When I told my friends that I was going to the Italian front they smiled disdainfully. "You will only be wasting your time," one of them warned me. "There isn't anything doing there," said another. And when I came back they greeted me with "You didn't see much, did you?" and "What are the Italians doing, anyway?"
If I had time I told them that Italy is holding a front which is longer than the French and British and Belgian fronts combined (trace it out on the map and you will find that it measures more than four hundred and fifty miles); that, alone among the Allies, she is doing most of her fighting on the enemy's soil; that she is fighting an army which was fourth in Europe in numbers, third in quality, and probably second in equipment; that in a single battle she lost more men than fell on both sides at Gettysburg; that she has taken 100,000 prisoners; that, to oppose the Austrian offensive in the Trentino, she mobilized a new army of half a million men, completely equipped it, and moved it to the front, all in seven days; that, were her trench lines carefully ironed out, they would extend as far as from New York to Salt Lake City; that, instead of digging these trenches, she has had to blast most of them from the solid rock; that she has mounted 8-inch guns on ice-ledges nearly two miles above sea-level, in positions to which a skilled mountaineer would find it perilous to climb; that in places the infantry has advanced by driving iron pegs and rings into the perpendicular walls of rock and swarming up the dizzy ladders thus constructed; that many of the positions can be reached only in baskets slung from sagging wires stretched across mile-deep chasms; that many of her soldiers are living like arctic explorers, in caverns of ice and snow; that on the sun-scorched floor of the Carso the bodies of the dead have frequently been found baked hard and mummified, while in the mountains they have been found stiff, too, but stiff from cold; that in the lowlands of the Isonzo the soldiers have fought in water to their waists, while the water for the armies fighting in the Trentino has had to be brought up from thousands of feet below; and, most important of all, that she has kept engaged some forty Austrian divisions (about 750,000 men)--a force sufficient to have turned the scale in favor of the Central Powers on any of the other fronts. And I have usually added: "After what I have seen over there, I feel like lifting my hat, in respect and admiration, to the next Italian that I see."
[Illustration: The Teleferica.
[Illustration: An Italian Position in the Carnia.
It is no exaggeration to say that not one American in a thousand has any adequate conception of what Italy is fighting for, nor any appreciation of the splendid part she is playing in the war. This lack of knowledge, and the consequent lack of interest, is, however, primarily due to the Italians themselves. They are suspicious of foreigners. They are by nature shy. More insular than the French or English, they are only just commencing to realize the political value of our national maxim: "It pays to advertise." Though they want publicity they do not know how to get it. Instead of welcoming neutral correspondents and publicists, they have, until very recently, met them with suspicion and hinderances. What little news is permitted to filter through is coldly official, and is altogether unsuited for American consumption. The Italians are staging one of the most remarkable and inspiring performances that I have seen on any front--a performance of which they have every reason to be proud--but diffidence and conservatism have deterred them from telling the world about it.
To visit Italy in these days is no longer merely a matter of buying a ticket and boarding a train. To comply with the necessary formalities takes the better part of a week. Should you, an American, wish to travel from Paris to Rome, for example, you must first of all obtain from the American consul-general a special visé for Italy, together with a statement of the day and hour on which you intend to leave Paris, the frontier station at which you will enter Italy, and the cities which you propose visiting. The consul-general will require of you three carte-de-visite size photographs. Armed with your viséd passport, you must then present yourself at the Italian Consulate where several suave but very businesslike gentlemen will subject you to a series of extremely searching questions. And you can be perfectly certain that they are in possession of enough information about you to check up your answers. Should it chance that your grandfather's name; was Schmidt, or something equally German-sounding, it is all off. The Italians, I repeat, are a suspicious folk, and they are taking no chances. Moreover, unless you are able to convince them of the imperative necessity of your visiting Italy, you do not go. Tourists and sensation seekers are not wanted in Italy in these times; the railways are needed for other purposes. If, however, you succeed in satisfying the board of examiners that you are not likely to be either a menace or a nuisance, a special passport for the journey will be issued you. Three more photographs, please. This passport must then be indorsed at the Prefecture of Police. (Votre photographie s'il vous plait.) Should you neglect to obtain the police visé you will not be permitted to board the train.
