Sunday, August 30, 2015

Shadows In A Timeless Myth Presents True stories of Heroic Women During WWI


Tales of Feminine Deeds of Daring
Thousands of stories from the battlefields tell of the heroism of the women of France, Russia, England, Italy—and all the countries involved in the war—women fighting as soldiers in every army; women who act as spies; women who risk their lives on dangerous missions. A few of these stories are told in these pages. The first three are from the New York World, and the fourth from the New York American.

If Mlle. Gouraud were not the niece of Gen. Gouraud, whose right arm was blown off by a bursting Turkish shell at the Dardanelles, and who was in command of the contingent of Russian troops fighting in France, and who succeeded Gen. Lyautey as Military Governor of Moroccco, she probably would never have had a chance to suffer from "tank sickness." And it's because she came so close to proving her point—that men and women are equal in war work as well as peace pursuits—that Mlle. Gouraud is discouraged. For to-day she is engaged in the—for her—exceedingly tame occupation of driving a motor ambulance between the railroad stations and the various hospitals in Paris.
Mlle. Gouraud has always believed in equal rights for women. When she was sixteen years old and first interested herself in suffrage she was hooted and laughed at. Her first speech was delivered in the Place de la Concorde, in Paris, near the Seine. The crowd deserted her for the river bank to watch some boys' swimming races.

"I'll show them," said Mlle. Gouraud, and forthwith began swimming.

Eighteen months later she was the champion woman swimmer of France, and defeated many Belgian, Italian and German swimmers. Once interested in sports she speedily branched out and became a proficient amateur boxer. She put on the gloves with Frank Moran and Willie Lewis and Eugene Mattrot, and even Georges Carpentier, in exhibition bouts. Then motorcycling became popular, and after she learned the ways and habits of a gas engine she learned to fly and was brevetted.

The day all France was plastered with mobilization order notices Mlle. Gouraud gave up sports. She offered herself for the army, but even the influence of her uncle, Gen. Gouraud, was not enough to win her entree direct into active service. Instead she obtained the post of ambulance driver for a certain unit of aviators. But she was never satisfied with that and finally obtained permission to fly at the front but in a biplane machine, with a Frenchman as mitrailleuse operator.

And there came the rub. Machine gunners clamored for chances to go up with the men pilots, but all hung back at going up with Mlle. Gouraud. It was unlucky, they said, and beside they didn't want to be in on the deal if she persisted in risking her life when there were plenty of men for the job. Just as sailors of old were superstitious about women on board ship, so were the observers and machine gunners superstitious about having a woman in their airplane. And they tried to prove their point by citing the fact that in the burned wreckage of the first Zeppelin brought down inside the French lines were the feet of an incinerated body clad in filmy silk stockings and tiny black satin slippers.
But Mlle. Gouraud stuck to aviation, hoping eventually to persuade some machine gunner to be her team mate and at the same time trying to find another girl who would enter the service with her, until the French Army created its "tank" corps. Then she lost no time in setting to work for a transfer to that arm of the service.

The order for "V. Gouraud" to join the "tanks" was finally put through and she went off to their base, behind the Champagne front, between Soissons and Rheims, thankful at last that she had won a berth in the newest and most dangerous and most exciting and the least understood and most interesting department of the army.

That was only a couple of weeks before Gen. Nivelle's great offensive was unleashed in the middle of April. It was just about the time that Lieut. Charles G. Sweeny of San Francisco and West Point, the only commissioned American in the French infantry, gave up his post in charge of a squadron of "tanks" to return to the United States and offer his services to the United States Army.

The first week of Mlle. Gouraud's training was easy and delightful to her. Inside the steel walls of the mobile fortress she learned to swing the little three-pounders and to operate the cartridge belts of the machine guns that bristled from all sides of the armored car. She learned how to sight through the periscopes projecting from the roof and sides to see the way and the enemy, and all the other routine work of the "tank's" crew.

But the second week, when she began her training in a "tank," spelled her undoing. The walls and the roof of the "tank" are covered with leather upholstery, and every projecting bit of mechanism and artillery in the little chamber was also cushioned with leather, because as the great steel fort plunged forward across shell craters and over trenches and up and down great piles of debris—which had once been French villages—the occupants were tossed about inside like ashes in a sifter.

