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Title: Leaves from a Field Note-Book
Author: Morgan, John Hartman, 1876-1955
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Leaves from a Field Note-Book" ***

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LEAVES FROM A FIELD NOTE-BOOK

MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED

LONDON BOMBAY CALCUTTA MELBOURNE

THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

NEW YORK BOSTON CHICAGO DALLAS SAN FRANCISCO

THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, LTD.

TORONTO



LEAVES FROM A FIELD NOTE-BOOK

BY

J.H. MORGAN

LATE HOME OFFICE COMMISSIONER WITH THE BRITISH EXPEDITIONARY FORCE


     "And my delights were with the sons of men."


MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED

ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON

1916



TO

LIEUT.-GENERAL SIR C.F.N. MACREADY, K.C.B., K.C.M.G.

ADJUTANT-GENERAL TO THE BRITISH EXPEDITIONARY FORCE



PREFACE


This book is an unofficial outcome of the writer's experiences during
the five months he was attached to the General Headquarters Staff as
Home Office Commissioner with the British Expeditionary Force. His
official duties during that period involved daily visits to the
headquarters of almost every Corps, Division, and Brigade in the Field,
and took him on one or two occasions to the batteries and into the
trenches. They necessarily involved a familiar and domestic acquaintance
with the work of two of the great departments of the Staff at G.H.Q. So
much of these experiences of the work of the Staff and of the life of
the Army in the field as it appears discreet to record is here set down.
The writer desires to express his acknowledgments to his friends, Major
E.A. Wallinger, Major F.C.T. Ewald, D.S.O., and Captain W.A. Wallinger,
for their kindness in reading the proofs of some one or more of the
chapters in this book. Nor would his acknowledgments be complete
without some word of thanks to that brilliant soldier, Colonel E.D.
Swinton, D.S.O., with whom he was closely associated during the
discharge of the official duties at G.H.Q. of which this book is the
unofficial outcome. Most of these chapters originally appeared in the
pages of the _Nineteenth Century and After_, under the title to which
the book owes its name, and the writer desires to express his
obligations to the Editor, Mr. Wray Skilbeck, for his kind permission to
republish them. Similar acknowledgments are due to the Editor of
_Blackwood's Magazine_ for permission to reprint the short story,
"Stokes's Act," and to the Editor of the _Westminster Gazette_ in whose
hospitable pages some of the shorter sketches appeared--sometimes
anonymously.

The reader will observe that many of these sketches appear in the form
of what, to borrow a French term, is called the _conte_. The writer has
adopted that form of literary expression as the most efficacious way of
suppressing his own personality; the obtrusion of which, in the form of
"Reminiscences," would, he feels, be altogether disproportionate and
impertinent in view of the magnitude and poignancy of the great events
amid which it was his privilege to live and move. Moreover, his own
duties were neither spirited nor glorious. But the characters pourtrayed
and the events narrated in these pages are true in substance and in
fact. The writer has not had the will, even if he had had the power, to
"improve" the occasions; the reality was too poignant for that.
"Stokes's Act" and "The Coming of the Hun" are therefore "true"
stories--using truth in the sense of veracity not value--and the facts
came within the writer's own investigation. The investiture of fiction
has been here adopted for the obvious reason that neither of the
principal characters in these two stories would desire his name to be
known. So, too, in the other sketches, although the characters are
"real"--I can only hope that they will be half as real to the reader as
they were and are to me--the names are assumed.

It is my privilege to inscribe this little book to Lieut.-General Sir
C.F.N. Macready, K.C.B., K.C.M.G., to whose staff I was attached and to
whose friendship, encouragement, and hospitality I owe a debt which no
words can discharge.

                                                             J. H. M.

_January 1916._



CONTENTS


I

THE BASE
                                                    PAGE
  I. BOBS BAHADUR                                      3
 II. AT THE BASE DEPÔT                                11
III. THE WILTSHIRES                                   17
 IV. THE BASE                                         26
  V. A COUNCIL OF INDIA                               36
 VI. THE TROOP TRAIN                                  45


II

THE FRONT

 VII. THE TWO RICHEBOURGS                             59
VIII. IDOLS OF THE CAVE                               65
  IX. STOKES'S ACT                                    73
   X. THE FRONT                                       92
  XI. AT G.H.Q.                                      103
 XII. MORT POUR LA PATRIE                            119
XIII. MEAUX AND SOME BRIGANDS                        128
 XIV. THE CONCIERGE AT SENLIS                        134


III

UNOFFICIAL INTERLUDES

   XV. A "CONSEIL DE LA GUERRE"                      143
  XVI. PETER                                         154
 XVII. THREE TRAVELLERS                              166
XVIII. BARBARA                                       173
  XIX. AN ARMY COUNCIL                               178
   XX. THE FUGITIVES                                 189
  XXI. A "DUG-OUT"                                   195
 XXII. CHRISTMAS EVE, 1914                           202


IV

THE FRONT AGAIN

 XXIII. THE COMING OF THE HUN                        209
  XXIV. THE HILL                                     226
   XXV. THE DAY'S WORK                               232
  XXVI. FIAT JUSTITIA                                244
 XXVII. HIGHER EDUCATION                             252
XXVIII. THE LITTLE TOWNS OF FLANDERS AND ARTOIS      259
  XXIX. THE "FRONT" ONCE MORE                        270
   XXX. HOME AGAIN                                   288



I

THE BASE



I

BOBS BAHADUR


It had gone eight bells on the S.S. _G----_. The decks had been
washed down with the hosepipe and the men paraded for the morning's
inspection. The O.C. had scanned them with a roving eye, till catching
sight of an orderly two files from the left he had begged him, almost as
a personal favour, to get his hair cut. To an untutored mind the
orderly's hair was about one-eighth of an inch in length, but the O.C.
was inflexible. He was a colonel in that smartest of all medical
services, the I.M.S., whose members combine the extensive knowledge of
the general practitioner with the peculiar secrets of the Army surgeon,
and he was fastidious. Then he said "Dismiss," and they went their
appointed ways. The Indian cooks were boiling _dhal_ and rice in the
galley; the bakers were squatting on their haunches on the lower deck,
making _chupattis_--they were screened against the inclemency of the
weather by a tarpaulin--and they patted the leathery cakes with
persuasive slaps as a dairymaid pats butter. Low-caste sweepers glided
like shadows to and fro. Suddenly some one crossed the gangway and the
sentry stiffened and presented arms. The O.C. looked down from the upper
deck and saw a lithe, sinewy little figure with white moustaches and
"imperial"; the eyes were of a piercing steel-blue. The figure was clad
in a general's field-service uniform, and on his shoulder-straps were
the insignia of a field-marshal. The colonel stared for a moment, then
ran hastily down the ladder and saluted.

       *       *       *       *       *

Together they passed down the companion-ladder. At the foot of it they
encountered a Bengali orderly, who made a profound obeisance.

"Shiva Lal," said the O.C., "I ordered the portholes to be kept
unfastened and the doors in the bulkheads left open. This morning I
found them shut. Why was this?"

"Sahib, at eight o'clock I found them open."

"It was at eight o'clock," said the colonel sternly, "that I found them
shut."

The Bengali spread out his hands in deprecation. "If the sahib says so
it must be so," he pleaded, adding with truly Oriental irrelevancy, "I
am a poor man and have many children." It is as useless to argue with
an Indian orderly as it is to try conclusions with a woman.

"Let it not occur again," said the colonel shortly, and with an apology
to his guest they passed on.

They paused in front of a cabin. Over the door was the legend "Pathans,
No. 1." The door was shut fast. The colonel was annoyed. He opened the
door, and four tall figures, with strongly Semitic features and bearded
like the pard, stood up and saluted. The colonel made a mental note of
the closed door; he looked at the porthole--it was also closed. The
Pathan loves a good "fug," especially in a European winter, and the
colonel had had trouble with his patients about ventilation. A kind of
guerilla warfare, conducted with much plausibility and perfect
politeness, had been going on for some days between him and the Pathans.
The Pathans complained of the cold, the colonel of the atmosphere. At
last he had met them halfway, or, to be precise, he had met them with a
concession of three inches. He had ordered the ship's carpenter to fix a
three-inch hook to the jamb and a staple to the door, the terms of the
truce being that the door should be kept three inches ajar. And now it
was shut. "Why is this?" he expostulated. For answer they pointed to the
hook. "Sahib, the hook will not fasten!"

The colonel examined it; it was upside down. The contumacious Pathans
had quietly reversed the work of the ship's carpenter, and the hook was
now useless without being ornamental. With bland ingenuous faces they
stared sadly at the hook, as if deprecating such unintelligent
craftsmanship. The Field-Marshal smiled--he knew the Pathan of old; the
colonel mentally registered a black mark against the delinquents.

"Whence come you?" said the Field-Marshal.

"From Tirah, Sahib."

"Ah! we have had some little trouble with your folk at Tirah. But all
that is now past. Serve the Emperor faithfully and it shall be well with
you."

"Ah! Sahib, but I am sorely troubled in my mind."

"And wherefore?"

"My aged father writes that a pig of a thief hath taken our cattle and
abducted our women-folk. I would fain have leave to go on furlough and
lie in a nullah at Tirah with my rifle and wait for him. Then would I
return to France."

"Patience! That can wait. How like you the War?"

"_Burra Achha Tamasha_,[1] Sahib. But we like not their big guns. We
would fain come at them with the bayonet. Why are we kept back in the
trenches, Sahib?"

"Peace! It shall come in good time."

They passed into another cabin reserved for native officers. A tall Sikh
rose to a half-sitting posture and saluted.

"What is your name?"

"H---- Sing, Sahib."

"There was a H---- Sing with me in '78," said the Field-Marshal
meditatively. "With the Kuram Field Force. He was my orderly. He served
me afterwards in Burmah and was promoted to subadar."

The aquiline features of the Sikh relaxed, his eyes of lustrous jet
gleamed. "Even so, Sahib, he was my father."

"Good! he was a man. Be worthy of him. And you too are a subadar?"

"Yea, Sahib, I have eaten the King's salt these twelve years."

"That is well. Have you children?"

"Yea, Sahib, God has been very good."

"And your lady mother, is she alive?"

"The Lord be praised, she liveth."

"And how is your 'family'?"

"She is well, Sahib."

"And how like you this War?"

"Greatly, Sahib. The _Goora-log_[2] and ourselves fight like brothers
side by side. But we would fain see the fine weather. Then there will be
some _muzza_[3] in it."

The Field-Marshal smiled and passed on.

They entered the great ward in the main hold of the ship. Here were
avenues of swinging cots, in double tiers, the enamelled iron white as
snow, and on the pillow of each cot lay a dark head, save where some
were sitting up--the Sikhs binding their hair as they fingered the
_kangha_ and the _chakar_, the comb and the quoit-shaped hair-ring,
which are of the five symbols of their freemasonry. The Field-Marshal
stopped to talk to a big _sowar_. As he did so the men in their cots
raised their heads and a sudden whisper ran round the ward. Dogras,
Rajputs, Jats, Baluchis, Garhwalis clutched at the little pulleys over
their cots, pulled themselves up with painful efforts, and saluted. In a
distant corner a Mahratta from the aboriginal plains of the Deccan, his
features dark almost to blackness, looked on uncomprehendingly; Ghurkhas
stared in silence, their broad Mongolian faces betraying little of the
agitation that held them in its spell. From the rest there arose such a
conflict of tongues as has not been heard since the Day of Pentecost.
From bed to bed passed the magic words, "It is he." Every man uttered a
benediction. Many wept tears of joy. A single thought seemed to animate
them, and they voiced it in many tongues.

"Ah, now we shall smite the _German-log_ exceedingly. We shall fight
even as tigers, for Jarj Panjam.[4] The great Sahib has come to lead us
in the field. Praised be his exalted name."

The Field-Marshal's eyes shone.

"No, no," he said, "my time is finished. I am too old."

"Nay, Sahib," said the sowar as he hung on painfully to his pulley, "the
body may be old but the brain is young."

The Field-Marshal strove to reply but could not. He suddenly turned on
his heel and rushed up the companion-ladder. When halfway up he
remembered the O.C. and retraced his steps. The tears were streaming
down his face.

"Sir," he said, in a voice the deliberate sternness of which but ill
concealed an overmastering emotion, "your hospital arrangements are
excellent. I have seen none better. I congratulate you. Good-day." The
next moment he was gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

Five days later the colonel was standing on the upper deck; he gripped
the handrail tightly and looked across the harbour basin. Overhead the
Red Cross ensign was at half-mast, and at half-mast hung the Union Jack
at the stern. And so it was with every ship in port. A great silence lay
upon the harbour; even the hydraulic cranes were still, and the winches
of the trawlers had ceased their screaming. Not a sound was to be heard
save the shrill poignant cry of the gulls and the hissing of an exhaust
pipe. As the colonel looked across the still waters of the harbour basin
he saw a bier, covered with a Union Jack, being slowly carried across
the gangway of the leave-boat; a little group of officers followed it.
In a few moments the leave-boat, after a premonitory blast from the
siren which woke the sleeping echoes among the cliffs, cast off her
moorings and slowly gathered way. Soon she had cleared the harbour mouth
and was out upon the open sea. The colonel watched her with straining
eyes till she sank beneath the horizon. Then he turned and went
below.[5]

FOOTNOTES:

[1] A jolly fine show.

[2] The English soldiers.

[3] Spice.

[4] King George the Fifth.

[5] The writer can vouch for the truth of this narrative. He owes his
knowledge of what passed to the hospitality on board of his friend the
O.C. the Indian hospital ship in question.



II

AT THE BASE DEPÔT

     Any enunciation by officers responsible for training of principles
     other than those contained in this Manual or any practice of
     methods not based on those principles is forbidden.--_Infantry
     Training Manual._


The officers in charge of details at No. 19 Infantry Base Depôt had made
their morning inspections of the lines. They had seen that blankets were
folded and tent flies rolled up, had glanced at rifles, and had
inspected the men's kits with the pensive air of an intending purchaser.
Having done which, they proceeded to take an unsympathetic farewell of
the orderly officer whom they found in the orderly room engaged in
reading character by handwriting with the aid of the office stamp.

"I never knew there was so much individuality in the British Army," the
orderly officer dolefully exclaimed as he contemplated a pile of letters
waiting to be franked and betraying marked originality in their
penmanship.

"You're too fond of opening other people's letters," the subaltern
remarked pleasantly. "It's a bad habit and will grow on you. When you go
home you'll never be able to resist it. You'll be unfit for decent
society."

"Go away, War Baby," retorted the orderly officer, as he turned aside
from the subaltern, who has a beautiful pink and white complexion, and
was at Rugby rather less than a year ago.

The War Baby smiled wearily. "Let's go and see the men at drill," he
remarked. "We've got a corporal here who's A1 at instruction." As we
passed, the sentry brought his right hand smartly across the small of
the butt of his rifle, and, seeing the Major behind us, brought the
rifle to the present.

We came out on a field sprinkled with little groups of men in charge of
their N.C.O.'s. They were the "details." These were drafts for the
Front, and every regiment of the Division had sent a deputation. Two or
three hundred yards away a platoon was marching with a short quick trot,
carrying their rifles at the trail, and I knew them for Light Infantry,
for such are their prerogatives. Concerning Light Infantry much might be
written that is not to be found in the regimental records. As, for
example, the reason why the whole Army shouts "H.L.I." whenever the ball
is kicked into touch; also why the Oxford L.I. always put out their
tongues when they meet the Durhams. Some day some one will write the
legendary history of the British Army, its myth, custom, and folklore,
and will explain how the Welsh Fusiliers got their black "flash" (with a
digression on the natural history of antimacassars), why the 7th Hussars
are called the "White Shirts," why the old 95th will despitefully use
you if you cry, "Who stole the grog?" and what happens on Albuera day in
the mess of the Die Hards. But that is by the way.

The drafts at No. 19, having done a route march the day before, had been
turned out this morning to do a little musketry drill by way of keeping
them fit. A platoon lay flat on their stomachs in the long grass, the
burnished nails on the soles of their boots twinkling in the sun like
miniature heliographs. From all quarters of the field sharp words of
command rang out like pistol shots. "Three hundred. Five rounds. Fire."
As the men obeyed the sergeant's word of command, the air resounded with
the clicking of bolts like a chorus of grasshoppers. We pursued a
section of the Royal Fusiliers in command of a corporal until he halted
his men for bayonet exercise. He drew them up in two ranks facing each
other, and began very deliberately with an allocution on the art of the
bayonet.

"There ain't much drill about the bayonet," he said encouragingly. "What
you've got to do is to get the other fellow, and I don't care how you
get 'im as long as you knock 'im out of time. On guard!"

The men in each rank brought the butts of their rifles on to their right
hips and pointed with their left feet forward at the breasts of the men
opposite. "Rest!" The rifles were brought to earth between twelve pairs
of feet. "Point! Withdraw! On guard!" They pointed, withdrew, and were
on guard again with the precision of piston-rods.

"Now watch me, for your life may depend upon it," and the corporal
proceeded to give them the low parry which is useful when you are taking
trenches and find a _chevaux-de-frise_ of the enemy's bayonets
confronting you. Each rank knocked an imaginary bayonet aside and
pointed at invisible feet. The high parry followed. So far the men had
been merely nodding at each other across a space of some twelve yards,
and it was hot work and tedious. The sweat ran down their faces, which
glistened in the sun. "Now I'm going to give you the butt exercises";
they brightened visibly.

"I am pointing--so!--and 'ave been parried. I bring the butt round on
'is shoulder, using my weight on it. I bring my left leg behind 'is left
leg. I throw 'im over. Then I give the beggar what for. So!" The words
were hardly out of his mouth before he had thrown himself upon the
nearest private and laid him prostrate. The others smiled faintly as No.
98678 picked himself up and nonchalantly returned to his old position as
if this were a banal compliment. "Now then. First butt exercise." One
rank advanced upon the other, and the two ranks were locked in a close
embrace. They remained thus with muscles strung like bowstrings,
immobile as a group of statuary.

"That'll do. Now I'll give you the second butt exercise. You bring the
butt round on 'is jaw--so!--and then kick 'im in the guts with your
knee." Perhaps the section, which stood like a wall of masonry, looked
surprised; more probably the surprise was mine. But the corporal
explained. "Don't think you're Tottenham Hotspur in the Cup Final. Never
mind giving 'im a foul. You've got to 'urt 'im or 'e'll 'urt you. Kick
'im anywhere with your knees or your feet. Your ammunition boots will
make 'im feel it. No!"--he turned to a young private whose left hand was
grasping his rifle high up between the fore-sight and the
indicator--"You mustn't do that. Always get your 'and between the
back-sight and the breech. So! The back-sight will protect your fingers
from being cut by the other fellow. Now the third butt exercise."

As we turned away the Major thoughtfully remarked to me, "There isn't
much of that in the Infantry Manual. But the corporal knows his job.
When you're in a scrap you haven't time to think about the rules of the
game; the automatic movements come all right, but in a clinch you've got
to fight like a cat with tooth and claw, use your boots, your knee, or
anything that comes handy. Perhaps that's why your lithe little Cockney
is such a useful man with the bayonet. Now the Hun is a hefty beggar,
and he isn't hampered by any ideas of playing the game, but he's as
mechanical as a vacuum brake, and he's no good in a scrap."

We returned to the orderly room. The orderly officer had a pile of
letters on his right impressed with a red triangle, and contemplated the
completion of his labours with gloomy satisfaction. "But it's very
interesting--such a revelation of the emotions of battle and all that,"
I incautiously remarked. "Oh yes, very revealing," he yawned. "Look at
that"; and he held out a letter. It ran:


     DEAR MOTHER--I'm reported fit for duty and am going back
     to the Front with the new drafts. I forgot to tell you we were in a
     bit of a scrap before I came here. We outed a lot of Huns. How is
     old Alf?--

     Your loving son,                                     JIM.


The "bit of a scrap" was the battle of Neuve Chapelle. The British
soldier is an artist with the bayonet. But he is no great man with the
pen. Which is as it should be.



III

THE WILTSHIRES


"You talk to him, sir. He zeed a lot though he be kind o' mazed like
now; he be mortal bad, I do think. But such a cheerful chap he be. I
mind he used to say to us in the trenches: 'It bain't no use grousing.
What mun be, mun be.' Terrible strong he were, too. One of our officers
wur hit in front of the parapet and we coulden get 'n in nohow--'twere
too hot; and Hunt, he unrolled his puttees and made a girt rope of 'em
and threw 'em over the parapet and draw'd en in. Ah! that a did."

It was in one of the surgical tents of "No. 6 General" at the base. The
middle of the ward was illuminated by an oil-lamp, shaped like an
hour-glass, which shed a circle of yellow radiance upon the faces of the
nurse and the orderly officer, as they stood examining a case-sheet by
the light of its rays. Beyond the penumbra were rows of white beds, and
in the farthest corner lay the subject of our discourse. "Can I talk to
him?" I said to the nurse. "Yes, if you don't stay too long," she
replied briskly, "and don't question him too much. He's in a bad way,
his wounds are very septic."

He nodded to me as I approached. At the head of the bed hung a
case-sheet and temperature-chart, and I saw at a glance the
superscription--


     Hunt, George, Private, No. 1578936 B Co. ---- Wiltshires.


I noticed that the temperature-line ran sharply upwards on the chart.

"So you're a Wiltshireman?" I said. "So am I." And I held out my hand.
He drew his own from beneath the bedclothes and held mine in an iron
grip.

"What might be your parts, sir?"

"W---- B----."

His eyes lighted up with pleasure. "Why, zur, it be nex' parish; I come
from B----. I be main pleased to zee ye, zur."

"The pleasure is mine," I said. "When did you join?"

"I jined in July last year, zur. I be a resarvist."

"You have been out a long time, then?"

"Yes, though it do seem but yesterday, and I han't seen B---- since. I
mind how parson, 'e came to me and axed, 'What! bist gwine to fight for
King and Country, Jarge?' And I zed, 'Yes, sur, that I be--for King and
Country and ould Wiltshire. I guess we Wiltshiremen be worth two Gloster
men any day though they do call us 'Moon-rakers.' Not but what the
Glosters ain't very good fellers," he added indulgently. "Parson, he be
mortal good to I; 'e gied I his blessing and 'e write and give I all the
news of the parish. He warnt much of a preacher though a did say 'Dearly
beloved' in church in a very taking way as though he were a-courting."

"What was I a-doin', zur? Oh, I wur with Varmer Twine, head labr'er I
was. Strong? Oh yes, zur, pretty fair. I mind I could throw a zack o'
vlour ower my shoulder when I wur a boy o' vourteen. Why! I wur stronger
then than I be now. 'Twas India that done me."

"Is it a large farm?" I asked, seeking to beguile him with homely
thoughts.

"Six 'undred yackers. Oh yes, I'd plenty to do, and I could turn me
hands to most things, though I do say it. There weren't a man in the
parish as could beat I at mowing or putting a hackle on a rick, though I
do say it. And I could drive a straight furrow too. Heavy work it were.
The soil be stiff clay, as ye knows, zur. This Vlemish clay be very
loike it. Lord, what a mint o' diggin' we 'ave done in they trenches to
be sure. And bullets vlying like wopses zumtimes."

"Are your parents alive?" I asked.

"No, zur, they be both gone to Kingdom come. Poor old feyther," he said
after a pause. "I mind 'un now in his white smock all plaited in vront
and mother in her cotton bonnet--you never zee 'em in Wiltshire now.
They brought us all up on nine shillin' a week--ten on us we was."

"I suppose you sometimes wish you were back in Wiltshire now?" I said.

"Zumtimes, sir," he said wistfully. "It'll be about over with lambing
season, now," he added reflectively. "Many's the tiddling lamb I've
a-brought up wi' my own hands. Aye, and the may'll soon be out in
blossom. And the childern makin' daisy-chains."

"Yes," I said. "And think of the woods--the bluebells and anemones! You
remember Folly Wood?"

He smiled. "Ah, that I do: I mind digging out an old vixen up there,
when 'er 'ad gone to earth, and the 'ounds with their tails up
a-hollering like music. The Badminton was out that day. I were allus
very fond o' thuck wood. My brother be squire's keeper there. Many a
toime we childern went moochin' in thuck wood--nutting and bird-nesting.
Though I never did hold wi' taking more'n one egg out of a nest, and I
allus did wet my vinger avore I touched the moss on a wren's nest. They
do say as the little bird 'ull never go back if ye doant."

His mind went roaming among childhood's memories and his eyes took on a
dreaming look.

"Mother, she were a good woman--no better woman in the parish, parson
did say. She taught us to say every night, 'Our Father, which art in
heaven'--I often used to think on it at night in the trenches. Them
nights--they do make you think a lot. It be mortal queer up there--you
veels as if you were on the edge of the world. I used to look up at the
sky and mind me o' them words in the Bible, 'When I conzider the
heavens, the work o' Thy vingers and the stars which Thou hast made,
what is man that Thou art mindful of him?' One do feel oncommon small in
them trenches at night."

"I suppose you've had a hot time up there?"

"Ah that I have. And I zeed some bad things."

"Bad?"

"Cruel, sir, mortal cruel, I be maning. 'Twur dree weeks come Monday.[6]
We wur in an advance near Wypers--'bout as far as 'tis from our village
to Wootton Bassett. My platoon had to take a house. We knowed 'twould be
hot work, and Jacob Scaplehorn and I did shake hands. 'Jarge,' 'e zed,
'if I be took write to my wife and tell 'er it be the Lard's will and
she be not to grieve.' And I zed, 'So be, Jacob, and you'll do the same
for I.' Our Officer, Capt'n S---- T----, d'you know 'en, sir? No? 'E com
from Devizes way, he wur a grand man, never thinking of hisself but only
of us humble chaps--he said, 'Now for it, lads,' and we advances in
'stended order. We wur several yards apart, just loike we was when a
section of us recruits wur put through platoon drill, when I fust jined
the Army an' sergeant made us drill with skipping-ropes a-stretched out
so as to get the spaces. And there wur a machine-gun in that there
house--you know how they sputters. It cut down us poor chaps loike a
reaper. Jacob Scaplehorn wur nex' me and I 'eerd 'un say 'O Christ
Jesus' as 'e went over like a rabbit and 'e never said no more. 'E wur a
good man, wur Scaplehorn"--he added musingly--"and 'e did good things.
And some chaps wur down and dragging their legs as if they did'n b'long
to 'em. I sort o' saw all that wi'out seeing it, in a manner o' spaking;
'twere only arterwards it did come back to me. There warn't no time to
think. And by the toime we got to thic house there were only 'bout
vifteen on us left. We had to scrouge our way in through the buttry
winder and we 'eerd a girt caddle inside, sort o' scuffling; 'twere the
Germans makin' for the cellar. And our Capt'n posted some on us at top
of cellar steps and led the rest on us up the stairs to a kind o' tallet
where thuck machine-gun was. And what d'ye think we found, sir?" he
said, raising himself on his elbow.

"What?"

"There was a poor girl there--half daft she wur--wi' nothing on but a
man's overcoat. And she rushed out avore us on the landing and began
hammering with her hands against a bedroom door and it wur locked. We
smashed 'en in wi' our rifle-butts, and God's mercy! we found a poor
woman there, her mother seemingly, with her breast all bloody an' her
clothes torn. I could'n mak' out what 'er wur saying but Capt'n 'e told
us as the Germans 'ad ravished her. We used our field-dressings and
tried to make the poor soul comfortable and Capt'n 'e sent a volunteer
back for stretcher-bearers."

"And what about the Germans?" I asked.

"Ah, I be coming to that, zur. Capt'n says, 'Now, men, we're going to
reckon with those devils down below.' And we went downstairs and he
stood at top of cellar-steps, 'twere mortal dark, an' says, 'Come on up
out o' that there.' And they never answered a word, but we could 'ear
'em breathing hard. We did'n know how many there were and the cellar
steps were main narrow, as narrow as th' opening in that tent over
there. So Capt'n 'e says, 'Fetch me some straw, Hunt.' 'Twere a kind o'
farmhouse and I went out into the backside and vetched some. And Capt'n
and us put a lot of it at top of steps and pushed a lot more vurther
down, using our rifles like pitchforks and then 'e blew on his tinder
and set it alight. 'Stand back, men,' he says, 'and be ready for 'em
with the bay'net.' 'Tweren't no manner o' use shooting; 'twere too close
in there and our bullets might ha' ricochayed. We soon 'eerd 'em
a-coughing. There wur a terrible deal o' smoke, and there wur we
a-waiting at top of them stairs for 'em to come up like rats out of a
hole. And two on 'em made a rush for it and we caught 'em just like's we
was terriers by an oat-rick; we had to be main quick. 'Twere like
pitching hay. And then three more, and then more. And none on us uttered
a word.

"An' when it wur done and we had claned our bay'nets in the straw,
Capt'n 'e said, 'Men, you ha' done your work as you ought to ha' done.'"

He paused for a moment. "They be bad fellows," he mused. "O Christ! they
be rotten bad. Twoads they be! I never reckon no good 'ull come to men
what abuses wimmen and childern. But I'm afeard they be nation
strong--there be so many on 'em."

His tale had the simplicity of an epic. But the telling of it had been
too much for him. Beads of perspiration glistened on his brow. I felt it
was time for me to go. I sought first to draw his mind away from the
contemplation of these tragic things.

"Are you married?" I asked. The eyes brightened in the flushed face.
"Yes, that I be, and I 'ave a little boy, he be a sprack little chap."

"And what are you going to make of him?"

"I'm gwine to bring un up to be a soldjer," he said solemnly. "To fight
them Germans," he added. He saw the great War in an endless perspective
of time; for him it had no end. "You will soon be home in Wiltshire
again," I said encouragingly. He mused. "Reckon the Sweet Williams 'ull
be out in the garden now; they do smell oncommon sweet. And
mother-o'-thousands on the wall. Oh-h-h." A spasm of pain contracted his
face. The nurse was hovering near and I saw my time was up. "My dear
fellow," I said lamely, "I fear you are in great pain."

"Ah!" he said, "but it wur worth it."

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day I called to have news of him. The bed was empty. He was
dead.

FOOTNOTE:

[6] This story is here given as nearly as possible in the exact words of
the narrator.--J.H.M.



IV

THE BASE


If G.H.Q. is the brain of the Army, the Base is as certainly its heart.
For hence all the arteries of that organism draw their life, and on the
systole and diastole of the Base, on the contractions and dilatations of
its auricles and ventricles, the Army depends for its circulation. To
and from the Base come and go in endless tributaries men, horses,
supplies, and ordnance.

The Base feeds the Army, binds up its wounds, and repairs its wastage.
If you would get a glimpse of the feverish activities of the Base and
understand what it means to the Army, you should take up your position
on the bridge by the sluices that break the fall of the river into the
harbour, close to the quay, where the trawlers are nudging each other at
their moorings and the fishermen are shouting in the _patois_ of the
littoral amid the creaking of blocks, the screaming of winches, and the
shrill challenge of the gulls. Stand where the Military Police are on
point duty and you will see a stream of Red Cross motor ambulances, a
trickle of base details, a string of invalided horses in charge of an
A.V.C. corporal, and a khaki-painted motor-bus crowded with drafts for
the Front. Big ocean liners, flying the Red Cross, lie at their
moorings, and lofty electric cranes gyrate noiselessly over supply ships
unloading their stores, while animated swarms of dockers in khaki pile
up a great ant-heap of sacks in the sheds with a passionless
concentration that seems like the workings of blind instinct. And here
are warehouses whose potentialities of wealth are like Mr. Thrale's
brewery--wheat, beef, fodder, and the four spices dear to the delicate
palates of the Indian contingent. Somewhere behind there is a park of
ammunition guarded like a harem. In the railway sidings are duplicate
supply trains, steam up, trucks sealed, and the A.S.C. officer on board
ready to start for rail-head with twenty-four hours' supplies. Beyond
the maze of "points" is moored the strangest of all rolling-stock, the
grey-coated armoured-train, within whose iron walls are domesticated two
amphibious petty officers darning their socks.

In huge offices improvised out of deal boarding Army Service Corps
officers are docketing stupendous files of way-bills, loading-tables,
and indents, what time the Railway Transport Officer is making up his
train of trucks for the corresponding supplies. The A.S.C. uses up more
stationery than all the departments in Whitehall, and its motto is
_litera scripta manet_--which has been explained by an A.S.C. sergeant,
instructing a class of potential officers, as meaning "Never do anything
without a written order, but, whatever you do, never write one." For an
A.S.C. court of inquiry has as impassioned a preference for written over
oral evidence as the old Court of Chancery. So that if your way-bill
testifies:


     Truck No.        Contents
      19414          Jam 36 x 50


and from the thirty-six cases of fifty pots one pot of jam is missing on
arrival at rail-head, then, though truck 19414 arrived sealed and your
labels undefaced, it will go hard with you as Train Officer unless you
can produce that pot.

For the feeding of the Army is a delicate business and complicated. It
is not enough to secure that there be sufficient "caloric units" in the
men's rations; there are questions of taste. The Brahmin will not touch
beef; the Mahomedan turns up his nose at pork; the Jain is a vegetarian;
the Ghurkha loves the flesh of the goat. And every Indian must have his
ginger, garlic, red chilli, and turmeric, and his chupattis of
unleavened bread. One such warehouse we entered and beheld with
stupefaction mountainous boxes of ghee and hogsheads of goor, rice,
dried apricots, date-palms, and sultanas. Storekeepers in turbans stood
round us, who, being asked whether it was well with the Indian and his
food, answered us with a great shout, like the Ephesians, "Yea, the
exalted Government hath done great things and praised be its name." To
which we replied "Victory to the Holy Ganges water." Their lustrous eyes
beamed at the salutation.

Great, indeed, is the Q.M.G. He supplies manna in the wilderness, and
like the manna of the Israelites it has never been known to fail. It is
of him that the soldier in the trenches says, in the words of the
prophet, "He hath filled my belly with his delicates." And his caravans
cover the face of the earth. You meet them everywhere, each Supply
Column a self-contained unit like a fleet. It has its O.C., its cooks,
its seventy-two motor lorries, with three men to each, and its "mobiles"
or travelling workshops with dynamo, lathe, drilling machine, and a crew
of skilled artificers, ready to tackle any motor-lorry that is put out
of action. I take off my hat to those handy-men; many times have they
helped me out of a tight place and performed delicate operations on the
internal organs of my military car in the inhospitable night. It is a
brave sight and fortifying to see a Supply Column winding in and out
between the poplars on the perilously arched _pavé_ of the long sinuous
roads, each wagon keeping its distance, like battleships in line, and
every one of them boasting a good Christian name chalked up on the
tail-board. For what his horses are to a driver and his eighteen-pounder
to a gunner, such is his wagon to the A.S.C. man who is detailed to it.
It is his caravan. Many a time, on long and lonely journeys from the
Base to the Front, have I been cheered to find a Supply Column drawn up
on the roadside in a wooded valley, on a bare undulating down, or in a
chalk quarry, while the men were making tea over a blue wood fire. If
you love a gipsy life join the A.S.C.

Within this one-mile radius of the A.S.C. headquarters at the Base are
some twenty military hospitals improvised out of hotels, gaming-houses,
and railway waiting-rooms. For the Base is the great Clearing House for
the sick and wounded, and its register of patients is a kind of
barometer of the state of affairs at the Front. When that register sinks
very low, it means that the atmospheric conditions at the Front are
getting stormy, and that an order has come down to evacuate and prepare
four thousand beds. Then you watch the newspapers, for you know
something is going to happen up there. And in those same hospitals men
are working night and day; the bacteriologists studying "smears" under
microscopes, while the surgeons are classifying, operating, "dressing,"
marking temperature-charts, and annotating case-sheets. And in every
hospital there is a faint mysterious incense, compounded not
disagreeably of chloride of sodium and iodised catgut, which intensifies
the dim religious atmosphere of the shaded wards. If G.H.Q. is the
greatest of military academies, the Base hospitals are indubitably the
wisest of medical schools. Never have the sciences of bacteriology and
surgery been studied with such devotion as under these urgent clinical
impulses. Here are men of European reputation who have left their
laboratories and consulting-rooms at home to wage a never-ending
scientific contest with death and corruption. They have slain
"frostbite" with lanoline, turpentine, and a change of socks; they have
fought septic wounds with chloride of sodium and the ministries of
unlimited oxygen; they have defied "shock" after amputation by
"blocking" the nerves of the limb by spinal injection, as a signalman
blocks traffic. They have called in Nature to the aid of science and
have summoned the oxygen of the air and the lymph of the body to the
self-help of wounds.

High up on the downs is the Convalescent Camp. Here the O.C. has turned
what was a swamp last December into a Garden City, draining, planting,
building, installing drying-rooms of asbestos, disinfectors, laundries,
and shower-baths, constructing turf incinerators and laying down
pavements of brick and slag. Borders have been planted, grass sown, and
shrubs and trees put up--all this with the labour of the convalescents.
There is a football ground, of which recreation is not the only purpose,
for the O.C. has original ideas about distinguishing between "shock," or
neurasthenia, and malingering by other methods than testing a man's
reflexes. He just walks abstractedly round that football ground of an
afternoon and studies the form of the players. In this self-contained
community is a barber's shop, a cobbler's, a library, a theatre. In two
neighbouring paddocks are the isolation camps for scarlet fever and
cerebro-meningitis, and as soon as a man complains of headache and
temperature he is segregated there, preparatory to being sent down to
No. 14 Stationary to have his spinal fluid examined by the
bacteriologists. Here, in fact, the man and his kit, instead of being
thrown on the scrap-heap, are renewed and made whole, restored in mind,
body, and estate, his clothes disinfected and mended, the "snipers"
treated to a hot iron, and his razor and tooth-brush replaced.