Upon reaching the frontier you are ushered before a board composed of officials of the French Service de Sûrété and the Italian Questura and again subjected to a searching interrogatory. Every piece of luggage in the train is unloaded, opened, and carefully examined. It having been discovered that spies were accustomed to conceal in their compartments any papers which they might be carrying, and retrieving them after the frontier was safely passed, the through trains have now been discontinued, passengers and luggage, after the examination at the frontier, being sent on by another train. In addition to the French and Italian secret-service officials, there are now on duty at the various frontier stations, and likewise in Athens, Naples, and Rome, keen-eyed young officers of the "Hush-Hush Brigade," as the British Intelligence Department is disrespectfully called, whose business it is to scrutinize the thousands of British subjects--officers returning from India, Egypt, or Salonika, or from service with the Mediterranean fleet, King's messengers, diplomatic couriers--who are constantly crossing Italy on their way to or from England.
That the arm of the enemy is very long, and that it is able to strike at astounding distances and in the most unexpected places, is brought sharply home to one as the train pulls out of the Genoa station. From Genoa to Pisa, a distance of a hundred miles, the railway closely hugs the Mediterranean shore. At night all the curtains on that side of the train must be kept closely drawn and, as an additional precaution, the white electric-light bulbs in the corridors and compartments have been replaced by violet ones. If you ask the reason for this you are usually met with evasions. But, if you persist, you learn that it is done to avoid the danger of the trains being shelled by Austrian submarines! (Imagine, if you please, the passengers on the New York-Boston trains being ordered to keep their windows darkened because enemy submarines have been reported off the coast.) In this war remoteness from the firing-line does not assure safety. Spezia, for example, which is a naval base of the first importance, is separated from the firing-line by the width of the Italian peninsula. Until a few months ago its inhabitants felt as snug and safe as though they lived in Spain. Then, one night, an Austrian airman crossed the Alps, winged his way above the Lombard plain, and let loose on Spezia a rain of bombs which caused many deaths and did enormous damage.
Even the casual traveller in Italy to-day cannot fail to be struck by the prosperity which the war has brought to the great manufacturing cities of the north as contrasted with the commercial stagnation which prevails in the southern provinces of the kingdom. In the munition plants, most of which are in the north, are employed upward of half a million workers, of whom 75,000 are women. Genoa, Milan, and Turin are a-boom with industry. The great automobile factories have expanded amazingly in order to meet the demand for shells, field-guns, and motor-trucks. Turin, as an officer smilingly remarked, "now consists of the Fiat factory and a few houses." The United States is not the only country to produce that strange breed known as munitions millionaires. Italy has them also--and the jewellers and champagne agents are doing a bigger business than they have ever done before.
As the train tears southward into Tuscany you begin to catch fleeting glimpses of the men who are making possible this sudden prosperity--the men who are using the motor-trucks and the shells and the field-guns. They don't look very prosperous or very happy. Sometimes you see them drawn up on the platforms of wayside stations, shivering beneath their scanty capes in the chill of an Italian dawn. Usually there is a background of wet-eyed women, with shawls drawn over their heads, and nearly always with babies in their arms. And on nearly every siding were standing long trains of box-cars, bedded with straw and filled with these same wiry, brown-faced little men in their rat-gray uniforms, being hurried to the fighting in the north. It reminded me of those long cattle-trains one sees in the Middle West, bound for the Chicago slaughter-houses.
