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of La Fontaine
By Gabriel Alphaud
[Translated from the French for CURRENT HISTORY MAGAZINE)
[La Fontaine, the famous French writer of fables, was born at ChâteauThierry, and his birthplace is still reverently preserved by the State as shrine.] N the Elysian Fields, whither it has
gone to join the souls of other vanished sages, the shade of La Fon
taine must feel some inquietude. He did not love children, not even his own, whom he saluted one day in a crowd without recognizing them. “Youth is without pity,” he wrote of them. Now the school children of the Aisne have been driven by the German invasion as far as ChâteauThierry, where they are living today in the house in which the fabulist was born. Their shouts disturb the haunts where the philosopher prolonged the reveries he had begun in the highways and meadows of the neighborhood.
Against the façade of this house, with its softened tones of age, the crime of treason against beauty had been committed before the war: back of the grille of forged ironwork, and in the inner court, a horrible whitewash, insolent in its whiteness, covered the panels of the walls. It is in the apartments themselves that a new upheaval—though for a good cause-has just taken place. The pictures of Desbrosses, of Lhermite, of Teniers, of Vithoos, the drawings of Daubigny, relics of La Fontaine's birthplace, which had been transformed into a municipal museum, have been removed. School mottoes and geography maps have replaced them: in the halls and rooms now are found classes of boys and girls. The shade of La Fontaine is compelled to desert the precipitous street, paved with loose cobblestones, and to descend to the banks where the Marne, peaceful and beautiful, flows between two paths of fine sand.
Never, indeed, has the Marne seemed more graceful or flowed in an atmosphere more simple. Its recent immortality, the noise made in the world by the victory that has rendered it famous, has not altered its habits: in its new glory it seems to have acquired a new indifference, an indifference to battle, to cannon.
Not far from it, however, the great guns of the warring nations still mingle their wild voices day and night. These voices were heard by Château-Thierry and the Marne for the first time on Aug. 31, 1914. It was the retreat. On the 2d of September, in the afternoon, the enemy entered the town by the Soissons road. With their rifles on their shoulders, in columns by eights, and keeping parade step, the regiments of Von Kluck filed in and stacked their arms in Champ de Mars square on the right bank of the river. Their patrols were stationed on the crossings and streets in every direction on both sides of the bridges. After a lively combat the soldiers who formed our rearguard had cut their way out with rifle and bayonet, and had disappeared.
An order was given by Prussian authority to occupy and barricade the principal houses. On the public square the Court House was immediately invaded. In the hall where President Magnaud had once decreed as a good Judge” the acquittal of the poor woman who had stolen bread, the Prussians put everything to pillage. The clerk's records, torn, shredded, honeycombed, served to build improvised loopholes at the windows and doors.
On the other side of the river, facing the Court House, lies a beautiful estate. The buildings on the north wing are used as a factory. Those of the south wing have been transformed into
château of sumptuous appearance. Between the two a park spreads the foliage of its magnificent forest trees, hiding the factory from the château. The Prussian command chose the château as the headquarters of its General Staff, and from the first hour announced—already! -its intention of seizing the important stocks of copper in the factory.
The estate had been left in charge of two old servants, Hector and his wife Fanny, who has a blue-ribbon reputation as a cook. Hector received the German officers who first appeared. They spoke French without the slightest accent. They knew the inhabitants and contents of the house, the names of the two domestics, even the fact that Fanny cooked certain dishes divinely, especially rabbit à la royale. The news that she had remained, with the affirmation that she would prepare appetizing meals on condition that the estate be not molested, put the German officers into a good humor.
A last quick inquiry, made in a tone of apparent indifference, sought to discover - whether the stocks of copper were still there. This was enough to cause the wily Hector to invent diplomatic strategems each day, with a view to making von Kluck's officers forget the supplies which they coveted. The fare was exquisite, the best wines came from the cellars for every meal, old liqueurs and choice cigars were lavished upon the guests. Chance also favored Hector. Through the edges of the battle of the Marne the German officers went and came and went again, giving the place to others and taking it back by turns. On the 9th of September, after seven whole days of occupation, General von Kluck suddenly gave the order for his army to retreat toward the north. The copper saved.
