Saturday, October 3, 2015

Shadows In A Timeless Myths Presents The Role of Women In The Ancient Guilds

The records of the industrial history of England reveal one anomaly which is by no means cheering to those who are striving to improve the economic position of women. It cannot be gainsaid that in periods before the labour question began to be scientifically discussed, there was a juster conception of the relations which should subsist between the sexes in the common affairs of daily life. Men and women were treated on a par. When labour laws were enacted they were enacted for both alike; it was assumed that the sexes stood on an equality. With one or two exceptions, there was no especial legislation for women. Nor was there any hindrance, either in theory or in actuality, to women trading and engaging in industrial occupations. A woman was not debarred from any commercial pursuit simply by reason of sex. Whatever work she was able to undertake she carried through without having to surmount artificial barriers set up by prejudice and by the action of those interested in the restriction of women’s industrial liberty.

At the present day women have to fight their way into the commercial world, and every fresh step which they make towards independence is hailed as a triumph, and a hopeful sign for the future; or as a retrograde step, a deplorable and dangerous departure, according to the views of the onlookers; but in all cases as something abnormal, to be commented upon and criticized. The general opinion in the first half of this century was that women and business were things apart, and better kept separate. Either it was assumed that women knew nothing about business and could never learn, or that if they did edge their way in they would be thrusting men out.

It does not appear that in the past such views were entertained, that women were considered to be going out of their “sphere” when they entered the world of trade, or that it was attempted to deny them any of the privileges which might attach to commercial pursuits. The women took their places quite naturally side by side with the men, and no one saw anything strange in the position. They could receive apprentices; they became members of trade gilds, worked at various industries; in short, played their part as full members of the industrial community. It has been remarked that “great changes in the status of woman and in the status of labour have been correlative and often contemporaneous.” This is exemplified in the revolution brought about by the factory system, which altered the whole conditions of domestic life for large numbers of women in the lower ranks. The greater freedom which women enjoyed in olden times in regard to trading is remarkable on account of the severe restrictions applied to all forms of industry. It was not as if the worker were left to tread his own path. The relations between employer and employed were strictly defined. Hours, wages, clothing, form of engagement, manner of work, all came under legal supervision. And yet this interfering legislation did not create those differences between male and female adult workers, which have been a deplorable feature of modern times, and which faddists of a certain school are doing their best to accentuate.

It may be argued that women have perfect liberty in the present day to enter upon any commercial pursuit; that the law does not hinder them from becoming merchants, shipowners, and traders of all kinds. What the law, however, does not forbid, custom prevents. Among the middle classes it is tacitly agreed that the boys of the family must be started on a commercial career, and systematic efforts are being made towards achieving that end. A boy is apprenticed to some trade, and shown how to work his way up step by step from the bottom rung to the top of the ladder. He can enter a manufactory, a workshop, a retail business. But want of training and want of capital have militated against the industrial progress of women. There are only a few trades open to a girl, not for lack of physical strength, but because custom has decreed that certain occupations shall belong to men. Putting aside such pursuits as are obviously unsuited to girls—for in dealing with female labour it is the fitness of girls that has to be considered, since all occupations must be entered upon before adult life—there are many employments in which they are as well, if not better, fitted to engage than men and boys.

Sir John Bennett, writing in 1857, called attention to the fact that women were excellent watchmakers and might be profitably employed in England as they were on the Continent.
“Thousands of women are at this moment finding profitable employment at the most delicate portion of watch-work throughout the district around Neuchatel. The subdivision of labour is there wisely made so minute as to adjust itself precisely to the special capabilities of every woman’s individual dexterity. The watch is composed of many distinct parts; some require force and decision in the hands of the workman, while many are so exquisitely delicate that for them the fine touch of the female finger is found to be far superior to the more clumsy handling of the man.... Now, why should not our English women be employed upon a labour for which their sisters in Switzerland prove themselves so eminently adapted, and thus provide, to a large extent, a remedy for the distresses of our labouring population, and open out a new channel whereby they may elevate their condition and benefit mankind? In London 50,000 females are working under sixpence per day, and above 100,000 under one shilling per day. So long as nearly every remunerative employment is engrossed by men only, so long must the wretchedness and slavery of women remain what it is. For any man to declare, whatever his motive, that the women of London are sure to do badly what the Swiss women are now doing well, is an insult and a fallacy in which I refuse to join.

“No factory system is necessary for the successful manufacture of this very beautiful little machine. The father has but to teach his own daughters, wife, and female relatives at his own home, and then, just as their leisure suits, they can perform each her part without necessarily interfering with the most indispensable of her domestic duties. Thus the whole family is well provided for, and by the reduction of the cost of the watch, the sale would be increased indefinitely, and this increase would give additional employment to men and women in about equal proportion. Working watchmakers have no need to fear the introduction of female labour; the large demand that necessarily would ensue, when watches were materially cheapened in price, would doubtless more than compensate any loss they might temporarily sustain; the change it would effect would be found not only a moral good and an immense social blessing, but would satisfy the indispensable requirements of a strong commercial necessity.”
When people complain of women pushing into men’s occupations, it ought to be remembered how many things men have absorbed which formerly belonged as much, if not more, to women. For instance, it was the women who did the brewing, even in households where men were employed for other domestic duties. The feminine suffix in the word “brewster” is another sign that brewing was a woman’s occupation. Most of the beer-houses in London were owned by women who brewed their own beer up to the end of the fifteenth century, by which time brewing was passing into the hands of men. Women were also the principal ale-keepers, and the ale-wife was a noted character in rural England. The number of inns kept at the present day by women, in the country districts especially, shows how this old custom has held its ground.

An ordinance of Edward III. indicates the kind of trades in which formerly women were predominant. It runs—
“But the intent of the King and his Council is that women, that is to say, brewers, bakers, carders and spinners, and workers as well of wool as of linen cloth and of silk; brawdesters, and breakers of wool, and all other that do use and work all handy works, may freely use and work as they have done before this time without any impeachment or being restrained by this ordinance.”
In former times it was not felt to be unseemly for men and women to work side by side, nor are there any evidences that such a proceeding led to immoral conduct. Then it was habitual for the sexes to be associated in labour. The situation presented nothing strange, and nothing tempting; custom proved a safeguard. In spite of the improvement in manners and public conduct, the difficulty of men and women consorting for a common purpose has always been put forth in modern times as a reason why certain occupations should be restricted to men, except among the lower class of operatives who are continually under the eye of overseers, and in shops where the public act as supervisors.

There are certain departments of industry which bring out very clearly the advantages which women formerly possessed and the privileges they enjoyed. It is claimed, though on insufficient grounds, that the present trade unions are the legitimate descendants of the ancient gilds. In one respect, certainly, they are extremely unlike. The trade unions have, until quite recently, been purely men’s associations, and their formation has been a hindrance to the women working in the same trade. The gilds knew no distinctions of sex. They were formed in the interest of the trading community for purposes of mutual help, and were as much for the benefit of the “sisteren” as the “bretheren.” The attitude of the ancient gilds towards women was essentially different from that of the modern trade unions.

In the Middle Ages the influence of the gilds was considerable. Their authority was widespread, and they practically controlled the trade. It is, therefore, of importance to note their action and the rules by which they were constituted when considering the position of women in regard to industry and commerce. In nearly all the gilds there were women members, and in many cases the names of women appear as founders. Gilds were formed for various purposes. They were in the nature of friendly societies. In addition to their commercial side, they were “associations for mutual help and social and religious intercourse amongst the people,” and these associations “were almost always formed equally of men and women."

Miss Toulmin Smith says, in her Introduction to “English Gilds,” that—
“scarcely five out of the five hundred were not formed equally of men and women.... Even where the affairs were managed by a company of priests, women were admitted as lay members, and they had many of the same duties and claims upon the gilds as the men.”
The brothers and sisters all met together to transact the business of the gild. It was no mere matter of form to admit women. They were active working members, sharing in all the privileges and contributing to the funds, though smaller payments were sometimes exacted of the women. The female members, like the male, wore the livery.
“Also it is ordeyned that every suster of the fraternite and Gilde schul ben cladde in a swte of hodes, that is for to seye reed, pena 20d.”
Not only did the gild lend money to the younger members to start them in business, and succour those in distress who “fell into poverty through mishap, and not by fault of their own,” but it provided the dowerless with marriage portions, or the penniless with means to embrace a religious life. In the ordinances of the Ludlow Gild, established in 1824, was a clause that—
“if any good girl of the gild of marriageable age cannot have the means found by her father either to go into a religious house or to marry, whichever she wishes to do; friendly and right help shall be given her, out of our means and our common chest, enabling her to do whichever of the two she wishes.”
In the religious gilds, of which there were two classes, one for the clergy and one for the laity, the women were put on a par with the lay members. Any gross offence, such as drinking and rioting, committed by a priest, was punished with degradation; but if the offender were a layman or a woman, by exclusion until satisfaction was given. The clergy gilds did not admit women as members, but in one of the foreign gilds the wives of lay brothers were admitted on certain conditions at the oft-repeated request of the members.

The great companies also admitted women. The female members of the Drapers’ Company carried on business and received apprentices like the male members. “Every brother or sister of the fellowship taking an apprentice shall present him to the wardens, and shall pay 1¾,” runs the ordinance of 1503. This company was very careful to enjoin respect for its female members. It was expressly ordered that when a “sister” died she should be interred with full honours, have the best pall thrown over her coffin, and be “followed by the Fraternity to the grave with every respectful ceremony equally as the men.” After the death of a gild brother, his widow could carry on his trade as one of the gild. If a female member married a man of the same trade who was not free of the gild, he acquired freedom by the marriage. A woman who married a man of another trade was excluded from the gild. There were certain gilds of which women became free in their own right, and others where the wives and daughters of the gild brothers acquired a right to membership from their connection. In the craft gilds a member was allowed to have his wife and children and maid-servant to assist him in his work. The Clothworkers, the Fishmongers, the Grocers, all speak in their articles of brothers and sisters. Wives of members of the Grocers’ Company were admitted on their marriage.
“All women not of the Fraternity and after married to any of the Fraternity shall be entered and looked upon as of the Fraternity for ever, and shall be assisted and made as one of us; and after the death of the husband, the widow shall come to the dinner and pay 40d. if she is able.”
If she married out of the fraternity, she was not to be admitted to the feast, or to receive any assistance from the company. Within recent times women have obtained the freedom of both the Fishmongers’ and the Drapers’ Companies, but for the purpose of sharing in the charities, not with a view to trading. Since the beginning of the present century forty-two women have been admitted to the Drapers’ Company, and there are now upwards of a hundred belonging to the Fishmongers’ Company.