But cuts and bruises and knocks and falls didn't weaken Mlle. Gouraud's determination to stay with the "tank" for the great offensive soon to be begun when the engines of destruction were to receive their baptism of fire under the tricolor. So she rigged up a sort of harness, with a line attached to a ring in the roof of the "tank" and with a belt around her waist. This left her swaying like a pendulum when the "tank" was moving but kept her from bumping against the walls, and, what was more important, from stumbling against other members of the crew and interfering in the pursuit of their duties.

Then the blow descended. Mlle. Gouraud fell ill of "tank sickness." Worse than seasickness, worse than any form of sickness which comes as result of riding in airplane, or on camel, or by any form of transportation ever invented, "tank sickness" rendered her absolutely incapable of remaining with the movable forts. So she was drafted out, sent to hospital as "malade" and in a few days when she was discharged, was shunted back to Paris as "reforme."

Just one fact consoles Mlle. Gouraud to a certain extent. And that is that she is not the only victim of "tank sickness."

"I stuck it out three days longer than any of the rest of the crew who were subject to it," she says.

The thrilling adventures of Mme. Simone Puget, noted Frenchwoman, who, under disguises as a Belgian peasant and British "Tommy," undertook reaching her husband in the trenches at the grave risk of losing both their lives. While they were still together his regiment was despatched to the dreaded "first line" and ten days later she was notified of his death under fire.

There arrived in New York from Europe a young Frenchwoman, Mme. Simone A. Puget, dressed in deep mourning. Watching her as she stepped ashore, a stranger scarcely could picture her as she actually was, not many months ago, wearing the uniform of an English soldier and risking her life in that vague, blood-soaked and shattered inferno of trenches, craters and barbed-wire called "somewhere in France," to reach her husband before he died.

Even before that Mme. Puget had achieved fame as the daring Frenchwoman who accompanied her husband, M. Andre Puget, the playwright and novelist, through the Orient disguised as his brother, and as the brilliant tennis player who captured the woman's championship for her country four years ago. Mme. Puget also is the author of "Les Etrangères," and other novels.

"There is so little to tell," she said quietly ... as she folded her hands on her simple black dress. "We were in Paris when war was declared and my husband was called to the front.

"I volunteered as an ambulance driver and worked almost day and night for four months carrying wounded from a field hospital to the big emergency hospitals in Paris.

"Then I heard that Andre had been wounded and sent to Moulins. I went to him immediately and stayed to nurse him until he was able to rejoin his regiment.

"After my return to Paris I received another message, this time from a little village close to the Belgian frontier, but across the border in Belgium. It did not say in so many words that Andre had been wounded again, but merely gave me the impression that he wanted to see me once more and that I was to try to reach him.

"I quickly realized the difficulties and dangers of such a journey. Only a short time before the military authorities had made it a law that any soldier whose wife was found in forbidden territory would be shot. But Andre and I had been through many dangers together and he knew that he could trust me. I prepared to start at once. Armed with my letter, which simply asked me to come without delay to the bedside of my dying grandfather, I left Paris for Belgium attired as a Belgian peasant girl.

"Outside Paris I was stopped. The military guards absolutely refused to let me proceed.

"'We see too many letters like yours,' was the only explanation offered.

"In vain did I plead and weep. Then when I had almost given up in despair, I spied an English officer whom Andre and I had met in India. I told him who I was and he recalled me at once, despite my peasant garb. I asked him to help me to reach my husband. He said it was impossible.

"But I was desperate and when I wept and quietly implored his aid, he said he would help me if he could. That was the last time I saw him, but after my return to the little hotel where I had spent the night I received a parcel containing a soldier's uniform together with some instructions.

"I always felt very much at home dressed as a man, for I travelled all through Persia and other parts of the Orient as my husband's brother.

"An artillery train with much baggage was about to move forward and I could go with that provided I didn't object to riding in a forage wagon for six hours. My peasant costume I was to take with me wrapped in a bundle. Once through the rear lines in Belgian territory I was to look out for myself.
"We started. I rode for hours and hours, expecting at every halt to be detected and questioned. But fortune smiled on me and that night after we were well across the border of Belgium I slipped down and walked forward unchallenged. The place fairly swarmed with soldiers, Belgian, French and British. Near a farm house I changed back to my simple Belgian peasant garb and prepared to resume my journey on foot as soon as it became daylight.