A piquant detail: When von Kluck's order reached Château-Thierry it was about noon. A fat Prussian General quartered in the château was preparing to sit down at the table and enjoy a juicy beefsteak which Fanny had declared to be unusually good. Though he sprang to the saddle on receiving the order, he demanded that Hector serve the
steak to him as he sat on horseback; and as events moved swiftly, the General, in order not to lose a mouthful, seized the enormous slice of meat, all hot and sticky with sauce, carried it in his right hand, and with his left gave the, reins to his beast for flight. He was wise in his Teutonic gluttony, too, for six other German officers who were at a table a few paces away in the Swan Hotel, and who refused to believe in the victorious return of the French, were made prisoner in the turn of a hand by two little “glaziers.” One of them fired on the group from the rear court, which opens on the street. The bullet went through the wall and carved a beautiful spider's web in the dining room mirror, at the centre of which it still remains in full sight. “ Surrender!” cried the chasseur, as he leaped over the threshold; and the six German officers, seeing a second French military cap appear behind the first, surrendered.
The City of La Fontaine was freed, but not all the Department of the Aisne. Out of thirty-seven cantons, barely eleven were to regain their liberties and the joys of their native land. Today out of 841 communities only 265 have escaped German occupation. Of the 550,000 inhabitants who lived in this department before the war, 125,000 now occupy the soil on which they were born and welcomed. Many have taken refuge in other provinces, notably in those of Yonne, Loiret, Orne, and Aude. There are 12,000 in Paris. About 15,000, civil and military, are prisoners in Germany, where their number is diminishing daily, thanks to the work of repatriation. Few remained on this side of the German lines: the frontier populations particularly detest the invader.
Château-Thierry, a sub-prefecture of 7,500 inhabitants, might have kept this number; but after the victory of the Marne the report spread of a second victory on the Aisne. Those who had fled before the enemy believed their whole department liberated, and flowed back, impelled by love of the earth, by devotion to their buried dead, by the passion of their griefs and hopes. The firing line stopped them. They refused to depart again, in
toxicated anew by the odor of their native mained, among whom are a baker who fills soil, plunging their gaze beyond the hori his ovens daily, two grocers, a butcher zon to the belfry or village, to the cher who sells fish, wine, preserves, and one ished field or house where they had photographer. Mme. Macherez and Mlle. known the happiness of home. Thus Sellier labor tirelessly at a task which Château-Thierry and the liberated can the War Cross has made famous and tons saw their population doubled.
which the Audiffred prize of 15,000 In the town itself, where most of the francs has further magnified. Do you houses had been left uninjured, it was know the latest of Mlle. Sellier's lovely relatively easy to reorganize a normal deeds? She is the daughter of well-tolife. It was less easy, however, in the do parents. Feeling too highly honored hamlets and farming communities, where by the mention of the institute, she has the peasants, despoiled of everything by refused its gold and begged Mme. the soldiers of von Kluck, no longer had Macherez to take her 7,500 francs and linen, furniture, or food. From all over devote the whole to the misfortunes of France came help for these. Prefects and the devastated village. Sub-Prefects might be seen in their sil The capital of the Aisne today is Châver-embroidered uniforms and gold-laced teau-Thierry. In its Town Hall are ascaps, transporting, now in rude wagons, sembled all the administrative services of now in luxurious automobiles, great sacks the department.