For true it is that at the Base they study loving-kindness, and
chaplains and doctors and nurses are busy with delicate ministries
seeking to cure, to assuage, and to console. Alas! on what tragic
errands do so many come and go; parents like Joseph and Mary seeking
their child, and wives their husbands, in hope, in fear, in joy, in
anguish, too often finding that the bright spirit has returned to God
Who gave it, and that nothing is left but to follow him behind the bier
draped with the Union Jack to the little cemetery on the hill.... But
for one that is buried here a thousand lie where they fell. Those
stricken fields of Flanders! nevermore will they be for us the scene of
an idle holiday; they will be a place of pilgrimage and a shrine of
prayer. I well remember--I can never forget--a journey I made in the
company of a French staff officer over the country that lies between
Paris and the river Aisne. We came out on a wide rolling plain, and in
the waning light of a winter's day we suddenly saw among the stubble and
between the oat-ricks, far as the eye could reach, thousands of little
tricolour flags fluttering in the breeze. By each flag was a wooden
cross. By each cross was a soldier's képi, and sometimes a coat,
bleached by the sun and rain. Instinctively we bared our heads, and as
we walked from one grave to another I could hear the orderly behind us
muttering words of prayer. That lonely oratory was the battlefield of
the Marne. Seasons will come and go, man will plough and sow, the earth
will yield her increase, but those graves will never be disturbed by
share or sickle. They are holy ground.

So it is with the fields of Flanders. In those fields our gallant dead
lie where they fell, and where they lie the earth is dedicated to them
for ever. Of the British Expeditionary Force that landed in France in
August 1914 perhaps not 10 per cent remain. Like the dead heroes whose
ghostly voices whispered in the ears of L'Aiglon on the field of Wagram,
they haunt the plains of France. But their voices are the voices of
exhortation, and their breath and finer spirit have passed into the
drafts that have taken their place. Their successors greet Death like a
friend and go into battle as to a festival, counting no price--youth,
health, life--too high to pay for the country of their birth and their
devotion. The nation that can nurture men such as these can calmly meet
her enemy in the gate. Verily she shall not pass away.

       *       *       *       *       *

The moon was at the full as I climbed the down where the shepherd was
guarding his flock behind the hurdles on the short turf and creeping
cinque-foil. Far below, whence you could faintly catch the altercation
of the pebbles on the beach under the importunities of the tide, I saw
an oily sea heaving like shot silk in the moonlight, the lonely beacon
was winking across the waste of waters, strange signals were flashing
from the pier, and merchantmen were coming up Channel plaintively
protesting their neutrality with such a garish display of coloured
lights as to suggest a midnight regatta of all the neutral nations. A
troop train was speeding north and a hospital train crawling south,
their coming and going betrayed only to the ear, for they showed no
lights. The one was freighted with youth, health, life; the other with
pain, wounds, death. It was the systole and diastole of the Base.



V

A COUNCIL OF INDIA


"And I said, 'Nay, I who have eaten the King's salt cannot do this
thing.' And the _German-log_ said to me, 'But we will give you both
money and land.' And I said, 'Wherefore should I do this thing, and
bring sorrow and shame upon my people?'"

It was a Sepoy in the 9th who spake, and his words were exceeding clear
as Holy Writ.

"And what did they do then?"

"They took my _chupattis_, sahib, and offered me of their bread in
return. But I said, 'Nay, I am a Brahmin, and cannot touch it.' And they
said thrice unto me, 'We will give you money and land.' And I thrice
said, 'Nay.' Then said they, 'Thou art a fool. Go to, but if thou comest
against us again we will kill thee.' And I got back to my comrades."

"Yea, to me also they said these things." It was a jemindar of the 129th
who spoke. "Yes, a German sahib called to me in Hindustani, '_Ham dost
hein_--_Hamari pas ao_--_Ham tum Ko Nahn Marenge_.'" Which being
translated is, "We are friends, come to us, we won't kill you."

"And you, Mula Sing, what think you of this war?"

The Woordie-Major replied: "Sahib, never was there a war like this war,
since the world began. No, not even the Mahabharata when Kouro fought
Pandu."

Then spoke up a subadar of the Pioneers, a tall Sikh with his beard
curled like the ancient Assyrians. He had shown me the five symbols of
the Sikh freemasonry--nay, he had taken the _kangha_ out of his hair and
shown me the two little knives, also the hair-ring and the bracelet, and
had unwound the spirals of his unshaven locks. Therefore we were
friends. "All wars are but _shikkar_ to this war, sahib." "Shikkar?"
"Yea, even as a tiger-hunt. But this, this is an exceeding great war."

"Nay, this is a fine war--a hell of a fine war." The speaker was an
Afridi from Tirah, whose strongly marked aquiline features reminded me
of nothing so much as a Jewish pawnbroker in Whitechapel. He lacks every
virtue except courage, and his one regret is that he has missed the
family blood-feud. There have been great doings in his family on the
frontier in his absence--two abductions and one homicide. "If I had not
come home," his brother has written reproachfully to him from Tirah,
"things had gone ill with us. But never mind about all this now. Do your
duty well." And even so has he done.

"And how like you this war?"

"Sahib, it is a fine war, a hell of a fine war, but for the great guns."

"And wherefore?"

"Because we cannot come nigh unto them. But I, I have slain many men."

"And what is your village?" asks my friend, Major D----, of the I.M.S.

"Chorah."

"Why, I was there in the Tirah campaign."

"Even so, sahib."

The Ghurkhas looked on in silence at our symposium, their broad
Mongolian faces inscrutable. But Shiva Lal, a Brahmin surgeon, who all
this while has been eager to speak, for he is a pundit, and loves the
sound of his own voice, here thrust forward his quaint countenance,
whose walrus-like moustache conceals a row of teeth projecting like the
spokes of a wicker-basket. Softly he rubs his hands and thus he speaks
in English: "Sahib, I had charge of a German sahib--wounded. And I said
unto him, 'How is it that you, who are Christians, treat the Tommies
so? We' (Major D---- looks at me with the hint of a twinkle in his
eye--for has he not told me at mess of that surprising change in the
Indian vernacular whereby their speech is no longer of "Goora-log" and
"Sahib-log" but of "We," which fraternal pronoun is significant of
much)--'we shave you and feed you, we wash you and dress your wounds,
even as one of ourselves, and you kill our wounded Tommies, yea, and do
these things and worse even unto women. Are you not Christians? We'
(there is a return to old habits of speech)--'we are only Indians, but I
have read in your Bible that if one smite on the one cheek'"--here Shiva
Lal, who has now what he loves most in the world, an audience, and is
easily histrionic, smites his face mightily on the right side--"'one
should turn to him the other. Why is this?'"

"And what said the German officer, Shiva Lal?"

"Nay, sahib, he said nothing." We also say nothing. For Shiva Lal needs
but little encouragement to talk from sunset to cock-crow. Perhaps the
unfortunate German officer divined as much. But the spell of Shiva Lal's
eloquence is rudely broken by Major D----, who takes me by the arm to go
elsewhere. And the little group squatting on their haunches at their
mid-day meal cease listening and dip their _chupattis_ in the aromatic
_dhal_, in that slow, ruminant, ritualistic way in which the Indian
always eats his food.

"_Ram, Ram! Tumhi kothun allé?_" said my friend Smith, turning aside to
a lonely figure on my right. A cry of joy escapes a dark-featured
Mahratta who has been looking mournfully on from his bed of pain,
comprehending nothing of these dialogues. We have, indeed, been talking
in every language except Mahrathi. And he, poor soul, has lost both
feet--they were frostbitten--and will never answer the music of the
charge again. But at the sound of his own tongue he raises his body by
the pulley hanging at the head of his cot, and gravely salutes the
sahib. Like Ruth amid the alien corn, his heart is sad with thoughts of
home, and he has been dreaming between these iron walls of the wide,
sunlit spaces of the Deccan. As his feverish brain counts and re-counts
the rivets on the ship-plates, ever and anon they part before his
wistful eyes, and he sees again the little village with its grove of
mangoes and its sacred banyan on the inviolable _otla_; he hears once
again the animated chatter of the wayfarers in the _chowdi_.

"Where is thy home?"

"Sahib, it is at Pirgaon."

"I know it--is not Turkaran Patal the head-man?"

The dark face gleams with pleasure. "Even so, sahib."

"Shall I write to thy people?"

"The sahib is very kind."

"So will I do, and, perhaps, prepare thy people for thy homecoming. I
will tell them that thou hast lost thy feet with the frostbite, but art
otherwise well."

"Nay, sahib, tell them everything but that, for if my people hear that
they will neither eat nor drink--nay, nor sleep, for sorrow."

"Then will I not. But I will tell them that thou art a brave man."

The Mahratta smiles mournfully.

"And have you heard from your folk at home?" I ask of the others,
leaving Smith and the Mahratta together.

"Yea, sahib, the exalted Government is very good to us. We get letters
often." It is a sepoy in the 107th who speaks. "My brother writes even
thus," and he reads with tears in his eyes: "'We miss you terribly, but
such is the will of God. I have been daily to Haji Baba Ziarat' (it is a
famous shrine in India), 'and day and night I pray for you, and am very
distressed. I am writing to tell you to have no anxiety about us at
home, but do your duty cheerfully and say your prayers. Repeat the
beginning with the word "Kor" and breathe forty times on your body.
Your father is well, but is very anxious for you, and weeps day and
night.'"

"I also have received a letter." The speaker is a Bengali, and, though a
surgeon and non-combatant, must have his say. "My brother writes that I
am to enlight the names of my ancestors, who were tiger-like warriors,
and were called Bahadurs, by performing my duties to utmost
satisfaction." This is truly Babu English.

"And you will do the same?"

"Yea, I must do likewise. My brother writes to me, 'If you want to face
this side again, face as Bahadur.' And he saith, 'Long live King George,
and may he rule on the whole world.' And so say we all, sahib."

"And you?" This to a Shia Mahomedan whose right hand is bandaged.

"Ah, sahib, my people can write to me, but write to them I cannot. Will
the honourable sahib send a word for me who am thus crippled?"

"Yea, gladly; what shall the words be?"

"Say, then, oh sahib, these words: 'Your servant is well and happy here.
You should pray the God of Mercy that the victory may be to our King,
Jarj Panjam. And to my lady mother and my lady the sister of my father,
and to my brother, and to my dear ones the greetings of peace and
prayer. And the sum of fifty rupees which I arranged for my family' (his
wife) 'will be paid to you every month.' The sahib is very kind."

"The sahib would like to hear a story?" The speaker is a jemadar of the
59th. "So be it. Know then, sahib, that I and twelve men of my company
were cut off by the _German-log_, and I, even I only, am left. It was in
this wise. My comrades advanced too far beyond the trenches, and we lost
our way. And the _German-log_ make signs to us to surrender, but it is
not our way and we still advance. And they open fire with a
machine-gun--so!" The speaker makes sounds as a man who stutters. "And
we are all hit--killed and wounded, and fall like ripe corn to the
sickle. And I am wounded in the leg and I fall. And the German officer,
he come up and hitted me in the buttock to see if I were dead. But I lay
exceeding still and hold my breath. And they pull me by the leg" (can it
be that the jemadar is pulling mine?), "a long way they pull me but
still I am as one dead. And so I escaped." He looks round for approval.

"That was well done, jemadar." His lustrous eyes flash with pleasure.
"And how is it with your food?"

"Good" ("_Bahout accha_"), comes a chorus of voices. "The exalted
Government has done great things. We have _ghee_"--a clarified butter
made of buffalo or cow's milk--"and _goor_"--unrefined sugar. "And we
have spices for our _dhal_--ginger and garlic and chilli and turmeric.
Yea, and fruits also--apricots, date-palms, and sultanas. What more can
man want?"

"It is well." But it is time for me to go. Smith is still talking to the
Mahratta, whose eyes never leave his face. "Come on, old man," I say,
"it is time to go." Smith turns reluctantly away. As I looked over my
shoulder the Mahratta was weeping softly.



VI

THE TROOP TRAIN


We were standing in the lounge of the Hotel M---- at the Base. "I'll
introduce you to young C---- of the Guards when he comes in," the Major
was saying to me. "He is going up to the Front with me to-night by the
troop train. You don't mind if I rag a bit, do you, old chap? You see
he's only just gazetted from Sandhurst, a mere infant, in fact, and he's
a bit in the blues, I fancy, at having to say good-bye to his mother.
He's her only child, and she's a widow. The father was an old friend of
mine. Hulloa, C----, my boy. Allow me to introduce you."

A youth with the milk and roses complexion of a girl, blue eyes, and
fair hair, well-built, but somewhat under the middle height--such was
C----, and he was good to look upon.

Introductions being made, we filed into the _salle à manger_.

"Chambertin, Julie, s'il vous plaît," said the Major. "There's nothing
like a good burgundy to warm the cockles of your heart." He had the
radiant eye of an Irishman, and smiled on Julie as he gave the order.

"So you're leaving your hospital to go up and join a Field Ambulance?" I
said.

"That's so, old man. There was a chance of my being made A.D.M.S. at the
Base some day if I'd stayed on, but I wanted to get up to the Front, and
I've worked it at last. Besides I'm not too fond of playing Bo-peep with
my pals in the R.A.M.C. Beastly job, always worrying the O.C.'s. Talking
about A.D.M.S.'s, did I ever tell you the story of how I pulled the leg
of old Macassey in South Africa?"

"No," I said, although B---- had a way of telling the same stories twice
over occasionally. The one story he never told, not even once, was how
he got the D.S.O. at Spion Kop. I had heard it often enough from other
men in the service, and could never hear it too often. And let me tell
you that to know B---- and have the privilege of his friendship, is to
be admitted to the largest freemasonry of officers in the British Army.

"Well, it was like this," continued B----. "The A.D.M.S. was a thorn in
the side of every O.C. at the Base, walking up and down like the very
devil, seeking whose reputation he might devour, and ordering every
O.C. to turn his hospital upside down. He took a positive delight in
breaking men. You know the type, the kind of man who breaks his wife's
heart not because he's bad, but because he's querulous. The nagging
type. Nothing could please him. So one day he came to Simpson's show,
where I was second in command. "How many patients have you got
accommodation for here?" he asked me, Simpson being laid up with a
recurrence of his malaria. "Four hundred and fifty, sir," I said. "Very
good, have accommodation for a thousand to-morrow night," said Macassey
with a cock of his eye that I knew only too well. We were not full up,
as it was, although pretty hard-worked, being short-handed and with a
devil of a lot of enteric, and there wasn't the remotest likelihood of
any more patients arriving, as they were switching them off to Durban.
However, it was no use grousing, that only made old Macassey more wicked
than ever, but I thought I'd have it in black and white; so I saluted
and said, 'Bad memory, sir, my old wound in India, d'you mind writing
the order down?'"

"My dear B----," I interrupted, "you know you've the memory of a
Recording Angel."

"So I do, my son, and so I did. Also I knew that Macassey's memory,
like that of most fussy men, was as bad as mine was good. I thought I'd
catch him out sooner or later. He and I went round the camp, and, after
about half-an-hour of the most putrid crabbing, he suddenly caught sight
of some double-roofed Indian tents that Simpson had got together with
great difficulty for the worst cases. You see we'd mostly tin huts, and
in the African heat they're beastly. 'Ah, I see,' said Macassey
wickedly. 'I see you have some good double-roofed tents here; let me
have eight of them sent to me to-morrow night.' That left us with four,
and how we were to shift the patients was a problem. 'Very good, sir,' I
said, 'but I may forget the number. D'you mind?' And I held out my Field
Note-book, having turned over the page." (There are not many people who
can say 'No' to B----.) "He didn't mind, So he wrote it down. Naturally
I took care of those pages. Next day old Macassey must have remembered
that he had issued two contradictory orders in the same day. Ordered me
to expand and contract at the same time, like the third ventricle. And
he knew that I had first-class documentary evidence, and that I guarded
his autographs as though I were going to put 'em up for sale at
Sotheby's. He never troubled us any more."

"That was unkind of you, Major," I said insincerely.

"Not so, my son. You see, I knew he'd been worrying old Simpson, and he
wasn't fit to undo the latchet of Simpson's shoes. Why! have you never
heard the story of Simpson and the giddy goat?"

"The goat?" said the sub.

"Yes, the goat. Useful animal the goat, if a trifle capricious. It was
like this. Old Simpson, who's got a head on his shoulders big enough to
do all the thinking for the Royal College of Physicians, and ditto of
Surgeons, with a good few ideas left over for the R.A.M.C., determined
to get to the bottom of Mediterranean Fever--a nasty complaint, which
had worried the Malta garrison considerably. Now the first thing to do
when you are on the track of a fever is, as they say in the children's
picture-books, 'Puzzle: Find the Microbe.' It occurred to Simpson to
suspect the goat. Why? Well, because he'd noticed that goat's milk was
drunk in Malta and Egypt. So he began to study the geographical
distribution of the goat with the zeal of an anthropologist localising
dolicocephalic and brachycephalic races. He found eventually that
wherever you could 'place' a goat you would find the fever. Wherefore he
took some goat's milk and cultivated it assiduously in an alluring
medium of Glucose-nutrose-peptone-litmus."

"Dot and carry one. Please repeat," I interjected.

"Glucose-nutrose-peptone-litmus," repeated the Major.

"Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar-man,
thief," soliloquised the subaltern, who was brightening up.

"Quite so," said the Major with a benignant glance. "Well, he then got a
culture."

"A what?"

"Culture. Poisonous growth; hence German 'Kultur,'" said the Major
etymologically. "To proceed. He then inoculated some guinea-pigs. No! I
don't mean directors in the City, though he might have done worse. And
lo! and behold! he found the fever. You know the four canons of the
bacteriologist? One, 'get'; two, 'cultivate'; three, 'inoculate'; four,
'recover.'"

"Well done, Simpson," I said.

"You may say that, my friend. And now there's old Simpson down at the
Base in charge of No. 12 General saving lives by hundreds and thousands.
You know while the bullet slew its thousands, septicaemia has slain its
tens of thousands. How did he stop it? Why, by doing the obvious, which,
you may have observed, no one ever does till a wise man comes along. He
got wounds to heal themselves. He promoted a lymphatic flow from the
rest of the body by putting suppositories of chloride of sodium inside
drainage-tubes in the wound. The heat of the body melts them, you see.
There are three great medical heroes of this war--Almroth Wright,
Martin-Leake, and Simpson."

I could have named a fourth, but I held my tongue.

"Time to get on our hind legs," the Major now said monitorily. "Julie,
_l'addition_ s'il vous plaît."

"Bien, monsieur," said Julie, who had been watching the Major admiringly
without comprehending a word of what he said. Women have a way of
falling in love with the Major at first sight.

We stumbled along between the rails and over the sleepers, led by the
Major, who carried a hurricane lamp, and by the help of its fitful rays
we leapt across the pools of water left in every hollow. We passed some
cattle-trucks. The Major held up the lamp and scrutinised a legend in
white letters--


     Hommes 40. Chevaux 12.


"Reminds me of the Rule of Three," said the Major meditatively. "If one
Frenchman is equal to three and one-third horses, how many Huns are
equal to one British soldier?"

"They are never equal to him," said the subaltern brightly. "If it
wasn't for machinery we'd have crumpled them up long ago."

"True, my son," said the Major, "and well spoken."

The men were grouped round the cattle-trucks, each man with his kit and
120 rounds of ammunition. They had just been through a kit inspection,
and the O.C. in charge of details had audited and found it correct by
entering up a memorandum to that effect in each man's pay-book. Though
how the O.C. completes his inventory of a whole draft, and certifies
that nothing from a housewife to thirty pairs of laces per man is
missing, is one of those things that no one has ever been able to
understand. Perhaps he has radiographic eyes, and sees through the
opaque integument of a ground-sheet at one glance. Also the Medical
Officer at the Base Depôt had endorsed the "Marching Out States," after
scrutinising, more or less intimately, each man's naked body, with the
aid of a tallow candle stuck in an empty bottle. A medical inspection of
three hundred men with their shirts up in a dark shed is a weird and
bashful spectacle. An N.C.O. was supervising the entraining at each
truck; the escort was marching up and down the permanent way on the
off-side. The R.T.O. handed the movement orders to the senior officer in
command of drafts, and I saw that they were going to get a move on very
soon.

We were now opposite a first-class compartment, and a slim figure loomed
up out of the darkness.

"Halloa! is that you, C----? I thought you were gone on ahead of us, my
boy."

"So I was, sir, but some of my men are missing, and I'm sending a
corporal to hunt them up. We're off in a few minutes. I met young T----
just now. I've been trying to cheer him up," he added. It was evident
that the subaltern was now understudying the Major in his star part of
cheering other fellows up. "He's feeling rather blue," he continued.
"Depressed at saying good-bye to his friends, you know."

"Oh, that's no good. Tell him I've got a plum-pudding and a bottle of
whisky among my kit. Yes, and a topping liqueur."

I looked at B----'s compartment. His servant, a sapper, was stowing the
kit in the racks and under the seat, with the help of a portable
acetylene lamp which burnt with a hard white light in the darkness, a
darkness which you could almost feel with your hand.

"I say, B----," I asked as I contemplated a hay-stack of things, "what's
the regulation allowance for an officer's luggage? I forget."

"One hundred pounds. Oh yes, you may laugh, old chap, but I got round
the R.T. officer. Christmas! you know. And I can stow it in my billet.
Cheers the other fellows up, you know."

B----'s kit weighed, at a moderate computation, about a quarter of a
ton, and included many things not to be found in the field-service
regulations. But it would never surprise me if I found a performing
elephant or a litter of life-size Teddy Bears in his baggage. He would
gravely explain that it cheered the fellows up, you know.

"Major," I said, "you are a 'carrier'!"

"Carter Paterson?" said the Major, with a glance at his luggage.

"No, I didn't mean that. You are not as quick in the uptake as usual,
especially considering your medical qualifications. What I meant was
that you remind me, only rather differently, of the people who get
typhoid and recover, but continue to propagate the germs long after they
become immune from them themselves. You're diffusing a gaiety which you
no longer feel."

It was a bold shot, and if we hadn't been pretty old friends it would
have been an impertinence. The Major put his arm in mine and took me
aside, so that the subaltern should not hear. "You've hit the
bull's-eye, old chap," he said, in a low voice. "But don't give me away.
Come into the carriage."

He was strangely silent as we sat facing each other in the compartment,
each of us conscious of a hundred things to say, and saying none of
them. The train might start at any moment, and such things as we did say
were trivial irrelevancies. Suddenly he pulled out a pocket-book, and
showed me a photograph.

"My wife and Pat--you've never seen Pat, I think? We christened her
Patricia, you know?"

It was the photograph of a laughing child, with an aureole of curls,
aged, I should say, about two.

"Pat sent me this," the Major said, producing a large woollen comforter.
She had sent it for Daddy to wear during the cold nights with the Field
Ambulance. I handed back the photograph, and B---- studied it intently
for some minutes before replacing it in his pocket-book. Suddenly he
leaned forward in a rather shamefaced way. "I say, old chap, write to my
wife!"

"But, my dear fellow, I've never met her except once. She must have
quite forgotten who I am."

"I know. But write and tell her you saw me off, and that I was at the
top of my form. Merry and bright, you know."

We looked at each other for a moment; and I promised.

There was the loud hoot of a horn and a lurch of the couplings, as
C---- sprang in. I grasped B----'s hand, and jumped on to the footboard
of the moving train.

"Good-bye, old chap."

"Good-bye, old man."

B---- had gone to the front. I never saw him again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three weeks later I was sitting at _déjeuner_ in the Metropole, when a
ragamuffin came in with the London papers, which had just arrived by the
leave-boat. I took up the _Times_ and looked, as one always looks
nowadays, at the obituary column. I looked again. In the same column,
one succeeding the other, I read the following:


     Killed in action on 8th inst., near Givenchy, Arthur Hamilton C----
     of the ---- Guards, 3rd Battalion, only child of the late Arthur C.
     and of Mrs. C. of the Red House, Little Twickenham, aged 19.


     Behold! I take away the desire of thine eyes with a stroke.


     Killed in action on the 8th inst., while dressing a wounded soldier
     under fire, Major Ronald B----, D.S.O., of the Royal Army Medical
     Corps, aged 42.


     Greater love hath no man than this.



II

THE FRONT



VII

THE TWO RICHEBOURGS


We had business with the _maire_ of the commune of Richebourg St. Vaast.
Any one who looks at a staff map of North-West France will see that
there are two Richebourgs; there is Richebourg St. Vaast, but there is
also Richebourg l'Avoué, and although those two communes are separated
by a bare three or four kilometres there was in point of climate a
considerable difference between the two. In those days we had not yet
taken Neuve Chapelle, and Richebourg l'Avoué, which was in front of our
lines, was considered "unhealthy." Richebourg St. Vaast, on the other
hand, was well behind our lines and was considered by our billeting
officers quite a good residential neighbourhood.

We had left G.H.Q., and after a journey of two hours or so passed
through Laventie, which had been rather badly mauled by shell-fire, and
began to thread our way through the skein of roads and by-roads that
enmeshes the two Richebourgs. The natural features of the country were
inscrutable, and landmarks there were none. The countryside grew
absolutely deserted and the solitary farms were roofless and untenanted.
Eventually we found our road blocked by a barricade of fallen masonry in
front of a village which was as inhospitable as the Cities of the Plain.

A vast silence brooded over the landscape, broken now and again by a
noise like the crackling of thorns under a pot. As we took cover behind
a wall of ruined houses we heard a sinister hiss, but whence it came or
what invisible trajectory it traced through the leaden skies overhead
neither of us could tell. Silence again fell like a mist upon the land;
not a bird sang, not a twig moved. The winter sun was sinking in the
west behind a pall of purple cloud in a lacquered sky--the one touch of
colour in the sombre greyness. The land was flat as the palm of one's
hand, its monotony relieved only by lines of pollarded willows on which
some sappers had strung a field telephone. Raindrops hung on the copper
wire like a string of pearls, and the heavy clay of the fields was
scooped and moulded by the rain into little saucer-like depressions as
if by a potter's thumb. Behind us lay the reserve trenches, their clay
walls shored up with wickerwork, and their outskirts fringed with barbed
wire whose intricate and volatile coils looked like thistledown. The
village behind whose walls we now sheltered lay in a No Man's Land
between the enemy's lines and our own, and the sodden fields were not
more desolate.

A tornado of artillery fire had swept over it, and of the houses nothing
was left but indecencies, shattered walls and naked rafters, beneath
which were choked heaps of household furniture, broken beds, battered
lamps, and a wicker-chair overturned as in a drunken brawl. What had
once been the street was now a quarry of broken bricks, with here and
there vast circular craters as though a gigantic oak-tree had been torn
out of the earth by the roots. And now the weird silence was broken by
sounds as of some one playing a lonely tattoo with his fingers upon a
hollow wooden board, but the player was invisible, and as we looked at
each other the sound ceased as suddenly as it began. Our practised ear
told us that somewhere near us a machine-gun was concealed, but these
furtive sounds were so homeless, so impersonal, that they eluded us like
an echo.

It was this complete absence of visible human agency that impressed us
most disagreeably, as with a sense of being utterly forlorn amid a play
of the elements, like Lear upon the heath. There came into my mind, as
our eyes groped for some human sign in the brooding landscape, the
thought of the prophet upon the mount amid the wind and the earthquake
and the fire seeking the presence of his God and finding it not. And
here too all these assaults upon our senses were fugitive and ghostly,
and we felt ourselves encompassed about as by some great conspiracy. We
walked curiously up the little street until we reached the last house in
the village, and came out beyond the screen of its wall. At the same
instant something sang past my ear like the twang of a Jew's harp, my
foot caught in a coil of wire, and I fell headlong. My companion,
lagging behind and not yet clear of the friendly wall, stopped dead and
cried to me not to stand up. I crawled back among the rubbish to the
cover of the house. We took counsel together. To retreat were perilous,
but to advance might be fatal. We lowered our voices as, cowering behind
walls, and picking our way delicately among the _débris_, we crept back
to our car behind the entrance to the village. The driver started the
engine and we moved forlornly along the narrow causeway, skirting the
unfathomable mud that lay on either side, until we spied a ruined
farmhouse where a company had made its billet and mud-coloured knots of
soldiers stood round braziers of glowing coals. We had some parley with
the company commander, who was of the earth earthy. His words were few
and discouraging. As we crawled on, darkness enveloped us, but we dared
not light our head-lamps. Suddenly the car slipped on the greasy road,
staggered, and lurched over into the morass, hurling us violently upon
our sides. We clambered out and contemplated it solemnly as we saw our
right wheels over the axles in mud. No friendly billet was now in sight,
and as we stood profanely considering our plight the darkness behind us
was split by a long shaft of greenish light, and the whole landscape was
illuminated with a pallid glow, as the German star-shells discharged
themselves over the fan-like tops of the elms silhouetted against the
sky. The jack was useless in the soft mud, it sank like a stone, and as
we shoved and cursed we awaited each fresh discharge of the star-shells
with increasing apprehension, for we presented an obvious target to the
enemy's snipers. On the seat of the car was my despatch-box, and in that
box was a little dossier of papers marked "O.H.M.S. German Atrocities.
Secret and Confidential." "If the Germans catch us there'll be one
atrocity the more," remarked my Staff Officer grimly, "but they'll spare
us the labour of recording it."

Our futile efforts were interrupted by the sound of feet upon the
causeway as a column of reliefs loomed up out of the darkness. A hurried
altercation in low tones, a subdued word of command, and a dozen men,
their rifles and entrenching tools slung over their shoulders, applied
themselves to the back of our car, and slowly it slithered out of the
mud. The column broke into file to allow us to pass, my companion went
on ahead with a tiny electric torch to show the way, and with infinite
caution we nudged slowly along the rank, the faint light of the torch
bringing face after face out of the darkness into _chiaroscuro_, faces
young and fresh and ruddy. Not a word was spoken save a whispered
command carried down the rank, mouth to ear, "No smoking, no talking
"--"No smoking, no talking "--"No talking, no smoking." Mules, carrying
sections of machine-guns and packs of straw, loomed up out of the
darkness as we passed, until the last of the column was reached and the
frieze of ghostly figures was swallowed up into the night. We drew a
long breath, for we knew now from the colonel of the battalion whose men
had delivered us from that Slough of Despond that we had been within 150
yards of the German lines. We had mistaken Richebourg l'Avoué for
Richebourg St. Vaast.



VIII

IDOLS OF THE CAVE


Like the Cyclopes they dwelt in hollow caves, and each Colonel uttered
the law to his children and recked not of the others except when the
Brigadier came round. True there were two and a half battalions in their
line of 2700 yards, but all they knew was that the next battalion to
their own was the Highlanders; it was only when the five days were up
and they were marched back to billets that they were able to cultivate
that somewhat exclusive society. Their trenches were like the suburbs,
they were faintly conscious that people lived in the next street, but
they never saw them. Their neighbours were as self-contained and silent
as themselves, except when their look-outs or machine-guns became
loquacious. Then they too became eloquent, and the whole line talked
freely at the Germans 200 yards away. By day the men slept heavily on
straw in hollows under the parapet, supported with crates and sprinkled
with chloride of lime; by night they were out at the listening posts,
in the sap-heads, or behind the parapet, with their eyes glued to the
field of yellow mustard in front of us. They had watched that field for
three months. They knew every blade of grass therein. No experimental
agriculturist ever studied his lucerne and sainfoin as they have studied
the grasses of that field. They have watched it from winter to spring;
they have seen the lesser celandine give way to pink clover and sorrel,
and the grass shoot up from an inch to a foot. They have, indeed, been
studying not botany but ethnology, searching for traces of that species
of primitive man known to anthropologists as the Hun. They have never
found him except once, when one of our look-outs saw something crawling
across that field about midnight and promptly emptied his magazine. In
the morning they saw a grey figure lying out in the open; the days
passed and the long grass sprang up and concealed it till nothing was
left to attest its obscene presence except a little cloud of black
flies. Their horizon is bounded by rows of sand-bags, and their interest
in those sand-bags is only equalled by their interest in the field in
front of them. Occasionally one of our men finds them more than usually
interesting. There is a loud report, the click of a bolt, and the
pungent smell of burnt cordite. Then all is still again.

The tangent-sight on the standard of their machine-gun is always at 200,
and they have not altered the range for three months. Occasionally at
night the N.C.O. seizes the traversing-handles, and with his thumb on
the button slowly sweeps that range of sand-bags, till the feed-block
sucks up the cartridge-belt like a chaff-cutter and the empty
cartridge-cases lie as thick round the tripod as acorns under an oak.
The Huns reply by taking a flashlight photograph of us with a calcium
flare, and then all is still again. In such excursions and alarms do
they pass the long night.

Though five-sixths of them slept stertorously in their holes by day, by
night they were as wakeful as owls, and not less predatory. Life in the
trenches is one long struggle for existence, and in the course of it
they developed those acquired characteristics whereby the birds of the
air and the beasts of the field maintain themselves in a world of
carnage. They learnt to walk delicately on the balls of their feet as
silently as hares, to see in the dark like foxes, to wriggle like the
creeping things of the field, to lower their voices with the direction
of the wind, to select a background with the moonlight, and to stand
motionless on patrol with muscles rigid like a pointer when the
star-shells dissolved the security of the night. They studied to
dissemble with their lips and to imitate the vocabulary of nature. They
grew more and more chary of human speech, and listening posts talked
with the trenches by pulls on a fishing-reel. They never sheathed their
claws, and working-parties wore their equipment as though it were the
integument of nature. Bayonets were never unfixed unless the moon were
very bright. At night they scraped out their earths like a badger, and,
like the badger's, those earths were exceeding clean. The men were
numbered off by threes from the flank, and one in three watched for two
hours while the other two worked, repairing parapets, strengthening
entanglements, and filling sand-bags. Every half-hour the N.C.O. on duty
crept round to report, or to post and relieve, while now and again a
patrol went out to observe. All this was done stealthily and with an
amazing economy of speech. Night was also the time of their foraging,
when the company's rations were brought up the communication trench and
handed over by the C.Q.M.S. to each platoon sergeant, who passed them on
to the section commander, and he in turn distributed them among his men
in such silence and with such little traffic that it seemed like the
provision of manna in the wilderness. At dawn pick-axe and spade were
laid aside, the rum ration was served out, and all men stood to, for
dawn was the hour of their apprehension.

Two miles behind them is a battery of our field guns, and they have with
them an observing officer who talks intimately to his battery on the
field telephone in that laconic language of which gunners are so fond,
such as "One hundred. Twenty minutes to the left." Then the shells sing
over their heads with a pretty low trajectory, and the Huns, beginning
to get annoyed, reply with their heavy guns. There is a low whistle up
aloft, a noise like the fluttering of invisible wings, and the next
moment a cloud of black smoke rises over the village of X---- Y----,
behind the trenches. The Smoke Prevention Society ought to turn their
attention to "Jack Johnsons"; their habits are positively filthy.

These things, however, disturbed them but little and bored them a great
deal. So they set to work to make their particular rabbit-warren into a
Garden City. They held it on a repairing lease, and were constantly
filling sand-bags, but that was merely to prevent depreciation, and
didn't count. They first of all paved their trenches with bricks; there
was no difficulty about the supply, as the "Jack Johnsons" obligingly
acted as house-breakers in the village behind our lines, and bricks
could be had for the fetching. Then the orderly transplanted some
pansies and forget-me-nots from the garden of a ruined house, and made a
border in front of the company commander's dug-out. The communication
trench had been carried across a stream with some planks, and one day a
man with a gift for carpentry fixed up a balustrade out of the arms of
an apple-tree, which had been lopped off by shell, and we had a rustic
bridge. When May came, water anemones opened their star-like petals on
the surface of the clear amber stream, the orchard through which the
communication trench had been cut burst into blossom, the sticky clay
walls of the trench became hard as masonry in the sun, and one morning a
board appeared with the legend "Hyde Park. Keep off the grass."

With these amenities their manners grew more and more refined. I have
read somewhere, in one of those dull collections of sweeping
generalisations that are called sociology, that each species of the
_genus homo_ has to go through a normal sequence of stages from
barbarism to civilisation, and that we were once what the South Sea
Islanders are now. Which may be very true, but as regards that
particular primitive community I can testify that their social evolution
has in three months gone through all the stages that occupy other
communities three thousand years. They began as cave-dwellers and they
end by occupying suburban villas--the captain's dug-out has a roof of
corrugated iron, a window, a book-shelf, a table, and even chairs, and
his table manners have vastly improved. They have progressed from
candles stuck in bully-beef tins to electric reading-lamps. Three months
ago they were hairy men whose beards did grow beneath their shoulders,
and their puttees were cemented with wet clay; to-day they are
clean-shaven and their Burberrys might be worn in Piccadilly. They slept
with nothing between them and the earth but a ground sheet what time
they were not, like the elephant, sleeping on their feet and propped
against a trench wall. Now they sleep on a bed with a wooden frame. I
have read somewhere that for a thousand years Europe was unwashed. It
may be so, but I know that this particular tribal community progressed
rapidly through all such stages, from a bucket to a shower-bath in
billets, in about six weeks, and you can see their men any day washing
themselves to the waist near the support trenches--men who a month or
two ago had forgotten how to take their clothes off. They are, in fact,
a highly civilised community. Some traces of their aboriginal state they
still retain, and they cherish their totem, which is a bundle of black
ribbons, rather like the flattened leaves of an artichoke, attached to
the back of their collars. It is the badge of their tribe. Also at night
some of them develop the most primitive of all instincts and crawl out
on their stomachs with a hand-grenade to get as near as may be to the
enemy's listening posts and taste the joy of killing. But by day they
are as demure and sleepy as the tortoiseshell cat which has taken up its
quarters in the dug-out.

Such is their life. But they are quietly preparing to get a move on.
Some R.G.A. men have arrived with four pretty toys from Vickers's, and
one fine morning they are going to disturb those sand-bags opposite them
with a battery of trench mortars; our field guns will draw a curtain of
shrapnel in front of the German support trenches, and then they will
satisfy their curiosity as to what is behind those inscrutable
sand-bags.



IX

STOKES'S ACT

     An offender when in arrest is not to bear arms except by order of
     his C.O. or in an emergency.--_The King's Regulations._


I

The President of the Court and the Judge-Advocate stood in private
colloquy in one of the deep traverse-like windows of the Hôtel de Ville
over-looking the Place. A heavy rain was falling from a sullen sky, and
the deserted square was a dancing sea of agitation as the raindrops
smote the little pools between the cobbles and ricochetted with a
multitudinous hiss. Now and again a gust of wind swept across, and the
rain rattled against the windows. On the opposite side of the square one
of the houses gaped curiously, with bedroom and parlour exposed to view,
as though some one had snatched away the walls and laid the scene for
one of those Palais Royal farces in which the characters pursue a
complicated domestic intrigue on two floors at once. That house, with
its bed exposed to the rain dripping from the open rafters, was indeed
both farcical and indecent; it stood among its unscathed neighbours like
a pariah. The rain was loud and insistent, but not so loud as to dull
the distant thunder of the guns. The intermittent gusts of wind now and
again interrupted its monotonous theme, but the intervals were as brief
as they were violent, and in this polyphonic composition of rain, wind,
and guns, the hissing of the raindrops came and went as in a fugue and
with an inexpressible mournfulness.

