Rumania Learns What War Is
By Arthur Ruhl
[Collier's, February 10, 1917]
Winter was already in the air and in people's thoughts, as we left Petrograd. Out of the endless Baltic rains we rolled at last, down past Kiev, on its hills beside the Dnieper, and into the southwestern plains—tremendous billows of wheat and farm land, as if our own still prairie seas were under a deep ground swell—just short of Odessa, at a junction full of troop trains, westward through Bessarabia, and finally, four long days from the Russian capital, over the frontier into Rumania and back to the sun and the summer again.
Indian summer, at any rate, the still, soft, golden, southern autumn—yellow cornfields, plums and pears and grapes. At every station peasant women were selling them—or, indeed, it seemed, after Petrograd prices, almost giving these luxuries away. Samovars and tea were gone, and the heavy black bread, and pastry stuffed with boiled cabbage; people drank coffee now, and their own native wine. These Rumanian peasants, themselves, with their bright embroidered linen and dark, gypsy eyes, had, after the shaggy muzhiks of the north, a certain southern grace and lightness, and they, the sun and fruit, and the warm hills, covered with villages and vineyards, brought almost an echo of Italy or the Iberian Peninsula.
The four French officers who had come all the way round Europe to join their new ally began to look less disconsolate.
"This is a country!" said one, and promptly dismissed Russia, of which he had seen nothing but a Petrograd hotel at its most dismal season, as no place at all: "Ce n'est pas un pays!"
I had come to Bucharest before from western Europe, hurried down from Predeal in the dark, and, like most foreigners, was chiefly struck with the rather flashy light-mindedness of the little capital. This way, through the farm lands, one saw quite another side of the country—its grace and richness, and, traveling down the long, awkward arm of their L-shaped territory, one understood how the Rumanians might naturally covet the land across the mountains to the west—Transylvania—that would round it out into a tidy empire.
There was but one train a day now for the whole north-and-south length of Rumania, a long, string of shabby, unheated day coaches instead of the wagons-lits and expresses of peace times. People boiled up on the platforms at every station, packed coupés and corridors, spread out on the roofs—all Russia's disorder with added gesticulation and vehemence. During the waits the two younger Frenchmen in the new light-blue uniform, strolled on the platform, the center of all eyes. One wore the tam-o'-shanter of the French Alpine troops. Everything else he had on, even his soft collar and handkerchief was light-blue, and in his blue puttees he looked, in contrast with the Russians, in their long, stiff tan overcoats, almost as ready for golf as for war. At the stations the day before herds of Russian soldiers—big, wide-eyed, devoted children like moose with the gift of speech and faith—had stared at him, awestruck, wondering what he might be, and hearing with slow, incredulous smiles, the whisper: "Franzuski!"
The other two were sober navy men, bringing a lot of French sailors, and the elder, as we stood in the packed corridor, began to talk as perhaps only a Frenchman would about books. He had not been nearer to America than Havana but he knew Longfellow's poems and liked them. Anatole France wrote beautiful French, but the soldier did not enjoy him because "he didn't believe in anything." The Germans, strangely enough, had good poets. "They say of us," he smiled, "that Frenchmen can write of the surface of the sea, but can't make one feel the pearl, underneath the waves. It isn't true, and yet there's something in what they say," Night came, but there were no lights, and, packed in the dark, we jolted on without them. As it was almost impossible to fight one's way out to anything to eat at the stations and back again before the train started, we had to go without eating—it was three in the morning when we reached Bucharest. The station was dark, the town dark. Somebody said that a Zeppelin had been reported, coming or going: we were too sleepy to care. There were no cabs, and, stumbling through black streets with gendarmes squinting suspiciously at every corner, we were glad enough to find at last a hotel porter awake and a bed.
I was out again shortly, still fired by the unfamiliar sun, and walking up the Calea Vittorei—that narrow, winding stretch of asphalt, quaintly combining the airs of a great capital and a village street, up and down which, in peace times, patters and sparkles the little capital's frivolous life.