Nor do all the of supplies for the ruined villages. Every- provisions come from Paris. The fields body was shouting at once in more than sown by the peasant of the Aisne furnish 200 communes: Food, more food, still anew their tribute, in which is found more food! It seemed as if it would
once more the savory perfume of the soil never be possible to satisfy them. Salt, of the Ile-de-France. From the Marne to which caused so many insurrections in the Aisne there is not a corner left fallow. the ancient days of the salt tax, was lack The families scattered by the war are ing everywhere; it had never before gradually reuniting. In the evening, seemed so indispensable. Then it was “between dog and wolf,” at the hour clothes and bedding. In each community when light vapors rise from the river and there were episodes of rare beauty. At spread along the lanes like a protecting Epieds three women who were still suck and favoring veil, it is not rare to see ling their infants took refuge. Under the girls and young men of the neightheir weight of misery and hunger they borhood going arm in arm to gay behad crept into a muddy shed and were trothal parties. Some of the men, decosleeping on a pile of dirty straw.
rated with the War Cross, have underold woman of 80, wrinkled and broken, gone glorious amputations; their love is found them there, and called the attention all the livelier on that account; in their of the officials to their plight. By way of arms the girls seem more beautiful, and example she returned a quarter of an are all laughter. The couples flee under hour later carrying in her trembling the foliage of the fine trees, far from hands a woolen comforter which she had the populous section where stands the brought, with the slow steps of an old statue of the fabulist. Yet he would not woman, from her home.
be the one to say unkind things to them “ The Germans have robbed me of if he were living. La Fontaine described everything," she said; “but I still have himself as
a light thing," lovable and this.
I already have one foot in the loving, lively and delicate, whom a pretty grave, and am perhaps more accustomed face, a prepossessing manner, a fresh to suffering. Give it to them, monsieur, laugh, a floating lock of hair, a white for the babies."
hand carelessly arranging the fold of a Two years have passed over these gown, have always rendered amorous miseries. In the freed territory life has and dreamy. His frivolity, his skeptireturned, and acts of devotion have mul cism, his indulgence would bestow upon tiplied. Soissons is under shell fire. Of the romantic couples only the happiest 14,000 inhabitants scarcely 400 have re of smiles.
Saloniki and Athens. The ques
By a British Commissioner OR months Bucharest had been a very likely recover her territory of Tranhotbed of intrigue second only to sylvania.
A Secret Treaty tion frequently asked was, Would
It was understood that a treaty existed the assumed sympathies of a Hohenzol
under which Italy had promised to Ru. lern King, comparatively fresh from Ger
mania the restoration of Transylvania many and German influences, prevail
after the war on certain conditions. Gerover the natural Franco-Italian tenden
many and Austria were aware of this, cies of the Rumanian Nation and cause
but were not greatly alarmed, as neither a Teutonic orientation? Kingly influence felt that Rumania's assistance was necand German relationship had helped to
essary. What chance, it might be asked, bring Bulgaria into the war on the side
had Rumania, on the one hand, of getting of the Central Powers, in opposition to back her lost province with the aid of her old friend and liberator, Russia. It
Italy or any other country, or, on the was known that Constantine and his
other hand, of fulfilling that aspiration consort prevented Greece from entering
with the aid of the Teutonic Alliance ? the arena against Germany; and there
Italy was at a deadlock with Austria, was a natural anticipation that Rumania
Austria was not willing to relinquish an might abandon her neutrality and array
inch of territory in return for Rumania's herself on the side which appeared to be
active support, and Germany would not invincible.