Formerly married women were merchants and traders on their own account. Clearly, it was by no means unusual, for in the Liber Albus of London, compiled in the fourteenth century, is an ordinance relating to married women carrying on business alone—
“and where a woman coverte de baron follows craft within the said city by herself apart, with which the husband in no way intermeddles, such woman shall be bound as a single woman as to all that concerns her said craft. And if the husband and wife are impleaded in such case, the wife shall plead as a single woman in the Court of Record, and shall have her law and other advantages by way of plea just as a single woman. And if she is condemned she shall be committed to prison until she shall have made satisfaction; and neither the husband nor his goods shall in such case be charged or interfered with.”
It was recognized that wives were independent beings responsible for their own acts. This is clearly shown by the following ordinance in the Liber Albus:
“Item, if a wife, though a single woman, rents any house or shop within the said city, she shall be bound to pay the rent of the said house or shop, and shall be impleaded and sued as a single woman, by way of debt if necessary, notwithstanding that she was coverte de baron at the time of such letting, supposing that the lessor did not know thereof.”
There was no exemption for women on the ground of sex. An enactment in the Statute of Labourers passed in the reign of Edward III. for preventing idleness expressly includes women. It provides that—
“every man and woman of our realm of England of what condition he be, free or bond, able in body and within the age of threescore years, not living in merchandize, not exercising any craft, nor having of his own whereof he may live, nor proper land about whose tillage he may himself occupy, and not serving any other, if he in convenient service (his estate considered) be required to serve, he shall be bounden to serve him which so shall him require.... And if any such man or woman being so required to serve will not the same do, ... he shall be committed to the next gaol, there to remain under strait keeping, till he find surety to serve in the form aforesaid.”
When an oppressive enactment was made regulating the wages of labourers and prohibiting them from receiving anything beyond a certain sum, women were included. Their movements also were controlled. In the reign of Richard II. it was provided—
“that no artificer, labourer, servant nor victualler, man nor woman, should travel out of the hundred, rape, or wapen-take where he is dwelling without a letter patent under the King’s seal, stating why he is wandering, and that the term for which he or she had been hired has been completed. Otherwise the offender might be put in a pair of stocks, which was to be provided in every town.”
Another curiously arbitrary regulation ordained that if a girl or boy served up to the age of twelve at husbandry, they were to continue that employment all their lives, and not to turn to any craft. “Up to the age of twelve” is a significant sign of the conditions of juvenile life. Children were held as full members of the working population.

It is evident that in the eye of the law women ranked on an equality with men. Narrow as was the view taken by legislators of industrial life, and absurd as many of the enactments seem now, it was reserved for modern times to set up an artificial barrier between the sexes, to push the working woman down a step, and rank her with children and “young persons.”

The sense of the community was in advance of the legal conception which merged the personality of the wife in that of the husband. The gilds took care, by special ordinances, to remedy the defects of the law. Having admitted women to the full privileges of their order, and regarding them as workers with individual rights and duties, they naturally reasoned that women should not be exempted from the responsibilities of their own acts because they were married. In the ordinances of the Worcester Gild, founded 1467, is the following:—
“Also yf eny man’s wyf becom detto^r or plegge, or by or sylle eny chaffare or vitelle, or hyn eny house by har lyf, she to answere to hym or hur that hath cause to sue, as a woman soole marchaunt; and that an acion of dette be mayntend agenst hur, to be conceyved aftr the custom of the seid lite, wtout nemyng her husband in the seid accyon.”
It has been pointed out that under the gild system women were employed to a much smaller extent in manufactures than under the domestic system which followed. An ordinance of the fullers of Lincoln places a restriction on the indiscriminate employment of women, and limits it to the wives and servants of the masters. Whatever their position in the lower branches of trade, they had full access to the higher departments. They had governing power and the privileges which belong to members of corporate bodies. The changes that followed on the break-up of the gilds tended to throw women into the rank and file of workers and to exclude them from the more responsible posts.

The principle of equality is everywhere apparent in the ordinances relating to labour. In the reign of Edward IV. an ordinance was made in the borough of Wells, that apprentices of both sexes to burgesses would become burgesses themselves when their term of service was accomplished. No distinction was made between male and female. Statutes relating to apprentices in London and elsewhere apply equally to both girls and boys. It was taken as a matter of course that a parent might wish to apprentice his daughter just as much as his son. The proclamation in 1271, relating to the woollen industry, expressly permitted “all workers of woollen cloths, male and female, as well of Flanders as of other lands,” to come to England to follow their craft. Sometimes, indeed, the women appear to have enjoyed an advantage, as in the statute of 1363 which ordered that “handicraftsmen should use but one mystery,” while workwomen were free to work in their accustomed way. In later times a theory grew up that women were competitors, not co-workers, with men. There are numbers of people who on this ground would hinder women from engaging in commercial pursuits and earning their own livelihood. They argue that it is better for women to be dependent upon their male relatives than to make their own way in the world. That women should seek to achieve economic independence was, until recently, quite against the general sentiment. But the force of circumstances has proved stronger than theories: a surplus female population and changes in social life have upset the notion that women were created solely for family life, and that they were to be the spenders, not the providers.

Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents The Education of Women Before The Time of the Printing Press

Learned ladies in Saxon times—Education of women in the Middle Ages—The rise of Grammar Schools—Want of provision for girls—Convent schools—Improvement of education in the fifteenth century—Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, and her patronage of learning.
It might seem superfluous to discuss the subject of education in periods when reading and writing were the accomplishments of but a fraction of the population, while to speak of learning seems altogether an anomaly. As has already been noted, writing was a rare accomplishment up to the tenth century. At the time of the Norman invasion, there were probably few laymen who could spell out a breviary. Yet even under the Saxon kings, when there was such a dearth of knowledge among the people and a scarcity of all literature, there was a thread of scholarship running through the nation among the Monastic Orders. Although the foundations of learning had been laid, the building went on slowly. Strange as it appears, there was not only among men, but among women, a zest for study in the far-off days of the Saxon monk Aldhelm, who wrote for his female pupils his work, “De Laude Virginitatis.”

Times that were in most respects very unfavourable for the pursuit of letters produced students and scholars of no mean capacity. The seclusion in which monks dwelt by choice and women by necessity, gave opportunity for studies that would have been neglected under less rude conditions. Saxon ladies varied the monotony of their domestic occupations by the study of Latin, which they not only read, but wrote with tolerable fluency.

Latin was then the great vehicle of knowledge. It was the language of law, the medium of correspondence between scholars. Most of the accessible literature was in Latin. It was, therefore, to the study of that language above all else that students betook themselves. The learned ladies of the sixteenth century had their forerunners in the women of the seventh and eighth, in the studious Abbess Eadburga and her pupil Leobgitha, with both of whom the celebrated St. Boniface, called the Apostle of Germany, corresponded in Latin.

At that period learning was so closely associated with religion, that the Church was the nursery of scholars. The acquirements of the Saxon ladies were due to their connection with the religious orders. It was in the priories and convents that the arts of reading and copying manuscripts, of writing and composition were cultivated. So exclusively was learning the monopoly of the Church, that in the Middle Ages the study of books was but an inconsiderable part of a gentleman’s education.

With women the case was somewhat different. Their enforced seclusion in days of rude manners led them to sedentary occupations. They were frequently the only members of the family who could read with any ease. As long as war was the chief business and out-door sports the chief pastime of men, the quieter lives of the women gave them the advantage in point of learning.

But with the Renaissance a change crept in. The education of men began to improve, while that of the women was left as before. When William of Wykeham founded his school at Winchester in 1373, he thought only of boys. Henry VI. did not propose to admit girls to his foundation at Eton. All the great schools which rose up in the sixteenth century, Rugby, Harrow, Westminster, St. Paul’s, and the rest, were confined to the male sex. The universities, though owing much to the beneficence of women in early times, have, until recently, not only done nothing for the advancement of women’s education, but thrown stumbling-blocks in its way.

In education, as in everything else, the rich, of course, had the advantage. Sir Nicholas Bacon, in the reign of Elizabeth, introduced some reforms into the education of wards. There were—
“articles devised for the bringing up in vertue and learning of the Queenes Majesties Wardes, being heires males and whose landes descending in possession and coming to the Queenes Majestie shall amount to the cleere yearly value of c. markes or above.”
Girls were put into wardship, too, but the Lord Keeper does not seem to have thought any reforms were needed in their education.

It is not surprising to find that the girls of the poorer classes were often much neglected. A contemporary writer, speaking of the women of England, says—
“This nevertheless I utterlie mislike in the poorer sort of them, for the wealthier doo sildome offend herein: that being of themselves without competent wit they are so carelesse in the education of their children (wherein their husbands also are to be blamed) by means whereof verie manie of them neither fearing God, neither regarding either manners or obedience, do oftentimes come to confusion which (if anie correction or discipline had beene used toward them in youth) might have proved good members of their common-wealth and countrie by their good service and industrie.”
The children of the poor could not have profited much by the free education of the convent schools, for they began to earn their living as soon as they were able to use their hands. There was plenty of “discipline” in their bringing up, but not much regard paid to “manners” or learning.