I recalled it as it used to be at five in the afternoon, jammed with carriages and people, smelling of cigarettes and gasoline smoke and women's perfumes, with the operatic young officers ogling from the sidewalk the two streams of victorias rolling by, each with its enameled face and carmine lips under a slanting black hat, and its flash of silk stockings. Ammunition was going through to Turkey then, grain and oil over to Austria, and across the footlights every evening Miss Nita-Jo was gayly asking what the prime minister was going to do—and nobody could tell. War had brushed all that aside, and now in the still, fresh morning, along the almost empty sidewalk, country folk in sandals and embroidered homespun, were shuffling under their heavy panniers of fresh prunes and amber-colored grapes. Across from Capsa's, the little pastry shop where "everybody" takes tea and watches the parade in peace times, the sidewalk was roped off and a sentry guarded the entrance of the Grand Hotel, where the more consequential Austrian and German civilians were interned. The "High Life" café, where the war used to be fought out in all the languages of Europe over the coffee cups, was closed, like most of the cafés, the fatherly police thinking it just as well to discourage amateur eloquence until the chances of war were a little more certain. In the old days, it may be remembered, the war party was enthusiastic; it was for the bright face of danger—for putting it all to the touch—and the utterances of its leaders made interesting reading at the café tables; but the other side had the difficult task of making' caution interesting. The royal, palace near by had already been, partly turned into a Red Cross hospital, and as I passed a motor drummed in—the young crown prince, in uniform now, driving his own car.
I walked up past the Athenée Palace Hotel, full of officers now—Rumanian, French, Italian, Russian—glanced at a bookshop window full of French illustrated papers and yellow-bound French novels, and presently turned into one of the quiet residence streets. Here, between white-and-tan-colored stucco houses in the French style, where sidewalks skirted garden walls overhung by chestnut trees, one felt more strongly that Latin air one had noticed on crossing the frontier. These were people more concerned than Slavs generally are with the graces and gallantries of life.
Through basement windows one caught a glimpse now and then of a man cook in a white cap, or looked through tall iron gateways toward quiet enclosed gardens, where carved marble benches or a white nymph gleamed against the yellow autumn leaves. And over all these things war had cast its sudden and sinister charm. Bucharest was changed, the radish coquette was a human being, fighting for her life, now, in the universal European shipwreck. And, however drowsily the sunshine lay in these pleasant winding streets, one remembered that the butterfly officers were being shot at now, up in the Carpathians or down in the Dobrudja, and thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of peasants must be killed, before the Calea Vittorei was itself again.
I had just said good-by to some friends with whom I had been lunching, and was returning downtown when, suddenly, a gendarme on the next corner began to blow his whistle, people scattered, and ahead, over the center of the city, cottony balls of shrapnel began to pop in the peaceful blue sky. Above them a tiny hawk came slowly sailing-—then another, and another—far aloft and half transparent, like the little silver fish in glass globes. Slowly they swung round, now and then flashing a wing against the sun, and as they sailed, one heard above the pop of shrapnel and the rat-tat-tat of machine guns the hoarser detonation of exploding bombs.
Previous adventures had made me somewhat bomb-shy, and with due endeavors not to disturb the admirable sang-froid of the housemaids and others who were gazing upward with shaded eyes, I promptly began a rather crablike progress toward the remoter streets. Here it was quiet enough, but when I entered the hotel half or three quarters of an hour later, one of the porters, looking as if he had seen a ghost, drew a finger significantly across his throat and muttered that 150 people had been killed in the Post Office.
When the Gendarmes Whistled
This was not true, but so many people talked in Bucharest during the next three days. A bomb had, as a matter of fact, fallen in the busy street behind the central telegraph office. It had blown in all the windows of the offices for a block on either side, killed several and injured many. The communiqué admitted, as the result of all the bombs thrown that afternoon, some seventy-five killed and wounded—private estimates were higher.
The streets about the telegraph office were closed and guarded by gendarmes when I got there, ambulances were whizzing up the Calea Vittorei, and the whole downtown of Bucharest was unstrung. The raiders had flown away, but the cry that they were returning kept reappearing all that afternoon. At each alarm—and they flew back and forth like wind squalls across a pond—the first gendarme who heard it would blow on his whistle a demoniacal Whe - ee – ee-eel!" The man on the next corner took it up, and so on down the street until, in a few seconds, you could hear those whistles rising and falling—the most dismal sound imaginable—all over Bucharest. At the first whistle iron shutters came banging down, people ducked in wherever they happened to be—there was a fine for refusing such hospitality—and in a few minutes the street would be empty but for the hapless policemen at the corners whistling and scanning the sky.