Inside the room was a table covered with green baize, on which were
methodically arranged in extended order a Bible, an inkstand, a sheaf of
paper, and a copy of the _Manual of Military Law_. Behind the table were
seven chairs, and to the right and left of them stood two others. The
seven chairs were for the members of the court; the chair on the extreme
right was for the "prisoner's friend," that on the left awaited the
Judge-Advocate. About five yards in front of the table, in the centre of
an empty space, stood two more chairs turned towards it. Otherwise the
room was as bare as a guard-room. And this austere meagreness gave it a
certain dignity of its own as of a place where nothing was allowed to
distract the mind from the serious business in hand. At the door stood
an orderly with a red armlet bearing the imprint of the letters "M.P."
in black.

"I have read the summary pretty carefully," the Judge-Advocate was
saying, "and it seems to me a clear case. The charge is fully made out.
And yet the curious thing is, the fellow has an excellent record, I
believe."

"That proves nothing," said the Colonel; "I've had a fellow in my
battalion found sleeping at his post on sentry-go, a fellow I could have
sworn by. And you know what the punishment for that is. It's these night
attacks; the men must not sleep by night and some of them cannot sleep
by day, and there are limits to human nature. We've no reserves to speak
of as yet, and the men are only relieved once in three weeks. Their feet
are always wet, and their circulation goes all wrong. It's the puttees
perhaps. And if your circulation goes wrong you can't sleep when you
want to, till at last you sleep when you don't want to. Or else your
nerves go wrong. I've seen a man jump like a rabbit when I've come up
behind him."

"Yes," mused the Judge-Advocate, "I know. But hard cases make bad law."

"Yes, and bad law makes hard cases. Between you and me, our military law
is a bit prehistoric. You're a lawyer and know more about it than I do.
But isn't there something for civilians called a First Offenders Act?
Bind 'em over to come up for judgment if called on--that kind of thing.
Gives a man another chance. Why not the soldier too?"

"Yes," replied the Judge-Advocate, "there is. I believe the War Office
have been talking about adopting it for years. But this is not the time
of day to make changes of that kind. Everybody's worked off his head."

Eight officers had entered the room at intervals, the subalterns a
little ahead of their seniors in point of time, as is the first duty of
a subaltern whether on parade or at a "general," and, having saluted the
President in the window, they stood conversing in low tones.

The Colonel suddenly glanced at his left wrist, walked to the middle
chair behind the table, and taking his seat said, "Now, gentlemen, carry
on, please!" As they took their places the Colonel, as President of the
Court, ordered the prisoner to be brought in. There was a shuffle of
feet outside, and a soldier without cap or belt or arms, and with a
sergeant's stripes upon his sleeve, was marched in under a sergeant's
escort. His face was not unpleasing--the eyes well apart and direct in
their gaze, the forehead square, and the contours of the mouth firm and
well-cut. The two took their places in front of the chair, and stood to
attention. The prisoner gazed fixedly at the letters "R.F.," which
flanked the arms of the Republic on the wall above the President's
head, and stood as motionless as on parade. A close observer, however,
would have noticed that his thumb and forefinger plucked nervously at
the seam of his trousers, and that his hands, though held at attention,
were never quite still. The escort kept his head covered.

At the President's order to "bring in the evidence," the soldier on duty
at the door vanished to return with a squad of seven soldiers in charge
of a sergeant, who formed them up in two ranks behind the prisoner and
his escort. And they also stood exceeding still.

The President read the order convening the court, and, as he recited
each officer's name and regiment, the owner acknowledged it with "Here,
sir." When he came to the prisoner's name he looked up and said, "Is
that your name and number?" The escort nudged the prisoner, who recalled
his attention from the wall with an immense effort and said "Yes, sir."

"Captain Herbert appears as prosecutor and takes his place." As the
ritual prescribed by the Red Book was religiously gone through, the
prisoner continued to stare at the wall above the President's head, and
the rain rattled against the window-panes with intermittent violence.
Having finished his recital, the President rose, and with him all the
members of the court rose also. He took a Bible in his hand and faced
the Judge-Advocate, who exhorted him that he should "well and truly try
the accused before the court according to the evidence," and that he
would duly administer justice according to the Army Act now in force,
without partiality, favour, or affection.... "So help you God." As the
colonel raised the book to his lips he chanted the antiphon "So help me
God." And the Judge-Advocate proceeded to swear the other members of the
court, individually or collectively, three subalterns who were jointly
and severally sworn holding the book together with a quaint solemnity,
as though they were singing hymns at church out of a common hymn-book.
Then the Judge-Advocate was in turn sworn by the President with his own
peculiar oath of office, and did faithfully and with great earnestness
promise that he would neither divulge the sentence, nor disclose nor
discover any votes or opinions as to the same. Which being done, and the
President having ordered the military policeman to march out the
evidence, the sergeant in charge cried "Left turn. Quick march. Left
wheel," and the little cloud of witnesses vanished through the doorway.

The President proceeded to read the charge-sheet:--


     "_The accused, No.       , Sergeant John Stokes, 2nd Battalion
     Downshire Regiment, is charged with Misbehaving before the enemy in
     such a manner as to show cowardice, in that he at       , on
     October 3rd, 1914, when on patrol, and when under the enemy's fire,
     did run away._"


All this time the prisoner had been studying the wall, his eyes
travelling from the right to the left of the frieze, and then from the
left to the right again. It was noticeable that his lips moved slightly
at each stage of this laborious visual journey. "Forty-seven."
"Forty-nine." "Forty-eight." Stokes was immensely interested in that
compelling frieze. He counted and recounted the number of figures in the
Greek fret with painful iteration. Apparently he was satisfied at last,
and then his eyes began to study the inkstand in front of the President.
The President seemed an enormous distance away, but the inkstand very
near and very large, and he found himself wondering why it was round,
why it wasn't square, or hexagonal, or elliptic. Then he speculated
whether the ink was blue or black, or red, and why people never used
green or yellow. His brain had gone through all the colours of the
spectrum when a pull at his sleeve by the escort attracted his
attention. Apparently the Colonel was saying something to him.

"Do you plead guilty or not guilty?"

The prisoner stared, but said nothing. The escort again pulled his
sleeve as the Colonel repeated the question.

Stokes cleared his throat, and looking his interlocutor straight in the
face, said, "Guilty, sir." The members of the court looked at each
other, the Colonel whispered to the Judge-Advocate, the Judge-Advocate
to the Prosecutor. The Judge-Advocate turned to the prisoner, "Do you
realise," he asked, not unkindly, "that if you plead 'Guilty' you will
not be able to call any evidence as to extenuating circumstances?" The
prisoner pondered for a moment; it seemed to him that the
Judge-Advocate's voice was almost persuasive.

"Well, I'll say 'not guilty,' sir."

He now saw the President quite close to him; that monstrous inkstand had
diminished to its natural size. Nothing was to be heard beyond the
hissing of the rain but the scratching of the Judge-Advocate's quill, as
he slowly dictated to himself the words "The--prisoner--pleads--'not
guilty.'" But why they had asked him a question which could only admit
of one answer and then persuaded him to give the wrong one, was a thing
that both puzzled and distressed John Stokes. Why all this solemn
ritual, he speculated painfully; he was surely as good as dead already.
He found himself wondering whether the sentence of the Court would be
carried out in the presence of only the firing party, or whether the
whole of his battalion would be paraded. And he fell to wondering
whether he would be reported in the casualty lists as "killed in
action," or would it be "missing"? And would they send his wife his
identity-disc, as they did with those who had fallen honourably on the
field? All these questions both interested and perplexed him, but the
proceedings of the Court he regarded little, or not at all.

Meanwhile the Prosecutor was unfolding the charge in a clear, even
voice, neither extenuating nor setting down aught in malice. In a
court-martial no Prosecutor ever "presses" the charge; he may even
alleviate it. Which shows that Assizes and Sessions have something to
learn from courts-martial. The case was simple. Prisoner had gone out on
the night of the 3rd with a patrol commanded by a subaltern. An alarm
was raised, and he and the greater part of the patrol had run back to
the trenches, leaving the officer to stand his ground and to return
later with his left arm shattered by a German bullet.

All this Stokes remembered but too well, though it seemed to have
happened an immense time ago. He remembered how the subaltern had warned
him that the only thing to do when a German flare lit up the night was
to stand quite still. And he had not stood still, for one of the most
difficult things for a man to believe is that to see suddenly is not the
same thing as being seen; he had ducked, and as he moved something
seared his right cheek like red-hot iron, and then--but why recall that
shameful moment? A paradoxical psychologist in a learned essay on "the
Expression of Emotion" has argued gravely that the "expression" precedes
the emotion, that a man doesn't run because he is afraid but is afraid
because he runs. Sergeant Stokes had never heard of psychology, but to
this day he believes that it was his first start that was his undoing.
He had begun to run without knowing why, until he knew why he ran--he
was afraid. Yes, that was it. He had had, in Army vernacular, "cold
feet." But why he ran in the first instance he did not know. It was true
he hadn't slept for nearly three weeks, and that his duty as N.C.O. to
go round every half-hour during the night to watch the men and stare at
that inscrutable field, and to post and relieve, had made him very
jumpy. And then a young subaltern had died in his arms the day before
that fatal night--he could see the grey film glistening on his face like
a clouded glass. How queer he had felt afterwards. But what had that to
do with the charge? Nothing at all.

And while the prisoner pondered on these things he was recalled by the
voice of the President. Did he wish to ask the witness any questions?
His company commander had been giving evidence. No; he had no questions
to ask. And as each witness was called, and sworn, and gave evidence,
all of which the Judge-Advocate repeated like a litany and duly wrote
down with his own hand--the prisoner always returned the same answer.

Now the prisoner's friend, a young officer who had never played that
_rôle_ before, and who was both nervous and conscientious, had been
studying Rule 40 in the Red Book with furtive concentration. What was he
to do with a prisoner who elected neither to make a statement nor to put
questions to witnesses, and who never gave him any lead? But he had
there read something about calling witnesses as to character, and,
reading, recollected that the company commander had glanced at the
prisoner with genuine commiseration. And so he persuaded Stokes, after
some parley, to call the captain to give evidence as to character. The
captain's words were few and weighty. The prisoner, he testified, was
one of the best N.C.O.'s in his company, and, with the latitude which is
characteristic of court-martial proceedings, the captain went on to tell
of the testimony borne by the dead subaltern to the excellent character
of John Stokes, and how the said John Stokes had been greatly affected
by the death of the subaltern. And for the first time John Stokes hung
his head. But beyond that and the quivering of his eyelashes he made no
sign.

And it being a clear case the Judge-Advocate, as a Judge-Advocate may
do, elected not to sum up, and the prisoner was taken to the place from
whence he came. And the Court proceeded to consider their finding and
sentence, which finding and sentence, being signed by the President and
the Judge-Advocate, duly went its appointed way to the Confirming
Authority and there remained. For the General in Chief command in the
field was hard pressed with other and weightier matters, having reason
to believe that he would have to meet an attack of three Army Corps on a
front of eight miles with only one Division. Which belief turned out to
be true, and had for Sergeant John Stokes momentous consequences, as you
shall hear.


II

When John Stokes found himself once more in charge of a platoon he was
greatly puzzled. He had been suddenly given back his arms and his belt,
which no prisoner, whether in close or open arrest, is supposed to wear,
and his guard had gone with him. He knew nothing about Paragraph 482 of
the King's Regulations, which contemplates "emergencies"; still less did
he know that an emergency had arisen--such an emergency as will cast
lustre upon British arms to the end of time. But that strange things
were happening ahead he knew full well, for his new unit was as oddly
made up as Falstaff's army: gunners, cooks, and A.S.C. drivers were all
lumped together to make a company. Some carried their rifles at the
slope and some at the trail, some had bayonets and some had not, certain
details from the Rifle Brigade marched with their own quick trot, and
some wore spurs.

Of one thing he was thankful: his old battalion, wherever they were,
were not there. And the company commander coming along and perceiving
the stripes on his sleeve, had, without further inquiry, put him in
charge of a platoon, and thereafter he lost sight of his guard
altogether.

He knew nothing of where he was. Few soldiers at the Front ever do: they
will be billeted in a village for a week and not know so much as the
name of it. But that big business was afoot was evident to him, for they
were marching in column of route almost at the double, under a faint
moon and in absolute silence--the word having gone forth that there was
to be no smoking or talking in the ranks.

Not a sound was to be heard, except the whisper of the poplars and the
tramp of the men's feet upon the _pavé_. The road was so greasy with mud
that it might have been beeswaxed, and Stokes's boots, the nails of
which had been worn down, kept slipping as on a parquet floor. As they
passed through the mean little villages not a light was to be seen; even
the _estaminets_ were shut, but now and again a dog barked mournfully at
its chain. Once a whispered command was given at the head of the column,
which halted so suddenly that the men behind almost fell upon the men in
front, and then backed hastily; and these movements were automatically
communicated all down the column, so that the sections of fours lurched
like the trucks of a train which is suddenly pulled up. At that moment
something flashed at the head of the column, and Stokes suddenly caught
a glimpse of the faces of the captain and the subaltern in an aureole of
light lit by the needle-like rays of an electric torch as they studied a
map and compass.

But in no long time their ears told them they were nearing their
destination, even as a traveller learns that he is nearing the sea. For
they heard the crackle of musketry following upon the altercation of
guns. All this passed as in a dream, and it seemed little more than a
few minutes before Sergeant Stokes, having passed through a curtain of
shrapnel, had his platoon extended in some shallow support trenches to
which the remnants of the regiment whom they were called upon to stiffen
had fallen back. It was a critical moment: our first trenches were in
the hands of the enemy, and the whole line was sagging under the impact
of the German hordes. Somehow that trench had to be recaptured--to be
recaptured before the Germans had converted the parados into an
invulnerable parapet and had constructed a nest of machine-guns to sweep
with a crossfire the right and left flanks, where our line curved in
like a gigantic horse-shoe. Of all this Sergeant Stokes knew as little
as is usually given to one platoon to know on a front of eight miles.

As dawn broke and the stars paled, the word came down the line, and, in
a series of short rushes, stooping somewhat in the attitude of a man who
is climbing a very steep hill, they moved forward in extended order
about eight or ten paces apart carrying their rifles with bayonets
fixed. A hail-storm of lead greeted them, and all around him Sergeant
Stokes saw men falling, and as they fell lying in strange attitudes and
uncouth--some stumbling (he had seen a hare shot in the back dragging
its legs in just that way), others lying on their faces and clutching
the earth convulsively as they drummed with their feet, and some very
still. Overhead there was a sobbing and whimpering in the air. A little
ahead to the left of him a machine-gun was tap-tapping like a telegraph
instrument, and as it traversed the field of their advance the men went
down in swathes.

If only he could get to that gun! On the right a low hedge ran at right
angles to the German trench, and making for it he took such little cover
as it afforded, and ran forward as he had never run before, not even on
that night of baneful memory. His heart was thumping violently, there
was a prodigious "stitch" in his side; and something warm was trickling
down his forehead into his eyes and half blinding him, while in his ears
the bullets buzzed like a swarm of infuriated bees. The next moment he
was up against a little knot of grey-coated figures with toy-like
helmets, he heard a word that sounded like "Himmel," and he had emptied
his magazine and was savagely pointing with his bayonet, withdrawing,
parrying, using the butt, his knees, his feet. He suddenly felt very
faint....

That is all that John Stokes remembers of the first battle of Ypres. For
the next thing he knew was that a voice coming from an immense
distance--just as he had once heard the voice of the dentist when he was
coming to after a spell of gas--was saying something to him as he seemed
to be rising, rising, rising ever more rapidly out of unfathomable
depths, and then out of a mist of darkness a window, first opaque and
then translucent, framed itself before his eyes, and he was staring at
the sun. The voice, which was low and sweet--an excellent thing in
woman--was saying, "Take this, sonny," and the air around him was
impregnated with a faint odour of iodoform. Then he knew--he was in
hospital.


III

"Yes, a curious case," said one officer to the other as he sat in a
certain room at Headquarters, staring abstractedly at the list of Field
Ambulances and of their Chaplains attached to the wall. "A very curious
case. It reminds me of something Smith said to me about bad law making
hard cases. It was jolly lucky the findings of the Court were held up
all that time. If the C.-in-C. had confirmed them and the sentence had
been promulgated, Stokes would now be doing five years at Woking.
Whereas, there he is back with his old battalion, holding a D.C.M., and
not reduced by one stripe."

"Not so curious as you think, my friend," replied the other. "Why, I saw
forty men under arrest marching through H.Q. the other day
singing--singing, mind you. There's hope for a man who sings. Of
course, field punishment doesn't matter much; it is only a matter of a
few days and a spell of fatigue duty. Though, mind you, I don't say that
cleaning out latrines isn't pretty hard labour. But when it comes to
breaking a man with a clean record because he has fallen asleep out of
sheer weariness--well, what's the good of throwing men like that on the
scrap-heap? Of course, you must try them, and you must sentence them,
but you can give them another chance. You know Stokes's case fairly made
us sit up, and we haven't let the grass grow under our feet. Look at
that."

The Judge-Advocate read the blue document that was pushed across the
table: "An Act to suspend the operation of sentences of Courts-martial."
He studied the sections and sub-sections with the critical eye of a
Parliamentary draughtsman. "Yes," he said, after some pertinent
emendations, "it'll do. But the title is too long for common use at
G.H.Q."

"Why!" said the other with a certain paternal sensitiveness, "what do
you suggest?"

"I suggest," said the Judge-Advocate pensively,--"I suggest we call it
Stokes's Act."

       *       *       *       *       *

Now this story has one merit--if it has no other. It is true. And as
for the rest of the Act and its preamble, and its sections and its
sub-sections, are they not written in the Statute Book? In the Temple
they call it 5 & 6 Geo. V. cap. 23. But out there they call it "Stokes's
Act."



X

THE FRONT


Persons of a rheumatic habit are said to apprehend the approach of damp
weather by certain presentiments in their bones. So people of a nervous
temperament--like the writer--have premonitions of the approach to "the
Front" by a feeling of cold feet. These are usually induced by the
spectacle of large and untimely cavities in the road, but they may be
accentuated, as not infrequently happened, by seeing the process of
excavation itself--and hearing it. The effect on the auditory nerves is
known as "k-r-rump," which is, phonetically speaking, a fairly literal
translation. The best thing to do on such occasions is to obey the
nursery rhyme, and "open your mouth and shut your eyes." The intake of
air will relieve the pressure on your ear-drums. I have been told by one
of our gunners that the gentle German has for years been experimenting
in order to produce as "frightful" and intimidating a sound by the
explosion of his shells as possible. He has succeeded. Cases have been
known of men without a scratch laughing and crying simultaneously after
a too-close acquaintance with the German hymnology of hate. The results
are, however, sometimes disappointing from the German point of view, as
in the case of the soldier who, being spattered with dirt but otherwise
untouched, picked himself up, and remarked with profound contempt, "The
dirty swine!"

The immediate approach to the trenches is usually marked by what sailors
call a "dodger," which is to say, a series of canvas screens. These do
not conceal your legs, and if you are exceptionally tall, they may not
conceal your head. Your feet don't matter, but if you are wise you duck
your head. Nine out of ten soldiers take an obstinate pride in walking
upright, and will laugh at you most unfeelingly for your pains. Once in
the communication trench you are fairly safe from snipers, but not, of
course, from shrapnel or high-angle fire. A communication trench which I
visited, when paying an afternoon call at a dug-out, was wide enough to
admit a pony and cart, and, as it has to serve to bring up
ration-parties and stretcher-bearers as well as reliefs, it is made as
wide as is consistent with its main purpose, which is to protect the
approach and to localise the effect of shell-fire as much as possible,
the latter object being effected by frequent "traversing." To reach the
fire-trenches is easy enough; the difficulty is to find your way out of
them. The main line of fire-trenches has a kind of loop-line behind it
with innumerable junctions and small depôts in the shape of dug-outs,
and at first sight the subaltern's plan of the estate was as bewildering
as a signalman's map of Clapham Junction. And the main line is
complicated by frequent traverses--something after the pattern of a
Greek fret, whereas such French trenches as I have seen appeared to
prefer the Norman dog-tooth style of architecture. A survey of these
things makes it easy to understand the important part played by the bomb
and the hand-grenade in trench warfare, for when you have "taken" part
of a trench you never know whether you are an occupier or merely a
lodger until you have fully explored what is behind the traverses to the
right and left of you. The delivery of a bomb serves as a very effective
notice of ejectment. The back of the trench is protected by a ridge of
earth commonly known as a parados. My servant, whose vocabulary was
limited, called it a paradox, and was not very wide of the mark.

Somewhere behind the trenches at varying distances are the batteries.
The gunners affect orchards and copses as affording good cover for their
guns, and if none are to be found they improvise them. Hop-poles
trailed with hops or cut saplings will do very well. Usually there is a
delectable garden, which is the peculiar pride of the men. Turf
emplacements are constructed for the six guns, and turfed dug-outs house
the telephone-operator and the gunners. The battery officers are
billeted some way back, usually in a kind of farmhouse, whose chief
decorative feature is a midden-heap; in England it would promptly be the
subject of a closing order by any Public Health authority.

There is nothing more admirable than a field-gun. As a ship answers her
helm or an aeroplane its controls, so does an eighteen-pounder respond
to every turn of her elevating and traversing gear. Watch a gunner
laying his gun on a target he cannot see; observe him switch the gun
round from the aiming point to the target; remark the way in which the
sight clinometer registers the angle of sight and the drum registers the
range; and then ask yourself whether the smartest ship that ever sailed
the high seas could be more docile to a turn of the wheel. With perfect
simplicity did a man in the R.F.A. once say to me, "We feel towards our
gun as a mother feels to her child; we'd sooner lose our lives than our
gun." In that confession of faith you have the whole of the gunner's
creed.

The heavy guns are generally to be found in splendid isolation; one
such I visited and I marvelled at its appearance; it resembled nothing
so much as the mottled trunk of a decayed plane-tree except for its
girth. "Futurist art," explained the major deprecatingly as I stared at
its daubed surface; "it makes it unrecognisable." It certainly did.
Close by were what looked at a distance like a bed of copper cucumbers.
"More gardening?" I asked. "Yes, market gardening," replied the major;
"if we lay the shells like that with sand-bags between them we prevent
their igniting one another in case of accidents. It helps us to deliver
the goods."

A mile or two from the battery headquarters at X---- Y---- was the
observing station. The battery-major and myself were accompanied thither
by a huge mastiff who in civil life was a dairyman by profession and
turned a churn, but had long since attached himself to the major as
orderly. We duly arrived at a deserted farm, but at this point the
mastiff stopped dead and declined to come any further. I thought this
churlish, and told him so, but he merely wagged his tail. When we
entered the farmyard I understood. It was pitted with shell-holes, and
they were obviously of very recent excavation. As a matter of fact the
Huns suspected that farm, and with good reason, and treated it to
intermittent "Hate." The mastiff therefore always waited for the
battery-major at what it judged, quite erroneously, to be a safe
distance. We clambered up into a loft by means of unreliable ladders. In
the roof of the loft some tiles had been removed, and leaning our arms
on the rafters we looked out. "You see that row of six poplars over
there?" said the Major, pointing to a place behind the German trenches.
I recognised them, for the same six poplars I had seen through a
periscope in the trenches the day before. "Well, you see the roof of a
house between the second and third tree from the right? Good!" He turned
to the telephone operator in the corner of the loft. "Lay No. 2 on the
register! Report when ready!" The operator repeated the words
confidentially to the distant battery, and even as he spoke the receiver
answered "Ready!" "Fire!" I had my eyes glued to the house, yet nothing
seemed to happen, and I rubbed my field-glasses dubiously with my
pocket-handkerchief. Had they missed? Even as I speculated there was a
puff of smoke and a spurt of flame in the roof of the house between the
poplars. We had delivered the goods.

If one of those ruinous farms does not contain a battery mess the
chances are that it will shelter a field ambulance or else a company in
billets. Field ambulances, like the batteries, are somewhat migratory in
their habits, and change their positions according as they are wanted.
But a field ambulance is not, as might be supposed, a vehicle but a unit
of the R.A.M.C, with a major or a colonel in charge as O.C. The A.D.M.S.
of a division has three field ambulances under him, and when an attack
in force is projected he mobilises these three units at forward dressing
stations in the rear of the trenches. They are a link between the
aid-posts in front and the collecting stations behind. From the
collecting stations the wounded are sent on to the clearing hospitals
and thence to the base. It sounds beautifully simple, and so it is. The
most eloquent compliment to its perfection was the dreamy reminiscence
of a soldier I met at the base: "I got hit up at Wipers, sir; something
hit me in the head, and the next thing I knew was I heard somebody
saying 'Drink this,' and I found myself in bed at Boulogne." Every field
ambulance has an attendant chaplain, and a very good sort he usually is.
Is the soldier sick, he visits him; penitent, he shrives him; dying, he
comforts him. One such I knew, a Catholic priest, six feet two, and a
mighty hunter of buck in his day, who was often longing for a shot at
the Huns, and as often imposing penances upon himself for such
un-ghostly desires. He found consolation in confessing the Irishmen
before they went into the trenches: "The bhoys fight all the better for
it," he explained. He was sure of the salvation of his flock; the only
doubts he had were about his own. We all loved him.

There is one great difference between life in billets and life in the
trenches. In billets the soldier "grouses" often, in trenches never.
This may be partly due to a very proper sense of proportion; it may also
be due to the fact that, the necessity for vigilance being relaxed and
the occasions for industry few, life in billets is apt to become a great
bore. The small Flemish and French towns offer few amenities; in our
mess we found our principal recreation in reunions with other
fraternities at the _pâtisserie_ or in an occasional mount. Of
_pâtisseries_ that at Bethune is the best; that at Poperinghe the worst.
Besides, the former has a piano and a most pleasing Mademoiselle. In the
earlier stages of our occupation some of the officers at G.H.Q. did a
little coursing and shooting, but there was trouble about _délits de
chasse_, and now you are allowed to shoot nothing but big game--namely,
Germans--although I have heard of an irresponsible Irishman in the
trenches who vaulted the parapet to bag a hare and, what is more
remarkable, returned with it. Needless to say, his neighbours were
Saxons. As for the men, their opportunities of relaxation are more
circumscribed. Much depends on the house in which they are billeted. If
there is a baby, you can take the part of mother's help; one of the most
engaging sights I saw was a troop of our cavalrymen (they may have been
the A.V.C.) riding through Armentières, leading a string of remounts,
each remount with a laughing child on its back. Or, again, you can wash.
If you are not fortunate enough to be billeted at Bailleul, which has
the latest thing in baths, enabling men to be baptized, like
Charlemagne's reluctant converts, in platoons, you can always find a
pump. The spectacle of our men stripped to the waist sousing each other
with water under the pump is a source of standing wonder to the
inhabitants. I am not sure whether they think it indecent, or merely
eccentric; perhaps both. But then, as Anatole France has gravely
remarked, a profound disinclination to wash is no proof of chastity.
Besides, as one of the D.M.S.'s encyclicals has reminded us, cleanliness
of body is next to orderliness of kit. If you take carbolic baths you
may, with God's grace, escape one or more of the seven plagues of
Flanders. These seven are lice, flies, rats, rain, mud, smells, and
"souvenirs." The greatest of these is lice, for lice may mean
cerebro-meningitis. Owing to their unsportsmanlike and irritating habits
they are usually called "snipers." But, unlike snipers, they are not
entitled to be treated as prisoners of war (their habits partake too
much of espionage), and when captured they receive a short shrift from
an impassive man with a hot iron in the asbestos drying-room.

But it may well happen that in spite of babies, and baths, and brass
bands, and footballs, and boxing-gloves, and playing marbles (the
General in command of one of our divisions told me he had seen six
Argyll and Sutherland sergeants playing marbles with shrapnel bullets in
some support trenches), the men get bored. They are often very crowded,
and crowding may develop fastidious animosities. A man may tolerate
shrapnel in the trenches with equanimity, and yet may find his
neighbour's table-manners in billets positively intolerable. Men may
become "stale" or get on each other's nerves. When a company commander
sees signs of this, he has one very potent prescription; he prescribes a
good stiff route march. It has never been known to fail. Many a time in
the winter months, when out visiting Divisional Headquarters, did I, in
the shameful luxury of my car, come across a battalion slogging along
ruddy and cheerful in the mud, and singing with almost reproachful
unction:


     Last night I s-s-aw you, I s-saw you, you naughty boy!


Some one ought to make an anthology (for private circulation only) of
the songs most affected by our men, and also of the topographical
Limericks with which they beguile the long hours in the trenches. And if
the English soldier is addicted to versifying it may be pleaded in his
behalf that, as Mommsen apologetically remarks of Caesar, "they were
weak verses." Not always, however, I have seen some unpublished verses
by a young officer on the staff of the late General Hubert Hamilton, a
man beloved by all who knew him, describing the burial of his dead chief
at night behind the firing-line, which in their sombre and elegiac
beauty are not unworthy to rank with the classical lines on the burial
of Sir John Moore. And there is that magnificent _Hymn before Battle_ by
Captain Julian Grenfell, surely one of the most moving things of its
kind.

With such diversions do our men beguile the interminable hours. After
all it is the small things that men resent in life, not the big ones. I
once asked a French soldier over a game of cards--in civil life he was a
plumber, whom we shall meet again[7]--whether he could get any sleep in
the trenches amid the infernal din of the guns. "Oh, I slept pretty well
on the whole," he explained nonchalantly, "mais mon voisin,
celui-là"--he pointed reproachfully to a comrade who was imperturbably
shuffling the pack--"il ronflait si fort qu'il finissait par me
dégoûter."

FOOTNOTE:

[7] See Chapter XV.



XI

AT G.H.Q.[8]

+-----------------------------------------------------------------------+
|                        Billet de Logement.                            |
|                                                                       |
| Mme. Bonnard, 131 rue Robert le Frisson, logera les sous-dits,        |
| savoir: un officier, un sous officier, deux hommes; fournira le lit,  |
| place au feu et à la chandelle, conformément à loi du 3 juillet, 1877.|
|     Délivré à la Mairie,                                              |
|       le 31me Janvier, 1915.                                          |
|     Le Maire ----                                                     |
+-----------------------------------------------------------------------+


The Camp Commandant, who is a keeper of lodging-houses and an Inspector
of Nuisances, had given me a slip of paper on which was inscribed the
address No. 131 rue Robert le Frisson and a printed injunction to the
occupier to know that by these presents she was enjoined to provide me
with bed, fire, and lights. Armed with this billeting-paper and
accompanied by my servant, a private in the Suffolks, who was carrying
my kit, I knocked at the door of No. 131, affecting an indifference to
my reception which I did not feel. It seemed to me that a
rate-collector, presenting a demand note, could have boasted a more
graceful errand. The door opened and an old lady in a black silk gown
inquired, "Qu'est-ce que vous voulez, M'sieu'?" I presented my
billeting-paper with a bow. Her waist was girt with a kind of
bombardier's girdle from which hung a small armoury of steel implements
and leather scabbards: scissors, spectacle case, a bunch of keys, a
button-hook, and other more or less intimidating things. "Jeanne," she
called in a quavering voice, and as the _bonne_ appeared, tying her
apron-strings, they read the billeting-paper together, the one looking
over the shoulder of the other, Madame reading the words as a child
reads, and as though she were speaking to herself. The paper shook in
her tremulous hands, and I could see that she was very old. It was
obvious that my appearance in that quiet household was as agitating as
it was unexpected. "Et votre ordonnance?" she asked, with a glance at my
servant. "Non, il dort dans la caserne." "Bien!" she said, and with a
smile made me welcome.


It was soon evident that, my credentials being once established, I was
to be regarded as a member of the household, and nothing would satisfy
Madame but that I should be assured of this. Having shown me my bedroom,
with its pompous bed draped with a tent of curtains, she took me on a
tour of her _ménage_. I was conducted into the kitchen, bright with
copper pans and the _marmite_--it was as sweet and clean as a dairy; the
resources of the still-room were displayed to me, and the confitures and
spices were not more remarkable than the domestic pharmacy in which the
herbs of the field had been distilled by Madame's own hands to yield
their peculiar virtues, rue for liver, calamint for cholera, plantain
for the kidneys, fennel for indigestion, elderberry for sore throat, and
dandelion for affections of the blood. Then I was shown the oak presses
full of linen white as snow and laid up in lavender. This inventory
being concluded, I was presented with a key of the front door to mark my
admission into the freedom of the house, and invited to take a glass of
Burgundy while Sykes was unpacking my kit upstairs.

Madame, it seemed, was a widow of eighty-five years of age, without
issue, and if her eyes were dim and her natural force abated, her teeth,
as she proudly told me, were her own. She obviously belonged to that
_rentier_ class who spend the evening of their days in the quiet town
which serves as G.H.Q.--a town which has a kind of faded gentility, and
which, behind its inscrutable house-fronts, conceals a good deal of
quiet opulence in the matter of old china, silver, and oak. In her youth
Madame had kept a _pension_ and had had English demoiselles among her
charges. She had never been to England but she had heard of "Hyde Park."
Did I know it? She received my assurance with obvious gratification as
though it established a personal intimacy between us. "Avez-vous tué des
Allemands?" My negative answer left her disappointed but hopeful.

"La guerre, quand finira-t-elle?" interjected the _bonne_, who, I
afterwards found, had a husband at the war. Those interrogatories were
to become very familiar to me. Every evening, when I returned from my
visits to Divisional and Brigade Headquarters, mistress and servant
always put me through the same catechism:

"Avez-vous tué des Allemands?"

"La guerre, quand finira-t-elle?"

The immense seriousness, not to say solicitude, with which these
inquiries were addressed to me eventually led me into the most
enterprising mendacities. I killed a German every day, greatly to
Madame's satisfaction, and my total bag when I came away was
sufficiently remarkable to be worth a place in an official _communiqué_.
I think it gave Madame a feeling of security, and I hoped Jeanne might
consider that it appreciably accelerated the end of the war. But
"Guillaume," as she always called him, was the principal object of
Madame's aversion, and she never mentioned the name of the All-Highest
without a lethal gesture as she drew her tremulous hand across her
throat and uttered the menacing words: "Couper la gorge." She often
uttered these maledictions to Sykes in the kitchen, as she watched him
making the toast for my breakfast, and I have no doubt that the "Oui,
Madame," with which he invariably assented, gave her great satisfaction.
Doubtless it made her feel that the heart of the British Army was sound.
Sykes used to study furtively a small book called _French, and how to
speak it_, but he was very chary of speaking it, and seemed to prefer a
deaf-and-dumb language of his own. But he was naturally a man of few
words, and phlegmatic. He described the first battle of Ypres, in which
he had been "wownded," in exactly twenty-four words, and I could never
get any more out of him, though he became comparatively voluble on the
subject of his wife at Norwich and the twins. He was an East Anglian,
and made four vowels do duty for five, his e's being always pronounced
as a's; he had done his seven years' "sarvice" with the colours, and was
a reservist; he was an admirable servant--steady, cool, and honest. I
imagine he had never acted as servant to any of his regimental officers,
for on the first occasion when he brought up my breakfast I was not a
little amused to observe that the top of the egg had been carefully
removed, the rolls sliced and buttered, and the bread and butter cut
into slender "fingers," presumably for me to dip into the ochreous
interior of the egg; it reminded me of my nursery days. Perhaps he was
in the habit of doing it for the twins. I gently weaned him from this
tender habit. He performed all his duties, such as making my bed, or
handing me a letter, with quick automatic movements as though he were
presenting arms. Also his face, which was usually expressionless as
though his mind were "at ease," had a way of suddenly coming to
"attention" when you spoke to him. He had a curious and recondite
knowledge of the folk-lore of the British Army, and entertained me at
times with stories of "Kruger's Own," "The White Shirts," "The Dirty
Twelfth," "The Holy Boys," "The Saucy Seventh," having names for the
regiments which you will never find in the _Army List_. In short, he was
a survival and in a way a tragic survival. For how many of the old Army
are left? I fear very few, and many traditions may have perished with
them.

In his solicitude for me Sykes had jealous rivals in Madame and Jeanne.
Madame reserved to herself as her peculiar prerogative the deposit of a
hot-water "bottle" in my bed every night, such a hot-water bottle as I
have never seen elsewhere. It reminded me of nothing so much as the
barrel of one of the newer machine-guns, being a long fluted cylinder of
black steel. This was always borne by Madame every night in ritualistic
procession, Jeanne following with a silver candlestick and a
night-light. The ceremony concluded with a bow and "good-night," two
words of which Madame was inordinately proud. She never attained
"good-morning," but she more than supplied the deficiency of English
speech by the grace of her French manners, always entering my room at 8
A.M. as I lay in bed, with the greeting, "Bon matin, M'sieu',
avez-vous bien dormi?" Perhaps I looked, as I felt, embarrassed on the
first occasion, for she quickly added in French, "I am old enough to be
your mother"--as indeed she was. She had at once the resignation in
repose and the agitation in action of extreme old age. I have seen her
dozing in her chair in the salon, as I passed through the hall, with her
gnarled hands extended on her knees in just that attitude of quiet
waiting which one associates with the well-known engraving in which
Death is figured as the coming of a friend. But when she was on her feet
she moved about with a kind of aimless activity, opening drawers and
shutting them and reopening them and speaking to herself the while,
until Jeanne, catching my puzzled expression, would whisper loudly in
my ear with a tolerant smile, "Elle est très VIEILLE." Jeanne had
acquired a habit of raising her voice, owing to Madame's deafness, which
resulted in her whispers partaking of the phonetic quality of those
stage asides which, by a curious convention, while audible at the very
back of the dress circle, are quite inaudible to the other characters on
the stage. Whether Madame ever overheard these auricular confidences I
know not. If she did, I doubt if she regarded them, for she was under
the illusion, common to very old people who live in the society of a
younger generation and were mature adults when their companions were
merely adolescent, that Jeanne, who had entered her service as a child,
had never grown up. If Madame seemed "très vieille" to Jeanne, it was
indisputable that Jeanne continued "très jeune" to Madame. She was,
indeed, firmly convinced that she was looking after Jeanne, whereas in
truth it was Jeanne who looked after her. For Jeanne was at least
thirty-five, with a husband at the war, in virtue of whom she enjoyed a
separation allowance of one franc a day, and a boy for whom she received
ten sous. Her husband, a _pompier_, got nothing. It never occurred to
her to regard this provision as inadequate. And she was as capable as
she was contented, and sang at her work.

