|TWO THOUSAND PATIENTS.---NIGGER CHARLIE.---LOUIS ST. AUBIN, CHASSEUR D'AFRIQUE.---THE BOY PEYEN.---GUNS CAPTURED IN THE TOWN.|
THE number of wounded in the care of our Ambulance was at this time, roughly speaking, about 500. There were 218 in the Caserne; each of the thirty-three tents held 4 patients, and Dr. Frank had in his Hospital 150 Bavarians. This will make the total given above a fairly accurate estimate. During and after the battles of the 31st August, and the 1st September, the number of men whose wounds we dressed and attended to, without receiving them into the Hospital, was calculated by us at about 2000. Nor can this be thought excessive, when, within rifle range around us, there were of French wounded alone, over 12,500.
A further insight into the magnitude of our labours may be gained from the fact that in our Hospital at Sedan we had a total of 436 primary operations,---152 for injuries of the upper, and 284 for injuries of the lower extremities. Another interesting fact worth recording is, that during the battles about Sedan, not a single case of wound by a mitrailleuse bullet was met with by any member of our staff.
Dr. Marion Sims assured us that the hardships we endured, and the amount of work we actually got through, went beyond the limits of his varied experience. To enter at length into details would, besides involving obscure technicalities, be tedious to the general reader. I will confine myself to a brief account of our Staff and General Management, and select from my observations a few interesting cases. I have named the original members of our Ambulance, and those who had recently joined us. Nor must I forget Père Bayonne, the Dominican Friar, who was a general favourite, and untiring in his efforts to deal with the religious wants of the dying soldiers ---no easy task among Frenchmen. Neither ought I to omit M. Monod, our Protestant chaplain, a quiet, gentlemanly man, who moved noiselessly about, and slipped little pamphlets with stories of the usual type, and sheets of paper with Bible-texts printed on them, into the patients' beds as he went along.
But I have yet to mention, at such length as he deserves, one of the most notable characters in our Ambulance, our chef de cuisine and studgroom, "Nigger Charlie ". He was coal-black, and he and his forefathers had been Virginian slaves in Dr. Pratt's family. When the slaves were enfranchised, and slavery abolished, Charlie came to Paris with his master, whose family were ruined by the emancipation, for all their wealth had consisted in their slaves. At Paris, Charlie served Dr. Pratt faithfully for years; indeed, he often told me that he loved his master more dearly than his life. Dr. Pratt, on the other hand, knew and said that in spite of his undoubted devotion, Charlie would sometimes steal his money and pawn his plate, after which he would take to his heels, coming back only when all he had gained in this unrighteous fashion was spent. But, though chastised not too leniently with the whip, nothing would induce him to run away for good. It was, in fact, impossible to get rid of him.
When, therefore, the negro heard that his master had joined the Ambulance, although he had a good salary as courier in an American Bank in Paris, he packed up his traps, and, without saying a word, landed himself into the train by which we arrived at Sedan. He was a wonderful cook, and knew how to serve up horseflesh soup and steaks so as to defy detection. He was also a wit of quite a brilliant type, a great rider and judge of horses, and as a liar beat all records. But his most decided characteristics were hatred of the Yankee, contempt for black men, and a chivalrous devotion to white women. I had many a pleasant chat with him. His descriptions of slave life in Virginia, as he said it went on in nine cases out of ten, and of the happiness of their domestic situation and surroundings, were extremely vivid and even touching. I presume he was, at any rate, a true witness in his own behalf.
Now, as to the exact nature of our Hospital work and its results. It is to me a constant subject of regret that our knowledge of the antiseptic treatment and drainage of wounds was then only in its beginning. Although lint and charpie dressings were used, saturated with carbolic solution, yet covered as they were with oiled silk and a bandage, their effect was spoiled. Neither was any serious attempt made to render the instruments, operating table, and surroundings of the patients, aseptic. Hence the high rate of mortality which ensued. Startling, in fact, as the statement may appear, I am convinced that if we had refrained from performing a single secondary operation at Sedan, our results would have turned out far better.
There was associated with every individual in this great host of patients an interesting story,---how, when, and where did they receive their wounds? And among the number some cases could not fail to be exceptionally romantic or affecting. The sketch I have already given of Louis St. Aubin's adventures,---that brave Chasseur d'Afrique who was thrice wounded on the 1st,---may be taken as an instance; and I will now add what happened in the sequel.
St. Aubin came into the Hospital under Dr. May's care and mine. Two days afterwards, Dr. MacCormac performed resection of both his joints. But so afraid was Louis that advantage might be taken of his induced sleep to amputate his arm (a mutilation to which the poor fellow would in no case submit) that he refused utterly to be put under chloroform. Throughout the operation, which was of necessity a protracted one, he bore up with amazing courage. When the bones had to be sawn through, he clenched his teeth on the fold of a sheet, and, except to give utterance to a few stifled groans, neither flinched nor moved a muscle. His powers of endurance were wonderful. Day after day I attended at this brave fellow's bedside, and he and I became much attached to one another. I took him little delicacies when I could procure them, and I was determined not to let him die if I could help it. Dr. MacCormac visited him very often; but he was quite jealous of allowing any one but Dr. May or myself to dress his wounds.
For some time he went on favourably,---a progress which I observed with pleasure; but then fell back so much that we almost despaired. At this time his sufferings were intense; and I had much to do to keep him in bed. One day he implored of me to put him altogether out of his pain; I expostulated with him as firmly as I could, and pointed out how unmanly it was to use such language, whatever he might be enduring; when he said, with an agonising earnestness, "Tell me, doctor, is it possible that Christ suffered as much as I am suffering now?" I answered, "Your pain is as nothing to His," and he calmed down and went through his agony in silence.
