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Title: Unhappy Far-Off Things
Author: Dunsany, Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Baron, 1878-1957
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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by Lord Dunsany



I have chosen a title that shall show that I make no claim for this
book to be "up-to-date." As the first title indicates, I hoped to
show, to as many as might to read my words, something of the extent
of the wrongs that the people of France had suffered. There is no
such need any longer. The tales, so far as they went, I gather
together here for the few that seem to read my books in England.


A Dirge Of Victory (Sonnet)

Lift not thy trumpet, Victory, to the sky,
  Nor through battalions nor by batteries blow,
  But over hollows full of old wire go,
Where among dregs of war the long-dead lie
With wasted iron that the guns passed by.
  When they went eastwards like a tide at flow;
  There blow thy trumpet that the dead may know,
Who waited for thy coming, Victory.

It is not we that have deserved thy wreath,
  They waited there among the towering weeds.
The deep mud burned under the thermite's breath,
  And winter cracked the bones that no man heeds:
Hundreds of nights flamed by: the seasons passed.
And thou last come to them at last, at last!

The Cathedral Of Arras

On the great steps of Arras Cathedral I saw a procession, in silence,
standing still.

They were in orderly and perfect lines, stirring or swaying slightly:
sometimes they bent their heads, sometimes two leaned together, but
for the most part they were motionless. It was the time when the
fashion is just changing and some were newly all in shining yellow,
while others still wore green.

I went up the steps amongst them, the only human thing, for men and
women worship no more in Arras Cathedral, and the trees have come
instead; little humble things, all less than four years old, in great
numbers thronging the steps processionally, and growing in perfect
rows just where step meets step. They have come to Arras with the
wind and the rain; which enter the aisles together whenever they
will, and go wherever man went; they have such a reverent air, the
young limes on the three flights of steps, that you would say they
did not know that Arras Cathedral was fallen on evil days, that they
did not know they looked on ruin and vast disaster, but thought that
these great walls open to stars and sun were the natural and fitting
place for the worship of little weeds.

Behind them the shattered houses of Arras seemed to cluster about the
cathedral as, one might fancy easily, hurt and frightened children,
so wistful are their gaping windows and old, grey empty gables, so
melancholy and puzzled. They are more like a little old people come
upon trouble, gazing at their great elder companion and not knowing
what to do.

But the facts of Arras are sadder than a poet's most tragic fancies.
In the western front of Arras Cathedral stand eight pillars rising
from the ground; above them stood four more. Of the four upper
pillars the two on the left are gone, swept away by shells from the
north: and a shell has passed through the neck of one of the two that
is left, just as a bullet might go through a daffodil's stem.

The left-hand corner of that western wall has been caught from the
north, by some tremendous shell which has torn the whole corner down
in a mound of stone: and still the walls have stood.

I went in through the western doorway. All along the nave lay a long
heap of white stones, with grass and weeds on the top, and a little
trodden path over the grass and weeds. This is all that remained of
the roof of Arras Cathedral and of any chairs or pews there may have
been in the nave, or anything that may have hung above them. It was
all down but one slender arch that crossed the nave just at the
transept; it stood out against the sky, and all who saw it wondered
how it stood.

In the southern aisle panes of green glass, in twisted frame of lead,
here and there lingered, like lonely leaves on an apple-tree-after a
hailstorm in spring. The aisles still had their roofs over them which
those stout old walls held up in spite of all.

Where the nave joins the transept the ruin is most enormous. Perhaps
there was more to bring down there, so the Germans brought it down:
there may have been a tower there, for all I know, or a spire.

I stood on the heap and looked towards the altar. To my left all was
ruin. To my right two old saints in stone stood by the southern door.
The door had been forced open long ago, and stood as it was opened,
partly broken. A great round hole gaped in the ground outside; it was
this that had opened the door.

Just beyond the big heap, on the left of the chancel, stood something
made of wood, which almost certainly had been the organ.

As I looked at these things there passed through the desolate
sanctuaries, and down an aisle past pillars pitted with shrapnel, a
sad old woman, sad even for a woman of North-East France. She seemed
to be looking after the mounds and stones that had once been the
cathedral; perhaps she had once been the Bishop's servant, or the
wife of one of the vergers; she only remained of all who had been
there in other days, she and the pigeons and jackdaws. I spoke to
her. All Arras, she said, was ruined. The great cathedral was ruined,
her own family were ruined utterly, and she pointed to where the sad
houses gazed from forlorn dead windows. Absolute ruin, she said; but
there must be no armistice. No armistice. No. It was necessary that
there should be no armistice at all. No armistice with Germans.

She passed on, resolute and sad, and the guns boomed on beyond Arras.

A French interpreter, with the Sphinxes' heads on his collar, showed
me a picture postcard with a photograph of the chancel as it was five
years ago. It was the very chancel before which I was standing. To
see that photograph astonished me, and to know that the camera that
took it must have stood where I was standing, only a little lower
down, under the great heap. Though one knew there had been an altar
there, and candles and roof and carpet, and all the solemnity of a
cathedral's interior, yet to see that photograph and to stand on that
weedy heap, in the wind, under the jackdaws, was a contrast with
which the mind fumbled.

I walked a little with the French interpreter. We came to a little
shrine in the southern aisle. It had been all paved with marble, and
the marble was broken into hundreds of pieces, and someone had
carefully picked up all the bits, and laid them together on the

And this pathetic heap that was gathered of broken bits had drawn
many to stop and gaze at it; and idly, as soldiers will, they had
written their names on them: every bit had a name on it, with but a
touch of irony the Frenchman said, "All that is necessary to bring
your name to posterity is to write it on one of these stones.", "No,"
I said, "I will do it by describing all this." And we both laughed.

I have not done it yet: there is more to say of Arras. As I begin the
tale of ruin and wrong, the man who did it totters. His gaudy power
begins to stream away like the leaves of autumn. Soon his throne will
be bare, and I shall have but begun to say what I have to say of
calamity in cathedral and little gardens of Arras.

The winter of the Hohenzollerns will come; sceptre, uniforms, stars
and courtiers all gone; still the world will not know half of the
bitter wrongs of Arras. And spring will bring a new time and cover
the trenches with green, and the pigeons will preen themselves on the
shattered towers, and the lime-trees along the steps will grow taller
and brighter, and happier men will sing in the streets untroubled by
any War Lord; by then, perhaps, I may have told, to such as care to
read, what such a war did in an ancient town, already romantic when
romance was young, when war came suddenly without mercy, without
pity, out of the north and east, on little houses, carved galleries,
and gardens; churches, cathedrals and the jackdaws' nests.

A Good War

Nietsche said, "You have heard that a good cause justifies any war,
but I say unto you that a good war justifies any cause."