Rome in war-time is about as cheerful as Coney Island in midwinter. Empty are the enticing little shops on the Piazza di Spagna. Gone from the marble steps are the artists' models and the flower-girls. To visit the galleries of the Vatican is to stroll through an echoing marble tomb. The guards and custodians no longer welcome you for the sake of your tips, but for the sake of your company. The King, who is with the army, visits Rome only rarely; the Queen occupies a modest villa in the country; the Palace of the Quirinal has been turned into a hospital. The great ballroom, the state dining-room, the throne-room, even the Queen's sun-parlor, are now filled with white cots, hundreds and hundreds of them, each with its bandaged occupant, while in the famous gardens where Popes and Emperors and Kings have strolled, convalescent soldiers now laze in the sun or on the gravelled paths play at bowls. In giving up their home for the use of the wounded, the King and Queen have done a very generous and noble thing, and the Italian people are not going to forget it.
If Rome, which is the seat of government, shows such unmistakable signs of depression, imagine the stagnation of Florence, which has long been as dependent upon its crop of tourists as a Dakota farmer is upon his crop of wheat. The Cascine Gardens, in the old days one of the gayest promenades in Europe, are as lonely as a cemetery. At those hotels on the Lung' Arno, which remain open, the visitor can make his own terms. The Via Tornabuoni is as quiet as a street in a country town. The dealers in antiques, in souvenirs, in pictures, in marbles, have most of them put up their shutters and disappeared, to return, no doubt, in happier times.
There is in the Via Tornabuoni, midway between Giacosa's and the American Consulate, an excellent barber shop. The owner, who learned his trade in the United States, is the most skilful man with scissors and razor that I know. His customers came from half the countries of the globe.
"But they are all gone now," he told me sadly. "Some are fighting, some have been killed, the others have gone back to their homes until the war is over. Three years ago I had as nice a little business as a man could ask for. To-day I do not make enough to pay my rent. But it doesn't make much difference, for next month my class is called to the colors, and in the spring my son, who will then be eighteen, will also have to go."
No, they're not very enthusiastic over the war in Florence. But you can't blame them, can you?
In none of the great cities known and loved by Americans has the war wrought such startling changes as in Venice. Because it is a naval base of the first importance, because it is almost within sight of the Austrian coast, and therefore within easy striking distance of Trieste, Fiume, and Pola, and because throughout Venetia Austrian spies abound, Venice is a closed city. It reminded me of a beautiful playhouse which had been closed for an indefinite period: the fire-curtain lowered, the linen covers drawn over the seats, the carpets rolled up, the scenery stored away, the great stage empty and desolate. Gone are the lights, the music, the merriment which made Venice one of the happiest and most care free of cities. Because of the frequent air raids--Venice has been attacked from the sky nearly a hundred times since the war began--the city is put to bed promptly at nightfall. To show a light from a door or window after dark is to invite a domiciliary visit from the police and, quite possibly, arrest on the charge of attempting to communicate with the enemy. The illumination of the streets is confined to small candle-power lights in blue or purple bulbs, the weakened rays being visible for only a short distance. To stroll at night in the darkened streets is to risk falling into a canal, while the use of an electric torch would almost certainly result in arrest as a spy. The ghastly effect produced by the purple lights, the utter blackness of the canals, the deathly silence, broken only by the sound of water lapping the walls of the empty palazzos, combine to give the city a peculiarly weird and sepulchral appearance.
Of the great hotels which line the Canale Grande, only the Danieli remains open. Over the others fly the Red Cross flags, and in their windows and on their terraces lounge wounded soldiers. The smoking-room of the Danieli, where so many generations of travelling Americans have chatted over their coffee and cigars, has been converted into a rifugio, in which the guests can find shelter in case of an air attack. A bomb-proof ceiling has been made of two layers of steel rails, laid crosswise, and ramparts of sand-bags have been built against the walls. On the doors of the bedrooms are posted notices urging the guests, when hostile aircraft are reported, to make directly for the rifugio, and remain there until the raid is over. In other cities in the war zone the inhabitants take to their cellars during aerial attacks, but in Venice there are no cellars, and the buildings are, for the most part, too old and poorly built to afford safety from bombs. To provide adequate protection for the population, particularly in the poorer and more congested districts of the city, has, therefore, proved a serious problem for the authorities. Owing to its situation, Venice is extremely vulnerable to air attacks, for the Austrian seaplanes, operating from Trieste or Pola, can glide across the Adriatic under cover of darkness, and are over the city before their presence is discovered. Before the anti-aircraft guns can get their range, or the Italian airmen can rise and engage them, they have dropped their bombs and fled. Although, generally speaking, the loss of life resulting from these aerial forays is surprising small, they are occasionally very serious affairs. During an air raid on Padua, which occurred a few days before I was there, a bomb exploded in the midst of a crowd of terrified townspeople who were struggling to gain entrance to a rifugio. In that affair 153 men, women, and children lost their lives.
