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Over the Front in an Aeroplane and Scenes Inside t

He chats to his visitor in excellent English


Even

this element of surprise can be avoided in the case of a small minority of visitors who I understand prefer to limit their researches at "the front" to the hospitals, supply-trains, motor-repair organizations, encampments of reserves, and similar objects of interest, which lie some twenty kilometres behind the trenches and yet really are sufficiently a part of the front to be known as its rear.

The front has a second category of visitors besides the war correspondents of whom I have been writing--"the distinguished strangers." These do not come to the front for the purpose of writing about what they see, and are for this reason, as well as because of the courtesy which it is desired to show them, allowed considerably more latitude, although they, too, are kept religiously away from any part of the lines where real trouble is expected.

I myself was fortunate enough to be invited to visit the French and Belgian fronts in a sort of dual capacity. Having pledged myself not to go on to Germany, and to write nothing about anything that was shown me in confidence, I was given a special trip, instead of going with one of the regular "journalists' parties," which certainly have an unromantic resemblance to Cook's Tours. I was thus enabled to visit certain advanced trenches where larger parties, in the nature of things, could not go, and was shown things which had not previously been shown to correspondents. But the organization

of my trip resembled that of the average correspondents' tour closely enough to enable me to describe its details.

* * * * *

In Paris in a rather small room on the second floor of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, at a methodically cluttered writing-table, on which one of the oddly-shaped French telephones lapses into occasional silence, sits a slender, suave, well-groomed Frenchman about forty years old. He has a glossy dark moustache, large and pensive dark eyes, a nicely deprecatory manner, and a beautifully conciliatory smile. He chats to his visitor in excellent English, if English be required, and smiles at him this almost tender smile. He is Monsieur P----, the war correspondents' Czar. He is the absolute ruler of their destinies. For it is he who picks and chooses among their waiting numbers, and decides to which to accord the privilege of a place in one of the parties which leave about every two weeks for a two- or three-day trip to the front.

When an eager newspaper man has come over all the way from California, let us say, for such a trip, has waited in Paris a month or six weeks for such a trip and has seen colleagues favored above other men start off with enthusiasm and return with hauteur from such a trip, the transcendent importance of Monsieur P---- in that craving correspondent's eyes verges on the pitiful.


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