Happily, it was not long until he became better; and when in course of time, I was obliged to leave with the Ambulance and go to the front, he was rapidly recovering. Our parting was sorrowful, for I honoured and loved the noble spirit of that dauntless soldier. He begged for my address in Ireland, that he might write to me; and he has done so several times. I subjoin the translation of one of his letters sent to me while he was in Hospital after I had left Sedan.
"SEDAN, Oct. 10th, 1870.
"I do not wish to delay any longer before giving you an account of myself, and once more expressing my gratitude for the interest you have taken and the care you have lavished on me. What am I to tell you about my wound? It is slow in healing, and since your departure, I have had to undergo treatment very different from yours; but I have not given up the hope of a complete recovery, although I suffer a good deal, and am obliged to stay in bed.
"I should be very happy if I could see you at my bedside, M. le Docteur. In spite of the pains taken with me, I feel your going away; you were so kind and patient. Shall I ever see you again, and thank you with my own lips? I hope so with all my heart. I will never forget you.
"Please accept, with the expression of my deepest gratitude, my entire devotion.
"I take the liberty of sending you my address, and I hope you will do me the honour of letting me hear from you. Thanks to the kindness of M. de Montagnac, I shall receive your letter direct."
The address given was that gentleman's, at Bouillon.
I insert this touching note, less on account of the generous acknowledgment which Louis St. Aubin makes to his doctor, than to show what fine qualities were in him, and how gracefully his French courtesy enabled him to express himself. Indeed, when his Colonel came to see the lad, he declared that Louis was the best and bravest soldier in his troop, and that he did not know what fear was.
Another young fellow, quite a boy, Peyen of the 50th Regiment of the Line, had been shot through the wrist, and Dr. May considered that amputation was necessary. He was a bright young fellow, with a beaming countenance and a twinkle in his eye; and when I came to let him know our determination, and take him to the operation ward, I found him smoking a cigar. Not a bit dismayed, he got out of bed, slipped on his trousers, and tripped briskly up the cloister, smoking his cigar all the while, until he mounted the operation table. His arm was amputated; but when he recovered from the chloroform state, he declined to go back to bed until he saw his comrade's leg cut off. "I want," said Peyen, "to tell him how it was done." This might be an incident in Le Conscrit of MM. Erckmann-Chatrian.
He quietly smoked another cigar which I procured for him, and attentively watched every step of the operation; after which, he and his companion returned to their ward together.
Peyen wrote me a letter, which I still possess, and will here append, to show me how well he could write with his left hand. Nothing but a facsimile could do justice to the quaint and brave caligraphy of this letter, which I am sorry not to reproduce in the original. It read pretty much as follows:
At SEDAN, September 18th, 1870.
"On the 4th of August, took place the Battle of Bixembourg (sic) from 9 in the morning till 9 at night. The division Douai, composed of about 8000 men, too weak to resist an enemy six times their number, was forced to beat a retreat to Hagenau. In this sad engagement General Douai was killed at the head of his Division.
The battle was won by the Prussians,---that is true, but the honour remains with France, the Division having stood against 60,000 men all that day, and having even prevented them for five hours from ascending the slope of Bixembourg.
"Ever your devoted servant.
"To M. le Docteur of Ward No. 5."
This plucky young fellow recovered without a single bad symptom. But, alas! it was not so with a vast number of our other patients; for, about the 14th, many of them were in a bad way, and nearly all our staff complained of not feeling well. Dr. Sims noticed one day that the work was telling on me, and ordered me off duty, sending me out for a walk.
Accordingly, I went into the town, and saw the French guns which had now been stored in the Park, or exercise ground for the troops during times of peace. I never shall forget that sight. There were 400 pieces of artillery of all sizes. including 70 mitrailleuses packed close together. The question suggested itself, Would an army of 100,000 Englishmen, with this amount of guns and ammunition, submit to lay down their arms and skulk into Germany? Could any combination of circumstances make such a thing possible? I do not believe it. An officer on duty about the place kindly took me through the Park, and showed me the working of the mitrailleuse, as well as a number of heavy cannon. He warned me against picking up unburst shells, for they had been known to explode as long as seventeen days after being fired---a statement which I thought unlikely.
Standing beside this plateau was a large building which belonged to the Nuns of the Assumption, and in which a sister of mine, who is in that Order, had until recently been living. I paid them a visit and the Mother Superior received me cordially, telling me of their labours on behalf of the wounded, and pointing out where a shell had struck one of the doors leading into the garden. There was also a round hole in another door, as clean cut by a bullet as if it had been done with a punch.
The refectory of these good Sisters was now made the operation room ; and many of the lightly wounded were limping on crutches up and down the cloisters, their faces beaming with contentment, as well they might, for the Nuns were indefatigable in attending to their wants. Having bidden adieu to the amiable Superior, I directed my steps to the Place de Turenne. Here the church, theatre, public schools, and extensive buildings of the cloth and silk factories in the Rue Marqua, were crowded with invalids, as was every second house in the town. All these showed the Red Cross flag---under Prussian management,--- and I looked into some of them, thinking that the Church especially, was an uncanny sight when turned into a hospital and full of the wounded.