Boy scouts, adding to the enthusiasm any boys would feel at such a time, all the operatic instincts of their Rumanian blood, went streaking up the Calea Vittorei humped over their handle bars, red bandannas flying, whistling as they rode and now and then coming up behind one with a sudden shriek that would have made a hippopotamus jump. They clung to ambulances and army trucks, and tiny youngsters, with a truly Latin aplomb, jumped on the steps of other people's carriages and peremptorily waving young and old off the streets, rolled out in their shrill soprano voices that the "aeroplán" was coming and people must get into their "casas."
One huge motor truck pressed into service as an ambulance was fairly sprinkled with Red Cross volunteers and boy scouts. A nurse in uniform perched on the driver's seat with two tense-faced young men, one of whom hung on to the wheel and the other to her, and with horn and whistles shrieking, motor smoke and bandannas, in the wind, this terrifying chariot boomed up and down the street, scattering everything before it. It was droll, and it was tragic, that afternoon, and, after all the past two years have brought, filled with an inexpressible irony—how much they had yet, to learn before they, too, would take war as a matter of course and ambulances be no more than grocer's wagons or trolley cars!
Lacing Your Shoes in the Dark
There was not a light in Bucharest that night except a few street lamps veiled in blue globes. The merest glimmer brought a bellow from the street. I dined with friends in a little house backed up against another wall, but the lamp was no sooner lit than a policeman was barking at the windows. We put shawls and blankets over the curtains and finally had to put the lamp on the floor with a newspaper screen around it to satisfy him. My hotel room had a closed Venetian blind, two closed windows, the inner one covered with blue paper and a curtain inside of that. Leaving the blind closed, I had opened the window the merest crack and started to read in bed, when a gendarme and the hotel porter came galloping upstairs to smash into the room as if the place were on fire.
No one was supposed to walk abroad after ten without a permit from the prefect of police—a gentleman of such charming manner, by the way, that it was a pleasure to be compelled to ask favors of him—and the mere return home after dark, including finding the door, like a secret panel, in the bare, black face of one's hotel, had its touch of melodrama.
I was awakened in the middle of the night rather slowly to become aware that the whistles were wailing, as they had wailed that afternoon. These dismal pipings, rising and falling out of the night, are, at such an hour, with perhaps only one story between you and prospective bombs, decidedly enlivening. You pop out of bed like a jack-in-a-box, throw on an overcoat, try to lace up shoes without turning on the light, and with people scurrying along the hallway and shrapnel banging overhead, it is quite easy to believe that the Zeppelin is, by now, sailing squarely over the hotel. If it is only an aeroplane, the bomb will probably go through the roof, explode on the attic floor, blow that and the floor below pretty well to pieces, and perhaps send only a few fragments through the next—with a couple of stories overhead, you are probably all right. With a Zeppelin, on the other hand, and five hundred pounds of high explosives falling for a mile or two, anything may happen.
All these things go scuttling through one's head, along with a really very entertaining sense of adventure, and the notion one generally has that until things actually happen, they are going to happen to somebody else. And so, presently, with a becoming air of indifference and composure, one descends to the first floor hall where the guests, wrapped in overcoats and bathrobes, look as if the ship was sinking and they were just ready to take to the boats. So people huddled all over Bucharest that night, according to their temperament and situation—from families squatting dismally in the cellars of their one-story houses, to the comparatively careless guests of the Athenée-Palace, able to continue, in the interesting atmosphere of darkened corridors, flirtations begun the evening before.
The Zeppelin had disappeared by the time I got into the street where a few hardy souls gazed, whispering, at a sky full of frosty stars. Hiding one's feelings not being their fashion, people here could make more of such experiences than they do in London, perhaps, where it is the fashion to assume, under such circumstances, that nothing is happening at all. A few nights later, for example, when no Zeppelin came, although the whistles had hurried us downstairs as usual, a Rumanian officer began addressing me with great vehemence. I told him that I didn't understand Rumanian.