"Fortunately I had not many miles to reach the farm to which the letter had directed me. Walking all day I reached the farm that night and there I learned to my great joy that my husband was safe. He had not been wounded, but his regiment was under orders to leave within a day or so for another part of the front where severe fighting was expected and he wanted to see me once more, if possible, before he left. I saw him next day. He came to the farm. Then on the morrow he marched away with his regiment toward Arras, and ten days later he was killed."

Mme. Andre found that it was easier to get out of the war zone than into it and she had little difficulty in returning to Paris. There she began to raise funds for Red Cross work and to gather material for future reference about the men-of-letters of America, France and England who have given up their lives in the great war.

We in America find it possible to read with calm pulse and an attitude of cold, reasoned impartiality the stories that are written in red blood and heroic action by real participants in the great war. Their language, like their viewpoint, seems to us extreme, violent, embittered. Yet, inasmuch as the presence of stern reality, which colors viewpoint and language, is the same that inspired the valorous action itself, we submit, exactly as it came from Paris, this article, which recounts at first hand the desperate courage of Mlle. Moreau.

In the musty archives of the French Government she is merely Emilienne Moreau, youngest of her sex to have achieved mention in Gen. Joffre's Order of the Day and the right to wear upon her breast the Cross of War. But to thousands upon thousands of French and British soldiers, she is the Jeanne d'Arc of Loos—whose valiant spirit won back Loos for France.

The Official Journal has only this to say about Emilienne Moreau:

"On Sept. 25, 1915, when British troops entered the village of Loos, she organized a first-aid station in her house and worked day and night to bring in the wounded, to whom she gave all assistance, while refusing to accept any reward. Armed with a revolver she went out and succeeded in overcoming two German soldiers who, hidden in a nearby house, were firing at the first-aid station."
No mention is made in the official record of the fact that she shot down the two Germans when their bayonets were within a few inches of her body; and that later on she destroyed, with hand bombs snatched from a British grenadier's stock, three more foemen engaged in the same despicable work.
Nor is it set forth how, when the British line was wavering under the most terrible cyclone of shells ever let loose upon earth, Emilienne Moreau sprang forward with a bit of tri-colored bunting in her hand and the glorious words of the "Marseillaise" upon her lips, and by her fearless example averted a retreat that might have meant disaster along the whole front. Only the men who were in that fight can fully understand why Sir Douglas Haig was right in christening Emilienne Moreau the Joan of Arc of Loos.

All this happened during the last great offensive of the allies in Artois, between Arras and La Bassee. For almost a year before Emilienne Moreau, who is now just seventeen, had lived in Loos under the rule of the invader. During almost all of that time the village had been under the allies' artillery fire. Yet neither she nor her parents made any attempt to move to a safer place.

Their home was in Loos, and some day, they felt sure, the Germans would be driven back. They were always short of food. Sometimes they faced death by starvation, as well as by bombardment.
But they remained, and Emilienne even contrived to continue the studies by which she hoped to become a school teacher.

Like the historic Maid of Orleans, the maid of Loos has not only the warlike but the diplomatic genius. Despite the dangers she faced because she was both young and comely, she succeeded in gaining the Germans' confidence to such an extent they entrusted to her much of the administration of what remained of the village.

Children whose parents had been killed or taken away as prisoners were put in her care, and she was permitted to give them what little schooling was possible under the conditions. She was at the same time the guardian angel of her entire family; for her father, a hot-blooded old veteran of 1870, frequently put them in danger of drastic punishment by his furious denunciations of the enemy.

His chagrin so embittered him that, what with that and scanty nourishment, he died. Then Emilienne became the protectress and sole support of her mother and her ten-year-old brother.

She buried her father with her own hands, in a coffin built by her brother and herself, there being neither undertakers nor carpenters left in Loos. And she continued to go quietly about her many tasks, still stifling within her the resentment against the ever-present "Boche," until there came that glorious day when she knew the allies' offensive had begun.

For three days the girl huddled in the cellar with her terror-stricken mother and little brother waiting for the end of that awful cannonade which she realized was destined to bring the British to Loos.
Every minute of those seventy-two hours she and every one of the handful of old men, women and children in the village were facing death, but she told an English officer after it was all over that to her it had been the happiest time since the German occupation began.