I now passed on through the town, and out by the Torcy Gate, and so home again. It was four days before I was allowed another ramble, as Dr. May had a slight attack of blood poisoning, and his work was given to me. Most of our infirmiers had been drawn by the Prussians. Those that remained were French ambulance men ; and, if we except three, were altogether ignorant, lazy, and good-for-nothing fellows. They had received no technical training; and the task, therefore, which devolved upon me taxed the energies of mind and body.
Some of our patients were wounded in three, four, five, and, in one instance, in six places, which made the dressing of their wounds a tedious affair. I had also to dress ten or a dozen amputated limbs. At one time I had in my charge eighteen of these, a couple of resections, no end of flesh wounds from bullet and shell, numerous fractures---most of them compound ones---and all varieties of lacerations and contusions. About this time there were some forty secondary operations, in all of which conservative surgery had been tried; but owing to the overcrowded state and vitiated atmosphere of the Hospital, these patients nearly all succumbed. From the commencement our lightly wounded men were removed as soon as possible, and sent to some French or Belgian Military Hospital. The result was that, after a few days, we had none in our care but the severely wounded. I cannot conclude without mentioning the kind way in which Dr. Marion Sims dealt with me. Nor shall I ever cease to recall with gratitude, his invariable consideration for one so much younger than himself and wholly without experience.
|SUSPICIOUS PRUSSIANS.---THE ILLUSTRIOUS STROMEYER. ---OPEN-AIR TREATMENT.---NEUTRALITY BECOMES DIFFICULT.---DR. SIMS LEAVES US.---UNDER ARREST.---FAREWELL TO SEDAN.|
I FORGOT to mention a curious story told me by a French soldier, who had a bullet wound through his arm. To account for it, he said that it had been received from the pistol of a Prussian horseman, to whom he was in the act of handing a piece of bread, which the fellow had asked of him. Could this be true? It seems to me incredible, and, for the honour of our common humanity, I hope was false.
A strange encounter which one of our new arrivals, Dr. Warren, had with two Prussian sentinels caused some excitement, and not a little amusement, among the rest of us. Dr. Warren was returning after dark, with some arms that he had secured as trophies, and secreted a few days previously. When he was passing beneath the ramparts a sentinel from above halted him, and challenged him to give the word. Dr. Warren, who could then neither speak nor understand French or German, shouted and made such explanations as he could in English, which it is needless to observe the sentinel did not comprehend. How unsatisfactory they were to him our friend was quickly convinced, by the sentry raising his rifle and firing at his head. He heard the bullet hit the bank close beside him, and, as it was dusk, the flash revealed two other sentries on their beat near by, one of whom followed suit; but luckily with no better success.
A yet more extraordinary method of assault was now resorted to by a third, who, being conscious, no doubt, of his incompetence as a marksman, began to hurl large stones over the ramparts at our stranger. Thus far, Dr. Warren had been standing petrified with astonishment, but now realising his position he made up his mind to run, which he did at the utmost speed, for he expected every second to feel a bullet through him, the only doubt being where he would get hit. He escaped, and the whole affair was reported to the Prussian commandant. This officer had two of the sentinels mildly reproved for their excess of zeal, and the hurler punished in that he had adopted an unsoldierly method of attack. Dr. Scott suggested to me that this last man must have been by descent from Tipperary.
Misadventures were in the air just then ; for, a morning or two afterwards, Drs. Parker and Marcus Beck happened to ignite some cartridges which were lying on the ground near the Hospital, and thereby caused an explosion. The guard turned out, arrested our two heroes, and took them before the commandant, who, upon receiving their explanation, set them at liberty. As time wore on, our relations with the Teutons became more and more friendly. At first they had looked upon us with distrust; but, when they found that our organisation was thoroughly international, that we were independent of the French, and our staff and management as complete and efficient as they proved, the invaders seemed to take unusual interest in us. Their surgeons came in numbers to the Hospital, where, of course, they met with all civility; and we, on our side, had nothing of which to complain.
Not only so. Their surgeon-general, the great Stromeyer, condescended to inspect our hospital, and complimenting the Chief on its details and management, invited him to visit his own Ambulance at Floing. Dr. MacCormac did so, and was highly pleased with all he saw. The success of the Prussian surgical operations was very striking. It contrasted most favourably with our results; but this depended, in great measure, on the Floing Hospital having been a temporary structure, consisting of improvised shanties, boarded all round in such a way that the sides could be opened at will in louvre fashion, so that, weather permitting, the patients were treated practically in the open air, yet without subjecting them to chill or exposure. I conceive that this was the explanation of their low death-rate, for the surgical methods of procedure were identical with our own. And I may anticipate here a remark which my experience at Orleans afterwards confirmed, viz., that such open-air treatment is the only effective protection against blood-poisoning.
This was the first introductory step to our transition from the French to the German side, but the change was slow and gradual. Hints, indeed, were constantly thrown out that our services would be well received, if we followed on in the track of their army. At first we firmly asserted our neutrality. But we were made to understand that the attitude we had assumed was impracticable; we must make up our minds to be on one side or the other. These warnings did much to determine the line of action upon which we finally resolved. Our movements were also influenced by the fact that while, as regarded the majority of our staff, our sympathies were undoubtedly French, yet later on, when we came in contact with the Prussians, and got to know them thoroughly, the admiration with which we started for the other side was very much cooled down. We looked on the belligerents with less prejudiced eyes, and, in the long run, had no decided leaning one way or another.