It was often difficult to believe that this quiet backwater was within
an hour or two of the trenches. G.H.Q. was indeed situated well back
behind "the Front," which, however precise the maps in the newspapers
may affect to make it, is, like the Equator of our school-books, a more
or less "imaginary line drawn across the earth's surface." Imaginary
because if a line be, as we were taught with painful reiteration, length
without breadth, then "the Front" is not a line at all, much less a
straight line in the sense of the shortest distance between two points.
It is not straight, for it curves and sags and has its salients and
re-entrant angles; and it is not a line, for it has breadth as well as
length. Broadly speaking, the Front extends back to the H.Q. of the
armies (to say nothing of the H.Q. of corps, divisions, and brigades),
and thence to G.H.Q. itself, which may be regarded as being "the Back of
the Front," to vary a classical expression of _Punch_. The Front is,
indeed, to be visualised not as a straight line but as a fully opened
fan, the periphery of which is the fire-trenches, the ribs the lines of
communication, and the knob or knuckle is General Headquarters. When we
extend our Front southwards and take over the French trenches we just
expand our fan a little more. When we come to make a general advance all
along the periphery, the whole fan will be thrust forward, and the
knuckle with it, for the relative distances of General Headquarters,
and minor Headquarters, from this periphery and from one another are a
more or less constant quantity, being determined by such fixed
considerations as the range of modern guns and the mobility of
transport.

From G.H.Q., the brain of the Army, the volitional centre of the whole
organism, radiate the sensory and motor nerves by which impressions at
the Front are registered and plans for action transmitted. It is the
home of the Staff, not of the Armies, and contains more "brass hats"
than all the other Headquarters put together. Beyond the "details" in
the barracks it contains few of the rank and file, and its big square
betrays little of the crowded animation of the towns nearer the fighting
line, with their great parks of armoured cars, motor lorries, and
ammunition waggons, their filter-carts, and their little clusters and
eddies of men resting in billets. The Military Police on point-duty have
a comparatively quiet time, although despatch-riders are, of course, for
ever whizzing to and fro with messages from and to the Front. It is as
full of departmental offices as Whitehall itself--some 153 of them to be
exact--each one indicated by a combination of initial letters, for staff
officers are men of few words and cogent, and it saves time to say "O."
when you mean Operations, "I." for Intelligence, "A.G." for
Adjutant-General; a fashion which is faithfully followed at the other
H.Q., for D.A.A.Q.M.G. saves an enormous number of polysyllables.

Hence the proximity of hostilities has left but little outward and
visible sign upon the ancient town. The tradesmen have, it is true, made
some concessions to our presence, and one remarks the inviting legends
"Top-hole Tea" in the windows of a _pâtisserie_ and "High life" over the
shop of a tailor. Four of us made a private arrangement with a buxom
housewife, whereby, in return for four francs per head a day and the
pooling of our rations, she undertook to provide us with lunch and
dinner, thereby establishing a "Mess" of our own. Many such fraternities
there were in the absence of a regular regimental mess. But these
arrangements were more private than military, the only obligation on the
ordinary householder being the furnishing of billets. Occasionally the
cobbled streets became the scene of an unwonted animation when young
French recruits celebrated their call to the colours by marching down
the streets arm-in-arm singing ribald songs, or a squad of sullen German
prisoners were marched up them on their way to the prison, within which
they vanished amid the imprecations of the crowd. One such squad I saw
arriving in a motor lorry, from the tailboard of which they jumped down
to enter the gates, and one of them, a clumsy fellow of about thirteen
stones, landed heavily in his ammunition boots from a height of about
five feet on the foot of a British soldier on guard. The latter winced
and hastily drew back his foot, but beyond that gave no sign; I wondered
whether, had the positions been reversed and the scene laid across the
Rhine, a German guard would have exhibited a similar tolerance. I doubt
it.

The town itself seemed to be living on its past, for indubitably it had
seen better days. An ancient foundation of the Jesuits now converted
into the Map and Printing Department of the R.E.'s, a church whose huge
nave had been secularised to the uses of motor transport, a museum which
served to incarcerate the German prisoners, all testified to the
vanished greatness, as did also the private mansions, which preserved a
kind of mystery behind their high-walled gardens and massive double
doors. There was one such which I never passed at night without thinking
of the Sieur de Maletroit's door. The streets were narrow, tortuous, and
secretive, with many blind alleys and dark closes, and it required no
great effort of the imagination--especially at night when not a light
showed--to call to mind the ambuscades and adventures with the watch
which they must have witnessed some centuries before. The very names of
the streets--such as the _Rue d'Arbalête_--held in them something of
romance. To find one's billet at night was like a game of blind man's
buff, and one felt rather than saw one's way. Not a soul was to be seen,
for the whole town was under _droit de siège_, and the civilian
inhabitants had to be within doors by nine o'clock, while all the
entrances and exits to and from the town were guarded by double sentries
night and day. Certain dark doorways also secreted a solitary sentry,
and my own office boasted a corporal's guard--presumably because the
Field-Cashier had his rooms on the first floor. The sanitation was truly
medieval; on either side of the cobbled streets noisome gutters formed
an open sewer into which housewives emptied their slop-pails every
morning, while mongrel dogs nosed among the garbage. Yet the precincts
were not without a certain beauty, and every side of the town was
approached through an avenue of limes or poplars. But in winter the
sodden landscape was desolate beyond belief, these roads presenting just
that aspect of a current of slime in a muddy sea which they suggested to
the lonely horseman on the eve of Waterloo in that little classic of De
Vigny's known to literature as _Laurette_.

Such was the country and such the town in which we were billeted. Now
upon a morning in February it happened that I was smoking a cigarette in
the little garden, bordered by hedges of box, while waiting for my car,
and as I waited I watched Jeanne, with her sleeves rolled up to her
elbows and a clothes-peg in her mouth, busy over the wash-tub. "Vous
êtes une blanchisseuse, aujourd'hui?" I remarked. She corrected me.
"Non, m'sieu', une lessiveuse." "Une lessiveuse?" For answer Jeanne
pointed to a linen-bag which was steeping in the tub. The linen-bag
contained the ashes of the beech-tree; it is a way of washing that they
have in some parts of France, and very cleansing. To specialise thus is
_lessiver_. As we talked in this desultory fashion I let fall a word
concerning a journey I was about to undertake to the French lines, a
journey that would take me over the battlefield of the Marne. "La Marne!
Hélas, quelle douleur!" said Jeanne, and wiped her eyes with the corner
of her apron. "But it was a glorious victory," I expostulated. Yes, but
Jeanne, it seemed, had lost a brother in the battle of the Marne. She
pulled out of her bosom a frayed letter, bleached, stained, and
perforated with holes about the size of a shilling, and handed it to me.
I could make nothing of it. She handed me another letter. "Son
camarade," she explained, and no longer attempted to hide her tears.
And this was what I read:


                                                       Le 10 sept., 1914.

     CHÈRE MADAME--Comme j'étais très bon camarade avec votre frère Paul
     Duval et que le malheur vient de lui arriver, je tient à vous le
     faire savoir, car peut-être vous serai dans l'inquiétude de pas
     recevoir de ces nouvelles et de ne pas savoir où il est. Je vous
     dirai que je vient de lui donner du papier à lettre et une enveloppe
     pour vous écrire et aussitôt la lettre finit il l'a mis dans son
     képi pour vous l'envoyé le plus vite possible et malheureusement un
     obus est arriver, et il à etait tué. Heureusement nous étions trois
     près de l'un l'autre et il n'y a eut de lui de touché. Je vous envoi
     la petite lettre qu'il venait de vous faire, et en même tant vous
     verrez les trous que les éclats d'obus l'on attrapper. Recevez de
     moi chère madame mes sincères salutations.

                                          JULES COPPÉE.

                                 Tambour au 151e Regiment d'Inf.,
                                 2e Cie 42e Division, Secteur postale 56.


Crude and illiterate though it was, the letter had a certain noble
simplicity. "Très gentil," I remarked as I returned it to Jeanne, and
thought the matter at an end. But Jeanne had not done, and, with much
circumlocution and many hesitations, she at last preferred a simple
request. I was going to visit the battlefield of the Marne--yes? I
assented. Well, perhaps, perhaps Monsieur would visit Paul's grave, and
perhaps if he found it he would take a photograph. "Why, certainly," I
said, little knowing what I promised. But the request was to have a
strange sequel, as you shall hear. Sykes came to say my car was at the
door. As I clambered in and turned to wave a farewell, Madame and
Jeanne stood on the doorstep to wish me _bon voyage_. "J'espère que vous
tuerez plusieurs Allemands," cried Madame in a quavering voice.
"Veuillez ne pas oublier, M'sieu'," cried Jeanne wistfully. I waved my
hand, and had soon left rue Robert le Frisson far behind me.

FOOTNOTE:

[8] The town described in this sketch is described not as it is, but as
it was some months ago, and nothing is to be inferred from the title as
to its present significance.



XII

MORT POUR LA PATRIE


Two days later a French staff-officer greeted me in the vestibule of the
Hôtel de Crillon at Paris. It was the Comte de G----; he had been
deputed by the Ministry of War to act as my escort on my tour of the
French lines. He proved to be a charming companion. He was a magnificent
figure of a man six feet three inches in height at least, an officer of
dragoons, and he wore the red and white brassard, embroidered in gold
with a design of forked lightning, which is the prerogative of the
staff. A military car with a driver and an orderly in shaggy furs
awaited us outside on the Place de la Concorde. It was a sumptuous car,
upholstered in green corded silk, with nickel fittings, and displaying
on its panels the motto _Quand même_, and the monogram of a famous
actress. It had been requisitioned. The air was cold--there had been
frost overnight--but the sun was brilliant. As we threaded our way
through Paris and its suburbs, a Paris chastened and resolute, I caught
a glimpse of the barges upon the Seine with the women standing on the
convex hatches hanging out clothes to dry--and I thought of Daudet and
_La Belle Nivernaise_. As more and yet more men are called up to the
colours women take their place, until the houses of business are like
nunneries--with a few aged Fathers Superior. Having had business the day
before at the Société Générale, I had had occasion to reflect on these
things as I stood in the counting-house watching some fifty girl typists
at work, the room resounding with the tap-tap of their machines, as
though fifty thrushes were breaking snails upon a stone. A wizened
little clerk, verging upon superannuation, had beguiled my time of
waiting with talk of the war: how his wife from Picardy had lost fifteen
of her _parents_, while of four painters and paper-hangers who had
started doing up his flat on the 2nd of July only one--disabled--had
returned to finish the job; the rest were dead. Musing on these things
as we drove through the Bois de Vincennes I understood the resolution of
our Allies and the significance of the things my companion pointed out
to me as we drove: here a row of trees felled to provide a field of
fire, there a gun emplacement, and reserve trenches all the way from
Paris to Soissons. They are leaving nothing to chance.

Our journey was uneventful until we reached Coulommiers, where we had
certain inquiries to make which have nothing to do with this narrative.
We interviewed the _maire_ in his parlour at the Hôtel de Ville, a
little man, and spirited, who had hung on at his post during the German
occupation, and done his best to protect his fellow-townsmen against the
lust and rapine of the Huns. Under such circumstances the office of
municipal magistrate is no sinecure. It is, in fact, a position of
deadly peril, for by the doctrine of vicarious punishment, peculiar to
the German Staff, an innocent man is held liable with his life for the
faults of his fellow-townsmen, and, it may be, for those of the enemy
also. Doubtless it appeals to their sinister sense of humour, when two
of their own men get drunk and shoot at one another, to execute a French
citizen by way of punishment. It happened that during the German
occupation of Coulommiers the gas supply gave out. The _maire_ was
informed by a choleric commandant that unless gas were forthcoming in
twenty-four hours he would be shot. The little man replied quietly:
"M'éteindre, ce n'est pas allumer le gaz." This illuminating remark
appears to have penetrated the dark places of the commandant's mind, and
although the gas-jets continued contumacious (the gas-workers were all
called up to the colours) the _maire_ was not molested. It was here
that we heard a shameful story (for the truth of which I will not vouch)
of a certain straggler from our army, a Highlander, who tarried in
amorous dalliance and was betrayed by his enchantress to the Huns, who,
having deprived him of everything but his kilt, led him mounted upon a
horse in Bacchanalian procession round the town. As to what became of
him afterwards nothing was known, but the worst was suspected. The Huns
have a short way and bloody with British stragglers and despatch-riders
and patrols, and I fear that the poor lad expiated his weakness with a
cruel death.

At Coulommiers we turned northwards on the road to La
Ferté-sous-Jouarre, a pleasant little town on the banks of the Marne,
approached by an avenue of plane trees whose dappled trunks are visible
for many miles. Here we had lunch at the inn--a dish of perch caught
that morning in the waters of the Marne, a delicious cream-cheese, for
which La Ferté is justly famous, and a light wine of amber hue and
excellent vintage. The landlord's wife waited on us with her own hands,
and as she waited talked briskly of the German occupation of the town.
The Huns, it appeared, had been too hustled by the Allies to do much
frightfulness beyond the usual looting, but they had inflicted enormous
losses on the pigs of La Ferté. It reminded me of the satirical
headline in a Paris newspaper, over a paragraph announcing a great
slaughter of pigs in Germany owing to the shortage of maize--"Les
Bosches s'entregorgent!" Madame told us with much spirit how she had
saved her own pig, an endearing infant, by the intimation that a far
more succulent pig was to be found higher up the street, and while the
Bosches went looking for their victim she had hidden her own in the
cellar. Her pig is now a local celebrity. People come from afar to see
the pig which escaped the Bosches. For the pigs whom the Bosches love
are apt to die young. But what had impressed her most was the treatment
meted out by a German officer, a certain von Bülow, who was quartered at
the inn, to one of his men. The soldier had been ordered to stick up a
lantern outside the officer's quarters, and had been either slow or
forgetful. Von Bülow knocked him down, and then, as he lay prostrate,
jumped upon him, kicked him, and beat him about the head and face with
sabre and riding-whip. The soldier lay still and uttered not a cry.
Madame shuddered at the recollection, "Épouvantable!"

We crossed the _place_ and called on a prominent burgess. He received us
hospitably. In the hall of his house was a Uhlan's lance with drooping
pennon which excited our curiosity. How had it come here? He was only
too pleased to explain. He had taken it from a marauding Uhlan with whom
he had engaged in single combat, strangling him with his own hands--so!


     I took by the throat the circumcised dog
     And smote him, thus!


He held out a pair of large fat hands of the consistency of clay; he was
of a full habit and there were pouches under his eyes. In England he
would have been a small tradesman, with strong views on total
abstinence, accustomed to a diet of high tea, and honoured as the
life-long superintendent of a Sunday school. I was more astonished than
sceptical, but perhaps, as the Comte suggested in a whisper, the Uhlan
was drunk. Here, too, we heard tales of loot, especially among ladies'
wardrobes. It is a curious fact that there is nothing the Hun loves so
much as women's underclothing. As to what happens when he gets hold of
the _lingerie_ many scandalous stories are told, and none more
scandalous than the one which appeared in the whimsical pages of _La Vie
Parisienne_. But that is, most emphatically, quite another story.

From La Ferté we drove on to Lizy, where the gendarme, wiping his mouth
as he came hurriedly from the inn, told us a harrowing tale, and then to
Barcy, where the _maire_, though busy with a pitch-fork upon a manure
heap, received us with municipal gravity. We were now nearing the
battlefield of the Marne, and here and there along the roadside the
trunks of the poplars, green with mistletoe, were shivered as though by
lightning. Yet nothing could have been more peaceful than the pastoral
beauty of the countryside. We passed waggons full of roots, drawn by a
team of white oxen under the yoke, and by the roadside a threshing
machine was being fed by a knot of old men and young women from an
oat-rick. The only hints of the cloud on the horizon were the occasional
passage of a convoy and the notable absence of young men. As we raced
along, the furrows, running at right angles to the road, seemed to be
eddying away from us in pleats and curves, and this illusion of a
stationary car in a whirling landscape was fortified by the contours of
the countryside, which were those of a great plain, great as any sea,
stretching away to a horizon of low chalk hills. Suddenly the car slowed
down at a signal from my companion and stopped. We got out. Not a sound
was to be heard except the mournful hum of the distant threshing
machine, but a peculiar clicking, like the halliard of a flagstaff in a
breeze, suddenly caught my ear. The wind was rising, and as I looked
around me I saw innumerable little tricolour flags fluttering against
small wooden staves. It was the battlefield of the Marne, the scene of
that immortal order of Joffre's in which he exhorted the sons of France
to conquer or die where they stood. As he had commanded, so had they
done. With an emotion too deep for words we each contemplated these
plaintive memorials of the heroes who lay where they fell. Our orderly
wept and made no effort to hide his tears. I thought of Jeanne's wistful
petition, but my heart sank, for these graves were to be numbered not by
hundreds but by thousands. "C'est absolument impossible!" said the
Comte, to whom I had communicated my quest. A sudden cry from the
orderly, who was moving from grave to grave in a close scrutiny of the
inscriptions, arrested us. He was standing by a wooden cross, half
draped by a tattered blue coat and covered with wreaths of withered
myrtle. A képi pierced with holes lay upon the grave. And sure enough,
by some miracle of coincidence, he had found it. On a wooden slab we
read these words:


        PAUL DUVAL,
      151e Rég. d'Inf.
        6 sept. 1914
     MORT POUR LA PATRIE.


The sun was fast declining over the chalk hills and it grew bitter cold.
I unfolded my camera, stepped back eight paces, and pressed the trigger.
We clambered back into the car and resumed the road to Meaux. As I
looked over my shoulder the last things I saw in the enfolding twilight
were those little flags still fluttering wistfully in the wind.



XIII

MEAUX AND SOME BRIGANDS


We lay the night at Meaux. It was a town which breathed the enchantments
of the Middle Ages and had for me the intimacy of a personal
reminiscence. Sixteen years earlier, when reading for a prize essay at
Oxford, I had studied the troubled times of Étienne Marcel in the
treasures of the Bibliothèque de l'École des Chartes, and I knew every
kilometre of this country as though I had trodden it. Meaux, Compiègne,
Senlis--they called to my mind dreamy hours in the dim religious light
of muniment-rooms and days of ecstasy among the pages of Froissart.
Little did I think when I read those belligerent chronicles in the
sequestered alcoves of the Bodleian and the Bibliothèque Nationale,
tracing out the warlike dispositions of Charles the Bad and the Dauphin
and the Provost of the Merchants, that the day would come when I would
be traversing these very fields engaged in detective enterprises upon
the footprints of contemporary armies. To compare the _variae
lectiones_ of two manuscripts concerning a fourteenth-century skirmish
is good, it has all the excitement of the chase; but to be collating the
field note-book of a living Hun with the _dossier_ of a contemporary
Justice de Paix, this is better. It has all the contact of reality and
the breathless joy of the hue and cry. And, after all, were things so
very different? Generations come and go, dynasties rise and fall, but
the earth endureth for ever, and these very plains and hills and valleys
that have witnessed the devastation of the Hun have also seen the
ravages of the mercenaries and free companies of the Middle Age. As I
lay in my bed that night at the inn I turned over the pages of my pocket
volume of M. Zeller's _Histoire de France racontée par les
contemporains_, and hit on the "Souvenirs du brigand Aimerigot Marchès,"
ravisher of women, spoiler of men, devourer of widows' houses. And as I
read, it seemed as though I were back in the department _du Contentieux_
of the Ministry of War in Paris deciphering the pages of a German
officer's field note-book. For thus speaks Aimerigot Marchès in the
delectable pages of Froissart distilled by M. Zeller into modern French:


     There is no time, diversion, nor glory in this world like that of
     the profession of arms and making war in the way we have. How
     blithe were we when we rode forth at hazard and hit on a rich
     abbé, an opulent prior or merchant, or a string of mules from
     Montpelier, Narbonne, Limoux, Toulouse, or Carcassonne laden with
     the fabrics of Brussels or furs from the fair of Lendit, or spices
     from Bruges, or the silks of Damascus and Alexandria! All was ours
     or was to ransom at our sweet will. Every day we had more money.
     The peasants of Auvergne and Limousin provisioned us and brought to
     our camp corn and meal, and baked bread, hay for the horses and
     straw for their litter, good wines, oxen, and fine fat sheep,
     chicken, and poultry. We carried ourselves like kings and were
     caparisoned as they, and when we rode forth the whole country
     trembled before us. Par ma foi, cette vie était bonne et belle.


Is not that your very Hun? He is a true reversion to type. Only, whereas
among the French he is a thing of the savage past, among the Germans he
is a product of the kultured present. And to turn from the field
note-book of the German soldier with its swaggering tale of loot, lust,
and maudlin cups, its memoranda of stolen toys for Felix and of ravished
lingerie for Bertha, all viewed in the rosy light of the writer's
egotism as a laudable enterprise, to the plain depositions of the
Justice de Paix, and see the reverse side of the picture with its tale
of ruined homes and untilled fields, was just such an experience as it
had been to turn from the glittering pages of Froissart to the sombre
story of Jean de Venette,[9] a monk of Compiègne, Little Brother of the
Poor and chronicler of his times, as he pondered on these things in the
scriptorium:


     In this year 1358, the vines, source of that beneficent liquor
     which gladdens the heart of man, were no longer cultivated; the
     fields were neither tilled nor sown; the oxen and the sheep went no
     longer to the pasture. The churches and houses, falling into decay,
     presented everywhere traces of devouring flames or sombre ruins and
     smouldering. The eye was no longer gladdened as before with the
     sight of green meadows and yellowing harvests, but rather afflicted
     by the aspect of briers and thistles, which clustered everywhere.
     The church bells no longer rang joyously to call the faithful to
     the divine offices, but only to give the alarm to the peasants at
     the approach of the enemy and the signal for flight.


As it was in the days of Jean de Venette, so it is now. I thought of
that mournful passage as I wandered next day among the ruins of
Choisy-au-Bac, a village not twenty miles from the place where Jean de
Venette was born, and saw old women cowering among the ruins of their
burnt-out homes.

If the good Carmelite of the fourteenth century returned to Meaux to-day
he would have little difficulty in finding his way about the city, for
though she must have aged perceptibly she can have changed but little.
The timbered mills on wooden piles still stand moored in the middle of
the river like so many ships, just as they stood in the twelfth century,
and the cathedral with its Gothic portals and great rose-window--though
it has grown in stature and added here and there a touch of the
flamboyant in its tracery, even as a man will break out into insurgent
adventures when he feels the first chill of age--is stamped with the
characters of the fourteenth century. And I think Jean de Venette would
find a congenial spirit in my friend the bishop, Monsignor Marbot, for
like Jean he is a lover of the poor. It was Monsignor Marbot who went in
procession to the battlefield of the Marne with crucifix and banner and
white-robed acolytes, and in an allocution of singular beauty
consecrated those stricken fields with the last rites of the Church. And
it was Monsignor Marbot who remained at his post all through the German
occupation to protect his flock while the Hun roamed over his diocese
like a beast of prey. Though the Hun thinks nothing of shooting a
_maire_, and has been known to murder many an obscure village priest, he
fights shy of killing a bishop; there might be trouble at the Holy See.
Many a moving tale did the good bishop tell me as we sat in his little
house--surely the most meagre and ascetic of episcopal palaces, in which
there was nothing more sumptuous than his cherry and scarlet soutane and
his biretta.

We lay the night at an inn that must have been at one time a seigneurial
mansion, for it had a noble courtyard. I was shown to a room, and,
having unpacked my valise, I turned on the taps, but no water issued; I
applied a match to the gas-jet, but no flame appeared; I tried to open
the window, but the sash stuck. I rang the bell; that at least
responded. A maid appeared; I pointed to the taps and made
demonstrations with the gas-jet. To all of which she replied quite
simply, "Ah! monsieur, c'est la guerre!" I had heard that answer before.
With such a plea of confession and avoidance had the boots at the Hôtel
de la Poste at Rouen excused a gross omission to call me in the morning,
and thus also had the aged waiter at the Métropole disposed of a
flagrant error in my bill. But this time it was convincing enough;
gas-workers and waterworks men and carpenters were all at the war, and
in the town of Meaux water was carried in pitchers and light was
purchased at the chandler's. In France you get used to these things and
imitate with a good grace the calm stoicism of your Allies. For, after
all, the enemy was pretty near, and as I retired to my couch I could
hear the thunder of their guns.

FOOTNOTE:

[9] Reputed author of the sequel to the chronicles of Guillaume de
Nangis. See M. Lacabane in the _Bibliothèque de l'École des Chartes_ (1e
série), t. iii.



XIV

THE CONCIERGE AT SENLIS


We rose early the next day, and, having paid our reckoning, were away
betimes, for we were to visit the French lines and wished also to pay a
flying visit to Senlis. As we left Crépy-en-Valois we entered the Forest
of Compiègne, a forest of noble beeches which rose tall and straight and
grey like the piers of Beauvais Cathedral, their arms meeting overhead
in an intricate vaulting through which we saw the winter sun in a
sapphire sky. We met two Chasseurs d'Afrique, mounted on superb Arabs
and wearing red fez-like caps and yellow collar-bands. They were like
figures out of a canvas of Meissonier, recalling the spacious days when
men went into action with all the pomp and circumstance of war, drums
beating, colours flying, plumes nodding, and the air vibrant with the
silvery notes of the bugle. All that is past; to-day no bugle sounds the
charge, and even the company commander's whistle has given way to
certain soft words for which the German mocking-bird will seek in vain
in our Infantry Manual. As for cuirass and helmet, the range of modern
guns and rifles has made them a little too ingenuous. And, sure enough,
as we drove into Compiègne we found a squadron of dragoons as sombre as
our own, in their mouse-coloured _couvre-casques_ and cavalry cloaks,
though their lances glinted in the sun. Here all was animation. Informal
conventicles of Staff officers, with whom we exchanged greetings, stood
about the square in front of the exquisite Hôtel de Ville, with its
high-pitched roof pierced with dormer-windows and crowned with many
pinnacles. North and east of Compiègne lie the zones of the respective
armies, all linked up by telephone, and here we had to exchange our
passes, for even a Staff officer may not enter one zone with a pass
appropriate to another. But our first objective was Senlis, which lay to
the south of us between Compiègne and Paris.

The sun was high in the heavens as we turned south-west, and, keeping to
the left bank of the river, skirted the forest. Faint premonitions of
spring already appeared; catkins drooped upon the hazels, primroses made
patches of sulphur in the woods, and one almost expected to see the
blackthorn in blossom. Silver birches gleamed against the purple haze of
the more distant woodlands. The road ran straight as an arrow. As we
neared Senlis I was struck by the complete absence of all traffic upon
the roads; no market carts came and went, neither did any wayfarer
appear. Not a wisp of smoke arose from the chimneys above the screen of
trees. We passed up a double avenue of elms--just such an avenue as that
along which M. Bergeret discussed metaphysics and theology with the Abbé
Lantaigne--yet not a soul was to be seen upon the _trottoir_. A brooding
silence hung over the little town, a silence so deep as to be almost
menacing. As we entered the main street I encountered a spectacle which
froze my heart. Far as the eye could see along the diminishing
perspective of the road were burnt-out homes, houses which once were gay
with clematis and wisteria, gardens which had blossomed with the rose.
And now all that remained were trampled flower-beds, tangled creepers,
blackened walls, calcined rafters, twisted ironwork, and fallen masonry.
And this was Senlis! Senlis which had been to the department of the Oise
as the apple of its eye, a little town of quality, beautiful as
porcelain, fragrant as a rose, and as a rose as sweet. As I looked upon
these desecrated homes it seemed to me that the very stones cried out.

In all this desolation we looked in vain for any signs of life. It was
not until we sought out the house of a captain of dragoons, a friend of
my companion the Comte, that we found a human being in these solitudes.
The house was, indeed, a melancholy ruin, but by the gate was a lodge,
and in the lodge a concierge. He was a small man and middle-aged, and as
he spoke he trembled with a continual agitation of body as though he
were afflicted with ague. He led us into his little house, the walls of
which were blackened as with fire and pierced in many places with the
impact of bullets. And this was his tale.

One afternoon early in September--it was the second day of the month, he
remembered it because there had been an untimely frost over night--he
heard the crackle of musketry on the outskirts of the town, and a column
of grey-coated men suddenly appeared in the street. An officer blew a
whistle, and, as some of them broke through the gates of the mansion,
the concierge fled across the lawn with bullets buzzing about his ears
and shouts of laughter pursuing him as he ran. In and out among the elms
he doubled like a frightened hare, the bullets zip-zipping against the
tree-trunks, till he crawled into a disused culvert and lay there
panting and exhausted. From his hiding-place he heard the crash of
furniture, more shots, and the loud, ribald laughter of the soldiers.
And then a crackle of flame and a thick smell of smoke. And after that
silence. At dusk he crawled forth from his culvert, trembling, his hands
and face all mottled with stinging-nettles and scratched with thistles;
he found his master's house a smouldering ruin, and a thick pall of
smoke lay over the town of Senlis like a fog. Somewhere a woman shrieked
and then was still. About the hour of nine in the evening the concierge
heard voices in disputation outside the lodge-gates, and as he hid
himself among the shrubberies more men entered, and, being dissatisfied
with their work, threw hand-grenades into the mansion and applied a
lighted torch to the concierge's humble dwelling. They were very merry
and sang lustily--the concierge thought they had been drinking; they
sang thus, "_comme ça!_" and the concierge mournfully hummed a tune, a
tune he had never heard before, but which he would remember all his
life. I recognised it. It was Luther's hymn:


     Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott.


Thus had passed the day. Meanwhile the _maire_, M. Odent, a good man and
greatly beloved, had been arrested at the Hôtel de Ville. His secretary
proposed to call his deputies. "No, no," replied the _maire_ tranquilly,
"one victim is enough." He was dragged along the streets to the suburb
of Chammont, the headquarters of von Kluck, and his guards buffeted him
and spat upon him as he went. Arrived there, he was condemned to death.
He took his companions in captivity by the hand, embraced them--"très
dignement," the concierge had been told--handed them his papers, and
bade them adieu. Two minutes later he was shot, and his body thrown into
a shallow trench with a sprinkling of earth. The concierge had seen it
the next day; the feet were protruding.

All this the concierge told us in a dull, apathetic voice, and always as
he told his body twitched and the muscles of his face worked. And he
spoke like a man in a soliloquy as though we were not there. He seemed
to be looking at something which we could not see. As we bade him adieu
he stared at us as though he saw us not, neither did he return our
salutation. We clambered back into our car and turned her head round
towards Compiègne. I shall never see Senlis again.



III

UNOFFICIAL INTERLUDES



XV

A "CONSEIL DE LA GUERRE"

     Il y a une convenance et un pacte secret entre la jeunesse et la
     guerre. Manier des armes, revêtir l'uniforme, monter à cheval ou
     marcher au commandement, _être redoutable sans cesser d'être
     aimable_, dépasser le voisin en audace, en vitesse, et en grâce
     s'il se peut, défier l'ennemi, connaître l'aventure, jouer ce qui a
     peu duré, ce qui est encore illusion, rêve, ambition, ce qui est
     encore une beauté, ô jeunesse, voilà ce que vous aimez! Vous n'êtes
     pas liée, vous n'êtes pas fanée, vous pouvez courir le
     monde.--RENÉ BAZIN, _Récits du temps de la guerre_.


Our little town was like the pool of Bethesda--never had I seen such a
multitude of impotent folk. The lame, the halt, and the blind
congregated here as if awaiting some miracle. I met them
everywhere--Zouaves, Turcos, French infantry of the line, in every stage
of infirmity. Our town was indeed but one vast hospital--orderly,
subdued, and tenebrous. Every hotel but our own was closed to visitors
and flew the Red Cross flag, displaying on its portals the register of
wounded like a roll-call. The streets at night, with their lights
extinguished, were subterranean in their darkness, and the single café,
faintly illuminated, looked like some mysterious grotto within which
the rows of bottles of cognac and Mattoni gleamed like veins of quartz
and felspar. We were, indeed, a race of troglodytes, and we were all
either very young or very old. Our adolescence was all called up to the
colours. There was never any news beyond a laconic bulletin issued from
the _Mairie_ at dusk, the typescript duplicates of which, posted up at
street-corners, we read in groups by the light of a guttering candle,
held up against the wall, and husbanded from the wind, by a little old
woman of incredible age with puckered cheeks like a withered apple and
hands like old oak. We were not very near the zone of war, yet not so
far as to escape its stratagems. Only a day or two before an armoured
motor-car, with German officers disguised in French uniforms, paid us a
stealthy visit, and, after shooting three gendarmes in reply to their
insistent challenge, ended its temerarious career one dark night by
rushing headlong over the broken arch of a bridge into the chasm
beneath. After that the rigour of our existence was, if anything,
accentuated; much was "défendu," and many things which were still lawful
were not expedient. Every one talked in subdued tones--it was only the
wounded who were gay, gay with an amazing insouciance. True, there were
the picture postcards in the shops--I had forgotten them--nothing more
characteristically _macabre_ have I ever seen. One such I bought one
morning--a lively sketch of a German soldier dragging a child's wooden
horse behind him, and saluting his officer with, "Captain, here is the
horse--I have slain the horseman" ("Mon Gabidaine, ch'ai dué le
cavalier, foilà le cheval"). It was labelled "Un Héros."


It was at this little town, on a memorable afternoon early in the war,
that I was first admitted to the freedom of the soldiers of France. The
ward was flooded with the soft lambent light of September sunshine, and
it sheltered, I should say, some twenty-three men. Four were playing
cards at the bedside of a cheerful youth, who a few weeks earlier had
answered on tripping feet to the cry of "Garçon!" in a big Paris hotel,
and was now a _sous-officier_ in 321st Regiment, recovering from wounds
received in the thick of the fighting round Mülhausen. He was enjoying
his convalescence. For a waiter to find himself waited upon was, he
confided to me as the orderly brought in the soup, a peculiarly
satisfying experience. Charles Lamb would have agreed with him. Has he
not written that the ideal holiday is to watch another man doing your
own job--particularly if he does it badly? The _sous-officier_ nearly
wept with joy when, a moment later, the orderly upset the soup. With
him was a plumber who was dealing the cards in that leisurely manner
which appears to be one of the principal charms of the plumber's
vocation. A paperhanger studied the wall-paper with a professional eye
while he appropriated his cards. An Alsatian completed the party. In a
distant corner a Turco, wearing his red fez upon his head, sat with his
chin on his knees amid an improvised bivouac of bed-clothes and looked
on uncomprehendingly. The rest smoked cigarettes and toyed with the
voluptuous pages of _La Vie Parisienne_.

The _sous-officier_, being an artiste in his way, had been giving me a
histrionic exhibition of shell-fire. With a long intake and a discharge
of the breath he imitated the sibilant flight of the projectiles and
followed it up with a duck of his head over the counterpane. He extended
his arms in a wide sweep to show the crater they make and indicated the
height of the leaping earth.

"_Quinze mètres--comme ça, monsieur! Les Allemands? Ah! cochons!_ And
they shoot execrably. We shoot from the shoulder (_sur l'épaule_)--so!
They shoot under the arm (_sous le bras_)--so! And they like to join
hands like children--they are afraid to go alone. They came out of the
wood crouching like dogs--one behind the other. They are a bad
lot--_canaille_. They hide guns in ambulance-waggons and mount them on
church-towers. There was one of our sappers--_diable!_ they tied him to
a telegraph-pole and lit a fire under him."

"But you make them pay for that?"

He smiled grimly. "_Mais oui!_ When they see us they throw everything
away and run. If we catch them, they put up their hands and say, '_Pas
de mal, Alsatien_.' But we're used to that trick. We just go through
them like butter and say, '_Pour vous!_' A little _étrenne_, you know,
monsieur, what you call 'Christmas-box'!" He laughed at some grim
recollection.

"_Deutschen Hunde! Stink-preussen!_[10] _Ja!_" It was the Alsatian who
was speaking.

"_Sie sprechen Deutsch!_"[11] I exclaimed in astonishment.

"_Ja, ich kann nicht anders--um so mehr schade!_"[12] he replied
mournfully. He was an Alsatian "volunteer," he explained, having
deserted for the French side at an opportune moment. It was odd to hear
him declaiming against the Germans in their own language. It is a way
the Alsatians have. Treitschke once lamented the fact. "But," I
interpolated, "it must be very painful for those of you who cannot get
away like yourself."

"Very painful, monsieur; I have two brothers even now in the German
army. They watch us--and they put Prussian _sous-officiers_ over us to
spy. So when we see the _sous-officier_ sneaking about, we raise our
voices and say, 'Ah! those beastly French, we'll give it them.' But when
we are alone--well, then we say what we think."

And this led us on to talk of German spies and their nasty habits--how
they had mapped out France, its bridges, its culverts, its smithies,
like an ordnance-survey, and how predatory German commanders betray the
knowledge of an Income-tax Commissioner as to the income and resources
of every inhabitant who has the misfortune to find himself in occupied
territory. Also how the German guns get the range at once. And other
such things. All of which the paperhanger listened to in thoughtful
silence and then told a tale.