As soon as Emilienne heard among the deep notes of the guns the sharp reports of rifles she rushed out into the street and into the midst of the first phase of the battle. The British were driving the Germans before them at the point of the bayonet, but there was still much desperate activity going forward with bombs and hand grenades, for remnants of the German main line were ensconced strongly in various fortlets and bombproofs scattered among the trenches. On every street of Loos the wounded lay thickly.

Emilienne saw there was only one way she could help them, and so very swiftly she turned the Moreau house into a miniature hospital, and with the aid of the British Red Cross men she tended as many wounded as she could drag from the maelstrom of the fight.

It was when the first lull came that she detected the firing upon her first-aid station. How she followed and shot down the two Germans responsible for this wanton attack is narrated in the official report. Not long afterward she located three more in the act of perpetrating the same outrage, and this trio she despatched with grenades borrowed from a British sergeant.

Although it was the first time in the war that a woman had fought with hand bombs, such was the confusion of the battle that her brave exploit passed unremarked until it was revealed by a special correspondent of a Paris newspaper, the Petit Parisien, who got the story from British soldiers. From the same source all France learned that because a young girl had been courageous enough to sing the "Marseillaise" amidst the din of battle the British troops had ceased to falter in their advance, and the village of Loos had again become part of France.

The spirit of Jeanne d'Arc, which inspired Mlle. Emilienne, is abroad, not only in her native France, but among the women of France's allies as well. Their heroines emerge in the war news day by day—sometimes individually, sometimes en masse.

There is an actual "Regiment de Jeanne"—a whole corps of French and Belgian women commanded by Mme. Louise Arnaud, who has obtained permission from the War Minister to put them in uniform. The corps is for general service at the front, one-third of the members to be enrolled as combatants, drilled and armed like ordinary soldiers, and all able to ride and swim.

Mme. Arnaud is the widow of an officer who was killed in the war. Her father was a merchant ship captain of Calais. Her new "amazon" command is to be officially designated the "Volunteer Corps of French and Belgian Women for National Defence."

Servian and Russian women are fighting alongside the men in the trenches along the Balkan and other fronts to-day. Mme. Alexandra Koudasheva, a distinguished Russian literary lady and musician, has been appointed Colonel of the Sixth Ural Cossack Regiment of the Czar's army, for her valiant services in the field.

England has the London Women's Volunteer Reserve, headed by Col. Viscountess Castlereagh, which drills regularly at Knightsbridge Barracks and has reached a high state of efficiency, both in manoeuvers and the manual of arms.

Many of the English women soldiers are assisting the authorities as guards of railway bridges and other points of military importance in out of the way parts of the country.

The British Government shows no disposition to make use of the women in fighting, but many of the women themselves are eager to fight. The "suffragettes" have made themselves remarkable by demanding a more vigorous prosecution of the war.

The reports generally agree that the women fight with great bravery and some even say that they display greater bloodthirstiness than men. This is an interesting question which has hardly yet been settled, although psychologists have furnished an explanation why we should expect them to be more ferocious. They are of course more emotional and when circumstances such as an attack on their homes or children force them to overcome their womanly instincts and resort to fighting, they throw away all restraint and fight with mad, instinctive ferocity.

A terrible tragedy, this cruel war that is tearing and searing Europe, but joy is sometimes an offspring of sorrow. In this instance one wonders if anything less strange and stern than an international earthquake would have delivered the beautiful Nadina Legat into the arms of Enrico Arensen. True, Arensen is a great singer and a distinguished musician, but he is a plebeian, whereas Mlle. Legat (her stage name), also a brilliant artist, is a member of a noble Russian family, the favorite daughter of General Schuvatoff, who is at present leading an army on the Roumanian frontier. Russian aristocrats, even if they have so far descended from their pedestals as to sing for the public, do not lightly relinquish their hereditary traditions, or if they listen to the pleadings of a lowly lover, a haughty parent intervenes and nips the tender affair in the bud. In this instance, however, it was Mars, and not Cupid, who broke the bars.
When you sit through a performance of grand opera—almost any one of those combinations of drama and music which retain their hold upon the public—you cannot fail to be impressed by the tragic misfortunes which pursue the hero and heroine. The wise composers of grand opera see to it that the principal tenor and the prima donna have troubles calculated to call forth their highest powers of vocal expression. To find these strange and inspiring situations they have searched the dramatic writings of the master-poets of all nations and periods.