"I was saying," he continued in French with the same air of defying dispute—"I was saying, that there will be another list of dead and wounded to-night-—encore des morts et blesses!"
I suggested that possibly they wouldn't come, after all. "Do you mean to say, monsieur," he cried, "that the guardians of our city are doing this to amuse themselves!"…
With temperaments so prone to excitement, there was obviously not much sleep for anybody in Bucharest that night, and we were just blinking over coffee next morning when: "Whe-ee-ee-eel—"… the whistles were at it again!
Aeroplanes this time—"those white birds which profane the sign of the cross," as one of the papers said, and more bombs. This sort of thing, especially in a city of one-story houses, gets on one's nerves after a time. There was another raid that afternoon—there were ten in sixty hours, aeroplanes by day and a Zeppelin at night—and one had scarcely settled down front the last before the whistling for the next began.
Where the Bombs Hit
A trifle more alert the second night, I was out and in the street betimes and saw the Zeppelin, supported, as it were, on searchlight beams, a beautiful, half-transparent monster, like a great pearl pencil, sailing steadily and unwinking across the town. Showing nothing to connect it with the everyday earth, it was quite a creature of another, more mysterious, world, and it was odd to think, standing there in the Bucharest street, with people talking French or Rumanian, that up there were other everyday men like ourselves, with their own intense, little local life, speaking another language, thinking other thoughts—worried, practical men, busy with wheels, rudders, speaking tubes and so on, to whom we were only an abstraction, a dull-glowing patch on the flat earth's map.
Abstracted though we were, the raiders made several rather uncanny hits. One bomb smashed a house directly across the street from that of the Russian military attaché, three fell close to Take lonesco's house, and one struck the little one-story villa in which the British military attaché and his aide were sleeping. This house was L-shaped, three rooms, with a drawing room at the corner and bedroom at either end. The bombs struck the cornice of the corner room, smashed the front wall, the room itself, and blew fragments through the partitions into both bedrooms. The British attaché was cut slightly on one cheek, otherwise neither was touched. Had the bomb fallen five feet farther inward, so that its explosive effect would have been confined within inclosed walls, it seemed that the whole house must have been demolished.
No important building, military or otherwise, was struck, so far as I could learn in those three days, and the punishment fell entirely on civilians or wounded in hospitals. Of the 250, more or less, who were killed and hurt, the greater number were said to have been struck in the open street, and a good many must have been hit by the Rumanian shrapnel. The danger from aeroplane bombs, is, of course, not so much being hit by the bomb itself as by fragments, paving stones and so on, blown out from it. In the yard of the British military attaché's house, for instance, fifty or sixty feet away from the point of explosion, a fragment bored clear through a tree six or eight inches thick. One heavy bomb landing in the middle of the boulevard not far from Take Ionescu's house smashed every window for a block around, broke cornices in the five-story apartment house near by, and peppered its whole facade with holes as if it had been sprayed with shrapnel. Once, when bombs had fallen all over town, the communiqué piously stated that "a hospital, a sanatorium, and an orphan asylum were hit," and again when the communiqué spoke of comparatively trifling damage there appeared in a parallel column an editorial headed "Assassins," telling of the "————of victims, dead and wounded, women, old men, and children who have made bloody the pavements of our capital." The blank space was the quaint idea of the censor, left for the reader to fill in with "scores" or "hundreds" as he wished. By the third day some of the Rumanian planes had been brought back from the front, and as soon as they took the air the raids stopped for the time.
Bucharest's Parisian Pose
Every now and then, during these nervous days, an open, touring car whizzed down the Calea Vittorei, and one caught a glimpse of the beautiful Queen. Once I saw her whirling in from the country just as the whistles were wailing, alone in the back seat, looking skyward like everybody else, shading her eyes with a little purple fan. No queen in Europe more looks the part. Tall, stately, yet always enveloped in a certain air of romance, she might have stepped from one of those stories of imaginary Balkan kingdoms in which the royal heroine loves the tall, slim soldier of fortune who saves her life, but must bid him farewell in the last chapter and return to her marble halls for the sake of Ruritania and "my people." It would be sad for the Rumanians to have an uninteresting queen," and Queen Marie seems to feel this, and there was always just the necessary touch of the theatre, not too much, as—a cloud of white but for her red cross, for she always appeared in nurse's costume—she swept down the Calea Vittorei graciously smiling toward the rows of uncovered heads.