The custom among the well-to-do classes of sending their children to live in the houses of the nobility prevailed all through the Middle Ages and up to the sixteenth century. Among the laity it was a recognized mode of education. The kind of training which the girls, under this system, received depended on the character and acquirements of the lady of the house. The primary things to be learnt were good manners and domestic arts. Books were very scarce, and, except in religious houses, there would be few persons who could make use of them. Even at the end of the fifteenth century it was unusual for a gentleman to be able to read and write. There were, of course, the schools attached to monasteries and convents where all classes were taught, and in good families tutors were employed for both girls and boys, such men as Elmer, Bishop of London, Roger Ascham, Walter de Biblesworth, and others notable for learning, acting in that capacity in the households of the nobility. The curriculum at the convents included English, Latin, music, and grammar. The majority of noblemen’s and gentlemen’s daughters are said to have attended the convent schools. A custom prevailed for these young gentlewomen to wear white veils, to distinguish them from professed nuns, who wore black, which implies that all the pupils were resident in the convents. It was not uncommon for the religious houses to be used as boarding establishments. At some places ladies were received as inmates of a conventual household, bringing their own servants to attend upon them, and to a great extent living apart from the nun.

With regard to women’s education, there seem to have been periods of enlightenment alternating with periods of darkness. In Saxon days, in the seventh and eighth centuries especially, the study of letters occupied a good deal of the attention of women. But while the Norman and Saxon were struggling into unity, education everywhere seems to have been at a low ebb.

Women did not profit much by the literary renaissance of the age of Chaucer. It is said that the daughters of John of Gaunt, who was father to Henry IV., were the first English ladies who could write (the Saxon abbesses and their pupils are ignored in this statement), while the earliest letter extant written by a woman in English is said to have been the notable epistle, already quoted, sent by Lady Joan Pelham in 1399 to her husband, relating her troubles during her gallant defence of Pevensey Castle.

By the middle of the fifteenth century, however, some improvement is noticeable. If writing were such a rare accomplishment as to add lustre to the family of John of Gaunt, the grand-daughter of that illustrious begetter of kings was celebrated for the keen interest she took in books, and was herself an author. Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII., was a noted woman of learning, though her interest for later generations lies more in the part she played in history. She was a woman of great intellectual ability, and had been most carefully trained. Printing was then a new art, and the Countess of Richmond, to give her the title by which she is best known, was a warm patroness of Caxton’s partner, Wynkyn de Worde, whom she appointed as her special printer. The countess was a very great lady, and had her printer, her poet, her band of minstrels, just as she had her resident confessor and her domestic retinue. She ordered several works to be printed, and did much to foster a taste for literature among the ladies of the court.

Her bent of mind was distinctly religious, and in her later years she regulated her establishment on monastic lines, and lived a life of conventual strictness. In her secluded manor-house, situated in the Hundred of Woking, her principal visitor was the abbot of the neighbouring monastery of Newark, who from time to time ambled along the ill-kept road with a train of monks all mounted on mules to confer with this powerful but dutiful daughter of the Church. In the picturesquely shaded house, which is still well preserved and retains much of its old-world air, the countess could pursue her reading and meditations undisturbed, and it was probably here that she composed her religious books. Her early studies enabled her to enjoy such literature as was accessible. She was well acquainted with Latin and French, but there is no mention of Greek or Hebrew.

We must skip the two next generations, and go on to the great grand-daughters of the Countess of Richmond before we find the dead languages assuming an important place in the curriculum of a woman’s education. There were very few books accessible to the laity in the days of Margaret of Richmond, but she lived long enough to see the means of knowledge multiplying fast, and to assist in the process.

The intellectual gifts and literary attainments of her grandson, Henry VIII., augured well for the progress of learning in England, and the countess, who died the year that Henry was crowned, was thus spared the pain of witnessing the crimes which stained his after career. The mental energy which characterised all the Tudors seems to have had its fountain-head in their distinguished ancestress, whose position exposed her to many trials and dangers, through which her strength of mind, steadiness of purpose, and nobility of character carried her unscathed. Some ills might have been averted from England had Margaret Beaufort been alive during the reign of her grandson. And what a brilliant leader she would have made of that group of learned ladies who adorned the second half of the sixteenth century!

Compiled from sources in the public domain

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents The Trials and Tribulations Of Being The Lady Of The Manor In Medieval Times

To those living in the hurry and bustle of modern existence, there are few pictures so attractive as that of a stately manor-house in olden times. Its seclusion and calm, the solidity, regularity, and simplicity of its daily life, are a soothing contrast to the noise and complexity of the common round in the present day. We are accustomed to think of the Middle Ages as a period of strife, of rude commotions, with a generally unsettled state of society. It was so, but with it all there was a4 great peace which this generation knoweth not. Fighting and brawling there was in plenty. Life was cheap, property insecure; every man was his own policeman; quarrels meant blows, and might was right. But the very causes which produced this state of society created also an opposite condition of things. Bad roads, lack of communication, which made it possible for deeds of violence to pass unpunished, kept the knowledge of those deeds hidden from the community at large. Life went on in quiet corners undisturbed by the thought of evil and misfortune close at hand. There was no responsive throb of feeling between one town and another, no electric thrill passing from country-side to country-side. Each place lived its life comparatively apart. To-day a touch on any of our great centres of life is felt throughout the kingdom. In mediæval times England was not a whole, but a conglomeration of communities, each with an independent existence.

The manor-house was essentially a self-contained domain. Even the best of country roads were so indifferent that a town a few miles off was not much more than a name to most of the occupants of the manor-house. What were called high-roads were merely tracks along which waggons were dragged with the utmost difficulty. The house itself, embowered in trees on low-lying ground or sheltering against the breast of a hill, was in its isolation both defenceless and secure. Generally, it had a palisade or outer fence to form a protection against assault. That a house of any pretensions should be something in the nature of a stronghold was necessary in those days.

The upper story was reserved for the lady and her maidens. It was the part most protected, and was sometimes strengthened further by the placing of heavy doors at short intervals on the staircase which led to this portion of the house. Originally consisting of only one apartment called the solar, this upper floor was gradually enlarged until it comprised several sleeping-rooms, the hall becoming more and more a place for dining and receiving guests and transacting business, while the real family life was lived upstairs. Mediæval manners necessitated some retreat where the women-folk would not be exposed to contact with any passing stranger who might claim hospitality. It seems, however, to have been customary for the lady of the house to sit with her lord, or, in his absence, to preside at the dinner or supper taken in the hall. Her place was at the upper end, away from the entrance, and only privileged guests would be permitted to sit close to her. There was a full acknowledgment of the wife’s social position. To women of rank and station the feudal system brought certain advantages. Every feudal lord was a kind of princeling, and his wife shared his dignities. The state kept up in the feudal castle and in the mediæval manor-house gave the wife considerable importance. As far as social duties went, husband and wife acted as partners, receiving and entertaining the guests together. The unsettled times, which so often kept the lord from his own roof, brought the lady into prominence as sole guardian of the family possessions and interests. She was hedged round with a little circle of ceremony. A great lady always had a body-guard of maidens who lived under the eye of their mistress, while the lord had a similar contingent of pages or squires. It was a general custom in feudal times, and even somewhat later, for the daughters and sons of good families to be sent to live in the household of some knight or gentleman to be instructed in all the arts pertaining to their station. Feudal etiquette required that a great lady should be personally served by ladies of rank. With this personal service was combined training in all domestic accomplishments which it was necessary for a well-bred maiden to acquire. The English fashion of sending children from home was commented on by foreigners as a proof of the lack of parental affection. It was a fashion that was in full vogue in the middle of the fifteenth century. In 1469, Dame Margaret Paston writes to her son, Sir John Paston, about his sister Margery—
“I wuld ye shuld purvey for yur suster to be with my Lady of Oxford, or with my Lady of Bedford, or in sume other wurchepfull place, wher as ye thynk best, and I wull help to her fyndyng, for we be eyther of us werye of other.”
Dame Paston’s blunt letter seems to bear out the charge brought against English parents.
A knight’s lady was like the mistress of a boarding-school, and a very stern mistress she often proved to be. Rank and birth did not exempt her pupils from strict discipline and hard work. While their brothers were learning to ride and to wrestle, to shoot, and to handle the battle-axe, to sing and to learn to bear themselves gallantly like gentlemen, the maidens were being initiated into the mysteries of weaving, spinning, brewing, distilling, salting, and many other processes which were then performed by each family for itself. To these occupations was added needlework of all kinds, from the making of plain serviceable smocks and cloaks to embroidering banners and altar-cloths; for all wearing apparel, as well as everything required for household use, was manufactured and made up at home. If the male members of the establishment were numerous, a busy time the lady and her maidens must have had. Well might the poet write—

“Mult doit fame estre chier tenue Par li est tout gent vestue. Bien sai que fame file et œuvre Les dras dont l’en se vest et cuevre
“Et toissus d’or et drap de soie Et por ce dis-je où que je soie, A toz cels qui orront cest conte, Que de fame ne dient honte.”
No doubt the coarser kinds of work, such as the clothes for dependants, were given out to the servants; but every young gentlewoman had to learn the process, so as to be able in her turn to superintend a household. Tailors were also employed for the making of both women’s and men’s garments. In royal households there were regular tailors who made feminine as well as masculine garments. A tailor was called a cissor. In the time of Edward I., the King, the Queen, and the Prince of Wales each had their separate tailors.