A man was walking alone over a plain so desolate that, if you have
never seen it, the mere word desolation could never convey to you the
melancholy surroundings that mourned about this man on his lonely
walk. Far off a vista of trees followed a cheerless road all dead as
mourners suddenly stricken dead in some funereal procession. By this
road he had come; but when he had reached a certain point he turned
from the road at once, branching away to the left, led by a line of
bushes that may once have been a lane. For some while his feet had
rustled through long neglected grass; sometimes he lifted them up to
step over a telephone wire that lolled over old entanglements and
bushes; often he came to rusty strands of barbed wire and walked
through them where they had been cut, perhaps years ago, by huge
shells; then his feet hissed on through the grass again, dead grass
that had hissed about his boots all through the afternoon.

Once he sat down to rest on the edge of a crater, weary with such
walking as he had never seen before; and after he had stayed there a
little while a cat that seemed to have its home in that wild place
started suddenly up and leaped away over the weeds. It seemed an
animal totally wild, and utterly afraid of man.

Grey bare hills surrounded the waste: a partridge called far off:
evening was drawing in. He rose wearily, and yet with a certain
fervour, as one that pursues With devotion a lamentable quest.
Looking round him as he left his resting-place he saw a cabbage or
two that after some while had come back to what was a field and had
sprouted on the edge of a shell-hole. A yellowing convolvulus climbed
up a dead weed. Weeds, grass and tumbled earth were all about him. It
would be no better when he went on. Still he went on. A flower or two
peeped up among the weeds. He stood up and looked at the landscape
and drew no hope from that, the shattered trunk of a stricken tree
leered near him, white trenches scarred the hillside. He followed an
old trench through a hedge of elder, passed under more wire, by a
great rusty shell that had not burst, passed by a dug-out where
something grey seemed to lie down at the bottom of many steps. Black
fungi grew near the entrance. He went on and on over shell-holes,
passing round them where they were deep, stepping into or over the
small ones. Little burrs clutched at him; he went rustling on, the
only sound in the waste but the clicking of shattered iron. Now he
was among nettles. He came by many small unnatural valleys. He passed
more trenches only guarded by fungi. While it was light he followed
little paths, marvelling who made them. Once he got into a trench.
Dandelions leaned across it as though to bar his way, believing man
to have gone and to have no right to return. Weeds thronged, in
thousands here. It was the day of the weeds. It was only they that
seemed to triumph in those fields deserted of man. He passed on down
the trench and never knew whose trench it once had been. Frightful
shells had smashed it here and there, and had twisted iron as though
round gigantic fingers that had twiddled it idly a moment and let it
drop to lie in the rain for ever. He passed more dug-outs and black
fungi, watching them; and then he left the trench, going straight on
over the open: again dead grasses hissed about his feet, sometimes
small wire sang faintly He passed through a belt of nettles and
thence to dead grass again. And now the light of the afternoon was
beginning to dwindle away. He had intended to reach his journey's end
by daylight, for he was past the time of life when one wanders after
dark, but he had not contemplated the difficulty of walking over that
road, or dreamed that lanes he knew could be so foundered and merged,
in that mournful desolate moor.

Evening was filling fast, still he kept on. It was the time when the
cornstacks would once have begun to grow indistinct, and slowly turn
grey in the greyness, and homesteads one by one would have lit their
innumerable lights. But evening now came down on a dreary desolation:
and a cold wind arose; and the traveller heard the mournful sound of
iron flapping on broken things, and knew that this was the sound that
would haunt the waste for ever.

And evening settled down, a huge grey canvas waiting for sombre
pictures; a setting for all the dark tales of the world, haunted
forever a grizzly place was haunted ever, in any century, in any
land; but not by mere ghosts from all those thousands of graves and
half-buried bodies and sepulchral shell-holes; haunted by things
huger and more disastrous than that; haunted by wailing ambitions,
under the stars or moon, drifting across the rubbish that once was
villages, which strews the lonely plain; the lost ambitions of two
Emperors and a Sultan wailing from wind to wind and whimpering for
dominion of the world.

The cold wind blew over the blasted heath and bits of broken iron
flapped on and on.

And now the traveller hurried, for night was falling, and such a
night as three witches might have brewed in a cauldron. He went on
eagerly but with infinite sadness. Over the sky-line strange rockets
went up from the war, peered oddly over the earth and went down
again. Very far off a few soldiers lit a little fire of their own.
The night grew colder; tap, tap, went broken iron.

And at last the traveller stopped in the lonely night and looked
round him attentively, and appeared to be satisfied that he had come
within sight of his journey's end, although to ordinary eyes the spot
to which he had come differed in no way from the rest of the waste.

He went no further, but turned round and round, peering piece by
piece at that weedy and cratered earth.

He was looking for the village where he was born.

The House With Two Storeys

I came again to Croisilles.

I looked for the sunken road that we used to hold in support, with
its row of little shelters in the bank and the carved oak saints
above them here and there that had survived the church in Croisilles.
I could have found it with my eyes shut. With my eyes open I could
not find it. I did not recognize the lonely metalled road down which
lorries were rushing for the little lane so full of life, whose
wheel-ruts were three years old.

As I gazed about me looking for our line, I passed an old French
civilian looking down at a slight mound of white stone that rose a
little higher than the road. He was walking about uncertainly, when
first I noticed him, as though he was not sure where he was. But now
he stood quite still looking down at the mound.

"Voilà ma maison," he said.

He said no more than that: this astounding remark, this gesture that
indicated such calamity, were quite simply made. There was nothing
whatever of theatrical pose that we wrongly associate with the
French, because they conceal their emotions less secretly than we;
there were no tragic tones in his voice: only a trace of deep
affection showed in one of the words he used. He spoke as a woman
might say of her only child, "Look at _my_ baby."

"Voilà ma maison," he said.

I tried to say in his language what I felt; and after my attempt he
spoke of his house.

It was very old. Down underneath, he said, it dated from feudal
times; though I did not quite make out whether all that lay under
that mound had been so old or whether he only meant the cellars of
his house. It was a fine high house, he said, as much as two storeys
high. No one that is familiar with houses of fifty storeys, none even
that has known palaces, will smile at this old man's efforts to tell
of his high house, and to make me believe that it rose to two storeys
high, as we stood together by that sad white mound. He told me that
his son was killed. And that disaster strangely did not move me so
much as the white mound that had been a house and had had two
storeys, for it seems to be common to every French family with whose
fathers I have chanced to speak in ruined cities or on busy roads of

He pointed to a huge white mound beyond on the top of which someone
had stuck a small cross of wood. "The church," he said. And that I
knew already.

In very inadequate French I tried to comfort him. I told him that
surely France would build his house again. Perhaps even the allies;
for I could not believe that we shall have done enough if we merely
drive the Germans out of France and leave this poor old man still
wandering homeless. I told him that surely in the future Croisilles
would stand again.