In a few days from the time of which I have spoken above, Dr. May was sufficiently well to resume duty. There was a fresh addition to our staff in the person of Dr. Sherwell, and our duties becoming less laborious, suffered us at length to breathe. We could now go down frequently in the evening, for an hour, either to the Hotel de la Croix d'Or, or to a first-rate café in the Rue Napoléon, where it was possible to enjoy a smoke or a drink, and a game of billiards upon a table without pockets. This was a great recreation, and I found it did one good after the labours of the day. There we met the French officers who were on parole, and not a little surprise did we feel to see them smoke, drink, and crack jokes as if the capitulation of Sedan were ancient history. There also we came across the surgeons and assistants of the Prussian Military Hospitals, many of whom knew French fairly well, and not a few spoke English. We, however, had to be back again by nine o'clock, before our drawbridge was taken up; for the standing order had been issued that any one found in the streets after that hour was liable to be shot.
On one occasion I happened to be returning with a fellow "Chip," who, after the labours of the day, had partaken rather too freely of "bock" and "cognac de café". With no small difficulty I had induced him to start, and we found the streets dotted with sentries on night duty. Hence, every few minutes we were halted, and made to advance until their bayonets almost touched our shirt-fronts. This would not have made me nervous, had not my friend, who was a good deal more noisy since he tasted the open air, objected to being stopped by the sentries in so rude a fashion. He declined, in short, to account for himself. Fearing unpleasant consequences, I came forward on the approach of every sentry and gave the name of our corps, specifying our quarters, and adding gently, "Mein Freund hat zu viel bock getrunken ". They invariably met the palaver with a laugh, and let us pass on, for some of them knew who we were. One fellow, either a little more inquisitive than the rest, or else not recognising our uniforms, put us through a regular examination, upon which my companion began to speak roughly, and even made a clutch at his rifle. Fortunately, the sentinel perceived what was the matter, and was willing to let him pass; but my man wouldn't stir an inch. Here was a predicament! As he could speak a little German, he used his knowledge to abuse the good-natured sentry, and when he had come to the end of his vocabulary, began again in French (of which language he was perfect master), winding up at last in English. The soldier presented his rifle, I daresay with the intention of frightening my comrade; and I thought it time to seize him by the collar and get him along by main force. Thus we arrived within regulation distance of the gates of the Citadel.
The bridges were up, and the sentry on duty refused to let us advance any further. By this time my friend had quieted down, and was beginning to realise his position; for here we had to wait fully half an hour while the sentry was hailing the others, who in their turn hailed some more, and so on, until the officer of the watch came on the scene. His business was to call out the guard, when, after much shouting, shuffling, and shouldering of arms, the drawbridge was let down and we were admitted. I was glad enough to get my obstreperous friend safely landed within. It was a parlous incident, though my friend's drollery and witty sotto voce remarks---for he was not really overcome by the " bock" to the extent of intoxication---have often made me laugh heartily since.
I have thus brought my readers to the middle of our third week at Sedan; and it was with feelings of sincere regret that we now bade adieu to Dr. Marion Sims, who, in so short a space of time, had won the regard of every member of our staff. He appointed in his place Drs. Frank and MacCormac as co-surgeons in chief---Dr. Frank for the Balan and Bazeilles division of our Ambulance, Dr. MacCormac for Sedan.
As our work was growing gradually less, we now had time for a ride nearly every afternoon. There was one in particular which I enjoyed much, and often took in company with my friend Hayden. It was from Sedan to Bouillon, conveying or bringing back the post. This was the only channel through which we could receive letters from home. Bouillon, as is well known, is a very picturesque town, about six miles from the frontier, and twelve from Sedan. The road thither goes through Balan, Givet, and Givonne, over hills and dales, and through a finely wooded country, partly lying in the Forest of Ardennes, from which there stretches a vast succession of woods for twenty or thirty miles. As we near our destination the road winds circuitously, and turns at last into the Valley of Bouillon. When I saw it, the autumn colours were all abroad, and no prospect could be more enchanting. There, beneath us, nestling amid the foliage, now rich and golden, which clothed its hills, lay in the noonday sun, the ancient town of Bouillon, through which a rapid and boiling river, the Somme, flowed over a rocky bed, and was leaping and dancing round one huge boulder, above which rose the ivy-mantled turrets of Godfrey's once mighty fortress. The steep and grassy slopes seemed to come down sheer to the water's edge. It was a place of sunshine, quiet and secure ; and, at first sight, one would have thought it inaccessible.
I may mention that it was in this little expedition, when passing by Givonne, that I espied, lying on his side and basking at full length in the sun, a beautiful black and tan hound, identical in appearance with the old breed of Kerry beagles. My companion was amused that I could feel excited about Kerry beagles. But I had my reasons, and I asked the owner of the house to whom the dog might belong. He replied that it was the property of a Marquis in the Ardennes, who kept a pack for hunting deer and wild boars, and he added that probably such a dog would not be sold under 500 francs. The "Black and Tans" are an old-established pack in my neighbourhood, with which I have long had very close associations; and it made my blood run faster to be reminded of them in the neighbourhood of the Forest of Ardennes, which for the world at large has other memories, less personal, if more poetic.
Having arrived at our destination, and delivered and received our letters, we had a good dinner and a smoke. None of my readers can know the pleasure of a good dinner if they have not lived in a situation like that which was then allotted to us. We went to see the old castle, with its corridors hewn out of the solid rock, and its manhole in the parapet leaning over the river, from which highwaymen and robbers---if not others less guilty---were hurled into the waters beneath. Lingering about the place for hours after we ought to have started, the evening came on so quickly that we shirked the long journey in the dark. We thought it better to stay the night at Bouillon, and take our chance of getting off a reprimand by means of this explanation.