"An officer in the uniform of your Army, monsieur, strolled up to my
company one day. He was very pleasant, and his French was so good--not
too good, just the kind of French that you English messieurs"--he bowed
apologetically to me--"usually speak. Oh! he was very clever. And he
talked with our captain about the battle for a long time. And then our
captain noticed something--two things. First, monsieur, the English
officer was very troubled with his eyes--he was always applying a large
white handkerchief to the pupil. And it occur to the captain that the
English officers do not carry white handkerchiefs but 'khaki.' What was
the matter with the officer's eye? It could not be a fly--the weather
was too cold; it had been raining. It could not be the dust; the ground
was too wet. And the German shells--they begin to fall right in the
midst of us--they had been so wide before. So the captain was very
concerned for monsieur l'officier's eyes, and he takes him aside very
politely and says he had better see the doctor. A _sous-officier_ and
two men shall take him to the doctor. Which they do. Only the 'doctor'
was the _liaison_ officer with our brigade--an English officer. And he
finds that the officer is a spy--a Bosche. He have no more trouble with
his eyes," added the paperhanger laconically. It was too good a story to
spoil by cross-examination, so I left it at that.

"You like the bayonet?" I asked.

"Ah, yes! we love the bayonet. It is a _bon enfant_," said the
_sous-officier_. "And they can't fence (_escrimer_), the Bosches--they
are too _lourds_. I remember we caught them once in a quarry. Our men
fought like tiger-cats--so quick, so agile. And you know, monsieur, no
one said a word. Nor a sound except the clash of steel." His eyes
flashed at the recollection. "They make a funny noise when you go
through them--they grunt, _comme un cochon_." Perhaps I shuddered
slightly. "Ah, yes! monsieur, but they play such dirty tricks (_ruses
honteuses_). Of course they cry out in French, and put up their hands
after they have shot down our comrades under their white flags." He gave
a snort of contempt.

"What do they cry?"

"Oh, all kinds of things. 'I have a wife and eight children.' The German
pig has a big litter." He looked, and no doubt felt himself to be, a
minister of justice. And after all, I reflect, the Belgians once had
wives and children too. Many of them have neither wife nor child any
longer. And so perish all Germans!

The plumber, who had been studying his "hand," looked up from the cards.
"We have killed a great number of the Bosches," he said dispassionately.
"Yes, a great number. It was in a beetroot field, and there were as many
dead Germans as beetroots. Near by was a corn-field; the flames were
leaping up the shocks of yellow corn and the bodies caught fire--such a
stench! And the faces of the dead! Especially after they have been
killed with the bayonet--they are quite black. I suppose it's the
grease."

"The grease?"

"Yes, we always grease our bayonets, you know. To prevent them getting
rusty."

He was a man of few words, but in three sentences he had given me a
battle-picture as clearly visualised as a canvas of Verestchagin. The
reminiscences of the plumber provoked the paperhanger to further
recollections, more particularly the stunning effects of the French
shell-fire. He had found four dead Germans--they had been surprised by a
shell while playing cards in a billet. "They still had the cards in
their hands, monsieur, just as you see us--and they hadn't got a
scratch. They were like the statues in the Louvre."

"Yes," said the _sous-officier_, "I have seen them like that. I remember
I found a big Bosche--six feet four he must have been--sitting dead in a
house which we had shelled. His face was just like wax, and he sat there
like a wooden doll with his long arms hanging down stiff--yes! _comme
une poupée_. And I couldn't find a scratch on him--not one! And do you
know what he had on--a woman's chemise! _Écoutez!_" he added suddenly,
and he held up a monitory hand.

Echoing down the corridor outside there came nearer and nearer the beat
of a drum and with it the liquid notes of a fife. I recognised the
measure--who can ever forget it! It stirs the blood like a trumpet. The
door was kicked open and two convalescent soldiers entered, one wearing
a festive cap of coloured paper such as is secreted in Christmas
"crackers." He was playing a fife, and the drummer was close upon his
heels.

Every one rose in his bed and lifted up his voice:


     Allons! enfants de la Patrie!


A strange electricity ran through us all. The card-players had thrown
down their cards just as the plumber was about to trump an ace. The
others had tossed aside their papers and laid down their cigarettes. The
Turco--"Muley Hafid" he was called, because those were the only words of
his any one could understand--who had been deploying imaginary troops,
with the aid of matches, upon the counterpane, as though he were a sick
child playing with leaden soldiers, recognised the tune, and in default
of words began to beat time with a soup spoon. Up and down the passage
way between the beds marched the fife and drum; louder beat the drum,
more piercing grew the fife. What delirious joy-of-battle, what poignant
cries of anguish, has not that immortal music both stirred and soothed!
To what supremacy of effort has it not incited? It has succoured dying
men with its _viaticum_. It has brought fire to glazing eyes. It has
exalted men a little higher than the angels, it has won the angels to
the side of men:


       Tout est soldat pour vous combattre:
       S'ils tombent, nos jeunes héros,
       La terre en produit de nouveaux
       Contre vous tout prêts à se battre.
     Aux armes, citoyens! Formez vos bataillons:
     Marchons, qu'un sang impur abreuve nos sillons.


As I gently closed the door of the ward and stole out into the corridor
on tip-toe, I heard again the martial chorus swelling into a tumult of
joy:


     Le jour de gloire est arrivé!


It was the note of the conqueror.

FOOTNOTES:

[10] German swine! Stinking Prussians!

[11] You speak German!

[12] Yes, I can no other, more's the pity!



XVI

PETER


My friend T---- and myself were smoking a pipe after dinner in his
sitting-room at the Base. He was a staff-captain who had done his term
as a "Political" in India, and had now taken on an Army job of a highly
confidential nature. He was one of those men who, when they make up
their minds to give you their friendship, give it handsomely and without
reserve, and in a few weeks we had got on to the plane of friends of
many years. As we talked we suddenly heard the sound of many feet on the
cobbles of the street below, a street which ran up the side of the hill
like a gully--between tall houses standing so close together that one
might almost have shaken hands with the inmates of the houses opposite.
The rhythm of that tramp, tramp, tramp, in spite of the occasional
slipping of one or another man's boots upon the greasy and precipitous
stones, was unmistakable.

"New drafts!" said T----. Instinctively we both moved to the window. We
knew that the Army authorities were rushing troops across the Channel
every night as fast as the transports could take them, and often in the
silence of the sleep-time we had heard them marching up the hill from
the harbour to the camps on the downs. As we opened our own window, we
heard another window thrown open on the floor above us. We looked down
and saw in the darkness, faintly illuminated by the light from our room,
the upturned faces of the men.

"Bonjour, monseer," they shouted cheerfully, delighted to air on French
soil the colloquialisms they had picked up from that _vade mecum_ (price
one penny) of the British soldier: _French, and how to speak it_. It was
night, not day, but that didn't matter.

"Good-night," came a piping treble voice from the floor above us.

"Good-night"--"Good-night, old chap"--"Good-night, my son"--the men
shouted back as they glanced at the floor above us. Some of them gravely
saluted.

"It's Peter," said T----; "he'll be frightfully bucked up."

"Let's go up and see him," I said. We ascended the dark staircase--the
rest of the household were plunged in slumber--turned the handle of the
bedroom door, and could just make out in the darkness a little figure
in pyjamas, leaning precipitously out of the window.

"Peter, you'll catch cold," said his father as he struck a match. The
light illuminated a round, chubby face which glanced over its owner's
shoulder from the window.

"All right, Dad. I say," he exclaimed joyfully, "did you see? They
saluted me! Did _you_ see?" he said, turning to me.

"I did, Major Peter."

"You're kidding!"

"Not a bit of it," I said, saluting gravely. "They've given you
commissioned rank, and, the Army having spoken, I intend in the future
to address you as a field-officer. Of course your father will have to
salute you too, now."

This was quite another aspect of the matter, and commended itself to
Peter. "Right oh!" he said. And from that time forward I always
addressed him as Major Peter. So did his father, except when he was
ordering him to bed. At such times--there was a nightly contest on the
matter--the paternal authority could not afford to concede any
prerogatives, and Peter was gravely cashiered from the Army, only to be
reinstated without a stain on his character the next morning.

"Come up to the Flying-Ground to-morrow, will you?" said Peter. "I know
lots of officers up there. I'll introduce you," he added patronisingly.
Peter had been a bare fortnight at the Base, it being holiday at his
preparatory school at Beckenham, and he had already become familiar and
domestic with every one in authority from the Base Commandant downwards.
"Thank you," I said. "I will." He clambered back into bed at a word from
his father. By the side of the bed was a small library. It consisted of
_The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes_, _The Cock-House at Fellsgarth_, and
Newbolt's _Pages from Froissart_. Peter was rather eclectic in his
tastes, but they were thoroughly sound. On the table were the contents
of Peter's pockets, turned out nightly by the express orders of his
father, for this is war-time, and the wear and tear of schoolboys'
jackets is a prodigious item of expenditure. I made a rapid mental
inventory of them:


     (1) A button of the Welsh Fusiliers.

     (2) Some dozen cartridge-cases from a Lewis machine-gun
     requisitioned by Peter from the Flying-Ground.

     (3) A miniature aeroplane--the wings rather crumpled as though the
     aviator had been forced to make a hurried descent.

     (4) A knife.

     (5) Several pieces of string.

     (6) A coloured "alley."

     (7) Some cigarette-card portraits, highly coloured, of Lord
     Kitchener, Sir John French, and General Smith-Dorrien.

     (8) A top.

     (9) A conglomerate of chocolate, bull's-eyes, and acid drops.


For the kit of an officer of field rank in His Majesty's Army it was
certainly a peculiar collection, few or none of these articles being
included in the Field Service regulations. Still, not more peculiar than
some of the things with which solicitous friends and relatives encumber
officers at the Front.

The next morning we ascended the downs above the harbour, and Peter
piloted me to the Flying-Ground. Here we came upon a huge hangar in
which were docked half a dozen aeroplanes, light as a Canadian canoe and
graceful as a dragon-fly. Peter calmly climbed up into one of them and
proceeded to move levers and adjust controls, explaining the whole
business to me with the professional confidence of a fully certificated
airman.

"Hulloa, that you, Peter?" said a voice from the other side of the
aeroplane. The owner wore the wings of the Flying Corps on his breast.

"It's me, Captain S----," said Peter. "Allow me to introduce my friend
----" he added, looking down over the side of the aeroplane. "He's
attached to the staff at G.H.Q.," he added impressively. For the first
time I realised, with great gratification, that Peter thought me rather
a personage.

The Captain and I discussed the merits of the new Lewis machine-gun,
while Peter went off to give the mechanics his opinion on biplanes and
monoplanes.

"That kid knows a thing or two," I heard one of them say to the other in
an undertone. "Jolly little chap." Peter has an undoubted gift for
Mathematics, both Pure and Applied, and his form master has prophesied a
Mathematical Scholarship at Cambridge. Peter, however, has other views.
He has determined to join the Army at the earliest opportunity. He is
now ten years of age, and the only thing that ever worries him is the
prospect of the war not lasting another seven years. When I told him
that the A.A.G. up at G.H.Q. had, in a saturnine moment, answered my
question as to when the war would end with a gloomy "Never," he was
mightily pleased. That was a bit of all right, he remarked.

Peter, it should be explained, belongs to one of those Indian dynasties
which go on, from one generation to another, contributing men to the
public service--the I.C.S., the Army, the Forest Service, the Indian
Police. Wherever there's a bit of a scrap, whether it's Dacoits or
Pathans, wherever there's a catastrophe which wants tidying up, whether
it's plague, or famine, or earthquake, there you will find one of
Peter's family in the midst of it. One of his uncles, who is a Major in
the R.F.A., saved a battery at X---- Y----. Another is the chief of the
most mysterious of our public services--a man who speaks little and
listens a great deal, who never commits anything to writing, and who
changes his address about once every three months. For if you have a
price on your head you have to be careful to cover up your tracks. He
neither drinks nor smokes, and he will never marry, for his work demands
an almost sacerdotal abnegation. Peter knows very little about this
uncle, except that, as he remarked to me, "Uncle Dick's got eyes like
gimlets." But Peter has seen those eyes unveiled, whereas in public
Uncle Dick, whom I happen to know as well as one can ever hope to know
such a bird of passage, always wears rather a sleepy and slightly bored
expression. Uncle Dick, although Peter does not know it, is the
counsellor of Secretaries of State, and one of the trusted advisers of
the G.H.Q. Staff. Of all the staff officers I have met I liked him most,
although I knew him least. Some day, if and when I have the honour to
know him better, I shall write a book about him, and I shall call it
_The Man behind the Scenes_.

Such was Peter's family. It may help you to understand Peter, who, if he
feared God, certainly regarded not man. Now the Flying Corps captain had
promised Peter that he would let him see the new Lewis machine-gun. It
is a type of gun specially designed for aircraft, rather big in the
bore, worked by a trigger-handle, and it makes a noise like the
back-firing of a motor-car of 100 horse-power. It plays no great part in
this story, except that it was the cause of my obtaining a glimpse of
Peter's private correspondence. For, after the Captain had discharged
his gun at a hedge and made a large rabbit-burrow in it, Peter proceeded
to pick up the cartridge-cases, which lay thick as catkins. This
interested me, as Peter already had a pocketful.

"What do you want all those for, Major Peter?" I asked.

"Well, you see," said Peter, "the kids at school"--Peter now calls other
boys of the same age as himself "kids," on the same principle that a
West African negro who is rising in the world refers to his fellows as
"niggers"--"keep on bothering me to send them things, and a fellow must
send them something."

He pulled a crumpled letter, to which some chocolate was adhering with
the tenacity of sealing-wax, out of his pocket. "That's from Jackson
minor," he said. "Cheek, isn't it?"

I began reading the letter aloud.


     DEAR OLD PAN--You must be having a ripping time. I see
     your letter is headed "The Front" ...


I looked at Peter. He was blushing uncomfortably.


     ... so I suppose you've seen a lot. The whole school's fritefully
     bucked up about you, and we're one up on Fenner's....


"What's Fenner's?" I said to Peter.

"Oh, that's another school at Beckenham. They're stinkers. Put on no end
of side because some smug of theirs won a schol' at Uppingham last term.
But we beat them at footer."


     We met them at footer the other day, and I told that little bounder
     Jenkins that we had a fellow at the Front. He said, "Rot!" So I
     showed him the envelope of your letter with "Passed by the Censor"
     on it, and one of those cartridge-cases you sent me, and I said,
     "That's proof," and he dried up. He did look sick. I hope you'll
     get the V.C. or something--the Head'll be sure to give us a
     half-holiday. Young Smith, who pretends to read the Head's
     newspaper when he leaves it lying about--you know how he swanks
     about it--said the Precedent or General Joffre had given a French
     kid who was only fourteen and had enlisted and killed a lot of
     Huns, till they found him out and sent him back to school, a legion
     of honours or something. Smith said it was a medal; I said that was
     rot, and that it meant they'd given him a lot of other chaps to
     command, and I showed him what the Bible said about a legion of
     devils, and I got hold of a crib to Caesar and proved to him that
     legions were soldiers. That shut him up. So, Pan, old man, mind you
     get the French to let you bring us other fellows out, or if you
     can't bring it off, then come home with a medal or something.


"Peter," I called out. Peter had turned his back on me and was
pretending to be absorbed in a distant speck in the sky.

"Major Peter," I said ingratiatingly, with a salute. Peter turned round.
He was very red.

"I didn't mean you to read all that rot," he said. "I meant what he says
at the end."

I read on--this time in silence:


     I say, have you killed any Huns yet? Very decent of the Head to
     tell your governor you could have an extra week. We miss you at
     center forward. So hurry up, but mind you don't get torpeedod--we
     hope they'll just miss you. It would be rotten luck if you never
     saw one. We've given up German this term--beastly language; it's
     just like a Hun to keep the verb till the end, so that you never
     know what he's driving at.


Then followed a sentence heavily underlined:


     _By the way I'll let you have that knife you wanted me to swop last
     term if you'll bring me a bayonet. Only mind it's got some blood on
     it, German blood I mean_.--Yours to a cinder,

                                                     ARTHUR JACKSON.


I handed this priceless missive back to Peter.

"Cheek, isn't it?" said Peter rather hurriedly. "His old knife for a
bayonet!"

"But if you put 'the Front' at the top of your letters, Major Peter, you
can't be surprised at his asking for one, you know."

Peter blushed.

"Well, I heard Dad say we were the back of the Front, and the fellows
wouldn't think anything of me if I hadn't been _near_ the Front," he
said, apologetically. "Hullo, they're going up!"

An aeroplane was skimming along the ground as a moor-hen scuppers across
the water, the mechanics having assisted her initial progress by
pushing the lower stays and then ducking under the planes, as she
gathered way, and just missing decapitation. It's a way they have. She
took a run for it, her engine humming like a top, and then rose, and
gradually climbed the sky. Peter gazed at her wistfully. "And he
promised to take me up some day," he said sadly.

"Yes, some day, Peter," I said encouragingly. "But it's time we were
getting back. You know you've got to catch the leave-boat at four
o'clock this afternoon."

       *       *       *       *       *

Peter's father and I stood on the quay, having taken farewell of Peter.
There was an eminent Staff Officer going home on leave--a very great man
at G.H.Q., a lieutenant-general, who inspired no less fear than respect
among us all. He knew Peter's father in his distant way, and had not
only returned his salute, but had even condescended to ask, in his
laconic style, "Who is the boy?"--whereupon Peter's father had, with
some nervousness, introduced him. All the other officers going home on
leave, from a Brigadier down to the subalterns, stood at a respectful
distance, glancing furtively at the hawk-like profile of the great man,
and lowering their voices. It was a tribute not only to rank but to
power. As the ship gathered way and moved slowly out of the harbour I
pulled the sleeve of Peter's father. "Look!" I said. The
Lieutenant-General and Peter were engaged in an animated conversation on
the deck, and the great man, usually as silent as the sphinx and not
less inscrutable, was evidently contesting with some warmth and great
interest, as though hard put to keep his end up, some point of debate
propounded to him by Peter.

"T----, old chap," I said, "Peter'll be a great man some day."

Peter's father said nothing, but his eyes grew misty. Perhaps he was
thinking of that lonely grave in the distant plains of the Deccan where
Peter's mother sleeps.



XVII

THREE TRAVELLERS

(_October 1914_)


My train left Paris at 1.52 in the afternoon. It was due at Calais at
eight o'clock the same evening. But it soon became apparent that
something was amiss with our journey--we crawled along at a pace which
barely exceeded six miles an hour. At every culvert, guarded by its
solitary sentry, we seemed to pause to take breath. As we approached
Amiens, barely halfway on our journey, somewhere about 9.30 P.M., we
passed on the opposite line of rails a Red Cross train, stationary, and
throwing deep rhomboid shadows in the candid moonlight. One glimpse of
an open horse-box revealed to me in a flash the secret of our languor.
It was a cold, keen night; the full moon rode high in a starless sky,
and there must have been ten or twelve degrees of frost. We had left far
behind us the diaphanous veils of mist hovering above river banks, out
of which the poplars stood argent and fragile, as though the landscape
were a Japanese print. Through the open door of the horse-box I saw a
soldier stretched upon his straw, with a red gaping wound in his
half-naked body. Over him stooped a nurse, improvising with delicate
ministries a hasty dressing. In the next carriage the black face of a
wounded Senegalese looked out, unearthly in the moonlight. Ahead of us
an interminable line of trains (some seventy of them I was told) had
passed, conveying fresh troops. Then I knew. The Germans, hovering like
a dark cloud some twenty miles away, had been reinforced, and a fierce
battle was in progress. The news of it had travelled by some mysterious
telepathy to every village along the line, and at every crossing groups
of pale-faced women, silent and intent, kept a restless vigil. They
looked like ghosts in the moonlight; no cheer escaped them as we passed,
no hand waved an exuberant greeting. In the twilight we had already seen
red-trousered soldiers, vivid as poppies against the grass, digging
trenches along the line, and at one point a group of sappers improvising
a wire footbridge across the river. The contagion of suspense was in the
air,--you seemed to catch it in the faint susurrus of the poplars.

"Shall we get to Calais?" I asked.

"Bon Dieu! I know not," was the reply of the harassed guard.

We pursued our stealthy journey, reached Abbeville somewhere about
midnight, and Boulogne in the small hours. 4 A.M. Calais at last! I
joyfully exclaimed. But between Calais Ville and Calais Maritime a group
of officers boarded our train and, for some mysterious reason, we were
headed off to Dunkirk. It grew colder and more cold, and I had had no
food since noon of yesterday. But my thoughts were with our men, the men
whom I had lately come to know, now lying out on the bare earth in the
moonlit trenches, keeping their everlasting vigil and blowing on their
fingers numbed with cold. We reached Dunkirk at 6 A.M. No explanation
why the train had played truant at Calais was vouchsafed me, nor was any
hope held out of a return. In those days I was travelling as a private
person, and was not yet endowed with the prerogatives by which, in the
name of a Secretary of State, I could requisition cars and impress men
to do my bidding.

At a hopeless moment I had the good fortune to fall in with a King's
Messenger, carrying despatches, who was in the next carriage. He
produced his special passports, and the prestige of "Courrier du Roi,"
Knight of the Order of the Silver Greyhound, worked a miracle. Every
one was at our service. We were escorted to the military headquarters
of Dunkirk--through streets already echoing with the march of French
infantry, each carrying a big baton of bread and munching as he kept
step, to an office in which the courteous commandant was just completing
his toilet. The Consul was summoned, the headquarters hotel of the
English officers was rung up, and thither we went through an ambuscade
of motor-cars in the courtyard.

A lieutenant of the Naval Flying Squadron was ready for us with his
powerful Rolls-Royce, and we were soon on the high road to Calais.
Everywhere were the stratagems of war: a misty haze of barbed-wire
entanglements in the distant fields, deep trenches, earthworks six feet
thick masking rows of guns. Time pressed, but every mile or so we were
stopped by a kind of Hampton Court maze, thrown across the road, in the
shape of high walls of earth and stone, compelling our lieutenant at the
steering-wheel to zigzag in and out, and thereby putting us at the mercy
of the sentry who stood beside his hut of straw and hurdles, and
presented his bayonet at the bonnet as though preparing to receive
cavalry. The corporal came up, and with him a little group of French
soldiers, their cheeks impoverished, their glassy eyes sunk in deep
black hollows by their eternal vigil. "Officier Anglais!" "Courrier du
Roi!" we exclaimed, and were sped on our way with a weary smile and
"Bonjour! messieurs." Women and old men were already toiling in the
fields, stooping like the figures in Millet's "Gleaners," as we raced
through an interminable avenue of poplars, past closed inns, past
depopulated farms, past wooden windmills, perched high upon wooden
platforms like gigantic dovecots. At each challenge a sombre word was
exchanged about Antwerp--again that strange telepathy of peril. Calais
at last! and a great empty boat with a solitary fellow-passenger.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was a London wine-merchant of repute, who had got here at last from
Rheims, whither he had gone to pay his yearly inspection of the
champagne vintage, only to find the red wine-press of war. Three weeks
he had lived like primitive man in the wine-cellars of Rheims, with the
shells screaming overhead--screaming, he says, just like the long-drawn
sobbing whistle of an express train as it leaves a tunnel. Never has he
lived such days before; never, he fervently prays, will he live them
again. From his narrative I got a glimpse of a subterranean existence,
as tenebrous and fearful as the deepest circle of Dante's _Inferno_,
with a river of tears falling always in the darkness of the vaults. A
great wine-cellar--there are ten miles of them at Rheims--crowded with
four thousand people, lighted only by candles, and swarming with huge
rats; the blanched faces of women, the crying of children, the wail of
babies at the breast. Overhead the crash of falling masonry--the men had
armed themselves with big iron pikes to hew their way out in case the
vaults fell in. Life in these catacombs was one long threnody of
anguish. Outside, the conscious stone of the great monument of mediaeval
aspiration was being battered to pieces, and the glorious company of the
apostles, the goodly fellowship of the martyrs, suffered another and a
less resurgent martyrdom. After days of this crepuscular existence he
emerged to find the cathedral less disfigured than he had feared. One
masterpiece of the mediaeval craftsmen's chisel is, however,
irremediably destroyed--the figure of the devil. We hope it is a
portent.

       *       *       *       *       *

The King's Messenger had posted from a distant country, and his way
through Dijon had been truly a Via Dolorosa. Thirty-six people standing
in the corridor, and in his own crowded compartment--he had surrendered
his royal prerogative of exclusion--was a woman on the verge of
hysteria, finding relief not in tears but in an endless recital of her
sorrow. She and her husband had a son--the only son of his mother--gone
to the front, reported badly wounded, and for days, like Joseph and
Mary, the anxious parents had sought him, only to find him on the
threshold of death, with a bullet in his liver. Again and again she
beguiled her anguish by chronicles of his miraculous childhood--his
precocious intelligence at five, his prescience at six, his unfathomable
wisdom at seven. The silent company of wayfarers listened in patience to
the twice-told tale. No one could say her nay as she repeated her litany
of pain. She was, indeed, the only passenger in that compartment whose
eyes were dry. _Stabat Mater Dolorosa._



XVIII

BARBARA


It was the Duchess of X.'s Hospital at a certain _plage_ on the coast. I
had motored thither through undulating country dotted with round beehive
ricks and past meadows on which a flock of gulls, looking in the
distance like a bed of white crocuses, were settled in platoons. As we
neared the coast the scenery changed to shifting dunes of pale sand,
fine as flour, and tufted with tussocks of wiry grass. Here clumps of
broom and beech, with an occasional fir, maintained a desperate
existence against the salt winds from the Atlantic, and the beeches held
up plaintive arms like caryatids supporting the intolerable architrave
of the sky. The bare needle-like branches of the broom and fir stood out
blackly against the biscuit-coloured sand with the sharp outlines of an
etching.

I had taken a hospitable cup of tea with the Duchess in the Matron's
room. She was clothed in fine linen but without her purple; she wore
the ordinary and serviceable slate-coloured dress of a nurse. It was
here I had the honour of being introduced to Barbara. She was nursing a
doll with great tenderness, and had been asking the Duchess why she did
not wear her "cowonet."

"This is Barbara--our little Egyptian," said the matron.

Barbara repudiated the description hotly.

"She was born in Egypt," explained the matron.

"Ah," I said, "that wasn't your fault, Barbara, was it? But it was
Egypt's good fortune."

Barbara ignored the compliment with the simplicity of childhood, and
proceeded to explain with great seriousness: "You see, Mummy was
travelling, and she comed to Egypt. She didn't know I was going to
happen," she added as if to clear Mummy of any imputation of
thoughtlessness.

"And your birthday, Barbara?"

Barbara and I discovered that both of us have birthdays in March--only
six days apart. This put us at once on a footing of intimacy--we must
have been born under the same star. Barbara proceeded to inform me that
she rather liked birthdays--except the one which happened in Egypt. I
had half a mind to execute a deed of conveyance on the spot, assigning
to her all my own birthdays as an estate _pour autre vie_, with all
_profits à prendre_ and presents arising therefrom, for I am
thirty-eight and have no further use for them.

"I am afraid there are more than six years between us, Barbara," I said
pensively.

Barbara regarded me closely with large round eyes.

"About ten, I fink. I'm seven, you know."

"How nice of you to say that, Barbara. Then I'm only seventeen."

Barbara regarded me still more closely.

"A little more, p'waps--ten monfs."

"Thank you, Barbara. I'll remind you of that some day." After all, ten
years is no obstacle to the course of true love. "But what is the matter
with the doll?" Despite a rosy flush the doll has a field-dressing round
her auburn locks, and one leg is immensely stout owing to a tourniquet.

Barbara looked at me rather less favourably than before. It was evident
that she now thought poorly of my intelligence, and that I had made a
_faux pas_.

"I'm a nurse," Barbara explained, loftily, showing an armlet bearing the
ensign of the Red Cross. I was about to remind her of 1 & 2 Geo. V. cap.
20, which threatens the penalties of a misdemeanour against all who wear
the Red Cross without the authority of Army Council, but I thought
better of it. Instead of anything so foolish, I exhibit a delicate
solicitude about the health of the patient. I put myself right by
referring to it as "he." A less intelligent observer might pronounce it
to be decidedly of the female sex. Still, I reflected, women have
enlisted in the Army before now. I proceeded to inspect the injured limb
with professional gravity. "A compound fracture, I think, Barbara. He
will require careful nursing."

Barbara liked this--no one in the matron's room had ever exhibited such
a clinical interest in the case before, and she thinks "fwacture" rather
imposing.

"Let me feel his pulse," I said. I held a waxen arm between my thumb and
forefinger, and looked at my wrist-watch for some seconds, Barbara
gazing at me intently.

"Hum! hum! I think we had better take his temperature," I said, as I
held a clinical thermometer in the shape of a fountain-pen to the
rosebud lips of the patient. "103, I think."

"Will you wite a pwescwiption?" asked Barbara anxiously.

"Certainly, an admirable suggestion, Barbara. Let me see, will this do,
do you think?" I scribbled on my Field Note-book, tore out the page, and
handed it to Barbara.


     Brom. Potass.            3 grs.
     Hydrochl.                5 quarts.
     Quin. Sulph.             1 pt.


She scrutinised it closely. It puzzled her, though her bewilderment was
nothing to the astonishment which that prescription would have excited
in a member of the medical profession.

"Fank you," said Barbara, who was no less pleased than puzzled, and who
tried to look as if she quite understood. Her little face, with its halo
of golden curls, was turned up to mine, and she now regarded me with a
respect for my professional attainments which was truly gratifying.

I was transcribing a temperature-chart for Barbara's patient when a
tactless messenger came to say that my car was at the door. Barbara hung
on my arm. "Will you come again, and take his tempewature--Pwomise?"

I promised.



XIX

AN ARMY COUNCIL

(_October 1914_)


All the morning I had travelled through the pleasant valleys of Normandy
between chalk-hills crowned with russet beeches. The country had the
delicacy of one of Corot's landscapes, and the skies were of that
unforgettable blue which is the secret of France. The end of my journey
found me at No. ---- General Hospital. The chaplain, an old C.F.
attached to the Base Hospitals, who had rejoined on the outbreak of the
war, and myself were the centre of a group of convalescents. They wore
the regulation uniform of loose sky-blue flannels, resembling a fitter's
overalls in everything except the extreme brilliance of the dye, with
red ties tied in a sailor's knot. The badges on their caps alone
betrayed their regiments. There were "details" from almost every
regiment in the British Army, and one could hear every dialect from
John o' Groat's to Land's End. Their talk was of the great retreat.

"Hell it was--fire and brimstone," said a R.F.A. man. "We limbered up,
our battery did, and got the guns off in column of route, but we were
more like a blooming ambulance than a battery. We had our limbers and
waggons chock full o' details--fellers who'd been wounded or crocked up.
And reservists wi' sore feet--out o' training, I reckon," he added
magisterially.

"Never you mind about resarvists, my son," interjected a man in the
Suffolks. "We resarvists carried some of the recroots on our backs for
miles. We ain't no chickens."

"No, that we bain't," said a West-countryman. "I reckon we can teach
them young fellers zummat. Oi zeed zome on 'em pretty clytenish[13] when
they was under foire the fust time. Though they were middlin' steady,
arterwards," he added indulgently as though jealous of the honour of his
regiment.

"'Twere all a duddering[14] mix-up. I niver a zeed anything loike it
afore. Wimmen an' childer a-runnin' in and out among us like poultry; we
could'n keep sections o' fours nohow. We carried some o' the little
'uns. And girt fires a-burnin' at night loike ricks--a terrible
blissey[15] on the hills. And 'twere that dusty and hot oi did get
mortal drouthy in my drawt and a niver had a drop in my water-bottle;
I'd gied it all to the childer."

"What about rations?" said the chaplain.

"Oh I were bit leery[16] i' my innerds at toimes, but oi had my
emargency ration, and them A.S.C. chaps were pretty sprack;[17] they kep
up wi' us most times. 'Twere just loike a circus procession--lorries and
guns and we soldjers all a-mixed up. And some of the harses went cruel
lame and had to be left behind."

"That they did," said a small man in the 19th Hussars who was obviously
a Londoner. He was slightly bow-legged and moved with the deliberate
gait of the cavalryman on his feet. "Me 'orse got the blooming 'ump with
corns."

"Ah! and what do you think of the Uhlans?"

He sniffed. "Rotten, sir! They never gives us a chawnce. They ain't no
good except for lootin'. Regular 'ooligans. We charged 'em up near Mons,
our orficer goin' ahead 'bout eight yards, and when we got up to 'em 'e
drops back into our line. We charges in a single line, you know, knee to
knee, as close together as us can get, riding low so as to present as
small a target as we can."

"And you got home with the Uhlans?" I asked.

"Once. Their lances ain't much good except for lightin' street-lamps."

"Street-lamps?" said the chaplain literally.

"Yuss. They're too long. The blighters 'ave no grip on them. We just
parry and then thrust with the point; we've giv' up cutting exercises.
If the thrust misses, you uses the pommel--so!" He executed an
intimidating gesture with his stick.

"Well, ah've had ma bit o' fun," interjected a small H.L.I. man
irrelevantly, feeling, apparently, it was his turn in the symposium, as
he thrust a red head with a freckled skin and high cheek-bones into the
group. "Ah ken verra weel ah got 'im. It was at a railway stashon where
we surprised 'em. Ah came upon a Jerrman awficer--I thocht he were
drunk--and he fired three times aht me with a ree-vol-ver. But ah got
'im. Yes, ah've had ma bit o' fun," he said complacently as he cherished
an arm in a sling.

With him was a comrade belonging to the "Lilywhites," the old 82nd, now
known as the first battalion of the South Lancs, with whom the H.L.I.
have an ancient friendship. The South Lancs have also their
antipathies--the King's Liverpools among them--but that is neither here
nor there.

"It were just like a coop-tie crowd was the retreat," he drawled in the
broad Lancashire dialect. "A fair mix-up, it were."

"What do you think of the Germans?"

There was a chorus of voices. "Not much"--"Blighters"--"Swine."

"Their 'coal-boxes' don't come off half the time," said the R.F.A. man
professionally. "And their shrapnel hasn't got the dispersion ours has.
Ours is a treat--like sugar-loaf." The German gunnery has become deadly
enough since then.

"Their coal-boxes do stink though," said a Hoxton man in the Royal
Fusiliers. "Reminds me of our howitzer shells in the Boer War; they used
to let off a lot of stuff that turned yellow. I've seen Boers--hairy
men, you know, sir--with their beards turned all yellow by them. Regular
hair-restorers, they was."

"I remember up on the Aisne," continued the Hoxton man, who had an
ingenuous countenance, "one of our chaps shouted 'Waiter,' and about
fifty on 'em stuck their heads up above the trenches and said, 'Coming,
sir.'"

There was a shout of laughter. The chaplain looked incredulous. "Don't
mind him, he's pulling your leg, sir," said his neighbour. It is a
pastime of which the British soldier is inordinately fond.

"They can't shoot for nuts, that's a fact," said a Rifleman. "They
couldn't hit a house if they was in it. We can give them five rounds
rapid while they're getting ready to fire one. Fire from the hips, they
do. I never seen the likes of it." It was the professional criticism of
the most perfectly trained body of marksmen in the world, and we
listened with respect. "But they've got some tidy snipers," he added
candidly.

"They was singing like an Eisteddfod," said a man in the South Wales
Borderers, "when they advanced. Yess, they was singing splendid. Like a
_cymanfa ganu_,[18] it wass. Fair play."

"And what do you boys do?" asked the chaplain. "Do you sing too?"

"Faith, I swore," said one of the Munsters, "I used every name but a
saint's name." The speaker was a Catholic, and the chaplain was Church
of England, or he might have been less candid.

"There was a mon in oor company," said the red-headed one, feeling it
was his turn again, "that killed seven Jerrmans--he shot six and
baynitted anither. And he wur fair fou[19] afterwards. He grat like a
bairn."

"Aye, mon," said a ruddy man of the Yorks L.I., "ah knaw'd ah felt mysen
dafflin[20] when ah saw me pal knocked over. He comed fra oor toon, and
he tellt me hissen the neet afore: 'Jock,' 'e said, 'tha'll write to me
wife, woan't tha?' And ah said, 'Doan't be a fule, Ben, tha'll be all
right.' 'Noa, Jock,' he tellt me, 'ah knaw'd afore ah left heeam ah
should be killt. Ah saw a mouldiwarp[21] dead afore oor door; me wife
fair dithered[22] when she saw't.'"

The chaplain and myself looked puzzled. "It's a kind o' sign among the
fouk in our parts, sir," he proceeded, enlightening our ignorance. "And
'e asked me to take his brass for the wife. But ah thowt nowt of it. And
we lost oor connectin' files and were nobbut two platoons, and we got it
somethin' cruel; the shells were a-skirling[23] like peewits ower our
heids. And Ben were knocked over and 'e never said a ward. And then ah
got fair daft."

There was silence for a moment.

"I found this," suddenly interrupted a despatch-rider. He was a
fair-spoken youth, obviously of some education. He explained, in reply
to our interrogatories, that he was a despatch-rider attached to a
Signal Company of the R.E. He produced a cap, apparently from nowhere,
by mere sleight of hand. It was greasy, weather-stained, and in no
respect different from a thousand such Army caps. It bore the badge and
superscription of the R.E. We looked at it indifferently as he held it
out with an eleemosynary gesture.

"A collection will now be taken," said the Hoxton man with a grin.

But the despatch-rider did not laugh. "I found this cap," he said
gravely, "on Monday, September 7th, in a house near La Ferté. We stopped
there for four hours while the artillery were in action. We saw a broken
motor bicycle outside a house to which the people pointed. We went in.
We found one of our despatch-riders with an officer's sword sticking in
him. Our section officer asked the people about it, and they told him
that the despatch-rider arrived late one night, having lost his way and
knocked at the door of the house. There were German officers billeted
there. They let him in, and then they stuck him up against a wall and
cut him up. He had fifteen sabre-cuts," he added quietly.

No one laughed any more. We all crowded round to look at that tragic
cap. "The number looks like one--nought--seven--something," said the
chaplain, adjusting his glasses, "but I can't make out the rest." "Poor
lad," he added softly. No one spoke. But I saw a look in the eyes of the
men around me that boded ill for the Hun when they should be reported
fit for duty.

The English soldier hides his feelings as though he were ashamed of
them. The sombre silence became almost oppressive in the autumnal
twilight, and I sought to disperse it.