The admiral in command of Venice showed me a map of the city, which, with the exception of a large rectangle, was thickly sprinkled with small red dots. There must have been several hundred of them.
"These dots," he explained, "indicate where Austrian bombs have fallen."
"This part of the city seems to have been peculiarly fortunate," I remarked, placing my finger on the white square.
"That," said he, "is the Arsenal. For obvious reasons we do not reveal whether any bombs have fallen there."
Considering the frequency with which Venice has been attacked from the air, its churches, of which there are an extraordinary number, have escaped with comparatively little damage. Only four, in fact, have suffered seriously. Of these, the church of Santa Maria Formosa has sustained the greatest damage, its magnificent interior, with the celebrated decorations by Palma Vecchio, having been transformed through the agency of an Austrian bomb, into a heap of stone and plaster. Another bomb chose as its target the great dome of the church of San Pietro di Castello, which stands on the island of San Pietro, opposite the Arsenal. On the Grand Canal, close by the railway-station, is the Chiesa degli Scalzi, whose ceiling by Tiepolo, one of the master's greatest works, has suffered irreparable injury. Santi Giovanni e Páolo, next to St. Mark's the most famous church in Venice, has also been shattered by a bomb.
I asked the officer in command of the aerial defenses of Venice if he thought that the Austrian airmen intentionally bomb churches, hospitals, and monuments, as has been so often asserted in the Allied press.
"It's this way," he explained. "A dozen aviators are ordered to bombard a certain city. Three or four of them are real heroes and, at the risk of their lives, descend low enough to make certain of their targets before releasing their bombs. The others, however, rather than come within range of the anti-aircraft guns, remain at a safe height, drop their bombs at random as soon as they are over the city, and then clear out. Is it very surprising, then, that bombs dropped from a height of perhaps ten thousand feet, by aircraft travelling sixty miles an hour, miss the forts and barracks for which they are intended and hit churches and dwellings instead?"
Intentional or not, the bombardment of the Venetian churches is a blunder for which the Austrians will pay dearly in loss of international good-will. A century hence these shattered churches will be pointed out to visitors as the work of the modern Vandals, and lovers of art and beauty throughout the world will execrate the nation which permitted the sacrilege. They have destroyed glass and paintings and sculptures that were a joy to the whole world, they have undone the work of saints and heroes and masters, and they have gained no corresponding military advantage. In every city which has been subjected to air raids the inhabitants have been made more obstinate, more iron-hard in their determination to keep on fighting. The sight of shattered churches, of wrecked dwellings, of mangled women and dead babies, does not terrify or dismay a people: it infuriates them. In the words of Talleyrand: "It is worse than a crime; it is a mistake."
The strangest sight in Venice to-day is St. Mark's. There is nothing in its present appearance, inside or out, to suggest the famous cathedral which so many millions of people have reverenced and loved. Indeed, there is little about it to suggest a church at all. It looks like a huge and ugly warehouse, like a car barn, like a Billy Sunday tabernacle, for, in order to protect the wonderful mosaics and marbles which adorn the church's western façade, it has been sheathed, from ground to roof, with unpainted planks, and these, in turn, have been covered with great squares of asbestos. By this use of fire-proof material it is hoped that, even should the church be hit by a bomb, there may be averted a fire such as did irreparable damage to the Cathedral of Rheims.