There were large establishments of celibate priests, like that of Bishop Swinfield who lived in the thirteenth century, where no female servants were permitted to enter, and men performed all the domestic work. Unless the nuns of some neighbouring convent were employed in working for these semi-monastic households, there must have been a supply of masculine weavers and spinners. Curiously enough, the only in-door employment in these priests’ houses for which female labour was engaged was that of brewing. The brewing was always exclusively in the hands of women, and it is thought possible that even in ecclesiastical establishments the old custom was followed.
In the Middle Ages it was not usual for women to be employed about the royal palaces except to attend on the queen and princesses. In France, says Meiners, in his “History of the Female Sex”—
“When the kings lived apart from their consorts, they had in their palaces no persons of the female sex, except a few of those menials whose services are indispensably necessary in every family, such as washerwomen, needlewomen, etc., and even these were removed by Philip the Fair from his court. In like manner the palaces and apartments of the queens and princesses were inaccessible to all persons of the other sex, except the maître de l’hotel and the knights or esquires who mounted guard before the doors and chambers of the princesses. At table, in rising and going to bed, in undressing and dressing, queens and princesses were attended only by their women and maids; and this ancient practice was retained by the queens of France so late as the sixteenth century.”
But to return to the manor-house. A great lady, who had to superintend and take an active share in the making only of the clothes for the household, would in these days feel herself very hardly pressed, especially if she were also expected to be her own housekeeper and see to the good ordering of the kitchen. But if she had also to manufacture material and to preside over all those initial processes of which she now sees nothing but the results, life would seem an intolerable burden. It was not so thought in mediæval times. It is true that in noblemen’s houses there was a steward, whose business it was to provide the household with necessaries. In the Berkeley family, which may be taken as a typical case, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the steward was accustomed to order, either monthly or quarterly, certain quantities of provisions to be supplied from the manors and farms belonging to the estate. But the lady of the house exercised a general superintendence. Joan, the wife of Thomas, third Lord Berkeley, who lived in the reign of Edward III., is described as—
“a vertuous lady and great huswife and a wise overseer of such household affayres as were proper to her sex and government.... When shee came to theis farm-houses (as often shee did) to oversee or take accompt of her dairy affaires, shee oftentimes spent in provisions at a meale there the valewe of 4d. and 4d. ob. [4¼d. about] whereof allowance was afterwards given to the Accomptant before her husband’s Auditor at the end of the year. And some tymes also a cheese of two pound weight was at such a tyme spent by her attendants. And in such huswifely courses this virtuous Lady spent a part of her aged and weake yeares untill her death.”
There was a dignity attached to manual labour which is exemplified in the use of the word “spinster.” It was a term of which women were proud. We now confine it to unmarried women, but as late as the sixteenth century it was used by married women of the better class. A gentlewoman who married a man of inferior rank claimed the title of spinster as a sign of her good birth and gentle breeding.
Life was, however, by no means all work for the ladies of the manor-house. There was time and to spare for lighter employments and diversions. We hear a great deal of games, especially of chess, in the households of people of rank, and the number of so-called chamber games shows that the ladies had many hours for recreation. There was dancing too, and lute-playing, and a little conning over ballads and romances. For although the damoiseaux frequently could not sign their names, and found it hard work to spell out the words of the breviary, the demoiselles, if they were not very skilful with the quill, were fairly proficient in the art of reading, which was more cultivated by women than by men.

In the intervals between needlework and housewifery, there would be strolling in the garden on fine days, weaving garlands of flowers—a favourite mediæval pastime; and in summer weather, when the lanes were passable, rambles outside the domain and occasional rides. It is easy to understand how much more essential was the garden to the enjoyment of the women-folk in days when out-door exercise was comparatively difficult. There would be a little visiting among the dependents in the hamlet, and for the lady herself, in cold wet seasons, a great dispensing of herbal medicines for rheums and ague. At all times there were the doles to the poor, gifts which were thought due from the great house. Religious observances occupied a portion of each day, though the length and number of these depended on the character of the inmates. Still, there would be certain outward forms of devotion to be gone through in almost all large households. Few great ladies were so punctilious in their devotions as the Princess Cecil, mother of Edward IV., who used to rise at seven o’clock and say matins with her chaplain. After that she heard a low mass in her chamber. A little later in the morning, when the slight breakfast had been partaken of, she would go to the chapel to hear divine service and two low masses. She said evensong with her chaplain, and then went again to chapel.

In ordinary households the saints’ days would be observed, the great fasts kept, and mass heard at regular intervals. Sometimes the abbot of the neighbouring monastery would pay what might be called a pastoral visit to the lord and lady of the manor, accompanied by some of his monks, mounted on mules, accustomed to pace the rough or miry roads. Besides these clerical visitors, there would be strangers to be entertained every now and then, and if they were of high degree, the lady herself would see that their wants were supplied, and would sup and converse with them.

Life in the mediæval manor-house, though it was a life much secluded from the noise and bustle of the world, was one full of activity and varied occupation. There were so many necessary duties that must be performed, that the absence of entertainment and of the pleasures of art and literature was not felt. The horizon was limited. Interests were concentrated within a narrow compass, but what is unknown is not missed. For the women the manor-house was the world. It is recorded as a merit on the part of Lady Joan Berkeley (mentioned above), that in the forty-two years of her married life she never travelled ten miles from her husband’s houses in Somerset and Gloucester, “much less humered herselfe with the vaine delightes of London and other cities.” If a great lady like the wife of Thomas Lord Berkeley lived so circumscribed an existence, it is easy to imagine how small was the circle of women of less degree. But this limited area of thought and activity does not seem to have been a bad nursery. Writing of the fifteenth century, Sir James Ramsay says—
“If we are led to form an unfavourable opinion of the male aristocracy of the period, far otherwise is it with regard to the ladies. Whether as wives, sisters, or daughters, their letters create most favourable impressions.”
In feudal times it was not all noble ladies who could live in peace and seclusion in their homes, protected from strife and rude alarms. The châtelaine was often called upon to take supreme command in her lord’s absence, and if trouble arose and the castle were attacked, the mistress was not only the nominal but the actual head of affairs. We do not find in those days that women shut themselves up and declined to interfere because they did not understand politics. On the contrary, they responded to the need with alacrity. The great lady put down her embroidery-needle and took up the sword when danger threatened. She did not fasten herself up in the solarium with her maidens, but took the command of the household.

A notable heroine in the Wars of the Roses was Lady Joan Pelham, wife of Sir John Pelham, Constable of Pevensey Castle. In 1399 Sir John was in Yorkshire with Henry Duke of Lancaster, fighting against Richard II. Lady Joan, left in Pevensey Castle, was fiercely attacked by the Yorkist forces from Sussex, Kent, and Surrey. The castle was in great danger, and there was much difficulty also in obtaining provisions. The long letter which she wrote to her husband during the siege has the additional interest of being the earliest letter extant written by an English lady.
My dere Lord,
“I recommande me to yowr hie Lordesehippe wyth hert and body and all my pore myght, and wyth all this I think zou, as my dere Lorde, derest and best yloved off all earthlyche Lordes; I say for me and thanke yhow my dere Lorde, with all thys that I say before, off your comfortable lettre, that ze send me fron Pownefraite that com to me on Mary Magdaleyn day; ffor by my trowth I was never so gladd as when I herd by your lettre that ye warr stronge ynogh wyth the grace off God for to kepe yow fro the malyce of your ennemys. And dere Lorde iff it lyk to your hyee Lordeshippe that als ye myght, that smyght her off your gracious spede whych God Allmyghty contynue and encresse. And my dere Lorde, if is lyk zow for to know off my ffare, I am here by layd in a manner off a sege, wyth the counte of Sussex, Sudray, and a greet parsyll off Kentte; so that I ne may nogth out, nor none vitayles gette me, bot with myche hard. Wharfore my dere if it lyk zow, by the awyse off zowr wyse counsell, for to sett remadye off the salvation off yhower castell & wt. stand the malyce off ther sehures foresayde. And also that ye be fullyehe enformede off there grett malyce wyker’s in these schyres whyche yt haffes so dispytffuly wrogth to zow, and to zowl castell, to zhowr men, and to zuor tenaunts ffore this cuntree, have yai wastede for a grett whyle. Farewell my dere Lorde, the Holy Trinyte zow kepe fro zour ennemys and son send me gud tythyngs off yhow. Ywryten at Pevensay in the castell, on Saynt Jacobe day last past.
“By yhowr awnn pore, J. Pelham.
“To my trew Lorde.”
 Compiled from sources in the public domain.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents True Stories of a WWI Hospital Train By An American Girl


An American Girl with a Red Cross Train
Told by Jane Anderson, through Courtesy of British War Office
This is a glimpse of a great organization which brings disabled British soldiers from the first line trenches to London. She tells how the wounded who are coming back to England to die—come back smiling. "It's 'eaven, I call it," said a bandaged Tommy of the Great White Train. The story is retold by permission of the New York Tribune.

From a closed British port to London I made a journey in a Red Cross train which, with great scarlet crosses marked on each blind compartment, carried a cargo of ninety-five wounded men—a precious cargo of war that I had seen transferred from the finest of his majesty's hospital ships to the cots of the ambulance train drawn up under the roof of the Admiralty pier.

It was through the courtesy of the War Office that I was permitted to board the hospital ship, to watch the unloading of it, to see each detail of a very complex and splendid organization, and to journey to London in one of the white ambulance trains created and set apart for the grave and pitiful purposes of war. I am grateful for these privileges.

I have come closer to the actualities of this war as it stands—have penetrated the surface of it. For these men who by thousands are returning to England bring with them, each and all of them, the stamp of it. It is in their eyes, the horror of it; it is in their words, in their gestures, the misery and the pain of it; it is written in their faces, borne witness to by every fold of their stained and shabby garments. It is France they are bringing home with them, France and the memory of all the gray and wretched splendor of war. This is in their faces; this and courage.

At first, when I walked down the concrete pavement at one side of the pier, with its railway lines and great, spreading gray roof, I thought that the hundred men or more whom I saw sitting on benches in a square, inclosed place were but one more unit of the soldiers which throughout England bear testimony to the new army of the King. But as I came nearer to them, saw them sitting there, with on one side of them the white coaches of the ambulance train and on the other, anchored close in, the great white hospital ship with its broad band of green, I knew these were wounded men sent home from France. The slightly wounded men, they call them.