He took no interest in anything that I said. His house of two storeys
was down, his son was dead, the little village of Croisilles had gone
away; he had only one hope from the future. When I had finished
speaking of the future, he raised a knobbed stick that he carried, up
to the level of his throat, surely his son's old trench stick, and
there he let it dangle from a piece of string in the handle, which he
held against his neck. He watched me shrewdly and attentively
meanwhile, for I was a stranger and was to be taught something I
might not know--a thing that it was necessary for all men to learn.
"Le Kaiser," he said. "Yes;" I said, "the Kaiser." But I pronounced
the word Kaiser differently from him, and he repeated again "Le
Kaiser," and watched me closely to be sure that I understood. And
then he said "Pendu," and made the stick quiver a little as it
dangled from its string. "Oui," I said, "Pendu."

Did I understand? He was not yet quite sure. It was important that
this thing should be quite decided between us as we stood on this
road through what had been Croisilles, where he had lived through
many sunny years and I had dwelt for a season amongst rats. "Pendu"
he said. Yes, I agreed.

It was all right. The old man almost smiled.

I offered him a cigarette and we lit two from an apparatus of flint
and steel and petrol that the old man had in his pocket.

He showed me a photograph of himself and a passport to prove, I
suppose, that he was not a spy. One could not recognize the likeness,
for it must have been taken on some happier day, before he had seen
his house of two storeys lying there by the road. But he was no spy,
for there were tears in his eyes; and Prussians I think have no tears
for what we saw across the village of Croisilles.

I spoke of the rebuilding of his house no more, I spoke no more of
the new Croisilles shining through future years; for these were not
the things that he saw in the future, and these were not the hopes of
the poor old man. He had one dark hope of the future, and no others.
He hoped to see the Kaiser hung for the wrong he had done to
Croisilles. It was for this hope he lived.

Madame or señor of whatever far country, who may chance to see these
words, blame not this old man for the fierce hope he cherished. It
was the only hope he had. You, Madame, with your garden, your house,
your church, the village where all know you, you may hope as a
Christian should, there is wide room for hope in your future. You
shall see the seasons move over your garden, you shall busy yourself
with your home, and speak and share with your neighbours innumerable
small joys, and find consolation and beauty, and at last rest, in and
around the church whose spire you see from your home. You, señor,
with your son perhaps growing up, perhaps wearing already some sword
that you wore once, you can turn back to your memories or look with
hope to the future with equal ease.

The man that I met in Croisilles had none of these things at all. He
had that one hope only.

Do not, I pray you, by your voice or vote, or by any power or
influence that you have, do anything to take away from this poor old
Frenchman the only little hope he has left. The more trivial his odd
hope appears to you compared with your own high hopes that come so
easily to you amongst all your fields and houses, the more cruel a
thing must it be to take it from him.

I learned many things in Croisilles, and the last of them is this
strange one the old man taught me. I turned and shook hands with him
and said good-bye, for I wished to see again our old front line that
we used to hold over the hill, now empty, silent at last. "The Boche
is defeated," I said.

"Vaincu, vaincu," he repeated. And I left him with something almost
like happiness looking out of his tearful eyes.

Bermondsey _versus_ Wurtemburg

The trees grew thinner and thinner along the road, then ceased
altogether, and suddenly we saw Albert in the wood of the ghosts of
murdered trees, all grey and deserted.

Descending into Albert past trees in their agony we came all at once
on the houses. You did not see them far off as in other cities; we
came on them all at once as you come on a corpse in the grass.

We stopped and stood by a house that was covered with plaster marked
off to look like great stones, its pitiful pretence laid bare, the
slates gone and the rooms gone, the plaster all pitted with shrapnel.
Near it lay an iron railing, a hand-rail blown there from the railway
bridge; a shrapnel bullet had passed through its twisted stem as
though it had gone through butter. And beside the hand-rail lay one
of the great steel supports of the bridge that had floated there upon
some flaming draught; the end of it bent and splayed as though it had
been a slender cane that someone had shoved too hard into the earth.

There had been a force abroad in Albert that could do these things,
an iron force that had no mercy for iron, a mighty mechanical
contrivance that could take machinery and pull it all to pieces in a
moment as a child takes a flower to pieces petal by petal.

When such a force was abroad what chance had man? It had come down
upon Albert suddenly, and railway lines and bridges had drooped and
withered and the houses had stooped down in the blasting heat, and in
that attitude I found them still, worn-out, melancholy heaps overcome
by disaster.

Pieces of paper rustled about like footsteps, dirt covered the ruins,
fragments of rusty shells lay as unsightly and dirty as that which
they had destroyed. Cleaned up and polished, and priced at half a
crown apiece, these fragments may look romantic some day in a London
shop, but to-day in Albert they look unclean and untidy, like a cheap
knife sticking up from a murdered woman's ribs, whose dress is long
out of fashion.

The stale smell of war arose from the desolation.

A British helmet dinted in like an old bowler, but tragic not absurd,
lay near a barrel and a teapot.

On a wall that rose above a heap of dirty and smashed rafters was
written in red paint KOMPe I.M.B.K. 184. The red paint had dripped
down the wall from every letter. Verily we stood upon the scene of
the murder.

Opposite those red letters across the road was a house with traces of
a pleasant ornament below the sills of the windows, a design of
grapes and vine. Someone had stuck up a wooden boot on a peg outside
the door.

Perhaps the cheery design on the wall attracted me. I entered the
house and looked round.

A chunk of shell lay on the floor, and a little decanter, only
chipped at the lip, and part of a haversack of horse-skin. There were
pretty tiles on the floor, but dry mud buried them deep: it was like
the age-old dirt that gathers in temples in Africa. A man's waistcoat
lay on the mud and part of a woman's stays: the waistcoat was black
and was probably kept for Sundays. That was all that there was to see
on the ground floor, no more flotsam than that had come down to these
days from peace.

A forlorn stairway tried still to wind upstairs. It went up out of a
corner of the room. It seemed still to believe that there was an
upper storey, still to feel that this was a house, there seemed a
hope in the twists of that battered staircase that men would yet come
again and seek sleep at evening by way of those broken steps; the
hand-rail and the banisters streamed down from the top, a woman's
dress lolled down from the upper room above those aimless steps, the
laths of the ceiling gaped, the plaster was gone; of all the hopes
men hope that can never be fulfilled, of all desires that ever come
too late, most futile was the hope expressed by that stairway's
posture that ever a family would come home there again or tread those
steps once more. And, if in some far country one should hope, who has
not seen Albert, out of compassion for these poor people of France,
that where a staircase still remains there may be enough of a house
to shelter those who called it home again, I will tell one thing
more: there blew inside that house the same wind that blew outside,
the wind that wandered free over miles of plains wandered unchecked
through that house; there was no indoors or outdoors any more.

