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The Note-Book of an Attache Seven Months in the War Zone

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Paris, Tuesday, August 4th. I presented myself at the American Embassy today and offered my services to Mr. Herrick. They were promptly accepted. I was put to work with such suddenness that no time was spent in determining my official status. I cannot say whether I am a doorman or an Attaché. At present the duties of the two seem to be identical.

Now, as in 1870, the German Embassy in leaving France turned over its affairs and the interests of German subjects remaining in France to the American Ambassador. When I arrived today the Chancellerie presented an astounding sight. Around the outer door were huddled a compact crowd of Germans, men and women; they pressed about the entrance; they glanced furtively over their shoulders and their blue eyes were filled with dumb apprehension. Inside the Chancellerie was chaos. Hundreds of Americans and Germans crowded together seeking audience and counsel. German women sank down in corners of the halls or on the stairs, weeping for joy to have found a haven of refuge. Scores of Sovereign American Citizens stood in the busiest spots and protested with American vehemence against fate and chance. Each S.A.C. was remonstrating about a separate grievance. Most of them reiterated from time to time their sovereignty, and announced to no one in particular that it was their right to see “their Ambassador” in person. They demanded information! They needed money! They wished to know what to do with letters of credit! What was “the government” going to do about sending them home? Was Paris safe? Would there be immediate attacks by Zeppelins? Could they deposit their jewels in the Embassy vaults? Were passports necessary? WHY were passports necessary? They asked the same questions over and over, and never listened to the answers.

Inspired by Mr. Herrick, the staff of the Embassy struggled bravely and coolly through this maelstrom, and accomplished as many things as possible each minute. No fifty men could have gone through with all the work that suddenly demanded attention. Without warning, virtually within one day, this great flood of humanity had rolled in upon the normally tranquil life of the Embassy, and yet its chief and his assistants took up the vast responsibility as quietly and acted as coolly as though it were all an everyday occurrence and not the emergency of a lifetime.

I was first assigned to work with the American problems. William Iselin, who had been one of my fellow-students in the Ecole des Beaux Arts, is Attaché at the Embassy and he gave me a rapid summary of necessary information. I plunged into work with eagerness, but while attending to my own countrymen, my deepest personal sympathies went out to the mob of panic-stricken Germans. Poor creatures, they are in no way personally responsible for the war, and yet they bear no mean part in the suffering it is causing. It was decreed by the French government that all Germans who had not left Paris within twenty-four hours after the order of mobilization would on no condition be permitted to leave thereafter. Many of them had found it absolutely impossible to depart in time owing to the difficulty of obtaining money and to the disarrangement of the railway service caused by the mobilization of troops. The second day of mobilization, August 3d, caught them like rats in a trap and exposed them to the doubtful fate of being lost in an enemy’s country during war time. Many of them were travelers who had been vacationing in the château country, visiting the cathedrals of Normandy, or enjoying the picturesque country of Brittany. Last week they were everywhere treated with respect and politeness, today they are looked upon with suspicion and hostility....