The palace is a two-story building on the main street, in quite as much danger as anybody's house—-there is this interesting all-in-the-family about many things in Bucharest. There is plenty of personal allusion, and the papers would tell about a former diplomat "who has certainly not become inoffensive by finding refuge in a legation whose official neutrality does not sufficiently conceal the Germanic preferences of its personnel"; or of the perfidious porter of the Boulevard Hotel who locked his front door when people were hunting cover from the aeroplanes!, or about the stingy contributions to the Red Cross fund made by a well-known merchant who "has been trading for years on the weakness of our womenfolk for luxury by selling them goods for two or three times their value with the one dream of retiring comfortably some day to Vienna or Budapest."
In the sunny and still vivacious streets, where you would pass now and then smart little demoiselles, looking, but for the Red Cross on their sleeves, like sketches from "La Vie Parisienne," I thought of Bulgaria in the first days after she too had made the great decision—of the grim silence in Sofia, where there was scarce a sign of war but the occasional levies of peasants, in sandals and sheepskin coats, as wild almost as their own sheep; or now and then a baggage train drawn by black water buffaloes creaking slowly through the cold rain.
The Bulgarians knew only too well what war meant. They had just lost a generation of young men in bearing the brunt of a war out of which they got nothing, and they went in a little like battered gladiators, without illusions or enthusiasm, fighting because they knew how and had to. War was still novel to Bucharest. And those who had wanted it were still rather pleased to be in the mode, to have made, as they would say, their "beau geste." And in this mood, they were more than ever contemptuous of the Bulgars. The papers smiled at them in the fatherly fable fashion:
"There was once an industrious people who lived peacefully raising peas and beans until bad luck would have it that they take for a king an unsavory adventurer who had no interest in vegetables and wanted to play a great role in history. To play a great role, a monarch must, as everybody knows, kill a great number of his subjects. This didn't bother the king, but he had to find an excuse and to tell enough lies to stir up his gardeners and make these poor sheep angry.…"
They were reviled as "Asiatics, true descendants of Attila, with no desires beyond those of primitive man," and enthusiastic editorial writers, unaware, apparently, that what they said of the Slavs south of the Danube might apply equally to their allies on the north, derided their rough furniture and primitive food with all the superior air of boulevardiers.
The Bulgarians had perhaps only one friend left in Bucharest, the faithful Bouchier—it is pronounced "Bow-cher" —'Balkan correspondent of the London "Times" since the memory of man, and one of several Englishmen who, before the war, had adopted Bulgaria as a sort of second country. For years old Bouchier was as well known in Sofia as the prime minister. He did a good deal of amateur diplomacy back and forth between the Balkan States, and it was-—and still is—his dream to see them united in the alliance which seemed so near in 1912.
I found him at a writing table covered with paper and clippings in the top floor corner room of the Boulevard Hotel overlooking the Calea Vittorei, about as near as he could possibly get to the mathematical center and most exposed spot in Bucharest. There was nothing above him but the ceiling; and the galvanized iron cupola from which, he patiently observed, he hoped bombs would bounce off into the street.
But bombs, censors, and all the nuisances of a world at war were now viewed with equal philosophy by this gracious old-school journalist who had seen his years of work go crumbling down. He had received a batch of English papers that day and found all his dispatches cut to a few lines—you had to be a fanatic now, he said, or people thought you were pro-the-other-side. True, he was still Bulgaria's friend, as he was Rumania's, because he was a friend of the Balkans, and an alliance was the only means by which they could maintain an independent life against the powers, that had used them as so much small change before, and would do so again. Bulgaria had shown both greed and fear, but it was not fair to call her action treason. She could easily have been brought over to the Allies if the latter had not completely bungled their case and treated with halfway measures a nation which was in great danger and felt compelled to act at once.