At first light next morning we started, but on arriving at the Hospital, Dr. May, without asking why we had come after time, informed us from the chief that we must consider ourselves as under arrest until further notice. This was not exactly pleasant. But we had our work to do, and there can be no doubt that the strict discipline kept in our Ambulance was what made it so successful.
Many members of the French Hospital staff, whom I met here and elsewhere, assured me that jealousy and want of discipline among them were potent causes of their failure; their supply of material---which was generally very short---in some cases outlasting the final disruption.
I had one other most interesting expedition, to the Château Bellevue and along by the hills where the Prussians established their heavy guns on the First. It commanded the whole valley, and as we looked down upon the Plateau of Floing, the Bois de Garenne, the slopes of Givonne, and our hospital standing on its huge embankment above the ramparts of Sedan between them and us, the only wonder was that a single man of us remained alive.
It was now time to think of a fresh field for our labours. Dr. Parker and I were deputed to visit Anon, a town in Belgium about thirty-five miles distant, to consult with Capt. H. Brackenbury, who was secretary to the English Aid Society on the Continent. We made the journey in a two-horse open carriage by way of Bouillon in about ten hours; and with such charming scenery, and in agreeable companionship, the journey could not fail to prove delightful.
On the next day, Sunday, we had an interview with Brackenbury's secretary, for he was not at home himself; and we then started off again for Sedan before there was a soul in the streets, so that my recollections of Arlon do not amount to a great deal.
On our return the staff held a meeting, at which Dr. MacCormac gave in his resignation as chief in favour of Dr. Pratt (son-in-law to Marion Sims), who succeeded him. Dr. MacCormac was engaged, as we knew, to deliver an inaugural address at the Queen's College, Belfast, about the middle of October; and his pupil, Scott, accompanied him on his departure. As Dr. Nicholl also wished to return to America, it was arranged that Wyman and Hewitt should continue with Dr. Frank for some time before we disbanded, for the Hospital at Bazeilles had to be wound up with our own. The following members were then selected to proceed to the front,---our new chief, Dr. Pratt, and Drs. May, Tilghman, Mackellar, Parker, Warren, Hayden, Sherwell, Wallace, Wombwell, Adams, and myself. These formed the staff. With us went, of course, Nigger Charlie, and a Turco named Jean. This Turco had received a bullet in the back at Metz, during an effort (which proved successful) to get water from a well which was guarded by a Prussian picket, who had already bowled over four or five others intent on the same enterprise.
The 4th of October, which was the day appointed for starting, arrived. We said goodbye to the few patients now remaining, who were to be taken over by Dr. Frank. Among them was my friend Louis St. Aubin. The poor fellow on taking leave of me, in his weak state, sobbed like a child, and I felt equally grieved at having to part from him. We bade farewell to Dr. MacCormac with much regret; and then the drawbridge was let down, Dr. Pratt gave the word to start, and the Anglo-American Ambulance made its exit from the Caserne, slowly wending its way down the rugged path, en route for Paris.
The first chapter in my experience of a military Hospital, and of the battlefield, was closed.
|RISKY TRAVELLING.---AT BRUSSELS.---FRENCH AMBULANCE BREAKS DOWN COMPLETELY---WE START AGAIN FOR PARIS.|
DR. PRATT was of opinion that, if the Germans did not require our services, they might perhaps allow us to get into Paris, where, as it was rumoured, medical men were scarce. With this object in view, we had determined to go round by Belgium, and now made for Bouillon, the nearest frontier town. It was a lovely evening when we arrived. As we came near the customhouse---"la Douane," the meaning of which I now understood---we were in a state of trepidation lest, on the waggons being overhauled, our trophies of Sedan should be discovered and taken from us. For my part, I had hidden my chassepot, pistol, sword, and lance-top from the Plain of Floing, securely beneath some sacks of corn. But the officers allowed us to pass with only a formal scrutiny. As it was late, we stayed that night in Bouillon at the hotel. All our baggage, waggons, horses, and infirmarians were quartered in the old Castle yard; and, having given my horse to the groom to be picketed (for I had turned my grey Arab loose again on the plains of Sedan), I joined Hayden, and went down into the town to look for quarters. When we had secured them, we dined very comfortably at our hotel with the rest of the staff. This was the first meal we had enjoyed for many weeks in a neighbourhood free from war's alarms, and we found it pleasant.
After a sound night's rest we arose at three, and had our horses and men together at the appointed time, which was an hour later. But more time elapsed before all was ready, and it was quite five when marching orders were given. We reached Libramont after a pleasant five hours' journey through a pretty and very interesting country. Here all our staff, with the exception of Hayden and myself, took the fast train to Brussels.
We two had been told off to stay in charge of the infirmiers, waggons, horses, and stores, which we were to take on to Brussels in the evening, by luggage-train. This was a heavy task, and occupied nearly all the afternoon. Moreover, we had to get our ten horses fed, watered, cleaned, and boxed, which was far from easy, considering that few of the infirmiers knew anything about the management of horses, while their boxing and conveyance by train were quite beyond them. Here my experience of boxing horses for the world-renowned Fair of Cahirmee, near Buttevant, stood me in very good stead. Three of our waggons were heavily laden with stores and corn, and required a truck each for themselves. The fourth was a light covered fourgon which contained our personal luggage, and in this we resolved to travel up to Brussels.
Having dined on mutton and fruit in a clean little inn near the station, at 7.30 P.M. we started, comfortably stretched out at the bottom of our fourgon, and covered up in rugs and coats. The night wore on, and we were suddenly aroused from our slumbers by feeling the movement of our waggon upon the truck, which latter was only a sand train. As we went along, the line became more and more uneven; our van rolled several times backwards and forwards, and was kind enough also to sway from side to side in a most uncomfortable manner. I crept out and found its moorings loose. The night was dark and misty, and we had no light, nor the means of getting one; and, as the wheels of the fourgon were high, and the edges of the truck low, while the motion of the train was very rough, we thought it would be dangerous to try our hand at putting the concern straight. We discussed our chances of being pitched overboard; but concluded that the risk was small, although the jolting and swaying from time to time vexed us not a little. However, at one in the morning, we found ourselves at Namur, and were told we should have to stay there four hours.
Accordingly, leaving men, horses, and waggons at the station, my friend and I strolled into the town. It was a beautiful moonlight night. After some wandering we saw a gleam in one of the restaurants, and roused up the landlady, who kindly gave us some hot coffee and braised mutton. Thus fortified we settled down in a couple of armchairs, and slept for some hours. At half-past-four we took our places again in the waggon; but not until we had seen it firmly secured.
We arrived in Brussels at 10 A.M., having been en route more than fourteen hours. When we alighted we were in a sad plight,---sleepy, hungry, and disreputable-looking, bearing upon us all the marks of the hardships which we had gone through since entering on the campaign. Not many minutes after our arrival, Dr. Pratt came up, and expressed his satisfaction that orders had been carried out punctually. There was a conveyance waiting, he said, to take us to the Hôtel de France; and there we should find breakfast and comfortable quarters ready.
After the wear and tear of the last couple of months, one may fancy our joy at this sudden return to the comforts, and even the luxuries, of civilised life. No longer the din of armed men on the march, or going to their exercises; no longer sentries at every step ; no longer the streets thronged with military ! Yet, the sight of an occasional French officer limping about on crutches, or with his arm in a sling, reminded us that the seat of war was not far distant. When breakfast was over, we turned in and slept until evening. Then, with some others of the staff, and certain friends of Dr. May's who had fled from Paris, we took a box at the Circus, and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.
Next day it was our business to report to Captain Brackenbury. After filling up forms, answering questions, and submitting to a deal of red tape, we were handed our pay up to date and a month in advance.
Here we learned that the French Society, under whose patronage we had started from Paris, was now disorganised, and had stopped supplies. Not only were its funds exhausted, but its Ambulances had failed to render efficient service on the field of battle. Although we had now joined the English Society, and, in consequence, were associated also with the Prussians, it was a graceful act on the part of the Vice-President of the French Association to make his acknowledgments, as he did, for the assistance which we had given to his countrymen in our Hospitals around Sedan.
At noon on the 8th of October, we received orders to hold ourselves in readiness ; and great excitement arose when it was noised abroad that the Prussians had cut the line between Lille and Brussels. Thus, we might have to go round by London, in order to reach Paris. We ascertained, however, that the line had not yet been injured, although the enemy had come into its immediate neighbourhood near the town of Lille.
In the evening, therefore, we quitted Brussels by train, taking with us stores, waggons, and horses. The journey to Lille was a short one, and from thence we travelled by Douai and Arras to Amiens, where we halted for a few hours to eat and sleep until the next train set out for Rouen. At daybreak we resumed our expedition, and as we entered Normandy the whole aspect of the country, which had been hitherto flat and monotonous, changed for the better. The red-brick houses, some tiled, some thatched, reminded me a little of villages I had remarked in my journey from London to Holyhead; but here most of the houses had timber built into them, which made them more quaint and picturesque.
|AT ROUEN.---ON THE ROAD TO PARIS.---IN THE WOODS AMONG THE FRANCS-TIREURS.---TAKEN FOR SPIES.---A REFUGEE FENIAN.---TO MANTES.|
WE arrived in Rouen at four o'clock in the afternoon of the 9th, and found the town full of Gardes Mobiles, who were marching about in civilian dress, but armed to the teeth.
Our few hours of sight-seeing next day were not long in coming to an end; but on going to the Railway Terminus, we heard that a telegram had just been received, saying that the Prussians had torn up the line to Paris, and we could travel no further.
However, in a couple of hours, we succeeded in chartering an engine,---four waggons and a carriage---in which we determined to proceed as far as we could. Our advance, when we had started, was so slow and deliberate that we felt sure our conductors were only waiting to pull up at the first opportunity, and jump off the train as soon as they saw danger ahead. After going no faster than a horse could have trotted for two hours or so, we came to a dead stop at a little country village called St. Pierre. Beyond this point our guard and driver stoutly refused to carry us; and, as it was now late, we thought well to stay there for the night. We occupied the village inn and a private house close by. As we had orders to start at daybreak, we were up betimes next morning. I went out as soon as it was light, and took a stroll through the village, in which many of the houses seemed to have been deserted. On inquiry, I found that, since the first intelligence, a few days back, that the Prussians were coming, the owners of these houses had packed up their moveables and gone north, leaving their dwellings to take care of themselves. The situation of St. Pierre, overlooking the Seine, was pretty enough. On the heights above stood its quaint little church, built of flint-stone, and as black as coal in appearance. I went inside, and saw that it was unadorned, but scrupulously clean.
In another hour we were on our journey again, this time by road. We took the route Impériale through the valley beside the river, and it would be difficult to do justice in description to the varied and picturesque scenes that came repeatedly into view, along the many miles which we pursued of its winding course.
About midday we gained Gaillon, where we halted to refresh our horses and ourselves. Gaillon is a large village, with a refreshing air of comfort and cleanliness about it, and has a broad central street, lined on each side with handsome trees. Having rested a couple of hours we pushed on for Vernon, which was, perhaps, some ten miles distant,---a long journey, during which we had to accommodate our pace to the jaded horses with their heavy-laden waggons. Our way took us through vast orchards, and, from an elevation at one part of the road, we could see nothing for miles round us but fruit trees. But as we were now in constant expectation of meeting the Prussian outposts, our Chief picked out Hayden and myself, being the lightest and keenest horsemen in the party, and sent us ahead, my friend to reconnoitre on one side of the road, and I upon the other.
For a long while not a soul did we meet, and Dr. Pratt came to the conclusion that Vernon was unoccupied, whether by the French or the Prussians, as had been the case at St. Pierre. Believing that it was so, Hayden and myself received orders to push on thither, and report our approach at the Mairie, where we must secure the necessary accommodation during the night for all our party.
With these commands we started, I on a mare of Dr. Pratt's, which we had got from the Prussians at Sedan, and Hayden upon a black belonging to Dr. May. As evening came on, it grew so dark that we could hardly see a few yards in front of us. On we went gaily for some miles, chatting unconcernedly on various topics, until our road entered a thick and gloomy wood, with high forest trees towering up on each side. The darkness was now such that we could not see one another. It was necessary to slacken rein, and let our horses go at a slow walk, lest they might leave the road and get us into unexpected trouble.
My friend here remarked to me cheerfully what a helpless condition we were in, should any accident happen to us, or supposing we fell in with the French outposts. The words, which echoed through the woods (for he was speaking at the top of his voice, and it was a still night), had hardly passed his lips, when suddenly we heard, first a rustling, and then the sound of voices; shouts were raised on every side of us; and through the brushwood in all directions we could hear men crashing headlong towards the place where we stood entrapped.
We held our ground, for to attempt escape was certain death. We should have received a volley before we had gone many yards.
The challenge now came to us on all sides in French, "Qui vive?" We replied, "Deux officiers de l'Ambulance Anglo-Américaine".
They seemed not to be satisfied, and challenged us twice, finally shouting, as if we were half a mile away, though but a few short paces from them, "Advance, two officers of the Anglo-American ambulance, twenty paces, and halt!"
We had no time to obey, for, in a moment, we were surrounded by armed men. One seized my wrists and another my horse's rein. In a moment a lantern was produced, wherewith having examined us and found that we were unarmed, they let go their hold, but roughly hustled us out of our saddles.
We watched these men, whom we knew by their uniforms to be Francs-Tireurs, as they carefully examined our horses by the light of their lanterns. All this time Hayden and I were kept apart, and, on my attempting to speak to him, I was told that if I did so, I should be shot straightway.
By a dim light, which some one held behind me, I discovered that I was standing in a circle of these irregulars with bayonets set. This was the less assuring that we had heard much of their lawlessness, and in what fashion they dealt with those who fell into their hands. I now made a motion towards the breast pocket of my tunic, to get my official papers, when a musket was pointed at me and I was told not to move. Having held a council of war over the horses, some of the men now came up and informed their comrades that they had at last caught two Prussian spies. For they had discovered, on my mare's flank, the Prussian brand, and, moreover, we spoke French with a German accent; while our uniforms also were not French but Prussian. When they had come to this conclusion, I need hardly say that the treatment we received was not the most courteous. They cursed and swore at us, and flourished their bayonets about as if they had been walking-sticks. They marched us along separately, often threatening that if we stirred or spoke, except by their direction, they would shoot us. Two of these brigands (for they were nothing else) marched behind me, two in front, and as many on each side with fixed bayonets, as if I were likely to overpower them unless guarded by the whole eight. Even when I put my hands into my trousers pockets, the flourish of a bayonet near my stomach (from a fellow whom I discovered to be more than half drunk) compelled me to take them out again.
What distance we marched before arriving at Vernon we could not even guess, so much upset and, I must acknowledge, so daunted were we at the possible fate in store for us. We knew too well that these ruffians were capable at any moment of hanging us from the nearest tree. Indeed, before we entered the town, I came to the conclusion that several of the band were under the influence of drink. I believe there was quite as much risk of our being shot accidentally as on purpose. They appeared to have no officer among them; nor could any of them, I suspect, so much as read or write. They would be admirable judges, therefore, all considered, of the difference in speaking French between the Prussian and any other foreign accent!
We must have tramped some three or four miles, when we got into the town; and there it was an advantage to have even these drunken bullies as our escort, for crowds gathered in the streets as we passed along, and taking us to be Prussian spies, stared and scowled fiercely-some even menacing us with clenched fists. Had not our captors guarded their prey jealously, I am confident that we should have had a rough handling from the populace.
When we were taken into the principal barrack, I supposed that we should be allowed to see the officer of the guard, to whom we could show our papers, and then pass out. But nothing of the kind; the officer of the guard was not to be found. He had gone into town to dine with the Commandant of the place. We were put in the lock-up at the rear of the guard room, with two sentries over us. Our courage now returned, and we opened fire at the fellows on guard. Hayden, who spoke French fluently, gave them his mind concerning the Francs-Tireurs individually, and the whole French Army collectively, in such scathing language that they must have thought we were most certainly Prussians. I, not being of so excitable a temper as my friend, gave them to understand that such an exhibition of military ignorance and gaucherie as we had witnessed that night would have been impossible anywhere but in France; and I think with good reason.