"These are not serious cases," the captain who was in charge told men. "Shrapnel, mostly."
I looked at the long rows of men in khaki sitting on the wooden benches, with their coats drawn loosely over their shoulders, with their bandaged heads and arms and feet showing a very clear white against the dim and gray light of the pier. How patient they were, and how tired they looked! Slightly wounded; shrapnel, mostly. One of them with his arm bandaged from the elbow to the wrist and supported in a wide sling; one of them with his feet wrapped thickly in layers of dressings and covered over with heavy woollen socks; one of them with his left hand in a splint and his right arm wrapped in gauze the full length of it; another man, leaning against the man next to him, with his thin hands folded across his knees, and his head and his face almost covered with fold upon fold of white linen. On his forehead a little round dark stain widened on the clean cloth. Slightly wounded; shrapnel, mostly. Such are the terms of war.

Then I went with the captain, who was also the disembarkation officer, to stand beside the gangway and see the stretcher-bearers carrying the wounded from the ship. It was such a fine, spotless ship, with her broad band of emerald like a big girdle around her. Her great red cross amidships, that clear and gracious emblem of service, proclaimed her inviolate, symbolized her, transfigured and illumined her; she rested, white, splendid, immobile, the rich sunlight streaming down on her decks.


On the pier the orderlies were waiting.

Sometimes two of the wounded men would come fumbling and staggering down the gangway together, holding to each other. With intense concentration, without any knowledge of what was taking place around them, looking neither to the right nor the left, they progressed step by step, infinitely cautious. They advised each other, admonished each other, argued in an absorbed, gentle monotone, wholly engrossed, set apart, dedicated to this mysterious and immediate moment which lay between them and the harbor of the benches. With each uncertain step, with each circumspect, tentative advance, I think that a new cycle of destiny was spun for them, such was their earnestness and the simplicity of their world.

Thus, slowly, by open magic, the benches steadily filled. I don't know how many men were sitting there, nor how many more men were in the adjoining inclosure. But while I had been watching the unloading of the ship one ambulance train had been filled and had moved out, slowly, silently, toward her nameless destination. For each day, as the new offensive on the Western front fulfills the tragic bartering of men for land, the hospitals of England register toll for victory.

And this offensive, which has reclaimed territory valuable beyond estimation, was conceived with accuracy and true vision. Men were neither squandered nor offered up in sacrifice. Yet day by day the white ships put into harbor and the white trains come and go, weaving back and forth, fulfilling the purposes of war.

And I was watching one infinitesimal part of this.... It was moving very surely and precisely, the grave business of transference. I saw with astonishment that the deck was cleared. A little procession of orderlies, bringing empty stretchers, was marching down the pier. I had thought that the ship was emptied, so many men in khaki had passed down the gangway. But I saw, instead, that the work had but commenced.

For from below they were carrying up other men. And these men lay quite still on the stretchers, with their gray blankets drawn close around them. Their faces were very white, that extraordinary clear white of pain. But sometimes when they were carried by they smiled. I think that there were men among these soldiers who had measured the hours of their journey by their own agony. Only suffering could have drawn such deep and searching lines, could have brought such shadings and such contours into men's faces. There was one boy who lay with his hands folded on his chest; his eyes were closed, and the shadow of his black lashes was no darker than the deep circles which furrowed his cheeks. There was neither life nor color in his flesh; his hands had the fine and delicate transparency of a child's hands. Yet, just as he was being carried by, he opened his eyes, made an inscrutable, almost imperceptible, movement with his fingers as if some impulse had impelled him to a gesture which must be unrealized. There was, for one swift instant, the illusion that he smiled.

Yes, there was courage enough among them, these men who were coming home. I marveled at them; I had never thought of that particular degree of courage which lies in the one very simple fact that men—even those men who are coming back to England to die—come back home smiling.

And I marveled more and more at these miracles of war when I went abroad the white ship and saw just what it meant, this long journey of the wounded. I saw all of the splendor of that big ship only as a background for the men who had returned in her. Yet certainly she was both beautiful and splendid. I was told that once in her history she had come into royal favor; be that as it may, whatever the purport of her destiny, she had been fashioned with true understanding. In the wide sweep of her decks, in the very lines and gradations of her, there was that character, that abiding character and personality, which is the inheritance of all good ships of the sea.

It may be that she suffered a little from a certain lavishness, not wholly judicious. For her cabins and her saloons were panelled in woods of many colors and many grains, inlaid according to the obscure ethics of such matters. Not that her fine frescos were not decorative, with their bright cubes and squares and quaint juxtapositions. They shone like satin; in the borders, golden and black, the green, brilliant hangings were mirrored, extraordinarily luminous and rich in texture.

But I liked best her big wards below. I liked their generous proportions and the clean, wide cots, row upon row of them. There was, too, that faint, pleasant odor of antiseptics and new linen. The copper sterilizers, set on shining tables, were resplendent in that cool and colorless interior. The enamelled basins and portable dressing stands were a brilliant and stainless white.

But, above all, there was in this place a certain very fine and definitive individuality. I do not know that there were either details or designs in which it found expression. But indisputably this was a hospital on board a ship. It is true that above each cot, suspended, were two long canvas strips to which were attached a bar of wood, very much like a short trapeze. By means of this a patient could lift himself, so that, with his pillows behind him, he could sit up. Also, there were above certain cots strips of white cloth. These were fashioned like big slings, and they had been conceived by genius. For by the simple means of supporting a bandaged arm or a bandaged foot in them the vibration of the ship, the steady throbbing of her engines, was in a very great measure counteracted. But it was not in these things that the character of this white saloon was revealed. I think, instead, that it was concentrated in one quite simple thing. In this big ward there was but a faint, diffused light; for above the beds, and screening the portholes, was a long, unbroken sweep of green curtains, with black shadows marked in vertical lines. And these shadows, straight, deep bars on the green cloth, swayed a little, changed a little, widened and became narrow with a certain rhythmic, recurrent design. It was the movement of the ship. It was the inflowing and the outflowing of the tide.


Then I went up on deck, and there I was shown, that I might savor all the small attendant mysteries of the white ship, the officers' cabins and the staterooms for the nurses. These were, like the saloons, well designed, of good proportions. They were, too, inlaid with stained wood, richly patterned.

And I did not like to leave that ship, but a messenger had come aboard with the word that the train in which I was to go to London would start within five minutes. So I went with the captain and with the doctor who was in charge, and we walked along the platform beside the doctor's train, walked the full length of it, passing coach after coach, each with closed doors and a big scarlet cross painted between the blind windows. It seemed curiously unlike a train, this hospital.

At the door of the first compartment we stopped, and I bade the captain good-bye and thanked him. He said something about hoping that I would not be too late in making London, and there was the conviction in his voice that it was, after all, somewhat of a journey that lay before me.

But to the captain the white ambulance trains and their safe passage to and fro were but just a part of the business of the day. While to me, in this momentous step by which I was to enter the forward compartment, I was achieving a new world. So many, many times I had watched the wounded train passing by, slowly, smoothly, with the clear, broad panels flashing in the sunlight. And I had wondered what mysterious, what grave and splendid facts of war, were concealed within that inscrutable interior.

And I was to journey to London in one of those great white trains!

I stepped inside; and because the front of the carriage was two broad windows and because it was the first coach, I saw, framed in sills of dark wood, the black, square bulk of the engine, extraordinarily solid and imposing. Outside, on the platform, the doctor was standing with his hand on the frame of the opened door.

The engineer leaned out of his cab. The doctor turned, looked at him, nodded and said, "All right."
The engineer moved back in his seat. The doctor stepped into the compartment and closed the door. Thus, in the most casual and engaging fashion, the ceremony was completed. We were off.

I saw the concrete flooring of the pier moving past on either side and the columnar supports of the pier roof gliding by our windows. Through the open arched space between them I could see the sunlit water and the gray line of a wharf. Beyond, the tall masts of a ship rose very black against a brilliant and intensely blue sky.

There was in the compartment a curious impression of stillness, which I believe was due in great part to the very size of it. Certainly, it was quite the largest carriage I had ever seen. By the windows, placed on either side, were two big couches done in dark blue, with blue cushions; at the foot of one of them stood a square, closed desk, with a continental telephone above. There were also a table and swiveled armchairs, upholstered in gentian-colored cloth, with gold borders. A vase, filled with bright flowers, stood on the table; an opened book, turned face downward, had been left on the couch. And this was a compartment in a train.


"We have to do what we can with them," the doctor said, standing by the desk and turning over some papers. "We just about live in them, you know."

"This, of course," he explained, "is only a short trip, comparatively. Sometimes they are rather bad."

"Anything can happen, you know. Now, there was a man we had last night—we knew it was a serious case, yes. An amputation—only just got him off the train in time. There wasn't anything to be done. He died an hour after." The doctor sat in the corner of the couch, facing me, looking out of the window where the gray smoke from the engine whirled against it. "I've never had a man die on board," he said slowly. "But there are times——" he hesitated, waited a little, then shook his head.

"Yes, there are bad times," he murmured.

He leaned back, took up the book beside him, closed it and placed it on the desk. His khaki tunic and braided sleeves, with their three small stars, showed very dark against the gentian cushions. "It's the responsibility," he said, the even, meditative tone of his voice carrying quite clearly in the curious stillness, "and the uncertainty—the fact that you don't know. Anything can happen....

"There was the night they stopped us and told us about the Zeppelins.... That was the second time my train had been bombed—there was another night, but that wasn't very bad. But this night the train was filled up, all cot cases, two amputations, possibility of hemorrhage. And what are you going to do? You have to get them to the hospitals. So we went ahead....

"They were dropping them pretty thick that night—oh, yes, we saw it all right. Quite a thing to see, that!"

Then he smiled, that friendly Scotch doctor, smiled and fumbled with the black cord of his eyeglasses which had caught on the button of his shoulder strap. "Pretty show it would have been," he announced, with a certain gentle causticity, "if they had hit us."

Then he stood up abruptly, waited for a moment to look out the window where the broad fields were wheeling past in great squares of color, and said: "There are one or two serious cases to-night. We'll go back now."