And on the wall of the room in which I stood, someone had proudly
written his regiment's name, The 156th Wurtemburgers. It was written
in chalk; and another man had come and had written two words before
it and had recorded the name of his own regiment too. And the writing
remains after these two men are gone, and the lonely house is silent
but for the wind and the things that creak as it blows, the only
message of this deserted house, is this mighty record, this rare line
of history, ill-written: "Lost by the 156th Wurtemburgers, retaken by
the Bermondsey Butterflies."

Two men wrote that sentence between them. And, as with Homer, no one
knows who they were. And; like Homer, their words were epic.

On An Old Battle-Field

I entered an old battle-field through a garden gate, a pale green
gate by the. Bapaume-Arras road. The cheerful green attracted me in
the deeps of the desolation as an emerald might in a dust-bin. I
entered through that homely garden gate, it had no hinges, no
pillars, it lolled on a heap of stone: I came to it from the road;
this alone was not battle-field; the road alone was made and tended
and kept; all the rest was battle-field, as far as the eye could see.
Over a large whitish heap lay a Virginia creeper, turning a dull
crimson. And the presence of this creeper mourning there in the waste
showed unmistakably that the heap had been a house. All the living
things were gone that had called this white heap Home: the father
would be fighting, somewhere; the children would have fled, if there
had been time; the dog would have gone with them, or perhaps, if
there was not time, he served other masters; the cat would have made
a lair for herself and stalked mice at night through the trenches.
All the live things that we ever consider were gone; the creeper
alone remained, the only mourner, clinging to fallen stones that had
supported it once.

And I knew by its presence here there had been a house. And by the
texture or composition of the ruin all round I saw that a village had
stood there. There are calamities one does not contemplate, when one
thinks of time and change. Death, passing away, even ruin, are all
the human lot; but one contemplates ruin as brought by kindly ages,
coming slowly at last, with lichen and ivy and moss, its harsher
aspects all hidden with green, coming with dignity and in due season.
Thus our works should pass away; our worst fears contemplated no more
than this.

But here in a single day, perhaps in a moment with one discharge from
a battery, all the little things that one family cared for, their
house, their garden; and the garden paths, and then the village and
the road through the village, and the old landmarks that the old
people remembered, and countless treasured things, were all turned
into rubbish.

And these things that one did not contemplate, have happened for
hundreds of miles, with such disaster vast plains and hills are
covered, because of the German war.

Deep wells, old cellars, battered trenches and dug-outs, lie in the
rubbish and weeds under the intricate wreckage of peace and war. It
will be a bad place years hence for wanderers lost at night.

When the village went, trenches came; and, in the same storm that had
crumbled the village, the trenches withered too; shells still thump
on to the north, but peace and war alike have deserted the village.
Grass has begun to return over torn earth on edges of trenches.
Abundant wire rusts away by its twisted stakes of steel. Not a path
of old, not a lane nor a doorway there, but is barred and cut off by
wire; and the wire in its turn has been cut by shells and lies in
ungathered swathes. A pair of wheels moulders amongst weeds, and may
be of peace or of war, it is too broken down for anyone to say. A
great bar of iron lies cracked across as though one of the elder
giants had handled it carelessly. Another mound near by, with an old
green beam sticking out of it, was also once a house. A trench runs
by it. A German bomb with its wooden handle, some bottles, a bucket,
a petrol tin and some bricks and stones, lie in the trench. A young
elder tree grows amongst them. And over all the ruin and rubbish
Nature, with all her wealth and luxury, comes back to her old
inheritance, holding again the land that she held so long, before the
houses came.

A garden gate of iron has been flung across a wall. Then a deep
cellar into which a whole house seems to have slanted down. In the
midst of all this is an orchard. A huge shell has uprooted, but not
killed, an apple-tree; another apple-tree stands stone dead on the
edge of a crater: most of the trees are dead. British aeroplanes
drone over continually. A great gun goes by towards Bapaume, dragged
by a slow engine with caterpillar wheels. The gun is all blotched
green and yellow. Four or five men are seated on the huge barrel

Dark old steps near the orchard run down into a dug-out, with a
cartridge-case tied to a piece of wood beside it to beat when the gas
came. A telephone wire lies listlessly by the opening. A patch of
Michaelmas daisies, deep mauve and pale mauve, and a bright yellow
flower beside them, show where a garden used to stand near by. Above
the dug-out a patch of jagged earth shows in three clear layers under
the weeds: four inches of grey road metal, imported, for all this
country is chalk and clay; two inches of flint below it, and under
that an inch of a bright red stone. We are looking then at a road--a
road through a village trodden by men and women, and the hooves of
horses and familiar modern things, a road so buried, so shattered, so
overgrown, showing by chance an edge in the midst of the wilderness,
that I could seem rather to have discovered the track of the Dinosaur
in prehistoric clays than the highway, of a little village that only
five years ago was full of human faults and joys and songs and tiny
tears. Down that road before the plans, of the Kaiser began to fumble
with the earth, down that road--but it is useless to look back, we
are too far away from five years ago, too far away from thousands of
ordinary things, that never seemed as though they would ever peer at
us over chasms of time, out of another age, utterly far off,
irrevocably removed from our ways and days. They are gone, those
times, gone like the Dinosaur; gone with bows and arrows and the old
knightlier days. No splendour marks their sunset where I sit, no
dignity of houses, or derelict engines of war, mined all equally are
scattered dirtily in the mud, and common weeds overpower them; it is
not ruin but rubbish that covers the ground here and spreads its
untidy flood for hundreds and hundreds of miles.

A band plays in Arras, to the north and east the shells go thumping

The very origins of things are in doubt, so much is jumbled together.
It is as hard to make out just where the trenches ran, and which was
No-Man's-Land, as it is to tell the houses from garden and orchard
and road: the rubbish covers all. It is as though the ancient forces
of Chaos had come back from the abyss to fight against order and man,
and Chaos had won. So lies this village of France.

As I left it a rat, with something in its mouth, holding its head
high, ran right across the village.

The Real Thing

Once at manoeuvres as the Prussian Crown Prince charged at the head
of his regiment, as sabres gleamed, plumes streamed, and hooves
thundered behind him, he is reported to have said to one that
galloped near him: "Ah, if only this were the real thing!"

One need not doubt that the report is true. So a young man might feel
as he led his regiment of cavalry, for the scene would fire the
blood; all those young men and fine uniforms and good horses, all
coming on behind, everything streaming that could float on the air,
everything jingling then which could ever make a sound, a bright sky
no doubt over the uniforms, a good fresh wind for men and horses to
gulp; and behind, the clinking and jingling, the long roll of hooves
thundering. Such a scene might well stir emotions to sigh for the
splendours of battle.

This is one side of war. Mutilation and death are another; misery,
cold and dirt; pain, and the intense loneliness of men left behind by
armies, with much to think of; no hope, and a day or two to live. But
we understand that glory covers that.