Real life, however, occasionally moves a living hero and a living heroine in ways which the master-poets of grand opera could not foresee. By a strange coincidence that has happened to a principal tenor and a prima donna who are impersonating together before grand opera audiences classic heroes and heroines whose history and troubles were much less thrilling than their own.
Its coloratura soprano, formerly of the Russian Imperial Opera, is Mme. Nadina Legat, the much beset Gilda in "Rigoletto"—drawn from Victor Hugo's "Le Roi S'Amuse"; the heroine of "La Traviata," otherwise the consumptive Magdalene, Camille, created by the younger Dumas; the tragically unfortunate Lucia, for whom Donizetti went to Walter Scott's "Bride of Lammermoor."

The beginning of the story is essential because of its bearing on the "big situation." Legat and Arensen enjoyed their first great opera triumph together at the famous La Scala, in Milan, she was Gilda and he the Duke in "Rigoletto." Though both are of Russian birth, this was their first meeting. As La Scala is recognized throughout Europe as the final "acid test" of an opera singer's qualities, the status which both had attained separately in their own country was of comparatively small consequence. With nerves tense to the breaking point, each concentrated on the task of winning that cultivated, critical Milan audience.

At rehearsals their quarrels were rather fiercer than is usual between the principal tenor and the prima donna.

"At that time I could hardly endure him," says Mme. Legat. "We quarrelled terribly. He seemed so unreasonably insistent on certain details at the rehearsals that I considered him unbearable, insupportable."

But Mme. Legat confesses that this feeling did not survive the triumph which they won together. Shortly afterward, when he departed to fill an engagement with the Imperial Opera in Berlin and she was summoned back to Russia, they parted as friends. If they had developed a stronger feeling for each other, neither was aware of it.

They went about their separate opera affairs. The beginning of the European war found Arensen still an opera favorite in Berlin and Vienna. Mme. Legat was spending the Summer at Nice, after two years of distinguished success in Russia, upon which the Czar himself placed the imperial stamp. She wished to return at once to Petrograd, but hearing from her mother that the latter would come to her, she remained at Nice until the Russian Hospital at Monte Carlo was founded, when both became nurses there.

And, month after month, while the celebrated opera soprano was nursing wounded soldiers, not knowing nor caring about anything else, Arensen, the tenor with whom she had quarrelled so fiercely on the stage of La Scala, was virtually a prisoner of war in Germany. For ten[278] days after the beginning of hostilities he continued his successful appearances in Berlin—and then, without warning, the blow fell.

Some said that rival singers, native Germans, directed suspicion against him, as though inquiring:
"Russia is our enemy. What is this Russian doing here?"

One night German soldiers arrested him at the opera house and he was interned as an enemy alien. He appealed to the Government for release, pointing out that he was above the fighting age—as he then was, which was before the Russian army age limit was raised—and Germany would lose nothing by letting him go home. The suggestion fell upon deaf ears. His subsequent efforts to obtain his release the tenor himself relates:

"I was a prisoner for twenty-four hours in the Hausvogter Gefangniss, which is the delightful name the Berlinese give to the institution where they intern aliens. I sent a letter to the Kaiser himself, before whom I have many times sung, asking my release.

"It was not long before I received an answer to the letter, granting my request—a communication from the Kaiser. Of course, there were conditions. I was to go to America as soon as it was practicable for me to do so, anyhow, but that was not sufficient guarantee for the meticulous German war office.

"No, indeed. It was really a very solemn procedure. I had to sign an oath in German and Russian that I would never take up arms in any way against Germany or her allies. My word, once given, was sufficient. The German military commander in charge of the prison camp gave me my freedom, and I received a passport that permitted me to leave the country. On my last night in Germany some German officers opened champagne in my honor.

"I went through Switzerland to Italy, where I remained for some time—in fact, during the greater part of the long conflict that finally broke down the barriers of neutrality and led to Italy's enlistment in the war against her former allies. Eventually I crossed the Piedmont to the border town of Mentone, where I contemplated entering France.

"Alas! Here misfortune began anew. I had barely entered the town when I was halted by a French frontier guard. From that time on I was treated pretty harshly.

