South of France, I did n’t attempt to write any more. I wanted this diary to be a record of my everyday life in France — something that would hold for me the real atmosphere of the war as I saw it. Events are not hard to remember, but atmosphere is apt to become glossed over. Memory is a tricky thing.
We left camp the eighth of January, for America — before Allen Kendall got back from the South of France. I never saw Olive again. I still write to Allen, but I shall never see him again, either. He still talks about coming to America, but with less and less enthusiasm. It is as I knew it would be. It does n’t matter.
I’ve tried to settle down, but I’m not happy here, either in my work or otherwise, though I know I ought to be. I am Major Cranston’s office nurse, and he is a peach to work with. I like the work, too. But it is n’t enough. This is n’t living. And I’m so homesick for the old days. Everybody is scattered. Molly is Assistant Superintendent of the Faulkner Hospital. Joy is at the Boston Dispensary doing social-service work. Ruth has gone to Nantucket. Mary Parsons, the only one of us with sense, has gone to Siberia with the Red Cross. The old life has gone for always. But still the memory of the hills cuts like a knife—their smooth outlines gray in the slanting rain, or green in the summer sunlight, and flecked with cloud shadows.
I would like to see one more sunset from the top of the range — the camp stretching at my feet, and Pat cuddled contentedly in my arms, blinking at the sea with his amber eyes. The long evenings come back to me when I try to go to sleep at night. The long evenings beside the fire, with the talks, the plans, the old jokes and catchwords. And the drives, with their endless string of ambulances. How we worked! We gave all that it was humanly possible to give, and life was glorious.
I can still hear the tramp of stretcherbearers, still remember with aching vividness the sweet patience of the tortured boys, the long hours of night duty, the scream of shells, the comradeship of old and dear friends.
I can’t stand it here much longer, in this place where nothing happens and every day is like every other day.
Molly was in to see me yesterday. She says there is a lot happening in the Balkans, and she thinks she may join the Red Cross and go. Would I come with her?
Would I? After she left I put my head down on the desk and gave up to the waves of longing that swept over me. Daddy, I know, wants me to settle down. I hate to go back on Major Cranston. But I’m young! I’m young! Why should n’t I live? What is old age if it has no memories except of forty years or so of blank days?
VOL, 136 — NO. 4 B
NEW YORK CITY.February 21, 1920. Molly and I sail to-morrow on the New Amsterdam, for Paris!!!!
The world is mine!
(To be continued)
- An earlier installment appeared in the September issue.↩