The famous bronze horses have been removed from their place over the main portal of St. Mark's, and taken, I believe, to Florence. It is not the first travelling that they have done, for from the triumphal arch of Nero they once looked down on ancient Rome. Constantine sent them to adorn the imperial hippodrome which he built in Constantinople, whence the Doge Dandolo brought them as spoils of war to Venice when the thirteenth century was still young. In 1797 Napoleon carried them to Paris, but after the downfall of the Emperor they were brought back to Venice by the Austrians and restored to their ancient position. There they remained for just a hundred years, until the menace of the Austrian aircraft necessitated their hasty removal to a place of safety. Of them one of Napoleon's generals is said to have remarked disparagingly: "They are too coarse in the limbs for cavalry use, and too light for the guns." In any event, they were the only four horses, alive or dead, in the whole city, and the Venetians love them as though they were their children.
If in its war dress the exterior of St. Mark's presents a strange appearance, the transformation of the interior is positively startling. Nothing that ingenuity can suggest has been left undone to protect the sculptures, mosaics, glass, and marbles which, brought by the seafaring Venetians from the four corners of the globe, make St. Mark's the most beautiful of churches. Everything portable has been removed to a place of safety, but the famous mosaics, the ancient windows, and the splendid carvings it is impossible to remove, and they are the most precious of all. The two pulpits of colored marbles and the celebrated screen with its carven figures are now hidden beneath pyramids of sand-bags. The spiral columns of translucent alabaster which support the altar, are padded with excelsior and wrapped with canvas. Swinging curtains of quilted burlap protect the walls of the chapels and transepts from flying shell fragments. Yet all these precautions would probably avail but little were a bomb to strike St. Mark's. In the destruction that would almost certainly result there would perish mosaics and sculptures which were in their present places when Vienna was still a Swabian village, and Berlin had yet to be founded on the plain above the Spree.
If it has proved difficult to protect from airplane fire the massive basilica of St. Mark's, consider the problem presented to the authorities by the Palace of the Doges, that creation of fairylike loveliness, whose exquisite façades, with their delicate window tracery and fragile carvings, would be irretrievably ruined by a well-aimed bomb. In order to avert such a disaster, it was proposed to protect the façades of the palace by enclosing the building in temporary walls of masonry. It was found, however, that this plan was not feasible, as the engineers reported that the piles on which the ancient building is poised would submerge if subjected to such an additional weight. All that they have been able to do, therefore, is to shore up the arches of the loggia with beams, fill up the windows with brick and plaster, and pray to the patron saint of Venice to save the city's most exquisite structure.
The gilded figure of an angel, which for so many centuries has looked down on Venice from the summit of the Campanile, has been given a dress of battleship gray that it may not serve as a landmark for the Austrian aviators. Over the celebrated equestrian statue of Colleoni--of which Ruskin said: "I do not believe there is a more glorious work of sculpture existing in the world"--has been erected a titanic armored sentry-box, which is covered, in turn, with layer upon layer of sand-bags. Could the spirit of that great soldier of fortune be consulted, however, I rather fancy that he would insist upon sitting his bronze warhorse, unprotected and unafraid, facing the bombs of the Austrian airmen just as he used to face the bolts of the Austrian crossbowmen.
The commercial life of Venice is virtually at a standstill. Most of the glass and lace manufactories have been forced to shut down. The dealers in curios and antiques lounge idly in their doorways, deeming themselves fortunate if they make a sale a month. All save one or two of the great hotels which have not been taken over by the Government for hospitals have had to close their doors. The hordes of guides and boatmen and waiters who depended for their living upon the tourists are--such of them as have not been called to the colors--without work and in desperate need. In normal times a quarter of Venice's 150,000 inhabitants are paupers, and this percentage must have enormously increased, for, notwithstanding the relief measures which the Government has taken, unemployment is general, the prices of food are constantly increasing, and coal has become almost impossible to obtain. Fishing, which was one of the city's chief industries, is now an exceedingly hazardous employment because of submarines and floating mines. Save for the clumsy craft of commerce, the gondolas have largely disappeared, and with them has disappeared, only temporarily, let us hope, the most picturesque feature of Venetian life. They have been driven off by the slim, polished, cigar-shaped power-boats, which tear madly up and down and crossways of the canals in the service of the military government and of the fleet. To use a gondola, particularly at night, is as dangerous as it would be to drive upon a motor race-course with a horse and buggy, for, as no lights are permitted, one is in constant peril of being run down by the recklessly driven power craft, whose wash, by the way, is seriously affecting the foundations of many of the palazzos.
It is an unfamiliar, gloomy, mysterious place, is war-time Venice, but in certain respects I liked it better than the commercialized city of antebellum days. Gone are the droves of loud-voiced tourists, gone the impudent boatmen, the importunate beggars, the impertinent guides, gone the glare of lights and the blare of cheap music. No longer do the lantern-strung barges of the musicians gather nightly off the Molo. No longer across the waters float the strains of "Addio di Napoli" and "Ciri-Biri-Bi"; the Canale Grande is dark and silent now. The tourist hostelries, on whose terraces at night gleamed the white shirt-fronts of men and the white shoulders of women, now have as their only guests the white-bandaged wounded. In its darkness, its mystery, its silence, it is once again the Venice of the Middle Ages, the Venice of lovers and conspirators, of inquisitors and assassins, the Venice of which Shakespeare sang.
But with the coming of dawn the Venice of the twelfth century is abruptly transformed into the Venice of the twentieth. The sun, rising out of the Adriatic, turns into ellipsoids of silver the aluminum-colored observation balloons which form the city's first line of aerial defense. As the sun climbs higher it brings into bold relief the lean barrels of the anti-aircraft guns, which, from the roofs of the buildings to the seaward, sweep the eastern sky. Abreast the Public Gardens the great war-ships, in their coats of elephant-gray, swing lazily at their moorings. Near the Punta della Motta lie the destroyers, like greyhounds held in leash. Off the Riva Schiavoni, on the very spot, no doubt, where Dandolo's war-galleys lay, are anchored the British submarines. And atop his granite column, a link with the city's glorious and warlike past, still stands the winged lion of St. Mark, snarling a perpetual challenge at his ancient enemy--Austria.
The Comando Supremo, or Great Headquarters, of the Italian army is at Udine, an ancient Venetian town some twenty miles from the Austrian frontier. This is supposed to be a great secret, and must not be mentioned in letters or newspaper despatches, it being assumed that, were the Austrians to learn of the presence in Udine of the Comando Supremo, their airmen would pay inconvenient visits to the town, and from the clouds would drop their steel calling-cards on the King and General Cadorna. So, though every one in Italy is perfectly aware that the head of the Government and the head of the army are at Udine, the fact is never mentioned in print. To believe that the Austrians are ignorant of the whereabouts of the Italian high command is to severely strain one's credulity. The Italians not only know where the Austrian headquarters is situated, but they know in which houses the various generals live, and the restaurants in which they eat. This extreme reticence of the Italians seems a little irksome and overdone after the frankness one encounters on the French and British fronts, but it is due, no doubt, to the admonitions which are posted in hotels, restaurants, stations, and railway carriages throughout Italy: "It is the patriotic duty of good citizens not to question the military about the war," and: "The military are warned not to discuss the war with civilians. An indiscreet friend can be as dangerous as an enemy."