"I suppose you're pretty comfortable here?" I said, for the camp seemed
to leave nothing to be desired.

But this was to open the sluices of criticism. The British soldier
begins to "grouse" the moment he becomes comfortable--and not before. He
will bear without repining everything but luxury.

"One and six a day we gets," cried one of them, "and what's this about
this New Army getting four bob?"

"I think you're mistaken, my son," said the chaplain gently.

"Well, there's chaps in this 'ere camp, Army cooks they calls
themselves, speshully 'listed for the war, and they gets six bob. And
those shuvvers--they're like fighting cocks."

"Well, there seems nothing to complain of in the matter of supplies," I
said. They had been having a kind of high tea on tables laid across
trestles on the lawn, and one of them, using his knife as a bricklayer
uses his trowel, was luxuriously spreading a layer of apple and plum jam
upon a stratum of hard-boiled egg, which reposed on a bed-rock of bread
and butter, the whole representing a most interesting geological
formation and producing a startling chromatic effect.

"Why, sir, if you read the papers you wud 'a thocht it was a braw
pic-nic." said the red-headed one. "You wud think we were growin' fat
oot in the trenches. Dae ah look like it?"

My companion, the grey-headed chaplain, took the Highlander
affectionately by the second button of his tunic and gave it a pull.
"Not much space here, eh? I think you're pretty well fed, my son!"

A bugle-call rang out over the camp. "Bed-time," said a Guardsman, "time
to go bye-bye. Parade--hype! Dis-miss! The orderly officer'll be round
soon. Scoot, my sons."

They scooted.

The silvery notes of the bugle died away over the woods. Night was
falling, and the sky faded slowly from mother-of-pearl to a leaden gray.
We were alone. The chaplain gazed wistfully at the retreating figures,
his face seemed suddenly shrunken, and I could see that he was very old.
He took my arm and leaned heavily upon it. "I have been in the Army for
the best part of my life," he said simply, "and I had retired on a
pension. But I thank God," he added devoutly, "that it has pleased Him
to extend my days long enough to enable me to rejoin the Forces. For I
know the British soldier and--to know him is to love him. Do you
understand?" he added, as he nodded in the direction the men had gone.

As I looked at him, there came into my mind the haunting lines of
Tennyson's "Ulysses."

"Yes," I said, "I understand."

FOOTNOTES:

[13] Pale.

[14] Confusing.

[15] Blaze.

[16] Empty.

[17] Smart.

[18] Welsh for a singing meeting.

[19] Mad.

[20] Imbecile.

[21] A mole.

[22] Trembled.

[23] Screaming.



XX

THE FUGITIVES

     "But pray that your flight be not in the winter."


Some four or five miles north of Bailleul, where the _douane_ posts mark
the marches of the Franco-Belgian frontier, is the village of Locre.
Here the clay of the plains gives way to a wooded ridge of low hills,
through which the road drives a deep cutting, laying bare the age of the
earth in a chronology of greensand and limestone. Beyond the ridge lies
another plain, and there it was that on a clammy winter's day I came
upon two lonely wayfarers. The fields and hedgerows were rheumy with
moisture which dripped from every bent and twig. The hedges were full of
the dead wood of the departed autumn, and on a decrepit creeper hung a
few ragged wisps of Old Man's Beard. The only touch of colour in the
landscape was the vinous purple of the twigs, and a few green leaves of
privet from which rose spikes of berries black as crape. Not a living
thing appeared, and the secret promises of spring were so remote as to
seem incredible.


The man and woman were Flemish of the peasant class; the man, gnarled
like an old oak, the purple clots in the veins of his wrists betraying
the senility of his arteries; the woman, withered as though all the sap
had gone out of her blood. She had a rope round her waist, to the other
end of which a small cart was attached; under the cart, harnessed to the
axle, two dogs panted painfully with their tongues out; behind the cart
the man pushed. It contained a disorderly freight: a large feather-bed,
a copper cauldron, a bird-cage, a mattock, a clock curiously carved, a
spinning-wheel with a distaff impoverished of flax, and some kitchen
utensils, which, as the woman stumbled and the cart lurched, clanked
together.

As our car drew up, they stopped, the woman holding her hands to her
side as though to recover breath.

"Who are you? Where do you come from?" said my companion, a French
officer.

They stared uncomprehendingly.

He spoke again, this time in Flemish:

"_Van waar komt gy? Waar gaat gy heen?_"

The man pointed with his hand vaguely in the direction of the Menin
ridge.

There followed a conversation of which I could make but little. But I
noticed that they answered my companion in a dull, trance-like way, as
though our questions concerned no one so little as themselves.

"They're fugitives," he repeated to me. "Been burnt out of their farm by
the Bosches near the Menin ridge."

"Are they all alone?" I asked.

He put some further questions. "Yes, their only son was shot by the
Germans when they billeted there."

"Why?"

"They don't know. The Bosches took all they had and drove the live-stock
away. These few sticks are all they have left. Curious, isn't it," he
added meditatively, "that you never see any Flemish fugitives without
their feather-beds?" I had often noticed it. Also I had noticed the
curious purposelessness of their salvage, as though in trying to save
everything they succeeded in saving nothing that was of any consequence.
Perhaps it is that, as some one has remarked, all things suddenly become
equally dear when you have to leave them.

"But where are they going?"

The man stared at my companion as he put my question; the woman gazed
vacantly at the lowering horizon, but neither uttered a word. The
canary in its little prison of wire-work piped joyfully, as a gleam of
sunshine lit up the watery landscape. Somewhere the guns spoke in a dull
thunder. The woman was pleating a fold of her skirt between thumb and
forefinger, plucking and unplucking with immense care and concentration.
The man was suddenly shaken with a fit of asthma, and clutched at the
cart as though seeking support.

We waited for some reply, and at length the man answered between the
spasms of his malady.

"He says he doesn't know," my companion translated. "He's never been
outside his parish before. But he thinks he'll go to Brussels and see
the King of the Belgians. He doesn't know the Germans are in Brussels.
And anyhow he's on the wrong road."

"But surely," I hazarded, "the _maire_ or the _curé_ could have told him
better."

"He says the Germans shot the _curé_ and carried off the _maire_. It's a
way they've got, you know."

It was now clear to us that this tragic couple were out on an uncharted
sea. Their little world was in ruins. The bells that had called them to
the divine offices were silent; the little church in which they had
knelt at mass was in ruins; the parish registers which chronicled the
great landmarks in their lives had been devoured by the flames; their
hearth was cold and their habitation desolate. They had watched the
heavens but they might not sow; they had turned their back on the fields
which they would never reap. There was an end to all their husbandry,
and they had no one left to speak with their enemies in the gate. This
was the secret of their heavy lethargy.

My companion and I took counsel together. It were better, we agreed, to
maintain them on the road to Bailleul. For we knew that, though Bailleul
had been stripped bare by the German hussars before they evacuated it,
the French, out of the warmth of their hearts, and the British, out of
the fulness of their supplies, would succour this forlorn couple. Many a
time had I known the British soldier pass round the hat to relieve the
refugees out of the exiguous pay of himself and his fellows; not seldom
has he risked a stoppage of pay or a spell of field-punishment by
parting with an overcoat, for whose absence at kit inspection he would
supply every excuse but the true one. And, therefore, to Bailleul we
directed them to go.

But as I looked back I saw those bent and dwindling figures still
standing in the mud. The woman continued to pluck at her dress; the man
gazed at the horizon with the same dull vacancy. They had the weary
humility of the figures in Millet's "Angelus," without their
inspiration, and in their eyes was a dumb despair.



XXI

A "DUG-OUT"[24]


Driver George Hawkins, of the ----th Battery (K), was engaged in drying
one of the leaders of the gun team. The leader, who answered, when he
felt so inclined, to the name of "Tommy," had been exercised that
morning in a driving rain, and Driver Hawkins was concerned lest Tommy
should develop colic with all its acute internal inconveniences. He
performed his ministrations with a wisp of straw, and seemed to derive
great moral support in the process from the production of a phthisical
expiration of his breath, between clenched teeth, resulting in a
sibilant hiss. Like most ritualistic practices this habit has a
utilitarian origin: it serves to keep the dust of grooming from entering
the lungs. But in process of time it has acquired a touch of mysticism,
and is supposed to soothe the horse and sustain the man. Had Hawkins not
been absorbed in a localised attention to Tommy's fetlocks he would
have observed that his charge had suddenly laid his ears back. But being
something of a chiropodist he was studying the way Tommy put his foot to
the ground, for he suspected corns. The next moment Driver Hawkins found
himself lying in a heap of straw on the opposite side of the stable.
Tommy had suddenly lashed out, and landed him one on the left shoulder.
Driver Hawkins picked himself up, more grieved than hurt. He looked at
Tommy with pained surprise.

"I feeds yer," he said reproachfully, "I waters yer, I grooms yer, I
stays from my dinner to dry yer, and what do I get for it? Now I ask
yer?" Tommy was looking round at him with eyes of guileless innocence.

"What do I get for it?" he repeated argumentatively. "I gets a blooming
kick."

"Blooming" is a euphemism. The adjective Hawkins actually used was, as a
matter of fact, closely associated with the exercise of the reproductive
functions, and cannot be set down here.

"Beg pardon, sir," said Hawkins, saluting, as he caught sight of the
Major and myself who had entered the stable at that moment. The Major
was trying hard to repress a smile. "Go on with your catechism,
Hawkins," he said. It was evident that Hawkins belonged to the Moral
Education League, and believed in suasion rather than punishment for
the repression of vice.

"I suppose you're fond of your horses, Hawkins?" I said unguardedly. But
no R.F.A. driver wears his heart on his sleeve, and Hawkins's reply was
disconcerting. "I 'ates 'em, sir," he whispered to me as the Major
turned his back; "I'm a maid-of-all-work to them 'orses. They gives me
'ousemaid's knee, and my back do ache something cruel."

"He doesn't, though," said the Major, who had overheard this auricular
confidence. We had left the stable. "Our drivers are mighty fond of
their horses--and proud of them too. It's quite an infatuation in its
way. But come and see the O.T.C. We've got them down here for the
weekend, by way of showing them the evolutions of a battery. They've got
their instructor, an N.C.O. who's been dug out for the job, and I've
lent him two of the guns to put them through their paces. He's quite
priceless--a regular chip of the old Army block."

"Now, sir," the sergeant was saying, "get them into single file." They
were to change from Battery Column to Column of Route.

"Battery...!" began the cadet in a piping voice.

"As y' were," interjected the sergeant in mild expostulation. "You've
got to get it off your chest, sir. Let them 'ear it. So!" And he gave a
stentorian shout. It was a meritorious and surprising performance, for
he was fat and scant of breath. The sedentary duties of hall-porter at
the ---- Club, after twenty-one years' service in the Army, had produced
a fatty degeneration which no studious arrangement of an Army belt could
altogether conceal.

"Battery!" began the cadet, as he threw his head back and took a deep
breath. "Advance in single file from the right. The rest mark time."

"Rest!" said the sergeant reproachfully. "There ain't no rest in the
British Army. Rear, say, 'Rear,' sir."

"Rear, mark time!" said the cadet uncomfortably.

"Now," said the sergeant, as he wiped his brows, "double them back,
sir."

"Battery, run!" said the cadet brightly.

"As y' were! How could yer, Mr. ----?" said the sergeant grievously.
"The British Army never runs, sir! They doubles." The cadet blushed at
the aspersion upon the reputation of the British Army into which he had
been betrayed.

"Double--march!"

They doubled.

The sergeant now turned his attention to a party at gun drill. It was a
sub-section, which means a gun, a waggon, and ten men. The detachment
was formed up behind the gun in two rows, odd numbers in front, even
numbers behind.

"Section tell off!"

"One," from the front row. "Two," from the back. "Three," from the
front. The tale was duly told in voices which ran up and down the scale,
tenor alternating with baritone.

"Without drag-ropes--prepare to advance!" shouted the sergeant. The odd
numbers shifted to the right of the gun, the evens to the left, but
numbers "4" and "6," being apparently under the impression that it was a
game of "musical chairs," found themselves on the right instead of the
left.

"Too many odds," shouted the sergeant. "The British Army be used to
'eavy hodds, but not that sort. Nos. 4 and 6 get over to the near side."

"Halt! Action front!" They unlimbered, and swung the gun round to point
in the direction of an imaginary enemy.

The detachment were now grouped round the gun, and I drew near to have a
look at it. No neater adaptation of means to end could be devised than
your eighteen-pounder. She is as docile as a child, and her "bubble" is
as sensitive to a touch as mercury in a barometer.

"No. 1 add one hundred. Two-nought minutes more left!" shouted the
sergeant, who, with the versatility of a variety artiste, was now
playing another part from his extensive repertoire. He was forward
observing officer.

One of his pupils turned the ranging gear until the range-drum
registered a further hundred yards, while another traversed the gun
until it pointed twenty minutes more left.

As we turned away they were performing another delicate and complicated
operation which was not carried through without some plaintive
expostulation from the N.C.O.

"It reminds me," remarked the Major colloquially, as we strolled away,
"of Falstaff drilling his recruits. So does the texture of the khaki
they serve out to the O.T.C. 'Dowlas, filthy dowlas!' But you've no idea
how soon he'll lick them into shape. These 'dug-outs' are as primitive
as cave-dwellers in their way but they know their job. And what is more,
they like it."

As we passed the stables I heard ecstatic sounds--a whinny of equine
delight and the blandishments of a human voice. Through the open door I
caught a glimpse of Driver Hawkins with his back turned towards us. His
left arm was round Tommy's neck and the left side of his face rested
upon Tommy's head; the fingers of his right hand were delicately
stroking Tommy's nose.

"I forgives yer," I heard him say with rare magnanimity, "yus, I
forgives yer, old boy. But if yer does it again, yer'll give me the
blooming 'ump."

I passed hurriedly on. It was not for a stranger to intrude on anything
so intimate.

FOOTNOTE:

[24] On leave in England.



XXII

CHRISTMAS EVE

(_1914_)


"Halt! Stop, I mean."

The ring of choristers in khaki and blue flannel faced with cotton wool
looked at their conductor, a sergeant in the Glosters, with intense and
painful concentration. They were rehearsing carols in the annexe of a
Base hospital on Christmas Eve, and the sergeant was as hard to please
as if they were recruits doing their first squad drill. They were a
scratch lot, recruited by a well-meaning chaplain to the Forces, from
Base "details" and convalescents. Their voices were lusty, but their
time erratic, and one ardent spirit was a bar ahead and gaining audibly
with each lap despite the desperate spurts of the rest.

"Opened out his throttle--'e has," whispered an Army driver
professionally to his neighbour; "'e's a fair cop for exceedin' the
speed limit."

The sergeant glanced magisterially at the offender, a young Dorset, who
a year ago was hedging and ditching in the Vale of Blackmore, but who
has lately done enough digging for a whole parish.

"You've lost your connecting files, me lad," he exclaimed reproachfully;
"you ain't out on patrol, yer know. 'Shun! Now again! 'Christians'."


     Christians, awake! Salute the happy morn,
     Whereon ...


The familiar melody was shut behind me as I closed the door. Those
West-country voices awoke in me haunting memories of my childhood, and,
in a flash, I saw once again a ring of ruddy faces on a frosty night,
illuminated by the candle in a shepherd's horn lantern, their breath a
luminous vapour in the still air, and my mother holding me up at the
window of our Wiltshire house, as I looked out from the casement of the
nursery upon the up-turned faces of the choristers below and wondered
mazily whether they had brought Father Christmas with them.

A low cry of pain reached my ears as I opened the door of Surgical Ward
A.I. A nurse was removing a field-dressing from a soldier just brought
down from the Front. The surgeon stood over him ready to spray the wound
with peroxide. "Buck up, old chap," cried the patients in the
neighbouring beds who looked on encouragingly at these ministries.
Another moan escaped him as the discoloured bandage, with its faint
odour of perchloride, was stripped from the raw and inflamed flesh.

"Next gramophone record, please!" chanted his neighbours. The patient
smiled faintly at the exhortation and set his teeth.

"That's better, sonny," whispered the nurse with benign approval.

"It won't hurt you, old chap, I'm only going to drain off the septic
matter," interjected the surgeon in holland overalls, with sleeves
tucked up to the elbow. "Here, give me that tube." The dresser handed
him a nickel reed from the sterilising basin.

With a few light quick movements the wound was sprayed, dressed,
cleansed, and anointed, and the surgeon, like the good Samaritan, passed
on to the next case. Only last night the patient was in the trenches,
moaning with pain, as the stretcher-bearers carried him to the aid-post,
and from the aid-post to the forward dressing station, whence by an
uneasy journey (there were no sumptuous hospital-trains in those days)
he had come hither. But what of the others who were hit outside the
trenches and who lay even now, this Christmas Eve, in that dreadful No
Man's Land swept by the enemy's fire, whither no stretcher-bearer can
go--lying among the dead and dying, a field of creeping forms, some
quivering in the barbed wire, where dead men hang as on a gibbet, hoping
only for a cleanly death from a bullet before their wounds fester and
poison the blood in their veins.


     Whereon--the Saviour--of mankind--was--born.


The measured cadence fell on my ear as I left the ward and passed beyond
the annexe. The sergeant had now got his section well in hand. I turned
up the long winding road towards my quarters. It was a cold moonlight
night, and every twig of broom and beech was sharply defined as in a
black-and-white drawing. Overhead each star was hard and bright, as
though a lapidary had been at work in the heavens, and never had the
Great Bear seemed so brilliant. But none so bright and legible--or so it
seemed to me--as Mars in all that starry heraldry.

"Bon soir, monsieur!" It was the voice of the sentry, and came from
behind a barricade of hurdles, thatched with straw, on the crest of the
road over the downs. His bayonet gleamed like a silver needle in the
moonlight, and he was alone in his vigil. No shepherds watched their
flocks by night, neither did angels sing peace on earth and goodwill
towards men. Only the cold austerity of the stars kept him company.
Perhaps the first Christmas Eve was just such a starry night as this;
the same stars may have looked down upon a manger in Bethlehem. But on
the brow of the hill was one of those wayside shrines which symbolise
the anguish of the Cross, and these very stars may have looked down upon
the hill of Calvary.



IV

THE FRONT AGAIN



XXIII

THE COMING OF THE HUN


The _maire_ sat in his parlour at the Hôtel de Ville dictating to his
secretary. He was a stout little man with a firm mouth, an indomitable
chin, and quizzical eyes. His face would at any time have been
remarkable; for a French provincial it was notable in being
clean-shaven. Most Frenchmen of the middle class wear beards of an
Assyrian luxuriance, which to a casual glance suggest stage properties
rather than the work of Nature. The _maire_ was leaning back in his
chair, his elbows resting upon its arms and his hands extended in front
of him, the thumb and finger-tips of one hand poised to meet those of
the other as though he were contemplating the fifth proposition in
Euclid. It was a characteristic attitude; an observer would have said it
indicated a temperament at once patient and precise. He was dictating a
note to the _commissaire de police_, warning the inhabitants to conduct
themselves "paisiblement" in the event of a German occupation, an event
which was hourly expected. Much might depend upon that proclamation; a
word too little or too much and Heaven alone knew what innuendo a German
Commandant might discover in it. Perhaps the _maire_ was also not
indifferent to the question of style; he prided himself on his French;
he had in his youth won a prize at the Lycée for composition, and he
contributed occasional papers to the journal of the Société de
l'Histoire de France on the antiquities of his _department_. Most
Frenchmen are born purists in style, and the _maire_ lingered over his
words.

"Continuez, Henri," he said with a glance at the clerk. "_Le Maire,
assisté de son adjoint et de ses conseillers municipaux et de délégués
de quartier, sera en permanence à l'hôtel de Ville pour assurer_--"
There was a kick at the door and a tall loutish man in the uniform of a
German officer entered, followed by two grey-coated soldiers. The
officer neither bowed nor saluted, but merely glared with an
intimidating frown. The _maire's_ clerk sat in an atrophy of fear,
unable to move a muscle. The officer advanced to the desk, pulled out
his revolver from its leather pouch, and laid it with a lethal gesture
on the _maire's_ desk. The _maire_ examined it curiously. "Ah, yes, M.
le Capitaine, thank you; I will examine it in a moment, but I have seen
better ones--our new service pattern, for example. Ja! Ich verstehe ganz
gut," he continued, answering the officer's reckless French in perfect
German. "Consider yourself under arrest," declaimed the officer, with
increasing violence. "We are in occupation of your town; you will
provide us within the next twenty-four hours with ten thousand kilos of
bread, thirty thousand kilos of hay, forty thousand kilos of oats, five
thousand bottles of wine, one hundred boxes of cigars." ("Mon Dieu! it
is an inventory," said the _maire_ to himself.) "If these are not
forthcoming by twelve noon to-morrow you will be shot," added the
officer in a sudden inspiration of his own.

The _maire_ was facing the officer, who towered above him. "Ah, yes,
Monsieur le Capitaine, you will not take a seat? No? And your
requisition--you have your commandant's written order and signature, no
doubt?" The officer blustered. "No, no, Monsieur le Capitaine, I am the
head of the civil government in this town; I take no orders except from
the head of the military authority. You have doubtless forgotten Hague
Regulation, Article 52; your Government signed it, you will recollect."
The officer hesitated. The _maire_ looked out on the _place_; it was
full of armed men, but he did not flinch. "You see, monsieur," he went
on suavely, "there are such things as receipts, and they have to be
authenticated." The officer turned his back on him, took out his field
note-book, scribbled something on a page, and, having torn it out,
handed it to one of his men with a curt instruction.

The _maire_ resumed his dictation to the hypnotised clerk, while the
officer sat astride a chair and executed an impatient _pas seul_ with
his heels upon the parquet floor. Once or twice he spat demonstratively,
but the _maire_ took no notice. In a few minutes the soldier returned
with a written order, which the officer threw upon the desk without a
word.

The _maire_ scrutinised it carefully. "Ten thousand kilos of bread!
Monsieur, we provide five thousand a day for the refugees, and this will
tax us to the uttermost. The bakers of the town are nearly all _sous les
drapeaux_. Very well, monsieur," he added in reply to an impatient
exclamation from the officer, "we shall do our best. But many a poor
soul in this town will go hungry to-night. And the receipts?" "The
requisitioning officer will go with you and give receipts," retorted the
officer, who had apparently forgotten that he had placed the _maire_
under arrest.

       *       *       *       *       *

Subdued lights twinkled like glow-worms in the streets as the _maire_
returned across the square to the Hôtel de Ville. He threaded his way
through groups of infantry, narrowly escaped a collision with three
drunken soldiers, who were singing "Die Wacht am Rhein" with laborious
unction, skirted the park of ammunition waggons, and reached the main
entrance. He had been on his feet for hours visiting the _boulangeries_,
the _pâtisseries_, the hay and corn merchants, persuading,
expostulating, beseeching, until at last he had wrung from their
exiguous stores the apportionment of the stupendous tribute. It was a
heavy task, nor were his importunities made appreciably easier by the
receipt-forms tendered, readily enough, by the requisitioning officer
who accompanied him, for the inhabitants seemed to view with terror the
possession of these German documents, suspecting they knew not what. But
the task was done, and the _maire_ wearily mounted the stairs.

The officer greeted him curtly. The _maire_ now had leisure to study his
appearance more closely. He had high cheek-bones, protruding eyes, and a
large underhung mouth which, when he was pleased, looked sensual, and,
when he was annoyed, merely cruel. The base of his forehead was square,
but it rapidly receded with a convex conformation of head, very closely
shaven as though with a currycomb, and his ears stood out almost at
right angles to his skull. The ferocity that was his by nature he
seemed to have assiduously cultivated by art, and the points of his
moustaches, upturned in the shape of a cow's horns, accentuated the
truculence of his appearance. In short, he was a typical Prussian
officer. In peace he would have been merely comic. In war he was
terrible, for there was nothing to restrain him.

Meanwhile the officer called for a corporal's guard to place the _maire_
under arrest. "But you will first sign the following _affiche_--by the
General's orders," he exclaimed roughly.


     Le Maire informe ses concitoyens que le commandant en chef des
     troupes allemandes a ordonné que le maire et deux notables soient
     pris comme otages pour la raison que des civils aient tiré sur des
     patrouilles allemandes. Si un coup de fusil était tiré à nouveau
     par des civils, les trois otages seraient fusillés et la ville
     serait incendiée immédiatement.

     Si des troupes alliées rentraient le maire rappelle à la population
     que tout civil ne doit pas prendre part à la guerre et que si l'un
     d'eux venait à y participer le commandant des troupes allemandes
     ferait fusilier également les otages.


"One moment," said the _maire_ as he took up a pen, "'_les civils_'! I
ordered the civil population to deposit their arms at the _mairie_ two
days ago, and the _commissaire de police_ and the gendarmes have
searched every house. We have no armed civilians here."

"Es macht nichts," said the officer; "we shall add '_ou peut-être des
militaires en civil_.'"

The _maire_ shrugged his shoulders at the disingenuous parenthesis. It
was, he knew, useless to protest. For all he knew he might be signing
his own death-warrant. He studied the style a little more attentively.
"Mon Dieu, what French!" he said to himself; "'était,' 'seraient,'
'venait'! What moods! What tenses! Monsieur le Capitaine," he continued
aloud, "if I had used such French in my exercises at the Lycée my
instituteur would have said I deserved to be shot. Pray allow me to make
it a little more graceful." But the Prussian's ignorance of French
syntax was only equalled by his suspicion of it. The _maire's_ irony
merely irritated him and his coolness puzzled him. "I give you thirty
seconds to sign," he said, as he took out his watch and the inevitable
revolver. The _maire_ took up a needle-like pen, dipped it in the ink,
and with a sigh wrote in fragile but firm characters "X---- Y----." The
officer called a corporal's guard, and the _maire_, who had fasted since
noon, was marched out of the room and thrust into a small closet upon
the door of which were the letters "_Cabinet_." This, he reflected
grimly, was certainly what in military language is called "close
confinement." The soldiers accompanied him. There was just room for him
to stretch his weary body upon the stone floor; one soldier remained
standing over him with fixed bayonet, the others took up their position
outside.

Meanwhile a company of Landwehr had bivouacked in the square, four
machine-guns had been placed so as to command the four avenues of
approach, patrols had been sent out, sentries posted, all lights
extinguished, and all doors ordered to be left open by the householders.
Billeting officers had gone from house to house, chalking upon the doors
such legends as "_Drei Männer_," "_6 Offiziere--Eingang verboten_," and,
on rare occasions "_Gute Leute hier_." The trembling inhabitants had
been forced to wait on their uninvited guests as they clamoured noisily
for wine and liqueurs. All the civilians of military age, and many
beyond it, had been rounded up and taken under guard to the church;
their wives and daughters alone remained, and were the subject of
menacing pleasantries. So much the _maire_ knew before he had returned
from his errand. As he lay in his dark cell he speculated painfully as
to what might be happening in the homes of his fellow-townsmen. He sat
up once or twice to listen, until the toe of the sentry's boot in his
back reminded him of his irregularity. Now and again a woman's cry broke
the silence of the night, but otherwise all was still. He composed
himself to sleep on the floor, reflecting that he must husband his
strength and his nerves for what might lie ahead of him. He was very
tired and slept heavily in spite of his cold stone bed. At the hour of
one in the morning he was awakened by a kick, and he found himself
staring at an electric torch which was being held to his face by a tall
figure shrouded in darkness. It was the captain. He sat up and rubbed
his eyes.

"'_Fusillé_'! Bien! so I am to be shot! and wherefore, Monsieur le
Capitaine?"

"Some one has fired upon us," said the officer, "one of your dirty
fellows; you must pay for it."

"And the order?" asked the _maire_ sleepily; "you have the Commandant's
order?"

"Never mind about the order," said the officer reassuringly, "the order
will be forthcoming at eight o'clock. Oh yes, we shall shoot you most
authoritatively--never fear."

The officer knew that nothing could be done until eight o'clock, for he
dared not wake the Commandant, but he did not see why he should deny
himself the pleasure of waking up this pig of a _maire_ to see how he
would take it. The _maire_ divined his thoughts, and without a word
turned over on his side and pretended to go to sleep again. From under
his drooping eyelids he saw the officer gazing at him with a look in
which dislike, disappointment, and pleasurable expectation seemed to be
struggling for mastery. Then with a click he extinguished his torch and
withdrew.

At eight o'clock the _maire_ awoke to learn with mild surprise that he
was not to be shot. Beyond that his guard would tell him nothing. It was
only afterwards he learnt that one of the drunken revellers had been
prowling the streets, and, having given the sentries a bad fright by
letting off his rifle at a lamp-post, had expiated his adventure at the
hands of a firing party in the cemetery outside the town.

For two days the _maire_ was unmolested. He was allowed to see his
_adjoint_,[25] who came to him with a troubled face.

"The babies are crying for milk," he said, "the troops have taken it
all. I begged one of the officers to leave a little for the inhabitants,
but he said the men did not like their coffee without plenty of hot
milk." The _maire_ reflected for a moment, and then dictated an _avis_
to the inhabitants enjoining upon them to be as sparing in their
consumption of milk as possible for the sake of the "mères de famille"
and "les petits enfants."

"Tell the _commissaire de police_ to have that posted up immediately,"
he added. "We can do no more."

"They have taken the bread out of our mouths," resumed the _adjoint_,
"and now they are despoiling us of our goods. They are like a swarm of
bailiffs let loose upon our homes. Everywhere they levy a distress upon
our chattels. There is an ammunition waggon outside my house; they have
put all the furniture of my _salon_ upon it."

"You should make a protest to the Commandant," said the _maire_, but not
very hopefully.

"It is no use," replied the _adjoint_ despondingly. "I have. He simply
shrugged his shoulders and said, 'C'est la guerre.' It is always so.
They have shot Jules Bonnard."

"Et pourquoi?" asked the _maire_.

"I know not," said the _adjoint_. "They found four market-gardeners
returning from the fields last night and shot them too--they made them
dig their own graves, and tied their hands behind their backs with their
own scarves. I protested to a Staff officer; he said it was 'verboten'
to dig potatoes. I said they did not know; how could they? He said they
ought to know. Then he abused me, and said if I made any more complaints
he would shoot me too. They have made the _civils_ dig trenches."

"Ah," said the _maire_. He knew it was a flagrant violation of the Hague
Regulations, but it was not the tithe of mint and cummin of the law that
troubled him. It was the reflection that the _civil_ who is forced to
dig trenches is already as good as dead. He knows too much.

"And the women," continued the _adjoint_, in a tone of stupefied horror,
"they are crying, many of them, and will not look one in the face. Some
of them have black eyes. And the young girls!"

The _maire_ brooded in impotent horror. His meditations were interrupted
by the entrance of the captain. "The Commandant wishes to see you _tout
de suite_," he exclaimed. "March!" He was conducted by a corporal's
guard, preceded by the captain, into the presence of the General, who
had taken up his quarters in the principal mansion looking out upon the
square. The General was a stout, square-headed man, with grey moustaches
and steel-blue eyes, and the _maire_ divined at a glance that here was
no swashbuckler, but a man who had himself under control. "I have
imposed a fine of 300,000 francs upon your town; you will collect it in
twenty-four hours; if it is not forthcoming to the last franc I shall be
regretfully compelled to burn this town to the ground."

"And why?" exclaimed the _maire_, whom nothing could now surprise,
though much might perplex.

The General seemed unprepared for the question. He paused for a moment
and said, "Some one has been giving information to the enemy."
"No!"--he held up his hand, not impolitely but finally, as the _maire_
began to expostulate--"I have spoken."

"But," said the _maire_ desperately, "we shall be ruined. We have not
got it. And all our goods have been taken already."

"You have our receipts," said the General. "They are as good as gold.
German credit is very high; the Imperial Government has just floated a
loan of several milliards. And you have our stamped _Quittungen_." He
became at once voluble and persuasive in his cupidity, and forgot
something of his habitual caution. "You surely do not doubt the word of
the German Government?" he said. The _maire_ doubted it very much, but
he discreetly held his tongue. "And our requisitioning officers have not
been niggardly," continued the General; "they have put a substantial
price on the goods we have taken." This was true. It had not escaped the
_maire_ that the receipt-forms had been lavish.

"I will do my best," said the _maire_ simply.

He was now released from arrest, and he retired to his house to think
out the new problem that had presented itself. The threat to burn down
the town might or might not be anything but bluff; he himself doubted
whether the German Commandant would burn the roofs over his men's
heads, as long as the occupation lasted. The military disadvantages were
too obvious, though what the enemy might do when they left the town was
another matter. They might shoot him, of course; that was more than
probable.

But how to find the money was an anxious problem and urgent. The
municipal _caisse_ was empty: the managers of the banks had closed their
doors and carried their deposits off to Paris before the Germans had
entered the town; of the wealthier bourgeoisie some had fled, many were
ruined, and the rest were inadequate. The _maire_ pondered long upon
these things, leaning back in his chair with knitted brows in that
pensive attitude which was characteristic. Suddenly he caught sight of a
blue paper with German characters lying upon a walnut table at his
elbow. He took it up, scrutinised it, and studied the signature:


     Empfangschein.
     Werth 500 fr. erhalten.
     Herr Hauptmann von Koepenick.


Then he smiled. He got up, put on his overcoat, took up his hat and
cane, and went forth into the drizzling rain.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two hours later he was at the headquarters of the Staff and asked to see
the Commandant. He was shown into his presence without delay. "Well?"
said the Commandant. "Monsieur le Général, I have collected the fine,"
said the _maire_. The General's face relaxed its habitual sternness; he
grew at once pleasant and polite. "Good," he said. The _maire_ opened a
fat leather wallet and placed upon the table under the General's
predatory nose a large pile of blue documents, some (but not all)
stamped with the violet stamp of the German A.Q.M.G. "If the
_hochgeehrter_ General will count them," said the _maire_, "he will see
they come to 325,000 francs. It is rather more than the fine," he
explained, "but I have made allowance for the fact that they are not
immediately redeemable. They are mostly stamped, and--_they are as good
as gold_."

For three minutes there was absolute silence in the room. The gilt clock
in its glass sepulchre on the mantelpiece ticked off the seconds as
loudly as a cricket on the hearth in the stillness of the night. The
_maire_ speculated with more curiosity than fear as to how many more of
these seconds he had to live. Never had the intervals seemed so long nor
their registration so insistent. The ashes fell with a soft susurrus in
the grate. The Commandant looked at the _maire_; the _maire_ looked at
the Commandant. Then the Commandant smiled. It was an inscrutable smile;
a smile in which the eyes participated not at all. There was merely a
muscular relaxation of the lips disclosing the teeth; to the _maire_
there seemed something almost canine in it. At last the General spoke.
"Gut!" he said gutturally; "you may go."

       *       *       *       *       *

"You astonish me," I said to the _maire_, as he concluded his narrative.
We were sitting in his parlour, smoking a cigar together one day in
February in a town not a thousand miles from the German lines. "You
know, Monsieur le Maire, they have shot many a municipal magistrate for
less. I wonder they didn't make up their minds to shoot you." The
_maire_ smiled. "They did," he said quietly. He carefully nicked the ash
off his cigar, as he laid it down upon his desk, and opened the drawer
of his escritoire. He took out a piece of paper and handed it to me. It
was an order in German to shoot the _maire_ on the evacuation of the
town.

"You see, monsieur," he exclaimed, "your brave soldiers were a little
too quick for them. You made a surprise attack in force early one
morning and drove the enemy out. So surprising was it that the Staff
officers billeted in my house left a box half full of cigars on my
sideboard! You are smoking one of them now--a very good cigar, is it
not?" It was. "And they left a good many official papers behind--what
you call 'chits,' is it not?--and this one among them. Please mind your
cigar-ash, monsieur! You see I rather value my own death-warrant."

Moved by an irresistible impulse I rose from my chair and held out my
hand. The _maire_ took it in mild surprise. "Monsieur," I said frankly,
if crudely, "you are a brave man. And you have endured much."

"Yes, monsieur," said the _maire_ gravely, as he glanced at a
proclamation on the wall which he has added to his private collection of
antiquities, "that is true. I have often been _très fâché_ to think that
I who won the Michelet prize at the Lycée should have put my name to
that thing over there."[26]

FOOTNOTES:

[25] Deputy.

[26] This narrative follows with some fidelity the course of events as
related to the writer by the _maire_ of the town in question. But for
the most obvious of reasons the writer has deemed it his duty to
suppress names, disguise events, and give the narrative something of the
investiture of fiction. It is, however, true "in substance and in
fact."--J.H.M.



XXIV

THE HILL


It was one of those perfect spring days when the whole earth seems to
bare her bosom to the caresses of the sun. The sky was without a cloud
and in the vault overhead, blue as a piece of Delft, a lark was
ascending in transports of exultant song. The hill on which we stood was
covered with young birch saplings bursting into leaf, and the sky itself
was not more blue than the wild hyacinths at our feet. Here and there in
the undergrowth gleamed the pallid anemone. A copper wire ran from pole
to pole down the slope of the hill and glittered in the sun like a
thread of gold. A little to our right two circular mirrors, glancing
obliquely at each other, stood on a tripod, and a graduated sequence of
flashes came and went, under the hands of the signallers, with the
velocity of light itself. A few yards behind us on the crest of the hill
stood a windmill, its great sails motionless as though it were a brig
becalmed and waiting for a wind, and astride one arm, like a sailor on
a yard, a carpenter was busy, with his mouth full of nails. The tapping
of his hammer and the song of the lark were the only sounds that broke
the warm stillness of the April day. A great plain stretched away at our
feet, and in the fields below women were stooping forward over their
hoes.

The white towers of Ypres gleamed ghostlike in the distant haze. The
city had the wistful fragility of some beautiful mirage, and looking at
it across the pleasant landscape I thought of the Pilgrim's vision of
the Golden City shining in the sun beyond the Land of Beulah. Two or
three miles away on our right the ground rose gently to a range of low
wooded hills, and on their bare green slopes brown furrows showed up
like a cicatrice. They were the German trenches. On the crest of the
ridge a white house peeped out between the trees. That house seemed an
object of peculiar interest to the battery-major at my side. He was
stooping behind the "Director" with his eye to the sights as though he
was focussing the distant object for a photograph. He fixed the outer
clamp, unscrewed the inner clamp, and having got his sights on the
house, he reversed the process and swung round the sights to bear on a
little copse to our left. "One hundred and five," he said meditatively
as he found the angle. The N.C.O. took up the range-finder and measured
the distances first to the house, then to the copse. The major took up
an adjustable triangle, and with a movement of thumb and forefinger
converted it into the figure of an irregular "X." As he read off the
battery angle on the "Plotter" the N.C.O. communicated it and the
elevation to the telephone operator, who in turn communicated it to the
battery in the copse. "Battery angle seventy. Range four thousand."
Gunners are a laconic people, and their language is as economical of
words as a proposition in Euclid; their sentences resemble those
Oriental languages in which the verb is regarded as a superfluous
impertinence. Language is to them a visual and symbolical thing in which
angles and distances are predicated of churches, trees, and four-storied
houses. Now in the copse on our left six field-guns were cunningly
concealed, and even as the telephone operator spoke the dial-sights of
those six guns were being screwed round and the elevating gear adjusted
till they and the range-drum recorded the results of the major's
meditations upon the hill. Then the guns in the copse spoke, and the air
was sibilant with their speech. A little cloud no bigger than a man's
hand arose above the roof of the white house on the ridge. Our battery
had found its mark.

Somewhere behind that ridge were the enemy's batteries and they were
yet to find. But even as we searched the landscape with our
field-glasses an aeroplane rose from behind our own position and made
for the distant ridge, its diaphanous wings displaying red, white, and
blue concentric circles to our glasses like the scales of some huge
magpie-moth, while a long streamer of petrol smoke made faint
pencillings in the sky behind it. As it hovered above the ridge seven or
eight little white clouds like balls of feathers suddenly appeared from
nowhere just below it. They were German shrapnel. But the aeroplane
passed imperturbably on, leaving the little feathers to float in the sky
until in time they faded away and disappeared. In no long time the
aeroplane was retracing its flight, and certain little coloured discs
were speaking luminously to the battery, telling it of what the observer
had seen beyond the ridge. Between the aeroplane, the observer, the
telephone, and the guns, there seemed to be some mysterious freemasonry.
And this impression of secret and collusive agencies was heightened by
the vibration of the air above us, in which the shells from the
batteries made furrows that were audible without being visible, as
though the whole firmament were populated with disembodied spirits. The
passivity of the toilers in the field below us, who, absorbed in their
husbandry, regarded not the air above them, and the dreaming beauty of
the distant city almost persuaded us that we were the victims of a
gigantic illusion. But even as we gazed the city acquired a desperate
and tragic reality. Voices of thunder awoke behind the ridge, the air
was rent like a garment, and first one cloud and then another and
another rose above the city of Ypres, till the white towers were blotted
out of sight. A black pall floated over the doomed city, and from that
moment the air was never still, as a rhythm of German shells rained upon
it. The storm spread until other villages were involved, and a fierce
red glow appeared above the roofs of Vlamertinge.

Yet the clouds and flame that rose above the white towers had at that
distance a flagrant beauty of their own, and it was hard to believe that
they stood for death, desolation, and the agony of men. Beyond the
voluminous smoke and darting tongues of fire, our field-glasses could
show us nothing. But we knew--for we had seen but yesterday--that behind
that haze there was being perpetrated a destruction as mournful and
capricious as that which in the vision upon the Mount of Olives overtook
Jerusalem. Where two were in the street one was even now being taken and
the other left; he who was upon the housetop would not come down to take
anything out of his house, neither would he who was in the field return
to take away his clothes. The great cathedral was crumbling to dust,
and saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs were being hurled from their
niches of stone, the Virgin alone standing unscathed upon her pedestal
contemplating the ruin and tribulation around her. And we knew that
while we gazed the roads from the doomed city to Locre and Poperinghe
were choked with a terror-stricken stream of fugitives, ancient men
hobbling upon sticks, aged women clutching copper pans, and stumbling
under the weight of feather-beds, while whimpering children fumbled
among their mothers' skirts. What convulsive eddies each of the shells,
whose trajectory we heard ever and anon in the skies overhead, were
making in that living stream were to us a subject of poignant
speculation.

But as I looked immediately around me I found it ever more difficult to
believe that such things were being done upon the earth. The carpenter
went on hammering, stopping but for a moment to shade his eyes with his
hand and gaze out over the plain, the peasants in the field continued to
hoe, a woman came out of a cottage with a child clinging to her skirts,
and said, "La guerre, quand finira-t-elle, M'sieu'?" From far above us
the song of the lark, now lost to sight in the aerial blue, floated down
upon the drowsy air.



XXV

THE DAY'S WORK


It was dinner hour in the Mess. There were some dozen of us all
told--the Camp Commandant, the Deputy-Assistant-Adjutant-General, the
Assistant-Provost-Marshal, the Assistant-Director of Medical Services,
the Sanitary Colonel (which adjective has nothing to do with his
personal habits), the Judge-Advocate, two men of the Intelligence, a
_padre_, and myself. Most of us were known by our initials--our official
initials--for the use of them saves time and avoids pomposity. Our
duties were both extensive and peculiar, as will presently appear, for
we were in the habit of talking shop. There was, indeed, little else to
talk about. When you are billeted in a small town in Flanders with no
amusements and few amenities--neither theatres, nor sport, nor
books--and with little prospect of getting a move on, you can but
chronicle the small beer of your quotidian adventures. And these be
engaging enough at times.

As we sat down to the stew which our orderly had compounded with the
assistance of the ingenious Mr. Maconochie, the Camp Commandant sighed
heavily. "I am a kind of receptacle for the waste products of
everybody's mind," he exclaimed petulantly. "This morning I was rung up
on the telephone and asked if I would bury a dead horse for the Canadian
Division; I told them I hadn't a Prayer Book and it couldn't be done.
Then two nuns called and asked me to find a discreet soldier--_un soldat
discret_--to escort them to Hazebrouck; I told them to take my servant,
who is a married man with five children. Then an old lady sent round to
ask me to come and drown her cat's kittens; I said it was impossible, as
she hadn't complied with the Notification of Births Act."

The Mess listened to this plaintive recital in unsympathetic silence.
Perhaps they reflected that as the Camp Commandant is one of those to
whom much, in the way of perquisites of office, is given, from him much
may legitimately be expected. "Well, you may think yourself lucky you
haven't my job," said the Deputy-Assistant-Adjutant-General at length.
"I'm getting rather fed up with casualty lists and strength returns. I'm
like the man who boasted that his chief literary recreation was reading
Bradshaw, except that I don't boast of it and it isn't a
recreation--it's damned hard work. I have to read the Army List for
about ten hours every day, for if I get an officer's initials wrong
there's the devil to pay. And I spent half an hour between the telephone
and the Army List to-day trying to find out who 'Teddy' was. The 102nd
Welsh sent him in with their returns of officers' casualties as having
died of heart failure on the 22nd inst."

"Well, but who is 'Teddy,' anyhow?" asked the Camp Commandant.

"He is the regimental goat," replied the D.A.A.G. "I suppose they
thought it amusing. When I tumbled to it I told their Brigade
Headquarters on the telephone that I quite understood their making him a
member of their mess, as they belonged to the same species."

"Wait until you've had to track down a case of typhoid in billets," said
the R.A.M.C. man who looks after infectious diseases. "I've been on the
trail of a typhoid epidemic at La Croix Farm, where a company of the
Downshires are billeted, and it made me sad. They had their filters with
them and they swore they hadn't touched a drop of impure water, and that
they treasured our regulations like the book of Leviticus. And yet the
trail of that typhoid was all over my spot chart, and the thing was
spreading like one of the seven plagues of Egypt. At last I tracked it
down to an Army cook; the rotter had had typhoid about five years ago
and simply poisoned everything he touched. He was what we call a
carrier."

"What did you do with him?" said the A.D.M.S.

"He won't do any more cooking; I've sent him home. The fellow's a
perfect leper, and ought to be interned like an alien enemy."

"Well, I'd rather have your job than mine even if prevention is more
honourable than cure," said he whom we know as "Smells," and who has a
nose like a fox-terrier's. "I am the _avant-garde_ of the Staff, and you
fellows can thank me that you are so merry and bright. If I didn't make
my sanitary reconnaissances with my chloride of lime and fatigue
parties, where would you all be?"

"We should all be home on sick-leave and very pleased to get it," said
the A.P.M. ungratefully.

"The _maire_ thinks I'm mad, of course," continued 'Smells,' "and I
can't make him understand that cesspools and open sewers in the street
are not conducive to health."

"I expect they think we're rather too fond of spreading broad our
phylacteries," said the Assistant Provost Marshal. "Now I'm a sort of
licensing authority, Brewster Sessions in fact, for this commune, and
the _estaminet_ proprietors think I'm a Temperance fanatic," he said,
as he put forth his hand for the whisky bottle. "One of them told me the
other day he preferred a German occupation to a British one, because the
Huns let him sell as much spirits to their men as he liked. And yet I'm
sure the little finger of a French provost-marshal is thicker than my
loins any day."

"Yes," said the Camp Commandant, "it's our melancholy duty to be
impertinent. I'm supposed to read all you fellows' letters before I
stamp them. I'd be rather glad if they were liable to be censored again
at the Base or somewhere else _en route_; it would relieve me of any
compunction about the first reading, the text and preamble of the
envelope would be good enough for me. You fellows write abominably."

"I'm something of a handwriting expert myself," said the A.P.M.,
ignoring the aspersion. "They have changed the colour of the passes
again this month, and so I'm engaged in a fresh study of the A.G.'s
signature; I believe he changes his style of handwriting with the colour
of the pass. I wonder what is the size of the A.G.'s bank balance," he
murmured dreamily; "I believe I could now forge his signature very
artistically."

"I wish some one would start a school of handwriting at G.H.Q.," said
the A.D.M.S. "I believe I receive more chits than any man on the
staff." "Chits," it should be explained, are the billets-doux of the
Army wherein officers send tender messages to one another and make
assignations.

"Did you hear about that chit the Camp Commandant at the Headquarters of
the ----th Corps sent to the A.Q.M.G.?" asked the A.P.M. "No? Well, the
A.Q.M.G. of the other Army wrote to Ferrers asking if they had made use
of any Ammonal and, if so, whether the results were satisfactory.
Ferrers sent it on to the Camp Commandant for report and the Camp
Commandant wrote back a chit saying plaintively, 'This is not
understood. For what purpose is Ammonal used--is it a drug or an
explosive?' Ferrers told him to ask the Medical Officer attached to
Corps headquarters, which he did. Thereupon he wrote back another chit
to Ferrers, saying that the M.O. had informed him that 'Ammonal' was a
compound drug extensively used in America in cases of abnormal neurotic
excitement, and that, so far as he knew, it was not a medical issue to
Corps H.Q. He therefore regretted that he was unable to report results,
but promised that if occasion should arise to administer it to any of
the Corps H.Q. _personnel_ he would faithfully observe the effects and
report the same. When the A.Q.M.G. read the reply he betrayed a quite
abnormal degree of neurotic excitement; in fact, he was quite nasty
about it."

"What the devil did he mean?" asked the A.D.M.S.

"Well, that points the moral of your remarks about handwriting," said
the A.P.M. encouragingly. "The Camp Commandant had written what looked
like an 'o' in place of an 'a.' Ammonol is a drug; ammonal is an
explosive."

"Well, I wish some one would teach the Huns how to write decently." The
speaker was Summersby of the Intelligence Corps. The Intelligence are a
corps of detectives and have to estimate the strength, the location, and
the composition of the enemy's forces. Everything is grist that comes to
their mill and they will perform surprising feats of induction. They can
reconstruct a German Army Corps out of a Landwehr man's bootlace, his
diary, his underclothing, or his shoulder-strap--but the greatest of
these is his diary. "I've been studying the diaries of prisoners until I
feel a Hun myself. They remind me of the diary I used to keep at school,
they are all about eating and drinking. The Hun is a glutton and a
wine-bibber. But I found something to-day--'Keine Gefangene' in an
officer's field note-book."

"Translate, my Hunnish friend," said the A.P.M.

"No prisoners," replied Summersby shortly.

"I hope you handed the swine over to the P.M.," said the Camp
Commandant.

"Well, no," said Summersby. "You see he had a plausible explanation--by
the way, what perfect English those German officers talk; I'll bet that
man has eaten our bread and salt some time. He said it was a Brigade
order to the men not to make the taking of prisoners a pretext for going
back to the rear in large parties but to leave them to the supports when
they came up. The curious thing is that that officer belongs to the
112th and we've our eye on the 112th. One of their men, a fellow named
Schmidt, who surrendered on the 19th of last month, said they'd had an
order to take no prisoners but kill them all. His regiment was the
112th," he added darkly.

"The filthy swine!" we cried in a chorus, and our talk grew sombre as we
exchanged reminiscences.

"What pleases me about you fellows," said Ponsonby, who had been
listening with a languid air, and who was formerly in the F.O. where he
composed florid speeches in elegant French for Hague Plenipotentiaries,
"is your habits of speech. In diplomacy we contrive to talk a lot
without saying anything, whereas Army men manage to talk little and say
a great deal. You've got four words in the Army which seem to be a
mighty present help in trouble at H.Q. Their sustaining properties are
remarkable and they seem to tide over very anxious moments. When you
are in a hole you say 'Damn all,' and when you are asked for
instructions you cry 'Carry on.' I suppose it's by sitting tight and
using those words with discrimination that you fellows arrive at
greatness and attain Brigadier rank. That seems to be the first thing a
third-grade staff-officer learns."

"The first thing a third-grade staff-officer learns is to speak
respectfully of his superiors," said the A.P.M., as he hurled a cushion
at Ponsonby, who caught it with a bow. Ponsonby is irrepressible and, in
spite of his supercilious civilian airs, much is forgiven him. He turned
to the D.A.A.G. and said, "Hooper, you've forgotten to say grace. For
what we have _not_ received"--he added, with a meaning glance at a
Stilton cheese which the A.A.G.'s wife has sent out from home and which
remained on the sideboard--"the Lord make us truly thankful." This was
an allusion to the D.A.A.G.'s sacerdotal functions. For the
Adjutant-General and his staff, who know the numbers of all the Field
Ambulances, can lay hands--but not in the apostolic sense--upon every
chaplain attached thereto; the A.G. is the Metropolitan of them all and
can admonish, deprive, and suspend.

The D.A.A.G. ignored the plaintive benediction. "I think we've fixed it
up with those Red Cross drivers," he said complacently. The A.G.'s
department had been wrestling with the disciplinary problem presented
by these birds of passage on the lines of communication. "We've decided
that they are Army followers under section 176, sub-section 10, of the
Army Act, and that you 'follow' the British Army from the moment you
accept a pass to H.Q. My chief called some of them together yesterday,
and being in a benevolent humour told them that they were now under
military law and might be sentenced to anything from seven days'
field-punishment to the punishment of death. This was _pour encourager
les autres_. They looked quite thoughtful."

"That's a nice point," commented Ponsonby pensively. "Should an Army
follower be hanged or is he entitled to be shot? I put it to you," he
added, turning to the Judge-Advocate. "I want counsel's opinion."

"I never give abstract opinions," retorted the man of law. "But the
safest course would be to hang him first and shoot him afterwards."

"Your counsel is as the counsel of Ahithophel," said Ponsonby. "I'll put
you another problem. Is a carrier-pigeon an Army follower? Because
Slingsby never has any appetite for dinner" (this was notoriously
untrue), "and I have a strong suspicion that he converts--that's a legal
expression for fraud, isn't it?--his carrier-pigeons into pigeon-pie.
What is the penalty for fraudulent conversion of an Army follower?"
Slingsby, who in virtue of his aquiline features is known as _Aquila
vulgaris_, has charge of the carrier-pigeons and takes large baskets of
them out to the Front every day; he is supposed to be training them by
an intimate use of pigeon-English not to settle when the shells explode.
Unfortunately his pigeons are usually posted as "missing," and go to
some bourne from which no pigeon has ever been known to return. Ponsonby
glances suspiciously at Slingsby's portly figure.

But the Judge-Advocate had stolen away to study a dossier of
"proceedings," and his departure was the signal for a general
dispersion. "Come and have a drink," said Ponsonby to the "I" man.
"Can't, you slacker," was the reply. "I've got to go and make up an 'I'
summary. 'Notes of an Air Reconnaissance. Distribution of the enemy's
forces. Copy of a German Divisional Circular. Notes on the German system
of signalling from their trenches.' You know the usual kind of thing.
Just now we're trying to discover how many guns they've got in the
batteries of their new formations. We've noticed that their 77-mm.
projectiles now arrive in groups of four, and we suspect that two guns
have been withdrawn. But it may be only a blind."

As we turned out into the darkened street to make our way to our
respective offices a supply column rumbled over the _pavé_, each of the
seventy-two motor-lorries keeping its distance like the ships of a
fleet. Despatch-riders with blue and white armlets whizzed past on their
motor-bicycles, and high overhead was the loud droning hum of the
aeroplane going home to roost. The thunder of guns was clearly audible
from the north-east. The D.A.A.G. turned to me and said, "It's Hill 60
again. My old regiment's up there. And to-morrow the casualty returns
will come in. Good God! will it never end?"



XXVI

FIAT JUSTITIA

             PARQUET
               du
     Tribunal de Ière Instance
             d'Ypres


At last I had found it. I had spent a mournful morning at Ypres seeking
out the _procureur du roi_, and I had sought in vain. He was nowhere to
be found. Ypres was a city of catacombs, wrapt in a winding-sheet of
mortar, fine as dust, which rose in clouds as the German shells winnowed
among the ruins. The German guns had been threshing the ancient city
like flails, beating her out of all recognition, beating her into shapes
strange, uncouth, and lamentable. The Cloth Hall was little more than a
deserted cloister of ruined arches, and the cathedral presented a
spectacle at once tragic and whimsical--the brass lectern still stood
upright in the nave confronting a congregation of overturned chairs as
with a gesture of reproof. The sight of those scrambling chairs all
huddled together and fallen headlong upon one another had something
oddly human about it; it suggested a panic of ghosts. Ypres is an
uncanny place.

We returned to Poperinghe, our way choked by a column of French troops,
pale, hollow-eyed, their blue uniforms bleached by sun and rain until
all the virtue of the dye had run out of them. Before resuming our hunt
for the _procureur du roi_--who, we now found, had removed from Ypres to
Poperinghe--we entered a restaurant for lunch. It was crowded with
French officers, with whom a full-bosomed, broad-hipped Flemish girl
exchanged uncouth pleasantries, and it possessed a weird and uncomely
boy, who regarded A----, the Staff officer accompanying me, with a
hypnotic stare. He peered at him from under drooping eyelids, flanking a
nose without a bridge, and my companion didn't like it. "He is admiring
you," I remarked by way of consolation, as indeed he was. "What do you
call it?" said A---- petulantly to a R.A.M.C. officer who was lunching
with us. The latter looked at the boy with a clinical eye.
"Necrosis--syphilitic," he said dispassionately. "And he's handing us
the cakes!" A---- exclaimed with horror. "Fetch me an ounce of civet."
We declined the cakes, and, having paid our _addition_, hastily departed
to resume our quest of the _procureur_.

Eventually we found the legend set out above. It was a placard stuck on
the door of a private house. We entered and found ourselves in a kitchen
with a stone floor; japanned tin boxes, calf-bound volumes, and fat
registers, all stamped with the arms of Belgium, were grouped on the
shelves of the dresser. A courteous gentleman, well-groomed and
debonair, with waxed moustaches, greeted us. It was the _procureur du
roi_. With him was another civilian--the _juge d'instruction_. They
politely requested us to take a seat and to excuse a judicial
preoccupation. The _juge d'instruction_ was interrogating an inhabitant
of Poperinghe. The _procureur_ explained to me that the _prévenu_ (the
accused), who was not present but was within the precincts, was charged
with _calomnie_[27] under Section 444 of the _Code Pénal_. "But," I
exclaimed in astonishment, "are you still administering justice?"
"Pourquoi non?" he asked in mild surprise. It was true, he admitted,
that his office at Ypres had been destroyed by shell-fire, the _maison
d'arrêt_--in plain English, the prison--was open to the four winds of
heaven, and warders and gendarmes had been called up to the colours. But
justice must be done and the majesty of the King of the Belgians upheld.
The King's writ still ran, even though its currency might be limited to
the few square miles which were all that remained of Belgian territory
in Belgian hands. All this he explained to me with such gravity that I
felt further questions would be futile, if not impertinent. I therefore
held my tongue and determined to follow the proceedings closely, being
not a little curious to observe how the judgment would be enforced.

The witness took the oath to say the truth and nothing but the truth
("rien que la vérité"), concluding with the solemn invocation, "Ainsi
m'aide Dieu." The parties had elected to have the proceedings taken in
French.

"Your name?" said the judge, as he studied the procès-verbal prepared by
the _procureur_.

"Jules F----."

"Age?"

"Cinquante-cinq."

"Profession?"

"Cordonnier."

"Résidence?"

"Rue d'Ypres 32."

This preliminary catechism being completed, the prosecutor unfolded his
tale. He had been drinking the health of His Majesty the King of the
Belgians and confusion to his enemies in an _estaminet_ at the crowded
hour of 7 P.M. The accused had entered, and in the presence of many of
his neighbours had said to him, "Vous êtes un Bosche." "Un Bosche!"
repeated the witness indignantly. "It is a gross defamation." With
difficulty had he been restrained from the shedding of blood. But, being
a law-abiding, peaceful man and the father of a family, he volubly
explained, he had laid this information ("dénonciation") before the
_procureur du roi_.

The judge looked grave. But he duly noted down the testimony, after some
perfunctory cross-examination, and, it being read over to the witness,
the judge added "Lecture faite," and the persisting witness signed the
deposition with his own hand. The prosecutor having retired, two other
witnesses, whom he had vouched to warranty, came forward and testified
to the same effect. And they also signed their depositions and withdrew.

The magistrate ordered the usher to bring in the accused, who had been
summoned to appear by a _mandat d'amener_. He was a stout, dark,
convivial-looking soul, with a merry eye, not altogether convinced of
the enormity of his delict, and inclined at first to deprecate these
proceedings. But the dialectical skill of the magistrate soon tied him
into knots, and reduced him to a state of extreme penitence.

"Where were you on the 3rd of April at 7 P.M.?" began the magistrate,
making what gunners call a ranging shot. The accused appeared to have
been everywhere in Poperinghe except at the _estaminet_. He had been to
the butcher's, the baker's, and the candlestick-maker's.

"At what hour did you enter the Café à l'Harmonie?"

The accused tried to look as if he now heard of the Café "À l'Harmonie"
for the first time, but under the searching eye of the magistrate he
failed. He might, he conceded, have looked in there for a thirsty
moment.

"Do you know Jules F----?" the magistrate persisted. The accused
grudgingly admitted the existence of such a person. "Is he a German?"
asked the magistrate pointedly. The accused pondered. "Would you call
him a Bosche?" persisted the magistrate. "I never _meant_ to call him 'a
Bosche,'" the accused said in an unguarded moment. The magistrate
pounced on him. He had found the range. After that the result was a
foregone conclusion. The duel ended in the accused tearfully admitting
he thought he must have been drunk, and throwing himself on the mercy of
the magistrate.

"It is a grave offence," said the magistrate severely, as he
contemplated the lachrymose delinquent. "An _estaminet_ is a public
place within the meaning of Section 444 of the Code Pénal. Vous avez
méchamment imputé à une personne un fait précis qui est de nature à
porter atteinte à son honneur." "And calculated to provoke a breach of
the peace," he added. "It is punishable with a term of imprisonment not
exceeding one year." The face of the accused grew long. "Or a fine of
200 francs," he pursued. The lips of the accused quivered. "You may have
to go to a _maison de correction_," continued the magistrate pitilessly.
The accused wept.

I grew more and more interested. If this was a "correctional" offence,
the magistrate must in the ordinary course of things commit the prisoner
to a _chambre de conseil_, thereafter to take his trial before a
Tribunal Correctionnel. But chamber and tribunal were scattered to the
four corners of the earth.

Here, I felt sure, the whole proceedings must collapse and the
magistrate be sadly compelled to admit his impotence. The magistrate,
however, appeared in nowise perturbed, nor did he for a moment relax his
authoritative expression. He was turning over the pages of the _Code
d'Instruction Criminelle_, glancing occasionally at a now wholly
penitent prisoner trembling before the majesty of the law. At last he
spoke. "I will deal with you," he said with an air of indulgence, "under
Chapter VIII. of the Code. You will be bound over to come up for
judgment at the end of the war if called upon. You will deposit a
_cautionnement_ of twenty francs. And now, gentlemen, we are at your
service."

"Fiat justitia ruat coelum," whispered A---- to me, as the prisoner,
deeply impressed, opened a leather purse and counted out four greasy
five-franc notes.

FOOTNOTE:

[27] Defamation. It is a misdemeanour according to Belgian law.



XXVII

HIGHER EDUCATION


British Headquarters must, I think, be the biggest Military Academy in
the world. It has its Sandhurst and its Woolwich and even its Camberley.
It ought long ago to have been incorporated by Order in Council as a
University with Sir John French as Chancellor. It has more schools in
the Art of War than I can remember, and every School has an Instructor
who deserves to rank as a full-time Professor. To graduate in one of
those schools you must get a fortnight's leave from your trenches or
your battery, at the end of which time you return to do a little
post-graduate work of a very practical kind with the aid of a
machine-gun or a trench-mortar. At the beginning of the war higher
education at G.H.Q. was somewhat neglected, and the company officer who
desired to improve himself in the lethal arts had to be content with
private study. Company officers went in for applied chemistry by making
flares out of a test-tube full of water, delicately balanced in a
bully-beef tin containing sodium. The tins were tied to the barbed-wire
entanglements in front of our trenches, and when the stealthy Hun,
creeping on his stomach, bumped against the wire the test-tube
overflowed into the tin and a lurid patch of greenish flame revealed the
clumsy visitor to our look-outs. That was before we were supplied with
calcium flares. Then, too, the sappers went in for experimental research
by making trench-mortars out of old stove-pipes.

To-day all that is changed. A chemical corps has come out to join the
sappers, and the gunners have received some highly finished
trench-mortars from Vickers's. A trench mortar is a kind of toy howitzer
and very useful when you want to try conclusions with a neighbouring
trench at short range. The mortars are not exactly things to play with,
and so two "schools" of mortars have been instituted to teach R.G.A. men
how to handle them. Every morning at nine o'clock two young subalterns
meet their class of fifty pupils in a château, and explain with the aid
of a diagram on a blackboard the internal economy of the mortar and its
50-lb. bomb, the adjustment of angles of elevation to ranges, and the
respective offices of fuse, charge, and detonator. When the class have
had enough of this they go off to a neighbouring field to simulate
trench warfare and hold a demonstration. This is real sport. They have
dug a sector of trenches, duly traversed, and at some two or three
hundred yards distance have dug another sector and decorated it
realistically with barbed-wire entanglements. Thither one afternoon we
conveyed the mortar to the first trenches on an improvised carriage,
placed it behind one of the traverses, and duly clamped it down. The
subaltern took up a periscope and got the thread-line on the target--you
find the range without instruments and by your own intuitions. "Three
hundred, I think," he remarked pensively. A pupil adjusted the range
indicator at 71·30 to get the elevation, and his assistant took up what
looked like a huge jar of preserved ginger. It was the bomb. Having put
the tail to it he inserted the detonator. "Fuse at 27." He set the
indicator with as much care as if he were setting the hands of his
watch. The man took the fuse delicately, put in the test-tube and
attached the lanyard. These operations had been closely followed by the
class, who made a circle round the bomb like a football "scrum." It was
now time to line the trenches, for the "tail" of the bomb is apt to kick
viciously when the thing is fired. As they spread out, the man removed
the two safety-pins in the top of the fuse and pulled the lanyard. There
was a voice of thunder and a sheet of flame, followed by what seemed an
interminable pause. We scanned the brown furrows in front of us and
suddenly the earth shot skywards in a fan; a cloud of dirty-black smoke
floated over our target. The whole class leapt the parapet and streamed
away across the furrows like a pack of hounds in full cry, until they
suddenly disappeared below the surface of the earth. We followed and
found them standing in a huge crater whose sides were hollowed out as
neatly as those of a cup. "Done it again," said the subaltern
complacently, "we've never had a blind."

At the Machine-gun School they do things on a larger scale, and Wren's
could teach them nothing in the art of cramming. The Instructor reckons
to put his class of 200 officers and men through a six months' course in
a fortnight. There is need for it. The Germans started this war with
eleven machine-guns (it is now anything from twenty to forty) to a
battalion. We started with two. For years they have enlisted, trained,
and paid a special class of men to man them. Consequently we had a great
deal of leeway to make up. We are making it up, hand over fist, thanks
to the Instructor, one of the most brilliant and devoted officers I
know, and a man who spends his nights in inventing or perfecting
improvements. He has got a pocket edition of a machine-gun made of
tempered steel and weighing only 27 lb., as against our old one, which
is of gun-metal and weighs 58 lb.--a material difference when it is a
question of an advance. The new one, he explains somewhat illogically,
with paternal pride, can be carried into action "like a baby." Having
decided to give it a trial we carried it tenderly to a quarry and
proceeded to "feed" it with a belt of cartridges. The Instructor set up
a small stick against the bank of a gravel quarry and returned and
adjusted the tangent-sight at 100 on the standard. He got the fore-sight
and back-sight in a line on the stick, seized the traversing-handles,
released the safety-catch, and pressed the button with his right thumb
with the persistency of a man who cannot make the waiter answer the
electric bell. "Tap--tap--tap." There was a series of explosions as
though the sparking plug of a motor-bicycle was playing tricks. The
target danced like a thing possessed. It hopped and skipped and curtsied
under that deadly stream of bullets. Then he slowly swept that gravel
bank with the traversing handles till the pebbles jumped like
hailstones. "I think she'll do," he remarked appreciatively as he folded
up the tripod.

The R.E. is the Army's school of technology. To do a survey or make a
bridge or lay a telephone is all in the day's work. But your sapper is
a man of ideas, and is for ever seeking out new inventions. So he has
turned his attention to chemistry, and "R.E." has a chemical corps which
has put aside the blow-pipe and the test-tube at home to come out and
study the applied chemistry of war. Just now they are engaged in
discovering the most effective method of laying noxious gases. Copper
vessels of ammonia in a trench to disperse the gas when it gets there
are all very well, but by that time you may have more pressing
attentions of the enemy to engage you; the thing is to prevent the gas
getting there. Hence ingenious minds are considering how to project with
a spray something upon the advancing fog which will bring it to earth in
the form of an innocuous compound. Spray that something over the
parapet, and if you can spray it far enough and wide enough you may
precipitate the deadly green and brown mists into chlorides or bromides
which will be as harmless as bleaching-powder and not less salubrious.

Others have turned their attention to automatic flares. You can get a
startling illuminant if you suspend a test-tube containing sulphuric
acid in a vessel of chlorate of potash, and it will be all the better if
you add a little common sugar and salt. You balance your test-tube in
the hollow of a bamboo stick and fill the top knot of the stick with
the chlorate of potash; then you plant your sticks, not too securely,
outside your barbed-wire entanglements, and string them together with a
trip-wire. As for the patrolling Hun who bumps against that trip-wire,
it were better for him that a millstone were hung round his neck.

This is Higher Education and post-graduate research. But elementary
education is not neglected. At the H.Q. of the --th Corps is an O.T.C.
where privates in the H.A.C. and the Artists practise the precepts of
the _Infantry Manual_ and study night operations in the meadows within
sound of the guns.

Truly it is, in the words of the stout Puritan, a nation not slow and
dull but of a quick, ingenious and piercing spirit, acute to invent,
subtle and sinewy, not beneath the reach of any point the highest that
human capacity can soar to.



XXVIII

THE LITTLE TOWNS OF FLANDERS AND ARTOIS


The little towns of Flanders and Artois are Aire, Hazebrouck, Bethune,
Armentières, Bailleul, Poperinghe, and Cassel. They are known in the
Army vernacular as Air, Hazybrook, Betoon, Arm-in-tears, Ballyhool
(occasionally Belial), Poperingy, and Kassel. The fairest of these is
Cassel. For Cassel is set upon a hill which rises from the interminable
plain, salient and alluring as a tor in Somerset, and seems to say to
the fretful wayfarer, "Come unto Me all ye that are weary, and I will
give you rest." For upon the hill of Cassel the air is sweet and fresh,
the slopes are musical with a faint lullaby of falling showers, as the
wind plays among the birches and the poplars, and over all there is a
great peace. The motor-lorries avoid the declivities of Cassel, and the
horsemen pass by on the other side. Some twenty windmills--no less and
perhaps more--are perched like dovecots on the hill, lifting their
sails to the blue sky. Some day I will seek out a notary at Cassel and
will get him to execute a deed of conveyance assigning to me, with no
restrictive covenants, the freehold of one of those mills, for I have
coveted a mill ever since I succumbed to the enchantments of _Lettres de
mon moulin_. True, Flanders is not Provence, and the croaking of the
frogs, croak they never so amorously, among the willows in the plains
below is a poor exchange for the chant of the _cigale_. But these mills
look out over a landscape that is now dearer to me than Abana and
Pharpar, for many a gallant friend of mine lies beneath its sod.

Cassel is approached by a winding road that turns and returns upon
itself like a corkscrew, and is bordered by an avenue of trees. It has a
bandstand--what town in Flanders and Artois has not?--and a church.
Cheek by jowl with the church is a place of convenience, which seems to
me profane in more senses than one. I have never been able to make up my
mind whether such secularisation of a church wall is the expression of
anti-clerical antipathies, or of a clerical common-sense peculiarly
French in its practical and unblushing acceptance of the elementary
facts of life. But about Cassel I am not so sure. The sight of that
shameless annexe is too familiar in France to please our fastidious
English tastes--it seems to express a truculent nonconformity, it is too
like a dissenting chapel-of-ease.


     Wherever God erects a house of prayer
     The devil always builds a chapel there.


I have never had the courage to solve my uncertainties by buttonholing a
Frenchman and asking him what is the truth of the matter. I am sure
Anatole France could supply me with any number of whimsical
explanations, all of them suggestive, and not one of them true.

But, except for this sauciness, Cassel is a demure and pleasant place.

Bailleul is mean in comparison, though it has a notable church tower in
which there are traces of some Byzantine imagination brought hither,
perhaps, by a Spanish Army of occupation. Also it has a tea-room which
is the trysting-place of all the officers in billets, and the
_châtelaine_ of which answers your lame and halting French in nimble
English. On the road to Locre it has those Baths and Wash-houses which
have become so justly famous, and whence hosts of British soldiers come
forth like Naaman white as snow, but infinitely more companionable.
Almost any day you may see a bathing-towel unit marching thither or
thence in column of route, their towels held at the slope or the trail
as it pleases their fancy. And in a field outside Bailleul I have seen
open-air smithies and the glow of hot coals, the air resounding with the
clink of hammers upon the anvil--a cheering spectacle on a wet and
inclement winter's day. But Bailleul has few amenities and no charms. It
is, however, occasionally visited by that amazing troupe of variety
artistes, known as the Army Pierrots, who provide the men in billets
with a most delectable entertainment for 50 centimes, the proceeds being
a "deodand," and appropriated to charitable uses. For all that, Bailleul
stinks in the nostrils of fatigue-parties.

Bethune is like the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land, for it is
the rendezvous of the British Army, and men tramp miles to warm their
hands at its fires of social life. Its _pâtisserie_ has the choicest
cakes, and its hairdresser's the most soothing unguents of any town in
our occupation. It has a great market-place, where the peasants do a
thriving business every Saturday, producing astonished rabbits by the
ears from large sacks, like a conjuror, and holding out live and
plaintive fowls for sensual examination by pensive housewives. Also it
has a town-hall in which I once witnessed the trial by court-martial of
a second-lieutenant in the R.A.M.C. for ribaldry in his cups and conduct
unbecoming an officer and a gentleman--a spectacle as melancholy as it
is rare, and of which the less said the better. It has a church with
some lurid glass of indifferent quality, and (if I remember rightly) a
curious dovecote of a tower. The transepts are hemmed in by shops and
warehouses. To the mediaevalist there is nothing strange in such
neighbourliness of the world and the Church. The great French churches
of the Middle Ages--witness Nôtre Dame d'Amiens with its inviting
ambulatory--were places of municipal debate, and their sculpture was, to
borrow the bold metaphor of Viollet-le-Duc, a political "liberty of
speech" at a time when the chisel of the sculptor might say what the pen
of the scrivener dared not, for fear of the common hangman, express.
Bethune is not the only place where I have seen shops coddling churches,
and the conjunction was originally less impertinent than it now seems.
It was not that the Church was profaned, but that the world was
consecrated; honest burgesses trading under the very shadow of the
flying buttresses were reminded that usury was a sin, and that to charge
a "just price" was the beginning of justification by works. But I have
not observed that the shopkeepers of Bethune now entertain any very
mediaeval compunction about charging the British soldier an unjust
price.

Armentières is on the high road to Lille, but at present there is no
thoroughfare. It's a dispiriting town, given over to industrial
pursuits, and approached by rows of mean little cottages such as you may
see on the slopes of the mining valleys of South Wales. Two things stand
out in my memory--one, the spectacle of a corporal being tried for his
life in the Town Hall by a court-martial--there had been a quarrel over
a girl in billets and he had shot his comrade; the other the sight of a
regiment of Canadians ("Princess Pat's," I believe), drawn up in the
square for parade one winter afternoon before they went into the
trenches for the first time. And a very gallant and hefty body of men
they were.

Poperinghe is a dismal place, and to be avoided.

Hazebrouck is not without some pretentiousness. It has the largest
_place_ of any of them, with a town-hall of imposing appearance, but
something of a whited sepulchre for all that. I remember calling on a
civilian dignitary there--I forget what he was; he sat in a long narrow
corridor-like room, all the windows were hermetically sealed, a
gas-stove burnt pungently, some fifty people smoked cigarettes, and at
intervals the dignitary spat upon the floor and then shuffled his foot
over the spot as a concession to public hygiene. Therefore I did not
tarry. The precincts of the railway-station are often crowded by batches
of German prisoners, villainous-looking rascals, and usually of the
earth earthy. I watched some of them entraining one day; with them was a
surly German officer who looked at his fellow-prisoners with contempt,
the crowd of inhabitants with dislike, and (so it seemed to me) his
guards with hatred. No one spoke to him, and he stood apart in
melancholy insolence. Perhaps he was the German officer of whom the
story is told that, being conducted to the Base in a third-class
carriage in the company of some of his own men, and under the escort of
some British soldiers, he declaimed all the way down against being
condemned to such low society, until one of his guards, getting rather
"fed up" with it all, bluntly cut him short with the admonition: "Stow
it, governor, we'd have hired a blooming Pullman if we'd known we was
going to have the pleasure of your society. Yus, and we'd have had Sir
John French 'ere to meet you. But yer'll have to put up with us low
fellows for a bit instead, which if yer don't like it, yer can lump it,
and if yer won't lump it, where will yer have it?" and he tapped his
bayonet invitingly. Needless to say, the speaker's pleasantry was
impracticable. But the officer did not know that; he only knew the way
they have in Germany. Wherefore the officer relapsed into a thoughtful
silence.

Hazebrouck has a witty and pleasant _procureur de la République_, who
once confided to me that the English were "irresistible." "In war?" I
asked. "_Vraiment_," he replied, "but I meant in love."

But the towns occupied by our Army are monotonously lacking in
distinction. To tell the truth they wear an impoverished look, and are
singularly unprepossessing. I prefer the villages, the small châteaux
built on grassy mounds surrounded by moats, and the timbered farm-houses
with their red-tiled roofs and barns big enough to billet a whole
company at a pinch. The country is one vast bivouac, and every cottage,
farm, and mansion is a billet. Near the edge of the Front you may see
men who have just come out of action; I remember once meeting a group of
Royal Irish, only forty-seven left out of a Company, who had been in the
attack by the 8th Division at Fleurbaix, and I gazed at them with
something of the respectful consternation with which the Babylonians
must have regarded Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego after their ordeal in
the fiery furnace. Yet nothing of their demeanour betrayed the brazen
fury they had gone through; they sat by the hedge cleaning their
accoutrements with the utmost nonchalance. They reminded me of the North
Staffords, one of whose officers, whom I know very well, when I asked
him what were his impressions of a battle, replied, after some
reflection: "I haven't got any; all I can remember of a hot corner we
were in near Oultersteen was that my men, while waiting to advance, were
picking blackberries." It was a man of the North Staffords who,
according to the same unimpeachable authority, was heard shouting out
when half the trench was blown in by a shell, and he had extricated
himself with difficulty: "'Ere, where's my pipe? Some one's pinched my
pipe!"

But it isn't always quite as comforting as that. The servant of a friend
of mine, a young subaltern in the Black Watch, whom, alas! like so many
other friends, I shall never see again, in describing the church parade
held after the battle of Loos, in which his master was killed by a
shell, wrote that when the chaplain gave out the hymn "Rock of Ages" the
men burst into tears, their voices failed them, and they broke down
utterly. And I remember that on one occasion when some four-fifths of
the officers of a certain battalion had gone down in the advance, and
the shaken remnant fell back upon their trenches, deafened and
distraught, one of the officers--he had been a master in a great public
school before the war--took out of his pocket a copy of the _Faerie
Queene_, and began in a slow, even voice to read the measured cadences
of one of its cantos, and, having read, handed it to a subaltern and
asked him to follow suit. The others listened, half in wonder, half in
fear, thinking he had lost his senses, but there was method in his
madness and a true inspiration. The musical rhythm of the words
distracted their terrible memories, and soon acted like a charm upon
their disordered nerves.


     And on his breast a bloody cross he bore,
     The dear remembrance of his dying Lord,
     For whose sweet sake that glorious badge he wore,
     And dead (as living) ever him adored:
     Upon his shield the like was also scored,
     For sovereign hope, which in his help he had:
     Right faithful true he was in deed and word;
     But of his cheer did seem too solemn sad:
     Yet nothing did he dread, but ever was ydrad.


Clusters of men in billets; men doing a route-march to keep them fit;
Indian cavalry jogging along on the footpath with lances in rest; herds
of tethered horses in rest-camps; a string of motor-buses painted a
khaki-tint; a "mobile" (a travelling workshop) with its dynamo humming
like a top and the mechanics busy upon the lathe; an Army Postal van
coming along, like a friend in need, to tow my car, stranded in the mud,
with a long cable; sappers, like Zaccheus, up a tree (but not
metaphorically); despatch-riders whizzing past at sixty miles an
hour--these are familiar sights of the lines of communication, and they
lend a variety to the monotonous countryside without which it would be
dull indeed. For it is a countryside of interminable straight
lines--straight roads, straight hop-poles, and poplars not less
straight, reminding one in winter of one of Hobbema's landscapes without
their colouring. But to the south of the zone of our occupation, as you
leave G.H.Q. for the Base, you exchange these plains of sticky clay and
stagnant dykes for a pleasant country of undulating downs and noble
beech woods, and one seems to shake off a nightmare of damp despondency.

It may be remarked that I have said nothing of Ypres. The explanation is
painfully simple. Ypres has ceased to exist. It is merely a heap of
stones, and the trilithons on Salisbury Plain are not more desolate.



XXIX

THE FRONT ONCE MORE


A witty subaltern once described the present war as a period of long
boredom punctuated by moments of intense fear. All men would emphasise
the boredom, and most men would admit the fear. The only soldiers I ever
met who affected to know nothing of the fear were Afridis, and the
Afridi is notoriously a ravisher of truth. But the predominant
feeling--in the winter months at any rate--was the boredom. There was a
time when some units, owing to the lack of reserves, were only relieved
once every three weeks, and time hung heavy on their hands. Under these
circumstances they began to take something more than a professional
interest in their neighbours opposite. The curiosity was reciprocated.
Items of news, more or less mendacious, were exchanged when the trenches
were near enough to permit of vocal intercourse. Curious conventions
grew up, and at certain hours of the day and, less commonly, of the
night, there was a kind of informal armistice. In one section the hour
of 8 to 9 A.M. was regarded as consecrated to "private business," and
certain places indicated by a flag were regarded as out of bounds by the
snipers on both sides. On many occasions working parties toiled with
pick and shovel within talking distance of one another, and, although it
was, of course, never safe to presume upon immunity, they usually
forbore to interfere with one another. The Bedfords and the South
Staffords worked in broad daylight with their bodies half exposed above
the trenches, raising the parapet as the water rose. About 200 yards
away the Germans were doing the same. Neither side interfered with the
navvy-work of the other, and for the simplest of all reasons: both were
engaged in fighting a common foe--the underground springs. When two
parties are both in danger of being drowned they haven't time to fight.
To speak of drowning is no hyperbole; the mud of Flanders in winter is
in some places like a quicksand, and men have been sucked under beyond
redemption. A common misery begat a mutual forbearance.

It was under such circumstances that the following exchange of
pleasantries took place. The men of a certain British regiment heard at
intervals a monologue going on in the trenches opposite, and every time
the speaker stopped his discourse shouts of guttural laughter arose,
accompanied by cries of "Bravo, Müller!" "Sehr komisch!" "Noch einmal,
Müller!" Our men listened intently, and an acquaintance with German, so
imperfect as to be almost negligible, could not long disguise from them
the fact that their Saxon neighbours possessed a funny man whose name
was Müller. Their interest in Müller, always audible but never visible,
grew almost painful. At last they could restrain it no longer. At a
given signal they began chanting, like the gallery in a London theatre,
except that their voices came from the pit:


     We--want--Müller! We--want--Müller! We--want--Müller!


The refrain grew more and more insistent. At last a head appeared above
the German parapet. It rose gradually, as though the owner were being
hoisted by unseen hands. He rose, as the principal character in a Punch
and Judy show rises, with jerky articulations of his members from the
ventriloquial depths below. The body followed, until a three-quarter
posture was attained. The owner, with his hand upon his heart, bowed
gracefully three times and then disappeared. It was Müller!

It is some months since I was in the British trenches,[28] and I often
wonder how our men have accommodated themselves to the ever-increasing
multiplication of the apparatus of war. The fire trenches I visited were
about wide enough to allow two men to pass one another--and that was
all. Obviously the wider your trench the greater your exposure to the
effects of shell-fire, and if we go on introducing trench-mortars, and
gas-pumps, and gas-extinguishers, to say nothing of a great store of
bombs, as pleasing in variety and as startling in their effects as
Christmas crackers, our trenches will soon be as full of furniture as a
Welsh miner's parlour. But doubtless the sappers have arranged all that.
Some of these improvements are viewed by company officers without
enthusiasm. The trench-mortar, for example, is distinctly unpopular, for
it draws the enemy's fire, besides being an uncanny thing to handle,
although the handling is done not by the company but by a "battery" of
R.G.A. men, who come down and select a "pitch." I have seen a
trench-mortar in action--it is like a baby howitzer, and makes a
prodigious noise. Our own men deprecate it and the enemy resent it. It
is an invidious thing. The gas-extinguisher is less objectionable, and,
incidentally, less exacting in the matter of accommodation. It is a
large copper vessel resembling nothing so much as the fire-extinguishing
cylinders one sees in public buildings at home. About our gas-pumps I
know nothing except by hearsay. They are in charge of "corporals" in
the chemical corps of the sappers, and your corporal is, in nine cases
out of ten, a man whose position in the scientific world at home is one
of considerable distinction. He is usually a lecturer or
Assistant-Professor in Chemistry at one of our University Colleges who
has left his test-tubes and quantitative analysis for the more exciting
allurements of the trenches. I sometimes wonder what name the fertile
brain of the British soldier has found for him--probably "the squid." He
has three gases in his repertoire, each more deadly than the other. One
of them is comparatively innocuous--it disables without debilitating;
and its effect passes off in about twenty minutes. The truth is that we
do not take very kindly to the use of this kind of thing. Still, our men
know their business, and our gas, whichever variety it was, played a
very effective part in the capture of the Hohenzollern Redoubt.

For the greater part of the winter months the "Front" was, to all
appearances above ground, as deserted as the Sahara and almost as
silent. Everybody who had to be there was, for obvious reasons,
invisible, and the misguided wayfarer who found himself between the
lines was in a wilderness whose intimidating silence was occasionally
interrupted by the sound of projectiles coming he knew not whence and
going he knew not whither. The effect was inexpressibly depressing. But
a mile or two behind our lines all was animation, for here were
Battalion and Brigade Headquarters, all linked up by a network of field
telephones, which in turn communicated with Divisional Headquarters
farther back. Baskets of carrier-pigeons under the care of a pigeon
fancier, who figures in the Army List as a captain in the R.E., are kept
at these places for use in sudden emergency when the wires get destroyed
by shell-fire. The sappers must, I think, belong to the order of
Arachnidae; they appear to be able to spin telephone wires out of their
entrails at the shortest notice. Moreover, they possess an uncanny
adhesiveness, and a Signal Company man will leg up a tree with a coil of
wire on his arm and hang glutinously, suspended by his finger-tips,
while he enjoys the view. These acrobatic performances are sometimes
exchanged for equestrian feats. He has been known to lay cable for two
miles across country at a gallop with the cable-drum paying out lengths
of wire. The sapper is the "handy man" of the Army.

The location of these Headquarters on our side of the line is a constant
object of solicitude to the enemy on the other. Very few officers even
on our side know where they all are. I had confided to me, for the
purpose of my official duties, a complete list of such Headquarters,
and the first thing I did, in pursuance of my instructions, was to
commit it to memory and then burn it. To find out the enemy's H.Q.--with
a view to making them as unhealthy as possible--is almost entirely the
work of aeroplane reconnaissance. To discover the number and composition
of the units whose H.Q. they are is the work of our "Intelligence." Of
our Intelligence work the less said the better--by which I intend no
aspersion but quite the contrary. The work is extraordinarily effective,
but half its effectiveness lies in its secrecy. It is all done by an
elaborate process of induction. I should hesitate to say that the "I"
officers discover the location of the H.Q. of captured Germans by a
geological analysis of the mud on the soles of their boots, in the
classical manner of Sherlock Holmes; but I should be equally indisposed
to deny it. There is nothing too trivial or insignificant to engage the
detective faculties of an "I" man. He has to allow a wide margin for the
probability of error in his calculations; shoulder-straps, for example,
are no longer conclusive data as to the composition of the enemy's
units, for the intelligent Hun has taken of late to forging
shoulder-straps with the same facility as he forges diplomatic
documents. Oral examination of prisoners has to be used with caution.
But there are other resources of which I shall say nothing. It is not
too much to say, however, that we have now a pretty complete
comprehension of the strength, composition, and location of most German
brigades on the Western front. Possibly the Germans have of ours. One
thing is certain. Any one who has seen the way in which an Intelligence
staff builds up its data will not be inclined to criticise our military
authorities for what may seem to an untutored mind a mere affectation of
mystery about small things. In war it is never safe to say _De minimis
non curatur_.

If "I" stands for the Criminal Investigation Department (and the study
of the Hun may be legitimately regarded as a department of criminology)
the Provost-Marshal and his staff may be described as a kind of
Metropolitan Police. The P.M. and his A.P.M.'s are the _Censores Morum_
of the occupied towns, just as the Camp Commandants are the _Aediles_.
It is the duty of an A.P.M. to round up stragglers, visit _estaminets_,
keep a cold eye on brothels, look after prisoners, execute the sentences
of courts-martial, and control street traffic. Which means that he is
more feared than loved. He is never obtrusive but he is always there. I
remarked once when lunching with a certain A.P.M. that although I had
already been three weeks at G.H.Q., and had driven through his
particular district daily, I had never once been stopped or questioned
by his police. "No," he said quietly, "they reported you the first day
two minutes after you arrived in your car, and asked for instructions;
we telephoned to G.H.Q. and found you were attached to the A.G.'s staff,
and they received orders accordingly. Otherwise you might have had quite
a lively time at X----," which was the next stage of my journey. G.H.Q.
itself is patrolled by a number of Scotland Yard men, remarkable for
their self-effacing habits and their modest preference for dark
doorways. Indeed it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a
needle than to get into that town--or out of it. As for the "Society
ladies," of whom one hears so much, I never saw one of them. If they
were there they must have been remarkably disguised, and none of us knew
anything of them. A conversational lesson in French or English may be
had gratuitously by any Englishman or Frenchman who tries to get into
G.H.Q.; as he approaches the town he will find a French sentry on the
left and an English sentry on the right, the one with a bayonet like a
needle, the other with a bayonet like a table-knife, and each of them
takes an immense personal interest in you and is most anxious to assist
you in perfecting your idiom. They are students of phonetics, too, in
their way, and study your gutturals with almost pedantic affection for
traces of Teutonisms. If the sentry thinks you are not getting on with
your education he takes you aside like Joab, and smites you under the
fifth rib--at least I suppose he does. If he is satisfied he brings his
right hand smartly across the butt of his rifle, and by that masonic
sign you know that you will do. But it is a mistake to continue the
conversation.

Still, holders of authorised passes sometimes lose them, and
unauthorised persons sometimes get hold of them and "convert" them to
their own unlawful uses. The career of these adventurers is usually as
brief as it is inglorious; when apprehended they are handed over to the
French authorities, and the place that knew them knows them no more.
They are shot into some mysterious _oubliette_. The rest is silence, or,
as a mediaeval chronicler would say, "Let him have a priest."

We have taught the inhabitants of Flanders and Artois three things: one,
to sing "Tipperary"; two, to control their street traffic; and three, to
flush their drains. The spectacle of the military police on point duty
agitatedly waving little flags like a semaphore in the middle of narrow
and congested street corners was at first a source of great
entertainment to the inhabitants, who appeared to think it was a kind of
performance thoughtfully provided by the Staff for their delectation.
Their applause was quite disconcerting. It all so affected the mind of
one good lady at H---- that she used to rush out into the street every
time she saw a motor-lorry coming and make uncouth gestures with her
arms and legs, to the no small embarrassment of the supply columns, the
confusion of the military police, and the unconcealed delight of our
soldiers, who regard the latter as their natural enemy. Gentle
remonstrances against such gratuitous assistance were of no avail, and
eventually she was handed over to the French authorities for an inquiry
into the state of her mind.

Drains are looked after by the Camp Commandant, assisted by the sanitary
section of the R.A.M.C. It is an unlovely duty. I am not sure that the
men in the trenches are not better off in this respect than the
unfortunate members of the Staff who are supposed to live on the fat of
the land in billets. In the trenches there are easy methods of disposing
of "waste products"; along some portion of the French front, where the
lines are very close together, the favourite method, so I have been
told, is to hurl the buckets at the enemy, accompanied by extremely
uncomplimentary remarks. In the towns where we are billeted public
hygiene is a neglected study, and the unfortunate Camp Commandants have
to get sewage pumps from England and vast quantities of chloride of
lime. Fatigue parties do the rest.

The C.C. has, however, many other things to do.

Finding my office unprovided with a fire shovel, I wrote a "chit" to the
C.C.:


     Mr. M. presents his compliments to the Camp Commandant, and would
     be greatly obliged if he would kindly direct that a shovel be
     issued to his office.


A laconic message came back by my servant:


        No. 105671A.   The Camp Commandant presents his compliments to
         ---------     Mr. M., and begs to inform him that he is not an
             2         ironmonger. The correct procedure is for Mr. M.
     to direct his servant to purchase a shovel and to send in the
     account to the C.C., by whom it will be discharged.


The Commandant, quite needlessly, apologised to me afterwards for his
reply, explaining mournfully that the whole staff appeared to be under
the impression that he was a kind of Harrods' Stores. He could supply
desks and tables--the sappers are amazingly efficient at turning them
out at the shortest notice--and he could produce stationery, but he drew
the line at ironmongery. But his principal task is to let lodgings.

The Q.M.G. and his satellites, who are the universal providers of the
Army, have already been described. Their waggons are known as
"transports of delight," and they can supply you with anything from a
field-dressing to a toothbrush, and from an overcoat to a cake of soap.
And as the Q.M.G. is concerned with goods, the A.G. is preoccupied with
men. He makes up drafts as a railway transport officer makes up trains,
and can tell you the location of every unit from a brigade to a
battalion. Also, he and his deputy assistants make up casualty lists. It
is expeditiously done; each night's casualty list contains the names of
all casualties among officers up till noon of the day on which it is
made out. (The lists of the men, which are, of course, a much bigger
affair, are made up at the Base.) The task is no light one--the
transposition of an initial or the attribution of a casualty to a wrong
battalion may mean gratuitous sorrow and anxiety in some distant home in
England. And there is the mournful problem of the "missing," the
agonised letters from those who do not know whether those they love are
alive or dead.

It is only right to say that everything that can possibly be done is
done to trace such cases. More than that, the graves of fallen officers
and men are carefully located and registered by a Graves Registry
Department, with an officer of field rank in charge of it. Those graves
lie everywhere; I have seen them in the flower-bed of a château used as
the H.Q. of an A.D.M.S.; they are to be found by the roadside, in the
curtilage of farms, and on the outskirts of villages. The whole of the
Front is one vast cemetery--a "God's Acre" hallowed by prayers if
unconsecrated by the rites of the Church. The French Government has
shown a noble solicitude for the feelings of the bereaved, and a Bill
has been submitted to the Chamber of Deputies for the expropriation of
every grave with a view to its preservation.

The Deputy Judge-Advocate-General and his representatives with the
Armies are legal advisers to the Staff in the proceedings of
courts-martial. The Judge-Advocate attends every trial and coaches the
Court in everything, from the etiquette of taking off your cap when you
are taking the oath to the duty of rejecting "hearsay." He never
prosecutes--that is always the task of some officer specially assigned
for the purpose--but he may "sum up." Officers are not usually familiar
with the mysteries of the Red Book,[29] however much they may know of
the King's Regulations; and a Court requires careful watching. One
Judge-Advocate whom I knew, who was as zealous as he was conscientious,
instituted a series of Extension lectures for officers on the subject of
Military Law, and used to discourse calmly on the admissibility and
inadmissibility of evidence in the most "unhealthy" places. Speaking
with some knowledge of such matters, I should say that court-martial
proceedings are studiously fair to the accused, and, all things
considered, their sentences do not err on the side of severity. Even the
enemy is given the benefit of the doubt. There was a curious instance of
this. A wounded Highlander, finding himself, on arrival at one of the
hospitals, cheek by jowl with a Prussian, leapt from his bed and "went
for" the latter, declaring his intention to "do him in," as he had, he
alleged, seen him killing a wounded British soldier in the field. There
was a huge commotion, the two were separated, and the Judge-Advocate was
fetched to take the soldier's evidence. The evidence of identification
was, however, not absolutely conclusive--one Prussian guardsman is
strangely like another. The Prussian therefore got the benefit of the
doubt.

The prisoner gets all the assistance he may require from a "prisoner's
friend" if he asks for one, and the prosecutor never presses a
charge--he merely unfolds it. Moreover, officers are pretty good judges
of character, and if the accused meets the charge fairly and squarely,
justice will be tempered with mercy. I remember the case of a young
subaltern at the Base who was charged with drunkenness. His defence was
as straightforward as it was brief:


     I had just been ordered up to the Front. So I stood my friends a
     dinner; I had a bottle of Burgundy, two liqueurs, and a brandy and
     soda, and--I am just nineteen.


This ingenuous plea in confession and avoidance pleased the Court. He
got off with a reprimand.

The _liaison_ officers deserve a chapter to themselves. Their name alone
is so endearing. Their mission is not, as might be supposed, to promote
_mariages de convenance_ between English Staff officers and French
ladies, but to transmit billets-doux between the two Armies and,
generally, to promote the amenities of military intercourse. As a rule
they are charming fellows, chosen with a very proper eye to their
personal qualities as well as their proficiency in the English language.
Among them I met a Count belonging to one of the oldest families in
France, an Oriental scholar of European reputation, and a Professor of
English literature. The younger ones studied our peculiarities with the
most ingratiating zeal, and one of them, in particular, played and sang
"Tipperary" with masterly technique at an uproarious tea-party in a
_pâtisserie_ at Bethune. Also they smoothed over little
misunderstandings about _délits de chasse_, gently forbore to smile at
our French, and assisted in the issue of the _laisser-passer_. Doubtless
they performed many much more weighty and mysterious duties, but I only
speak of what I know. To me they were more than kind; they gave me
introductions to their families when I went on official visits to Paris
and to the French lines; zealously assisted me to hunt down evidence,
and sometimes accompanied me on my tour of investigation. Among the many
agreeable memories I cherish of the _camaraderie_ at G.H.Q. the
recollection of their constant kindness and courtesy is not the least.

One word before I leave the subject of the Staff. There has been of late
a good deal of pestilential gossip by luxurious gentlemen at home about
the Staff and its work. It is, they say, very bad--mostly beer and
skittles. I have already referred to these charges elsewhere; here I
will only add one word. A Staff is known by its chief. He it is who sets
the pace. During the time I was attached to it, the G.H.Q. Staff had two
chiefs in succession. The first was a brilliant soldier of high
intellectual gifts, now chief of the Imperial Staff at home, who,
although embarrassed by indifferent health, worked at great pressure
night and day. His successor at G.H.Q. is a man of stupendous energy,
commanding ability, and great force of character, who has risen from the
ranks to the great position he now holds. By their chiefs ye shall know
them. Under such as these there was and is no room for the "slacker" at
G.H.Q. He got short shrift. There were very few of that undesirable
species at G.H.Q., and as soon as they were discovered they were sent
home. I sometimes wonder whether one could not trace, if it were worth
while (which it isn't), these ignoble slanders to their origin in the
querulous lamentations of these deported gentlemen, whence they have
percolated into Parliamentary channels. But it really isn't worth while.
The public has, I believe, taken the thing at its true valuation. In
plain speech it is "all rot."


     NOTE.--The last paragraph was written before the recent changes at
     G.H.Q. and at the War Office, but the reader will not need any
     assistance in the identification of the two distinguished Chiefs of
     Staff here referred to.--J.H.M.


FOOTNOTES:

[28] The writer's experience of the trenches is described in some detail
in Chapter VIII.

[29] _The Manual of Military Law_.



XXX

HOME AGAIN


Sykes had finished packing my kit and had succeeded with some difficulty
in re-establishing the truth of the axiom that a whole is greater than
its parts. When I contemplated my valise and its original constituents,
it seemed to me that the parts would prove greater than the whole, and I
had in despair abandoned the problem to Sykes. He succeeded, as he
always did. One of the first things that an officer's servant learns is
that, as regards the regulation Field Service allowance of luggage,
nothing succeeds like excess.

Sykes had not only stowed away my original impedimenta but had also
managed to find room for various articles of _vertu_ which had enriched
my private collection, to wit:


     (1) One Bavarian bayonet of Solingen steel.

     (2) Two German time-fuses with fetishistic-looking brass heads.

     (3) A clip of German cartridges with the bullets villainously
     reversed.

     (4) A copper loving-cup--_i.e._, an empty shell-case presented to
     me with a florid speech by Major S---- on behalf of the ----th
     Battery of the R.F.A.

     (5) An autograph copy of _The Green Curve_ bestowed on me by my
     friend "Ole Luk-Oie" (to whom long life and princely royalties).

     (6) The sodden Field Note-book of a dead Hun given me by Major
     C---- of the Intelligence, with a graceful note expressing the hope
     that, as a man of letters, I would accept this gift of
     _belles-lettres_.

     (7) A duplicate of a certain priceless "chit" about the uses of
     Ammonal[30] (original very scarce, and believed to be in the
     muniment-room of the C.-in-C., who is said to contemplate putting
     it up to auction at Sotheby's for the benefit of the Red Cross
     Fund).

     (8) An autograph copy of a learned Essay on English political
     philosophers presented to me by the author, one of the _liaison_
     officers, who in the prehistoric times of peace was a University
     professor at Avignon.

     (9) A cigarette-case (Army pattern), of the finest Britannia metal,
     bestowed on me with much ceremony by a Field Ambulance at Bethune,
     and prized beyond rubies and fine gold.

     (10) A pair of socks knitted by Jeanne.[31]


To these Madame[32] had added her visiting-card--it was nearly as big
as the illuminated address presented to me by the electors of a Scottish
constituency which I once wooed and never won--wherewith she reminded me
that my billet at No. 131 rue Robert le Frisson would always be waiting
for me, the night-light burning as for a prodigal son, and steam up in
the hot-water bottle.

I had said my farewells the night before to the senior officers on the
Staff, in particular that distinguished soldier and gallant gentleman
the A.G., to whose staff I had been attached (in more senses than one),
and who had treated me with a kindness and hospitality I can never
forget. The senior officers had done me the honour of expressing a hope
that I should soon return; their juniors had expressed the same
sentiments less formally and more vociferously by an uproarious song at
their mess overnight.

The latter had also, with an appearance of great seriousness, laden me
with messages for His Majesty the King, the Prime Minister, Lord
Kitchener, the two Houses of Parliament, and the ministers and clergy of
all denominations: all of which I promised faithfully to remember and to
deliver in person. Sykes, with more modesty, had asked me if I would
send a photograph, when the film was developed of the snapshot I had
taken of him, to his wife and the twins at Norwich.

My car, upon whose carburettor an operation for appendicitis had been
successfully performed by the handy men up at the H.Q. of the Troop
Supply Column, stood at the door. I held out my hand to Sykes, who was
in the act of saluting; he took it with some hesitation, and then gave
me a grip that paralysed it for about a quarter of an hour.

"If you be coming back again, will you ask for me to be de-tailed to
you, sir? My number is ----. Sergeant Pope at the Infantry Barracks sees
to them things, sir."

I nodded.

"Bon voyage, monsieur," cried Madame in a shrill voice.

"Bon voyage," echoed Jeanne.

I waved my hand, and the next moment I had seen the last of two noble
women who had never looked upon me except with kindness, and who, from
my rising up till my lying down, had ministered to me with unfailing
solicitude.

       *       *       *       *       *

At the Base I boarded the leave-boat. Several officers were already on
board, their boots still bearing the mud of Flanders upon them. It was
squally weather, and as we headed for the open sea I saw a dark object
gambolling upon the waves with the fluency of a porpoise. A sailor
stopped near me and passed the time of day.

"Had any trouble with German submarines?" I asked.

"Only once, sir. A torpedo missed us by 'bout a hund-erd yards."

"Only once! How's that?"

For answer the sailor removed a quid of tobacco from one cheek to the
other by a surprisingly alert act of stowage and nodded in the direction
of the dark object whose outlines were now plain and salient. It was
riding the sea like a cork.

"Them," he said briefly. It was a t.b.d.

At the port of our arrival the sheep were segregated from the goats. The
unofficial people formed a long queue to go through the smoking-room,
where two quiet men awaited them, one of whom, I believe, always says,
"Take your hat off," looks into the pupil of your eyes, and lingers
lovingly over your pulse; the other, as though anxious to oblige you,
says, "Any letters to post?" But his inquiries are not so disinterested
as they would seem.

The rest of us, being highly favoured persons, got off without ceremony,
and made for the Pullman. As the train drew out of the station and
gathered speed I looked out upon the countryside as it raced past us.
England! Past weald and down, past field and hedgerow, croft and
orchard, cottage and mansion, now over the chalk with its spinneys of
beech and fir, now over the clay with its forests of oak and elm. The
friends of one's childhood, purple scabious and yellow toad-flax, seemed
to nod their heads in welcome; and the hedgerows were festive with
garlands of bryony and Old Man's Beard. The blanching willows rippled in
the breeze, and the tall poplars whispered with every wind. I looked
down the length of the saloon, and everywhere I saw the blithe and eager
faces of England's gallant sons who had fought, and would fight again,
to preserve this heritage from the fire and sword of bloody sacrilege.
Fairer than the cedars of Lebanon were these russet beeches, nobler than
the rivers of Damascus these amber streams; and the France of our new
affections was not more dear.

Twilight was falling as the guard came round and adjured us to shut out
the prospect by drawing the blinds. As we glided over the Thames I drew
the blind an inch or two aside and caught a vision of the mighty city
steeped in shadows, and the river gleaming dully under the stars like a
wet oilskin. At a word from the attendant I released the blind and shut
out the unfamiliar nocturne. Men rose to their feet, and there was a
chorus of farewells.

"So long, old chap, see you again at battalion headquarters."

"Good-bye, old thing, we meet next week at H.Q."

"To-morrow night at the Savoy--rather! You must meet my sister."

As I alighted on the platform I saw a crowd of waiting women. "Hullo,
Mother!" "Oh, darling!" I turned away. I was thinking of that platform
next week when these brief days, snatched from the very jaws of death,
would have run their all too brief career and the greetings of joy would
be exchanged for heart-searching farewells.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was dining at my club with two friends, one of them a young Dutch
attaché, the other a barrister of my Inn. We did ourselves pretty well,
and took our cigars into the smoking-room, which was crowded. Some men
in a corner were playing chess; the club bore, decent enough in peace
but positively lethal in war, was demonstrating to a group of impatient
listeners that the Staff work at G.H.Q. was all wrong, when, catching
sight of me, he came up and said, "Hullo, old man, back from the Front?
When will the war end?" I returned the same answer as a certain D.A.A.G.
used to provide for similar otiose questions: "Never!"

"Never! Hullo, what's that?"

Every one in the room suddenly rose to their feet, the chess players
rising so suddenly that they overturned the board. "Damn it, and it was
my move, I could have taken your queen," said one of them. Outside there
was a noise like the roaring of the lion-house at the Zoo; your
anti-aircraft gun has a growl of its own. "They're here," said some one,
and we all made for the terrace.

I looked up and saw in the dim altitudes a long silvery object among the
stars. As the searchlights played upon it, it seemed almost diaphanous,
and the body appeared to undulate like a trout seen in a clear stream.
Jupiter shone hard and bright in the southern hemisphere, and suddenly a
number of new planets appeared in the firmament as though certain stars
shot madly from their spheres. Round and about the monster came and went
these exploding satellites. Then another appeared close under her, and
like a frightened fish she swerved sharply and was lost to view among
the Pleiades.

"Let's go and see what's happened," said one of my friends. "I hear
she's dropped a lot of bombs down----."

As we went down the street I saw that for about two hundred yards ahead
it was sparkling as with hoar-frost. Suddenly the soles of our boots
"scrunched" something underfoot. I looked down. The ground was covered
with splinters of glass. As we drew nearer we caught sight of a cordon
of police, and behind them a great fire springing infernally from the
earth, and behind the fire a group of soldiers, whose figures were
silhouetted against the background. Our way was impeded by curious
crowds, among whom one heard the familiar chant of "Pass along, please!"

We stopped. Close to us two men were stooping with heads almost knocking
together and searching the ground, while one of them husbanded a lighted
match against the wind.

"Blimey, Bill," said one to the other, "I've found 'un!"

"What have you found?" we asked of him.

"A souvenir, sir!"

Truly, they know not the stomach of this people.

FOOTNOTES:

[30] See Chapter XXV.

[31] See Chapter XI.

[32] _Ibid._

THE END

_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, LIMITED, _Edinburgh_.


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ALFRED E. ZIMMERN, and ARTHUR GREENWOOD. 23rd Thousand.
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     _THE TIMES_.--"The essays are of high quality. They go more fully and
     deeply into the underlying problems of the war than most of the
     pamphlets and books which have appeared in such profusion."


LETTERS FROM A FIELD HOSPITAL. By MABEL DEARMER. With a Memoir of the
Author by STEPHEN GWYNN. Third Impression. Crown 8vo. 2s. 6d. net.

     _DAILY GRAPHIC_.--"A poignant book, yet a book full of inspiration."


ESSAYS FOR BOYS AND GIRLS. A First Guide toward the Study of the War. By
STEPHEN PAGET. Illustrated. Extra Crown 8vo. 5s. net.

     _STANDARD_.--"It is well that the boys and girls of to-day--the men
     and women of to-morrow--should understand on the threshold of their
     life the causes and the probable issues of the Great War which is
     now in progress. They could have no better guide than Mr. Stephen
     Paget."


AIRCRAFT IN WAR AND PEACE. By WILLIAM A. ROBSON. Illustrated. Crown 8vo.


THE MILITARY MAP. By GERALD MAXWELL. With Diagrams and Maps. 8vo.

ABBAS II. (Ex-Khedive of Egypt). By the EARL OF CROMER. 8vo.
2s. 6d. net.

     _PALL MALL GAZETTE._--"A monograph which is of supreme value at the
     present moment.... It makes an indispensable pendant to the
     author's _Modern Egypt_.... The book is a masterpiece of knowledge
     and wisdom, framed on lines of profound and permanent portraiture."


THE WAY OF MARTHA AND THE WAY OF MARY. By STEPHEN GRAHAM. With
Frontispiece in Colour. Third Impression. 8vo. 7s. 6d. net.

     _STANDARD._--"Mr. Graham's illuminating pen-pictures of Russian
     life and Russian people tell us more about that baffling problem
     the Russian Nation than pages of analysis can do."


THE FAITH AND THE WAR. A Series of Essays by Members of the Churchmen's
Union and Others on the Religious Difficulties aroused by the Present
Condition of the World. Edited by F.J. FOAKES-JACKSON, D.D.
8vo. 5s. net.

     _STANDARD._--"The ten essays are all of a high order. Their tone is
     reassuring; they fairly envisage present difficulties. They are
     meant to help any whose faith has been disturbed by the fiery trial
     of the war. For the large class of persons so troubled no better or
     more effective aid could possibly be offered."


WAR-TIME SERMONS. By Dean H. HENSLEY HENSON. Crown 8vo. 4s. 6d. net.

     _WESTMINSTER GAZETTE._--"Beyond all doubt, the Dean of Durham has a
     great message for the nation in this time of conflict.... The
     sermons deserve a place among the most memorable declarations of
     Christian principles which the nation has received in this time of
     crisis."


HOLY GROUND. Sermons Preached in Time of War. By Dean J. ARMITAGE
ROBINSON. Crown 8vo. 1s. net.

     _CHALLENGE._--"In _Holy Ground_ Dr. Armitage Robinson's sermons
     preached during the South African War are available for a
     generation to whom they will come afresh and with a wealth of
     spiritual insight that we shall be the richer for."


THE CALIPHS' LAST HERITAGE. Travels in the Turkish Empire. By Sir
MARK SYKES, Bart., M.P. Illustrated. 8vo. 20s. net.

     _THE TIMES._--"Sir Mark Sykes' book is full of first-hand facts and
     acute observation.... It is a book of intense interest and present
     importance."


HEART OF EUROPE. By RALPH ADAMS CRAM. Illustrated. 8vo. 10s. 6d. net.

     This work describes Northern France, Belgium and Flanders, and the
     treasures of art and beauty enshrined in that beautiful land before
     the devastation of the great war.


WITH THE RUSSIAN ARMY. By Major ROBERT R. MCCORMICK.
Illustrated. Extra Crown 8vo. 6s. net.

     _STANDARD._--"In the first year of the war Mr. McCormick was
     invited by the Grand Duke Nicholas to visit the field of active
     fighting.... He was permitted to examine closely the Russian
     military organisation in the field, the training schools, and the
     frontier fortresses. In this informative and graphic volume he now
     gives a full idea of these unique observations."


THE MILITARY UNPREPAREDNESS OF THE UNITED STATES. By F.L. HUIDEKOPER.
With Maps. 8vo. 17s. net.

     _ARMY AND NAVY GAZETTE._--"This most important book deals
     exhaustively with matters of the greatest moment."


THE BOOK OF FRANCE. By distinguished French and English Authors and
Artists. Issued in aid of the French Parliamentary Fund for the Relief
of the Invaded Departments. Edited by WINIFRED STEPHENS, and published
under the auspices of an Honorary Committee presided over by His
Excellency Monsieur PAUL CAMBON. Fcap. 4to. 5s. net.

THE BOOK OF THE HOMELESS (LE LIVRE DES SANS-FOYER). Containing original
contributions by Belgian, French, English, Italian, and American
Authors, Artists and Composers. Published for the benefit of the
American Hostels for Refugees and Children of the Flanders Rescue
Committee, and Edited by EDITH WHARTON. With an Introduction by
THEODORE ROOSEVELT. 8vo. 21s. net.

LONDON: MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD.





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