And he walked down and opened the door beside the closed desk. I saw before me a little narrow vestibule with mahogany walls. I stepped into this vestibule, one short step carried me across the threshold; but in this moment I entered a wholly new world. It was, in absolute truth, a world complete, self-sustained; there was not even the illusion of its having any concern whatever with what was not contained within itself. It was war.

There were, in certain cupboards and certain little rooms opening off the corridor, bandages, gauze, linen, instruments, medicines. There was, too, a compartment of some proportions where a man at a typewriter was making up the nominal roll. Also, in this extraordinary world of war there was a kitchen; the cook asked me in to show me the generous pots of broth simmering on his stoves. But it was the dressing room, with its enameled operating table and its brilliant overhead light, which was the axis of this compact and infinitely tidy little universe. It was in this room, this room built in a train, that it had been decided whether or not men were to live or die.

"Yes, it's a bit difficult—operating here," the doctor admitted. "What with the motion of the train and all." But he added hastily that it was not on board ambulance trains that the true miracles of science and of medicine had come. It was in the dressing stations, in the casualty clearing stations, in shabby little rooms under shell fire, where the light was a lamp or a candle or anything, where water itself was at a premium. "Nobody believed," the doctor said, "that surgeons could do what they have done."
Then we went down a very narrow corridor and, quite suddenly, I found that we had entered the first coach filled with wounded men. It was deep and narrow, with a white, concave roof. But it was above all a very long coach, and running the full length of it were two double tiers of cots. The aisle between these tiers was of good width and miraculously clean. The cots were wide, with thick mattresses.

In each of these cots a man was lying. They were lying as if they were asleep, with their faces turned away from the light. The coach was very still.

I walked down the aisle, following the doctor. I was afraid of the movement of the train throwing me against one of those white cots where those curious, inert, motionless things were. But the doctor was hurrying along quite briskly, and explaining to me the amazing new diseases of this war, talking in a low, veiled, professional tone and looking at his patients each one, as we passed by.

"There's, of course, shell shocks," he said. "General collapse. Nerves simply give way—can't stand it. The wear and the strain, and the noise, the horror and the rest of it——"

"They come home like this——" We had stepped by one of the cots where a man was lying with his face turned straight toward the light. His eyes were closed, his thin, nerveless hands lay, palms upward, on the gray blanket. The slender veins in his wrists showed very clear.

"He's been like that perhaps for days," the doctor said. "Doesn't see, doesn't hear, doesn't feel. Absolutely unconscious. Total collapse.

"Yes, oh, yes, he'll be all right. It's just time, you know. Time and care and patience. Like any other shock—only ten thousand times greater. It's wonderful to see how their memory comes back, slowly, slowly.... You wouldn't believe what man can live through. You wouldn't believe it—it's only flesh and bone, after all, you know.

"Then there's this thing of trench feet—pretty bad that. Slow rot. Wholly new disease. And for that matter, there are plenty of them—not yet even named, some of them. But, of course, it's mostly shrapnel. Shrapnel and amazing things...."

And so, like this, we passed through coach after coach—ninety-five wounded men there were on board. And the doctor was stopping every few steps to look at a dressing or to ask a question. And I was walking behind him, filled with wonder and amazement. I had not known it was like this—the getting wounded men back from war. They were so patient and so pitiful and so happy. And I think that they, too, were sometimes filled with wonder.

For when I stopped to talk to them they said always that it was a miracle, a miracle being on that train.

"I never knew I was goin' to be 'ere," a Tommy told me. He was lying, both of his bandaged feet propped up at the foot of his cot. "They got me in both legs," he explained. "Fair an' square. Shrapnel. Two days I was lyin' out. Two days. No, you wouldn't believe—an' I wouldn't either, hadn't I done it. Frightful it was. H. E. spatterin' 'round everywhere. They were rippin' things open, them two days. Oh, I was sorter goin' out o' me mind toward the end of it.... Don't know where I'd got to—we was pushin' on. Down I went. Down I stayed. Wasn't no good tryin' to crawl.... Yes, I was a bit out o' me mind, thinkin' all sort-a things out there. Two days, an' a night of it thrown in. 'In the legs I'm 'it,' I said to meself. 'Wish they'd blowed off me arms.... I'm done,' I said. But remember 'em gettin' me hout. Two days I'd 'ad. Two days in 'ell.

"Then I was put in a barn, full up it was, an' they went an' strafed that. Busted out a whole side of 'er. Saw 'er cavin' in—frightful noise. 'That's crocked up,' I said.
"An' now I'm 'ere—'ere in a train. It's 'eaven, I call it." ...

Compiled From Sources In The Public Domain

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents True stories of Heroic Women During WWI


Tales of Feminine Deeds of Daring
Thousands of stories from the battlefields tell of the heroism of the women of France, Russia, England, Italy—and all the countries involved in the war—women fighting as soldiers in every army; women who act as spies; women who risk their lives on dangerous missions. A few of these stories are told in these pages. The first three are from the New York World, and the fourth from the New York American.

If Mlle. Gouraud were not the niece of Gen. Gouraud, whose right arm was blown off by a bursting Turkish shell at the Dardanelles, and who was in command of the contingent of Russian troops fighting in France, and who succeeded Gen. Lyautey as Military Governor of Moroccco, she probably would never have had a chance to suffer from "tank sickness." And it's because she came so close to proving her point—that men and women are equal in war work as well as peace pursuits—that Mlle. Gouraud is discouraged. For to-day she is engaged in the—for her—exceedingly tame occupation of driving a motor ambulance between the railroad stations and the various hospitals in Paris.
Mlle. Gouraud has always believed in equal rights for women. When she was sixteen years old and first interested herself in suffrage she was hooted and laughed at. Her first speech was delivered in the Place de la Concorde, in Paris, near the Seine. The crowd deserted her for the river bank to watch some boys' swimming races.

"I'll show them," said Mlle. Gouraud, and forthwith began swimming.

Eighteen months later she was the champion woman swimmer of France, and defeated many Belgian, Italian and German swimmers. Once interested in sports she speedily branched out and became a proficient amateur boxer. She put on the gloves with Frank Moran and Willie Lewis and Eugene Mattrot, and even Georges Carpentier, in exhibition bouts. Then motorcycling became popular, and after she learned the ways and habits of a gas engine she learned to fly and was brevetted.

The day all France was plastered with mobilization order notices Mlle. Gouraud gave up sports. She offered herself for the army, but even the influence of her uncle, Gen. Gouraud, was not enough to win her entree direct into active service. Instead she obtained the post of ambulance driver for a certain unit of aviators. But she was never satisfied with that and finally obtained permission to fly at the front but in a biplane machine, with a Frenchman as mitrailleuse operator.

And there came the rub. Machine gunners clamored for chances to go up with the men pilots, but all hung back at going up with Mlle. Gouraud. It was unlucky, they said, and beside they didn't want to be in on the deal if she persisted in risking her life when there were plenty of men for the job. Just as sailors of old were superstitious about women on board ship, so were the observers and machine gunners superstitious about having a woman in their airplane. And they tried to prove their point by citing the fact that in the burned wreckage of the first Zeppelin brought down inside the French lines were the feet of an incinerated body clad in filmy silk stockings and tiny black satin slippers.
But Mlle. Gouraud stuck to aviation, hoping eventually to persuade some machine gunner to be her team mate and at the same time trying to find another girl who would enter the service with her, until the French Army created its "tank" corps. Then she lost no time in setting to work for a transfer to that arm of the service.

The order for "V. Gouraud" to join the "tanks" was finally put through and she went off to their base, behind the Champagne front, between Soissons and Rheims, thankful at last that she had won a berth in the newest and most dangerous and most exciting and the least understood and most interesting department of the army.

That was only a couple of weeks before Gen. Nivelle's great offensive was unleashed in the middle of April. It was just about the time that Lieut. Charles G. Sweeny of San Francisco and West Point, the only commissioned American in the French infantry, gave up his post in charge of a squadron of "tanks" to return to the United States and offer his services to the United States Army.

The first week of Mlle. Gouraud's training was easy and delightful to her. Inside the steel walls of the mobile fortress she learned to swing the little three-pounders and to operate the cartridge belts of the machine guns that bristled from all sides of the armored car. She learned how to sight through the periscopes projecting from the roof and sides to see the way and the enemy, and all the other routine work of the "tank's" crew.

But the second week, when she began her training in a "tank," spelled her undoing. The walls and the roof of the "tank" are covered with leather upholstery, and every projecting bit of mechanism and artillery in the little chamber was also cushioned with leather, because as the great steel fort plunged forward across shell craters and over trenches and up and down great piles of debris—which had once been French villages—the occupants were tossed about inside like ashes in a sifter.

But cuts and bruises and knocks and falls didn't weaken Mlle. Gouraud's determination to stay with the "tank" for the great offensive soon to be begun when the engines of destruction were to receive their baptism of fire under the tricolor. So she rigged up a sort of harness, with a line attached to a ring in the roof of the "tank" and with a belt around her waist. This left her swaying like a pendulum when the "tank" was moving but kept her from bumping against the walls, and, what was more important, from stumbling against other members of the crew and interfering in the pursuit of their duties.

Then the blow descended. Mlle. Gouraud fell ill of "tank sickness." Worse than seasickness, worse than any form of sickness which comes as result of riding in airplane, or on camel, or by any form of transportation ever invented, "tank sickness" rendered her absolutely incapable of remaining with the movable forts. So she was drafted out, sent to hospital as "malade" and in a few days when she was discharged, was shunted back to Paris as "reforme."

Just one fact consoles Mlle. Gouraud to a certain extent. And that is that she is not the only victim of "tank sickness."

"I stuck it out three days longer than any of the rest of the crew who were subject to it," she says.

The thrilling adventures of Mme. Simone Puget, noted Frenchwoman, who, under disguises as a Belgian peasant and British "Tommy," undertook reaching her husband in the trenches at the grave risk of losing both their lives. While they were still together his regiment was despatched to the dreaded "first line" and ten days later she was notified of his death under fire.