There is yet a third side.

I came to Albert when the fight was far from it: only at night you
saw any signs of war, when clouds flashed now and then and curious
rockets peered. Albert robbed of peace was deserted even by war.

I will not say that Albert was devastated or desolate, for these long
words have different interpretations and may easily be exaggerated. A
German agent might say to you, "Devastated is rather a strong word,
and desolate is a matter of opinion." And so you might never know
what Albert is like.

I will tell you what I saw.

Albert was a large town. I will not write of all of it.

I sat down near a railway bridge at the edge of the town; I think I
was near the station; and small houses had stood there with little
gardens; such as porters and other railway folk would have lived in.
I sat down on the railway and looked at one of these houses, for it
had clearly been a house. It was at the back of it that most
remained, in what must have been a garden. A girder torn up like a
pack of cards lay on the leg of a table amongst a brick wall by an

Lower down in the heap was the frame-work of a large four-poster bed;
through it all a vine came up quite green and still alive; and at the
edge of the heap lay a doll's green pram. Small though the house had
been there was evidence in that heap of some prosperity in more than
one generation. For the four-poster bed had been a fine one, good
work in sound old timber, before the bits in the girder had driven it
into the wall; and the green pram must have been the dowry of no
ordinary, doll, but one with the best yellow curls whose blue eyes
could move. One blue columbine close by mourned alone for the garden.

The wall and the vine and the bed and the girder lay in an orchard,
and some of the apple-trees were standing yet, though the orchard had
been terribly wrecked by shell fire. All that still stood were dead.
Some stood upon the very edge of craters; their leaves and twigs and
bark had been stripped by one blast in a moment; and they had
tottered, with stunted, black, gesticulating branches; and so they
stood today.

The curls of a mattress lay on the ground, clipped once from a
horse's mane.

After looking for some while across the orchard one suddenly noticed
that the cathedral had stood on the other side. It was draped, when
we saw it closer, as with a huge grey cloak, the lead of its roof
having come down and covered it.

Near the house of that petted doll (as I came to think of it) a road
ran by on the other side of the railway. Great shells had dropped
along it with terrible regularity. You could imagine Death striding
down it with exact five-yard paces, on his own day, claiming his own.
As I stood on the road something whispered behind me; and I saw,
stirring round with the wind, in one of those footsteps of Death, a
double page of a book open at Chapter II: and Chapter II was headed
with the proverb, "Un Malheur Ne Vient Jamais Seul;" Misfortunes
never come singly! And on that dreadful road, with shell-holes every
five yards as far as the eye could see, and fiat beyond it the whole
city in ruin. What harmless girl or old man had been reading that
dreadful prophecy when the Germans came down upon Albert and involved
it, and themselves, and that book, all except those two pages, in
such multiplication of ruin?

Surely, indeed, there is a third side to war: for what had the doll
done, that used to have a green pram, to deserve to share thus in the
fall and punishment of an Emperor?

A Garden Of Arras

As I walked through Arras from the Spanish gate, gardens flashed as I
went, one by one, through the houses.

I stepped in over the window-sill of one of the houses, attracted by
the gleam of a garden dimly beyond: and went through the empty house,
empty of people, empty of furniture, empty of plaster, and entered
the garden through an empty doorway.

When I came near it seemed less like a garden. At first it had almost
seemed to beckon to passers-by in the street, so rare are gardens now
in this part of France, that it seemed to have more than a garden's
share of mystery, all in the silence there at the back of the silent
house; but when one entered it some of the mystery went, and seemed
to hide in a further part of the garden amongst wild shrubs and
innumerable weeds.

British aeroplanes frequently roared over, disturbing the
congregation of Arras Cathedral a few hundred yards away, who rose
cawing and wheeled over the garden; for only jackdaws come to Arras
Cathedral now, besides a few pigeons.

Unkempt beside me a bamboo flourished wildly, having no need of man.
On the other side of the small wild track that had been the garden
path the skeletons of hothouses stood, surrounded by nettles; their
pipes lay all about, shattered and riddled through.

Branches of rose break up through the myriad nettles, but only to be
seized and choked by columbine. A late moth looks for flowers not
quite in vain. It hovers on wing-beats that are invisibly swift by
its lonely autumn flower, then darts away over the desolation which
is no desolation to a moth: man has destroyed man; nature comes back;
it is well: that must be the brief philosophy of myriads of tiny
things whose way of life one seldom considered before; now that man's
cities are down, now that ruin and misery confront us whichever way
we turn, one notices more the small things that are left.

One of the greenhouses is almost all gone, a tumbled mass that might
be a piece of Babylon, if archæologists should come to study it. But
it is too sad to study, too untidy to have any interest, and, alas,
too common: there are hundreds of miles of this.

The other greenhouse, a sad, ungainly skeleton, is possessed by grass
and weeds. On the raised centre many flower-pots were neatly arranged
once: they stand in orderly lines, but each separate one is broken:
none contain flowers any more, but only grass. And the glass of the
greenhouse lies there in showers, all grey. No one has tidied
anything up there for years.

A meadow-sweet had come into that greenhouse and dwelt there in that
abode of fine tropical flowers, and one night an elder tree had
entered and is now as high as the house, and at the end of the
greenhouse grass has come in like a wave; for change and disaster are
far-reaching and are only mirrored here. This desolate garden and its
mined house are a part of hundreds of thousands such, or millions.
Mathematics will give you no picture of what France has suffered. If
I tell you what one garden is like, one village, one house, one
cathedral, after the German war has swept by, and if you read my
words, I may help you perhaps to imagine more easily what France has
suffered than if I spoke of millions. I speak of one garden in Arras;
and you might walk from there, south by east for weeks, and find no
garden that has suffered less.

It is all weeds and elders. An apple-tree rises out of a mass of
nettles, but it is quite dead. Wild rose-trees show here and there,
or roses that have ran wild like the cats of No-Man's-Land: And once
I saw a rose-bush that had been planted in a pot and still grew
there, as though it still remembered man, but the flower-pot was
shattered, like all the pots in that garden, and the rose grew wild
as any in any hedge.

The ivy alone grows on over a mighty wall, and seems to care not. The
ivy alone seems not to mourn, but to have added the last four years
to its growth as though they were ordinary years. That corner of the
wall alone whispers not of disaster, it only seems to tell of the
passing of years, which makes the ivy strong, and for which in peace
as in war there is no cure. All the rest speaks of war, of war that
comes to gardens, without banners or trumpets or splendour, and roots
up everything, and turns round and smashes the house, and leaves it
all desolate, and forgets and goes away. And when the histories of
the war are written, attacks and counter-attacks and the doom of
Emperors, who will remember that garden?

Saddest of all, as it seemed to me watching the garden paths, were
spiders' webs that had been spun across them, so grey and stout and
strong, fastened from weed to weed, with the spiders in their midst
sitting in obvious ownership. You knew then as you looked at those
webs across all the paths in the garden that any that you might fancy
walking the small paths still, were but grey ghosts gone from thence,
no more than dreams, hopes and imaginings, something altogether
weaker than spiders webs.

And the old wall of the garden that divides it from its neighbour, of
solid stone and brick, over fifteen feet high, it is that mighty old
wall that held the romance of the garden. I do not tell the tale of
that garden of Arras, for that is conjecture, and I only tell what I
saw, in order that someone perhaps in some far country may know what
happened in thousands and thousands of gardens because an Emperor
sighed, and longed for the splendour of war. The tale is but
conjecture, yet all the romance is there; for picture a wall over
fifteen feet high built as they built long ago, standing for all
those ages between two gardens. For would not the temptation arise to
peer over the wall if a young man heard, perhaps songs, one evening
the other side? And at first he would have some pretext and
afterwards none at all, and the pretext would vary wonderfully little
with the generations, while the ivy went on growing thicker and
thicker. The thought might come of climbing the wall altogether and
down the other side, and it might seem too daring and be utterly put
away. And then one day, some wonderful summer evening, the west all
red and a new moon in the sky, far voices heard clearly and white
mists rising, one wonderful summer day, back would come that thought
to climb the great old wall and go down the other side. Why not go in
next door from the street, you might say. That would be different,
that would be calling; that would mean ceremony, black hats, and
awkward new gloves, constrained talk and little scope for romance. It
would all be the fault of the wall.

With what diffidence, as the generations passed, would each first
peep over the wall be undertaken. In some years it would be scaled
from one side, in some ages from the other. What a barrier that old
red wall would have seemed! How new the adventure would have seemed
in each age to those that dared it, and how old to the wall! And in
all those years the elders never made a door, but kept that huge and
haughty separation. And the ivy quietly grew greener. And then one
day a shell came from the east, and, in a moment, without plan or
diffidence or pretext, tumbled away some yards of the proud old wall,
and the two gardens were divided no longer: but there was no one to
walk in them any more.

Wistfully round the edge of the huge breach in the wall, a Michaelmas
daisy peered into the garden, in whose mined paths I stood.

After Hell

He heard an English voice shouting, "Paiper! Paiper!" No mere
spelling of the word will give the intonation. It was the voice of
English towns he heard again. The very voice of London in the
morning. It seemed like magic, or like some wonderfully vivid dream.

He was only a hundred miles or so from England; it was not very long
since he had been there; yet what he heard seemed like an enchanted
dream, because only the day before he had been in the trenches.

They had been twelve days in the trenches and had marched out at
evening. They had marched five miles and were among tin huts in quite
a different world. Through the doorways of the huts green grass could
be seen and the sun was shining on it. It was morning. Everything was
strangely different. You saw more faces smiling. Men were not so calm
as they had been during the last twelve days, the last six
especially: someone was kicking a football at somebody else's hut and
there was excitement about it.

Guns were still firing: but they thought of death now as one who
walked on the other side of the hills, no longer as a neighbour, as
one who might drop in at any moment, and sometime did, while they
were taking tea. It was not that they had been afraid of him, but the
strain of expectancy was over; and that strain being suddenly gone in
a single night, they all had a need, whether they knew it or not, of
something to take its place, so the football loomed very large.

It was morning and he had slept long. The guns that grew active at
dawn had not woke him; in those twelve days they had grown too
familiar, but he woke wide when he heard the young English soldier
with a bundle of three-days-old papers under his arm calling "Paiper,
paiper!"--bringing to that strange camp the voice of the English
towns. He woke wide at that wonder; and saw the sun shining cheerily,
on desolation with a tinge of green in it, which even by itself
rejoiced him on that morning after those twelve days amongst mud,
looking at mud, surrounded by mud, protected by mud, sharing with mud
the liability to be suddenly blown high and to come down in a shower
on other men's helmets and coats.

He wondered if Dante when he came up from Hell heard anyone calling
amongst the Verdure, in sunlight, any familiar call such as merchants
use, some trivial song or cry of his native city.

A Happy Valley

"The enemy attacked the Happy Valley." I read these words in a paper
at the time of the taking of Albert, for the second time, by our
troops. And the words brought back Albert to me like a spell, Albert
at the end of the mighty Bapaume-Albert road, that pathway Of Mars
down which he had stalked so tremendously through his garden, the
wide waste battlefields of the Somme. The words brought back Albert
at the end of that road in the sunset and the cathedral seen against
the west, and the gilded Virgin half cast down, but incapable of
losing dignity, and evening coming down over the marshes. They
brought it back like a spell. Like two spells rather, that some
magician had mixed. Picture some magician of old in his sombre
wonderful, chamber wishing dreams to transport him far off to
delectable valleys. He sits him down and writes out a spell on
parchment, slowly and with effort of aged memory, though he
remembered it easily once. The shadows of crocodiles and antique gods
flicker on walls and ceiling from a gusty flame as he writes; and in
the end he writes the spell out wrongly and mixes up with the valleys
where he would rest dark bits of the regions of Hell. So one sees
Albert again and its Happy Valley.

I do not know which the Happy Valley is, for so many little valleys
run in and out about Albert; and with a little effort of imagination,
having only seen them full of the ruin of war, one can fancy any of
them being once named happy. Yet one there is away to the east of
Albert, which even up to last autumn seemed able to bear this name,
so secluded it was in that awful garden of Mars; a tiny valley
running into the wood of Bécourt. A few yards, higher up and all was
desolation, a little further along a lonely road and you saw Albert
mourning over irreparable vistas of ruin and wasted fields; but the
little valley ran into the wood of Bécourt and sheltered there, and
there you saw scarcely any signs of war. It might almost have been an
English valley, by the side of an English wood. The soil was the same
brown clay that you see in the south Of England above the downs and
the chalk; the wood was a hazel wood, such as grow in England,
thinned a good deal, as English hazels are, but with several tall
trees still growing; and plants were there and late flowers, such as
grow in Surrey and Kent. And at the end of the valley, just in the
shadow of that familiar homely wood, a hundred British officers rest
for ever.

As the world is today perhaps that obscure spot, as fittingly as any,
might be named the Happy Valley.

In Bethune

Under all ruins is history, as every tourist knows. Indeed, the dust
that gathers above the ruin of cities may be said to be the cover of
the most wonderful of the picture-books of Time, those secret books
into which we sometimes peep. We turn no more, perhaps, than the
corner of a single page in our prying, but we catch a glimpse there
of things so gorgeous, in the book that we are not meant to see, that
it is worth while to travel to far countries, whoever can, to see one
of those books, and where the edges are turned up a little to catch
sight of those strange winged bulls and mysterious kings and
lion-headed gods that were not meant for us. And out of the glimpses,
one catches from odd comers of those volumes of Time, where old
centuries hide, one builds up part by guesses, part by fancy mixed
with but little knowledge, a tale or theory of how men and women
lived in unknown ages in the faith of forgotten gods.

Such a people lived in Timgad and left it probably about the time
that waning Rome began to call home her outposts. Long after the
citizens left the city stood on that high plateau in Africa, teaching
shepherd Arabs what Rome had been: even to-day its great arches and
parts of its temples stand: its paved streets are still grooved
clearly with the wheel-ruts of chariots, and beaten down on each side
of the centre by the pairs of horses that drew them two thousand
years ago. When all the clatter had died away Timgad stood there in

At Pompeii, city and citizens ended together. Pompeii did not mourn
among strangers, a city without a people: but was buried at once,
closed like an ancient book.

I doubt if anyone knows why its gods deserted Luxor, or Luxor lost
faith in its gods, or in itself; conquest from over the desert or
down the Nile, I suppose, or corruption within. Who knows? But one
day I saw a woman come out from the back of her house and empty a
basket full of dust and rubbish right into the temple at Luxor, where
a dark green god is seated, three times the size of a man, buried as
high as his waist. I suppose that what I saw had been happening off
and on pretty well every morning for the last four thousand years.
Safe under the dust that that woman threw, and the women that lived
before her, Time hid his secrets.

And then I have seen the edges of stones in deserts that might or
might not have been cities: they had fallen so long that you could
hardly say.

At all these cities, whether disaster met them, and ruin came
suddenly on to crowded streets; or whether they passed slowly out of
fashion, and grew quieter year by year while the jackals drew nearer
and nearer; at all these cities one can look with interest and not be
saddened by the faintest sorrow--for anything that happened to such a
different people so very long ago. Ram-headed gods, although their
horns be broken and all their worshippers gone; armies whose
elephants have turned against them; kings whose ancestors have
eclipsed their faces in heaven and left them helpless against the
onslaught of the stars; not a tear is given for one of these to-day.

But when in ruins as complete as Pompeii, as desolate as Timgad
amongst its African hills, you see the remnant of a pack of cards
lying with what remains of the stock of a draper's shop; and the
front part of the shop and the snug room at the back gape side by
side together in equal, misery, as though there had never been a
barrier between the counter with its wares and the good mahogany
table with its decanters; then in the rustling of papers that blow
with dust along long-desolate floors one hears the whisper of
Disaster, saying, "See; I have come." For under plaster shaken down
by calamity, and red dust that once was bricks, it is our own age
that is lying; and the little things that lie about the floors are
relics of the twentieth century. Therefore in the streets of Bethune
the wistful appeal that is in all things lost far off and utterly
passed away cries out with an insistence that is never felt in the
older fallen cities. No doubt to future times the age that lies under
plaster in Bethune, with thin, bare laths standing over it, will
appear an age of glory; and yet to thousands that went one day from
its streets, leaving all manner of small things behind, it may well
have been an age full of far other promises, no less golden to them,
no less magical even, though too little to stir the pen of History,
busy with batteries and imperial dooms. So that to these, whatever
others may write, the twentieth-century will not be the age of
strategy, but will only seem to have been those fourteen lost quiet
summers whose fruits lie under the plaster.

That layer of plaster and brick-dust lies on the age that has gone,
as final, as fatal, as the layer of flints that covers the top of the
chalk and marks the end of an epoch and some unknown geologic

It is only by the little things in Bethune, lying where they were
left, that one can trace at all what kind of house each was, or guess
at the people who dwelt in it. It is only by a potato growing where
Pavement was, and flowering vigorously under a vacant window, that
one can guess that the battered, house beside it was once a
fruiterer's shop, whence the potato rolled away when man fell on evil
days, and found the street, no longer harsh and unfriendly; but soft
and fertile like the primal waste, and took root and throve there as
its forbears throve before it in another continent before the coming
of man.

Across the street, in the dust of a stricken house, the implements of
his trade show where a carpenter lived when disaster came so
suddenly, quite good tools, some still upon shelves, some amongst
broken things that lie all over the floor. And further along the
street in which these things are someone has put up a great iron
shutter that was to protect his shop. It has a graceful border of
painted, irises all the way up each side. It might have been a
jeweller that would have had such a shutter. The shutter alone
remains standing straight upright, and the whole shop is gone.

And just here the shaken street ends and all the streets end
together. The rest is a mound of white stones and pieces of bricks
with low, leaning walls surrounding it, and the halves of hollow
houses; and eyeing it round a comer, one old tower of the cathedral,
as though still gazing over its congregation of houses, a mined,
melancholy watcher. Over the bricks lie tracks, but no more streets.
It is about the middle of the town, a hawk goes over, calling as
though he flew over the waste, and as though the waste were his. The
breeze that carries him opens old shutters and flaps them to again.
Old, useless hinges moan; wall-paper whispers. Three French soldiers
trying to find their homes walk over the bricks and groundsel.

It is the Abomination of Desolation, not seen by prophecy far off in
some fabulous future, nor  remembered  from terrible ages by the aid
of papyrus and stone, but fallen on our own century, on the homes of
folk like ourselves: common things that we knew are become the relics
of bygone days. It is our own time that has ended in blood and broken

In An Old Drawing-Room

There was one house with a roof on it in Peronne. And there an
officer came by moonlight on his way back from leave. He was looking
for his battalion which had moved and was now somewhere in the
desolation out in front of Peronne, or else was marching there--no
one quite knew. Someone said he had seen it marching through
Tincourt; the R.T.O. said Brie. Those who did not know were always
ready to help, they made suggestions and even pulled out maps. Why
should they not? They were giving away no secret, because they did
not know, and so they followed a soldier's natural inclination to
give all the help they could to another soldier. Therefore they
offered their suggestions like old friends. They had never met
before, might never meet again; but La France introduces you, and
five minute acquaintance in a place like Peronne, where things may
change so profoundly in one night, and where all is so tense by the
strange background of ruin that little portions of time seem very
valuable, five minutes there seem quite a long time. And so they are,
for what may not happen in five minutes any day now in France. Five
minutes may be a page of history, a chapter even, perhaps a volume.
Little children with inky fingers years hence may sit for a whole
hour trying to learn up and remember just what happened during five
minutes in France some time about now. These are just reflections
such as pass through the mind in the moonlight among vast ruins and
are at once forgotten.

Those that knew where the battalion was that the wandering officer
looked for were not many; these were reserved and spoke like one that
has a murder on his conscience, not freely and openly: for of one
thing no one speaks in France, and that is the exact position of a
unit. One may wave one's hand vaguely eastwards and say "Over
there,", but to name a village and the people that  occupy it is to
offend against the silence that in these days broods over France, the
solemn hush befitting so vast a tragedy.

