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A Hilltop on the Marne by Mildred Aldrich

He made the same gesture toward Esbly


Just

after we left Esbly I saw first an English officer, standing in his stirrups and signaling across a field, where I discovered a detachment of English artillery going toward the hill. A little farther along the road we met a couple of English officers--pipes in their mouths and sticks in their hands--strolling along as quietly and smilingly as if there were no such thing as war. Naturally I wished to speak to them. I was so shut in that I could see only directly in front of me, and if you ever rode behind a big cart horse I need not tell you that although he walks slowly and heavily he walks steadily, and will not stop for any pulling on the reins unless he jolly well chooses. As we approached the officers, I leaned forward and said, "Beg your pardon," but by the time they realized that they had been addressed in English we had passed. I yanked at the flap at the back of the cart, got it open a bit, looked out to find them standing in the middle of the road, staring after us in amazement.

The only thing I had the sense to call out was:--

"Where 'd you come from?"

One of them made an emphatic gesture with his stick, over his shoulder in the direction from which they had come.

"Where are you going?" I called.

He made the same gesture toward Esbly, and then we all laughed heartily, and by that time we were

too far apart to continue the interesting conversation, and that was all the enlightenment I got out of that meeting. The sight of them and their cannon made me feel a bit serious. I thought to myself: "If the Germans are not expected here--well, it looks like it." We finished the journey in silence, and I was so tired when I got back to the house that I fell into bed, and only drank a glass of milk that Amelie insisted on pouring down my throat.

XII

September 8, 1914.

You can get some idea of how exhausted I was on that night of Wednesday, September 2, when I tell you that I waked the next morning to find that I had a picket at my gate. I did not know until Amelie came to get my coffee ready the next morning--that was Thursday, September 3--can it be that it is only five days ago! She also brought me news that they were preparing to blow up the bridges on the Marne; that the post-office had gone; that the English were cutting the telegraph wires.

While I was taking my coffee, quietly, as if it were an everyday occurrence, she said: "Well, madame, I imagine that we are going to see the Germans. Pere is breaking an opening into the underground passage under the stable, and we are going to put all we can out of sight. Will you please gather up what you wish to save, and it can be hidden there?"

I don't know that I ever told you that all the hill is honeycombed with those old subterranean passages, like the one we saw at Provins. They say that they go as far as Crecy-en-Brie, and used to connect the royal palace there with one on this hill.

Naturally I gave a decided refusal to any move of that sort, so far as I was concerned. My books and portraits are the only things I should be eternally hurt to survive. To her argument that the books could be put there,--there was room enough,--I refused to listen. I had no idea of putting my books underground to be mildewed. Besides, if it had been possible I would not have attempted it--and it distinctly was impossible. I felt a good deal like the Belgian refugies I had seen,--all so well dressed; if my house was going up, it was going up in its best clothes. I had just been uprooted once--a horrid operation--and I did not propose to do it again so soon. To that my mind was made up.


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