I left Bouchier, with, his lost cause, and walked uptown to encounter quite another point-of view—that of the redoubtable Take lonesco, editor of "La Roumanie," once himself the head of the Government, and ever since the war the tireless and eloquent advocate of fighting with the Allies. I found him in his pleasant townhouse, the same polished, clever, always entertaining person he had been at our first meeting a year ago, when he was declaring that he would never be happy until he had seen the Rumanian tricolor floating over the old walls of Buda, and that when the delegates gathered around the green table to make peace Rumania must be able to take her place with the rest and say that for her size and resources she had shed as much blood as they.
Take lonesco Speaks
Three bombs had fallen within a stone's throw of his house. "Of course it will go before the end of the war," he said, and then, with a shrug of his shoulders: "I hate to lose my books." Without waiting for questions, he hurried on to say that undoubtedly his hatred for "those people" was as great as, if not greater than, that of anybody in Europe. There was no bridging the chasm between the German idea and his own instincts of freedom and individualism.
He had been talking one day before the war with a German statesman, a very decent, agreeable fellow, with cultivated tastes in certain directions, and they had contrasted their ideas of the functions of government and people.
He had spoken, of the tremendous importance of the French Revolution, and said that the executions of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in France and of Charles I in England meant more for humanity than a new religion, because they represented not mere mob violence, but the deliberate judgment of the people in their effort to govern themselves. The German had said: "There are centuries between you and me," and he had replied: "There is more than that—there is an ocean!" About the Bulgars Mr. lonesco was far more bitter than a year ago, when he had spoken of them rather humorously as the "Scotchmen of the Balkans." Their behavior toward Russia, which had given them their independence, was incredible. Their public men could be bought and, though some were intelligent and accomplished—so-and-so, for instance, had a charming appreciation of old French poetry—there wasn't one you could imagine as a friend. I said that, as a matter of fact, I did have a Bulgarian friend, and if they were so impossible, how was it that the English had thought so much of them before the war? "How, for instance," I asked, "do you explain Bouchier?"
"Ah—Bouchier!" cried Mr.: lonesco, "A fine old fellow-—absolutely sincere! I've known him for years. The explanation of Bouchier is that he's an Englishman. Once an Englishman gets an idea into his head, nothing can drive it out. Bouchier admired the Bulgars—they're serious, frugal, industrious—I grant you all that. Having become their advocate, nothing could shake him. Why, in 1914, as the war was breaking out, we traveled east together on the same train. Europe was crumbling to pieces—where's Europe now? It meant the end of everything—of England, perhaps—and what do you suppose old Bouchier was thinking about? All he could think about was what the war might mean to Bulgaria!"
Nevertheless, he did not expect, or wish, to see Bulgaria destroyed. They must be reduced greatly, but a peace that attempted to crush them would not be lasting. There must be a greater Rumania, a greater Serbia, and a diminished Bulgaria after the war. As for the old notion of an alliance, there was, of course, no talking about that now. Austria would, of course, disappear. Mr. lonesco was dividing up Europe in his always confident and lively way when the whistles began wailing again. "If you'll be good enough to come this way," he said, "I can offer you the safest place we have."
Sons of Trajan
We crossed a court and went into a basement, and with several of his lieutenants and some of his neighbor's family stood under a door for a time. I was already late, and after waiting until the raiders seemed safely distant was obliged to hurry away without asking what Mr. lonesco thought about Russia and Constantinople. One of the minor ironies of Rumania's situation, dependent as she now is on Russia, is the ingenuous belief some Rumanians still express that they "could never allow" Russia to control Constantinople.
The Latinism of which such a Rumanian as Mr. lonesco is likely to make much is now, of course, decidedly in the foreground. In peace times there are many natural ties between this rich, comparatively undeveloped little country and the great industrial nations directly west of it. It imports most of its manufactured articles, and not only has grain, beef, and petroleum to sell, but kept on selling them to its present enemies up to the end. These material ties being broken, sentimental impulses have a clear field, and while the Germanic influence was strong—even now, in my hotel, German was the only other language except Rumanian which most of the servants spoke—the sympathies of the educated minority, who take their culture and point of view from France, are generally the other way. While it is doubtless true, as the king is said to have remarked before the war, that not more than 10 per cent of the people wanted war, yet most of this 10 per cent speak French as commonly as they do Rumanian and regard themselves as the direct descendants of Roman colonists and the Latins of the East.