There arrived in New York from Europe a young Frenchwoman, Mme. Simone A. Puget, dressed in deep mourning. Watching her as she stepped ashore, a stranger scarcely could picture her as she actually was, not many months ago, wearing the uniform of an English soldier and risking her life in that vague, blood-soaked and shattered inferno of trenches, craters and barbed-wire called "somewhere in France," to reach her husband before he died.

Even before that Mme. Puget had achieved fame as the daring Frenchwoman who accompanied her husband, M. Andre Puget, the playwright and novelist, through the Orient disguised as his brother, and as the brilliant tennis player who captured the woman's championship for her country four years ago. Mme. Puget also is the author of "Les Etrangères," and other novels.

"There is so little to tell," she said quietly ... as she folded her hands on her simple black dress. "We were in Paris when war was declared and my husband was called to the front.

"I volunteered as an ambulance driver and worked almost day and night for four months carrying wounded from a field hospital to the big emergency hospitals in Paris.

"Then I heard that Andre had been wounded and sent to Moulins. I went to him immediately and stayed to nurse him until he was able to rejoin his regiment.

"After my return to Paris I received another message, this time from a little village close to the Belgian frontier, but across the border in Belgium. It did not say in so many words that Andre had been wounded again, but merely gave me the impression that he wanted to see me once more and that I was to try to reach him.

"I quickly realized the difficulties and dangers of such a journey. Only a short time before the military authorities had made it a law that any soldier whose wife was found in forbidden territory would be shot. But Andre and I had been through many dangers together and he knew that he could trust me. I prepared to start at once. Armed with my letter, which simply asked me to come without delay to the bedside of my dying grandfather, I left Paris for Belgium attired as a Belgian peasant girl.

"Outside Paris I was stopped. The military guards absolutely refused to let me proceed.

"'We see too many letters like yours,' was the only explanation offered.

"In vain did I plead and weep. Then when I had almost given up in despair, I spied an English officer whom Andre and I had met in India. I told him who I was and he recalled me at once, despite my peasant garb. I asked him to help me to reach my husband. He said it was impossible.

"But I was desperate and when I wept and quietly implored his aid, he said he would help me if he could. That was the last time I saw him, but after my return to the little hotel where I had spent the night I received a parcel containing a soldier's uniform together with some instructions.

"I always felt very much at home dressed as a man, for I travelled all through Persia and other parts of the Orient as my husband's brother.

"An artillery train with much baggage was about to move forward and I could go with that provided I didn't object to riding in a forage wagon for six hours. My peasant costume I was to take with me wrapped in a bundle. Once through the rear lines in Belgian territory I was to look out for myself.
"We started. I rode for hours and hours, expecting at every halt to be detected and questioned. But fortune smiled on me and that night after we were well across the border of Belgium I slipped down and walked forward unchallenged. The place fairly swarmed with soldiers, Belgian, French and British. Near a farm house I changed back to my simple Belgian peasant garb and prepared to resume my journey on foot as soon as it became daylight.

"Fortunately I had not many miles to reach the farm to which the letter had directed me. Walking all day I reached the farm that night and there I learned to my great joy that my husband was safe. He had not been wounded, but his regiment was under orders to leave within a day or so for another part of the front where severe fighting was expected and he wanted to see me once more, if possible, before he left. I saw him next day. He came to the farm. Then on the morrow he marched away with his regiment toward Arras, and ten days later he was killed."

Mme. Andre found that it was easier to get out of the war zone than into it and she had little difficulty in returning to Paris. There she began to raise funds for Red Cross work and to gather material for future reference about the men-of-letters of America, France and England who have given up their lives in the great war.

We in America find it possible to read with calm pulse and an attitude of cold, reasoned impartiality the stories that are written in red blood and heroic action by real participants in the great war. Their language, like their viewpoint, seems to us extreme, violent, embittered. Yet, inasmuch as the presence of stern reality, which colors viewpoint and language, is the same that inspired the valorous action itself, we submit, exactly as it came from Paris, this article, which recounts at first hand the desperate courage of Mlle. Moreau.

In the musty archives of the French Government she is merely Emilienne Moreau, youngest of her sex to have achieved mention in Gen. Joffre's Order of the Day and the right to wear upon her breast the Cross of War. But to thousands upon thousands of French and British soldiers, she is the Jeanne d'Arc of Loos—whose valiant spirit won back Loos for France.

The Official Journal has only this to say about Emilienne Moreau:

"On Sept. 25, 1915, when British troops entered the village of Loos, she organized a first-aid station in her house and worked day and night to bring in the wounded, to whom she gave all assistance, while refusing to accept any reward. Armed with a revolver she went out and succeeded in overcoming two German soldiers who, hidden in a nearby house, were firing at the first-aid station."
No mention is made in the official record of the fact that she shot down the two Germans when their bayonets were within a few inches of her body; and that later on she destroyed, with hand bombs snatched from a British grenadier's stock, three more foemen engaged in the same despicable work.
Nor is it set forth how, when the British line was wavering under the most terrible cyclone of shells ever let loose upon earth, Emilienne Moreau sprang forward with a bit of tri-colored bunting in her hand and the glorious words of the "Marseillaise" upon her lips, and by her fearless example averted a retreat that might have meant disaster along the whole front. Only the men who were in that fight can fully understand why Sir Douglas Haig was right in christening Emilienne Moreau the Joan of Arc of Loos.

All this happened during the last great offensive of the allies in Artois, between Arras and La Bassee. For almost a year before Emilienne Moreau, who is now just seventeen, had lived in Loos under the rule of the invader. During almost all of that time the village had been under the allies' artillery fire. Yet neither she nor her parents made any attempt to move to a safer place.

Their home was in Loos, and some day, they felt sure, the Germans would be driven back. They were always short of food. Sometimes they faced death by starvation, as well as by bombardment.
But they remained, and Emilienne even contrived to continue the studies by which she hoped to become a school teacher.

Like the historic Maid of Orleans, the maid of Loos has not only the warlike but the diplomatic genius. Despite the dangers she faced because she was both young and comely, she succeeded in gaining the Germans' confidence to such an extent they entrusted to her much of the administration of what remained of the village.

Children whose parents had been killed or taken away as prisoners were put in her care, and she was permitted to give them what little schooling was possible under the conditions. She was at the same time the guardian angel of her entire family; for her father, a hot-blooded old veteran of 1870, frequently put them in danger of drastic punishment by his furious denunciations of the enemy.

His chagrin so embittered him that, what with that and scanty nourishment, he died. Then Emilienne became the protectress and sole support of her mother and her ten-year-old brother.

She buried her father with her own hands, in a coffin built by her brother and herself, there being neither undertakers nor carpenters left in Loos. And she continued to go quietly about her many tasks, still stifling within her the resentment against the ever-present "Boche," until there came that glorious day when she knew the allies' offensive had begun.

For three days the girl huddled in the cellar with her terror-stricken mother and little brother waiting for the end of that awful cannonade which she realized was destined to bring the British to Loos.
Every minute of those seventy-two hours she and every one of the handful of old men, women and children in the village were facing death, but she told an English officer after it was all over that to her it had been the happiest time since the German occupation began.

As soon as Emilienne heard among the deep notes of the guns the sharp reports of rifles she rushed out into the street and into the midst of the first phase of the battle. The British were driving the Germans before them at the point of the bayonet, but there was still much desperate activity going forward with bombs and hand grenades, for remnants of the German main line were ensconced strongly in various fortlets and bombproofs scattered among the trenches. On every street of Loos the wounded lay thickly.

Emilienne saw there was only one way she could help them, and so very swiftly she turned the Moreau house into a miniature hospital, and with the aid of the British Red Cross men she tended as many wounded as she could drag from the maelstrom of the fight.

It was when the first lull came that she detected the firing upon her first-aid station. How she followed and shot down the two Germans responsible for this wanton attack is narrated in the official report. Not long afterward she located three more in the act of perpetrating the same outrage, and this trio she despatched with grenades borrowed from a British sergeant.

Although it was the first time in the war that a woman had fought with hand bombs, such was the confusion of the battle that her brave exploit passed unremarked until it was revealed by a special correspondent of a Paris newspaper, the Petit Parisien, who got the story from British soldiers. From the same source all France learned that because a young girl had been courageous enough to sing the "Marseillaise" amidst the din of battle the British troops had ceased to falter in their advance, and the village of Loos had again become part of France.

The spirit of Jeanne d'Arc, which inspired Mlle. Emilienne, is abroad, not only in her native France, but among the women of France's allies as well. Their heroines emerge in the war news day by day—sometimes individually, sometimes en masse.

There is an actual "Regiment de Jeanne"—a whole corps of French and Belgian women commanded by Mme. Louise Arnaud, who has obtained permission from the War Minister to put them in uniform. The corps is for general service at the front, one-third of the members to be enrolled as combatants, drilled and armed like ordinary soldiers, and all able to ride and swim.

Mme. Arnaud is the widow of an officer who was killed in the war. Her father was a merchant ship captain of Calais. Her new "amazon" command is to be officially designated the "Volunteer Corps of French and Belgian Women for National Defence."

Servian and Russian women are fighting alongside the men in the trenches along the Balkan and other fronts to-day. Mme. Alexandra Koudasheva, a distinguished Russian literary lady and musician, has been appointed Colonel of the Sixth Ural Cossack Regiment of the Czar's army, for her valiant services in the field.

England has the London Women's Volunteer Reserve, headed by Col. Viscountess Castlereagh, which drills regularly at Knightsbridge Barracks and has reached a high state of efficiency, both in manoeuvers and the manual of arms.

Many of the English women soldiers are assisting the authorities as guards of railway bridges and other points of military importance in out of the way parts of the country.

The British Government shows no disposition to make use of the women in fighting, but many of the women themselves are eager to fight. The "suffragettes" have made themselves remarkable by demanding a more vigorous prosecution of the war.

The reports generally agree that the women fight with great bravery and some even say that they display greater bloodthirstiness than men. This is an interesting question which has hardly yet been settled, although psychologists have furnished an explanation why we should expect them to be more ferocious. They are of course more emotional and when circumstances such as an attack on their homes or children force them to overcome their womanly instincts and resort to fighting, they throw away all restraint and fight with mad, instinctive ferocity.

A terrible tragedy, this cruel war that is tearing and searing Europe, but joy is sometimes an offspring of sorrow. In this instance one wonders if anything less strange and stern than an international earthquake would have delivered the beautiful Nadina Legat into the arms of Enrico Arensen. True, Arensen is a great singer and a distinguished musician, but he is a plebeian, whereas Mlle. Legat (her stage name), also a brilliant artist, is a member of a noble Russian family, the favorite daughter of General Schuvatoff, who is at present leading an army on the Roumanian frontier. Russian aristocrats, even if they have so far descended from their pedestals as to sing for the public, do not lightly relinquish their hereditary traditions, or if they listen to the pleadings of a lowly lover, a haughty parent intervenes and nips the tender affair in the bud. In this instance, however, it was Mars, and not Cupid, who broke the bars.
When you sit through a performance of grand opera—almost any one of those combinations of drama and music which retain their hold upon the public—you cannot fail to be impressed by the tragic misfortunes which pursue the hero and heroine. The wise composers of grand opera see to it that the principal tenor and the prima donna have troubles calculated to call forth their highest powers of vocal expression. To find these strange and inspiring situations they have searched the dramatic writings of the master-poets of all nations and periods.

Real life, however, occasionally moves a living hero and a living heroine in ways which the master-poets of grand opera could not foresee. By a strange coincidence that has happened to a principal tenor and a prima donna who are impersonating together before grand opera audiences classic heroes and heroines whose history and troubles were much less thrilling than their own.
Its coloratura soprano, formerly of the Russian Imperial Opera, is Mme. Nadina Legat, the much beset Gilda in "Rigoletto"—drawn from Victor Hugo's "Le Roi S'Amuse"; the heroine of "La Traviata," otherwise the consumptive Magdalene, Camille, created by the younger Dumas; the tragically unfortunate Lucia, for whom Donizetti went to Walter Scott's "Bride of Lammermoor."

The beginning of the story is essential because of its bearing on the "big situation." Legat and Arensen enjoyed their first great opera triumph together at the famous La Scala, in Milan, she was Gilda and he the Duke in "Rigoletto." Though both are of Russian birth, this was their first meeting. As La Scala is recognized throughout Europe as the final "acid test" of an opera singer's qualities, the status which both had attained separately in their own country was of comparatively small consequence. With nerves tense to the breaking point, each concentrated on the task of winning that cultivated, critical Milan audience.

At rehearsals their quarrels were rather fiercer than is usual between the principal tenor and the prima donna.

"At that time I could hardly endure him," says Mme. Legat. "We quarrelled terribly. He seemed so unreasonably insistent on certain details at the rehearsals that I considered him unbearable, insupportable."

But Mme. Legat confesses that this feeling did not survive the triumph which they won together. Shortly afterward, when he departed to fill an engagement with the Imperial Opera in Berlin and she was summoned back to Russia, they parted as friends. If they had developed a stronger feeling for each other, neither was aware of it.

They went about their separate opera affairs. The beginning of the European war found Arensen still an opera favorite in Berlin and Vienna. Mme. Legat was spending the Summer at Nice, after two years of distinguished success in Russia, upon which the Czar himself placed the imperial stamp. She wished to return at once to Petrograd, but hearing from her mother that the latter would come to her, she remained at Nice until the Russian Hospital at Monte Carlo was founded, when both became nurses there.

And, month after month, while the celebrated opera soprano was nursing wounded soldiers, not knowing nor caring about anything else, Arensen, the tenor with whom she had quarrelled so fiercely on the stage of La Scala, was virtually a prisoner of war in Germany. For ten[278] days after the beginning of hostilities he continued his successful appearances in Berlin—and then, without warning, the blow fell.

Some said that rival singers, native Germans, directed suspicion against him, as though inquiring:
"Russia is our enemy. What is this Russian doing here?"

One night German soldiers arrested him at the opera house and he was interned as an enemy alien. He appealed to the Government for release, pointing out that he was above the fighting age—as he then was, which was before the Russian army age limit was raised—and Germany would lose nothing by letting him go home. The suggestion fell upon deaf ears. His subsequent efforts to obtain his release the tenor himself relates:

"I was a prisoner for twenty-four hours in the Hausvogter Gefangniss, which is the delightful name the Berlinese give to the institution where they intern aliens. I sent a letter to the Kaiser himself, before whom I have many times sung, asking my release.

"It was not long before I received an answer to the letter, granting my request—a communication from the Kaiser. Of course, there were conditions. I was to go to America as soon as it was practicable for me to do so, anyhow, but that was not sufficient guarantee for the meticulous German war office.

"No, indeed. It was really a very solemn procedure. I had to sign an oath in German and Russian that I would never take up arms in any way against Germany or her allies. My word, once given, was sufficient. The German military commander in charge of the prison camp gave me my freedom, and I received a passport that permitted me to leave the country. On my last night in Germany some German officers opened champagne in my honor.

"I went through Switzerland to Italy, where I remained for some time—in fact, during the greater part of the long conflict that finally broke down the barriers of neutrality and led to Italy's enlistment in the war against her former allies. Eventually I crossed the Piedmont to the border town of Mentone, where I contemplated entering France.

"Alas! Here misfortune began anew. I had barely entered the town when I was halted by a French frontier guard. From that time on I was treated pretty harshly.

"The French Government put me under strict surveillance. I was forced to report twice a day at the town police headquarters, and was really under suspicion at all times. The reason was, of course, that my associations with so many Berlin people were known—the French were aware that I had remained in the German capital after war broke out, and did not purpose to take any chances with me.
"I appealed to the Russian Ambassador in Paris for help, but was turned down pretty coldly. 'I can't do anything for you,' was the gist of his reply to my request, 'because I know that you have a lot of German friends.'

"The outlook was, then, that I should have to remain practically a prisoner until the war was over. It was a pretty black future. At almost any time, something might happen, I suppose, that would give the French reason to think that they had been too lenient in merely keeping me under surveillance. I might have been interned and placed in a real prison camp.

"But Providence intervened. One day last Spring, just after the first Russian troops had come to France, I met a Russian soldier while he was off duty and had the opportunity I longed for to talk with someone who used my native tongue. When he learned my identity, he was much interested, and he gave me some news that proved a godsend.

"'You are Arensen, the tenor!' he said. 'How remarkable! Mme. Legat, of the Imperial Opera at Petrograd, is only a short distance from this place—in the Russian hospital at Monte Carlo!'
"Imagine how the news delighted me! Here, at last, was a friend on whom I could count. I thanked the man profusely for the information he had given. Then I went to my lodgings and wrote an appeal to my country-woman."

The exact wording of that appeal has not been submitted for publication. Its effect upon Mme. Legat was electrical. For the first time in nearly two years she became oblivious to her immediate surroundings—shattered and bleeding war heroes and the gruesome accessories of a military hospital. In all those months she had hardly thought of the quarrelsome tenor who had shared her triumph at La Scala. Now, suddenly, he occupied her whole mental vision—the central innocent victim of an impending tragedy.

So intense was that vision that it overwhelmed her with the vividness of reality. She saw French soldiers dragging Arensen, her countryman, from his prison cell. She saw them place him with his back against a wall. She saw them blindfold him—and she could hear the tramp, tramp of the firing squad. Those grim human instruments of martial law! They turn face to face with the doomed prisoner—their musket butts ring upon the concrete pavement of the prison yard....
Suddenly another figure, that of a woman, rushes upon the scene and falls upon her knees before the commandant of the firing squad.

Mme. Legat recognized this figure as herself—and with the terrifying vision constantly before her eyes she rushed off to Paris to make her personal appeal to the Russian Ambassador.
In the quiet, severe, official atmosphere of the Russian Embassy Mme. Legat calmed herself, collected her wits and prepared to measure them with those of M. Isowsky, her country's chief representative at the French capital. The Russian Ambassador paid to her the homage due to a celebrated singer—and then resumed his frigid official aspect. At her mention of Arensen he froze.
"But, Monsieur Arensen is a fellow Russian—our countryman."

"Madame," said the Ambassador, curtly, "I am by no means positive that Arensen is a loyal Russian. For two years he has lived in Germany and Austria—our two most powerful enemies. He acquired hosts of German friends. He comes to France plastered over with German credentials. He bears the Kaiser's own signed permit to leave Germany. He—"

"Do you believe that I am a loyal Russian?" demanded Mme. Legat.

The Russian Ambassador smiled graciously. Ah, he had no doubt of Madame's loyalty.
That awful vision still obsessed her. She realized that there was nothing she would not do to save Arensen. She remembered that she was the daughter of a general in the Imperial Russian army. She drew herself up to her full height and looked the Russian Ambassador straight in the eyes. She said:
"I will vouch for M. Arensen. I will guarantee that he is a loyal Russian, and will remain so."

"Um——," pondered M. Isowsky. "Well, well—um—how can you be sure? How can you assure me?"

Right then and there Mme. Legat felt a sudden emotion, and knew what she was going to do—what she wanted to do—to dispel that tragic vision.

"I'll give you the assurance of a wife," she said. "I'll marry him!"

The Russian Ambassador was baffled—admitted it. He signed the papers that gave Arensen his freedom as a loyal Russian. The heroine herself relates the sequel:

"Like Tosca in the opera, I sped to him bearing freedom. I didn't have to tell him the whole story—not then. We found that our old acquaintance, begun at La Scala, had blossomed into love during our separation. So he did the proposing. We were married just an hour before the Lafayette sailed, bringing us to the United States."

Compiled from sources in the Public Domain

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915