SIX WOMEN AND THE INVASION.*
Ix this record of experiences in an invaded area in France we have one of the most moving book3 of the war. The close of July, 1914, found Mine. Yerta, the principal author, and her husband staying with relatives at the village of Morny, in the Laomiois. On the outbreak of war M. Yerta at once left for the front, and his mother, his four sisters, and his wife, the six women of the title, remained at the old family home at -Monty. Arrangements were immediately discussed for turning the house into a hospital, but before anything definite could be done reports drifted into the village of German successes. Soon detachments of the retreat- ing French Army passed through Morny, bringing rumours of a victorious enemy following hard upon them. Mine. Yerta and her friends, together with numbers of the inhabitants of the village and its neighbourhood, decided on flight to the mountains ; . but on the evening of the day *hen the six women reached the village they fondly hoped would be their refuge, the Germans also entered it and took possession :-
"Placid and heavy on their placid, heavy horses, they slowly advanced along the street. Of giant stature, they came on, revolver in hand, with the self-reliance of brutal strength. Their red- edged caps made their hard-featured faces still harder. It was a sight to strike Nature herself with horror, and hidden behind the muslin curtains, we sobbed bitterly. The guests, huddled together in the dimly lighted room, were silently weeping ; the women crossed themselves, and watched over their children as if it were old Bogy's steps they heard. The men tugged nervously at their moustaches, and shook their fists in the empty air."
Finding the whole countryside overrun by the enemy, Mme. Yerta and her relatives returned to Morny, where for over thirteen months they endured the rule of a petty-minded and arrogant conqueror. Cerman officers were quartered at their house, on whom they had to attend ; their stores were commandeered, food became scarce, fuel almost non-existent, and finally the house itself was taken from them for use as a printing office, and they were sent to lodgings at Leon. Release came when the Germans, deciding that it would be cheaper to get rid of a certain proportion of the population, sent :them, with hundreds of other refugees, into Switzerland.
Through all those weary months the unfortunate people of Morny, in common with those of many another town and village, suffered from constant requisitions for which proper payment was rarely given ; humiliating orders issued by German commandants ; and imprisonment. and fines for trivial or wholly imaginary offences. . A Prussian officer complained that the French were better treated in Alsace-Lorraine than were the Germans in France. " Then the French are in Alsace-Lorraine ! ' exclaimed an old man happily —and incautiously. ' Soldiers, take this man into custody, he .speaks ill of the Germans,' roared the officer. And they threw the poor- wretch into a .dungeon, where he slept on straw." Morny was. without any news from outside save what came from rumour and was whispered through the village and discussed stealthily at night behind shuttered windows, or news which their Prussian rulers chose to publish. This latter, naturally, was always in favour of the German armies and to the disparagement of the Allies, and when the French laughed ironically at it, they were thus commanded by their solemn captors : " You not laugh, towns- people, all that true." Sometimes the guns would sound nearer to Moray, and a flying report state that the French were driving back the enemy, and hope would spring up. On one such occasion, says the writer, " we got upon the window sill and leaned against the frame, whilst the others pressed against the rail in front. And there, half-dressed, unconscious of the cold, we eagerly watched the horizon: . , . The whole village was wide awake. Through attic windows anxious faces were peeping ; restless people stood at their garden walls. From house to house they exchanged impressions." But " little by little the firing grew fainter, the cannon less audible ; • Mz Wenten and the Invasion. By Gabs.N.1.1e and Marguerite Yerta. London:
. 11..cruittan and Co. net.] '
the flames and, the lights died away ; and suddenly silence. and peace fell upon the village." Happily Mlle. Yerta has no tales to relate of atrocities and outrages of the kind that made the Bryce Report such shameful reading. But for one period, during the rule of a particularly brutal commandant, life was lived by the six women under a reign of terror. " If the horrors that have overwhelmed other places have been spared • us," writes Mme. Yerta, " at least we have felt their envenomed breath, and our bodies and souls have not yet set themselves free from the poison. . . . Were I to live a hundred years I should never forget the weeks of mental torture I owe to the Germans." But the book, though on so poignant a theme, is by no means all sadness. Mine. Yerta writes of the privations and indignities endured with anger, but also with a good deal of brave humour. " We could not have our minds always on the stretch. We already were half-crazy, and we should have gone quite mad if we had not occasionally laughed. We often laughed with rage, with an empty stomach, with our brain confused after a troubled night." " And," she adds, " we should have felt doubly prisoners if we had not made fun of our jailers." In truth Mme. Yerta's quick wit finds cause for muoh malicious laughter in the heavy, unimaginative Teutonic invader. Among the officers quartered at her house the most favourable were " two model Prussians " "Barbu and Crafleux were two Prussian officers, escaped from a toy-shop, and carefully wound up before they were let loose from Germany. They always arrived side by side with the same auto- matic stride, the one tall, thin, and bearded ; the other short, stout, and crafieux. . . . Barbu and Crafleux revealed to us beautiful souls ; they were two model Prussians."
" Never again," lamented the owner of a room given to the Germans, " shall I like my room, after I have seen a Prussian loll on my bed." Mme. Yerta consoled her :- " ' To begin with,' I said, ' you won't see him. And secondly, I have a just and clear conception of a Prussian's method of repose. He stretches himself out as if he were on duty,.and his head on the pillow is carefully adorned with a helmet. He is just as proper to look upon as his photograph would be, taken after a review.' "