We had been in the lock-up for about an hour, when the officer of the guard appeared and examined our papers. These he forwarded to the Commandant Militaire, who inspected them once more, and immediately ordered our release.
The Commandant came down himself to apologise for the manner in which we had been treated, and added the information that the Francs-Tireurs were canaille, who had neither military status nor any organisation. But he assured us, as we did not need telling, that it was a mercy we had not been shot by them.
We were never in a thorough passion until now. My companion repeated his strong language, and shook his fist at this gentleman; but he, measuring the situation like a true Frenchman, became very civil and declined the contest. After that, I begged him to overlook anything discourteous that had been said in the heat of provocation; and our interview ended by his ordering two gendarmes to escort us to the Mairie. We had just time to secure the requisite quarters when our corps arrived.
I need hardly say how concerned our friends were about this ugly incident, or how great was their satisfaction at our having escaped a fate which had befallen others at the hands of this undisciplined but armed rabble. It is a matter of history that the Francs-Tireurs showed no respect even for the property of their own countrymen; and we must not be surprised if they were relentless towards any of the invaders whose ill luck it was to fall in with their companies. They reminded me a good deal of what I had read about Italian brigands, whom it is certain they resembled. And their very existence, in such a province as Normandy, was a striking proof that France had sunk into the utmost disorder. The Empire had perished; the Republic, established on the 4th September, was struggling feebly for its life.
Another incident of a different nature, but of considerable interest to me, occurred next morning, just as we were on the point of continuing our journey.
I was standing outside my quarters ready to march, when I noticed a smart-looking, well-dressed young man, more like an American than a Frenchman, eyeing me at a little distance off.
There was something about him that excited my curiosity. As he approached rather timidly, I smiled, and said, to relieve his embarrassment, "You are not a Frenchman, I presume?" upon which his hesitation disappeared, and, in unmistakable Tipperary accent, he exclaimed, "No, indeed, Mr. Ryan. I'd make the queer Frenchman, born and reared as I was in the parish of Cullen, and educated near your father's place in the Street of Kilteely, by Mr. William Lundon."
As the speaker had uttered all this in one breath, my amazement was considerable. Suddenly, and under such circumstances, to meet a man at Vernon who came from the village of Kilteely, and was acquainted with me, gave me, so to call it, a shock; and I stared at him for some seconds without speaking. The new-comer went on to inform me that his name was Timothy Nihil; that he was an enforced exile from his native land; and that, at the time of the Fenian rising in 1867, he had been the leader of that party which attacked and fired on the Glenbane Police Barracks, near Cullen. He was, in consequence, obliged to flee the country. He had come over to this place, and, being a man of some education and intelligence, had found a situation as Professor of English in the Pension of Vernon; which appointment, he told me, was worth nearly 100 a year to him.
Timothy Nihil had been brought up in the National school; and, indeed, went through his classics, as he had said, under Mr. William Lundon, a teacher of great ability in his own line. To him, perhaps, it was owing that my Fenian had a very polished address. Poor fellow! his face lighted up with pleasure when he spoke of "the Old Country" ; and when, in answer to his inquiries about different friends, I told him all I knew, he beamed with delight. Rebel though he had been, he was yet a fellow-countryman; and as such I gave him the hand of friendship, and could not but sympathise with him in his exile. With tears in his eyes, he repeated that he could never go back to Ireland again.
He was particular in asking about my brother John, for whom he had from his earliest youth a warm affection; neither did he forget the Black and Tan hounds at home, in which I have already expressed my own interest. When he had walked out of the town with me a couple of miles we parted, after an earnest request that I would give his people news about him on my return, which I did very gladly. During our conversation not a little amusement was caused among the party by an English officer, Captain F---, of the Carbineers, who, when he heard that my new acquaintance had been a Fenian, became much excited, and was with difficulty kept from laying hands on Nihil. I explained, however, under what circumstances he had spoken to me, and the Captain cooled down. His strong feeling against these men was in itself not unreasonable, as he had been on active service in Ireland during the winter months of 1867, and had commanded a flying squadron there.
During these four days of our journey to Paris, the weather continued very fine, and our walking tour through so pleasant a country was most enjoyable. Sometimes we chatted with the peasant folk who crossed our footsteps; and I am bound to say that, in these districts, numbers of those with whom we talked were loud in praise both of the Emperor and the Empire. "Look," they often said, "at our beautiful roads,---the route Impériale, for instance, between Rouen and Paris ---look at our towns and villages, with their magnificently wooded streets, and their public buildings and monuments; look at the fine bridges and aqueducts which you see all round! Whom have we to thank for these things but the Emperor? Who has given work to the millions of the labouring class throughout France? Who has made Paris one of the most beautiful cities of the world, and the Capital of Europe? Who ruled France when she was the most rich and prosperous of nations, with a trade and commerce more extensive than ever before?" Such were the facts on which these humble people became eloquent. Were they altogether in the wrong? Let others decide.
The country between Vernon and Mantes is very hilly, and some parts of the road were rendered almost impassable by the deep trenches which the French had cut across them to hinder the German progress. Strangely enough, although they went to such great trouble to destroy the road, they yet left a narrow causeway, over which a waggon might pass, with a few inches to spare. Afterwards, round about Orleans, I saw this business of making the roads difficult for the enemy, much more cunningly contrived, as I shall relate in its place.