Even in peace times this inheritance is constantly recalled, and in the music halls they throw the face of the Emperor Trajan on the screen just as we do that of a popular political leader at home. And now the little papers were celebrating the sacred union with France and Italy, and flinging fervid appeals toward Greece and Spain:
"Spain—a beautiful country, brave people! Spain—land of sunlight, oranges, and flowers, where springs the genial vine, and one hears the joyous music of guitars and castanets! Spain where people are robust and svelte and hearts beat fast with feeling, where the will is of steel, love passionate, and bravery legendary! Spain—country of Latins, with a glorious past and a future that ought also to be glorious, it is toward thee, in this terrible moment that all Latinity turns! Spain, full of knightly sentiment, awake! …"
He who made this appeal, the writer went on to say, was a Danube peasant, a descendant of the colonists of Trajan, of that Dacia felix—of Dacia, happy in the distant past, and happy, let us hope, in the not-distant future. But Trajan himself came from Iberia, and so did most of his colonists. It is for this reason that the names of Perez, Zamora, Zorilla, Pasadas, and Galicia are found so often in Rumania, and that a Rumanian understands Spanish so easily.
"While you were fighting the Moors, and through Columbus, giving Europe a new continent, we, the unknowns of history, defended Europe against the Turkish avalanche—and that was something. Once established, with God knows what difficulties, we have cultivated the Latin idea; we are soaked in it. Our Latin origin is our parchment of nobility, our only reason for being independent in this part of Europe which is so far from being Latin.…"
Meanwhile the Rumanian armies were learning what war is, and it was not quite what it had looked to be through the café smoke of 1915. It was not a mere matter of taking the Russian wave at the flood and waltzing down to Budapest. The enemy, regardless of the fact that it was Transylvania the Rumanians wanted and there, beyond the Carpathians, they had hoped to fight, attacked from the south, in the rear, wiped out a whole division at Tutrakan and were, during these aeroplane raids, closing in on Constanza, the only seaport, and in an air line not more than thirty-five miles from the capital.
Even the Transylvanians revealed that density with which civilians often misunderstand the motives of the armies which come to liberate them, and the melodious French of some of the proclamations reprinted in the Bucharest papers brought a curious echo of those blunter warnings which were posted up on Belgian walls in 1914:
"L'Armee roumaine, en marche sur la terre sacrée, où résonne… The Rumanian Army, entering the sacred ground, where the voice of their oppressed brothers has cried out for centuries, has not come as the enemy of those, whatever their race or belief, who remain quietly at home. On the contrary, it is animated by the most paternal sentiments for all the peaceable population. In certain localities it has found, however, those—happily few in number—who do not comprehend or know how to appreciate the spirit of kindness and fraternity in which the Rumanian army advances through the liberated territory. These people receive us as enemies, attack our convoys of isolated soldiers and those marching in small groups.
"We find ourselves forced, with the most profound regret, to inform all who take this hostile attitude that we shall use against them the severest measures of repression. And in order that these actions, which lower human nature, shall not be repeated, we shall extend our exemplary measures of rigor to the neighboring population of those places where treacherous attacks of this sort take place.…"
Rumania's Bitter Prospect
A day or two after the lull in the aeroplane raids the newsboys were shouting the victory in the south and ; the crossing of the Danube, but within the week word came that the Rumanians were pushed back again and that Constanza had been taken. It was plain by that time, if it had not been from the first, that it was war and not a military promenade they were in for—war with all its broken ends and disappointments, and the exhaustion threatening any little nation dragged into a tide where only giants, and not always they, can keep their feet. The same territory which at first glance seemed enormously to shorten the distance between the northern and southern Allies also opened a new front to defend longer than that in France. If the Central Powers were cut off from grain and oil and possibly from the Danube, Rumania was left dependent for munitions—except for what she had collected, or the little she might make herself—on Russia, and it was only of late that the Russians, by the cooperation of every sort of volunteer agency, had been able to supply themselves. It was not likely to be said after this war, as it was said after the second Balkan War, that the Rumanians were people who got something for nothing, whatever may be their fortune in the end.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald