The Refugees

by Marie Tello Phillips

Marie Tello Phillips

The moonlight streamed across the broken road,
Revealing gaps torn out by murderous bombs;
On either side, in outlines undefined,
Loomed awful sights, in gruesome groops —
The ravages of war's terrific sway.

To eyes inured to dusk, appeared a group
Of figures, indistinct, — a man, bowed down
On bended knees, poured forth an anguished prayer;
Then lifting up his voice, he called aloud:
" My God! My God! Hast Thou forsaken me
In these my failing years? "
Near, on the ground,
An aged woman lay, as she had fallen;
A boy, asleep, was pillowed on her breast.

For all along the way from Campiegne,
A stream of Refugees had poured that day;
Driven from homes, which they would see no more, —
Where, in past years, the fleeting hours had sped!
In those dear days of dalliance and love.
A house and garden, neatly bowered — on hillside —
Made a nest, where Grandpere had his home;
Here Jacques, his robust son, brought sweet Jeannette,
His bride, with silken curls, and laughing eyes,
To reign, and fill their latter years with joy.
Petit Pierre then came, — with baby-love
To overflow their cup of humble bliss.

The call " To Arms! " one day was heard, to wake
The village folk from their sweet dream of peace.
The Boches were at their doors! Paris, beloved,
Was threatened!

Answering the call at once,
Jacques was among the first.
The little group
Had bravely seen him go; one more embrace
For mother, dear, and father next, then Jeannette
Fondly pressing in a last farewell,
And snatching up Pierre for one more kiss,
Adieus were made with quivering sighs, yet tears
Commenced for them the weary watch;
But now and then a letter came from Jacques —
To say once more with pride: " On ne passe pas " !

Then came the hated Boches, with death entrain,
Through village streets, with clang of arms, and tramp
Of feet. While scurrying with blanching cheeks,
The villagers, alarmed, made all doors fast,
And hid their treasures from rapacious foes.
Brave citizens — the Mayor, and mere boys,
Guiltless, were stood against a wall and shot —
Accused of opposition to Hun might.
Horrors occurred, too base to be retailed;
Gray hairs got no respect from demon Boches;
Sweet babes, at mothers' breasts were slaughtered to
Adorn the points of bayonets! The devils
Cast the daughters out to rape, then " drunk
With blood, " they maimed and mutilated children.

Marie, once laughter-loving, now so sad,
Looked up to meet the ravening eyes of Boches.
In vain petit Pierre, with cries of fear,
Clung to her skirts and cried: — " Maman! Maman! "
He saw her dragged by rough and bestial hands
To degradation, death, or worse — to spend
Her days in agonized travail and shame.

Grandmere tried hard to dry poor baby's tears
And hush his cries, for fear of hellish deeds
That menaced him. Then taking bread and some
Few things of use along the way, in haste,
The three had joined the Refugees, to trudge
The dusty road that led far from the place
They once called home.

Their weary limbs could not
Keep up with the younger ones, who all day long
In one great stream, had trod the dreary road.
The hot sun burned their bodies. — dried the milk
In breasts of mothers nursing babes, — whose wails
Rang out — most pitiful! While groans were heard
From those, who by the wayside bore new souls,
— To open eyes on world most terrible;
And little toddlers, babies whimpering
Still clung to mothers' hands; while some fell down
To die, before the help from Christian hearts
Could rescue them from their untimely end.

Nightfall had left the weary group of three
Far back along the road, until at last,
Grandmere with faltering steps, fell to the ground,
And dragged petit Pierre with her; he slept
The sleep of one outdone by weariness.
Grandpere of sturdy stock, in spite of age,
Had still strength to feel the awful anguish
Of his plight. The wreck of all his plans
Remained to years of rectitude and toil.
He knelt, his figure gaunt, his gray locks dank,
In rays of clear moonlight, his silhouette
Was cast against the dark background of earth.
His aged treble pierced the night, — he prayed
In agonized appeal to " le bon Dieu " .

That cry at night, by the good God was heard:
His messengers of love and mercy, which
By His dear care were placed along the way,
Rode forth, — now East and West, and North and South.
Their ambulances sped on broken roads
With stores of gauze to staunch the wounds of those
Who needed Him, in their dark hour of pain.
And one, stopped by a shell-hole in the road,
Now heard that anguished cry and traced it to
Grandpere and his poor charges.

Soon in beds
All nice and clean, their tired limbs reposed;
Refreshed, they woke at break of day, to find
Great joy awaiting them: Pierre espied
His " Maman chere " , by miracle, unharmed,
Escaped from Huns, who in their haste to get
Away from Devils Blue, forgot their prey —
Jeannette had fled at once, and joined the throng
Of Refugees, who yesterday had reached
At last the Red Cross Hut.

She here had found
A letter from her Jacques, to say, — he sailed
With the Allies, — all sound, though weak from wound —
United States as guests had sent, that day,
On " bon voyage " , " les Diables Bleus " to see
Their land — to there regain the strength they'd spent,
To serve ldquo;la France " , — " la belle patrie " , so " chere " ,
And now he wore " le Croix de Guerre " with pride,
And stripes on sleeves, to show he'd fought three years.
At Verdun, in those dreadful days of siege,
A fragment from a bursting shell had struck
And wounded him as he was rescuing
A dying friend, who fell in " No Man's Land " ;
Reaching his lines, he dropped when at the trench;
But now with loving care, was getting well;
Before returning to the front, he hoped
To see them all again.
Also the news:
A sum was given by a generous " club " —
( " Americain " ), providing for Pierre;
Adopted , now he'd thrive in his own France,
To grow in beauty, health and love — at home.
And then our Refugees, with tears of joy,
Knelt down and thanked " bon Dieu " whose envoys true
" A band of mercy reaching around the Earth "
Unites us all in His encircling love, —
In spite of differences of creed or land, —
A vast community of souls: — The Great Red Cross!

Last updated October 26, 2022