"The French Government put me under strict surveillance. I was forced to report twice a day at the town police headquarters, and was really under suspicion at all times. The reason was, of course, that my associations with so many Berlin people were known—the French were aware that I had remained in the German capital after war broke out, and did not purpose to take any chances with me.
"I appealed to the Russian Ambassador in Paris for help, but was turned down pretty coldly. 'I can't do anything for you,' was the gist of his reply to my request, 'because I know that you have a lot of German friends.'

"The outlook was, then, that I should have to remain practically a prisoner until the war was over. It was a pretty black future. At almost any time, something might happen, I suppose, that would give the French reason to think that they had been too lenient in merely keeping me under surveillance. I might have been interned and placed in a real prison camp.

"But Providence intervened. One day last Spring, just after the first Russian troops had come to France, I met a Russian soldier while he was off duty and had the opportunity I longed for to talk with someone who used my native tongue. When he learned my identity, he was much interested, and he gave me some news that proved a godsend.

"'You are Arensen, the tenor!' he said. 'How remarkable! Mme. Legat, of the Imperial Opera at Petrograd, is only a short distance from this place—in the Russian hospital at Monte Carlo!'
"Imagine how the news delighted me! Here, at last, was a friend on whom I could count. I thanked the man profusely for the information he had given. Then I went to my lodgings and wrote an appeal to my country-woman."

The exact wording of that appeal has not been submitted for publication. Its effect upon Mme. Legat was electrical. For the first time in nearly two years she became oblivious to her immediate surroundings—shattered and bleeding war heroes and the gruesome accessories of a military hospital. In all those months she had hardly thought of the quarrelsome tenor who had shared her triumph at La Scala. Now, suddenly, he occupied her whole mental vision—the central innocent victim of an impending tragedy.

So intense was that vision that it overwhelmed her with the vividness of reality. She saw French soldiers dragging Arensen, her countryman, from his prison cell. She saw them place him with his back against a wall. She saw them blindfold him—and she could hear the tramp, tramp of the firing squad. Those grim human instruments of martial law! They turn face to face with the doomed prisoner—their musket butts ring upon the concrete pavement of the prison yard....
Suddenly another figure, that of a woman, rushes upon the scene and falls upon her knees before the commandant of the firing squad.

Mme. Legat recognized this figure as herself—and with the terrifying vision constantly before her eyes she rushed off to Paris to make her personal appeal to the Russian Ambassador.
In the quiet, severe, official atmosphere of the Russian Embassy Mme. Legat calmed herself, collected her wits and prepared to measure them with those of M. Isowsky, her country's chief representative at the French capital. The Russian Ambassador paid to her the homage due to a celebrated singer—and then resumed his frigid official aspect. At her mention of Arensen he froze.
"But, Monsieur Arensen is a fellow Russian—our countryman."

"Madame," said the Ambassador, curtly, "I am by no means positive that Arensen is a loyal Russian. For two years he has lived in Germany and Austria—our two most powerful enemies. He acquired hosts of German friends. He comes to France plastered over with German credentials. He bears the Kaiser's own signed permit to leave Germany. He—"

"Do you believe that I am a loyal Russian?" demanded Mme. Legat.

The Russian Ambassador smiled graciously. Ah, he had no doubt of Madame's loyalty.
That awful vision still obsessed her. She realized that there was nothing she would not do to save Arensen. She remembered that she was the daughter of a general in the Imperial Russian army. She drew herself up to her full height and looked the Russian Ambassador straight in the eyes. She said:
"I will vouch for M. Arensen. I will guarantee that he is a loyal Russian, and will remain so."

"Um——," pondered M. Isowsky. "Well, well—um—how can you be sure? How can you assure me?"

Right then and there Mme. Legat felt a sudden emotion, and knew what she was going to do—what she wanted to do—to dispel that tragic vision.

"I'll give you the assurance of a wife," she said. "I'll marry him!"

The Russian Ambassador was baffled—admitted it. He signed the papers that gave Arensen his freedom as a loyal Russian. The heroine herself relates the sequel:

"Like Tosca in the opera, I sped to him bearing freedom. I didn't have to tell him the whole story—not then. We found that our old acquaintance, begun at La Scala, had blossomed into love during our separation. So he did the proposing. We were married just an hour before the Lafayette sailed, bringing us to the United States."

Compiled from sources in the Public Domain

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