My previous acquaintance with Udine had been confined to fleeting glimpses of it from the windows of the Vienna-Cannes express. Before the war it was, like the other towns which dot the Venetian plain, a quaint, sleepy, easy-going place, dwelling in the memories of its past, but with the declaration of hostilities it suddenly became one of the busiest and most important places in all Italy. From his desk in the Prefecture, General Cadorna, a short, wiry, quick-moving man in the middle sixties, with a face as hard and brown as a hickory-nut, directs the operations of the armies along that four-hundred-and-fifty-mile-long battle-line which stretches from the Stelvio to the sea. The cobble-paved streets and the vaulted arcades are gay with many uniforms, for, in addition to the hundreds of staff and divisional officers quartered in Udine, the French, British, Russian, and Belgian Governments maintain there military missions, whose business it is to keep the staffs of their respective armies constantly in touch with the Italian high command, thus securing practical co-operation. In a modest villa, a short distance outside the town, dwells the King, who has been on the front almost constantly since the war began. Although, as ruler of the kingdom, he is commander-in-chief of the Italian armies, he rarely gives advice unless it is asked for, and never interferes with the decisions of the Comando Supremo. Scarcely a day passes that he does not visit some sector of the battle-line. Officers and men in some of the lonely mountain commands told me that the only general who has visited them is the King. Should he venture into exposed positions, as he frequently does, he is halted by the local command. It is, of course, tactfully done. "I am responsible for your Majesty's safety," says the officer. "Were there to be an accident I should be blamed." Whereupon the King promptly withdraws. If he is not permitted to take unnecessary risks himself, neither will he permit others. When the Prince of Wales visited the Italian front last summer, he asked permission to enter a certain first-line trench, which was being heavily shelled. The King bluntly refused. "I want no historic incidents here," he remarked dryly.
[Illustration: The King of Italy and General Cadorna at Castelnuovo.
[Illustration: The Peril in the Clouds.
To obtain a room in Udine is as difficult as it is to obtain hotel accommodation in New York during the Automobile Show. But, because I was a guest of the Government, I found that a room had been reserved for me by the Comando Supremo at the Hotel Croce di Malta. I was told that since the war three proprietors of this hotel had made their fortunes and retired, and after I received my bill I believed it. There was in my room one of those inhospitable, box-shaped porcelain stoves so common in North Italy and the Tyrol. To keep a modest wood-fire going in that stove cost me exactly thirty lire (about six dollars) a day. But a fire was a necessity. Luxuries came higher. Yet the scene in the hotel's shabby restaurant at the dinner-hour was well worth the fantastic charges, for there gathered there nightly as interesting a company as I have not often seen under one roof: a poet and novelist who has given to Italy the most important literary work since the days of the great classics, and who, by his fiery and impassioned speeches, did more than any single person to force the nation's entrance into the war; an American dental surgeon who abandoned an enormously lucrative practice in Rome to establish at the front a hospital where he has performed feats approaching the magical in rebuilding shrapnel-shattered faces; a Florentine connoisseur, probably the greatest living authority on Italian art, who has been commissioned with the preservation of all the works of art in the war zone; an English countess who is in charge of an X-ray car which operates within range of the Austrian guns; a young Roman noble whom I had last seen, in pink, in the hunting-field; a group of khaki-clad officers from the British mission, cold and aloof of manner despite their being among allies; a party of Russians, their hair clipped to the skull, their green tunics sprinkled with stars and crosses; half a dozen French military attachés in beautifully cut uniforms of horizon-blue; and Italian officers, animated and gesticulative, on whose breasts were medal ribbons showing that they had fought in forgotten wars in forgotten corners of Africa. At one table they were discussing the probable date of some Roman remains which had just been unearthed at Aquileia; at another an argument was in progress over the merits of vers libre; one of the Russians was explaining a new system he had evolved for breaking the bank at Monte Carlo; the young English countess was retailing the latest jokes from the London music-halls, but nowhere did I hear mentioned the grim and bloody business which had brought us, of so many minds and from so many lands, to this shabby, smoke-filled, garlic-scented room in this little frontier town. Yet, had the door been opened, and had we stilled our voices, we could have heard, quite plainly, the sullen grumble of the cannon.