And in the end it seemed better to that officer to obey the R.T.O.
and to go by his train to Brie that left in the morning, and that
question settled, there remained only food and sleep.

Down in the basement of the big house with a roof there was a
kitchen, in fact there was everything that a house should have; and
the more that one saw of simple household things, tables, chairs, the
fire in the kitchen, pieces of carpet, floors, ceilings, and even
windows, the more one wondered; it did not seem natural in Peronne.

Picture to yourself a fine drawing-room with high ornamental walls
and all the air about it of dignity, peace and ease, that were so
recently gone; only just, as it might have been, stepped through the
double doorway; skirts, as it were, of ladies only just trailed out
of sight; and then turn in fancy to that great town streaming with
moonlight, full of the mystery that moonlight always brings, but
without the light of it; all black, dark as caverns of earth where no
light ever came, blacker for the moonlight than if no moon were
there; sombre, mourning and accursed, each house in the great streets
sheltering darkness amongst its windowless walls; as though it nursed
disaster, having no other children left, and would not let the moon
peer in on its grief or see the monstrous orphan that it fondled.

In the old drawing-room with twenty others, the wandering officer lay
down to sleep on the floor, and thought of old wars that came to the
cities of France a long while ago. To just such houses as this, he
thought, men must have come before and gone on next day to fight in
other centuries; it seemed to him that it must have been more
romantic then. Who knows?

He had a bit of carpet to lie on. A few more officers came in in the
early part of the night, and talked a little and lay down. A few
candles were stuck on tables here and there. Midnight would have
struck from the towers had any clock been left to strike in Peronne.
Still talk went on in low voices here and there. The candles burned
low and were fewer. Big shadows floated along those old high walls.
Then the talk ceased and everyone was still: nothing stirred but the
shadows. An officer muttered in sleep of things far thence, and was
silent. Far away shells thumped faintly. The shadows, left to
themselves, went round and round the room, searching in every corner
for something that was lost. Over walls and ceiling they went and
could not find it. The last candle was failing. It flared and
guttered. The shadows raced over the room from comer to corner. Lost,
and they could not find it. They hurried desperately in those last
few moments. Great shadows searching for some little thing. In the
smallest nook they sought for it. Then the last candle died. As the
flame went up with the smoke from the fallen wick all the great
shadows turned and mournfully trailed away.

The Homes Of Arras

As you come to Arras by the western road, by the red ramparts and the
Spanish gate, Arras looks like a king. With such a dignity as clings
to the ancient gateway so might a king be crowned; with such a sweep
of dull red as the old ramparts show, so might he be robed; but a
dead king with crowned skull. For the ways of Arras are empty but for
brown soldiers, and her houses are bare as bones.

Arras sleeps profoundly, roofless, windowless, carpetless; Arras
sleeps as a skeleton sleeps, with all the dignity of former days
about it, but the life that stirs in its streets is not the old
city's life, the old city is murdered. I came to Arras and went down
a street, and saw back gardens glinting through the bare ribs of the
houses. Garden after garden shone, so far as it could, though it was
in October and after four years of war; but what was left of those
gardens shining there in the sun was like sad faces trying to smile
after many disasters.

I came to a great wall that no shell had breached. A cascade of
scarlet creeper poured over it, as though on the other side some
serene garden grew, where no disaster came, tended by girls who had
never heard of war, walking untrodden paths. It was not so. But one's
fancy, weary of ruin, readily turns to such scenes wherever facts are
hidden, though but by a tottering wall, led by a few bright leaves or
the glimpse of a flower.

But not for any fancy of mine must you picture ruin any more as
something graced with splendour, or as it were an argosy reaching the
shores of our day laden with grandeur and dignity out of antiquity.
Ruin to-day is not covered with ivy, and has no curious architecture
or strange secrets of history, and is not beautiful or romantic at
all. It has no tale to tell of old civilizations, not otherwise
known, told of by few grey stones. Ruin to-day is destruction and
sorrow and debt and loss, come down untidily upon modern homes and
cutting off ordinary generations, smashing the implements of familiar
trades and making common avocations obsolete. It is no longer the
guardian and the chronicle of ages that we should otherwise forget:
ruin to-day is an age heaped up in rubble around us before it has
ceased to be still green in our memory. Quite ordinary wardrobes in
unseemly attitudes gape out from bedrooms whose front walls are gone,
in houses whose most inner design shows unconcealed to the cold gaze
of the street. The rooms have neither mystery nor adornment. Burst
mattresses loll down from bedraggled beds. No one has come to tidy
them up for years. And roofs have slanted down as low as the first

I saw a green door ajar in an upper room: the whole of the front wall
of the house was gone: the door partly opened oddly on to a little
staircase, whose steps one could just see, that one wondered whither
it went. The door seemed to beckon and beckon to some lost room, but
if one could ever have got there, up through that shattered house,
and if the steps of that little staircase would bear, so that one
came to, the room that is hidden away at the top, yet there could
only be silence and spiders there, and broken plaster and the dust of
calamity; it is only to memories that the green door beckons; nothing

And some day they may come to Arras to see the romance of war, to see
where the shells struck and to pick up pieces of iron. It is not this
that is romantic, not Mars, but poor, limping Peace. It is what is
left that appeals to you, with pathos and infinite charm; little
desolate gardens that no one has tended for years, wall-paper left in
forlorn rooms when all else is Scattered, old toys buried in rubbish,
old steps untrodden on inaccessible landings: it is what is left that
appeals to you, what remains of old peaceful things. The great guns
throb on, all round is the panoply of war, if panoply be the right
word for this vast disaster that is known to Arras as innumerable
separate sorrows; but it is not to this great event that-the sympathy
turns in Arras, nor to its thunder and show, nor the trappings of it,
guns lorries, and fragments of shells: it is to the voiceless,
deserted inanimate things, so greatly wronged, that all the heart
goes out: floors fallen in festoons, windows that seem to be wailing,
roofs as though crazed with grief and then petrified in their
craziness; railings, lamp-posts, sticks, all hit, nothing spared by
that frenzied iron: the very earth clawed and-torn: it is what is
left that appeals to you.

As I went from Arras I passed by a grey, gaunt shape, the ghost of a
railway station standing in the wilderness haunting a waste of weeds,
and mourning, as it seemed, over rusted railway lines lying idle and
purposeless as though leading nowhere, as though all roads had
ceased, and all lands were deserted, and all travellers dead:
sorrowful and lonely that ghostly shape stood dumb in the desolation
among houses whose doors were shut and their windows broken. And in
all that stricken assembly no voice spoke but the sound of iron
tapping on broken things, which was dumb awhile when the wind
dropped. The wind rose and it tapped again.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Unhappy Far-Off Things" ***

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