Read CHAPTER XII of The Pentecost of Calamity , free online book, by Owen Wister, on

Can the splendid land of Goethe unlearn its Prussian lesson and regain its own noble sanity, or has it too long inhaled the fumes?  There is no saying yet.  Still they sit inside their wall.  Like a trained chorus they still repeat that England made the war, that Louvain was not destroyed, that Rheims was not bombarded, that their Fatherland is the unoffending victim of world-jealousy.  When travelers ask what proofs they have, the trained chorus has but one reply:  “Our government officials tell us so.”  Berlin, Cologne, Munich ­all their cities ­give this answer to the traveler.  Nothing that we know do they know.  It is kept from them.  Their brains still wear the Prussian uniform and go mechanically through the Prussian drill.  Will adversity lift this curse?

Something happened at Louvain ­a little thing, but let it give us hope.  In the house of a professor at the University some German soldiers were quartered, friendly, considerate, doing no harm.  Suddenly one day, in obedience to new orders, they fell on this home, burned books, wrecked rooms, destroyed the house and all its possessions.  Its master is dead.  His wife, looking on with her helpless children, saw a soldier give an apple to a child.

“Thank you,” she said; “you, at least, have a heart.”

“No, madam,” said the German; “it is broken.”

Goethe said:  “He who wishes to exert a useful influence must be careful to insult nothing....  We are become too humane to enjoy the triumphs of Cæsar.”  Ninety years after he said this Germany took the Belgian women from their ruined villages ­some of these women being so infirm that for months they had not been out-of-doors ­and loaded them on trains like cattle, and during several weeks exposed them publicly to the jeers and scoffs and insults of German crowds through city after city.

Perhaps the German soldier whose heart was broken by Louvain will be one of a legion, and thus, perhaps, through thousands of broken German hearts, Germany may become herself again.  She has hurled calamity on a continent.  She has struck to pieces a Europe whose very unpreparedness answers her ridiculous falsehood that she was attacked first.  Never shall Europe be again as it was.  Our brains, could they take in the whole of this war, would burst.

But Calamity has its Pentecost.  When its mighty wind rushed over Belgium and France, and its tongues of fire sat on each of them, they, too, like the apostles in the New Testament, began to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance.  Their words and deeds have filled the world with a splendor the world had lost.  The flesh, that has dominated our day and generation, fell away in the presence of the Spirit.  I have heard Belgians bless the martyrdom and awakening of their nation.  They have said: 

“Do not talk of our suffering; talk of our glory.  We have found ourselves.”

Frenchmen have said to me:  “For forty-four years we have been unhappy, in darkness, without health, without faith, believing the true France dead.  Resurrection has come to us.”  I heard the French Ambassador, Jules Jusserand, say in a noble speech:  “George Eliot profoundly observes that to every man comes a crisis when in a moment, without chance for reflection, he must decide and act instantly.  What determines his decision?  His whole past, the daily choices between good and evil that he has made throughout his previous years ­these determine his decision.  Such a crisis fell in a moment on France; she acted instantly, true to her historic honor and courage.”

Every day deeds of faith, love and renunciation are done by the score and the hundred which will never be recorded, and every one of which is noble enough to make an immortal song.  All over the broken map of Europe, through stricken thousands of square miles, such deeds are being done by Servians, Russians, Poles, Belgians, French and English, ­yes, and Germans too, ­the souls of men and women rising above their bodies, flinging them away for the sake of a cause.  Think of one incident only, only one of the white-hot gleams of the Spirit that have reached us from the raging furnace.  Out from the burning cathedral of Rheims they were dragging the wounded German prisoners lying helpless inside on straw that had begun to burn.  In front of the church the French mob was about to shoot or tear to pieces those crippled, defenseless enemies.  You and I might well want to kill an enemy who had set fire to Mount Vernon, the house of the Father of our Country.

For more than seven hundred years that great church of Rheims had been the sacred shrine of France.  One minute more and those Germans lying or crawling outside the church door would have been destroyed by the furious people.  But above the crash of rafters and glass, the fall of statues, the thunder of bombarding cannon, and the cries of French execration, rose one man’s voice.  There on the steps of the ruined church stood a priest.  He lifted his arms and said: 

“Stop; remember the ancient ways and chivalry of France.  It is not Frenchmen who trample on a maimed and fallen foe.  Let us not descend to the level of our enemies.”

It was enough.  The French remembered France.  Those Germans were conveyed in safety to their appointed shelter ­and far away, across the lands and oceans, hearts throbbed and eyes grew wet that had never looked on Rheims.

These are the tongues of fire; this is the Pentecost of Calamity.  Often it must have made brothers again of those who found themselves prone on the battlefield, neighbors awaiting the grave.  In Flanders a French officer of cavalry, shot through the chest, lay dying, but with life enough still to write his story to the lady of his heart.  He wrote thus: 

“There are two other men lying near me, and I do not think there is much hope for them either.  One is an officer of a Scottish regiment and the other a private in the uhlans.  They were struck down after me, and when I came to myself I found them bending over me, rendering first aid.  The Britisher was pouring water down my throat from his flask, while the German was endeavoring to stanch my wound with an antiseptic preparation served out to their troops by the medical corps.  The Highlander had one of his legs shattered, and the German had several pieces of shrapnel buried in his side.

“In spite of their own sufferings, they were trying to help me; and when I was fully conscious again the German gave us a morphia injection and took one himself.  His medical corps had also provided him with the injection and the needle, together with printed instructions for their use.  After the injection, feeling wonderfully at ease, we spoke of the lives we had lived before the war.  We all spoke English, and we talked of the women we had left at home.  Both the German and the Britisher had been married only a year....

“I wondered ­and I suppose the others did ­why we had fought each other at all.  I looked at the Highlander, who was falling to sleep, exhausted, and, in spite of his drawn face and mud-stained uniform, he looked the embodiment of freedom.  Then I thought of the Tricolor of France and all that France had done for liberty.  Then I watched the German, who had ceased to speak.  He had taken a prayer book from his knapsack, and was trying to read a service for soldiers wounded in battle.  And ... while I watched him I realized what we were fighting for....  He was dying in vain, while the Britisher and myself, by our deaths, would probably contribute something toward the cause of civilization and peace.”

Thus wrote this young French officer of cavalry to the lady of his heart, the American lady to whom he was engaged.  The Red Cross found the letter at his side.  Through it she learned the manner of his death.  This, too, is the Pentecost of Calamity.