bring pressure to bear on her ally in The Critical Period
Rumania's behalf. The fact is, the TeuWhen I was in the Rumanian capital
ton Powers were beguiled, if not besotthe allied diplomacy had been discredited
ted, with their successes, or, at any rate, in the Balkans, and British arms had
the successes of Germany, and could not been defeated at Gallipoli. The Mace
see a cloud on the horizon. donian enterprise was beginning to de
Definite Entente Promises velop, but not having reached its present Meanwhile Russia had been negotiatformidable pitch of strength was none ing, and had made definitive and allurtoo hopefully regarded. Russia had not ing promises to Rumania. They included displayed signs of that offensive which the cession of the Bukowina, together it was hoped would dislodge the Austro with armed assistance in wresting TranGerman armies from the positions they sylvania from Austria. As previously had secured all along the line from the said, neutrality would bring Rumania Baltic provinces in the north to Volhynia nothing, save in the event of a Teuton in the South. There was a deadlock on triumph, when probably she would come the western front, though we were con still more under the Austrian yoke. Enstantly hearing of the projected allied try on the side of the Central Powers drive in the Spring. Italy, toward whom gave no promise of post-bellum advanRumania was looking with interested tage. On the other hand, the promises eyes, was engaged in a terrific struggle ,of Italy and Russia, or perhaps it should with Austria in the Alpine passes, and
be said the Entente round table, were the prospects of Italia Irredenta becom definite. And at length Russia was able ing Italia Redenta were none too hopeful. to show her ability to bring them to fulBut on Italy seemed to depend the pros fillment by sweeping through Bukowina pect of the recovery by Rumania of her and capturing the whole of that Austrian lost territory. Should Italy wrest back crownland. the Trentino and Trieste, Rumania might It remained for Rumania to open the
way for Russia to bring about the downfall of Austria and of her other traditional enemy, Bulgaria, and at the same time to win back Transylvania. Moreover, simultaneously with Russia's success in the Bukowina came Italy's capture of Gorizia. Is it to be wondered at that Rumania came in on the side of those who were in the best position to enable her to realize her national aspirations ?
Life in Bucharest After one had spent a few days in the bright and handsome capital of that country—the city of joy or pleasure, as its name literally signifies—it was not difficult to realize that the sentiments of the people, the politicians, and of the army were decidedly pro-Entente, while interest in the fortunes of the Italian and French armies was considerable. The Rumanians pride themselves on their Latin origin, which is indicated in their name; their language has obviously a Latin foundation, and here and there in the country are Roman remains from the days of Trajan. The Rumanian capital may be likened to a small Paris or Vienna, with its prosperous population of over 350,000, its spacious streets and shady squares and boulevards, its palaces and other large public buildings, its baroque cathedrals and churches, its fine opera house and theatres, and its nocturnal gayety.
Much money was also being spent in backstairs intrigue by the representatives of nations which need not be named. The baser sort of politicians and publicists had been captured by this means, and announcements of Teutonic victories were made in grandiloquent fashion in some of the newspapers, which any one acquainted with Latin, or the French and Italian languages, had little difficulty in reading. My own mission was peaceful, entirely non-diplomatic and uncommercial; nevertheless I found myself the subject of persistent and unwelcome attentions and was “shadowed” everywhere I went. The hotels were filled with international spies who noted my going out and my coming in, and whom I could rarely shake off until I found myself in my own room at the
hotel-then under German management. When at length it was recognized that I was merely interested in the medical and sanitary aspect of the war I was left more or less to myself.
Just then Germany was more concerned with Rumania as a country rich in corn and oil than as a potentional fighting factor. German agents were to be met everywhere endeavoring to negotiate the purchase of wheat, petroleum, cattle, horses, hides, poultry, eggs, cotton materials, and many other things which were scarce in Germany.
Cornering Rumanian Wheat Russian agents were also busily buying, and so, too, were a few British, though Great Britain could not get delivery. But that did not prevent the Rumanian authorities from selling to British representatives a considerably greater quantity of wheat than was sold to Germany. The latter purchase, moreover, was held up by the fact that the British wheat monopolized a large number of the railway cars which needed to transport the grain, sold to Germany, across the frontier. A straw will show the direction of the current; and this incident, which gave great annoyance to Germany, was instructive.
German agents were always ready to outbid other buyers and offered extravagant prices; there was a good deal of smuggling over the border, and a few Rumanian officials were blindly complaisant. But presently higher authority stepped in and prevented Teuton buyers from getting more than their share. This happened particularly in connection with petroleum. It was impossible to allege that Russia, which has its own extensive oldfields, stood in need of this commodity. Therefore Germany getting practically the whole of Rumania's export of petroleum. But the Government intervened and placed an embargo on the article, giving as the
that the country was being drained of oil which it needed for its
This was a serious blow.